Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Church Wants MY Money!

"All the church cares about is my money!"  This is a common excuse given for not going to church.  I totally used it before I was a Christian.  I never really had a lot of money as a young adult, but I used this excuse like I was Bill Gates and churches all over that nation were only concerned about getting their claws on the $14.36 I had in my bank account.  It seems this excuse is so common that many pastors avoid this topic at all cost.  This lack of teaching has cause pain and immaturity in the life of the average Christian.

Unfortunately, we as a nation have lost all common sense concerning the use of money.  The problems of this lack of common sense trickle from the White House to the average citizen.  I know I learned some hard lessons with money as I have matured into a man over the years.  The Bible has a lot to say about money and I would like to explore a few lessons I have discovered over the years.

Honor the Lord with Your Wealth.

Proverbs 3:9-10 says, "Honor the LORD from your wealth and from the first of all your produce; so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine."  First, let me say that I am not a "prosperity gospel" guy at all.  But, I can say that when I began to understand that I could honor, or dishonor, God with my resources my financial health began to change for the better when I started honor God with my possessions.  The Bible's teaching on money is God's wisdom revealed so, naturally, applying biblical truths to how you handle your money has very practical benefits.

Debt is Bad.

After I turned 18 it didn't take long for me to rack up a ton of debt.  Man, it's just like fat--easy to put on and hard to get rid of.  I don't remember where I pulled this information from, but I stated this in a sermon earlier this year, "As of May 2011, it is estimated that the average American household carries $16,000 in credit card debt--this doesn’t include auto loans or other types of loans."  This is a huge burden to carry and adds a major strain to your life, marriage, and family.  This is why the Bible instructs believers to "owe nothing to anyone except to love one another" (Romans 13:8).  If you're reading this and you're drowning in debt, I would encourage you to come up with a plan to become debt-free.  A good place to start is 

Money a Tool. 

Money is inert.  It is neither good nor bad, but simply reveals the good or bad of our heart.  I believe the Christian is to use money in a number of ways.  A few of the uses of money are for giving, providing, and saving.  While money can be used for a whole slew of things, I will focus on these three. 

Tithing is Training Wheels for Christian Giving.  No, you won't find "tithing" in the New Testament.  But let me warn you not to take that argument too far because as you study the New Testament's teaching on money you will start stumbling into phrases like "sacrificial giving" and other expressions that express that Christian giving far exceeds the 10% standard thought to be normative by many today.  While, I won't die on the 10% hill, I do agree with Hank Hank Hanegraaff's teaching that "tithing is training wheels for Christian giving."

First,on a side note, tithing is giving 10% of your income.  There is some discussion between gross or net income...but I think this whole discussion detracts for the spirit of the issue.  Personally I hold to a gross income understanding, but the main issue is the condition of your heart in this.

Tithing teaches stewardship.  One of the first things I came to understand as I started to tithe was I began to view everything I had as a gift from God.  I believe He cares just as much, if not more, about how I manage the money I keep than what I give.  As I began to tithe, I began to make better financial decisions as a whole because I placed my money before God in prayer before I began to spend it.  In this some ways this practice exposed areas where I was not acting in wisdom with the resources God had intrusted me with.

Participation in the work of the Gospel.  I started going to church because a friend nagged me and because they offered free pizza.  I loved the free pizza and it kept me coming back week after week.  After many months went by, it started dawning on me that everything that the church was providing was because all the wonderful people were contributing out of their personal means.  No product was being sold.  There was no stream of income from the government.  It was simply because the people there desired to participate with the things of the Lord and so they gave.  This had a profound impact on me as the realization of the operating expenses, salary, outreach, and giving to the missionaries were all covered through the generous giving of the people in the church.  From that point on my giving was no longer grudgingly or superficial (i.e. throwing a buck in the pot when I knew I was about to eat $20 worth of pizza).  It gives me great joy to use the resources that God has blessed me with to

How you use and view money greatly affects your life.  I know all too greatly the burden of debt.  My prayer is that you reach a place where you desire to get out of debt and can come up with a plan to get out of debt.  A simple strategy is to pay of your smallest debt first and the attack the next smallest one.  This strategy gives you small victories along the way that encourage you to continue on the battle.  There is great joy and freedom being debt free.  As you begin to save, save, but don't let money become your God.  God will take care of you and He will provide what you need--when you need it. 

Monday, October 1, 2012

Make Church Count!

As I reflect back on my time in the SEAL Teams, I realize more and more that so much of military life translates to the local church.  One of my favorite training drills was “IAD’s” (Immediate Action Drills).  This is a training scenario where the platoon is faced with enemy contact.  An insane amount of firepower is blasted towards the threat as the team does a sort of dance breaking away from the threat.  It is overwhelming to see the amount of lead a SEAL platoon can sling downrange and for a significant amount of time.  As the platoon disengages from the threat, in addition to expending a ton of rounds, we will travel a considerable distance.  We will “rally up” once it is deemed relatively safe.  In the “hasty rally” we will survey one another with two questions: 1) How much ammo do you have, and 2) are you okay?  Guys with more ammo will share with guys who are running low and major injuries will be handled.  We then quickly move to get out of there.  There is no way to convey this experience into one paragraph (click here to see 2minute video), but these experiences have transformed how I understand church life.

When I look out at the local church in our nation today, it seems like going to church is out for most.  For others it is a time to “pay back” God with an hour of boredom (well that was my childhood), or to appease someone like the wife, mom, or girlfriend…if one goes at all.  In this process we put on our “Sunday best” in order to show everyone how well we have this life mastered.  This is so backwards as the emphasis is on externals, not on our reality.  Hebrews 10:23-25 states this, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful; and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.”  I believe these verses paint a picture of church being more like the “hasty rally” in the SEAL teams, than the “doing our hour once a week” culture.  Let me explain with a couple of points.

“How much ammo do you have?”  Have you ever noticed how many military illustrations the Bible uses?  Christians have been enlisted for military service (2 Tim. 2:3-4) and we need equipping for the warfare we face.  As this relates to church our ammo could be likened to multiple things, but I will stick to the importance of Sundays worship service.  The music and Bible teaching should draw one closer to God and deeper in their understanding of Him.  As we grow in our understanding and relationship with Him we increase our fighting power.

“Are you okay?”  Humans handle this question in a funny way.  Without a doubt we answer, “I’m fine.”  I don’t care if it’s the battlefield or the church.  We like to hide our problems when things aren’t going well.  We need to get over ourselves, let our guard down, and be real about our ups and downs.  It’s okay to share your struggles, worries, and needs to fellow believers.  We aren’t here to judge one another, but there are times when a brother’s confrontation of your sin can be the best thing for you (Prov. 27:6).  The church is supposed to be a close-knit family where we can help and serve one another in this journey.

To the Believer.    Choose your church wisely.  Find a church where the Bible is taught.  I am convinced that a church that teaches the Bible (actually going through and teaching the books of the Bible, not random topical teaching) is the best environment to foster spiritual health.  Connect to a local church, be faithful, and don’t church hop.  Get grounded in your local church.  Part of the struggle is planting roots and developing meaningful relationships where you feel comfortable and there is someone who genuinely cares about you to listen.  This doesn’t happen overnight.  I’m not against the large church, but the reality is these types of deep relationships are harder to form to form in a crowded setting.  Whatever size church you go to, get plugged in and be intentional about developing meaningful relationships. 

To the pastor.  Preach the Word.  Develop a culture of transparency by being transparent yourself.  Help the people of the church to develop meaningful relationships…I don’t have the answers of how to do this for your setting, but I am very convinced that we need to foster this in our churches today!