Sunday, January 27, 2008


Today, I spoke from Malachi 3:7-12 about how and why God opens the windows of heaven and blesses His people. I talked about tithes and offerings, giving 10% and beyond of our income to God's work in the world. I didn't have time to address some important questions and issues. So, here goes!

Common Questions about tithes and offerings…

1. Just what is the tithe in Malachi anyway?

In the Old Testament there were actually three tithes. One was this tithe that was given to the priests.

To the Levites I have given every tithe in Israel for an inheritance, in return for their service that they do.
Numbers 18:21 (ESV)

A second tithe was used to celebrate the annual sacred feast—the people used this to throw a party in honor of God.

You must set aside a tithe of your crops—one-tenth of all the crops you harvest each year. Bring this tithe to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored—and eat it there in his presence.
Deuteronomy 14:22-23 (NLT)

And then every third year the people would give another ten percent to help the poor.

Every third year you must offer a special tithe of your crops. In this year of the special tithe you must give your tithes to the Levites, foreigners, orphans, and widows, so that they will have enough to eat in your towns.
Deuteronomy 26:12 (NLT)

When you add that together, that works out to be 23.3 %.

2. Isn’t the tithe an Old Testament law that Jesus never taught?

Jesus criticized the religious leaders of His day. They tithed but neglected justice, mercy, and faithfulness.

You are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.
Matthew 23:23 (NLT)

It’s not either “Give the tithe” or “act with justice.” It’s both/and. Do both. The New Testament standard is always higher than the Old Testament standard. When Jesus talked about OT principles, he always raised the bar. He said, “Adultery isn’t just the deed; it’s the thought.” Jesus raised the bar over and over. Why would we think He would lower the bar when it comes to our giving?

3. So, are New Testament believers supposed to tithe?

We’re saved by grace through faith and we ought to give by grace through faith. We should give out a heart of joy and gratitude. If you can't give that way, then don't give. But ask God for the grace to give out of a grateful heart. And realize if you don't give, you are not tapping into the Law of the Harvest, the Law of Reciprocity. If you don't give generously, then you really can't claim the promise from Malachi 3 about the windows of heaven opening up for you.

Having said, that, we must keep in mind NT teaching.

On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income
I Corinthians 16:2 (NIV)

He’s saying, “Give individually, regularly, methodically, proportionately.”

Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
II Corinthians 9:6-7 (ESV)

He’s saying, “Give bountifully, intentionally, willingly, cheerfully.

Whatever you decide to do about the tithe, mke sure you give individually, regularly, methodically, proportionately, bountifully, intentionally, willingly, and cheerfully. Don’t give because it’s a rule.

For me, I heard early on to give a dime out of every dollar to God. So, I did it that way as a single man and we've done it that way as a married couple. We don’t regret it. And we’ve gone beyond the tithe.

I really think that the NT pattern is to recognize that all that we have belongs to God. We are managers of His money. If we’re 2% givers, maybe we should ask God for the grace to go to 4. If we’re 5% givers, maybe we should ask God for the grace to go to 8. If we’re 10% givers, mayeb we should ask God for the grace to go beyond. And some people who have extra extra should grow way beyond the 10%.

If you aren't giveing 10%, then I think the tithe is a good goal to aim at. If you are giving 10%, then I think the tithe is a great pad to launch from. We're supposed to grow in giving just like we’re supposed to grow in other areas of our lives. We're supposed to grow in love, in service, in devotion, in the fruit of the Spirit, right? Well, shouldn't we also grow in giving, in generosity? If I have been giving 10% since I was 5 (giving from an allowance) and I'm still giving 10% 50 years later, then something's wrong with my growth in this area of my life.

4. Where should I give the tithe?

Remember that Malachi 3:10 says, "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse." So, another way to ask this question is “What is the storehouse?”

The storehouse in OT times was the place in the Temple where products were stored. The people were supposed to bring their goods—the produce from their fields, the grain, the olives, the olive oil—and it would be stored in rooms, in kind of a warehouse in the temple. The resources were then used support full-time servants of God – the Levites, prophets, and priests, to meet the expenses for worship at the Temple, and to bless the lives of the needy. So, basically, the people are being told, “Bring the whole tithe to the Temple.”

Are we supposed to follow this practice of storehouse giving?

I can just talk about what I’ve seen and practiced over the years. Even before I became a pastor, Maryanne and I gave 10% to our local church. And we supported other ministries after we gave to the church first. We trusted the leadership of the church to use the money to pay salaries of missionaries, of pastors, of leaders in our church, to meet the spiritual and physical needs of people in our community and world.

I used to serve on staff in a para-church ministry for four years - the Fellowship of Christian Athletes. And we always told people, “Give first to your church. If you have available funds to give after that, then support this ministry as God leads.” The best para-church ministries say the same thing.

If you are involved in a good local church with a variety of ministries that engage in evangelism and discipleship and missions and that cares for the poor and needy, then I encourage you to give to your church first.

5. Isn’t tithing your time and talent enough?

Suppose I said to my wife, Maryanne, “I’m going to give you my time. I’ll talk to you all day and all night. I’ll listen to you. We’ll take walks together. My time is yours. And I’m going to give you my talent. I’ll fix things around the house. I’ll write you songs and poetry and love letters. My talent is yours. But, you know, you can’t have any of the money. That’s for me.” Would she feel honored with that?

This is one area where we have to bat 1.000. Time. Talent. And Treasure. It’s a three legged stool. You’ve got to give all three.

6. Should I tithe on my gross or my net?

It all depends on whether you want God to bless your gross or you want God to bless your net! Remember II Corinthians 9:7, “Let each one do just as he has purposed in his own heart, for God loves a cheerful giver.” The cheerful giver says, “How much can I give?” The fearful giver says, “How little can I give?”

7. Should I tithe if my spouse says “no”?

I Peter 3:1-6 gives instruction to wives with non-Christian husbands. They are to win their husbands by their chaste, respectful, and submissive behavior. Think with me. A Christian wife who insists on tithing when her husband says “no” may actually be setting up an obstacle keeping her husband from being open to the gospel. (“All that church wants is your money.”)

Respect your spouse’s position. Don’t force the issue. God knows your heart.

Larry Burkett was a Christian financial consultant. Here’s his suggestion. “Ask your spouse if you could give something, maybe $50 a month. Then, as a couple, evaluate whether or not you’re better off or worse off financially. If you’re worse off, you’ll stop. If you’re better off, you’ll give more.” Who knows? You may ultimately end up tithing. Burkett said that he found this was the first step in many unbelieving spouses coming to the Lord.

* * *

Some would say, “Well we are not under law. We are under grace.” True. But who should be the most grateful and, therefore, the most generous? Those under the law or those under grace?

We should want to go beyond the tithe.

R.G. LeTourneau was the father of the modern earthmoving industry. He was responsible for 299 inventions; like the bulldozer, portable cranes, logging equipment, mobile sea platforms for oil exploration. During World War II his company produced 70% of all the army's earth-moving machinery. He called God the Chairman of his Board. His life's verse was Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.” LeTourneau went way beyond the tithe. He gave 90% of his profit to God's work and kept only 10% for himself. LeTourneau was convinced that he could not out-give God. “I shovel it out,” he would say, “and God shovels it back, but God has a bigger shovel.”

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Death of a mentally challenged person

Today, I conducted a funeral service for the aunt of a CVC family. Aunt Sissy was 87 - a real sweetheart. But Sissy was mentally challenged. A question I felt it necessary to address was this: “What happens when people die who are mentally challenged?”

There was a spiritual side to Sissy. She asked one question a lot. “Am I a good girl?” She wanted so much to be a good girl. And the answer, of course, came from her family, “Yes. You’re a good girl!” When it was time to pray for a meal, she would pray, “Thank you God, Amen.”

She’s been at Cuyahoga Valley Church. And she did what I’m afraid other people do, too. While I was speaking she fell right asleep. But not always. One service, she was listening as I talked about how God the Father sent His Son to die on a cross for us. And she asked, “Why did His daddy do that?” And Donna, her niece, told her, “We were all bad people. And Jesus took the punishment in our place.”

Did she understand that? Does anybody really understand all there is to know about that? There is a sense in which we are all saved in spite of what we don’t know and understand about what God did in Christ on the cross. We have to accept these truths with a child-like faith.

Her family said that Sis was childlike. And, you know, that’s a good thing. Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:14). The Bible says, “Children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray” (Matthew 19:13).

In fact, some of the most important things can only be understood by children. They may not be able to articulate it, but maybe they get spiritual truth better than the rest of us. One time Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25).

There is biblical evidence that anyone who is not mentally capable to respond to the gospel of Christ is covered by the grace on God in Christ Jesus. Many Bible teachers believe that when children die, they are automatically covered by the grace of Christ until they reach the point where they are able to make a personal commitment to follow Christ or not.

King David in the Bible saw one of his children die. He was comforted with the thought, “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23). David believed that he would see his child in heaven one day. From that statement, we believe that babies and young children are saved by God's grace.

I believe that mentally challenged people are covered by this principle as well. Knowing the love, grace, and mercy of God, this would seem consistent with His character. Any person who is mentally challenged to the extent that he or she could not be aware of his or her sinful state and then believe in Christ for salvation is in the same category as a child.

And remember that Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me.” Jesus receives as His own all that the Father has given to Him and He will lose none of them (John 6:39). Jesus said, “And I give to them eternal life, and they shall never ever perish, and not anyone shall pluck them out of My hand” (John 10:28). God’s plan is always perfect, He always does what is right and just, and His love and mercy are infinite and everlasting. We can trust Sissy’s soul in the hands of our Savior.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Loving God Journal
In the spring of 2007, our church unveiled a new way of communicating our process for making disciples. It’s simple and, we hope, memorable. Love God; love one another; and love the world.

Around that same time, I went to a conference where I heard Pastor Wayne Cordeiro of New Hope Christian Fellowship in Oahu, Hawaii share an approach to Bible intake that really resonated with my heart. His approach combined a systematic Bible reading plan with journaling.

Although I have kept a journal for many years and used several yearly Bible reading plans, my approach wasn’t as energizing, enriching, and consistent as what Pastor Cordeiro described.

As I thought about what I had learned, it suddenly dawned on me that using Pastor Cordeiro’s approach would greatly enhance our disciple-making process, especially in learning to love God more passionately. So, I set out to develop and use a personalized Loving God Journal.

I began to anticipate my time with God even more than before. I found that my love for Him was growing deeper as I recorded His personal words to me day after day. It seemed only logical to encourage others to join me on this journey. That’s why we produced the Loving God Journal.

So, God willing, the Loving God Journal will be available in a few weeks. Pray that God will use it to encourage many of our people at CVC to grow in their love for God.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Wimp or Warrior?

Before teaching on prayer on Saturday night, I was at home. After showering, I was getting dressed for the worship service when an overwhelming urge hit me. I was compelled to jot down the thoughts surging through my mind. I think they really came from God. He gave me something specific to add to the message.

It turned out to be a sobering challenge to the men and young men of CVC. Here it is:

* * *

Men, I believe God wants you to especially lock in. Teenage young men? You, too.

I know you want to see some good things, better things happen in your marriage, with your kids, in your career, at school, with your future. So, you strategize, work, plan, and scheme. You may even go to church and Bible studies to try to figure out how to get God in your side. You manipulate, plead, beg, cry, yell, scream, cuss. Some of you even hit.

But you don’t pray. Not really.

Listen, your personal passion will get you what a human can do. But prevailing prayer will get you what God can do. Which do you want? What you can do or what God can do?

Some of you are making something happen in your career with your personal passion. But in the end, it will be empty, meaningless. Some of you are making some things happen in your family with your personal passion. You have your wife doing what what you want and your kids are in line. But in the end, they will resent you.

Listen, men. Prayer isn’t a woman’s thing. It isn't a wimpy pastor thing. It’s a Christian’s thing.

You are in a war, men and young men. You have an enemy. His name is the devil, Lucifer, Satan. He wants to steal, kill and destroy everything good in your life. And prayer is your number one weapon. The Christian army advances on its knees. But many of you are fighting this fight with a pop gun.

Don’t blow me off, men. I don’t care if you’re a middle linebacker type. I don’t care if you make $250,000 a year. I don’t care how many people work for you. If you don’t pray, you’re a spiritual wimp. And the day will come when you will regret your spiritual passivity.

God is waiting. He's waiting on you to pray. You need to say, “I can and I will prevail in prayer – for my wife, my children, my grandchildren, my church, my business, my world.

* * *

It's time to man up, men. And start on your knees. If you don't pray for your family, your career, your future, who will?

Monday, January 07, 2008

The sinner's prayer

Sometimes, we talk about people praying "The Sinner's Prayer." When we use that term, we usually are talking about someone praying to ask Jesus to be Savior and Lord. It's a kind of prayer people sometimes pray to become a Christian.

But there is a sense in which every prayer is the sinner's prayer.

This past weekend at CVC, we talked about how important it is for us to "raise the bar" when it comes to our praying. I taught through Luke 11:1-13.

Like every other passage of scripture, there are so many truths to teach in Luke 11:1-13 that one message simply doesn't give one enough time to even mention them in passing.

One truth that I opted not to point out in the message was this: God answers the prayers of sinful people, not sinless people.

I know that unconfessed sin is a reason why God doesn't answer our prayers. Psalm 66:18 says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear.”

That's why we pray, "Father, search me." We ought to search our hearts for unconfessed sin after every prayer that doesn't get answered the way we hoped.

But remember that God answers the prayers of sinful people. We don't have to be sinless. If we don’t remember this, we’ll quit approaching God. Jesus says in Luke 11:2, “When you pray say…” and He says in verse 4, “forgive us our sins.” So, when we pray, we should confess our sins.

Every time we use the Lord's prayer as a model, we are reminded that God welcomes the prayers of sinful people. He invites us to confess because He knows we will sin. Jesus knows that we will need to seek forgiveness virtually every time we pray. On this side of heaven, we will always sin some. We'll never be sinless (see I John 1:8-10) even though, as time goes on and we grow in Christ, we ought to sin less.

John Newton, the man who wrote the song “Amazing Grace” lived to be a very old man. For many years he served as a pastor in London. Just before he died, he said to friend, “I am a very old man and my memory has gone. But I remember two things: that I am a great sinner and that Christ is a great Savior.”

So, the next time Satan says to you, "You can't pray because you have sinned," remember that Jesus taught us to say, "Forgive our sins." God loves to hear the prayers of humble, broken, repentant, confessing sinners. So, let's pray!

Remember every prayer is a sinner's prayer.
* * *
By the way, it's not The Sinner's Prayer that saves. Jesus saves. We are saved by grace through faith in Christ's atoning sacrifice when He shed His blood on the cross in our place, not by saying a few words that a preacher or evangelist tells us to say.
If anyone thinks he is saved by saying a short, little prayer, then that can be tantamount to salvation by works. If we somehow think that those words save, then we evangelicals have simply made up our own non-biblical sacrament: Walk down an aisle, open your mouth, repeat what the preacher says for you to say to God, and you will be saved.
While I feel that inviting people to pray to receive Christ can be a good thing and while I invite people to say such prayers with me at CVC, we must never give the impression that once someone has said that prayer that they are necessarily saved.
The evidence that we are saved is not that we said the sinner's prayer but that true repentance and faith characterize our lives. When we are saved, our lives truly change. If any man is in Christ, old things pass away and all things become new (II Corinthians 5:17). And it that hasn't happened for you, then you aren't saved no matter how many times you have said "The Sinner's Prayer."

So, trying to get our kids or family members to say "The Sinner's Prayer" isn't the goal. No, we should beg for God to grant the people we love the new birth, to give sight to their blind eyes, to set free those who are enslaved to sin, to grant to them repentance and faith, to make them new creations in Christ Jesus, and to make them friends (not enemies) of God.

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