Archive for the ‘Churches’ Category

Once again, I had the opportunity to offer the sermon for the Sunday after Christmas, since our regular pastor is visiting his family in West Virginia.  So what follows is the essential make-up of what I spoke on, Sunday, December 28th.

There’s an old church joke you may have heard before, I’d like to share with you:

There was an economist who was reading 2 Peter 3:8-9 and was quite amazed by it and decided to ask God about it.

He prayed, “Lord, is it true that a thousand years are just like one minute to you?”

The Lord replied, “Yes.”

The economist said, “Well then a million dollars to us must be like one penny to you.”

The Lord replied again, “Well, yes.”

Thinking he had the perfect plan, the economist then asked, “Lord, can I have a penny?”

To which the Lord replied, “Absolutely.  Just give Me a minute.”

How often do we find ourselves in this economist’s position, praying for what we think we need and struggling when God’s response appears to be, “Wait”

The Gospel passage for this week that churches across the country are teaching from is Luke 2:21-40, often known as Simeon’s Song.  If you could turn in your Bibles to that passage, and if you don’t have a Bible with you, there are some under most of the chairs.  Luke is the third Gospel, in the New Testament.  Just a few days ago, we covered most of the first two chapters during Christmas Eve services…

Luke writes, “On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise him, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he had been conceived.   When the time of their purification according to the Law of Moses had been completed, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23(as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), 24and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”

25Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, 28Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:

29″Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you now dismiss your servant in peace.
30For my eyes have seen your salvation,
31which you have prepared in the sight of all people,
32a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and for glory to your people Israel.”

33The child’s father and mother marveled at what was said about him. 34Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, 35so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

36There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. 38Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

39When Joseph and Mary had done everything required by the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee to their own town of Nazareth. 40And the child grew and became strong; he was filled with wisdom, and the grace of God was upon him.”

This entire reading is about waiting.  Jesus waits a week to be circumcised, Mary waits 33 days from the circumcision to be purified and reenter the temple, according to the Levitical law.  Anna had been worshipping at the Temple for probably more than 60 years, waiting for something.  Simeon had been waiting for many years, for he had been told by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until he had seen the Christ.  Now, we don’t know how old he was at the time, although there is a traditional Eastern Orthodox story that would place his age at somewhere around 200+ years at the time he met the Holy Family at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Imagine waiting for almost two centuries for a promise to be fulfilled.  But not only that, it says that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel.

It’s probably not news to you that we as Americans, hate to wait.  We buy microwave dinners, TiVo our favorite shows to watch them commercial-free and logon to the Internet to get our news, rather than waiting for the paper or even the 6 o’clock news.  Yet, we just finished a time of waiting – the season of Advent, a time of waiting and anticipation of the birth of Jesus.  It may surprise you to learn this, but Advent isn’t just a time that commemorates the waiting for Jesus’s birth – it is also the time for anticipating and the celebration of waiting for His eventual return.

So even here in Florida, we’ve been looking forward to Christmas for at least 4 weeks.  Of course, the stores, in a desperate quest for more of our dollars, have been waiting for Christmas since Halloween.  Which just proves that they don’t watch their own sales figures – which show that the last two weekends prior to Christmas are the busiest shopping days of the year.  In fact, Black Friday traditionally ranks as the 8th busiest shopping day of the year, despite all the ads in the Thanksgiving papers.

The season of Christmas, which for the church started on Wednesday night and continues through the next couple of weeks, is about celebrating that the Lord has fulfilled his promise.  It’s reminding us that the waiting is worth it – the promise will be fulfilled in His time, and we will be even better for having waited for it.  I have often thought that when Jesus said in John 14 that he was going to prepare a place for us, he also meant that he was going to prepare us for that place.

Waiting is hard, but it is essential to the Christian walk, which is why some find it so hard to follow Christ, and others preach shortcuts to God’s blessings and peace.  In his book, Waiting: Finding Hope When God Seems Silent, Ben Peterson writes, “What God does in us while we wait is as important as what it is we are waiting for.”

So if we find ourselves waiting, we have to ask, what is God trying to teach me in this place, at the same time realizing that we may not divine the answer or even realize it in hindsight when the waiting we are doing has past.

The second thing this passage teaches is about Reconciliation.  The act of Mary’s being cleansed by the sacrifice is the act of reconciling her body to once again be able to worship God in the Temple.  The consecration of Jesus as the first born is part of God’s reconciliation for the sins of Cain and Adam, both “first” born.

In verse 25, it mentions that Simeon was waiting for the consolation of Israel.  Seven hundred years prior to this instant, Isaiah had prophesied that one would come to reconcile not only the nation of Israel, but also the Gentiles – a portion of the prophecy many in the Temple at the time of Simeon discounted or disbelieved.  Yet Simeon proves he knows his Isaiah – part of his song directly references two passages in Isaiah,

“I, the LORD, have called you in righteousness; I will take hold of your hand. I will keep you and will make you to be a covenant for the people and a light for the Gentiles, (Isaiah 42:6)

“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)

And now Simeon knows he can die in peace, dismissed from his service to God.  Even his death, when it comes, will be a sign of hope.

What’s more, the prophetess Anna also proclaims to all that were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem, that the child was to fulfill that prophecy.  Unfortunately, I’m sure many of them misunderstood what form the redemption of Israel would take, just as they would 33 years later.

In just a few days, we’ll be celebrating a new year.  2008, for good or bad, will be over and 2009 will begin.  The new year is often a time of change, a time when people have their hopes raised and the future seems somehow brighter, regardless of what may actually happen.  And this year, for many seems like an even bigger and brighter new beginning.

Just three weeks from now, we will be inaugurating a brand new president.  President-elect Barack Obama campaigned on a platform of change, that, whether you agree with him or not, resonated with a large portion of the American population.  A population tired of housing slumps, foreclosures, bankruptcies, economic bail-outs and rising unemployment rates.

Obama promises to eliminate all of those worries in a sweeping, expensive ‘New Deal’ style package that could be the most dramatic start to a presidency since Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s first hundred days in office.  Barack Obama is promising a redemption of the United States, a return to its greatness.  Will Obama truly bring about a change like many hope?  I don’t know, although if history is any reflection, then the answer is probably no.

But regardless of the success of our new president, we have to ask ourselves, where does our hope lie?  Does it lie in politicians and presidents?  Does it lie in money or possessions?  Does it lie in relationships – families, friendships?

Humans have a tendency to look in the wrong places to find their answers – or to forget what sustained them when they had no answers.

When God led the people of Israel out of Egypt under Moses’ leadership, he set them free from a life of slavery, building temples to other people’s gods.  He brought them, eventually, to the Promised Land – or at least their descendants.  Yet, just a few generations later, in an eerie reflection of their slavery in Egypt, Solomon, the son of David, is using slave labor to build the Temple of the Lord, among other things.  After the dedication of the Temple, God comes again to Solomon to warn him what will happen if the Israelites forget their deliverer and turn to serve other gods.  Solomon promises to obey, but halfway through his reign, he has gotten comfortable, disobedient and forgets who gave him the power he wields, prompting God to punish his descendants and once again tear the Israelites from their home, this time culminating with the destruction of the temple, losing the Ark of the Covenant, and more.

In his latest book, Jesus Wants to Save Christians, Rob Bell points out,

“That’s always the danger, isn’t it?  That we’ll be broken, our empires will collapse, we’ll cry out for help, and when that help comes, when we get back on our feet, when there’s money in our account again, and things are back to how they were, the danger is, once we get it back – whatever ‘it’ is – we’ll forget what just happened.”

We’ll forget that Jesus is the one who saves us, who gives us hope, even in the darkest times, even in the deepest recessions.  I don’t have any figures to back this up, but it looks like church attendance is up across the nation over the past few months.  Not just Christmas Eve, but every Sunday, as people search for answers to the problems in their lives.  The question is, once they have some answers, once they are back on their feet, once their investments start performing again, will they continue to serve God, or will they forget where their hope came from in light of their new-found blessings?  And are we any better?

Our church body, small as it may seem, sponsored two families for Thanksgiving and two more families for Christmas.  In this time of struggling economy, we looked at our blessings, even the small ones, and chose to give, in some cases sacrificially, some of that back to members of our community that were struggling even more than we were.

The challenge is, when things turn around – when we do see better days – and we will see better days – history has taught us that – the United States still holds 90% of the world’s wealth, not to mention other benefits that the rest of the world can’t even imagine – when the waiting is over and the promise comes true, will we still be focused on the One who gives us hope?  Will we remember who He is and what He has called us to do?  Or will we be more like the Israelites, turning our back on the One who saved us and sustained us.

My prayer for you is that you patiently and prayerfully endure the waiting, while seeking to learn and grow, so that when the promise is fulfilled, you remember He who gave you all things, even the very ability to work and earn money.  Reconciliation that leads to hope.  Amen.


Read Full Post »

I don’t publish stuff like this very often on this site, but my friends over at TitleTrakk.com are hosting a huge fall party in cooperation with InPop (Newsboys) Records and Harvest House Publishers.  I’m promoting it as part of their First Ever Blog Tour.  I should also mention that I occasionally (too occasionally) write reviews for them, including my recent thoughts about the movie Henry Poole Is Here.

If you’re at all a fan of faith-based fiction and music, regardless of the creators, check out their site, and submit your name and addy for a chance at winning a bucketload full of CD’s, books and DVD’s.  Hey, what have you got to lose?

Read Full Post »

This past Sunday, I had the opportunity to present the message/sermon/homily for my church, Family of God in Cape Coral.  While the message isn’t strictly related to finances or stewardship, I thought I’d share it with my readers here anyways.  I hope you may draw some insight from it…

Good morning.  As you have probably already figured out, Pastor Rus isn’t here this morning.  He had the pleasure of doing a wedding for some old friends of his back in West Virginia and asked me if I would mind doing the message for this week.

We’ve been talking a lot over the past few weeks about the early church – the Christian community that formed following the resurrection and then Pentecost, the blessing of the Holy Spirit on these young believers.

Just a quick aside – do you realize that the term Pentecost is not strictly a Christian term?  Pentecost, translated from the Greek literally means ‘the Fiftieth Day,’ and is actually taken from the Jewish term Shavuot, which was the Feast of Weeks, taking place 50 days after the Passover and memorializing the time when Moses and the Israelites were given the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai.  It speaks volumes that this was also the day that God again gave his chosen people a gift – the greatest gift – his very spirit living inside them.  I could go a lot more into this, but I want to go a little bit further forward in time with you today, and take a look at another early Christian community that I think we can hopefully learn from.

But first, if you don’t mind, I’d like to have you take part in my brand new game show (drum roll)…

Is That in the Bible?

I hope you brought your Bibles.  I’m going to have a series of phrases up on the screen and I want you to vote with me whether they are from the Bible or not.

“Leopards don’t change their spots” Bible or non-Bible? (highlight hidden text for the answer)

Jeremiah 13:23 (New International Version)

Can the Ethiopian change his skin
or the leopard its spots?
Neither can you do good
who are accustomed to doing evil.

“God works in mysterious ways”

William Cowper,

“On The Loss of the Royal George”

“Money is the root of all evil”

1 Timothy 6:10 (New International Version)

For 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.

“Cleanliness is next to godliness”

Charles Wesley

Sermons, no 93,

‘On Dress’

“God helps those who help themselves”


“The gods help them

that help themselves”

“Spare the rod and spoil the child”

Samuel Butler (Hudibras, 1664),

paraphrasing Proverbs 23:13 (New International Version)

Do not withhold discipline from a child;
if you punish him with the rod, he will not die.

Okay, hopefully you’ve learned a little bit today… A lot of what is attributed to the Bible, that is more traditional, in fact, has little or nothing to do with the Bible and Christian beliefs.  But believe me, we’re not the first ones to make this mistake.  I titled this message, “What Would Luther Say,” for an interesting reason.  If you look at Luther’s life, historically, you see that at the time he lived, very few people actually read the Bible.  Now, some of that could be attributed to the fact that it was in either Hebrew, Greek or Latin, and few could speak those languages.

In fact, if you know your Lutheran history, you know that was one of Luther’s major quests, was to translate the Bible into the German language so common folk could read and understand it.  But if you look even closer at the people of the time, you realize that even the priests themselves, who spoke Latin, Hebrew and Greek, did not read the Bible either.  It’s not too far different from what we know today, unfortunately.  As we just pointed out, there are a lot of misconceptions about what the Bible actually teaches, in the heart of many American churches, and I am sure that the European churches can’t boast much better.

I think, after all of his work, Luther would be appalled at the attitude in many churches today that people just don’t read the Bible.  Imagine from his perspective, as a priest, he didn’t read the New Testament until halfway through his career as a priest.  We know from history that he use to flagellate, or whip himself, forced himself to climb stairs on his knees and was constantly sure that he was not worthy of Christ’s favor.  Then he was encouraged to read the New Testament, and he discovered the letters of Paul, which opened his mind to the concept of salvation through grace by faith alone, a revolutionary idea to the people of his day.  In fact, Luther felt his rediscovery of that principle was so important, so revolutionary that the Devil himself would not be able to bear it and would rise up, bringing about the end of the world.

What’s interesting to note is that Luther was in the Augustinian order of the Catholic Church.  The Augustinian order followed the model of fraternity lived by the Apostles and found in the early Christian community. Augustine of Hippo himself wrote, “Before all else, live together in harmony, being of one soul and one heart seeking God.”  It also carried out the mandate of the Church to proclaim the good news of the Gospel – more on that in a moment.  From the beginning, the Augustinians tended toward a universal service to the needs of the Church.  Gregor Mendel, the monk considered the father of modern genetics, was an Augustinian, as was Myles Coverdale, who translated the first English Bible, under Henry the 8th.  Augustinian monasteries pattern themselves after the life of the early church, in Jerusalem, and also held strongly to the teachings of the Apostle Paul.

So traditionally, Augustinian monks held to the teachings of Paul.  Which makes you wonder why Luther was not familiar with them and found them so revolutionary.  To go one step further, there is another somewhat famous German Augustinian, a man by the name of Thomas á Kempis.  Just a generation before Luther, he wrote a treatise titled, The Imitation of Christ.  Within this book, he says that there are two things essential for human life – food and light – which in the spiritual realm is Communion and the Scriptures.

“Without these two I cannot live well, for the Word of God is the light of my soul, and this Sacrament is the bread of life.

“These two can be likened to two tables, set here and there in the spiritual treasure of the holy Church.  The one is the table of the holy altar, having the living Bread that is the precious Body of Christ; the other is the table of the laws of God, containing the holy doctrine which instructs man in the right faith and in the true belief and leads him into the sancta sanctorum, where the inward secrets of Scripture are hidden and contained.  I give you thanks, my Lord Jesus, the Brightness of eternal light, for this table of holy doctrine You have ministered to us by Your servants, the doctors, prophets, and Apostles.” – Thomas á Kempis, The Imitation of Christ

Just a generation before Luther, another German monk in his own order of the church wrote that men must know the scripture for the continuance of life.  And yet, 90 years later, Luther is nailing the 95 Theses on the church door in Wittenburg, having just rediscovered the scriptures.  I am thinking that this is NOT one of the grand Lutheran traditions to repeat over and over again throughout history.

And there is another reason to know the Scriptures, to read your Bible, to memorize passages and understand what they say.  In I Peter 3, the Apostle writes, “In your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope that you have.

When I was in high school, my best friend, Dave Rickards, was a PK – a pastor’s kid.  He was the son of a Baptist minister out on Pine Island, Pastor Tommy.  And as we spent our days going to classes at Cape High, we encountered a number of people of other beliefs and non-beliefs.  But the one most troubling was a girl that we were both good friends with, who we learned was a Jehovah’s Witness.  Now, I don’t really have time to go into everything that separates Jehovah’s Witnesses from mainline Christianity, so please take it at my word for the moment, that JW’s do not believe in the same Jesus as we do.  But, and it’s a big but… But they know their Scripture well – better than most folks who do believe in the same Jesus we do.  Imagine the frustration of being in an argument about religion – and we had a few here and there – two against one, and me and the pastor’s kid losing to this person who knew more about what we supposedly believed than we did.

What would Luther say?

In the church today, we have, in my opinion, abdicated too much of our responsibility of doing the work of God to those who are in leadership in the church.  Usually, it’s the pastor or priest that is most on the hook, followed by the lay leaders and church staff.  But all too often, once we leave the walls of the church, we don’t speak of our faith, we don’t live our faith and we don’t represent Christ to those around us.  It’s not uncommon to hear, “Well, that’s the pastor’s job.”

One of the things we’ve been talking about over the last 3 weeks is our mission to talk to the people around us – to invite them, not necessarily to church, although, that is definitely one of our pressing concerns around here lately, but to invite them to know Christ – to become a follower of His love and His truth.  To shine as believers in our respective workplaces and social lives.

You see, the thing is, it’s NOT the pastor’s job.  Is he called to do it?  Yes, but not alone.  Will we have a commune of believers like the early Jerusalem church?  No, probably not, but we are expected to do our part.

What would Luther say?

In 1520, in a paper written to the German Christians in government, in his day, of course, being the nobility, Luther proclaimed, “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.”

A layman is you and me – normal folks with no particular religious training or scholarship.

Years later, during World War II, an English Bishop by the name of William Temple told his fellow church people that, “We are convinced that England will never be converted until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations.”

When I worked full-time for the Sheriff’s Office, I got subpoenaed quite a bit to testify in court.  Here in Florida, prosecutors don’t do a lot of witness preparation, so while I didn’t always end up in court, I was told to take advantage of classes on being a witness.  The first rule of giving testimony is that you tell the truth and you only talk about what you know.  You give testimony on what you know for a fact and, in some cases, as an expert witness, what you are permitted to surmise from your work experience and training.  You’re told to address the jury, not the lawyers and are reminded time and time again to answer only the questions asked of you by either lawyer, especially when the defense attorney is questioning you.

I think what happens a lot in the church is people forget how to be a good witness.  A witness talks about what they know – they offer testimony about things that have happened in their lives, they tell the truth and they answer questions posed to them.  I couldn’t just walk into court and start spouting off my theories on who committed the crime.  But I think a lot of Christians are afraid that that is exactly what they are supposed to do when witnessing to people.  They think that witnessing and missions is telling people “You need to get saved” or “You need Jesus” or “Turn or burn!”  The fact is, none of that is true.  You’re only expected to answer the questions presented to you as you live your life to glorify God.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

The Word of God is a light to my soul.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

There is no difference between laymen and priests – they are all priests, bishops, popes.

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have

Until the laity use the opportunities daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations… this land will never be converted

Always be prepared to give an answer – a reason for the hope you have… Amen.


Read Full Post »

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.


Read Full Post »

I’ve always been very vocal about how ridiculous the bankruptcy laws are here in the United States.  Now, stuck in the middle of this nonsense myself, I see even more how poorly things are done.  What’s the solution?  I don’t know, but something needs to change.

You see, I didn’t file for bankruptcy myself.  Sadly, after 4 years, my wife walked out on me and then a couple weeks later told me she was going to file for bankruptcy.  Under much duress (The divorce was her idea – I had hoped since we had started having problems back in December of 2007 that we could still reconcile), I hired a lawyer to prepare divorce papers to protect myself from her bankruptcy. 

An interesting aside – proof enough that things are out of control in this country – remember when you had one attorney and he or she handled everything from lawsuits to criminal offenses?  Well, at least they could handle all matters civil or criminal.  Not any more.  Now we have tax lawyers, divorce lawyers, bankruptcy lawyers, personal injury lawyers… There is a separate lawyer (and law firm, unless you’re blessed to be able to afford a $10,000 retainer) and a separate retainer for each and everything you might imagine.

So, I hire this divorce attorney.  She prepares the paperwork.  I have a copy sent to my soon-to-be ex-wife.  On the advice of her bankruptcy attorney (who has never dealt with a divorce case), she refuses to sign the paperwork, instead filing for bankruptcy while begging me for more time to decide what to do.

Now, suddenly, I am stuck in this mess – she takes NO responsibility for any debts – including the house, rental property and unimproved lot that we own.  In the meantime, she takes government subsidized Section 8 rents acquired from the Fort Myers Housing Authority and uses it to pay her lawyer.  Now, the bank that holds the note on the rental property wants the money they haven’t been paid since February of 2008, they’re ready to foreclose, and are planning to hold me responsible for any deficiency between how much they can sell the house for and how much we owe.  They won’t hold her responsible.  Why?  Because she filed for bankruptcy.

So here I am, I am trying to do the right thing – trying to pay my creditors what I owe, but because I am being an upstanding citizen, I am going to get screwed.  Not to mention, if I had been given the rent money that was received from the tenants, I could have paid the mortgage every month and not be facing a default.

What’s more, when I found out she wouldn’t give me the rent and I would be unable to pay the mortgage, I contacted the Mortgage Holder, CitiCorp Trust Bank (now CitiMiortgage), to ask them if they would consider deed-in-lieu of foreclosure.  I was told that they could do nothing until the bankruptcy was settled.  But then they filed to be released from the bankruptcy, got it granted and proceeded with the foreclosure. 

Meanwhile, I’ve now had to hire my own bankruptcy attorney – even though I’m not filing for bankruptcy – to look out for my interests.  A guy who is fighting hard, but is losing against the system – because I didn’t file for bankruptcy.

What is wrong with this country when people who choose to pay their creditors are treated with less consideration than people who are basically telling the government and their creditors “screw you”?  Not only are we screwed by having to pay higher interest rates and taxes and fees to offset the losses from the folks who do file for bankruptcy, we are seen as second-class citizens by the court system.  Granted, I shouldn’t have gotten into debt, and I am trying to get out, but hello!  Shouldn’t hard working people who do their part be given the same consideration as people filing for bankruptcy, accepting welfare and/or getting other government handouts?

And the “new” bankruptcy system is a joke.  I went to the first creditor’s meeting – hoping I could talk to some of my creditors and reaffirm my interest in repaying the debts.  In a room filled with about 20 bankruptcy filers, there was ONE CREDITOR– A private citizen who was listed as a minor debtor – my father.  In fact, the trustee’s representative is so used to not having any creditors that there isn’t a sign-in sheet, guidelines or anything to tell creditors how to behave.  My soon-to-be ex-wife’s lawyer, when confronted by my father with the fact that he hadn’t properly noted her maiden name or business name on the paperwork, replied, “it’s inconsequential – it has no bearing on the debts.”  Except that at least TWO of those debts were IN her maiden name.  Luckily, the trustee agreed.  Upon hearing the transcript, he rejected her bankruptcy payment plan and made her refile.

So here I am.  About to be foreclosed on, broke, still in debt, trying to do the right thing.  What does the government suggest??  WHY DON’T YOU FILE FOR BANKRUPTCY?

Sorry, I can’t do that.  Psalm 37:21 makes it clear that bankruptcy isn’t an option for those who believe: “The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously.”


Read Full Post »

I know just the title of this article alone will get people’s attention and create controversy.  And while controversy is not my goal, I am not adverse to using preexisting biases and controversies to raise awareness of a social issue that needs to be addressed – by the appropriate people.

Now, just to make things clear, I am a Christian and come with certain biases of my own.  However, there are some things you should not assume about my faith.  First off, while my politics tend to lean more towards the conservative side, I am not one of those who believes that Jesus is a Republican or that the Grand Old Party has some exclusive license to people of faith.  In fact, by the time you finish this article, you will understand that in issues like these, I tend to side with the Democrat’s stance, at least in principle.  But the biggest mistake you can make when reading this is to continue to believe that what I am going to discuss is a purely political issue.  Neither party gets it completely right, nor do I expect that they should, because this is not a political issue, but, in reality, a bit of God’s judgment on the church for their lack of obedience.

Let me explain.

Government programs and institutions can never properly replace what God has assigned as the work of people – people in the church.

I’m going to make a bold statement here that is probably going to upset quite a few people.  Every societal and social ill that has befallen us here in the United States is due to the failure of the church to do what we are assigned to do.  Sorry if that offends anyone, but the truth does that sometimes.

Did you know that, if every church in America, regardless of its size, were to adopt just 4 homeless families, homelessness would be wiped out across the country?

Did you know that if we harvested all of the food that is grown by our nations farmers that is “not perfect enough” to be sent to the national grocery store chains, that we would have enough food to feed every hungry person in America 3 times over?  Thank God for the St. Andrew’s Society here in my area that is working with churches and farmers to do just that.  This summer alone, we have helped harvest almost 10,000 pounds of squash, zucchini and eggplant that was donated to a couple of local food banks.

Yesterday, driving home from church, God gave me a vision for my future.  A vision where it becomes possible to help the family of Christ avoid bankruptcy and foreclosure by having sufficient funds to assist them in paying their debts.  Rather than being locked into 30, 40, 50 or even 60-year rental contract with the bank (let’s face it, until you’ve got the deed, the house ain’t really yours), and facing a credit and emotionally scarring path through bankruptcy and foreclosure, a company of Christians steps up, and working through their local church, purchases the note for their house from the bank and, working with them, teaching them Biblical concepts on finance and budgeting and keeping them accountable – makes it possible for them to work in a  Biblical model – as an indentured servant, as it were, and pay off their house and other debts in just seven years.

Imagine an America, populated by hundreds of homeowners, not disguised renters, but folks who own their homes, free and clear.  People who can now help their brothers, here and overseas, to better their lives and spread the Gospel.  Imagine a church that has wiped out homelessness, poverty and need.  A church that  has real influence in the world.  And what’s even more remarkable… if done properly, it could be done in just 10-15 years!  In less than a generation, we could turn the tide of economic hardship in America.  The people of God could take dominion over the world, taking back and reinforcing the assignment given to Adam thousands of years ago. 

What a witness THAT would be. 

A church – the people of God who could then turn their attention and their influence to other matters in this world.  Like teaching kids to value human life.  One by presenting, in an accurate and non-judgmental matter, two theories of how the world came to be, side by side in the classroom, showing how science and religion don’t have to contradict each other or start wars.  By showing that life is sacred and shouldn’t be snuffed out when it is inconvenient, through abortion or euthanasia.  A people of God who could care for their aging parents – eliminating the need for long-term care insurance, because the family cares for them again.  A society where one income (or two part-time incomes) is sufficient to provide for the family, leaving the ability for the mothers and fathers to be involved in their children’s lives and their parents lives, reinforcing the family unit that so many in the church feel is threatened, while they work, sometimes even doing “God’s work,” for 60-80 hours a week.  Influencing the world by fixing our schools and getting involved in all our children’s education. 

I’m going to slaughter another sacred cow here, so bear with me.  I really think the homeschoolers have missed their calling.  Please bear with me while I explain.  I support and admire parents who want to get involved and teach their kids from home so that they can avoid the dangers of public schools.  BUT, I think they waited far too long.  Now, many struggle with making ends meet and juggling schedules to make things work.  Again, I think they waited too long.  True Christians should be concerned not only with what our own kids are taught, but truly about what all kids are taught and the environment in the schools.  Sadly the homeschool movement is now necessary in part because most parents didn’t have the time to get involved and make a difference in their kids schools and the school’s governing body when they could have affected change for the entire district – rather than just pull their kids out of the broken down system that is our public schools.  With enough money and influence – that could be changed and rather than seeking vouchers for kids whose parents cannot afford private school or struggling to make things work to teach them from home, we could fix the public school system and make it something to be proud of once again.

Imagine a movement of God’s people that could reach beyond the boundaries of their individual buildings and members and affect true change and influence in our world.  A world where corporal punishment is no longer forbidden – as long as it is done in love, not anger or hatred.  A world where we could teach our kids about abstinence and it would actually make sense to them, because they’d see the value in marriage, children, and waiting, rather than the subconscious understanding that they have now that more kids equals a larger welfare check.  A world where we could teach our children about using the proper protection without worrying that they’ll need to use it, because they understand the value of waiting until they are married.

Imagine a government that is led by believers because they wield the most influence across the board.  A government which could lower the taxes on its people because there is no longer a need for a welfare system, a vast social security administration, a Medicare and Medicaid program, because the people of God have stepped up to the plate and offered their vast resources to handle all these problems, many of which are easily eliminated under the covenantal  economic system, rather than the earth cursed system we struggle under now.  A government led, not by Republicans or Democrats, but by Christians, regardless of where their party affiliation lies.

Imagine people seeing the value of believing in Christ, because He truly does supply ALL of our needs.  Rather than a church that is constantly at war with its own body, while telling the outside world that it is going to hell in a handbasket, it is a church that is united in serving the world, bringing everyone the good news of Christ while meeting their natural needs.  Imagine the kingdom of Heaven, being established here on earth.  And all it takes, is the church stepping up and taking responsibility for doing what God has called His people to do.

I almost ended this post with one word – Imagine.  But the fact is, we need to stop imagining and start doing something about it.  The world I’ve described can truly be enacted within just a few short years, but the longer we wait, the harder it will be.  What’s more, we need to act now, because now that it’s out there – the devil can come in and twist things, moving us from our mission, using our own doubts and fears against us.  The harvest is ready but the workers are few. 

Dennis Peacocke taught a large group of people ten years ago that the church needed to step up and work with business people, but only a few heard and implemented his mission.  Justin DeStoppelaire and David G. Johnson have started a ministry that teaches people how to do business through the Holy Spirit’s leading in the Prophetic Marketplace.  Michael Q. Pink has scoured the word of God to understand and explain Biblical principles that will help build success in sales and business, without resorting to the formulas and tactics of the world.  Pastor Gary Keesee has worked with his church and now has launched an international ministry to teach people Kingdom Economics, while operating a business for the last 25 years that helps people get out of debt, regardless of their faith-stance, in 7-10 years, house and all. 

The resources are out there and there is a move in the body of Christ, but we need so many more workers.  People willing to dig deep into God’s word.  People willing to step up, take personal responsibility, and make a difference in their world.  People willing to be the true body of Christ.  Are you one of those people?  Please comment below if you are, so we can pray for you.  But even more, do what you can to start living out your faith in your finances and in your careers and businesses.  Let’s show the world that Christ isn’t silent – He’s speaking through His people.

Add to Technorati Favorites


Read Full Post »

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.
Add to Technorati Favorites


Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »