Abiding in Joy

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

Archive for the category “Personal Growth”

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!

Enter Into the Joy of Your Master

Two parables of Jesus that have been on my mind the last few years are the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25) and the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19).  Though the parables are different in a number of ways, the primary message is the same in both: We must be faithful with what God has given us, and by doing so, we will therefore assume more responsibility in His Kingdom.

These parables are rather sobering in that they speak not only of the rewards of being faithful, but we see the severe consequences of not being faithful with what God has given us.  In fact, those consequences are incurred by doing absolutely!  Sadly, “doing nothing” may represent the state of most who call themselves Christians.  We have been given so much.  We have been given the glorious gospel. We have been placed “in Christ” and therefore have been blessed with “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3).  We have been given a call and set of gifts that no one else on earth possesses.  He has equipped us to do His work through the Holy Spirit, the power of prayer, and the fact that Jesus Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father interceding for us (Hebrews 7:24-25).  We have been given finances, health, time, and gifts that He desires for us to use for His purposes.  And yet we often continue to serve our own interests and personal agenda.  Too many do nothing or just the minimum when comes to the purposes of the Kingdom of God.

There are many truths found in these parables.  Today, I want to draw our attention to what the Master says to the faithful servants in the Parable of the Talents.  Because they were faithful and multiplied what had been given them, the Master says, “Well, done, good and faithful servant.  You were faithful with a few things.  I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.”  In a world starving for true joy, Jesus tells us that being faithful is the road we must walk to obtain true joy.  The enemy has lied to us by suggesting that serving faithfully and sacrificially will rob us of life.  It falls in that same category of deception that says we need to live for ourselves, that we must look after “me” first, and that we must spend excessive time on ourselves.  We see books on 100 things to do before you die or 100 places to go.  In short, in our quest to find happiness and contentment, we miss what Jesus had to say about true joy.  When we are faithful with what God has given us, we will enter into His joy!  Yes, being faithful will mean sacrifice.  It will mean hard work.  It will mean not spending time on ourselves. But the result?   Joy…..both here on this earth, and in the age to come!

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?

Every Man Complete in Christ

We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.”    Colossians 1:28

It is obvious that one of Paul’s goals for the churches that he worked with was to bring every single person to a place of being complete in Christ.  He, along with his co-laborers, would do this by proclaiming Christ, admonishing, and teaching.  We are also told in the following verse that for this purpose he would labor and strive.  This was not just some passing interest for these early Christian leaders.  They saw this as the central part of their ministry.

So what does it mean to be complete in Christ?  If this is so important, why do so few Christians even understand what this means, much less make this a life pursuit?  The Greek word for “complete” is a word used in many other places in the New Testament.  It means coming to a place of spiritual maturity or wholeness.  While this involves a life-long process and certainly includes many aspects of spiritual growth, I have increasingly become convinced that a major part of this process means learning who we are in Christ.

Two very powerful words we see used over and over are “in Christ,” or sometimes “in Him.”  Scripture clearly states that those who have truly received God’s gift of salvation by faith are “in Christ.”  At Immanuel Fellowship (the church in which I serve as a pastor) we are currently going through the book of Ephesians on Sunday mornings.  After almost three months, we are still in Ephesians chapter 1!  The focus of this first chapter is looking at some of the ways we are in Christ.  We have been blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ.  We have been chosen before the foundation of the world in HimIn Him, we have been predestined to adoption as sons.  We have redemption through His blood in Him.  We have been sealed with the Holy Spirit in Him.  The list goes on and on. These truths may seem lofty and irrelevant to some, but actually, gaining an understanding of them can greatly affect our thinking and our lives today.  To put it another way, if we do not know who we are in Him, then we will constantly be tossed emotionally and spiritually all over the place.  Sadly, that is the state of so many Christians today.  We must learn who we are in Christ.

It is not just who we are in Christ.  We must also learn what we have in Christ.  We have been given so much!  Ephesians, for example, speaks of the “riches of His grace” and the “riches of His glory.”  In chapter three, Paul speaks of his call to preach the “unfathomable riches of Christ” to the Gentiles (verse 8).  The New Testament is filled with passages that describe the riches that we have in Christ Jesus.   Rather than being rich in Him, many Christians are spiritual paupers. No wonder the Church today lacks the power and the passion that she once had!  We have lost our bearings.  We have lost sight of who we are in Him, and what we have in Him.  To be sure, much of the blame falls upon Christian pastors and leaders who do not “labor and strive” to present every man complete in Christ.

Maybe I should mention one other thing.  It is not enough to know who we are in Christ, and what we have in Him.  Yes, it begins there.  But, in order to truly be complete in Christ, we must “appropriate” these things. That means that we allow these things to change our way of thinking, and we walk accordingly.  The result will be a transformed life that is honoring Him in our words, attitudes, and actions; it will produce power in our lives and authority in prayer and influence.  I urge Christian leaders and pastors not to be content with just preaching these truths.  Like Paul and his companions, we must  “impart” these truths into the lives of the ones whom we serve.  Admonishing every man and teaching every man suggests that this work involves personal relationship with people.  May we proclaim Christ, and may we admonish every man and teach every man, that we may present every man complete in Christ!

(If you would want to listen to any of the podcasts on Ephesians 1, you can do so by going to immanuelfellowship.podbeam.com).

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