Friday, May 29, 2020

Loving like Jesus

1 Corinthians 16:19-24 (ESV)
[19] The churches of Asia send you greetings. Aquila and Prisca, together with the church in their house, send you hearty greetings in the Lord. [20] All the brothers send you greetings. Greet one another with a holy kiss.
[21] I, Paul, write this greeting with my own hand. [22] If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed. Our Lord, come! [23] The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. [24] My love be with you all in Christ Jesus. Amen.

The Church in Corinth had been called out of a culture of greed, immorality and self-indulgence unto holiness, unity and love. In practice they still looked much more like the city they came out of than like the called out ones they were. They were a gifted church, but not a holy church. They were a blessed church, but not a church of blessing. This letter, by the Apostle Paul, is written to the Corinthian Church to counter that problem by addressing it in two ways. In the first six chapters he addressed two problems, related to divisions and immorality, which had been reported to him.  Then in chapters seven through sixteen he addressed several questions, which had evidently been related to him by individuals in the church, matters that were causing fighting and hurt within the church. Much of their culture had penetrated their church and diluted the gospel message and the impact of the church on the city. Much of their immaturity displayed itself in divisiveness and hurt. It is appropriate, then, that Paul closes his letter to them with a display of unity and love.

In the previous short paragraphs Paul spoke with acceptance and respect about Apollos, Timothy, Stephanas, and others. He then sends not just greetings, but “hearty greetings” (1 Cor 16:19) from Asian believers to the European believers in Corinth. His final words curse those who have no love for the Lord, and express his deep love for the Corinthian believers. In case you missed it, the church is to be about love, honor, and respect.

I just had a conversation last night with someone reminiscing about the fact that every church he had pastored had factions within it. Sometimes it seemed as though the only thing the factions cared about what not getting along with the other faction. This is sadly all too true, but it is not how the church is intended to function. I have seen congregations where if one group says the wall is white, the other will insist it is black. We have a disposition to division, but that disposition is not from the Lord.

It is amazing that when a new pastor comes into a congregation, he will often hear grievances about the former pastor, or someone in the congregation before he ever hears what others are doing right. As believers in Jesus Christ, God has called us to set aside our preferences, let go of our grievances, nail past hurts to the cross, and truly love one another. What a difference the church could make in the lives of those who attend, and on the community in which we serve, if we would truly love one another. In John 17:23 Jesus prayed that believers would “become perfectly one, so that the world may know that” the Father sent Jesus and loved the church. What, then, does our division communicate to our world? God forgive us. Brothers and Sisters in Christ, let us love as Christ loved.

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Leadership Qualifications

1 Corinthians 16:15-16 (ESV)
[15] Now I urge you, brothers —you know that the household of Stephanas were the first converts in Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the service of the saints— [16] be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.
In the church, leadership is acknowledged, not taken or conferred. The word “be subject,” in verse 16, is the same word used in Ephesians when it says that we are to submit “to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives to your husbands as to the Lord” (Eph 5:21-22). It means to voluntarily place yourself under the authority or leadership of another.

There are three qualifications, in the verses quoted above, that set the household of Stephanas up for leadership. First, they were the first converts in Achaia. They are not new believers. They have been Christ followers longer than anyone in the community. 1 Timothy 3:6 says that an Elder “must not be a recent convert.” We have too often taken recently converted celebrities and placed them on the platform to speak for Christianity. That is both dangerous and destructive. It is dangerous because they have not been a believer long enough to mature or to really know what they believe or what the scriptures teach. It is destructive because it builds a celebrity mindset, feeds their ego, and sets them up for a fall. Leadership in the church should be mature believers.

Second, they “devoted themselves to the service of the saints” (1 Cor 16:15). Leadership is about service, not authoritarianism. Stephanas and his household have earned the right to be looked up to by virtue of their servitude. They have not stepped up into positions of leadership. They have served the saints. We should look for a servant’s heart in church leaders.

Third, verse 16 says, “be subject to such as these, and to every fellow worker and laborer.” Leadership is not about one person at the top. It is about recognizing that Christ is at the top. We are fellow laborers. Stephanas has not only served the saints, but he has labored. The word for labored here means to work hard to the point of fatigue. The church should notice and acknowledge those who work hard for the ministry.

Church leadership is not something to aspire to in order to feel good about ourselves, or to have people look up to us. Church leadership rises to the top as a believer matures in their faith, faithfully serves others, and works hard at doing so. Those are the kind of people we want in leadership. When you see those people in the church, take notice, and listen to them. Follow their lead. But be careful.

Jesus, the Son of God (mature; he knew who he was and what was truth) said he did not come to be served, but to serve (Mk 10:45; servant). Jesus said of himself, “The Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head” (Lk 9:58). He then said, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God” (Lk 9:62; hard worker). It is a three-fold package. Working hard is one thing. Working hard in serving others is quite another. Working hard and serving others when you have been a believer for some time and have been growing in your faith . . . That is what we are looking for in a leader. Any one or two qualifications without all three leaves both the church and the leader vulnerable.

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong.

1 Corinthians 16:13-14 (ESV)
[13] Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. [14] Let all that you do be done in love.
Just yesterday I read the news that the lead singer of a Canadian Christian Band made the announcement that he no longer believes in God. He grew up in church as a preacher’s kid. He has written some great, biblical songs. Yet he has lost his faith. I appreciated the fact that people responded not by attacking him, but in love. Still, it grieves me to hear this. What happened?

There are several possible answers, and it is not my intention to address them here. I do not know him or his background well enough to even guess. But it does highlight the importance of the verses quoted above. “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong” (1 Cor 16:13). Hebrews 11:13 says of those who had faith in God, “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth.” The Apostle Peter warned, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul” (1 Pet 2:11). As believers, we are strangers, sojourners, and exiles in a land that is not home.

We are spies in a foreign land, and as such, we need to be watchful. There are dangers on all sides. Legalism is just as destructive as license. Standing for truth can move from faithfulness to arrogance and antagonism. Accepting others as they are can move from love to turning a blind eye to sin. “I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some” 1 Cor 9:22), can become wishy washy or fake. “Contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3), can become judgmentalism and coercion. Truth taken out of balance is not truth. Additionally, we have an enemy. “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8). The Apostle John warns in 1 John 2:18-19,
Children, it is the last hour, and as you have heard that antichrist is coming, so now many antichrists have come. Therefore we know that it is the last hour. They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.
We are spies in a foreign land, and as such, we need to be watchful. There are dangers on all sides. Still, Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). And so, we are encouraged to “be watchful,” to “stand firm in the faith,” to “act like men,” to “be strong.” And to “let all that [we] do be done in love” (1 Cor 16:13-14).

“Be watchful.” Be aware of the dangers, the lies, the distortions of truth that swirl around us. “Stand firm in the faith.” We do not stand firm in our resolve, or in our own faithfulness, but in the faith. We stand firm in that which we have believed. We stand firm in the truth of the gospel and the truth of who God is. “Act like men.” Courage seems to be the idea connected with acting like men. Do not allow fear to drive you or cow you. When Joshua took over leadership of Israel from Moses, he was tasked with leading the people into a land they had never seen. God encouraged him, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go” (Josh 1:9). “Be strong.” We have no strength in ourselves, but our strength is in the Lord. Isaiah 12:2 says, “The LORD GOD is my strength.” It is in the indwelling Holy Spirit that we find strength. Learn to trust him and rest in his power. When we neglect these truths, we become bitter or disillusioned, angry or judgmental, discouraged or depressed. But, when we learn to live by these truths, we can do everything in love.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Leading with Humility

1 Corinthians 16:12 (ESV)
[12] Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.

I find this verse fascinating. Paul did not just urge or encourage Apollos to visit the Corinthians, he “strongly” or “repeatedly” urged him. Still, Apollos did not want to come at that time. Paul’s response was, “He will come when he has opportunity.” Another way of saying that is, “He will come when he thinks the time is right.” Paul felt free to let Apollos choose regarding his ministry rather than dictate and control him.

In 1 Peter 5:3, Peter wrote that the Elders should give oversight to the church, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.” That kind of leadership is the expression of Christ’s love. Within certain church circles much emphasis is given to the idea of pastoral authority. I assume that idea began with the truth that when we preach God’s Word we preach with authority. Unfortunately that idea seems to be carried over from preaching to leading. Pastors are told to lead with authority. Pastors are offended when people resist their authority. But, Jesus said that we are to be servants not masters. Peter said to be examples, not domineering over those we lead. We would do well to give less credence to pastoral authority and more emphasis on being an example.

When individuals has been praying about something, or thinking on something for some time, they may assume that their conclusions are led by the Spirit. Sometimes we even feel that we are inspired by the Holy Spirit. We feel that we heard clearly from him in a brilliant flash of insight. Still, biblically, anything we think we are hearing from God should be tested against what others are hearing. Just two chapters earlier Paul wrote, “the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets” (1 Cor 14:32). No person is infallible. What we think we are hearing from God should always be tested against what other godly individuals are hearing.

I have a pastor friend whose whole life and ministry is centered on listening to the Spirit and following his lead. Still, my friend is constantly testing what he is hearing or thinking against what others are hearing and how others understand the scriptures. He understands that he is not infallible. He wants to follow the Spirit, but he recognizes that he is not the only who to whom the Spirit speaks. I appreciate his humility.

Just because Paul thought Apollos should go to Corinth, he did not demand it. He gave Apollos the freedom to choose. Biblical love means that we resist the desire to play Holy Spirit in the lives of others. We are to lead by example, not by imposed authority. When we insist on our way we are placing ourselves in the place of God. We need to recognize that God has the ability to move people in His way and in His time without our counsel. Let God be God.

Monday, May 25, 2020

Inexperienced Preachers

1 Corinthians 16:10-11 (ESV)
[10] When Timothy comes, see that you put him at ease among you, for he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am. [11] So let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace, that he may return to me, for I am expecting him with the brothers.
Timothy was Paul’s young protégé. In his first letter to Timothy, Paul encouraged him to, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). Timothy may have been young, inexperienced, and insecure, but Paul’s assessment of Timothy was, “he is doing the work of the Lord, as I am” (1 Tim 16:10).

I remember my first opportunities to preach, and the first church I served as their permanent pastor. I first preached at 18 or 19. I was preaching regularly at the age of 20 in two small country churches. I was Pastor Rick at Avery Community Church as I turned 21. Who in their right mind thought I was experienced enough to be a pastor? And yet, God used me. There is a couple in Idaho right now that just celebrated their 44th anniversary. They have been following the Lord together for forty-four years as a result of this 21 year old pastor serving in their community. I had a lot to learn, but God used me.

We tend to look down on those who are different. Older ones question the ability of the younger. Younger ones question the adaptability and relevance of the older. But the question should never be whether someone is young or old, experienced or inexperienced, energetic or seasoned. Ministry is about calling and giftedness. Young and old ought to be shown grace. Pastors are just people and we all have our weaknesses. I recall an older pastor accused of heresy by a church member because he would mix up words in his preaching. He might say Jonah instead of Job, or Joshua instead of Moses. That is hardly heresy. He loved the people he served like no one else. They needed to show him grace. I recall as a young pastor getting on the bandwagon over some issue that had potential to actually hurt the church, but I didn’t see it. It took a wise and seasoned minister to say to me, “I’ve seen these things come and go. Don’t get excited.” And he was right.

Ministry is not about youth or old age. It is about calling and gifting. But it will require a congregation to show some patience and grace toward their pastor. He is called and gifted by God, but he is only human. To those in ministry, remember that you are not always right. Remember that your personal value and significance as a person is determined by your relationship to God, not by the size of your church or the number of converts you see. As a church may we judge one another less, and serve one another more. As Paul said of Timothy, “let no one despise him. Help him on his way in peace” (1 Cor 16:11).

Friday, May 22, 2020

Making Plans (Pt 3)

1 Corinthians 16:7 says, “For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.” This week I have been writing about planning in life, ministry, and work. Three principles are illustrated for us in 1 Corinthians 16:5-9. The first is to hold plans loosely. God may have other plans. Second, learn to listen to God and embrace opportunities for ministry that he places in our path. I wrote about these principles in earlier blogs. The third principle is to embrace the freedom to choose, to pursue your desires within bounds. Of course the boundaries of those choices are what God allows and what he teaches in the Scriptures. But, within those bounds he gives us freedom to choose.

I have often heard people say, “I’ve been praying about what decision to make, but I haven’t heard anything from God.” Maybe God is okay with either decision. Maybe he doesn’t care if you buy the blue car of the red one. Maybe he is okay with whether you take the job with the most pay or the one with the most free time. When we are truly listening with the right heart and we do not hear clearly from God, there are several possibilities. God may be saying, “Wait.” God may be asking, “Did you seek wise counsel as I instructed in Proverbs?” God may be saying, “Make a choice. I am okay with whatever you choose.” It is this third possibility that we sometimes struggle with.

If I pull up to the drive through window at Dairy Queen, I don’t really care if my grandchildren order vanilla cones or chocolate cones, but I do want them to order before the people in line behind me get irritated. I do believe that sometimes God leads us clearly in a specific direction. He may strongly impress me to visit a particular store, or take a particular route home. Maybe that it to avoid something bad. Maybe that is to encounter a ministry opportunity. I need to learn to listen well. But usually God isn’t particularly concerned with which route I take home. I have the freedom to choose.

Notice the phrases, “I want” and “I hope” in 1 Corinthians 16:7. Some of us need to learn to listen better. But some of us need to loosen up and learn to enjoy the freedom God gives. Later, in verse 12, Paul wrote, “Now concerning our brother Apollos, I strongly urged him to visit you with the other brothers, but it was not at all his will to come now. He will come when he has opportunity.” Notice that he doesn’t say, “It was not God’s will,” but that “it was not at all his will to come now.” Paul and Apollos had different ideas of what should be done, but Apollos had the freedom to embrace the choice of his desire. Some of us need to learn to listen better, but some of us need to loosen up and learn to enjoy the freedom to choose that comes from God. There is freedom in following Christ.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Making Plans (Pt 2)

Ephesians 16:7-9
[7] For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. [8] But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, [9] for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.

I wrote earlier that as believers we need to learn to hold our plans loosely. God may lead us in a different direction than what we planned. He may use a variety of means to get us there. In the Exodus God miraculously divided the sea, allowing his people to cross on dry land. In Paul’s case, his call to Macedonia came through a night vision. Joseph took baby Jesus to Egypt because of an angel’s warning. The Magi came to visit Jesus because of a sign in the heavens. The gospel spread from Jerusalem because of increased persecution against the church in Jerusalem. Peter took the gospel to Cornelius in response to a vision (Acts 10). Philip took the gospel to Samaria, probably in response to Jesus’ words that they were to take the gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 8). Paul and Barnabas first took the gospel west from Antioch because the Holy Spirit directed prophets and teachers in the church there to lay hands on them and send them (Acts 13). The gospel came to Malta because of a storm (Acts 28). Not all direction comes from the Lord through visions and dreams, but whatever the means, the principle is the same. We need to learn to listen to the Lord and embrace the ministry opportunities God puts in front of us.

About three years ago I led the Oak Hills Christian College student body in a time of listening for God to speak during chapel. They might hear from him. They might not. But I wanted to encourage them to listen. One student responded, “We’re not used to doing that.” That, I fear, is all too true. We are used to strategizing and making plans. We are not used to listening. Some years ago I had the privilege of sitting with the pastor and elders of a small church. A sticky issue arose and the pastor said, “We need to pray about this.” They stopped right then and prayed. After they had all prayed, the pastor looked at each individual in the group and asked, “What did you hear?” By the time each individual shared what they had sensed or heard while they were praying, they had a solution. The pastor was teaching his elders to listen.

Planning is important. Strategy is important. Purpose and mission is important. But in all of our planning and strategizing we must leave room for listening. What is God saying and what ministry opportunities has he placed in front of you? Paul wrote, “But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries (1Cor 16:8-9).” Just because there is an opportunity does not necessarily mean it is a road we should go down. Paul was making plans to leave Ephesus, but, when God puts an open door of ministry before us, we should seriously consider it as a possible call from God. Paul passionately wanted to visit the Corinthians believers. I’m sure he was heavily burdened by the need to minister to them in light of all the issues he had to address in his letter. Still, he had a wide open door for ministry right where he was and he needed to consider that as well.

For Paul, the fact that there were many adversaries indicated that he needed to stay. In our planning, we need to not only listen, but we need to make sure that we are not just running away from something that is hard. There were times when Paul fled for his life, but he never left just because ministry was hard.

Planning is important. Strategy is important. Purpose and mission is important. But in all of our planning and strategizing we must leave room for listening. We need to learn to listen. Part of listening is recognizing the ministry opportunities God puts in front of us. Daily I pray that God will open my eyes to the opportunities he gives me. My constant fear is that I will become so focused on me and my needs, plans, and activities that I will miss what God puts in my path. My prayer is that as believers, we would learn to listen well to the Spirit of God, and see the opportunities he places in our path.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Making Plans (Pt 1)

1 Corinthians 16:5-9
[5] I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, [6] and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. [7] For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits. [8] But I will stay in Ephesus until Pentecost, [9] for a wide door for effective work has opened to me, and there are many adversaries.
There are three principles in the above verses regarding planning. The first is to hold plans loosely. In 1 Corinthians 16:5-7 the Apostle Paul wrote, “I intend to pass through Macedonia, and perhaps I will stay with you.” Paul understood Jesus’s principle, “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble” (Mt 6:34). James put it this way,
[13] Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— [14] yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. [15] Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” [16] As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil (Jas 4:13-.16)

When plans don’t work out as I expect I get frustrated. Particularly when I was young husband and father I would plan a trip, but it would take longer to get to our destination because kids always take longer at a rest stop than expected, someone (usually me) would get sick, or some other unexpected event would occur. I would make plans to pay off a debt only to have a crisis wreck my plans. I would save and purchase the perfect car, motorcycle, accessory, or toy only to have it get scratched. These things frustrated me and usually made me angry. I had not learned to hold my plans loosely. As I have aged, and hopefully matured, I have begun to learn to hold my plans more loosely. I have learned to say, “That’s plan. We’ll see what happens.”

Life has a way of messing with plans. God has a way of redirecting plans. In Acts 16, Paul had made plans to spend time preaching in Phrygia and Galatia, but God had other plans. “The Spirit of Jesus did not allow them” (Acts 16:7). God called Paul to Macedonia, which resulted in his trip to Corinth, which established the church in Corinth. God’s plans are better than our plans, but to hear him, we need to hold our plans loosely. That brings me to the second principle of planning: Listen to the Lord. I will address the last two principles in a future blog. For now, let us learn to hold our plans loosely. Only God knows the future.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Speaking the Truth in Love

1 Corinthians 16:5-7
[5] I will visit you after passing through Macedonia, for I intend to pass through Macedonia, [6] and perhaps I will stay with you or even spend the winter, so that you may help me on my journey, wherever I go. [7] For I do not want to see you now just in passing. I hope to spend some time with you, if the Lord permits.

Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is largely a letter of rebuke. Throughout the letter he is rebuking and correcting them. But that does not mean that he does not love them. A friend told me that he did not like the phrase, “speaking the truth in love” from Ephesians 4:15 because whenever he hears someone use it, they always follow it with a criticism. I get that, and yet that is exactly what we need to do. Not all truth is critical truth. Some truth is encouraging truth. Still, it seems that we tend to criticize more than we encourage. That being said, there are times when rebuke and criticism is necessary. Paul needed to address some difficult issues with the Corinthian believers. That did not mean that he did not love them.

Pastors need to understand this. One website begins a post with these words, “Some Evangelical pastors promote an anger theology.” The author is right, although that is hardly the mind of Christ. Pastors need to understand that whatever they need to say to their congregations, they must first love them.

Congregations need to understand this as well. Just because a pastor challenges you or rebukes you does not mean that you are not loved. The Apostle Paul challenged and rebuked the Corinthians, but closed his letter by expressing his love for them. He wanted to see them. He wanted to spend time with them. He did not want to just stop by for a few minutes on his journey through the area, he wanted to spend some time with them. Paul loved the Corinthians and they knew that they were loved.

It is important that we do not just follow a criticism with a short, “You know I love you, right?” If we are to rebuke people, they must first know that they are loved, and then they must be reminded again that they are loved. Paul had spent considerable time with the Corinthians. They had significant history. That is why Paul could rebuke them and they knew they were still loved. Constructive criticism must flow out of trust. Trust is built in love. That takes time and effort. Yes, we must speak the truth in love, but let us make sure that we actually love, and that those to whom we are speaking truth know that they are loved.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Reflections on Giving (Pt 4)

This week I have been blogging about giving. Biblical giving is done thoughtfully, freely, and joyfully. It is given in proportion to that with which God has blessed us. It is given to help others and honor God, acknowledging that he is the true owner of all that we have. Giving should also be done wisely with discernment and accountability. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16:2-4,
[2] On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. [3] And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. [4] If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

Note that Paul wanted the collection to be done before he arrived. He did not want his ministry among the Corinthians to be about money. Second, they were to send the money with people that the Corinthian believers trusted and appointed for the job. Paul would go with them if the Corinthians thought it advisable, but he did not require it. The money was not about Paul. He did not feel the need to be involved or have his name associated with it. It was a gift from the Corinthian church to the Jerusalem church, but it was not just sent off with anyone who could carry it. It was sent with those  whom the Corinthians trusted and appointed. They were sent with a letter accrediting them. There was accountability to the gift.

Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert have written a book entitled, When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor ... and Yourself. It is a helpful read for those working in areas of benevolence and helping the poor. Giving to help others must to be done with wisdom and discernment. Just passing out money willy nilly is often more harmful than helpful.

Along with wisdom and discernment, there is a need for accountability. Church leadership needs to make sure that gifts are being used for what they were intended. We need to guard the honesty and reputation of those in charge of counting, and distributing the money. Do we have trustworthy people handling the funds of the ministry? Do we have systems in place to protect them and the funds they handle? Christian ministries should be especially careful of how we handle money and resources. Although ministry takes money, we never want to give the impression that ministry is about money. All that we do reflects on the God we serve.

Biblical giving is done thoughtfully, freely, and joyfully, not under coercion. It is given in proportion to that with which God has blessed us. It is given to help others and honor God, acknowledging that he is the true owner of all that we have. Giving should also be done wisely with discernment, and with systems of accountability in place to protect the gifts and the reputation of those we put in charge of the money. So let me ask you: How biblical is your giving?

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Reflections on Giving (Pt 3)

This week I have been reflecting on Christian giving. I wrote earlier that the first principle of biblical giving is that we are to give thoughtfully, freely, and joyfully based on 2Corinthians 9:7. In a second blog I considered the proper biblical motives, which are giving to serve the needs of others and giving to the glory to God. Another biblical principle for giving is that of proportion.

Giving reminds us that what we have is not ours. It on loan to us from God. We are but stewards of all that we own. Throughout the Old Testament the Israelites were required to give a tithe (10%) of their increase. Actually, by the time you add up the regular tithes, special offerings, and sacrifices that were required, their percentage was probably something more like 20-25% that was required of them. New Testament giving does not spell out the tithe, but it does indicate proportional giving. 1 Corinthians 16:2 instructs the believers, “On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper.”

In 2 Corinthians 8 the Apostle Paul gave the Corinthian believers instructions on giving. He said that giving is “acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have.” God does not expect us to give what we do not have, but he does expect us to give in proportion to how he has blessed us. I fear that the American church has largely forgotten that. We seem to be more interested in how many toys we can collect, how big a house we can build, what restaurants we can afford. This virus is a wakeup call. We can respond to the stay at home order by yearning for the freedom to go play again, or we can use this time to reflect on what we really need for life. Proportional giving is a reminder that our stuff is not ours to squander. It is a stewardship from God to use for his glory.

So, do I have to tithe? If you are asking that question, then your motives are still questionable. The question we should be asking ourselves is not: How much do I have to give? We should rather be asking: How has God blessed me and how much can I give? I don’t believe that God expects us to starve our children in order to give, but truthfully, it is often the poor that are the most generous with what they have. The more we have, the more tight-fisted we seem to become. In the meantime, churches have needs, pastors are poorly paid, missionaries are struggling to raise the support they need, people are living on the streets, children are going to bed hungry, and record numbers of people are being forced to leave their homes and belongings behind because of war and religious persecution.

It is said that Nero fiddled while Rome burned. It’s not actually true. The fiddle hadn’t been invented yet. But the truth is many of us are metaphorically fiddling while others are struggling. Giving is not about churches and preachers greedily wanting to amass a fortune off the backs of others. Biblical giving is about serving others by giving proportionately to how God has blessed us. Let me challenge you to prayerfully reexamine your own giving. Are you giving? To whom are you giving? Are you giving enough? How much has God blessed you? How much do you really need to live? May we give in proportion to God’s blessings, honoring God, blessing the church, and helping those in need.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Reflections on Giving (Pt 2)

In an earlier blog I wrote that the first principle of biblical giving is that we are to give thoughtfully, freely, and joyfully based on 2Corinthians 9:7. Perhaps it would be good to consider not only the principles of giving, but the motive for giving. There are at least two biblical reasons for giving. In 1 Corinthians 16:1 the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians believers, “Now concerning the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do.” That offering was destined to go to Jerusalem to help the Christians there that were experiencing drought and persecution. The first reason for giving is to help others.

It is interesting that in our current church budgets facilities and staff tend to be the bulk of our budgets. That is not necessarily wrong. It takes buildings for people to meet, and buildings cost money. Additionally, it takes staff to carry on ministry. The larger the church, the more staff is needed. Even the smallest congregations often have a paid pastor even if he is part time. Neither of these is wrong and we have a responsibility to care for and provide for our pastors, ministers, and missionaries. That being said, it seems that often the budget for helping people in need is the smallest item on our budge if it shows up at all.

Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians to take up a weekly offering was specifically for helping believers in Jerusalem that were struggling financially. I know of some churches that take up a special monthly offering to help those in need. That is commendable. Giving to ministries that help the needy is also a way to give. That is not unlike what Paul was instructing the Corinthians to do. My point is simply that as believers in Jesus Christ, we ought to have compassion for those in need. Does our budget reflect that and is our giving aimed at that?

A second, and perhaps more primary motive for giving is the acknowledgment of God as owner of all that we have. We are simply stewards of our money and possessions. They are gifted to us by God to care for and use to his glory. R.C. Sproul wrote, “What we own, we own as stewards who have been given gifts from God Himself.”[1] Psalms 24:1-2 teaches us that, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.” All that exists belongs to God by virtue of creation. Sproul observed that God did not give ownership of the world to people, he gave them the responsibility to oversee it and care for it under God’s authority. Tithes and offerings acknowledge God’s ownership.

We talk about my car, my house, my boat, my toys, my tools, my jewelry, my keepsakes. The truth is, none of them are ours. They are all on loan from God, who expects us to use them in a way that will honor him. Not only does everything belong to God, be we are to use everything for his glory. Earlier in 1 Corinthians, Paul instructed the Corinthians, “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31). As we oversee creation, we are to work and play, eat and drink, give and serve to the glory of God. Giving acknowledges God’s ownership over all that we have and it honors him.

Why do we give? Despite that accusations of some that we are encouraged to give simply because the church is only interested in money, the truth is, we give because what we have is not ours. We give because it acknowledges that God is the owner of all that we have and he has the right to use it as he wills. We give because in giving, we are able to help those in need, and helping those in need honors the owner of all that we have. Giving is not just about obeying a command, it is about honoring God and helping others. Giving is an aspect of love and God calls us to love sacrificially.

[1], accessed May 13, 2020.

Monday, May 11, 2020

Reflections on Giving (Pt 1)

I am going to write about something that I don’t really like to write or talk about: Money. Churches and pastors have been accused of being interested only in money. This image has not been helped by the fact that every Christian ministry and every pastor on the radio or television is dependent on contributions to stay on the air. Often, then, you will hear them asking for donations. The idea gains even more traction because of the few media preachers that are extremely wealthy. They, unfortunately, become the caricature of ever preacher. But that could hardly be further from the truth.

Most preachers I know give sacrificially, live on a shoestring, and don’t like to talk about money. Most preachers I know work far more hours a week in the ministry than they would in a conventional job, and make less money. The accusations would disappear quickly if some of the accusers walked a day in the preacher’s shoes. That being said, money is important and we do need to talk about it.

Perhaps the place we should start is with the question: Why are churches tax exempt? The simple answer to that question is that churches and other tax exempt organizations are tax exempt because they bring value to the community that is worth more than taxes. That, of course, is a debated statement today. Many view churches as disruptive and hate-mongering. Again, this is a caricature based on a handful of unfortunate cases. Historically, we have hospitals, accountable government, lower crime, and less violence in our communities because of the presence and influence of churches.

Money is a powerful thing. It can do a lot of good, but it is also deceptively dangerous. Which is why there are certain biblical principles that we need to keep in mind when it comes to money. While churches in the United States and many other countries are considered tax exempt, there is no biblical requirement to that end. We are grateful to God for tax exempt status as it frees finances to do ministry that is beneficial to the community. We can pray for that to continue, but if our giving to churches and ministries is simply based on what we can save on our taxes, then we are giving wrongly.

The first principle of biblical giving is that we are to give thoughtfully, freely, and joyfully. 2Corinthians 9:7 teaches, “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Giving is to be “as he has decided in his heart.” In other words, it should be thoughtful and prayerful. Consider what God would have you give. Second, it is to be given, “not reluctantly or under compulsion.” We do not give because someone says we must give. We do not give because someone is monitoring our finances to see how much we should be giving. We do not give because the church bills us for what we promised to give. We give freely, without compulsion or reluctance. Third, we give joyfully. If we give grudgingly we are not giving biblically. If we give for the tax benefit we are not giving biblically. There is nothing wrong with taking the tax benefit, but it must never be our motivation for giving. Giving should be done thoughtfully, freely, and joyfully because all we have is a gift from God.

In times such as these we may be tempted to circle the wagons and be safe, but our calling is to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Many businesses are struggling. Many are out of work. I have been privileged to watch pastors step up to the plate in these difficult times. Ruby’s Pantry provides food worth $150 or more for a twenty dollar bill. It is a faith based ministry organized by churches and Christians in our community. Other organizations continue to serve the needy, the homeless, and the destitute. Many of those organizations are either Christian, or heavily staffed by Christians. Pastors are providing meals for the homeless, encouraging support of local businesses even when it is not convenient, and helping wherever they can.

It is in times like these that the church really shines because believers know that giving is not about saving on taxes. It is about acknowledging the Lordship of Christ. They know that serving is not about looking good. Giving is about being the hands and feet of Jesus. I am proud of the work that my fellow ministers are doing. May we, as believers in Jesus Christ, continue this good work. It is good for our communities, and it honors our Lord.

Friday, May 8, 2020

Psalm 8

Psalms 8:3 (ESV)
[3] When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars, which you have set in place,
[4] what is man that you are mindful of him,
and the son of man that you care for him?
[5] Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings
and crowned him with glory and honor.

When you contemplate the vastness of the universe you begin to realize just how small and insignificant this blue ball is that we call earth. Even smaller is the individual person. There are 7.8 billion people on earth. 1.3 million earths would fit in our sun, not to mention our solar system. Scientists estimate that there could be as many as 100 billion solar systems in our galaxy. Their best guess is that there are between 200 billion and 2 trillion galaxies in the universe. My guess is that creation is bigger than we have imagined. Yet God called all of that into existence by the word of his power. That makes us pretty small. “When I look at your heavens . . . what is man that you are mindful of him?”

Yet God is not only mindful of mankind, but loved us enough to take on the form and nature of humanity in order to save us. In our insignificance God chose to identify with us. “You have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor.” In fact, he put us in charge of all that we see. “You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet” (Ps 8:6). That is the creation mandate that is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus. What an amazing thought. How do you respond to a God like that?

In Psalms 8:9 David responded with praise and worship. “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth!” Can our response be any less? Fall on you face; worship God, and put your trust in him for he is mindful of you.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Reflections on Mother's Day (Pt 7)

Matthew 23:37 (ESV)

[37] “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!

I’ve been reflecting on characteristics of mothers that are true of God. The verse above does not refer to a human mother, but to a mother hen. I have never personally observed chicks hiding under their mother’s wings, but I have seen pictures of it. One blogger recounted that as a child she observed this with older breeds of chickens. She recounted how two cats would work together to cut off a chick from its mother so they could catch it, but if the chicks stayed close to their mother they were safe. In the above passage Jesus was reflecting on the future. In the following chapter he foretold the destruction of the temple. Earlier in chapter 23 Jesus chided the religious leaders for their hypocrisy and spiritual blindness. At the end of the chapter we find verses 37-39 in which Jesus laments the fact that Jerusalem had repeatedly rejected the prophets God had sent.

There is a story that has been circulating for years recounting a forest fire in which a mother hen died in the fire but saved her chicks by hiding them under her wings. It is often told in one form or another to connect the verse quoted above with the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. It is a great story, but misses the point of the Matthew 23:37. In this verse Jesus is not referring to his sacrifice. He is referring to Israel’s unwillingness to come to him for protection.

The blogger referred to early pointed out that the mother hen did not run around gathering her chicks under her. They chicks had to come to her. There is a truth in this. Salvation begins with brokenness. You cannot come to faith until you first recognize that you need to be saved. Salvation is not about praying a magic prayer in case there is a God. Salvation comes when one realizes that their life is offensive to God from the inside out but that God loves them anyway. It comes as one acknowledges that they have nothing to offer God, but that grace and forgiveness are free gifts for which we can do nothing. Salvation occurs not as we go through religious exercises, pray religious prayers, or agree to certain promises. Salvation occurs when we flee to God like chicks to a hen and hide under his wings by faith.

Jesus lamented, “How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!” Where do you stand with God? Are you still trying to earn his favor? Are you still relying on a magic prayer? Are you still insisting that God will accept you because deep down you really are a nice person? None of those carry any weight with God. But, like a mother hen, he is waiting for you to flee to him and hide under his wings. As Augustus Toplady wrote in the third verse of the old hymn Rock of Ages,

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Reflections on Mother's Day (Pt 6)

Generally, throughout the scriptures God is referred to in the masculine. He is seen as our father, but there are a some passages that compare God to a mother. Isaiah 66:13 portrays God as a comforting mother, “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted in Jerusalem.” In Isaiah 49:15 God is compared to a nursing mother, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you.” It is hard to imagine that a mother would forget the child she once nursed, yet Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia can rob a mother even of that memory. Still, God will never forget.

Comfort and compassion are characteristics of God. Jesus said, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth” (Jn 14:16-17 ESV). Many translations use the word comforter rather than “helper” to describe the Holy Spirit in this passage. 2Corinthians 1:3-4 says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.

Matthew 5:4 promises, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” In Isaiah 51:12 God says, “I am he who comforts you.” Psalms 147:3 says that God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.” These are just a few of the many passages that speak of God as comforter.

Comfort is what mothers do. Moms have a way of taking the pain of their children on themselves. They bind up our wounds, assure us of our value, and listen to us in our pain. Moms care, maybe sometimes too much. Often when the child is back out playing the Mom is still fretting over the pain their child experienced and how much worse it could have been. God is like that. Not that he worries, but that he binds up our wounds, listens to our complaints, assures us of our value, and encourages us to continue on.

I am sometimes shocked at the words the Psalmist wrote or Job spoke. My first impression is that they shouldn’t talk like that to God. But then I realize that God knew how they felt already. He can only salve our wounds when we are honest about having wounds. He can only comfort our pain when we are honest about our anger and frustration. God does not condemn nor chide Job or David for their words. He comforts them.

I wrote yesterday that God never gives up on us. That is true. Not only does he not give up on us, he comforts us in our pain, walks with us in the dark, listens when we complain, and loves us no matter what. That sounds a lot like a Mom. I am deeply grateful for God as comforter. You can not only trust him, you can rest in his arms when all else seems hopeless. Like a nursing mother, God will never forget us, but holds us compassionately and comforts us in our fear and pain.

Monday, May 4, 2020

Reflections on Mother's Day (Pt 5)

In 2007 William Young published a book called The Shack. It was a fictional novel dealing with the loss and death of a child and the grief and guilt the follows. In the book God is referred to as Papa and takes the form of an African American woman. The Holy Spirit is portrayed by a young Asian woman. Many were offended by the use of women to portray God. In the Bible, there are not many, but there are maybe a dozen passages of scripture that compare God particularly to a mother.

With Mother’s Day approaching it might be interesting to consider some of those passages. What characteristics of a mother describe God, and how should those affect our own lives? Consider first Deuteronomy 32:18, “You were unmindful of the Rock that bore you, and you forgot the God who gave you birth.” God is here portrayed as the one who gave birth to Israel, yet Israel has rebelled against her mother. Like a mother, God’s response to Israel involved three things.

First, God was hurt. Deuteronomy 32:21 says, “They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols.” When I was about 12 or 13 years old I recall my mother catching me doing something I knew was wrong. It was the tears in her eyes that caused me to never do it again. Do we consider how our actions affect God? If we are believers in Jesus Christ then we have been redeemed, reborn, transformed, and indwelt by the Spirit of God. When we live as though we are unchanged, we break God’s heart.

Second, God disciplined Israel because of their rebellion. Deuteronomy 32:21 goes on to say, “I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.” Verse 33 builds on that thought with these words, “I will heap disasters upon them; I will spend my arrows on them.” A mother who loves her child does not allow the child to get away with bad behavior. She disciplines him. Like a mother God disciplines believers. God says, “Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline” (Rev 3:19). My mother’s grief over my sin caused me to stop bad behavior, but there were many times when it was not only her grief, but her discipline that set me straight. I will not forget the impact of a spatula to my backside. Like a mother, God disciplines in love.

Third, God did not abandon Israel. Deuteronomy 32:36 moves from the metaphor of a mother, to that of a father, but it is part of the same passage as verse 18. It says, ‘For the LORD will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free.” Mothers rarely give up on their children. No matter how far down the wrong path they run, mothers are almost always waiting there for them to return. God never gives up on his own. In the previous chapter, Deuteronomy 31:6 says of God, “. . . it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.” Just a few verses later the text will indicate that Israel will leave and forsake God, but would never leave or forsake them. That promise is quoted again in Joshua and in Hebrews. No matter how far we run, God never gives up on us.

Like a mother, God gave birth to us. Like a mother, our sin grieves God, God disciplines us faithfully, yet God never abandons us. This coming Sunday we have set aside a time to honor our mothers. May we honor God with our lives.

Friday, May 1, 2020

Reflections on Mother's Day (Pt 4)

Hebrews 11:1-3, 6
[1] Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. [2] For by it the people of old received their commendation. [3] By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.
[6] And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.

It is in the midst of crisis that our faith shows whether it is genuine. Job’s faith was validated when he lost everything. In the book of Ruth, Naomi’s faith proved genuine after losing her husband and her sons. Her faith was demonstrated in at least three ways. First, she didn’t fight against God or accuse him. She submitted to what she saw as the discipline of God. On her return home she responded to the greeting of the women with these words, “Do not call me Naomi; call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the LORD has testified against me and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” (Ruth 1:20-21). . Perhaps she reasoned that this was the result of moving to Moab when God would have had them stay in Judah. There is no indication of blame or complaint, simply an acceptance of God’s discipline

Second, Naomi demonstrated trust in the faithfulness of God. The name she uses for God throughout the book of Ruth is LORD (YHWH). It is the covenant name of God that indicates that he is the God who always keeps his word. When Ruth told Naomi whose field she had been gleaning in, Naomi responded, “May he be blessed by the LORD, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!” Naomi saw the kindness of Boaz as a demonstration of God’s kindness and faithfulness. She trusted the faithfulness of God.

Third, Naomi recognized the sovereignty of God. She submitted to his discipline in chapter 1. She recognized his provision in chapter 2. She waited patiently in chapter 3. She saw God’s blessing in chapter 4. Whether in good or in bad, in loss or in blessing,  Naomi recognized the sovereignty of God in all that was done.

It is easy to trust God when everything is going well. But it is the dark times in life that reveal what kind of faith we really have. I am always a little nervous about a new book written about parenting, especially if it is written by a young parent with one or two compliant children. I am more interested in a book written by someone with a several children, at least one of which could never, in anyone’s wildest imagination, be considered compliant. If they survived parenthood and their adult children are walking with the Lord then I think they might be worth reading. Their parenting skills were tested by fire. Similarly, those who have never struggled, never questioned, never doubted, never had to face the dark night of the soul, those people have little to say to us about faith. If faith is easy then it’s not faith. Faith is what we grip onto and don’t let go of when nothing in life makes sense. Faith is what we exercise when our world falls apart. Faith grows deep and strong in trials and difficulties of life. That is the kind of faith Naomi had.

George Mueller said, “To learn strong faith is to endure great trials. I have learned my faith by standing firm amid severe testings.”[1] That was the kind of faith Naomi had. It was that kind of faith that reproduced itself in Ruth. That is the kind of faith to which God has called us. If you do not trust him in the dark times then you do not trust him at all. Faith is not faith until it is tested. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb 11:1).

[1]., accessed May 5, 2016.

Reflections on Psalms 77-78

Psalms 77:7 (ESV) [7] “Will the Lord spurn forever, and never again be favorable?   The first nine verses of this psalm express abso...