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Turning the Bible Into Behavior

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Apostle Paul

Fat, Greedy, Money-Grubbing Churches

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Do you ever get sick of greedy, money grubbing churches always asking for your money? For some reason many people have the impression that churches are always asking people for money. Churches have reputation for being money hungry; for trying to squeeze every red cent out of the people who attend. Shoot – I would get tired of that kind of behavior!

In all honesty, though, churches probably ask for money a lot less than you think. I’m not talking about the weekly routine of collecting money. Different churches call it different things:

–         Taking the collection
–         Passing the plate
–         Time for tithes and offerings
–         What else have you heard?

Though this has become a standard feature in many evangelical churches it’s not quite the same thing as “asking for money.” It’s not like the Christian radio station that has a bi-annual fundraiser telethon. In the Christian worship service, giving becomes an extension of worship – something we do in recognition that what we have is a gift from God and through our giving we say, “I value God and his kingdom and want to express it through my finances.”

So giving becomes an act of worship (assigning worth to something) and a practical way of making sure the needs of the ministry are met.

I had a friend tell me the other day:

The church doesn’t need money. Jesus didn’t need money.

But the truth is that the church does need money. Ministry requires money. And yes, Jesus did need money. Jesus had a group of financial backers that helped make his ministry possible:

And the twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s household manager, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means. (Luke 8:1-3)

Jesus and his staff were provided for out of the means (income) of these women.

Once the Apostle Paul was trying to raise money to do ministry to Christians in Jerusalem. He was collecting it from the Corinthian church:

On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. (1 Corinthians 16:2-3)

There are many different financial needs for a church to do ministry. Some are related to physical location: rent/lease/mortgage, utilities, salaries, etc. Some are material needs for people: rent assistance, utilities assistance, food/clothing aid. Some are for spiritual ministries: materials for communion, children’s church, Bible studies, etc.

Ministry requires finances. And how will people in the church ever know about the need unless the church tells them? It’s plain logic, really. It’s not about being money-hungry, it’s about letting people in the church know that, in order to do what God has called the Church to do, it’s going to take some backing.

If you don’t want to give, no one is twisting your arm.

Paul says:

The point is this…each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work. (2 Corinthians 9:6-9)

To honor God and to participate in what he wants to do through my church my wife and I give. But that’s between us and God. Your giving is between you and God.

Whatever you decide to do, do it with joy for God, not for anyone else.

BE HEARD! How have you seen churches handle money well? How have you seen them handle money poorly?

THAT OFFENDS ME!

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of imagerymajestic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

It seems the idea of what is acceptable to Christian standards is quickly become that which is least offensive to anyone. You can do this – you might offend someone. You can’t do that – you might offend someone else. It seems that many people want us to live in virtual bubbles where we cannot even remotely do anything that might offend someone else.

And the justification for telling people to stop their offensive behavior? The ol’ “Stumbling Block Defense.” Oh, c’mon – you know that defense. It’s a variant of the “God-Card” – using your faith to shut someone down and to refuse to engage in dialogue. It’s His way or you’re wrong.

The Stumbling Block Defense goes something like this:

I don’t like what you’re doing.
            It offends my sensibilities & my understanding of what is appropriate for Christians.
                        Your doing this is making me think things I don’t want.
                                    You’re making me stumble & the Bible says not to do that.
                                                Thus, you need to stop NOW and yield to my way.

You see how it progresses? The Bible passage the Defensive Coordinators use is 1 Corinthians 8:9-13, where the Apostle Paul talks about being careful not to let your own Christian liberty and freedom cause someone else (who doesn’t share your liberty) to sin.

A blogger and new dad that I follow ran into this issue on the subject of breastfeeding in public. (he’s a very talented cartoonist and uses his art to make poignant commentary on current issues, specifically connected to faith – you can find his post here).

So the argument in which he found himself someone asked about how Christians should respond if breastfeeding caused another Christian to “stumble” – shouldn’t the Christian cease and desist according to the Stumbling Block Defense?

No.

Let’s actually look at what the Apostle Paul said:

Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. (1 Corinthians 8:9-13)

Paul is dealing with Christians in a Pagan world in which meat was sacrificed to Pagan gods and then sold in the market. Some Christians considered consuming this meat to be sinful and idolatrous. Others had no problem with it. Paul is saying that, if those who have no problem continue to eat and invite those with issues to eat with them, those with issues might be eating against their conscience. THAT is what it means to cause someone to stumble – when your actions invite someone else to participate in behavior they consider to be sinful.

For example, if someone legitimately considers consuming alcohol to be sinful (it’s not, but let’s pretend for the sake of argument) and I throw a shindig and only serve alcoholic drinks and pressure this person to drink against his conscience, then I have caused him to stumble. Pretty crappy way to treat people, huh? It’s a total lack of respect for others. Paul says, “DON’T DO THAT!”

Paul never says that we have to kowtow to every whim of every Christian we run across. We will differ on what is or is not appropriate. It does not make it a sin issue to disagree. It is not a stumbling block issue to continue to do something others might find distasteful.

Back to the breastfeeding example for the blogger I mentioned: I don’t know anyone who says breastfeeding is a sin. Even if it were a sin, a woman breastfeeding will not cause me to start breastfeeding – I struggle with my boobs, but that’s a personal weight issue and I’m working on it 😉 It’s not a sin issue. Trying to get someone to conform to my idea of acceptable when it is not a sin issue is not cool. You see how using the Stumbling Block Defense is an inappropriate use of the Bible to manipulate behavior in others?

It is inappropriate for Christians to be throwing around the Stumbling Block Defense every time there is a disagreement about what is proper or improper, acceptable or unacceptable. It’s okay for Christians to disagree with each other. We can have different viewpoints and still be brothers and sisters.

What I would really like to see is for us to stop throwing God into the mix to get people to behave the way we want them to behave. When God speaks, we do. When God is silent, we need to allow for our fellow believers to act freely in their own conscience before God, whether we’re talking about public breastfeeding, alcohol, or even eating meat that has been sacrificed to idols.

Do Gooders Rock

Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Every once in a while someone does something so extraordinary that it shocks our senses and reminds of what humanity is supposed to look like. Today I read just such a story.

A man was in a restaurant when he overheard someone nearby receive a terrible phone call that shook her up. The man wrote a note to his server:

Do me a favor and bring me their check, too. Someone just got diagnosed. Don’t tell them

Wow.

What an example of a caring heart for others. The Apostle Paul once wrote:

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:9-10)

Too often we get so caught up in our own needs and wants that we completely neglect those around us. If we stop and think for a minute we might recognize that God’s grace is active all around us and that, no matter what we’re going through, God is present and is blessing us. Someone always has it worse than we do.

So keep your eyes open. Keep your ears open. Keep your heart open. How might you seize the opportunity to good towards others today? Tomorrow? Every day?

Related Posts:
You Are Not an Island: Created for Community
Robin Hood Lives: Taking Care of Others
Are You Making a Difference?

Benny Hinn and Spiritual Weirdos

Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
Image courtesy of Iamnee at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Let’s be honest, many of us have hit the place in our lives where we feel like we’re just going through the motions when it comes to our faith. We’re doing the religious thing but we’re burned out. We may feel bitter towards God and the church. We may be angry. We may be tired. We feel empty.

We get this way because we’re trying to be religious under our own power. But the Christian life was never supposed to be about OUR power – it’s about HIS power. The Christian life is supposed to be charged by the Spirit of God.

When Jesus walked the earth he preached, “The kingdom of heaven is here.” Then he demonstrated that the kingdom had come through power. No, scratch that. He demonstrated that the kingdom had come through POWER. Even the Pharisees recognized it. Nicodemus told Jesus, “We know you’re from God because of the signs you do.”

The kingdom of God is lived out in power.

It’s supposed to set us apart from other groups. Without power the church might as well be the Elk’s Club, the Boy Scouts, or any other fraternal, do-gooder organization. That’s nice, but that’s not moving in the POWER God designed for the Church.

The Apostle Paul writes about God’s power for the Church:

A manifestation of the Spirit is given to each person to produce what is beneficial: to one is given a message of wisdom through the Spirit, to another, a message of knowledge by the same Spirit, to another, faith by the same Spirit, to another, gifts of healing by the one Spirit, to another, the performing of miracles, to another, prophecy, to another, distinguishing between spirits, to another, different kinds of languages, to another, interpretation of languages. (1 Corinthians 12:7-10)

A few paragraphs later he writes:

And God has placed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, nect, miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, managing, various kinds of languages. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all do miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in languages? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30)

His rhetorical questions demand the answer, “No – not all do these things.” But some do. God’s POWER ought to be evident in the Church. Why don’t we see people acting under His POWER? Probably because we’re fearful and we don’t seek it.

We’re afraid of the weirdo. We don’t want to be the weirdo. C’mon – who can watch Benny Hinn and not think that something is hinky with that guy?!?

So we throw out the baby with the bath water and say, “I’ll have none of that, thank you very much!” But just because some people go strange doesn’t mean there’s not some kernel of validity there. People have an ability to corrupt anything God makes. Just because some become prostitutes doesn’t mean we give up on the idea of sex. Just because some become addicts doesn’t mean we avoid getting medication from the doctor.

Just because some abuse God’s POWER doesn’t mean we stop pursuing it. Paul writes: “Desire the greater gifts” and “Desire spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:21 and 14:1). There is nothing in the Bible that EVER says that God stopped moving in POWER like He did in the 1st century. God hasn’t changed…perhaps we have. We’ve stopped pursuing Him and His POWER. Our enlightened culture doesn’t want the spiritual breaking through into our modern realities.

Remember that song from Snap in the 90s ~ I’ve Got the Power?

That needs to be the theme cry of the Christian Church. You see, we HAVE God’s POWER available. The question is, will we pursue his POWER and gifts are will we be content to be religious without any POWER to back up the faith? It’s like an unplugged lamp: it might look nice in my office but what good is it?

It’s useless.

Birdseed Christians

Whisper
Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Last year we took a family trip to a nearby zoo. There was one section designated the “petting zoo” where children could interact with animals. I asked my oldest if she want to go in and feed the goats and she said yes. As we were walking through the animals my daughter seemed okay. She was a little timid but there was nothing to be concerned about…until we approached the feed dispenser. When the goats saw us nearing the dispenser they knew what was coming and rushed over to grab some food. At this point I had the feed in my hand and goats were rearing up and some were butting heads to get the food. When they reared they were taller than my daughter, and at this point she was starting to panic and was clinging to my leg. I was knocking goats away, trying to protect her. Finally I just tossed all the food away and the goats swarmed it. That’s when we made our break and escaped the petting zoo – never to return (read that last phrase in an ominous voice).

My wife and I had a similar experience visiting St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice. The square outside the Cathedral was famous for pigeons. Thousands of them! And tourists could stand in the middle of the square, hold out birdseed in both hands, and have the birds flock to you and land on you. It was quite a sight (and yes, I tried it). You’ve got to be careful with that birdseed.

BIRDS!
BIRDS!

The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Ephesus

22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:22-32)

Notice that he says Christians “put off the old self” – the language is very similar to changing clothes, taking off one outfit to put on another. There is supposed to be a difference in Christian behavior from the way the rest of the world operates. Our outfits are supposed to be new and different. That plays out specifically in our language and how we use our words. Paul says to put off unwholesome talk or “foul language.”

I’ve heard many people use this verse to tell others not to use profanity. The debate about what words are (or should be) taboo is for another time, but suffice to say that Paul isn’t talking about that here. “Foul language” is not about profanity but about language that tears down others. With our mouths we have the power to harm or to heal, especially when it comes to rumors and gossip (some of the most “foul language” around).

Our words become like birdseed and those crazy pigeons. Every time you jump in the rumor mill you are spreading birdseed. Even if you get the facts right later the seed is still out there. I’m still trying to clean up birdseed from a over year ago. “Did you hear that Pastor Chris did…? Did you hear that Pastor Chris said…?”

You have probably had to deal with this in your life. “Did you hear about…?” And the birdseed gets scattered. Then the hungry birds come and devour the seed and then fly away. What do full birds do? They poop! Someone miles away might get pooped on because of the seed you were spreading. How do you stop birds from pooping on people? Stop spreading the birdseed! This isn’t what Christian behavior is supposed to look like.

The book of Acts does give us a picture of what the church SHOULD look like. It’s supposed to be characterized by 1) authentic community – the church is supposed to be a place where you can experience relationships the way they were meant to be, 2) wholehearted worship – the church is where God gets the glory He deserves, 3) spiritual growth – the church is where you can become the best YOU that you can be, 4) financial care and responsibility – the church is where our time, talents, and treasure get invested for eternity, and 5) reaching others – the church is where everyone gets adopted into God’s family. When the Church embraces those characteristics it becomes a powerful force in the world and in people’s lives.

We Choose. What type of Church community would you prefer to be part of? The birdseed model or the Acts model? We choose what kind of people we are going to be. It is my prayer that we refuse to be birdseed Christians and start being the purposeful people we see in Acts.

Stop throwing birdseed. Be the people He calls us to be.

No Pain Like Lego Pain!

Do You Know Lego Pain?
Do You Know Lego Pain?

I talk a lot. I’m a preacher, you know, so I talk a lot. It’s amazing to me to find out what actually sticks with people. Sometimes it stuff I never intended to stick. For example, one time I told a story about Lego pain.

You know the kind – there is nothing quite like stepping bare-footed on a Lego brick. I talked about it in one sermon and now every time someone sees a Lego meme on Facebook I get tagged and they say, “This made me think of you, Pastor!” Yes, I love Legos. My father passed the love on to me and I’m passing it on to my children.

For years my kids have played with Legos. Technically, I guess you would say they’ve been playing with Duplos. Duplos are the bigger blocks made for younger kids. It the same company and same concept, just harder to swallow pieces and the designs are not very complex. My kids and I have a blast playing and building stuff. You really get to use your imagination when you’re trying to build an airplane or a zoo or a dinosaur out of Duplos.

But something happened yesterday that changed everything. My daughter won a prize at VBS (Vacation Bible School) and she picked out a set of “big kid” Legos. This wasn’t just a 10-piece-your-done set either. It was a car, a helicopter, and an air-traffic tower – maybe 100 pieces total. It was the kind of thing where she couldn’t do it alone – she needed a parent to “help” build (yes, I ended up doing a lot of the building). It was a proud moment for me because my baby girl is growing up and moving up to the Lego big leagues. It was a sad moment for me because my baby girl is growing up and is not the same kid she used to be. But that’s a good thing.

We’re not supposed to stay with the baby toys forever. In fact, if we play with the baby toys for the rest of our lives then there’s probably something wrong. We were designed to grow and move from childish things on to more complex and grown up things. This is especially true in our Christian life and thought.  While we start out as babies, we ought to grow to the point where we put childish ways behind us and move on to mature Christian behavior. The Apostle Paul gets frustrated with the Christians in Corinth because they continue to act in immature worldly ways and have not yet adopted the behavior of mature adult Christians.

For Paul, Christian maturity meant behaving well and leaving behind jealousy, fighting, and quarreling. That’s kid’s stuff. My kids fight and bicker all the time. I joke that I could teach NFL Officials a thing or two because I do more reffing in 5 minutes with my kids than they do in the entire Super Bowl. But as they mature and grow they (hopefully) will move beyond that and treat each other well.

Too many of us are content to stay playing with the baby toys. We enjoy our immaturity and never grow out of it. That’s not cool. It’s not healthy. As Christians, as humans, we ought to strive to grow. Who we are next week should not be the same person we were last week. Eventually we put away the Duplos and pull out the more complicated stuff. It’s part of growing up. Even when we recognize the need to grow up it’s not always easy to do, so let me end with giving a few practical tips on how you can move towards maturity:

  1. Read. Read voraciously. Reading gives us knew information and power and ability to be better than we used to be. Magazines, books, blogs, whatever. Find ways to develop what you know. You can’t implement new ways of behaving if you lack the knowledge of what you need to be like.
  2. Find a coach, mentor, pastor, someone who can help you in the process of maturation. It’s easier to do when you have someone who has walked the path to help you along.
  3. Mentor or teach someone else. Nothing solidifies knowledge in your head as much as teaching that info to someone else.

It’s time to put down the baby toys. It’s time to grow up. Stop acting like an immature Christian and start behaving the way responsible adult believers are supposed to behave. C’mon, we’ll build a neat-o Lego set together!

 

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