It’s More Blessed to Give Than to Receive

giving

Paul was a vocational evangelist. He was a tent maker by trade. He often told churches that he intentionally did not seek financial support from them, lest they come back and say he was “robbing” them. Paul worked very hard in everything he did. And he also gave. He gave of his time, money, and heart.

When he was on the beach at Miletus with the Ephesian elders, Paul said, “I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive'” (Acts 20: 35 ESV).

There is an old adage: “You get back what you put in.” This is true of life. The person who works hard gets promoted. The one who gives of her time, money, and energy reaps a crop of righteousness. This doesn’t mean that those who give will be materially wealthy. But it does mean that those blessings will spread and endure. Others will be blessed. Kingdom work will be blessed. The poor will be provided for. They’ll be fed and clothed. The injured will have their wounds dressed and will find healing.

But we have to be willing to give. When we have the means to give, we should be extremely generous. Ultimately, we need to be willing to lay down our lives for others. We need to be giving of our talents, our tithes, and our time. Let’s challenge ourselves to give more and see how God blesses!

Photo by Tom Parsons on Unsplash

Knowing Jesus Christ and Him Crucified

Christ crucified

When Paul first came into Corinth, he was alone for the first time since he began his missionary journeys. He had been chased out of Macedonia and had to separate from the rest of his companions. He boarded a ship and sailed down to Athens, preached there, then moved into Corinth. For whatever reason, Paul was fearful and felt very alone.

When Timothy and Silas finally joined Paul in Corinth, Luke says that “Paul was occupied with the word” (Acts 18:5). This is interesting because Paul told the Corinthians that, when he first came, he “decided to known nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Paul was very, very focused on Jesus and the cross. In fact this was his sole focus.

Paul makes it clear that Paul came to Corinth in weakness and in fear and much trembling. Though he later says that he imparted wisdom to the mature, at first his message was not shrouded in lofty speech and wisdom. Rather, it was in demonstration of the Spirit and of power “so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:5).

Sometimes we get so troubled with getting our message right that we lose focus on Jesus and the cross. The irony is that the message ends up getting diluted. Paul was more interested in remaining focused on Christ and him crucified than he was getting his speeches right. Because Paul maintained this focus, he was able to witness by way of demonstration of the Spirit and of power. This is what transformed people in Corinth. Where the Spirit of God is at work, there is life!

Photo by Samuel McGarrigle on Unsplash

Our Visit to Haiti and More Ways to Give

Hope House

I just returned from visiting my sister Stephanie and her husband Roni in Haiti. I took my oldest daughter along and she got to experience Haiti for the first time at just 8 years old. It was my first time to visit the COTP campus where Steph and Roni live. Haiti is a gorgeous, mountainous country filled with a very rich history and lots of poverty.

Our congregation sponsors the Bhullars and the important work they do there. Visiting Haiti again is a reminder of how great the need is for people to give. Without the generosity of others, the Bhullars and other missionaries could not do the work they are doing there. As Christians, we are called to give and to go. We give of our time and money and we go to where our neighbors need help. This was the heart of Jesus’ mission and it has always been the mission of the early church.

The early Christians “were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need” (Acts 2:45 ESV). When there was a need, they selflessly and happily sold possessions and gave the proceeds to feed the poor and care for the oppressed. Over and over again Christians gave of their time and money. And they did so cheerfully. But they didn’t just give, they also went.

The first action word of the Great Commission is go. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . .(Matthew 28:19). Steph and Roni went. We don’t have to go overseas to bless people. We can go across the street to our neighbors. But go we must. I could have made up a thousand excuses not to go to Haiti this year. 4 weeks ago there were riots and the US issued a travel ban. It was dangerous to travel and Americans were being evacuated. It’s expensive to go overseas. I was away from my family for a week. It was inconvenient to go. But we are commanded to go. The Bhullars were blessed. We were blessed. My daughter was discipled and is already asking how she can raise more money to give to the good people of Haiti.

Churches that do not give generously stagnate. We are a small church but we can do great things through Christ. In an effort to increase our ability to give and go, we created an online giving page. We’re proud to say that 100% of the money from the online portion will be used to help people in need. Our congregation already gives almost $10,000 a year just to support missions and local benevolence. For a church our size, that’s almost unheard of. But we want to give even more because we want to go more. You don’t have to be a member of our congregation to give. The Lord’s church networked in the first century. And we want to also.

Help us spread the word. We long for people to give regularly and joyfully! We want to increase the amount we give each year to help the poor, oppressed, so we need your help. Please go to our online giving page and partner with us in giving to help the poor and oppressed. And help us spread the word! And join us on mission trips. Even if you cannot physically go on a mission trip, follow our page and get updates. We need your help to give and go!

The cover image is of the Hope House, where Steph and Roni currently care for six orphans.

2018 Theme: Love your neighbor

Love neighbor

Themes are a great way to walk through the Bible with a different lens and they help us focus in on something that’s really important. I like annual themes because it makes sermon writing have purpose and direction. As I thought about where we are as a congregation and where our culture has shifted over the last few years, it became abundantly clear that God was whispering that people need to be loved so they can see Jesus!

With so many stories about abuse, sexual exploitation, and the dramatic rise in drug overdoses and sex scandals, the church is in the absolute best position to reach out to their neighbors. While some are bent on preaching about the woes of the world, Jesus took a different approach. He lived out the greatest commandments–loving God and loving your neighbor. The command to love is as old as time. Jesus told us that all the law and the prophets are hinged on these two commandments. I’d say that makes them pretty important. . . the most important!

I love how blunt John was when he makes the distinction between children of God and children of the devil: “By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10).

In 2018 we will commit to practicing righteousness and loving our brothers and sisters. There will be no excuse for not doing so. We will share testimonies of lives that are transformed, and we will let God do his miraculous wonders!

The Miracle of Togetherness

Friends in tree

What if we really applied the simplicity of the gospel to our lives? Go, make disciples (followers), baptize them, and teach them to do what Jesus commands. We overlook the simplicity of the first century church. Paul and his companions planted churches. A lot of them. Oftentimes they were in a town for 2-4 weeks before being driven out by angry mobs. Imagine. You have 2 weeks to establish a church and give them the tools that they need to launch and succeed. What do you teach them in 2 weeks? Unless the message and training are painfully simple, the church is doomed from its very inception. If we look at the message in its purity, here’s what we find: Stop worshiping idols, worship God and Jesus, repent from your sins, be kind to and love one another, bless others, repeat. Togetherness. Driven by one purpose.

The new Christians didn’t worry about where they would meet. Any place would make due. Literally. They met in homes, in chariots, on the edge of the lake, in synagogues, and in fields. In fact, remember how people were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:26)? The church met in Antioch because of the persecution led, ironically, by Paul. It’s incredible that the very church that sent Paul and Barnabas off on their missionary journeys was the same church that fled Paul’s crusade to persecute Christians. And where did they meet? Below are pictures of their meeting place. The Antioch church that began because of persecution met in . . . . a cave! This is the very spot where those souls sang songs, prayed over, and sent off Paul, Barnabas, Silas, Luke, Mark, and the like! The facade was built later, but it’s believed that the chair and pulpit are original to the church. Imagine, Paul and Barnabas gave their reports from their missionary journeys at that very pulpit!
St. Peter's church

Chair

Pulpit

See, the Christians made due. They didn’t need a whole lot. Just devoted people, a place to gather, and belief. The rest is, as they say, history! In Acts 15, Christians were sent from this very cave down to Jerusalem to resolve a conflict. Jewish believers were telling non-Jewish Christians that, unless they were circumcised, they were going to hell. Paul, Barnabas, and “some others” were sent by the church in Antioch to go to Jerusalem to meet with the apostles and elders. “And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles” (Acts 15:12). Look again at that cave. Simple. Powerful. Effective. After meeting in Jerusalem, they brought a letter back up to this church in Antioch. It reads in its entirety,

“The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings. Since we have heard that some persons have gone out from us and troubled you with words, unsettling your minds, although we gave them no instructions, it has seemed good to us, having come to one accord, to choose men and send them to your with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, men who have risked their lives for the sake of our Lord Jesus Christ. We have therefore sent Judas and Silas, who themselves will tell you the same things by word of mouth. For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:22-29 ESV).

Brand new churches. Made up of pagans who had no Christian background. They were not given any further burden than to abstain from meat sacrificed to idols, from blood, from anything that was strangled (that still had blood in it), and from sexual immorality. And the church grew exponentially!

Many people are shifting back to simple church. The good news is that it’s working. Churches that practice simplicity and who are focused on mission are growing leaps and bounds faster than all of the best staffed churches who are program-heavy. There’s a miracle that accompanies togetherness and simplicity!

3 Keys to Move Church Forward

Bible reading

I remember the day our 4 year old Catahoula dog, Jake, jumped into a pond to chase some ducks. Catahoulas have webbed feet and are known for their agility in the water. He flew across the pond and when he turned around to swim back, he literally couldn’t move forward an inch. It’s like he completely forgot how to swim. He began to panic as he wore himself out treading water. I quickly jumped in and saved his life that day. The terror on his face will never leave my memory. Most days I feel like Jake–paddling to the point of exhaustion but going nowhere. I know so many church leaders who are the Jakes of their churches. They come home every day worn out only to witness their churches continue to decline. So what gives?

In so many ways, we’ve complicated our mission, the mission. When another cause, no matter how good it seems, replaces mission, the end result is always the same–we have failed to carry out the mission. People have been messing things up since creation. In fact, one day Jesus was preaching on the Sabbath and he noticed a woman who, for eighteen years, had a crippling back disease. She couldn’t straighten up and likely suffered chronic pain. He immediately called her over and freed her from her disability. The Synagogue ruler was indignant and reminded Jesus that there were six other days he could heal. Jesus answered, “You hypocrites! Do not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? And ought not this woman a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:15-16 ESV). Did you catch that? The ruler was holding on to the status quo of regularly scheduled worship. Is structured worship good? Sure. Is keeping the Sabbath right? Absolutely. But tradition became so important that the ruler was literally blinded to the mission to take care of the poor and wounded.

So what can we do to get back on track? I recently ordered Thom Rainer and Eric Geiger’s book, Simple Church. This book has hit all ten toes with a sledge hammer. Really. It has allowed me to do inventory and realize where I’ve deviated as a leader and that we need to get back to carrying out the mission. So, what are 3 keys to moving any church forward?

1. Simplicity
The whole point of the book is that their research demonstrates an undeniable correlation between simplicity and growth. We live in a fast paced world. The iPhone X was released November 3rd while its predecessor, the iPhone 8, was released September 22nd. People who bought the 8 had an outdated phone a month later. Our culture is moving at break neck speed. The church is trying to keep up. It can’t. It shouldn’t. People are more anxious today than ever in our nation’s history. Our drug epidemic has taken root and our addiction to prescription meds is at an all time high. People want their worship to be genuine, peaceful, simple. All the “experts” claim that we have to keep up with technology if we are going to engage our kids. My children are all advanced for their ages. What’s one of their favorite activities? Reading their Bibles in a hammock. They literally do it for hours at a time. Total silence. Simplicity. Reading Bible

2. Direction
Imagine asking someone to jump in your car and go for a ride with you. Cool. Three years later you are still driving with that same passenger, just choosing random roads to travel. At some point the passenger is going to get frustrated and beg to get out of the car. People need direction and purpose for moving in that direction. Oftentimes we ask people to join a church and we have no clue where we’re going. People notice. They are more than happy to be on a journey, they just want to know where we all are going and that it’s a meaningful journey. This is where mission comes in. Does a church have a clear, simple mission or is it a complex web of ideas and programs that aren’t really going anywhere? Jesus stayed on mission. His mission was simple, simple, simple: “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19 ESV, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2). Imagine what all Jesus accomplished in three years! What was his secret? He was driven by a simple mission and he never diverted. Everything Jesus did, every person he spoke with was to fulfill the mission. Rainer and Geiger in Simple Church say there are four common elements in growing, simple churches: Clarity (being clear about the process to reach people), Movement (the process flows logically), Alignment (the process is implemented in every area of the church), and Focus (the church abandons everything that is not in the process).

3. Willingness
A minister or any church leader can have all the vision in the world but if the congregation is not behind the vision, there will always be other things that take priority. Some refer to willingness as “buy-in.” Another way of putting it is living out what we believe. A good friend of mine, when I told a story with extra passion and persuasion, would always respond, “I smell what you’re stepping in!” When the unchurched meet us, do they walk away convinced of our love for God and others? Do they leave saying, “I smell what you’re stepping in?” If not, we have some readjusting to do. How will we convince others that Jesus is the most important thing in our lives if we aren’t even convinced ourselves? Are we willing to stay on mission and shed everything else that is not?