Friday, May 24, 2013


   So who do you get mad at when you don't have enough?  Do you get mad at God, the Elders, the congregation, your wife, or do you blame yourself?  Being a pastor, or a person in ministry, puts one in a peculiar position when it comes to needing more money or an increase in salary or pay.
    Money, the need and desire for it, does lots of strange things to people. When we are lacking in resources we can become afraid, fall into worry, and that anxiety can easily spill into self-pity or anger.  It is one thing to be a layperson who is frustrated with his or her boss due to lack of adequate income, but what do you do when the people of  God are those who are supposed to pay your salary?  
    Pastors and ministry leaders often take confusing (sometimes just bad) approaches to this problem, and if you are blessed and have a comfortable income then maybe you will have no appreciation for this issue.  Take heed that someday your real character traits might be revealed if and when you fall into financial stress.  Here are some tips:
1.  The way you think about money, spend, give or withhold generosity, go into debt, or complain are not symptoms of your wealth but of your spirituality (or lack thereof). 
2.  Resources come from God, not people, and as soon as you forget that you are in trouble.
3.  Anger, self-pity, or blame shifting due to financial problems are  not signs of faith.
4.  "Poor mouthing" to the congregation about your financial problems from the pulpit is manipulation and not a sign of integrity. A preacher has the power to use the pulpit to get members to give him private gifts, over and above his agreed compensation, and this is shameful.  
5.  It is necessary and right to clearly communicate to those who decide on your income about your financial situation, and your need for more compensation, if that should be the case.  How you communicate your needs will tell them much about the condition of your heart and will either increase their loyalty or drive them away.
6.  You have to decide if you are a "hireling" or an "owner" of the ministry to which God has called you.  If you are simply an employee you will think like one, grieve when not rewarded adequately, complain, blame the church, and eventually forfeit your right to lead them.
7.  You are expected to call the people to discipleship in their giving, but you must practice what you preach and lead by example.  If you call for faithfulness, sacrifice, or tithing you had better be doing it too.
8.  It is good and necessary to develop relationships with the wealthy members of your church, as with everyone.  Relating to the wealthy means you can "command" them to be rich in good deeds, as  you should.  If they seek to help you personally that is a blessing, as long as it is legal before government and without compromise of the ministry of the Word.  If you direct their primary giving to yourself and not the ministry you are being unethical.  Don't be guilty of hiding income from the government.
9.  If you are married and have a family your family has to share in your faith, and not drive you to fear or anger because you can't meet their demands.  Your qualification for leadership is revealed in the way you lead your family.  If you do not have the faith or the ability to live under the terms of the "call" you received don't accept it.  
10.  Don't translate your frustration with finances due to your consumer needs (including paying for Christian Education), falling into debt, unforeseen vehicle, medical, or other needs as a lack of God's love or a lack of care by the congregation.  Stop comparing yourself with the wealthiest members of the church and start comparing yourself with the poorest.  If God takes care of sparrows he will take care of you, trust him!
11.  No two congregations are the same so be very careful about salary comparison. Envy is not a good motive to jack up your salary.  If you think the primary financial mission of the congregation is to keep you in a comfortable lifestyle you have obviously missed what the church is supposed to be about.  Your quality of life goals: the size and beauty of your house, year, make, model and number of your cars, private education for your kids, graduate studies for yourself, etc.  are not the responsibility of your church.  They are perks, blessings, things to save and strive for, but not leverage for you to demand more income.
12.  You are worthy of your hire and the congregation should strive to adequately take care of you and your family, but you must measure the pressure you put on them with the understanding that believers should not give to God out of necessity or compulsion, but with cheerfulness. Part of their cheerfulness will come from seeing how gracious and loving you are, especially when you are stressed about money.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Gunshots In An Airplane

    I may be guilty of some sarcasm in this piece.  I'm not sure but let's start with this idea, since there are so many of us Christians, and we have no real enemies in the world, we can afford to take each other apart in pen and word, attempt to destroy each other's credibility, slander, besmirch, and ridicule without regard to consequences.
    Since the only real problems in culture, society, and the world are those caused by stupid, ignorant, or misguided preachers, blog and article writers, or authors who claim to be Christians we can spend most of our time attempting to dismantle their annoying opinions; especially if we feel they are in the least heretical, liberal, or just sloppy.  We can call them names, albeit in an intellectual way so as to make ourselves look incisive.  We can align them with known malefactors of condemned periods of church history, or even of despised current splinter groups, so that they couldn't possibly be taken seriously.
    Now, let me state straightforwardly that there are bad opinions and bad ideas and these things do have consequences.  There is orthodoxy, and thus there is heresy.  Bad ideas in fact have and can destroy individuals, families, congregations, denominations, and nations.  I really have no problem with identifying bad  ideas, and sometimes bad guys.  What bothers me is a cavalier attitude to the plane in which we are flying.
    I have never been on an airplane that was being hijacked.  I hope I never have to be in that situation.  My hope is that if such a thing did happen there would be a Sky Marshal on board who would protect us from the perpetrator.  I even hope the marshal is armed, but I really hope he/she is well armed and can shoot straight.  Have you ever seen one of those movies where the plane is depressurized?   A hole is ripped in the aircraft and things and people start flying out.  I have sometimes had apprehension of such when using the   toilets at 40,000 feet on an international flight.
    I think we Christians are on such a flight, and we are on it together.  We travel through the atmosphere of a foreign environment, and can easily forget how fragile the aircraft is in which we fly.  I think the way we treat each other sometime in public discourse is akin to untrained Sky Marshals who shoot at anyone who even gets out of their seat.  I think institutions are fragile things, and I also think that much of the younger generation knows little of how much effort, sacrifice, and discipline it takes to create them and hold them together.  I believe local churches are such fragile institutions, and Christian institutions like schools, colleges, denominations.  For a generation who has become enamored with creating virtual cities and empires, and can then erase them when bored, there seems little at stake in making no long term commitments to organizations and institutions, nor even loyalty to friends and brothers.
    Of course, there could be something said simply about learning how to love one another, " is kind,.  It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  it is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres."  (I Cor. 13:4-7) NIV
    I like and enjoy things that are well written.  I enjoy humor, insightful critique, and even sarcasm.  I just know that sometimes we shoot too quick, too frequently, without aiming well and seem to have little thought of the damage and danger in which we all are placed.  I would think the atmosphere outside the plane was enough for us to be concerned about, but if there is danger on the plane, let's make sure our shots are well placed.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

What is your definition of Normal?

    As I read various articles on the "normal" Christian life, and debates on whether or not we should call people to be "radical" it leaves me a bit puzzled.  I am just wondering where all these so-called "radical" want-to-be Christians are anyway?  It just doesn't seem to be a real problem.  Are people rushing into cities to save them, or save the people of the cities?  I just sort of feel left out, like I missed the stampede.
    I see gentrification sure enough.  I see young white people moving into cities and pushing to get jobs, internships, fellowships, etc.  I see them living pretty much normal middle class jobs, or attempting to break into business, education, or government careers.   Is that radical?  I thought it was just attempting to maintain the status quo, and in that I see very little prospect of Kingdom witness, let alone transformation of the cities, especially among the poor.
    Not that I despise these young Christian adults who want to make a cultural impact on the city, or the world.  Not at all, it is just that I would love to see them become part of churches that really want to include the poor in their church life, which is to say to include them in their economic, social, and cultural lives.  I would love to see the average, normal, middle class urban Christian be part of a church that makes the poor part of their family life, and not simply a service project.
    Of course to do that one has to have a vision beyond one's self, beyond the "normal" way of doing church or doing life.  One can be as isolated from the poor in the cities as in the suburbs.  It is not a new piece of data to realize the place with the fastest growth of poverty is in the suburbs, or at least selected suburbs.  Where else are the displaced supposed to go if no one has fought to provide a place for them to stay in the cities close to the services they need but now can't reach?
    Market forces aren't the only thing that can determine where people can live, sometimes vision that goes beyond a fast profit, that includes set asides, that includes preserving communities can actually create new circumstances.  I think the poor need the middle class, and they don't just need them to move in and be a good neighbor.  Loving your neighbor as yourself is absolutely essential, but the poor have always needed a more aggressive love than that since their lives have become so dysfunctional. Preaching the Gospel to the poor creates certain relationship implications.  That is one reason churches of thirty something middle class people who move into poor communities with no overall church strategy or vision to do mercy and development with wisdom and care invite their members to become exhausted.  The really poor are too much for them, if they just live "normal" lives among them.  The end result can be a new callous detachment, and a cynical fatigue by being overwhelmed by systemic issues and problems.
   I would like to be a Biblical person myself, in the whole counsel of that idea.   Intensely pious in my love for Jesus, broken in my need for mercy and grace, loving in my relationship with all men and especially my brothers in the Faith, and full of faith and action when it comes to mercy and justice.  I want to be as extreme as Jesus in calling people to follow him, since I take it I am an just an echo of his call.  I expect to have to pull my own weight, to get an education, to hold a job, to support my family, to participate in my local church, to be a good citizen.  I also expect that I, and all who name Jesus as Lord, would seek those good works to do which he has ordained for us to do, and not just assume that caring for myself and my own is all that Jesus asks for me to do.  That would take a forced deafness, a determined distortion of Scripture, and an all too selfish agenda.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The News Gets Depressing

   It was one of those days where the culmination of one depressing cultural erosion after another just gives you a sense of sadness and dreams of revolution.  The horrible story of the Philadelphia abortion doctor, and then President Obama praising Planned Parenthood.  Then the basketball player telling the world about his sexual preferences, and tying it in with his Christian background, then President Obama calling and congratulating him.  Then a sports commentator expressing his disagreement with the practice of homosexuality while expressing tolerance for a fellow athlete, then being attacked and dissed by various organizations for his so called "hate."
    Then I see news of the Pentagon hearing from a certain individual, who thinks that open Christian witness and proselytizing is evil and dangerous, and wants to limit the behavior of military Chaplains.  It is pretty amazing how powerful simple name calling is when it comes to attempting to marginalize Evangelicals.  Mike calls us "monsters."
    On top of that I watched an NBA game and saw that hockey rules have evidently been introduced into playoff games, such as the physical beating going on at the Warriors versus Pistons game. Man, what is happening to the world?  Obviously some of these things are more important than others, some more evident of cultural erosion, some more telling of the death of morality and Truth and the elevation of worship at the idol of "freedom."
    Freedom is such a wonderful and beautiful thing, but without definition it is any man's weapon not simply to be but to take whatever he self-defines as his.  Freedom without foundation, without boundaries,  is no freedom at all but the colliding of electron like individuals, movements and causes, that tend to smash what would give them direction or form.
    Sometimes I feel the fuse burning of anger in my reaction to the maligning, slandering, mocking voice of those who (ignorant of history, ignorant of the constitution, ignorant of what is built on what) declare the patriot, the faithful citizen, the meek religious obedient tax payer to be dangerous and an enemy due to his audacity to express his religious opinion of what is disintegrating around him.  Wow, that was a long sentence.
   Today I was reading in the book of Psalms, Psalm 92 specifically.  "The senseless mean does not know, fools do not understand, that though the wicked spring up like grass and all evildoers flourish, they will be forever destroyed.  But you, O Lord, are exalted forever.  For surely your enemies, O Lord, surely your enemies will perish; all evildoers will be scattered."  (92:6-9)  Another version translated "senseless" as "stupid."  I took it  that God was calling me stupid, and after thinking about it I would have to agree with him.  I often forget that God is bigger than America, bigger than politics or cultural movements, bigger than loud mouth antagonists of my faith.  My anger is usually a sign of my weak faith in the fact that our sovereign God cannot be defeated or thwarted.  No plan can succeed against him.
    Oh, I do think culture and politics matter, and I think the weak, helpless, and children perish because of the injustice that is brought about by evil thinking.  Yet, my hope must be in a God who is still in control, and will be in control even if someone threw someone else in a fiery furnace for not bowing down to an idol.  "our God will deliver us O King, and even if he does not, we will not bow down."  (The book of Daniel).