The Call of Virtue

To some people, the word “virtue” may seem to be an archaic or old-fashioned concept. We live in what many would call a post-Christian society, where everyone does what is right in his or her own eyes, whereby traditional values are scrapped in favor of “If it feels good, do it.” Virtue, however is not just a biblical concept, but is a sound life principle by which we can direct our lives. Some synonyms for virtue include integrity, sincerity, soundness, blamelessness, temperance, purity, incorruptibility, and decency, all of which are ideals to strive towards.

2 Peter 3:3-8 states: “According as His divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust. And beside this, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue; and to virtue knowledge; And to knowledge temperance; and to temperance patience; and to patience godliness; And to godliness brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness charity. For if these things be in you, and abound, they make you that ye shall neither be barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (KJV).

Living a virtuous life is a choice and a daily practice. As Christians, our integrity should be solid as we seek to live a life that pleases God and reveals Christ to those around us. We should never circumvent our long-term integrity to compromise our principles for a short-term gain, such as taking unethical shortcuts to make more money or get a promotion at our jobs. In fact, Jesus said a tree is known by its fruit, so let us shown ripe, righteous fruit.

Peter goes on to state: “But he that lacketh these things is blind, and cannot see afar off, and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins. Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” (2 Peter 3:9-10, KJV).

If we have failed at some point, let us not live a life of regret and condemnation, but confess to God and bask in His forgiveness. Every day the Lord gives us is another chance to make things right, as His mercies are new every morning.

How can we apply virtue to our daily lives? We can apply virtue to our way of life, our words, and our faith according to the Apostle Paul.

“In all things showing thyself a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, sound speech that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.” (Titus 2:7-8, KJV).

“Let no man despise thy youth; but thou be an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” (1 Timothy 4:12, KJV).

Even if being virtuous cost you personally- whether it be short-term gains, whether it would be difficult or time consuming, or having to bypass the chance “to get even,” choose virtue. No matter what it costs, do the right thing.

If we strive to live a life of virtue and honor, nothing can throw us off track. The Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca put it this way: “A good man will do what he thinks will be honorable for him to do even if it is laborious, he will do it even if it is damaging to him, he will do it even if it is dangerous. On the other hand, he will not do what is base even if it brings him money, even if it brings him pleasure, even if it brings him power. Nothing can deflect him from what is honorable, nothing tempt him to what is base. Hence, if he is bound to pursue the honorable course at all costs and to eschew the base at all costs and to look to these two principles in every act of his life, equating the good with the honorable and the bad with the base, if his virtue is wholly uncorrupted and maintains its bearings, then virtue is his sole good and it is impossible for any accident to make it otherwise.”[1]

In order to start living a virtuous life, we must gain the wisdom to do so. We must establish daily goals and work towards them. If we do this, we will see progress over time. We must spend time in prayer and God’s Word. We must love and forgive others as Christ has loved and forgiven us. God bless you all.

[1] Moses Hadas, The Stoic Philosophy of Seneca, “The Sole Good.” New York: W.W. Norton & Company 1958: 211-212.

The Search for Happiness

Happiness is an elusive concept. Our lives are spent searching for happiness, but we may not know what it looks like. We look to the lives of other people, the pursuit of career, fortune, fame, relationships, hobbies, self-improvement, and even religion. However, if these pursuits bring us to a dead end, we seek ways to dull the pain and misery brought on by crushed dreams and aspirations through addictions, grief, or giving into bitterness and despair. What if we were to view happiness not as a “thing,” but a state of mind that extends beyond our current circumstances?

The famed British evangelist Charles Spurgeon said, “It is not how much we have, but how much we enjoy, that makes happiness.”[1]

Martha Washington, wife of the first U.S. President George Washington, echoed the same sentiments as the Apostle Paul in Philippians 4:11-13 when she said, “I am determined to be cheerful and happy in whatever situation I may find myself. For I have learned that the greater part of our misery or unhappiness is determined not by our circumstance but by our disposition.”[2]

The Stoic philosopher Seneca said, “True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future.”[3]

The Apostle Peter wrote, “His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and goodness.” (2 Peter 1:3, NIV).

In short, we have all that we need to live a happy life. For the Christian, the Holy Spirit resides in us to guide us in all truth, joy, and contentment. The Holy Spirit is also there to convict us of our sin and to keep us on the correct path in life. If we can rest assured that the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ covers our sins past, present, and future, why is there a need to live in the regret of the past? Why would we need to dread the upcoming day? Why do we live in fear of tomorrow and the future?

Though current circumstances may not be ideal through your or the world’s expectations, we must enjoy it and make the best of it, for God in His infinite wisdom has assigned us these struggles that His glory may shine forth. Everything we have- our families, our possessions, our very lives are simply on loan to us. We are simply stewards and caretakers who must manage the estate until the True Owner returns.

Let us go forth and enjoy today while we have it. Do all for the glory of God. Whatever you are or strive to be in this life, be the best at it. Our abundance of joy and happiness is found in what we have and not what we do not have. The search for happiness begins and ends within our spirits and thoughts. God bless you.

[1] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/c/charlesspu131342.html?src=t_happiness Accessed 3 June 2016.

[2] http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/marthawash160612.html?src=t_happiness Accessed 3 June 2016.

[3] : http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/l/luciusanna121552.html?src=t_happiness Accessed 3 June 2016.

Dealing with Offense

The possibility of becoming offended or encountering someone who is offended exist in our society. We can get upset about what is being reported on the news or what we see on social media. We can become offended at the actions of people in our lives or we can join in with other people who are offended.

Imagine for a moment you start your day at work. You are in a good mood when one of your co-workers comes in and complains about the job: “I can’t stand working here. This company is stupid. The bosses don’t know what they’re doing. Why can’t they see these problems?” At this point, you have a choice to make: stay silent and/or positive or join in and get upset. If you choose to join in with the offended co-worker, this will start a downward spiral of you getting upset about your job before the day starts, which will lead to having a bad attitude,  possible poor work performance, and being ungrateful for your job. Complaining and offense is contagious just like a virus. If one person gets “sick” with offense, then someone else will catch it.

Living in constant offense is a waste of time and energy. Yes, there are great causes and social injustices we can speak out against, but what good does it do our bodies and spirits if we go through life angry over petty things all the time?

In the Bible, offenses are synonymous with sins, but offenses are also viewed as stumbling blocks and traps. Just picture yourself tripping over a child’s toy or a pet.  When we get offended. We also become trapped because we take the bait of offense and stay trapped until we look for a way out. What can we do in order to minimize or even eliminate the possibility of being offended?

We must treat seriously the sin of offense

While He was on the earth, Jesus used many teaching methods to bring across His points and the message of the Gospel. One of Jesus’ methods was hyperbole, which is using an extreme example to make a point.

“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.” (Matthew 5:29-30, NIV).

Of course, Jesus is talking about the seriousness of avoiding sin in our lives. Sin is serious to God, as Jesus died for our sins. Jesus is basically saying to get sin as far away from you as possible, which would include anything that causes us to fall.

We must realize Jesus’ message will be offensive to some

In Matthew 15:3-9, Jesus calls out the Pharisees for their religious hypocrisy of placing man’s traditions above the Word of God. “Jesus called the crowd to Him and said, ‘Listen and understand. What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.’” (Matthew 15:10-11, NIV).

With this statement coming on the heels of Jesus comments on the Pharisees’ practices, this caused further offense as the disciples told Jesus.

“Then the disciples came to Him and said, ‘Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?’ He replied, ‘Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” (Matthew 15:12-14, NIV).

When we show and share the love of Christ with those in our lives, we cannot control their response. If someone is offended, that is their response, that is their judgment, do not let it pollute your spirit.

Being offended will stop the work of God

After Jesus established His ministry, He came back to His hometown of Nazareth and encountered an offended crowd:

“’Where did this man get these things?’ they asked, ‘What’s this wisdom that has been given Him? What are these remarkable miracles He is performing? Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t His sisters here with us?” And they took offense at Him. Jesus said to them, ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. He was amazed at their lack of faith.” (Mark 6:2-6, NIV, emphasis mine).

Being offended will disrupt our fellowship with God

In the Parable of the Four Soils, Jesus explains the four different ways people will respond to the preaching of God’s Word. Regarding the soil that falls on the rocky path, Jesus speaks as to how offense affects that person:

“The seed falling on the rocky ground refers to someone who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. But since they have no root, they last only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, they quickly fall away.” (Matthew 13:20-21, NIV.

As Christians, we must be mindful of our behavior

People pay more attention to what you do as opposed to what you say. As we interact with believers and non-believers alike, we must be careful as not to cause a stumbling block or weaken another’s faith because of our behavior.

“I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause division and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naïve people.” (Romans 16:17-18, NIV).

When offense presents itself, take the high road

“Whoever would foster love covers over an offense, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” (Proverbs 17:9, NIV).

“A person’s wisdom yields patience; it is to one’s glory to overlook an offense.” (Proverbs 19:11, NIV).

Brothers and sisters, remember that we will encounter people and situations that will offend us, as it is the way of the world. We have no control over neither what happens nor over the actions of others. Instead of spending hours, months, or years of our short lives being upset and grumbling, let us forgive and rejoice. If we have done the offending, let us seek God’s forgiveness and reach out to those we have hurt. God bless you all.

 

 

Toward a More Practical Faith

Everyone regardless of their spiritual background has faith. For example, a farmer who plants his seed has faith that his crops will grow. If I go to work, I have faith that I will receive a paycheck at the end of the week. People put money in various stocks, bonds, and funds believing they will have money to live comfortably after they retire. A coach believes that his or her game plan will win the game. These are oversimplified examples of “worldly faith,” where principles are applied and put into practice. We can at times, however, view our Christian faith as something more abstract. We have the “saving faith” to accept what Jesus did on the cross, but we may be confused on how to apply it to everyday life.

The Apostle Paul’s influence on Christianity is undeniable, as he is the author of thirteen of the twenty-seven books that make up the New Testament. Paul’s multiple missionary journeys touched countless people all around the world of his time. Though Paul was a very learned man and spoke with kings, governors, and religious leaders, his epistles to the churches were written for everyday people who were trying to live out their everyday lives. I believe Paul’s letters give us insight on how to live a practical Christian faith in our daily interactions with our families, friends, and coworkers. Just as Paul instructed the Philippian church: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me-put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.” (Philippians 4:9, NIV).

The following list is far from comprehensive, but I believe this will give us a foundation upon which we can apply biblical principles to our daily lives.

We must live our faith

 “…Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may be blameless and pure ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’” (Philippians 2:12-15a, NIV).

How do we live out our faith according to Paul?

Value everyone as God values them

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NKJV).

We must remember our lives before Christ

“Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh-who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been made near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:11-13, NKJV).

Remember that we are one church

 One of Satan’s best strategies is to divide and conquer. If he can keep the church at odds with ourselves, how can we stand together to defeat him.

“I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to have a walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.” (Ephesians 4:1-7, NKJV).

We must continue to grow in the Spirit

 “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.” (Colossians 3:1-4, NKJV).

“That He would grant you, according to the riches of riches of His glory, to be strengthened with might through His Spirit in the inner man, that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.” (Ephesians 3:16-17a, NKJV).

Don’t get caught up in petty arguments

   “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes. Knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:23-26, NKJV).

Change your thinking

“Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy-meditate on these things.” (Philippians 4:8, NKJV).

Put your time to good use

“See then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil.” (Ephesians 5:15-16, NKJV).

Accept what comes our way

Because we are in Christ, that does not mean that our lives will be free from hardship and difficulty, but God can use our stories to reach someone else. The Apostle Paul spoke of such an event during his first imprisonment:

“But I want you to know, brethren, that the things which happened to me have actually turned out for the furtherance of the gospel, so that it has become evident to the whole palace guard, and to all the rest, that my chains are in Christ; and most of the brethren in the Lord, having become confident by my chains, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.” (Philippians 1:12-14, NKJV).

Seek the higher peace

Finally, if we come to understand that God allows for everything that happens in our lives, we can live through the most difficult circumstances with a peace of mind that would baffle other people.

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7, NKJV).

May the Lord be with you and bless you.

John the Baptist and Doubt

It is perfectly normal to have our doubts about people and situations. If we face a difficult life decision such as a career change, getting married, or seeking help to overcome a problem, we can and will have our doubts as to whether or not we are doing the right thing. Doubt, if it is allowed to run free in our minds can be crippling and lead us to indecision and inaction. Doubt is corrosive like an acid that eats away at our faith.

In matters of faith, doubt can make us think and say such things as “Have I missed God’s call on my life?” “How can I be sure the Bible is God’s word?” “If I took a stand for God, why am I going through this?” If you have ever struggled with these questions or others like it, you are in good company.

John the Baptist was one person who struggled with doubt. John the Baptist reached a point in his life where he even began to doubt who Jesus was. John the Baptist was imprisoned for speaking out against the relationship of King Herod and his wife, Herodias, who was the former wife of Herod’s brother. Old Testament law forbid one brother from marrying another brother’s wife while that brother was alive. It was while John was in prison that he began to doubt.

“After Jesus had finished instructing His twelve disciples, He went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’” (Matthew 11:1-3, NIV, see also Luke 7:18-20).

“Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see. The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of Me.’” (Matthew 11:4-6, NIV, see also Luke 7:21-23).

Throughout the Old Testament, there are miracles recorded, but not miracles on the scale of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus did not condemn John for his doubt, but reminded him of all that was taking place. The Gospels record only a small portion of Jesus’ miracles, but they are sufficient to make anyone believe that Jesus was the Messiah. John the Baptist was later executed by King Herod (Matthew 14:1-12, Mark 6:14-29, and Luke 9:7-9), but let us examine John’s life prior to his imprisonment:

*John preached repentance and baptized people in the Jordan River (Matthew 3:1-6, Mark 1:1-8, Luke 3:1-17).

*John criticized the Pharisees and Sadducees for their religious hypocrisy (Matthew 3:7-10).

*John said the Messiah was coming after him (Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:7-8, John 1:15, John 1:19-28).

*John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River and witnessed the Holy Spirit descending on Jesus and heard the voice of God (Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22).

*John stated that his ministry would lose influence when Jesus came on the scene (John 3:27-36).

*John declared Jesus to be the Messiah (John 1:29-34).

John’s disciples posed his question as Jesus was ministering. Think for a moment the impact this question would have had on the crowd. “John the Baptist is having his doubts?” “Is this Jesus really the Messiah?” However, Jesus used this moment to confirm John’s ministry as the forerunner to Jesus as the Messiah.

“As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John: ‘What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written: I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare the way before you. Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he…And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Elijah who was to come. Whoever has ears, let them hear.’” (Matthew 11:7-11; 11:14-15, NIV).

Notice that the Scripture says as John’s disciples were leaving, meaning there is the possibility they overheard Jesus talking about John the Baptist. John’s disciples relaying not only Jesus’ miracles but His statements about John would have encouraged John’s spirit and confirmed John’s ministry.

Jude 1:22 says to “Be merciful to those who doubt.” (NIV). When we come across a doubting brother or sister, do not belittle what they are battling. If John the Baptist can have his doubts, then no one is immune from doubt. However, we must remember that doubt and faith cannot co-exist. If we come to God with doubts while we pray, we will be what James calls “double-minded” (James 1:6-8).

Just as Jesus told John’s disciples to tell of the miracles, so too we must remember the greatest miracle Jesus ever performed in our lives: our salvation. What has God already done in your life? What does God’s Word say about you? (I would encourage you to read Ephesians). If we feed our faith, we will starve our doubt. Meditate on the goodness of God and place His Word in your heart. God bless you all.

 

Raise Your Hands in the Battle

I worked with a personal trainer who put me through an intense weight training program. During our year-long plus sessions, I would be tested at various points to assess my progress. One of the exercises used was what is called a “max bench press.” In this exercise, the trainer would put a baseline amount of weight on the bar and increase the weight to test how much weight I could lift. Over time, my strength increased and I was able to lift more weight. However, there were times when the weight was too much to lift and I would need the trainer’s help to put the bar back on the rack. If I did not ask for the trainer’s help, I could have been seriously injured by the weight.

The total weight of our life experiences can weigh us down. There are times when the burdens can weigh us down gradually or we will be hit suddenly with an “Olympic-sized” load.  We can find ourselves weighed down by any number of things: the consequences of our sins, family issues, career struggles, financial obligations, addictions, terminal illness, and so on and so forth. If we try to tackle these issues on our own, the struggle will be much harder and we will find ourselves beaten down. We do not have to carry our burdens alone.

The ability to delegate is an important skill to have not only in business, but in life. If we can allow others, namely God to help us with the struggles and burdens we face, our lives will be much better and we will not be so weighed down. However, there are times when pride, fear of being perceived as weak, or even false humility will prevent us from asking for help. Delegation is a biblical concept, as you do not see David without Solomon, Jesus without the disciples, Paul without Timothy, the Apostles without the elders, or Moses without Aaron and Joshua.

The story of Moses is one that stresses the importance of not taking on burdens alone, for God and others are with us. In Exodus 17, Moses and the Israelites went to war with Amalek. Moses was to stand on top of a hill with the rod of God in his hand as Joshua and the Israelites fought with Amalek.

“And it came to pass, when Moses held up his hand, that Israel prevailed: and when he let down his hand, Amalek prevailed. But Moses’ hands were heavy; and they took a stone, and put it under him, and he sat thereon; and Aaron and Hur stayed up his hands, the one on the one side, and the other on the other side; and his hands were steady until the going down of the sun. And Joshua discomfited Amalek and his people with the edge of the sword.” (Exodus 17:11-13, KJV).

At first glance, this seems like an ordinary passage about a battle, but there is so much symbolism behind it:

*Moses stood on top of the hill (He had the high ground).

*Moses raised his hands toward Heaven.

*Moses had the rod of God in his hand (God’s authority).

*Moses sat on the rock (the Psalms use the expression “The Lord is my rock”).

*God sent two other people to lift up Moses arms.

*Moses kept up his arms and the battle was won.

We can and will win the battle we are facing if we lift our hands to God. As Christians, we have the spiritual authority to overtake the enemy. We can come to the throne room with boldness and grace. As Moses had the rod of God, Aaron, and Hur, we have God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit. As I write this, my inner spirit man is leaping for joy. Brothers and sisters, I will leave you with verses about lifting our hands. God bless you all.

“To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that they might be glorified.” (Isaiah 61:3, KJV).

“Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward the holy oracle.” (Psalm 28:2, KJV).

“Thus will I bless thee while I live: I will lift up my hands in thy Name.” (Psalm 63:4, KJV).

“My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate in thy statutes.” (Psalm 119:48, KJV).

“Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” (Psalm 141:2, KJV).

 

Tithing and the Church

I read an article recently about a woman in Florida who was sent a $1000 collection notice from her church. Unbeknownst to the single mother of two, the $1000 is a required yearly donation to remain “a member in good standing.” (I will provide a link to the full article). This annual donation is on top of the required monthly donations and other special donations the church requires for members and their children to pay. As I read this article, I felt sickened in my spirit to see a church resort to such tactics. In the church today, it is common place for tithing to be required of church members and often, new members pledge their financial support in front of the pastor and congregation.

Before I go further let me state that I am not arguing whether or not Christians should tithe because what you give to the Lord is and should be between you and the Lord only. I am examining tithing in its Old Testament context and if it applies to the church today.

The Tithe was never about money

“And all the tithe of the land, whether of the seed of the land or the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s. It is holy to the Lord…And concerning the tithe of the herd or the flock, or whatever passes under the rod, the tenth one shall be holy to the Lord.” (Leviticus 27:30, 32, NKJV, emphasis mine).

“You shall truly tithe all the increase of your grain that the field produces year by year.” (Deuteronomy 14:22, NKJV).

“As soon as the commandment was circulated, the children of Israel brought in abundance the firstfruits of grain and wine, oil and honey, and all the produce of the field; and they brought in abundantly the tithe of everything. And the children of Israel and Judah, who dwelt in the cities of Judah, brought the tithe of oxen and sheep; also the tithe of holy things which were consecrated to the Lord their God they laid in heaps.” (2 Chronicles 31:5-6, NKJV).

In fact, Deuteronomy 12:6-7 and 14:23 mention that the tithe was to be eaten at the Holy Place God would choose (i.e. the Tabernacle or Temple). The only time tithing is associated with money in the Old Testament is Deuteronomy 14:23-27, where if a person’s tithe is too much for them to make the trip to the Holy Place, they can sell it for money then travel to the Holy Place. Once they arrive at the Holy Place, then that person can purchase what they want to make a sacrifice to the Lord.

The Tithe served a specific purpose

“Then the Lord said to Aaron: You shall have no inheritance in their land, nor shall you have any portion among them; I am your portion and your inheritance among the children of Israel. Behold, I have given the children of Levi all the tithes in Israel as an inheritance in return for the work which they perform, the work of the tabernacle of the meeting.” (Numbers 18:20-21, NKJV, emphasis mine).

“And at the same time some were appointed over the rooms of the storehouse for the offerings, the firstfruits, and the tithes, to gather into them from the fields of the cities the portions specified by the Law for the priests and Levites; for Judah rejoiced over the priests and Levites who ministered.” (Nehemiah 12:44, NKJV, emphasis mine).

Thus, by studying these Scriptures, we see that the purpose of the tithe was to support the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament. The tribe of Levi received no allotment of the Promise Land, for the tribe of Levi was set aside to serve the Lord and the tithes took care of them since they had neither land to farm nor livestock to raise. Those who believe and teach in a replacement theology state that since Israel rejected Christ, the church has then taken the place of Israel and all of Israel’s promises in the Old Testament now apply to the church. However, there is no Scriptural basis for such a theology. It is this replacement theology has been used by many churches to require its members to tithe “to support the ministry.” Also, even Old Testament tithing went beyond the required 10 percent as Deuteronomy 14:28 and 26:12 discuss a tithe given every three years for the Levites, the strangers, the orphans, and the widows. The Israelites were also expected to give during festivals as well, so Old Testament tithing could have exceeded twenty to thirty percent, beyond the required ten percent.

Tithing before the Law

There are two passages of Scripture in Genesis that are used to justify Christian tithing, as the events took place before God issued the Law to Israel- Genesis 14:20 and Genesis 28:22. In Genesis 14, Abraham’s nephew, Lot, was kidnapped and Abraham lead a group of men to go and rescue Lot. On the way back, Abraham met a priest name Melchizedek, who blessed Abraham. Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all of the spoils he received when he rescued Lot (Genesis 14:20 and Hebrews 7:1-4). This is the only time in the story of Abraham that it states Abraham gave a tithe. Abraham gave out of the spoils of war, not out of his personal possessions. Abraham gave a tithe after Melchizedek spoke a blessing over him. Scripture does not say Melchizedek demanded a tithe nor does it state this was a required practice of the day. Just from this one instance, it is difficult to build a doctrine or requirement for the New Testament church.

Before his life changing encounter with God, Jacob was known as a deceiver- cheating his brother, Esau, out of his birthright and his blessing. Jacob is on the run from Esau and he camps out at Bethel. Jacob had a dream and God confirmed his covenant with Abraham, Jacob’s grandfather, to Jacob. Jacob woke up and made a vow to God:

“If God will be with me, and keep me in this way that I am going, and give me bread to eat and clothing to put on, so that I come back to my father’s house in peace,  then the Lord shall be my God. And this stone which I have set as a pillar shall be God’s house, and of all that You give me I will surely give a tenth to You.” (Genesis 28:20-22, NKJV).

Jacob’s vow was conditional upon God doing His part. Jacob said “If God does this, then I will do this.” The Bible warns us about making vows that we cannot fulfill or have no intention of fulfilling, thus, the vow Jacob made was for Jacob’s situation and should not be intended to be made a doctrine.

Malachi 3:8-10

If you have attended a church in the United States for any length of time, I am sure you have heard Malachi 3:8-10 taught before the offering is taken up or during a sermon on giving. Unfortunately, these verses have been used to both encourage the health and wealth of the prosperity teaching while at the same time bringing condemnation into the life of the believer.

“Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, In what way have we robbed You? In tithes and offerings. You are cursed with a curse, for you have robbed Me, even this whole nation. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this, Says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” (Malachi 3:8-10, NKJV).

If we read these verses in the proper context, it clearly shows that Malachi 3:8-10 is not intended for the church or for individual believers. In the Book of Malachi, God is rebuking the Levitical priesthood for making improper animal sacrifices. According to the Law, an animal sacrifice had to be perfect, free of physical defects and deformities. However, these priest were sacrificing these defected animals. In the first three chapters of Malachi, the intended audience is addressed as “Levi”, “Levites,” or “priests,” and not the nation of Israel (See Malachi 1:6, 2:1, 2:4, 2:7, 2:8, and 3:3).

What does New Testament giving look like?

The dichotomy of Law and Grace is as old as the church itself. As our Lord Jesus, the Apostles, and the first generation of believers were Jewish, the issue of keeping the Law and salvation became a hot topic when the Gentile believers came into the church. The issue was eventually settled in what is known as “The Jerusalem Decree,” which stated in part: “For it seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well.” (Acts 15:28-29, NKJV). Those four items mentioned were all that the Jerusalem church required for Gentile believers. Both the Old Testament and New Testament are clear that one must follow the entire Law. If one part of the Law is broken, then the whole Law is broken. The Law, then is an all or nothing proposition and we are not free to choose which parts we follow as believers. Thus, if the church is going to keep the Law of tithing, then we must keep the other parts of the Law. Nowhere in the Gospels did Jesus demand a tithe nor did the Apostles in their letters to the churches.

Even the Law made exceptions in giving and offerings. If someone did not have the animal needed for a certain sin offering, they could substitute it with another animal. If a farmer had only nine cattle, he was exempt from the tithe. This carries over to the New Testament as well, as Paul discusses in 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 concerning an offering the Corinthians were taking up for another church.

“For if there is first a willing mind, it is accepted according to what one has, and not according to what he does not have. For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack-that there may be equality.” (2 Corinthians 8:12-14, NKJV).

“So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:7-8, NKJV).
As Christians, just as we have surrendered our hearts to Christ, so our heart must be in our giving. If your church teaches that you tithe out of obligation, where is the joy in giving? If you see paying your tithes to God as you would pay a creditor, where is the blessing? If you are living on a tight budget or in poverty, how will you take care of your family’s needs if you give away what you do not have or what you cannot afford to give? I have been in these situations myself, I speak from experience, not bitterness. If you come under condemnation because your tithe had to go to an unexpected expense, where is the grace? God has given us the precious gift of His Son and our salvation, a gift we cannot pay back with material possessions, but only with our lives. How can churches and pastors require a monetary donation to stay “in good standing with Him?” How can we have a victorious church if everyone has been browbeaten into believing that they have robbed God and God will not hear their prayers? How can the church teach that because of Christ we have a better covenant with better promises and yet hold onto the old covenant? (Read Hebrews 7).  If God has blessed you where you can give financially without taking away from your family needs or shirking on your financial obligations, then do so if He draws upon your heart. If you do not have the money to tithe, give yourself to the Lord. Volunteer your time, buy groceries for a needy family, or help the sick and elderly in your community. The church is more than a building or a group of people- you are the church. God bless you.

As promised, here is the link to the original article:

http://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2015/07/florida-church-bills-single-mom-1000-for-failing-to-tithe/           

The Bitterness of Our Souls

For anyone who farms, gardens, or does general yard work, weeds can be a destructive force. Weeds can grow in any circumstances and in any location. Weeds choke the life out of crops, plants, and grass, thereby making hard work unfruitful. If we do not kill or pull up the weed at its roots, the weed will grow back. In my personal experience, I have had to take a shovel and dig up a weed at its roots. The Book of Hebrews compares bitterness to a root:

“Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God: lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled.” (Hebrews 12:15, KJV, emphasis mine).

When we allow the roots of bitterness to grow, they will wrap themselves around our hearts and spirits, choking they very life out of us. Our walk with God and our testimony will be affected if we allow bitterness to get a hold of us. We will become like Naomi, Ruth’s mother-in-law.

“’Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’” (Ruth 1:20-21, NIV).

Over the course of ten years, Naomi’s husband and two sons died, leaving Naomi bitter. Of course, bitterness can be a natural part of the grieving process and we must be honest with ourselves and with God, but we cannot allow it to define who we are. Naomi allowed the grief to define her and she was going around telling people, “Just call me bitter, that is who and what I am.”

Our enemy, Satan, wants nothing more than to destroy God’s people. If you have made Christ your Lord and Savior, Satan cannot have your spirit, but he will try to make your life hell on earth.

“The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” (John 10:10, NKJV).

One of Satan’s best strategies is to make us discouraged and bitter over unanswered prayers or overwhelming circumstances. In fact, we see the phrase, “The bitterness of my soul” in the Old Testament.

Hannah

Hannah eventually become the mother of the prophet Samuel, but struggled with not being able to have children. Hannah’s husband had two wives and the other wife, Peninnah, had multiple children while Hannah had none. For anyone who cannot have children or has struggled with infertility, it is a painful and heartbreaking situation. You can grow bitter and mournful over not having your own children while the world celebrates and sometimes complains about their own children. Hannah’s case was made worse by the taunts of Peninnah.

“And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.” (1 Samuel 1:6, KJV, emphasis mine).

How many times has your adversary, the devil, made you feel bitter about a situation? To the devil, our situation is not enough to deal with, he has to rub it in as Peninnah did with Hannah. How did Hannah deal with the situation.

 “And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.” (1 Samuel 1:10, KJV, emphasis mine).

Scripture goes on to say that Hannah prayed for a son and that if God would give her a son, she would give him to the Lord’s service. God granted Hannah’s request and her son, Samuel, became a prophet and the last judge of Israel.

King Hezekiah

King Hezekiah was one of the eight righteous kings of Judah in the Old Testament. Hezekiah became gravely ill and he received a visit from the prophet Isaiah.

“In those days Hezekiah was sick and near death. And Isaiah the prophet, the son of Amoz, went to him and said to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Set your house in order, for you shall die and not live.’” (Isaiah 38:1, NKJV).

King Hezekiah responded to the news by praying and the Lord gave Hezekiah another fifteen years to live. Hezekiah praised God for answering his prayer and contrasted praise with bitterness that he had in his heart.

“What shall I say? He has both spoken to me, And He Himself has done it. I shall walk carefully all my years in the bitterness of my soul. O Lord, by these things men live; And in all these things is the life of my spirit; So You will restore me and make me live. Indeed it was for my own peace that I had great bitterness; But You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, for You have cast all my sins behind Your back.” (Isaiah 38”15-17, NKJV, emphasis mine).

Job

 Job, of course is known for the many trials he endured. All ten of Job’s children died, he lost his financial livelihood, he became sick, his wife told him to “curse God and die,” and his friends claimed that his trials were brought on by Job having sin in his life. Naturally, who could blame Job for being upset? Job on multiple occasions makes his feelings known not only to his friends, but to God as well.

“Therefore I will not refrain my mouth; I will speak in the anguish of my spirit; I will complain in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 7:11, KJV, emphasis mine).

“My soul is weary of my life; I will leave my complaint upon myself; I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (Job 10:1, KJV, emphasis mine).

Of course at the end of Job’s story, he had an encounter with God and God blessed Job. Though God never gave Job a reason for his severe trials, God did restore to Job everything that was taken from him.

When life’s circumstances knock us to our knees and we receive devastating news, let us not neglect prayer. We must express our bitterness to God because He already knows about our bitterness. I wish that there was a quick fix out of bitterness, but there is not. Removing bitterness from our lives is a process and it will take time. If you have a tree whose roots are causing damage to your home, it is a process to remove that tree. The tree has to be cut down and the stump has to be removed, which involves pulling up the roots. If the tree has been there for decades, that tree’s roots are firmly in the ground. It is the same with bitterness.  How long have you allowed “the root of bitterness” to grow in your life? A year? Five years? Ten years? Twenty years or more? We must expose our roots of bitterness to God and allow Him to deal with us. Your bitterness not only affects your life, but it can and will affect the lives of those around you. Go to the Lord in prayer. Seek out wise counsel. Be strengthened for the journey. God bless you all.

 

Navigating through the Detours

Have you ever taken a trip using the global positioning system (GPS) in your car or on your phone? If your trip requires you to be on one stretch of road for a long period of time, the voice on the GPS will be silent until you get to the next stage of the trip. That “radio silence” can be a time of great peace as we can enjoy the trip or we can allow doubt and distrust to come in and make us wonder if the GPS is working. If we decide to take a different route, the GPS will reconfigure our trip based on our current location. We will eventually arrive at our destination, but it may take longer than anticipated. What about the “trip” we are taking with God? Has God been silent for a long time? Have you encountered detours? Is your life “under construction”?

Unfortunately, we live in a fallen world and all of us have been hurt by someone’s words or actions. Sometimes the hardest thing for us to do is to place our faith and trust in another person or even God. Have you ever been in a car with someone whose driving scared you a bit? Do you always insist on driving? It is human nature for us to feel like we are in control. While there are some things we can control- our actions, our diets, our attitudes, who we have in our lives, etc., there are large parts of our lives that are beyond our control. During these times, we must simply have faith that everything will work out for the best. Although the GPS or even a handheld map are far from infallible, we can take our trip knowing that someone went before us and mapped out the trip.

The Bible teaches that God sees the end from the beginning and that He has a plan for our lives before we are even born. We serve a God who cared so much about our “final destination” that He came to earth, lived as a man, paid the price for our sins, died, and rose from the grave. We serve a God who can relate to our suffering and the painful directions our lives can take.

“Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.  For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin.  Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 4:14-16, NKJV).

We may not understand the trip we are on, but we must keep faith in God that He is guiding and directing us.

“The humble He guides in justice, and the humble He teaches His way. All the paths of the Lord are mercy and truth, to such as keep His covenant and His testimonies.” (Psalm 25:9-10, NKJV).

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with my eye.” (Psalm 32:8, KNJV).

“They shall neither hunger nor thirst, neither heat nor sun shall strike them; For He who has mercy on them will lead them, even by the springs of water He will guide them. I will make each of My mountains a road, and My highways shall be elevated.” (Isaiah 49:10-11, NKJV).

As for New Testament believers, we have a much better covenant because we have accepted the finished work of Christ on the cross and we have not only the Word, but the Holy Spirit as well.

[Speaking of Christ] “To give knowledge of salvation unto His people by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God; whereby the dayspring from on high hath visited us, to give light to them that sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:77-79, KJV).

“However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come.” (John 16:13, NKJV).

Over the course of this last year, my journey has taken me to places I never thought I would be in life. It seems like more than once God’s GPS has reconfigured my trip. I have at times found the trip to be difficult, but I know I am not alone. I have resolved to try and enjoy the ride because these matters are out of my control. I serve a God who loved me and cared for me to take care of eternity, how can I not trust Him to guide me through a brief detour?

Place Your Confidence in God

I am a fan of professional football (American football if you prefer). One of the most exciting parts of the game is in the last two minutes when the losing team tries to comeback. If the losing team has a great or all-time great quarterback, the players and coaches have complete confidence that the quarterback can rally his team to victory. However, there are times when the comeback does not happen-the football is intercepted or fumbled; a normally sure-handed wide receiver drops an easy pass; the field goal attempt sails wide right or wide left; the opposing team wins on a trick play. The loss is devastating for the team and its fans and if left unchecked can shake the confidence of the team and affect the rest of the season.

Sports is a great analogy for life because every day we face opponents. Our opponents rarely wear uniforms, but they come in the form of Satan’s attacks, fear, addiction, depression, sin, bitterness, strife, loss, sickness, and the overall unfairness of life. Where we place our confidence during these times is crucial. If we place our confidence in the wrong person or we become arrogant concerning our own abilities, the loss can be devastating. Going back to football, it is said that great quarterbacks have short memories, meaning they do not dwell on the bad pass or the plays that did not work. These quarterbacks, instead, make the needed adjustments to make the next play work and put their team in position to win. When we go through the “bad plays” of life we also need to work on having a short memory about our mistakes and failures, so that we can place ourselves in a position to make a comeback and allow the Lord to direct us.

I believe it is important to be confident in life. However, our security should not rest in our abilities alone or in others, but we must rely on God to guide us through the difficult times. No matter the result, we can rest assured that God has our best interest at heart and is molding us to become more Christ like. If you were to do a word study of the Hebrew and Greek words for confidence, they mean much the same as our English word. The Hebrew words for confidence deal with “security or trust,” while the Greek words can deal with “assurance, persuasion, or even a foundation.”

“Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even them will I be confident…For in the day of trouble He will keep me safe in His dwelling; He will hide me in the shelter of His sacred tent and set me upon a rock…I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:2-3, 5, 13-14, NIV).

“In the fear of the Lord is strong confidence: and his children shall have a place of refuge.” (Proverbs 14:26, KJV).

“His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to His eternal purpose that He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In Him and through faith in Him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.” (Ephesians 3:10-11, NIV).

“Being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 1:6, NIV).

“But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are His house if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.” (Hebrews 3:6, NIV).

“And now dear children, continue in Him, so that when He appears we may be confident and unashamed before Him at His coming.” (1 John 2:28, NIV).

“Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from Him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases Him.” (1 John 3:21, NIV).

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” (1 John 5:14, NIV).

Where’s your confidence? Have recent events shaken you? Are you bound by fear and indecision that you do not want to make a move? I encourage you to place your confidence in God and His Holy Spirit will guide you. This time of your life is but a tiny piece of a mosaic painting- it is one picture, but we step back we see how God the artist is using that piece to form a bigger picture. God is not through with you. God is not angry with you. People or circumstances may have you down, but the Lord will pick you up and hold you up. Place your confidence in Him. God bless you.