Why We Tithe (or, How to Make a Marriage Great)

Steve and I can’t take much credit for twenty-nine years of a great marriage. Mostly, it has been mercy and mistakes. But there are a few things we’ve done to make our marriage work that we often share with young couples — things we’ve done intentionally that have made a significant difference.

For instance, about twenty years ago, we began to pray together nightly, and we believe that has carried our family and especially our daughter. About fifteen years ago, we instituted an intentional Sabbath in our home. From 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 p.m. Saturday, our home is a work-free zone — at least as much as church life allows (and without shame for the things we enjoy).

That third thing? Tithing.

When we married we were not practicing Christians, so tithing was not part of our life for those first few years together. We started going to church in our late twenties when we got involved in a Bible study. That’s when we started doing what most people do, dropping a twenty in the plate most Sundays. We were probably giving about 2% of our income to the church and to be honest, we felt good about that. We were tippers, not tithers. We were also  renters with credit card debt and two car payments, so giving anything was a stretch for us.

Then a man we both respected a lot (Sam Pursley) stood up in church one day and talked about the line from Jesus, where he says, “Give and it will be given to you, a good measure pressed down, shaken together and running over.” He talked about how his dad would sell grain that way, and how the farmers would tell his dad, “Mr. Pursley, you give good measure.”

Then Sam talked about his Sunday School teacher, who told him as a young man, “Sam, you will never be all you are supposed to be until you begin to tithe.” He asked her what exactly she meant by tithing and she said, “Ten percent. Tithing is giving 10% of your income back to God. It is an act of faith.”

Sam then asked the question we all ask. “Is that 10% of my gross income … or net?” And she said, “Gross.” From that day on, Sam tithed and discovered that as he gave, it was given to him — a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.

We heard Sam’s story in church one Sunday and when we got home, Steve said, “Carolyn, I think we ought to do it. I think we ought to give 10%.” Now, I hate when my husband gets spiritual on me about money. I told him it wasn’t possible. We were renters. We had credit card debt. We owed on two cars. We were barely scraping by when we gave about 2%. It wasn’t possible to give more. I argued reasonably with Steve, but he didn’t back down. Finally, I gave up. I figured, when we ended up with more month than money, he’d get it. I mean, how many ramen noodles do you have eat before you get it?

So we went from 2% to 10% in one week. And I know it isn’t supposed to happen this way and I know how dangerous it is to tell our story just the way it happened, but this is how it happened for us. We gave, and it was given to us — a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.

In the twenty-plus years since we started taking God at His word, everything we’ve needed we’ve had. Without debt. We’ve even continued to step forward from the tithe in our giving. We don’t earn a lot, but we’ve discovered great joy in giving generously from what we have. We’ve learned that the Lord provides. And as I said, I know it’s dangerous to tell these kinds of stories, but I think it is important.

I want you to hear how our marriage has thrived, and I would be doing a disservice if I said anything less than what that lady said to our friend, Sam, that day: As a follower of Jesus, you will never be all you are supposed to be (and your marriage will never be all it is supposed to be) until you begin to tithe.

Why?

Because the tithe is how we get past the lie that life is short and into the truth that life is designed to be eternal.

And the tithe has changed the spiritual atmosphere of our home. It makes us approach life and finances and big adventures as givers and that changes everything.

No wonder God asks us to give. He asks, because he knows how we are made and he knows what works.

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Marriage and the Means of Grace

I’ve been married for thirty years to a man I absolutely adore. When my husband and I met, we were not practicing Christians. We shared an interest in the faith and a history of it, but spiritually we were far from home. It wasn’t until we’d dated three years and were married for four that spiritual fires were kindled in our marriage.

Since then, we’ve made every possible mistake, some of which should have been the death of us. But God, in his mercy, has not only preserved our covenant but has given us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy and the garment of praise.

For all the mistakes, there are three things we’ve done intentionally that I believe have made all the difference in the health and duration of our marriage: tithing, prayer and Sabbath-keeping.

Tithing taught us to approach life as givers. It helped us make the mental shift from consumption to generosity and that has taken the fire out of any money-based arguments we might have had. We approach our finances, our investments and our possessions as givers.

That sounds like something a pastor would say, right? But I’m convinced that this shift in our approach to family finances has made all the difference in the world in how we talk about money (which, statistically, is the most divisive topic in a marriage). Rather than talking about what we make and what we want, our most animated discussions are about what we give and to whom. It has made us more appreciative of the work of others and sort of stunned by the fact that the funds never seem to run out. There is a lot to be said for approaching life as a giver.

The second thing we’ve done has to do with prayer. They say that about 50% of all marriages in the U.S. fail, and that statistic holds whether a couple is “Christian” or not. Saying you’re a Christian doesn’t improve the odds. But in marriages where two people who call themselves Christian pray daily together, they say that the odds of success are dramatically improved (a study I read years ago said that only one in a thousand ends in divorce, when couples pray daily together). If those stats are even close to right, then it really is true that the family that prays together, stays together.

The ability and comfort we have in praying together daily is such a gift in our marriage. Praying together does two things in a marriage. First, because it is such a real and intimate thing, it is a place where you really get to hear the other person’s heart. People tend to be more honest, more transparent when they pray. Second, because it is a prayer, God hears it. Jesus says that wherever two or three are gathered together, he is right there with them. So if you want to make that triangle thing happen in your marriage, prayer will do it for you. Prayer is like a zipline that takes you immediately into God’s presence.

So we tithe and we pray together daily. And the third thing we’ve done intentionally to build our marriage is to observe a Sabbath.
In other words, we pay, we pray, and we play!

Sabbath. Every major figure in the Bible talked about this habit. Jesus himself was faithful to practice it. The Bible in both testaments claims it as the key to healthy living — spiritually, mentally and physically. And yet, we rarely discuss it and seldom take it seriously. It runs consistently through the Bible, but it’s the one thing I’ve consistently and dangerously neglected in my own life.

When we first came to Augusta to plant a church, I was really wrapped up in the work. I got so wrapped up in it, in fact, that I began to neglect not only my family but my own spiritual life. And I was a pastor! Somewhere along the way, we decided that the only way for us to restore some kind of rhythm to our lives was to begin practicing a day of rest every week — one day when we could cease work and worry and just be with each other. It is a day we rest, play and sleep. In other words, we try to just enjoy life.

Sabbath gives a holy rhythm to the practice of our faith, and it has been the one thing in our home that has the power to calm the storms.

Because I’m a pastor and work on Sunday, my Sabbath is 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 p.m. Saturday. My husband usually takes the whole day on Saturday as his Sabbath. We’re not legalistic about it. There are plenty of Saturdays taken up by mission projects at the church and by paperwork that needs to be caught up on. And laundry. But there are also naps and slow lunches, second cups of coffee and plenty of time to talk. We don’t do the Sabbath perfectly every week but we do make it our goal because this is one way we get our lives back in line with God’s design.

Here’s what we’ve learned after thirty years of giving this our best shot: You will never make enough money to make yourself happy, and you will never have enough time to do everything that needs to be done. Tithing, prayer and Sabbath are ways of trusting God and for us, they have been the means of grace that have made this union a treasure.

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Healthy Communication and the Kingdom of Heaven

Healthy communication is the key to growing a healthy, mature community.  Good communication is also the best weapon against the enemy of our souls.

As a leader, then, it becomes a high priority for me to develop a habit of communicating in ways that foster grace, sensitivity and understanding.  If I learn to do this, those around me will not only respond with good will but will hopefully adopt those habits and pass them along in their circles.

If I want to make the practice of healthy communication a priority this year in my church, home or organization, here’s where I’d start:

Say more.  By some strange quirk of fate I,  as a southerner, do not drink sweet tea. I only make it when family comes to my house, and then I make it poorly because my idea of “sweet” and their idea of “sweet” are worlds apart. “Good tea” by southern standards means adding more sugar than any human could conceivably consume.

What works for sweet tea works for communication. What we think of as “over-communicating” is likely the amount needed for someone to get it.  Never mind what you think they need; start with what they actually need.

Affirm more. This is the pattern Paul teaches in his letters: start every conversation with affirmation. Doing this well will right-size your expectations, so you’re not constantly noticing the gap between what people are doing and what you think they ought to be doing.  We can all learn to do as my mother taught and find something nice to say. In fact, we must learn to do that before we can say anything at all that will be heard.

Blast less. Blast people enough and they will stop trusting what you say. Send enough email bombs and you’ll produce someone who cringes when they see your name pop up on the screen. Yell enough and you’ll produce kids with a defensive crouch.

If you’re prone to sending angry emails or venting on social media, find a way to stop yourself. Get a system that checks your intentions. Here’s the decision I’ve made where corporate communication is concerned:  I will not send any emotion by email/ text/ Facebook message/ twitter that isn’t positive and affirming and I will not communicate negativity in public (which includes Facebook and twitter). It just doesn’t seem like a mature or healthy way to get a message across. If I have serious words to share, I will always do that in person. And always covered in prayer.

Ask more questions.  This ends up being a Kingdom-building habit. Far too late in life, I’ve learned that most of my frustration and miscommunication is a product of not asking enough questions before jumping to conclusions. Remember: The Kingdom of Heaven is big, hopeful and focused not on me and my feelings, but on God and His Kingdom. When I invest the time it takes to ask clarifying questions, seeking not so much “to be understood as to understand” (a prayer of St. Francis), I am reaching for God’s vision, God’s perspective, God’s Kingdom.

Finally, assume the best. In the absence of information, most folks assume the worst. That’s human nature. The nature of Christ, however, is to assume the best in others. In the absence of information, assume that those in your circles are doing the best they can, that they are not out to offend you, that they are working out their salvation daily just as you are. Give the people around you the benefit of the doubt and you’ll discover that the grace you give flows both ways.

By saying more, affirming more, blasting less and asking more questions before making assumptions, we develop a Kingdom perspective. I am convinced that healthy churches and organizations are built on a foundation of healthy communication. In a season when so much communication is destructive and negative, I challenge you to make it a priority to build an intentionally healthy system of communication that models grace, sensitivity and understanding.

 

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Trust God (and other things I learned from a penny).

Maybe you have heard me tell the story of my pennies. About six years ago I started finding them everywhere. The first time it happened was just about the time we found out that the cost of our first warehouse renovation would be more than we could afford. One morning I was out walking and talking to God about the situation. I remember saying, “Lord, I don’t see how this is going to happen. I don’t see how we’ll ever get the funds together to get into this building.” And just as I said that, I looked down and saw a penny in the road.

Now, I’m never one to see coins on the ground. I’m a big picture person; I don’t see details. But there it was — a penny shining in the early-morning dark — so I picked it up and laughed to myself. “Okay, God, so is this your contribution to the project?” Then it hit me that maybe this was God’s way of reminding me that he will provide. Not in the ways I expect and not on my timeline, but he will provide.

Be skeptical if you must, but I decided to take that penny as that kind of message from God.

After that, I started seeing pennies everywhere. It got to be a joke almost, like someone was planting them in my path. And almost like the punchline, one day just I pulled into a parking place a woman on the sidewalk stepped toward my car and started picking up change by the driver’s-side door. She looked up at me and said, “Look at all these pennies!” I had to laugh! I let her pick them up but I was thinking, “Lady, those are my pennies.”

Years have passed since that moment, and the penny phenomenon waned … until recently. We’re in the middle of another building renovation and campaign and again I found myself wondering if God will provide. These seasons can be complicated — keeping all hearts and minds moving in the same direction, helping the late adopters get there. One day in my office, I heard myself whining about something building-related. The person I was unloading on had the wisdom to suggest we pray and when I bowed my head there it was.

Right there on the floor staring back up at me was a penny.

I don’t believe God is walking before me tossing pennies in my path like some kind of cosmic flower girl. Not at all. But I do have to wonder if he uses the occasion of a penny on the ground to remind me not that He will provide all the funds we need but that He can be trusted.  After all, God wants us to trust him and every single penny carries that message: “In God we trust.”

Whether with pennies or unsure moments or invitations to jump, what if God is constantly trying to start a conversation with us about trust? Maybe pennies or critical moments or small decisions we make every day are a way Jesus is training us to trust him in the small things so we can trust him with more. Maybe this is why the “micro” matters. If we’re going to accomplish the macro, we have to be able to see where he is working right now … to accept the gift being held before us now.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. In this word, Jesus is hoping to convince us to lean on God for our needs because Jesus gets it that we don’t lean on God for our needs. When we choose anxiety and whining over trust, we expose our deepest fear — that God is not a giver, that God will not provide, that God can not be trusted. We won’t ever say this out loud but in the ways we over-protect, over-plan, over-defend, in the ways we guard our hearts and control our circumstances, we expose what we really believe.

Our actions betray us. They expose to the world our deep fear that God will take us only so far, that God can be trusted but not completely. That if we want something, we’d better go get it ourselves.

So what is that thing you don’t want to trust God for? Maybe you will trust him for a lot of things, but not for that thing. What is that thing? And how will you practice trusting him today in the small things, so you can build up strength to trust him for that thing?

Listen: God is the ultimate Giver and self-giving is at his very heart. Trust him … and then live for him.

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Karma, Abundance, and the Prosperity Gospel

“God is able to bless you abundantly so that …” – 2 Corinthians 9:8

Let’s start with a Kingdom definition of abundance.

Paul tells the Corinthians that God is able to bless us abundantly. I suspect Paul is saying not just that God is able, but that God wants to bless us abundantly. I lean for evidence on what Jesus teaches. He tells us we leave things on the table all the time because we don’t ask (John 11:22, John 14:13, John 15;7). He tells us we misunderstand the character of God, treating him for all practical purposes more like a cosmic zapper than a good father (Matthew 7:11).

Paul says, “God is able to bless you abundantly.” This is not just his ability but his desire and if this is our Creator’s desire, then this must be our created design. We are designed to operate out of a spirit of abundance. Our design yearns for an abundant (lavish, ample, full) connection with our Father, while our fallen nature tends toward scarcity. In other words, our design yearns to trust God, while the unsaved parts of us suspect that maybe God does not have our best interests at heart.

Meanwhile, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” His teaching doesn’t square with our fallen tendencies. God’s great desire is to be faithful to us — a desire God can make good on because God is able. God has been … is … will be faithful, because that is who God is and what God promises. Jesus said so. “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.”

That brings us to the two words that blow the lid off the prosperity gospel. Paul tells the Corinthians why God gives abundantly. It is not so people can be fat and happy; it isn’t about physical rewards at all. Paul couldn’t make it more clear when he tells the Corinthians, “God is able to bless you abundantly so that in all things at all times, having everything you need, you will abound in good works.” We are enriched so that we can participate more fully in the harvest, so that we can increase our participation in righteousness, so that we can experience abundance that way it is defined in the Kingdom of God.

Paul says we are enriched so that we can be generous. Pastor Alec Rowlands of Westgate Chapel says this, “The blessing of God always goes hand in hand with holiness.” Amen. Always.

The premise of the prosperity gospel — the idea that our giving results in material blessings — seems at every level like a gross misreading of the scripture, not to mention a conscious blindness to the lifestyle of Jesus himself. Let’s be clear: the biblical understanding of abundance has nothing to do with the prosperity gospel. We don’t believe that if you tithe, God is going to give you a Mercedes. That isn’t Christian; that is the Buddhist principle of karma and Christians don’t believe in karma. Faith for us is not a lever we pull to get Jesus to do as we please or a manipulation that requires God to give us things. That kind of thinking is sheer heresy.

Paul’s “so that” says nothing about making us rich for the sake of comfort. We are enriched so that we can be generous. “So that” is all about Kingdom advancement. It is for the purpose of fulfilling the work of Jesus’ own prayer: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.” Our sense of abundance is inextricably tied to Kingdom advancement.

We are enriched so that we can practice the art of holiness and participate in the coming Kingdom.

Does God give extravagantly? Absolutely. Why? So thatprayer in one hand, a shovel in the other — we can be gratefully positioned at the center of the next great move of God. What better pay-off could there be?

So here’s your sanctification question for the day: Does your access to abundance lead to an excess of generosity? If not, you are not only missing the biblical principle of sowing and reaping, you are missing out on God’s promise of abundance. When we give time, talent, gifts, service and witness to Kingdom projects — when we engage the world with Kingdom motives — we position ourselves at the center of Kingdom advancement and through our witness God is glorified. His glory is the fruit of abundance, and it is what we are after when we boldly talk about and enter into giving for Kingdom causes.

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Wanna get rich?

Paul Piff is a psychologist who explores the affect of money on human nature. His team conducted an experiment using a rigged Monopoly game and two college students to whom Piff has given the names “T-shirt” and “Glasses.” When the game begins, T-shirt has $2000 in Monopoly money and collects $200 every time he passes “go,” while Glasses gets $1000 from the Monopoly bank and $100 for passing “go.” T-shirt can roll two dice but Glasses can only roll one. They are given fifteen minutes to play this rigged game while a team of psychologists watches on camera to analyze every facial tick and hand gesture.

T-Shirt has no choice but to win and at first, he acknowledges it. Soon, though, he is whizzing around the board, banging his Rolls Royce game piece as he counts out his turn (the game piece for Glasses is an elf). By the time the game is over, T-shirt is totally self-absorbed — counting moves, counting money, taking his opponent’s money without no sign of sympathy.

The experiment is designed to expose something about how money affects behavior. Piff discovered that “putting someone in a role where they’re more privileged and have more power in a game makes them behave like people who actually do have more power, more money, and more status.”

Money can create the sense of superiority. It has the power to make us influential and also selfish, courageous and also defensive. It has the potential for both blessing and curse, whether you have too much of it or too little.

Jesus tells a story very similar to Piff’s experiment. In his story, a wealthy man gives the equivalent of a hundred years’ wages to one man, forty years’ wages to another, and twenty years’ wages to a third. By any standard, any of those three men are holding great wealth but the comparison causes the third guy to shut down. While the first two invest their funds and produce a 100% return, the third guy buries his investment and has nothing to show for it.

Their story inspires me to think about the psychology, challenges and opportunities surrounding the “haves” and “have-nots.”

Five-talent People: Rejecting self-absorbed power

“I used to spend a lot of time thinking about my money,” a wealthy friend once told me. “I thought about it when I had none of it. I worried about it inordinately then. And when we finally made some money, I worried about losing it.”

For five-talent people, this is an interesting psychological shift. The danger is idolatry in one of two directions: 1) thinking “somehow I did this myself,” my friend says; or 2) thinking “money is what I can lean on and believe in, because money is easier to understand.”

So how do we reject self-absorbed power? The real trick is learning to hold money with an open hand. The answer seems to simplistic: Learn to give.  Those who do discover there is a freedom and joy in the stewardship of money that we simply can’t find in the “ownership” of it.

Two-talent People: Embracing creativity

Kevin Myers talks about the difference between the five-talent servant and the two-talent servant. He says five-talent leaders seem to live above the law of gravity. Things seem to come to them effortlessly. Most of us live under the law of gravity. In other words, Myers says, some people lead in leaps, but most people lead in layers.

Living in layers requires a kind of patience that breeds frustration. The day-in, day-out of making a living can sap the creativity out of life. The challenge for two-talent people is to embrace creative opportunities when they come our way. Maybe we don’t have a ton of resources, but what we thought was impossible might just be possible. This may mean letting go of things we can afford, like impulsive on-line buying and eating out and Starbucks, all of which may actually stifle the bigger dreams God has for us. It also means being more intentional about looking for creative opportunities to serve and give, to make the most of our investments.

One-talent People: Rejecting a spirit of poverty

The challenge of the one-talent person is to reject the spirit of poverty and fear-based habits. Living at the level of survival can keep us from trusting God to provide.

A friend says this: “The clenched fist around that $20 also prevents additional blessings from coming to you. There is a faithfulness that is scary, giving money especially when you don’t have it. Maybe it even brings bigger blessings. Like so much of the gospel that is a paradox, it is when it is hardest to step out that we exercise our faith most …”

The times in my life when I’ve clamped down on everything,” my friend continues, “I’ve suffered for it. When I think, maybe this isn’t a good time, maybe I shouldn’t now … that is exactly the time when I know I need to lean in. I don’t want to say there is such a thing as a prosperity gospel, but I can say that when I give, I am the one who benefits.”

Interesting isn’t it? — that the amount of money doesn’t really change the solution to our management of it. Whatever the level, giving is how we keep a healthy perspective. Giving is how we remember whose money it is and how we keep our imaginations nimble.

The point of giving isn’t that God wants you to send him a check so he can get things done. The point is that the Creator of your life knows how you’re wired and what it will take for you to make the most of this existence.

In a word: give. As with most things of the Kingdom, it isn’t logical but it is true: giving is how we get rich.

 

* Find Paul Piff’s TED talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_piff_does_money_make_you_mean?language=en

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Developing Givers in the Kingdom of God

Before I was a pastor, I was a development director for a local non-profit. I learned on the job how to develop funds for an agency with a very focused mission and tight budget. It was the best training I could have gotten for what lay ahead. Daily in my life as a pastor, I’ve pulled from my experiences in non-profit development. Maybe the most fundamental lesson I’ve learned is this: helping people means raising money. One who is not comfortable with that ought not get too close to pastoral ministry.

That’s not a bad thing. Helping people place their giving in the context of discipleship and in the context of a compelling story is a healthy and important part of building a sustainable Kingdom initiative.

Through my experience, I’ve discovered a few things about developing Kingdom-minded givers:

EDUCATE.

Contrary to what pretty much everyone who goes to church tells you, it is not wrong to talk about money in church. People are not put off by discussions of practical things; to the contrary, I believe they starve for it. Folks genuinely want to know what is expected not just from the church but from God. They yearn for the theological underpinnings that make things like giving make sense. In fact, I believe folks are generally starving for compelling reasons to follow Jesus more sincerely, and as spiritual leaders it is our responsibility to make that happen.

Giving, like any discipleship issue, requires education. Further, as priests our primary work is to facilitate the true worship of the Living God. Most folks assume churches ask for money because that is how we pay our bills. While it is true that we use donations to make ministry happen, that’s not our primary motivation. Actually, it has a lot more to do with God than with us.Worship is what people are designed to do and since the fourth chapter of Genesis, God has asked his children to make giving part of their worship. Of course, back then, offerings consisted of sacrificial lambs and bundles of wheat. Over the generations, our modes of giving have changed. We no longer sacrifice animals on the altar or offer up the first of our harvest. Nor do we drop silver coins in a box as the widow did (Mark 12:41-44). Only within the last few decades have people been giving by check. Now, it is an electronic world.

Making use of all the ways our culture allows us to give, churches should be committed to making worship accessible for anyone ready to move forward in following Jesus.

ASK.

Peter taught us, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15). I wonder if he was thinking about giving when he wrote that.

The fact is, it takes money to run a ministry. Non-believers know that. Believers know that. No one is surprised or offended to find out it takes money to run your ministry. And if your ministry is struggling financially, as Gordon Cosby says, that may be God’s way of motivating you to tell your story. Listen: people do not give to needs or deficits (especially people who have learned to manage money well); they give to compelling stories and visions. Well-resourced donors will not put their money into a sinking ship, but they will give to places where they see a move of God. Tell your story like you believe in it so others are privileged to become part of it.

DEVELOP FRIENDS.

Giving is relational. Surely this is why God made giving part of our relationship to him. It deepens our connection, and what happens on the vertical plane happens on the horizontal plane, too. When someone gives to your ministry, it deepens their relationship with the work and the community.

And that is a two-way street. Your donors deserve your care and concern even as they are sowing into your work. One of the biggest lies of the enemy is that you’re “bothering people” if you are in touch too often. You’re not bothering them; you’re keeping them in the loop. Folks who give money want to hear they are investing in something that is strategic and successful but for Heaven’s sake, please do so authentically. Love people not for their money but for the sake of their souls. Keep them in prayer. Sow into them as disciples.

DEVELOP DISCIPLES.

Here are a few hard facts:

  • Those who do not give have an issue in their relationship with God.
  • Those who give with strings attached have an issue in their relationship with God.
  • Those who are not reaching their potential as givers have an issue in their relationship with God.

At the end of the day, another person’s giving is not about funding your ministry (or helping you sleep at night). It is about following Jesus and inspiring others to do so. Our main work is not to develop givers but to develop disciples. And according to our scriptures, healthy, committed disciples will be compelled to give.

As we said already, people are designed to worship God. Giving is a means of doing that — a tangible, practical way of showing devotion. Our main work as spiritual leaders, then, is to help people worship God in the ways he has designed us to worship him. We want to help people shake loose old, dysfunctional, agenda-laden habits so they can experience true freedom.

Helping people develop a good theology and practice of giving is a wonderful gift and perhaps the very best way to help them become serious followers of Jesus.

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Read this because it is Wednesday

On this Wednesday, may we be reminded that we who follow Jesus are part of something bigger than ourselves — something grandly sufficient that has come among us, that offers even to dwell within us.

The Kingdom of Heaven is big. Remember these things and be glad:

The Kingdom is more concerned with effectiveness than efficiency. I’m thinking of the story of the woman who came to Jesus when he was eating supper at the home of a leper (which you just have to love about him). This woman walked into the room and proceeded to pour very expensive oil over his head. Someone said, “She ought not be wasting that expensive perfume in that way. We could be feeding poor people with that money.” And Jesus said, “The poor are not going anywhere. You will always them have among you. What this woman is doing right now is beautiful and from here out wherever the gospel is preached, what she has done will be talked about, in memory of her.”

He was right. I’m blogging about her now, two thousand years later. Her story teaches me that resources are not the issue; in fact, our problem may be that we are not generous enough with our resources. We get stingy and try to hang on to what we have in the name of efficiency. The Kingdom is not about efficiency. It is about effectiveness.

The Kingdom is rich. I am not a fan of the prosperity gospel, but I know we don’t trust enough in God’s provision. God made everything and he has the power to shift resources into the path of Kingdom work when people are following Jesus. He does it over and over again. Resources are not the problem. Faithfulness is the problem.

The Kingdom is generous. Kingdom people understand hard soil and sow there any way. And we keep sowing because the results are not ultimately up to us. Growth is God’s job.

The Kingdom engages in the battle. This is the macro story of the Bible. The enemy hates what God loves and is intent on destroying it. There is a battle being waged on the spiritual plane over everything – over every person, all creation, all goodness, all love. It is a lot like the way a real war works. In a physical war, there are people who sit at desks in offices thousands of miles from the front line, saving the world one email at a time. And there are also snipers sitting on rooftops taking aim at enemies who are taking aim at them. Both the emailers and the snipers are in the war, but one of them feels it a lot more intensely.

It is the same with our spiritual lives. There are parts of our lives that are so comfortable that it is hard to make anything spiritual out of them, and then there are parts that feel the battle very intensely. But all of us are in it. The great news in this war (for those who trust Christ) is that the Kingdom of God wins.

The Kingdom goal is fruitfulness. The goal of the Kingdom is not just seed-tossing but fruitfulness. We are wired to have a purpose in this life that bears fruit, so hear this: The purpose of your life is not to provide a paycheck or make a bigger nest egg. It is not to have a bigger house or better phone or more impressive resume. The purpose of your life is not to feed the two inches that make up this life on your timeline, but to bear fruit for eternity.

C. S. Lewis once said, “Aim at Heaven and you will get earth thrown in; aim at earth and you will get neither.” On days when the small things seem big, when there are more questions than answers, it is healthy to step back and take better aim. Have you forgotten how big the Kingdom of Heaven is? I wonder how it might change the spiritual atmosphere of your home, your church, your ministry, your week, this moment, if you stopped where you are, right now, put your hands in the air and confessed, “God, I forgot how big!”*

 

*I borrow this image from a scene in Joe vs. The Volcano. It remains among my all-time favorite movie scenes.

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“I want to give you an opportunity to expand your soul.”

Sam Pursley is standing today in the unhindered presence of Christ after living faithfully as a follower of Jesus and leader in His Church for 92 years.

Sam was one of those guys who had what my mother (who loved Sam dearly) would have Sam-pursley2called a “bad case of the cain’t-help-its” when it came to influencing others. There was a quality about him that went past his small stature and quiet spirit. He carried authority. He could hold his own in a roomful of executives and care gently and respectfully for those in the margins.

Sam loved a good cause and loved a lost cause even more. He saw the humanity in folks where others might miss it, and didn’t actually think anyone was really lost. He believed people could change, given a chance, and that spirit compelled him to serve faithfully in challenging places. Who knows how many lives he profoundly impacted by his presence at Augusta Rescue Mission, Easter Seals, the Exchange Club, Gracewood, Regional Hospital … and any church of which he was a part?

My path managed to cross Sam’s several times over the years. He was a voice in my life as a teenager and again when I was a young woman just coming back to Christ. He was a partner in my work as a fundraiser at Easter Seals and a dear, dear friend when I chose the path of preaching.

He was among the first with whom I met when I came home to start Mosaic. He was there for our first worship service, sitting on the front row beaming proudly. And he was with us just a couple of years ago when we celebrated our tenth anniversary as a church.

When Sam was in the room, I felt like a celebrity was with us. There are few other men I’ve respected as much and none I’ve respected more.

In our days of fundraising together for Easter Seals, Sam used to say to potential donors, “I want to give you an opportunity to expand your soul.” And he meant it. He knew the power of giving and the connection between a generous spirit and what matters most in life. Sam’s own story of learning to tithe is what inspired Steve and I to begin that journey. It was one of the greatest gifts anyone has ever poured into our marriage.

When we first started going back to church, we did what most people do. We dropped a twenty in the plate most Sundays. We were probably giving about 2% of our income to the church and to be honest, we felt good about that. We were renters and had credit card debt and owed on two cars, so giving anything was a stretch for us.

Then one day, Sam stood up in church and talked about that line from Jesus: “Give and it will be given to you, a good measure pressed down, shaken together and running over.” Sam talked about how his grandfather would sell grain that way and how the farmers would tell him, “Mr. Pursley, you give good measure.” Then Sam talked about the Sunday School teacher who taught him as a young man. She told him, “Sam, you will never be all you are supposed to be until you begin to tithe.”

Sam asked her what exactly she meant by tithing and she said, “Ten percent. Tithing is giving ten percent of your income back to God. It is an act of faith.” Sam says he then asked her the question we all want to ask. “Is that ten percent of my gross income … or net?” And she said, “Gross.”

From that day on, Sam tithed. He would say that as he gave it was given to him, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.

We heard Sam’s story in church one Sunday and when we got home, Steve said, “Carolyn, I think we ought to do it. I think we ought to give ten percent.” I didn’t see how that could reasonably happen but Steve was convinced by Sam’s story so in one week, we went from giving about two percent to giving ten percent. We’ve done so ever since and live a joyful, debt-free life thanks to the wisdom and example of a godly man.

“The rent we pay for the little space we occupy on earth is the service we render to others,” is something else Sam used to say. I give God such thanks and praise for the lives of the saints who live and serve among us, who pour into us and make us better people by their presence. Today, I celebrate the best of the best among servant-hearted men, whose expansive soul made room for countless acts of love and kindness while he “paid rent” among us.

Well done, Sam. Well done.

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Make a spectacle of yourself.

Sometimes God uses spectacles. An overly bright star. A cast of angels. A talking donkey. A burning bush.

Sometimes, he makes us the spectacle. In this season, radical kindness would definitely get some attention. It’s a spectacle God can use.

What if we were to make spectacles of ourselves for Jesus this month? And what if you picked a few random acts of kindness and used them to bring attention to your love for Jesus? What if you made the love of Jesus your message and what if you made those random acts your voice?

I want to share 20 easy ideas. Choose two or three to accomplish by Christmas.

1. Pay for the person behind you in line at the drive-through of your choice.

2. Leave a present on top of the mailbox for your mail carrier (label well!).

3. Bake and deliver goodies to someone who would appreciate the pick-me-up.

4. Donate food to a food pantry (how about Mosaic’s Pantry?).

5. Keep a stash of candy canes with notes tied on in your purse, and hand them out to anyone you see who might need a little treat — cashiers, deli workers, taxi drivers…

6. Leave quarters and a note at a laundromat.

7. Leave a note and the correct amount of change on a vending machine.

8. Ask the librarians if you can pay someone else’s past due fee.

9. Buy a gift card for groceries, then turn around and hand it to the next person in line.

10. Leave an extra big tip at a restaurant.

11. Leave an encouraging message in sidewalk chalk on a neighbor’s driveway.

12. Figure out something tiny, nice, and unexpected to do for your co-workers.

13. Bake something for your significant other to share with his/her co-workers.

14. Leave a positive comment on every blog you frequent this month. Trust me, it will make their day, especially the smaller ones.

15. Buy boxes of crayons at a dollar store and give them to kids.

16. Clean out your closet and donate gently-used items to appropriate organizations.

17. Collect all of the travel-size toiletries you have lying around and deliver them to a homeless shelter or battered women’s shelter (or Bags and Hugs).

18. Bring Christmas flowers (like a poinsettia) to a nursing home and ask the front desk staff which resident would most appreciate them.

19. Volunteer to babysit for a particularly sleep-deprived friend or relative.

20. Do a chore for someone else in your household.

In what ways are you planning this season to make light shine in the darkness?

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