Paint the background first.

I’m not very good at painting yet. I’ve just read a tip that sounds really interesting. Paint the background first. Somehow this seems like it is backwards.

In life, you focus on the main part. You’ll see the building, or the dog, or the person first, and then maybe you’ll see the background. Maybe you’ll see the trees, or the clouds. But you never look at those first and happen to look at what is smack dab in the middle of everything, virtually yelling at you to look at it.

Paint the background first. If you don’t paint the background, you don’t have a way to paint the focal point. If you don’t give it a place to be, there is no place for it. If you paint the main thing first and the background last, you may smear the sky or the trees over it. You may end up leaving a weird edge around it.

This sounds a lot like life.

We have to set up for the big things. We have to make space for them. We don’t just graduate from college. We have to go to high school, and before that, middle school, and before that, elementary school. Maybe even there is kindergarten or pre-K in there too.

In order to write a book, you have to know how to write. In order to know how to write, you have to know words. In order to know words, you have to know letters.

Nothing is in a vacuum. Nothing exists on its own. Everything is connected.

Paint the background first.

Money and church – a dangerous combination.

I really don’t want money to be involved with a church. I don’t want people to feel guilt about having to tithe and I don’t want the government to get involved.

The government has nothing to do with church. If there is no money involved then it is simpler all around. Forget the idea of registering a church as a nonprofit. A church isn’t a business and shouldn’t be run like one. It is a group of people, united in a common goal to serve God and humankind.

Tithes make people feel excluded. They are guilt inducing. Have I paid enough? Is it ten percent of my net or of my gross? The poor person knows that he hasn’t paid anywhere near the amount that the rich person has, so he feels that he is not an equal member.

To expect people to pay to go to church is to exclude some people. It certainly will shame some of them. It will make some people feel like modern day lepers.

To have the alms basin pass through the pews right before communion is even more excluding. If you pay, you can play. If you put some money in the plate then you get to meet Jesus. I suspect that most people don’t see it that way. But you notice the alms basin isn’t passed at the beginning of the service, or at the end. It is right in the middle, right before communion. This is the worst time ever.

I get it. People would bring their offerings to the Temple. They would bring an ox or two doves or some grain, depending on the degree of the sin that they had committed. The bigger the sin, the bigger the offering. Since we don’t deal in animal sacrifice any more, we use money. It is a lot more portable.

Also, the modern idea of offerings is to make us mindful of the idea that everything we have comes from God. Everything. If we hold on to it like it is all ours then we start to think that we are responsible for our fortune, and by fortune I mean not only money but luck. When we give some of our money back to God we are acknowledging that it isn’t ours. It wasn’t really ever ours to start off with.

But I just don’t like the idea of money mixed up with church. Jesus never collected money for his services. Jesus never carried money.

The disciples rarely carried money either. When he sent them out to preach he told them to not take any money (or much of anything else) with them.

Jesus says in Luke 10:4,
“4 Don’t carry a money-bag, traveling bag, or sandals; don’t greet anyone along the road.”

We are told to not worry about money or material possessions.

Jesus says in Luke 12:27,
“Look at the lilies and how they grow. They don’t work or make their clothing, yet Solomon in all his glory was not dressed as beautifully as they are.”

Now, of course people have to have stuff to survive. They need food and clothing and shelter. But we aren’t supposed to worry about it.

When they got to a certain town, they had to pay the temple tax. Jesus tells Peter to go fish. Jesus tells Peter to use the talent he has, that he is good at and trust that God will provide. And God does provide in an amazing way.

In Matthew 17:24-27 we read this amazing story.
24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?” 25 “Yes, he does,” he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?” 26 “From others,” Peter answered. “Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

But churches need money too, right? Of course they do, if you think of church as being a building. Of course they do if you think of that building being staffed by paid ministers.

But this isn’t the model that Jesus gives us.

In Luke 12:33-34, Jesus says,
33″Sell your possessions and give to charity; make yourselves money belts which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near nor moth destroys. 34″For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

In Matthew 6:19, Jesus says,
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.”

We’ve started to think of the buildings as church, and forgotten that the Church is the people. The Body of Christ is made up not of bricks but of bodies. Every one of us is a living, breathing cell in the Body of Christ.

When we forget this, we start to worship the building and not even notice the Body.

Jesus never built a building. If you go to the Holy Land, you can’t take a tour of the First church of Jesus. Jesus never ordained anybody. Jesus never consecrated a place or a person. Jesus said that everything and everyone was of God. So why are we doing otherwise?

We shouldn’t spend our time and our money building up a church made of bricks and stones. We should spend our time and our money building up a Church made of people. If we spend our time and our money on education, on health, on arts, on healing people inside and out, we will have a stronger Body. We’ll have a stronger world.

If we wake people up to their true potential then this Body will be very strong indeed.