Thoughts on Tithing

As I am working towards establishing a healthy, reproducing church, one of the biggest needs we have is financial stability. So I want to quickly think through some issues that always pop up when a pastor of a church starts talking about money.

My thoughts on this will be seated in our context, directed by scripture, and applied to my own little already-but-not-yet congregation.

CONTEXT: The first thing I want to note, is our cultural context, because when we enter into a discussion of money, we carry some pretty significant baggage in with us.

I used to say that money was an idol, but I don’t think that is the case for the vast majority of people. I think most of us just use money to serve our actual idols. I think most of us, who struggle with an iron grip or a guarded heart over our money, actually idolize things like comfort, security, and authority. Some people draw their personal sense of self worth from how much money they have, but most of us just want to be comfortable and taken care of. And we instinctively, sinfully, put our hope for comfort and security in money, instead of God. People get nervous talking about money, because it paves the path to indulging our idolatry. If we turn to money for our source of comfort and hope for the future, then we will struggle to approach with honesty what the Bible teaches.

A QUICK BIBLICAL REFERENCE FOR TITHING: So, knowing that you probably love something that makes you love money, I want to offer an important Biblical frame for a discussion on money.

Money is given by God as a tool to accomplish His plan, and give Him glory.

He designated in the Old Testament, with incredible attention to detail, how his people were to use their money. For our purpose, let’s focus on the giving to the temple to support the priests and the work they were doing. God repeatedly requests 10% of the first fruits of his people’s labors. He does so regarding Melchizedek, and he applies this principle to all of Israel, including those who don’t technically get a salary, the Levites (Numbers 18:21-32). The tithe, 10%, is the base expectation for God’s people in the Old Testament, and God’s promise is to richly reward those who trust him in their tithing.

Now, we need to decide whether this Old Testament practice applies to us today, living under the new covenant of Christ. I believe it does.

LIFE IN THE NEW COVENANT: Jesus taught a principle in the Sermon on the Mount that is vital to understanding the place of the tithe: God’s commands are meant to reveal our heart. When God tells us not to commit adultery, Jesus calls us adulterers because of the lust in our hearts. When God tells us not to murder, Jesus tells us our hearts stand guilty of murder for our hatred of others. On the other side of the coin, when the Pharisees tithe everything, publicly demonstrating their faithfulness in tithing all the way down to their spices (a pretty humorous jab), the pride in their hearts leaves them condemned. There is a principle of intensification that Jesus embodies. Jesus intensifies and deepens every command he teaches. Jesus is only concerned with our actions so far as they demonstrate our hearts. The Pharisee’s public demonstration of piety showed a heart puffed up with pride. When Jesus asked the rich, young ruler to give up everything he owned, it is because Jesus wanted to be first in that guy’s heart. Jesus issued a command to reveal a heart.

For us, our generosity shows what we value: our stuff or God’s rule, our security or our faith, our comfort or our trust in God’s provision. Action reveals the heart, and the heart is where Jesus works.

Therefore, the tithe is a great way for us to analyze our hearts. Do we instinctively look for the way to get out of it? Or do we thank God he has freed us so we can obey it? When ever I hear someone ask if we have to tithe, I just hear a lustful teenager asking how far is too far. I want to shake them and tell them to stop asking the wrong questions! I want to help the teen remain close to God, not discuss how far away can he get! I want to help the conscientious church member  better serve God with their money, not discuss how much they get to keep! The degree to which your money and possessions own you, is the same degree that Jesus doesn’t.

Jesus does not want or need your money, he wants your heart! Free from the shackles of misplaced hope for idolatrous comfort and security.

MONEY – FREED FROM AND FREED FOR: In conclusion, I think Christians have been freed from our idolatry, and, as a result, our money can serve God instead of our idols. Therefore, we should put our money to use in God’s kingdom. Give as much as possible regularly, and look for opportunities to give beyond that amount occasionally. Radical generosity demonstrates a confidence in God as both the provider and the purpose in our giving. I think you should give regularly to the place where God is serving you, and give beyond that occasionally, where God leads you.

For the members of our little church, you can give regularly, at the level you are able, by clicking the button below.

For those not in our congregation, begin giving regularly to yours! For everyone, let’s commit to live lives of generosity that beg those around us to ask about the confidence within us, which trusts in God, not money, to be our deliverer.

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TOMS and Family Ministry

Fullscreen capture 372013 24150 PM.bmpI am sure you have heard of the shoe company called TOMS. They do not make high quality shoes. They do not make the most attractive shoes. Nor are they the most comfortable shoes, yet this little company gained incredible popularity very quickly because of the reason behind buying their shoes: for every pair you purchase they donate a pair to a needy child. The reason behind buying these shoes is what drove their incredible success.

TOMS became a movement in and of themselves, but the danger of a movement showed up when TOMS became a norm in youth culture; the true reason for their popularity was diluted as Sketchers, Forever 21, Justice, and many other stores started producing knockoff TOMS. You see what happened? The shoe became such a norm that now people don’t know why they are buying overpriced, low quality, and uncomfortable shoes. People are just buying shoes because they look similar to the shoes everyone else is buying. The reason was diluted by the power of the movement.

The church cannot afford to let the reason drop in our pursuit of family ministry.

Family ministry is a necessity in the American church, and many bestselling ministry books are currently in the area of family ministry. The rise of the movement tells pastors that there is something important going on, so we all want to make sure we take part in it. The problem is that in our vigor to join the movement, we may miss the reason the movement began. Much like teenagers buying knockoff TOMS, we may be missing the point.

Average Christian mothers and fathers likely understand the family to be a launching pad for each child, providing them with all of the love, safety, and affirmation needed to be a successful individual. That sounds great, but is it what God wants for the family? If you read through the Bible (including the Old Testament) it is very difficult to squeeze the individualistic, success-driven picture of the American family into a Biblical response of why God created the family. Time and time again God commanded fathers to teach their children all the commands of the Lord, remind their children of the great things the Lord had done, and discipline their children in order to teach submission to the Lord.

What if we, as Christians, actually believed God knew best? What if we, as parents, actually believed God had a greater plan for our families than raising successful (i.e. rich) children? What if God gave children to parents in order to fulfill the great commission?

Then Christian parents would probably believe themselves to be the primary disciplers of their children.

This is why we need Family Ministry. We need to retrain the American church to understand the family as a primary tool in God’s plan of redemption. It is not a stretch of the imagination to think that God wants to use families in His plan of redemption; he has been doing it since he called one man and his family to be a blessing to all other families. God still wants to use the family, but the family has to be redeemed. It has to be spiritually redeemed by Christ, and its purpose has to be redeemed by parents.

Parents need to see their role through the lens of the Bible. Deuteronomy 6 needs to become more than an idea; it needs to become a guidebook for how we make disciples, starting in our own home. Pastors need to reinforce this role to the parents in our congregations. We need to understand that the first and most important influence in the life of a child will never be our youth pastor; therefore, we should be working to train those who will be doing the heavy lifting of discipleship. We need to minister to families with a constant focus on the reason why. The local church is where parents meet to be equipped and trained; families are the frontlines of gospel warfare.

If we ride the wave of family ministry and lose the reason we need it, then we have done nothing more than take part in a flash in the pan movement, here today and gone tomorrow.

If, however, we work through Scripture and come to an understanding of the family as God’s training ground for new disciples, then we are going to be a part of the greatest movement in the history of the world: the movement of a perfect, holy God towards his sinful, needy children.

Confessions of a Recovering People Pleaser

166575-171367I spent twenty two years of my life as a people pleasing machine. I was good. I mean it. You would have loved me. Then God showed me my heart, and began to make me into something new. I am still not completely rebuilt into His Son’s image, and I still struggle with the tendency to fall back into my sinful ways. As such, I frequently have to confess what the Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter, would have called excessive man pleasing. I hate that term, which is why I also like it. I hope you feel the same tension.

I am writing this article as a pastor to the church. As I look out and survey the state of the church in America I see a pattern of shallow relationships and deft accountability avoidance. We have adopted a consumerist approach to the Christian life which values relational breadth over spiritual depth, calm spirits over gospel peace, and happy parishioners over holy nations. We have bowed our knee to the spirit of the age: non-confrontational, non-committal, religious people pleasing.

Heavy, I know, but read further. It gets happier.

Below are listed eleven confessions pretty common among my fellow pleasers and I. Read them and see if they sound like you, and if they sound applicable to you, don’t feel bad; just keep reading until you get to the less common, but far more important, twelfth confession.

  1. I deeply desire the pleasure of God, but I feed off the pleasure of people.
  2. I want to do what is right, and after I do, I want you to notice it, admire it, and tell your friends about it. Praise the Lord for Facebook!
  3. I want people to be happy, not holy.
  4. Although I talk about what is right, I settle for people saying I’m right.
  5. I frequently find peace, because I fervently flee conflict.
  6. I spend an inordinate amount of time considering how you will finish this sentence, “[Whitney](insert your name) is . . .”
  7. The amount of attention someone gets from me varies directly with the amount of praise I get from them.
  8. Although I am called to fish for men, I usually set my bait for compliments.
  9. I might accidentally trample the gospel, but I will never step on your toes.
  10. I am a constant encourager. . . to your face.
  11. I will never tell you no, and sometimes I keep my word.

I want you to read over those and ask yourself if they could apply to you as well as me. It would really make me feel better if they did (yes, that was a test). If they apply to you, then ignore what I wrote earlier – you should feel bad (never trust a people pleaser). Let conviction wash over you like a salty, bitter wave. After you are finished sputtering out the bitterness of your sin, I invite you to make the following confession:

  1. Jesus is King, and I serve Him.

This simple confession, if believed and followed, has the potential to revolutionize your heart, your personality, and ministry. Confess Jesus as your King and stop bowing to the capricious god of public approval. When you learn to serve the one, true King you will find the peace you have been faking, joy you have been missing, and love that cannot be earned – not by you anyways. Jesus earned the Father’s pleasure; by His grace, you get to enjoy it.

 

Conviction

I just finished a little facebook tussle, which is second on my list of ultimately futile activities, over status update I made about a hot button cultural issue, which is the straightest line leading to the second most futile activity known to man. In this little back and forth, it became very clear that I was wielding a sword in what the other person assumed was a pool noodle fight. In that scenario, neither person looks too bright.

But this kerfuffle brought a number of thoughts to mind as I reflected. The whole situation was interesting to me on a number of levels:

1. Should we speak? People love to speak, but rarely have something to say. Social media has given us the ability to speak, which has morphed into an obligation to speak. This cuts towards me just as much as it does to the other person involved. I deleted about eight different tweets about the topic I brought up, because it was far too big a topic for a tweet. So why did I keep writing them until I clicked Tweet? Because I felt compelled to speak, primarily because I was able to speak. For the person who responded to me, there was a compulsion to say something in response to my saying something, but a vague and indefinite fortune cookie maxim was all they had available at the moment. But if I was speaking to something much larger than I could reasonably address, and if the person responding had nothing of substance to say in response, perhaps we should both have just stopped typing.

2. Speak with conviction. The person’s initial response was vague, and the follow up responses were a mix of denying what they had vaguely said, backing out of the argument they started, and at one point saying they had no intention at all behind what they said. If there is no intention, why say anything? And the answer is simple – there was intention behind responding to my status update, but the intention lacked the fortification of conviction. Paraphrasing Stinger, The person’s rebuttals were writing checks his conviction couldn’t cash.

3. Taylor Mali knows what I’m talking about.

4. Humility should be attached to ambition, not knowledge. G.K.Chesterton, writing about a hundred years ago noted this new tendency for people to act as though pretending not to know something was humble. That is relativism, agnosticism, or laziness, but it is not humility. Humility is meant to limit our inner world, not write off the outer one.

5. Christians must speak with conviction. Have you ever had that moment when a group of friends are trying to decide where to go eat, and all of them, looking out for the happiness of the others, keep deferring to everyone else, who are all deferring to everyone else? All it takes is one person with the conviction of personal desire, and the Mexican standoff will end. Our culture is at one massive Mexican standoff, and we desperately need Christians to step in and bring the clarity, honesty, and peace that can only come through Christian conviction.

In summary: don’t speak unless you have both something to say and the conviction to bring others with you.

Short Sight and Weak Kings

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Not the king I had hoped for.

Christmas is one of those times, every year, where your vision of the future draws closer and closer until you can no longer see past one seemingly important day. The ever approaching nearness of a major day like this one can cloud your vision of the days that follow. Our sight becomes shortened.

If you are a parent, you definitely understand this. Christmas demands so much: lists of names and corresponding gifts, parties to attend, stores to brave, meals to cook, rooms to decorate, toys to assemble, memories to make, pictures to share, and traditions to uphold. Just making it to the day seems like the biggest Christmas present of all, because it is finally over!

And when it ends, when the torn paper settles and the Christmas carols fade, we find ourselves right where we were a month ago, but with more stuff cluttering the hallways of our house and barely hiding the holes in our hearts. Christmas just doesn’t bring what we hoped it would.

We are not the first to experience this situation. There have been countless scores of others who have shortened their vision to focus on a single moment or event, investing all of their hopes and efforts, only to find life on the other side feeling eerily similar to the one they just left.

I saw a past example of this today as I was reading in 1 Samuel, when all of God’s people became convinced they needed a man to be their king. All of their attention was placed upon it, every conversation with God was centered on it, and their hope for deliverance was tied to it.

God kept telling them, look farther down the line.

This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.

But the people could not see past this day they expected to come in the future, where everything would be perfect. They would, and did, give everything for it. And when it came, when they found a king, there was a time of joy as he delivered them from the hand of their enemy.

But that day led inexorably to another day when he led them in battle. And another. And another. Before long, everything they had heard would happen with a king, did indeed happen. They had become so focused on one day they stopped thinking about all the ones coming after.

Their king was my Christmas.

Because we do the same thing at Christmas time. If our kids just have this toy, that experience, or these traditions, then we are convinced we are winning.

If we could only get that one thing we need, that one person we want, or that one experience to share, then we are convinced we will be more satisfied.

If we could just make this holiday better than the ones in the past, then we are convinced the rest will be merry as well.

We are just like the Israelites of old; our short sight leads us to prop up weak kings, and they never deliver what we expect.

Do not let your sight be shortened. Do not settle for a weak king. This Christmas, keep Jesus as the king on the throne of your heart. He alone will deliver the fulfillment of your hope and the peace you desire. He alone will bring joy. There is only one king who can truly deliver on the desires we feel.

Don’t let short sight lead you to prop up a weak king.

Strengths Based Leadership In Christian Ministry

leaderYesterday, I saw something scary. Something that I have sadly come to expect. I saw a couple of Executive Level leaders bantering back and forth about the people they cannot wait to cut from their organization. I listened to them discuss the best strategies for engaging people just enough to get their help without creating lines of connection that would be difficult to break. Where I come from, we call that using people. They laughed at the weaknesses, quirks, and eccentricities of the organizations they compete with, and they reveled in their personal aspirations towards greatness. Sadly, I see this all the time.

I see this, because I am a church planter, networking with other church planters.

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A plea to Christians in this important time, BE COURAGEOUS!

0708151631If this post were a picture of my newborn son, I believe it would receive about 150 likes from many of the Christians with whom I am dear friends. Because it is about abortion, I expect it to receive about 10.

I don’t think this is because I am friends with duplicitous, shallow, or uncaring believers. I think it is because most of us lack the courage it takes to look evil in the face.

The word abortion, as a noun, means virtually nothing. It is politi-speak in our culture, and we have learned to ignore it. I am talking about abortion as a verb. The action of abortion is pure evil. It is horrific. And because of this great horror, we usually choose to look away rather than engage.

Christian, you must show courage! Look upon the evil we have allowed in our cities. Look upon the killing field strewn with the bodies of the most defenseless non-combatants the world knows. Find the indignation you feel when you see an abused puppy from a puppy mill, and use that to push you towards the killing machine of Planned Parenthood, killing 900 babies every day. Look at how they harvest organs, LEGALLY! Children are being sacrificed on the altar of lifestyle. Human bodies are being crushed and literally torn apart so that we may lay those parts on the altar of scientific research, giving our children to the medical gods we hope will give back to us health.

This is the reality of what is happening. Look at it. Be repulsed. Be sickened. Have the images of our evil burned into your conscience. Be courageous, and face evil. Because we may have the chance to affect real change.

I think we stand on the precipice of change. For the first time in forty years, abortion is being brought to the front of our cultural consideration. Please do not back down in considering it. I want to provide a list of resources which will track important points of this issue. And I want to give some pointers for keeping the discussion focused.

When King David wanted to enact momentous change, the Bible tells us he recruited a group of men known for their wisdom – the men of Issachar. They “had understanding of the times, and knew what Israel should do.” There many voices crying out right now, so I want to point you to the ones who cry out with wisdom. These people understand the times in which we live. And they are telling us what we should do.

Pay attention. Don’t look away. Share the truth. Pray for change. May God end the reign of child murder in our land.

For a concise explanation of the reality of abortion, read the transcript from John Piper’s sermon, paying specific attention to his 10 bullet points at the end: Father, Forgive, For We Know What We Are Doing

On Planned Parenthood, and the current controversies:

Russell Moore penned one of the best responses to date when this controversy first broke.

Albert Mohler explains the moral reality of what is going on in our collective cultural heart here.

Denny Burk has been tracking this controversy from the beginning, and his posts include the videos at the center of the controversy here (What Planned Parenthood Is And Why Its Work Is Evil), here (Why The President of Planned Parenthood’s Apology Doesn’t Work), and here (More Smoking Gun Evidence of The Evil of Planned Parenthood).

For some commentary on how this story is being handled in the media, and why it is imperative that you share these posts in your social media circles:

Molly Hemingway shows how pathetic the coverage of this issue has been here. And she also provides the rest of us with a TON of questions that reporters should be asking, but just don’t.

Denny Burk helpfully breaks down what Planned Parenthood is saying in their apologies and press releases. Please do not be fooled – this issue is not about whether the sale of fetal body parts is legal! It is about whether this is moral, and if it should be illegal. Denny also asks an important question of our President, who has spoken out about people waving Confederate flags (which is an embarrassment to those people and our country), but remained silent about the trafficking of human body parts.

Justin Taylor has a great video clip of one anchor discussing the moral reality of abortion in the history of our nation.

I also want to point out Trevin Wax’s simple question which I, for one, would love to hear Planned Parenthood champions answer.

Now, oddly enough, one of the only aspects of this whole controversy being covered at length is whether or not the sting videos,  the ones that catch the “doctors” discussing how they get baby organs without crushing them like the rest of the baby, is illegal or immoral. Doug Wilson handles that from a Christian perspective when he answers the question, “Is deceiving the abortion doctors morally wrong?”

What can we do?

Doug Wilson gives 7 suggestions for what you can do with all of this information. I want to reiterate one of them very plainly: utilize social media to bring the dark deed of abortion into the light. Social media, at its best, gives a voice to those too small to be heard. Let the voiceless be heard through you.

And finally, the most important response any believer can give: pray and fast for the rescue of children.

Managerial Devilry

downloadAbortion is once again making waves in social media. #PlannedParenthood is the #2 trending topic on Twitter as I write this. It is still early enough in the sharing of this video that few major news outlets have been able to cover the topic responsibly. Here is one such article if you have not heard about what is happening.

I will give you the short version, quoted from one person, representing tens of thousands, horrified by the disparity between the grizzly subject of the conversation and the calm demeanor and posh setting in which it took place.

When I watched the video of the discussion between this doctor and a potential buyer of fetal body parts, I remembered a quote from the introduction to the The Screwtape Letters, by C.S. Lewis. Joe Rigney is the one who cauterized it in my mind in his seminar speech, Live Like a Narnian. It truly captures the reality of this type of horror. I just paraphrased the final line.

I live in the Managerial Age, in a world of “Admin.” The greatest evil is not now done in those sordid “dens of crime” that Dickens loved to paint. It is not done even in concentration camps and labour camps. In those we see its final result. But it is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried, and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voices. Hence, naturally enough, my symbol for Hell is something like the bureaucracy of a police state or the office of a [a Planned Parenthood executive].

Joe Carter has pointed out that this trade in human body parts is most likely legal, with lots of paperwork to prove it. But legality does not determine the morality. And the harvesting of a baby’s head, legal or not, is morally reprehensible. I pray these disclosures of abortion industry practice will wake us up to the horror of abortion.

We are told that children in the womb are not really human on the one hand, and then we harvest human organs from their still warm corpses with the other.

And at the end of the day, those who prey upon our permissiveness sit at beautiful tables in nice restaurants, sipping wine, calmly discussing the best methods for extracting organs from a child they just finished killing. No amount of outrage can justify our culpability in this societal evil. We need to speak out and put a stop to the slaughter of innocent children.

Elections are coming. Please, make this your single issue, and vote accordingly.

Saturate: Chapter 4

saturatePaul once wrote about how he struggled with sin. He talked about doing the things he did not want to do. I get that. He also talked about not doing the things he did want to do. I get that part also. He lamented about how tough it was to be saved by Christ, yet still caught up in sinful desires. Check that box too. Then, in the midst of his lamentations, Paul draws up and ends the pity party by clearly declaring thanks for Jesus, because “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ!” This is where a lot of Christians get waylaid in their walk with God.

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Saturate: Chapter 3

saturateJesus is better.

That is a pretty simple message for anyone involved in the church for a while. After all, this is the core of the gospel, the good news; whatever you’re idolizing, loving, or desiring – Jesus is better. Whatever you’re hating, running from, or fighting against – Jesus is better. Whatever you’re pursuing, fighting for, or working towards – Jesus is better. The good news of the gospel is that Jesus is better than anything in this world, and you can have him.

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