Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Tithing as an act of grace?

What if tithing is actually one of God's greatest gifts to us? What if tithing isn't opposed to grace, but is actually a vehicle of it? The prophet Malachi famously spoke of failure to tithe as a kind of robbery of the divine. "'You are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test Me in this,' says the Lord Almighty, 'and see if I will not throw open the flood gates of heaven and pour out so much blessing there will not be room enough to store it.'"God invites human beings into an experiment. He challenges people to test it. Tithing is not the last word in generosity; it's the first word. But it's a word that God takes with deep seriousness; perhaps because when human beings get vague around finances, they grow deeply evasive.  Jesus was quite clear that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. In the early church, no one's attitude was "Thank goodness grace takes us out from under the Law—now we don't have to tithe anymore! We can give far less than 10 percent!" The early church was so overwhelmed by God's grace and generosity, it went far beyond the tithe. Tithing was never intended as a way to "pay our debt to God." It has always been a training exercise to cultivate a generous and God-centered heart.
Tithing is to our possessions what the Sabbath is to our time—a concrete guideline that points beyond itself to the truth that every moment and inch and scrap of our lives come from the hand of God, and will be returned to God.

As far as the actual tithe is concerned, what was required under the law was greater than 10%. There were actually three "tithes" collected from Israel—one to support priests and Levites (Num. 18:21); another for a sacred celebration (Deut. 14:23); and a third—collected only once every three years—to support the poor, orphans, and widows (Deut. 14:28-2926:12-13). So the actual income percentage given was closer to 23 than 10.

The tithe may not be “Required” under grace, but it is expected and it is a test of our hearts as citizens. Jesus speaking of money and authority said in Matthew 22 :21 and it was repeated in Mark 12:17 “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God’s.” What belongs to God when speaking of money and authority? It its that we surrender all of us including our wallets.  We show that surrender through the tithe and offerings. God doesn’t just want your tithe. He wants you to be generous. God never lowered the standard, He gives us steps of grace to reach the standard. 

Sunday, January 8, 2012

God does not have $20 on the Broncos this weekend

Lately EVERYONE has wanted to talk about one thing: (you guessed it) Tim Tebow.  The fascinating thing, however, is that, usually, the topic is not his late-game comebacks or his impressively un-impressive record with the Denver Broncos.  In fact, almost every story I hear is about his faith in Jesus.

Tim Tebow in his trademarked "tebowing" position. Otherwise known as "kneeling in prayer".
I love that Tim Tebow is a Christian. I love that he is not ashamed to stand up for his faith and displays it openly. I love that the Broncos beat the Steelers tonight. What I don't like is how several pastors I know attributed the win to Tebow's faith. One even going so far as to say Jesus was playing defense. Another talking about 316 yards and trying to make a comparison to John 3:16. Was it really God's will for the broncos to win? Does Jesus really care who wins? 

Let’s have a look at what the Bible says about this.
When it comes to complex issues, like God’s will, I cannot claim to have all (or any) of the answers myself.  All I can claim is that God has revealed as much of Himself, through scripture, as we need to know.  In order to tackle any question of God’s will, plan, power, and/or sovereignty, we do need to humble our hearts for a moment and, first, submit ourselves to this fact presented by Isaiah:
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
-Isaiah 55:8-9
That simply means that, no matter how many hours we talk about it on Facebook and no matter how many ways we try to justify our positions in our heads, our conclusions will (and should) most likely end with the revelation that God is always working to further His will in the world, which He is sovereign to create and sovereign to foresee.  Also meaning that there is a good chance that we will never understand His ways…and we have to be ok with that.  What He wants us to know and understand, He has revealed to us through His word.  So…what has He revealed to us?
I am the LORD, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me, that people may know, from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides me; I am the LORD, and there is no other 
-Isaiah 45:5-6
God wishes to be known and praised among the nations as the one true God.  His will for the world is that He be made known.  That is why those who truly worship Christ as their savior and Lord make missions and evangelism a huge part of their calling.  God’s providence in the lives of people guides and equips them to make it known “from the rising of the sun and from the west, that there is none besides” Him.  This tells us that when God moves in our lives, it is, ultimately, that He may be glorified and praised as the one and only, true and living God.  I am not saying that God will not use Tim Tebow to bring Him glory. God uses many people and things to make His name known. I am saying God desires your worship. He does not desire to have you place a man in a position to receive glory.
Maybe Tim Tebow is a Mighty Man of God or maybe Tebow found a marketing gimmick to further his career. I don't pretend to know Tim Tebow's heart. I guess what I am really saying here is this, when you put a man on a pedestal; he will eventually fall off. The higher you raise that pedestal in the air the farther he has to fall. God is a jealous God and will remove the idols from the high places. Be careful with where you place your worship. I like Tim Tebow, but God was about as interested in the game tonight as my wife was.  Lets not set Good Ole Tim up for a hard fall. 

Friday, January 6, 2012

7 things I need to say.

As a youth pastor I communicate hundreds of messages each year to my students. Maybe even thousands.
Before I move on, I don’t simply mean “sermons” when I say messages. Every communication counts; the early Sunday morning greeting, the glance, the smile and wave across the room, the Facebook posts, the text messages, and the hug at the end of the service.
If I had one chance to communicate the most important things to every teenager in my ministry, I think this is what I would say.
1. I believe in you.
Your generation is going to step up and take the torch in a big way. You already are. I believe in your ability to spread the good news of Jesus to the ends of the world. I absolutely believe that your generation could be the one to get the message to every living person on the planet. I just want to be a part of helping you do that!
2. I’ve got your back.
You’re going to need an advocate along the way. That’s where I come in. I’ve literally given my entire life to equipping and investing in the next generation. Seriously. It’s all I think about! I along with Rachel and the team of volunteers who pour into your lives every week are ready to help get you on the right path! When you fall, we’ll help pick you up. When you need encouragement, we’ll build you up. When you need resources, we’ll work hard to equip you. Whatever you need, that’s what we're here for.
3. I want you to win.
The statistics are ugly. They say that you will most likely end up leaving your faith at home when pack for college. I want to be a part of changing those statistics. I want you to win your race! But that will only come with intense focus. That’s why this next point is so important.
4. You sin is not OK.
So I guess this post isn’t all candy and butterflies. I totally just depressed you. But check this out: what makes us think that our sin is OK when the abundant life is a life that pursues the direct opposite? I will always be there for you, and I will make myself available as often as I can to help you. But please know this: We’re not going to laugh your sin off together. I’m not going to pat your back while you jump back into your nasty habits. We’re going to work together to murder your sin.
5. I want your trust. And I will continue to work to earn it.
I get it. It’s weird that some random adult that you don’t really know is telling you how to run your life on Sundays and Wednesdays. When I step back and look at it, I’m continually surprised that you continue to show up. I will only gain the unfiltered trust of a few, because that kind of trust comes through personal relationships. Simply speaking, I can’t have the same level of friendship with everyone. But I know this: I’m not out to sell you anything. I really just want to be a friend to you and to point you toward Jesus. And I’m afraid that if I don’t have your trust, I can’t do that.
6. There will be days when you don’t want me around.
Your sin got the best of you and you’ve decided to take a different path (at least for the moment). All of a sudden, the youth pastor represents “coming back to Jesus” (or at least the guilt of not doing so), and you’re not quite ready for that yet. Here’s what I want you to know: I love you. We’re still friends. I don’t hate you. And I’m still here for you. Just know this: I do want you to pursue Jesus with every fiber of your being, but even when you don’t do that, I will never write you off. I’m still here and I still love you!
7. The absolute best thing you can do with your life is to put your trust in Jesus!
It’s as simple as that. Jesus said it Himself:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
John 10:10