Abiding in Joy

Speaking of our life in Christ, and His purposes on earth

Archive for the category “Church Life”

How would things change if all believers were to tithe?

Last week I began a series of posts on the subject of giving.  It is surprising how quick some Christians throw up excuses for not giving, especially for not tithing.  One excuse I occasionally hear is that the Church really doesn’t need everyone to tithe. ” God may lead some people to tithe (usually those richer than ourselves), but it is really not necessary for all of us.  Churches are doing fine without more money.  And a lot of churches are probably not spending it properly anyway.”  Those making such excuses are missing the purpose of giving.  It is not that God needs our money. It is not for His benefit that we give.  The benefit goes to us!  Giving, especially tithing, teaches us trust in God.  It teaches us that God is really the owner of all that we have, and that we are His stewards.  It helps to loosen the grip that our money and possessions have on us. The intangible benefits are difficult to describe to those who have not embraced a life of giving.  But even if the Church doesn’t need more money, and even if we assume that not all of it is being spent as we would like to see it spent, we should still give back to the Lord.  And, as the Scriptures tell us so clearly, God promises to take care of all our needs and to bless us abundantly as a result.

But let’s talk about how tithing does help the Church.  I recently read an article in Relevant Magazine that asked this question:  What would happen if all believers were to tithe?  This is not a totally unrealistic possibility if we really believe all that His Word says about His blessing being upon those who are faithful in giving.  According to the study reported in this article, it is estimated that if all believers tithed, then there would be an additional $165 billion  each year for churches to use and distribute for the sake of the Kingdom.  The results would be amazing!

According to this study……

      >$25 billion could relieve global hunger, starvation, and death from preventable diseases in five years.

      >$12 billion could eliminate illiteracy in five years.

      >$15 billion could solve the world’s water and sanitation issues, specifically at places where 1 billion people live on less than $1 a day.

      >$1 billion could fully fund all overseas mission work.

       >$100 to $110 billion would still be left over for additional ministry expansion!

These figures do not include the offerings beyond the tithe (because many tithers begin to give more after seeing how God showers grace on them).  These figures do not calculate how God’s blessing would cause many to prosper, and therefore, have more to give.   And these figures also don’t include all the new Christians coming into the Kingdom as a result of the Church doing what it is supposed to be doing!

It has always been God’s plan that His people would be the ones who would bless the world.  Sadly, we have left this responsibility to the governments and humanitarian organizations of the world.  Usually this has not been successful.  In some cases, it has been disastrous.   Corruption and selfishness usually contaminate the best of intentions of governments and secular organizations.  What if the Church were to begin being faithful in the area of giving?  God, who promises to multiply what we give, would be glorified around the world!  

Where does it start?  It starts with ordinary people, most of whom don’t have a lot to give, beginning to step out in faith.  They believe God’s Word is true for all of us….all of the time!

The Joy of Giving

I am in the process of writing a Bible study guide called, “The Joy of Giving”. For the next several weeks, I plan to post some thoughts and conclusions from this study on the topic of Biblical giving. I realize that giving is not taught that much in churches today, and I also know that it is increasingly becoming a taboo topic. We all have heard people talk with disgust about a certain church or pastor talking too much about money. Some say that is one of the biggest problems of the Church. There certainly has been much abuse in the area of solicitation of money. However, I could argue that not talking about giving (that comes from the right heart) is one of the biggest problems facing the Church today.

We all know that many churches are financially struggling today due to a decrease in giving. It has also been reported that the Church in America is giving about half of what it did 20 years ago to foreign missions. I know that we have just gone through the Great Recession. But there was greater faithfulness to giving on the part of the Church during the Great Depression than there is today. The reality is that a careful study of giving in the Scriptures shows that the overall spiritual health of God’s people is directly tied to their financial generosity. That is why we can no longer ignore teaching on the topic.

God promises to bless those who give. We live in a world where “taking” is much more popular that “giving”. People flock to books and seminars that tell us how we can get more out of this world. Most of the developed countries of the world today are embracing an “entitlement” society where everyone is trying to get as much as they can out of their governments. There is a spirit of “taking” today that will eventually destroy us. This same spirit is creeping into the Church. Churches find themselves competing against one another trying to present the best package of programs to draw people. People are more concerned about what they “get” from church than they are about what they are giving. Jesus said it clearly, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).

Note just a few things that happen as a result of giving:

The windows of heaven will open and be poured out upon us with blessings that overflow. Malachi 3:10

Our barns will be filled with plenty. Proverbs 3:11

Blessing will pour into our laps. Luke 6:38

Grace will abound to us, so that we will have abundance for every good deed.
II Corinthians 9:8

Our seed for sowing will be multiplied. II Corinthians 9:10

The harvest of our righteousness will be increased. II Corinthians 9:10

We will be enriched in everything. II Corinthians 9:11

What Christian would not want to be blessed in such ways as just described? And these are just a few phrases mentioned. A more careful study of these and other passages reveal even more clearly that we have been called to be a people with God’s heart to give in every situation, to be generous with our time, with our resources, and with our money. How can we not speak up for this very important truth in God’s Word? Not doing so will only continue to allow the Church to drift away from the power and fruitfulness that God intends.

One reason giving is so important is that it is at the heart of the Gospel message. God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son. The disciples of Jesus were called and taught how to give, to serve, and to bless others. I believe that financial giving, especially in sacrificial ways, often becomes a gateway for God to work deeper inside of us and to transform us to be the selfless servants He desires to use in the world today.

I encourage everyone to begin to study afresh what His Word has to say about the benefits of Biblical giving. It doesn’t take experienced Bible scholars to understand these passages. God has made them very clear. And I encourage pastors and teachers not to shrink back from speaking boldly about these truths!

The Poison of Jealousy

Today I want to write about a topic that is rarely talked about in our churches, yet is something that almost all of us have seen:  Jealousy.  Having been in ministry for forty years I have noticed that jealousy has crippled countless Christian lives.  It has caused dedicated workers to abandon their call, it has ended close friendships, it has cut people off from church fellowship, and it has driven believers to irrational behavior.  It is a poison that must be stopped in each heart.  We must not ever let it take root in ourselves, and we must warn others of its danger.

The Scripture is filled with examples of jealousy.  The first to be mentioned is Cain, jealous that his brother’s sacrifice was accepted and not his.  Without going into the reasons why his sacrifice was not accepted, we can easily see that this jealousy led first to separating himself from God and then eventually to killing his brother.  Sin, in the form of jealousy, was crouching at the door, and Cain could not master it (See Genesis 4).  We see jealousy again between Jacob and Esau, where we are told that Esau allowed a root of bitterness to destroy his life (Hebrews 12:15-17).  Then there was the jealousy Joseph’s brothers had concerning Joseph (Genesis 37, especially verses 5, 11, 18-20).  The jealousy here led to the drama, with all its sin and heartache, that is recorded in Genesis 37-50. We still haven’t even left the first book of the Bible!

In almost every case of jealousy mentioned in the Scriptures (and there are quite a few) very serious consequences resulted.  In Numbers 12, Aaron and Miriam nurture that spirit of jealousy against Moses.  The consequences are that Miriam is struck with dreaded leprosy.  Another vivid example of jealousy, and it consequences, begins when King Saul hears the women of the city sing, “Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.”  From that day forward, Saul becomes jealous of David (I Samuel 18, especially verses 6-9, 12, 15, 28-29).  The jealousy became so intense that Saul repeatedly tries to kill David.  Saul’s relationship with Jonathan his son is destroyed because of this jealousy.  The rest of I Samuel is essentially this story.  Saul is driven crazy because he allowed jealousy to take root in his life.  Actually, this jealousy opened the door for an evil spirit to harass Saul (I Samuel 19:9).  Jealousy is a poison that enslaves, blinds, and can even destroy the life of God in our lives and in those around us.  It produces insane behavior.

There are more examples in the Scripture.  We are told in the New Testament (James 3:14-16) that jealousy is demonic and leads to disorder and every evil thing.  I have observed that most church splits and division among church leadership have at least some connection to jealousy.  Jealousy may not always be the central issue of the division, but it often keeps the offended and separated parties from being able to appropriate the clear Biblical principles of relationship.  Sadly, most of you reading this have yourselves seen far too many examples of this.  Having had the opportunity to see some of these situations closely, I can testify that jealousy has been a major factor in preventing Biblical resolution from taking place.

Jealousy strikes at all levels of our society.  We see in the political arena.  We can point to examples in history where wars have started because of jealousy.  We see it within sports teams and between teams.  We see it in the entertainment industry, the media, in education, and in business.  We see jealousy among students of schools of all levels.  We see it between spouses and among siblings.  This corrupted world is filled with jealousy.  But among God’s people?  We cannot tolerate it!  We have to recognize it for what it is, and reject it and its evil lies that destroy our unity!

My admonition to all of us is that we diligently guard ourselves from this poisonous spirit of jealousy that will destroy us and the work of God around us.  And let’s talk more openly about this evil within the Church.  If not, we will continue to fell prey to the ugly spirit of jealousy.  We will continue to see division.  We will continue to see workers abandon their calling.  We will continue to see ruined lives.

Question:  Where have you seen the affects of jealousy?

Why Do I Love the Church?

Why do I love the Church?   And why should you also love the Church? Sadly, it has become very popular for Christians to bash the Church and minimize her importance today.  I hear people saying the Church is no longer relevant.  Some suggest that whenever 2-3 Christians gather in a coffee shop, that is really Church.  Others say that they are a part of the world wide church and that is what really counts.   Never mind that over 90% of the references to Church in the Bible relate to a local congregation.  Sure, gathering in a coffee shop is part of Church, but only one part.  Church, as described very clearly in the New Testament, is a group of disciples committed to Jesus and to one another.  There are leaders or shepherds, there is discipleship taking place, there is a sense of mission, and there is correction and admonishment when needed.

I agree that the Church generally is not where God wants her to be.  There needs to be changes for her to be all that God has intended for her.  There are certainly faults and weaknesses.  That’s because the Church is made up of people, and even redeemed people are a work in progress.  It amazes me how much we extend mercy on people (even excusing sin at times) but not the Church.  The Church is people.  So why do love I love the Church?  I can think of a number of reasons, but I want to mention just four today.
1.    I love the Church because the Church is God’s instrument to bring about spiritual growth and maturity in His people. It is through the Church that God has designed for disciples to be made and reproduced.  Without the Church, His people will not grow significantly, nor will they be equipped to do the works to which He has called them.  Ephesians 4 is only one place that clearly states this.
2.    I love the Church because the Church is the pillar and support of the truth (see 1 Timothy 3:15).  One reason so many today are being deceived by all sorts of tangents and heresy is that so many have disconnected themselves from the Church.   The Church has been given the responsibility, and the anointing, to guard the truth.  Without the Church, truth will be lost!
3.     I love the Church because the Church is the body of Christ here on earth.  Do we understand that?  The Church is Jesus here in this world.  We are His hands and feet and mouthpiece.  We don’t just represent Jesus here on earth, but we ARE His body.  The world will not truly see Jesus without the Church!   1 Corinthians 12 is one of many passages that states this.
4.     I love the Church because the Church is the Bride of Christ.  See Ephesians 5.  She is the focus of Jesus’ attention and affection and love!  When I hear arrogant Christians bash the Church I must admit that I cringe.  Is there no fear of God?  How can someone who claims to know Christ bash His bride?  It is the ultimate of pride, and it certainly shows no fear of God whatsoever.  Jesus loves His bride, the Church, and so must we.
No wonder the kingdom of darkness works so hard to discredit the Church, and then tries to separate Christians from the Church.  Within the context of the Church, followers of Jesus grow in maturity.  The Church is the pillar and support of truth.  The Church is the body of Christ here on earth.  The Church is the Bride of Christ.  And the day is coming soon when  Jesus will return for His Bride, and bring an end to the kingdom of darkness. No wonder there is such attack on the Church!

Pentecost Sunday

At Immanuel Fellowship, we are currently going through a series of studies called “Journey Through the Bible” in our weekly house churches.  Yes, it is quite an endeavor, and one which will take us about four years to complete. However, we believe very strongly that all of us need to have a solid foundation of the Scriptures.  We have been blessed with having so many among us who have only recently in the past year or so made commitments to follow Jesus.  And we have found that even those who have been in the Lord for some time have major gaps in their understanding of the Word, especially in the Old Testament.  We have not gone very far yet.  Most of the house churches are in the book of Numbers, I believe.  But the Lord is teaching us so much!

Recently, in our study of the book of Leviticus, we studied the three annual convocations that Israel was to observe.  This turned out to be a fascinating study as we looked at both the historical significance and the prophetic aspects of the Passover, Pentecost, and the Feast of Booths.  Pentecost, often referred to as the “Day of Firstfruits” in the Old Testament, was the time when Israel would gather to celebrate the coming harvest.  It was a statement of faith as much as anything, to what Israel believed God would do in the coming months.  It is no coincidence that the Lord decided to “kick off” the Church on the Day of Pentecost.  Acts 2 records the story when God brought into the Church three thousand souls from all over the world.  This, too, is prophetic of what God wants to do.  There is a Harvest coming that will bring in people from every nation, tongue, tribe, and people.

Monica's Baptism

This past Sunday was Pentecost Sunday.  We didn’t plan it this way, but we happened to have scheduled a water baptism for that day.  We didn’t have three thousand baptized, but we did have sixteen people baptized, which is one of the largest baptisms we have ever had as a local church.  Because of our recent study on the Day of Pentecost, we were all fascinated with the promise that there is a Great Harvest coming!  And we believe that we are already seeing the firstfruits!   And, as a statement of faith, we celebrate what God has promised!

God’s Intention for the Church

For 25 years now, I have used this illustration that, for me, has been helpful in describing what is God’s intention for the Church. Of course, no illustration is perfect; all still have limitations, and even flaws.  Still, a visual picture can sometimes portray a thought or idea that words cannot.

In this illustration, posted above, we see three areas that a local church needs to be growing in, if it is going to be healthy.  You might call these essential building blocks for a healthy church.  First, there is what I am calling Biblical Discipleship.  This serves as a foundation to whatever else the church might do.  Discipleship is an individual pursuit for the most part, yet it is the church’s responsibility to build this foundation of discipleship into the individual lives of the congregation.  Discipleship is much more than just some program we expect people to go through.  More than anything else, it is an ever-deepening relationship with Jesus.  It includes learning and studying the core teachings of Jesus.  It is then pursuing a life devoted to living like Jesus, or living by these teachings in a practical way.  Jesus told His disciples that the way to build on solid ground was to not merely hear His words, but to act upon them. However, we quickly learn that trying to walk out these radical teachings of Jesus is impossible in our own strength.  That is why Biblical Discipleship also must include an understanding of how we have been empowered with the resurrected life of Christ.  We must know and walk by faith in who we are in Christ.  These are just a few of the things that must be built into the lives of those desiring to truly be disciples.

Biblical Church Life (or community) is the next building block.  Note that this is built upon a foundation of discipleship.  This is very important.  The “church life” we see described in so much of the New Testament is only possible when practiced by those embracing discipleship.  That is because Biblical church life is radical.  We are told repeatedly to love (agape love, that is) one another.  We are exhorted to be of the same mind and heart with one another.  How can carnal Christians, or anything other than devoted disciples, do these things?  We are reminded to serve one another, to encourage one another, to admonish one another, bear with one another, and forgive one another.  Actually, depending on the translation you are using, there are about 31 different “one anothers.”  Most of these cannot be done in the typical meeting environment.  Church life is therefore something that is much more than a Sunday morning service. It is a family, it is caring relationships, it is working together and serving together throughout the week. Church no longer is defined as a organization, a building, or an activity on Sunday morning.   There have been many in recent years who have stated the Church has lost her sense of community, and that it has become program-based rather than relationship-based.  Yet many who have “tried community,” have abandoned these ideals.  Why?  Often it is because of the lack of true disciples.  It is frustrating and discouraging to try to build community (koinonia) with “carnal Christians” who often fall into contentions and are motivated by selfish ambitions. The type of Biblical church life called for in the Scriptures is not possible…..unless it is built upon the foundation of Biblical Discipleship.

Spiritual Multiplication (fruit bearing) is the third building block.  The multiplication of disciples, various ministries, and even churches is something that many churches dream of.  However, sustained evangelism and spiritual reproduction spring out of the foundations of Biblical discipleship and Biblical church life.  The book of Acts is a perfect example of this, along with countless accounts throughout Church History.  It is popular to have programs designed to increase evangelism and to sponsor evangelism crusades.  And while these are often very useful, these things cannot be a substitute for building discipleship and community into our churches.  When a church is healthy and growing in these aspects, then multiplication will naturally flow.  That’s because God’s power and anointing are reserved for those walking in the unity of the Spirit (walking in Biblical church life).  So often, we try to circumvent God’s way of bearing much fruit, in a human attempt to get quick results.  This is the fruit that fades away and is temporal…….but God is calling the Church for much more than this.

It should be noted that we should not neglect building church life and spiritual multiplication just because we have more work to do in building Biblical discipleship.  Let’s be building all three, but realize that as our foundation of Biblical Discipleship gets stronger and deeper, then so will our church life.  And as that grows and deepens, fruit will begin to overflow.  Let’s note, too, that in a typical church congregation, there will always be people hanging out on the sidelines.  (Jesus said there would even be tares among the wheat).  But it is important that there be a strong and growing core of disciples who are embracing Biblical discipleship and church life, and who are desiring spiritual multiplication.

I have actually put together several one or two day workshops that explain these things more thoroughly.  In fact, I will be in Paris next week doing a workshop on “Building Biblical Discipleship in our Churches.”  My goal over the next several months is to share here in this blog  more on each of these building blocks.  I pray that these short exhortations will encourage more discipleship and deeper church life among all of us.

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