Tithing, Giving and Generosity February 21, 2020 No Comments

One of the often debated, talked about and yet avoided issues within Christian theology is giving, often called tithing. Lately, I have heard increased questions about this in our ever changing world where there is constant demand and competition for charitable dollars.

Often, Christians talk about the 10% tithe based on passage(s) from the Bible that indicate that we give our first fruits, our first 10% to God. In most cases, God gets our leftovers, not just when it comes to finances. We often forget that everything we have, even our ability to earn money comes from God. We are simply managers, or stewards of all the resources God has given us; our money, time, talents and more. 

Yet, to assume that there is some rigid 10% rule would not be accurate, especially in the context of the whole of scripture, in the context of the New Testament and the Gospel. God is not a legalist. It is healthiest to see the 10% as a guide. Many would suggest that 10% goes to God and that means a local church. Others would suggest it means any faith based ministry, others would suggest any charity. Again, it is unhealthy to get caught up in the details in a rigid way no matter where you fall on this equation.

Ultimately, giving is between you and God. As a pastor, I never wanted to know what anyone gave and if I did, it was because they told me and in most cases, they told me for a reason. We follow a God of grace who wants us to live the most free and abundant life possible. Any suggestion around our money from God is for our good and the good of others. God does not need my money or your money.

When it comes to giving, we should all grow in our giving over time and not just financially. I encourage people to set a charitable giving goal to the church and to other ministries and non-profits just as they set other goals. We are called to be generous. Generosity is life giving. Generosity begets generosity. Generosity is an expression of love and trust.

Of all the things Jesus talked about, money was the second most frequent topic. Again, this was not because Jesus wants to micromanage our money or because Jesus needs our money. Jesus knew that money is a key part of our life and connected to the rest of our life: our emotions, our spiritual life, our body. Money has tremendous power over our life. Money often dictates our priorities, perspectives and decision making. God wants to transform our whole lives to give us life and freedom and for the good of others and the world. This includes our financial life. 

Tithing, giving, stewardship, money management and generosity are ultimately matters of trust. Do we trust God with every area of our life, or do we live in fear and control forgetting that all we have comes from God and we are blessed to blessed others. We are called to a generous life.

For me, I want to be the most generous person I can be. I have often struggled to trust God with money and I have grown a lot in my understanding of finances, my giving, generosity and trusting God. Wisdom is as essential as trust, but I never want to forget that I am blessed and I am called to use all that I am and all that I have for the good of others, including my financial and material resources.  My goal is to give 10%-15% of our financial resources to churches and faith based organizations. I also hope that we can give up to 10% more to other charitable causes. We continue to grow into that.  As we do so, we find more freedom with money and find that we continue to have all that we need and much of what we want. 

Money is complicated, but it can be a gift that blesses others and leads to a life of greater freedom.

Identity, Authority & Power January 19, 2019 No Comments

The longer I am in ministry, the more that I gain from the book of Acts and the more I find myself modeling life, ministry and church after it. I have also found, that the biblical number of three is a solid one and that thinking in threes has become incredibly helpful for me The model of the equalateral triangle is incredibly helpful for me.

Thinking about the Trinity; Father, Son and Holy Spirit can be hard to grasp, yet incredibly powerful. There is much we can know, but there is even more mystery to embrace. There is a lot we receive from God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit, but I wanted to highlight three total for us to think about.

First, God the Father has given us identity. We are created in the image of God, which means that we each bear God in us in certain ways. We are also God’s children. We are created by God the Father, chosen by God and loved by God. 

Secondly, in Jesus we have been given authority. In fact, Jesus mentions it more than once in the Gospels and in the books of Acts. We have been given authority by Jesus to bring his love and gospel to everyone. It always amazes me that Jesus would choose imperfect me to help share his love and Gospel with the world. 

Thirdly, in the Holy Spirit we are given power. The Holy Spirit gives us the power and strength we need to be disciples. The Holy Spirit gives us the power we need to pursue God. The Holy Spirit gives us the power to bring God’s love and Grace to the world.

We have been given much, but three of the biggest things we have been given in the Triune God is identity, authority and power. 

Who is Discipling You? October 27, 2018 No Comments

The truth is, that whether we are Christians or not, but especially if we are Christians, we are being discipled and formed in some way. As Christians, we should be discipled and formed through the scriptures, relationships and Jesus. The reality is that today, in the United States most people are discipled by their cable news station and formed by their social media feed. The reality is that most Christians in the US spend more time with their television and social media focused on politics and the news than they do in prayer, study of the bible and with other Christians. This is deeply problematic in so many ways and is idolatry. Add to the idolatry the reality that most news stations are deeply biased (Fox, MSNBC etc), sensationalized (CNN) or too short (ABC, NBC, CBS) to give us full and accurate information. Even if they were accurate, truth is ultimately only found in Jesus. I find Christians have ignored the scriptures for their politics whether conservative, liberal, or something in between. We are called to worship and imitate Jesus, not a political party, figure or ideology. The other day I was on the social media page of a Christian who had more pictures of a political figure on their page than their own children! The reality is that both major parties have beliefs that are consistent with and directly contrary to the scriptures and the life and ministry of Jesus. I have found that more Christians perspectives and mood to be shaped by politics rather than Jesus. This is idol worship, heresy and an insult to what Jesus did on the cross. Who is shaping and forming you? Who are you imitating? If the answer is not Jesus, you might want to drop the name ‘Christian’ from your biography.

Many, many questions September 22, 2018 No Comments

Recently, when I was in India training pastors, I had a young man come to me and quiz me on theology. He must have asked at least several hundred questions. They were on all the controversial items from politics to end times and biblical interpretation. He clearly had a more narrow view and also seemed to be testing me out. In Christiendom, we do not always know what to do with questions and doubts. We do not know how to say ‘I don’t know’ and often feel tempted to provide the ‘right’ answer for the individual to whom we are speaking. This is a great danger. Questions and doubts are healthy. Theology is a journey. We will never have it perfectly right, but the pursuit of God and the dialogue is a great and humbling joy.

Just Jesus August 19, 2018 No Comments

In our church, we are preaching through the book of Romans and today we came to Romans 14. My colleague, Dan Bellinger did a fantastic job with this passage. As I have reflected on his message, the old hymn, Just Give Me Jesus comes to mind. The chorus, ‘you can have the whole world, just give me Jesus’ was fitting for his sermon and Romans 14. It seems so obvious and so cliche that we forget easily, especially when applying to our daily life. The world and the life we lead is more often complex than not, yet the only thing that matters is Jesus. Jesus should be first, center and all in our life and our faith. So often our desires, traditions, doctrine and practice get in the way of what really matters, Jesus. So often these things replace or are put in front of Jesus. Romans 14 admonishes that as they argued about meat and sabbath, pointing out that what matters is not the observance, but the spirit, heart and focus of the observance. Is it really about Jesus or is it about something else.

It often turns out that when it comes to life, faith and theology, the answers are quite simple and obvious. Living those things out on the other hand is the hard work and even harder prayer of the whole journey we know as life.

Cracker Jacks Theology May 18, 2018 No Comments

I confess that I am both a theological nerd and a theological cynic. I have no problem with people that think differently than I do and while I love a good theological dialogue, I never feel the need to get into a fight over theology. The diversity of thought within Christianity is a gift, especially when the theology is formed based on scripture. Believe it or not, its possible for two opposing theologies being both formed utilizing scripture. None of this bothers me, even though I have my own, often times strong opinions. I try not to get caught up in the small things, but the things that really matter than that we can all agree on.

The thing that concerns me greatly about theology is what I call cracker jacks theology. These are things that sound theological ideas and even Biblical, but are not in any way. These pithy sayings that mask as theology send a terrible message about God. They can be found on bumper stickers, posters and t-shirts. They are used by people in the midst of difficult and painful situations for which we have no response, yet they cause more damage than simply saying nothing. 

Cracker Jacks theology is dangerous. It is not Biblical and it sends a message about God that is inconsistent, untrue and often portrays God in anything but a loving way. People often mean well and do not know better, but that does not take away the danger or challenge that comes with this kind of thinking about God. The best test for whether or not something is cracker jacks theology is the scripture. If there is not clarity there, it is also wise the play the theology out. What does this thought ultimately say about God and humanity? What does this particular idea or though mean when it comes to other situations and circumstances?

Beware of cracker jacks theology. What we believe and say about God matters.

The Theology of Change April 24, 2018 No Comments

I do not know a single person who always loves change of all types. Sure, I say I enjoy change, but the truth is that I really only enjoy change I create, see coming, like, control, or benefit from. Its hard to enjoy change that is unexpected, painful, disrupting and full of conflict. The church, the holders of the theology of Jesus in the world today struggles more so with change than perhaps any institution, organization or group in history.  Its ironic, because the nature of life, faith, the world, being a Christian, following Jesus and being a disciple is riddled with constant change. 

As followers of Jesus, we are called to become more like Jesus. This is the essence of discipleship. To become more like Jesus, we have to change. To be a church that reaches the world, we must change. Change is not ideal, but it is not optional, especially for Christians and the Christian church. They say the only guarantees in life are death and taxes. I suppose there are probably even people, few of them, who have been able to avoid taxes. I would actually add a third item to that list, change. Change is a guarantee. It is a part of life. It is a part of discipleship. 

The hope and prayer I offer is that we can experience, lead and embrace change at a pace that stretches us, but does not break us. 

Above all else, we must remember who is in charge and we must look to the one that never changes, God.

The Theology Around Suicide February 26, 2018 No Comments

Recently I have been in a situation where I have had to talk a lot about suicide and the theology around it. Its not something we should have to be talking about, but the world is not as it should be. There is a theological view within Christianity that claims that anyone who commits suicide goes to hell no matter what. It is a view that rose in part out of the catholic church and gets little discussion today even though many teach and hold this view.

The basis for this view is in the incorrect interpretation of two different passages, one that appears in three of the four gospels and one that appears in Pauls letters. The Gospel passage talks about blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Of course this is not a word that we know much about, but at its core, it is a direct affront, accusation and rejection of God. It is to claim that God is not real or to embrace satan instead of God. Some have decided that rather than take this view and interpretation, to view suicide as blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. There is no real textual or scholarly basis to this however.

The other passage talks about grieving the Holy Spirit. Again, this is interpreted by some as suicide being the ultimate act against God, the way to grieve the Holy Spirit. While this is less of a stretch, it is a stretch nonetheless. What this does refer to however, is the rejection of God when we come face to face with God whether in life, death or both. This is the only way we can end up spending eternity without God. Now, CS Lewis notes that he could not understand how someone could come face to face with God in death and reject the power and love of God, but that some clearly do.

The idea that God would abandon any of his children in the midst of the darkest moment of their life, regardless of their belief, lifestyle or church attendance is contrary to the whole of scripture and the life, teaching, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. It is in our moments of deepest pain that God is with us.

The truth is that we can never be sure of anyones salvation but our own. The only thing we can do is life in hope, trust of God and live in love, sharing the good news of Gods unconditional love and grace with everyone we encounter in word and deed.

As for suicide, any idea that engaging in this act of desperation warrants the automatic and eternal rejection of God in every case is pure rubbish.

Theology of People September 19, 2017 No Comments

People and the relationships we have with them are one of the greatest gifts that God will ever give us. I have shared this at almost every funeral that I have performed for more than a decade. We often lose sight of that and neglect that in the midst of busyness, conflict, fear, and a focus on what is not going right or what we do not have rather than focusing on what is going well and what we do have.

We must remember that people are created in the image of God, all of them. Christian and not. One of the implications of this is that every human being, in one way or another bears the image of Jesus to others and to the world. It also means that all people have great value, that to be created in the image of God is a high honor and a unique aspect of being human. Another application is that we are all children of God. Those who have embraced this identity, or come to know Jesus or have been baptized have fully accepted and live in this identity. All this to say, that human beings are the most valuable creatures in all of creation.

This means that how we look at and treat people matters. We cannot perfect this, but we often fail to even try or notice how we see and treat others. We often focus on their flaws and judge them while ignoring our own. Our primary goal should be to see people as God sees them, beautiful, important, loved yet imperfect. Our ideal approach is to seek to understand people rather than to judge them or be understood by them. We must assume a positive, or as one of my mentors said, ‘assume a yes in everyone.’ We must assume the best in people if we really want to see and value them, if we really want to treat them with the love that God calls us to.

It also turns out that we can disagree with people, dislike things about them and still value and love them. It turns out that we can have different personalities, views, strengths and weaknesses and still love and value each other, better yet, have a healthy deep relationship with one another.

That is the ideal that God seeks in us and the only way it becomes a reality is if we take that seriously and let it begin with me.

Theology of Fear August 19, 2017 No Comments

We live in a fear based culture without question. The church has become a fear based organization much like the culture. Fear is not a Biblical value. It may seem like one, but the number of times the Bible (and Jesus) tell us not to fear is hard to count. Sure, the Bible references the fear of the Lord (and that is primarily meant to say respect), but that is not what I am talking about nor is that the issue.

It seems we can take one of two paths and as Christians, the path we are called to is narrow, hard and counter cultural. It is the path of following and imitating Jesus.

The first path is the path of fear. Fear motivates us to worry, to criticize, to judge, to hate and so much more. Fear is often rooted in lack of knowledge, whether of self or something external. Ironically, fear and ignorance together often lead to arrogance. This path often leads to judgement and hatred. You combine this with a focus on being religious and it is downright toxic and contradictory to what Jesus has for us.

The Jesus path is the path of trust. Trust of God. Trust allows us to grow, to see the best, to be a people of hope rather than a people of fear. It allows us to focus on understanding rather than being understood. The path of trust creates a sense of teachability and often increases self-knowledge, eventually blotting out ignorance. This path leads to a perspective of grace and love rather than judgment and criticism. This perspective is rooted not in religion, but in relationship with Jesus, it is truly the path of faith.

We each have a choice as to which path we will choose in our lives as we approach our own life, our family, the church and the world. Its not an easy choice and the path of Jesus is not easy. Narrow is the gate…

As for me, I pray that by the grace and help of God that I will always choose the Jesus path.