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6/29/17

TITHING...So Many Questions

You want some questions asked? Just bring up the subject of TITHING! It seems like everyone has both a question and an opinion...and they're willing to share both. OK, so let me take a crack at answering some of the most often asked questions as best and as biblically as I can.

Q: Wasn't tithing under the Law, and aren't we freed from the Law and now under Grace. Therefore, shouldn't tithing be a thing of the past?


A: Yes, tithing was a commandment under the Law. But, does that mean it should go away? Let's look at a few other commandments that were under the Law and see if you feel the same way about them? You shall not murder. You shall not steal. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not lie. I guess I'd have to answer your question with one of my own. Do you think those are things of the past and should go away as well? Probably not. At least, I hope not.


The Law was set up as man's means of acquiring his "rightness" before God, but basically served as a means to prove to each of us our inability to earn our own "rightness" or salvation. Jesus' intention was never to do away with the "moral law" that God gave as a way of life. He simply fulfilled it because we couldn't. He never said, "OK, now feel free to commit adultery. Grace has made it OK!". Quite the contrary. In fact, let's look at Jesus' opinions of the Law now that we are under Grace.


Here's what Jesus said about the Law now that we're under Grace...“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’  But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment." (Matthew 5:21) He actually said that under Grace he was raising the bar, not lowering it.


One more time...“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matthew 5:28)


Man kept the Law to try to earn his own salvation. Under Grace we obey out of a heart of gratitude for what God has done for us. I guess if anything is different, we should be willing to GIVE MORE!


Q: Do I tithe on the gross or on the net?


A: Pastors love this question. The answer I hear most often is "Do you want to be blessed on the gross or on the net?" Sounds great. Can't find it anywhere in scripture...but it sounds great.


I think the problem here is that we're missing the point. God's not looking for us to get the right amount nearly as much as he's wanting us to have a right heart. 


Bottom Line: I don't know the answer. I haven't found anything in scripture that absolutely answers the question unequivocally. So, being a simple guy, I look for the simplest solution. I MOVE. THE. DECIMAL. If I make $200, I give $20. If I make $5000, I give $500. Sometimes I round up. Sometimes I give 12%. My wife recently decided she'd give 15%.  Why? She just has a generous heart. And, that's all God is looking for. You figure it out and let me know. But, show me in the scripture.


Q    Why should my tithe go to the local church? Why shouldn't it go to other ministries? Isn't it all God's Kingdom? 


A: The best answer is because that's where scripture says it should go.  In the Old Testament it was the Temple or the local Synagogue.  In the New Testament, it was the local church.  Paul tells the believers that he appreciated them supporting his ministry, but he also tells them to bring their gifts to God when they gather on the first day of the week (Sunday) (1 Cor. 16:2). Jesus talked about people supporting His ministry as well, but always told them to give God what was God's and even exemplified it by taking his tithes to the Temple (Luke 8:1-3, Matthew 22:21-22).

The bible talks about tithes (which go to the local church) and offerings (that are above and beyond the tithe and support other great work that's done in Jesus' name). This one's not hard to answer. It's pretty clear-cut in scripture. It kind of goes along with the next question. 

Q: Can I designate where I want my tithe to go?

A: Do you get to designate where your neighbor's money goes? Do you get to designate where your friend's money goes? How about your boss...do you get to designate where his money goes? You probably answered "no" to all. That give you two reasons why you cannot designate where your tithe goes.

1. God is your boss.
2. You only get to designate where money goes if it's yours. The tithe isn't yours.  Get your stinking hands off of His money!

Q: Do I need to go into debt to tithe?

A: No.

Q: Let me answer one more that no one asked, but I think they should have. What should my motivation be to tithe?

A: First, let me tell you what it shouldn't be...GUILT. The mother of Guilt is Fear, and Fear is never, ever, ever supposed to be what controls or motivates the believer. We walk by FAITH, not by FEAR.

What should motivate us to tithe is a heart of gratitude, a longing to obey the one we call our Lord. (By the way, how do you call anyone Master and ever tell Him "NO" to ANYTHING? It's physically impossible. Might want to check who's REALLY Lord of your life.), a unquestioning sense of trust, and an overwhelming desire to have what only God can provide for you above and beyond anything you could ever provide for yourself. 

Got more questions? Bring them on!  I love questions.  Hope these answers helped.

6/14/17

It Wasn't Always Like This...

     Recently, I began a teaching series called, MAD MONEY.  It's a look at the insanity that has become the financial status of most Americans. It's little doubt why 95% of Americans say they fight over finances and the #1 cause of divorce in the US is financially related. But... it hasn't always been that way.
     This society on debt-overload has not always been such. In the 1930's and 40's, most people were severely scarred by the Great Depression. As a result, they seldom borrowed and lived well beneath their means. Little, if anything, was wasted. Debt was a totally foreign concept.
     In the 1950's and 60's people began the concept of borrowing for a home. The average mortgage for a home was $13,500. Then came the 1970's and 1980's. If borrowing for a home was a good idea, then how about borrowing for homes, cars and even large items such as appliances. This is when Credit Cards started to be popular and the concept of revolving debt came into practice...basically, the idea of getting people in debt and keeping them in debt. 
     Things can change quickly. In 1929 only 2% of homes had a mortgage. Fast-forward, only 40 years, to 1969 and now, suddenly, only 2% of homes don't have mortgages! That's quite a turnaround... Put another way, it took only 40 years for us to become a Debtor Nation. Not that all debt is bad, but staying in it is. When debt becomes just an expected part of life...all our life...something has gone terribly wrong.

     In their book, The Millionaire Next Door, authors Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko interviewed people from affluent neighborhoods and form middle-class neighborhoods. They findings were pretty astonishing. Much of what they found in the affluent neighborhoods were families with lots of "stuff", but little money. They were highly leveraged in debt, with little cash resources.
     On the other hand, those in middle-class neighborhoods tended to lived beneath their means, drive used cars, live in more modest homes, were wise shoppers (watch for those sales and clearance items), were systematic savers and had much less "stuff". However, they were less leveraged in indebtedness and had more cash reserves. 
     BOTTOM LINE: Many who seemed to live more affluent lifestyles were not necessarily more affluent. They tended to go into more debt to support their lifestyle...a lifestyle they were not necessarily able to afford. In other words, they were PRETENDERS. 
     The reality is, we have become a nation of PRETENDERS. We have adopted a "pretentious" lifestyle that says we have the capacity to afford things that, in reality, we cannot. We have gone from a nation with no debt to a nation that goes into debt for our homes, to a nation that commonly goes into debt for cars, appliances, vacations, home remodels, toys of a grand variety...basically, just about anything. It's just the way we do business. It's just the way we've chosen to live life.

It's the new normal.

     Listen to what God's Word says..."A pretentious, showy life is an empty life; a plain and simple life is a full life." (Proverbs 13:7 MSG) And again, Solomon writes, "Better to be a nobody and yet have a servant than to pretend to be somebody and have no food." (Proverbs 12:9 NIV) Is that a word we desperately need to hear today? I think so. It was written thousands of years ago, but sounds like something that was written for the 21st Century American. Let me take a few liberties with that scripture...Better to be a nobody (if by somebody you mean how many toys we possess and how many people we are trying to impress with what we have) than to pretend to be somebody and have no food (as in no reserves for the future, no plan to take us to 90 years old with an inheritance to leave our children, ruled by trying to keep up with the Jones'...when there's always a new crop of Jones' cropping up after we've finally managed to keep up with the last group). That's a horrible way to live, with no win to be found...ever!
     I know, this is not the popular view...but, it's God's view, so maybe that trumps popular.

A "plain and simple life is a full life". Do you believe that?

Or do you believe the world's theory...He who dies with the most toys wins? I think maybe it should read, He who dies with the most toys probably died much too young due to the stress of paying for all those toys...and now someone else gets to play with them cause you're dead!

     Years ago my wife put a large sign up in our kitchen that just read SIMPLIFY.  Maybe we should locate that sign once again and bring it back, read it daily and heed its message. I think God is on to something. I think a plain and simple life is a full life. Less stress. Less debt. Less payments. More LIFE. Think about it.


5/13/17

WHY...13 Reasons Why?

Unless you've been living under a rock recently, you're probably, at least somewhat, aware of the Netflix series entitled 13 REASONS WHY. It's the story of a teenager who undergoes bullying to extremes and, ultimately, takes her own life. Before she does so, however, she records a series of tapes, each one aimed at a different person, who make up the "13 Reasons Why" she commits suicide.

I believe the producers of this series made it with the hope that it would shed light on the problems faced by today's teenagers and to open up discourse regarding the epidemic of teen suicides that has swept over almost every community in our country.

Much has been written and much has been said about "13 Reasons". Some by the public school systems. Much by psychologists. And much by parents...many of which do so with little idea of what "13 Reasons" is really all about.

Therefore, I decided to "take one for the team" and invest 13 hours of my life in watching every minute of every episode. So, what I write is not written from the point of view of a professional in the Mental Health industry, but from the standpoint of one who has actually watched and knows that of which he speaks, one of a father who has raised four teenagers, one of a grandfather of eight would-be teenagers and one of a former Student Pastor and current Lead Pastor who cares much for his flock ...parents, grandparents and kids.

Having said all that, I'll try to answer some of the questions that are being asked:

Would you allow your teenager to watch "13 REASONS WHY"?
I definitely would not. The reasons that I say this is multifaceted. I believe "13 REASONS fails at a number of places. Here's a list of a few of the failures I see:

*I do believe suicide is sensationalized in this series. The young woman is seen as the victim, which she is, indeed. However, being the victim does now absolve her of any responsibility for any and all of the things that befall her.

*There's really not a moral absolute to be found in this series. Did she do the right thing? Did she do the wrong thing? There's no answer given to that question. You're left to decide on your own. She is definitely cast as the heroine of this series, so that may leave some to infer that her decision to take her life was the correct decision. I would never want my teenager to watch something that leaves suicide in somewhat of a moral morass as to whether it was the right or wrong decision.

*Suicide may be seen by some as the answer to her problems. She is in pain and no one is able or willing to take action to help her pain to cease. Apparently, when death comes the pain stops. But, is the problem solved? No, actually, not only does she not solve her problem, she creates an entirely new set of problems for those that loved her unconditionally and, in the case of her parents, were never made aware of any problem at all in their child's life.

*I'm aware that all of the things that happen to her actually do happen in today's society. However, I believe rarely do ALL these things happen to one person at the same time. Yes, it is possible, but unlikely. One or more of these may, however, have happened to a teenager who might identify with her and with her plight, as well as her solution.

*Hannah is presented purely as the victim in this tragic tale. She is presented as bearing no responsibility for anything that befalls her and is seen as a sympathetic object of abuse, ridicule and betrayal by an entire school. But, that really is not true. Many of the things that happen to Hannah, although horrifying, were precipitated by poor choices on her part and by her failure to allow anyone to help her, even when those who desired to do so were able and prepared to help. Hannah does not speak to an adult until the very end of this story, refuses to allow him to help and never once tells her parents of anything that is transpiring in her life.

*Hannah's recording of the "13 reasons" (or, at least 12 of them) leaves one with the false sense that she has turned those who victimized her into victims themselves. The reality is that those she hoped to victimize were probably victims for about 2 weeks, then moved on with life and never thought of it again. (that's how victimizers tend to roll) What's not emphasized is the fact that those who were totally innocent in this dysfunction are now made to be the unintentional victims for a lifetime. How tragic and backwards is that? The parents who loved her unconditionally will live in grief for the rest of her days. Statistically, they will most likely divorce. She hurt beyond measure those she never intended to hurt.

Is "13 REASONS WHY" a suicide prevention show?
It may have been intended to be so, but if that was the intention, then it fails miserably. Again, Hannah is the beautiful, likable, girl nextdoor, who bad things happen to and HAS to resort to suicide to solve her apparently unsolvable problems. I found nowhere that a moral statement was made. Rather than dealing with the right or wrong of suicide, this show chooses to focus more on who to blame for it happening. The focus is placed more blame for this act than in how it could have been prevented. But, apparently, Hannah shares none of the blame.

If my child asked me to watch it, what should I do?
I would strongly encourage you to watch it with them. Here's why:

1. Your child has access to it and if they want to watch it, they will. Without you. Without a reasonable counterpoint. They will most likely draw their conclusions in a vacuum, or even more likely, from their peers. Not advisable.

2. Because all their friends will have watched it, mostly without parents, and will have formulated poor responses to it. I believe you have to decide here if you want your child's friends to parent them, or if that's a job reserved and better suited for you.

3. Telling them they cannot watch it is no indicator that your child will not. Your child, no matter how compliant, comes equipped with a sin nature. Therefore, you telling them they cannot will only make it more enticing.

4. This is the most important one of all...It's a great teaching tool when placed in the right hands and the right setting. I would encourage you, not only to watch it with them, but to discuss it with them as well. Here are some questions you should ask after each episode:

     *What happened to Hannah that was bad?
     *Why did it happen to Hannah?
     *What could Hannah have done differently that might have kept this from happening?
     *If anything like that ever happened to you, what would you do?

Should I watch it before I let my child watch it?
ABSOLUTELY! There are things that are graphically depicted in this show. You need to know what's coming. Only you can decide what is appropriate for your child to view and when. It will not be comfortable to watch with your child. You are forewarned. Yet, the opportunity for preparing your child for real-life possibilities and knowing steps they can take to either keep this from happening to them or dealing with it in a life-giving way are invaluable.

Bottom Line: I do not believe "13 REASONS WHY" is good,  but I definitely believe it can be used for good. We can say like Joseph from the Old Testament, "You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good".

4/25/17

PROVING GOD

     This week, we started a brand new series called WHY? at Crosspoint Church. We're taking on some pretty tough stuff, looking to answer questions like, Why should I trust the reliability of the Bible?, Why is the world so messed up if there is a God?, Why the conflict between faith and science?, Why is Jesus the only way?, and, this week, Why should I believe in a God anyway? Good questions. Really good questions. Tough questions.

     Let's look at the last one: Why should I believe in a God? The question there seems to be, How do I prove there's a God to someone who doesn't believe? Well, I think that's part of the question. That's the part that frightens us the most. That's the part that usually shuts our mouths whenever the hard-core "prove-it-to-me" types speak up. Then, we have a tendency to change the subject quickly or go with the old standard, "It's not proper etiquette to discuss religion or politics in public".  Nice out.
     What most of these people are asking is "show me some proof". If we are brave enough to not go with the politically correct bail-out,  what we usually go with is either, "Well, the Bible says" or "Here's something for you to read" or "Here's a great podcast I'd like you to listen to". That sounds good enough on the surface. But, what does the Bible tell us to do? Does it give us instruction on how to bridge the gap with non-believers? As a matter of fact, it does. Check this out...

"… if someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it." 1 Peter 3:15 NLT

     What Peter said was not, "When someone asks for hope, give him someone else's reasons for hope". People aren't looking for some canned answers from someone else. They want to know why you believe. Why you have hope. If we can't give reasons we believe, reasons we have faith, then our faith doesn't sound like faith at all. It sounds like a pipe dream. It sounds like we just drank the Kool-Aid.
     What Peter is saying here is that we need to be able to verbalize our intellectual realizations, our emotional experiences, our physical encounters, and finally our spiritual decision to bridge the burden of proof with faith. Not somebody else's experience...ours.
     I’m not telling you to stop inviting your friends to church or sharing great content with them, but never let someone else’s faith replace the hope that God has given you. That’s the best hope you have to share.
     Then, James goes one step further to help us bridge this gap between our faith and their doubt:

"If you are wise and understand God’s ways, prove it by living an honorable life, doing good works with the humility that comes from wisdom." James 3:13 NLT

     James says the burden of proof is in our actions. Words can share our ideology, but only through humble works can we fully share our theology. John tells us of Jesus that, "the Word became flesh and lived among us". God’s truth became Jesus in our world. But, God’s Word didn’t stop becoming flesh when Jesus ascended, it continues to be claimed as true (or otherwise) through our lives.

Let me restate, we demonstrate God’s Word as truth for humanity and prove God is real by living out what we believe.

     People are not looking for someone else's faith and reasons...they're looking for yours. Can you state them? You're either proving the existence of God or the lack thereof.

     People are looking to you for the reasons to believe. Tell them.


2/3/17

WHO ARE YOU?

OK, so I'm a child of the 70's and 80's. Grew up with the Stones, Led Zeppelin, Jethro Tull and the like. (this explains much, right?) Add to that list The Who. I can still hear Roger Daltrey belting out, Who are you...who, who, who who? (CSI fans may just think that was their theme song. Long before the show was....IT WAS!) Actually, it's not only a pretty good song, it's also an amazing and necessary question. Who are you?

This past Sunday, I told my people that I believe one of the greatest challenges that the Church faces today is an IDENTITY CRISIS. We simply don't have a clue who we are. I say that based on many factors, but none more prominent than almost 40 years of simply talking to and counseling Christians. I've talked to thousands of Christians over the years who see themselves as incompetent, incapable of anything significant, as damaged goods, victims of their pasts and unworthy of God's love, acceptance and calling.

Yet, God's Word says exactly the opposite. It says we are loved with an everlasting love that nothing can change. He calls us His child, His masterpiece, His beloved, His Bride. He says we are members of a royal generation, a holy priesthood and that we are a people for God's own possession. How in the world do we reconcile our insecurities with the overwhelming security that God says we possess...permanently? That NOTHING can touch?

As I write these words, I think I want to introduce you to one more song. Yes, it's a song from the past. Most of you have never heard of it or of its author. Let me introduce you to Keith Green and "When I Hear the Praises Start".

My son, my son, why are you striving?
You can't add one thing to what's been done for you.
I did it all while I was dying.
Rest in your faith, my peace will come to you.

My child, my child, why are you weeping?
You will not have to wait forever.
That day and that hour is in my keeping.
The day i'll bring you into Heaven.

My precious Bride, the day is nearing
When I'll take you in my arms and hold you.
I know there are so many things that you've been hearing,
But, you just hold on to what I have told you.

For when I hear the praises start
I want to rain upon you,
Blessings that will fill your heart.
I see no stain upon you,
Because you are my child and you know me, 
To me you're only holy.
Nothing that you've done remains,
Only what you do for Me.

My encouragement: When the enemy begins to lie (you can tell he's lying...his lips are moving), just LET THE PRAISES START!

1/25/17

THE LION AND THE LAMB AND ME...

     Let me just say that I believe that when it comes to worship at church most of us...maybe all of us, consider ourselves song selection aficionados. Seriously, some of us would love the chance to pick out the songs sung. However, most of us would rather just render verdict on those that someone else, not nearly as keenly adept as ourselves, has chosen for us. We're much better commentators and critics than actual pickers. I place myself squarely in that tribe.
     Take last week, for instance. Someone said to me, "Well, we're singing The Lion and the Lamb again. Immediately, I was right there with them. I was thinking, "Are we getting paid every time we sing this song? If so, I want to know where all the money is going." So, on Sunday, when the band cranked up The Lion and the Lamb for what seemed like the 89th time recently, my heart was obviously in the right place. Right.
     Curious thing though... God had spent the last few months talking to me about how the Church was His idea, how it was bought with the blood of Christ, how we desperately needed to ask Him to wrestle our hands off the wheel and allow Him to drive (since apparently the deed is in His name). If we ever relinquished control over to Him it would revolutionize, not only our concept of church, but our practice as well. So, that Sunday morning was different. With bad attitude in tow, it was as though God spoke to me and asked, "Is this a concert for your enjoyment or worship for my pleasure. Have you ever considered the fact that I might like this song, and beyond that, that I might enjoy hearing you sing it to me?" (swallow hard)
     I was exposed for the fraud that I am. Sure, I say it's about Him, but in reality, it's really about me. My heart sank to my knees and I was a mess. All I could utter under my breath was, "I'll sing it to you, Lord. I'll sing it for you, Lord." And as I did, my cold, hard heart became softened and warmed. No one in that place knew why the tears welled up in the corners of my eyes but me. I'd been busted...and I knew it. 
     As my attitude did a quick 180, I saw and heard things I had never even heard or seen before. It was an old song sung, in my estimation, too many times. Yet, suddenly, it was as though I had never seen or heard it before. This song, this simple little song was pregnant with powerful truth. 
     Here's a few quick things got taught me in the next 5 minutes or so:

1.  We're much more comfortable with Jesus being our Lamb than we are with him being our Lion. As our Lamb, he dies for us. He is the perfect sacrifice that takes away our sin and makes us holy and right with God. We love that. But, as our Lion he leads us into battle. It's right there in the song..."He's roaring with power and fighting our battles." We're so much more comfortable with the Lamb that was slain and takes away the sin of the world than we are with the Lion of Judah who says follow me into battle and take on the forces of darkness. Why else would the church be in such miserable shape? We're better at admiring our robes of righteousness than we are putting on the breastplate of righteousness and the helmet of salvation and strapping on the sword of the Spirit and heading into battle. I think that's what we hired the pastors for....

2.  The bridge says, "Who can stop the Lord Almighty?" Again and again it resonates. "Who can stop the Lord Almighty?" As I sang that question, God seemed to turn it from a rhetorical one to an actual one. His answer was simple and direct. "You can." What no principalities or powers of darkness has even the least chance of doing, the people of God...His own people...can. Aren't we His body? Aren't we his hands and feet? Aren't we, His Church, the ones...the ONLY ONES...He has poured His power into? Aren't we the Army of the Lord? Aren't we called to "demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ." And, that's on a good day.

3.  We have not been called to worship music or to to worship "worship". We are called to worship God. It seems in the Worship Wars we have lost our way. We're more concerned about the methods of our worship than we are about the recipient of our worship. Hopefully, we are more wrapped up in the satisfaction of the God we adore than we are with the chosen methods of adoration. The WHAT must never take precedence over the WHO. 

     Since I can't seem to shut up lately, let me share one more thing with you. I love to sing. Or maybe I should rephrase that...I loved to sing. Seven months ago, I had surgery on my spinal cord. The incision was made through the front of my neck and, although it fixed and cured my spinal cord, it ruined my voice. They said it would come back, but it never did. The worst part of it all was that I could no longer sing. Oh, I tried, but to little avail. I had a range of about 3 or 4 notes. It broke my heart, but I assumed it was a small price to pay for keeping the use of my arms and legs. It had been seven months, and not only did it not come back, I didn't even see any progress. Until Sunday. As God worked on my heart, apparently, He was working on my vocal cords as well. I didn't even notice until the song was ending. I WAS SINGING! My voice was back. Nothing beautiful mind you, but I was singing and matching every note. Something that I had not even remotely done for the last seven months. Healed heart. Healed voice. Maybe it was just for that song on that day. I guess we'll find out. But, even if it was...I'll take it. 
     Our God is a Lamb. The lamb that was slain for the sins of the world His blood breaks the chains.  Our God is a Lion. The Lion of Judah. He's roaring with power and fighting our battles. Every knee will bow before the Lion and the Lamb.