What’s the deal with the money?

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“. . .when it became mandatory I started to really resent the tithe because then it was no longer a gift to God. . .”

Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. Acts 4:32

If you have ever heard me preach on the tithe, (which I very rarely do), you have heard me say; “Jesus doesn’t want ten percent of your cash, he wants everything.” We see the Acts church taking that quite literally. But how you and Jesus work that notion out is between you and him. I am not Jesus, our church is not Jesus; we are a part of his body, yes, but there are many parts. I, as a pastor, am not an apostle to have money laid at my feet either. So you need to ask Him “Lord, what do I do with the resources you have entrusted to me?”

And don’t tell me that the Bible commands us to take our tithes to the church, what the Bible tells us, in the Old Testament, is to take the tithe to the storehouses of the Temple. Well, last I checked the Temple was still gone and the New Testament church is never asked to give ten percent, like I said, they are asked to give all, to give joyfully and willingly whatever you have determined in your heart to give to any particular place the Lord prompts you to give.

I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

. . . give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. I Cor 9

I do think the principle of the tithe, of giving ten percent to your house of worship, is a sound one. And a God honoring church will be faithful to use that money for Kingdom business just as the Temple Priests did, but like all Old Covenant laws, the law of the tithe is no longer compulsory and binding. Yet, the law, when adhered to, is still God honoring and will bring a blessing. As long as you are not doing it to try to earn your grace and favor with God—Jesus’ work on the cross is complete, you cannot add to it. Grace is a gift, not a stipend.

I remember when I first started going to church regularly after I got delivered from my addictions by the Lord and overwhelmed by the Spirit of the Lord, reminiscent of some of those Acts church days descriptions.

3And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness. Acts 4

Holy Spirit Dove

 

My house was shaken and I felt filled from head to toe with the Spirit and I was ready to do anything for the Lord—sell all I own and run off to a foreign land to spread the Gospel, go to Seminary and spend years preparing for ministry, give all my time to ministering to kids, druggies, inmates, whatever—but what I didn’t know was how much to give when the offering bag was passed in front of me at church.

Thinking I was being more than generous I would throw in a ten or a twenty. The one day I heard a sermon about the tithe—ten percent? God wants me to give ten percent to the church? I was so excited to finally know what God desired of me in the way of giving, to just have some more direction period in what I was supposed to be doing for the Lord that I couldn’t wait to go to church again after I got paid so that I could give my check for my tithe. But I was disappointed because it was a Christmas eve and they didn’t even take an offering.

I caught one of the staff pastors in the foyer after service and asked; Is there some way I can give my offering, he pointed to a box bolted to the wall that said Alms over it and said; “you can put it in there, I think they check that once in a while.” So I did. I didn’t even know what alms meant but I didn’t care, I wanted to give my money to the Lord.

I continued to tithe every week, I was doing something for the Kingdom and it was my choice (At least it was until later when the church decided I needed to sign a tithe pledge as a condition of membership) and I could look around at all the wonderful things the church was doing and feel good about it. I didn’t usually give any more money, but I didn’t give any less either. Just a side note, when it became mandatory I started to really resent the tithe because then it was no longer a gift to God, in my mind it became a thing I had to do to please the man.

But either way, I was a giver, a provider. I loved being able to give, and not just money, I gave a lot of my time to different things as well and that made me feel pretty good also. Then one day, three weeks after Donna and I got married, the house I had bought a year earlier, a house that was a huge blessing to me and my new bride, our honeymoon cottage burned down, on a Thursday night. We lost pretty much everything but the clothes on our backs and the handful of things we could grab on our way out the door.

I’m sure I was quite the sight in my Tony Lamas’, my old felt cowboy hat, and a bath robe carrying my 270 Winchester and a guitar out the door of a burning house. “How d’ya like me now honey?” I met several of my neighbors for the first time in that outfit that night as well. Oh well, we were safe and so was our marriage vow—Donna had had grabbed our marriage license on her way out, it had just come in the mail.

Fortunately, by sheer coincidence I’m sure, Donna’s sister and her family had just moved out of a trailer house across the road that her dad owned so we moved over there and paid rent until we could get a new house built. But I will never forget how the church family took care of us in the aftermath of that fire. The church administrator came out to see how we were doing as we were looking at the ash pile the next day and handed us a hundred dollars out of his own pocket.

The next morning at church the pastor announced that they were taking a special offering for us and we received about $1500. The next day another staff member met us at Target with a credit card and said that the senior’s Bible study had given him $200 to buy whatever we needed. For the next couple of weeks we would come home from work to find furniture, dishes, food or clothes sitting in our porch—and we lived way out of town!

I could go on, but you get the idea, we were feeling pretty loved and humbled. But for me it was really hard, it was a huge lesson—but it was hard.

Suddenly the shoe was on the other foot, the giver, had to learn to be the recipient. This was a radical departure from my self-sufficient I am the man, I am the provider, redneck mindset.

I never took anything, I worked hard, I saved and scraped, I got by, I helped other people. I don’t take handouts! The Lord caused me to really check my heart because you know what? If the body of Christ wants to help you, or anyone wants to help you in his name, who are you to say no? We always think of being Jesus to other people but we have a hard time sometimes letting other people be Jesus to us.

It is imperative though that we do take care of one another and also that we understand that everything we have ultimately belongs to the Lord who blessed us with it in the first place. Which is why Paul was so adamant about the gentile churches helping out the Judean church in Jerusalem. Reminds me of when we first started our church here, money was very tight but we never got into s real bind, largely because the church in Laurel, New Life, helped us out if there was a shortfall.

I remember Pastor Steve saying to me as I was thanking him profusely for their help when those who seemed more able or responsible to do so declined. He said: “It’s kingdom money, it’s not ours.” That simple statement changed my whole perspective on church resources—they are not church resources as in Hope Chapel, Dodge City Community Church, Saint John’s Old Time Church, The Church of the Happy Shepherd, or whatever, they are Kingdom resources. Everything God entrusts to us, whether it’s in my pocket or in the church bank account here in Red Lodge, belongs to Jesus.

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Kingdom resources are for Kingdom work. Trust him with them.

 

 

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The Barbarian’s Freedom

The following is an excerpt from my book “Barbarian’s in the Kingdom” Set to be released in November by Redemption Press.

Slide1
The barbarian way of life, the driving force, the reason they fought
and resisted the Roman onslaught and the Greek invasion before that,
the reason they lived in the north where the civilized were afraid or ill prepared
and unwilling to survive, was because they cherished above most
all other virtues—freedom. Freedom to live, love, and laugh; freedom
to be who they were; freedom to work, sweat, and bleed to better their
lot for themselves and their families. Even the freedom to fail and to die
in the trying was better than slavery in the wealthiest house.
Theirs was a love of the creation that both challenged and rewarded
them when they met that challenge. And now they were being offered
another level of freedom by the very God who created it all, and
them—Jesus. Jesus the Jewish Messiah, a man who was crucified by
the civilized purveyors of a religion that seemingly offered anything but
freedom, was now offering freedom. Freedom from the one thing they
still feared and could not overcome by the sword—death. Always, death
came for all of them no matter how bravely they fought and lived. Their
legends of what lay beyond was a mystery shrouded in an enigma, and
their superstitions of gods and powers beyond their comprehension and
control were a constant threat that weighed heavily on the barbarian
heart.
Then along comes these Hebrew vagrants, exiles from their own
land and people telling them of a man who claimed to be a Son of God,
who overcame death and proved it by walking out of the tomb, three
days dead and cold, now alive and well. A God become a man, who
offered not a meager hope of just another day to toil and strive hoping
to find favor in the sight of another petty and spiteful god, but eternal
life, a chance to be forgiven for everything they have ever done that their
hearts and better instincts had told them was wrong. Here was a God
offering peace and reconciliation with the Creator of the heavens and
the earth. And to prove it, his Spirit was being poured out on them in
tangible ways that they could see, hear, and feel, simply for the asking,
giving them a hope not just for the next life, but for this one as well.
Here indeed was true freedom.
The barbarian heart thrives in the freedom of our Lord and in the
power of his Holy Spirit. The very kingdom of God thrives in the heart
of the barbarian, the Barbarian with a Bible. That Bible being made up of
the letters that the apostles who took part in that first barbarian council
wrote to the churches that were springing up far and wide amongst the
Gentile barbarians, ensuring that the message of freedom that brings
peace and hope, strength, courage, and freedom to all people would not
be forgotten, lost, or perverted.
“So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man
of faith. For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse,
as it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do
everything written in the Book of the Law.’ Clearly no one who relies
on the law is justified before God, because ‘the righteous will live by
faith’” (Gal. 3:9–11).

The New Testament, the words written to confirm and verify that the
freedom of the new law—the law of love, joy, peace, patience, goodness,
kindness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control—would not be lost
or swallowed up ever again by religious demands and burdens that
we, the mighty uncivilized, fearsome and untamed barbarian, could
not carry or tolerate. The barbarian heart cannot thrive for long in the
shackles of religion. God knows this, the apostles knew this, and if you
are honest with yourself—you know this. As we allow ourselves to get
civilized and sophisticated, we lose sight of this. That is why the church
is slowly but surely fading away, and that is why we need barbarians to
stand up and say: “Enough! I am who I am; I am a child of God and I
am free! I have the Word of God written on my heart and on my mind.
I have the Spirit of the living God empowering my soul to overcome
my flesh and the enemy, and I have a Bible, the sword of the Spirit, and
I’m not afraid to use it!”
We need to tell that religious spirit that threatens to destroy us, “Take
your rules and condemnations, your demands and your never-ending
circular and meaningless theologies, your ‘my way is right and your way
is wrong’ methodologies, and take a long walk off a short pier because
my ship is no longer tied to your pier. My ship is following the King
of Kings and the Lord of Lords to the Promised Land, but first we are
going to stop at the gates of hell where we are going to kick butt and
set the captives free!”
Maybe we need another Barbarian Council; (The Jerusalem council of Acts 15) I think the Holy Spirit is already there and the invitations have been sent—

“Come to me, all
you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28
NKJV). Bottom line is, God is extending his hand to all peoples, “Come
home, my children, barbarians and all.”Lone warrior

Fighting for the Church

Church is Meme

Holding on to the vision the Lord gave me, staying the course to build the kind of church the Lord told me to build here in Red Lodge has been a huge challenge. Staying the course and holding firm to that conviction and notion of a simple no nonsense church that honors Jesus and is a safe haven for all who seek to know and serve him without being about directing their service, but rather equipping and releasing them to serve as the church instead of in the church, that is a notion that is challenged at every turn.

It is challenged by other church leaders, by my own training and experience and by those who come here seeking a place of freedom yet struggle, as I do, to not succumb to the lure of being a church that is all about itself, the church. We are not about church, I am not about church, I am about the Kingdom of God and the citizens of the kingdom of God, that are the church.

To  put it in perspective, and how I see it, the building is not the church, it is a chapel where a family of believers meets to be taught, encouraged and equipped for the mission of advancing the kingdom, in the places the Lord places us or sends us. And by us I mean you.

The body of believers I pastor have a specific assignment and it may differ, and does, from many other bodies of believers. So as I recently told someone who was struggling with the way we do things in our ministry— “Not every church is for everybody.” And we all have to be okay with that—and with each other.

We are all still family, we are all still citizens of the kingdom, thus we are part of the church.

As I sat down Thursday evening to work on my sermon some more, I prayed before starting as I always do. I was physically and mentally exhausted after a long day at work, I just wanted to be home resting my weary bones, but I have a sermon to write, so my prayer was short and sweet. “Lord give me wisdom and the energy to put this message together.” That was about all the eloquence I could muster so I just decided to give the Lord an opening there to speak to me and He seized the opportunity.

I heard: “The church is a home for the family of God.”

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Hmmm, my first reaction was, that must just be from me because that doesn’t seem to fit where I thought this was going. But after my weary brain kicked in I realized that is the perfect analogy and fits what the Lord has had us doing here.

I first thought of the old ‘house of God’ analogy, churches are often called the house of God but that is not true at all, you are the house of God, in fact, as we know from scripture, you are the temple, one not made with hands but one made by God himself and cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ.

24 “God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Acts 1:24

19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?  1 Cor 6:20:19

I remember when I was a little kid going to a church, I don’t remember anything about the church except for being yelled at for being noisy and running with some other kids. We were told that we had to be quite because we were in the house of God and we needed to be respectful of the big man upstairs. We were in the foyer with a very high ceiling and I remember looking up and seeing a mezzanine or something and thinking, “wow, God lives upstairs?”

I then imagined a crabby old man trying to take a nap while we all tiptoed around and talked quietly down below.

This building is not the house of God, it is a home for God’s people, a place where we come together to be fed, to eat the bread of life, the word. It is where we come together to be refreshed, to connect with family, a safe place and a sanctuary from the world, a place where we can be ourselves, where kids make noise and make messes, where we have disagreements but still love each other at the end of the day, because that’s what family does. It is a holy place, a place where we sit at the feet of the teacher and learn how to live, that teacher is Jesus.

Church is not something you do. Like a home, it is a place to be fed and refreshed. It is the place where your family gathers and is comfortable being themselves. And home is where you hang your hat, whether it’s a multimillion dollar mansion in Jackson Hole or a one room bunkhouse with a potbelly stove.

Home is not something you do, it’s a place to be. Church is not something you do, it also is a place to be. A place to be still and know that he is God. A place to remember why you work and strive. Where you can lay down your weary head, lay down your burdens, and get up refreshed and ready to face the world again.

Too often people go to a church and they look in the bulletin to see what groups or activities are awaiting them should they decide to bless a church with their presence. And when those programs are not there they say; ‘this church is not fulfilling my needs, I need more, I need fellowship, I need in depth teaching and powerful emotional moments of connecting with God and one another.’

All I can say is— then do it. Stop looking for someone else to do it for you, make it happen. You want fellowship? Invite people over to your house. You want a breakfast club? Start one, or show up when you are invited—that would be nice.

You want to do an outreach event or a community service project? Come up with an idea, ask for people to join you and do it— it’s not that complicated and you have just as much time as anyone else does. But it’s easier to just complain about the lack of stuff to do, to go home and watch football while checking your Facebook page to see how many people liked your latest rant about how messed up things are, who took a knee and who didn’t.

Be the church. . .