Saturday, August 27, 2005

DREAMERS BY KEITH GILES

Dreamers by Keith A. Giles

Recently, I was confronted with the sad reality that we Christians are no different than those in the world around us. I suppose I shouldn’t have been too surprised, really. I mean, we eat the same foods, we wear the same clothes, go to the same movies, we are prone to the same sins.

I suppose I just hoped for more. Unrealistic? Maybe. But, I guess I’m still a bit of a dreamer.

You’ve heard it before. When an unbeliever first comes to the saving knowledge of Christ, they are all excited and “on fire”. How long is it before someone says, “Oh, give him or her a few months and they’ll get over it. You can’t keep that up forever.” Maybe it was you who even said that. Or if not, I’m sure you at least thought it.

Why do we encourage those who are babes in Christ to calm down and join the rank and file of the “frozen chosen”? Is it because they make us look like we’re not as happy as we should be? As we wish we were?

Imagine, instead, a world where we didn’t have to lose that excitement, a world where every second of every day we were close to tears when we considered our own sin. A world where every single Christian actually loved every person they met, and even went out of their way to show that same love and forgiveness that Christ had shown them.

I imagine that, in a world like this, that those who were unbelievers might even take notice. They might even be touched by such sincere love and generosity. They might even be curious about what was making these people behave in such an unorthodox manner.

On a grander scale, such a great display of love and forgiveness might even turn into the latest nightly news topic. I can almost see it now, local news helicopters hovering over a crowded interstate, wreckage strewn across the shoulder at the scene of a horrific pile-up…and there, over in the corner of your TV screen…why..it’s one of those Christians again! It looks as if he’s risking his life to save that person in the burning car…and in other news, more Christians converged on an orphanage downtown to give homes to hundreds of lonely children…and the local Hospitals and Nursing Homes have had to extend visiting hours to make room for all of the believers who have crowded the hallways to visit the sick and the dying,

I suppose I am just a dreamer, after all. Because my local news doesn’t look like that. I imagine yours doesn’t either. But I guess it’s just as well, I mean, who would expect us to live such an extravagant life of giving and love? Can you think of anyone who would actually expect us Christians to really act like that?

I’ve always been challenged by Jesus command in Luke 6:27. You know, it’s the verse where he tells his followers, "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.” (NIV)

Those are potent words. They are challenging. They are impossible words.

But, Jesus asks us to do the impossible for a reason. He goes on to say, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even 'sinners' lend to 'sinners,' expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.” (Luke 6:32- NIV)

Jesus actually expects his disciples to do the impossible: To love in the face of hate. To give even to those who steal from them. To stand silent, even when they are attacked. To do good, even to those who delight in doing evil to them. He asks us to give to everyone who asks for something. Without qualification.

I mean, Jesus expects us to chase after the guy who just stole our television just so we can let him know, “Hey, you forgot the DVD player!”

Why does Jesus ask us to do these unbelievable things? Because we’re supposed to be “called out” and “set apart” from the rest of the world. (This is the meaning of Sanctification). But, this “being separate” isn’t so that we can look down on others. It’s not because “We’re Special”. It’s actually so that we can show those who aren’t aware of the kindness of God what it means to be loved, forgiven and shown mercy.

Yes, Jesus expects us to actually do these things.

Yes, it will hurt.

Yes, this is how the lost can know that God loves them, Christianity is the “real thing” and forgiveness is for them.

There’s nothing remarkable about the kind of love that the world has.

The purpose of suffering in this way is so that we can demonstrate the true, life-changing love of Christ to the world.

Imagine a world where we all actually did this stuff on a daily basis.

Would it change the world?

Would it change the world’s idea of Christianity? Of Christ?

Would it set the teachings of Jesus apart from every single other religious figure who had ever lived?

I find it amazing that the most radical thing a modern Christian could possibly do today is to simply do exactly what Jesus tells us to do in Luke 6:26.

How often do we pray for those who hate the church? Jesus view of love is somehow radically different from the culture's view of love. This kind of love involves denying oneself to the point of being continually exposed to abuse.

Jesus expected us to love with a purpose. To change the world with love.

So, my dearest wish for you, and for myself, is that we might all have the worst week of our lives this week. That we might start to see difficulties as opportunities to show the world what real love is really all about.

I am a dreamer. Maybe you’re a dreamer too. Maybe it’s time that more of us woke up from this dream.

Friday, August 26, 2005

THE WAITING ROOM



I wrote this article about a year or so ago. I thought I'd post it here since my wife and I are going through a series of changes these days and we find ourselves once again before God in the "Waiting Room" of discovering His will for our lives.

Enjoy!

***
THE WAITING ROOM by Keith Giles


I’ve been part of a new church-plant in my home community now for just over a year now. To be honest, I’ve now become fully convinced that the last thing the world needs is another church.

In fact, I’m convinced that the last thing the world needs is another sermon, or another worship song, or another column about Christian living, for that matter.

Pick up the phone book and you’ll no doubt see a plethora of Christian Churches in your own area code alone. We do not need another Church on the street corner.

We have more than enough Churches and we have more than enough sermons on tape and on mp3 and the Internet to keep us all busy listening for eons to come.

What the world needs now is not another sermon.

If you attend church in any semi-regular fashion, you’ve no doubt noticed a very real, and very visible, mystique surrounding the modern church today.

You know what I’m talking about. I call it, “The Drive-Thru Church” mentality.

You show up on Sunday, drop off your kids to someone else for a few hours, get your coffee and your donut and sing some songs, listen to a speech, maybe even get some prayer, and then go home and live your life any old way you please.

That Drive-Thru Christianity is certainly not the sort of thing that we need any more of.

Be honest, if you wanted a church like that, you could walk out your front door and find one in less than fifteen minutes.

But, I still have a sense that God is birthing a new thing in our culture. It feels to me that a hunger is building in our world for something that is real and true and life-changing. At least, that’s what I feel that God is doing in my own community.

Still, sometimes I get the feeling that we’re all still waiting to see what it is that God is going to do?

Do you find yourself asking God, “What are you waiting for?” “Why is this taking so long?” “What is it you’re going to do?”

As I’ve been contemplating this, I’m reminded how Jesus was followed by large crowds of curiosity-seekers that he frequently attempted to thin out and even get away from whenever possible.

I think a large portion of those who participate in Drive-Thru Christianity today are these sorts of Christians. They come to church for various reasons, but they’re not serious about following Christ.

There’s the tendency, in America especially, to think that all that’s necessary to be a Christian is to accept, in their minds, that Christ died for their sins, pray a prayer and then, BOOM, they’re saved and the rest of their life is theirs to do with as they wish.

But, if you look at 1 Corinthians 6:19 you’ll find that the opposite is true. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” (NIV)

You and I, if we’re truly SURRENDERED to Christ, no longer live, but it is Christ who lives in us.

I mean, think about that word, “surrendered”. Do you feel like you’re living a “surrendered life”? Do you feel like Christ lives vicariously through you?

Let’s think about this for a minute.

Why would Jesus, leave the splendor of Heaven, be born in a smelly barn, grow up in comparative poverty, live a perfect life, allow himself to be beaten, mocked, whipped, crucified on a Roman Cross, rise from the dead three days later, ascend into Heaven and then come to LIVE IN YOU just so you could sit on the couch and watch T.V.?

Do you die to yourself so that Christ can live in you and just come to Church once a week and get entertained?

Does that make any kind of sense to you? To anyone?

No, if Christ did all these things, with the aim of COMING TO LIVE WITHIN YOUR LIFE, then it was for a specific reason.

And, yes, it does involve WORK.

We’ve got it into our heads somehow that works are something bad.

Now, I’m not saying we’re saved by our works. A good analogy that I’ve always used to illustrate the difference between doing works because you’re a follower of Christ and doing works to be accepted by Christ is this. “SWIMMING WON’T MAKE YOU A FISH, BUT IF YOU’RE A FISH, YOU WILL SWIM!”

This isn’t about Salvation, it’s about the Christian Life.

The Christian Life involves action.

If there’s anything that this world needs to see today, it’s Christians who are Spirit-Filled, Spirit-Lead, Spirit-Empowered and who are in action!

People who put their money where their mouth is.

No more sermons. No more talk. But, real, honest, service.

BUT…WHAT ABOUT GRACE?

According to Ephesians 2:4-10, we’re “saved by Grace, not by works”, but we’re also “created to do good works prepared in advance by God.” The same verse that tells us we’re saved by doing nothing also says that we were created for doing good works as a natural response to that salvation.

So, my point is. Many of us who feel that God is about to do something awesome in our midst need to take a step back and think about all of this.

I believe that God is the one who is sitting and waiting for you and I. He’s the one who is asking, “I wonder what they’re going to do?”

I want to encourage all of us, even if you have what you believe to be a small talent, do not let it go to waste. Use your gifts and your talents for the Kingdom of God. This is where you grow, where you learn to take part in the Body Of Christ.

You are necessary. You count.

The rest of the Body of Christ needs you.

God’s entire plan for His Church is to give each of us different gifts so that we need each other, help each other and love each other.

I sincerely believe that God will do an awesome thing in this day, but it will only be when we totally surrender to Him, put our gifts and our talents at His disposal and totally abandon ourselves to serving Him and encourage one another on to do good works in the name of Christ Jesus.

And I believe that’s what God is waiting to see us do.

What are you waiting for?

by Keith Giles.

Keith Giles is one of the pastors of a new church plant in Tustin, California called The River. He is currently writing a book about his time in the wilderness, as well as putting together several subversive projects designed to impact the culture for Christ. You can check out one of these at: WWW.PARABOLICJOURNAL.COM

Thursday, August 25, 2005

THE REVOLUTION

THE REVOLUTION
(This article appeared in Relevant's print magazine a while back. The one with Mel Gibson's head on the cover I think. Here's the complete unedited version).


It was Christmas week and I was in San Antonio, Texas visiting my sister-in-law. Her church was taking bags of groceries to a local housing project and my wife and I had brought our two little sons along with us to take part in the outreach.

After a quick prayer lead by my little seven-year-old, each of us took a grocery sack and started towards a row of houses across the street.

We knocked on the door and it was opened by an elderly Hispanic woman who looked at us with more than a bit of apprehension. After we introduced ourselves we told her we were offering a free bag of groceries as part of a Christmas outreach from an area church. She invited us inside and thanked us for the food, telling us that she was very hungry.

Standing in her tiny living room, I asked her if we could pray with her for anything. She looked up at me with tears in her eyes and said, “The other day I was so lonely and down. I asked God if He was real to send me an angel so I’d know that He had not forgotten me.” She stopped to look at my wife and two little boys and then turned back to me. “But He sent me four angels!”

We were all in tears as we held hands and prayed for God’s blessing in her life, for healing to her body and for her Grandchildren, and then we said goodbye, going next door to pass out another bag of groceries.

Such a simple act of kindness made a wealth of difference to a total stranger.
I will never forget that day, or that woman we prayed with. I know my two little sons will never forget it either.

It’s moments like these that Jesus smiles on His children and rains down grace on His people. It’s what we were made for.

Even the most casual reading of the New Testament Gospels reveals a Christ who was full of compassion for the poor.

In Mathew, chapter six, Jesus instructs his disciples on the finer points of “how” to give to the poor with the assumption that they would, of course, be about this practice. “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”- Matthew 6:3 (NIV)

It’s with the same assumptive reasoning that he follows this up by saying “And when you pray…” in the very next verse. His assumption was that His followers would be about doing these things.

1 John 3:17 says it even more strongly; “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

Every single day, something like forty thousand people die of starvation and malnutrition in this world of ours. That’s about twenty-seven per minute. Even more alarming is the knowledge that, out of these, twenty are under the age of five. My youngest son is five.

I read a commentary recently that compared this number to the dropping of the first atomic bomb every three days.

Boom.

The question is not whether or not people are hungry in the world. The facts are clear. People are most certainly in need, and not just in those Third World countries either. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) had previously reported, based on a survey conducted in 1999, that ten percent of all U.S. households, representing 19 million adults and 12 million children, were "food insecure" because of lack of resources. Of these 10.5 million households, 3.1 million suffered from such severe conditions that USDA's very conservative measures classified them as "hungry."

Five million adults and 2.7 million children live in these hungry households.

No, the question is not whether or not people are hungry, the question is whether or not God’s people will rise up and do something about it.

I find it more than a little disturbing that every time Jesus tells a parable about someone who ends up in Hell, it’s because they were completely apathetic towards the poor around them.

For example, at the Judgement Seat described by Christ in Matthew 25, the “goats” are rejected because they were able to call Jesus “Lord” but had no compassion for those around them who were in need. In fact, seeing people hungry, naked, poor, and alone didn’t seem to bother them at all.

Now, I’m not saying that if you don’t serve the poor you’re going to hell. But, Jesus does seem to use this as a sort of litmus test for those who truly belong to Him. Compassion for the poor is often used in scripture as evidence of salvation.
There’s probably no better section of scripture to illustrate this point than in James, the second chapter, verses 14 to 19; “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds. Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.” verses 14 to 19- (NIV)

The demons believe in a way you and I can’t. They’ve seen God with their own eyes. They’ve heard the actual voice of Jesus. They don’t just believe; they know. But this belief doesn’t have the power to save them or change them. It’s belief without any corresponding action.

Demons don’t comfort the sick in hospitals. They don’t knock on doors and hand out free groceries to the poor, but those who name the name of Christ can’t help but serve those in need with complete joy.

True faith always involves action. Faith is doing something about what you believe.
God’s Word is clear as crystal on this issue; those who call themselves followers of Christ must look with compassion on these who are in need.

By Keith Giles

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

IT'S ALL IN THE WAY YOU LOOK AT IT...

I came across this just the other day. I didn't write it. I think someone forwarded it to me on a mass email thing once and it turned out to be one of those rare forwards that are actually worth reading.

Here ya go:

One day, a father of a very wealthy family took his son on a trip to the country with the firm purpose of showing his son how poor people can be.

They spent a couple of days and nights on the farm of what would be
considered a very poor family. On their return from the trip, the father asked his son, "How was the trip?"

"It was great, Dad."

"Did you see how poor people can be?" the father asked.

"Oh yeah," said the son.

"So what did you learn from the trip?" asked the father.

The son answered, "I saw that we have one dog and they have four.

"We have a pool that reaches to the middle of our garden and they have a creek that has no end.

"We have imported lanterns in our garden and they have the stars at night."

"Our patio reaches to the front yard and they have the whole
horizon.

"We have a small piece of land to live on and they have fields that
go beyond our sight.

"We have servants who serve us, but they serve others."

"We buy our food, but they grow theirs. We have walls around our property to protect us and they have friends to protect them."

With this, the boy's father was speechless.

Then his son added, "Thanks, Dad, for showing me how poor we are."

Too many times we forget what we have and concentrate on what we don't have. What is one person's worthless object is another's prize possession. It is all based on one's perspective.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

VERSE FOR THE DAY - JEREMIAH 22:16

God is speaking of King Josiah: "He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" (Jeremiah 22:16)

Wow.

"Is that not what it means to know me?"

What does it mean to "Know" God? This verse suggests that it means to care for the poor and the needy.

Like in 1 John 3:16-19 where the scriptures tell us: "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth."

I woke up this morning after a dream where I was preaching a sermon from Matthew 25. It was titled "Prepare to Live; Prepare to Die" and it was all about how, at the Judgement Seat, we all will stand before Jesus and be judged based on one thing- How have we treated the poor around us?

Sobering stuff.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

THE WRONG QUESTION

THE WRONG QUESTION
By Keith Giles

Recently, while studying the words of Jesus, I made a startling and slightly disturbing discovery.

On the issue of salvation, Jesus never seems to urge anyone to say a prayer or confess belief in a set of doctrines. Although he is often asked by those around him, “What must I do to inherit Eternal Life?” the answers out of our Savior’s mouth rarely sound anything at all like what I learned in Sunday School.

I can remember growing up and hearing the Gospel communicated to me roughly as something like, “Who doesn’t want to go to Hell?” and when those around me raised their hands to identify themselves as someone with a keen sense of self-preservation, they were told to repeat a prayer about sin and forgiveness.

Now, as an adult, I am puzzled that Jesus himself never once suggested anything remotely close to this when discussing matters of eternity and salvation.

To Zacheus, who declared that he was ready to repay all those he had ripped off through the years, Jesus informed him that his faith had saved him. To the woman at the well, he simply compared himself to a spiritual water which could quench her thirst for fulfillment and she responded enthusiastically. To Nicodemus he explained a concept of being born a second time by the Spirit into a new kind of Spiritual life.

In fact, Jesus never seemed to use any sort of formula at all. He never even used the same metaphor twice. His explanations of salvation and his conditions for receiving it were as varied as those who came to ask him the question.

To a rich young man Jesus offered salvation if he would obey the Law and the Prophets and then sell all of his possessions and give them to the poor. Another time, he compared the Kingdom of God to a treasure in a field that one must rush gladly to purchase by liquidating every asset and possession to attain. At still another time, Jesus declared a common thief, condemned to death for his crimes, to be justified simply for recognizing who Jesus was and humbly asking to be “remembered” when Jesus entered His Kingdom.

Honestly, if you or I, or even our Pastors and Teachers were to respond to a question of salvation in any of these ways, we might be tempted to pull them aside and correct their theology or doctrine. Yet Jesus Himself seemed at odds with our simplistic, Chick-Tract versions of how to inherit eternal life.

I recently heard Todd Hunter remark that modern American Christianity had reduced the Gospel to a question that never appears in the Bible. You know the one. It goes something like this; “If you knew for sure that you would die tonight, do you know that you’d be in Heaven tomorrow?” Hunter suggests that, if we’re really going to be true to the Gospel of the Kingdom, and the philosophy of Jesus, we need instead to ask, “If you knew for sure you’d be alive tomorrow, who would you follow and how would you live your life?”

After all, most of us will not be dead tomorrow. We’ll be alive. What we all need is a Gospel for everyday life. The life we all find ourselves living is precisely where we need Jesus to rule and reign and have His way.

The True Gospel involves a daily process of taking up our cross and following Jesus. It is a Gospel for life, not just for the day that we die, and what makes me the most upset is the idea that I’ve wasted so many years of my walk with Jesus focused on the wrong things.

To think I’ve lived most of my Christian life based on the answer to the wrong question. All this time, I’ve thought of Jesus as my “Savior” but not as my “Lord”, and yet if He is not one, He cannot be the other.

All this time, I’ve missed the simple truth that Jesus calls me to surrender my life to Him and trade in my own empty kingdom for the Eternal Kingdom of God.

All. This. Time.

Even more horrifying than my own personal realization is the idea that most of modern Christian culture has got it wrong all this time too.

We’ve traded a daily submission to Christ for a cheap Grace and a set of beliefs, instead of committing our lives to Jesus and setting Him on the throne of our hearts.

I have a poster in my office that says, “Sometimes well-formed questions are more useful than well-formed answers”. Maybe it’s time for us to start asking the right questions instead of always being so quick with the right answers.

The question of where we will spend eternity only prepares us for the day of our death, but gives us no idea of who to follow or how to live our lives until that day should come.

The question that Jesus asks us involves making up our minds who we will follow, who will be our Lord, and then committing ourselves to actually obey and live out the Gospel that Jesus died to proclaim.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

THE EARLY CHURCH AND US (EXCERPTS)

I've taken a few choice excerpts from the article by Ray Mayhew (linked below) on the early church and their radical stance on caring for the poor.

The entire article is 25 pages long, and totally worth the download and the serious reading, but for those of you with short attention spans, or just curious...here's the "sampler platter" version for ya below..

ENJOY!

**
Some choice excerpts from EMBEZZLEMENT: THE CORPORATE SIN OF
CONTEMPORARY CHRISTIANITY? By Ray Mayhew

While reading some patristic documents recently I was startled to discover that the
Church Fathers are univocal in their insistence that the bulk of the revenue collected by a local church belonged by right to the poor. There was no expectation among them that a large percentage of what was collected by a local congregation would be used for its own maintenance and ministry. In fact, to do so would have been viewed by them as a misappropriation of funds.

According to a United Nations study published in 1998 the combined wealth of the
world’s seven richest men could wipe out poverty and provide access to basic social
services for the quarter of the world who live in severe need. The net wealth of 10
billionaires is worth 1.5 times the combined national income of the 48 least developed nations. However, despite commendable initiatives of Bill Gates, relief for the global poor is not likely to come from the rich and powerful.

In the latest edition of the World Christian Encyclopedia the estimated personal
income of Christians world-wide (Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox) was around $15 trillion. The amount given to church and para-church bodies was in the region of $276 billion—not nearly what it should be, but still a lot of money. However, the big question is, when we look at that which is given to the church, is how do we spend it? The United Nations has calculated that for $35–$40 billion per year, basic social services could be provided to all the poorest people on the planet. This includes both primary schooling and basic health care and nutrition. Reggie’s point, therefore, is undoubtedly true. There are vast amounts of revenue in our midst, which, if properly channeled, could have a huge impact on global
poverty.

Sadly, only a fraction goes in this direction. All the research indicates that the percentage of our budget given away that in no way directly benefits
our members—and therefore can be channeled to missions and the poor—is decreasing year by year (now at about 15 cents of every donated church dollar).

Unfortunately, it appears that we are not any more transformed in our church spending patterns that in our personal consumer spending patterns, and many now regard their giving as a “fee-for-service” responsibility rather than as a biblical imperative.

To give just one example, from the 75 million dollars in annual income received by
some of the Protestant churches in Chicago, it is estimated that less than 6 million dollars was spent outside the local congregations where the money was raised.

Such current priorities are difficult to justify in a world where 17 million die unnecessarily every year from infectious diseases and inadequate nutrition. Biblically, all of them are our neighbors—and many of them are our brothers and sisters. Our commitment to alleviate their suffering is of highest priority if we are to effectively incarnate the message we are called to proclaim. In the face of this, a re-examination of how we spend our money in the light of the Scriptures and the practice of the early church is long overdue.

As mentioned above, the assumption of most church leaders today is that we have the right to spend our revenue in ways that we believe would be most beneficial to the work for which we are responsible. Budgets are drawn up, employees paid, buildings built and maintained, and missionaries supported. This is the way things are done, and as long as there is an annual audit and no misappropriations of funds, all is well. But is it?

All of the above is built on two assumptions that are rarely, if ever, questioned. The first is that the revenue collected is “ours,” belonging by right to the congregation that gave it and who now, therefore, has the right to spend it. The fact that some churches tithe their income and give away ten percent to other ministries only reflects how deeply we believe it is “ours” to use in the first place. The second assumption is that how this money is spent is a pragmatic decision that varies from congregation to congregation (and culture to culture), depending on the perceived needs and objectives of each local church. I believe that both of these assumptions need to be reexamined in the light of scripture and church history.

It has been well said that the reason we study history is not simply to find out what
happened, but to discover who we are. In the area of economic justice and the use of
church revenue there is no better way to “discover who we are” than to read the early patristic writings. The record is unambiguous, church revenue, prior to Constantine, was used, both locally and in other parts of the Empire, primarily for the welfare of the sick, the poor, the imprisoned, the widow and the orphan. The local congregation did not expect a large percentage of what was given to be used for its own maintenance and ministry. In fact, to do so would have been viewed by most of them as a misappropriation of funds.

In the second century, Tertullian provided us with details of the church services in
North Africa. He spoke of every man bringing money, “whenever he wishes and only if he is willing and able. It is a free will offering. You might call them the trust funds of piety. They are spent on the support and burial of the poor.”

Justin Martyr provides us with similar insight from the second century practice of the Roman church. Speaking of the Sunday service he says, “the money thus collected is deposited with the president who takes care of the orphans and widows and those who are in straits because of sickness or any other cause and those in prison, and visitors from other parts. In short, he looks after all who are in need.”3 Justin explains that regular gifts were brought to the communion service to be used for the common fund. The church in the port city of Ostica, Italy, devoted as much space to storing goods to be redistributed to the needy as they did space for their worship services.

The general rule, for both individuals and churches, was, according to Augustine, that “not to give to the needy what is superfluous is akin to fraud” and “when you possess the superfluous you possess what is not your own.”

Giving in this way was not seen as generosity, it was viewed as an act of restitution. It belonged to the poor by right. Augustine instructed his own church to set aside at least a tenth of all their possessions and income for the poor (not the church). This was actually a concession to what he saw as greed because his congregation was not prepared to give up everything that was “superfluous”!

Quotations similar to those above abound in the early literature available to us.
Sadly, our contemporary approach has been very different. We usually calculate how much it costs to run the church, and then decide how much we can give away to missions and the poor. However, this is not usually done out of selfishness or lack of concern for the poor. It is the direct result of our theology of stewardship which appears to be quite different from that of the early church.

We should also not miss the obvious: when the Old Testament tithe was given, it
was given away to others. It was given to the Levites, a tribe to which those doing the giving did not belong. In contrast, when I give to the church, it is not “given away” at all.

I am the church!

Revenue given to the church directly benefits me as a believer in providing pastoral care, Bible teaching, family counseling, facilities for my children and a building for me to worship in. In that sense, very little is given away. Most of the money I give to the church is spent by the church on meeting my needs and those of my family. For this I am very grateful. However, I am also suspicious as to whether I am a valid recipient of such expenditure.

A refinement of the questionable fiscal construct mentioned above (that giving to the
church and clergy under the new covenant parallels giving to the Levites and the temple under the old covenant), is to concede that indeed the Levitical system cannot parallel the church, as it has been fulfilled in Jesus. But then to argue that a meaningful parallel can be drawn between the financial support of priests (as distinct from Levites), under the old covenant dispensation, and the support of the clergy under the New. Priests were indeed the shepherds of Israel and it could be argued that while the system requiring the manual labor of a Levitical tribe passed away, the teaching and shepherding responsibilities that were part of the
priestly role continue and are today exercised by the clergy.

Priests were of course supported by the Israelite community. The house of Aaron made up about 5 percent of the Levitical population and received a “tithe of the tithe” (Neh.12:47). [While the Old Testament system of tithes and
offerings is complex and difficult to unravel, many of us believe that though they are no longer a legal requirement under the new covenant, the concept of the tithe does provide us with some helpful guidelines in the Church Age]

Therefore if we conclude that there is, in fact, a parallel between the support of the priests in the Old Testament and the clergy in the New, and use a simple tenth as a guide, then a “tithe of the tithe” would still only qualify the clergy (and those working with them) to receive ten dollars out of every hundred given to the church.

It is my contention that the poor should be the primary recipients of the remainder—not the demands of an ecclesiological infrastructure (on average, eighty five dollars out of every hundred given to the church is spent internally, leaving only fifteen to be given away on causes that in no way directly benefit our members).

The care for the destitute and disenfranchised under the Mosaic legislation was, as we know, in stark contrast to their exploitation in the surrounding nations. Laws governing the gleaning of fields, loans without interest, the remission of debt and the provision of Sabbath and Jubilee years were unique to Israel and set her apart as a society. When the Talmud was eventually written, it would reflect this tradition by proposing that one fifth of one’s possessions be given to the needy, and devote an entire volume (“Pe’ah”) to the appropriate use of the tithe and the rights of the poor.

Irenaeus, in the second century, argues that the teachings of Jesus did not
abrogate provision for the poor in the Mosaic law, but rather enlarged and extended them, and that “instead of the law enjoining the giving of tithes” (which would go to the Levites), Jesus tells us “to now share all our possessions with the poor.” Many of the sub-apostolic documents, from a very early date, attest to the parallel between giving to God via the Levites under the old covenant and giving to God via the poor in the new covenant. Lactantius, early in the fourth century, forges the same connection in exhorting the church to give their resources to the poor. He calls on them to “bestow your riches upon the altar of God”. This is another example of how giving to the poor in the new covenant was viewed as equivalent to giving to “the altar” under the old.

It is not surprising that, after immersing himself for a lifetime in the patristic writings, John Wesley wrote his now famous lines that, “any Christian who takes for himself anything more than the plain necessities of life lives in an open, habitual denial of the Lord.” As we know, he practiced what he preached by giving most of his income away, wearing inexpensive clothes and eating only simple food. “If I leave behind me ten pounds,” he wrote, “you and all mankind bear witness against me that I lived and died a thief and a robber.” Strong words, but a faithful echo of patristic orthodoxy and ethics.

As there is now no “Levitical tribe” within the church the tithe that supported them
can now be given to God as we channel it to the poor. The expenditure of sacred revenue to maintain other aspects of the local church is nowhere mentioned in the New Testament. If we require a costly infrastructure of buildings, programs, and extra staff to function effectively in a given culture—which we often do—then other sources of revenue must be found. These expenses should never siphon off funds that God designates for the support of the poor.

As a pastor in a growing church of 3,000, located in an “edge” city in the
Midwest, I am acutely conscious of the potential implications in my own life, as well
as our congregation, if the above thesis is correct. Questions and doubts pile up one
upon another: where does the money then come from to maintain the programs, staff,
and buildings that we need? If we give most of it away, will we simply cease to exist, and then have nothing to give? Are we caught in a web of cultural and congregational expectations from which it is impossible to extricate ourselves without the whole edifice collapsing?

However, why they chose to do this was a deeply theological decision. It had to be. In the issue of sacred revenue they were conscious of standing on holy ground and handling holy things.


If the early church had possessed the political freedom to build churches, employ
staff, and run programs they probably would have done so. However, with the exception of supporting those who preached the gospel—which we will come to later— Jewish believers would not have seen building churches and employing staff as a valid use of the tithe. Revenue would have to come from elsewhere. How to use what was “holy unto the Lord” was not theirs to decide.

Their decision to give it to those degraded by hunger and disease had a huge
evangelistic impact but this was not the motivation for their actions. However pressing the need or valid the cause, the tithe was not seen as theirs to redirect as needed. They gave it to the needy because they understood it as belonging to them by right. The bulk of their funds did not even go into the missionary enterprise for which they both lived and laid down their lives—it went to those lacking the basic necessities of life.

Their conclusion that it should now be given to the weak and destitute was as
considered and weighty as Paul’s in defining the doctrine of justification. The fact that there is more about money and possessions in the Gospels which they wrote than there is about heaven and hell reflects how deeply they pondered these issues. It is safe to say, from the time and attention that they devoted to it, that for the Fathers, “the problem of poverty and wealth was the most important specific social issue that the early church faced, as indeed it has perennially been.”

The early patristic writings enthusiastically endorse the provision for the poor under the Mosaic legislation, and then go far beyond the tithe in championing the rights of the destitute. Today, if we are going to teach the tithe as a benchmark of faithful stewardship, we need to also teach how the early church used these trust funds in ministering to the needy.

The wisdom literature of Israel unequivocally asserted that “to give to the poor is to lend to the Lord” (Prov.19:17). It was upon this foundation that later rabbinic scholars placed almsgiving even above prayer and fasting as the primary act of devotion to God himself; “prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving.” Jesus, himself, builds on this legacy by teaching in Matthew 25 that giving and caring for those deprived of wealth and dignity was indeed giving and caring for the Lord himself.

In the fourth century, Basil the Great was so moved by such truths that he built a
‘city’ on the outskirts of Caesarea devoted to providing medical care for the sick, shelter for travelers, clothing for the poor, and work for the unemployed. In describing Basil’s work, Gregory of Nazianzus instructs his readers to “go forth a little way from the city, and behold the new city, the storehouse of piety, the common treasury of the wealthy, in which the superfluities of their wealth, aye, and even their necessities, are stored.”

…the Jews used the word “zedakah” both for righteousness and almsgiving.
Giving alms and being righteous were considered one and the same thing. Jesus
endorsed this and used it as the criteria in separating the sheep and the goats at the end of the age. [It is insightful to substitute “almsgiving”, or “generosity”, for righteousness in certain New Testament passages: Rom. 14:17 becomes, ”the kingdom of God is...generosity, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”. See also 2 Cor. 9:9.]

Finally, the Matthean passage is also significant because Jesus tells us, without any
ambiguity, that God views ministry to the neglected and oppressed as the mechanism by which we can minister to him. As we have seen, this came as no surprise to the Jews, who already understood giving to the needy as giving to God himself. Their literature abounds in affirming the truth of Proverbs, that to give to the poor is to lend to the Lord. The rabbinic parallel in the midrash on Deuteronomy 15:9 is just one example: “My children, when you give food to the poor, I counted it as though you had given it to me.” Others include such statements as, “almsgiving is an excellent offering in the presence of the Most High” and, “the one who gives alms sacrifices a thank offering.” “Zedakah” was not only the manifestation of a righteous life, it was also understood as the mechanism by which the pious Israelite could give to Yahweh himself.

What shocked his hearers was not that ministry to those in dehumanizing poverty was regarded as ministry to God himself—this was something they already knew. The shock was that Jesus now assumed the role of deity as the recipient of such ministry, and the role of the eschatological judge—a right restricted to Yahweh himself. Today, for us, his claim to deity is clear. What we need to recover is what his hearers already knew; that by giving to the poor we can give to the Lord himself. Not to do so is to deny him what is his by right and to thereby risk find ourselves among the goats, not the sheep, on the day of judgement.

In the late fourth century John Chrysostom echoed Matthew 25 in lamenting, “thou
hast been bidden to give freely to the hungry.....but thou dost not count him deserving even of a loaf; but thy dog is fed to fulness while Christ wastes with hunger.” Such perspectives were normative in informing the theology of stewardship in the early church.

After Pentecost, the apostles immediately embraced the Matthean mandate. The
economic sharing in their midst became both exhilarating and dramatic. Augustine’s
words, spoken some 400 years later; “whatever you have in excess is not your own,”
reflected the lifestyle that began in the streets of Jerusalem. Paul, himself, was even exhorted by the church council to remember the poor (“the very thing I was eager to do”— Gal.2:10), and the only systematic teaching we have in the Epistles on church giving (2 Cor. 8 and 9) is in the context of an intercontinental offering for the relief of the needy in Jerusalem, which Paul undertook on several occasions.

I have often unintentionally misused the Corinthian passage by preaching from it on the importance of financially supporting the local church. However, on a closer reading, it is obvious that it does not have anything to do with taking an offering for the maintenance of one’s local congregation.

In fact, we have no instructions in the Epistles on taking a collection for ourselves. What we find is teaching on the redistribution of wealth for the benefit of the poor in our midst, and the support of the laborer who is worthy of his hire.

Justo Gonzalez in his book, Faith and Wealth, an exhaustive study of patristic
writings on the subject, affirms that there is no doubt that the early church was univocal in endorsing the same fiscal priorities. The Didache, written sometime between 75 and 140 AD, instructs believers to “share all things with thy brother” and advocates that offerings go to the poor or to the itinerating prophets and teachers who minister in their midst.

Dionysus, Bishop of Corinth in the second century, speaking of the church at Rome, said, “for this is your practice from the beginning to do good to all the brethren in various ways and send contributions to many churches in every city, thus refreshing the poverty of those in need... by these gifts which you have sent from the beginning, you maintain your ancestral custom... providing great abundance for distribution to the saints.” F.F. Bruce maintains that one of the chief means of linking the Christian groups planted all over the eastern Mediterranean world was the practice of mutual aid. Writing about AD 125, the Christian philosopher, Aristides, noted that, “if they hear that any of their number is imprisoned or oppressed, all of them provide for his needs. And if there is among them a man that is poor and needy and they have not an abundance of necessities, they fast for three days that they may supply the needy with their necessary food.”

The power of this witness did not go unnoticed by the pagans. Even Julian, the
Apostate, who tried to stamp out Christianity, was forced to admit that “the godless Galileans feed not only their poor, but ours also.” By the year 251, the church of Rome was supporting more than 1,500 widows and needy persons, all of whom were “fed by the grace and kindness of the Lord.” Endorsing the rabbinic tradition, Cyprian maintained that prayer and fasting was of no avail unless accompanied by giving to the poor, while Origen ranked almsgiving third in importance, immediately behind baptism and martyrdom. However, their definition of almsgiving went far beyond giving their loose change to the hungry and homeless. It was defined as spending on oneself only that which was absolutely necessary and giving the remainder away. Nothing superfluous should be kept as long as others lacked the necessities of life. According to Gonzalez, “not to do so was tantamount to theft and even homicide” in the estimation of the Fathers.

John Chrysostom defined “necessities” as those things it was impossible to live
without—everything else was relegated to the category of “superfluities.” If you could eat conly pulses and stay healthy you should do so. If not, “garden herbs” could be added to your diet. However, he regarded meat as a luxury only to be consumed in moderation by those who were physically weak. Eating a Big Mac would most certainly be categorized by Chrysostom as indulging in a “superfluity”! He practiced what he preached and devoted his substantial personal income, as bishop of the imperial capital, to helping the needy—insisting that if we use more than is absolutely necessary on ourselves (as individuals and churches), we will be guilty before God of having embezzled what does not belong to us. His simple logic was that the superfluities of the rich were the necessities of the poor, and belong to them by right. For such preaching he was eventually deposed and exiled from the capital.

Charles Avila reminds us that “a salient characteristic of Christian service—koinonia
was “eleemosune” or “compassion.” The term originally meant the feeling from which the act of giving alms sprang. In time, however, it came to mean almsgiving itself. In the patristic age it signified a substantial transfer of one’s own income or property to a fund designed to enable the destitute and socially marginalized to live without suffering absolute want or degradation.”

The historian, Henry Chadwick, concludes that the practical application of charity was the most potent single cause of Christian success in the ancient world. This was not surprising as almsgiving was virtually unknown among the Greeks.33 The German theologian, George Kretschmar, said that in the final analysis it was not the miracles of the early church that impressed the populace—miracle workers were a familiar phenomenon in the ancient world, but the conduct of the Christians, the “propaganda of the deed”, that had such impact. Christians were unbelievably generous with their money, and it was always recognized that the prime responsibility of the church treasury was to provide for the needs of those degraded by hunger and disease.

But what about us, 1500 years later? Am I advocating that we now abandon the
buildings and religious infrastructure that we use to maintain the ministry of our local churches? Absolutely not. As a pastor I don’t see how this is realistically possible. However, I do believe that a radical course correction is called for. We must learn from our forefathers, and not allow these ecclesiastical necessities to absorb our congregational giving to the detriment of those denied what they need to earn a living and escape dehumanizing poverty. To do so is to spend on ourselves money that by right belongs to the needy, and betray our calling as those who seek to demonstrate God’s new order of justice and equity.

The Fathers used the motto “conversatio morem”—translated either, “death to the status quo!” or “constant conversion.” As we enter the twenty-first century, no other area demands a more urgent “conversatio morem” than our attitude towards church expenditure. The bulk of the tithe belongs to the poor and expenditure even on the “necessities” for running the local church must not be allowed to divert it.

In pioneering our way back, I find it helpful to stop looking at the church as an
organization I need to support, and to begin to see it as the primary community to which I belong. This community embraces distributional justice and lives on only ninety percent of its income, most of the rest being given away. The biblical model is not that, as an individual, I give away ten percent of my income to a religious organization (to which I belong), to finance its activities. Instead, the model is that the community to which I belong (the church) is made up of people who live on ninety percent of their income so that as a community, as one unit, they can give away ten percent of their combined personal income. Being financially responsible as part of this body means that my remaining personal income is now spread between meeting the needs of my nuclear family (personal housing, food, clothing, etc.) and the needs of my extended family (worship building, pastoral leaders, etc.). I cannot separate the two. The church is not an institution “out there”, which I support. It is the community that enfolds and identifies who I am as an individual.

The excitement of belonging to the church so defined is that, corporately, we have the economic power to do something of major significance about the issue of global poverty (in my own congregation we could potentially release over two million dollars annually).

Through the cross, God has created a body that has within it the economic resources to provide affordable housing, long term community development, and primary health care to everyone who needs it. Universal primary education would cost $8 billion a year—roughly what the world spends on arms every four days, or half what parents in the US spend annually on toys for their children. This might mean that as believers we will have to break rank with consumerism, live more frugally, and do church more simply—but this will only help us to express the type of community we are committed to become, a community which lives sacrificially, gives away generously and resources all those bereft of their basic human rights.

Most people want to invest their lives in changing the ugly specter of malnutrition and disease that is all too common on the nightly news. As the church now operates, the society around us is astonished at how much we spend on our operating costs. If we were seen, instead, as a group whose first fiscal priority was to empower those living in degrading poverty with the education and the tools they need to get jobs and feed their families, the evangelistic impact in our communities would be massive.

We can, of course, continue to justify almost any expenditure for larger buildings,
multiple programs, extra staff and media saturation under the banner of reaching our
community for Christ. However, if the guidelines of the New Testament and the example of the early church mean anything, we have to examine these expenditures in the light of more sober global realities. America is not only one of the wealthiest nations on earth, it also has within it more churches, Christian colleges, radio stations, bookshops and parachurch ministries than anywhere else on the planet.

While it can’t be denied that more needs to be done, no one in America is without access to Gospel truth. Continuing to pump multiple millions into reaching the same population pool without reference to the global poor and those without any access to the Good News is to violate the New Testament guidelines in using sacred revenue. As we have seen, except for the reference to some elders being worthy of double honor, the texts on the use of money center on giving to the poor and the support of those who we would describe today as missionaries.

Tertullian, in defending Christianity, asserted that Christians spent more in the
streets (among the poor) than the pagans did in their temples.41 No early congregation of believers in the Mediterranean world would have lavished their money on their local congregational expenses in the way that we do (even though they too could have justified it as a valid expense in reaching their community). In the light of Matthew 25 and the Great Commission, they steadfastly refused to consume sacred revenue on themselves. They pumped their funds into supporting the Christian poor in the Empire, and financing those going to the regions beyond. And it was, of course, this example of extravagant generosity that gave their local witness such impact and credibility.

It takes only $500 to create a new job among the poor and improve the living standard of a family of five by fifty percent within one year. If one percent of the worldwide income of Christians was used in this way, we would create 200 million jobs in one year—eliminating poverty among one billion people and empowering them to eventually purchase goods and services from the United States. Reducing our consumption and investing wisely in projects among the poorest of the poor is not only Christian compassion, it would also be to our long term advantage economically..

(more in link below)

DAILY PHOTO BLOG: BEAUTIFUL STUFF


I just discovered a gorgeous blog called "Catchy's PhotoBlog" that daily uploads some of the most beautiful photos I've ever seen.

Click here and then book mark it:
http://www.catchycolors.blogspot.com/