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This past weekend I attended a Stewardship training conference for the Lutheran churches in the Florida-Bahamas Synod.  I am the worship leader and stewardship chair for my church, Family of God in Cape Coral, FL, and I went with my pastor and another member of the church to this 1 day conference, hoping to learn something.  Sadly, all I really learned was how far out of step many in the church are.

The day began with prayer – always a good thing – then Pastor Rita, the pastor that serves as the Bishop’s right hand, er, person, did a demonstration of how stewardship works.  If you’ve been around business a while, you’ve probably seen this particular object lesson before – I believe Stephen Covey was the first to use it many years ago.

Pastor Rita pulled out a glass food storage jar and asked folks what kind of minor bills they had to pay – electric, cable, entertainment, food, etc… Then she filled a good portion of the jar with unpopped popcorn.  Turning to larger expenses, she placed pieces of fruit in the jar to indicate our mortgage, car payments, insurances, and finally, with a large grapefruit, our offerings to God.  Of course, the grapefruit stuck out considerably and the point was made – put first things first.  Which was good, and I agree – I always remind people that your tithe is specifically mentioned as coming from your First Fruits.  In fact, back when I was struggling with money, but still wanted to make Christ a priority, I forced myself into a physical discipline to reflect the spiritual discipline.  At the time, I was using a modified version of the envelope system and I forced myself, when I cashed my paycheck, to immediately take out the 10% I wanted to give back to God, so that I was reinforcing, in my mind if no where else, the First Fruits concept.

But I noticed something odd when Pastor Rita reversed the process.  She first added the grapefruit (tithes), then the mortgage fruit, the car payments fruit (a lime), then the insurances, then poured the popcorn over, leaving, about 1-1/2 inches of empty space at the top.  “And that,” she declared, “is the best example I’ve ever seen of how steawardship works.”  Well, this immediately bothered me and I got distracted trying to figure out why.  Then it hit me – here we were, at a church function, surrounded by a few dozen pastors, and NO ONE had mentioned Kingdom Finances.

You see, Pastor Rita’s example was fine – in fact it was a great explanation for the Pareto Principle, espoused by John Maxwell.  However, other than the admonition to put our commitment to God first, it really didn’t illustrate at all the Kingdom Economic principles.  After much thought, I determined what I think is the best way she could have continued the existing example, but bring God into it more:

Place the jar inside a 2″ deep baking pan.  Then take a pitcher of water and pour it over the entire container, filling up the remaining space within the jar and spilling out over into the pan.  You see, when you place God first in your finances, He responds to that – because He wants to, because He loves us – by filing us up to overflowing – providing not only for our needs, but blessing us with an abundance so that we may bless others.  Later in the seminar, during a question and answer session, I brought that up.  I asked, “I know we’re struggling in many churches just to get people to tithe (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is ahead of the ballgame – 2.5% of their members tithe as opposed to the national average in all churches, 1.9%), but why are we not even discussing offerings – those gifts that go above the tithe?”

His response was sadly typical.  While he agreed with me that the tithe should be a floor, not a ceiling, he kind of danced around the fact that there was more of a fear mentality in the Lutheran church than one of looking to bless others – despite Martin Luther‘s personal stance on this issue.

Just to finish off, at the conclusion of the seminar, wherein they handed out materials to all of the attendees that they told us to use in our churches, I noticed that absolutely nothing had been said about teaching the children stewardship.  Maybe it’s just because we are in Florida, often joked about as “God’s waiting room,” but I thought it odd that we were not encouraged to teach our children stewardship, tithing and giving.  When I inquired, I was told that I could request materials via e-mail from the speaker and he would be happy to send them to me, yet no mention was made of this to the larger group.  Which wouldn’t be as big a deal if they hadn’t interrupted our discussion just a few minutes before to explain how to handle snowbirds & part-time residents.  Apparently, they are more important to this church than raising up their children (as few as they are) in the proper Christian beliefs and faith.

On a somewhat related, but different note, an interesting thing has been happening in my area of Southwest Florida recently.  A few short weeks ago, one of our officers at the Fort Myers Police Department was shot in the line of duty.  While I had only met Andy once, I have known his wife and her family for the better part of 25 years.  As part of the community coming together, a number of officers from all of our local police agencies volunteered to stand outside of various shopping centers and Wal-Marts, collecting donations for the family, who has three very young children.  The donations collected (and still being collected in some instances) amounted to well over $100,000.

Recently, some folks have expressed some confusion over why this family was singled out and received such a huge outpouring of community support.  Now, as a friend of the family and former law enforcement officer, I have my own strongly held personal opinions about why the Widman family should be blessed in this way (not to mention Andy took the job to raise money so he and Susanna could go overseas as missionaries), but the detractors raise an interesting point – one they seem willing to back up.  And in that I support them.  They rightly ask, “Where is all of the money for other widows, where is the community support,”  and they are making a lot of noise about starting a fund for those other widows, to which I respond, ABSOLUTELY.  And while you’re at it, let’s take care of the orphans as well.  I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible…

Dueteronomy 10:17-18 “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.”

In fact, the book of Deuteronomy is replete with admonitions to leave behind a portion of your crops, for the fatherless and the widowed.  Twice in that book alone, the writer mentions that you should, “bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

You may recall my article last year, “Why Social Security, Welfare & Medicare Don’t Work – And Never Will,” where I talked about how the church and its people have abdicated their responsibility to care for the least of these to various government programs.  While the almost universal response I got from the people who read the article can be summed up in, “Well, that’s a nice thought, but it’ll never work,” its nice to see that some others – even those without a faith foundation to fall back on – are embracing the same principles.  Now why can’t we get the church involved?

Maybe that’s just too much Jesus for them.  Maybe we should review the words of the great reformer, Martin Luther:

“There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.” – Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520)

Now get out there and change the world.

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Since I started doing this teaching blog a little while ago, I have gotten a variety of responses from the readers, some as comments, some as personal e-mails, both positive and negative in their feedback.  One subject that seems to spur more controversy and general angst than any other is the subject of tithing.

There are two basic points of view about tithing in churches, and I never realized the huge gulf between the two concepts – in part, because there isn’t one, just a manufactured controversy that results from too many assumptions about the other party, and secondly because of the high emotional context that many non-tithing (often also known as free-will offering) teachers operate from.

It’ll probably be easier to understand if I give you some examples.  Most of the arguments people have given me consist of a few similarities.  I’ll summarize.

The first is, “Christ established a new covenant with his followers, especially the gentiles, and we should no longer serve the old Jewish/Old Testament edicts.”

The second is, “Churches and pastors have browbeat people into giving.  The teaching on tithing has been abused to build up some church leader’s egos and for building projects and to take advantage of the poor who have less than the rich.”  This one’s usually preceded by the phrase, “I’m mad.”

Often times, these arguments are bolstered and exacerbated by the many assumptions that are prevalent in the arguments.

Tithing teachers and followers often assume that their free-will offering counterparts are using their beliefs as a crutch to give less or not at all, because they haven’t felt the Spirit move them.

Free-Will Offering teachers and followers assume that their tithing friends are legalistic, mean and teach that God doesn’t bless those who don’t give 10%.  They also assume that many tithers use the 10% as a crutch to only give the barest minimum of what they have been blessed with, and feeling smug and secure.

There are a variety of other less-prevalent arguments and assumptions, but the ones I have presented here cover a majority of what I’ve heard.  One notable exception was a gentleman who explained to me in depth why tithing was a remnant of the Mosaic law and that we are under a new covenant and not Jews and should not be bound by the Mosaic laws, then proceeded to tell me that he believed that his stance on Free-Will Offering was established in the book of Deuteronomy (I’ll pause and let the irony sink in).

I said that the controversy was manufactured and I want to explain that, because I don’t want to leave any misunderstandings out there.  I also don’t want anyone to think that I am stating that one group or another manufactured the controversy.  That is not true.  Unfortunately, there is another presence in our world that likes to create things, especially things that mock the true creation, and I believe he is the source of this manufactured controversy.

In First Timothy 2:14-17, Paul explains this: “…Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.  Their teaching will spread like gangrene.”

I believe this is what has happened here – Satan has gotten in and subtly manipulated us, using some pastor’s all-too human failings, pride and greed, to establish a controversy and an argument between two viable bodies of Christ for no apparent reason other than the controversy itself.

Now follow me here, because this is the question I have for my free-will offering friends who don’t believe in the tithe.  First, “Why not?”  But before you answer that question, let me offer my proposal for how we can resolve all of the conflict and come into a unity with regards to expressing our stewardship by giving to the Lord. 

You see, once I understood the basic principles of Spirit-led free-will offering, the answer became obvious to me. 

First, we do not deny the tithe – it is a Biblically-expressed spiritual principle, tied to God’s spiritual laws.  However, the tithe is just a starting point.  As we mature and grow in our understanding and knowledge of Jesus Christ and how His kingdom economics work, we follow the Spirit’s leading (which we can hear and discern better now) and increase our giving, our free-will offering, as we are led.

Think of the tithe as the spiritual milk that babies eat and the free-will offering as the spiritual meat that adults transition to.  The two don’t have to be at odds with one another – it makes sense, spiritually, that they should compliment each other.  We are blessed by God, in part, due to the way we handle money, and giving new Christians a standard to judge themselves by only makes sense.

Through all of my praying and preparing for writing this, I have sought God’s wisdom in this matter, and through His divine intelligence, He has given me a phrase that I think just might revolutionize the way tithing is taught and understood by most of the church.

The phrase is this: “Tithing is not legalistic, it is opportunistic.”

Now, I’m not going to argue with the people who take offense that a spiritual concept might be ‘opportunistic.’  God is a God of opportunity – after all, it is He who gives us the ability to create wealth, so why would He then deny us that opportunity.  If you don’t agree, then you might as well head over to ChristaNet or Yahoo or whatever, cause this won’t make sense to you.

Instead, I’m going to explain why the tithe is opportunistic.

You see, I believe that there are three levels of blessing that God engages in.  The first is general blessing.  We all get the benefits of that, by the very fact that we live on the earth He created.  Jesus explains that in Matthew 5: “your Father in heaven… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

The second blessing is a believer’s blessing, which is similar to the blessing the Jewish people still hold.  Paul explains in Galatians 3:

“Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.  The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.  What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.  For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.  A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Paul even points out earlier in the chapter, that those who rely on observing the law are cursed.  I repeat that the Biblical tithe is not legalistic – otherwise, it would go against God’s promises.

Finally, the third blessing that God bestows is the blessing of obedience.  You see, we’re given free will.  Anyone can do anything he likes or doesn’t like.  God does not make a distinction.  Further, we can follow or turn away and we can be obedient or disobedient to God.  However, I don’t believe that God punishes us for that – not in the way that the world thinks, anyway.  God is not sitting up in heaven with a giant SMITE button on His captain’s chair, waiting for us to screw up so that He can take away our blessings.  No, the beauty of it is, being our Creator, He understands how we work, and knows that the consequences of our actions or inactions will be sufficient in most cases.  This is especially true of those who have believed in Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and ruling still.  But by that same token, those of us who are saved by faith, should also respond to that gift with love and obedience.  In fact, we have a higher responsibility, by nature of the gift we have been given.  Again, we could chose to ignore that responsibility and devalue that gift, but where would that leave us?

You see, the tithe is not legalistic – and God does not punish or penalize us for not following the tithe.  At the same time, He does not withhold His blessings from us, if we don’t tithe – and this is the most important thing – WE withhold those blessings from ourselves!

God is standing there, willing, able and longing, YES, LONGING, to bless us with more financial wealth, more relationship wealth and more spiritual wealth and power, but He chooses to follow the rules He himself has set up, because He knows His creation.

Luke 16: 9-11 – “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

I Peter 1: 14-15 – “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;”

Why does God long to bless us financially, spiritually and relationally?  Because His desire is that we bring about a change in our world – a movement that glorifies Him and draws many many more to His promises and truth of the Gospel.

Just one more thing I’d like to point out, for the people who still object to my teaching on tithes.  I am not a pastor (in the traditional sense), nor do I represent a church.  I am a member of a church, and I have been a member of other churches.  At no point have I ever taught the tithe to raise money for myself or any church or ministry.  I teach the tithe, because I believe it is truly the way God wants us to behave, augmented by free-will offerings when the Spirit moves you.  No one should give out of obligation or fear and no one should ignore Biblical teaching because of someone else’s propensity for using the Word of God to elicit guilt or fear.  Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

As for this ministry/website/blog – everything here is paid for out of my own pocket.  When I do seminars, whether for churches or other organizations, I do not ask for any money.  I have been given money in the past, but not as a result of my request.  I don’t even have a button on here to support me voluntarily through PayPal or anything like that.  That said, I have posted a couple of flyers on the site that you can download to share with friends who are seeking Biblical teaching on finances. 

Dennis Peacocke, author of Doing Business God’s Way, points out that Paul often writes that we are given the resources necessary to fulfill our God-given calling.  In I Thessalonians 1:11-12, he writes, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.  We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 9 expresses it this way:

God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,
   He throws caution to the winds,
      giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
   His right-living, right-giving ways
      never run out, never wear out.
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.

Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they’ll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!”

(The Message)

May God bless you as you prayerfully consider the words I have written here.  And may you find the level of giving you are able to handle and allow God to grow you spiritually, financially and relationally into His perfect creation.
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A few weeks ago, the articles here caught the attention of a gentleman who was struggling with what the church, historically has taught about tithing and he made several comments, which I used to establish a dialogue with him.  You can read the comments here. 

While I appreciated what he had to say, one of the things we continued to disagree on was whether or not the tithe was still applicable today as it was in Old Testament Biblical times.  One of the resources I did not have at the time, but have recently located, was this 4-part series by Australian minister Clive Pick on Kingdom Economics.

In the sermon reprint, I read the words that I wish I had been able to deliver to Mr. Lindsay, but had trouble expressing properly:

You don’t give the tithe you don’t sow the tithe, and the tithe is not an offering. The tithe is something you return. If you don’t return it, you are withholding it. Now that is the key the church needs to turn, because the tithe is the key to the release – not only of finances for the body of Christ, but also of the authority of the body of Christ.

You see, the tithe is not something we give back to God.  God has given us every good gift, including the means to earn a living and create sufficiency and even prosperity for ourselves.  For years, we’ve all been taught in churches that we give back to God in response to that gift.  But that teaching is slightly skewed, because it’s not ours to give.  In Malachi, God calls His people thieves when they do not “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…”

But the fact is, the charge is much stronger.  God says that we are stealing because we are keeping what was never ours – withholding the tithe instead of releasing it.  Rather than being good stewards, we’re pilfering from our Lord and Redeemer – essentially biting the hand that feeds us, and then wondering why His blessings aren’t flowing down from on high onto us. 

10prayers.jpgIn his recent book, Ten Prayers God Always Says Yes To, Anthony DeStefano points out that there is something very significant about the way God addresses giving in Malachi 3.  In every other situation in the Bible, when God interacts with His people, we are warned not to test God. 

Exodus 17 – “Why do you put the LORD to the test?”

Numbers 14 – “not one of the men who saw my glory and the miraculous signs I performed in Egypt and in the desert but who disobeyed me and tested me ten times- not one of them will ever see the land I promised on oath to their forefathers. No one who has treated me with contempt will ever see it.”

Deuteronomy 6 – “Do not test the LORD your God as you did at Massah.”

Psalm 78 – “But they put God to the test and rebelled against the Most High; they did not keep his statutes. Like their fathers they were disloyal and faithless, as unreliable as a faulty bow. They angered him with their high places; they aroused his jealousy with their idols.When God heard them, He was very angry; He rejected Israel completely.”

Psalm 95 – “…do not harden your hearts as you did at Meribah, as you did that day at Massah in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me, though they had seen what I did.  For forty years I was angry with that generation;  I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray, and they have not known my ways.’  So I declared on oath in my anger, ‘They shall never enter my rest.’”

Isaiah 7 – “Ahaz said, ‘I will not ask; I will not put the LORD to the test.’”

Matthew 4 – “Jesus answered him, ‘It is also written: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’”

Luke 4 – “Jesus answered, ‘It says: “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’”

Acts 5 – “Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’  At that moment she fell down at his feet and died.  Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.”

Acts 15 – “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?

I Corinthians 10 – “We should not test the Lord, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes.”

Hebrews 3 – “So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did.  That is why I was angry with that generation, and I said, “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.”  So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”’”

But the terms are radically reversed in Malachi 3:8-12, where God actually challenges us to “’Test me in this… and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the LORD Almighty.”

If God chose this one area to allow His people to test Him, does that not place an even higher amount of importance on tithing?  Yet so many people choose to ignore the teachings, dispute their validity and argue that since some pastors in the church abused their authority in respect to the tithe, then we should ignore this particular spiritual discipline.  That makes about as much sense as saying that we should ignore the teachings on adultery and fornication because some pastors and priests twisted them to serve their own aberrant and perverted desires.

We see a lot of people out there who claim that God has called them into ministry, yet they live in poverty.  Now, I’m not saying that they’re living below their means or getting by with less – we could all bear to do some of that.  I am talking about people who, in the course of their ministry, significantly struggle financially day to day, living offering to offering, leaving bills unpaid or relying on government subsidies to make ends meet.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that the problem is two-fold.  First, the people of God should be giving more to all ministries.  In fact, as I’ve mentioned before, if the church members actually tithed, we would have more money than we could spend.  But, a little more controversially, if God is not meeting your needs, then perhaps you need to reevaluate your “call” to ministry. 

Bear with me while I explain.  It is a fact that God pays for what He orders.  And I’m not talking about having a few weeks or even months shy of the full amount necessary.  That, in fact, may be God testing your faith and building your financial spiritual maturity – stripping away those things that really don’t matter so you can clearly see what does.  But, if you are consistently, month in and month out, year after year unable to pay your bills, feed your family and maintain your home, I think you might have misunderstood what God was saying to you, because He would never speak a word that is in conflict with His written word.  That is why we are told in I John to test the spirits and in 2 Corinthians to test ourselves.

One other thing I’d like to point out about giving and receiving, sowing and reaping.  In Acts 5, we see the story of Ananias and Sapphira.  I’ve even quoted a portion of it above, but let me bring the whole passage out right now:

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.  With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet.   Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?  Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”

When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.  Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.

About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.  Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
      “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”

Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.  Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

I want to discuss this passage for a moment, because so much has been written about the New Testament vision for tithing, based on this incident in the early church.

 Reformed theologian John Calvin points out that when Malachi is addressing the house of Israel, the reason he employs the phrase, “bring the whole tithe into the storehouse” is because the Jews were bringing as little as they could get away with in – most of the time only half of the tithe – but at the same time, pretending that they were serving God by bringing anything at all, and those who gave half were elevating themselves to positions of high honor because they were giving the most.  In Calvin’s language, they were trifling with God, performing their “duties” in such a way that the others would not see their perfidy.  Perfidy is the act of violating faith or allegiance; violation of a promise or vow; faithlessness; treachery.  So what Calvin is saying is that the children of Israel were stealing from God by not returning the first fruits portion of their blessings to Him and they were making it worse by lying about it – trying to make themselves appear more holy, and in the process mocking God.

Sound familiar?  Why are Ananias and Sapphira struck down?  It’s not because they kept part of the money for themselves.  Peter makes it clear that they were entitled to the money – even all of the money, if they’d so chosen.  The reason they are struck dead and made an example of is because they deliberately lied to the Apostles and to God by claiming they were bringing the entire amount for God’s use when in fact they had kept a portion for themselves.  And Sapphira compounds their sin by outright lying to Peter when asked directly if the money they brought was the full amount.  Again, it’s not that they didn’t being the full amount, its that they lied about it to make themselves seem more holy.

John Calvin’s words echo from when he wrote them in the Middle Ages and still ring true today: “…it is no new or unusual thing for men to pretend to do the duties they owe to God, and at the same time to take away from him what is his own, and to transfer it to themselves, and that manifestly, so that their impiety is evident, though it be covered by the veil of dissimulation (hiding the truth).” Calvin goes on to note that God offers the challenge to test himself to dispel the malicious and slanderous things some of the Israelites were saying about God – claiming God was not consistent, because He had, by His own spiritual law, withheld His blessings from the people.

But God’s words are not just for the Israelites in Malachi’s time, or for the disciples and apostles of the early church.  Are you suffering because you feel God’s blessings have been withheld from you?  While there could be many reasons why God is withholding His blessing, the most prevalent and powerful in our world today is due to people’s hearts being hardened against giving God the first fruits.  Or to use the more appropriate language, by being greedy or overly concerned with money – FOR WHATEVER REASON – they are either unwilling or afraid to release back to God some of His blessings; withholding the appropriate response of money, time or talent – and keeping themselves from receiving the greater blessings God wishes to bestow upon them.

Calvin goes on to point out that our disobedience hurts everything. It hurts God by breaking our relationship with Him. It hurts us by keeping us from God’s blessings and breaking His relationship with us. And it hurts even the earth itself, which yearns, as Paul writes, for the release of what they were created to be – a source of blessing for God’s people.  

There is a lot of talk right now about The Secret – the “Law of Attraction,” that draws all good things to the people who can direct the universe’s formless stuff with their mental powers.  The true secret is that God has created the earth to serve us, but when sin broke the world, the rules changed.  The creation still wants to serve God’s children, but we must be obedient to God’s spiritual laws to allow even the very earth to share its wealth with us.

Calvin even suggests that when God tells Malachi that he will “open the floodgates of heaven,” or “open you the windows of heaven” (KJV) and pour out a blessing – He is talking about supplying the rain that allows crops to grow – then preventing the pests/devourers and preserving the fruit on the vine until it can be picked.

Interestingly enough, at the end of the chapter, God explains what will happen when His people return to obeying His laws: “They will be mine,” says the LORD Almighty, “in the day when I make up my treasured possession.  I will spare them, just as in compassion a man spares his son who serves him. And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (emphasis mine)

Test God. I’m seriously asking. Until we see that the tithe, as well as God’s other financial principles and spiritual laws lead to a much more prosperous and happy life than anything we can create under our own power, we will never witness the true power of God. And many more souls will be lost, because we refused to obey God’s laws and supply a conduit for His blessings and salvation for ALL people. Don’t you owe it to your family and friends to try? I guarantee you, God will answer.

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Thank you for joining us again this week. Last week, we talked about bringing our tithes and offerings to the Lord. We also looked at a spending plan. A way to live within your means, follow God’s plan and care for your family. But there’s one major thing that prevents most Christians in America from following God’s plan for their lives. That’s overbearing debt.

Rob BellI was reading about a pastor who took a trip to Turkey. While there, he noticed there were houses in various stages of being built all around the cities. They appeared as if someone had started to work and then just stopped in halfway through and abandoned it. He asked his friend, a missionary there, what was going on. The missionary explained that the Koran has admonitions against having debt or offering loans. Because the government is Muslim, they have strict laws against lending and borrowing. So the people save their money until they can begin to build. When they run out of money, they stop building and go back to work until they can afford to continue.

Imagine if we took our Biblical admonitions against debt so seriously…

90 Days Same As Ca$hInstead, we have the “American Dream.” Except that dream looks more and more like a nightmare every day. “Buy now and pay later…” “90 Days, Same as Cash…”

We spend money we don’t have. To buy things we can’t afford. To pay for it, we work longer hours. We sacrifice time with the people we care about. We leave our families, our churches and our communities with less than they deserve. All to impress people who couldn’t care less. Just “Keeping up with the Jones”

Stressed by DebtDebt is an “American” Problem. Despite changing laws, 1.8 million people filed for bankruptcy in 2005, a new record. In January 2006, U.S. households overspent their incomes by $575. Almost one out of every five people make only the minimum monthly payment on their credit card. 40% of American families spend more than they earn every month. Newsweek reported that seniors, many of whom are on fixed incomes, are carrying an average of over $4,000 in credit-card debt.

Only 9% of evangelicals say they are “in serious debt.” The fact is, they have just as much debt – in some cases more – than non-Christians. In fact, 37% of Christians believe they’ll never be out of debt. And many churches don’t help the problem by underpaying their most important people – or expecting more service for less money.

So why is debt such a huge problem? We have been taught to ask three questions when considering a credit purchase. What is the interest rate? What is my payment? What you should ask is completely different. What you should ask is, “What is the ACTUAL total cost?” and “When will it be paid off?”

If I asked you to tell me the difference between 5% and 10% could you tell me? Most would agree that 5% is probably better. But what if I told you that the 5% loan will take 50 years to pay off? And the interest you’ll pay is about 5 times as much as the original price? Meanwhile the 10% loan is paid off in 15 years. And the total interest is one-fourth of that.

Also, the world teaches us to ask, “Do I want it?” Those living Godly lives need to be more responsible. They should be asking, do I really need it? And is it worth the extra cost? What if I told that the $2.00 cup of coffee you’re buying with a credit card will cost you almost $1000 when you finally pay it off 7 years from now? Would you still “need” it that badly?

Unfortunately, it is very difficult to completely avoid debt in today’s world. If you must have debt, you should know which debts are better than others.

You used to be able to depend on mortgages. However, in the past few years, some loans that were designed to help investors were re-worked and misapplied to help families buy homes they can’t afford. Homes that 10-percent of them will lose this year. In fact, Florida ranks as the number 2 state for foreclosures. The Miami Herald reports that last month alone, 3.3 million mortgages in Florida were more than 30 days past due.

Really, the only mortgage debt that most families can afford is fixed-rate mortgages. The state of Texas has outlawed interest only mortgages and adjustable-rate mortgages. I personally believe that the same should happen in every state. Until the government sees it my way, avoid them like the plague.

Another popular loan available these days is the Home Equity Line of Credit. The banks promise you no closing costs and access to cash whenever you need it. But what you get is another credit card. And if you miss a payment, your house is the collateral.

There are other debts you should avoid, but which do have some benefit. These include Student loans, fixed-rate vehicle loans and fixed rate consumer loans. It is better to save for these expenses ahead of time. But if all else fails, these debts are at least reasonable.

Of course, the worst debt is credit card debt.

You’ve probably heard that compound interest is a good thing. When you’re saving, it is. But what happens when compound interest works against you?

Consider Maria. She has a balance of $500. on her credit cards. She makes the minimum payment every month. She only charges an extra $150 a year.

Five years later, she owes $780.

Ten years later, she owes $2,050. She’s only spending an extra $150.00 per year.

Fifteen years later, she owes $3,720. Still making the minimum monthly payment on time, every month.

Twenty years later, she owes $5,720.

Twenty-five years later, she’s ready to retire. But she owes $7,970. Almost $8000.

She’s charged less than $5000 in that time. And she’s paid almost $5000 back.

Does that sound like a good deal to you?

National statistics show that Maria is unusual. She only charged an extra $150 a year.

Even if they pay them off every month, the average consumer will spend 35% more when shopping with credit cards.

Let me ask you, how do you think God views debt? Do you believe that owing money to someone else reflects God’s best for you and yours?

In Proverbs, Solomon writes, “The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is servant to the lender.”

When someone borrowed money, in Old Testament times, they became the servant of the lender until they paid the debt pay off.

When you borrow money today, you enter into a binding contract promising to pay back the money. You have basically given up your financial freedom to get things you can’t afford to pay for. That results in the financial gain of the lender at your expense.

You are their slave until you have fulfilled your obligation to repay. Maybe that’s why it’s called “Master Card”?

Often people who are in debt feel the financial pressure caused by debt repayment and conclude that they just can’t give the way they would like to because of debt pressure. How does that glorify God?

Deliver Us From DebtIn “Deliver Us From Debt,” Dr. Charles Stanley writes,

First, debt creates stress, anxiety, worry, and deep frustration. The person who suffers under such a burden cannot have a heart fully focused on God. Debt can also become a mental preoccupation. Your first and last thoughts each day are about whom you owe, how much you owe, and what you can do about what you owe. You are not in a position to hear from God about His priorities for your money or your time and other resources.

Second, unpaid debt can lead to the fear that you will never be out of debt. That fear is the opposite of faith. Fear separates us from God . Fear becomes your focus. Debt takes the place of God.

Third, debt places a strain on family relationships. Money concerns are among the primary causes of family arguments. Money problems are responsible for 85% of divorces in America. Mismanagement of money can smother love. The more you struggle with money, the less time and attention you have to share with your loved ones.

Fourth, debt can cause you to become resentful of others. You begin to avoid those you owe. Sometimes, you may avoid people you think know about your indebtedness. Debt can cause you to distrust or look unkindly upon those who seem to have no money problems. It can cause you to become envious. These are not godly attitudes.

Fifth, debt hurts the testimony of a Christian. Actions speak louder than words. You can tell the world you are trusting God to meet all of your needs. But, if the truth is that you are relying on credit cards or loans, It is difficult to declare to the world that you are trusting God to meet all of your needs and to be deeply in debt at the same time. Your credibility is destroyed.

Finally, debt affects your spiritual life in a negative way because debt keeps you from listening totally to God’s directives for your daily life. If the only thing you can focus on is your creditors, God is given the second place in your life.

Focus is the key. The biggest problem with debt abuse is the focus on possessions. Materialism in any form is sin. We compound that sin when we allow that materialism to pull us down into debt. When debt is in the picture, we go from being the controllers to being controlled. Seeking peace outside of God is rebellion. A rebellion we pay for everyday. True peace only comes from God.

John 14:27 states, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

Accountability is also important. God does not intend for you to do it alone. As Ron Blue notes, “To stay on track with your repayment plan, hold yourself accountable to someone whose judgment and integrity you trust.” To move from financial bondage to financial freedom, you need to have someone you can trust to watch your back.

A possible debt solution that works for some people is earning more money. That does work for some people. However, more money isn’t the answer for everyone. The truth is, unless you change your habits and attitudes that got you into debt in the first place, even an increase in income isn’t likely to resolve your problem. In fact, there’s a chance you could get even deeper into debt, thinking that you now have the ability to pay your old bills, as well as taking on new debt.

God wants to bless us. He is a loving father who delights in His children’s prosperity. He wants to serve our needs. So, when we move into debt due to wants and desires, we steal from the Lord. We steal His opportunity either to provide your needs or to show you they aren’t needs. And just because you can afford something, it doesn’t mean God wants you to get it. His desire is for you to engage in generosity, not greed.

It’s also important to note that while God does not want us in debt, bankruptcy is not an acceptable option for Christians, either. Psalm 37:21 points out, “The wicked borrows and does not repay, but the righteous shows mercy and gives.” By God’s law, we have an obligation to pay our debts. And just like with the discipline of the tithe… We can trust God to provide for us the means to pay those debts. When we are obedient.

Resolve today to get out of debt. Make a decision that you will honor God with your money. Ask yourself, are you honoring God by being a responsible steward of what He’s provided you? Or are you spending based on negative motivators? Consider that if you can’t afford it now, perhaps it isn’t God’s will for you to have it. At least not yet.

Before purchasing anything… Stop for a moment and consider, do I really need this, can I afford it, and will it be worth the cost? Exercise self-control to move away from debt and towards financial freedom and a stronger faith in God. Then thank God for His help as you pay off each bill. Make the payment of your debts an opportunity for praise.

Once you are giving as God has called you, and brought your attitude on debt into alignment, you can continue to financial freedom by examining His provision for your family’s future. Which is what we’ll do next week.
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I want to thank you for reading and allowing me to serve my God-given purpose by educating you about God’s perspectives on your finances and for being willing to learn.

I also want to ask you for forgiveness, because after reading this, you will have no excuse for not applying these Biblical principles in your lives.

Just to let you know who I am, and what my qualifications are… I am a licensed Mortgage Broker in the state of Florida. I am licensed by the NASD and the SEC as an Investment Broker and to supervise other Investment Brokers. I am also licensed by the state of Florida to market Life and Health Insurance.

Centurion LogoMore importantly, I am commissioned by Crown Financial Ministries as a Centurion, dedicated to equipping the church with Godly Stewards.

As you can probably imagine, most people are concerned about money matters, but few truly understand how money works or what God’s purpose is for their finances. Whenever anyone talks about money in a church setting, a lot of people react badly. Often times pastors will avoid preaching on it because they are concerned people will question their motives.

But the Evangelist Billy Graham was quoted as saying, “If a person gets his attitude about money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area in his life.” I firmly believe this, so I commend you for taking your spiritual health seriosuly enough to discuss this volatile issue.

Just to clarify, the Bible and Jesus himself speak often of finances. In fact, the subject is mentioned in the Bible twice as often as prayer and faith put together! Two-thirds of Jesus parables dealt with money, and the Scriptures make it clear that there is a fundamental connection between a person’s spiritual life and his attitudes and actions concerning money and possessions.

You didn’t see it on Television or in the newspapers, but last year there was a string of church robberies across the country. An undetermined amount of money was stolen, and the evidence suggests that it was an inside job. There were no visible signs of forced entry, and no destruction of property. None of the suspects has been apprehended… yet.

I have also come to announce, to all who will listen, that the Judge in the case is willing to suspend the sentences and pardon all who will make a vow never to commit the crime again. In case you haven’t guessed, the victim and the Judge are one in the same – the Lord. And none of us, including myself, unfortunately, is innocent. You see, today, we’re going to talk about the foundation of God-centered finances, the Tithe.

First, let’s talk about some of the popular misconceptions I’ve heard from people in the church about money & the Bible. See if you’ve heard any of these…

“Money is evil” or “Money is the root of all evil.”

What I Timothy 6:10 actually says is that, “…the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

You see, as Tom Hill points out, “Money makes you more of what you already are.”

The great 18th century theologian John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, wrote that money is an excellent gift of God, when it is properly applied, to bring food and drink to the hungry and thirsty, clothes for the naked, a source of shelter for the homeless, the fatherless and the widow, health for the sick, sight to the blind, feet to the lame… And as a result, those who fear God should learn how to manage that resource.

So how do you start managing money? Start with a vision. The writer of the proverbs noted that, “Without a vision the people perish,” and this is especially true when you’re dealing with money.

The vision should be clear and concise and you need to consult God to develop it properly. You must write it down and decide what you are willing to do to fulfill your God-given vision. Everyone’s situation and level of commitment is different. Once you have a vision, you begin by setting out a spending plan, based on your priorities.

Again, every individual is different, but a good rule of thumb for Christians is the 10-10-80 Rule.

10% of your Gross Income goes to your church.

10% of your Gross Income goes to save for your family’s future needs. We’ll talk more about that in a couple of weeks.

That leaves 80% as God’s provision for you to live on.

Of course, the government wants their portion, but if you’ve started off properly, that’s a fraction of the rest of your expenses.

Following the 10-10-80 Rule, here is a guideline for your personal financial situation. Again, 10% goes to tithes, and 10% to savings. The rest is broken up this way: 35% for housing, 20% for transportation, 15% for debt relief, and 10% for other expenses. And I would suggest that if one area of your finances is significantly outside of these percentages, then you need to spend some serious time in prayer to determine if you are truly following God’s plan.

Again, I’m going to emphasize that you need to write all this down. And I recommend that for the same reason that you write out your grocery list or balance your checkbook. If it’s not written down, it very difficult to follow. Having a written plan gives you a reference to turn to when you have a decision to make.

In the Old Testament, Habakkuk is told by the Lord to write the vision down for just this reason – that he may run who reads it. Solomon writes that wisdom and knowledge build a secure house, while Hosea laments that God’s people suffer for a lack of knowledge.

So what does Tithing mean? As I’ve already mentioned, there is a bit of a stigma when money is mentioned in a church setting, especially when the topic turns to the Tithes and Offerings. But the tithe is really *NOT* about money.

The word tithe, translated into English is one tenth. But the tithe is a resource standard, not an economic one. Only recently, in the last 100 years or so did money become the focus of the tithe. There is an old phrase I used to hear growing up in church – time, talent and treasury. You’ll note that the treasury is the last thing mentioned, because money is only a small part of the picture.

God wants you to sacrifice a portion of all of your blessings to Him, because He is the father of all blessings. The fact is, everything on earth is God’s – we are merely His stewards. All He requires of us – the bare minimum – is that we give back to Him a small fraction of the entirety He’s given us. He asks for the first fruits. He asks us to sacrifice the first of the blessings He has bestowed upon us, believing in faith that there are more blessings coming.

But, in fact, few people in the church are willing to trust God that much. A wise man once told me that people say a lot of things with their mouths that they don’t really mean, but when they speak with their wallets, you know they‘re telling the truth. The best judge of a man or woman’s character is where they spend their money.

Which do you think is better for you – living off of 90% of your income with God’s blessings – or trying to make do with 100% of your income on your own?

Now, I’ve heard some people claim that the tithe is an Old Testament Jewish law that has no bearing on our present day. I will agree, the tithe is never mentioned by Jesus or any of the apostles in the New Testament.

But consider this – did Jesus usually lower or raise the standard of obedience for His followers? In Matthew 5, He says, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder… But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment… You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.‘ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

But why didn’t Paul, the Jewish scholar turned Christian theologian mention it? I believe that he didn’t bring it up because there was no need. Acts 4 explains that the early church shared all of their assets, with no one claiming anything as his own. There were no needy – but those who had resources would donate them to be distributed as there was need.

The Barna Group, which is a company that follows Christian trends, found that the average American Christian gives only 6% to any ministry, and only 9% of born again Christians tithed their income to churches in 2004. What’s worse, one out of every six born again Christians (16%) gave no money to his or her church in 1999.

OfferingSadly, if the active members of Christian churches simply tithed – only gave a mere 10% of their income – an additional $139 billion – that’s a B – a year would be available for ministry. Do you see why God might consider us thieves?

I mentioned earlier that the Lord’s house was robbed. What I didn’t explain is that the thieves also stole from themselves. You see, the tithe is a spiritual discipline. God does not need your money – not for Himself or to fund any church. But when He created this world, He set certain laws into place – and one of those laws that He follows is tied to the tithe.

Our attitude and obedience are benchmarks for the magnitude of blessings God bestows upon us – financial or otherwise. So by not bringing in the whole tithe, by placing other wants and needs ahead of God and by refusing to talk about money, we are robbing ourselves of the greater blessings God wishes to bestow upon us.

Let me go one step further and point out that the first ministry that should benefit from the tithe, monetarily and in service, should be your home church. Any outside ministries should be funded by personal offerings outside the tithe, or from the church’s surplus. In fact, I highly recommend that churches and business also participate in the tithing process.

When I began writing, I apologized to you for what I had to teach, because the Word says that once you know what you are supposed to do, to not do it is to choose to sin. The first key is self-control. You choose what, when and how you spend now.

The hard part is making the choice to place God’s priorities ahead of what the world tells us we should want and need. The key to finding financial balance is in the understanding that giving is completely contrary to the thought that happiness can be found in accumulating money and possessions. Rather, joy is acquired by surrendering the material, and embracing the eternal. Then, once you begin to make the proper decisions with your own money, pass the knowledge onto others.

Next week, we’ll take a look at the one thing most responsible for keeping Christians from living as God intended… Overbearing Debt.
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