What do I give to the church?

I believe that the church (universal and local) is of great importance in the purpose and plan of God. For a disciple I believe it is good (necessary) to be committed to a local body of believers and to be active within that. Expressions of that commitment include giving time, prayer, money, attending meetings, encouraging one another and much, much more. I confess that sometimes I have slipped up and not given 100% and have needed to repent of my thoughts and actions.

The article below which is written about giving money, reminded me that whilst that is considered of great importance in most churches, is far from the totality of my commitment to the church. I read it here in the context of Larry Osborne talking about whether pastors should know who gives, and how much, to their church.

Our church was being picketed by the carpenters’ union. Their huge “Labor Dispute—SHAME ON NORTH COAST CHURCH” sign showed up during the week and during our worship services in an attempt to “motivate” us into firing a non-union subcontractor we’d hired to work on our new campus construction.

After the first weekend of picketing, we received an email from a concerned parishioner.

He informed us that after prayer and reflection, his family would no longer be giving their “first fruits” to our ministry. He said he would still give the Lord what was His, but it just wouldn’t be to North Coast—at least not until the issue with the union was resolved.

He then went on to say that though he didn’t particularly care for the methods the union was using, he felt our church had a moral obligation to support companies that provide a living wage in order to show the community we care about people and not just the bottom line. He concluded by thanking us for the way our ministry and teaching had blessed his family and promised his entire family would continue to pray for us as we worked to resolve the issue.

If you were in my shoes, how would you respond?

Not just what would you say or write, but how would you feel?

Based on content and tone, it’s clear the writer is a union member, but he’s also a strong Christian, fully committed to the church, praying for it regularly and supporting it with his “first fruits.”

My bet is you’d wonder if other families like his were thinking the same thing—and, if they were, what they might do in response.

Here’s how I responded.

I asked my assistant to get me some facts. Who was this gentleman? What was his attendance pattern, involvement in our small group ministry AND his giving record?

Here’s what I found out.

He’d attended our church for a couple of years. He’d never been involved in a small group. His “first fruits” giving the previous year was all of $500. Year-to-date, it was zero.

Now, come on. Let’s admit it. That changes things a bit, doesn’t it?

Frankly, for me, the facts changed everything.

Rather than crafting a response appropriate for a strong Christian, highly committed to our church, I needed to put together a response designed for a big hat, no cattle Christian making an empty threat about cutting back his non-existent financial support. It needed to be addressed to someone who talked a good game, but whose deepest loyalty ran far more with the union movement than his local church.

Once I had the facts in hand, I realized the best way to respond would read something like this:

Dear _________

Thank you for sharing your concerns about resolving the issue with the protestors. I fully understand in light of your union loyalties why you might be hesitant to give God’s “first fruits” to a church that hires non-union workers.

Perhaps that’s a sign we are not the best church for you or your family at this time; especially since we’re likely to continue to use our donated funds to hire the lowest qualified bidder on this and other projects in the future.

In light of your concerns, I have asked our finance department to return to you all the “first fruits” gifts you have given to our church so far this year so you can forward them on to a ministry you can fully support. Unfortunately, we couldn’t find a record of any such gifts.

Rest assured, if we find any, we will send them to you posthaste. In the meantime, may God guide you and your family as you search for a church worthy of your full support.

Just do it

It is a while since I read the poem Anyway. Originally written by Kent Keith it was made famous by Mother Teresa who put it on the wall of her orphanage in Kolkata (Calcutta). (For more of the connection between Keith’s poem and Mother Theresa follow this link.)


People are unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered.

Love them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.

Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some false friends and true enemies.

Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.

Be good anyway.

Honesty and frankness will make you vulnerable.

Be honest and frank anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.

Build anyway.

People need help but will attack you if you help them.

Help them anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

Opportunity Knocks

There was an old UK tv show called Opportunity Knocks, I am not sure I ever saw it but somehow the name has been etched upon my memory – for those of you who want to know more Wikipedia has a page all about it. In the show the viewers decided which act won, thus it was an opportunity for aspiring talents to showcase their ability and become some sort of star.

Reading the book of Exodus it is clear God gave the Israelites much the same opportunity, a chance to put their faith in God and see him act. In fact you could argue that God regularly gave Israel this opportunity as you read a litany of moaning, groaning and grumbling coming from the hearts, minds and mouths of the people of God. Opportunity knocked for them.

On most occasions we see them failing to take their opportunity whilst Moses is seen as the antithesis of their unbelief, still believing God, interceding for the people and listening to the voice of the Almighty.

In simple terms the Israelites had an opportunity to exercise faith – a chance to show an active belief in God, his sovereignty, his grace, his love and his provision. Such faith sounds simple to us, after all they  had passed through the Red Sea and been delivered from slavery – so why didn’t they believe?

This week God will give you opportunities to live a life of faith, to show in your home, office, school what believing and trusting God looks and sounds like. God does not tell you ahead of time if it is a small or a large thing, he simply promises his grace is sufficient for you, that his power is made perfect in weakness.

Are you up for the opportunity?

Listen (and pray)


Interesting infographic below on the subject of, “What (American) pastors pray for?” From my perspective the most interesting part was seeing that on average a pastor prays for 39 minutes each day and pastors who are “most satisfied” with their prayer lives pray for an average of 56 minutes each day, spending less time in making requests and more time listening to God.

My thoughts went to why we should think such praying is the territory of pastors – isn’t this something all disciples of Jesus should be doing? In particular I would encourage you to spend time fellowshipping with the Holy Spirit, sitting intimately at the feet of Jesus, listening to his voice – it could change your day or even your life.

Cheer up, cheer up for Jesus

Maybe that isn’t how the old hymn really goes (the first three verses are at the bottom of the page if you fancy a sing). However, many of us will hear just such a call as we venture to church tomorrow. Somebody will encourage us to give better, louder, more vibrant praise to the King. Which is where the cartoon below comes in.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, ye soldiers of the cross;
Lift high His royal banner, it must not suffer loss.
From victory unto victory His army shall He lead,
Till every foe is vanquished, and Christ is Lord indeed.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the solemn watchword hear;
If while ye sleep He suffers, away with shame and fear;
Where’er ye meet with evil, within you or without,
Charge for the God of battles, and put the foe to rout.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, the trumpet call obey;
Forth to the mighty conflict, in this His glorious day.
Ye that are brave now serve Him against unnumbered foes;
Let courage rise with danger, and strength to strength oppose.

Vital discipleship

Did you talk with the Holy Spirit today? Did you take time to fellowship with him, did you enjoy his presence, listen to his voice, follow his leading?

For every disciple of Jesus Christ the Holy Spirit has a major role to play in your life. In fact I would suggest that the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Cor 13:14) is one of the most vital, but also most neglected, aspects in the life of most disciples; often we only cry out to God when we need help, when in fact we should be walking in fellowship with the Holy Spirit all of the time.

The following verses give a small indication of the life and role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. Take time to pray them and renew your fellowship with the Spirit of the Living God today.

Matthew 3:11, this is Jesus speaking – “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

Acts 1:8 – “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

Romans 5:5 – …and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.

1 Corinthians 6:19 – Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

2 Corinthians 13:14 – The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.

2 Thessalonians 5:17 – And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.

This video by Francis Chan illustrates (very simply) the stupidity of not enjoying the fellowship and help of the Holy Spirit in your life.

A time to add

I use Biblegateway.com as one of my primary online Bible tools – I especially appreciate its great passage view where I can select a text to be shown in a number of different versions, something that is an invaluable aid in study and preparation.

Recently I read their list of Top 10 Bible Verses of 2012, which are shown below. They are all lovely verses – no surprise there as they are from the Bible and reveal much of God’s love and grace to his people.

It might not surprise you that I was a little disappointed by them. Why? It was simple really, the verses seemed to me to take as their focal point mankind, us. Maybe I missed something in reading them, (and I assure you I do pray and memorise these and other similar verses), but there appeared to be a lot of me needing God to do something and little (nothing?) of simply gazing in wonder at the glory of God’s holy majesty, of seeing his greatness and gasping in amazement.

We need God – we are lost without him, and so such verses are necessary in our lives – memorise and pray them this year with joy and thanksgiving. But maybe as you memorise the Bible this year you could take time to shift your focus from what I need to who God is. Look at him and love him just because of who he is.

The Top 10 Bible Verses of 2012

What were the most-read Bible verses on Bible Gateway in 2012? We’ve crunched the numbers to find out which parts of the Bible were the most heavily looked up and read last year. Here’s a countdown of the top ten most popular Bible verses of 2012, based on Bible Gateway visitor data:

10. Proverbs 3:6

“In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” (KJV)

9. Psalm 23:4

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (NIV)

8. 1 Corinthians 13:4

“Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant….” (CEB)

7. Proverbs 3:5

“With all your heart you must trust the Lord and not your own judgment.” (CEV)

6. Romans 12:2

“Do not conform yourselves to the standards of this world, but let God transform you inwardly by a complete change of your mind. Then you will be able to know the will of God—what is good and is pleasing to him and is perfect.” (GNT)

5. Philippians 4:6

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (ESV)

4. Romans 8:28

“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” (NRSV)

3. Philippians 4:13

“I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” (NASB)

2. Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (NLT)

1. John 3:16

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV)

Giving thanks for saints

Psalm 16:3 says this,

As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight

I read it and immediately took some time thinking of, and praying for, some of the saints I know. In case you don’t know the biblical qualification for being a saint is simply surrendering your life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ – you don’t have to be perfect or perform miracles, a saint is simply a holy one and all who are called by God are made holy through the blood of Jesus. The saints I thought of might not appear exceptional to the world but to the Living God they are – men and women who in small and large ways have impacted my life, whom I have had the pleasure of walking with on the pathway of faith, who have shared my love for Jesus.

Today give thanks for the saints and pray for them.

Time for dessert

The foundation of your life as a Christian is the time you spend with your Lord. Bible reading and prayer have to be foundational here. There are many people want to speak as men sent from God or pray in the power and presence of God without spending time with him, waiting on him, delighting in him. The result of this unreality is a great deal of frustration as they wishfully think how they want their their spiritual life to be without giving it the time and energy required.

It reminds me of the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:16-19:

“To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others:

“‘We played the pipe for you,
and you did not dance;
we sang a dirge,
and you did not mourn.’
For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ But wisdom is proved right by her deeds.”

Wisdom is proved right by her deeds – The Message puts it in a more modern way, “The proof of the pudding is in the eating”. So what will you do today?