Tag Archives: Christianity

GOD NEEDS YOUR MONEY! (just kidding)

Ministry is the only profession that retains nothing to itself, gives away all its knowledge free, and invites those served to do the same work“. -Klyne Snodgrass

I often encounter people in my American culture that once they find out that I am a pastor/Christian/associated with church (or in their understanding “organized religion”) they usually have a pre-packaged opinion of who I am, what I am a part of/believe, and possibly a fear of what I may attempt to “shove down their throat” (In Jesus’ loving name of course).

I love talking about belief and faith. I do have a Christian identity, and that can sometimes be a difficult reality when connecting with people that do not share that identification. There are many reasons for the potential disconnects between me and others when my Christian identity is known, but one of the main ones is the church’s reputation with money.

From creepy pastors and/or priests who betray God, their congregants, (and the watching world) trust through inappropriate/sexual misconduct to sketchy-but-slick-talking tele-evangelists’ pyramid schemes who dupe lonely T.V. watchers with their “magic” anointed hanker-chief type antics… the church’s reputation remains in critical condition in 2019.

Most priest and pastors of Christian churches are not those described above. Although all humans (including the spiritual leaders) are capable of evil, many are decent, honest, caring individuals that want to better the world from their deepest convictions often stemming from their love for God and neighbor. Most pastors are not the name-it-claim-it-rather-than-exegete-it types. Many pastors hate asking for money, but realize that it is a part of keeping the ministry going and helping people respond to God with their lives (I am also not saying that they are against faith in God’s provision).

This post is mainly to reflect on “the elephant” too often in the room when it comes to many people’s objection to church… giving money (or more particularly being asked for money). Most Americans have been in a worship setting where a plate or basket was passed to everyone for a collection of tithes and offerings. This can be perceived by many as a medium or act of worship (rightly so). Others who might have second thought opinions about how a church uses the money gathered and still others feel that the church only exists for financial gain.

Unless an individual becomes popular through media, books, or building a large church, most do not become wealthy from ministry (Most churches are smaller congregations, not mega with the mega bucks). On top of the potential low pay that comes with pastoral positions, Bible college and Seminary can be an expensive investment when many must take loans out in order to get the schooling needed for their vocation.

The church has a lot to overcome with its reputation in our culture concerning money. Church attendance continues to decline and the entertainment church, I believe, has a shelf life. As the older generations that were/are faithful to institutions decline, churches will have to be creative (but faithful) in their attaining and usage of funds (hopefully it is attained as a result of healthy discipleship).

The scriptures say a lot about money. Jesus said a lot about money.

 The irony is that ministry is done with money and often used to show tangible love through the meeting of other’s needs. This must not be forgotten. So there is this both/and reality to the church and money. We should be known by our love… not by our requests for money. The church’s reputation needs a money makeover.

Churches, however, if they continue to function like franchises of denominations (in my opinion) will have an uphill battle. Pastors currently function similar to that of general managers of a local food chain. Seasonally many put out the newest product-type-program/gimmick-media-décor to attract, retain, and impress attendees (and hope they tithe or at best TIP). This too is a both/and in my opinion. Communication mediums should be done well. They should also be evaluated for their purposes and where they point the attention to.

It is expected that people who connect, get involved, and love God want to express and respond with the most tangible ways like giving. The issue arises when the bills roll in and the building projects are too often funded by things hoped for but likely to be borrowed that the watching world gets distant. “Attractive church” is usually pitched/advertised as fun, safe, and sterile. In order to keep up the hype, however, big wheels need to keep on turning. The world gets reminded to get distant because burned out people talk… (a.k.a. they social media). When a church burns people out through expectation and exhaustion the bad news of money need (rather than the good news) spreads like a wildfire.

I “get” the attractive attempts by churches, but this too requires massive amounts of time, money, and volunteer energy. The issues are complex and many churches that do ministry like this do it well. The answer is not necessarily to boycott this approach (I don’t think anyway). The answer is also not to be so boring and waste people’s time through careless, thoughtless, boring homilies from the Bible and do music mediums poorly while still begging for money to keep an old ship floating.

The reality is that the Church (in all its forms) has done much good in each community to add value and meet the needs of people who would often be forgotten. This post cannot begin to highlight (and is not the purpose here) the mammoth ways that people who come to faith in Jesus end up changing the world for the better (through the generosity of the church).

This includes churches of all sizes and approaches to reach out to their world. It is a reminder to the Church to be the best steward as possible with their reputation through their use of people’s worship (giving). It is a reminder to those mad at the church for asking people to give money to be fair/reflective and also acknowledge how much churches help their local community (even if some are more obnoxious than they should be). Giving is not a sad thing. What is sad is that too many object going to a church for fear of feeling obligated or guilted into giving. Nobody should ever feel that God needs their money.

the reality is more  intense than money… God wants their life.

The good news is that God is a good steward and has a great reputation when it comes to giving grace and eternal life.

 

Klyne Snodgrass, Ephesians, The NIV Application Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996), 224.

Jehovah’s Witness Funeral Part 1.

I had the opportunity to experience my first Jehovah’s Witnesses funeral this past Saturday. I promised a blog post on this, so I am attempting to be somewhat faithful to that promise. I say, “somewhat” because there is a lot to say about the differences in my theology than the those of the JW’s, but my point (I hope) is not to poke fun or be condescending to their beliefs per se.

In my worst self… there is pride that needs to be “checked at the door” of judging another person’s beliefs (this happens with people who even hold the same orthodoxy as myself). We all do it. We long to be right. We long to be part of the TRUTH tribe. We want the “A” at the end of life and the cheese at the end of the maze. We all want to do it for various reasons. I believe one of the reasons we judge other people’s beliefs is out of fear and out of our own sinfulness. I am no different so I guess I will apologize on the front end (when saying “judge” I am meaning being judgemental with harsh perspective, not “judge” as it should be used as to mean to judge rightly or think critically).

James Sire talks about how we believe things for mainly four reasons: 1. Sociologically (My parents, friends, society told me it was True, 2. Psychologically (a supposed Truth makes me feel good), 3. Religious (The priest, rabbi, church, guru told me that it was true), 4. Philosophical Consistency (I have surveyed the data and looked for the most logical and consistent explanation). I think I first read this in a book “I don’t have enough faith to be an atheist”.

These four categories are interwoven in all of our belief systems that we carry (knowingly or unknowingly). I love the language of Rob Bell’s oft quoted “What we caught and were taught” by all the influences growing up. Some of us explore our beliefs and try to make sense of the inputs we received. Other people sometimes do not care that much, and others lose faith along the faith journey or even get angry (a lot of times all of these happen along the exploration of beliefs/faith). Facing questions concerning the things we have held dear can be a very disturbing and lonely journey. Most faith traditions have an ostracizing, excommunicating, shunning-kick-you-out-of-the-family-and-never-talk-again-kind-of-policy (spoken and unspoken) about them. Some even use violence to enforce the group think and ensure compliance with the faith tribe.

This is probably my biggest hang up with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. They do not allow any outside feedback loops to question themselves. They are unwilling to seek truth (unless it is from their own tribe/Bible translation). They practice information control. They are exclusionary. Many Protestant Christians do this too to be fair, but they do so not because they get that instruction from the Bible or Church History (Church History must be qualified but obviously not here). Christianity is a “faith that seeks understanding”. In my opinion, the Bible welcomes the scrutiny of the curious and the skeptic (even if a particular denomination or group of persons don’t).

Reflecting on some of my experiences with information control: (I have had acquaintance relationships with probably six to seven individuals from this faith background). A girl that I worked with at Starbucks in Colorado was instructed by her father not to talk to me anymore once I had some basic non-coercive conversations with her concerning God and gave her some books to read on the subject of reflecting on biblical theology and interpretation. She even explained that she was afraid that her family would disown her for even having taken the books…

Another example is of a couple that are super great people that I know who claim Jehovah as their God. They are some of the most outgoing and kind people I have met (from the JW faith community) who often probably ask themselves WWJ(ehovah)D? Many Saturday mornings they would bring me their pamphlets and Watchtower magazines in the most professional way. They would offer to share a Biblical passage with me (from the New World Translation of course). I would oblige and sincerely listen to their offerings and their gentle sincerity. I would read their materials and ponder the data (which is often pretty general and doesn’t go into any major theological positions but rather encourages good moral behavior inspired by Jehovah).  A couple of years later I went to this couple’s house to bring them a copy of Max Lucado’s “The Story” as a gift (Our Church was giving them away to help spread biblical literacy). The guy (who I do respect) refused to take my gift. There are many reasons that he rejected it, however, the main reason was that he was trained to do so. He expected people to take what he was pushing, but was unwilling to receive anything from anyone else.

PLEASE STAY TUNED ON THIS BLOG FOR PART 2.

Isaiah 53:10-12.

The pericope for consideration continues the identity and mission of Isaiah’s servant. We find in the mysterious individual further paradoxes concerning the purpose of the individual’s life and actions. This servant has a difference about them that makes life appear in a world where sin and death reign. The servant surprisingly bears the crimes of the guilty making them right with the offended party (God). This part of the poem speaks about the result of a future victory and the hope of the servant standing in the end in triumph. It is in the ultimate task of absorbing death that the servant has changed the course of the rebels’ destiny.

            Often, we look to the New Testament writers to form our theology regarding salvation. For the Christian, it would be wise to look back to the Old Testament to get a better grasp at the foundations of such theological formations. In this passage (and the previous verses) we have important clues on how to think about what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean. Isaiah’s vision regarding the servant grounds itself in sacrificial language from Leviticus. The servant’s actions give writers like Paul in the NT the ability to put forth considerable conclusions regarding the sinner’s response to the actions of Jesus’ (arguably saving) actions.

            Obviously, the Christian is indebted to these passages in Isaiah (both in their own context and via the NT) for their formation of soteriology. It is eye opening to go back and read Isaiah without assuming Jesus as the fulfillment of this vision. Oswalt notes that Isaiah’s goal was not to produce a literal future prediction of Jesus’ entire ministry. However, the congruence with which the NT writers match up Jesus with the servant described by Isaiah is remarkable (408). The identity of the servant should be considered within Isaiah’s contexts before jumping to the NT’s illumination. Most of us must attempt to honestly approach this task in a backwards manner because of our Christian upbringing. It might need to be noted that I am not arguing that it is wrong to come to our soteriology “backwards”. In my opinion, it is very striking however, that when one studies Isaiah for its own sake, Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are enhanced for their salvific significance rather than diminished.

            The human dilemma has become God’s priority in the biblical narrative (404). God’s solution, according to Isaiah, is a sacrificial human. This human has a servant role that is misunderstood completely. The important religious concepts such as holy and righteous are totally flipped upside down within Isaiah’s servant. The servant takes on the iniquities of the non-innocent. Oswalt highlights that this is not just symbolic but something that happens in reality. The righteous one makes others righteous by absorbing the world’s sins. This priest type figure offers themselves for the people’s sin. Unlike animals, this God-like human steps into the active place of substitution to make relationship with God wholly possible again (405).

            One’s future thinking about resurrection is hinted at in verse 10. As Oswalt points out, this does not necessarily speak of resurrection but that the servant’s life and death will not be in vain (402-403). I think that the bigger idea of death being dealt a “death-blow” is an appropriate image regarding the servant’s actions. God’s servant not only has a message, but the servant’s action accomplishes what no religion could (even Israel’s sacrificial system). Isaiah plants within this part of the poem further imagination regarding God’s heart and plan to deal with sin and its consequences. God does this through God’s servant in a powerfully absurd way that ends up victorious in the end. One’s theology regarding sin and redemption are given much ground to reflect on within these few verses. The servant further reveals God and the important fact that death loses when God gets actively involved. These thoughts should shape each of us as we ponder the Bible’s ultimate message regarding redemption and restoration.

On Isaiah

The content of the book of Isaiah is best/only understood in the historical context in which its message is seated. The section for summary is over the years 739-701 B.C. As Oswalt notes, these years correspond with Isaiah’s life and chapters 1-39 (4). It is in this period that the Hebrew people continue to struggle with remembering God. The test to trust God is apparent throughout the account of ruthless Assyrian emperors and the real threat they posed toward their enemies. Isaiah’s message is one that highlights the contrast of trusting the fickleness of foreign powers with the true reliability of the Hebrew God. Trusting foreign powers with other gods might bring short provision, but not trusting the only true powerful God leads to destruction (5).

The period that the text covers could be called “Assyria’s moment of glory”. Prior to strong capable leaders, Assyria had been fairly weak in its force. Those who had felt Assyria’s might in the past found a time of rest. This led to Israel and Judah’s complacency which assumed God’s favor resting on them (5). With the rise of Tiglath-pileser III things strongly changed. The days of peace were over if you were in Assyria’s path. It quickly became known that when Pul flexed his muscle the entire world feared it (6). The book of 2 Kings provides much background for a proper understanding of Isaiah.

Judah was torn on which way to turn regarding Assyria. They eventually sided with Assyria in hopes that they would be protected and find favor with the main power. Looking for help from a bigger protector seems to be the theme for Judah throughout this period. Isaiah rightly perceives that striving to survive by linking to a foreign power is useless and harmful in the end. Conquering kings often take what is freely handed over and then forcefully taken when it is not. For the Hebrews apostasy often comes about due to amnesia of God (6-7).

Pul died in 727 B.C. who was then succeeded by Shalmaneser (7). This king too maintained a sweeping power hold on any Assyrian opponent. The next king that followed was Sargon. He continued the domination that had become expected by the Assyrian military strength (8). It is in this time period that a somewhat decent king named Hezekiah reigned over Judah. He tried to rid the land and temple of worship to false gods. One time he even tried (unsuccessfully) to unite Northern Israel with the South through celebration of Passover (9). Another time Judah chose to rely on Egypt for protection which did not prove to be any more successful than the trustworthiness of Ahaz’s confidence in Assyria. Sargon maintained a world dominance posture that had been built on the wins of his predecessors. He, however, died disgracefully on the battlefield and is forever remembered as an example of pride coming before a fall (Isa. 14).

Babylon hoped to gain some ground, but was soon met with defeat by the consistent supremacy of Assyria led by Sennacherib. It was not long before Assyria was strong as ever and as Isaiah had predicted, was knocking on Judah’s door (10). With the increased threat close to home, Hezekiah tried to pay off Sennacherib with a tribute. There is also a possible account of a plague that took out the Assyrian army saving Jerusalem. Due to pride, Assyrian history probably would not have recorded such an event or allowed the city to remain. Mystery surrounds the details of how it happened, but Jerusalem was spared from the crushing sweep of Sennacherib. Hezekiah, however, was faithful to God due to Isaiah’s message (12-13).

Despite Circumstances of any Empire…May we not forget God. May we put full trust in YHWH.

Works Cited:

Oswalt, John N. The Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1986.

Grief of Place

“No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk, or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me.”–C.S. Lewis

Grief… “A universal human experience”. Gary Collins explains that grief is a normal response to the loss of any significant person, object, or opportunity.* The past couple of years, I have borrowed others experience of grief. Sometimes I have absorbed and experienced the feeling/knowing of loss myself. I have seen the loss of my grandparents, my step-mom, friends, and even had the honor of leading the funeral for an awesome lady from my church.

Not to downplay the grief born out of the loss of someone special, my focus here is that I want to reflect on the grief caused by the loss of place. I want to think about the loss of space and environment. In fact the reason to start this blog is partially caused by the feelings of a certain event. This past week I learned that the college I went to has decided to close its physical doors. Nazarene Bible College will move to a completely online platform. NBC was founded in the 1960’s and aimed at preparing men and women to serve in various ministry capacities. The campus will move to a completely virtual reality. Obviously this is the logical outcome for many reasons, I assume mainly, due to economics.

This place is very significant to who I am. To what makes me tick. To what makes me think that the Church that proclaims Jesus matters. I moved to Colorado Springs in 2003 fresh out of High School to attend NBC. That decision changed my life forever. I enrolled with the intention of becoming a Youth Pastor and obtaining at B.A. degree in Pastoral Ministries (with the help of many my goal was achieved). There were no dorms and I was broke without any financial help (outside of student loans). I worked three jobs throughout college which took me nearly six years to complete. One of those jobs was cleaning each of the six buildings on campus.

Many other things shaped me in that place. I met the girl I would marry from my former youth pastor (who graduated and nudged me to attend NBC). I married my wife in the chapel on campus. The professors were (are) of the highest caliber (academically and of character). I am forever grateful for these teachers of Scripture and life. They did not give easy answers to my questions but challenged me in all areas of my mind, heart, and soul. Their influence shaped me for the better. I did take online classes when I needed to, but I would not be the person I am today if I had not been in the physical environment of that place and in the presence of the great mentors. I believe that NBC will continue its mission, but I believe that an important shaping of that mission has been tragically lost and will need new mediums to recreate and foster human interaction beyond the computer screen.

I felt deep parts of me were hit, like when you hear someone close has a fatal accident. It is interesting how the loss of place can even cause incredible “shock/denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance”. This causes me to reflect on the sacredness of creation. The life we live and the people who make up the moments and spaces in which we share them truly do wind their way into the fabric of the reality of who we are.

Spaces are important and not meaningless. Nazarene Bible College as a place will remain a constant reminder of the special reality that place has in life. It also reminds me that places come and go but just because they are gone does not diminish their value. It is no wonder that the Apostle Paul found his geography “in Christ” able to live in a larger reality happening. One commentator notes that the language of “In Christ” appears over 160 times throughout the New Testament.* As humanity goes through life creating spaces and memories, those who trust a loving God can always grieve like those who have hope (1 Thess 4:13). Maybe someone can relate to these thoughts. Grieving is not easily understood or easy to process. May the God who holds all things together and in who we live, move, and have being give each of us hope when we feel loss of someone or something special.

Works Cited:

Collins, Gary R. Christian Counseling: A Comprehensive Guide. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007.

Snodrass, Klyne. The NIV Application Commentary, Ephesians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996.