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Monthly Archives: June 2014

Did I make a difference?

Early in my ministry in Seattle I worked with single adults. One of our leaders was Mike, a twenty‑something engineer who worked with lasers. When his company lost its funding, he was forced to find a new job … in Orlando, FL. Prior to him leaving on his cross country move, we met for breakfast. He posed one of the more penetrating questions I’ve been asked. “Did I make a difference?”

That question still hovers at the back of my mind. It shouts at me as I contemplate the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). When my life is over, I want something to show for my time on planet Earth. When Jesus returns, I want some fruit to present to him so that I can hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.”

When it comes times for my funeral, I hope that people don’t tell stories about what a great guy I was. I hope that people say, “He made a difference … when he did … when he said … because he loved Jesus.”

 
 
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Worship is the heart’s desire

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Posted by on June 27, 2014 in A. W. Tozer, Worship

 

How does one change the culture of the church?

Musings for a Thursday morning, or questions I wrestle with.

  • How does one change the culture of the church?
  • How do we become more outward focused instead of inward focused?
  • How do we develop a passion for the lost?
  • How do we develop a willingness to do whatever it takes rather than settle for the easy option?
  • How do we develop an abundance mentality instead of a scarcity mentality?
  • How do we help people become generous with their time, talents, and treasures?
  • How do we help get people looking forward and let go of the past?
  • How do we stop people from standing on the brake and resisting progress?
  • How do we encourage people to take greater risks rather than strive for comfort and status quo?
  • How do we encourage people to pursue Christ and stop dabbling with sin?
  • How do we help people stop making excuses for sin, compromise, mediocrity, etc?
  • How do we get people out of the pew and into ministry?
  • How do we help people objectively evaluate our ministries rather than fixate on the forms?
  • How does one bring about revival in a church?

Much to pray about.

 
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Posted by on June 26, 2014 in Church, Culture

 

Are you starving to death spiritually?

Stacey Irvine ate almost nothing but chicken nuggets for 15 years. She never tasted fruits or vegetables. She occasionally supplemented her diet with French fries. One day her tongue started to swell and she couldn’t catch her breath. She was rushed to the hospital, her airway was forced open, and they stuck an IV in her arm to start pumping in the nutrients she needed. After saving her life, the medical staff sent her home, but not before they warned her that she needed to change her diet or prepare herself for an early death.

I’ve heard people call it a famine. A famine of knowing the Bible. During a famine people waste away for lack of sustenance. Some people die. Those who remain need nourishment; they need to be revived. And if they have any hope of remaining alive over time, their life situation has to change in conspicuous ways.

During normal famines people don’t have access to the food they need. But Stacey Irvine could have eaten anything she wanted. She had resources, opportunity and presumably all the encouragement she needed to eat well. Can you imagine what would happen if all of us decided to follow her example and discontinued eating all but non-nutritious foodstuff? If we happened to beat the odds and live, we undoubtedly would suffer in the long run from nutrition-related chronic illnesses such as diabetes and heart disease.

Like Stacey Irvine, we’re killing ourselves. It’s surely not for lack of resources; nevertheless, we are in fact starving ourselves to death.

Christians used to be known as “people of one book.” Sure, they read, studied and shared other books. But the book they cared about more than all others combined was the Bible. They memorized it, meditated on it, talked about it and taught it to others. We don’t do that anymore, and in a very real sense we’re starving ourselves to death.

Kenneth Berding, in “The Crisis of Biblical Illiteracy & what we can do about it”, from the Spring 2014 Issue of Biola Magazine – publication of Biola University

 

The FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) about Giving

Q: On Sunday, June 22, Pastor Mark spoke about “Worship God with your Treasure.” During the message, he used the word, “tithe.” I’ve never heard a message on tithing before. Where does that come from?

A: Most people associate the tithe—10% giving—with the requirements of the Old Testament Law, but it actually existed before the Law was given. In Genesis 14:17-20, Abraham is returning from a battle in which he rescued his nephew Lot. On his way, he meets Melchizedek, a priest of God Most High. In gratitude for God granting him victory, Abraham gives a tenth of everything to the priest.

Many years later, Abraham’s grandson, Jacob, leaves home and is on his way to his Uncle Laban’s house. On his way, he has a dream about God in the desert (Genesis 28:10-15). In the dream, God promises to be with him and make him successful. Jacob makes a vow that if that indeed happens and he returns home safely, he would give God a tenth of everything (Genesis 28:20-22).

Q: That makes it sound like a tithe is just an example. Wasn’t it part of the Law?

A: Giving a tithe was an important aspect of the Old Testament Law, but it was actually closer to 23% than 10%.

Q: I’ve never heard that before. Where does that come from?

A: In the Law, several tithes and offerings were required of each person. The Israelites were to give one-tenth of all produce and all animals back to God (Leviticus 27:30-33). A second offering was the festival tithe (Deuteronomy 12:5-6, 11, 18). One-tenth of the nine-tenths that remained (9%) was to be set aside and taken to Jerusalem where it would be eaten as part of a sacred meal. A third offering was the triennial or charity tithe which was given during the third year (10% given over 3 years or 3 1/3% a year) and used to help the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow (Deuteronomy 26:12-15; 14:28-29). If you add up these amounts—10%, 9%, and 3 1/3%— the tithe is 22.3% a year.

Q: That makes me glad I don’t live under the Law. How is the New Testament different?

A: The Old Testament Law is prescriptive. It gives us a list of “Do’s & Don’ts.” The New Testament gives principles to guide us, but leaves the decision up to us.

Q: What does the New Testament teach about giving?

A: There are two key passages which teach principles about giving, 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 and 2 Corinthians 8-9.

In 1 Corinthians 16:1, Paul is writing to the Corinthians, but indicates this is the same thing he told the Galatians. This should be the normal practice of all believers and churches. In verse 2, Paul gives five principles about giving. Giving is to be:

  • Periodic—“On the first day of every week.” There should be a regular pattern and consistency to our giving.
  • Personal—“each one of you.” Each one of us is to give something.
  • Planned—“should set aside.” We are to think through what we are going to give.
  • Proportionate—“a sum of money in keeping with his income.” Rather than being haphazard, the amount we give should be consistent with our earnings.
  • Purposeful—“saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.” We are to follow through with our plan and make sure we give.

Q: Are there different principles in the other passage?

A: 2 Corinthians 8-9 provides us with three additional principles. The first one is that God doesn’t want our money. He wants us. We begin by first giving ourselves to God, and then secondly by giving our resources to whatever ministry we are involved in (8:5).
The second principle is that we are to give cheerfully (9:6-7). We are to remember the law of the harvest, that we reap what we sow. In addition, we are the ones who determine the amount of our gift. But more important than the amount is our attitude.  God delights in cheerful, generous giving.

Q: What if my income is limited or tight? Do I wait until I have enough before I give?

A: The answer to that question is found in the cycle of grace giving (9:6-11) and provides the third principle to guide us in our giving. We give cheerfully (9:6-7), then God gives back so that we have enough (9:8a). We then give generously (9:8b), and God gives back so that we have more than enough (9:9-11).  We give—God gives back. We give more—God gives more back. The result of all of this is that God’s name is praised (9:11b-15).

The bottom line is that when we give of our money, the gift enriches the donor (9:6-11), supplies the needs of the recipients (12a), and promotes the glory of God (12b-15).

Q: It sounds like it is up to me to determine how much to give. Is that true?

A: Giving 10% is a good guideline, since it was the pattern of godly people even before the Law was given. But it is not a requirement. For some, giving 10% would require a step of faith. For others, it would be too little and they would not miss it.

Pray about what God would have you to give. Be faithful to what he puts on your heart. Give generously. Be joyful. Honor God in your giving.

 

Worship God with your Treasure

kekayaan22If the statistics are true, Christ followers don’t always live out their convictions.

  • The average person in America gives 2% of their income to charitable causes.
  • 17% of Christians say that they “tithe” (give 10% of their income to God’s work).
  • Only 5% actually give that amount.

Despite the statistics, when was the last time you heard a sermon about money and giving? Most pastors avoid the subject. Many people say it’s a private matter and should not be addressed from the pulpit.

There are about 500 verses in the Bible on prayer. There are fewer than 500 verses on faith. But there are 2,300 verses in Scripture that deal with money and possessions. In fact, Jesus said more about money than he did about any other subject, including heaven and hell combined. Over 10% of the New Testament relates directly to financial matters. Because money is a barometer of one’s spiritual health, it needs to be addressed from the pulpit.

AA012120We need to change our minds when it comes to the subject of money and giving. It begins with having a correct understanding that God owns everything (Psalm 24:1) and giving is an act of worship (Proverbs 3:9-10).

Many of us respond with a “Yes, but …” to the instruction, “Honor the Lord with your wealth” (Proverbs 3:9). “Yes,” we admit, “giving is an act of worship, but since I’m not wealthy, I don’t have to give,” is our reply. Unfortunately, many of us are ignorant of the facts about wealth. 40% of the world’s population, 2.6 billion people, lives on less than $2 a day. 15 percent, 1 billion people, live on less than $1 day. 4.5%, 0.3 billion, live on $108 a day, and they are all in the USA. If we live in the USA, we are among the world’s wealthiest people. Thus, we should be the best worshippers of all.

The verse goes on to say that we are to honor God with the “firstfruits of all your produce.” Far too often, I give God my leftovers. If I have money left at the end of month, if I have time left at the end of the day, if I have energy left at the end of the workweek, then I will worship God. God wants the first and the best.

Once we honor God, “then your barns will be filled.” Many of us get it backwards. We say, if God blesses, then I will give. Scripture teaches that we give to God and then he blesses us.

Malachi 3:8-10 goes so far as to say that many of us are robbing God of the worship that belongs to him because we withhold our giving. We miss out on God’s richest blessings because we won’t give.

We’ve been taught that we are never to put God to the test. And yet, Malachi 3:10 explains there is one area where we are specifically to test him.

Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

What might God do if we took him at his word?

Granted, you could say that Proverbs 3:9-10 and Malachi 3:8-10 are Old Testament scriptures written to Israel and not applicable to us today. That is true. But the apostle Paul presents the same principle in 2 Corinthians 9:6-15 where he lays out the cycle of grace giving.

Cycle of grace givingThe cycle begins when we give to God (6-7). Like the woman who gave her last two pennies (Mark 12:41-44), our generosity is best determined by what we give when we have little. After we give, God’s pours out his abundant grace to us (8a).

The question is, what might this look like? Going back to Malachi 3, verse 11 adds, “I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that I will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear.” If we give to God, could he cause our clothes to last longer … tires to go farther … car to get better gas mileage … groceries to cost less … neighbors to offer free babysitting … health to remain strong … employer to increase our salary …? If we step out in faith and give, how might God bless us?

We give and God blesses. But the cycle doesn’t stop there. Because of his blessings, we then give more back to God (8b), which God follows up with even more blessings (10-11). As a result, needs are met (12a) and God is glorified (12b-15).

Put God to the test. Take him at his word. Honor God with your money and see how he meets your needs.

This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on June 22, 2014. It is part of a series on The Heart of Worship. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.

 

 

Tired of waiting?

Tired of waiting in line? Got better things to do with your time? Short of patience yet filled with places to be and things to do? Then hire a professional line sitter!

Hate long lines? Consider a professional line sitter” tells the story of Robert Samuel, who founded S.O.L.D. or Same Old Line Dudes, a professional line sitting company that fields requests to wait (and wait and wait) for everything from sneaker launches to concert tickets. “Whatever you want, we wait for it,” he said, provided you’re willing to pay $25 for the first hour and $10 for each additional half hour.

In a culture where time is worth more than money, it’s not surprising a business like this sprang up. However, I doubt very seriously whether or not God will allow someone else to take our place when he wants to work in our lives.

Psalm 130:5–6 (ESV)   I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning, more than watchmen for the morning.

 
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Posted by on June 21, 2014 in Culture, News stories, Scripture, Time

 

Can you divorce faith from obedience?

In reading Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer by Charles Marsh, I learned that one of Bonhoeffer’s convictions was that faith should not be divorced from obedience. During a previous membership class, one of the participants was concerned that the salvation prayer we had in our membership manual did not include an acknowledgement that Christ should be Lord of our lives and not just our Savior. At a recent church meeting, several people stated publicly that if we stopped preaching the gospel, “I’m leaving!”

From Bonhoeffer to the present day, we affirm the importance of preaching the gospel, obeying the Scriptures, and making Christ the Lord of our lives. Do we truly believe this, or are we only paying lip service?

If we truly believe the gospel … if Christ is Lord of our lives … why do we …

  • Worry so much?
  • Give so little? (Only 5% of Christians tithe—give 10% of their income to God.)
  • Act so angry?
  • Treat non-Christians as if they were the enemy?
  • Engage in pornography?
  • Allow materialism to capture our hearts?
  • Wrestle with addictions to alcohol and/or drugs?
  • Let family activities become more important than church?
  • Serve so grudgingly?
  • Sit on the sidelines and act like spectators at church?
  • Hold on to grudges?
  • Act disrespectfully to those in authority?
  • Make worship more about my preferences than about honoring God?
  • Pray so little?
  • Watch TV more than we read the Scriptures?
  • Struggle to make time for worship?
  • Treat our faith as private and not share our hope with those who need it?
  • Maintain a negative view of life?
  • Entertain faithless thoughts?
  • Make so little difference in the world?
  • Act so much like the world they cannot see the difference?
  • Allow idols to take God’s rightful place in our lives?
  • Resist change so mightily?
  • Refuse accountability?
  • Have such a small view of God?
  • Seem so discouraged?
  • Act so complacent about those who are lost without Christ?
  • Pursue the easiest course rather the most challenging?
  • Choose small, manageable tasks rather than trust Christ for great things?
  • Settle for “good enough” rather than pray for something that requires God’s intervention and power?
  • Choose to live independently of Christ’s Lordship?
  • Take pride in our “independence”?
  • Selectively choose what commands of Scripture to obey and what promises to believe?
  • Stray so easily?
  • Choose status quo instead of transformation?
  • Believe the lies of the enemy so readily?
  • Shy away from wholehearted devotion and commitment to Christ?
  • Act as if God is powerless to change people, or us, for that matter?
  • Allow ourselves to be so easily distracted from following Jesus?
  • Believe the worst about someone so easily and pass judgment and criticize so quickly?
  • Compartmentalize our lives and hide our secret sins?
  • Want to control our lives rather than surrender to Christ?
  • Pursue comfort instead of sacrifice?
  • Chase after significance rather than find our identity “in Christ”?
  • Give up so quickly during trials?
  • Settle for a mediocre existence instead of embracing everything God has for us?

If we truly believe the gospel … if Christ is Lord of our lives … why do our lives not match our beliefs? Why do we divorce faith from obedience? (Too many unanswered questions for so early in the morning.)

We need to preach the gospel to ourselves and believe what we believe.

Colossians 3:1–4 (ESV)    1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

 

Money & Giving

This week I am preaching on Worshipping God with our Treasures. Here are several stories and illustrations I’ve collected over the years on the topic of money and giving.

The percentage of income that Christians give to God’s work declined for 30+ years. Larry Burkett of Crown Financial Ministries estimated that only 5% of Christians give 10% or more. Barna Research  reports that although 17% of Christians say that they “tithe,” only 3% actually give 10% or more of their income to God’s work.

“Whoever says money can’t buy happiness doesn’t know where to shop.” Donald Trump

When you go to a doctor for your annual check-up, he or she will often begin to poke, prod, and press various places, all the while asking, “Does this hurt? How about this?” If you cry out in pain, one of two things has happened. Either the doctor has pushed too hard, without the right sensitivity. Or, more likely, there’s something wrong, and the doctor will say, “We’d better do some more tests. It’s not supposed to hurt there!” So it is when pastors preach on financial responsibility, and certain members cry out in discomfort, criticizing the message and the messenger. Either the pastor has pushed too hard. Or perhaps there’s something wrong. In that case, I say, “My friend, we’re in need of the Great Physician because it’s not supposed to hurt there.” Ben Rogers

“If riches are a curse, may God smite me and may I never recover!” Tevye, in Fiddler on the Roof

If we tip for good service at a restaurant, why do we balk at honoring God with our finances when he gave us salvation?

Giving is not something we do, but something we are. Giving is a way of life for the Christian who understands the grace of God.

Remember the law of the harvest—we reap what we sow. There are two ways to sow.  One is to carefully place each seed in a furrow as if one were placing the Star of India in a vault.  “Let’s see, here’s a seed for this one, and here’s one for this one. One must be careful with one’s seeds.”  This harvest will not be much!  The other is that of the sower, striding long steps across the earth, reaching into his abundance, and sowing with generous swings of his arm.  At springtime the earth will sprout accordingly, so that when fall comes, the harvest will be untold.

But not so with the Christian: motive in giving (or in any other activity) is vitally important. Our giving must come from the heart, and the motive in the heart must please God. We must not be “sad givers” who give grudgingly, or “mad givers” who give because we have to (“of necessity”); but we should be “glad givers” who cheerfully share what we have because we have experienced the grace of God. “He that hath a bountiful eye shall be blessed” (Prov. 22:9).

 

 
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Posted by on June 20, 2014 in Finances

 

Are you stuck in pornolescence?

Has your growth in the Christian life been stunted because of sexual immorality? Are you stuck in spiritual adolescence because of an addiction to pornography? That is the convicting position of blogger Tim Challies in his most recent post, “Pornolescence.”

So many young Christians have stunted their spiritual growth through what I call pornolesence. Pornolescence is that period when a person is old enough and mature enough to know that pornography is wrong and that it exacts a heavy price, but too immature or too apathetic to do anything about it. Pornolescence is that period where he feels the guilt of his sin, but still enjoys it too much to give it up. He may make the occasional plea for help, or install Covenant Eyes (but keep a workaround for when he’s really burning up), or ask for an accountability partner. But he doesn’t really want to stop. Not yet. She may phone a friend on occasion or plan to speak to one of the older women in the church, but in the end her internal shame weighs heavier than her desire for holiness. So she continues on, night after night.

This is pornolesence, that period between seeing the sin for what it is and actually putting it to death, that period between the deep soul conviction of immorality and the stubborn commitment to purity. For some people it lasts days, but for many more it lasts for years. A lot of young people—too many young people—are growing up too slowly today. Their sexual awakening is coming far too early and amidst all the wrong circumstances, and it is delaying every other kind of awakening and maturing. It is especially delaying their spiritual maturation.

Challies concludes his post with a plea for sexual purity based on the apostle Paul’s instruction in 1 Thessalonians 4:3.

1 Thessalonians 4:3 makes it as clear as day: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.” A Christian’s growth in holiness and his development in Christian maturity is directly and inextricably tied to sexual purity. A person cannot full-out pursue God while also full-out pursuing porn. It’s either/or, not both/and. God will not be mocked. God will not allow you to soar to spiritual mountain tops while you stoop in pornographic filth. God will not allow you to grow in Christian maturity while you wallow in your incessant pornolesence.

I am once again challenged, convicted, and spurred on to call people in our church to a life of holiness. We need to stop compromising and playing with matches and start pursuing God with a whole heart. Thanks, Tim.

 
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Posted by on June 19, 2014 in Scripture, Tim Challies