August Giving Challenge – Offerings

Last week we looked at the importance of the tithe in the life of the believer. If you haven’t read my post on tithing, check it out here, or watch my message here. This week we look at offerings…how they differ from tithes, the purpose of offerings in our lives, and acceptable offerings that we can give. You can watch my message on offerings here, or listen here.

As previously discussed, the tithe was established nearly five centuries before the law was written. Thus, although it was eventually codified in the rules of the law, the tithe is primarily rooted in a relationship with God. The good news is not that we have to tithe each time we receive income, but that we get to! We get to celebrate God’s provision by returning a portion of what he has given us. The tithe’s practical manifestation is a systematic, percentage based contribution to your church’s general fund.

So what, then, is the offering? Sunday we looked at two stories out of the Old Testament that capture the essence of what the offering is intended to be.

Cain and Abel in Genesis 4

Just after the fall (Genesis 3) Adam and Even begin having children. There first two are sons, Cain and Abel. You can read their story here. So why did God approve of Abel’s offering and not Cain’s? I believe there was a heart issue. Abel gave of the “firstlings” of his flock, while Cain does not seem to make such a distinction. It appears he just gave some of his crop. Abel was truly worshipping through his gift, while Cain was making an offering out of obligation. 2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” Still today, God is looking for givers who give joyfully, out of love.

We church people have an unfortunate tendency to do our religious practice because it’s what we’re used to or because it’s what is expected. I argue that God would rather you did not do these things at all rather than do them with a wrong attitude. The psalmist says it this way, “O Lord, open my lips, that my mouth may declare Your praise. For You do not delight in sacrifice, otherwise I would give it; You are not pleased with burnt offering. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, o God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:15-17). He wants your heart more that He wants your stuff.

Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22

After waiting decades to see the fulfillment of God’s promise of a son, Abraham is now asked to give that son back to God through a sacrifice. Read the story here. The second principle of an offering is sacrifice. More often than not, if God is asking you to make an offering above and beyond your tithe, there will be some sacrifice. You may have to choose not to go ahead with a purchase you were planning or delay something you enjoy having or doing. But, in the end, obedience is worth it! God promises that He will provide for our needs and not let His people go hungry…so trust Him!! He provided Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead of Isaac…He will provide for you too.

Final Thoughts

The most basic difference between tithes and offerings is this: The purpose of the tithe is primarily to support ministry, but you also get a deeper relationship with God. The purpose of the offering is to deepen your trust and reliance on God, but you also get to support ministry. Practically, the tithe is systematic, percentage based giving to your church’s general fund. Offerings are specific opportunities to obey and to bless in addition to what you are tithing.

Spiritually, your greatest offering is yourself. Paul addresses this in Romans where he says, “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). Give of yourself…your whole self…your time, your talents, your relationship capacity, and yes, your finances.

So ask God how you can best serve Him today. Obey Him with a joyful heart and be willing to sacrifice, if that is what He asks you to do!

Blessings – Josh

August Stewardship Challenge – Tithing

This month I have challenged the people of Corning FBC to focus on stewardship. Throughout the month of August we will look at the Biblical concepts of tithes, offerings, and other ways we can steward the blessings God has given us. As part of this series, I have laid out a specific challenge when it comes to weekly giving.

There are many in the church who don’t give at all, give sporadically, or systematically give less than 10%. If you fall into one of these categories, my challenge is to systematically give 10% during the month of August. Also, there are those in the church who consistently give 10% or more. If that’s you, my challenge is to increase your giving by 1%.

Through this challenge I hope to accomplish at least three things.

  1. Help our regular attenders develop healthy giving habits
  2. Discover and celebrate the resources God has already provided for the future of Corning FBC
  3. Help the people of Corning FBC, as well as our community, see the impact we can make when we are all giving and working together

Now, I understand that completing this challenge might force you to make some changes to your budget, habits, and/or routine. That’s why I’ve called it a challenge! Maybe you will choose to eat out less or cut spending in some other area in order to make money available to tithe. Maybe you need to work to make your tithe the first thing that comes out of your paycheck instead of hoping there’s enough left over to tithe. Maybe you need an overall adjustment to your budgeting and spending habits in order to have a healthier  financial position. Do whatever it takes to get your finances in a God honoring, Jesus glorifying place.

This past Sunday, August 6th we looked at a very brief history of tithing and what is expected of believers (to watch it click here). Though the Biblical tithe was included in the Old Testament law, it was originally established more than 400 years BEFORE the law was given!! Abraham tithed to Melchizedek, a priest of God and the King of Salem. A system of offerings was already in place before God codified it in the Mosaic law. So tithing is less something we have to do, and more something we get to do. It is a response to the love and grace God showed us by sending Jesus to die for our sins. Ultimately, we tithe because of a relationship God established with His people long before the rules were given.

So what is tithing? Simply put, it is regular, systematic giving to the general fund of your church. Other giving, such as special missions offerings, camp scholarships, special purchases, etc are offerings, over and above your tithe (we will discuss offerings next week). The general fund is the engine of the church’s ministry budget. Missions, outreach, curriculum, bills, salaries, and more all come from the general fund (at least this is how it functions at the churches I have been a part of, it may be different at your church). At Corning FBC, 15 cents of every dollar you tithe goes to local, state, national, and international ministry. This money supports missionaries, church planters, disaster-relief, and more. That means if you give to the general fund of Corning FBC, YOU are directly invested in the gospel reaching the nations. YOU have a stake in ministries in our community and around the word. YOU are financially supporting the work of God far beyond the walls of the church building.

So, again, I challenge you. Pray about how your budget might be adjusted to be able to give more. Think about how much more we are capable of if we are all making this a priority in our lives!!

Blessings – Josh

6 Tips to Get the Most Out of a Sermon

This week I read a blog from a pastor friend of mine in Franklin, TN titled, Six Tips to Internalize the Sermon. If you have the time, I recommend giving it a read. It is a great “behind-the-scenes” look at some of the preparation pastors go through on a weekly basis to prepare for Sunday morning.

After reading his post I was inspired to write a list of my own…a list of tips the average church attender can use to internalize the sermon they have heard on a Sunday morning. After all, the pastor has (hopefully) spent 10-20 hours the week before studying, planning, and crafting his message. It would be a shame for you to head to Sunday lunch and promptly forget everything that was taught. Also, the preaching of God’s Word is one of the most important methods God has given His Church for maturity, growth, and discipleship.

So, here are six tips to internalize your pastor’s sermon each week.

1. Show up

It seems like a no-brainer, but I think it’s worth mentioning. You will never get very much out of a sermon you never hear. In our New Member Class, the first expectation of membership we discuss is this…just show up! When the early church gathered, they focused on prayer, fellowship, communion, and the reading and teaching of God’s Word (Acts 2). From that weekly gathering, God developed and grew the church to reach hundreds, then thousands, then millions, and now billions of people all over the world. The Sunday gathering is an integral part of your spiritual growth and is the best way to hear the Word being taught.

2. Take notes

I know, I know. We’re not in school on Sunday morning. And taking notes can be tedious. But research shows that writing down what you are hearing is one of the most effective ways to get it to stick in your brain. (Don’t believe me? Check out what people much smarter than me have to say here, here, and here.) Granted, there is an onus on the preacher to provide a clear outline and an organized message, but even a rambling, disorganized message will have a few statements worth writing down and remembering. At Corning FBC, we provide a notes section on the back of the bulletin for this very purpose. Use it! Taking notes will also provide you with a reference to return to later in the week when you are struggling to remember everything that was presented on Sunday morning.

3. Take advantage of “reruns”

More and more churches are offering easily accessible, online recordings of the Sunday sermon. We have a live feed that automatically archives each service, and a page on our website that has audio only recordings of each week’s message. These are useful for a few reasons. First, if you do happen to miss a Sunday you can quickly and easily catch up on what was discussed. Second, a live feed or recorded service is a great way to get a feel for a preacher or church for someone who is looking for a church home. Third, and most importantly for the context of this post, you can quickly and easily go back and re-listen to the sermon. As you listen a second time, you can add to the notes you already took, or take one or two of the sermon points and do your own, deeper study or reflection. Hearing a 30-45 minute message live will never allow you to digest EVERY point or implication being made. So find and extra few minutes during the week and hear it again. You’ll probably hear things you missed the first time and you’ll be able to better understand what was being taught.

4. Make an effort

Hopefully your pastor provides 1-3 practical responses to the message each week. These are things you can take from what is being taught and put into practice after you leave. One way to help these points stick is to make a concerted effort to actually live them out. It is easy to, in a very broad sense, determine to live differently because of what you heard. It is much harder to actually do it, day in and day out. To respond and react to life’s circumstances differently. To treat people differently than you usually do. To stop a sinful or unwise practice or start a holy or helpful one. But it is this personal application that makes the message of Scripture come alive. It also will provide you with experiences that you can use to teach and encourage others in their daily walk. And that, my friends, is discipleship…the main thing Jesus commanded of us as He finished His earthly ministry.

5. Find a buddy

As I mentioned above, one of the regular practices of the early church was fellowship. We were not designed to go through life alone, and it is nearly impossible to have a flourishing spiritual life by yourself. Most churches offer some kind of small group program. One of the less talked about purposes of these groups is creating an environment that provides the opportunity to build a relationship with one or two people that will exist outside of the regular church services. If you don’t already have someone you are spending time with on a regular basis, find someone. Take advantage of your time together to discuss the sermon, compare your notes, and discuss how you have implemented one of the sermon points that week.

6. Get prepared

Last, but certainly not least, is what you do each Saturday night. Several weeks ago I preached a sermon about the Sabbath. As we looked at the purpose of the Sabbath, we learned that beyond the rest and rejuvenation Sabbath practice provides, it is meant to allow us to prepare our minds, bodies, and hearts for worship. The old cliche says, “Saturday night live means Sunday morning dead”. It may sound pithy, but there is real truth in that. You will be amazed at how much more you get out of a sermon when you are rested. Also, spend some time on Saturday evening praying about Sunday morning. Pray for your pastor. Pray for those leading music. Pray for Sunday School teachers and small group leaders. Pray for the lost who will be present. Pray for the Christian that is hurting and needs to hear from God. Pray for yourself. Spend some time listening to worship music. If your church sends out the songs to be sung or the passage that will be taught go ahead and listen and read. Take a few minutes to be ready.

I pray that these tips will help you get a little more out of your pastor’s sermon each week. What are some tips you have used that I didn’t mention here? Praying for you this Sunday, that you are transformed by the Word of God and by your worship of Him!

Blessings – Josh

Here’s the thing about my wife…

Today is my anniversary. Today my wife and I celebrate 13 years of marriage. Today I think back on and remember that wonderful, hot, rainy, perfect day. Today I savor the sweet fulfillment of marriage. Today I will not see my wife. She is three hours away pursuing a dream she didn’t know she had until God led her to it a few months ago. Two years ago, on this day, she was having surgery. Five years ago, on this day, we had just moved across the country and were trying to get settled into our new home. Ten years ago, on this day, we were just one month past losing our first child.

Anniversaries are an interesting thing. They help us mark the passage of time and prompt us to pause and reflect on the years that have passed since that first day. One might be tempted to think that the interruptions of life that have occurred on our anniversary over the years would be a point of frustration. One might also be tempted to think that these anniversaries were a disappointment. But that’s the thing about anniversaries; though July 10th marks our wedding day, the day we began our marriage, in the end it is only a date. The real celebration is of the years, months, weeks, days, hours, minutes, and seconds that are the substance of these last 13 years.

Here’s the thing about my wife…

For 13 years she has supported be and stood by my side, even when I have failed her.

For 13 years she has challenged me to become a better husband, a better father, and a better follower of Jesus.

For 13 years she has encouraged me and given me the confidence to attempt and accomplish more that I ever thought possible.

For 13 years she has taught me what it is to love and to be loved.

For 13 years she has worked a thousand times harder than me.

Today, as we mark the passage of another year of marriage, I will celebrate, and I will feel closer to her than I did yesterday. Ultimately, the day we celebrate our anniversary is not as important as the way we daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, decadely, etc, celebrate our relationship. Because, ultimately, our marriage is not about us. And it certainly is not about our wedding. In the end, our marriage serves as a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church.

I celebrate today, even without my bride by my side, because I celebrate her. I celebrate us. I celebrate what God is doing in, through, and for us. My weak words could never capture all that she means to me. And because of that, I look forward to this Friday, when I get to see her again. I wait expectantly because of how she has fulfilled my life on all the days between the anniversaries.

I love you, Jane! Happy anniversary!!

Dear Church: Don’t Make America an Idol

 

 

It’s Fourth of July weekend and churchimageses across the country will sing patriotic songs, decorate with American flags, wear patriotic colors, and honor those who have fought and/or died for our freedoms. Can this be taken too far? Is there an inexorable link between the American church and American patriotism? Some have said that the church in America owes its existence to the American revolution and the American soldier. Others argue that the America-focused church is and should be declining. So who is right? How should Christians and churches approach patriotic holidays such as Memorial Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day?

A New Citizenship

In the run up to the 2016 Presidential election, debate grew and swirled around the issue of refugee resettlement and immigration from majority Muslim nations. A complaint heard often about these refugees and immigrants is that some refused to swear allegiance to the United States Constitution above an beyond their faith. Some Americans balked at the idea of these new arrivals swearing allegiance to Allah first and America second. But I had to wonder, if I were to move to another country and they asked me to swear my alligience to their nation above and beyond my faith, would I? Should I?

When Jesus was being questioned by Pilate, he was asked about the fact that his own countrymen were turning him in. Jesus’ response is telling, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then my servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews…” It is clear throughout that earthly political systems are NOT the method by which God will expand His kingdom. As His disciples looked forward to the overthrow of Rome Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a stallion. Standing before Pilate Jesus was as a lamb ready to be slaughtered.

In the book of Acts the newly formed church began to grow in spite of the government of Rome. In fact, for the majority of church history the church grew and thrived despite the government’s best efforts to stop it. There are three exceptions…Constantine, the English Church, and America.

In the first two, Christianity was not only the dominant religion but was mandated by the government. Eventually, the church would be controlled by the government. Many of the church’s darkest moments in history (inquisitions, crusades, etc) were during the time when the government played a key role in the church. Up until this point, America has been different. While our government was designed NOT to get involved in the church, the church has, more and more, sought to get involved with government. That has never been more of an issue that the last year or so. Pastors have been intimately involved in political matters in order to have a “seat at the table” of power. Should we have that seat? Should we even want to have it?

A Star-Spangled Church Service

This Fourth of July weekend many churches in America will drape their buildings and themselves in American flags. They will sing patriotic songs, sometimes more than worship songs. They will have videos honoring those who have worn our country’s uniforms. They will have sermons centered on the special place America has in the history of the church. Is that always wrong? I don’t believe so. I do, however, believe that it can get out of hand. I fully believe that there are people who are more loyal to the flag than they are to the cross. There are those in the church who are more excited about the advancement of their political agenda than they are about the advancement of the gospel. There are those in the church who get more excited about hearing and seeing patriotism on a Sunday morning than they do hearing and seeing Jesus being magnified. How can I say this? I have seen it.

I once visited a church that had a small wooden cross that stood at the front of the sanctuary. Wrapped around that cross was red, white, and blue fabric. I have seen church goers who sit silently and in disgust week after week but stand proudly with a tear in their eye as the flag is waved on a patriotic Sunday. I have personally been excoriated for breaching flag etiquette because we were emphasizing the flag of a country a mission team was preparing to go reach for the gospel. As Paul once said, these things must not be!

An Institution that Lasts

There are two institutions vying for our consideration…America and the Church. One of these will stand forever and one of them will one day fall. Want to guess which one is which? Human institutions rise and fall, but the Word of the Lord will stand forever. Jesus’ kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. One day the world will be no more, but the kingdom of God will reign for eternity. I once heard it said that America is an experiment but the church is a certainty.

If it bothers you more that there are people who don’t believe America is great than it bothers you that there are people who are going to hell…if it bothers you that America will fall but the Kingdom of God will not…if you are more excited about the glorification of our country or our flag than you are about the glorification of the Son of God…America has become an idol to you. God hates idols. God hates idol worshippers.

Where I Stand

We have a unique opportunities as American Christians to have the freedom to worship and believe as we choose. That freedom is due, in part, to the men and women who have served on our behalf. I agree that their serviceshould be acknowledged and commended. However, we must never forget that true freedom only comes through the cross of Jesus Christ. We can never forget that those who live and serve in nations hostile to the church have that same freedom. Let us learn from history and acknowledge that a church cozy with the government has ceased to serve the role God has given it. We are called to be counter-cultural. We are called to live in, but not of, the world.

We had flags in the sanctuary today, and we sang two patriotic songs, but the message was about our relationship with God, not government. Our focus, at the end of the day, is on the kingdom that stand forever, not the kingdom that will one day fall. That is where our focus must be…always.

Blessings – Josh

Edit: After a few conversations I have had regarding this post, I feel that I need to clarify something. The Fourth of July service we had at Corning FBC, I believe, found a healthy balance between the patriotic and the spiritual, between the temporal and the eternal, and between our earthly citizenship and our heavenly citizenship. The volunteers who put togther our decorations each week do so with the Kingdom in mind and with the goal of using the visual environment of our building to point people to Christ. That was no different on this day. I am grateful for all that have served our country and see no issue with how we recognized that on the 4th of July at Corning FBC. My comments in this post were regarding other services and experiences I have seen and been through. I tried to communicate all of this in my final paragraph above, but evidently failed to do that clearly.

The Arkansas 10 Commandments Monument…a Monument TO faith or a Monument AS faith?

This week a monument of The 10 Commandments was erected at the Arkansas state capital building in Little Rock. Less than 24 hours later it was destroyed. A man intentionally drove his vehicle across a lawn and through the six foot tall, 6,000 lb. monument. Significant time, effort, arguing, and politicking took place over the course of two years leading to the approval and installation of this monument. But beyond the headlines and beyond the constitutionality and propriety of such a monument stands a question I have for our American brand of Christianity.

Does/Can/Should a stone monument at the state capital significantly affect our faith?

Amid the hype and ballyhoo of the discussions surrounding 10 Commandments monuments across the country, one narrative seems to consistently make its way to the surface…any attack on installing such a monument is an attack on the Christian faith itself, and we must defend these monuments if we are to be able to continue living our faith in freedom. If your ability to worship and share your faith freely rests on the government’s willingness or ability to create a shrine to Old Testament law, then your faith is lacking.

An acquaintance on Facebook said this, “We probably need to have the Ten Commandments written on our hearts more than have them on a stone at the capital.” Oh how true!! The Hebrew writer, quoting the prophet Jeremiah, says, “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws upon their heart, and on their mind I will write them” (Hebrews 10:16, Jeremiah 31:33). For the believer, the law is written in such a way that it can never be run over or knocked down. The only thing preventing its proud declaration is the one who refuses to live it out.

Back during the presidential election I made this observation, “One thing this election cycle has proven is that American Christians can and do evangelize. The question is, will they now evangelize for the Gospel of the cross to the same degree as they evangelized for their preferred political savior?” During that time, much of the conversation among Christian leaders centered around what might happen to the nation and the American church if Donald Trump were not elected. Many of them did logical and ethical gymnastics to justify their support of the thrice-married, serial philanderer (read here and here for more on that). It was not lost, by the way, on the rest of the nation that such grace and leniency was not offered to democratic leaders who have fewer moral shortcomings but different political philosophies.

What if, instead of working SO hard to ensure that there are physical or rhetorical representations of our faith on display, there were actual demonstrations of God’s love and grace shown by believers in their respective communities? What if we spent less time reciting platitudes about the Judeo-Christian foundation of our nation, and we instead lived out the Judeo-Christian foundation of our salvation? You see, the existence of a monument to our faith has no bearing on our faith. It could be argued that fighting so hard for the installation of a monument to the foundation of moral law is in direct contradiction to the first and second of those very commandments (Exodus 20:2-6).

There is no government action nor inaction that can thwart God’s Kingdom. There is no President nor political party that can control you living out your faith. We’ve been spoiled in America with a faith-friendly government, and that has made us lazy. It is easy to be a Christian in America, which stands in sharp contrast to how Christianity has been lived out in the majority of the world for the last 2,000 years. Yet, it is in places where living out faith is difficult that the church is growing the most. Places like China and the Middle East are seeing exponential growth despite government opposition and interference.

What if the next time you are solicited to make a donation to a political party or a political cause you instead made a donation to a foster care family, food bank, church, addiction counseling center, or Pro-life organization? What if we were as vocal about the dangers of hell and the power of the gospel as we are about the dangers of liberalism and the power of the republican party? This is where our faith is made real. This is where we will have an actual, verifiable, quantifiable impact on the world around us.

Yes, we participate in government by voting. God has blessed us with that opportunity. But please understand that our hope is not to be placed there. Our hope is in Christ. God’s Kingdom will not be expanded by passing the right laws or by raising or lowering taxes, but by God’s people doing the work He has called us to do. Just as we cannot force generosity through the tax code, we cannot force morality through the penal code. Our hope, our salvation, our rest, and our joy is in Christ. He changes hearts. He heals the broken. He has charged His church to be His hands and feet (James 1:22-27).

God’s Kingdom will grow, with or without us.

Blessings – Josh

p.s. – This Sunday is the Sunday before The 4th Of July holiday. Many churches will have patriotic themed services. Is that right? Should we devote multiple services a year to extolling the greatness of America? Some say we should, some say we should not. I’ll give my thoughts this weekend!

 

 

This new venture…

As much as I hope others will drop by and listen in on this conversation I am having with myself, I hope it will be just that…a place for me to share some thoughts…

So I’m starting a new blog. I kept one up for a VERY short time several years ago, but I eventually quit writing. You can read it here if you’re bored and a glutton for punishment. I have often wondered why I failed to stick with it – to post often enough for people to be interested and for it to make an impact. Recently, I realized that my original blog lacked direction. I started a blog because, well, other pastors write blogs. And if they do, I should too. You know, peer pressure…the best reason to do anything! So for better or for worse, I walked away.

But today I set here at my computer, setting up this website, taking the time to write THIS post, because I believe I have found that direction. Each week I preach my guts out for 25-30 minutes (or 40…ok, sometimes 45). Yet I walk away from the pulpit feeling like I’ve left so much more OFF the table that I was able to put on it for you. There is more in the verses I have preached from, there is more real-world application I wish I had made, and there is more about me and who I am I wish I could express. So, that is what this will be.

This blog will be a place that I can expound just a little more on my preaching. Here I can comment on and connect current events to our faith and our lives. I can share a little more of what’s happening in the lives of the Raspberry’s without flooding your Facebook feed. I have no grand illusions that the masses will come and dwell at the footstool of my brilliance, insight, or entertaining personality. As much as I hope others will drop by and listen in on this conversation I am having with myself, I hope it will be just that…a place for me to share my thoughts, some of which you will appreciate and take lessons from and some of which you won’t.

That way we both win!

Blessings – Josh