America, England, and the Myth of a "Christian nation"

As recently reported in the Telegraph, in England there is ongoing debate as to whether or not the country should remain a "Christian nation."

Across the pond, for the past 500 years, the church and state in England have "officially" been intermingled.  It may come to a shock to most of my readers to learn that Queen Elizabeth is recognized as the official head of the Church of England.  She is the official "Defender of the Faith," and the heirs to her throne will one day inherit her role as the head of the Church of England.  She is responsible for appointing their archbishops and bishops.  Likewise, leaders from the Church of England are officially appointed as leaders in the British parliament, and are responsible for helping draft legislation.

For my American readers, you probably find this little arrangement a little strange.  But that's okay, it's British.  If you want to understand it more, Google it.  Only a few other nations in the entire world have a similar arrangement (see a list of nations with official religions.)

Here in America, the separation of church and state has been a hot issue since we were formed.  Many Puritans ("Pilgrims" for those of you who went to public school) traveled here from England, and attempted to start their own Christian nation, such as was attempted with the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Others, such as the Quakers, weren't so keen on the idea.  They, and many others, wanted something a bit more secular.  They didn't care for the arrangement in England, which is why many of them left.

Because of America's rich Christian heritage as a nation, and the importance that Christianity had in the formation of our government, many Christians today believe America has been, or is in fact, a "Christian nation."

All of our social evils would once and forever be solved, many say, if America would just "turn back to God."  You hear this language echoed by the likes of popular voices, such as Pat Robertson, the late Jerry Falwell, David Barton, Billy Graham, Glenn Beck, and many others.

Promises from the Old Testament to the nation of Israel are often passionately invoked, as if we actually entered into a covenant with God, and a "revival" is passionately called for.  If we would just turn back to God, our nation will endure, and American will continue to be a great nation, acting as a light unto the world... or at least, that's how the story goes.

Having held such views at one point in my life, I must say I am highly sympathetic to the notion that America is, or has been, a Christian nation.  Unfortunately, such a view is simply not true.  It is a myth.  And this is something England needs to learn for herself.

At no time in our history has America ever been, nor will it ever be a Christian nation.  

The idea that any nation, be it England or America, can be a Christian nation is simply bad theology.

No doubt, it is possible for the vast majority of the citizens of these countries to be Christians.  Many of these nations leaders and policies may even be influenced by Christian values.  You  may even go so far as to intermingle the powers of the church and the state, as England has officially done.  However, this still would not make it a "Christian nation."

The truth of the matter is, Biblically speaking, the only "Christian nation" that has ever existed or will ever exist, is the church of Jesus Christ.  

As the apostle Peter said in 1 Peter 2:9, it is the church that is "a holy nation."  The church of Jesus Christ alone is the only Christian nation to ever exist.  No other nation is capable of at any time becoming a Christian nation.  Only the church can occupy this role.

Sadly, our deficient theology and understanding of the things of God keeps many within the church from ever seeing itself as an actual nation.  Instead, we see ourselves as Americans, or British, and only then are we Christian.  As a result, we fail to realize that our borders swallow up all the maps of this entire world, of whom our Lord has been made Lord of all.

All authority has been given to Jesus Christ on heaven and on earth, and as Christians we live as a redeemed people under the rule and reign of Jesus Christ, no matter what nation we find ourselves living in at this time.

Therefore, if the Church of England wishes to practice good theology, it should side with England's Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg (who is an atheist), and divorce itself from intermingling the powers shared between the church and state.

And so long as the Church of England continues to intermingle itself with the state, it robs itself of the ability to be a prophetic witness to all who are in England, and the rest of the world.  Instead of looking to keep itself as part of the British government, the Church of England needs to tell the powers that be that their days are numbered, that they've been weighed, and found wanting.

England will one day fall, as will America and all other nations, and they will brought to an end by the kingdom of Jesus Christ.  Therefor, the church should not find itself clinging to any nation that is destined to fall, unless it should perish with them.

Instead, it should point the kingdoms of this world to another kingdom, that is not of this world, and will endure forever.


God's blessings, numbers, and money

How do you know if God has blessed you, and the direction you have taken in your life?

For many people, this involves telling a success story.  You had a dream, you set some goals, you worked hard, and you accomplished what you set out to do.  Inevitably, you point to trophies on the wall, awards received, the endowment of titles, increased positions of influence, a new car, a nice house, and perhaps even a modest to large stash of cash sitting in your bank account.

At the end of the day, many of us attempt to assure ourselves and convince others we are blessed because we can quantify our blessings in some numerical way.  So much so, that our blessings can often be summed up and easily displayed by a pie chart on a short PowerPoint presentation.

Churches often do this.

"We had 13,000 show up last week!  We brought in over $400,000!  We are thinking about expanding our facilities just so we can make room for the numbers we are seeing!  We are blessed!"

When phrased like this, I could be talking about the mega-church I go to.

But, when phrased like this, I could just as easily be talking about a local movie theater, a concert venue, a theme park, or some other business operation.  Perhaps I am talking about a local political rally.  Or, maybe I know of a con-artist that is ripping senior citizens off left and right through some sort of illegal operation.

Either way, you can't distinguish God's blessings simply by looking at numbers.

Individuals or churches that point to their numbers or cash flow to prove God's blessing on them often forget that bars and strip clubs can do the same.  Dare we look at the numbers that flow to pornography websites every hour?  Or, how about the speed and numbers at which Islam is spreading across the world?

Jesus once said that "God causes it to rain on the just and the unjust alike." (Matthew 5:45)

Or if you wanted to make it a little more contemporary and in modern vernacular, Jesus is saying "God sends boatloads of cash to the people I love, but he also sends boatloads of cash to the people I hate.  Deal with it!"  (King Jimmy Version- 1982 edition)

Knowing these things, perhaps we should be more reserved in pointing out the quantifiable and numerical data that we often invoke to show God's blessings in our lives.  We need to stop thinking that way.  For truth be told, both good and bad men find measures of success in this world.  I know both good and evil men in this world, some who are swimming in rivers of money, others somewhere in-between, and others who are destitute.

God has not distinguished men and His approval of them by the degree to which their actions are successful or unsuccessful in this world.  Only the "prosperity Gospel" does that.  Indeed, the measures of success and blessing you enjoy might actually be the very thing that becomes a curse to you and results in your very undoing.

According to ancient Greek mythology, there was once a king named Midas, who requested that one of the gods bless him with the gift to turn everything he touched into gold.  His request was granted.  Initially he touched a twig, and it turned to gold.  What an awesome gift!  But when it came time to eat dinner at home, he found he couldn't eat anything.  For every time he picked up something to eat, what he touched turned into gold.  As a result, Midas starved to death.

Recent history has seen this play out numerous times in the church.  Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Baker were arguably the two greatest "televangelists" in history.  Their preaching was so influential and popular, that their sermons were broadcast all around the world.  Millions upon millions of dollars came pouring in.  By every measure of success, God's blessing seemed to be on them.  But the "blessings" they enjoyed eventually became a stumbling block for them, and when temptation set in, both had their ministries ruined overnight by scandal.

In light of these things, perhaps there is something else we need to be looking for when it comes to God's blessing on our lives, and in the lives of others.  Perhaps God has blessed us in such a way that we can't easily quantify that blessing by looking at a pie-chart on a PowerPoint presentation.

Perhaps God's blessings cannot always be quantified because they are so much immeasurably more than we could even think or ask.  

Maybe that is why Jesus told the poor that they should count themselves blessed, even though as poor individuals, they didn't have much to count to begin with.  He didn't tell them they were blessed because they tithed and could now expect a large windfall of cash to come their way.  He told them they are blessed because theirs was the kingdom of heaven.

The kingdom of heaven is not something you can quantify.  It's not something you can toss up on a PowerPoint presentation.  Rather, the kingdom of heaven is something you can only see by interacting with the people God has blessed, by His giving to them a small portion of that kingdom through the Holy Spirit.

In such individual people you see light and you taste salt.  Gathered in the greater assembly of such a people, whether it be 2, 3, or 10,000, you experience something supernatural and other worldly.  And such people, no matter if they are rich or poor, many or few, carry with them something glorious and powerful.  While they may celebrate any quantifiable measures of success they experience as a community, they are a people who ultimately know that they are all a part of something greater than what can be measured or numbered.

Avoid comparing the "blessings" others seem to enjoy that you do not.  Doing such will only serve to rob you of what God has already given you in Christ.  Don't look at the size of your church, or whether or not your business is thriving.  In doing so, the blessings you already enjoy may turn to rot, and the apple tree that you eat from may no longer be so edible.

Ultimately, no metric system can quantify or measure the work that God has done, and the many blessings He has blessed you with.  If you believe that Jesus loves you, died for your sins on the cross, was raised from the grave, and gave you new life in the process, then count yourself among the blessed.

Don't count yourself blessed because of the success of whatever work you attempt to accomplish.  Count yourself blessed because of the work that God has already done on the cross for you in the person of Jesus Christ.  


Dealing with Unemployment as a Christian

In my life thus far, I've been very fortunate.  I'm 31 years old, and I've never been without a job.  I may not have always had the job I've wanted, but I've always been on somebody's payroll.

Until recently.  After 15 years of being in the work force, I find myself "unemployed."  This is a rather new life experience for me.

Being that much of our identity and value is often tied to our occupations, being unemployed is a tough pill to swallow.  I'm no longer needed?  But I had such a cool job!  I was a specialist in my field.  At times I flew all over the country representing the bank in court, and helped hundreds of people keep their homes out of foreclosure.  I was very good at my job, and I regularly received praise and recognition from others for the job I did.  But now, I'm no longer needed?

I don't care how spiritual you are, that is something nobody ever wants to hear.  That's a tough pill to swallow.

I never envisioned in my first year of marriage having to come home and tell my wife I was laid off from work.  That kinda ruins some of the initial plans we've made together as a couple, or at least, defers them for the time being.

Suddenly making small talk in social situations becomes painfully awkward.  "So... what do you do for a living?" becomes a harder question to answer, as I don't want anybody to think of me as somehow being a loser.

There is also the worry.  How long can I afford to be without work?  Do I take the first job I'm offered, or do I hold out for something else I'd rather do?  If push comes to shove and I must take a lower paying job, how low can I go?  How long will it be before we have more bills than money?  What if my wife gets pregnant?

Thinking through these things (and many others), I thought I would write this brief essay that not only ministers to myself in my current situation, but hopefully, those of you who are currently in the same situation.  I would like to share how I am personally processing being unemployed, and what my game plan is.  These are the spiritual mindsets I am choosing to embrace, as well as some practical steps I'm taking.  I hope you will be able to benefit:

1.  I recognize that God is my source.

I will actively look for a new job on a daily basis, regularly submit resumes, and tap my personal network, but I will not obsess over these things, for God is ultimately my provider.  There is nothing I have in this life that I've earned.  Everything I have, including being currently unemployed, is a gift from my heavenly Father.  His eye is upon the sparrow.  He clothes the grass of the field.  He owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  God gave me His son, how much more will He not freely give me all things?  Nobody else may find me valuable, but God does.

2.  God has a plan for my life, and I am in it.

The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want...  God is directing my life.  Nothing that has happened to me has taken Him by surprise.  It's part of His plan for my life.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures...  The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence.  Where I am now is the green pasture God has made me to lay down in.

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for His rod and His staff, they comfort me.  I may find myself in a scary place, and I may not be able to see the dangers lurking in the shadowy places I'm walking through.  Things I cannot see may pop out of nowhere and catch me off guard.  But I'm not worried, God's got my back.  He will protect me.

My cup runneth over... I've been blessed with every heavenly blessing made available through Jesus Christ.  Even when I appear to lack, I have more than enough, for I ultimately have Him, and all things belong to Him.

3.  I will keep myself spiritually, mentally, and physically fit.

I will pray and read my Bible.  I will read stimulating books that expand and challenge my thinking abilities, and possibly learn new job skills. I will keep my communication skills sharp, and try to write something every single day.  I will regularly exercise.

4.  Though unemployed, I'm always employed.

I may not have a job, but I'm never without work.  As Jesus said, my work is always to do the will of the Father who sent me.  There is always something for me to do.  There is always work to be done.  I refuse to sit around all day and rot my soul by watching Jerry Springer and Netflix binging all day long.  God has created me for better things than this.  I will keep myself actively and intentionally engaged.  When I was single, I embraced being single and made the most of my free time to do God's will.  While unemployed, I will embrace my being unemployed, and make the most of my free time.

5.  I will avoid a slothful and lazy attitude.

My day will be intentionally planned, and I will remain disciplined and develop a daily routine.  I will keep myself busy.  I will make very little room for being bored.  I will set my alarm early and get out of bed.  Daily I will make my bed, shower, shave, and get dressed.  I will take care of errands around the house before my wife gets home.  I will prepare dinner.  I will seek out opportunities in the community around me, and volunteer my time and efforts on a regular basis, to help and minister to others who need a helping hand.  I will make it my goal to put in a hard day's work, and go to bed actually feeling tired every night.  I will earn my sleep.

If you have been blessed by this brief essay, or think it might help somebody you know that is struggling in their unemployment situation, please consider sharing it with others.  Or, if you have any helpful suggestions, please feel free to leave a comment below!


The Commercialization of Easter vs. Christmas

I tell the following short-story in order to make a greater cultural observation.  It's "cute" but I think it works just the same:

My wife has a massive sock collection.  Without actually counting, it is safe to say she has more socks than all the articles of clothing I have combined.  She has socks for just about every occasion and season.  For example, the 25 days leading up to Christmas, she has 25 different pairs of Christmas-themed socks that she wears!

(FYI: I find that my wife having such a massive collection of socks to be a very charming thing)

Looking to expand her sock collection in the weeks leading up to Easter, twice we ventured into Target to look for some Easter themed socks.  We did this shortly after St. Patrick's day, but struck out.  (Though oddly enough, in the clearance section we stumbled across a flask with a four-leaf clover on it.)  Disappointed, we vowed to return to Target shortly before Easter and look again, only to end up leaving empty handed after our second try.

Normally, finding seasonally appropriate themed socks for my wife at Target isn't usually a problem.  They usually carry socks for all sorts of seasons and holidays. Of course, Target had other Easter themed merchandise for sale.  However, browsing around the store, Easter themed products were quite minimal, especially if you compared it to other holidays, such as Christmas.

You may wonder, where am I going with all of this?  What cultural observation can be gleaned from the fact that Target wasn't selling Easter themed socks?

My observation is simple.  People tend to spend money on things they find valuable.  Our hearts and our wallets are deeply connected.  Knowing this, retailers often market a lot of merchandise to us that we don't really need, but we find ourselves wanting, if for nothing more than sentimental reasons alone.  And if it is for nothing more than sentimental reasons alone that we buy their merchandise, it still is a reflection of something we consider valuable to us.  Enough so that we are willing to part with our hard earned money in order to obtain the object of our affections.

Of all the holidays, Easter is supposed to be by and far the most important celebration on the Christian calendar.  As Christians, we are supposed to value the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ  above all things.  Yet when it comes to comes to the overt commercialization of our holidays, Christmas wins the day.

There are probably numerous reasons for this.

However, I cannot help but feel that one of the reasons that Christmas is the most cherished holiday on our calendar, and why Easter comes in a distant second or third place, has to ultimately do with something going on in our hearts.  If we spend money on things we find valuable to us, and we find ourselves spending very little on Easter, perhaps it is because there is something about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ that simply doesn't lodge very deeply within our hearts.

It has long been my observation that the importance of the death AND resurrection of Jesus Christ has increasingly taken a back seat place in our faith.  The fact that Jesus died on the cross is something proclaimed by many.  However, the importance of the greatest miracle that has ever happened in all the world, that Jesus Christ was raised to life after being dead for three days, this has become something that we simply tag on to the end of things like "the sinners prayer."  In many gospel presentations that you hear, you will hear very little to nothing at all about Jesus Christ being raised from the dead.

The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead has become a mere apostrophe in our preaching.  It's relegated as a tag-line or side-bar in our story telling.  Yet as the apostle Paul said in his letter to the Romans, our very salvation depends on us confessing that Jesus Christ is Lord AND believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead.

For all the altar calls, public declarations of faith, and personal testimonies I've heard and seen  over the years, I cannot for the life of me recall very many stories that I've heard where somebody acknowledges that Jesus Christ has been raised from the dead, let alone make it something that they've truly taken to heart, and was an instrumental part of their conversion.

At best, Christ's continued existence is turned into a vague and disembodied ghost like state, instead of Him being treated as a man who was actually killed and brought back to life.  Being that our "born again" experience hinges on us believing in the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ from the depths of our hearts, perhaps our actual conversions are not as high as some of our numbers indicate.

As a result of our faith not being centered around the resurrection of Christ from the dead, and our hearts latching onto the significance of this event, our celebration of Easter is mediocre at best.  We find very little value in the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and because we find very little value in it, there has been less commercialization around the Easter holiday as a whole in our culture.

In actuality, our celebration of Easter should be the greatest celebration of all, for it is truly something worth celebrating.  We should deck the halls, sing carols, hang lights, and shoot off fireworks as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

(p.s. If anybody from the Target Corporation should read this blog post, will you be sure to stock your stores in Charlotte, North Carolina with Easter themed socks next year?)


A Terrible Lie: You need to Tithe to be Blessed

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ (Ephesians 1:3 NASB)

Have you ever been told that in order to experience God's blessings in your life that you need to do x, y, and z?  Does any of the following sound familiar...

If you want to be blessed financially, you need to tithe.  

If you want to experience a special touch from God, then you just need to go to listen to so-and-so preach.  

If you want to be a super strong Christian full of the Holy Spirit, then you just need to pray 2 hours a day, read 3 chapters of your Bible daily, and regularly fast.

If you want to have a successful ministry, you need to trust God with God sized dreams.

If you want to be freed from sins you habitually struggle with, then you need to go and get deliverance.

If you want to experience peace and joy, then simply do these 10 things.

If you only do ... then only will you have...

The truth of the matter is that all of these things are terrible lies.

The truth of the matter is that everything you could ever possibly need you have already been given and blessed with by Jesus Christ.  Re-read Ephesians 1:3 cited above.  How does it read to you?  Does it say you need to do anything to be blessed?  Or does it say you ALREADY ARE blessed?  

Here is a truth that regularly escapes us:  Everything you could possibly need to do in order to be blessed was already done for you by Jesus Christ in His work on the cross.  

There remains nothing left for you to do, other than to walk in and enjoy the blessings God has already richly supplied as a kind of act of grace.  

You see, the Bible teaches that when Jesus Christ was crucified, resurrected, and ascended into heaven, that you and I were spiritually made participants with Him during everything He experienced.  

When Jesus was crucified, we died with Him on the cross.

When Jesus was resurrected from the dead, we were made to live.

When Jesus Christ ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father, we too were raised with Him into heavenly places, and are made to presently enjoy all the blessings He currently enjoys as the One who lives forever.  

In recent essays I have given considerable attention to the modern day practice of tithing.  And I have done so, not because it is some sort of pet issue of mine that I enjoy giving considerable attention to.  I've only done so because I believe this particular issue exposes a deeper problem within the church, and magnifies a set of problems that reveal our true spiritual condition, and how immature we truly are.

You see, almost all teaching you will ever hear on tithing from the pulpit these days tells us that the reason we aren't experiencing everything God has for us is because we aren't trusting Him with our finances.  If only we would tithe, then the windows of heaven would be open, and we would be blessed financially.  If only we would tithe, we would get a promotion at work and be able to pay off all of our bills, and experience God's 100 fold blessing.  

The days of "if only we would..." are over because of what Jesus Christ has already done.

The truth is that as Christians we don't give in order that the Lord might bless us financially.  We give because we are already blessed.

We are already blessed financially because of our union with Jesus Christ, as we sit with Him and enjoy the same life He enjoys sitting in heaven at the right hand of God the Father.  We don't need to go chasing down some 100 fold blessing.  We have already been blessed 100 times over, and with everything beyond what we could think or ask.  We lack nothing.

Therefore, we as Christians give, and do so abundantly, not from our arms being twisted by a preacher employing coercion and guilt tripping us, or fear of "the devourer" unleashing hell in our lives and somehow causing us to be ruined as a result, but we give out of the realization that we've already been blessed financially, and that it is the joy of our heart to do so.  

We bless others financially because we have discovered that we are already blessed, and want others to enter into the same joy that we have in the knowledge of Christ.  

We don't give in order to tap into God's open heaven.  For the doors of heaven have already thrown open for us when the King of Glory took His place in heaven, and He has invited us to come in and participate with Him in the blessings of that heavenly kingdom.

The only thing that remains for us to do is to open our eyes to see what has already been given to us, to see our true position in Christ, to see the riches that have already been supplied to us, and to live out our lives making the most out of what He has already done and what He has already provided.

We are blessed, therefore we give.  And when we give, we don't worry in fear about somehow having less or going without.  We have faith that God has already provided us all things, and that He has done so out of the work of Jesus Christ and what He accomplished in the cross, and that He will continue to enable us to always be able to give.

Share and discuss this blog post with others.  Has this opened  your eyes to a truth you have never seen before?  Or do you think I've really missed it?  If so, what have I overlooked?  How do you see things?


You Probably Can't Afford to Tithe

Many pastors have been known to boldly stand in the pulpit and proclaim, "You can't afford not to tithe!"

Many of these pastors have never sat down and tried to make a budget with the people they are preaching to. They've never sat down and done the math.

As I will demonstrate in this brief essay, the average family of 4 making $50,000 a year probably cannot afford to tithe.

The financial assumptions I am making in this essay assumes a family of 4, where the husband is the sole wage earner in the family, and where the wife is a full-time stay at home mother who stays home to take care of the kids. I assume they own 1 car outright, and have an auto loan on another. I assume they have a mortgage that is reflective of 25% of their gross monthly income (which is pretty common). Because it is the law of the land, I am operating under the assumption the household is fully insured. I assume this family has no credit card, student loan, or medical debts. I assume this family is not making any contributions to retirement savings.

Since I personally live and work in the greater Charlotte, North Carolina area, I am going to assume taxes and living expenses that are in keeping with a person who lives in the suburbs of my living area. I work as a mortgage underwriter for a living, so some of my assumptions come from being regularly exposed to the personal finances of a lot of people, as well as the general lending standards of most banks. Please feel free to adjust these expenses based on where you live to see if what I say pans out.

Using the PaycheckCity.com calculator, I have determined that a married man living and working in North Carolina making a fixed salary of $50,000 a year will gross $961.54 a week before taxes/social security, and will net $738.58 after. His gross monthly income ($961.54 x 52 / 12) is $4,166.67, and his monthly take home pay is $3,200.51.

Monthly Gross: $4,166.67
Monthly Net: $3,200.51

Itemized expenses:
Tithe 10%: $416.67
Mortgage payment: $1,041.67
Groceries: $850.00
Water Bill: $50.00
Electric Bill: $150.00
Gas bill: $50.00
Home/Cell Phones: $150.00
Clothing: $50.00
Auto Loan: $200.00
Auto Insurance: $100.00
Auto Gas: $100.00
Auto Maintenance (Tires/Oil/Taxes/Inspections): $150
Health/dental/vision insurance: $200.00
Miscellaneous: $100.00
Total monthly expenses: $3,608.34

Monthly budget deficit: -$407.83

Based off these rough, and rather conservative monthly budget figures that I used, I have concluded that the average family of 4 living in the greater Charlotte, North Carolina area making $50,000 a year simply cannot afford to tithe. Without their tithe, this family of 4 would be lucky to break even on a monthly basis. They don't even have room for regular monthly savings, let alone money to contribute to a retirement account.

In order to pay their tithe, this family would ultimately be forced to skip out on some other bills in order to make the math work, or they would be forced to radically downsize their current lifestyle... which is already pretty conservative.

So the next time a preacher tells you that you can't afford not to tithe, ask to sit down with them and work out a budget with you, and ask him how this math works. Because as far as I'm concerned, as somebody who crunches numbers for a living, I do not believe that the average family of 4 that is lower middle class and below can actually afford to tithe on a monthly basis, and still stick to their monthly budget. Of course, there may be some exceptions to this, as everybody's scenario is ultimately unique.

How does your monthly budget work? If you can afford to pay your tithes and all of your monthly bills, and are a family of 4 making $50,000 or less a year, I would be interested in you sharing your monthly budget with me and my readers in the comment fields below.

Please, show me the math.


The Dark Side of Tithing Testimonies

I work for a department in the foreclosure side of a bank as a mortgage underwriter. Every day I attempt to modify the mortgages of people who are behind on their payments, and adjust the terms of their loan so as to make their home more affordable, so they can resume making their payments, and keep their home. In the process of doing my job, I have occasionally analyzed the tax records and bank statements of people who tithe and make donations to various ministries.

I have seen people who tithe lose their home to foreclosure.

Over the years I have been in the church and involved in ministry, I have known some fantastic Christian people on a very personal level who believed in tithing. I've seen some these people tithe their way into deep everlasting poverty. I have seen very few people tithe their way out of poverty.

I've seen people "trust God with their finances," but they couldn't keep a bank account open. Either because they were worried about creditors suing them and seizing their assets, or because they couldn't keep a balance high enough to justify a checking account.

I have known people who tithe to have their phones ring off the hook at all hours of the day due to creditors calling for unpaid bills.

I have known people that tithe that have spent years suffering chronic unemployment, who would even tithe from their unemployment checks.

I have known people who tithe that needed people to co-sign for them on a car loan (which means a bank wouldn't lend them money because their credit was trash or they simply didn't make very much money).

I have known people who tithe to drive the most unreliable cars in the world, that constantly breakdown, leave them stranded, and further suck their already limited resources dry.

I have known people who tithe that regularly rely on government aid or the charity of others in order to just survive and have the basics in life.

Some of the people I have known in the above scenarios have been "lay people." But some have also been ordained ministers within the church. And for many ministers in various denominational affiliations, this is a major predicament, because the credentials they hold with their denomination require them to tithe. If they fail to tithe, they could lose their credentials, their church, and their job. So in spite of their extreme financial hardships that some suffer from, they continue to tithe so as to avoid unemployment, or losing a ministry that is precious to them.

Yet, in spite of all these bone crushing hardships people have suffered while tithing, and in spite of going through foreclosure, being behind on bills, being unemployed, and living in deep poverty, I have sat in church and heard some of these same people stand up and testify about how "blessed" they were financially for tithing. If their creditors were in the room, they would disagree. If they are so blessed, and if heaven is so open, why aren't they paying all their bills?

For every story I've heard where somebody stands up, testifies to God's faithfulness in tithing, and then tells stories of groceries left at the door, or receiving anonymous checks in the mail, I know of a hundred other people who went without groceries, and whose mail boxes were full of nothing but "past due" and "shut off" notices. Ashamed, many choose to say little to nothing at all about this in church. Even if they did want to share, many pastors would probably not let them do so.

I don't mean for this post to come across as harsh, unloving, or cynical. I'm just attempting to be very real about the things I know and to generate a real discussion about the modern practice of tithing. I am very deeply conflicted about the things I have seen in church over the years, and testimonies connected with people who tithe. I don't think many in the church are being very honest. We are very selective in the stories we tell, and we are guilty of telling half-truths. We ignore any story that could hurt the size of our offering. We don't want the real truth.

Many ministers know of these things, but continue to selectively celebrate "success stories" while deliberately ignoring the stories of people who tested God with their tithe, yet have seemingly seen God fail them. Their selective success stories are like fisherman who tell stories of big catches, but never tell you about the days they caught nothing. Their selective success stories are like professional stock traders who tell stories of 100 percent gains, but don't tell you of the time they saw a stock they own go all the way down to zero.

Some who know of these things will even go so far as to say these failure stories are not evidence of a busted doctrine, but are evidence that the person who was tithing wasn't doing it with the right heart. Or, they will make some other charge of guilt against their brother and sister who was so bold as to give 10 percent of their income, even in the face of financial adversity. Something must be wrong with them and why they tithed but didn't see the results. Then they will go on to rehash a success story they know of, that reinforces the idea that tithing always works, and using it to discount the not so happy story. This my friends is known as propaganda.

As a result, most never bother to genuinely question the doctrine of tithing altogether, and whether or not Christians today are required to tithe, in spite of the knowledge that there are people whose tithing stories aren't so successful. No genuine inquiry and no real "testing" is allowed. No failure stories are kept, recorded, or remembered, except in the memories of people whose financial lives have been turned up-side down because somebody twisted their arm and encouraged them to tithe, and misapplied some promises from the Old Testament.

If we are going to tell people to "test God" in with their tithe, then we better be open and honest about the whole truth of the matter, and tell all the stories of people who tested God with their tithe, only to seemingly see God fail. Some people tithe, and never see heaven so much as crack open an inch. Instead they suffer bankruptcy, foreclosure, unemployment, broken down cars, and outlandish medical bills and other outstanding debilitating issues.

It is my contention that because God does not require Christians to tithe under the New Covenant, the promised blessing of Malachi 3:10-11 has no bearing anymore, and that is why we cannot "test God" in tithing. I believe we are called to a different sort of stewardship and a different form of giving altogether.

Keep the conversation going. Share this article on Facebook and Twitter. Leave comments below, keep the conversation going. Additional blog posts on this topic to follow...


Honest observations about tithing

As a disclaimer, let me say it up front: I am in no way whatsoever against anybody tithing. If you feel compelled to do so for any reason, do so with the abundance of the generosity and joy in your heart, do it with all of your might, and do it as unto the Lord. If you are already tithing, by all means possible, keep tithing. Let nothing I say persuade you to do differently other than what you are currently doing. Let nothing I say rob you from the joy you currently receive out of this ancient and even Biblical practice. The purpose of this short essay is only to question and critique much modern day teaching on the topic.

I went to a small Bible college at the Lee University Charlotte Center. At the time, there were about 100 students who attended the campus. I was a rather popular student there. More often than not, students who did not have class with me in the first semester or two of my attendance already knew something about me by the time they did actually get to meet me, and have class with me. My reputation went before me. They knew me as "King Jimmy... the guy who didn't believe in tithing."

Which is pretty remarkable considering most of our studies focused on a survey of the New Testament, of which there is scant mention of tithing, and there is absolutely no teaching whatsoever that Jesus or the apostles expected the church to tithe. The only mention of it in the New Testament comes from an acknowledgement by Jesus that it was a part of the Law that the Jews practiced, and was mingled with a great deal of hypocrisy (Matthew 23:23 & Luke 11:42), and the fact that once upon a time, Abraham gave a tithe from the spoils of war to an obscure priest known as Melchizedek (Hebrews 7).

So how or why I was known as the guy who didn't believe in tithing (other than admitting to it at least once or twice I didn't believe in it during lunch some day), I'm not exactly sure. I was a bit argumentative and combative in those days. So perhaps that info was known simply because I had a loud mouth. My stance on tithing has been something I've always been truthful about, but isn't exactly something I hoped to be known for. Especially since my views on tithing gave me something of a negative reputation amongst fellow ministers, which, as a young minister looking to preach in the church, it is not the attention I wanted to attract.

Unfortunately, it was the attention I was given. In part, I owed such attention to a very contentious attitude and ego that I regularly carried with me while in Bible college. But part of the attention that's been given to me before then and since, the most opposition I've seen regarding the issue has come from pastors active in professional ordained ministry. I've since learned that I could spout some of the most ignorant and backwards things about a number of theological issues and be ignored by ministers, but dare I genuinely raise the issue as to whether or not if the New Testament teaches that Christians should tithe, I am met with quite a bit of opposition.

Some pastors I know have objected to my opinion on the issue of tithing, because they are genuinely concerned that it might steer Christians away for obeying God, and personally enjoying the benefits and blessings they associate with tithing. They believe it is a Biblical doctrine and practice, which they have enjoyed doing, and feel they have derived some benefit from, and they only want others to enjoy what they've enjoyed in their own walk with the Lord. To such ministers, I have little objection.

But others have been a bit more frank with me, and admitted that whether or not Christians are required to tithe, they believe if they failed to preach such, then the churches they pastored would get little to no donations if Christians didn't feel some sort of mandatory obligation to tithe. Even though it is common knowledge that only a very small percentage of active church goers systematically tithe 10 percent of their income, some pastors know without those people, they would close the doors on their churches within a very short period of time. Being that some ministers manage to make a living off the tithes that people pay, it is not hard to see why they object to any teaching that teaches tithing is not necessary. Many ministers need to teach that people should tithe because they know without doing some moral arm twisting, few people would give any substantial portion of their income to the church, and they would be without a job.

Since those days in Bible college, I have largely tried to walk a narrow tight rope around the issue of tithing, as I simply wanted to preach nothing but Christ and Him crucified. Whenever possible, I've always tried to avoid mentioning the topic of tithing altogether, and prefer to talk more broadly about stewardship and giving. When other believers in the church have asked me of my opinion about the issue, I've always been truthful, however, being that so many pastors (many who are good and godly men) have taught an opinion contrary to what I believe to be the truth, I have been charitable to my elder brothers in the faith, and have pointed people to the "official" teaching of the church on the topic in helping make up their own minds as to whether or not they should tithe.

Indeed, if you go to a church where you truly know your pastors are godly men and you trust their spiritual oversight, and you have the means to, I would encourage you to strongly consider tithing. I could be very wrong on the topic, and I wish to do nothing whatsoever that would hurt your relationship with God, or keep you from enjoying whatever blessings you associate with the financial practice of tithing.

There have been times in my life where I have systematically tithed, and have even given well above and beyond 10 percent of my income to the church. But there are other times, such as right now, where I am not. I may again do so one day, however, I don't look at myself as in anyway obligated to do so. Here are some things to consider, and why I don't believe we as Christians are obligated to tithe today:

1. NOWHERE in the New Testament is tithing a practice that is taught as being an obligatory practice: Look hard and long all you want, but Jesus and the apostles did not teach the early church to tithe. The only teaching Jesus made in reference to tithing, such in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, was in reference to the Old Testament practice of tithing. The Pharisees were very exacting in their tithing practices. So much so that they tithed 10 percent of the smallest seeds that grew in their own gardens (think pollen). Jesus simply told them they should do such, while making sure they obey all the matters of the Law of Moses, without neglecting the most important commandments that centered around justice and faithfulness. Many appeal to this verse to support tithing as a practice for today, but do so by totally ignoring what the verse actually says and in the context of which Jesus said it. Jesus encouraged the observation of tithing, but He was also encouraging people to practice the entire Law of Moses as was prescribed, which would have been inclusive of the entire sacrificial, civic, and dietary restrictions under that Law. The Law of Moses was still in effect at this time, as the New Covenant was not inaugurated until Christ shed His blood on the cross. After the cross, we see many references to money. However, the church only engaged in spontaneous charitable giving and took up random offerings for missions and the poor. Nowhere is it taught that anybody was tithing, expected to tithe, or in anyway encouraged to tithe. The practice of tithing was strictly an Old Testament phenomenon.

2. Tithing under the Law of Moses consisted of multiple "tithes" (plural): Even if by the most twisted interpretation of Scripture you manage to conclude that Jesus was teaching that Christians should tithe, then you must do so according to the Law of Moses. Contrary to probably every sermon you've ever heard on tithing in your entire life, under the Law of Moses, there were several tithes, which makes for giving much more than 10 percent of your income! There was the annual tithe that was supposed to be given to the tribe of Levi at the various cities they lived in, for compensation for their priestly duties in the temple and the fact that they were given no tribal land. There was also the annual tithe that was part of the festivities in Jerusalem. There was also the tithe that you gave every three years, that was dedicated to the poor, the orphan, the widow, and the Gentile strangers who sojourned in the land (please see Numbers 18:20-21, Deuteronomy 12:1-19, Deuteronomy 14:22-26, and Deuteronomy 26:12-13). Do the math yourself. This amounts to giving much more than 10 percent. And historically, we know from Josephus, the Talmud, and other historical documents, that the Jews gave 3 tithes in practice during the days of Jesus. So when Jesus encouraged the Jews of His day to tithe, that would've been inclusive of all 3 tithes.

3. There is nothing in the New Testament that equates your local church and your local pastors as the "storehouse" into which you are to bring your tithes: Even if one still wanted to insist that we are supposed to tithe today, there is nothing whatsoever in the pages of the New Testament that equates the local church as the storehouse to which you are to bring your tithes, and there is nothing whatsoever that says that pastors can receive tithes for God, nor is there anything that says we are to give pastors our tithes. So, even if you wanted to avoid being cursed by God, you couldn't, because there are no storehouses or temple to which we can bring our tithes. Your pastor is no more obligated or designated to receive your tithe than your Sunday school teacher or some other random person sitting next to you in the pew. It is obvious, however, why pastors have put themselves in the place to be the official recipients of the tithe, although, they are entirely without Biblical justification to do so.

4. Nobody ever eats the tithe anymore: If you look up the previous Biblical references to tithing I mentioned in point 2, you will notice that the Scriptures call for you, the priests, and the poor to "eat" the tithe. That's because tithing was always with food. You never tithed one red cent under the Law of Moses. All money you had that was used in tithing was to be converted to something somebody could eat. And then when you brought your tithes to the designated locations, you were to sit down and enjoy a greater communal meal. The tithe existed to literally feed people. It did not exist to provide anybody income, transportation, or a roof over their head. It was literally for food. So, if you are going to tithe today, then you should bring a shopping cart full of groceries to church next time, and your local church needs to be refitted with giant pantries, fridges, meat lockers, stoves, and ovens. Your church shouldn't have a single tithe envelope. It should contain giant rooms for food storage, preparation, and eating.

5. But tithing was before the Law, as Abraham tithed so should we... right?: Some pastors will acknowledge that tithing under the Old Testament Law of Moses is no longer obligatory for Christians. They will say yes, the Law was indeed fulfilled by Christ, and has been replaced by the New Covenant. Such will free you from having multiple tithes. But they will still point out the story referenced to in Hebrews 7 and in Genesis 14, about Abraham tithing to the priest, Melchizedek (who serves as a type of Christ). So there you have it... tithing pre-dates the Law of Moses, therefore we should tithe even as Abraham tithed to the one who foreshadowed Jesus Christ! Of course, such ignores the fact that circumcision was a practice that originated with Abraham, and pre-dated the Law of Moses too. But we know Christians are no longer obligated to circumcise their male child on the 8th day anymore. In fact, if one wishes to appeal to Abraham's tithing practice to make tithing obligatory for today, then one must also acknowledge that Abraham and many of the patriarchs offered up numerous types of other sacrifices, which all pre-dated the Law of Moses too. Yet I never see pastors being that theologically consistant, and also circumcising their male child on the 8th day, and offering burnt offerings on top of altars. Indeed, being that tithing was a type of ritual and part of the sacrificial system, to say somehow that this practice was the only one that Christ did not take the place of from the Old Testament simply because Abraham paid tithes to Melchizedek, and that this serves somehow as a pattern for us, is some seriously twisted theology. It shows a lack of critical thinking on the part of many ministers, and blatantly ignores the significance of what Christ did on the cross in reference to the entire sacrificial system, whether it was before or after Moses. And again, even if this one-time practice of Abraham somehow obligated us to tithe today, see point 3 above, and how the New Testament never tells us who we are supposed to tithe to. So if we are supposed to tithe to Jesus today, the New Testament never makes it clear how we are supposed to do so. And for good reason, because Jesus and the apostles never taught the church to tithe.

More essays on tithing to come... please feel free to write back. I value your input.


Telling homeless people they are blessed!

A few years ago, I used to teach a weekly evening Bible study at the "Fifth Street Ministries" shelter in Statesville, NC. One of the first series of teachings I did was on Jesus famous, "Sermon on the Mount."

Looking into the eyes of the homeless people that came to my study, I was immediately challenged with the first of the Lord's sayings:

"Blessed are the poor..."

Talk about a tough saying to sell my target audience. Saying it almost makes me sound like an inhuman monster. You simply do not tell poor homeless people to their face that they are blessed! Such is akin to telling a 5-year old child that they should be happy their puppy died!!!

It seems counter intuitive in our society to associate poverty and being "blessed." In the Greek, to be blessed is literally "to be fortunate, or to have favor." The words "fortune" and "favored" are not words we ever use about homeless poor people. If they were fortunate, they would have a home of their own and not be poor. If they were favored, they would at least have family that liked them enough to take them in... Right?

Most homeless people I've ministered to do not feel like they are blessed, they feel cursed. They definitely don't feel fortunate, they feel like they are in a place of great need. They definitely don't feel favored, they feel forgotten.

But Jesus tells us the poor are blessed.

Yet, most of us spend most of our days doing as much as we can to avoid poverty. We study hard, we work hard, we climb the corporate ladder, we start our own business, and we strive to constantly obtain more and more and more. Some of us even try to work so hard that we can one day retire, and dream of being able to spend the last 20-30 years of our lives living comfortably off the interest from our investment portfolio.

Jesus says we've got it all wrong.

There is nothing wrong with making the most of our opportunities, studying hard, working hard, getting promoted at work, starting our own business, saving, and even investing enough so that we can one day retire. However, there is a mindset and spirit that we need to avoid in the process. And that is the mindset that puts us in the place where we feel like we have pulled ourselves up by the proverbial bootstraps, that we've earned what we have, that we are a self-made man, and that we lack for nothing. We need to avoid feeling full and satisfied.

Contrary to the practice of some charismatics who rebuke spirits of poverty, Jesus says we actually need to embrace it, and that we will be blessed in doing so.

No matter how well off we are, we need to see ourselves as a people who are in need of God's fortune and favor. We must realize that everything we have is from His hand, and that whatever we have, no matter how hard we studied and worked for it, is a good gift that comes from Him as a kind act of grace.

Even if you are rich and successful, you should not look at yourself as entitled to anything in this world. You are no more entitled to the wealth of your labor than a poor person is!

Unfortunately, the more affluent we become, the more entitled we often feel to stuff. We worked hard for it... right? So why should I give it to help poor people out? They didn't work for it after all.

And why should anybody criticize me for owning so much stuff? I earned tremendous royalties from the books I sold (as one pastor recently said). It's my money to spend as I want... right?

Unfortunately, the more we earn and the more we look around at what we've earned, so often the less we see the hand of God in freely providing all of these things for us. And the less we see of His hand freely providing the things we feel we've earned, the less we are willing to part with what we've earned and give to others in need.

Such is probably a reason why those in higher income brackets often give a smaller percentage of their annual income to charity than those in lower income brackets. Self-made people have a tendency to forget that God has been their source all along. They've become deceived by the illusion of their wealth. Their wealth tells them they've earned what they've got, now they need to hoard it in order to stay wealthy.

(Talk about a spirit that needs to be rebuked by charismatics, especially considering money doesn't really talk!)

And to come full circle, people who have been deceived by the illusion that their wealth has often generated, now actively fail to see God as their source of all they have, and they no longer see themselves as people who are still in need. They are rich, they are full, and they are satisfied, they have met their own needs, and now God is forgotten.

What a terrible attitude to have.

It is an attitude that can take us far from God and damn ourselves in the process.

No wonder Jesus could tell the poor they are blessed. They are in the position to look up and look beyond themselves, and possibly see the One who can freely provide them an entire kingdom.