Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Let’s talk about money

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Matthew 6:21

There are some who believe that the church should not talk about money. It will scare the “seekers” away. Barna research discovered that only 7% of people who stay away from church do so because they are afraid they will be asked for money.

Jesus didn’t seem to mind losing that 7%. He told the Rich Young Ruler to get rid of it all and did not negotiate when the young man walked away. In fact, Jesus spoke more about money that any other topic. There’s the widow with the mites, render unto Caesar, the parable of the talents, the wages for the vineyard workers, the lilies of the field, and many more.

The issue of money is discussed in the Old Testament and it a repeated theme in Proverbs. If stewardship is such a hot topic in the Bible, how can the church ignore it? How we spend our money is a sure indicator of our personal values. Both generosity and tithing are marks of Christian maturity. Also, financial problems usually are spiritual at their root.

I have noticed that when I teach and preach about tithing, offerings go up. Often it is because new believers hearing this for the first time. Sometimes veteran church attendees need a reminder. I have never had anyone tell me that they were offended by my preaching or teaching tithing.

I have had a few people argue with me against tithing. In each case these were people who would not help support their church. One guy in particular was very stingy in his personal life and made a convenient theological argument for not giving.

I encourage other church leaders to be as bold as Jesus about money. If a few people get offended then they clearly needed to hear that message. Generous givers and those who financially support the church will not leave nor be offended. (Unless, of course, the church is mismanaging finances.)

Beyond tithing churches need to teach about generosity and financial responsibility. Financial disasters lead to divorce and to Christians dropping out of church life. Courses in budgeting, simplicity and saving money are all available from Christian publishers.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Heavenly Investments

When we give, the blessings we receive outweigh our original investment. Jesus put it this way: “Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be poured into your lap. For with the measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.” (Luke 6:38)

When Debbie Fields (Mrs. Fields Cookies) opened her first store she was anxious to get her first customer. Her impatience led her to step outside with a tray of fresh-baked cookies and start giving away samples. Many people decided to buy the cookies they sampled. Debbie discovered that giving and receiving are often connected.

The Apostle Paul was impressed with the sacrificial giving of the Philippians. They gave from their poverty not from their abundance. He wrote to them, “Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account.” (Philippians 4:17)

I guess if you can’t take it with you, you can send it on ahead. Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

Charitable giving is not only tax deductible but also, according to the Bible, a heavenly investment. James L. Kraft, founder of Kraft Foods, gave 25% of his fortune to Christian causes for many years. He said, “The only investment I ever made which has paid consistently increasing dividends is the money that I have given to the Lord.”

Are you investing enough to get a healthy return? A wealthy but stingy woman died and went to heaven. She was told that she would be taken to the house, which had been prepared for her. She passed by many beautiful mansions but her house was small and rundown. She complained and protested, but she was told, “I’m sorry, but this is all we could do for you with the materials you sent up.”

“Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.” (I Timothy 6:18-19)

Friday, October 17, 2008

Gossip is a ruthless killer of honest reputations

Reckless words pierce like a sword,
but the tongueof the wise brings healing.
Proverbs 12:18

As two people were exchanging in a juicy tidbit of gossip one said, "Tell me more!"

"I can't. I've already told you more than I know."

A psychology teacher used to stage an unusual occurrence such as a fake shooting on the first day of class-with the details carefully rehearsed. He would then pass out a paper with questions about s what happened for his students to answer. He found that 90 percent of the answers to what actually happened were wrong.

The experiment shows how imperfectly we hear and see especially when our emotions are involved. Nevertheless people are often ready to pass along little tidbits of misinformation.

Gossip is a destructive force that divides people and provokes petty jealousy, envy, hatred and intolerance. It can destroy the reputation of a helpless individual. Like an avalanche it picks up all kinds of debris along the way and ends up unrecognizable from its original form. Rumor is just another word for gossip and so is tattling.

God considered gossip to be such a serious matter that it’s one of the TOP 10 sins, "Thou shall not bear false witness against your neighbor"

When you repeat something you heard from someone else or share a story where you're not 100% certain the facts are correct, you are bearing false witness against them.

Suppose that the scandalous story about someone you know is actually true. Why speak ill of a person even if it’s true? Gossip is never justified and only brings harm.

Most gossip in the church is disguised as good. It can be hidden in a prayer request or in a desire to help a backslidden brother or sister. Sometimes, when we hear someone speak ill of another brother or sister, our first instinct is to let the victim of the gossip know. However, if you don’t pass on the gossip there is nowhere for it to go.

“Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” Proverbs 26:20 (NIV)

If you do pass the gossip along, it will sound worse when you repeat it and it probably won’t help the offended party. It’s probably best to ignore it or encourage the potty mouth to speak directly to the other person. Remember, in gossip as in robbery, the receiver is as guilty as the thief!

The Bible says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29 (NIV)

Your words are a clue to your character. Your reputation and Christian witness is on the line so always look for the best in each person. Bless what you can bless, thank who you can thank and encourage what is right. Make a daily habit of emphasizing the good instead of the bad in others, not only to their faces, but to others with whom you engage in conversation.

You will win more friendships and develop greater peace of mind. A word of encouragement is all that may be needed to prevent a failure.

“Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances.” Proverbs 25:11( NASB)

There are three questions that ought to be a guide to your speech.


If that is not enough, then remember the words of Jesus, “I tell you, on the day of judgment men will render account for every word they utter; for by your words, you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:3 (KJV)

Monday, October 13, 2008

It's All His Anyway

The heavens are Yours, the earth also is Yours
the world and all its fullness,
You have founded them.
The north and the south, You have created them.
Ps 89-11-12

People argue over whether a child’s first words will be mama or dada but I am convinced that is usually “mine”. As we grow up, that four letter word can become one of the major obsessions of our lives. We work hard almost all of our lives so that we can own things: an ipod, a car, a house… Owning stuff can often turn out to be the way that we keep score in our lives.

We claim ownership of homes and cars even if we are still making payments. Sometimes we joke about the bank owning the car or house but the jokes betray the notion we have that after the loan is paid off we will own our home, free and clear. Of course once we have clear title we can do whatever we wish on our property (as long as it doesn’t violate code) and live on it as long as we want (as long as we pay our taxes). No one can drive us away (unless the government claims eminent domain because they want to put a highway through our house.)

The government has a claim on our property but so does God. We are not owners, we are managers. What we do with our stuff matters to God. Jesus told several stories about managers, here’s one:

The Lord answered, "Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his servants to give them their food allowance at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whom the master finds doing so when he returns. I tell you the truth, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose the servant says to himself, ’My master is taking a long time in coming,’ and he then begins to beat the menservants and maidservants and to eat and drink and get drunk. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. Luke 12:42-46:

A good manager is a servant of the boss and does what is best for their boss. When I was a bivocational pastor, I managed a McDonalds. The owner paid me a salary and provided benefits. He deserved my best efforts at taking care of the building and equipment in my care, protecting his reputation and carrying out my mission to make him a profit. Can I do any less with the life and possessions entrusted to me by God?

God owns it all. Not just the 10% we give back but the 90% (or more) we keep. What we do with the stuff with which God has blessed us (how we invest it, how we spend it, etc.) is done on God’s behalf. Are you honoring God with your choices?

Hoarding stuff (we might need it some day) can be a denial that God can provide for our needs. Is there really security in owning more shoes than you can wear? Do you need every item in your house?

There was a missionary who would periodically lay out all his possessions (he did not have many). Whatever he had not used in a year would be given away. He believed if he did not need it he was depriving someone else. We acknowledge God’s goodness and providence when we hold on to things lightly. God is generous to us; we ought to be generous as well. We ought to dedicate our homes, our cars, our finances, our very lives to Him. After all, it’s all His anyway.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Can urban and suburban churches work together?

I recently heard a preacher from Detroit deliver an exciting sermon about how suburban and urban churches can work together in ministry. I can tell that the other pastors in the room were excited at the prospect. Most of them were suburban pastors.

The excitement carried into a special breakout session for senior pastors only but I could tell by the nature of the questions asked that there was more interest in what was happening in Detroit than there was in what could happen in our own community. Some pastors had taken an important first step but the road to cooperation is long and winding and full of potholes.

This summer a church from North Carolina will send a team of 100 summer missionaries into my urban neighborhood to work in our various ministries to the poor. At the same time most of the suburban churches near my neighborhood will be sending mission teams all over the world. Why is it easy for some churches to go to the outermost parts of the world and yet ignore their own Jerusalem and Samaria?

The fault could be in the urban pastors of small churches. They often distrust the motives of larger churches and fear they will lose control of their ministries, so they are not inclined to ask for help. Maybe it’s the suburban churches. Working with a church across the county is not much and adventure vacation. In most cases it is a lack of communication and risk aversion that keeps churches apart.

While the conversation has just begun for some churches in my community, many others have been partnering to work with other churches for some time. The Teen Moms program that meets at First Baptist Church in Waukegan has been a partnership of urban and suburban churches for more than 20 years. The relatively new BAM House ministry for recovering addicts is, also, a partnership of churches. From Sharefest to adopt-a-school to Love INC, churches in my community are working together for the sake of the gospel. This has been a part of ministry in Lake County, IL for the past 15 years I have lived and worked here.

Not all churches will participate. We have to accept that and move on. There are issues of trust, a desire to avoid contact with Christians who believe differently about some issues, or prejudices that are difficult to overcome. The urgency of the gospel does not allow us to wait for everyone to be in agreement before we act.

I rejoice in the ministry partners that God has granted First Baptist Church. Some are near others are far. They represent a broad range of theological beliefs but all agree in the need to work together to reach our community for Jesus. What a beautiful witness oneness can be.

My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. John 17:20-23 (NIV)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Oneness is our Witness

I heard Dr. William Shaw preach on the theme of Christian unity at the New Baptist Covenant Celebration in Atlanta. Over 16,000 Baptists from all over North America representing 20 million people from every race and region gathered to set aside some of our differences and celebrate our commonalities. He told us that relationship building is a major step towards working together.

I was at another meeting this weekend that repeated the same theme on a smaller scale. Pastor’s from the eastern half of Lake County, IL gathered for a retreat. The agenda was strengthening relationships. Not every pastor was there but the one’s that came represented a diversity that is uncommon in ministerial groups. The diversity was not only racial but also in the size of the churches and the types of communities that they served. A variety of political and theological views were also represented.

Although I tend to prefer action over words, I am gaining a new appreciation for the need to build a strong foundation of camaraderie. Friendship cannot be rushed and genuine accord cannot be faked. The world outside the church (and many of those inside) don’t understand some of the theological arguments that divide our churches. They don’t care about historical decisions that created splinter movements. They see division and often view as hypocrisy.

Churches working shoulder to shoulder in a community balance out the negative stories that can dominate the news. Jesus gave us the secret to differentiate His true followers from the pretenders and posers. The language of hate can be overcome with the language of love.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35 (NIV)

Friday, February 15, 2008

Let us not give up meeting together

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25 NIV

A recent op-ed in USA Today noted the fact that many of the rich and powerful who profess to be Christians do not attend church. A five year study of 100 politicians, wealthy businessmen, entertainers and athletes all known for their great faith found that 60% are not active in their church. They all have good excuses that are not too different from your friends and neighbors who rarely show up at church but are full of religious opinions.

These athletes and superstars will come to your church for between $10,000 and $40,000 plus expenses. They will give their testimonies and inspire you with their larger than life faith. I wonder if Jesus would have been impressed by such celebrity?

I find it curious that Reagan and G.W. Bush would profess deep faith yet not be part of a worshipping community. Clinton and Carter made time for church. Putting politics aside for a moment, wouldn’t we expect a person who professes faith to go to church somewhere?

I have known several people who profess deep faith but refuse to become part of a church family. They drift along some of the megachurches or just stay home and criticize the church. For many of them the issue is pride. They want to be Christians on their own terms and will not be held accountable.

If some of these lone ranger believers were to commit to a local church family both the celebrity and the local congregation would be blessed. The biblical model for Christianity is the local congregation as idealized in Acts 2 and in the less exemplary Corinthian church. The church is not perfect but it is blessed by God.

Ministries who chase after celebrities and CEOs for membership on boards and as speakers at fundraising events ought to heed the warning in James 2 about paying undue attention to the wealthy.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Everyone can celebrate Lent

Lent is not just for Catholics anymore. You don't need to be from a liturgical tradition or even high church to celebrate Lent. In the Christian tradition Lent, the 40 days that precede Easter, is a time set aside for spiritual growth, inner reflection, and service to others.

Many Christians see Lent as a time for sacrifice. No meat. No chocolate. No TV. No cigarettes. You get the drift. Lent can be so much more than that. It is a time for spiritual reawakening. It is a time to reconcile with God. Even as the earth prepares for spring's rebirth, we prepare to celebrate the greatest gift of all, the resurrection of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

There are some ways we can celebrate Lent to bring spiritual growth:
• Improve your focus on God. Stop doing the things that keep you from God. Is it TV? Parties? Overspending? Or something else? Eliminate or cut back and spend that time productively.
• Forgive somebody. An ancient tradition in the church was that, during Lent, those who had been ostracized for notorious sins were welcomed back into the fold.
• Pray. Ask God every day during Lent to tell you what he wants you to do.
• Attend worship. If you have fallen out of the habit of going to church, start back up. You're still welcome. No need to wait for Easter.
• Give stuff away. Go through your closet and pass along some things you no longer use.
• Read the Bible. Start with the Gospel of Mark. Read it all the way through or just a few passages a day.
• Join a small group Bible study or start one with your friends and/or neighbors. You could even start one during lunchtime at work.
• Visit someone at a nursing home. It could be a friend or relative or you can call and ask if they have an adopt-a-grandparent program.
• Volunteer for PADS or at a local food pantry.
• Do a kind deed for a neighbor, friend, coworker or relative.