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Breaking Catholic–Part 1: History Lesson

Cardinals = Pharisees

    Just before Christmas, Benedictine University did a survey of former Catholics and lapsed Catholics to find out why they had stopped attending Mass and to ask what they could do to bring them back.  I was already planning this series when I found out about the survey, but it made me think a

Whatever We Ask: Part 6–Prosperity

joel osteen

“. . .  God wants to make your life easier.  He wants to assist you, to promote you, to give you advantages.  He wants you to have preferential treatment.”  Joel Osteen—Your Best Life Now     This quote is an example of a concept known as “prosperity gospel.” There are several variations on the theme,

Doubt: Part 11–The Death of Doubt

  Finally, THIS is the happy ending.   God called my bluff, and decided it was time for me to make the move to close the gap between us.  I announced my impending divorce to the church choir and tendered my resignation from the music ministry.   That night, as the church emptied, I hit

Us and Them: Part 5–Nineveh

God displays his heart for the people he created very explicitly in the book of Jonah, my personal favorite in the entire Bible.   Most people know about Jonah being swallowed by the whale/big fish, but that’s not really the point of the story.   Jonah was on that ship in the first place, because

DN=: Part 5–Discrimination


    Discernment is the divine enablement to distinguish between truth and error, good and evil, right and wrong.  A person with this gift can differentiate pure from impure motives, identify deception in others, determine authenticity of messages from God, recognize false teaching and sense the presence of evil.  (Paraphrased from “Network” by Bruce Bugbee

Doubt: Part 3–Cloudy

  Imagine you’re at a funeral on a cloudy day.  Then the sun comes out from behind a cloud.   Now if you are a scientific, buttoned-down, fact-based kind of a person, the first thing you would say is that the sun didn’t move–the cloud did.  You could give a meteorological explanation of prevailing winds,

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 5: PRactice Grace

  PRACTICE GRACE “You can choose your friends but you sho’ can’t choose your family, an’ they’re still kin to you no matter whether you acknowledge ’em or not, and it makes you look right silly when you don’t.” Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird   Some of us are blessed with great relationships with

Whatever We Ask: Part 3–The Desires of our Hearts

baby toes

Take delight in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. (Psalm 37:4 NIV)   This is one of the more misunderstood passages in the Bible. It’s easy to see why. Who doesn’t want to get the desires of his or her heart? Who has ever watched an Aladdin movie without

DN=: Part 11–Backwards


  Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. George Santayana—The Life of Reason   All that is not eternal is eternally out of date.  C.S. Lewis     Back in the Empty Glass series, we talked about three ways of learning.  There is experience, or making your own mistakes and learning

Christianity’s PR Problem–Part 7: The PRize

THE PRIZE               So to sum up from the previous six posts, the most effective solution to Christianity’s PR problem is for the individuals within the church to live lives of service.             We PRaise our God, PRotect our spouse’s hearts, PRovide for our children, PRactice grace with our extended families and PRove to

Overcoming the World: Part 4–Keeping in Step


Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.  That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse.  We have far more interesting things to do with our lives.  Each of us is an original.  Galatians 5:25-26 (MSG)


The Christian walk is not concerned with how good we feel about ourselves for being Christians.  While we don’t need to do things for God to get His attention, we do still have a part to play.  Even a simple game of follow the leader requires effort.


Grace is the free gift of God, but it did not come cheaply.  If we had no role to play in working out our own salvation, then what would be the point of getting saved in the first place?


The work that God does within us by the power of the Holy Spirit ought to be evident externally.  We have been changed from within so that we may bring change to the world without.  So what does that look like?


In Part 3, we began by listing the nine “fruits” of the Holy Spirit, that is to say, the characteristics that are produced by Him in us, which are the evidence of His existence in our lives.


  1. Love. As we have discussed previously, love is an action word, not an emotion.  Love involves sacrifice, or always putting the needs of others before your own.
  2. Joy. Like love, joy is more substantial than just a feeling of superficial happinessIt is a powerful force that is God’s response to our praise and thanksgiving. This strength renews and refuels us, giving us the proper attitude to carry on with whatever comes our way next.
  3. Peace. More than just an absence of discord, a spirit of peace involves trusting that God is strong enough to bring us through whatever trials await us, no matter how dire they may seem at first.
  4. Patience. I KNOW this one’s coming from the Lord, because it sure didn’t originate with me!  This is the supernatural ability to stay chilled and let things roll off your back.  In many people, this is the first fruit of the Spirit that others notice when they detect a change in a new believer.  Short fuses get a lot longer.
  5. Kindness. Kindness is love in motion.  This is the act of lifting up another who needs it.  Before the Spirit’s work in your life, there were people you might not have even noticed.  Afterward, though, you might find yourself helping these folks out without giving it a second thought.
  6. Goodness. I’ve always wondered why this one was listed after “kindness,” because goodness is the attitude from which kindness flows.  For us to be able to do good for others, we have to first have the general mindset of doing good for good’s sake.
  7. Faithfulness. A person under the influence of the Spirit will live a life of integrity.  He will say what he means, mean what he says, finish what he starts, and always, ALWAYS keep his word.  Lack of faithfulness is one of the quickest ways to spot a fake Christian.  Someone who is timid, wishy-washy, unreliable or just plain dishonest is not living by the Spirit, regardless of how long he or she has been going to church.
  8. Gentleness. Along with patience, this is another very obvious sign that God is working in someone’s life.  If a person has a history of anger issues (as I have), and you see that person holding his tongue, not raising his voice, being less competitive, etc., it’s a good bet that person didn’t learn those techniques from a self-help book.
  9. Self-Control. Along with gentleness, people under the control of the Spirit are able to keep themselves together, hold themselves back, and keep themselves from going to pieces in stressful situations.  Again, when you see someone with a reactive nature not taking the bait and going for the throat anymore when someone tries to start an argument, you know that something’s up that didn’t start with that person.


I can not stress enough that this list is not intended to be a to-do list for you to check off.


The goal here is not to get these things done.  It’s to keep in step with the Holy Spirit by letting His influence in our lives rule our conduct.  If our goal is to live lives of strong moral character and integrity, then the characteristics in the list above will shine through naturally, sometimes without our even being aware of them.


Other people will notice, however, just as they notice when we claim to be filled with the Spirit, but fail to display these characteristics.


Again, the characteristics are not the goal.  The character is.


(For more on living this out, come back for Part 5—As Far as it Depends on You)




Overcoming the World: Part 3–Living by the Spirit


But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  There is no law against these things!  Galatians 5:22-23 (NLT)


I am a very task-oriented person.  I am all about the to-do lists.  I get pleasure when I check something off, and I get stressed when I get to the end of the day, and there’s still 12 more things on my list that I didn’t get to.


Because of this, I have a tendency to turn almost every facet of my life into a sort of mental to-do list.  Everything feels like a competition or a performance to me, in which I will emerge as either a winner or a loser.


Most of life really isn’t supposed to be that way, though.  I am learning that it’s actually OK to simply live life as it comes and to appreciate moments as they’re happening.  I am learning that it’s more important to start each day with gratitude than to finish it with a gold medal.


So what is it about us that we keep wanting to go back to the things that we know didn’t work the first time?  Are we just addicted to futility?  Or is this just part of the natural state of being human?


I think that the problem lies in our tendency to define ourselves by what we do or by what we fail to do.  If I win, then I am a winner, but if I lose, then I am a loser.  Nobody wants to be a loser though, so we do everything we can to win at life.  And if we find we can not win, then we start doing things that are truly ridiculous.


Some people try to downplay life’s natural consequences by attempting to eliminate the concept of winning and losing, a concept that I call the “participation trophy” mentality.  You’re a winner just for showing up!  And if you didn’t even show up, we’ll try to find an excuse for you, so that you won’t lose.  After all, you deserve to win!


Then there are the “glory days” people (I tend to fall into this category).  These are the people who used to be the best at something, but then they either went somewhere else where there were other people that were better, or maybe they just got old and weren’t as good as they used to be.  If a person like this is focused on the winning, and he isn’t winning anymore, bitterness takes over in a hurry.


A person in this kind of a rut can’t let go of the past, can’t be happy for anyone else who wins in the present, and is bleak about the future that he sees for himself filled with nothing but losing.  Because if you lose, then you’re a loser.  But you can’t be a loser, because you used to win.  But now other people are winning, and keeping you from the victory that is rightfully yours.  So if you can’t beat them, then you have to tear them down, so that you can be on top again.


Both of these misguided worldviews lead to the same error—trying to put everybody else on earth at the same level so that we can feel good about ourselves, either by having no distinction of greatness, or by declaring ourselves great by attrition.  Both of these philosophies fail, because they are both built on the foundation of defining our worth by what we do, rather than who we are.


God gave us a better way to live.  In the Bible, Paul calls it “living by the Spirit.”  This is a churchy way of saying “getting out of your own way and letting God do His work through you.”  Living by the Spirit isn’t about checking things off of a religious checklist.  It is more about being aware of God’s influence in our lives, and allowing ourselves to be led away from our own plans and deeper into His.


Notice in the verse at the beginning that it is the Holy Spirit that produces the fruit in our lives, not us.  We don’t overcome the world by accomplishing all nine of those things on our own.  Rather, when we yield to God’s leading in our lives, these fruits are the natural result of the change that He works within us.



(So what does that look like?  Come back for Part 4—Keeping in Step.)






Overcoming the World: Part 2–Calling for Backup



I pray that God, the source of hope, will fill you completely with joy and peace because you trust in him.  Then you will overflow with confident hope through the power of the Holy Spirit.  (Romans 15:13 NLT)

Everyone has up days and down days.  Christians are no exception.  When we are in a desert faith-wise, as I have been for a while, it is so important to have people around us that can build us back up.  Also, we should remember the example that these people set for us, so that when we’re back on the mountaintop, we can lift somebody else up who needs it.


Unfortunately, the tendency in these dry seasons of the soul (especially for a cave-dwelling introvert like me) is to pull away from people.  We get used to our misery, and it seems that we would rather prolong it than to have someone tell us what we need to hear.


The problem with that is that when we pull away from people, we pull even further away from God than we were already feeling.  That’s when the old bad habits start rearing their ugly heads again.  One of my biggest fears since accepting Christ is that someone is going to encounter me during one of these bad times and associate what they see in me with Christianity in general.  What if I’m standing at the throne at the End of Days giving an account of my life, and I find out that someone missed out on the Kingdom because of something I said or did that turned him or her away?


But fears like this can actually accelerate the downward spiral.  We might figure, “If I avoid people entirely, then I won’t run the risk of blowing my witness and staining the name of Jesus.”  So we pull even further away, not just from society, but even from the hand that feeds us.



Another manifestation of getting into a spiritual funk like this is that we stop reading the Bible.  Everything we need to adjust our attitudes is right there, and the Holy Spirit is only too willing to illuminate the verses that we need to hear, but again, we are too comfortable in our misery to put forth the effort of opening a book.  I am so grateful to have a wife that will put scriptures in front of me when I am not going to them myself.


Do you have someone in your life that cares enough about you to give you a lift like this whether you want it or not?  If you don’t, then find one.  The best place that I have found for this type of community is in a small group (sometimes called “life groups” or “cell groups”) in a church.  If you are not familiar with this concept, it’s a group usually of 8-15 people that meet regularly to go deeper together in their faith than they would get by only going to church on Sunday morning.


What we need to remember is that we were set apart from the world to be WITH God and His people, not to be hermits in a cabin in the mountains (not that there’s anything wrong with mountains!).


As I mentioned in Part 1, a normal life involves difficulties.  For a Christian, those difficulties include enduring people who mock the Name of Jesus and those who adhere to it.  Sometimes it seems that life would be easier if we didn’t have to endure that, but we have to remember that this life is not all there is.  The next one is a lot longer.


God’s joy and peace are there for the having.  You just have to want it.  But sometimes, you need somebody to remind you that you want it.  So don’t ever be afraid to call for backup.


Overcoming the World: Part 1–Peace


I have told you these things, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you have oppression; but cheer up!  I have overcome the world.  John 16:33 (WEB)


Ever have a day where it seems like the world is just coming down on you and everything seems hopeless?  Ever have about five months in a row like that?  I did.  That’s why you haven’t heard from me in a while.


It isn’t that anything traumatic happened in my life in this stretch of time.  I just ran into an extended dry spell where my faith wasn’t keeping up with my circumstances.  Election years in general do that to me, and this has been the worst one ever.


In times like these, we Truthseekers need to get a grip on ourselves (and each other) and simply remember just Who it is that’s really running the show, whether or not we are aware of it.


God’s goal is never to confound us, but to bring us peace.  Another way to word that would be “confidence.”  He wants us to rest assured that He is not only bigger than whatever comes our way, but that our circumstances are all a part of his plan.


There are so many ways that we can learn from adversity.  Sometimes it’s a course correction if we are going a way that we should not be.  Sometimes it’s to find out that we are really stronger than we thought we were.  But sometimes it’s the opposite of that.  Sometimes God allows us to walk through difficult seasons as a means to get us to STOP relying on our own strength and to rely on His instead.


That sure sounds like the right thing to say from a spiritual standpoint, but it sure doesn’t feel that way when you’re going through it, does it?  I really admire people who hold unswervingly to their faith when going through things like extended illnesses or financial hardships.  I am one who wants things fixed, and fixed NOW, so I can get on with my life.  Trials and tribulations are an obstacle to my plans.


If you think this way, as I often do, that’s the indicator that you’re getting off track.  Because if you’re most concerned about your own plans, then you’re not in submission to God.  He knows what’s best for us, and more importantly, He knows what’s coming next.


Maybe it’s just part of being American, but I can get so bent out of shape over my first-world inconveniences.  I can count the major trials I have had in my life on one hand.  They are significant, but they are not a daily occurrence.  We get so spoiled in this country that we forget all too easily that troubles are a normal part of a normal life.


The world can be frustrating.  The people in it can be REALLY frustrating.  However, it is pointless to allow ourselves to be mastered by our frustration.  There will be things in this world that we can not conquer, but Jesus has already conquered everything that ultimately matters.


The Mission and the Message

sowing the seeds


Who has believed what we’ve been saying?
Who has seen the Lord’s saving power?  (Isa 53:1 NIRV)


Some people ask me why I write this stuff without getting paid for it.  Simply enough, I didn’t pay to receive the messages, so I imagine it’s only fair to offer them for free.


Basically, I sit down to write, I pray for a message, and I type what comes.  It is no concern of mine who accepts the message and who doesn’t.  My job is simply to deliver it.


So is it worth it?  I would say yes.  I do encounter some opposition, but not as much as you might think.  That would probably be significantly worse if I were broadcasting my own opinions, but since I deal in Truth, I am more interested in ending arguments than starting them.


Sometimes I wonder though.  Why is it that I don’t encounter any more opposition than I do?


Do the messages have more authority because they come from God?  Well, Jesus was speaking the words of God straight from His mouth, and they crucified Him, so that’s not it.


Is it because of my superior skills as a writer?  Doubt it, because then somebody would be paying me more for my words by now.


Maybe my messages just aren’t bold enough to make people angry enough to respond?  Maybe, but I’ve never really been one to hold back.  If anything, I’m known for erring on the side of Truth rather than grace.


So what is it then?  I have an idea.


You see, I pray before I write so that whatever message comes out of my laptop onto this page is the message God wants me to broadcast to the world, but I also pray when I’m finished writing, just before I click “publish,” that the message will be delivered to just the people who need to see it.


This is where faith comes in.  I am never thinking of anyone specific when I write.  I just write.  I am completely relying on God that the message will be coherent, and understood by those who need to hear it.


I don’t get many comments, and I am OK with that.  But it does mean the world to me when somebody drops me a brief note to tell me how something I tossed out onto the internet brightened their day or caused them to look at something in a new way.


That is how I know I am fulfilling my mission.  Why would I charge money for that?  Part of the trust and reliance I have on God is that my needs will be met if I obey his instructions.  And they are.


I never know what I’m going to write when I sit down to do a Truth Mission post.  Many professional writers will tell you that’s a bad idea, but I am reminded of a story Corrie ten Boom told in her book, The Hiding Place.


Corrie would frequently ride the train from Haarlem to Amsterdam with Casper, her father.  He would always have the tickets in advance, but he wouldn’t give Corrie her ticket until right before they got on the train.  The lesson is that she always got what she needed right at the moment she needed it, and not a minute sooner, even though she knew that it was coming.


That is how faith works.  God knows what we need before we do.  He holds onto it until just the right time.  This may not be what we perceive as the right time, because we are not patient people.  But faith is trust, and trust involves learning to wait.


Life isn’t ever going to be perfect, and things rarely go well on our own schedules.  I would love to be able to post every day on here, and have advertisers falling at my feet wanting to sponsor my site, and make lots of money writing so that I would never have to hear an alarm clock again.


But that’s not why I’m here.


I am here to plant seeds of Truth.  The harvest is God’s job.


I’m not trying to “save the world.”  But if something I felt prompted to write affects even one person’s life, then I have changed that person’s world.


And who knows where that might lead?


The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 3–Love is a Verb


This is My commandment, that you love and unselfishly seek the best for one another, just as I have loved you.  No one has greater love [nor stronger commitment] than to lay down his own life for his friends.  (John 15:12-13 AMP)


Our kids’ generation is not immune from the error of past generations trying to pass love off as a feeling.  Love is an action word.  It is the act of sacrificing yourself for the benefit of others.


It seems that the first thing to go when a child loses his or her innocence is the ability to love.  Not the ability to feel, but the impulse to give sacrificially without thinking about it.  I believe that this is because kids in our American culture are so habituated in getting that it doesn’t even occur to them to give.


Remember, a child’s “reality” is limited by his or her perception, just as an adult’s is.  But the less life experience you have, the narrower your perception.  Children don’t instinctively know the difference between perception and reality, so it isn’t ever going to occur to them to test their worldview.


Where this becomes problematic is if they think that the world revolves around them, they will assume that to be true until they find out otherwise.


Another stumbling block for kids once they reach their adolescent years is their growing self-reliance.  Growing up is inevitable, and becoming more independent is generally a good thing as one gets older.  However, because kids don’t know what they don’t know, it is very easy for them to get in over their heads when trying to do something themselves.


Because they have not yet mastered their pride, if indeed they are even aware of it, it is also not in the nature of most adolescents to ask for help, even when they are completely overwhelmed.  Sometimes, it seems that they gravitate more toward the drama of being in a mess than in actually finding a solution to their problem.


I think this is why it is frequently so difficult for older kids to show love.  1 John 4:19 reminds us that we love because God loved us first, but unless you know that, you can’t act on it.  To live out a life of love effectively, you have to allow yourself to be controlled by the Spirit of love.


Now when was the last time you met a teenager who wanted to be controlled by anybody?  They are just reaching the stage of life when they can finally do things for themselves, and now we’re telling them NOT to think of themselves, but others?  No wonder they get confused, which of course, cranks up the drama even more, which throws them right back into the cycle of attention seeking about their confusion rather than helping them move forward with solutions.


Because God is love, if you are showing love, people see God through you.  The sooner we teach our kids how to look outside themselves, the easier it will be for us to help them shape their worldview into a view that actually has some WORLD in it.



The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 2–Room to Grow

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Grace has been defined as unmerited favor, or getting something that you don’t deserve.


One way that we can show grace to others is by simply giving them room to grow.  This holds true for anybody, but especially for kids, since growing is their primary function.


It can be difficult for us as adults and parents to remember that kids are a work in progress.  They aren’t where we are yet.  They lack the life experience to have accumulated the wisdom that we have, and their pre-frontal cortices have not yet fully developed, which renders them inadequate to know what to do with the wisdom that they have acquired.


For this reason, I have often surmised that youth is wasted on the young.  Why do they have all the energy with none of the wisdom?  It seems that by the time we figure out what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives, we’re too tired to do it!


Of course, we never really stop growing.  Our bodies do, but our minds shouldn’t.  There is always something new to learn, as long as we don’t shut ourselves off from new learning.


As a parent, I can testify that a lot of the learning I have done in recent years involves learning to BE a parent, which in a lot of ways, includes re-learning how to be a kid.


We forget, don’t we?  We forget what it’s like to learn one thing and then think we know everything.  We forget the days when we used to put paramount importance on what other people thought of us.  We forget that we didn’t realize that the world actually didn’t revolve around us until somebody told us so, and even then, we had to be told more than once.  For that matter, we forget that we had to be told pretty much everything more than once.


Most of all, we forget all too easily how much we depended upon the approval of our parents.


So teach your children gently.  Just because they may act as if they know it all, you can’t assume that they know anything you haven’t told them.  Or that you’ve told them only one time.  Or that you’ve told them multiple times if there was anything in the room with a video screen on it.


And please practice giving your kids room to grow.  They’re not going to get things right every time.  However, if you don’t encourage them by letting them know that your love isn’t conditional upon their performance, then they’ll just stop trying.  Mistakes are learning opportunities for them and teaching opportunities for you.


And when you teach, you also learn.


The Kids Aren’t All Right: Part 1–What We’re Up Against

Let's Cut

Lord, save our children.


When did it become not OK for kids to be kids?  There is hardly a child now that by the age of 14 hasn’t either cut themselves, questioned their sexuality or rejected God.  Anyone that tries to lead them to Truth is labeled intolerant, hateful, an ignorant bigot, or worse.


We are even accused of trying to indoctrinate our own children, but only because our parenting gets in the way of the attempts at indoctrination by our accusers.  And they want to call US hypocrites!


How fortunate then, that God already has a plan for these people.  He will have the last word, as he told His prophet Isaiah:


  I stop the highbrow intellectuals in their tracks,
and I show the fault of their reasoning.
  But I stand behind the words of My servants,
and I accomplish what they predict.
  (Isaiah 44:25b-26a VOICE)


We must endure.  As righteous as our anger may be toward our antagonists, we must remember these things:


  1. In our anger, we must not sin.(Ephesians 4:26)
  2. Vengeance is the Lord’s not ours.  (Romans 12:19)
  3. We do have a real enemy, but it is not a human enemy (2 Thessalonians 3:15, 1 Peter 5:8)


Our job is to spread the Gospel.  We can’t praise the name of Jesus and sully it at the same time.  If we take our eyes off of Jesus and start worrying about what other people are doing, then we lose sight of our mission.  As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his book, Strength to Love:


The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral,
begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy.
Instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.
Through violence, you may murder the liar,
but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth.
Through violence, you may murder the hater,
but you do not murder hate.
In fact, violence merely increases hate.
So it goes.
Returning violence for violence multiplies violence,
adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness:
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.


Our job is to bring the light of Jesus to a darkened world that does not know it is in darkness.


We shouldn’t be surprised when we encounter opposition to the Truth.  This has been going on since day one.  Jesus was crucified, the apostles were persecuted and martyred, and on and on through the centuries.  There may soon come a day when preaching the word of God becomes illegal in this country, as it is in many communist and Muslim countries.


But here’s the thing.  Even if they put us in prison, God’s word can not be bound.  As Paul wrote in his second letter to Timothy:


Remember always, as the centre of everything, Jesus Christ, a man of human ancestry, yet raised by God from the dead according to my Gospel.  For preaching this I am having to endure being chained in prison as if I were some sort of a criminal.  But they cannot chain the Word of God, and I can endure all these things for the sake of those whom God is calling, so that they too may receive the salvation of Jesus Christ, and its complement of glory after the world of time.  (2 Timothy 2: 8-10 PHILLIPS)


We are called to persevere under trial and not to give up.  Even if we get tired and weak, God won’t.  So if we trust Him to carry us when we can’t go on, He will be faithful to do it.


We must stand firm, not only for our children’s sake, but also for our own.  Will you join me in praying for our youth today to be Truthseekers and not herd followers?


Whose Money Is It Anyway?: Part 3–Tithing

Diana and I at the Talkeetna River with the peak of Denali over my right shoulder.

The Lord All-Powerful says, “Try this test.  Bring one-tenth of your things to me.  Put them in the treasury.  Bring food to my house.  Test me!  If you do these things, I will surely bless you.  Good things will come to you like rain falling from the sky.  You will have more than enough of everything.  Mal 3:10 (ERV)



The Bible has many examples of people testing God.  Most of them occur when Israel was wandering in the desert for 40 years after Moses led them out of Egypt.  The New Testament frequently refers back to those instances as warnings of what not to do in a relationship with God.


Yet here, near the very end of the Old Testament, God is straight up inviting us to test Him.


In 2003, right after I became a Christian, my pastor preached a sermon on the verse above, emphasizing that in this instance alone, God wants us to test Him.  I had never thought of tithing that way before.  In my mind, tithing was like a church tax, or else something that only extra-credit Christians did.


Besides, I had very little money at the time.  I was living on my own and trying to pay down debts from my recently failed first marriage.  What did I have to offer God that could win His favor?


Did your red light buzzer go off just then?  It should have.  For one thing, God’s favor is just a part of who He is.  There isn’t anything we can do to earn it.


And for another . . . does God really need MY money?  He’s God.  I don’t think He’s short of funds.


What I have come to learn is that it really isn’t about the money itself.  It’s about trust.


God entrusts us with His wealth according to our ability to handle it.  Jesus illustrates this principle in the Parable of the Talents, which can be found in Matthew 25:14-30.


But trust goes both ways with God.  He wants us to trust Him not just concerning the money, but also with our general well-being.


I chose the translation of the verse at the beginning of this post specifically for the phrase “Good things will come to you like rain falling from the sky.”  To the people hearing this prophecy from Malachi firsthand, in the middle of the fourth century B.C., this would have been a literal message.  They weren’t concerned with having new Cadillacs; they were concerned with their crops, as there was a great drought going on at that time.


So in context, what God was saying to Israel at that specific time was, “You want me to stop holding back the rain?  Fine.  Stop holding back your tithes.  I DARE you to give me back the first 10% of what you only have because I gave it to you in the first place.  Do that, and watch what happens.”


Now today, many folks who are not proponents of tithing argue that this was a specific message for a specific people in a specific time; therefore, it does not apply to us today.


But for me, I just couldn’t get past those words, “Test me!”  God is always testing me to prove my faith; now He wants me to test Him?


So that’s exactly what I did.  Here’s how it worked out.


The first thing that I had to wrap my brain around is that tithing is not something you do when you can afford it.  It’s 10% of what you have, even if that’s very little.  It’s not about the amount you’re putting into the collection plate.  It’s about trusting that God will bless the 90% you have left.


Once I got over my guilt about the tiny little checks I was writing each Sunday and just went with it, I started to notice things happening in my budget.  Like how I never ran out of money at the end of the month, regardless of how bleak things appeared at the beginning.


Over the years since then, I have noted many other instances where the math just didn’t add up at first, but things worked out better than I could ever have planned it.


The most recent example is this.  After our honeymoon, my wife told me that her dream vacation would be an Alaskan cruise.  Those aren’t cheap, but I told her then that if we started saving, we could set a goal to do that for our 10-year anniversary.


So we saved for nine years, at which point, I said, “Honey, we can do this, but it will wipe out our savings.”  We went forward with the plans.


Long story short, we went on that cruise and land tour in Alaska.  We just got back a couple of weeks ago.  Counting the flights out and back, it was a two-week adventure.  In my life, I have owned several cars that did not cost as much as this trip.


And we still have over three fourths of our savings intact.


Not only that, but we had beautiful weather the entire trip (which just does not happen in Alaska).  At nearly every stop, the guides on our excursions were amazed at all of the “rare” things we got to see, such as orcas, humpback whales bubble net feeding, the Hubbard Glacier calving, and the peak of Denali in clear sunshine, just to name a few.

Diana and I at the Talkeetna River with the peak of Denali over my right shoulder.


Indeed, God poured out his blessings on my family during this trip, but really, it was just a very obvious and visible manifestation of how He has blessed us, and our finances, all along.


Even during the extended periods of unemployment that I have had, I have never felt like we were “in need,” because God doesn’t respond to need.


He responds to faith.


And that is what tithing is really all about.  It is a tangible expression of the faith that God will meet your needs and then some.  And he blesses it every single time.


Do any of you have stories of God’s faithfulness regarding your finances?  I’d love to hear them!


Whose Money Is It Anyway? (Part 2–Another Day Older and Deeper in Debt)

slave to money
The wealthy rule over the poor,
and anyone who borrows is a slave to the lender.
(Proverbs 22:7 ISV)


Back in 2013, we talked about the Greek word doulos, which is a voluntary bondservant, or someone who has chosen to place himself under the authority of another.


However, as we also discussed in Part 1 of this series, no one can serve two masters at once.  You can’t serve God and be a slave to money at the same time.


So how do we become a slave to money?  In a word—debt.  When we spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to satisfy our cravings and desires, we are worshipping creations rather than the Creator.


If we are trusting God to provide us with what we truly need, then why would we leave His service to worship at the altar of prosperity?  How prosperous are we really, if we have a big fancy house with no furniture in it or a shiny new sports car that we can’t make the payments on?


It’s bad enough that our nation has promoted a consumer-driven culture where people are conditioned to believe that they need. . .no, that they DESERVE shiny, fancy, new, expensive things.  However, as if people going into debt for unnecessary playthings weren’t enough, now they are being encouraged to further mismanage the wealth that has been entrusted to them by turning to legalized gambling to provide a solution to this debt problem.


In my tiny little town of 4,952 people, we have five locations that have slot machines.  (I refuse to call them “video gaming facilities.”  Aladdin’s Castle is a video gaming facility.  People aren’t going to our bars to play Pac Man.)


In the month of January 2015 ALONE, a total of $100,136 was wagered at these five locations.  Let’s do the math.


First, you have to be 21 to play the slots, so that eliminates about 2,300 residents.  But not all of the adults in town play the slots either.  Indeed, most don’t even frequent the places that have them.


In the absence of an exact statistic, let’s assume that one in five adults in town plays the slots.  This estimate is probably on the generous side.


Now we’re looking at an average of $190 a month that each person is contributing to the one-armed bandits.  For some, it’s probably higher than that.


So what’s the problem?  Well, do YOU have upwards of $200 of disposable income each month that you can flush down the toilet?  Some folks do, but these are not the folks that typically go to bars in small towns to play slot machines.


Over half of the households in our town have a combined income of less than $5,000 a month.  A family with that level of income, IF they manage their money well, should have about $100 or so per month in discretionary income at best after the bills are paid.  But again, people that manage their money well are usually not found around slot machines.  And remember, the actual amount being deposited here is double that much.


So if people can’t afford to be blowing this kind of cash, why do they do it?  Well, duh, because they’re trying to make more.  They are under the illusion that they’re going to hit some kind of jackpot and be rich.  The reality is that they will have even less money to pay the bills they were having trouble paying in the first place.


But lest you think that I’m going off on a self-righteous jag about gambling, there are other ways to fall into the same trap of money mismanagement.  I learned my lesson the hard way with multi-level marketing.


Now I admire people in this country who go into business for themselves and make a lot of money.  But it never comes without hard work.  If anyone ever tries to show you how you can be rich beyond your wildest dreams and not have to suffer for it, RUN!  Anyone who gets involved in a scheme like this hoping to “get rich quick” will find themselves getting broke even quicker.


Generally speaking, God has a plan for us each day, and we are expected simply to be available, receive it, and obey it, carrying it out to its completion.  This method ALWAYS leads to success, though sometimes it takes a long, long time, and we may not even see the big-picture results directly.  Trying to get rich quick takes our eye off the plan Jesus has for us, which consequently robs us of the potential blessing attached to that plan.


Fortunately, God’s plan for blessing us in our finances begins with a very simple test of obedience.


(Which we will learn about in Part 3—Tithing)