Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Behind Schedule

I am running behind schedule on a couple of projects. Rather than put something up that is incomplete I will hold off until next week to post part 3 of my series on tithing.

Thank you for stopping by.

Monday, February 27, 2012

International Prayer: February 27, 2012

I cannot begin to imagine the dangers involved in being a war correspondent. With the deaths of Remi Ochik and Marie Colvin we have a reminder of those who put their lives on the line to keep us informed in some of the world’s hot spots. In today’s international prayer let us pray for those who are reporting from areas of armed conflict. Pray also for their families as they deal with the stress of knowing they have family in dangerous areas.

Pray also for:

Greece – A second aid package has been approved and Greece has started a plan for bond swap to reduce its debt burden. The people of Greece continue to deal with the austerity measures required as a part of the aid package. Even with these moves there are concerns about the Greek economy and its ability to pay its debts.

Nigeria – Pray for the people of Nigeria where it is estimated that close to 61% are living in poverty. If true this would mean about 112.47 million people living in poverty in Africa’s biggest oil producer, according to bbc news.

Maldives – The former president says he was forced to resign by the military. The current president says this is not true. Was there a political coup? Pray for Maldives as it faces political instability.

Somalia – Somalia is no stranger to political instability, as it continues a civil war which started in 1991. An interim government is trying to restore stability but the future is uncertain. Pray for Somalia as they try to establish a stable government.

Senegal – An election this past Sunday did not produce a clear cut winner. No candidate was able to win more than 50% of the vote which means the country will now face a runoff. Meanwhile there are calls for the current president to step down. Pray for the political situation in Senegal.

We can change our world with the power of prayer. Just remember, our most important request is for doors to open for the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for servants ready to take the truth to all regions.

Friday, February 24, 2012

How I Grew After Being Benched By God

Have you ever been asked not to come back to church? I have. Not that I am proud of this fact but to be honest being banned from church was just the medicine I needed.

Church work had become a way of making me feel good. I carried the fa├žade of being a strong believer with great knowledge of the scripture, burying myself under the day to day load of trying to please every member of the congregation. My work earned a great level of respect with suggestions that I consider becoming a deacon or even a pastor. But with all I was doing I was living on empty, struggling with an internal problem. Instead of becoming a source of spiritual growth church work had become my personal addiction.

Having lived my pre-teen and teenaged years as a codependent, addiction was quite natural for me. My mother carried her own pains from her childhood and her guilt over a failed marriage. She suffered from her wounds, searching for relief by turning to booze and to overspending. She also tried to hide by burying herself in her career, basing her identity on her success in the 9 to 5 world. These failed to sooth her pain, which she then dumped out on me. As a result I entered adulthood as a badly wounded child.

On the outside I appeared to be okay. On the inside I was dead. Yes I was working hard for the church and spending hours learning the Bible, but my knowledge served no purpose without a growing relationship with God. I continued to suffer even as I told others I was fine, not wanting to make any excuses for what I saw as a failure to live up to expectations. For me, church life and the Christian walk were nothing like what I read in the Bible. Instead they were little more than a new place to hide.

It was as I began to question my faith that a member of my church convinced the other members that I was trying to take over. What I saw as doing service for Christ’s people was painted as evidence of being motivated by power and not by the Gospel. In fact my actions were not motivated by the Gospel, but neither were they motivated by power. I was motivated by fear, thinking a failure to personally build a church was simply a sign that I in fact had not found favor with God.

Under the pressure of building a church mixed with the accusations of ulterior motives I exploded into an angry rage. In response the church sent an unsigned letter asking me not to come back. Can you imagine the pain of having a church tell you there is something so wrong with you that you are not allowed to join in worshipping God? For me this was one more rejection on top of many I had felt throughout my life. It was also the beginning of a journey, a new chapter for which I am eternally grateful.

I now find myself relearning the Christian faith. Not that I lost faith, quite to the contrary. My faith has grown as over the last few years as I have discovered God as He is and not as I thought he was. Without church work to hide behind I am free to see the truth, realizing that God needed to put me on the bench in order to get my attention. Had He left me in the game I would have crashed and burned. My time on the bench was a time of growth.
Has God ever benched you? If so did you allow Him to work in your heart or did you keep fighting to get back into the game?

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Tithe: Its Early Structure

{The second part of a series on tithing: See the introduction posted here.}

Collection plates come in a number of different styles, made of aluminum or wood and in colors such as brown or silver or brass. I discovered this many years ago when asked to buy replacement plates for a church. A recent Google search showed a number of ways of describing these plates, including one which spoke of how envelopes would fit nice and flat on the bottom. Yet I suspect none of these plates could hold a person’s tithe if they were given as described in Deuteronomy.

Though not the first mention of tithing Deuteronomy gives instructions on how the people of Israel were to deal with their tithes once they entered into the Promised Land. The chapters give us a framework for how and where the people were to give, along with God’s goal in requiring the tithe. Leviticus and Numbers tell us how the tithe was intended to support the ministry of the Levites. Deuteronomy tells how the tithe was to work for each individual within the nation of Israel.

Deuteronomy 12:17-19

Being a mostly agricultural society, Israel’s tithing was described in terms of their crops. They were to bring a tithe of everything they grew as part of their offering, with a special tithe designated in the third year to mark their becoming established in the Promised Land. This was only one subset of their offering, as they were still required to give for burnt offerings and such that would increase the giving beyond the 10% mark. All was to be set aside and accounted for in wait for the day designated for the offering to be given.

Deuteronomy 14:22-23

The people of Israel were to bring their tithe to the place designated within their cities. There they were to eat their tithe, giving based on how they had been blessed by the Lord. Yes you read that correctly. The tithe was not simply left there at the altar. The people were to eat from the tithe they brought in to the temple, doing so before The Lord. They were to have what we would call a fellowship dinner, making sure to include the Levite. They were also to invite the widow and the poor living among them.

In doing so the people of Israel fulfilled the command given in Numbers that the tithes go as an inheritance to the Levite. It also fulfilled the ministerial mission of taking care of the poor, the widow, and the fatherless. But giving the tithe described in Deuteronomy served another purpose, one geared towards encouraging personal spiritual growth: “…that you may learn to revere your God always.”

More often than not the reason for tithing is wrapped up in the possibility of receiving a blessing in return for the tithe. Learning to revere and to fear God is not generally mentioned as a reason for paying our tithe. Yet it was given as a reason for paying the tithe as described in Deuteronomy. How is it that today when we speak of tithing and giving to God learning to revere is so often left out?

Next week we will look at Malachi, often the point of reference for those who justify giving a tithe as a way to receive blessings. Until then I leave you with something to ponder.

Perhaps you have been taught to give in reverence to the Lord. Have you ever been told how giving helps you learn to reverence God?

Monday, February 20, 2012

International Prayer: France

{This was originally posted in October of last year before I hit reset on Fire & Hammer.}

At the age of twelve she claimed to have seen visions from God. At nineteen she was burned at the stake for religious heresy. In between she saved her country, helping reestablish its sovereignty. Today we pray for her nation.

The French Republic includes the area in Europe known as France along with the overseas territories of French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte, and Reunion. France is located to the north of the Mediterranean Sea and to the south of the English Channel which separates the nation from Great Britain. The country shares boarders with Belgium, Luxemburg, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy to the east. Spain sits on France’s southern boarder just to the south of the Bay of Biscay. Andorra to the south and Monaco, located along the Mediterranean Sea, are also neighbors to the French.

A view of France from space reveals an area of diverse land types. At the center is a large flat area of fertile soil known as the Paris Basin. France’s southern border is marked by the Pyrenees Mountains. In between is an area known as the Massif Central, an area of mountains and plateaus situated across the Rhone River Valley from the Alps. The land of Massif Central is said to be rugged and in some places barren, with a number of mountain domes which were formed by once active volcanoes.

The ancestry of the French people is even more varied than the nation’s topography. Over its history France has seen wave after wave of immigrants, welcoming each group with the intention of integrating each individual into the culture. The nation’s long standing policy is to allow those who become citizens to be called French no matter their country of origin. So while the country’s original people were descendants of Celts, the term ‘French’ is an umbrella covering a number of different groups. However this by no means has lead to a fully unified country.

During the 100 years war the nation was divided between two families both claiming the throne. On one side were the direct descendants of the royal family, staking their claim on their birth line. Their adversaries staked their claim on a relative to the royal family, a Duke who became a ruler in England even as he was considered by France as subservient to the throne. The Duke and his family questioned the legitimacy of having to answer to a king who ruled over less land than did the ruler in England. The dispute between the two grew into what is known as the 100 years war, during which a peasant girl we know as Joan of Arc was born.

Claiming at the age of twelve to have seen a vision, Joan was able to convince Charles VII that she was sent to help him claim his throne. Desperate to turn the tide in a war he was losing, Charles sent Joan of Arc to the battle front. Dressed as a male solder she served in the army, leading Charles’ forces to a number of victories and changing the course of the war. While there is debate as to how much Joan of Arc contributed from a strategic stand point, it is clear that she was an inspiration in a movement that lead to Charles VII being crowned king.

Joan of Arc was later captured and sent to England where she was tried for religious heresy. The politically motivated trial lead to her conviction and resulted in her being burned at the stake. Years after her death the church conducted a review of her trial. Eventually her conviction was overturned and Joan of Arc would become one of the most important names in French history. Today she is a hero both to the people of France and to the Catholic Church. But she is not the only well person from France.

Perhaps one of history’s more recognizable names is that of Napoleon Bonaparte. His agreement with Thomas Jefferson (now known as the Louisiana Purchase) helped shape the continental United States. Frederic Bartholdi may not be well known in the U. S. but his design of a large sculpture called Liberty Enlightening the World is an icon in the states. You probably know this icon by its more common name: The Statue of Liberty. How many mimes can you name? I can name but one: Marcel Marceau of France. For the fashion conscious there is Pierre Cardin along with a number of other designers. Then there is the very familiar name of Eiffel, as in Gustave Eiffel designer of a famous tower located in Paris. Eiffel also contributed to the design of the Statue of Liberty. This is but a short list of the many world renowned citizens of France.

While the nation encourages inhabitants of all ancestries to take up French citizenship, certain of France’s policies have left large groups on the social fringes. In the mid 1800’s France began the first of many attempts in building adequate housing for what we would now call the working poor. More recent attempts of providing housing have created pocket areas of high unemployment, inhabited by a large number of immigrants. As described by several sources, these ‘ghettoes’ have become somewhat isolated from the rest of French society.

Please pray for the condition of people living in these low income areas. Pray for the family unit in France, where over 50% of children are born to unmarried families according to the website UnderstandFrance.org. Pray for attitudes towards abortion in France where abortions are legal and performed over 200 thousand times per year. Pray for France’s economy as the nation’s banks deal with their exposure to the financial crisis in Greece, and to financial issues in Italy and Spain.

While France is said to be a Catholic nation, only 2.9% of the French are practicing Catholics according to Catholicnewsagency.com. The same article describes how Islam is well on its way to becoming the dominant religion in France based on the percentage of people actively practicing religion. Pray for the spiritual climate of France and for an open door for the spreading of the Gospel.

It is all too easy to focus our prayers on what we consider impoverished third world nations. We must also remember our neighbors in nations like France who are dealing with economic issues and family issues. We should pray for the spiritual climate in these nations, remembering the Gospel is to be preached all around the world.

Continue always in prayer with thanksgiving and check back next week as we continue to pray for our neighbors here on earth.

For a shuttle view of France see earthobservatory.nasa.gov

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Does the Tithe Fit the Christian Church?

“About 58% of evangelical leaders do not believe the Christian Bible requires tithing,” according to a report written by Jennifer Garza for the Sacramento Bee. Ms. Garza’s report is an examination of Mitt Romney’s recently released tax return. The Republican Candidate for President of the United States paid tithes as required by his church, standing in stark contrast with those who say there should be no such requirement.

There was a time when the tithe’s place in the faith was a stumbling block in my walk with Christ. I had created a series of idols based on proving how good I was at being a Christian. Church work had become my evidence of being right with Christ. I gave ‘sacrificially’ both of my finances and of my time, convincing myself that my priorities were in order. Meanwhile I lost touch with the Lord as my life moved away from being aligned with the Bible.

When His children drift off course God has His way of getting our attention. During the recession God allowed my finances to get squeezed to the point where I could not give to the church financially as I wanted. In fact there were times where I could not afford to pay a tithe. At first I beat myself up psychologically, wondering if I was a failure when it came to being a Christian. However this view did not seem to line up with the Christian idea of unmerited favor.

I then did what seemed the natural thing to do. I lashed out at God, blaming Him for things not going the way I wanted. The Lord corrected me, showing me where I was wrong in my anger. He also helped me see how I was measuring my walk by dollars given to the church and not by how close I was to Christ. God used the recession to get my attention. Once I yielded He showed me something that changed my view of tithing, removing an obstacle that stood between Christ and me.

Over the next few Wednesdays I will share what God revealed in the Bible. I will examine the tithe, its place in Judeo/Christian history and its application today. Based in scripture we will look at God’s intent for the tithe, asking if there is any application for us today. In preparation for these posts I ask you the reader: Should Christians consider the tithe a requirement of the faith? If not a requirement does the tithe have a place in Christian church service?

Friday, February 10, 2012

Hurry Up…Take Your Time

No wonder my kids tell me I’m weird. The message seemed simple enough as I said it but once it was out I could only scratch my own head. I must have been losing my mind when I told my youngest to, “Hurry up…Take your time.”

It all began with homework. My youngest son had an assignment that took much longer than normal. The activities were the usual, cutting and gluing and trying to write numbers. But a ‘3’ written as if it were falling over lead to a conversation on how ‘3’ could look like ‘m.’ Fascinating I’m sure in the world of a young child, but after about 40 minutes of helping with homework I just wanted a ‘3’ that looked like…well…a ‘3.’

My son is at that age where something that’s funny gets repeated over and over and over again. I kept erasing that ‘3’ but it kept coming back with more and more of a tilt to the left. A combination of homework fatigue and a case of the giggles was drawing us further away from the goal of finishing. That ‘m’…I mean ‘3’ threatened to derail my normally efficient homework train.

Fearing a loss of focus I started giving a bit of a verbal nudge. At first I was subtle, which almost never seems to work with children. So I ramped up my efforts, explaining how we needed to finish and so he needed to hurry up. In response he wrote a ‘3’ that did not look like a ‘3’ or for that matter an ‘m.’ It was rushed and messy and really, really big. Good thing I had a really big eraser. It was as I brushed off the eraser crumbs that my insanity was revealed. I then told my son, “Take your time and give me a good number 3.”

Children have an amazing ability to take things in stride. For a short moment in time my son gave me a puzzled look. Then he went back to work as if nothing had happened, turning out one of the best 3’s I have ever seen on paper. I am not sure what message he took from my confusing statements. He never asked how he could possibly hurry up while taking his time. My oldest would have asked but he was not in the room (fortunately). My youngest simply just let it pass, looking for something else at which he could laugh.

Yes I said something odd once again, as I suppose parents are prone to do. No wonder my children at times laugh at me, treating me as if a bit senile.

Has being a parent driven you to say something confusing or outright stupid?

Thursday, February 09, 2012

Federal Court Rejects Prop 8. Are Christians Ready for the Next Chapter?

On Tuesday the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals made news by striking down California’s Proposition 8, a law banning gay marriage. For now the ruling only applies to the west coast where the Ninth Circuit has jurisdiction. Its narrow in focus may only apply to circumstances in California. That being said I believe that while limited in scope the ruling gives insight to what we likely will see in the not too distant future. Are Christians ready for that future?

With the legal and political maneuvers being used by the Gay Rights Movement I believe we will eventually see a day where gay marriage is recognized across the United States. How should Christians respond when we find ourselves having to minister to people who live a new definition of marriage? Are we prepared to continue with outreach in a world where the neighbor we are called to love has married someone of the same gender? Are we willing to continue our mission to “preach the Gospel” even as our culture heads in a direction with which we disagree? As much as the court’s ruling challenge our beliefs about marriage, the cultural shift is a challenge to our convictions about reaching others for Christ.

We need to assure those who are pushing for gay marriage that we will continue to be here for them no matter the outcome in this cultural battle. As people discover how government granted ‘rights’ cannot bring true fulfillment, we must invite them to look to us for real answers. To do this we must trust in the power of the Gospel and in God’s ability to touch the heart even when culture pulls that heart in a different direction. We must be ready to love and to testify of the power of God, seeing others as He sees them; as people whom He loves.

Are you ready to face a culture where gay marriage is legal?

Monday, February 06, 2012

International Prayer: February 6, 2012

God calls us to reflect His glory into our world. For some this call leads to ministry in far away lands as missionaries and teachers. Others stay at home, living the Gospel in the presence of family and neighbors while demonstrating the love of Christ. None of us are limited to our local surroundings. Each child of God can have an impact that goes well beyond our borders. By lifting others up in the power of prayer we align ourselves with God whose heart is always open to our neighbors overseas. With that in mind let us join in praying for:

Philippines – A magnitude 6.7 earthquake struck the Philippines today. Fifteen people are reported dead. An unconfirmed report puts the number much higher. Twenty-nine people are said to be missing. Pray for the nation as it recovers and as they deal with the problem of looters.

Nigeria – Over two weeks ago a Chevron run natural gas drilling platform caught fire and is still burning. Now people are seeing dead fish in a nearby river delta. People who depend on the water in the delta are starting to show serious health problems. Pray for the people in this area as they deal with the results of this environmental disaster.

Europe – Severe cold weather is taking its toll on Europe. Reuters.com reports 33 people have died today, adding to a death toll measuring in the hundreds. The conditions caused a dam to break in Bulgaria, flooding an entire village. Other dams are thought to be in danger of overflowing. There are cities in Bosnia which are cut off, relying on helicopters from other areas to drop supplies. Pray for supply lines to remain open as the people of Europe endure this cold snap.

Syria – Violence continued as the government clashes with rebels. Please continue to pray for the situation in Syria.

Thank you for standing in prayer, as we lift up our neighbors around our world. Remember, our most important request is for doors to open for the spreading of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and for servants ready to take the truth to all regions.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Can Black History Month Instill a Passion for Education? (Repost)

{International Prayer has moved to Mondays. Today I offer a repost of last year’s Black History Month post.}

February is Black History Month. To be honest I wish we did a better job at teaching about historical contributions made by African-Americans during the other eleven months so that we do not need to designate a special month. But while the debate over Black History Month may continue, I have a different bone to pick. I find myself wondering if African-American children carry with them a passion for education and for personal growth. Are we instilling this sort of passion in them or are we simply hoping they stick with it long enough to get a college degree? Could Black History Month become a vehicle for instilling such a passion in blacks and in children of all races?

I am not sure of the percentage of schools across this country that plan to honor Black History Month. Of those that will, I wonder how many move beyond a series of canned lessons based on what some Ph. D. thinks our kids need. How many teachers will find their way outside of their annual lesson plan in an attempt to truly inspire their students to follow in the footsteps of the many great Americans who had the courage to challenge stereotypes? Black history is about great people and until it becomes more than just another month our children will not be able to use the wisdom of our past as a light to guide their future.

As an African-American and a parent I must find a way to instill a passion for learning in my children. Black History Month is a great opportunity to help expand my kids’ horizons. Hopefully by teaching about great men and women of the past I will help my boys will learn a bit about themselves. I pray parents and teachers find ways to use Black History Month as a tool for instilling a passion for education in children of all races. Is it possible that the past might again be an agent for change in the present?