Showing posts with label holy cows. Show all posts
Showing posts with label holy cows. Show all posts

Thursday

The Promised Transition: a true story.


We had been struggling to plant this church for more than a year, and we were confused.

We were three starry-eyed young men and our three faithful young wives. We were passionate believers, full of faith and ambition. We’d quit our jobs, sold our homes, and moved to Canada, amidst a flurry of encouraging prophetic words of victory and glory.

When we arrived, we found a few believers who were drawn to us. They’d had dreams of three young men in bright armor marching into their region, sparks flying from their heels as they dispelled the darkness.

Someone had had a dream about a network of home groups, maybe house churches, in every one of the thousands of apartment complexes, full of life and growth and health, people coming to Jesus every week, baptisms every month in the apartments’ pools.

We were so confident, when we started the church, that we’d find victory, that people would come to faith by the scores, maybe the hundreds, revival would visit the city, and lives would be changed.

It hadn’t turned out that way.

We’d been struggling to keep the young church alive for a year and a half. Tithes and offerings were barely covering the rent on the school that we were meeting in. People were coming to the church, but not really investing themselves.

When we came together, worship was good. The Word was taught. Prophetic words were not infrequent. But it as if nothing was sticking.

And then, in the spring, several of us heard the same thing from the Lord. “Prepare for transition. This fall, the church is going to experience a change.”

We rejoiced. We celebrated. Now, finally, we’d paid our dues, and we’d experience some fruitfulness! Now, finally, the church would grow, and we’d be able to settle into our lives and jobs, and make something of our lives. We were really ready for that change. We couldn’t wait!

Over the next few months, we talked about the promise, we rejoiced in it, we celebrated what God was about to do! We were thrilled.

And then things began falling apart.

Several families had an unexpected financial crisis.
So the church finances, which were barely sufficient, began to fail pretty badly.
A number of people in the church experienced unprecedented relationship failures.
One of the pastors was being drawn into an immoral relationship.
Hopelessness began to set into the life of the church.

And then when the fall came, my family was called home (with our tail between our legs!) by the organization that sent us, and the senior leader, needing to pay his bills and feed his family, accepted the invitation to pastor a prosperous church in the next community over.

When the time came for the transition, we acknowledged the inevitable, and shut the church down.

It turned out that the prophetic word was true. . “This fall, the church is going to experience a change.” What was not true was our interpretation of the word. We assumed that the change would be the fulfillment of our hopes and dreams. It was not that, but it certainly was a change.

I’ve observed this process going on throughout the people of God: we hear the word accurately enough, but we filter it through our hopes and dreams: our expectations.

God makes himself accountable to the promises he gives (keeping in mind the conditions associated). But he has not made himself even a little bit accountable to our attempts to shoehorn our wishes and desires into those promises.

Israel did that with the Messiah, Jesus. They expected that Messiah would come in force and deliver the nation from Roman tyranny. When he came as the suffering servant, they rejected him, and some theologians suggest that it was this disappointment that led Judas to betray Jesus, in an attempt to force his hand to become the conquering king.

When God speaks – whether in the prophetic declaration, or in the Holy Scriptures – it is a really lousy idea to try to force our expectations, our hopes and dreams – even godly hopes and dreams – onto his promises. It’s generally considered rude to put our words into someone else’s mouth; it really doesn’t work with God!

One of the disciplines that I’ve tried to develop over the years is one that I exercise whenever I encounter a promise: I try to peel away my own interpretation, and the interpretation of whomever I’ve heard the promise from (pastor, teacher, apostle, prophet, or Facebook friend), so that I can restrict my expectations to only that which God has actually promised.

That way, I’m in less danger of being disappointed by him not answering all my hopes. That way, I can expect him to be him, and not to live up to all of our expectations. And I can free myself to actually know him, instead of just putting his name on my own wishes.

God, the Murderer

Since the character of God was brilliantly defined by Jesus, we can trust that if God is a murderer (as some claim, when they read of Ananias and Saphira), then Jesus would have clearly and intentionally revealed the murderous nature of God. 

Curiously, I don't read about Jesus ever murdering anyone, not a single person. Nor did he teach his followers about when and how to properly murder sinners in the Father's name. He did not praise a single murderer or extol a single act of murder.

Therefore I conclusively deduce that God is not a murderer. (In fact, Jesus revealed that someone *else* has the job description of "steal, kill & destroy.")

And if God is not a murderer, then he did not, in fact, murder Ananias and Saphira. If God does not kill, then he did not kill them. If God *does* kill, then Jesus would have revealed that, since he revealed God. 

If you hold that God killed these two - or any one *else* - in spite of the clear testimony of Jesus, then either you are confused, or you are uneducated about the nature and ways of God, or you believe God is an intentional and malevolent liar. 

Hint: there is someone ELSE who is the "father of lies," and he has a documented history of slandering the good character of your loving Father. I urge you to reconsider whom you accuse of lying. 

QED. 

("Logic. Why don't they teach logic in these schools.")


What Does “More of him, less of me!" Really Mean?

John the Baptist once said of Jesus, “He must increase and I must decrease,” and forever after, religious Christians have murmured the same thing in holy tones, thinking that it was humility. Or we say it, “More of him, less of me.”

Humility is not thinking lowly of yourself. That’s religious garbage. That’s pride: “My opinion of myself is more important than your opinion of me.” True humility is being known as you really are. No pretense. Another way to say it is that true humility is agreeing with God, since God clearly knows you as you really are.

Frankly, the phrase is used not infrequently in the sense of, “Look at me. Aren’t I humble?” (Really, us decreasing wouldn’t even be part of our conversation if we were thinking of Him aright, because our focus wouldn’t be on ourselves.)

But we miss a couple more key points here.

First, most of the time, we seem to miss the detail that Jesus, the creator God, once had far less of you than he has now. In fact, he had none of you, and he didn’t like it. So he made you. And then [and *only* then] he said, “It is very good.”

So when we declare “He must increase and I must decrease,” we’re really saying, “God screwed up when he made me.” If that’s been your thinking, I invite you to repent, to choose a new way of thinking. All the evidence suggests that what God really wants is “More of him *and* more of you.” He’s made it pretty clear that he’s not doing this creation and redemption for his own health: it’s so he can have more of you (and me!).

What father, what parent, wanted their children to decrease so that they could increase? That isn’t actually a healthy model. Our Father is not trying to push us into obscurity so that he can have center stage all to himself.

Furthermore, John was the last of the Old Covenant prophets, and Jesus spoke of him that way (interestingly, in Matthew 11:11, since the number 11 speaks of transition). So John, speaking as the last Old Covenant prophet, declares that the Old Covenant must decrease, and specifically, Old Covenant prophets must decrease, and the Kingdom must increase. That’s a whole different statement than our holy tones expression of self-focused humility.

This is never a statement of humility, even if we mean it that way. More than anything, it’s an inadvertent confession that we don’t really understand the gigantic heart of the King of the Kingdom.

Suggestion: Let’s stop trying to avoid the good things that God has called us into. Let’s quit hiding from our true calling as sons & daughters, as heirs of the Kingdom.


The Gospel of the Kingdom, or The Gospel of Salvation?


The gospel which we preach nowadays, which I refer to as “the gospel of salvation,” is largely about leading people to a salvation experience, typically in the form of “the sinner’s prayer.”

But such an experience is entirely lacking from the ministry of Jesus. Certainly, there’s nothing even remotely like a “repeat after me” prayer in scripture, but more, Jesus never called on people to perform any sort of act of conversion: no sinner’s prayer, no pledge card, no “with every eye closed, raise your hand.” Nothing. Nada.

But his first and strongest message was “Repent [which means “change the way you think” or “change the way you see things”], for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand [which I interpret as “within reach”].” And then for three and a half years, he both taught on and demonstrated what the Kingdom was like.

So apparently, instead of a sinner’s prayer, the transition from sinner to saint was changing how you thought about God’s kingship, re-working your worldview and your view of Heaven. And that was between you & God; no public declaration, embarrassing or otherwise.

And since He demonstrated it, regardless of what we think of His teachings, we have to admit that “the Kingdom” the way Jesus sees it includes healing the sick and raising the dead. We watch Him in the Gospels, and it *looks* like it involves hanging out with tax collectors and “sinners” more intentionally than going to “church” (in his case, Temple).

And apparently, judging from the way he announced it, it involves thinking differently. And since he was talking to arguably the most religious people in history, apparently it meant “think differently than your religion has taught you.”

Adding His teachings into the description, the “good news” [“gospel”] of the Kingdom appears to also include loving people outside our comfort zone, and replicating ourselves (“bearing fruit”), and being treasured by God (as in the Pearl of Great Price).

It may be of some benefit to just look at every place that the Kingdom is mentioned in the gospels (start here: http://bit.ly/KingdomGospels), and see what the Holy Spirit shows you. But take your time; there are 119 verses in that link, each with some revelation on the Kingdom.

I very much encourage you to discuss what you learn with Holy Spirit, and let Him separate the meat from the bones!

Does that offer any help understanding the difference between Jesus’ term “the gospel of the Kingdom” (Matthew 4:23) and our unscriptural term “the gospel of salvation”?

Four-Letter Praise

I received an unspeakably great honor recently.

I was at a bible study with folks less than half my age, unchurched folks. After the study, we began to pray, and the shaggy, pierced kid to my left began to pour out his heart to God. He was declaring his love, and at the same time, asking God’s blessing, He was doing it in his native language. And his native language was thick with four-letter words.

Immediately, something rose up inside me: I was offended! But just as immediately, Father drew my attention to the heart that was pouring out that stream of “profanity.” Quickly, I saw it from His perspective: how tender, how sincere, how transparent, how beautiful. I felt Father’s joy, delighting in that prayer which offended me so badly. And I began, just barely began, to understand, and as I did, tears formed in my eyes.

This was “love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5) This was exactly what he was looking for: someone worshiping him “in Spirit and in truth.” God was delighted with this prayer from his beloved son!

And I’ve had to admit: “cuss words” are just noises. It’s the heart behind them, it’s the intent, that gives them meaning. God is not offended by noises. Maybe I shouldn’t ought to be either.

Now, having said that, having rejoiced at being present at such an intimate outpouring of love in four-letter vocabulary, I should probably add: this isn’t my language; it doesn’t justify my using that fellow’s language to communicate, either with God or with man.

Whenever I bring this topic up, there’s always someone who angrily responds, “But the Bible says to not use filthy language!” And it does, but in the same sentence it says to put off anger.  Hmm.  And anger is also encouraged, even commanded (Ephesians 4:26). Hmmm again. Maybe this isn’t as “black & white” as I thought.

The word for “filthy language” here is “ασχρολογία,” which is literally “ασχρός [aischros] words.”  And aischros words are words that are dishonoring, shameful: he’s speaking about the heart (no surprise there), not about the sounds coming out of the larynx.

Aischros is also the “filthy” part of “filthy lucre” which is more commonly translated “dishonest gain.” Again, the command is not about certain sounds, certain noises, that are off limits, but the heart behind the sounds. We foolishly think that as long as we don’t make those particular sounds, we can tell people off (perhaps in Facebook comments?), we can cut people off in traffic, point out others’ mistakes, tell shady jokes and leave lousy tips. All of these are violations of the same intent: dishonoring, shameful, dishonest gain. 

Renowned Greek scholar, Richard C Trench, concludes that aischros “includes therein every license of the ungoverned tongue employing itself in the abuse of others, all the wicked condiments of saucy speech,” and adding, “the context and company in which the word is used by him going far to prove as much; seeing that all other sins against which he is here warning are outbreaks of a loveless spirit toward our neighbour.”

Other principles apply, though I hate to reference principles, knowing how quickly they’re wielded as laws. Paul outlines some of them in his first letter to believers in Corinth:

§         “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)
§         “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” (1 Corinthians 10:23)

It seems that there are three appropriate questions to ask here:

1.      Is this practice profitable?
2.      Is this practice mastering me?
3.      Does this practice edify or build people up?

In the case of four-letter vocabulary, asking these questions – particularly as they relate to the next generation – gave me some surprising answers. I’ll get different answers, of course, when I ask them related to churchgoers, but I expected that.

But then he suggested to me: “Now ask these questions about the practice of correcting other people’s four-letter vocabulary.” Oh my. That one failed all three. 

I find myself drawn to these conclusions: Four letter vocabulary is not my language, but I’m not going to condemn myself over my language choices when I hit my thumb with a hammer. And my offense at others’ use of a language that is not my own appears to be far more offensive to God than either their language or mine.

Monday

The Gadarene Swine Fallacy

We hear it preached quite often that if a Christian isn’t in fellowship with others, she is in greater danger from the various enemies of our soul. We preach (and I, myself, preach) that believers are stronger, safer, and more alive when we’re in relationship with other believers.

But there’s more to that story. It isn't that simple.

There’s an argument that appears in the “Logical Fallacy” section of common logic textbooks, called the “Gadarene Swine Fallacy.” Simply defined, “The GSF is the fallacy of supposing that because a group is in the right formation, it is necessarily on the right course; and conversely, of supposing that because an individual has strayed from the group and isn't in formation, that he is off course.”

When Jesus visited the Gadarene demonic, there were some key players in the region:


  • One man, alone in the tombs, filled with demons and despair. 
  • Local swineherds and their local herds of swine (pigs). 


If one was to assume that “be in fellowship” is the highest truth, one would have to predict that the community of swine was the safe place to be, and the lone demoniac would be lost to eternity.

But that’s not what happened: the tormented man, alone among the tombs, was the only one who had the encounter with Jesus. The swine did have an encounter, but it was with the legion of suddenly homeless demons. He lived. He thrived (as ambassador for the Son of God to the Decapolis). They died a rather ignominious death.

In this case, and this is not by any means normative, the one by himself was in the right place, and the herd of swine – which may not have been appropriate on the outskirts of a kosher community anyway – were off course.

“In particular, it is of fundamental importance not to confuse the person who may be 'out of formation' by telling him he is 'off course' if he is not. It is of fundamental importance not to make the positivist mistake of assuming that, because a group are 'in formation,' this means they are necessarily 'on course.' This is the Gadarene swine fallacy.”

I still maintain that Believers are healthier in community. But if the only choice available is either life alone, among the tombs, or a community of swine, it may be healthier alone – though there may be (literally) a hell of a price to pay for solitude – than at home in a community of swine.

Of course, the healthiest place is neither among the tombs or among the swine. A small group in my home is infinitely preferable solitude among the tombs, and even community online (now that it is technologically feasible) is better than life with a legion of demons, or a herd of swine.

Judgment for Sins Already Judged

I’m tired the foolishness of all the “God is going to judge America!” proclamations.

But first, a warning: don’t read more into this than what I’m actually saying. This may trigger some sensitive spots, it may be similar to words others have used on their way to a different destination. If you’re going to react, react to what I AM saying, not to what others have said.


OK. Let’s start again. 

I’m tired the foolishness of all the “God is going to judge America!” proclamations. They make the proclaimers feel better, but they aren’t consistent with scripture. And they paint God as a smiter, a big, stern guy who wants to make everybody pay the price for their sin.

But the price has already been paid for their sin. If Jesus died for sin, then sin is dealt with, at least for now. (I’m not saying Rev 20 doesn’t apply; I’m saying it doesn’t apply NOW.)

If God judges America for sin, then that means that either a) for some reason Jesus missed somebody’s sins while paying for sin on the cross, or b) America would be judged a second time for sins which have ALREADY been judged. 

If God were to judge America for sins that Jesus already judged, I think maybe he would need to apologize to Jesus, because that would mean that Jesus suffered and died without accomplishing what he died for. Personally, I don’t think Jesus failed in his mission.

Biblically: Father handed [past tense] all judgment to the Son (John 5:22), and Jesus judges [present tense] no one (John 8:15). I repeat: this does not even talk about the Revelation 20 judgment [which is future tense].

Having said that, I am NOT saying that there are not consequences for the sins in question, and which can certainly LOOK like judgment. And I’m NOT saying that some people don’t bring nasty things upon themselves and/or their communities because they partner with demons. That looks like judgment too, but it’s not.

I’ve come to realize that the greatest danger from sin is not that it will separate me from my Father – the Cross is proof that it won’t – but that it empowers my enemy, it gives him permission to wreak his havoc in my life, my community, my nation. That’s a good enough reason to repent, and isn’t the only one in Scripture, but it’s not to avoid God’s judgment: it’s to avoid empowering the demonic.

The bottom line: There were no sins – there were no American sins either – lying around at the foot of the cross when Jesus was dying for sin. God is not actually looking for reasons to smite you.


Let’s get our understanding of Father right, people.

The Light in the Darkness


Think with me for a moment.

Psalm 23:5(a) says “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies….” The Message renders it, “You serve me a six-course dinner right in front of my enemies.” We can discuss what kind of provision the “six course meal” represents, but notice first where that provision comes: “in the presence of my enemies.”

Romans 5:20(b) declares, “…where sin abounded, grace abounded much more….” This time it’s in the presence of sin that is emphasized as the place of great provision (“abounded” is a big word!).

Luke 7:34 describes how the ungodly saw Jesus: “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” Apparently, Jesus frequented such places, and hung out with such people. I’ll bet that he still does.

Let’s think about it: when I’m feeling weak and needy, and I need an extra dose of the grace of God, where shall I go?

First, let’s nip some potential problems in the bud:

·         We don’t go “sin much more” so that we get more grace. The book is really clear on that topic. Romans 6:1&2 provides a starting point on this one.

·         We also don’t go get in a place where we’re are personally, severely tempted to sin. That’s just plain stupid. If you don’t want to get shot, don’t wander onto the firing range.

·         We don’t place ourselves or those with us in real danger, whether physical or not.

Traditional religion has always said, “If you need more of God, you go to church, where God is, of course.” That, of course, presupposes that God is more present in a particular building more than in his son or daughter, and I’m not sure that this can be supported Biblically. If there are good people at church who can help you, that’s great, though you’ll probably be able to deal with the issues you face better meeting with them outside of the church’s programs. Just an opinion.

But our verses hint at something else: God’s presence can be found unusually strong in other places, places where “my enemies” gather, places where people are not afraid to sin.

I reiterate: we don’t choose to put ourselves in danger: if there’s a temptation that’s hard for us, don’t go to that place. But just because sinners gather there is not a reason to avoid a place: Jesus didn’t avoid those places (cf Luke 7:34). (And there’s always the “go” part of the great commission that so often gets overlooked.)

This is, frankly, not an exercise for spiritual babes. And it’s a good time not to practice 2 Peter 2:22 (“But it has happened to them according to the true proverb: ‘A dog returns to his own vomit,” and, “a sow, having washed, to her wallowing in the mire.’”).

Some would argue that such places are indeed more full of God’s grace, but it’s because they also provide a greater need for God’s grace, and the two influences balance out, leaving the believer no better off than s/he would be at home in bed. That’s actually not a foolish argument, but neither is it conclusive; it’s absolutely worth considering, and perhaps field-testing.

In the town where I live, there’s an austere micro-beer tavern near the famously-liberal, liberal arts state college. So naturally, it’s full of non-Christian and anti-Christian college students, expounding on their views over admittedly delicious brown brewed beverages. There’s an old-world coffee lounge downtown that caters to the more permanent residents of similar persuasion, who expound their views over similarly delicious brown brewed beverages of another nature.

I’ve found that both places are excellent places to bring my laptop or a Bible and enjoy the Father’s healing presence and think creatively with him. The tavern is also hosting a number of Bible studies and “cell-group” type fellowships, so maybe the word is getting out.

On the other end of the scale, some friends and I occasionally visit dance clubs for the purpose of spiritual warfare dance, specifically counting on a table of provision being prepared before us in the presence of the spiritual environment found in those places. From a natural viewpoint, we look ridiculous: a bunch of overweight shaggy old men – I wear earplugs – completely ignoring the writhing young people around us on the dance floor. But it is has been a marvelous place for engaging the heavenlies, and the temptations there don’t even speak to us. (Note: we don’t do this alone, and we don’t go without substantial prayer covering.)


I’ve also surprised myself with this discovery: the secular German band Rammstein is actually pretty good for worship. I can’t understand the words, so it’s as if it was instrumental music to me, and I enjoy the table prepared for intimacy with Father in that dark place.

And of course, God is still committed to the Great Commission, which still begins with “Go ye….” The command is still to take the light to the places of darkness. I’m convinced that one of the reasons that so many Christians are so ineffective at sharing the gospel with non-believers is that they don’t actually meet any non-believers. When we bring the light into the darkness, the light is quite a lot brighter than when we put all of the lights into a big room that is outside of the world of unbelievers.

Now, I have known of a number of men who have heretofore been effective in the Kingdom who have been discouraged, and wandered into similar places specifically in order to find temptation, which they do in fact find, and which has all too often led to moral failure. This, of course, is the danger of finding the presence of God in the places of darkness, and it is for this reason that caution is to be exercised.

Don’t take this farther than I’m presenting it. But let’s not be afraid of taking the light into the darkness. Let’s also not be afraid of finding the light in the darkness. 

Believing What the Bible Says About God

We need to consider whether we actually believe the Bible or not. We generally do not in this one area:

We have been fed a pack of lies about who God is, about God being the source of all kinds of evil, but we miss the foundational underlying truth: God isn’t actually evil. He’s actually good. Seriously. We don’t really believe it.

We need to understand, deep in our soul, that this is who God is. We say, “God is good,” but we believe all kinds of evil accusations about him! We (our culture) blames him for death (“God took her.”) and disaster (“an act of God!”) and trouble (“Well, he must be teaching me patience.”) and we blithely accept it (“His ways are higher than my ways… sigh.”) and we even quote scripture (“Look! It SAYS God did that! Why, it must be that simple!”) to support our naïve belief that God does nasty things. 

Let’s look at the record: 

Psalm 34:8: “Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him”: God is actually good. This is who he is. A good God does good things. 

1 John 1:5: “This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all”: So nothing of darkness can come from God because he has no darkness to give to anybody. The only thing he can give is light. 

Romans 12:2: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will”: God’s will is only about goodness, about pleasing us, about perfection. This is something that can be tested; we can know this. Moreover, we are to be like this, our will is to be like this. 

James 1:13a: “When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone…”: God doesn’t have anything to do with evil. There is someone else (fairly often ourselves) that is responsible for the evil that survives in our presence. 

Matthew 13:28a: “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.” When evil comes in among the people of God (in this parable of the tares), Jesus defines it as something done by his enemy. 

Matthew 7:11: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” : paraphrase: If you roughnecks can figure out the difference between a good gift and a bad gift, you can seriously trust your heavenly Father to give only good gifts. In other words, bad things do not come from God. 

John 14:9: “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” We have a brilliant revelation of who God is, of who the Father is: He’s like Jesus. They’re so unified, they’re so alike, that if we have seen one, we’ve seen the other. You want to know what God is like? Look at Jesus. 

John 1:18: “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him”: So we must trust what Jesus says about God more than we trust our own perception, because we ain’t never seen him right. Everything else we believe about God must be interpreted through what Jesus says about Him.

Hebrews 1:3a: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of [God’s] being”: So we must trust what Jesus shows about God more than we trust our own perception. Jesus is the clearest (“exact”) revelation about God’s character. Everything else we believe about God must be interpreted through who Jesus is.

There is a principle of Biblical interpretation: if you see something in an obscure passage (eg. in a story, in a passage that’s teaching on a different topic, in a passing comment, in an unclear passage), then we MUST refer to the clear passage to interpret it. We cannot just see something done in the Bible and then all go do what someone else did, or we’d all lie to the Holy Spirit like Ananias did, or we’d all hang ourselves like Judas did. So what’s the clearest revelation of God’s nature?

The Bible itself clearly says that the “exact” revelation about who God is has been given to us: it’s Jesus, who is the Incarnate Son of God, who best reveals the nature and character of God to us. He is the very best revelation about who God is: if we believe something about who God is, but it isn’t found in the life of Jesus, or it isn’t found in what Jesus teaches about who God is, THEN IT ISN’T WHO GOD IS! 

Do we believe the Bible or not? I vote to believe the Bible. 

Thursday

Forgiveness & Healing: An Important Distinction


There’s an uncomfortable contrast between forgiveness and healing.

We forgive those who wound us, and with the grace that Jesus is so generous about pouring into our lives, we can (eventually) forgive even the most debilitating, the most wounding, the most egregious offenses against us.

More, we need to forgive those offenses. In some way (see Matthew 6:14), our own forgiveness is tied to how we forgive others. And we’re commanded to forgive (see Matthew 18:23-35), so it’s pretty important.

But forgiving is not the same as healing. The act of forgiving the one who hurt me does not – in and of itself – heal the wound that they caused. Forgiving them is about not holding the offense in my soul against them, about no longer looking for revenge (whether actively or passively) against them, about not allowing a “root of bitterness” to grow in my spirit to make accusations against my offender and against God. That’s powerful stuff, but it’s not the same as healing the wound that came from their offense.

On the cross, Jesus forgave the people who nailed him there, but he still died from the wounds. In Acts 7, Stephen forgave those who wounded him by throwing stones, but he, too, died from that stoning.

I’ve seen confusion among believers about this in two manifestations:

1) “I’ve forgiven them for wounding me. So why am I still wounded? I thought that forgiving them would make it stop hurting!”

2) “But you forgave me! Why aren’t you trusting me? Why are you still acting like you’re hurting there? I guess you didn’t REALLY forgive me, did you!”

The reality is that forgiving and healing are two completely different issues. One might as well ask, “Why am I broke at the end of the month? It’s still raining in the Northwest, isn’t it?” Well, yes, it is still raining in the northwest, but that doesn’t actually have anything to do with your personal spending habits! In similar manner, there is not a direct correlation between forgiving and being healed.

It’s worth noting that there IS a small-but-significant connection between forgiving and being healed: we receive healing more easily when we’ve forgiven. But don’t be distracted by that small issue: healing is not an automatic result of forgiving.

We must forgive, of course, and there are enough reasons to forgive to fill a book. We could fill another book on the differences between forgiving someone and trusting them in the same way again. Frankly, they would be fine books, but that’s not the purpose for this article, which is to shoot down the false belief that “My forgiving you brings me healing.” It’s a small step in the process, and an important one, but it is not the healing.

I can forgive you for shooting me in the knee, but I will still walk with a limp until my knee is healed. 

Bring the Light


How many times have you heard this warning: “Brother, we got to be careful because Satan comes as an Angel of light.”

I’ve been “warned” by sour-faced people not to trust my Father’s voice, warned not to trust Holy Spirit, warned to stay away from Father’s angelic messengers, warned against healing the sick or raising the dead or any of the fun things that Father has prepared for his children. 

Apparently, because the devil, who is a copycat and a corrupter, copies and corrupts some of God’s generous gifts, there are some who think that the right answer is to avoid the gifts.

That’s like warning me to never use $20 bills, because criminals counterfeit $20 bills. Or never to drink water, because vodka is clear like water, and you know vodka’s not as good for you as water. What? 

First, let’s abandon this foolishness that we need to run screaming away from anything the devil does. Yeah, I get it: he’s a pain in the butt: he’s a liar, and his work is about stealing, killing & destroying. And yeah, I have figured out that those are bad things. I get that. 

Heres the thing: if I’m watching to make sure that I never do anything the devil is doing, then A) my eyes are on the devil, not on Jesus, and B) the devil is directing my actions; Jesus is not. That would, under normal circumstances, mean that I was being led by the devil rather than by God. Thats not acceptable to me.

You see, the devil’s under my feet. He and his realm are required to submit to me and the authority I carry from my place in Jesus, from being the Creator’s beloved son, with whom He is well pleased. 

In fact (and this will be scary to some folks), the devil and I have one job description in common: we are both working to expand our kingdom as far and as wide as we can. Of course, he’s working to expand the “kingdom of darkness” and I’m working to expand the Kingdom I share with my Father: the kingdom of light. And you know what happens when light and darkness collide: nothing. Light shines unhindered in the darkness; if anything, the enemy’s darkness only serves to show off God’s light better.

So should I be afraid because the devil counterfeits some of the good gifts Father gives me? No way! Fear is not my inheritance! 

Should I at least try to avoid the devil’s deception? Um… duh! Of course. 

But just because I’m avoiding the counterfeit doesn’t mean that I run whimpering away from the real thing that is being counterfeited. The fact that there is a counterfeit proves that the real thing is valuable, it’s profitable. In fact, it’s worth the risk of counterfeiting and getting caught.

Yes, there are false spirits. I don’t listen to them. Yes there are demons masquerading as angels of light. I don’t fall for that. Yes, there is such a thing as demonic healing. I don’t go there. In fact, don’t even pay attention. 

My job is not to run from darkness. My job is to bring the light.



A Brief Guide to The Rapture.



A little history about the doctrine of the Rapture. (Note that this is not a theology paper; this is an article about following God.)

First, the term "rapture" does not appear in scripture. The general idea is there (specifically in 1 Thessalonians 4:17), but it is not the same concept that is taught today called “The Rapture.” It has nothing to do with the “Left Behind” books’ theology!

Much of our concept of The Rapture comes from Cotton Mather, the 17th century Puritan, and master of the Salem Witch Trials. It gained traction in the teaching of John Nelson Darby in the 1830s, just after he left his denomination, the Church of Ireland; some historians report that he used this sensational new teaching to garner more speaking engagements (a practice that continues today). Contemporary church leaders, including Charles Spurgeon, rejected Darby’s teaching. But he wrote a translation of the Bible and started a minor denomination, so people take him seriously. 


The reality is that the Bible has very little to say about the Rapture, apart from acknowledging, in the context of the dead being raised, that one day we will be “caught up” with God in the air. Note that this was expressly given as comfort to those grieving dead loved ones, not as a theological foundation for eschatology. (As a general practice, we don't build major theological points on minor, unclear passages that are focused on other issues!)

Having said all that, it does appear that some points about the Rapture could do with being emphasized:

*        The big point in Scripture is that believers who die before Jesus returns will not be separated from Him. The Resurrection of the dead is for real. This is the main scriptural teaching about “The Rapture.”

*         The idea of being caught up with Jesus seems worth pursuing, even today. A number of contemporary prophets (and many believers) encourage pursuing the experience, though not in a physical sense, rather in terms of what might be called “day trips to Heaven.” This sounds like a great use of our time. “I believe in the Rapture,” says Bob Jones. “I do it every day!”

*         The Bible - and therefore the earliest apostolic doctrine - carefully avoids clear teaching on the subject, which should be a clue to us. Moreover, Jesus clearly said (Acts 1:7) that figuring out the details of the end times was a distraction of the real work that he has set before us (Acts 1:8). It could be reasonably concluded that end times theology (including the Rapture) is largely a distraction from our actual assignment: a theological time-waster.

*         The current teaching of the Rapture (The Left Behind version) is completely contrary to God’s ways: it’s taught as an escape from persecution, sneaking out the back door before a season of tribulation starts. God has never demonstrated the value of keeping some favored people from having to deal with difficult times, while letting other, less-favored people suffer from them. The idea of removing the only people who can bring comfort to afflicted people is not in him. If anything, he has historically sent his people into the midst of the trouble in order to be light in the darkness. Therefore, it is more likely that he would send his people into the midst of the tribulation. (See 1 Corinthians 16:8-9 and 1 Thessalonians 2:2.)

There are two clear action points that I can see, when thinking about the Rapture.

1.       God has apparently not intended that we understand the details about the end of the world. It would be wise, therefore, for me not to focus on what he is not focusing on.

2.       It will be a much better use of my time either working to prevent trying times, or preparing people to cope with trying times, rather than teaching people to expect a “Get Out of Tribulation Free” card.

Our job is “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.” At least within our sphere of influence.

A Lesson on Our Angels.


I love testimonies. They say so much good stuff about God! And the whole concept of “testimony” (“μαρτυρία,” an interesting word on several levels) includes the concept of “What God has done, he is willing to do again.” I love that.

I was watching over a baby-Christian who was dying. She was 90 years old, freshly saved, and had just been diagnosed with cancer. When I asked, Father said, “The cancer will not take her, but it is her time to go.”

As I said, she was dying, but she was taking her time about it. She had been in dancing on the edge of Eternity for several weeks; it was hard on her and everyone who loved her to watch her suffer. I came to visit her again, and she never saw me, but she grasped my hand weakly as I sat with her and prayed for her. The room was full of a measure of peace, and I loved her. I wanted her to be able to lay hold of that peace.

I needed God’s perspective, so after a while, I walked over and stood by the door, ducked into the Spirit realm, and talked with Father about it. “What’s holding her back, Father?” and immediately I had a vision. There in the spirit realm, she was travelling a winding road in the midst of fields of wildflowers, and she was almost to the bridge. But there were several demons who were holding her back, taunting and tormenting her in the process. I understood that they were gaining some strength from their torment of her. It angered me.

“What do I do, Father? I’m seriously not ready to pray for her to die, even though you’ve already told me that this is her time.”

What followed was one of the more startling experiences of my life with God. He said, “Release our angels to clear the way for her,” and with that one sentence, a whole lesson was downloaded into my spirit.

A little background: I was raised in a liberal church, and then trained in an evangelical church, both of which adamantly, fanatically, insisted that I must never pay attention, especially never try to communicate with or (horrors!) command angels! Oh my goodness! That would be tantamount to abandoning faith in God in favor of gibbering in the corner with tinfoil on my head. Those who taught me had encountered people who had gone way off the deep end about angels, always talking to angels, always listening for what the angels said. Some of them actually had worn tinfoil on their heads and chosen to sleep under bridges. Bluntly, this was a doctrine built on fear, but it was the doctrine I had been raised on, and God was countermanding it.

So with the instruction to “Release OUR angels…,” Father schooled me. He took me through several scriptures, in that nanosecond. The conversation went like this: “Angels are servants of the Kingdom, yes?” “Okaaay.” “And you’re an heir of the Kingdom, yes?” “Yeaaaah.” “Are you doing the work of the kingdom, working to accomplish My will?” “Yes!” “Well, then the angels are available to serve you in this!” “Oh! Okay!”

I stood there at the door, my eyes bugging just a little, thinking through what I’d just heard. If I understood correctly, I had specifically been invited by my Heavenly Father to – not command, exactly – but “release” the angels to do the thing that Father had already assigned them to do. And as a result, again, if I understood correctly, my aged friend would then die. Yeah, she’d be with Jesus, yeah, it was her time, but dang!

I reached over, touched her cheek, stood back up, took a deep breath. I looked Father in his tender-hearted eyes, and spoke. “As a son of the Kingdom, and in the Name of Jesus, I release the angels that Father has assigned to this woman to carry out their assignments and to remove the demons hindering her.”

The next morning, we got the call. “She has passed over.” We met the hospice nurses there. My friend had the most peaceful expression on her face. She'd crossed the bridge in joy. 

When a personal revelation is supported, as this one was, both by scriptural principles and by the way actual facts turn out, I pay attention. But I wasn’t settled on it so quickly.

We talked about it afterward, and as we debriefed, Father and I talked about Matthew 26:53. That’s where, in the Garden, Jesus declares, “Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels?” I’ve always dismissed that verse: He’s the Son of God, He can do things I can’t.

“My child, yes, Jesus is My Incarnate Son. But when He came to Earth, He emptied Himself of the prerogatives of his deity. His ministry on Earth was not as God incarnate: that would be nothing that you could ever aspire to; it would be no model of what you could do and be. Everything He did on Earth, He did as a man. Son, don’t write his example off so quickly.”

So I’m still learning. 

Sunday

There Is No Hell Prepared For Sinners (Don't jump to conclusions here...)

Let me just come out there and say it: There is no hell that has been prepared for "sinners." Dante was wrong.

Now don't jump to conclusions. That doesn't mean that there isn't something hellish; there is. The Bible doesn't talk much about it, and I can understand: it's an ugly subject.

Jesus taught about "everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels." Maybe this is the "lake of fire" of Revelation 20. Sure sounds like it.

But did you see who it's prepared for? It's prepared for the devil and the rest of the angels that followed the angel named Lucifer when he was tossed on his ear out of Heaven. 

It's a topic that the Bible never answers very clearly (for all that there are a lot of Bible thumpers that seem to have all the answers!), so I can't speak clearly about it except this: it isn't prepared for people.

I guess there are some people who are so completely committed to the things of demons (often called "sin"), that they refuse to be separated from them. I guess that when the devil and his angels are chucked into that "everlasting fire" that the people that refuse to let them go... well, ... they go with them.

(I understand that this is not consistent with what you and I were taught in Sunday School. The truth is that a lot of what we were taught in Sunday School can't be supported by the Book. Let's stick to the book.)


Tuesday

Remarkably Intelligent People vs God's People


WARNING: Politically incorrect musings ahead. Just trying to examine a tough topic honestly. 

I’ve been visiting with some Remarkably Intelligent People recently (I didn’t know IQ scores went that high! Scary!) I’ve observed that a number of them have real difficulty being Christians and relating to the God of the Bible. (Not all, just a large fraction.)

It occurs to me that one reason may be because of God’s followers. Aw, heck: several reasons may be because of God’s followers. Let me explain.

Because of the merciful nature of God, and of his people (when we do it right), Christianity does understandably draw a lot of broken people who find mercy or acceptance (hopefully both) that they may have had difficulty finding elsewhere. The reality is that broken people make broken choices, sometimes justify those broken choices, and sometimes their understanding of God is characterized by those bad choices. For example, if I were to condemn you for not living up to my own moral standard, and then declaim that this is the way God is, a Remarkably Intelligent Person is probably intelligent enough not to be drawn to a god characterized by moralistic bigotry.

But in addition, in many of the Hallowed Halls of the Faith, thinking is not only not encouraged, it is occasionally actively discouraged, even (foolishly) presented as a conflict to faith. “Evolution can’t be true, because the Bible says God created everything” not only misses the point of the conversation, it demonstrates that people who think are not welcome to that conversation.  

And then there’s the issue that Christians very often speak gibberish. In our more lucid moments, we sometimes call it “Christianese,” but it's gibberish. We make noises that nobody else uses, and expect other people to know what our strange vocalizations mean. Very often, we’ll abbreviate a whole conversation into just a conclusion, bypassing the fact that it took someone (hopefully ourselves) months to arrive there. For people with very healthy minds, the process is the point of the conversation: they’re not interested in taking our word for something we figured out months ago.

For example, I’ve been known to say, “God said it; I believe it; that settles it,” as a reminder of the precious conclusion I arrived at from a very long, very personal evaluation of what I understood about the scriptures. That declaration is meaningful to me, but not to the Remarkably Intelligent Person who hasn’t been through my year-long analysis. But if I just quote it, merely because someone I respect said it and I think it gives credibility to my argument: please just don’t go there. That’s insulting to intelligence in general.

Finally, all of the Remarkably Intelligent People I know – whether they are Christians or not – know what the Bible says. Generally they know the Book better than I, even the unbelieving Remarkably Intelligent People, and I’ve been studying it for 40 years! One of the characteristics of remarkable intelligence is the ability to see the remarkable difference between what the Bible declares Christians should be like (Jesus set up this booby-trap in John 17:23), or the incongruity between the vengeful God preached from the OT and the God of Love as he reveals himself in the NT. The fact that most of God’s people can’t reconcile either mismatch is also not overlooked.

I am NOT trying to say that Christianity isn’t a good fit for intelligent people. Nor am I trying to say that we need to live up to their standard of intellectual analysis.

What I AM suggesting is nothing new: let’s not be stupid. Let’s see if we can speak English (or another actual language) instead of religious gibberish. Let’s take the time to figure out what we actually believe, and more importantly for our own growth: why we believe it.

In other words, let’s learn to be genuine people, relating genuinely to God and to each other. And let’s learn to feed ourselves.

COMMENT: These are politically incorrect musings. I've just been trying to examine a tough topic honestly. If you're offended: please get over it; this isn't about you. 

Wednesday

Interpreting Scripture (and Theology) Through Jesus


I’ve been thinking about how we handle some of the more incongruous portions of scripture.

The book of James, for example. Martin Luther wanted to toss the book out of the Bible; he called it the “Epistle of Straw,” and he had a good reason: James is such a completely different presentation of God than the rest of the New Testament. It doesn’t mention Jesus’ name even once. How can we have a book of the Bible that doesn’t point to Jesus?

But eventually, we figured it out. James’ epistle doesn’t stand alone. It stands in context with the rest of the NT, and we interpret James’ comments about the value of works, for example, in the light of the rest of the revelation about who Jesus is and what he has done.

Because Jesus is all about grace apprehended by faith instead of by works, we know how to interpret James’ words about works: through the life of Jesus, through the cross of Jesus. James is talking about working out our faith, working from the forgiveness we’ve received, not working to earn forgiveness.

If we didn’t interpret those passages, through the life of Jesus, if instead we used James’ words about works to define Jesus (I have met some confused, law-based people who have), then we could seriously misunderstand Jesus.  

We’ve figured out how to interpret James. Why do we not, I wonder, apply the same lesson to Revelation?

We should take the difficult to understand fire-and-brimstone passages of Revelation, and interpret them through the very clear revelation of the life and words of Jesus. “OK. Jesus taught us that God is perfect love, and Jesus himself took all condemnation on himself on the Cross. So how do I understand the four horsemen in that light?”

But there aren’t very many people who do that. I’ve met hundreds of people who take this most-bizarre, most difficult-to-interpret book of the New Testament, and use it to define Jesus by employing their best guess about what the strange imagery and bizarre metaphors are referencing. It requires that they completely ignore the clear revelation of the life of Jesus in four first-hand testimonials, and we ignore the clear revelation of his own teaching.

I am NOT saying that either James or Revelation are not inspired scripture, or that we can do without their teaching. I AM saying that we must interpret these passages through the greater revelation of Jesus, and not use them to define our understanding of Jesus. We always use the clear passage to define the less clear passage, and there is no clearer understanding of God than the person of Jesus.

Jesus rebuked people who would “strain out a gnat, but swallow a camel.” I’ve met a bunch of those people. That’s gotta give them indigestion.

Jesus is the clearest interpretation of God that there has ever been: God himself became human, and walked among humans so that we could know who God is. We need to base our understanding of Scripture off of that clearest revelation; everything else that we think we understand about God must be interpreted through the life of Jesus. If we hold a belief about God that is inconsistent with him, then we need to let it go.

We need to apply the lessons we’ve learned from the book of James to Revelation and other less-clear passages about who God is.



Tuesday

Does God Harm People?


Does God harm people? Does he beat up his kids? Does God bring sickness, disease, even death, in order to accomplish good in his kids?

One verse that people use to support this theological drivel is Hebrews 12:6, which reads (in the NKJV):
 
For whom the LORD loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives."

A quick glance at a Greek lexicon will help us.

The Greek word used for “chasten” is παιδεύω. The Strongs lexicon (http://bit.ly/TbnnDR) says the primary meaning of παιδεύω is:

1) to train children
   a) to be instructed or taught or learn
   b) to cause one to learn

Since the immediate context is about fathers training their children, and specifically compares God’s fathering to human fathering, this is an excellent contextual fit. The idea is more of a firm coach than a child-abuser, and the context, very much about fathering, supports the concept of instructing, training, coaching.

By contrast, when was the last time you heard of a father that brought home a polio virus to infect his son as an expression of his love? What loving dad would cut his daughter’s brake lines so she’d crash and spend a month in ICU? Who in their right mind would respect such a father or hold him up as an example for others to follow? [Hint: it wouldn’t be God!]

Does he train us hard? Well, when was the last time that a competent coach who trained his players gently? Did they every win anything? Sure, training is hard. But it is not abusive. It's not about sickness, death and destruction; that's somebody else's job description. Jesus came that we “may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (Romans 10:10)

The second half of the verse is considered metaphor by Greek language scholars, and it is in the Hebrew pattern of “parallelism”: the second phrase complements or clarifies the first phrase: Yes, God trains his kids. “For whom the Lord loves, he trains, and he spanks his sons when they need it.” Parallel ideas: the first phrase tells us how to interpret the second phrase.

A better theological foundation about the nature of God is found earlier in Hebrews: in 1:3, the Bible declares, “The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being.” Note: “Exact representation.”  

In other words: Whatever is true about God’s being is demonstrated in Jesus. In other words, if you don’t see something in Jesus, you’re in error if you believe it about God.

A lot of people have this OT image of God always ready to smite someone, always ready to judge people with death and disaster. That’s poppycock! How many people did Jesus smite? How many did he kill? How many times did someone come to Jesus, “the exact representation” of God’s being, asking to be healed, only to be told, “No, it’s better if you stay sick, because you’re learning something from the sickness.”

That, of course, is the theological equivalent of saying, “The devil – whose job it is to steal, kill and destroy – can do a better job of raising God’s kids through stealing killing and destroying, than God can do through loving them.” That, I’m afraid, is profitable for nothing more serious than fertilizing your tomatoes: run away from such stinky, libelous accusations of God’s character!

Someone will say (and often loudly and rudely): “But God judges sin! God is holy!”

Yes, God is holy. And yes God judges sin; in fact he has already judged sin: Jesus was judged for sin! He was crucified, nailed to a tree, because of sin; because of all sin! In fact, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8)

So then, whose sins did Jesus miss? Whose sins are still un-judged? Whose sin is too big for the sacrifice of the Incarnate Son of God? Who did God overlook in his dying for the entire world? There ain’t none! (Though you and I know that there are some folks that are working hard to reject his payment for their sin; that’s a different conversation, and involves Revelation 20.) 

Let’s acknowledge that God is actually good, and let’s expect goodness from him.


Thursday

A Problem with Trusting.


One of the less-visible wounds from betrayal or abuse by leaders we've trusted is an unbalanced sense of trust. Some will not easily trust again, and yes, that needs healing, but a less-visible (and therefore more dangerous) wound works in the opposite direction: too much trust.
 
A victim of untrustworthy leadership (and the "untrustworthy" can be merely in the mind of the wounded) very often has lost a measure of confidence in their own ability to "correctly" hear from the Holy Spirit. Unfortunately, this makes it easy to walk away from an untrustworthy leader, only to concede too much trust to trustworthy leaders, even to the point where we (perhaps unknowingly) trust the leader's words more than the things that Holy Spirit speaks to us directly.
 
I see at least three temptations in this:

1) Leaders can be flattered and tempted to take the place of the Holy Spirit in a wounded person's life. ("They need me!") This is not an insignificant temptation; it feels good to be needed.
 
2) The wounded person can be tempted to look to a man (or woman, but usually a man) instead of to the Holy Spirit. ("I trust him to hear God correctly!") This often masquerades as a "safe" alternative.
 
3) They both are likely being set up for a serious disappointment. We're talking "crash and burn" level  disappointment here.
 
The reality is that no human being can really take the place of the Holy Spirit in my life, and any attempt (intentional or not) to do so will end in disaster.
 
I have watched helplessly as this scenario has exploded in marital affairs, divorce, broken congregations and the violent end of the successful ministries of people on both ends of the equation. Occasionally it has resulted (presumably with other complications) in murder. I suppose these are predictiable, given that the source of this calamity is famous for "stealing, killing & destroying." 
 
My "takeaway" from this is to emphasize - in my life, and to the folks around me - that God is an effective Father, well able to lead his children Himself: my goal is always to lead others to Christ, and to be led myself to Him. Any time (and I think this is an absolute) one human being lingers between God and another human being, there will be trouble. 

I Have Misunderstood the Tithe


Tithing is a difficult topic to examine objectively for many reasons. One of the most hidden and un-talked-about reasons is the issue of benefit:

If those teaching me a principle get their paycheck from my believing what they teach, then their teaching cannot be objective. It might be factually correct, but they are not the right person to help me understand the truth of the subject.

In my history, the people who taught tithing were nearly always the people whose paycheck came from my tithe. I have almost never heard anyone whose paycheck came from people’s tithes ever question the need for people to tithe to their church. I cannot help but question their objectivity. Worse, I have known pastors who will not allow anyone in their church to even ask questions about tithing. And we’ve heard stories of religious groups who make membership conditional on tithing. They’re called cults.

Tithing is a topic where truth is best revealed by personal study, by prayer and counsel of the Holy Spirit, and by consulting with knowledgeable, faithful friends whose objectivity is not so desperately compromised by the topic.

God taught it to me this way: Never ask the car salesman if you need to replace your car. Never ask a real estate agent if this is a good time to buy a house. Never ask a pastor whether you need to tithe. It’s not fair to put them into that position.

Note that there are at least three ways to compromise objectivity on the subject:

a) If you believe what I tell you, you'll be morally obligated to give me lots of your money.
b) If you believe what I tell you, then I won't be alone in believing it, and my position will be easier for ME to hold.
c) If I choose not to give 10% of my money to you, then I’ll have more money to spend on me.

It is not only those whose paycheck comes from the tithe that are compromised on the topic.

I’ve made a list of some of the difficulties that I have with the tithe as it is preached in American churches in this generation:

1)       All of the Biblical teaching about tithing is in the Old Covenant. Remember, please, that the New Covenant began with the Cross. Jesus mentions tithing, but does not teach it, but he is speaking to Old Covenant Pharisees during the time of (the end of) the Old covenant. The only mention of tithing after the Cross is in Hebrews 7, where it is used as an argument that Jesus’ New Covenant has more authority than the Levitical priesthood.

The conclusion of the Hebrews passage on tithing is verse 11: “Therefore, if perfection were through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need was there that another priest should rise according to the order of Melchizedek, and not be called according to the order of Aaron?

By contrast, the New Covenant addresses the Old Covenant Law this way: “By means of his flesh he abolished the enmity, the Law of commandments consisting in decrees, that he might create the two peoples in union with himself into one new man and make peace.” (Ephesians 2:15)

2)       It is manipulative. While not all teaching on the subject of tithing is manipulative, a great deal of it is based on taking Old Covenant scriptures out of context and laying that burden on New Covenant people. The most blatant case is Malachi 3, where we hear the oft-quoted, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house,” but we never hear the introduction to that section: “And now, O priests, this commandment is for you.

This was speaking to the priests, not the people. It’s manipulative to tell the people that this passage is commanding them to give their money to the pastor/priest.

3)       It misses the point. The purpose of the Old Testament Tithe was a party.
And you shall eat before the LORD your God, in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, the tithe of your grain and your new wine and your oil, of the firstborn of your herds and your flocks, that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. Deuteronomy 14:23

Even the Malachi 3 section, which we now understand is commanding the priests, “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house.” This is about helping others celebrate God, even if they were too poor to chip in for the food: being broke is no excuse. This is consistent with Deuteronomy 14.

4)       It supports the wrong goals. The goals for tithes were never to build buildings, pay for clergy or create programs. The Tabernacle was funded with offerings, the Temple was funded from David’s private wealth, essentially a sugar-daddy. The Levites made their own living like anyone else, though the priests did eat of sacrifices (not tithes) brought to the temple: their priestly work paid for the priests who did the work.

The typical tithe-funded church budget (and I know whereof I write) spends between 60% and 90% of those tithes on salaries and building expenses. Therefore even if the Old Covenant law of tithing applied in the New Covenant, it does not apply in the way that we’re applying it.

5)       It violates the principles of fatherhood. The model from both Scripture and culture is that fathers provide for their children; it is not the children’s responsibility to provide for their parents.

Note: there is, of course, an exception, but that only applies when the parents are old and cannot provide for themselves.

6)       It creates an artificial separation: Clergy vs. Laity. Jesus was pretty adamant about removing the differentiation between clergy and laity: “Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. 

The idea that some people (“clergy”) are supposed to do the work of the gospel: visit the sick, teach the Word, and so on, while other people (“laity”) are supposed to pay them to do that work is not found in the pages of Scripture.

7)       It’s too cheap. In the Old Testament, we “owed” one tenth of our increase in the tithe (“tithe” means “a tenth,” or “ten percent”). But if we eliminate the Old Testament law about tithing, then we’re left with Psalm 24:1: “The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness, The world and those who dwell therein.

The truth is that I don’t owe God a tenth of my increase; I owe him all of me: everything I own, all that I am.

Having pointed out problems with the contemporary system of tithes, let me put some limits on this:

1)       Generosity is healthy and Biblical. While it’s difficult to support a New Covenant tithe from the Bible, the idea of giving generously is well grounded in the New Testament.

2)       There is power in numbers. Several thousand people giving money to a single cause can accomplish more than all but the richest of individuals. Even billionaires Bill Gates & Warren Buffett, two of the richest of individuals in the world, recognize that the contributions of many accomplish more than the contributions of a few.  

3)       “Not tithing” does not equal “Not giving.” It only means “Not giving a specified amount because of a law.” The alternative to tithing is not “I keep it all and spend it all on me!”

4)       Tithing is an effective reminder. Those who give “to God” are using a very powerful tool (their money) to remind them of the reality that God is their provider. It is not the only powerful tool (a love relationship also works), but it is a solid way of remembering.

By way of a conclusion, I offer this exhortation: This is a good time to question what you have been taught about tithing. This is a good time to study the subject on your own; I’ve added a great number of hot-links to relevant passages specifically for that purpose. This is a good time to get in God’s face, and ask Him to teach you about how He wants you to handle your giving. And this is a great time to participate in conversations with godly people on the topic: don’t preach; ask questions. Listen to answers and opinions.

This is a lousy time to respond in greed: to stop giving in order to spend money on yourself. The principle of Sowing and Reaping is still true. And selfishness just stinks.

Be generous. Be free in your generosity. Reflect God in your finances.