Posts Tagged ‘tithing’

Joshua 13:14, 33

An Allotment for the Tribe of Levi

What if we paid our preachers today in food as were the priestly clan, the Levites, were paid in ancient Israel? Would they starve to death? In ancient Israel, the Levites subsisted through the remains of the offerings brought to the altar of the tabernacle and later, the Temple. The Levites would receive the tithes (10% offerings) required of the Israelites, be they oil, wine, grain, or anything else. [Numbers 18:11-18] The parts of the sacrificial offerings not burnt up were also for the Levites– the choice meats and grains. While the Levites would have no inheritance in the land, they had something better promised: “The priests, who are Levites–indeed the whole tribe of Levi–are to have no allotment or inheritance with Israel. They shall live on the offerings made to the LORD by fire, for that is their inheritance. They shall have no inheritance among their brothers; the LORD is their inheritance, as he promised them.” [Deut 18:1-2]. Again, I would ask the question, what if we paid our preacher’s in food, would they starve to death?


How are you living your life with regard to your local temple of the Lord? If the pastors of the church you go to dependent on what you offered up to the Lord, would they starve? Sure, there are preachers out there that live high on the hog off the blood, sweat and tears of their parishioners. Sure, there are megachurch pastors who live in million dollar homes and so on. But the vast majority of pastors in my home state (and it is representative of the national average) of South Carolina make an average of $41, 044 per year (according to, the jobsearch website). As well, the average pastor in South Carolina has a graduate degree from a seminary or similar graduate school. The average salary of pastor with a graduate degree is about what an entry level college graduate earns on their first day on the job of their first job nowadays. Why is that we pay our pastors, who have gone to the trouble of dedicating their lives to the care and well-being of God’s children and have sacrificed a great deal of money to get their post-graduate degrees so poorly. It was also noted in a recent survey by the Lifeway Research, the Christian research firm, that the 60% of all pastors work more than 50 hours per week. So, we expect much from our pastors with meetings, meetings, meetings, church functions, vistitations, and the like and then we pay them worse that a kid fresh out of college. Why is that?


It comes down to the fact that we offer up defective animal sacrifices to the Lord in our way in our day. In Malachi, the prophet bemoaned how the people of Israel had fallen so far in the reverence that they showed the Lord in their sacrifices. The people were offering up their leftover animals (the defective, the puny, the diseased) to the Lord instead of their best. Are we not offering up the same to the Lord as modern Christians?


In John and Sylvia Ronsvalle’s book Behind the Stained Glass Windows: Money Dynamics in the Church, they found that on average more than 50% of regular churchgoers to not give to the church at all. If our pastors were paid in food and it depended on you, would they starve? According to that same book, only three percent (3%) of all churchgoers who attend church on a regular basis actually tithe. Oh, we confuse terms a lot as Christians. We say we tithe when we give less than 10%. We call any donation a tithe. On average American Christians donate less than 2% of their income to their local church. 2% or less is not a tithe. It is an offering. So on any given Sunday in church, there’s a 50/50 chance that the person sitting beside you that you see every Sunday and who is at every church event that the church has does not give a dime…AT ALL…to support the ministries of the church. There’s even greater likelihood that that the person who sits on the other side of you claims to tithe (10% or more of their income) but actually his “tithe” is less than 2% of his annual income. If our pastors depended on each one of us individually to bring them food (like in ancient Israel), would they starve?

Most pastors are not Creflo Dollar complaining that they do not have a private jet. Most pastors are hard working, God fearing men who give their all every day to their church regardless of what they are paid. Most pastors are the hardest working people you’ll ever meet. Many put in 50-60 hours per week in their job and preach on Sunday. When you compare their average salaries to the hours they work. We get quite a bargain in most pastors. They all know that if you are expecting big monetary rewards, this is not the place. Most would tell that they would rather see the church donations go into ministry rather than their salaries. They love the Lord and would be unhappy doing anything else. So, don’t get me wrong about this blog being about paying our pastors more. The blog is about honoring the Lord our God with our income. Yes, the pastors get paid from it. But the way we honor God with our finances reflects His true position in our lives.


We are commanded to tithe. We are commanded to give God our best to the Temple, not our leftovers. We are commanded to give the best of our flock, not the least and weak of our flocks. We are to give the best of our crops not the diseased crops. We are to give our tallest stalks of corn not the smallest. Today, we are to give the best of our money not the least. We are give it off the top not the bottom. How the ancient Israelites got this all screwed up by the end of the Old Testament as bemoaned by Malachi and how we are just like them is what I thought of this morning as I read these two verses.


14 But to the tribe of Levi he gave no inheritance, since the food offerings presented to the Lord, the God of Israel, are their inheritance, as he promised them…33 But to the tribe of Levi, Moses had given no inheritance; the Lord, the God of Israel, is their inheritance, as he promised them.


In these two verses, we see that the tribe of Levi was dedicated to serving God. The Levites needed more time and more mobility than a landowner could possibly have. Giving them land would have saddled them with responsibilities that would hinder their service to God. Instead, God arranged for other tribes to meet the Levites needs through donations. When we do not give our best we do not honor God. When we do not honor God, our Levites, our pastors, suffer. When pastors leave the ministry, it is just as often that they simply cannot make ends meet as often as it is from burnout or some moral lapse. More and more pastors are becoming bi-vocational pastors because of the sheer economics of donations to churches in America. That’s like requiring the Levites to work at the temple plus be a farmer in ancient Israel. We think most ministers get paid these whopping salaries because of poor representatives like Creflo Dollar, but the reality is that most ministers are just getting by. When we give we are to be honoring the Lord our God because He commanded us to do so. When we give to the Lord our God, we are honoring Him. Your giving is not a political referendum on whether you like the pastor or not. When give to the Lord and honor Him and are being obedient to Him, yes, the pastor gets fed. That’s the way God intended it.


If we paid the pastor in food today like in ancient Israel? Would our pastor starve?


Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 25:4

Muzzling an Ox


As Christ followers, the last thing we usually give up to the Lord is His rightful rule over our finances. When it comes to money, we often come at maturity in Christ in our finances last. Until we reach that maturity, we are often no different than non-believers when it comes to money. Non-believers crack on the church as simply wanting our money. Many Christians have the same view about money and church.


Although we are commanded to be cheerful givers by Paul (and to Paul the tithe was just the beginning of being a cheerful giver), American churchgoers, in the most recent survey by Barna Research, give about 2.4% of their income to the church, the lowest level of church support since the survey began back in 1968. Only about 10-25% of your average church membership are tithers. These are facts that I bemoan often here because it saddens me, because we are muzzling the ox. Although we sing about the glory of God, we give very little to His cause. Although we talk about how much we love what our church does for our community, we give very little to make that happen. We are muzzling the ox. How often do we speak glowingly about our church to others, but we do not support it any sacrificial way. We think it’s pretty cool that our church puts on events for the community and we might even participate as a volunteer, but we give very little to our church.


According to an article in Christianity Today, it says,


“For Christians in the richest nation in history to be giving only 2.43 percent of their income to their churches is not just stinginess, it is biblical disobedience—blatant sin. We have become so seduced by the pervasive consumerism and materialism of our culture that we hardly notice the ghastly disjunction between our incredible wealth and the agonizing poverty in the world. Over the last 40 years, American Christians (as we have grown progressively richer) have given a smaller and smaller percent of our growing income to the ministries of our churches. Such behavior flatly contradicts what the Bible teaches about God, justice, and wealth. We should be giving not 2.4 percent but 10 percent, 15 percent, even 25 to 35 percent or more to kingdom work. Most of us could give 20 percent and not be close to poverty.”


Many of us see the church as just wanting our money and we don’t want to give our hard earned money to the church. We think the preacher gets paid too much and only works on Sunday. We think that if we give to the church that we will miss out on something that we could have spent that money on. We think we could go on vacation with that money. We think that somebody else richer in our church should be giving. We want our Word from God each week but we can’t be bothered to make ministry happen with our checkbooks. That whole money thing and giving it to the church is for those rich folks who have extra to give. It’s their job not ours. We want to be involved at church when it’s convenient. We give to the church when it’s convenient. We don’t want to live more simply so that we can give more to our church. We like the preacher but geez that a bit much to ask that I give a tithe. I have a house, two cars, kids to pay for.


The way that we, as Christ followers, hinder the mission of the church at large by the way we give restrains what the church can do in the world is the thing that came to mind this morning over one simple verse, Deuteronomy 25:4. Let’s read it now:


4 Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.


What is the point of this Old Testament regulation? Oxen were often used to tread out the grain on a threshing floor. The animal was attached by poles to a large millstone. As it walked around the millstone, its hooves trampled the grain, separating kernels from the chaff. At the same time, the millstone ground the grain into flour. To muzzle the ox would prevent the oxen from eating while it was working. Paul used this verse/regulation as an illustration in the New Testament to argue that people productive in Christian work should not be denied compensation and be fairly paid.  Paul said this,


1 Corinthians 9:9-12

9 For it is written in the Law of Moses: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.”Is it about oxen that God is concerned? 10 Surely he says this for us, doesn’t he? Yes, this was written for us, because whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest. 11 If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? 12 If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ.


As Christians, we must learn that we are commanded to be generous to the point of being sacrificial. Watching the movie, Silence, last night showed how Christian converts held to their faith in the face of merciless persecution in 17th century Japan. They would go their graves rather than renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. They really sacrificed. Think of Christians in Muslim countries today. They really sacrifice. They are generous with their lives and well as their livelihoods. Yet, we who have the freedom to go to church every Sunday and not have to hide it, think that the preacher makes too much money and that our wages are our own. We give to the church when we have an extra $20. We give to the church when we can fit it into our budget. We have been given the freedom to worship as we please but yet we do not put forth sacrifice in any way for the cause of Christ. We muzzle the ox.


We muzzle the ox from reaching more people for Christ. We muzzle the ox when our church has to worry about making payroll much less doing ministry. We muzzle the ox from helping families in need when we do not tithe and give sacrificially. We muzzle the ox from helping people go on mission trips to far away lands. We muzzle the ox when our church cannot afford to support missionaries full-time in the field. We muzzle the ox when we do not give sacrificially. We muzzle the ox when we do not live more simply and give more to the cause of Christ. We muzzle the ox when we have to delay a church plant in a new city.


Let us be a people that see giving to the church as our first priority. Let us see our money as coming from our abilities that are given to us by God. Let us think of living more simply and being more generous. Let us think it a privilege to give more and more to the cause of Christ. Let us be a church that thinks its about being obedient to the Lord. Let us trust the Lord when he says test me in this when it comes to giving sacrificially to the Lord. Let us be cheerful and less stingy. Let us be obedient to the Lord. Let us not muzzle the ox.


Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 16:9-12

The Festival of Harvest

In its research on the topic of tithing….wait! come back! Where is everybody going….OK. So, let’s start again. In its research on the topic of tithing, I recently read an article, “What Would Happen if The Church Tithed?” by Mike Holmes in the online version of Relevant Magazine. From his research for the article, he learned that tithers often make only 25% or less of the typical congregation. Christians give less, on average, now to their churches (on average 2.5% of their income) than churchgoers gave during the decade of the Great Depression (on average, 3.3% of their income). Holmes pushed the supposition of what could be done by the global church if every post-salvation maturing Christian tithed. He estimates that there would be another $165 Billion (that’s right, billion) annually in the coffers of churches. What could be done with that additional money, he asks. He says that:


  • $25 Billion could be directed at world hunger and it could be vanquished within five years.
  • $12 Billion could be directed at global illiteracy and could be a thing of the past in five years.
  • $15 Billion could be directed at solving clean water and sanitation issues globally
  • Only $1 Billion is all it would take to fully fund Christian missionaries the globe over.
  • And then the remaining billions could be invested locally by churches to impact their town, their nation, and their world for Christ.


Just imagine that world! Just think about the impact that your local church would have if everyone took seriously the point of putting God first in our finances. Just look at my church. At my church, last year, 485 giving units gave at least one donation during the year which generated our church’s funding for 2016. The average giving unit donation (I say average because the 485 includes a number of people only gave one time all year) for our church was $1,600 annually ($133.33 per month, or approximately $31 per week). If that was tithing it would mean that our church’s average annual income was only $16,000 per year. Further, the 485 giving units means that there is a whole segment of the average 700 attendees to our church that do not give at all.  Just say the statistics show us that the median income in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area is approximately $50,000 per year. What if that represented who we are as a church. What if we tithed based on the statistics? Just say that there is always going to be that 10% of your attendees that do not give so that knocks us down to 630 potential givers each Sunday. That 630 represents family giving units so we must divide that number by 2.5 (to account for single people being less than two people but making up a giving unit and to account married with children which on  average is 4.5 people per giving unit). That leaves you with 252 giving units potentially on each Sunday. Then making on average $50,000 per year were giving each Sunday and were tithing on their gross income. That’s $96 per week per giving unit times 252 potential giving units which equals approximately $24,200 per week and that would equal $1,258,400 per year. $96 per week per giving unit would amount to an average giving per year per family of almost $5,000 per year. However, our average per giving unit is 30% of that and our annual budget is about 60% of the potential that I mentioned earlier. What a difference we could make in our community if we gave to our fullest potential. What a difference could make in spreading the gospel message. What if we did not have to choose between paying the light bill and lighting up the community and our world with the loving message of Jesus Christ. It boggles the mind when you think about it.


I am not writing this to condemn anyone or guilt anyone into giving more than they do, but rather to give and idea of what could be and how far and deep we could impact our world with the gospel message. As we see in Luke 8, there were those ladies in Jesus’ traveling entourage that helped finance Jesus’ earthly ministry from their own means. So, yes, there is a business side to the gospel message. It costs money to spread the gospel. That is just a fact. As Mike Holmes said in his article, what it all God’s people really grasped the idea of firstfruits. What if we all gave the best of our modern day “crops” to the Lord right off the top. That is what I thought of this morning as I read Deuteronomy 16:9-12. Let’s read it together now:


9 Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.


The key phrases in this passage are (1) giving in proportion to the blessings given us and (2) remembering that we were once slaves. I think it is important that we remember how richly blessed we are by God each one of us. In the United States, we are blessed beyond measure. Travel abroad and see how some people have to live. You come away realizing just how mightily we are blessed. Things that we take for granted are luxuries in some parts of the world. There is an old saying that you can tell a hungry man about Jesus until you feed him. We are blessed to live in this country and we could have easily been born elsewhere, say, maybe, in a third world country, barely eeking out an existence. We did not earn being born in the United States. We were born here by the grace, the grace only, of God. With great wealth comes great responsibility. Even us middle class folks are part of the richest 2% of people in the world. We did nothing to come by our access to the things that we have in the United States. It is a gift from God that we were born here. Therefore, we should simply be thankful for that when it comes time to give to the churches that we go to. We should be living lives of thankfulness for just being born in this country. Just think if we all acted as if we were thankful to the Lord for this blessing alone rather than thinking that we somehow deserve it all. That might lead us to live lives of generosity. That might lead us to give God the top 10% or more of what we make. That might lead us to change the world through the uncommon love and generosity of Christians rather than being Christians who think like the world and think that whomever has the most toys at the end, wins.


The second thing we must remember when we think of being obediently generous to our church is to remember that like the Jews being slaves in Egypt, we too were once slaves to sin that condemned us to hell for eternity. We deserve hell but yet when we gave our life to Christ, He covered our sins and imputed His sinlessness to us. We do not by rights deserve this grace. But we serve a generous God. He gave us what we needed to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus. He gave this grace to us. We did not and do not earn it. We can’t be good enough to make up for the taint of the sins in our lives. The first sin and all the others after it make us unholy and undeserving to be in the presence of the Lord in eternity. But God is so generous and loving toward us even though we don’t deserve it. He gave us our prize, the perfection of Jesus Christ that we are clothed in when we accept Him as our Savior. So, we should be living lives of complete adoration and thankfulness to our Lord. Our secured eternity should give us this essence of thanksgiving that transcends and permeates everything we do. We should give God our best no matter what it is. We must give Him our best, then, too, in our finances. He should get the best of that too. He should get our best “crops” not our leftovers. It is an act of thanksgiving. It is an act of obedience. It is an act of trust. Trusting God to do reach the world through each of our donations to our church.


Just think what an impact, the bride of Christ, the church, could have on a dead and dying world if we all understood the concept of giving God the best of the fruits of our labors. What if we quit trying to keep up with the Joneses and tried to keep up with the ways of God. What if God’s people gave because they saw it as an opportunity to participate in sending the gospel message out into the world. What if we saw it as being able to participate in life change. What if we saw it as an opportunity to contribute to reaching people and their coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.


What if…



Amen and Amen.

Numbers 18:8-32

Support for the Priests & the Levites

I am going to pull no punches today. This is a straight up challenge to who we say we are as Christians…

Have you ever wondered why churches struggle to make ends meet? Sure, there are large mega-churches out there that seem to have turned that corner and have sufficient funds to do whatever they want (or so it seems from the outside). The average church, according to Barna Research and other church statistical sources, of my church’s size, 600 per Sunday, with an average potential 350 in giving units (families or singles who are your potential givers), typically operates on a budget of $750,000. A budget of $750,000 would mean that weekly giving (online, mail and Sunday morning) averages around $14,425 per week. Statistics show that in churches of my church’s size, you will actually average about 115 giving units per Sunday (out of the average 350 giving units that attend each Sunday). That means these 115 giving units give about $125 per week. Certainly that is the average, there are a select few who give extremely generously each Sunday and there are those who give a $10 spot each each but must be counting as a giving unit. That means too that there less than half the average 600 attendee church, 115 out of 400 giving units, actually gives to the church or 33.28% of mid-sized churches give to their church.


In churches my church’s size in the Southeast in suburban areas (where our church finds itself – in a suburban area of the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan statistical area), the average income of church attendees is about $50,000 gross income before deductions. If we take that out to its potential, each giving unit in a 600 attendee church should tithe $5,000 annually. If each potential giving unit, all 350 of them in a 600 attendee church, making an average of $50,000 annually gave 10% annually, the average church budget would $1,750,000 for a 600 member church. Wow! What a difference that would be if we all just did what we are commanded to do.


I know that this sounds all financial and everything but I am a financial guy who is passionate about being obedient to the Lord in this area. What if we had all our potential giving units giving in our churches today. What if the church did not have to choose between ministry and paying the preacher? What if the church did not have choose between pay the electric bill and doing ministry outside the four walls of the church? What if we could have pastors who could take care of their families instead of scrimping by and praying that they have enough money to send their kids to college when the time comes? What if we could fully fund a helps ministry that helps people with getting themselves out of poverty? What if we had the money to help teenage girls who have gotten pregnant? What if we had the money to help get girls who have had to succumb to prostitution off the the streets and teach them marketable skills? What if we could fund missionaries who go to foreign nations and help girls get out the sex trafficking trade? What if we had the money to go into the cities and open satellite churches and really make a difference through education and outreach to street gang kids? What if we could help the little old lady living in a dilapidated house just down the road from the church? What if we thought more of that than spending 104% of what we make on ourselves? What if we tithed or more? What if we put our money where our mouth is about being a Christian? What if we lived off of 90% or less of what we make as God has commanded us to do?


It was that idea that God made provision for the ministry of the Tabernacle by requiring the Israelites to tithe of their crops and animals. It got me to thinking about how we as the modern church could learn so much from being obedient to the Lord in the area of finances and giving. We have written off the need to support the church. We have abdicated our responsibility to “they”. They will take care of it. I don’t have to. If we cannot be obedient in the area of supporting the church, it breeds a take it or leave attitude when it comes to obeying God. We see how that has worked out for the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. Let’s read what God commands about supporting the ministers and ministry of the Tabernacle, in Numbers 18:8-32:

8 Then the Lord said to Aaron, “I myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to me; all the holy offerings the Israelites give me I give to you and your sons as your portion, your perpetual share. 9 You are to have the part of the most holy offerings that is kept from the fire. From all the gifts they bring me as most holy offerings, whether grain or sin[a] or guilt offerings, that part belongs to you and your sons. 10 Eat it as something most holy; every male shall eat it. You must regard it as holy.


11 “This also is yours: whatever is set aside from the gifts of all the wave offerings of the Israelites. I give this to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.


12 “I give you all the finest olive oil and all the finest new wine and grain they give the Lord as the firstfruits of their harvest. 13 All the land’s firstfruits that they bring to the Lord will be yours. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.


14 “Everything in Israel that is devoted[b] to the Lord is yours. 15 The first offspring of every womb, both human and animal, that is offered to the Lord is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. 16 When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels[c] of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.


17 “But you must not redeem the firstborn of a cow, a sheep or a goat; they are holy. Splash their blood against the altar and burn their fat as a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 18 Their meat is to be yours, just as the breast of the wave offering and the right thigh are yours. 19 Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.”


20 The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.


21 “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting. 22 From now on the Israelites must not go near the tent of meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. 23 It is the Levites who are to do the work at the tent of meeting and bear the responsibility for any offenses they commit against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. 24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’”


25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering. 27 Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. 28 In this way you also will present an offering to the Lord from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the Lord’s portion to Aaron the priest. 29 You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’


30 “Say to the Levites: ‘When you present the best part, it will be reckoned to you as the product of the threshing floor or the winepress. 31 You and your households may eat the rest of it anywhere, for it is your wages for your work at the tent of meeting. 32 By presenting the best part of it you will not be guilty in this matter; then you will not defile the holy offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die.’”



Do you think God just might bless us if we obeyed Him? We are no longer under the penalty of the law in Jesus Christ but Jesus said He came to fulfill the law not abolish it. Paul tells us that we should be generous givers because of what Jesus has done for us. Paul felt that 10% was just a starting point not a stopping point. He felt that we should give that and more to help the ministry of the gospel. The Lord will bless those who obey Him. He will bless you with a new perspective when you tithe and more. He will breed in you a heart of generosity rather than a self-seeking selfishness. When you give to the Lord first, you see things in a different way that begins to permeate through the rest of your life. When you give to the Lord first in your finances, you begin to put him first in everything else. When you give to the Lord first in your finances, you see that the rat race of collecting things means nothing in eternity. When you give to the Lord first in your finances, you think of giving to make eternal things happen instead of what newest thing you can buy that you think will fill your soul. It’s funny how it changes your perspective. It sure changed my and Elena’s attitude about our money. It actually changed everything when we worked out where in our finances to where we could get rid of debts and could begin to tithe. I would dare say that beginning to tithe was the beginning of seeing the world from God’s perspective and see his generosity to us be generosity that we must repeat.


Think about obeying the Lord and changing the perspective. Think of giving instead of collecting. Think of living off less and living more joyfully. Think of being free to be generous rather than being a slave to your debts. Think about it. Just think of the impact that our churches could have if we all were obedient to the Lord and were generous givers to the cause of Christ.


Amen and Amen.

Numbers 8:5-26 (Part 2)

The Levites Dedicated

It was August 15, 2010, a Sunday. The second Sunday after Elena and I had moved back to South Carolina from our time in California. But before I talk about that day, a little background is in order.

I had been out there for 2 ½ years, Elena for one. During the time that we were in California together, we had become part of a wonderful church, Livermore Alive Community Church in Livermore, CA. It was at this church that I actually started to grow from a spiritual baby into something more than a spoon-fed, what-can-you-do-for-me baby. I grew into a spiritual toddler, so to speak, and maybe even a spiritual teenager while there. It was there that Elena accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. While I had been a spiritual baby for a long time (since my salvation in December 2001), Elena grew up quickly. She devoured being a child of the One True King. It was there that we were nurtured by our pastor, Luke Brower, and his wife, Felisha. They were our mentors even though they were about 10 years younger than us. Luke and Felisha were classic California. Laid back. Low key. Satirically funny. Luke’s sermons were excellent but low key and cerebral almost. He made you think about Scripture in the deepest of ways. He preached through books of the Bible rather than being topically oriented. That was a change for me. My dad and most ministers I have been under preached topically. So, Luke’s sermons were deep into a book of a Bible. He was like this low-key, but awesomely interesting college professor. His sermons were like lectures but they were so captivating. Learning as well as being moved by his word pictures. Alas, though, after 2 ½ years getting the accounting function at my job cleaned up and operating smoothly, it was time to move the accounting function to South Carolina so that all accounting for Fujikura’s North America businesses would have their accounting done all in one centralized administrative center in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area. It was a bittersweet day when we had to move back to South Carolina. We had such an amazing time in that one year in Livermore that we did not want to leave it and the dear, dear friends that we had made there. But yet at the same time, we loved the fact that we would be back home close to our girls and our families.


So, we get back to South Carolina and move into the home that we still live in today. We move in on Friday, August 6, 2010. That next Sunday we were desperate to find our “Livermore Alive” in South Carolina. The first church we attended on Sunday, August 8, 2010, which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, just was NOT it! We were used to modern worship and well-thought out sermons and a casual style. Although it was the kind of location we were used to. This church met in a meeting room of the local YMCA just down the road from our house. Livermore Alive met in a school gymnasium. So, it was similar in the whole set-up/breakdown mobile sound system with folding chairs kind of church. But man the music was like mountain gospel with banjos and such and the musicians had a talent level much below what we had grown accustomed to in California with Jesse Craig and Luke Brower and the amazingly talented musicians that were in Livermore Alive. And, oh my, the pastor’s sermon was a yawner and lacked Luke’s passionate delivery. Scratch that one off the list. We’ve got to find a church home. I need that. Elena needed that. We needed that.


By God’s design (we are still there 6 years later), we ended up at LifeSong Church in nearby Lyman, SC that next Sunday. LifeSong was an amazing church with an amazing founding pastor, Jeff Hickman, and amazing musicians. It just felt like home. However, the first Sunday there, if my wife had her way, we would not have come back. You ask why? Well, Elena was a new baby Christian at that time and had spent most of her life outside the church. Although she grew up Catholic, after about age 8, there family quit attending mass altogether. So, her first exposure to Protestant church was Livermore Alive when we were in California. Remember, I said Luke, our pastor there, was low-key. His sermons were like conversations at the dinner table. However, Elena though growing up in the South had not been exposed to Southern church, particularly Baptist church in the South. Jeff Hickman is as passionate a preacher as they come. He delivers the Word with skill and passion. He is an amazing speaker. On that first Sunday, though, LifeSong Church was at a crossroad. Continue with five, yes five, services every weekend or build a new building. The church was busting at the seams. So, the first Sunday, we were there, it was the beginning of a sermon series and a capital campaign called “Radical”. Combine passionate preacher and a sermon series called Radical, being radical in our giving and our service to Christ, you see what’s coming. On the way home, I asked Elena what she thought and whether she thought we should go back or keep searching. My wife, of laid back sermon delivery in California and no exposure to passionate Southern preachers, said, “All he talked about was money AND he YELLED at us!” The Holy Spirit guided my conversations with her to get us back there and we have been there ever since – a journey under the leadership of senior pastor Jeff Hickman that has led us closer still to the Lord and into leadership. Jeff pulls no punches when it comes to God’s Word and he will passionately lay the Word out there even if it makes you uncomfortable. No watered down gospel here. And I thank God for his leadership.


But, I still think of that first Sunday and my wife’s humorous statement. He talked about money and he yelled at us. Jeff is a passionate Southern preacher. Don’t think of some old guy with a suit on that is pudgy and has to loosen his tie and wipe his brow with a handkerchief kind of old school Southern. Think hip dude with jeans and a t-shirt (though seminary educated) kind of Southern preacher. His volume increases with his passion about a point he’s making. And that first Sunday was about being radical compared to this day and age of selfish desires to keep our money to ourselves and see how many toys we can get. He wanted us to be radical in being obedient to the Lord. He wanted us to think about what’s going to last – our toys or our investments in the eternity of our fellow man. He wanted us to be radical compared to our world where we simply think of ourselves and not of others. The Bible calls us to give sacrificially to the Lord and trust that the Lord will use it to reach more and more souls in the name of Jesus Christ. Being obedient to the Lord with our money is a radical thing in this time of me-me-me in which we live. So, yes, maybe in his delivery to a first timer exposure to passionate Southern preachers, he did yell at us. And, yes, he did talk about money. It was radical to Elena and challenging to me. The question was, are you being radical in your obedience to the Lord when it comes to giving of your time, your talent, and especially, your resources.


That first Sunday at LifeSong and exactly what these grain offerings and sin offerings and wave offerings were was what came to mind as I read through this passage once again this morning. Let’s read the full passage together and then let’s concentrate on vv. 8-9 for today after we have read through it:


5 The Lord said to Moses: 6 “Take the Levites from among all the Israelites and make them ceremonially clean. 7 To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then have them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes. And so they will purify themselves. 8 Have them take a young bull with its grain offering of the finest flour mixed with olive oil; then you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering.[a] 9 Bring the Levites to the front of the tent of meeting and assemble the whole Israelite community. 10 You are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. 11 Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord.


12 “Then the Levites are to lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, using one for a sin offering to the Lord and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. 13 Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. 14 In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine.


15 “After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the tent of meeting. 16 They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. 17 Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. 18 And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. 19 From among all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the tent of meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary.”


20 Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses. 21 The Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes. Then Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the Lord and made atonement for them to purify them. 22 After that, the Levites came to do their work at the tent of meeting under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. They did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses.


23 The Lord said to Moses, 24 “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, 25 but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. 26 They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.”


Since we live in the time since the completion of the Old Testament sacrificial system (it was completed at the cross with the once and final sacrifice for all time in Jesus’ death on the cross), we may as modern men and women have a difficult time understanding the offerings that are noted in this passage. There is a grain offering, a sin offering, and a wave offering. It is hard for us to understand and some of it may even seem distasteful to us. For today, let us concentrate on the grain offering.


According to, it says,


A grain offering is a type of sacrifice described in the Old Testament (Leviticus 2) that the Israelites offered to God. A grain offering would have most likely been one of wheat or barley, depending on what was available. While other sacrifices had very specific instructions from God as to how they were to be offered, the rules governing grain offerings had some flexibility.


A grain offering could be given to God either uncooked or cooked in an oven or pan (Leviticus 2:1; 4—5). The requirements for the grain offering were that it had to be finely ground and have oil and salt in it (Leviticus 2:1, 4, 13). It could not have any yeast (also called leaven) or honey in it (Leviticus 2:11). When a person brought a grain offering to the priests, a small portion of it was offered to God, with some frankincense, on the altar. The rest of the grain offering went to the priests (Leviticus 2:10). No specific amount of grain was required for an offering; people were free to give what they had.


It’s interesting to note that during the Israelites’ forty years of wilderness wandering grain would have been quite scarce. This made grain offerings more costly and precious for the people to offer to God. Giving a grain offering in those circumstances represented the Israelites’ complete dependence on God to provide for their needs each day. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), and we no longer have to do sacrifices as they did in the Old Testament. But, if the grain offering is similar to our offering of worship, it’s interesting to consider: how much does our worship today cost us?


That brings us back to that first Sunday at LifeSong Church those six years ago now. It was Radical Sunday. It was the beginning of a church of people being asked to look in their heart and make sacrifices of scarce resources. How much do we care about the Lord? Do we worship Him as long as it does not force us to make sacrifices? Do we really love the Lord enough to decide that it is better to make tithing and making offerings above the tithe a number one priority? Do we really trust the Lord with our finances? Do we trust that He will make provision for us when we are obedient in our giving? Are we willing to make that radical sacrifice? Are we bold enough to begin now to quit chasing after things in this life and invest in things of eternity?


As we begin closing in on time to start our budgeting process for budget year 2017 at LifeSong, it is a question that we must consider as this local body of the general body of Christ known as His church. On an annual basis, we average about 750 attendees on any given weekend. We have though only 450 or so giving units/families in our church. What if all of our attendees gave to the church? What if all of our attendees gave sacrificially (the tithe and more) to the church? We are known in our community as a church that does things for the community, that cares about the community? Imagine if we all, who claim LifeSong as their home, gave radically. What if we trusted the Lord enough to let go of more than the $20 bill that we happen to have in our wallets on Sundays? What if we all were radically sacrificial in our giving? Imagine what we could do in our community and our region. Imagine the love that we could share with those who do not know Christ as their Savior. Imagine the lives we could touch with the gospel in our community, in our nation, in our world. Imagine our pastors not having to struggle to make ends meet. Imagine them not having to worry about sending their kids to college. Imagine a church where meeting payroll and paying the bills each week was simply done and not sweated over. Imagine the things that we want to do to spread the gospel that we don’t do know. What a radical thought that is?


Can you and I be radical? Can we arrange our lives where we quit pursuing stuff so much and trusting the Lord with the first 10% or MORE of what we make and living off the rest? Can we be a people that does not try to theoretically create an argument for not giving the tithe just so we can justify trading cars every two or three years, so we can justify the buying the house that is above our means, so we can justify our jet skis and boats and summer vacations? Can we be that radical? Can we be like the Israelites in the wilderness of the Sinai desert where grain was like gold giving grain offerings to the Lord? Radical indeed. How much do we really trust the Lord? How much grain are we willing to part with? How obedient can we be? Radically obedient! Are you radical? Am I?



Amen and Amen.

Matthew 17:24-27 (Part 2)
The Temple Tax

There are stories that I hear from fellow church members through the years how the Lord has provided for them financially at just the right time and in just the right moment, when we are obedient in our giving to honor Him – when we tithe. My friend, Candice Brevard, going on her first mission trip is given a gift of money to finish paying for her trip as they were loading up the church van to head to the airport. When I was trying to clean up my credit of some bad debts seven years ago, I was able to negotiate lowered payoffs for these debts and all of it worked out to be exactly the amount of annual bonus at work less my tithe. My friend, Anthony Weston, has his story of how a neighbor made it possible for his mission trip without the neighbor directly giving toward his mission trip. There are people who have had no idea how they were going to follow God’s call to full time ministry or to full time mission work, but God always makes a way for them. There are many other stories out there about God being on time in the nick of time in just the right amount for those who are obedient to Him with their lives and with their finances. The thing is that most of us do not trust God with our finances and do not trust that when we follow Him obediently that He will make a way for us. So, let’s re-read the passage:
24 After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma temple tax came to Peter and asked, “Doesn’t your teacher pay the temple tax?”

25 “Yes, he does,” he replied.

When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. “What do you think, Simon?” he asked. “From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own children or from others?”

26 “From others,” Peter answered.

“Then the children are exempt,” Jesus said to him. 27 “But so that we may not cause offense, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours.”

How much do you trust Jesus? Apparently, Peter did. We do not read anything after this about Peter balking at what Jesus said. We hear nothing else from this scene. So, two things happened by deductive reasoning since the scene ends here. Peter did what Jesus told him to do and the tax was paid. Peter was obedient and there was provision. Jesus recognized the need and made provision. Jesus knew the need was an honorable one and He made a way for the obligation to be satisfied.

That’s the thing that I think we need to chew on today. Many of us do not really trust God with our lives and we definitely don’t trust Him with our money. First, let’s talk about trusting Him with our lives. Many of us trust God up to a point in this area. However, have you really trusted God with your future? Sometimes, God calls us to do the unusual, the out of the ordinary. Sometimes, He may call us to open a soup kitchen and make that our life’s work and walk away from a good paying job to do it. He may call us to move 800 miles away to plant a church in a spiritual dark part of the country where only 2% of people attend church regularly. He may call you to leave a cushy job and leave your sons or daughters behind when you do that. He may call you to full time ministry when you have built a career in a different vocation for many years. He may call you to move to another continent to work to free young girls from the sex slavery trade even though you have never had exposure to that type of thing before in your life. He may call you simply to go on a one-week mission trip to Africa, Central America, South America, or Asia. How much do you trust Him? Do you believe He will provide a way? Do you really trust God? Do you trust Him enough not to listen to friends who want you to stay in your comfort zone and theirs? Do you use excuses for why it can be done instead of trusting that it will be done. Do you find reasons for not doing what God called you to do because it is just easier not to. It is easier to do the easy thing. John F. Kennedy once said,

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” (from speech at Rice University, September 12, 1962).
God does not call us to the easy. He calls us to the challenges that need to be faced in the name of Jesus. He calls to do the difficult things because they need doing. He calls not to the easy things but to the hard things. He called Moses to free his people from the mightiest empire on earth at that time, the Egyptian Empire. It was not easy. It was hard. It took 10 plagues and leaving in the middle of the night. It took miracles. Through it all Moses trusted in the Lord. Sure, he had his times of doubt but He always bottom line trusted in the Lord. God calls us to serve our fellow man not because it is easy but because it is hard and because it needs doing. Through serving our fellow man we get to tell them of Jesus. When we do what seems impossibly tough, we learn too to depend on the provision of God. Isn’t that what He really wants from us is to fully depend on Him. When we step out of our comfort zones where we are king and into the unknown we learn to put God first because He is the only way that we are going to accomplish what He called us to do. The story in this passage abruptly ends because Peter obeyed even though it sounded far-fetched and beyond reason. But because of Peter’s obedience, the provision was there. God orchestrated someone losing a coin near the shore. God orchestrated the fish finding and swallowing the coin. God orchestrated the timing of Peter’s line in the water at the same time the fish with coin was swimming by. He made the moment happen. He created the intersection. He will make provision for us as well when we trust Him with our lives. He will make a way for us when we fully trust Him and follow His calling on our lives.

We also have to learn to trust Him with our finances as well. So many of us get it backwards from the beginning. We learn to spend, spend, spend. We never learn to put God first in our finances. From the beginning we place our needs over our obedience to the Lord. We go to church and we hear about how we should be obedient to the Lord in our finances. We give our $20 that we have left over from the weekend in our wallet and we call that tithing. That is not tithing unless you make $200 or less per pay period. We give God our leftovers. We do not trust to live the tithing lifestyle. We want more toys. We are taught that whoever has the most toys in the end wins. We spend more than we make in most cases. Then, our obedience to the Lord in our giving becomes a far off concept. We pat ourselves on the backs when we actually do give instead of most weeks where we do not. Why did we not learn at an earlier age that spending less and saving more is God-ordained. Why did we not learn to live off of 90% or less of what we make? Man, I have my first grandchild due in July of this year. From the beginning, I am going to teach this blessedly awaited child to save and to tithe. I want her (notice I said her – trusting the Lord on that one!) to learn that just because you make it does not mean you spend it. I want to grow up learning the blessings of obediently tithing from the beginning so that she does not have to suffer with the consequences of disobedience in our lives. I want her to make the right choice to learn to live on 90% or less than what she makes from the beginning. I don’t want her to have to carve out the painful overspending so that she can get to a place where she can honor God with the first 10% or more of her money. There is a peace in the obedience to the Lord in our finances. When Elena and I decided to quit running the rat race of having more and more and newer and newer and started paying off all our debts there is a peace that comes. You learn that newer and newer is not always better and better. You learn satisifaction with what you have. You learn that the Lord will honor and bless your obedience when you are not so caught up in having the next greatest thing. It’s all just toys. It’s all just temporary. Honoring God with our finances is a path to peace and a path to understanding the eternal ways of God. He will provide for us. We don’t need newer, better, faster, if we have our relationship in order with God. There is no more of a deep core way to start your path to living a life that is God honoring that to begin with your finances. It is the basic thing of life – how we spend our money. If as children we learn to set aside 10% or more to honor God, man, how much easier our life will be and how more of a basic way to make God honoring a part of your daily life than that! Let us commit as adults to teach our children this. Let us commit as adults to begin to arrange our lives in this way so that we can work our way to honoring God with the first 10% or more of our income. When we learn to honor God with our finances, He gives us peace and He blesses our understanding of the fact that we honor Him. I know there are those who make honoring God with your money about this investment-payback scenario but the real payback is not in financial blessings that He gives us but rather is not being a slave to our money and seeing our money as a way to honor God. We must trust God on this one. The blessings are not always financial but rather in the peace that passes all understanding, the peace of knowing you are honoring your Creator. We must trust Him. We must be like Peter. We hear the command and we obey. The scene ends. No other information is needed. We trust. We obey. We depend on the provision of God…with finances, with our very lives, and our life’s work.

There is an old hymn that says it best. It was written by John Sammis in 1887 and part of it goes like this:

But we never can prove
The delights of His love
Until all on the altar we lay
For the favor He shows
For the joy He bestows
Are for them who will trust and obey

Trust and obey
For there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus
But to trust and obey.

Trust and obey is what Peter did. The coin was there. May we do the same with our lives and with our finances. Amen and Amen.

Luke 23:50-56 — Joseph places Jesus’ body in his brand new tomb that he had built as his family’s burial . Nicodemus brings 75 lbs of perfumed ointments and aloes (John 19:39) used first century Palestine for burial preparation. The ladies who were disciples of Jesus not only helped finance his earthly ministry (Luke 8:1-3) but they saw where they had laid their Master and went home to prepare burial spices from their own resources. These people really loved Jesus a great deal. They went out of their way, some risking political disaster, to ensure that Jesus was honored properly in death. The didn’t care that it was going to cost them their own resources. They wanted to use their own resources to give glory to their Lord.

I guess that would be difference between these two men and these women and how most of us view giving of our resources to Jesus’ church. We see it as giving from what we have left over rather than giving what is from our best or from our best efforts. The people in this scene put all cares of the day aside and focus on giving Jesus their best. They focus on giving Jesus the best of their time, the best of their talents, and the best of their resources. Nothing else is more important to them than that. How many of us give the one who gave us life the leftovers of each of those things, time, talents, resources.

Many of us, myself included, struggle to find time to do the work of Jesus Christ. We say we do not have time. We say that we would love to share the gospel with others but we do not have time. We say we would love to help others who are need but we do not have time. We say would love to show others the love of Jesus Christ but we just do not have enough time. We prioritize time for the things that are important to us. I may be able to work it out where I can go to several games of my beloved Clemson Tigers this fall (football season starts in 14 weeks, woot! woot!, but I digress), but yet I may not be able to work it to work with the child of a single mom that needs male leadership. I may be able set aside time to watch a Clemson game on television but not have time to share the good news of Jesus Christ with my co-worker over a meal after work. I may have time to go to the beach for vacation but not have time to go on a mission trip to share the gospel in Japan. I may have time watch Monday night football but not have time to go a Monday night meeting of the Ironmen men’s ministry at church that same night. You get the point. We spend time. We prioritize time. We use time, the precious and limited commodity that it is, where place the greatest importance on its use. Let us analyze our time. Where are we wasting our time on things that do not matter in eternity. What is the legacy that we want to leave behind? Let us invest our time in those things that bring glory to Jesus Christ.

Many of us decide that we have other priorities for our talents as well. These ladies in this passage use their talents to create the spices necessary for a fitting burial for Jesus Christ. They gladly directed their talents toward that which would honor Jesus. They wanted to honor Him with the talents that they had. Why is it that most of us are not willing to be like these female disciples of our Lord. It is easier to simply be a consumer at church rather than one who serves. It is easier not to get to the church at 7:00am like the leader of our parking team does and make sure that parking lot is free of debris and that the sidewalks are clean. It is easier to sleep in and go to only the 11:00am service that it is to be there like the manager of all the Sunday ministry teams at 7:00 to make sure that each team leader has everything that they need for a successful Sunday morning worship service. It is easier to just sit in the crowd rather than be there for both services and run a camera, or work the sound board, or the light board, or the video switcher. It is easier to use my talents for personal pursuits rather lead a ministry team. Isn’t easier to ignore God’s call to a ministry. Isn’t easier to wear a red X on my hand or shirt to protest sex trafficking than it is to go to India and actually work with the victims of this horrible industry. It is easier to give to a church planting initiative rather than move your family to Connecticut and develop a church from scratch. It is easier to talk about how fatherless children lack direction than it is to use your talents at mentoring by being a Big Brother or a Big Sister. It is easier to complain about the destruction of our cities when riots occur than it is to use our talents to solve the problems of social injustice and lack of quality education. It is easier to not use my talents to give Jesus glory than it is to use them. It is easier not to serve that it is to serve. We prioritize the use of our talents in ways that are most important to us. Let us examine how we are using our talents to give our Lord glory. Are we pursuing the calling He has given us through the talents He has given us to make this world a better place. Are we walking by a hungry man and saying that we will pray for Him or are we stopping to feed and clothe Him as we tell Him about Jesus Christ?

In this scene in this passage, we see people giving the best of their resources to give glory to Jesus Christ. Imagine if we were really like Joseph, Nicodemus, and the ladies. What if we gave the best of our resources to give glory to Jesus Christ? It is certainly far easier to give the leftover $5 or $20 bill that we happen to have in our wallets on Sunday and feel good about having given to the church. It is easier to think that the money I make is to glorify myself than it is to see that we are given talents by our Creator through which we earn our livings. All God asks is that we are obedient to His command. We are to give Him the first fruits of our labors not the leftovers. We are to give God the best of our resources not what we can squeeze in. Everyone of us who attends LifeSong Church is honored to be a part of this body and are often amazed at the impact that our church has on the community and the world around us. However, imagine if we were not a church of leftover $20 bills. What if we were a church of people who have learned to live off of 90% or less of what we make and give the first 10% or more to God through our local body. Imagine the impact then. Instead of 2 church plants, 20. Instead of 550+ Thanksgiving meals given away, 1000. Instead of 3 mission trips per year, 15. Imagine sending missionaries out to long-term missionary assignment to far away places like Kenya, long-term missionaries in Japan, in Haiti, in Iraq or Iran. Imagine what would happen to our local ongoing ministries like LifeSong Cares where we could help more people and have to turn less away. Imagine the ministries that we could create that are actually out in our communities making a difference in people’s lives by showing them the love of Christ through uncommon acts of love and kindness. Imagine if all churches, not just LifeSong, gave obediently to the Lord. Joseph and Nicodemus didn’t think twice about giving the best of what they had to honor Jesus. Let us examine what we place our priorities financially. Let us seek to move to that place where we honor Jesus with the first fruits of our finances rather than that leftover $5 bill that you didn’t use at the monster truck event on Saturday night. Let us be a church honors Christ and empowers the spread of his Word through the use of our resources.

Father in Heaven, help us to be a people like Joseph of Arimathea, like Nicodemus, like the female disciples who have no second thoughts ever about honor Jesus Christ with the best of our time, the best of our talents, and the best of our resources. May we honor Him with the best of who we are. May we honor Him with the excellence with which we represent Him in all things that we do in His name. May we honor Him with the love that we share with the world around us without expectation of being loved in return. May we honor Him by living lives that draw people unto Him. May we honor Him by living lives that demonstrate His love of others even in the face of hateful opposition or even deadly opposition. May we honor Him with everything about our lives! Amen.

Luke 20:45-47 — Why are we at church? What are we doing here? What is our purpose? Are we here to make political connections? Are we here to be at the trendy new place so we can be considered cutting edge? Are we here to be seen? Why do you serve? Will you go to men’s bible study in May this year because the pastor is leading it but will go no other time? Do you serve at community events because everybody else is going to be there? Do we serve at the soup kitchen because my life group is there or do you do it because you have a genuine concern for the poor? Do you give God the first 10% or more of your income, or do you give what you happen to have left in your wallet but yet count yourself among those who tithe when such things are mentioned? What are we here for? Why do we do this thing called church?

This was the question that Jesus asked of the religious leaders. In most of Luke 20, the religious leaders have been trying to trap Jesus into saying something that would discredit his popularity among the people or get Him in trouble with the Romans. Jesus, being God in the flesh and possessing all knowledge, skillfully and perfectly answered all their questions and did so in ways that could not be disputed or used against Him. Now, it was His turn to turn the tables on the puffery of the religious leaders. He warns anyone who will listen about the hypocrisy of the leaders. They love their position. They enjoy all the benefits that accrue to these leaders. The finest seats at public festivals and banquets. They pontificate great public prayers. They say all the right things. They do all the right public displays. However, at the same time, they compromise their beliefs to ensure that the Romans do not remove their ability to run Israel. They live lavishly off the contributions and taxes of the temple. They manipulate temple revenue to make sure that they have everything that they want. If there was a choice of providing for the poor and providing for or increasing their already lavish wealth, they would cheat the poor in a skinny minute. They had the appearance of holiness and respectability but inside they were deceit and greed.

As we read this passage here in the 21st century, we sit and say, “Yeah, what Jesus said! Go get ’em Jesus. Rip ’em a new one! Those hypocrites!” Before we arrogantly and piously condemn the religious leaders of Jesus’ day when we was physically here on earth, what would Jesus say if he walked into our churches today? Would he find anything different than in this scene from the Temple some 21 centuries ago?

Jesus would probably find a lot of the same things. Many of us pick our churches for what they can do for us and our kids rather picking a church because it speaks the truth of the gospel and lives it out. Many of us choose our churches because of the political or business connections that we can make there. Many of us clamor for the preacher’s favor because it somehow gives us greater stature within the church when we get it. Many of us increase our giving only when the pastor mentions it because it is important to be seen responding to what the preacher says but when the spotlight is off, we return to our normal anemic giving, the leftover 20 dollar bill in our wallet. Many of us serve on Sunday to be seen serving. Many of us won’t serve in any kind of continuing ministry during the week because it is only serving on Sunday that people see us serving. Are we any different when we choose to live off 110% of what we make so that we can have the appearance of “having it all” rather than giving God the glory by living off of 90% or less than what we make? Are we any different when we attend church on Sunday but walk right by the homeless man on the corner? Are we any different when we drive to church in our BMW but fail to help out the single mother that we know is struggling? Are we any different when we choose a fancy vacation and use the excuse that we don’t have the money to go on a mission trip to help spread the gospel? Do you love going to life group because of the fellowship and the Bible study but are conveniently absent when it is time for the “off the couch” project at the orphanage, the soup kitchen, or sharing the gospel? Do we spend time studying and writing about the gospel in life group but yet never tell a soul at work about Jesus Christ? Do we say we want to serve the Lord but miss the opportunity because it would involve giving up the house, the boat and the cars? Where are our hearts? Where are our hearts? Where are our hearts, oh God? We are a shameful generation. Are we any different than the religious leaders of the first century that Jesus condemned for their puffed up pride and greed?

Let us examine ourselves. Help us to be real. Help us Father to have real and honest hearts. Help us to see that we are here to give you praise and glory. Help us to see that we are here to serve you. Help us to see that we are here to make your name famous. Help us to see that we are here to tell others of the love that you have for them and the outright danger they face in rejecting you. Help us to have a heart for you. Help us to see that regardless of what we do and how much we serve in public displays no matter how much we try, we are just sinners. We are incapable of being perfect. We are indeed incapable of gaining access to heaven by our deeds. We are lost and always will be even we try to differentiate ourselves from others by our charitable acts and by our attendance at church. Nothing we can do is with merit in the face of our sins. We need Jesus. That is why we are here. Our service to Him is our thanksgiving to Him no matter who is looking. We give to the church because we know that it is God who gave us the talent to earn the money we make. We give 10% or more in thanksgiving and not caring who knows that we do. We do in thanksgiving for our salvation. We know who we are and that’s why we are here. We serve because it gives honor and glory to our Savior and we do it out of the overflow of thanksgiving in our hearts. That’s why we are here. We want to give Him glory for saving us. We serve Him because we are just so interested in others being drawn to the same Savior that we know. We witness because we can’t help it – others need to know the same joy that we know in our salvation. We serve when no one is watching because it is in our DNA to want to serve our Lord. Let our service to you oh Lord be real and not for show. Let us serve you when the job is thankless and no one will ever know we served you. Let us serve you because we love you, Jesus. Let us give you glory in everything that we do. Let us give you our all. Let us be all-in all the time even when no one is looking. Amen. And Amen.

Luke 12:22-34 — Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Charles Lea Center in Spartanburg, SC with a group from our church. It is a former school that has been converted into an activity center for mentally challenged people of all ages. We visited on a Saturday morning and at the end of the visit, we sang Christian songs with them. The passion with which these folks sang (not caring about whether they were in tune or who heard them) reminded me of this passage. These folks just had an unadulterated love of their Father in heaven. It was a simple faith that they were displaying. They just loved Jesus and that’s it. No high minded theological discussions just a simple love of Jesus.

It was not long after that visit that I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Haiti. While there, I got to visit a Tuesday night prayer meeting at the church that was the center of activity for our mission trip, Restoration Church. In this prayer meeting, people just came to the church to pray. There was no order of service. There was no preaching. People just came to the church on Tuesday nights to pray. There was no organized service. At that prayer service, as people came in and the church filled up with people, they were all praying out loud in French Creole, the language of Haiti. As the evening drew deeper into the night, the passion of their prayers became more intense until the air was filled with the passionate words of prayer. Just think of about 150 people all praying out loud, all with passionate pleas to the Father. I felt the Holy Spirit that night. I tasted the power literally of the Holy Spirit in mouth. It was the most awesome church service I had ever been to. I could not understand a word they were saying but I knew they were intimately reaching out to their Father in heaven. Never seen anything like it before or since. These people live in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, one of the poorest countries in the world, but these saved souls pour out their praise on their Savior more deeply and intensely than any American Christians would ever dream of doing.

These stories are the first thing I think of when I consider what Jesus says, “Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” Some translations say “seek the kingdom of God first, and all else will be added.” Seek the kingdom of God first. Everything else is secondary to that. We must make Jesus the King of our lives. He must be put first in every area of our lives. When we seek to honor God first as the clients at the Charles Lea Center do, as the worshipers at Restoration Church in Jacmel, Haiti do, everything else gets put into perspective.

Since I don’t have time to write a book this morning about all the areas of life where we should put God first, I am going to concentrate this blog on one thing. The one area that most of us give to the Lord last is our finances. We think we are the owners of the money we make rather than seeing that God gave us the talent to earn it. We often put God last in our finances. He is an afterthought. We do not put God first. God is a leftover God when it comes to our finances.

My passion about putting God first in our finances leads me to teach and write about it often. I don’t teach it without experience. I have lived life of trying to keep up with the Jones. Divorces and other events of life led me to a life of financial burden. My credit report was awful looking. It was not til I met Elena that I began to see that debt, debt, and more debt was not the answer. Getting out of debt was. Although she did not see the eternal perspective of what getting out of debt was at the time. She just taught me that it made sense to have a good credit score. God was working through her toward me. When she became saved and as I matured as a Christian myself, we began to raise God to the place He should be in our finances. First.

When we put God first in our finances, we honor God with the money we make. We give to Him first and live off the rest. We no longer buy in to the American dream rat race. When we honor Him in our finances, we honestly do not care about the latest, greatest cars or houses. As long as we have what we need to survive in the culture we live in, then everything else is just gravy. When you put God first in your finances, the debt, debt and more debt merry-go-round that most of us live on, you finally decide to get off it and start paying off debts, keeping assets longer, and work your way to being debt free some day. When you do not live off of 105% of what you make (as most Americans do), you are capable of now honoring God by giving when there is a need, seeing the importance of tithing because God commands us to give Him our firstfruits and not our leftovers. Imagine if all American Christians truly tithed their first ten percent of their income to their local churches. Average giving in American churches is $20 per person per Sunday. I dare say that if that were a tithe we Americans average making $200 per week, or $10,400 per year. True average American income is now $53,000 per year or a little over a $1,000 per week. Average giving should then be $100 per week per person. Thus it is obvious most that we are not putting God first in our finances. We put things ahead of God.

If we do not honor God with our finances, we miss opportunities to participate in Christ’s ministry in the world. When we do put God first there, we cannot help a friend in need, we have to pay for that car we cannot afford nor really need. When we do not put God first in our finances, we cannot go on a mission trip to help save victims of the sex trafficking trade in Asia escape that lifestyle with no hope, we have to pay for that jet ski. When we see the single mom struggling with medical bills and she is about to be kicked out of her home, we cannot help because we have to pay for all the money we spent on that cruise that we went on last summer. Can’t you see my friends, how much is enough? We miss the opportunities to serve the kingdom and teach people about agape love of Christ when we do not put God first in our finances. Instead this being the last area we bring under submission to Christ, it should be the first.

Trust God with your finances and all the things you NEED you will have. He will provide for you. Just let Him have your first fruits. Trust Him to provide for you. All else will be added unto.

Just as the clients at the Charles Lea Center and the worshipers at Resotration Church give God great praise with unbridled joy. God is everything to them. He is first in their praise. He is first in their life. May we take example from them and put God first in everything. God should not be a compartment to our lives. He is not a box that we pull out and play with and then put back up making sure that it does not touch the other boxes. He should be our lives. He should permeate every area. We should put Him first in every area of life including our finances. When we put Him first over every aspect of our lives, we will finally find peace and rest and most of all joy. Joy at trusting that God has our back just as the people in my illustrations do. That is joy. Joy is knowing that we are secure in God when we give all areas of life over to His Lordship.