"They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." -Acts 2:42-47Oh the early church. I have heard people cite this passage in churches and conferences so many times over the years, myself being one of them, that I practically memorized it without even trying. In May, I gave a farewell sermon at 4Cs and used this verse to talk about how the church should look. And today, this passage came back to me as I'm trying to read through the book of Acts. Clearly haven't gotten super far yet, but I'm on my way. This passage always stops me in my tracks though, probably because I think we are so far from this in America.
I am reading my old seminary textbook while reading through Acts, "From Pentecost to Patmos" by none other than the brilliant man that almost scared me away from seminary in my first semester, Craig Blomberg. He, like many pastors I've heard, said that this passage describes the four things that should be included whenever a church gathers: "preaching or teaching God's word, fellowship, the Lord's Supper (Communion or the Eucharist) and prayer." What struck me today was that he went on to say that fellowship is "far more than simply small talk over a meal! Rather, it involves communal sharing, particularly of one's material possessions." Wow. I'm not sure that my fellowship involves that. So is it really fellowship at all?
I know I am guilty of this. Like many Americans, I grew up believing that what's mine is mine. I can remember going to the mall with friends in middle school, and we usually each had some money, obviously not ours at all but our parents'. If I were to buy something and my friend did not contribute monetarily, then she did not get to share in the pretzel or whatever it was I just bought. I don't know that I was ever actually taught that explicitly (I doubt it), but the way that the world deals with money was ingrained in me from a young age.
As I have grown up, I have tried to become much more generous with my money by not hesitating to buy people meals or coffee or whatever, but I still feel that sense creep up in me that says, what's mine is mine, so make them pay for their stuff. I hate it. Because I think it goes completely against the teachings of Jesus.
I have been contemplating this a lot lately, as I am in a season of raising financial support so that I can join the staff of a non-profit Christian organization called Youthfront, which does wonderful ministry to youth and youth workers in the Kansas City area. I believe in what they do, and I am excited to work with them, but support raising is the very difficult but necessary first step to joining staff. During this process, I have been convicted of my own issues with giving people money in the past because I think with something like support raising, that evil "what's mine is mine" monster rears its ugly head the most. I am not saying this because I am judging those I'm asking, but because I see it most in my own life.
We have such a poor view of money. We want to accumulate it and then we want to hide from everyone else how much we have so that they don't come asking for it or judging us for it. "It's a private matter," people will say. But is it? Do we really think Jesus would say, "Oh yeah, make as much money as you can, and then don't tell anyone what you have. Give away just enough so you don't feel guilty about it, and then spend the rest on a bunch of really really nice stuff that you don't really need." Nope. Jesus told people to give away all they had, to leave possessions behind, and said good job to the woman who only had two coins to her name and gave them both away.
I know I have a long way to go, because living in the generosity that the Bible calls us to is an uphill battle against the current of our culture. But I have seen glimpses of this generosity in my own life in the past from people who knew what it meant to share in what they had. My prayer is that those kinds of people will step out again and willingly join my team of supporters so that I can work to try to bring Jesus to youth in Kansas City. And my other prayer is that I will be completely transformed in how I deal with my own finances. It's one of the hardest places to seek what Jesus wants as opposed to what the world wants. But I want to live in the mindset of "what's mine is yours."
"You won't become poorer, you will become richer by giving." -Henri Nouwen