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An Open Letter to the church from the Church on Tithing

TitheDear church,

You want us to tithe, and we can appreciate that. We’ve listened to your sermons, read your books, and understand all of the arguments for tithing as both a principle and a discipline.

But there are a couple of things we feel the need to talk about:

Tithing is hard for a lot of people, often for reasons you don’t completely know about. That’s okay. The fact that it’s difficult doesn’t mean it doesn’t matter. In fact, sacrifice matters because it’s difficult. So in spite of hardship, many of us still give.

You need to honor this sacrifice. These people in your churches, often ones who the least least to spare, give because they believe in the principle of tithing, they’re passionate about compassionate work, and they trust you. It’s time for you to start asking difficult questions about how that money’s spent.

We’re giving to Jesus through you

You have convinced us that giving is an act of worship, and we believe it. So we give joyfully with the expectation that those finances will be used to further Christ’s kingdom and facilitate the work he’s passionate about.

We realize the needs of the church have to be met. Offerings keep the doors open and the lights on. But as church finances grow, the budget doesn’t need to grow, too. We don’t necessarily need an espresso bar, a smoke machine, or a huge staff, but we do need to know that money is getting to the needy.

If we got to see our finances at work touching lives and meeting needs, we’d be happy to feel like we’re tightening our belt in other areas. As a matter of fact, a lot of the crap we invest in so people will feel like we’re cool and relevant isn’t nearly as attractive as being mobilized with our time, energy, and finances toward issues that matter.

People are aching to be a part of a revolutionary movement that’s significant.

The church in Acts (not to mention most churches in the rest of the world) didn’t use their facilities as an evangelistic tool. In fact Acts 2 suggests that the time people spent in each other’s homes sharing what they had with each other did more to grow the church than a bigger sanctuary or new carpets and chairs ever could.

Sometimes these things may be a necessity; that’s fine. Let’s make sure that we’re struggling with every decision to spend money on stuff that serves us. Let’s not fall for the idea that somehow spending money on us is for the benefit of others.

The church (not just the people) needs to start tithing

We want you to do what you expect from us. Start giving 10% away—right up front. If we don’t place others first, we’re going to continue running the risk of investing money into facilities and things that are important to us but not necessarily to Jesus.

We’re not talking about what we’re required to give to our denominations or missions. We want to see 10% of our collective finances poured into the lives of the needy in our own community. Where our treasure goes is where our hearts will follow. Why don’t we pour that out on the people we say we want to serve?

That’s just a start. We’d love to see the church grow in the percentage it’s able to give away. Many of us followers would be happy to meet in a parking garage if we felt like we were doing work that was powerful, life-changing, and significant.

Don’t tell us why the tithe is important—model it. We want to give. We’re happy to give. We only want to feel like it matters.

Love,
The Church

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Integrating Our Culturally Divided Churches

Juan

I can’t quite remember how Juan Lopez and I got to know each other. We were just suddenly online friends, and I’m pretty thankful. He’s a sincere and humble guy, a youth pastor in Bell Gardens, CA, a writer, an avid  runner, and a family man.

We were talking about the challenges English and Spanish churches have integrating, and Juan said, “Yeah, I could definitely write a post about that.” So I convinced him to do it here. 

You can follow him at Running the Race.

Continue reading

What Should We Do with Caesar Obama?

800px-Barack_Obama_addresses_LULAC_7-8-08It was shaping up to be a normal Labor Day barbecue—until I made the tragic mistake of opening my mouth. People were busy cooking, cleaning, and setting up and I overheard a discussion about one political issue or another, ” . . . I can’t wait to get Obama out of office; he’s so evil.”

Now, I’m not a huge Obama supporter, so I don’t know why I felt I need to speak up. I casually said, “Oh come on, he’s not evil.”

In retrospect, it wasn’t a good idea. Continue reading

Why the Sermon on the Mount Is Absurd and Impractical

039-039-The-Sermon-On-The-MountWe Americans judge an idea or principle based on one, primary criteria: does it work? We’re simple pragmatists and something that’s true will also be useful. If it’s true but not practical, it’s hard for us to value it.

I was thinking about this recently when I was reading the Sermon on the Mount.

Struggling with Christ’s most famous sermon

First-century listeners

To first-century Jewish ears, Christ’s sermon would have been a frustrating puzzle. They’d waited for hundreds of years for their deliverer to come and save them from oppressors. In place of a rebel-rousing, William-Wallace-styled diatribe, the Jews were told that mourning and meekness were dear to God’s heart. Continue reading

The Church at Pooh Corner

Pooh_Shepard1928No one knows it, but I spend an inordinate amount of time trying to figure out which beloved A. A. Milne character is most like various friends. If you aren’t familiar with world of Winnie the Pooh (the actual Milne stories and not the Disney version), you’re missing out on some of the best literature—ever.

Long before I read The Tao of Pooh, which idealized Pooh as the most Zen-like creature in the Hundred Acre Wood, I was silently categorizing the people around me as Owls, Poohs, Piglets, and the rest. Lately, I’ve been thinking of them in regards to Christians and churches I’ve known.

Piglet

“Piglet”, said Rabbit, taking out a pencil, and licking the end of it, “you haven’t any pluck.”
“It is hard to be brave,” said Piglet, sniffling slightly, “when you’re only a Very Small Animal.”

Continue reading

Not Every Pastor’s a Teacher—Not Every Service Needs a Sermon

Billy_Sunday_preachesBy the time I was finished pastoring, I’d had enough. I’d spent five years writing and delivering a weekly 10–12-page theological paper in the form of a sermon—on top of my regular pastoral expectations.

There was a portion of my mind chewing on ideas all the time. I know it sounds silly to say, but a lot of that time I didn’t really feel present to more important things around me. I was always writing and re-writing in my head, and the urgency of next week’s message drowned out the importance of other things. On top of that, I was constantly strip mining my experiences for future use as sermon illustrations.

I’ll bet I’m not the only pastor who constantly woke from the same nightmare of showing up for a service completely unprepared. Continue reading

4 Lessons I’ve Learned from the (Hateful) Ministry of Fred Phelps

fred-phelps-400x240Fred Phelps, the Westboro Baptist Church patriarch, is dying. It’s been revealed that he’d been excommunicated from the church he had pastored for 59 years in August, 2013, and is living out his final days in hospice care.

It’s strange to think that Phelps, a lawyer and founder of a Topeka, KS law firm in 1964, was a huge advocate for civil rights. In fact, Phelps’ small law firm made up 1/3 of the state’s federal docket of 60′s era civil rights cases.

Being Fred Phelps eventually caught up with him. He was disbarred, on both the state and federal level for unethical behavior. Both times it was for aggressive behavior and speech toward witnesses and justices. Continue reading

Wrestling with Universal Truth and Christian Certainty

Photo: Jacob Bøtter

Photo: Jacob Bøtter

I had an atheist friend ask me an interesting question after reading one of my blog posts. He asked me, “How much does your Christianity allow for pluralism?”

It was an intriguing question and, after spending the evening thinking about it, I replied in a private message.

But, after giving it some thought, I decided to turn my response into a post.

Die-hard exclusivist (sort-of)

I believe that the universe is governed by one overarching, universal truth—we’re all just trying to figure out what it is. Continue reading

The Church Can’t Afford the Muskox Model

MuskoxThe muskox, an arctic bovine living in herds of 12–24, has a unique defensive strategy. When they’re feeling threatened by a predator, they form a circle.

You’ll find them shoulder-to-shoulder, an intimidating wall of mammoth heads and horns, staring down their enemies. In the midst of this impenetrable circle you’ll find the calves and weaker members of the herd. As long as they stick together, they’re virtually invulnerable.

In many ways, this is the same strategy the church adopts toward the culture. Continue reading

My Affiliation (and Disenchantment) with Progressive Christianity

Image by hobvias sudoneighm

Image by hobvias sudoneighm

Whenever someone asks me to label my political or religious affiliations, I always tell them that I’m too liberal for my conservative friends and too conservative for my liberal ones. The truth is, I really don’t want to be labeled.

I get why we classify each other—it’s convenient. If I can quickly put you in a category, I’ll instantly know how I should deal with you (or maybe dismiss you altogether).

Of course it is dehumanizing. I mean, who am I to disregard your life experience and your ability for nuanced thought and assume that I know all about you from some rashly applied label?

I had someone in my life reconnect with me on Facebook recently. This person is proud to identify as right-wing, and she had read my blog and gone through my news feed and decided that I was a progressive. The fact that I was an ideological opponent became the whole of our relationship.

It frustrated me because there never seemed to be a desire to really understand where I was coming from. She had already determined what I believed. Eventually we just parted ways because the constant barrage of bickering became too much. Continue reading

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