Thursday, July 25, 2013

Controversial: Giving & Tithing

There is one thing about the church, that I hear Sunday after Sunday that bugs me.  And now that I am on break from being a pastor, I can say it freely :-)  It is regarding the "Tithes & Offerings".

Acts 4:32, "All the believers were united in heart and mind.  And they felt that what they owned was not their own, so they shared everything they had."

Here is my controversial point, then I will explain- Tithing is not required in the Church.
1. Tithe means 10%.
2. Tithe in the Old Testament was approx. a 30% tax.
3. A tithe is not taught for the church today, though the early Jewish Christians did pay the tithe, toward the Temple and for the Levites.  However, the Temple is not around today, so there is no tithe to give.

What bugs me is that this is taught as a spiritual discipline or principle.  I believe this is taught out of fear.  Fear that if people weren't pressured to tithe, that they would stop giving & the pastor wouldn't get paid.  The building would be lost.  And the missionaries wouldn't be supported.

Formal Objection #1:  But Jeff, in order for the church to have pastors & secretaries & support missionaries & have a building, it needs money.

Response: I fully agree.
1. 1 Corinthians 16. But consider the church & the weekly collection for the church in Jerusalem (1 Cor. 16).  These believers collected money, not for their own church, but for the believers in Jerusalem who had severe need. The Corinthians were meeting the needs of others.  Sending it to the capital of Israel, to the Christians there, so they could live.
2. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7, God loves a cheerful giver.  Will a believer gladly give to help the Kingdom advance?  I certainly hope so.  I like to do this.  This is what we see in Acts 4:32.
3. Acts 4:32, the believers sold their houses to help others, and met any need they would see.  They completely cared for one another...which is greater than the tithe, because it is motivated by compassion/love.  Greed only existed in Ananias & his wife...look what happened to them.
4. Bottom line is, hey, if you want a pastor to shepherd the flock, a building to meet together in, a secretary to help the pastor so he can focus on shepherding, praying and preaching.  If you want a youth pastor to support you as you raise your kids to know the Lord.  If you want missionaries to give their life and advance the kingdom.  If you want a music director to focus on discipling musicians, to pray & develop our celebration time...then you need to give.  They just can't serve you and not eat, or live in a house, or drive a car.  It takes give if you think these things are noble and worthy.

Bad Jeff- I was recently at a church who had plenty of money and a fat savings account.  I didn't give to that church because it had no need.  Instead I gave to other Christians, like my friend Dan, who is planting a church in Wisconsin to save Packers fans.  Or like my buddy Jon, who is in Indonesia, bringing Jesus to the gentiles there.  Or Tama/Sarah, who are adopting children.  And will no doubt tell these children about Jesus.
If the church ever got to the point of struggling, I would gladly give to support it.  I would even downsize my house to help.

So the next time the plate is passed in celebration, consider this.  That you are giving to help the Kingdom advance, and you are generous to help other believers thrive, not because you HAVE to.

Freedom to it internal or external?

Here is a thought I had from devos this morning:
Freedom to speak God's word does not come from the authorities but from God pouring out His Spirit into our hearts, so we don't lose heart.

() Consider Acts 4:29-31
"And nowLordtake note of their threats, and grant that Your bond-servants may speak Your word with all confidence",
And when they had prayed, the place where * they had gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak the word of God with boldness.

The word "confidence" & "boldness" is the Greek word parresias. It means to speak openly, freely, plainly, boldly, confidently.  This is a conjunction of pas & reo- reo means to "pour forth".  

In this context, the believers were praying in the face of persecution from the Jewish religious authorities.  Here is the scene of their prayer meeting: 
1. The believers prayed together for the ability to speak the word of God.
2. God filled them with the Holy Spirit.
3. They began to speak God's word openly.

Questions: Did the Jewish authority cease to exist at this moment?  Then what changed?  
The Holy Spirit filled these believers afresh & they went out, without fear, into their culture.

Oh Father, help me to freely speak your word, so that I may help others come to know Jesus.  May my life, today, be an inspiration.  Let people see my good works and glorify You. 

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rejecting the Cure

This is an allegory.
Terri, a stage 2 cancer struggler, opened his paper one Sunday morning and immediately saw the title on the front page, "Cure for Cancer Found".  He read excitedly and found that this was a cure for the EXACT cancer that he had!  About twenty minutes later the phone calls started coming in, with a similar conversation, "Hey, Terri, have you read the paper? There is a cure..."

Now you would think that Terri would have been excited about this.  However, he was skeptical.  Instead of joy, he was filled with disbelief and doubted that this was for real.  However, it was real.  It was available. And it was something surprisingly common.  He hardened his heart & decided that he wouldn't be suckered in.

Well meaning friends and family prodded and pleaded with him to take the cure & be free from this death sentence.  But the more they prodded, the more offended he became.  And the more frustrated those who loved him became.  Especially because this cure didn't even require a prescription.

What do you think of Terri?  

Ephesians 4:17-20 says,
"Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused.  Their minds are full of darkness; they wander far from the life God gives because they have closed their minds and hardened their hearts against him.  They have no sense of shame.  They live for lustful pleasure and eagerly practice every kind of impurity.  But this isn't what you learned about Christ."

A couple of foundational biblical truths that we need to understand about ourselves is:
1. We all have a spiritual disease, a sickness, called SIN.
2. This is a terminal disease (read about the fall in Genesis 3; Romans 1-3:23), which separates God & you.
3. Although you are created in God's image & dear to God, He is also offended at your sin & your sin makes Him hide His face from you.
4. Broad is the road that leads to destruction and many find it.  Narrow is the road to Life & only a few find it.
5. Like Terri, most people harden their hearts when they hear the cure for their sin.  They would rather enjoy their familiar darkness, instead of coming to the light (Jesus) to be healed spiritually.

So what will you do?  Is God prodding your heart & drawing you to the cure (to Jesus)? Or will you be like Terri and harden your heart like Ephesians 4 teaches that many do? I plead to you, my friends, to come to Jesus and live.  Please.  You will be glad you did.  I am glad that I did.