Tuesday, October 2, 2007

I Tithe Enough ...or... Why I'm Glad God Isn't Frugal

I remember receiving my yearly tithing statement from my church. I recall opening it up anticipating confirmation of our family's faithfulness. Funny, huh? Why do we play such games? Regardless, I opened it up and did a quick calculation in my head of the obligatory 10% and then looked to have it come in more than that. Then I thought about the untraceable funds that my wife and I give and other things that we buy that we might consider to be "offering" and supporting the ministry that we believe so much in.

My next thought was justification of why I didn't give more, coupled with a strange satisfaction that I had probably given enough. Right on the heels of that thought, however, was a sinking feeling that God just doesn't do that with me, does he? It was as if the Holy Spirit whispered in my ear, "you're so fortunate that I don't measure out to you in the same way!"

God doesn't look at us and say, "well, I think that's about enough blessing." He gives and gives, and then gives some more. Not only did God send Jesus to suffer and die to redeem us from certain death, he waits patiently for the fullness of his people to come in to the kingdom, and while waiting, makes a God-like promise that he will pour out blessings so great that we will not be able to contain them!

I'm glad that God doesn't keep the same strange balance with me and play mind games with himself. I would never want to hear from God, "I've given enough mercy. I've given enough grace. I've given enough comfort. I've given enough joy." I'm glad that he pours out of himself goodness, mercy, comfort, joy, hope and so much more that fills our lives with unspeakable blessings. I'm thankful that he gives out of the greatness and abundance of himself and in so doing, calls us and makes us able to pour out of the abundance of his Spirit in us into the lives of those around us.

Where would we be if God were frugal? I don't know, but I'm glad he's not!

God, thank you for your abundance. Thank you for the many blessings that we don't deserve, but you so quickly provide us. Thank you for using your standards of measurement and not ours. We trust that you have provided us these blessings for the growth of your kingdom and the fame of your name - not merely for ourselves. Teach us to be faithful in our giving - not only to our churches but to those around us. As we do so, confirm in our lives and the lives of those around us that our giving matters to you and your kingdom. Amen.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Faith Like a Child

"Don't worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?" Matthew 6:25-27

I see the simple trust and faith that my children have in my wife and me. They don't concern themselves with the details of how we continue to pay for day-to-day life, how their dinner is provided for, how they have clothing to wear or how we can go to the store to buy school supplies or an afternoon snack. They implicitly trust and are never worried about the stability of their lives and our family. Instead of being consumed with anxiety they spend their days playing, learning, growing.

The passage in Matthew ends with a great promise. "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well" (Matthew 6:33). Oh, that we would seek after things of the kingdom rather than worrying about trivial things. Oh, that we would spend our time growing in the ways of God instead of seeking after the clothing that will make us look good or the myriad of food choices that we have. Eternally, without laying hold of the kingdom of God it really won't matter much what we ate or what we wore. And as we seek his kingdom, God has promised to provide for our needs so that we will bear much fruit for his honor and glory. As Jesus suggests, isn't that life more important than food or clothing?

God help us to put our trust in you for the things of this life. Do not let us be filled with faithless worry. Consume us with your greatness that we will abandon ourselves for the sake of your kingdom.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Unity in Differing Worship "Styles"

"But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." - John 4:22-24

I was reminded by reading the archives of Touchstone Magazine's blog entries on worship that there are dramatic conflicts that exist among many Christians in regard to the "style" of our worship services. I am blessed to not have dissatisfaction working its way through our church, but we know of other churches with terrible struggles. Should music be fast or slow or a mix of both? Should everyone wear suits and ties or are jeans and a t-shirt acceptable? Is it necessary to say "thee" and "thine" or will "you" and "yours" suffice? I'm certain that you've heard or experienced many more points of disagreement than these.

The scripture does not directly teach us what clothing we should wear or style of music we should play when going to church. In fact, looking back into scripture sometimes creates cultural disconnects that cannot be reconciled: no one suggests that following the cultural norms of King David by playing the harp and lyre at a service would really cut it in mainstream North American services. Instead, church services are mostly based on cultural norms from (in many cases) hundreds of years of church tradition.

What should be at issue first and foremost is not the style of music or the dress. What should be our first priority is whether our worship services focus on the majesty of God through Jesus Christ. Do we speak the truths found in the Bible or do we gloss over them to serve the people instead of God? Do we prefer one another in our services more-so than our own interests? Do we spend our energies serving each other so as to build each other up in the Lord? Do we speak of and encourage faithfulness to God? Do we speak of his greatness, his holiness, his righteousness, his power, his sovereignty?

At stake here is not the style of our music. At stake is whether we, as a church, will be fully submitted to God as servants of the gospel. As the hymn recites, "look full in His wonderful face... and the things of this world will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace..." When we see Jesus our desires for our own tradition should fall silent at his feet. If our passion is to worship at the feet of Jesus and our wholehearted desire is to see him glorified in our services, then first and foremost we will strive for unity in the Spirit: are we all seeking the same thing? Are we all seeking that God would be glorified?

We should desire to be transparent to the light of Jesus so that we may become instruments by which the song of grace is sung. Then we, who through prayer and personal inventory know that we seek to honor God, should encourage others to honor God in their culture and traditions. After all, part of what makes the gospel so powerful is that Jesus is honored across cultural boundaries - he draws all men unto him - not just those who sing a particular style of music.

We get into all sorts of trouble when we use music styles as the benchmark for the glorification of God in our churches. Instead, let us use reverence, awe, the fear of the Lord, repentance, thirst for the Word of God, or love, joy, peace, patience... These are measurements that the Bible itself teaches unequivocally. Without those foundations built on the truth of God, any song - hymn, contemporary chorus, rock, harp or lyre - will mean little to God and anyone seeking him.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Potency of the Christian Message

The potency of the Christian message and its ability to affect change in the heart of man that God desires is not based on human effort but on God's grace and Word.

It is the word of God that is sharper that any double-edged sword, judging the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). The judgment of the thoughts and attitude of the heart is the conviction of the Holy Spirit by which our sin is made known, we acknowledge our need for salvation and in the moment that we no longer harden our hearts but rather “believe in our hearts” and “confess with our mouths” that “Jesus Christ is Lord” then we are saved. There are no other means available to cause a change in our hearts that we would be made holy before God except by faith in Jesus Christ (John 3:16).

Romans 10:17 says “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God (also translated Christ).” Therefore, the message that we have that brings about faith is the word of God.

In addition, it is by command of Jesus that we are to take up the task to make disciples of every nation (Matthew 28:19) in part by “teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.” Therefore, the message that we have that brings about faith is the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 1:1,2 states “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son...” It is important to recognize then: (1) God's words have been spoken to men through the prophets before and up to Jesus Christ, and that (2) God's finals words on the matter of righteousness before God are through Jesus Christ. Lastly, the written record of God's words through the prophets and God's words through Jesus are contained in the Bible.

So we have drawn a line from righteousness before God coming by faith in Jesus, coming by hearing the message of Jesus Christ as written in the Bible and ultimately the transcendent call of God to his children that has gone forth since before the foundation of the world.

Considering the importance of the Bible containing the written record of the law, the prophets, Christ through the gospels and numerous letters regarding grace, the sovereignty of God and so much more, then it is no wonder that the Bible is under attack! The words contained in the Bible are truly living and are timeless in their significance and sufficiency for us today. Knowing that, why would we as Christians tolerate the Bible playing a less significant role in our churches? Why would we support doctrines claiming that the words that Christ spoke are no longer relevant? Why would we choose to accept laws and philosophies designed to shut up the covers of our Bibles.

The path that these decisions take us down is a path that separates the power from the pulpit. We must remember that the power of Christianity is not in Christianity. The power of Christianity is the power of the God of Christianity. When we teach that there is a gospel other than the one that was given to us by God Himself through Jesus Christ we teach that God is whomever we want Him to be. And when we accept that our Bible is no longer relevant to a world that is dead in its sin then we have become dead in ours.

Jesus himself says, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching" (John 14:23). How then will we obey Jesus' teaching if we toss out the Bible? How will Jesus' teaching remain Jesus' if we take it upon ourselves to change it?

The early church took great care in transcribing the Bible so that every letter was accounted for (see Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem). Each copy was carefully written down so as to remain consistent with the original. Every letter of every word was given utmost importance. The early Christians worked diligently to preserve the words of the Bible as the very words of God. Indeed, the Bible itself professes that it is the record of the words of God. Who are we to bestow less importance?

Be challenged today to take the Bible seriously. Resist any temptation that would try to pry the book from your hand or shut up your words. There is an attack to remove the Bible from our pulpits and from our country, but don't give in, child of God! This is a fight worth fighting for!

Scripture for the day

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace. In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one. Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep praying for all the saints."

Ephesians 6:10-18.

Monday, January 8, 2007

Don't kill the frog!

Did you know that not every song you hear on Christian radio is grounded in Biblical Truth? In fact, did you know that some songs that are sung in mainstream Christian churches as worship songs don't necessarily communicate the true nature of who God is? Furthermore, this cultural shift to songs with some elements of fact and some elements of fantasy furthers the gap between who God truly is and who we understand and communicate Him to be.

Please don't misunderstand, I am not saying that our mistaken perception lessens in any way God's power to bring about a clear understanding of who He is, nor am I saying that every song or speaker we hear or every book we read is bad. However, we have responsibility as Christians: take every thought into captivity (2 Cor. 10:5), test every spirit (1 John 4:1). We must study to know the truth of God through scripture so that our hearts would be sensitive to subtle shifts that may not communicate that same truth. We must know the word so that we may use it as a test for the evidence of truth.

For example, it seems such a simple change, perhaps insignificant, but even a distinction between the phrase "a God" and "The God" is paramount when considering the relationship we should have with God and the truth that is communicated in our songs. Isaiah recorded "Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel, and his redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God" (Isa. 44:6). A statement such as "a God" is merely a selection among many as though there were a choice. "The God" carries so much more weight. It's a firm selection, the choice.

Furthermore, "My" is an indication of ownership, of singularity. God desires that same singularity and ownership. He desires that I know Him so well that I call him "my God," just as He desires to call me, "my child." He says in Jeremiah 31:33 "... I will be their God, and they will be my people."

Additionally, we understand that God is jealous for our affection. Deuteronomy 4:24 states "For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God." He desires that our hearts and minds would be focused entirely on Him - consumed by Him. It is important then, that as we communicate the Word of God through songs that we communicate clearly the truth of God's all-consuming desire for us and our necessary response to Him. He wants our praise, all of it. He has no interest in us holding back.

It's been said that one can boil a frog slowly by changing the temperature little by little until soon, the frog is dead. While at some point the frog may realize the change in temperature, it may at that point be too late to escape. What's most surprising is that the frog is slow to realize the increase in temperature because his sense of temperature is tuned to his environment instead of a set temperature point. Therefore, each subtle change in temperature is imperceptible to his senses. In the same way, if our senses are not tuned to the truth of who God is through His Word then through slight cultural religious changes we may just find ourselves at the same spiritual boiling point - far from where we want to be.

Clearly not all Christian music, Christian speakers or Christian books are untruthful, so how might we avoid finding ourselves in a predicament? Here's my ideas: Consider reading your Bible instead of reading a Christian book. Consider praying instead of listening to the next tape in the series of Christian speakers. Consider an hour of quiet time alone with God instead of turning on the radio for that hour. Use Christian teaching as an encouragement, a supplement, to meeting one-on-one with God.

Need a quick way to remember this important lesson?
Just remember, "Don't kill the frog."

"God, grant me the conviction to study the scripture so that I may know you for who you are. Most of all, show me your face so that others may see your radiance on me and seek after you - that your Name may be glorified. Today, Lord, open my eyes to see and my ears to hear. Amen."

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