Friday, November 30, 2007

Government Support of a Religion?

For years the ACLU and other similar anti-Christian organizations have spent millions of dollars trying to eliminate God and religion from our society, with varying degrees of success. They fought against any kind of accommodation for Christians in particular, claiming that anything any governmental agency did that might be an accommodation of Christians was an unconstitutional establishment or endorsement of a particular religion. See my earlier posts for an explanation of how the courts have grossly misinterpreted the First Amendment since 1947.

Now we have two interesting situations regarding Islam. One is the establishment of a public school in New York City that is dedicated to teaching Arabic language and culture. Since the dominant religion in the Arab world is Islam, isn’t the City of New York favoring a particular religion? When Bible studies can’t meet in public schools after school, when Christians can’t pray in public schools, when Christmas is obliterated from public schools, when children who write essays on their faith are penalized, now NYC is setting up a school that would appear to promote Islam? I say “promote Islam” because you can’t separate Islam from Arab culture – they are totally intertwined and inseparable. I guess NYC takes separation of “Church” and State literally, and does not consider the Mosque in that category. What NYC doesn’t realize is that the word “Church” isn’t in the constitution, only the word “religion”.

Along the same lines, some public school (I can’t remember where) is either planning to, or already has, installed Islamic foot washing basins to provide Muslim students with the proper way to ritually wash before prayer. This seems like a nice idea, but again, Christians have been prohibited from any kind of religious activity in public schools, including after school (these prohibitions have been challenged and subsequently reversed by courts as an unconstitutional interference with the practice of religion).

Providing such Islamic religious facilities, no matter how innocuous, is like a public school giving rosaries to Catholic students and then giving them time off to say the rosary during school hours. That would never happen! So why is Islam being accommodated by a governmental agency and all other religions are not?

What we are seeing is a double-standard. Accommodating Christians in any way is endorsing religion, but doing the same things for Muslims isn’t. Why is Islam so politically correct and Christianity (and Judaism) aren’t? I don’t understand this mentality. I’m not arguing that Muslims shouldn’t be accommodated in some ways, but then there has to be a reversal of all the discrimination that takes place against Christians. Otherwise all religions aren’t being treated the same, which is then a de facto establishment of a religion.

Please pray for this nation, which is going down so many wrong paths that I fear for its future. Watch for a future post about anti-Semitism.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pro-Life Movie, Bella

Below is a brief movie review. I haven’t seen the movie so I can’t comment from personal experience. You may want to check this movie out.

Bella, a film that won The People’s Choice Award at Toronto’s International Film Festival, is a pro-faith, pro-life and pro-family movie. It deals sensitively but forthrightly with the sanctity of human life, and specifically a young woman’s agonizing decision as to whether or not to abort her unborn child, according to Family Research Council’s The Watchmen Report.

From The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing®, Nov. 16, 2007. © 2007 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Giving Thanks - Part IV

For more on giving thanks to God, please see my earlier posts.

Thanking God in the Old Testament

Giving thanks to God is a recurring and important theme in the Bible, starting with the Old Testament. God wants us to not only worship him as the creator, but also praise and thank him as the giver and sustainer of life. In the Old Testament, God made a provision for thank offerings to him, as we read in Leviticus 7:11-13:

This is the ritual of the sacrifice of the offering of well-being that one may offer to the Lord. If you offer it for thanksgiving, you shall offer with the thank offering unleavened cakes mixed with oil, unleavened wafers spread with oil, and cakes of choice flour well soaked in oil. With your thanksgiving sacrifice of well-being you shall bring your offering with cakes of leavened bread. NRSV

Many years later, King Hezekiah re-instituted proper Jewish religious practices, including the thank offerings, as we read in 2 Chronicles 29:31:

Then Hezekiah said, “You have now consecrated yourselves to the Lord; come near, bring sacrifices and thank offerings to the house of the Lord.” The assembly brought sacrifices and thank offerings; and all who were of a willing heart brought burnt offerings. NRSV

Today we give God our thanks and praise in worship and in prayer, but also by our offerings. Prayer and worship without generous offerings are missing something – words but no action. Moreover, by focusing on our blessings and thanking God for them, we will have a better outlook on life and will be generally happier and more well-adjusted. Do you sincerely thank God in worship and prayer, and most importantly, by your offerings?

Two Examples from the New Testament

As I said before, giving thanks to God is an important aspect of our faith, and we see thanksgiving mentioned often in the New Testament as well. Two examples (out of many) are found in the New Testament.

The Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)

In Luke 17:11-19 we read about how Jesus healed 10 lepers, who presumably were all Jewish except for one Samaritan. It was the Samaritan that, upon noticing he had been healed, returned to Jesus and thanked and praised God for his deliverance from a terrible disease. You can sense the disappointment in Jesus when he asked rhetorically (in Luke 17:17):

“Were not ten healed? Where are the nine? Can none be found to come back and give glory to God except this outsider?” (from The Message paraphrased translation by Eugene Peterson)

Can you imagine God’s disappointment with us?

The Crippled Man (Acts 3:1-11)

The second reading involves a man who was born with some deformity that made him unable to walk all his life. He was reduced to a life of begging. God used Peter as his instrument to heal the guy, and you can immediately see his gratitude as we read in Acts 3:8-9:

The man went into the Temple with them, walking back and forth, dancing and praising God. Everybody there saw him walking around and praising God. (from The Message paraphrased translation by Eugene Peterson)

This healed man knew it wasn’t the power of Peter but the power of God working through the Apostle that healed him. Can’t you just picture this guy jumping and dancing around Peter and John, hugging them and shouting “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord!” He made such a ruckus that he attracted a crowd, as we read in Acts 3:11:

All the people ran up to where they were at Solomon’s Porch to see it for themselves. (from The Message paraphrased translation by Eugene Peterson)

Do you make it a point to publicly give God the praise and glory when good things happen to you?

During this season of thanksgiving, think about gratitude and thanksgiving to God. I hope that as you sat down to Thanksgiving dinner, you remembered Who is the ultimate Source of your blessings, and who owns everything that he gladly shares with us. Let us always and everywhere Praise God from Whom all blessings flow!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Giving Thanks - Part III

For more on giving thanks, please see my earlier post.

We have a lot to be thankful for, even if we do have problems, hardships, grieving, or some other kind of suffering. Thanks for a minute about what you can give thanks for.

In the spiritual realm we should be thankful to God for our relationship with God thru Christ, the Holy Spirit helping and guiding us, our guarantee of a heavenly home, and our ability to do all things through him who strengthens us.

In the physical realm, we also have blessings we should be thanking God for. Living in the good old US of A, we are better off than most of the world’s people. We may not be rich, yet at least our basic needs are being met. The job may not be the best – and may be getting worse – but at least we have income. We have clean water, reliable electricity, good transportation, modern conveniences, and we aren’t in a war zone. We can worship without harassment from the authorities or our neighbors, and we have enough to eat, adequate clothing, and a roof over our heads.

While we have problems – all of us do – we still have many blessings that we can and should thank God for – especially since we don’t really deserve them. So let’s commit to have more of an attitude of gratitude, rejoicing always and thanking God no matter what the circumstances may be – we’ll be happier for it. Have you counted your blessings recently?

Friday, November 23, 2007

Giving Thanks - Part II

See earlier post for the history and true meaning of Thanksgiving Day.

We should be thanking God even in the midst of the problems we have to endure, because consciously giving thanks helps us as well as is the right thing to do. Why? Because if you don’t get the things you want, think of the things you don’t want that you don’t get. Will you commit to pass on to the next generation the true meaning of the holiday by your example and your teaching?

We Don’t Deserve What We Have

One of the reasons people don’t give thanks as they should is that they have a sense of entitlement. Our sense of entitlement and our lack of gratitude to God makes me think: how disappointed God must be in us. We rarely show our gratitude to God for all the blessings we have received – more than we ever deserve (despite what we might think). Part of that lack of appreciation is our own sense of entitlement, and part of it is either attitude or negligence.

Giving Thanks Despite Problems

Some people, of course, just don’t feel blessed – maybe they even feel cheated. Maybe they’ve got poor health, a terrible work situation, a struggle to make ends meet, they recently lost a loved one, have family problems, or maybe a victim of some kind – the list goes on. We’re quick to blame God when things go wrong, but slow to give God the credit, let alone thanksgiving, when things go right. Yet the Apostle Paul tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18:

Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you. NRSV

Of course Paul is saying we should give thanks specifically to God, not just to have some general attitude of thankfulness, and despite our circumstances. Paul explains how it is possible for him to say we should “give thanks in all circumstances” in Philippians 4:11b-13, where he writes:

I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. NRSV

St. Paul, as we all know, had his share of hardships, yet knew he had a lot to be thankful for. We all endure hardships, problems, grieving, and suffering at one point or another – some unfortunately more than others, it seems. Yet like Paul, we still have a lot to be thankful for if we think about it.

Do you give thanks to God, despite your circumstances?

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Giving Thanks (Part I)

With Thanksgiving Day this week, I want to talk a little about how we should give thanks to God, not just on one day a year, but every hour of every day.

The First Thanksgiving

First of all, I want to now briefly discuss the first Thanksgiving at Plymouth, and how it is being distorted today. The Pilgrims were very devout Christians, so they knew the importance of thanking God despite having endured terrible hardships. They are credited with starting this tradition of Thanksgiving Day in the US. However, this observance is almost certainly based on harvest festivals in that go back thousands of years in which people thanks God (or the gods) for a successful harvest. They acknowledged that a greater power was at work on the earth, and they gave thanks and praise for their blessings.

Unfortunately today the true meaning of that first Thanksgiving is being lost in our culture that is striving to eliminate God from everything. I encourage you to teach your children and grandchildren the true meaning of the day to offset the watered-down secularized version they are learning elsewhere. Today children are often taught that the reason the Pilgrims threw this party was to thank the Indians for their crucial help.

The truth is that the local Indians were invited to dinner out of a sense of gratitude for their help, but that wasn’t the purpose of the dinner. The dinner was given in thanksgiving to Almighty God for a successful harvest and for sparing those who did survive that difficult time.

The Pilgrims knew the Hebrew Scriptures, where there is much written about thanking God. The Pilgrims took them very seriously. The idea of giving thanks to God with a feast was inspired by that knowledge of the Bible. In a very real way, the Pilgrims saw themselves, too, as chosen people of God being led to a Promised Land.

At the table, they acknowledged “God’s good providence” and “blessed the God of Heaven who brought us over the furious ocean.” For “what could sustain us but the Spirit of God and His grace?” asked Bradford, their leader. He then quoted Moses, “Our fathers cried unto Him and He heard their voice and looked on their adversity.” (Deuteronomy 26:7)

In addition to proclaiming a day of thanksgiving, as the ancient Hebrews did before them, the Pilgrims praised God’s for his lovingkindness, as found in Psalms 106 and 107 (“Give thanks to the Lord for He is good, for His kindness endures forever”).

Subsequent History

This “thanksgiving” idea took different forms in colonial America. It wasn’t until George Washington, the republic’s first president, proclaimed Nov. 26, 1789, as a day for thanking God for bringing America through its trials, that an official holiday was marked. Washington, as a devout believer, knew with all his heart that America would be blessed only if it acknowledged the Source of all blessings.

Later, in 1863, with the nation torn apart by the Civil War, Lincoln re-instituted the tradition. Then, in 1941, with a global war threatening, Congress established the fourth Thursday of November as the day for Americans to thank God.

Thanksgiving Day isn’t about some vague sense of thankfulness for our good fortune, but we should be specifically expressing our gratitude to God. For what? For his many blessings to us.

More on giving thanks to God in future posts.

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Golden Compass and His Dark Materials

A movie review by Adam R. Holz

We should be aware of what is being mar­keted as “children’s movies” but which are really wolves in sheep’s clothing. I haven’t seen the movie, so all I can do is pass along one person’s opinion (although I have read other articles that are similar to this one). Below is an article of interest.

New Line Cinema insists that it is toning down some of the anti-church messages contained in its movie adaptation of The Golden Compass. But there is still a great deal of reason for concern that these themes will be impossible to eliminate completely. Even if they were, the theatrical celebration of Bill Pullman’s His Dark Materials stories will likely introduce many more viewers to a worldview that’s wholly opposed to the gospel message of Jesus Christ.

Pullman, who has said, “I hate the Narnia books ... with a deep and bitter passion,” has crafted a trilogy wherein the protago­nists confront a wicked and malevolent church and seek to take on and kill a God figure, who’s known as the “Authority.” Those arrayed against the Authority are the story’s heroes — including a 12-year-old girl and boy — and they regularly reflect Pullman’s own antagonistic attitude toward Christianity. “If there is a God,” he says, “and he is as the Christians describe him, then he deserves to be put down and re­belled against.” That message is delivered unmistakably by an ex-nun in the story when she talks about why she renounced her faith in the third book, The Amber Spy­glass: “The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all.”

Another character says, “There may have been a creator, or there may not: We don’t know.” In addition to alternately denying that God can be known and insisting that He should be rebelled against, this fantasy series that targets children also exalts themes of witchcraft, divination, evolution, homosexuality and premarital sex.

From The Pastor’s Weekly Briefing®, Nov. 9, 2007. © 2007, Focus on the Family

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Money Saving Tips

At this time of the year, two things happen:
First, churches talk about stewardship and may have pledge drives.
Second, we become a little more cost-conscious because we are about to be spending money for the holidays, often running up sizable credit card debt.

In addition, we have the challenge of higher prices these days, due mainly to the high cost of oil. Just about everything we buy has to be transported, so the higher cost of oil affects everything. I’m sure you’ve noticed that food is getting more expensive, for example. We have to do something to save some money, so below are some money saving tips.

I am putting these tips in this blog because we are supposed to exercise good stewardship of what God has provided us. We can do that by being wise shoppers, and not saving money wherever we can. Oil isn’t going to get any cheaper and we are probably aren’t going to get a big raise, so we might as well face facts: limit spending and be a wise shopper. There are significant savings opportunities available to us if we invest a little time and do some research. Check out cell phone plans, check out our insurance policies, do research before making a major purchase.

Below are thought-starters as to where there significant savings opportunities:

Telephone Plans
Long Distance: you don’t have to pay for LD calls with proper telephone plan or use cell phone or an inexpensive calling card.
Get cable, phone and high speed internet from same company and get a discount on all three.
Cell phone plans: evaluate various plans and get best one for you given your usage patterns. You shouldn’t be paying for extra minutes.
Home Phone: eliminate if possible if you are away from home all day and have a cell phone.

Car: get a higher deductible, eliminate collision if older car.
Life: buy term when you’re younger and need more insurance, and a whole life or universal life policy for the long haul (maybe paid up at 65).
Homeowners: higher deductible, don’t be over or under insured.
Long term care: consider taking out a policy because we are living longer.

Plan ahead: do one big trip rather than many smaller ones. Car more efficient when engine warm, plus saves miles by planning your trip intelligently.
Carpool if possible: with other parents to and from activities, or to work.
Maintain car well: keep running efficiently (good investment).
Buy used cars, fuel-efficient cars; get smallest car possible that will meet your needs (not desires, but needs).
If purchase car, drive car into the ground – but maintain well for reliability and efficiency.
Lease or buy: analyze options and costs (read fine print).
Get cheapest gas on your way, but don’t go out of the way.
Buy regular, not high-test gas, unless engine knocks.
Use independent mechanic, not dealership, for routine maintenance (unless terms of warranty or lease agreement require use of dealer).
Run errands when less traffic and no school buses.
Don’t transport kids to school, let them take the bus!

House/Energy Use
Set thermostats: cooler in winter/warmer in summer.
Caulk and weather-strip, insulate outlets on outside walls.
Attic and basement: additional insulation as needed.
New windows and outside doors if losing a lot of heat thru them.
Fans for summer: attic fan and/or whole house fan. Makes a big difference.
Energy-saving light bulbs and Energy Star appliances.
Do only full loads of laundry and dishes.
Don’t thoroughly clean dishes before putting in the dishwasher.
Clean off refrigerator coils frequently.
Stand-alone freezer: defrost often if not frost-free; unplug when not being used.
Stop leaking electricity: monitors, cell phone chargers.

Withholding: have correct amount withheld.
Property taxes: look for breaks; challenge reassessment amount if think too high.
Get tax advice if your situation is complicated.
Set up a flexible spending account for medical.
Set up a 401(k): forces savings and is tax sheltered.
Track charitable giving if you itemize.

Money Management
Credit cards: use wisely or keep in a drawer for emergencies only.
Buy only what you can afford and pay off card next month.
Go on austerity budget to pay off all credit card debt.
Invest wisely and be disciplined about savings.
Set up Roth IRA or other kind of tax advantaged plan.
Use a trusted money manager if you don’t have time or skill.

Never pay retail-look for sales for things you need.
Check cash register receipt before leaving store-errors are frequent because store computer not always updated for sale items.
Clip coupons: most supermarkets double manufacturer’s coupons up to 99¢.
Make a list before shopping (no impulse buys!)
Don’t pay for out-of-season fruits and vegetables.
Don’t renew subscriptions or club memberships you don’t read or need.
Buy cheapest model that will do what you want.
Limit eating out: expensive, unhealthy.
Limit heavily processed food: expensive, unhealthy.
Buying Clubs: some items aren’t a bargain, others are.
Quality vs. Cost: do research on the product, more expensive doesn’t always mean better quality.
Christmas: don’t run up credit card debt that can take months to pay down.
Add up savings and give a generous portion to God. Commit to increase giving to church by $________ per week.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Principles of Stewardship – Part IV

For more on stewardship from a Christian perspective, please see my earlier posts.

We generally hear the term “stewardship” only in church, and then usually relating to money. Occasionally we might hear the term used with regard to the earth, as in “We have not exercised good stewardship over the earth.” The term “stewardship”, as I’m sure you all know, refers to managing money or property for someone else, typically the owner. In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), for example, the servants were given stewardship over the money entrusted to them by their master when he went away on a trip.

Today somebody who has stewardship over another’s money or property is an administrator, a money manager, an agent, or an executor if an estate. The legal term, especially relating to money or securities, is “fiduciary.” So those servants in the Parable of the Talents were given a fiduciary responsibility by the master – to manage the funds entrusted to them. Two of the servants took that fiduciary responsibility very seriously, and made money for their master because they cared. The third servant squandered his opportunity, and was rebuked and rejected by the master because of his lack of caring.

Basics of Stewardship

How does this term “stewardship” relate to our money, since it is our money we are talking about, isn’t it? We can look at the concept of stewardship (or a spiritual fiduciary responsibility) in three ways:

1. God owns it all

The first spiritual aspect of stewardship is that God owns it all, so we are really stewards or managers of what God has entrusted to us (we don’t own).
God said in Psalm 50:10-11:

For every wild animal of the forest is mine,
the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the air,
and all that moves in the field is mine. NRSV

So everything belongs to God, not us, despite what we may think. God provides for us out of his abundance, although we certainly have to do our part as well. As Martin Luther said, “God provides the birds with their food, but he doesn’t throw it into their nests.”

So we are responsible and accountable to God for how we have used (or misused) what God entrusted to us. How have you been doing?

2. Our children and grandchildren

A second aspect of stewardship is that we have a responsibility to our children and even grandchildren, as well as our spouse and maybe parents. For example, a man who gambles much of his paycheck away, is being irresponsible, and his wife and children suffer because of it. A less harsh example might be the man who buys himself an expensive TV. It has high definition, 42 inch plasma screen, and surround sound, yet his wife and children desperately need new winter coats.

In both cases these men are not exercising good stewardship, both from a spiritual point of view as well as from a practical point of view. As a matter of fact, these men were being selfish and irresponsible. We should also realize that how we spend our money is being observed by our kids, whether we realize it or not. What values are you passing on to your kids regarding material goods, stewardship, responsibility, and money management?

3. Our own future

The third aspect of stewardship, after being accountable to God and being responsible for our family’s welfare, has to do with our own future. Think about when you retire: will you be prepared? Do you have anything set aside for emergencies? For college?


You should try to save as much money as you can in your dialing living. Costs are going up, due mainly to higher energy costs, so it is important to save as much money as you can. Save energy especially, which has benefits beyond just saving you money, but be prudent in other expenditures as well. Remember, however, that I’m not saying you should become a cheapskate. What I’m saying is that you should be wise in how you spend your money, not wasting it – in other words, exercising good stewardship. We should be generous when generosity is called for, but be prudent in daily living. We often tend to be generous with ourselves (“I deserve it”) and less than generous with others and with the church. It should be the reverse as we are told in Hebrews 13:16:

Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God. NRSV

The Apostle Paul advised the following in 1 Timothy 6:17-19:

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. NRSV

These and many other passages echo what Jesus teaches us in Matthew 6:19-34, which can be summarized like this:
Don’t store up treasures on earth – too easy to lose and can’t take it with you.
You cannot be the slave of two masters – usually money will win out.
Don’t worry about having something to eat, drink, or wear.
Don’t keep asking yourselves, “Will we have anything to eat? Will we have anything to drink? Will we have any clothes to wear?”
Don’t worry about tomorrow.

I suggest that you begin a program that will free up significant amounts of cash each month. In that way you can offset the higher costs you can’t control, use less of those things that are costly, and free up enough cash to increase your offerings to your church and donations to charities. God wants us to use the resources he’s given us wisely and responsibly, and expects us to give to God our first fruits. Giving generously to God becomes a lot easier when financial pressures are eased, so that’s why I am suggesting better money management.

Let’s commit follow the advice of Jesus, who told us to stop worrying about our needs and trust in God. Jesus tells us in today’s Gospel (Matthew 6:32-34):

Your Father in heaven knows that you need all of these. But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. CEV

Let’s commit to store up treasures in heaven, where they will be secure, and where rewards await us. Make your life on earth rich by being content with what God has given to you, making it a priority to serve God with your time, talent, and treasure.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Principles of Stewardship – Part III

For more on the principles relating to giving to the Lord, please see Parts I and II in earlier posts.

In Part II, I mentioned the fourth point in the Parable of the Talents, the element of sacrifice. This means that we shouldn’t give to God something that really costs us little or nothing. God expects sacrifice on our part. Let me explain.

If we give very little to God that essentially costs us nothing, what is that saying about our love for God, our willingness to honor God, and about our faith in God? A good example of being willing to incur a cost involves King David. King David went up to the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite, located on a hill just outside of Jerusalem (at that time), to offer to buy it from him. He wanted to buy it so he could build an altar to the Lord, so that God would stop a plague that was upon the people. We read about this transaction in 2 Samuel 24:21-25:

Araunah said, “Why has my lord the king come to his servant?”
David said, “To buy the threshing floor from you in order to build an altar to the Lord, so that the plague may be averted from the people.”
Then Araunah said to David, “Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him; here are the oxen for the burnt offering, and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king.”
And Araunah said to the king, “May the Lord your God respond favorably to you.”
But the king said to Araunah, “No, but I will buy them from you for a price; I will not offer burnt offerings to the Lord my God that cost me nothing.”
So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. NRSV

Three things to note in this story of Araunah the Jebusite and King David:

First, Araunah was gracious and offered the king his livelihood for free. This shows honor to both David and the God he served, and this from a guy who wasn’t even Jewish.

Second, David refused to acquire something for the Lord that cost him nothing, but insisted that he pay fair market value for the land. Anything we give for God’s work or any time we spend doing God’s work should have a cost to be truly acceptable to the Lord.

Third, that threshing floor on a hill became the location of the temple that David’s son and successor, Solomon, built. Today that threshing floor lies under the temple mount in Jerusalem, perhaps the holiest place in the world. David getting that site for no cost would have cheapened such a special place.

For example, imagine giving a present to someone you love. Let’s say it was a big birthday and you give this person a Rolex, something he or she had always wanted. He or she thanks you profusely for your extraordinary generosity, and is thrilled you cared enough to buy the very best. Then you admit that it cost you nothing – you found it on a sink in a public restroom at the airport in Minneapolis. How do you think your loved one would feel? Cheated? Unloved? Dishonored? Are you willing to incur a cost to serve the Lord with your offerings and your time?

Free Up Money

Increasing our offerings to the Lord involves faith, trust, and some amount of risk-taking. Of course we don’t view it as risk-taking if our faith and trust in God is strong, because we know that God will take care of us – he promised. We are to show our trust in God by writing that first check out to the church.

Despite the uncertainties of life, we have been blessed by God beyond measure in many different ways, and we have so much to be thankful to God for. As an act of praise and thanksgiving, God calls us to use our resources for God’s work, as well as be an example for other people with our generosity. You may ask, How can we give more when costs are going up, and things might get even tighter financially? Of course the church is experiencing those same problems – it isn’t immune from increasing costs. There are many ways you can free up cash if you really focus on saving money. It might take a little research, but you could save significant money each month if you really try. Maybe it will mean some sacrifice and doing without, but isn’t it worth having fewer financial problems?

We Are Accountable

In the meantime, think about when you come face to face with Jesus, which is the image presented in the Parable of the Talents when the master returned home. Christians get to heaven on our faith in Jesus, but believers are judged and given rewards according to their faithfulness on earth. Do you want Jesus to say to you:
“Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!”

You certainly don’t want him saying to you:
“I gave you so much. Why did you squander it on frivolous things?”
“Why did you not serve me and honor me as you should have with the time, talents, and treasure I entrusted to you?”

Monday, November 12, 2007

Principles of Stewardship – Part II

For more on the principles relating to giving to the Lord, please see Part I in an earlier post.

Parable of the Talents

Looking at the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30) in context, the main theme is that we are accountable to God (“the master of those servants returned and settled accounts”). We are accountable to God for what he has entrusted to us: our lives, our time, our resources, our abilities, and the earth.

We should understand that the term “talent” as used in this parable refers to a unit of measure, not an ability or gift. A talent was a unit of weight, like a pound, kilogram, or shekel; in this case referring to a weight of silver (the Greek word translated as “money” in the passage means silver money). A talent represented a large weight, so five talents of silver was worth a small fortune. We read in verse 15:

To one he gave five talents of money, to another two talents, and to another one talent, each according to his ability.

I want to briefly discuss four main points in this parable that are relevant for us today:

1. Proportional Giving

The first point in the parable is that each servant was given an amount of money to manage “each according to his ability”. In tithing we have proportional giving – you are expected to give 10% of what you earn, not some arbitrary fixed amount that wouldn’t make any sense. In terms of giving, more is expected of Donald Trump, let’s say, than of us, as Jesus indicated in Luke 12:48b:

From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded. NRSV

Do you just tip God, or give God a decent percentage of your income?

2. Didn’t Honor His Master

The second point in this parable is that the third servant, the one who buried his talent of silver, didn’t care about his master, so he did nothing with the money. The other two servants worked diligently to earn their master a good return, while the third servant didn’t even bother to place the money in the bank. The third servant wasted an opportunity to honor his master and probably receive a little praise for himself. Do you honor God by giving of your time, talents, and money? Do you equate giving with praising and honoring God?

3. Taking a Risk

The third point of this parable is that the third servant was unwilling to take any kind of risk for the sake of his master. The other servants did take risks – they could have made a bad investment and lost their master’s money. But they cared for the master so that they were willing to take the risk. I think that’s our problem today – we aren’t willing to take a risk and give more money to God through his church. Why? Because we’re afraid we won’t have enough money left to pay the bills, or to buy some of the things we want, or we might have to sacrifice something. Are you willing to step out in faith, trusting in God’s provision?

4. Sacrifice

The last point in this parable of the talents, after proportional giving, honoring the master, and risk-taking, is the element of sacrifice. The two diligent servants must have made some sacrifice and incurred some cost in getting a good return on their investments. I don’t know what all would have been involved, but I’m sure it took a lot of time and effort to double the money entrusted to them. The master’s rebuke of the third servant who simply dug a hole says it all: “You wicked, lazy servant!” (Matthew 25:26a, NIV)

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Principles of Stewardship – Part I

At this time of the year all churches are preparing their budgets, and some churches have pledge drives. Stewardship sermons are given. Below are some principles from both the Old Testament Law and from Jesus’ Parable of the Talents. God in the Old Testament, and Jesus in the Gospels, speak often about giving to the Lord, so it is an important topic and a key spiritual discipline.

We read about King Hezekiah’s religious reforms in 2 Chronicles 31:5-6:

As soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, new wine, oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything…
The men of Israel and Judah, who lived in the towns of Judah, also brought a tithe of their herds and flocks and a tithe of the holy things dedicated to the Lord their God, and they piled them in heaps.

Old Testament Commands

In that reading from the Hebrew Bible, we read about part of King Hezekiah’s religious reform of the nation. Unfortunately, God’s people had degenerated to syncretism and paganism. “Syncretism” is the mixing of various religions.

In the Law of Moses (called the Torah, the first 5 books of the Bible), the Lord gave specific instructions to the Israelites regarding their religious practices. Regarding giving to the Lord, the Israelites were to give both the first fruits of their crops, and a tithe, which is 10% of their income. When Hezekiah re-instituted this practice, the people responded generously and willingly in obedience to God’s Law. After living in pagan darkness for so long, they were pleased to be honoring and worshipping the one true God. Even though this involved giving a portion of their crops to the Lord, they were joyfully obedient – even enthusiastic – and were blessed by it.

How should we view giving and serving from a Christian perspective?
Not as a duty, but as a privilege.
Not so much religious as spiritual.
Not so much giving to appease God as a humble act of thanksgiving.
Not so much to meet the needs of the church as an act of faith and trust in God.

1. First Fruits

Let me briefly explain the two key concepts of first fruits, and tithing. As Christians, we are no longer under the Jewish ceremonial law, which governed the religious practices necessary for the Israelites to find favor with God. However, some of the principles we find in the ceremonial law are carried over to Christianity because they transcend any one particular religion, time, or place. This is the case with the concept of first fruits.

Looking at first fruits in a modern context, we should be writing the first check out of our paycheck to God. In giving to God first, we are showing our trust in God to make that paycheck last to meet our needs (doesn’t our money even say, “In God We Trust”?) It also acknowledges that God is our provider, who will honor our faith and trust. Do you give God what is right, or what is left?

2. Tithing

In addition to the concept of first fruits there is tithing. Tithing acknowledges that everything is God’s to begin with, and we are honoring God by giving back at least 10% of what he has entrusted to us. All the earth is God’s, including anything that we think we own, as we read in psalm 24 (from the more traditional version, the KJV):

The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein. (Psalm 24:1)

As with first fruits, tithing is an outward sign of your inner faith and trust in God. That’s why I refer to our giving as an act of worship – it is acknowledging our trust in God’s provision, giving him thanks for all he has done, and praising him. Giving 10% back to God isn’t much when you consider how God has blessed you. Moreover, God expects much less than the government forces you to give to it. Do you look at giving to God as a privilege and act of worship?

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Get a Life!

Below are two articles of possible interest to you. After reading these articles, I have to wonder, Don’t these people have anything better to do than clog the courts with such frivolous lawsuits? This is a waste of time, waste of resources, and downright harassment. Could the suggestion “get a life” be applied to these people?

Atheists Sue

Two atheist families in Denver, Colo., with children in the Cherry Creek Schools, are suing the school district over a character-development program which has been in the schools since the 1990s. The program’s material references, “My family participates in a religious or spiritual community” as one of 40 “Developmental Assets” to help young people become responsible and healthy adults. Schools spokeswoman Tustin Amole said, “the district is confident the project is not illegal because it does not mandate participation in religious activity.”

Quoted from Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, October 26, 2007. © 2007, Focus on the Family
All rights reserved

Flag-Folding Narration Banned from Veterans’ Funerals

Families’ First Amendment rights stripped following one complaint.

Flag-folding recitations by Memorial Honor Detail volunteers are now banned at the nation’s 125 veterans’ cemeteries because of one complaint at California’s Riverside National Cemetery, The Associated Press reported.

“One disgruntled narcissist has caused a complete ban affecting 300 million Americans,” Rees Lloyd with the Defense of Veterans Memorials Project told Family News in Focus. “We think it’s an outrage, and we intend to fight it.”

During thousands of military burials, the volunteers have folded the American flag 13 times and recited the significance of every fold.
The first fold represents life, the second a belief in eternal life, and so on.

The complaint revolved around the narration in the 11th fold, which celebrates Jewish war veterans and “glorifies the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.”

The National Cemetery Administration then decided to ban the entire recital at all national cemeteries. Details of the complaint weren’t disclosed.

Administration spokesman Mike Nacincik said the policy, outlined in a Sept. 27 memorandum, is aimed at creating uniform services throughout the military graveyard system.

Romey Kilgore, founder of United We Serve, called it a slap in the face to the military.

“Our American veterans, they’ve fought and died for our beliefs and our right to express them,” she said. “We owe them nothing less than that.”

The policy change is on shaky legal ground, according to Doug Napier with the Alliance Defense Fund.

“Veterans and their families have First Amendment rights just like everyone else,” he said. “They shouldn’t be curtailed because one person complains.”

Quoted from Citizenlink™, Oct. 29, 2007. © 2007 Focus on the Family Action, Inc.

Update on the flag folding issue:

A nationwide uproar has caused the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to “clarify” its position – and allow the mention of God back into the flag-folding ceremony at military funerals.

A VA official had pulled the recitation from ceremonies at national cemeteries last month after a single complaint was filed with the White House over the phrase accompanying the 11th fold that mentions “the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob,” Fox News reported.

Quoted from Citizenlink™, Oct. 31, 2007. © 2007 Focus on the Family Action, Inc.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Criminal Charges Brought Against Planned Parenthood

Below is a news item of interest. Remember this article when Planned Parenthood speaks so self-righteously about caring for women and their rights. After reading this article, one has to wonder about their ethics.

Johnson County, Kansas, District Attorney Phill Kline charged the Overland Park Planned Parenthood clinic last week with providing unlawful late-term abortions, failure to determine viability and failure to maintain records. According to Kansas state law, abortion is legal only when a doctor affirms that the baby is not viable outside the womb. And, if the baby could live, then two doctors must agree that the abortion is necessary to protect the mother’s physical or mental health.

Peter Brownlie, president and chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, told the Associated Press that the clinic doesn’t perform any abortions past the 22nd week of pregnancy. “We always provide high-quality care in full accord with state and federal law,” said Brownlie.

The 107-count criminal complaint filed by Kline includes 23 felony counts which allege that Planned Parenthood submitted false “pregnancy termination reports” to a court on Aug. 21 in response to a subpoena. District Court Judge James S. Vano agreed that there was probable cause to think crimes had been committed and set a hearing for Nov. 16.

Planned Parenthood, which is the nation’s largest abortion provider and operates 859 clinics, performed a record 264,943 abortions in fiscal year 2005-2006, while making a profit of $55.8 million. Planned Parenthood received $305.3 million in federal funding that year, which amounts to about one-third of the organization’s budget.

Quoted from Pastor’s Weekly Briefing, October 26, 2007. © 2007, Focus on the Family
All rights reserved.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

New Jersey abortion clinics not inspected, few states are

Below is a news item of interest. Remember this article when Planned Parenthood speaks so self-righteously about caring for women and their rights. What about their safety?

by Steve Jordahl

The state has four clinics that perform late term abortions. Three of the four have gone five or more years without a state health inspection. When she discovered that an abortion clinic in Englewood, New Jersey was shut down because a woman almost died from a botched abortion, Marie Tasy of New Jersey Right to Life asked that other clinics be looked into as well.

“When they went in they found all kinds of filthy conditions and un-sterile conditions. They found blood crusted on forceps and blood on the operating tables.” The state’s largest abortion clinic is still being ignored by state health inspectors. “Planned Parenthood of central New Jersey, which is one of their main operating Planned Parenthoods in the tri-state area, has not been inspected for at least seven years.”

Alabama law requires clinic inspections. Eric Johnston of the Southeast Law Institute says even that doesn’t guarantee timely inspections. “And because they didn’t make those inspections, the clinics were just operating basically the way they wanted to. We found that was in violation of a number of the regulations.”

Denise Burke of Americans United for Life says inspected abortion clinics are the exception rather than the rule. “Despite the fact that 27 states have some degree of abortion clinic regulation requiring some sort of state oversight and inspection, we are finding that a significant majority of states are not fulfilling their inspection duties.”

Increasing the danger to the mother.

Quoted from Family News in Focus, © 2007 Focus on the Family Action, Inc.,