People don’t like when pastors talk about money. To be honest, I get it. There are a lot of money grabbing pastors out there preaching to make a buck. In addition to that, pastors tend to not talk about money in a very helpful manner. It typically tends to be guilt driven and the worst kind. It is the I’ll twist your arm until you let go of that cash into the offering plate, type of guilt. As a result, their is an awkwardness when a pastor gets up to talk about money, largely because the pastor is dependent on the generosity of the church members for his livelihood. With all the awkwardness, pressure, and tension often we just ignore the issues of personal finance in church life. There seems to be an unwritten agreement not to talk about the issue. We do not talk about giving and we do not talk about the spiritual matters at the heart of the issue. If you are like me, you are a naturally greedy and stingy person. Generosity is something that has not come naturally to me. It is difficult for us to be generous because we are so often very selfish. When we think about giving money to the church, so often it feels like a great obligation, not a great joy. If you do give regularly to your church (and I hope you do!), so often the task seems like a great burden. I’ve identified several incorrect attitudes when it comes to giving, most resulting from my own ungenerous heart.
The God-Gets-His-Share Offering
This is the way many of us think about giving. We take that magical little 10% number out of our paycheck and toss it in the offering plate and think that our task is done. God got his 10% and I get to keep my 90% to do whatever I want with. Got got his share and I get to keep my share. The heart behind this offering is not one of joy but of appeasement. We think we will appease God or get him off our back so we can spend our money how we want to do it. This offering more often than not is one motivated by guilt, not joy.
The God-Will-Give-Me-More-Later Offering
Pastors have unhelpfully perpetuated this type of offering, mostly from nicely dressed guys own TV asking you to buy a bottle of holy water for $50. This is the attitude of investment. If I give money to God now, then God will have to give me more later. If I give God $50 this week, I can expect a random $500 check in the mail sometime this week. This offering thinks of God more as a stock investment than a generous gift. With this offering, we give not out of love for God, but a greedy lust for more. In giving, we hope we can manipulate God to owe us more later. This attitude of giving has been perpetuated over and over again by the myriad of health, wealth, and prosperity preachers polluting our country.
The God-Will-Be-Happy-Now Offering
The person who gives this offering gives in some way to make up for his sins. His offering and gift is like penance in which he hopes God will forgiven him based off of his generous gift. Just like the pagan peoples of ancient times, the gods are angry and we sacrifice to make them happy with us. What we fail to understand is that no one has ever been saved by giving alms to the poor. You could be the greatest philanthropist in the history of the world and feed more starving children than Mother Theresa, and still be spiritually destitute. We are saved not by our good works, but by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
There are many who have adopted this attitude. They fill pews, raise their hands in worship, say amen loudly during the sermon, but do not give a penny to God. These people fail to understand that God cares very much about the way they manage their money. Not giving is a sin and is disobedience. These people get that we are not saved by our giving, but with an antinomian attitude continue in sin so that grace may abound. The apostle Paul speaks of just how foolish this attitude is. God cares very much what you give, and the reason for this is because God cares about the state of your heart. Your money follows your heart. Therefore an ungenerous spirit reflects a heart that has yet to be transformed by the generous grace of God.
However, there is no better spiritual litmus test to our lives than money. Our check books know us better than we know ourselves. Nothing will reveal your priorities, passions, and idols like your check book. The reason for this is simple. Our money follows our heart. Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:21, “For where Your Treasure is, there your heart will be also”. If you want to know. You may say you love God, you may say you love your church, and you may say you long to see the Gospel advance, but your check book is calling you a liar. Your money follows your heart. Yet at the same time where we put our treasure our heart tends to follow. As Randy Alcorn says in his book The Treasure Principle, “As surely as the compass needle follows north, your heart will follow your treasure. Money leads; hearts follow.” You see at the end of the day our personal finances our a huge spiritual matter. It is an issue we should not neglect and we should not avoid.
There seems to be debates all over the place. In the public square ideas often come into conflict with one another. Differing sides continue to fight and disagree with one another across all domains of society. People fight about politics, family, marriage, theology, economics, morality, and the list goes on and on. Unfortunatly our sensational media saturated culture of 30-second news clips and 140-chracter tweets, although the division is highlighted, there is little to no real discussion over the issues. Issues like theology and morality are crucial issues. Differences over such fundamental issues need to be debated and discussed. However although we watch on news networks of two people fighting over an issue constantly, there are little honest arguments presented by each side. Rather than delving into deep issues so as the worldview presupositions each side brings to the table, you just see people attack each other. Our brief attention spans don't want real discussion, we just want ad hominem arguments.
Ad hominem is a logical falacy in which you attack the man rather than his ideas. We see this all the time in newspapers, blog posts, and video clips. Rather than dealing with the issue we digress into drivelous name calling that is neither helpful or deals with the issues. These fallacious arguments come across as emotionally riviting but all they do is distract and distort the real conversations.
I'll give you some examples we encounter all the time.
- Democrats are all socialist
- Calvinists don't believe in sharing the Gospel.
- Arminians are all universalists.
- Republicans hate women and don't care about the poor.
- Atheists are evil immmoral people.
- Evangelicals hate homosexuals
- Muslims are all terrorists
You see all these examples attack a particular group or person without ever addressing any of their arguments. All it does is demonstrate our own ignorance of those who disagree with us, and proves we are unable to actually think and defend our position. Rather than a real discussion about real issues, the conversation degenerates to 1st grade name calling. We need to learn down and really engage with those who disagree with us. However a real conversation about real issues can't happen in a 30 second news clip. A real conversation means taking the time to listen, reflect, understand, then respond.
The issues debated in our age are much to important to distract with abusive ad hominem arguments. Real issues and difference require honest discussion. So lets cut out the name calling and start actually thinking.
At our house we have the joy of having a real wood burning fireplace. There is something about a fireplace that just sets a cozy atmosphere. Sitting on well-worn couch, drinking a strong cup of coffee, reading a good book while feeling the ambient warmth of the fire is the definition of relaxation. And no matter how fancy they may be, a gas fireplace just can't quite recreate the experience of a real wood burning fire-place. Since my wife and I enjoy using our fireplace so much we started early this year on a cool fall night. This was our first fire of the year and the first fire since we welcomed our little boy Jude into the world. Know at 8 months he is crawling and trying to get into everything. He is so inquisitive and wants to experience through his senses everything he can. He wants to touch and he wants to taste. As a result the roaring fireplace captivated his attention. He would fight and fight to get a closer look. To satisfy his curiosity I took him, held him in my lap, and we sat on the floor right in front of the fire.
As he felt the warmth radiating from that fireplace he became less than satisfied with just sitting in my lap. He fought with all his strength to leave my embrace to go and touch the fire. You see my little boy wanted to experience the fire in a way that would be harmful and dangerous to him. Rather than enjoying the fireplace in the way it was intended, he wanted to experience the fire in a way that would be harmful to him. Without my restraining arm, he would have very well gotten into that fire and would have been extremely burned. Yet Jude did not realize that my restraining embrace was not to keep him from joy but to keep him from harm. In love I did not allow him to go into the fire, despite all his squirming and groaning.
You know many of us think just like my son Jude when we begin to think about God and his law. God has given us good gifts to enjoy yet we often use those gifts in a harmful way that God never intended us to do. We take the gift of sex, and rather than using it the way God intended within the covenant of marriage, in the name of sexual liberation and autonomy we divorce our sexuality from marriage. We take the gift of food, and rather than enjoying a wonderful meal we gorge ourself and become gluttons, whose god is their stomachs.
Yet we see God's law and the morality he defines for us is not keeping us from joy but is actually protecting us from sin. Just as my grip around my son was protecting him from misusing the gift of fire, so God's law protects us from turning good gifts into idols. When it comes to the way the world operates, God has a plan and a purpose to the way the world works. When it comes to family, sexuality, money, honesty, and worship, God is not trying to keep us from pleasure, he is trying to keep us from getting burn. His commands are a gift to us and the word of a father who loves his children.
Although Jude did not understand why I wouldn't let him go into the fire, as his Dad I was protecting him. God does this for us by giving us his word to instruct us how to live. So look at the commands of God not as a opressive dictator but as a loving father. When we enjoy the gifts of this world the way God ended, then the warmth of a cozy fire is a great gift not a harmful burn.
When you ask someone how they are doing and answer you often get is, "I'm busy!" Everyone seems to be busy. You don't often here people complaining, "I have so much time on my hands, I don't know what to do with myself!" Busyness is a chronic problem many of us face, and Kevin DeYoung's new book Crazy Busy helps with the problem. After finishing this book I was left with a strange mush of conviction and encouragement. What DeYoung does best is diagnose the heart behind our busy lives. He does a fantastic job revealing some of the sinful motivations in our heart for busyness. DeYoung identifies pride as one of the motivations for our busy lifestyle. DeYoung writes,
Here’s the bottom line: of all the possible problems contributing to our busyness, it’s a pretty good bet that one of the most pervasive is pride.
However, although this book is helpful in revealing the sin in our own hearts, the must encouraging chapter was Chapter 9: Embracing the Burden of Busyness. DeYoung tells us that, "the reason we are busy is because we are supposed to be busy". DeYoung turns to Paul's ministry in 2 Corinthians 11:28 and teaches that busyness is often a part of our suffering for Christ. Part of serving Christ means being spent for him. This was an incredible encouragement to me as I often look at my schedule. There are major areas of improvement that need to be made, but this acknowledgment that busyness is not always bad was just what I needed to hear. Part of serving Christ means certain seasons of my ministry are busier than others.
Overall, if busyness is a problem that you deal with, it is worth to give this book a read. Although DeYoung does a good job of diagnosing our hearts, he does little to help prescribe practical steps to handle our busyness. The application is ultimately left for us to figure out for ourselves. I commend this little book to you as a helpful diagnoses to your own heart.
Few of us have ever thought of rebuke as a gift. We hate hearing that we are in the wrong. For many of us, our skin literally crawls as we boil with anger. The reason we hate to be rebuked is because we are so prideful. The fact of anyone, friend or foe, telling us we are wrong conflicts with the little wanna be king called ME we put on the thrown of our hearts. However, for the spiritually mature, rebuke is not an act of cruelty but of generosity. Rebuke from wise godly Christians is an incredible gift of God that he has given us. In Psalm 141:5 David tells us of the gift of rebuke when he writes,
Let a righteous man strike me–it is a kindness; Let him rebuke me–it is oil for my head; Let my head not refuse it.
You see in the eyes of David, the striking from a righteous man is a good thing. It is the ultimate demonstration of kindness. Yet so often we resist rebuke. The American virtue of self-autnomy resists this. In our minds there is no higher power or authority in our lives than ourselves. Rarely do we see rebuke as a kindness, rather we perceive it as judgemental, demeaning, an disresepctful. Yet this is not the Biblical understanding of rebuke. To be rebuked by the righteous is to receive a gift from God.
As David writes this Psalm, he knows rebuke is a gift to keep him from sin, yet he knows his heart will resist it when rebuke comes. Our puffed up heads resist the sweet annointing oil of God's favor. David prays to ask God to let him not resist rebuke in pride, but to receive it as a gift. Receiving rebuke from godly people in our lives is difficult, but something we must learn to receive with joy. There are times when a friend loves us enough to sit down and share with us hard truths. When that time comes we must be prepared to receive it as a gift. How do we do that?
Respond in Humility
Whatever is said, we must respond in humility. We understand that we don't have it all figured out. We are not following Jesus perfectly. We acknowledge that sin might be showing its ugly face in our lives even without our realization. When we hear rebuke, we must respond in humility knowing of our shortcommings and our desperate dependency on the grace of God.
Whether friend or foe, when rebuke comes we must listen carefully to perceive the truth. This means we reflect on the words we hear. We ask ourselves reflective questions.
"Is this person speaking truth?" "Am I wrong in this area?" "Where do I need to repent?" "Is the Lord trying to get my attention?"
Thinking through questions like this will help you respond to rebuke as a gift.
Trust in the Righteousness of Christ
One of the reasons we struggle with receiving rebuke is because we are so geared up in a performance religion. We think being a Christians means moral perfectionism. We want to be self-sufficient in our own goodness. When rebuke comes the disillusionment of perfect person we imagine in the mirror shatters. When we are confronted in our sin or failures we must trust in the righteousness of Christ. Rather than trusting in our own goodness, we must trust in the goodness of Jesus. We fail. Jesus doesn't. When we face rebuke we must be restored in the confidence that comes from being clothed in the righteousness of Christ.
Preparing your heart in these three ways will help you be ready when God brings a loving friend into your life to rebuke you. Respond in humility. Listen reflectively. Trust in the righteousness of Christ. Then like David, we will begin to see rebuke as a gracious gift of God to keep us from sin and protect us from our own idolatrous hearts. Then we will grow in maturity as the annointing oil of rebuke sanctifies and matures us in Christ Jesus.
Who has time to read? It seems like more than ever our plates seem to be running over with things to do. Not only do we think of ourselves as quite busy, but we have constant distractions in our lives. Our smartphones do not help as we are constantly responding to emails, facebook, and even playing a game of angry birds. Who has time to read anymore?
One of the disciplines in my life that has fueled the most spiritual growth in my life is the discipline of reading. First and foremost, this starts with the Bible. It is vital for a Christian to read and study God's word and to be molded and shaped by its wisdom. However, reading other great Christian non-fiction books have made a huge impact in my life.
1. Reading Teaches Me to Think
This is one of the greatest benefits to my own personal reading. It forces me to stretch my mind and think through difficult issues. A great author is not only someone with a great thesis, but one walk me through his reasons for holding it. As a result, reading well argued books teaches me how to think through my own arguments.
2. Reading Exposes Me to New Ideas
There are some ideas and concepts my mind would never automatically think about. Reading books on a variety of subjects forces me to be a life long learner as I am exposed to new ideas. As a pastor, I don't want my reading to stop after my formal education is over. We tend to get mentally lazy after we are finished with school, and reading solid books stretches us and keeps us learning long after we get that diploma.
3. Reading Allows Me to Be Mentored by Great Authors
Each and every one of us have a desire to learn from someone else who is much older and wiser than us. You can glean a lot form someones personal experiences and the lessons they have learned. Reading books by great pastors, theologians, and authors gives me an opertunity to be mentored by some of the greatest. As I read Preaching Preachers by Martyn Lloyd Jones, I am given the opertunity to be mentored by arguably the greatest preacher in the 20th century. Books allow us to be trained by some of the best, so therefore, books are incredible gifts to us.
4. Reading Gives Me Discernment to Truth
Truth can be found in any situation and in any book. After having developed a Christian worldview, I am now able to read any newspaper article, any business book, and any novel through a Christian worldview. I am able to discern truth in the most unexpected places, and I am able to reject those ideas that are not truth. The discipline of reading has allowed me to critically engage with other worldviews and keeps me from falling captive and becoming influenced false philosophys and modern cultural trends.
Make Reading a Priority
I hope in your own life you make it a priority to spend time reading godly books that teach us and build us up in our faith. The great thing is that there is a plethora of books both new and old that a ripe for us to begin sinking our teeth into. We have time for reading but unfortunatly it is just not a priority for most of us. Finding time to read is not as hard as we may think, all it takes is to turn off some distractions and making TV a priority. It might mean waking up earlier to spend 30 minutes reading. It might mean reading during your lunch break rather than goofing off on facebook. It might mean turning off the TV in the evening and opening up a good book. We have time to read, we just need to make it.
If you are a Christian who wants to learn more about why reading is so important there is a great book that I just finished called Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books by Tony Reinke. It is a quick and easy read, but it will help you understand why it is so important to read and how to get the most out of your reading. Very practical and rooted in biblical truth, I commend this book to you. Here are a few of my favorite quotes to give you a feel of the book:
Christian book reading is never a solitary experience, but an open invitation to commune with God. By opening a book we can stop talking and we begin listening. We can turn from the distractions of life. We can focus our minds. Sometimes we can even lose all sense of time. Although it’s difficult to protect, this reading environment can be the atmosphere that sustains the life of interaction with God. (p. 37)
God’s command is protective. A culture that must express its gods in visual images cannot know God accurately. And a culture that cannot know God accurately cannot communicate God’s substance truthfully. For the Christian, media forms carry ethical consequences. (p. 42)
as a word-centered people we must learn to prize language in a visually-dominated world. If our hearts prioritize images over language, our hunger for books will erode. (p. 47)
So the point of this chapter is simple: the difficult work required to benefit from books is at odds with the immediate appeal of images. As Christians living in an image-saturated world, we must guard our conviction about the vital importance of words and language. For it is words and language that best communicate meaning. (pp. 49-50)
Truly, many Christians today measure their reading success with nothing more than a purely utilitarian gauge, either by how many book pages they can burn through, or by the amount of information they expose themselves to in the process. Too often we fail to read simply for pleasure. (p. 103)
When we set out to read important books, we can expect opposition from our hearts. Reading is a discipline, and all disciplines require self-discipline, and self-discipline is the one thing our sinful flesh will resist. (p. 131)
For many of us, reading is more a lack of of desire than of a lack of free time. C. S. Lewis wrote, “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavorable. Favorable conditions never come.” The same is true of reading. Favorable conditions for reading books never come. There are always interruptions and other things to do. We can all find excuses for why we cannot read: we’re too busy, we’re too tired, we’re too burned out from the day, we’re too _ (you fill in the blank). But we all find time to do what we “want” to do. The problem is not that we don’t have time to read, but that we don’t have the desire to read. So learn to love reading—because it’s easier to find time to do what you love to do. (p. 132)
True learning and true wisdom are the fruit of long-term diligent study and meditation, benefits that we cannot get from books unless we are willing to slow our minds, mute distractions, and carefully think about what we are reading. (p. 143)
I'm am excited to officially announce Youth Week 2013. Youth Week 2013 will be at Forest Hills Baptist Church July 29-August 2 from 6-9 PM. Youth week is a time for students in Wilson, NC to come together for a week of worship. Churches from all across our city will bring their students together to worship king Jesus. It is an exciting week that you will not want to miss!
The theme for youth week 2013 is "The Search for Truth". As the youth pastors in Wilson, NC have been meeting and praying about our theme for this year. We felt led that we need to ground our students deeply in their faith. We live in a culture that has largely discredited Christianity as reasonable or plausible. In fact, some even falsely characterize Christianity as anti-intellectual. Students today are being bombarded with a variety of ideas that are in direct contradiction with the Christian faith. More than ever, our young people need to know what they believe and know why they believe it.
1 Peter 3:15 helps us understand why knowing what we believe is so important. Peter writes, "always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you". Students need to be trained and equipped to defend the hope that they have in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is our heart and that is our goal with youth week 2013: The Search for Truth.
We have some great speakers lined up featuring:
- Daniel Ritchie from First Free Will Baptist Church
- Brad Perry from Peace Church
- Joe Strange from Raleigh Road Baptist Church
- Jeff Smith from Shiloh Pentecostal Church
In addition, we will have Stephen Combs from Wilson Community Church lead us in worship throughout the week.
To give you a sneak peak of what we will be talking about at youth week here are our themes for each night. Each night we are going to try to answer a major question people have of Christianity.
- Night 1 - Monday July 29 - Is there a God?
- Night 2 - Tuesday July 30 - Can the Bible be Trusted?
- Night 3 - Wednesday July 31 - Who is Jesus of Nazareth?
- Night 4 - Thursday August 1 - Is Jesus the only way to God?
- Night 5 - Friday August 2 - What does it mean to be a Christian?
I just finished reading Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word by Douglas A. Sweeney. If you are looking for an introduction to Edwards' life and thought I highly recommend you pick this book up. It is a easily readable biographical and theological summary of his life. Jonathan Edwards has been an object of intense personal study the past year, and I am planning on taking a course on his theology this summer. He has been hugely influential not only in his day but in ours also. At the very end of the book Sweeney lists seven theses for discussion on what we can learn from Edwards' life and ministry. I list those seven theses here to encourage you to pick up the book and to stir your mind about what we can learn from Jonathan Edwards.
- Edwards shows us the importance of working to help people gain a vivid sense, an urgent impression, of God's activity in our world.
- Edwards shows us that true religion is primarily a matter of holy affections.
- Edwards shows us the advantages of keeping an eschatological perspective on our lives.
- Edwards shows us how God uses those who lose their lives for Christ.
- Edwards shows us that theology can and should be done primarily in the church, by pastors, for the sake of the people of God.
- Edwards shows us that even the strongest Christians need support from others.
- Edwards shows us the necessity of remaining in God's word.
You can pick up this book here.
Other great books on Jonathan Edwards are:
- Jonathan Edwards: A Life by George Marsden
- Jonathan Edwards: A New Biography by Iain Murray
- Jonathan Edwards: A Guided Tour of His Life and Thought by Stephen Nichols
- The Theology of Jonathan Edwards by McClymond and McDermott
- The Voice of Faith: Jonathan Edwards's Theology of Prayer by Peter Beck
It takes great humility to joyfully step into the background of a man who casts a greater shadow. We like to be the center of attention. We want everyone to look at us and see how great we are! We want the praise of men. We thirst for it with unrelenting lust.
This is why I am so amazed at the humility of John the Baptist. If you think about it, John's ministry would have been perceived as a complete failure if he was a live today. John starts a movement as the baptizer. Jesus comes along, steals his disciples and his baptizing ministry. John with his ministry passed on to Jesus is decapitated at the request of a teenage girl.
John Loses His Disciples to Jesus
In John 1, starting in v. 35, we read about Jesus selecting his first disciples. John was standing with two of his disciples and sees Jesus walking by and cries out, "Behold the Lamb of God!" John had just baptized Jesus and the Lord had made it clear to John that this Jesus was the Son of God (1:34). John's two disciples that were standing with him abandon John and start following Jesus. Imagine the heartbreak John must have felt. These two men he had been discipling abandon him to go follow Jesus. John knows that Jesus is the messiah, but if we put ourselves in John's place we can feel his pain with being cast to the side. However John's purpose from the beginning was to be a voice crying out in the wilderness, 'make straight the way of the Lord' (1:24). John knew ultimately that his ministry was never going to be about him. John is simply the one who prepares the way for the Messiah. Now that the Messiah has arrived, John graciously and joyfully steps in the background.
John Loses His Ministry to Jesus
In John 3, starting in verse 22, both Jesus and John are baptizing people. A discussion begins to develop with John's disciples and a Jew over the issue of baptism. John is told that Jesus is on the other side of the Jordan baptizing people and everyone is going to Jesus instead of John. The disciples of John are beginning to see a rivalry between John's ministry and Jesus' ministry. I'm sure the disciples of John were thinking, "We were here first!" However, John's response to his disciples is the most astonishing. John would say, "Therefore this joy mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease" (3:30). John knows it is time for him to fade into the background and to get out of the way. His job of preparing the way for the Messiah is now over, his task is complete. John's job know is to simply decrease and fade away so that Jesus' ministry can get all the attention.
Fade Into the Background
What amazing humility John the Baptist has! Would you and I do the same? I suggest our egos and pride would far to much get in the way. We are far to narcissistic to bow out gracefully like John did. Yet, we must imitate John in his humility. As we serve the Lord it is so easy for us to seek to become the center of attention. We want everyone to praise us for our gifts, for our obedience, and for our service. A true Christian however has the attitude of John the Baptist, we must decrease so that Christ can increase. Our task as Christians is not to make much of ourselves, but to make much of Christ. Just as John the Baptist we must get our own egos out of the way so the people around us can see Jesus clearly as the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
It takes great humility to joyfully step into the background of a man who casts a greater shadow.