Happy Father’s Day, Bag!

My father’s name is Kenneth Charles Copps.  I say is because that is still his name, even though he passed away early in 2002.  He was known as Kenny to family, friends and co-workers; but for the last 30 years of his life, I called him Bag.  An unusual nickname you might say, and it was.  I’ll save you the backstory as to its origin, and probably just as well given the ‘G’ rating of this blog.

I loved my Dad as much as any son has loved his father.  In my eyes he was the complete package: hard working, patient, and possessed of a down-to-earth wisdom that guides me to this day.  He was a family man first and last, providing for his wife and 2 boys with nary a complaint; and oh, how he loved to laugh.  His whole body shook (picture a dog shaking itself off coming out of the water and you get a picture).  It didn’t matter if you told him the joke or if he was repeating one for the 100th time, his laughter was a whole-body work-out.

I believe much of the happiness in my Dad came as a result of what he had overcome in life.  As a child, frequent ear infections left him hearing impaired from an early age.  This proved no deterrent in his schooling, as he graduated from high school at the age of 16.

He then entered the workforce as a tool and die maker/machinist apprentice.  He worked his way through the training, making himself one of the best in his trade.  Unfortunately, that did not translate into a high salary in those days, so he took on a second job as a dockworker.

It was at this job that he suffered a near fatal accident, as a cable broke on the crane that was off-loading material.  The pallet crashed to the dock, glancing off my father’s head, crushing his right arm and breaking both his legs.  The injury to his arm was devastating.  The surgeons did all they could to save it, but remember this was 1958, and medicine was nowhere as advanced as it is now.  Though he kept his arm, he lost use of his ring and pinky finger and worse still, the bone that allows you to rotate your palm upward was pulverized.

As he began the long process of convalescence, the doctors told my Dad he would never work again.  But they didn’t know him! He worked feverishly on his re-hab, getting both legs back to full strength.  What he was able to do with that right arm was simply amazing.  He not only went back to work at his machinist trade, but he resumed participating in his favorite sport, bowling.  The only change he made was to switch to a lighter bowling ball and even with it, he still excelled.  Basically, those who didn’t know his story (and if he had on long sleeves), wouldn’t have realized that there was any disability there at all.

My Dad retired at the age of 66, having worked the last 17 years at a job that finally paid him for what his abilities were worth.  He and my mother then had 5 wonderful years of retirement, tending to grandkids and their garden, traveling and relaxing.

Unfortunately, all those years of working around the metal dust of machine shops, along with his 30 years of smoking cigarettes, brought on COPD, something he would not be able to overcome.

By this time, I had sobered up and had begun to live a life that at least began to resemble the one my Dad had lived.  A growing faith in Jesus Christ had been born in me as I realized He was the only answer for my addiction.  My Dad, a once a week church attender, was nonetheless interested in what was going on with/in me in this regard even though outwardly he seemed content that his weekly attendance was all he needed as far as God went.

He welcomed my prayers for his healing as his disease worsened, to the point where he would allow me to lay hands on him as we sought a miracle from God.  In my private prayers, I asked God to restore the health to my Dad’s longs, that he might enjoy many more years of happiness that I believed he had earned.

Yet, no matter how hard or often I prayed, Dad’s health steadily declined.  I was deeply saddened as I watched him waste away before our eyes.  Finally, the call came from my mother, he had been admitted to intensive care with little or no chance of coming out.

I spent most of the last 96 hours of his life with him as doctors, nurses and family came and went.  We talked, while he still could; followed by him listening to me and lastly to just looking with deep affection at each other.

Not knowing why all my prayers had seemingly gone unanswered for healing, it occurred to me to ask Dad what was next for him when this struggle ended.  He whispered, “I hope I’ve been good enough, I hope I go up to heaven.”

I have come to realize that what I said next was inspired by God: “Bag,” I said, “how would you like to know for sure what’s next.”  I then briefly explained why Jesus had to do what He did; telling Dad that the forgiveness of God was a personal thing that the Lord had accomplished by dying for us and then being resurrected.  “If you believe Jesus did that for you, Bag, and if you will ask Him to forgive you, you can know without a doubt where your next stop will be.”

A peace came to his face and eyes as he whispered, “Yes I believe, please forgive me Jesus.”  Six hours later my Dad passed away, physically.

Later that night, with my emotions on a roller-coaster, I fell into a fitful sleep.  It was then that God revealed to me His greater purpose.  While I had been praying for my Dad’s health to be restored, God had been after his heart.  I awoke realizing that God had answered my prayers after all! I had been praying, somewhat selfishly, to be allowed to have more time with my Dad.  God, in His wisdom and immeasurable love, was making it possible that we could be together forever in heaven.  My heavenly Father had indeed healed my earthly Dad.

If you are reading this and share in the assurance of eternal life through Jesus Christ, and if you get to heaven before me, look up my Dad.  When you find him, ask if it’s ok to call him Bag.  Then enjoy that full-bodied laugh.

 

Nothing is Re-heated at God’s Banquet

I know I’ve made mention here of the wonderful blessing from God my wife Betsy is to me (and many others!).  Her love of the Lord Jesus is evident in all she does and her modeling of the joy that comes from reading the Bible has inspired me to read mine more.

I am not sure however, if I have ever written about another of her gifts: Betsy is a great cook.  This comes in handy given my love of eating.  She is forever creating new ways to prepare meals, making old favorites never boring.  In this season of life (with just 2 humans at the table), she prepares many of our dinners in the crockpot.  Somehow, she makes these meals in such a way that as they get reheated, they seem to taste better each night.  Chicken, pork or beef, it doesn’t matter; as delicious as they are on day 1, they’re even better each ensuing meal.

Cooking meals in this way is a great time saver, especially as her work life is very demanding of her time.  This makes it easy for me, with my limited skills in the kitchen, to simply plug in the crockpot to re-heat our evening meal.

As much as I enjoy these several times warmed up meals, the banquet table of God will never have anything re-heated on it! “That’s quite a jump in topics,” you might be thinking; but please stay with me, I think I can connect the two.

You see, just as the taste buds in my mouth enjoy my wife’s great cooking, the desire of my heart is to have even more of what God offers.  No matter how good, or even how much Betsy makes in the crockpot, eventually we finish it.  Not so with God!

Christianity 101, if you will, says that all people are separated from God by our sinful condition into which we are born.  There are many scriptures that make this point, but for our purpose today let’s go with for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).  ‘All’ is one of the easiest words in the bible to understand: All means all.  You, me and absolutely everyone else falls short of the glory of God.  God is holy, we are not.  Said another way, we are in deep trouble without Him.

That’s an awful place to be, but thanks be to God, He has issued the invitation for all of us to come be with Him (the banquet table I mentioned). This truth can also be found in numerous places throughout the scriptures.  For example, Romans 5:8 tells us: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God in His mercy has made the way to take us from our lost (sinful) condition to knowing His forgiveness because of what Jesus Christ has done.  Simply put, we do not have to get ‘our ducks in a row’ before we can go to God; rather He takes us, regardless of where we have scattered and miss placed the ducks that are our life, and makes us complete in Him.

Our job is to recognize the condition we are in apart from God and then humbly ask His forgiveness.  It really is that simple!

Now back to the banquet table.  When thinking about what God offers, please don’t assume His mercy and compassion are sitting in some heavenly crockery, waiting for us to ask for some.  No, His love is made fresh and available every day as the Prophet Jeremiah wrote: Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. 23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness (Lamentations 3:22-23).

There you have it! God’s love, mercy, forgiveness, compassion, patience, etc., are made fresh every day for each one of us.  I realize that is a tall order, but thankfully He can handle it.  He always has, and He always will.

Much as Betsy and I would love to have you all over for dinner sometime, I do not believe one crockpot would handle the demand; and as tasty as her food is, you will get hungry again.

Not so as God’s banquet table.  His never depleted supply of love for us is always available; at no charge! Jesus paid it when He was crucified and gloriously raised from the dead.  He is inviting you to partake of the divine food that satisfies the soul.  It is made fresh today, piping hot, just for you!

 

With God, Receiving is Better than Giving

Please take a moment to re-read the title of this blog.  Thanks.  I want to be clear that I am not trying to re-write what Jesus has said.  The Apostle Paul has already  summed it up: “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

I’m sure we are all at least a little familiar with the saying ‘it’s better to give than to receive.’ Though Jesus is never quoted as saying those exact words, the weight of His teaching makes it clear: Giving is far superior to receiving.

This most certainly rings true is our dealings with other people.  The Lord’s instruction is that we always be willing to share our resources, time and talents to help others, seeking no gain for ourselves.  The blessing that comes from this obedience is in knowing we are pleasing God Himself.  Jesus, the ultimate servant, gave His very life that lost people (like me) could come to accept His forgiveness.  I find this truth in Mark 10:45 as Jesus said: “For the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”  Any time we give of ourselves in service to others, we are modeling the lifestyle of the greatest servant ever.

Bottom line: Giving with a right heart with the right intentions is never wrong.  So what about the title of this blog?  Again, I draw your attention to the first two words; With God.  With God, our priorities change.  As clear as His word is about giving to others, so it is about receiving from Him. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matthew 6:33).  Go to God first, the receiving part will be taken care of.

Jesus spoke those words during a discourse on how we ought not be consumed with worry about the things of this life.  He was telling folks then (and now) that if God the Father takes care of the needs of birds and makes the lilies of the field be resplendent in beauty just because He can, He will certainly meet all our needs as well. (Notice we’re talking about needs, not wants).

I believe there is a greater blessing than these when we receive from God.  First, we learn to trust Him more.  He will do what He promises to do. Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. (Proverbs 3:5-6).  Ask God to show the way and believe He is with you always as you traverse it.

My wife Betsy often remarks that the longer she walks out her life of faith, the more she realizes how much she needs God.  There is such wisdom in this! Living each day with the expressed agenda of knowing God better today than yesterday, she has learned to trust him all the more.  Betsy has met no circumstance that God hasn’t provided for or seen her through.  The Prophet Isaiah has this to say about how God responds to those who will live this lifestyle: You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in you. (Isaiah 26:3). Trusting in God is fertile ground for faith to grow!

What a thing to receive from God: His perfect peace! I know for myself that I cannot share with anyone what I do not have; hence I must receive God’s peace so that I can give it away.  Understand, it comes to me perfect from God, but I have a knack (being human) of diluting it somewhat.  That’s o.k. though, I simply have to believe/trust that He gives it.  My responsibility is to walk more closely with Him today than yesterday for as I do, more of His perfect peace will leak out of me and into those around me.  Don’t worry if this seems a little hard to grasp, for God describes His peace this way: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7) If God says His peace transcends understanding, I’m good with that!

At this point, maybe you are intrigued by the idea of receiving from God.  His peace, building faith and trust, sounds like a pretty good idea.  But how do I receive it you ask.  Once again, the Scriptures provide the answer: “Be still; and know that I am God; (Psalm 46:10a).  That sounds simple enough, but for many of us experiencing this truth is much harder.  We must first ‘be still.’  This is difficult in our culture; for most of us are either busy doing something full tilt or we are wiped out from that activity.

Here’s a brilliant insight: To be still, we must be still.  That means we must quiet our hands, feet and mind so that we can contemplate this God I’m talking about.  Let yourself be still by ceasing the crazed pace of life.  I know it’s not easy to do because A, we’re used to doing things this way and B, being crazy busy keeps the mind so pre-occupied that it can’t/won’t think about the Almighty and all that that implies.

But if you’ll just try it, I believe you will receive from God some of what He has for you.  When you do, I promise you’ll want more.  This is the one place where our wants are important, for if we are wanting more of/from God, He will supply it.  He’ll do it in ways you can’t imagine or maybe even dream of, but if you want to spend time with Him, He’s got all of it you could ask for!

I’ll sum it all up this way: Prioritize your list by putting God always first on it.  When you can consistently do this, many of the other items on your list will melt away, for receiving from God is simply the best thing you can ever get!

Memorial Day Every Day

 

Memorial Day weekend means many things to people here in the States.  For some, it is the ‘first weekend of Summer.’ Others look at it merely as a chance to get away from work and maybe outside for the first time in months (other than for shoveling snow). Thankfully, a great many will take the time to remember those who have fallen protecting the freedom we live in.  Parades and memorial services will be held throughout the land, helping people to remember that this freedom does not come without a great cost.

Personally, I came to this greater appreciation after the attacks of September 11th, 2001.  Prior to that, I took for granted all that comes with living in America.  As an under grad I majored in history, with a concentration in the 20th century.  I learned many of the important dates and the activities of historical figures from that era, but I never felt personally the sacrifices that were made that gave me the basic freedoms I enjoyed every day.

The attacks of 9-11 awakened in me a passion for our country I had never felt before.  It was seeing the graphic destruction in my homeland and the suffering of so many innocents that prodded me from the national lethargy I was living in.  Though I do not always agree with, condone or understand what the political machine is doing here, the love I feel for my country and what it stands for is unwavering.

From that point onward, I have made it a point to thank each member of the military I meet, wherever that may be.  I extend this greeting to law enforcement as well.  It may be a handshake and ‘thank you for serving our country’ or simply a nod of the head to a passing patrol car, but it is one way I attempt to let these brave men and women know I appreciate their efforts and by extension, all those who have gone before them.  In this way I carry Memorial Day in my heart every day.

There are similarities in my coming to faith in Jesus Christ as my Savior.  As a spoiled and carefree youth, God and the things of eternity could not have been farther from my mind.  From my late teenage years to the age of 31, the hell that is alcoholism kept me selfishly focused only on me and my perceived needs.  This Jesus, if he existed, certainly didn’t have any desire to be associated with a drunk like me (when I finally read the Gospels, I saw how wrong I had been!).

It was in the earliest stages of recovery that I realized that not only did He exist, but He also was giving me the opportunity to be free from the bondage I was under.  Since then and over these past 27 years, I have been blessed to know the eternal relationship has been restored with my Heavenly Father because of the atoning death Jesus died for the forgiveness of sins.  His resurrection to life gives me the assurance of security regarding my forever life with Him.

Much as I make it a point to let those serving our country know I appreciate their efforts, I also attempt to acknowledge what Jesus has done for me (and everyone) in all I do.  I have found the best way to do this is to follow the example of the Lord; listening to people’s concerns and extending my hand to help.

I was taught long ago that gratitude is an action word.  If it is so, then my simply giving lip-service about what Jesus has done doesn’t truly show my thankfulness for His sacrifice.  Every person I meet and interact with offers me the opportunity to in some way express the love that God has for them.  In so doing, I am remembering daily the significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In closing, allow me to again say thank you this Memorial Day for all those who paid the ultimate price while preserving my freedom.  May your legacy never be forgotten or diminished.

And every day, may we remember that the Son of God not only died for the forgiveness of sins, but that He is alive still today!  His message of hope continues to go out.  May we who know His love remember always to express it back to Him as we model it to the world around us.

#Imprayingforyou

Every Saturday morning at 7 am a group of local pastors and church leaders gather to pray at a different location each week.  This group is a great blessing to me in several ways, not the least of which is the evidence of the unity of believers the Holy Spirit brings.  There are Pentecostals, Lutherans, Methodists and non-denominal folks currently meeting (and have been for over 6 years now!).  We come together to seek God for our community and we also spend some time simply talking with each other; highlighting the things God is already doing here in Central New York.  We also talk about our struggles; knowing full well the challenges of ministry here.

I give you this background, so I can share a wonderful idea that was brought up just yesterday morning.  Reverend Diane Wheatley, Pastor of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Fulton, shared what had come to here recently regarding today’s technology.  Like most of us who are closer to 60 than 50, the electronic age seems more suitable to the younger generation(s) than us.  We use it as best we can, but honestly it creates more frustration with a hint of fear than it does any advancing of the Kingdom of God.

Pastor Wheatley’s insightful idea struck me as being brilliant.  Basically, she said that instead of side-stepping technology, we ought to embrace and use it.  She intends to start at her church by inviting people to take out their phone/devices at a certain point during church services and reach out to someone on their contact list.  Using whatever venue they want, folks will be encouraged to let someone else know who is not at the service that they are praying for them, right now!

She also said the same for the preaching of the Word. Why not live-stream some or all of it, again with the purpose being to let others know what it looks and sounds like at a church gathering. The message could also be recorded by members of the audience to be posted to their various accounts later.

As I have pondered these thoughts during the day, I have gotten more excited about doing these things myself.  After all, if we truly mean to be inclusive in our fellowships, shouldn’t we be reaching out to people in as many ways as possible?

The answer is a definite yes! As I look out at the various congregations I have the honor of being involved with, I see that most of the people in these churches belong to my generation.  There are some young families attending, which is a great blessing, but for the most part the local church is still ministering in the old ways to an increasing older crowd.

In his book, Building a Discipling Culture, Mike Breen explains the reason why this is: Most of us have been trained and educated for a world that no longer exists (p. 11).  I find this to be true in the clear majority of churches in my area.  Pastors and leaders have been trained with an inward focus which has precluded most of them from engaging in any new way of communicating the gospel.  All the pastors I know are hard-working and faithful shepherds of their flocks.  Yet the demands on their time have kept their efforts primarily toward keeping to a minimum the number of folks who are leaving their fellowships, thus making any attempt at using technology to reach out to non-churched people at best extraneous.

The bottom line is this: the ‘tried and true’ method of being the church is tired and for the most part useless regarding reaching new/different people.  The local church, as it currently is operating, is dying.  Attendance is receding like my hairline and no number of committees or resolutions is going to stem the tide of dwindling membership.

What are we to do?  Let’s run with Reverend Wheatley’s idea!  After all, when Jesus walked the earth, He communicated a radical message in the best way possible then, He talked with folks.  He shared the love of God in both word and deed.  As the message spread, so did His audience.  Our task is the same: Share what we know to be true about God through our actions and words.  The biggest difference (other than us not being Jesus!), is the far-reaching and instant audience that is available to us.  With the shrinking of the world because of electronic communication, let’s reach out to those who have never been to a traditional church with the means we have.  The message of God’s love is unchanging.  We ought to be sharing always and everywhere.  The easiest way to do it today is already in your pocket or purse.

Now if only someone would show me how to use snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Linkedin, Tumblr . . .

Being a Joyful Giver

As I continue sharing some thoughts on tithing, the giving of 10% to the local church you call home, it is my hope that if this an area of struggle for you, my experiences might shed some light on to the freedom one can find when being obedient to God’s commands regarding your finances.  I say finances because in our time it is far more practical to give monetarily as opposed to bringing in the first fruits of our labors like the largely agrarian society of biblical times did.

As I mentioned last time, I do not teach that tithing is something one must do as some sort of obligation.  I base my teaching/counselling on this topic on what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7: Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (NIV).

These verses indicate that God is far more concerned with our heart position than He is with us meeting some mathematical formula of what we owe Him.  When looked at in this light, the scripture seems quite clear; to give what we have decided in our heart to give.  Hence, the importance of our heart position toward God.  I firmly believe that how we feel about, and handle our finances, goes a long way in revealing our heart attitude toward God.

As I share what my wife and I have experienced as faithful givers to the local church, I do so in order that you too might find the joy in giving as we have.  Another important point at the start; we don’t give to receive a blessing(s) from God as if the tithe were like some employer matching your donation to a retirement fund.  Having said that, I do firmly believe that God does bless those whose heart is glad to give.  Here’s how He it did it for us.

As I have mentioned before, I had lived a ruinous life in the death grip of alcoholism through the first 8 years of our marriage.  During that spree of destruction, I managed to dig a very deep financial hole for us.  As a business owner I had failed to meet my tax obligations to both the State of New York and the Federal government to the tune of over $100,000 (in 1991).  By God’s mercy I was able to find good employment soon after becoming sober and we, as a family, set out to clear the books.

Some six years later, we were able accomplish this.  There was no fanfare, just the satisfaction of knowing we had used what God provided in such a way as to pay off the debt.  From the start, through my wife’s gentle urging, we tithed our income.  We didn’t have some deep understanding of the Scriptures, but we knew from where things were coming from.  We gave the 10% because it was the right thing to do.  We gave it without any expectations of reward or blessing, we were simply being obedient to what the Scriptures said.

We had our two children by this time, and though we kept them in good clothes and always had food to eat, we had set absolutely no money aside for their future college expenses.  It was in this that God showed His mighty and faithful hand at work.

Our oldest child was a sophomore in High School when I landed the job as Facilities Painter at Le Moyne College.  One of the benefits of employment at the college is the ability to have your children/spouse go to school there tuition free.  The only condition is that you must be employed three years to receive this benefit; the exact number of years before our oldest would start!

There is another verse from Scripture that is often quoted during teachings about tithing: “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 floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.” (Malachi 3:10) NIV.

Obviously, the prophet was speaking about bringing in the first fruits of the crops, but the principle is the same today.  We were obedient to bring the tithe of our earnings each week, and God did indeed bless us.  I bring your attention to the latter part of the verse above where God says He will give so much blessing for obedience in this matter that you won’t have room for it all.  In the case of our oldest child, we received full tuition remission because of my employment at the school.  Here’s the overflow part; our son also earned a full scholarship because of his SAT scores! We were blessed beyond what we had need for.  We believe without any doubt that this is a tangible expression of God’s faithfulness.  He made the promise and then He fulfilled it, as written!

As wonderful as this account is, it really isn’t the true blessing that we have found by being faithful in our giving.  The result has been that we are the ‘joyful givers’ that I mentioned at the top.  As we came to more fully understand God’s provision, it became natural for us to want to give back the first fruits (off the top) of our labors.

From this attitude grew a deeper trust in God’s provision and care for us in all things.  This resulted in a wonderful freedom from the pursuit of fulfillment through material things.  We are more than happy to drive a seven-year-old car.  We find more satisfaction is doing for others than taking extravagant vacations.  I’ve got nothing against vacations, but when we do travel, we make the effort beforehand to save some money to cover expenses.

The bottom line, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that we have chosen to be obedient to God’s Word regarding giving.  The result of this is having the burden of worry about finances lifted from us.  Simply put, we are thankful to God for the employment opportunities He gives us, and we show our gratitude by giving back to Him what is truly His anyway, which, by the way, is what tithing is all about!

 

 

Giving Money to the Church?

 

The subject of money is usually touchy for most people.  For those involved with a local church, it can get downright divisive.  The idea of tithing, the giving of 10% of your income to the church, sparks many a debate.

I truly understand the difficulty that the concept of giving money causes so many.  I had plenty of reservations about it at the beginning of my life of faith.  With a sheepish grin these days I can recall my questioning of the first church leader who brought this subject up to my wife and me.  “Who decided on 10%,” I self-righteously asked.  It seemed like a random choice to me until this person gently explained that the word tithe means 10%.

Also, we were having trouble enough making ends meet.  As I have written of before, my riotous life as an active alcoholic had brought us just past the point of financial disaster.  Now that my life was becoming livable again through sobriety, I was concentrating on paying off the large debts I had incurred while now trying to properly take care of my family.  There didn’t appear to be anything left over to give away to anyone, let alone a church.

Since those early days as a Christian, what tithing is (and isn’t) has become quite clear to me.  Some of the things it is not are: an attempt to curry favor with the Almighty.  You do not have to give a specific amount before you can expect God to bless you.  As a matter of fact, the greatest blessings I have received have had nothing to do with finances.

Tithing also is not simply a ‘box’ to be checked as if it were some way to pay for your salvation (Indulgences went out a long time ago).  I encourage folks who have a church body they call home to support it both monetarily and with an investment of their time.  Ministry just doesn’t happen; things need to be paid for, the building(s) kept up and teaching resources bought, to name just a few.  These must be accompanied with the donation of time, less any thing the church purchases for kingdom work collect the dust of not being used.

What tithing is: An ongoing opportunity to be obedient to God, and not in a 10% kind of way, either.  Being joyfully willing to give 10% (or whatever amount) off the top is the key.  As time goes on, I realize how much I have because of God’s redeeming love for me.  With this deeper understanding/appreciation of who God is and what He has done for me, I desire less of the shiny things of this world.  Those things are merely distractions that want to keep my attention from God.

The key to becoming a joyful tither, at least in my experience, is to comprehend what it is that God is looking for from us in this regard.  The Old Testament is full of examples of the Israelite’s bringing the ‘first fruits’ of their crops as a gift to God.  I didn’t have any sense of what this meant at the start.  As I said, when first considering this idea I looked for left over money after all the bills were paid.  That is the opposite of first fruits.  I have learned, over time, that God wants my giving to be off the top because I recognize everything I have or earn comes from Him in the first place.

That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but what about my bills.  Don’t I have to pay them? The answer is of course yes.  I never recommend someone give to a church instead of paying their heat and electric bill.  What I do recommend to folks I have this discussion with is to honestly look at the way they are spending their discretionary money.

Here’s how things changed for me once I did this: After I had read the verses from God’s word that were suggested about tithing, I felt my heart begin to change about giving in general.  It no longer looked like a fool’s game to me, but yet I still couldn’t see how I was going to be able to give anything.  Though I was beginning to see what the meaning was of giving back to God, the bottom line of the household budget still didn’t reconcile to giving any percentage of our earnings away.

It was at this point in my life when I heard yet another teaching about tithing.  This one was different, however.  Oh, it still used Malachi 3:6-11 to make its biblical case for giving back to God, but this speaker brought the entire issue to a personal level for me.  I heard him ask, ‘What is it you spend your disposable income on?’  For the first time, as that sank in, I began to see my spending was conformed to my ideals, not God’s.

After all, I made all my monthly payments plus the penalty and interest that accrued from my destructive drinking.  Both the IRS and the State of New York were quite insistent that I pay all the back taxes I owed.  God blessed me/us with a good paying job that enabled me to eventually come clean with both those government agencies.

So what was I spending my money on? Why was there still nothing to give to the church I now called home? It took and honest look at my expenditures to reveal the painful truth.

What I discovered was that while I was being good with our money, my personal concerns and comforts were still in the forefront of my mind.  The bills were being paid on time because I was working so hard to do it.  From this self-centered approach came a slightly trickier one; my kids and wife (and I) deserved take out dinners 2 or 3 times a week.  Have I mentioned I was still smoking cigarettes at this time? I certainly needed them to keep going at the wonderful new pace I was working.

As I began to ponder these things, I realized that I had placed them in an ‘untouchable’ category in our budget as if they were fixed expenses.  It was easy to do, as life was becoming such a joy to live and these types of things seemed to make everyone happier still.  Yet I discovered that at the heart of the issue was still my lingering selfishness.  This was my money I was working hard for and I would spend it on these ‘necessities’ before I would give money to church.

I came to realize that walking out this faith I was professing to have would require some changes on my part; primarily that I truly start thinking of others before myself (Philippians 2:3-4).  Doing this allowed me to get to the place where I could, cautiously, begin to tithe.  Next time I will share some of the many blessings God has poured out on us because of our faithful lives that have included tithing to the local church.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear your thoughts about tithing.

How Would Jesus be Received Today

 

I sometimes wonder how well Jesus would be received if He came to the earth in this day and age.  I’m not talking about His promised Second Coming, but rather if He and His message were being heard for the first time right now. The gospels tell us that He ruffled quite a few feathers in the religious establishment back then.  So many in fact that those very same ‘religious’ leaders plotted to have Him killed.  I hope we as leaders who follow Him would be less territorial; yet even so I’m sure there would be many meetings of church boards and committees formed to discuss what was going on!

I’m more intrigued to know how every day folks would receive His message in this enlightened time.  His message of love and forgiveness resonated with many when He walked the earth; so much so that we are still talking about Him 2000 years later!  Would it today?  After all, Jesus didn’t teach a complicated system.  It can be boiled down to this: Love and obey God, love others, and be as forgiving as you have been forgiven.

The Good News of salvation because of His death and resurrection is straight forward.  It is just as straight forward when dealing with sin.  That’s where I think the greatest resistance would be today.  Jesus taught that sin was an affront to God; it is what keeps us separated from Him on an eternal basis if it is not dealt with by trusting in Christ’s forgiveness for salvation.

It is here that I believe today’s culture would take exception to what Jesus was telling them.  You see, the things that are going on in our society aren’t all that different from the vices and problems people had 2000 years ago.  Granted, life seems to happen at a faster pace now than it did then, but that doesn’t change the basic things still confronting people.  We may call them different things and certainly technology puts all sorts of things out there in the moment, but the condition that plagues humankind now is the same as it was then.

What is that condition? The seeking of gratification of our desires above all other things.  Frequently, these things are not in line with what God has in mind for us.  When we follow these unhealthy desires, we are then in disobedience to God.  In a word, we sin.  Generally, our culture doesn’t like that word.  What current society champions is that individuals have the right to do whatever and whenever he or she chooses is.  Scripture would define this attitude as selfishness.

We as humans have gained almost immeasurable wisdom over time.  Our understanding of how things work, the progress in science and medicine have made our lives quite comfortable in many ways.  Unfortunately, I do not believe we have learned how to consistently put the needs of others before our wants.  Nowhere does this seem more evident than in our society’s embracing of the breakdown of traditional sexual values.  Current culture calls this being progressive and open. But these thoughts are a contradiction to what Jesus taught, hence my belief that He would meet considerable opposition if He were bringing His message of obedience to the Father to the world today.

Today’s ‘anything goes’ mentality has become so pervasive that it seems to ostracize someone like myself and others like me, who proclaim as unchanging truth what the Bible teaches. God clearly states in the Book of Genesis that He created humankind male and female and that marriage was to be a union of the two into one.  The physical aspect of biblical marriage is designed to not only have us pro-create but also to have it be such a pleasurable act!  How far we have fallen from our Maker’s plan for marriage and His over all desire for us to live in peace under His headship.

This is but one example of the ever-widening gap between what is acceptable in today’s world and what God intends for people who willingly follow His decrees.  As I look at the places where I minister, I see much pain, disillusionment and despair.  Much of the pain and suffering I am called to bring comfort to is the result of lives lived, and choices made, that are outside of God’s desires.  If I were to see that current lifestyle choices were bringing true peace and happiness, I might re-consider my stance on biblical truth.

However, it is not happening; and because I know that our God is a God of love, I will continue, with His help and to the best of my ability, to minister that godly love at every opportunity.  One of the ways I do this is to gently explain that God has not arbitrarily set up rules for our conduct, but rather He has only our best interest at heart.  The lifestyle God wants us to live is good for us!

Please know that I hold no judgment against anyone who is caught up in the lies of today’s society.  I am simply to follow the example Jesus gave, to minister His love to folks right where they are in hopes that they can come to experience the freedom His truth is all about.

I started this blog out wondering how Jesus’ message of love would be received today if He were to be delivering it personally.  History shows that mankind, for the most part, has refused to embrace the call of obedience to the Word of God.  People, having not really changed much over the millennia, would undoubtedly harbor the same doubts that they did when Jesus walked the earth.

Don’t let this dissuade you!  I believe the power of God to transform lives is still active today.  I know this to be true because He did it for me!  It is that hope that there are others who will receive the loving forgiveness of the Savior that motivates me each day.  Jesus has already come to deliver the message of salvation.  I need only be a carrier of that hope and in so doing let others see that the power of God is readily available, for everyone!

Call Me Foolish

 

We live in a time where everyone’s opinion is to get equal hearing.  The internet and social media have given a vast majority the ability to express their views and have them read/heard at virtually that same moment.  The current culture says to embrace all views because truth is relative; what’s true for you may not be for another.  This approach does not want to hinder anyone from expressing their beliefs.  In fact, it seems to me the more unconventional one claims to be, the more that view is accepted.

Yet, there is a disconnect between this warm and fuzzy approach and reality.  If current culture is as open as it claims to be, why is it a traditional belief, that being Jesus is Lord, is shunned as narrow or closed-minded? Please note that I am not defending the long-standing approach of the institutional Church.  Mankind has basically made a shamble of it and because of this I understand why so many stay away religiously.  What I am standing up for is the all-encompassing truth found in the Bible.

Relativism says that what’s true for you may not be for another.  Biblical truth, on the other hand, is true for/to all.  That doesn’t mean it is agreeable to everyone.  If my believing whole-heartedly in the eternal validity of the Scriptures makes me rigid in your eyes, I am truly sorry for your misunderstanding.  I may indeed misrepresent the truth I believe in by my thoughts or insensitive actions, but that’s on me, not God.

God’s truth applies to everyone, regardless of your denial of it.  I don’t mean to sound ‘holier-than-thou’ by expressing this when in fact the opposite is true.  It is only through humbly accepting and then allowing God’s truth to lead me that I can ever come close to sharing what I have experienced in my walk of faith.

What is this faith I claim to walk in? The Bible defines it this way: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1 NIV).  I look at this definition as being in two parts.  The first is the easier: being sure of what I hope for.  I know the true longings of my heart and have put my hope for their fulfillment in God.

It is the latter part of Hebrews 11:1 that has caused me some consternation.  Whereas as my hope is a somewhat less tangible thing, certainty in things I cannot see tends to fly in the face of my tactile tendencies.  Therefore, I do have empathy for those who want to see before committing.  There is an inevitable tension there.  The only way I have found to resolve this tension is to willingly submit to the authority God has over my life.

To do so requires that I recognize God for being who he says he is.  To the nonbeliever this sounds absurd, but not unexpected.  Hesitancy to have faith in God is not something new.  Shortly after the death and resurrection of Jesus a group of believers in Corinth were afflicted with doubts about many of the claims being made about Christ.  This is addressed in the first letter written by the Apostle Paul to them: I know very well how foolish it sounds to those who are lost, when they hear that Jesus died to save them. But we who are saved recognize this message as the very power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18 The Living Bible Translation).

There it is.  This is the ‘rubber meets the road’ truth around which all of Scripture is founded.  There are those who are ‘lost’ and those who have been saved through the atoning death of Jesus Christ.  It is a harsh truth that is not readily accepted by modern culture.  Again, simply rejecting this does not make it untrue.  There are certainly more warm and fuzzy thoughts about our eternal destination out there being held to by many.  The concept of being lost in our enlightened society is considered foolishness.

Go ahead and call me foolish then! If I am foolish to believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God, so be it.  I would rather be considered a fool than to give up the peace God has revealed to me through the Scriptures.  If the assurance I have about eternity because of faith in Jesus makes me seem simple in this advanced time, I’m ok with that.  If I am not taken seriously because I recognize my helplessness before the Almighty, I am good there as well.

The bottom line is this: It doesn’t matter what anyone else calls me so long as I answer the call of God.  In so doing I recognize and submit to my need of a Savior.  This is God’s love manifest for ALL mankind.  His offer of eternal life is extended to everyone, always and everywhere.  I’ve taken him up on it because I believe it would be foolish not to.  Won’t you consider it as well?

The People Stood Watching

This Sunday is Easter.  To many, this is a day to gather for a family meal, dole out chocolate bunnies to the kids and maybe go to church.  If this describes some of your activities around this weekend, the following blog was not written with you in mind.  Rather, these thoughts are directed toward those who profess belief in what the Bible says happened that first Easter; that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead; that His death paid the penalty we owe for our sinfulness and His coming back to life is the final victory over death that allows entry into eternity with Him.

As I re-read the account of the crucifixion found in Luke 23:26-49, I found myself burdened with a question about my own life of faith.  I share it with you in hopes that you too will be challenged as I have been to deepen my faith.  The wrestling began as I read verse 35:

The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him.

As was the Roman custom 2000 years ago, those condemned to die this grisly death had to carry a heavy part of the cross they were to be crucified on to a hill outside of town.  It was a sad parade witnessed by many who hoped to catch a glimpse of the accused.  This time, there were those in that crowd who had seen some of the miracles Jesus had performed.  Perhaps others had been present when He spoke in the Temple.  Still others, probably most, were simply drawn to the spectacle, waiting to see how things would turn out.

Which brings me to my point: Am I standing by again this Easter, waiting to see how things turn out?  Am I somehow keeping my life of faith under wraps, waiting to see some great sign from above before I walk more boldly in it?

I am in no way casting judgment on that original crowd simply because they were sight-seers.  Remember, it is always a good idea to read the biblical accounts in context.  In this case, those people genuinely did not know what was to happen.  To most of these witnesses, this was an annual event, though this time one of those sentenced to death had more notoriety than at other times.  Still, God’s plan had not yet played out to its completion.  Few if any were expecting the eternity changing events that were to happen three days hence.

Today, I do know what happened on that glorious Resurrection Day and yet, I find myself too often standing on the sidelines while life’s parade marches by.  What is it that holds me back from proclaiming, by word and deed, the miracle of that first Easter morn.

Whatever rationalization I can come up with certainly pales considering the power of the resurrection.  I think to best not be a spectator  this year, and going forward, I need to take the command Jesus gave his disciples found in John 13:34-35 more seriously: “A new command I give you: Love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.  By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (NIV).

To actively love the world around me as Jesus tells me I should requires that I get involved with it.  The current state of our world provides amble opportunity to get off the sidelines and into action.  There are so many hurting and desperate people who need a genuine display of the love we so often talk about.  But I must be willing, as Jesus was throughout His earthly ministry, to minister to folks right where they are.  I am encouraging all of us, using the awesome wonder and power of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, to motivate us afresh to do this.

Won’t you join me, asking for His help and guidance, to commit to being a more faithful follower of the Lord?  Please take to heart the command to love others so that the love of Christ may be made known. Let’s joyfully serve wherever and in whatever capacity is needed.  May we not stand off to the side and merely watch anymore. Spread the joy of the Resurrection every day, that others may come to know the saving love of God.