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Our friend Phil Cooke has just published an article on his site entitled, “How Confidence Can Change Everything in this Economy.”  He points out what economist Ben Stein (yes, he is much more than the teacher from Ferris Bueller) has said that many in our media and government seem to want to forget, that our financial system isn’t built on printing money or regulation, it’s built on confidence.

It’s a perception issue. When investors feel confidence in the market, it soars.

Of all people, Christians should be the most confident, because even in the worst circumstances, our hope isn’t in money.

Take a moment to check out Phil’s article here, then become an example of encouragement and TRUE hope in this time of economic distress.

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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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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.

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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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Pastor Gary Keesee talks to Sid Roth about his struggle with debt and how he came to apply Kingdom Economics to his family life, resolving their financial struggles and leading to a ministry that now helps other families do the same.

Okay, apparently I can’t get the video to embed, so here’s a link on Google Videos.

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henry_ian_cusick_2.jpgIn last week’s episode of LOST on ABC, the requisite flashback story was in the life of stranded Desmond.  We learned early on that Desmond was a novice, studying to become a monk.  At one point, after a very troubling week, the abbot discovers Desmond imbibing in the wine that the monks press to pay for their order’s livelihood.

“What are you doing, Brother?”

“Getting pissed (wasted) on our wine”

“Each bottle of that wine goes for a 100 Quid” ($200 US)

“Well, it’s good thing we took a vow of poverty, then.”

“Yes, but we also took a vow of charity…”

Are you one of the many who was taught in church that money is evil?  That rich people won’t make it into heaven?  That you cannot serve God and money?

I want to focus on that last statement.  According to both Matthew 6 and Luke 16, Jesus does say, this:

No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Mammon.” 

Interestingly enough, in Matthew, the verse follows Jesus talking about not storing up for yourself treasures on earth, and follows it with the admonition not to worry about food, drink, and clothing.  In Luke, however, the verse follows the parable of the shrewd manager and followed by the parable of Lazarus & the rich man.

I could just focus on the Luke passage, because it helps me make my point easier, but both passages are Scripture and should be able to be reconciled, or I must be laboring under a misunderstanding of what Christ was teaching.

You see, Jesus never taught that rich people wouldn’t go to heaven.  Instead, he expressed that they must have a stronger faith commitment than the poor, because they are more self-sufficient.  And I’ve already explained that Paul writes to Timothy that the LOVE of money is the ROOT of all kinds of evil, not that money, in itself is evil.

What I think many Christians teach on, when they teach that you cannot serve two masters, is that we should flee from money and building riches because they will lead down a path of temptation that we will struggle with.  To be perfectly honest, this is balderdash.  If that was the case, then why did God create women to be desirable to men?  Whether you believe it or not, the more you are blessed with, the more you will struggle with temptation.  The struggle is proof that you are following in God’s will and growing in your faith.  If it wasn’t a struggle or you didn’t feel temptation, either you’ve built up a huge resistance to God’s discipline (Check out Paul’s discussion of this in Galatians 6), or He just doesn’t feel you’ve matured enough to handle such a temptation.  And are we not told to seek higher things?

When Jesus said that we cannot serve God and money, do you think He didn’t realize that we would still struggle with it today?  Do you think that just because He spoke the words in 1st century Jerusalem that He was unaware that we would struggle with finances in 21st century America?  What if His admonition, “Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other,” could just as easily be applied to credit card debt?  If you owe Chase or Capitol One a few thousand dollars, are you not serving them?  You can tell me all you want that you hate credit card debt and you love Christ, but who are you truly devoted to when you pay Citibank $1000 a month and only have a few twenties to throw into the offering plate at the end of the month?

Why do you think that Luke records Jesus’ parable of the shrewd manager, completing the story with, “use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings”?  That doesn’t sound like what they told me in church.

To discover the truth behind Jesus’ controversial statement, we must read further, when he explains the point of the story, “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?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?” 

Remember, we’re talking about Stewardship here.  The master in the story is upset with his manager because he, “was accused of wasting his (the Master’s) possessions.”  Hmm.  “If you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?”  I challenge you to look yourself in the mirror and ask yourself if you’ve been trustworthy with all of the gifts God has given you – physical, mental and financial.

Then, to cap the moment off, Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.  Lazarus is the beggar outside of the rich man’s door who is ignored by the rich man, until the two of them die and the rich man ends up in hell.  I’d like to point out that neither Jesus nor Luke implies that the rich man is in hell because he’s rich, just because that’s where he went.  In fact, it almost seems like a karmic situation: “remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony,” but I’m pretty sure that wasn’t the point, either.  Of course, your pastor will tell you that the main point of the story is that Jesus was predicting his own death and the fact that some would still not be convinced, and he or she is absolutely right, but these parables are obviously arranged in such a way for a reason as well.

 

Now, as for chapter 6 of Matthew; the passage that appears to not be helping me any in making my point…

 

Matthew 6 begins with the admonition to not display and announce your acts of righteousness before men, to gain honor and admiration, but do them in secret.  Notice that it does not say not to do them, just to not make yourself out to be a great person as a result.  Which might be why most rich people who are generous with their money are never perceived to be rich.  They give more than most in the church, but they do it under the radar, not seeking acclaim from men.

 

Then about halfway through the chapter, Jesus tells us not to, “store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”  We would be foolish not to realize that this ties back in with the beginning of the chapter.

 

Jesus follows by saying, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!”

 

The NIV translation leaves a little to be desired here, so I’ll turn to the commentators at InterVarsity Press to explain:

 

“In the Greek text of the Gospels, Jesus literally calls the eye a “single” eye, which is a wordplay: the Greek version of the Hebrew Bible also uses this word for “single” to translate the Hebrew term for “perfect”-thus “single-minded” devotion to God, with one’s heart set on God alone. An “evil eye,” conversely, was a stingy, jealous or greedy eye; yet it also signifies here a bad eye, one that cannot see properly.”

 

How great is the darkness within a man who is not generous, for “no one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”  And again, we are brought full circle, showing that it is not the quantity of the resources (or money) that is the problem, but the nature and expression of the person with the resources.  Stingy comes at all income levels.  In fact, many who are less well off are more inclined to be stingy, as they fall prey to the fear that there will not be enough.

 

And what does Jesus address next?  That very same fear.  When put into the light of context, could Jesus perhaps be teaching us to focus on the giver of all good gifts and not who gets how much of what?  Who worries more about whether or not they will have food and clothing, the well-off or the less than wealthy.  Of course, there are exceptions to every rule.  There are many who are rich that have come upon their success by hoarding and greed and they fear the same things.  And I have some close friends who live on very little, but are extremely happy and have the ability to donate time, talent, and treasury to various ministries.

 

The issue, again, is not that possessions themselves are bad but that a higher priority holds dominion over our resources. If we value what our Lord values rather than what the TV or other societal forces dictate, we will find freedom regardless of our income stream.  After all, God does want us to have enough to be content, but also to have an abundance so that we may fulfill the vow of charity that we accepted when we took upon ourselves His grace, regardless of what robes (or denim) we wear.  In meeting the needs of others, we become most Christ-like, no matter how much our bank account holds.

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I’m going to start out with a very controversial statement: God wants you to be rich.  Yes, you read that right.  God’s desire for you, is for you to have money well beyond your current means.  I’ll explain why in a moment.

 

Let me give you an easier statement first.  God wants you to be financially free.  When we started talking to you about God’s perspectives on finance, we started with the tithe.  The tithe is the foundation for everything involving money and resources, because it is God’s first evaluation of our obedience.  Until your giving is in line with God’s call on your life, you are living in sin and preventing yourself from receiving God’s full blessings.  Giving is the first step to becoming financially free.

 

God wants you to be financially free.  Debt keeps you from being financially free, because you are in bondage to the people or companies you owe money to.  Debt keeps you from giving your resources to God.  Debt causes health problems.  Debt causes fear.  Debt hurts your family, and debt keeps you from hearing from God.  Becoming debt-free is the next step to becoming financially free.

 

Today, we’re going to talk about God’s Provision for Your Family’s Future and What He Expects You to Contribute.  God wants you to be financially free.  The Scriptures say that He provides for His children.  His first provision for you is right in front of you.  God has provided for you the means to earn money.  And He expects you to work.  Paul told the Thessalonians, “we gave you this rule: ‘If a man will not work, he shall not eat.’  We hear that some among you are idle. They are not busy; they are busybodies.  Such people we command and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to settle down and earn the bread they eat.”  Yes, there are some people who are unable to work.  However, if you are able to work, God requires you to.  God expects us to work as if we were laboring for Him.

 

Likewise, you should teach your children to work when they are of a responsible age.  Work is God’s first provision for you and your family.

 

Our response to that provision should be gratitude.  Gratitude that leads to personal responsibility.  I told you before that the tithe is never mentioned in the New Testament.  In fact, the writer of Hebrews does mention the tithe.  That letter was written to the Jewish Christians.  Christians who were wondering what parts of the Jewish Law they should obey.  In Hebrew 7, the Apostle Paul explains that in Jewish history, recorded in the book of Genesis,  Abraham offered a tenth of his spoils from war to Melchizedek.  Melchizedek was a priest-king, and Paul suggests that Melchizedek is, in fact, Christ.  So by offering Melchizedek a tenth of his resources, Abraham fulfilled the law before it became the law.  The point made in Hebrews is that the tithe was voluntarily given, not because of a rule or requirement.  Giving back to God is a voluntary response to God’s blessings.

 

And that response does not stop or change simply because you are in retirement.  I do not believe God intends for us to work for money our entire lives.  I believe that at some point, God plans a different work for us.  A lot of Christians hold a hope for heaven in the next life.  I believe that God wants us to bring heaven into existence here on earth.  This is not a new age idea.  Read Revelations 21 & 22.  Jesus comes back and takes up residence here, on earth.   A new earth – an earth renewed by His people working as He has called them to.  God wants you to be financially free so that you can devote more of your time, money and energy to bringing about His kingdom on earth.

 

When we talked about a spending plan, 10% was to be dedicated to saving for your family’s future needs.  In practical terms, there are four areas you need to be saving for.  The first is an Emergency Fund.  We don’t know what the future holds.  Regardless of your health or work situation at this point.  There is always a chance you could lose your job or become disabled.  How would your family cope if your income stopped?  Having an Emergency Fund protects them and gives you time to recover.

 

Next, you should save for your short term goals.  These include vacations, appliances or a new vehicle.  Saving now eliminates the need for debt later.

 

The third area you should save for is your child’s college education.  Some people believe that they should pay all of that expense.  Others feel that the child should work to pay for school.  Either way, there is one thing to consider.  If you have the capability to help your children, you should.  It is irresponsible to allow your child to go into debt, when you have the ability to help them avoid it.

 

Second Corinthians 12 points out that, “children should not have to save up for their parents, but parents for their children.”  That’s not to say they shouldn’t earn the help – with good grades or even repaying a non-interest loan.  But until they are no longer under your care, they are your responsibility – and part of that is educating them properly – in word and deed.

 

The fourth area you should save for is retirement.  In the old days, you could rely on your employer.  That’s no longer the case.  Between 1983 and 1998, two-thirds of the defined benefit or traditional pension plans in the US were terminated.  Most of us don’t remember a time without Social Security.  But the government can’t help much anymore, either.  The Social Security Administration has even told us, “Social Security was never intended to be your only source of income when you retire.”  But people aren’t saving.  USA Today reports that, “10.6 million people live on social security alone.”

 

God wants you to be financially free.  And He expects you to know what it will require of you.  Lack of proper retirement planning leads to the same stress as debt – and the same consequences.  Yet, almost three-quarters of workers surveyed had not done a calculation, but only guessed to determine how much money they would need at retirement.

 

USA Today found that “54% of people in the workforce think they’ll still be working at 65 or older.”  Not because they want to.  Because they don’t have a choice.  40-percent will need to work, but won’t be able to, for health reasons.  And one-third of workers did not save anything for retirement last year.

 

God teaches us that we should be saving money for the future.  In Proverbs, King Solomon wrote a lot about our financial future.  “In the house of the wise are stores of choice food and oil, but a foolish man devours all he has.”  “Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its way and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.”  “A faithful man will be richly blessed, but one eager to get rich will not go unpunished.”

 

The biggest challenge for most families is getting started.  Procrastination kills the future and leaves us a double burden to bear tomorrow.  Take for example a plan to save $500,000.  If you start at age 25, you need to only save $78 a month.  Wait 10 years and you have to save 3 times as much.  Wait until you’re age 45, and you need to save $653 a month.  And waiting until you’re 55 is a serious expense.  You have to save almost $2500 a month – 31 times as much as you could have saved 30 years sooner.

 

But where do you put your money?  I recommend that everyone puts their long term savings into the global economy, in the form of mutual funds.  Although some funds existed in the late 1800’s, the concept of mutual funds was expanded in the 1930’s following the stock market crash.  Mutual Funds protect their owners by spreading the risk of the stock market out across hundreds of companies.  They also increase the benefit to their owners by allowing them invest, even if they start small.  I believe that the use of mutual funds is supported by the Scriptures.  Solomon wrote in Proverbs that “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.”  And in Ecclesiastes, he encourages his readers to “Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.  Give portions to seven, yes to eight, for you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.”

 

Rule of 72

 

I started off tonight by telling you that God wants you to be rich.  As I said, that is a controversial statement.  But it shouldn’t be.  As you know, greed is a sin.  But once you get adjust your perspectives on finance to agree with God’s principles, you are on the road to financial freedom.  And we know that God wants us to be financially free.  But for a Christian, that freedom comes with a price.  God wants you to be financially free – not so you can sit back and relax, line your pockets, or hoard wealth.  No, God wants you to be financially free, so that you have the freedom to serve Him in everything you do.

 

God wants you to have enough money that it no longer dominates your life.  God wants you to have so much that your family is cared for.  So much that you can give it away without worrying that you are going to run out.  So much that you can move to a higher level of obedience and trust.

 

Bill Orender says that, “You should earn as much as you are capable of… not necessarily to make your standard of living higher, but to have the freedom to help others when God calls on you.  Rather than saying, ‘someone should do something,’ you can be the one glorifying God in the doing.”

 

The King Solomon agrees: “A man can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in his work. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?  and “So I commend the enjoyment of life, because nothing is better for a man under the sun than to eat and drink and be glad. Then joy will accompany him in his work all the days of the life God has given him under the sun.”

 

A man named Larry Stewart, from Kansas City, recently died of cancer.  Shortly before his untimely death, he admitted to the world that he had been giving away money for 26 years, as a “Secret Santa.”  In all, he personally handed out more than 1-million-dollars, anonymously.  In addition, he publically gave thousands of dollars to various charities.  His story is even more interesting.  In December of 1979, he had lost his job – for the second year in a row – the week before Christmas.  He was feeling sorry for himself while eating at a drive up restaurant.  Then he noticed that the girl who was bringing him his food was wearing a thin coat and shivering from the cold.  He tipped her $20.00.  Every year after that, every December, he would give away money to people he felt needed it.  When he died, he was a millionaire.  But when he started giving money away, he was out of a job and close to broke.  What lesson can we learn from this?

 

There is a popular misconception that many Christians labor under.  It’s called the ‘scarcity mentality.’  They believe that there are limits to God’s generosity.  They believe that there is not quite enough to go around, so they have to hold onto what they have.  I’ve even heard one person say that they were careful not to be too generous.  There is an old saying that is still true today.  You cannot out-give God.

 

Bishop Larry Goodpaster puts it this way: “This abundant outpouring of God’s Spirit is not to be wasted, hoarded, protected, guarded, or saved.  It is to be shared, believing that there will be more than enough for any and every good work undertaken in the name of Jesus.”  And Jesus himself is quoted by Luke, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

 

Which measure would you like for God to use when He blesses you?  A measure of fullness and generosity or one of greed and stinginess?

 

In 2 Corinthians, Paul writes, “Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

 

Your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.  How would you feel, knowing that God was praised as a result of your giving?  Wouldn’t that be a legacy to leave behind?  Imagine not being remembered as a man who earned millions of dollars in his lifetime.  But instead, as a man or woman or family or church who gave away millions of dollars?  This is a spiritual law we can depend on.  “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.  A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”

 

You see the greatest legacy you can leave behind is your example to others.  If you have no debt, there is nothing monetarily keeping you from obeying God’s commands.  If you give at the level you are called to give, God will bless you in many ways.  And if you do your part to preserve your family’s future.  If you save what you can when you can so that at some point your life can change.  If you dedicate yourself to becoming the man or woman of God that He has called you to be.  If you do all these things, your life will change.  Your children’s and grandchildren’s lives will change.  Your church, your neighborhoods, your cities, your states, your world will see the glory of God reflected in hearts that are truly devoted to Him.

 

God wants you to be financially free.  God wants you to be rich.  He wants to be able to bless you far beyond what you can imagine.  He wants to do all this so you will be free to serve.  He wants to use you to enact His will upon this world.  His good, pleasing and perfect will.

 

I work everyday with families that want to get on that road to financial freedom. 

 

Are you ready to begin?  Are you ready to take the first steps towards financial freedom?  Are you willing to do whatever it takes to open the doors and allow Christ to influence the way you think, feel and act about money?

 

I hope you have learned something along the past three weeks.  But knowledge is pointless without action.  If you truly want to make a change…  you must put your beliefs into action.

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