Tag Archives: St. James Church

Leveraging Your Money

Today is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, which marks the unofficial beginning of the Christmas season. All day yesterday, while I was enjoying my family’s Thanksgiving celebration, my phone kept beeping with an endless stream of e-mails beaconing me to buy online now so I could save huge amounts of money. It seems every retailer and benevolent organization is aimed at extracting funds from me in light of the generosity this season elicits. In response, I’ve made this the only time of the year I teach about money. Why? Because we all want to give and spend wisely. So, here is my plea: give cheerfully and generously as your heart leads, and remember to leverage your money for you and your family’s future instead of foolishly spending it.

God’s perfect will for all of us is partially revealed in three key verses:

  • John 10:10 where Jesus said, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life”,
  • 2 Corinthians 8:9 where Paul writes, “You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich, and,
  • 2 Corinthians 9:8 where he also writes, “And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”

These and other powerful Scriptures reveal God’s will for us, but I’m always reluctant to teach them because others abuse them. Paul addresses our response to abusive leaders when he writes, “After all, you think you are so wise, but you enjoy putting up with fools! You put up with it when someone enslaves you, takes everything you have, takes advantage of you, takes control of everything, and slaps you in the face.” But since God’s Word is true, I realize I shouldn’t allow those who misuse these Scriptures keep me from encouraging fellow believers to be blessed by obeying them.

So I met with a group of businessmen from our church and we reviewed the Scriptures relating to this subject, (see Deuteronomy 28:12, Malachi 3:8-12, Matthew 6:24, 23:23, and 25:29, Luke 6:38 and 16:10-12, John 10:10, Acts 20:35b, Galatians 6:7, 2 Corinthians 9: 6-11a and 11: 19-20, Hebrews 7, 2 Timothy 2:20-21). Then I asked them how, from their experience, God blessed them and others they’ve known who are givers.

As you might imagine, the men gave me a long list of ways God has multiplied their giving through the years. Three ideas stood out to me as they spoke:

  1. Tithers become increasingly responsible. The highest earners in the world are paid well because they are reliable. They have safe hands and can be trusted to get the job done. They are stable, dependable, and faithful to complete tasks. People who are responsible are obviously positioned to earn more than those who are irresponsible.
  2. Tithers develop marketable skills. When God wants tasks done here on earth, he calls on people who are capable of doing them. God inspires givers, they said, with a desire to do quality work, and with the desire to learn and improve their skills. People who are competent earn more than the inept.
  3. Tithers develop social skills. These men reported to me that through the years they have observed that when people give to their local church, their social skills improve. It’s an interesting observation, but they said when people consistently invest in their local church, the group dynamic they are investing in gives them motivation to improve their manners. And of course, a person with manners has an advantage over the one who is socially unacceptable. Thus the giver who has developed social skills has greater earning potential.

These men also described supernatural favor with others in key positions, how God gives opportunities to givers, and the flow of good ideas that are evident in givers, all naturally resulting in increased income. I gathered from their discussion that God is very pragmatic in the ways he blesses those who give.

So my conclusion: If every one of us would tithe 10% to our local churches in response to biblical principles, invest 10% of our income in financial investments, improving our skills, or earning a marketable education, and then live on the 80% that’s left, we would leverage our funds so well that, relatively quickly, our investments would produce more income than our labor, and we would have “ . . . everything we need and plenty left over to share with others.”

(If you would like more on this subject, you can order my booklet, “Serve God, Uses Money” on Amazon.com)

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What? That’s Not What Happened!

Improving Our Perceptions

Perception is reality, or so it seems. I’ve served as a pastor for thousands of people over the past 40 years, yet I continue to be amazed when I hear people recount an experience or recite something they heard someone else say with a slant that reveals more about them than the actual story. Why do we do this? Because all of us see through the filters of our own knowledge and values, and we judge based on our perceptions.

And since our perceptions are distorted to some degree, we all need good churches and friends who can speak deeply, and sometimes confrontationally, into our lives.

I once spoke with a woman who was making damaging decisions for her family. She reminded me of the second half of the Bible verse, “A wise woman builds her home, but a foolish women tears it down with her own hands” (Proverbs 14:1). I gently tried to point out to her the direction her decisions were taking her and the outcome they could produce in her family, but she rejected my comments and refused to see her situation apart from her own perception. She’s now alone, divorced, and estranged from her children.

Through the years, I’ve observed many wise women who’ve learned the skills necessary for building a stable and strong home and family. And through the years, I’ve also observed many women who have unwittingly torn down their own homes and families. In most cases, the foolish ones never know what they did and typically they blame others for their family’s demise. (Others, no doubt, share the blame, but we all must ask what our part is—how do we help to build or heal rather than contribute to the destruction.)

This idea applies to men as well. It applies to all of our lives, families, and relationships.

In the class I am teaching on “Renewing Our Minds, How To Change Our Brains,” we are learning about Paul’s exhortations to think certain ways and how this actually changes our physical brains and, as a result, our behaviors. Along with biblical insight, we are discussing materials from reality and cognitive therapists who emphasize how our behavioral responses reflect our thinking.

Below are a few of the cognitive distortions we’ve discussed in class that impact how we see ourselves, our circumstances, and others that may cause us inadvertently to harm those we care about.

  • Maximize/Minimize: In Matthew 23:24 Jesus warns against “straining at gnats, but swallowing camels.” He is referring to us filtering events. For example, we take the negative details and magnify them while filtering out all positive aspects of a situation; or we maximize what is insignificant while minimizing what is truly significant.
  • Polarized Thinking: In polarized thinking, we see things simplistically. Things are black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. Polarized thinking avoids gray areas and nuances. It’s easier to have this kind of certainty, but it’s seldom accurate.
  • Overgeneralization. All generalizations are false. When we overgeneralize, we often come to a conclusion based on a single incident or a single piece of evidence rather than accepting that everyone and every situation is in a continuum of change. When we overgeneralize, we overuse words like “always” and “never.”
  • Jumping to Conclusions. This cognitive distortion causes us to think we know what others are feeling or their motivations. We think we know, but in fact, we are simply presuming to know.
  • Personalization is a distortion where we believe that everything others do or say directly relates to us.
  • Blaming. We hold other people responsible for our decisions or our happiness. For example, “Stop making me feel bad about myself!” Nobody can “make” us feel any particular way — only we have control over our emotions and responses.
  • Fallacy of Change. We expect that other people will change to suit us if we just pressure or cajole them enough. We need to change people because our hopes for happiness seem to depend entirely on them.

So how do we change our perceptions to make them closer to reality? How do we change them so we can respond to others in a more Christ-like way?

We intentionally grow in Christ, renew our minds, and develop quality friendships.

If we think about it, we can identify our distortions. Others have been pointing them out to us for a long time—either verbally or through their actions. But if we don’t know, we should ask someone we trust.

I have often said that if our enemies are the first ones to tell us the truth, then we don’t have any authentic friends. If we have friends, they can help us see more clearly what our distortions are so we can make changes to improve our lives and relationships. If we don’t have friends, we can start taking steps in our local church and community to make friends that will help us build healthy, stable lives and relationships.

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The Four Questions

I discovered four questions in William Glasser’s Choice Theory several years ago that have helped me identify solutions in my life, and I’ve used them to help others do the same. In public meetings and private counseling sessions, I’ve found these four questions initially get some laughs, but then they challenge all of us to think intentionally about creating more satisfying and productive lives for ourselves. As we grow in Christ and in wisdom, our answers to these four questions can help us develop the lives we want.

1. What do you want? For most Christians, their answers are connected to their faith and calling. But I encourage them to think beyond that, about their desires to be physically safe, secure in their relationships, and accepted and respected by others. It always makes Christians smile when I ask them about the amount of money they want (because, of course, everything is more convenient when they have more money), and how much influence they think they need to be happy. I also ask them whether they have enough control over their lives at home or at work (or maybe on Facebook) to experience the significance they desire. I ask them how much freedom they want in contrast to the amount they have and if their desires for adventure and fun are being met.

Asking people what they want always leads to engaging conversations. People come for counseling because they are unhappy with something in their lives. Giving them permission to identify what they want often causes them to contemplate their answers seriously.

Because we Christians are trained to serve Christ first, others second, and ourselves third, we are sometimes deeply dissatisfied but don’t understand why; after all, we are faithful Christians and that, we believe, should suffice. But if we are unhappy, dissatisfied, or empty inside, we need to talk that through in a non-judgmental setting or we might make some horrible mistakes. This leads to the second question.

2. What are you currently doing to get what you want? Sadly, most of us do things that do not lead us to the life we really want. If we live according to instinct or as a reaction to others, our lives often become the opposite of what we intended. So I ask people to realistically assess their behaviors. And that leads to the third question.

3. So, how’s that working out for you? This question always makes people laugh (or cry) because they did not come for counseling because everything is ok. They came because something is not lining up with the life they envision for themselves.

For most of us, some of our behaviors are helping, and some are not. I tell people that negative things happen naturally, but good things require intentionality. If we need to make changes, it actually does not matter where we are in life currently, what matters is the trajectory we establish to go forward toward what we want.

At this point we discuss how everything in their lives affects everything else in their lives — that their spiritual life will give them ideals, motivations, and power, but then they have to make choices that will impact their thoughts, their emotions, and their behaviors. And these four elements (spirituality, thoughts, emotions, and behaviors) can work together to get them where they want to go if they are intentional.

This concept is always a relief because it communicates that no one is trapped, victimized, or without power over their future. We have God-given abilities to move our lives in the direction we want to go, but we must be intentional. If we are random, we might be the ones creating misery in our own lives. This idea leads to the fourth, very helpful question:

4. What can you do, that you are not currently doing, to get you what you want? At this point, biblical principles come to life in a powerful and meaningful way. We always have choices to make that can move us forward and help us achieve what we truly want. None of us are ever trapped. Regardless of our current situations, we can make choices that will move us in a positive direction.

The inspiration of the Holy Spirit and the directives of Scripture help us set priorities and motivate us to improve our lives. But very often we have difficulty identifying the practical steps necessary to achieve our goals. These four questions can help us create a path that leads to the deep satisfaction and happiness we’re seeking.

These questions give us direction about who and what we should love, and where we need to place boundaries. The answers to these questions establish how we should spend our time, our money, and our energy. The answers to these questions tell us whether we need to receive an additional degree or certification, lose weight, exercise, or memorize the Scripture.

The point is these four questions give us a framework for intentionally achieving what we truly want in our lives. Our spiritual lives give us power and motivation; these four questions help us discover a methodology for getting there.

More next week.

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The Blame Blog

I gave my life to the Lord in June of 1972. Since that time, I’ve enjoyed learning the Scriptures, functioning in the body of Christ, and growing in relationship with the Lord. But to my surprise, as the years passed and I became stronger in my faith and my walk, I discovered I had inadvertently surrendered Jesus’ Lordship in my life to others.

I lived a successful life until 2006. My spiritual growth was healthy and my relationships were strong. My wife, Gayle, and I enjoyed a loving relationship, and we enjoyed raising our five children together (and continue to delight in our relationships with them to this day).

But in 2006, I crashed. When I crashed, I did what I thought was right and surrendered all of my accomplishments, personal power, and influence to others. For the first time since childhood, I became totally dependent on others. Now I reflect back on that season of dependence upon others as the greatest mistake of my life. I believe that in hoping others would do what I was ultimately responsible to do, I forfeited Christ’s Lordship and as a result, so many, including myself, suffered horribly.

As a result, the church I now pastor, St. James Church, is thriving under the philosophy that each of us is responsible to become stronger, more capable people in Christ. This philosophy is developing a unique church in a national culture that accommodates blame, weakness, and victimization. We stand apart from those who give people excuses for the failures in their lives as being the result of disappointing or dysfunctional relationships, trauma, pain, and/or past experiences. Instead, we have learned that in Christ we can be filled with the power of God and renewed in our minds, which gives us the motivation to overcome the impact of past traumas and to grow in competence and strength. As a result, we can then discover effective tools or steps that enable us to live in freedom, and to thrive and grow in the Lordship of Christ, rather than under the power of alternative lords.

For example, if I say, “My boss makes me so angry,” I am saying that my boss is lord over my emotions, not Christ. It may be true that my boss might do things that I don’t like, but I don’t have to give him or her power over my emotions, I do have other choices.

If I say, “I have an addiction problem because of a trauma I suffered 10 years ago,” I am saying that I am incapable of overcoming that trauma, that my trauma is now lord over me, and I will be identified by it and victimized by it the balance of my life.

We don’t have to be that weak. For example, it might be true that trauma has impacted us in a significant way, but that does not mean we must surrender to the effects of that trauma for the rest of our lives, making that trauma lord over us. We don’t have to be defined by our traumas. That is, we don’t have to surrender to the lordship of trauma when Jesus is, in fact, our Lord. Identifying trauma may help us understand certain behaviors, thoughts, and difficulties, but we can make choices to disempower trauma’s lordship and establish Jesus’ Lordship over us.

When I learned that a traumatic childhood experience resulted in some incongruity that I dealt with as an adult, others assumed it was an excuse, a way of evading responsibility. I never saw it that way; instead, I saw it as information which gave me the understanding I needed so that, empowered by Christ, I could overcome the effects of that trauma and live a healthy life. I’ve done that.

So my word of caution is: if you are talking to a pastor, counselor, or friend about an issue in your life and they allow you to blame your situation on another, dismiss their counsel. Then go talk to someone else who will explore your options with you. If their intent is to help you get to a better place, even with the facts as they are, then you will be empowered to make good decisions and improve your situation. You can’t control others, and you can’t change your past, but you can control, or gain control, over yourself, your choices, and your responses. And you can improve your future.

As soon as you blame others, you are acknowledging their lordship over you, and you’ll find yourself powerless and victimized.

But you always have options. The Lord will never allow you to be in a situation where there is no way of escape. He will always point us in the direction of healing.

More about this next week.

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Can We Have a Little Respect In Washington?

Some say the greatest source of grief in the world develops either when someone wants you to do something you do not want to do, or when you want someone to do something they do not want to do.

I think it’s true. It seems as though we human beings can overcome just about any obstacle, but the suffering caused by one person or group demanding that another conform to their wishes has caused more human grief than any other single issue.

Religious people tend to do this. Those who agree are included and given benefits, while outsiders are shunned, punished, humiliated, and sometimes put to death for their lack of compliance.

Political leaders do this. When people refuse to submit to the dictates of some political leaders, those in office use the power of the state to cause their opponents to suffer.

Married couples, kids on a playground, young men and women deciding the pecking order in their group can cause immense grief.

We should never minimize the power of respect. In my younger days as a pastor, I thought about how delightful it would be to have a Sunday morning worship service with only those in attendance who wanted to be there. I envisioned no one there because of family pressure, religious guilt, shame or obligation. So I decided to try the experiment of respecting people’s choices about their own church attendance. Gayle and I decided many years ago that we would not use any of the popular techniques to get people to come to church. We decided that we would simply have a believers’ meeting and respect the decisions of others whether or not they wanted to join with us.

We have made a fundamental decision to respect the choices others make for themselves. And of course, we appreciate it when others are respectful toward us. It leads to a more peaceful existence for all—one more conducive to respectful dialogue in the marketplace of ideas as opposed to hostile division.

Now for the mid-term elections . . . Today I am dismayed with the headlines in our local newspaper. The banner headline across the top is “Obama takes a defiant stance” with the sub-headline, “vows to act alone to change immigration system; GOP opposes plan.”

I do not expect President Obama to start thinking or acting like a Republican, but I do expect him to be respectful toward those with whom he disagrees in Washington. I remember when congress was controlled by the Democratic Party for 40 consecutive years, while having a variety of Republican and Democrat presidents. During those years Democrats and Republicans dined, golfed, worshipped, and negotiated together. Even in the midst of significant conflict, decorum, respect, and a fundamental understanding that the other guy was elected too, provided a fundamental foundation for the democratic process to work.

We as Americans want our politicians to be statesmen, not just advocates. We want them to represent us, use wisdom, have manners, and when necessary lead us responsibly. We trust them with power, but that power is rooted in the dignity of the citizenry. So we want them to give their best arguments in a respectful way, and move our country forward.

We don’t want them to be such strong advocates for their position that they demean, embarrass, or dehumanize those who differ from them. They should debate, vote, accept the results, and go to dinner or play golf together. Disrespect prevents that from happening. If there is trickery, deception, blame, or embarrassment, then we human beings tend to get bitter, align only with those who sympathize with our view, and we stop thinking and start hurting one another. I believe that is what has been happening in Washington, but it’s time for it to stop.

Our mid-term elections count. President Obama needs to respect the people’s representatives, and those representatives need to respect our chief executive. If mutual respect is not upheld, then the power struggle begins again with our politicians simply positioning themselves for elections in two years.

Many have paid a high price so that we don’t have a monarchy, a dictatorship, or one party rule. I believe that President Obama is thoughtful and was elected by the left because of his political philosophy and pleasant demeanor. But there are many of us who do not believe his philosophy is best. If he will honestly work with those who differ from him, he could be heralded as a great president. But if unilateral executive actions continue, while mocking and blaming congress, then history might not laud our current administration.

When President Obama was elected, the majority in both houses of Congress shared his philosophy of government. We, the people, did not approve of what he did as president when his office had that much power, so we limited it to some degree by changing the leadership of the lower house of Congress. Two years later, our nation re-elected him as President, affirming his role, but not with the power of both houses of Congress, requiring that he respect, listen, advocate and negotiate, to enjoy greater success. But there was too much blaming and division, so rather than ending the gridlock by re-electing Democrat leadership in the lower house, we went the other direction. We elected to further limit his power and increase the level of accountability over his actions by electing Republican leadership in both houses of Congress. If those in the White House will respect the decisions we, the people, are making, we can move forward. Strong, humble leadership, Republican and Democrat, working for the common good, could serve our nation and the world well right now.

Today’s headlines make me wonder if this is what people in other countries feel like when their prime minister or president disbands their parliament. Checks and balances are gone, decorum and dignity are thrown to the wind, and brute force prevails. Is that what we’ll have for the next two years? I hope not.

We can all show more respect. We in the Church need to be respectful of those we may never persuade and protect them as we would protect our own. Christians should ensure that Jews and Muslims feel safe in our communities, and the opposite should be demonstrated as well. Atheists need to be respectful of those with faith, and vise versa. We should demand that all of our representatives be statesmen, and should they choose to be partisan advocates, let them, but not from an elected governing position. As citizens of a constitutional republic, we are ultimately responsible to ensure that our society is civil. Let’s begin by upholding the value of mutual respect.

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Genesis 1, Pope Francis and Evangelicals

Pope Francis stimulated interest in Genesis 1 with his comments on the Big Bang and Evolution, especially among conservative Evangelicals. We tend to defend a more literal interpretation of Scripture and are a movement that highlights the centrality of the Word in our faith and practice, so some evangelicals are concerned that the Pope is compromising biblical authority.

Genesis 1:1 says, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” This is the first sentence of the first book of the entire Bible. It establishes one of the first great truths God wants all of us to understand—that he created everything.

Genesis 1:2 says, “The earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the surface of the waters.” Does this describe the first condition of the earth after its creation? And what of the six days which follow in this first chapter? Do they describe the process of the original creation?

Note that in verse 1, the Bible highlights creation, where God created the heavens and the earth. Later verse 21 describes the creation of the animals, and verse 27, the creation of people. The Bible differentiates between the original creation of the earth and its subsequent reconstruction making it suitable for people. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that the six days in this first chapter do not necessarily describe the original creation of the earth.

When verse 2 describes the earth as formless, empty and dark, it doesn’t mean that is the condition of the earth immediately following its initial creation. Actually, there is no way of knowing how many millions, or maybe billions, of years might have passed between verses 1 and 2. For us to assume that all God has ever done is create the universe, the animals and all of us is too limiting for the Eternal, Almighty God. He is God. This universe might just be one of his creations, and there are obviously mighty things he did before our Genesis account, and that he will do after the accounts in Revelation conclude. Remember he always has been and always will be. He was before the creation of the world as we know it, and will be long after we pass into eternity and the earth enters a new phase that is far beyond the final accounts in the book of Revelation. The Bible gives us an understanding of God as we need to know him for our salvation, so that revelation is not thorough in every other subject. We will all learn more when we step into eternity, and still more when we see him face to face.

The English Bible translators could have translated the third word in verse 2 “became.” “The earth became formless and empty, . . . “ The same Hebrew word is translated “became” in Genesis 2:7b where the Bible says, “He breathed the breath of life into the man’s nostrils, and the man became a living person.” In other places, translators use “and it came to pass” when translating this Hebrew word. So Genesis 1:2 could read, “And it came to pass that the earth was formless and empty, and darkness covered the deep waters. . . “ That would have given the average English Bible reader a grid for understanding when visiting the Natural History Museum.

The first verse of Genesis simply states the fact of the original creation, and leaves it there, in the dateless past. Then verse 2 tells of the chaos which came to this earth later. And then the six days which follow describe the re-formation of the earth with a view of earth becoming the habitation for people having the history of which we have a biblical record.

When I was in high school, my pastor taught that scholars guessed regarding the cataclysm that disorganized God’s original creation between Genesis 1:1 and 1:2. He called this the Gap Theory, and speculated that maybe some pre-Adamite rebellion of which we have no record, or maybe the judgment of Lucifer, and the angels that followed him, created the disorder described in Genesis 1:2. We don’t know, but if you are interested, study Isaiah 14:9-17, Jeremiah 4:23-27, and Ezekiel 28:12-18. These passages certainly communicate that much could have gone on during this period that may not be explained to us by God until eternity.

The Bible does not say evolution is impossible, and it’s within biblical parameters that there might have been several big bangs in the development of the universe, with more to come. During the first four days in Genesis 1, no creative acts are recorded. It’s only when we come to the animals and the human race that the Hebrew word for “create” is used. It is not a stretch that these six days give the account of a new beginning, but they are not necessarily the first beginning.

As a conservative Evangelical with a high view of Scripture, I believe the Pope might be right on this one, without compromising biblical authority.

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Could Losers be Losers for a Reason?

It’s election season, which is an opportune time for us to think about success, security, the role of government, and our overall philosophy about what is important to us. As a pastor, I often think about these ideas because I want everyone I know to be better off, to be able to enjoy their families and their relationships, and to be free from worry and fear.

I understand the realities of earth in contrast to Heaven, but it’s sometimes frustrating to watch people destroy their own families, relationships, potential for greater earning, and future security. I’ve watched some live life well and enjoy the benefits; and I’ve watched others live without intentionality, often resulting in failure. The vast majority of the time, though, those who win are those who invest in making life what they want it to be.

I think Jesus revealed a major life principle when he said, “To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away” (Matthew 25:29).

I tell my kids that all good things are earned, but bad things will happen all by themselves.

I am aware of and don’t appreciate the shallow portrayals of success. I understand that the poorest American lives better than the royalty of 100 years ago, so I’m not writing this to promote the American “we’ve all got to have more stuff” idea. I know we all have reason to be grateful. I am, though, persuaded that God wants our lives to improve. I appreciate Jesus saying, “My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life” (John 10:10b).

No doubt, people who know their heavenly Father and consistently participate in their local church have greater potential to do better in life. Why? Because in church we learn that we are here for God’s purpose, that God’s grace is in us, so we have the power to obey him . . . which results in a better life. Yes, there are exceptions. All generalizations are faulty. But these ideas do help us live better lives.

I know there are some who believe all things should be equal for everyone, but I think they are delusional. We’re all born within varying circumstances, with different bodies, brains and socio-economic statuses. Human beings are born into different families, nations, and situations. Every one of us is unique and different, and we decide what we’re going to do with our own circumstances. I think the only potential realistic equality is our great American experiment striving for equality for every citizen under the law. But let’s face it, equality under the law is where equality ends.

So we can whine, complain, blame and compare, always pointing out where we are inadequate or not given the opportunities others have. Or we can take what we have and invest to build the best possible lives for ourselves and those around us. Whining, complaining, blaming and comparing weakens us. It displaces our responsibility and gives us an excuse for our failures, which removes our motivation to improve.

I think that’s what Jesus meant when he talked about us using well what we have been given. I hear folks from every race, socio-economic status and background, blame, complain and fight against those whom they blame. Black against white, white against black, rich against poor, poor against rich, conservative against liberal, and liberal against conservative. Those folks rarely enjoy the lives they could have lived. Then I see others who are better off because they appreciate the things they have and invest them to create their futures.The blamers call these folks “lucky” because they seem to have things naturally fall their way.

In Deuteronomy 28, God tells his people what will happen to them if they line up with him, and what will happen if they go their own way. In Matthew 25 Jesus clearly teaches what will ensure loser status, and what it takes to win. It’s not rocket science. And in 2 Corinthians 9, Paul is perfectly clear. Some of you will study these references, figure them out and build a great life. Others will go on to the next thing and assume the future will work for you. Yesterday you created most of the elements that are in your life today, and today you are creating your tomorrow. It’s your choice. You have more power than you might realize.

We evangelicals have so emphasized salvation by grace through faith, I think we might have unintentionally downplayed the importance of what we do and do not do, and how our actions impact our future. True, we’re saved by grace, but both the Bible and life teach that other universal laws give us opportunity to make life better for ourselves and those around us, or to make life worse.

It’s our choice to determine what we are going to do with what we’ve been given. We can do what leads to greater success, and peace and joy in our lives, or we can do the things that increase the probability that we will lose. Winning is work, but we can do it. Let’s win.

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Why Gayle and I Give

When Gayle and I were married 36 years ago, we decided to be givers. I was 22, she was 21, and we made two core decisions: 1. The local church was the most important institution God had established on the Earth, so we wanted to be participants in it, and 2. We were going to be faithful givers and tithers.

Now I’m 58 years old and Gayle and I continue to hold these foundational decisions as fundamental practices. One reason is that we don’t believe ministry should ever be a burden to anyone. When we see churches go broke, church workers go unpaid and church leaders struggling to meet basic financial needs within the church, we don’t want to be part of that problem. As a result, we have chosen to consistently give 10% of everything we earn to our local church. We see our church as a storehouse of resources from which all of us draw and out of which we serve others. It’s like an armory to strengthen us during weak times, or a granary from which we all feed when hungry. Cities are better when there are an abundance of local church based youth ministries, men’s and women’s fellowship groups, Bible studies and prayer meetings. One time our district attorney told me he had never had to prosecute anyone who had been in Sunday School the week before. Think of that. By simply increasing Sunday School attendance, crime rates go down. The impact of local church work is important, so we don’t want the men and women working in those efforts distracted with lack.

Gayle and I paid attention to the ideas Malachi communicated when he wrote, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test! Your crops will be abundant . . . “.

How does God do it? I’ve watched people who faithfully and consistently tithe to their local church experience three vivid developments in their lives.

First, they become increasingly responsible and their responsibility leads to greater earnings. It holds true that those who make significant money usually have greater earning power because they carry responsibility well. Tithing develops responsibility, and being responsible is rewarded in every area of life. When people demonstrate they are responsible, they are compensated for it. Jesus addressed this in Luke 16:10 when he said, “If you are faithful in little things, you will be faithful in large ones . . . “ This is the famous passage that concludes with Jesus saying we can’t serve both God and money.

Secondly, I’ve noticed that givers develop greater skills. God wants to bless the work of our hands. He values the development of our skills. When he wants something done, he calls on people who can do a good job. In other words, he rewards us for developing skills. God will place in us a desire to read, obtain an additional degree, or develop a technical skill. Thus, as we develop these skills, we make ourselves increasingly useful and improve our earning power, and we often end up enjoying greater prosperity.

Third, givers are gracious. I have no idea how this works with certainty but givers have attractive personalities. Tithers seem to grasp the big picture of what is truly important in life and are willing to invest in others. Tithers know the importance of strengthening the ministry of the church, the body of Christ. Tithers directly invest in the family of God because they know what it really is in a community and in eternity. As a result, they are not crass, crude, rude, or brutal. Instead, they know the application of love, because they invest in it.

I think this is why Paul was so extravagant when he wrote in 2 Corinthians 9: 6-10, “Remember this – a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.’ And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, ‘They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increases your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.”

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Rational Charismatics

I was raised in the United Presbyterian Church by a Presbyterian Dad and a Methodist Mom. When I was 16, Bill Bright ushered me into a more dynamic and personal relationship with Christ, and when I was 18, I was baptized in the Holy Spirit. I loved serving the Lord and experiencing the fruit and the gifts of the Holy Spirit in my life. But when I turned 50, I went through a personal crisis as I tried to determine how I should identify myself within the body of Christ. After much internal debate, I finally decided that I was a “Rational Charismatic.”

I am Charismatic, knowing without any doubt that the gifts of God, as outlined in the New Testament, are available and operational today.

I am rational, meaning that facts and reason inform my beliefs. Evidence matters. A quality education and the ongoing development of ideas that impact our lives and inform our understanding of the world around us matters.

Sadly, after writing that, I feel the need to validate my conservative biblical beliefs to my friends reading this blog. That subtle feeling reveals the problem we have created. Why have we believers allowed ourselves to think a high view of Scripture and confidence in the person of Christ doesn’t coexist with rational thought?

Jesus is so completely the Son of God, Son of Man, Lord of all and Creator of all, I have no reason to doubt that he is who he says he is. So much so, that I have no fear in pursuing my doubts, thinking through the realities of life, and interfacing what I read in the Scriptures every day with science. In my mind, New Testament faith does not require blindness, because there is evidence for its truth. I have no trouble reconciling the discoveries found in the natural history museum with Genesis, or chemistry with Jesus turning water into wine. Because of the miracle Christ has done in me, I know he can override natural law, but natural law is not his enemy. He created this orderly system within which we live, which is why the scientific method of discovery works.

As referenced earlier, some conservative believers have made a horrible mistake by positioning their teachings against science. Modern science is the product of western civilization, which is the child of Christendom. Centuries ago the popes taught that science and the Bible conflicted in areas which science has since been proven correct. Now Bible scholars agree that the church’s interpretation of the Bible was wrong and that, in fact, the Bible and scientific knowledge are harmonious. Think of that. As science has proven to be correct, the church has had to refine its interpretation. What’s wrong with that? Our interpretations of the Scriptures are not the absolutes of Scripture. Some of our interpretations should change as we grow and learn. I believe that since God is a God of order, and he created all, that the knowledge we gain through studying his creation is harmonious with the Scriptures.

Those who deeply embrace and defend ideas they believe to be biblically based, which are not evidenced, might find themselves in the same position as our forefathers who tried to defend a flat earth. Facts are helpful in informing our interpretations of Scripture. Scripture is helpful in informing our existence. Facts are never the enemy of Christians.

I’m not defending the cynic or the unbeliever. In my view, people who let their hurts, arrogance, or bigotry shadow their thinking are just as vulnerable as sincere believers who are desperately hoping they are right, when they are wrong.

Accepting modern science is not a contradiction of Paul’s admonition to reject the “wisdom of this world”. He wasn’t dealing with science, but philosophy and our understanding of God and our existence. He wasn’t devaluing the importance of facts or truth, but emphasizing the temporary nature of trends and traditions, something we should continue to be cognizant of today.

We can grow in our understanding of the Bible, believe the New Testament, and fully operate in the power of the Holy Spirit, without having to deny the reality that exists in the world around us.

Let’s be rational, Bible-believing Christians. To be rational Charismatics might require that we discard some of the cultural superstition in our modern Christian practice. I think that would serve us well.

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Are Christians Hateful?

To do a quick survey on any subject, google it, and Google will automatically suggest what others have already searched regarding that subject with the most popular searches appearing at the top of the list. Anyone with a computer can immediately tell the most popular thoughts on a subject. With that in mind, I just typed in “Christians are . . . “. Every time I do this, the results are different, but sadly they are seldom positive. A good friend, Michael Cheshire, pointed this out at one of our Roundtables on Life-Giving Leadership. I knew that we Christians had a major public relations problem, but Michael’s suggestion confirmed that many believe that the positive image we project is not, in fact, authentic. So today I did it again, and the results were “. . . hate-filled,” “. . . annoying,” “. . . delusional,”  “. . . so narrow-minded,” and “. . . like manure.” I’ll stop there. Point proven.

I used to think that we were good, loving people and that the world hated us because of scandals. But that has not proven to be the case. I’ve ministered as a very successful, highly respected pastor, and as one considered to be among the chief sinners. I can say, without qualification, that ministering Christ from the position of an embarrassed and humiliated sinner who is gratefully redeemed is much more effective than ministering as a religious leader.

Maybe that’s why Paul chose that position for himself.

But even though we all value integrity and holiness, the reputation of Christians is poor even among Christians. It used to be that, “He is a good Christian man,” was a high recommendation. Now it’s common for even Christians to be cautious about doing business with someone who professes to be a Christian. What happened?

I think that in the midst of our Evangelical fervor, we’ve forgotten some of the core virtues Christ taught us and have neglected to do what he did. As you may understand, I am sensitive to how we as a church respond to those identified as “sinners”. More important, I believe our response to “sinners” reveals whether or not we are authentic according to God’s New Testament standard.

I also think that our willingness to surrender to Jesus’ Lordship is best demonstrated by how we respond to another’s sin. It’s those perceived to be morally inferior, like Jean Valjean in Les Miserables, that cause those who think they are morally superior, to become like Javert. Right, but dead right. This is the situational twist that causes Christian leaders to become enemies of the Gospel in the lives of those desperately needing life and light. Our moden church’s revelation is wanting. Maybe Paul can help us regain our bearings.

While Paul was in prison, he wrote to Philemon, a slaveowner, about his runaway slave, Onesimus. This little letter communicates the ideas that, if incorporated into our churches, might keep us from ever being called hate-filled again.

According to Paul’s letter, Onesimus is the sinner. He was wrong. He ran away and deserved to be killed under the law. Though his name means “useful,” as a runaway, he became “useless” and would have probably been killed if Paul had not rescued him by being Christ-like, or Christian.

Paul, on the other hand, is the restorer. He understands the application of the Gospel and is working toward Onesimus being forgiven and thus, becoming “useful” again. As a restorer, he applies the Gospel in his plea to Philemon, Onesimus’ betrayed and disappointed owner. He does so in a letter to Philemon.

1. Note that Paul became an advocate for Onesimus by writing to Philemon, “I am boldly asking a favor of you” (1:8), just as Christ advocates for us.

2. Note that Paul invokes Philemon on the basis of love, which I define as “living for the good of another.” Here Paul establishes that love is the bedrock of the discussion involving the guilty one, Onesimus (1:9), just as the basis for Christ’s work in us, when we sin, is God’s great love for us.

3. Note that Paul’s belief that God places all of us in a family of faith actually has significant, tangible meaning (1:10) that demands a change in course. Paul indicates that God placing us in his famly is not simply good sermon material, but an idea that should dominate our discussions when dealing with another believer.

4. Note that Paul does not believe that Onesimus’ sins and shortcomings have excluded him from usefulness in God’s kingdom, but that because of his shortcomings, he came into relationship with Paul, in prison, and is now more useful than before (1:11).  Jesus’ imagery of God the Father welcoming home the prodigal, or the good shepherd leaving the ninety-nine to retrieve the one who wandered away, forces us to re-evaluate our common practice of discarding those who, in our view, have forfeited their value in the family.

5. Note that Paul, the Apostle, does not hesitate to connect personally and emotionally with Onesimus, the lowly imprisoned slave. Instead, he boldly states that “with him (Onesimus) comes my own heart” (1:12). Paul does not keep personal distance to protect himself from the potential of Onesimus’ future failures. Instead, he invests his own reputation in Onesimus and takes the risk of embarassment should Onesimus do what he did before, flee.

6. Note that Paul expresses his desire to keep Onesimus with him, indicating Paul’s respect for the value and skills Onesimus possessed (1:13). Very often the skills of those who fail are discarded because we believe, in some sad way, that that their skills are tainted and no longer useful. Jesus does not believe that about us, and Paul did not fall into that trap in regard to Onesimus.

I’ll not take space here to comment on the fact that Paul wisely deals with the reality of Philemon’s exalted social position in contrast to Onesimus’ and, probably Paul’s as well. But we do know that when we as a church deal with those with whom we disapprove, or those who have embarrassed us, we communicate our own moral superiority and want the other’s inferiority made clear. Our willingness to be Christlike and be “numbered with the transgressors” (Isaiah 53:12 KJV) is rare in our modern church culture.

7. Note that Paul communicates that the status contrast between Philemon and Onesimus are irrelevant since both are in Christ. If in fact Philemon was an educated, wealthy, and well-respected landowner, as many scholars believe, and Onesimus was an uneducated, poor, disreputable slave, as is probable, then Paul’s request is profound. His request could only be required by a genuine application of the Gospel. “He (Onesimus) is no longer like a slave to you. He is more than a slave, for he is a beloved brother, . . .” (1:16). Note that being a brother actually means something material. It mandates a certain behavior toward another.

8. Note, then, that the Apostle Paul makes this truth profoundly personal, “So if you consider me your partner, welcome him as you would welcome me” (1:17). Paul gives to Onesimus his own reputation, credibility, and in this case, his relationship.

The  implications of these ideas are profound in today’s church culture. Think of those we’ve discarded! If we would inculcate these ideas into the culture of our churches, we would actually become what we say we are, which would not only revolutionize our practices with one another, but also our reputation.

9. Note that Paul takes responsibility for the sins and debts of Onesimus! When we have a grievance against someone else, we are essentially saying that they owe us something. Typically we want an apology, or for the fallen to demonstrate more humility, or sorrow, or simply to disappear so we are not reminded of the pain they caused us. Sometimes we want them to demonstrate what we would consider a greater commitment to integrity, or maybe even to repay us or the church or business for the costs their problems created. In contrast, here Paul states that if Onesimus has wronged Philemon or owes him anything, that he, Paul, will make it right (1:18-19).

10. Note that Paul does not ask Philemon to give Onesimus a favor for Onesimus’ sake, but Paul uses some of his relational credit by asking Philemon to do him a favor by treating Onesimus with respect (1:20). Think of this, Paul is fully invested in using his credibility with Philemon for the benefit of a lowly sinner, Onesimus. That is exactly what Christ does for us, expecting all of us Christians to model our faith by doing the same for others.

11. Note that Paul trusts that, because of his influence with Philemon, that Philemon will do even more than Paul is asking (1:21). This is EXACTLY what Paul encourages every spiritual Christian leader to do with those who have been overcome by some sin (Galatians 6) when he exhorts them to humbly help that person back onto the right path. Paul is, in effect, Onesimus’ savior, healer, redeemer, and intercessor. Paul demonstrated by his response and intervention for Onesimus that he was, in fact, a Christian.

12. Note that in conclusion, Paul makes this profoundly personal and strong. He tells Philemon he is coming to his house for a personal visit.This, in my view, seals the deal. He doesn’t say that he’ll follow up once Onesimus proves himself over time, or that he sheepishly hopes Onesimus will make it, or that their relationship is solid regardless of Philemon’s decision. He respectfully makes his plea based on his own integrity, and then, having confidence the matter will be settled, says he’s coming to the house for a visit. That is EXACTLY what Christ does for us, and what we can courageously do for others.

Are we Christians hateful? For many, we are, but we are not compelled by Scripture to be that way. I maintain that another’s sin is our opportunity to demonstrate that we are loving, healing, and restorative Christians. Paul demonstrates this for us. It’s time we forfeit our modern Evangelical culture with our lightly starched shirts unstained by sin, with pristine, lotioned faces and nicely pressed suits, and become Jesus for someone in need.

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