Thanks to All the Golfing For Jessica Sponsors

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Oakland Presbyterian Church would like to publicly thank all the individuals and business that sponsored the Golfing For Jessica Tournament on May 30, 2015.

You're generous donations insure that Jessica Williams, a beloved member of our family, will have the transportation she needs to make it to medical appointments and Sunday morning church services. For 21 years now, you all have helped us be family to Jessica and her family. Thank you for being the Church. 

 

First Citizens Bank of Smithfield, NC
Swift Creek Nursery
Helen and Lanny Thomas
Keith and Sue Braswell
Deacon Jones Auto Park
Don and Mary Williford
Steve and Jane LaRue
Hamm's Paint & Body Shop of Four Oaks, NC
Dennis and Norma Blackmon
Gloria Barnes
Jane Lee
Zack's Char-Grill of Smithfield, NC
Charlie's BBQ & Grille
Wanda Watkins
Jim and Brenda Abbott
D. Christie Salon
First Financial Bank of Wilmington
Joe and Vicki Austin
Jeff Swick
P. J. Auto Services Inc. of Benson, NC
J L Coates Garage of Willow Springs, NC
Char Lynn Plant Center
Breeden Law Firm
Fox Tale Stables
Duke and Ann Lee
Karl Barbee
Michael Kleingger
wasteAWAY, Inc.
Thomas R. Parrish
Paul and Katherine Nappen
Memory Lane Car Club
Bill Yelvington
Farm Bureau Insurance and Art Watkins
Cleveland School Rotary Club
John Scovil
A. A. Collier
Light and Truth Counseling and Claire Ruth

How are Plagues Gospel?

How are Plagues Good News?

Off the top of my head, I could not tell you what the 10 Plagues teach us about God other than "don't mess with the boss," but I hope by Sunday, May 17 at 1PM, we all will have an answer to that question. Believe it or not, I’ve never preached through the 10 Plagues, but with the Youth of our Church leading us in a meditation of the 10 Plagues this coming Sunday, I wanted to take some time and think through how these 10 supernatural disasters are in fact “Good News.” 

So today, I just want to point out 4 things that are standing out to me so far in Days 1&2 of our Bible Reading (Ex 6:28-8:32).

will know that I am the LORD.

My first question about the plagues, is basically, "Why did God send such terrible disasters upon Egypt as a whole and not just on Pharaoh?" Well, to that question, our God says, “Then the Egyptians will know that I am the LORD” (Ex 7:5). The first thing that God reminds Moses is, “I am the LORD” (Ex 6:29). Similar lines appear later in 8:10, “Then you will know that there is no one like the LORD our God,” and 8:22, “Then you will know that I, the LORD, am in this land.” While to modern sensibilities these plagues seem like harsh judgment at best, and cruel blanket punishment at worst, God says again and again that through them, the Egyptians will come to know that YHWH is the LORD. The Hebrew God, YHWH is the one true God who gives life and takes it away. The Egyptians will see this God, and so in a sense the plagues will show both the power and the mercy of a God. The Plagues provide Egyptians, individually and corporately, with an opportunity to believe, to worship, to repent. They will have a chance to worship YHWH or to continue worshipping the Egyptian gods their families have historically worshipped.

REFLECTION QUESTION: What events or even tragedies have revealed God as LORD in your life? How did you come to know that I am the LORD? How have you had to choose between worshipping YHWH and worshipping the “gods” your family has historically served?

Let my people go. Then they will be able to worship me.

"Black sheep-1" by Jesus Solana from Madrid, Spain - Black sheep . Do u also feel different? // la Oveja negra. Tambien te sientes diferente?Uploaded by Petronas. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Black_sheep-1.jpg#/media/File:Black_sheep-1.jpgSecond, God repeatedly commands Pharaoh, through Moses and Aaron, “Let my people go. Then they will be able to worship me” (Ex 7:16, 8:1, 8:20). Notice that there is something about being in Egypt that prevents the Israelites from worshipping. So, why can’t the Israelites worship in Egypt? That’s a great question. I can think of a couple reasons. The first is very practical. According to Genesis 46:34, the Egyptians abhor sheep and shepherds. Sheep are to Egyptians what pigs are to Israelites. But Israelites must offer sheep as sacrifices to YHWH, and as told in Ex 8:26-27, the Egyptians will find this detestable and most likely massacre the offenders. So practically, they can’t worship God in the way God has commanded them (i.e. spotless lamb sacrifices) so long as they are in a country where sheep are detestable. But even more than that, I think there are other reasons they can’t worship in Egypt. I think one of the main reasons is that they are slaves. It is hard to worship when you’re captive (especially to the false gods of Egypt). Remember, Pharaoh has increased the Israelite workload tremendously; maybe they are too busy or too exhausted to worship.

            Lastly, it seems like the Israelites might be wondering if YHWH is actually the most powerFUL God since they are the most powerLESS people.

REFLECTION QUESTION: What is keeping you from worshipping? Is it possible for you to worship where you are? Are you so dominated by someone that worships false gods that it is destroying your ability to worship? Are you too busy or too tired to offer YHWH worship? Does your current life situation cause you to doubt YHWH’s power and care?

 The magicians did the same thing by their secret arts.

1024px-Frogs_for_saleThe third and fourth things sticking out to me are connected, like two sides of the same coin. The Egyptian “magicians” often mimic the miracles and plagues (staffs into snakes, and Nile into blood, and frogs), but when they do so they only compound the problem. I don’t know how they perform these wonders, but the Bible (even the New Testament) acknowledges that there are spirits capable of performing miracles, even the Devil, himself, performs miracles to trap men in the worship false gods. Still, what amazes me is that the magicians/priests actually make the problem worse. You’re in a palace with a spitting cobra, the last thing you need is 10 more spitting cobras. You’re in a country where all the water is blood, and you turn the only fresh water you can find into blood?! You’re in a country filled to the brim with frogs, so many frogs you can’t even cook dinner, and your priests actually make more frogs?!

            If they wanted to show the power of the Egyptian gods, what the priests should have done was remove the plagues. If the Egyptian gods were more powerful or even as powerful as YHWH, the priests would have turned the snake into a worm, the blood back into water, and shepherded all the frogs back into the river! But instead, these priests and their false gods make the problems worse. They have power, but only the power to amaze and destroy. Tellingly, just after the magician priests bring up more frogs (8:7), Pharaoh calls Moses and Aaron to beg them to pray to YHWH to take away the frogs (8:8). He has to see the folly in making more frogs when what they really need is a solution to the frogs. 

The LORD did what Moses asked.

The fourth observation is only YHWH ever abates the plagues. YHWH takes away every plague. Pharaoh repeatedly asks Moses to pray to YHWH to remove the plagues, and YHWH does. That is amazing grace, if I were in charge of the world, I wouldn't take the plagues away until the Israelites were all the way into the Promised Land. This is mercy, because pure judgment, would have destroyed Egypt like it did Sodom and Gomorrah. But, God wants the Egyptians to know that YHWH is Lord and is both just and merciful. So, it is YHWH not the Egyptian gods or Pharaoh’s public works that bring relief. AND PHARAOH KNOWS IT. Pharaoh’s petitions for prayer prove that he is realizing “I am the LORD,” but knowledge IS NOT faith. One can know God is God and not trust God. One can know Jesus is Lord, and still choose to be a self-led person, but it only compounds the plagues already present. For Pharaoh to submit to God, will cost him financially, and will require him to acknowledge that he was wrong religiously and politically. Perhaps his pride is keeping him from faith. Or perhaps he is presuming upon God's mercy, even though he has not intention of changing at all.

REFLECTION QUESTIONS: Where am I trying to fight fire with fire and only making problems worse? Where am I trying to solve problems “my way” instead of praying to God to fix them? Are there areas of my life where I know God is God, but I don’t live like I can trust him to lead my life? Are there areas of my life where pride keeps me from faith? Are their areas where I pray for God's mercy and forgiveness, but I persist in my stubbornness?

Family Meeting

Last night, Oakland held its first of two Family Meetings to inform you all of 2 significant changes in the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s, our mother denomination’s, constitution. First, the PC(USA) adopted THE BELHAR CONFESSION as an official doctrinal document. It is a South African, anti-Apartheid confession expressing the Christian faith.

Secondly, the Presbyterian Church (USA), our mother denomination, now allows Pastors and Sessions to perform and host, respectively, same sex marriages. The PC(USA) does not mandate they do so. So basically, each Pastor and each Session must decide whether or not, they can in light of Scripture, Tradition, and Prayer perform same-sex marriages. We have decided the following: 

Pastor Andrew cannot and will not perform same-sex or same-gender marriages, because he is prohibited from doing so by Scripture.

Likewise, the Session of Oakland Presbyterian Church will not host same-sex or same-gender marriages on church property.

As communicated at the first Family Meeting on April 26, 2015, we know that these are emotional decisions that affect people we love deeply. We know that some brothers and sisters are frustrated and others are relieved. All of us have a close family member or friend that is gay and so we do not make these decisions lightly or callously. Instead, these decisions were made after thoroughly studying the Scripture, Church Tradition, contemporary Church interpretations from around the world and from a variety of viewpoints, and contemplating their implications.

 

To aid in the continued study and discernment, I suggest the following resources.

For a summary of the PC(USA)’s decision and its implications, see this Official Q&A Document provided by the PC(USA).

Here is a complete side-by-side comparison of the old and new versions of the PC(USA) Constitution’s marriage statements.

We came to our conclusions because every single time that homoerotic (same-sex sex) behavior is addressed in the Scripture, it is identified as sinful behavior, like unto and equal with other sins like idolatry, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, or ruthless profiteering. While these once described each of us, they should not be persistent parts of the Christian life. The most relevant Scripture passages are:

Lev 18:22; Lev 20:13; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; 1 Timothy 1:10; Acts 15:28-29; Romans 1:18-32. Of these, 1 Cor 6, 1 Tim 1, and Rom 1 are the most significant, with Romans 1:18-32 being the most thorough and theological.

I believe these texts teach that same-sex sex is sin, which is forgiven and abandoned as we turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior. People who experience life-long same sex attraction or homosexuality are welcome in our congregation and our activities, just as people with a proclivity towards lying, gossip, and alcoholism are. Oakland is full of sinners and nobody else, so we expect and welcome people to come with their known and unknown sins to receive the strong medicine of Jesus as we live out life together. 

For more thorough, theological, and historical engagement with this traditional understanding, see this very detailed essay by New Testament Professor Richard Hays. Richard Hays is a well-respected scholar, who presents his research fairly and compassionately. Other supporters of traditional marriage include Wesley Hill, Rosaria Butterfield, Robert Gagnon, and Timothy Keller.

The Session and I also engaged with pastors, theologians, and laypersons that disagree with us, including Matthew Vines, Desmond Tutu, Frank Schaeffer, and Mark Achtemeier. For an example of a contrary opinion that believes it is faithful and necessary to accept, perform, and promote same-sex marriages, see this article by Mark Achtemeier. Mark Achtemeier is a Presbyterian pastor and scholar once vehemently opposed to same-sex marriage, who recently recanted and whole-heartedly endorsed marriage equality with this speech, which summarizes his book, God’s Yes to Same Sex Marriage.

I resonate with the deep compassion and concern expressed Achtemeier and Tutu, men I respect greatly. I recognize and confess that people that have been hurt by hatred. I too mourn their pain and wish not to inflict more, but overall find the affirming arguments more emotive exceptions to Scripture rather than rational engagements with it, and therefore remain unconvinced. Still, I present them here for your edification.

 

Again, I know this is an emotional can of worms, and that offense will be given and taken, intentionally and unintentionally by members of our community. For all of us, I pray this provides us at the very least an opportunity to practice patience, charity, forgiving, loving people we find difficult to love, and loving those we perceive as “enemies” for we will never learn to do these things without the crucible of honest conversation. 
May we all speak lovingly, think thoroughly, grow in grace, forgive readily, and make Jesus famous.

Matthew 1-3: THE SNOW GLOBE KINGDOM

On April 19, 2015, we started a new longterm Sermon Series to preach our way through the entirety of the Gospel according to Matthew. My overarching title for the whole Matthew Sermon Series is “FOR THE KING,” but to keep it fresh and interesting, we will break this extended study into smaller “mini-series.” Our first mini-series covers Matthew 1-3, and I’ve entitled it “THE SNOW GLOBE KINGDOM.”

Why call the first 3 chapters of Matthew’s Gospel, The Snow Globe Kingdom? Good question. I call them The Snow Globe Kingdom, because they are in many ways a miniature version of the entire Gospel. They present to us in introductory fashion, the major points about God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; about humanity at its best and worst; about God’s history of saving the world; about God’s mercy; and about God’s grace. We will see “in miniature” the beauty and the horror of the whole Bible.

In the first sentence, we will see a summary of God’s faithfulness, as we hear of the promises accomplished in Jesus. In the genealogy, we will see God’s judgment on arrogant, idolatrous kings, and his global mercy on repentant, scandalously sinful, pagan women. In the birth of Jesus to Mary, we will see how the Holy Spirit works on human beings, and how God overcomes the impossible. In Joseph’s response to this scandalous birth, we will see the definition of “righteousness.” In the Magi, we see human beings at their very best, idolaters worshiping false gods, and yet we will simultaneous see how God overcomes our ignorance to lead us to worship and adore gladly the King of the Jews. In Herod’s murderous, lying rage, we see ourselves at our worst, usurping, mutinous, and hostile to God, like Adam and Eve, rejecting the King/God inorder to preserve our own authority and sovereignty. In all of this, we will see a baby, named Jesus, who recapitulates the history of Israel, and the history of humanity. We will see a baby, vulnerable, loved and hated aggressively and somehow “God With Us” in our vulnerability and subject to our hostility. In all of it, we will see the bad news about ourselves and the good news about Jesus.

Because of that it reminds me of a Snow Globe, a minute, intricate, beautiful version of a Kingly Palace. I hope in these first 3 chapters to tour the grounds and the chambers of this beautiful lifesaving message.

Music for the Resurrection

There are somethings you can sing that you can't say. There are other things that you can play that you can't sing. As Darrell Scott sings, "I've been singing about things I should be telling to my shrink, and to my shrink I've been singing Kumbaya."
It's strange and yet true that somehow the meter, rhyme-schemes, and brevity of poetry allow it to say more than pages and pages of prose. So when we come to Church, we assume the music will teach us and shape us and spark us in ways that 30 minutes of preaching never could. Try using evolution to explain that! 
So following Easter, I wanted to let music help us think through the Resurrection. These songs vary in style but all share the same subject matter so check it out. 

Christ is Risen

I love the celebration of this song, especially the bridge, "Oh Death, where is your sting? Oh Hell, where is your victory?"  I particulary love the spoken word in this video. The poem is beautiful in its bleak assessment of Death and of its exhilarating conclusion about Jesus.

Buried in the Grave

I'm in love with All Sons and Daughters. I love their simple arrangements of a guitar, a piano, and (often) a cello. This song is beautiful and haunting in the ways it imagines the disciples' shattered experience of the cross. "There was a day we held our breath,/ and felt the sting of bitter death,/ when all our hopes were buried in the grave.// Our eyes awake, our hearts were torn,/ between our faith and what we knew/ before our King was buried in the grave.// Grace was in the tension of everything we'd lost/ Standing empty handed, shattered by the cross."

Death in His Grave

This song is written by a North Carolinian with incredible worship impulses. He and his church went into a Nightly Revival that lasted months, and so many of these songs were composed spontaneously as he searched for new songs to play. I love the theology of this song, and again the bridge hammers it home, "He has defeated,/ Death and seated/ Us above the Fall.// In desparate places/ He paid our wages/ Once and once for all!"

It is Finished – The Law and Prophets are Filled Up and Fleshed Out

The following is from my current favorite dead preacher, a British man named Charles Spurgeon. He started preaching about the time Oakland was founded and became one of the most famous preachers in the whole world. He is the best wordsmith preacher I’ve ever known and knows the Scriptures better than most. His use of illustration, metaphor, and invitation reconvert me almost every single sermon.
In this sermon, he shows us that Jesus of Nazareth has “fulfilled all of Scripture” from Genesis to Malachi. Jesus is the substance of everything foreshadowed, hinted, predicted, and endured. I pray than all of our Bible knowledge and Jesus-affection grows until we recognize every Scripture allusion in this list, and love Christ more as the King who Reigns and the Lamb who was slain. Enjoy.

It-Is-Finished-Logo-620x250

What meant the Savior, then, by this—“It is finished”? He meant, first of all, that all the types, promises and prophecies were now fully accomplished in Him. Those who are acquainted with the original will find that the words—”It is finished,” occur twice within three verses. In the 28th verse we have the word in the Greek. It is translated in our version “accomplished,” but there it stands—”After this, Jesus knowing that all things were now finished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, says, ‘I thirst.’ ” And then He afterwards said, “It is finished.” This leads us to see His meaning very clearly that all the Scripture was now fulfilled, that when He said, “It is finished,” the whole Book, from the first to the last, in both the Law and the Prophets, was finished in Him.

There is not a single jewel of promise, from that first emerald which fell on the threshold of Eden, to that last sapphire-stone of Malachi which was not set in the breast-plate of the true High Priest. No, there is not a type, from the red heifer downward to the turtle-dove, from the hyssop upwards to Solomon’s temple itself which was not fulfilled in Him. And not a prophecy, whether spoken on Chebar’s bank, or on the shores of Jordan, not a dream of wise men, whether they had received it in Babylon, or in Samaria, or in Judea which was not now fully worked out in Christ Jesus. And, Brethren, what a wonderful thing it is, that a mass of promises and prophecies and types apparently so heterogeneous, should all be accomplished in one Person!

Take away Christ for one moment and I will give the Old Testament to any wise man living and say to him, “Take this. This is a problem, go home and construct in your imagination an ideal character who shall exactly fit all that which is herein foreshadowed. Remember, He must be a Prophet like unto Moses and yet a champion like Joshua. He must be an Aaron and a Melchisedek. He must be both David and Solomon, Noah and Jonah, Judah and Joseph. No, He must not only be the lamb that was slain and the scapegoat that was not slain, the turtle-dove that was dipped in blood and the priest who slew the bird, but He must be the altar, the tabernacle, the mercy seat and the showbread.”

No, to puzzle this wise man further, we remind him of prophecies so apparently contra- dictory that one would think they never could meet in one man—such as these, “All kings shall fall down before Him and all nations shall serve Him.” And yet, “He is despised and rejected of men.” He must begin by showing a man born of a virgin mother—”A virgin shall conceive and bear a Son.” He must be a man without spot or blemish, but yet one upon whom the Lord does cause to meet the iniquities of us all. He must be a glorious one, a Son of David, but yet a root out of a dry ground. Now I say it boldly—if all the greatest intellects of all the ages could set themselves to work out this problem, to invent another key to the types and prophecies—they could not do it.

I see you, you wise men—you are poring over these hieroglyphs—one suggests one key and it opens two or three of the figures. But you cannot proceed for the next one puts you at a nonplus. Another learned man suggests another clue— but that fails most where it is most needed—and another and another and thus these wondrous hieroglyphs traced of old by Moses in the wilderness must be left unexplained, till one comes forward and pro- claims—”The Cross of Christ and the Son of God incarnate”—then the whole is clear, so that he that runs may read and a child may understand.

Blessed Savior! In You we see everything fulfilled which God spoke of in old by the Prophets. In You we discover everything carried out in substance which God had set before us in the dim mist of sacrificial smoke. Glory be unto Your name! “It is finished”—everything is summed up in YOU!

Charles Spurgeon, “It is Finished” Sermon 421. Preached on Dec 1, 1861 at the Metropolitan Tabernacle. 

A Bit More History Regarding Crucifixion

The following excerpt is a good historical summary of “crucifixion found on another church’s website. You can visit the whole article here. While, it is far from an academic document with regard to citing it’s sources, it matches what I’ve read in such papers and the list of references at the end of the document provides credibility. There is so much junk on the web these days, you’re almost always better reading Wikipedia than an “Christian” website which cites no historical or academic sources. In this case, the Wikipedia article on crucifixion is well researched, but I wanted you to hear the point that Crucifixion is intentionally humiliating, shameful, and excruciating (a word specifically invented to describe the pain of the cross). Why read this, well Hebrews 12:2-3 says, fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

We moderns still recoil with horror when we hear of Christ’s crucifixion. But what did the ancients think of crucifixion? They considered it to be the most shameful, the most painful, and the most abhorrent of all executions. The Roman statesman Cicero called it “the most cruel and disgusting penalty” (Verrem 2:5.165) and “the most extreme penalty” (Verrem 2:5.168). The Jewish historian Josephus, who certainly witnessed enough crucifixions himself, called it “the most wretched of deaths.” The Roman jurist Julius Paulus listed crucifixion in first place as the worst of all capital punishments, listing it ahead of death by burning, death by beheading, or death by the wild beasts. And from Seneca we have this quotation, which is one of the most unique descriptions of a crucifixion in non-Biblical literature:

  • Can anyone be found who would prefer wasting away in pain dying limb by limb, or letting out his life drop by drop, rather than expiring once for all? Can any man by found willing to be fastened to the accursed tree, long sickly, already deformed, swelling with ugly wounds on shoulders and chest, and drawing the breath of life amid long drawn-out agony? He would have many excuses for dying even before mounting the cross (Dialogue 3:2.2).

The ancients considered death by crucifixion to be not just any execution, but the most obscene, the most disgraceful, the most horrific execution known to man.

How common was crucifixion in the ancient world? Quite common, at least among the Romans. Though Roman law usually spared Roman citizens from being crucified, they used crucifixion especially against rebellious foreigners, military enemies, violent criminals, robbers, and slaves. In fact slaves were so routinely crucified that crucifixion become known as the “slaves’ punishment” (servile supplicium; see Valerius Maximus 2:7.12). Appian tells us that when the slave rebellion of Spartacus was crushed, the Roman general Crassus had six thousand of the slave prisoners crucified along a stretch of the Appian Way, the main road leading into Rome (Bella Civilia 1:120). As an example of crucifying rebellious foreigners, Josephus tells us that when the Romans were besieging Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the Roman general Titus, at one point, crucified five hundred or more Jews a day. In fact, so many Jews were crucified outside of the walls that “there was not enough room for the crosses and not enough crosses for the bodies” (Wars of the Jews 5:11.1).

When Jesus Calls a Man

cost of discipleship coverIn preparation for Sunday's sermon, "I am Called to Die," I am re-reading sections of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's famous book The Cost of Discipleship or more recently rereleased as Discipleship. Bonhoeffer was a German pastor during Hitler's rise to power, and though he had every opportunity to take asylum in the United States, Bonhoeffer returned to his home country to lead a small group of Christians, "The Confessing Church," in their resistance to the Fuhrer. After being blacklisted by the Nazis, Bonhoeffer was conscripted into the Army, and took part in an assassination attempt on Hitler’s life, which failed. Following the failed attempt to kill Hitler, Bonhoeffer was arrested, tried, and hanged just before the end of WWII.

His writings, due to his faith and his context, are some of the most insightful and inciteful. They cut like a knife. Here is a section from the Chapter, “The Disciple and The Cross.”

  

“To endure the cross is not a tragedy; it is the suffering which is the fruit of exclusive allegiance to Jesus Christ. When it comes, it is not an accident, but a necessity. It is not the sort of suffering which is inseparable from this mortal life, but the suffering which is an essential part of the specifically Christian life. It is not suffering per se but suffering-and-rejection, and not rejection for any cause or conviction of our own, but rejection for the sake of Christ. If our Christianity has ceased to be serious about discipleship, if we have watered down the gospel into emotional uplift which makes no costly demands and which fails to distinguish between natural and Christian existence, then we cannot help regarding the cross as ordinary everyday calamity, as one of the trials and tribulations of life. We have then forgotten that the cross means rejection and shame as well as suffering. The Psalmist was lamenting that he was despised and rejected of men, and that is an essential quality of the suffering of the cross. But this notion has ceased to be intelligible to a Christianity which can no longer see any difference between an ordinary human life and a life of commitment to Christ. The cross means sharing the suffering of Christ to the last and to the fullest. Only a man thus totally committed to discipleship can experience the meaning of the cross. The cross is there, right from the beginning, he has only got to pick it up: there is no need for him to go out and look for a cross for himself, no need for him deliberately to run after suffering. Jesus says that every Christian has his own cross waiting for him, a cross destined and appointed by God. Each must endure his allotted share of suffering and rejection. But each has a different share: some God deems worthy of the highest form of suffering, and gives them the grace of martyrdom, while others he does not allow to be tempted above that which they are able to bear. But it is the one and the same cross in every case.

            The cross is laid on every Christian. The first Christ-suffering which every man must experience is the call to abandon the attachments of the world. It is that dying of the old man which is the result of the encounter with Christ. As we embark upon discipleship we surrender ourselves to Christ in union with his death – we give over our lives to death. Thus it begins; the cross is not the terrible end to an otherwise godfearing and happy life, but it meets us at the beginning of our communion with Christ.When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. It may be a death like that of the first disciples who had to leave home and work to follow him, or it may be a death like [Martin] Luther’s, who had to leave the monastery and go out into the world. But it is the same death every time–death in Jesus Christ, the death of the old man at his call. Jesus’ summons to the rich young man was calling him to die, because only the man who is dead to his own will can follow Christ. In fact every command of Jesus is a call to die, with all our affections and lusts.” (Emphasis added)

From Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship (New York: Touchstone, 1995), 88-89.

whenchristcalls

The cross is not a tragedy but a necessity, it is the summation of every command Jesus gives. He doesn't call us to "our best life now" but to "take up your cross." It is a call to die to turn our wills and our lives over to Jesus. To subjugate our desires and affections to his Lordship. It is a call to embrace rejection and suffering for the sake of Christ. 

Bonhoeffer says this is impossible for a Christianity that has ceased to see a functional difference between the specifically Christian life and the ordinary human life. So what is the difference between the two?

FAQs about Tithing

Hey Oakland,

This is a follow up to yesterday's post, "For the New Giver." While not necessary for everyone, I want to make sure I break this teaching down as far as possible, because it is one of the scariest and most counter-cultural. I am not teaching on Giving because I want your money, but because I want you to experience the joy of a generous heart. I want you to know the blessings that can only come through cultivating a generous heart. 

1.) What is Tithing?

Tithe is an English word, derived from an Old English word meaning Tenth, which was in turn used to translate a Hebrew word, ,that literally meant one tenth or 10%. So, while people with through the term around loosely to describe a gifts to the Church, tithing is the practice of giving 10% of my income back to God, mainly through my local congregation, but also to the poor directly.

tithes

2.) Do I have to Tithe?

No you do not have to tithe. It will not get you into heaven, Jesus’ death and your faith in that death save you. But you will struggle to grow in generosity, and apart from giving you will constantly feel the burden of not having enough, whether you make minimum wage or a million dollars. People that do not give sacrificially, feel perpetually poor.

Many folks will say that the Tithe is an Old Testament Law that we are freed from by Jesus and the Gospel of Grace. I think that is true. Still, when Jesus criticizes Pharisees that religiously give 10% of everything including table spices, he does not say, "Stop observing the tithe, that get's it all wrong. Don't you know its all about grace!" Instead, Jesus points out that the Tithe was never about following the rules, instead it has always been about the heart. So He says, "we should practice justice, mercy, and faithfulness without neglecting to also Tithe" (Matt 23:23).

If that Bible Study's not convincing, another Presbyterian Pastor, John Ortberg likes to say it this way, "I can't imagine facing God one day and saying, 'I know back in the Old Testament days people gave a Tithe, and I know now, in addition to all the blessings they got, those Old Testament Scriptures and stories and heroes and the promise of your presence... In addition to all that, I have been given the gift of Jesus and the cross for my sake and the promise of resurrection and the hope of the Holy Spirit, and I think I'll ratchet my giving down 5 or 6 percentage points."

3.) Does Oakland expect me to Tithe?

Jesus expects us to tithe. Not mechanically, but thoughtfully and intentionally to fight greed and indifference in our hearts, and injustice in our world. One a different note, Shriners, Rotarians, Scouts, and Gyms all force members to pay dues; we do not because we believe than anyone who understands the gospel, will naturally feel compelled to give.

4.) What if I cannot give 10% right now?

First, some good reasons not to give 10%. If you are unemployed, and not yet receiving unemployment or severance checks, then you have no income to tithe on. If you are a student living entirely on Student Loans, then likewise you have no income to tithe on. However, I would encourage you to START NOW giving a percentage of all income from part-time jobs. According to one report, 63% of people who tithe, started to do so between childhood and their 20s.

Still, if you cannot give 10% now without losing your car or your house, don't lose your house or car. Figure out what you can give. $10 or $100 a month and also try to give your time disproportionately, while seeking to rearrange your budget to rebound from bad financial decisions. 10% is not currently a realistic option for you, mainly because of overcommitment, but through a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace Course, it very well could be a reality in as little as 6 months to a year.

Don’t beat yourself up, remember, 2 Cor 8:11-14 says, “Give on the basis of what you have. If you really want to give, then the gift is measured by what someone has. It is not measured by what they don’t have. We don’t want others to have it easy at your expense. We want things to be equal. Right now you have plenty in order to take care of what they need. Then they will have plenty to take care of what you need.” Right now you might need other believers to supply your need, and that is ok.

Tithes-Offering-Verse

5.) What if 10% of my annual income is greater than the entire Church Budget? 

Well first off, praise God. Second, you especially need to give by percentage, because the temptation to give by amount will be astronomical. Though folks disagree with me, you may divide your gifts among other ministries, but personally, I would not give less than 5% to my local church, even if that is greater than their entire budget. Oakland will not hoard your wealth, but abound all the more in giving. We would like to give away a third of all the money coming through our doors. On a more personal level, such a gift demonstrates your commitment to the community, and your trust in the leadership to use your gift in God honoring ways, just as everyone giving a greater percentage but smaller amount, must trust the Church to faithfully use their money well. If you trust other ministries or secular organizations to steward your gift more than you do your local church, then we really need to have a conversation.

Finally,

For more information on Tithing, check out the sermon, "Live to Give: The Test" by John Ortberg of Menlo Park Presbyterian Church. Pastor John is a great teacher and is especially passionate about Generosity and Tithes. 

This is not an exact science nor is it LAW. Think of the tithe, not as a task to accomplish, but as training wheels to liberate you into generosity. Remember, God is more concerned with our hearts than the letter of the law. 

I’m young, and relative to many of you, poor, but relative to many of our neighbors, wealthy. Relative to the world, very, very, very wealthy. Therefore, when the Bible addresses "the rich" or "rich people," I assume it is talking to me.

I do not have all the answers, and the ones I do have, I got from older, wiser, more generous men and women like you. If you have thoughts, comments or questions, please come talk with me.

Always remember who you are whose you are,

Pastor Andrew

For the New Giver – Where to Start

Hey Oakland,

Some of you are some of the most generous people I’ve ever met, and I want to learn from you how we can create more generous disciples of Jesus. This blog is a starting point for those wanting to grow in generosity.

Sunday’s sermon, “I am Called to Give” was intentionally broad. I did not name the sermon, “I am Called to Tithe,” because that is much too narrow a definition of generosity. This entire sermon series is about cultivating life long dispositions, patterns, habits, and ways of living. Just as there are many different ways we are called to Love and different groups of people we love with different opportunities (family, friends, neighbors, enemies), there are equally variable ways to practice generosity in various situations involving a number of different groups of people.

In addition to commending 10% as a starting place for our giving (Matt 23:23), in one of Jesus’ scariest commands, he even calls us to “give to everyone who asks of you” and “loan to people without expecting repayment” (Luke 6:30,35). Jesus repeatedly tells us to give to the poor and to look after the vulnerable. Jesus’ brother, James writes in James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

These are incredible commands that demand a level of generosity that seems beyond approach and outside reality – so much so that they are almost paralyzing. Sometimes it makes me feel like an illiterate person holding the Bible, knowing I should read it, and wanting desperately to read it – but desire and desperation alone will not teach me to read, baby steps of letters and sounding-it-out are the in between.

Likewise God has given us some helpful, concrete steps to grow us in generosity.

So here is Pastor Andrew’s appropriation and application of those steps for the modern person.

1.) Live below your means.

livetogiveJust because you make $40,000 a year does not mean you have to spend $40,000 a year. Instead, intentionally live as though you had less in order to include saving and giving in your budget. Like I joked on Sunday, this will mean you cannot use the “Mortgage Calculators” to estimate the size house you can afford. There are hundreds of historical Christian examples of this. One example is John Wesley, who founded the Methodist Church. Wesley started as a poor preacher without a church, living off his horse and out of a bag. Over the years, he grew to worldwide fame, receiving offerings and gifts from all across Europe and the USA, but he made a decision that he and his family would perpetually, no matter how much they made, like off of the modern equivalent of $30,000. Everything over $30,000 was given to the Church and to the poor. Modern examples of this include Rick Warren (Purpose Driven Life) and Eugene Peterson (The Message) who both work for $1 a year.

Still, you don’t have to start that drastically. The first step towards giving is to MAKE A BUDGET AND LIVE WITHIN THAT BUDGET. If you have a habit of accruing credit card debt, you need to rework your spending. If you need help doing this, find a Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Course to help.

For now, find one thing in your budget that you do not need, and dedicate that money to the Church. Examples might include TV service, High Speed Internet, Magazine Subscriptions, Landscaping, Clothes, Four-Wheeler payments, Boat payments, etc.

Claire and I practice this by eating at restaurants less, so that we can afford to host our neighbors for dinner more often at no cost to them. We never want to be miss an opportunity to host because we lack resources.

2.) Decide what you will give before you start spending money on WANTS

Giving comes out of our checks first, even before taxes. To remind myself of this truth, Claire and I give a percentage of our Gross Income away, because God gets his cut before the Government gets theirs. I don’t like paying taxes, but I do like many of the things they pay for, including roads, public schools, hospitals, and EMS teams. Still, giving 13% of my income to Uncle Sam seems steep, compared to giving 10% to God, who provides for all I have, who created my life, and saved my soul. 10% seems huge, but is actually paltry in comparison to the percentage of my income forcefully taken from me by the government, who gives me far less than the Lord. That realization alone, makes me so much more grateful and willing to give to the Church.

Let me pause to say, do not tithe on Student Loans, or any loans for that matter. We tithe on our INCOME not on our DEBT.

So practically for those of you who’ve started to complete step one, meaning you are no longer going further into debt. So once you’ve stopped accruing debt, its time to start redistributing your funds from spending to GIVING and SAVING.

I do this right now by starting my budget with gross income, less my hoped giving percentage (10%), less my hoped contribution to savings (7%), less taxes, less expenses and pocket money. If I come out in the negative, I decrease my savings and giving by a point, and rework the whole thing, while examining my expenses for unnecessary costs. Eventually, Claire and I would like to ratchet both the Savings and Givings percentages higher.

In summary, MAKE ALL YOU CAN, GIVE ALL YOU CAN, SAVE ALL YOU CAN, AND THEN DO WHAT YOU WANT WITH THE REST.

Tomorrow I will post more about some Frequently Ask Questions, when it comes to Tithing in particular, so check back.

Remember, who you are and whose you are,

Pastor Andrew

Make,Give,Save