Giving and the Disciple

One of the characteristics of discipleship is giving. Disciples are called to make giving a part of their spiritual lives, whether it is through the giving of their time, talents, etc.  One type of giving that continues to be a point of sensitivity and even embarrassment in the church is the giving of money.  A key reason for this is the tele-evangelism scandals of the 1980s where glitzy and over the top television evangelists made incessant and heavily emotional appeals to their viewers for money.  The appeals were often mixed with emotional tears and pleas that if they didn’t receive X amount of dollars by the end of the week, they would be forced to go off the air.  By and large these appeals worked, until two of these tele-evangelists ran into scandals with one of them sent off to jail while another was defrocked by his denomination.

The end result was shame and disgrace brought upon not only these television ministries but to the church overall.  Their practices reinforced the stereotypical view amongst skeptics and critics that churches are filled with lying, cheating hypocrites who only want people’s money to feather their own nests.  The response from Christian pastors and preachers was to duck for cover when it came to talk about money.  Pastors refrained from preaching sermons on giving as many feared it would give the impression that they were just being greedy, like those fellows on TV.  As a consequence, teaching on the spiritual discipline of giving was lost on a whole generation of Christians who grew up not knowing what it was all about.  The after effects of those dark days in the 1980s still lives on, with many Christians not making giving a priority in their spiritual lives.

Despite those horrific scandals, the teaching of scripture on giving still lives on and disciples of Jesus are still called to give to others in order to show generosity. (2 Corinthians 9:6-15).  In this essay, I’ll go over some basic principles of giving that a disciple should consider.

Be Generous and Cheerful

When it comes to giving money, the first question many disciples ask is how much?  That is an understandable question and, although the Old Testament teaching to the nation of Israel was to give a tithe of ten percent of their wealth, the New Testament teaching to the church defines no set amount.  In Luke 21:1-4, Jesus points out the rich putting their wealthy gifts into the Temple treasury while a poor widow puts in two small copper coins.  He notes that the widow put in more than all the others because they gave out of their wealth.  It was not a sacrifice to them but, to the widow, it was a great sacrifice as she gave out of her poverty and put in all she had to live on.  Although the ten percent tithe is a reasonable starting point, Jesus teaching on the subject and the rest of the New Testament should give the disciple pause and to seek the leading of the Holy Spirit. Factors such as sacrifice, generosity and cheerfulness in giving should guide the disciple in deciding how much to give.

Be Consistent

Another factor, which is even more important than the amount of giving, is being consistent in giving. Are you giving consistently, be it weekly or monthly, out of your regular income?  Consistency is key because, regardless of how much you give, you are reinforcing a habit of giving where the release of your money to others becomes a regular part of your spiritual life.  You do not hesitate about giving and you often don’t even think about it as you do it.

Consistent giving enables the recipients of your generosity to count on your giving to plan their own lives and ministries around it.  You are not simply throwing your money into the wind but giving to help those in need live their lives and conduct their ministry of aid to others.  In effect, you are partnering with them in their various enterprises and being ministers of God’s grace to them. Giving is a solemn responsibility.

Be Focused and Committed

In order to be consistent, a disciple needs to be focused on what charities to give to.  While one cannot give to every worthy cause and ministry out there, a disciple can focus on a few and give consistently and deeply to them over a long period of time.  Be committed to giving to a charity over the long term, especially if you believe in what they are doing and if you are benefiting from their efforts, such as your own local church.  Such focus and commitment by disciples will help keep charities and ministries healthy and enable them to serve others over the long haul.

Disciples of Jesus should not hesitate about giving their money. It should be an integral part of their spiritual lives, like regular Bible reading and prayer.  In the same way, pastors and teachers should not be shy in teaching about giving, from the pulpit, the classroom or the coffeeshop.  Disciples need to learn, understand and apply this spiritual discipline in order that the church of Christ is built up to do the work Jesus commands her to do.

2017 © Ed LeBlanc

 

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Bible Reading for the Disciple

In my previous essay, The Decline of Bible Reading, I commented on polling in Canada that revealed a serious decline in Bible reading amongst Christians. In that essay, I noted two key ways the church could address the problem. In this essay I discuss how a disciple of Christ can make reading the Bible an indispensable part of his spiritual development and life.

Be Committed

The first key step involves creating a hungry heart. A committed disciple must be committed to the Word of God and must possess a strongly held belief that the Bible is critical in one’s relationship with Christ. All disciples know that in their heads and give intellectual assent to the concept but does that belief go further to penetrate their hearts and permeate their lives?

The cultivation of that attitude towards the Bible is dependent on the disciple leaning on the power of the Holy Spirit to create a hunger for God’s word and undertaking a few basic spiritual exercises to create the environment for that hunger to thrive. There needs to be a commitment to walk in the Spirit, to be filled with the Spirit and a commitment to practice spiritual disciplines that together move a disciple to always be seeking to feed upon the Word.

So how does one get that hunger? One way is to look at your life and see if there are other things your heart and soul are feeding on for fulfillment and meaning, besides the Word of God. Do you hunger more for that promotion, that hobby, those clothes, that status, that political activism, that desire to change the world rather than change yourself? The list could go on but the principle is one of self examination. Are there things that you hunger more for in your heart than the Bible? If you find your heart has a larger feeding tube to something other than the Bible, it may be time to either cut off that tube or start putting some clamps on it and start enlarging the pathway to the Scriptures.

Be Consistent

Routine may be seen as dull and boring and generally looked down upon by those advocating a more exciting lifestyle. But routine is a key success factor for consistency and consistency is necessary in getting into the Bible on a regular basis.

Ideally, the disciple should be reading the Scriptures at least once a day, every day. For most people, this can only happen if Bible reading is incorporated into a regular routine, so regular that it becomes a life long habit.

There will be times when routine is upended due to special circumstances such as travel, but even then, a disciple must be diligent in carving out time for Bible reading. Travel can even be a better time to read the Bible, such as while waiting for a flight in the departure lounge or taking extra time to read an entire NT book instead of watching an in-flight movie.

Whether you read in the morning, in the afternoon or at night, really doesn’t matter. What counts is finding a sufficient length of time to read the Bible on a regular basis so that you are reading it daily. Try to find a time when you are not rushed and when you can read it thoughtfully.

Be Creative

Normally, disciples will read a chapter a day or follow a reading plan of some type but, over time, this can become too repetitive and even dull. It is easy to get stuck in a reading rut where the Scriptures seem uninteresting and one winds up reading the Bible more out of a sense of duty rather than a means of communion with God.

That is when it is time to get creative with Bible reading. Break up the reading routine with some simple things to change the pace or set some new reading goals. A common one is to read the Bible in an entire year. One can use a reading plan but once I read the Bible in a year, backwards. Instead of the standard starting in Genesis, I started in Revelation and read each book in reverse order.

Another idea is to read the Bible in a different translation rather than your favourite one. This has the dimension of providing a different perspective on your reading of the Scriptures. My go to translation is the New International Version (NIV) but lately I have been reading in the New English Translation (NET) and enjoying its study notes as I read.

Read the seemingly difficult books, such as Leviticus or Ezekiel, by first reading an introduction to these books from an associated commentary. That way you can gain some background information that can help you understand the text better.

Another way to shake up your reading is to use an audio version of the Bible. Instead of visual reading, try hearing a book of the Bible. This may not become part of your regular practice but it will definitely act as an interesting change of pace.

Daily Bible reading is important and sounds simple but it is harder than it appears. That is where the application of the three principles of being committed, consistent and creative can help a disciple on the pathway to solid Bible reading.

2017 © Ed LeBlanc

The Ultimate Price

I have not published anything on this site since June of last year. I came very close to shutting it down as I was running out of inspiration on what to write. I had thought I was going to write essays on the intersection of religion and culture based on related news that was happening at the time but nothing was coming to me.

But I’ve received inspiration to continue on but focus more closely on providing essays on Christian discipleship. Future articles will deal with the subject on a more practical level than before, with shorter articles on what discipleship is about and what it involves, based on my personal experiences and what I have learned from others. I realize this narrows the scope of the site somewhat, as it will be geared towards those who consider themselves disciples or followers of Jesus Christ and wish to grow in their relationship with Him. That being said, my hope is that it will provide some insight for everyone to see what goes on in the life of a Christ follower.

Let me start with the theme of following Christ when it is darkest. This is appropriate given that it is Good Friday as I type this essay. On the day of his crucification and death, Jesus was abandoned by all his followers, save just a few who stood by him near the cross as He suffered. All but one of his twelve closest disciples were nowhere to be found at Jesus’ darkest hours. Just hours earlier, Peter had denied Him three times. Before that, Judas betrayed Him and handed Him over to the authorities to be killed. Others had scattered and ran away in fear.

But a disciple of Christ is not supposed to abandon his Lord, at any time. To follow Him means a life long commitment to Him, no matter what the cost. This is easier said than done. But how many who claim to be Christians actually understand this?

The cost to follow Jesus can seem somewhat academic to those of us who live in the comfort of the West. I cannot write about it sufficiently enough to properly capture it. I do want to illustrate it with a real incident of about twenty or so young Christian men who were brutally executed for their faith a few years ago. They were Egyptian Christians who were working in Libya and were capture by radical Islamists. Their families in Egypt were fervently praying that they would be released but when it became apparent that their deaths were imminent, many started to pray that they would remain strong and not abandon Christ in the darkest hour of their faith.

The radicals released a video of the captured Christian men on a beach somewhere in Libya. They were on their knees with a masked executor behind each of the men with a sword in hand ready to execute them. The men could have saved themselves then and there by renouncing their Lord. But they did not and each of them died as a martyr for their faith. Although greatly saddened, their families rejoiced that their men did not abandon their Lord, knowing that they would see them again in His kingdom.

Seeing the images of those men about to be killed, because they refused to abandon their Lord, haunts my thoughts from time to time. These men paid the ultimate price for their faith. This is what it means to follow Christ. Only a heart totally devoted to Jesus, in love and faith and dependence on Him, can truly follow Him.

Jesus once said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself, take up his cross daily and follow me.” To be a Christ follower is not a trivial thing. It demands our very lives. May those of us who are disciples of Christ reflect deeply on the sacrifice Christ paid for us and on the sacrifice these Egyptian disciples paid for their Lord.

2017 © Ed LeBlanc

Christian Lukewarmness – Book Review: Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God by Francis Chan (2008)

Crazy LoveCrazy Love is a book about the Christian’s relationship with God but in particular, it is a book about the serious state many North American Christians are in regarding their relationship with God.  At the crux of it is an incorrect view of who God really is and a failure to grasp his eternal, holy, all powerful and all knowing nature.   As a consequence, many Christians place themselves in the centre of their lives and rather than the Lord Jesus.

Chan tells his readers to get over themselves:

To be brutally honest, it doesn’t really matter what place you find yourself in right now.  Your part is to bring Him glory – whether eating a sandwich on a lunch break, drinking coffee at 12:04 am so you can stay awake to study or watching your four-month-old take a nap.  The point of your life is to point to Him.

Within that realization is the truth of the great love God has for His children and the love we are to have for Him.  If we grasp who God really is, Chan argues that our lives should then be characterized by a great transformation. But there are distractions.  As Chan puts it pointedly “Are we in love with God or just His stuff?” God’s stuff, His material creations that He has provided to us for our sustainment and enjoyment, often serve as distractions or worse as idols.

In probably the most pointed part of the book, Chan recalls Jesus’ parable of the sower and cautions the reader “Do not assume you are good soil.”  He believes most churchgoers in America are the soil that chokes the seed because of the thorns; those worries, riches and pleasures of life.

Then Chan makes this stunning statement:

A lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there’s no such thing.  To put it plainly, churchgoers who are “lukewarm” are not Christians.  We will not see them in heaven.

Chan points to Revelation 3:15-17 where Jesus talks about the lukewarm within the Laodicean church and that He is about to spit them out of His mouth (3:16).  Chan says many believe this passage is talking about the saved but Chan argues how could the saved be spitted out of Jesus’ mouth?  In other words, Chan does not see this as a form of discipline but an outright rejection, an “I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers.”

But is this interpretation correct?  Looking a little further in Revelation 3:19, Jesus says to the church at Laodicea, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent. ”  It seems here that Jesus is saying His statement on the spitting out of His mouth to be more of a correction than a rejection.  He still loves those whom are lukewarm but will spit them out as a form of rebuke and discipline, not a taking away of their salvation.

This corresponds to Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians where he details a set of serious spiritual and moral problems that many in the church are participating in.  Some, such as incest, are so serious one could question if these people really are true believers in Jesus.  Yet Paul calls them brothers, expresses love to them and never questions their salvation.  He affirms in his letter that God has called them into fellowship with His Son Jesus Christ while at the same time rebuking them and calling on them to repent.

Chan follows up with another bombshell:

In an earlier draft of this chapter, I quoted several commentators who agreed with my point of view.  But we all know that you can find quotes to support any view you want to take. you can even tweak word studies to help you in your effort. I ’m not against scholarship, but I do believe there are times when we come to more accurate conclusions through simple reading.

Rather than examining a verse and dissecting it, I chose to peruse one gospel in each sitting.  Furthermore, I attempted to do so from the perspective of a twelve-year-old who knew nothing about Jesus.  I wanted to rediscover what reasonable conclusions a person would come to while objectively reading the Gospels for the first time.  In other words, I read the Bible as if I’d never read it before.

This is the weakest point in the book.  In order to defend his conclusions on what it means to be lukewarm in the faith, Chan relies on an exegetical defence from the Gospels.  However, he sabotages that effort in two areas.

In the first area, he says he was prepared to quote several commentators who agreed with his conclusions but he decided not to so for the odd reason that you can find quotes to support any view you want to take.  Although this may be true to a certain degree, it does not invalidate the use of the thoughtful and rigourous findings of others who have seriously studied the scriptures. In effect, Chan is committing one of the gravest mistakes of contemporary evangelicalism: the personal interpretation of the Bible while ignoring 2000 years of serious biblical exegesis and scholarship by saints who have gone on before us.  Chan decides to ignore the work of others and rely solely on his own reading of the Bible, as if that gives his conclusion greater objectivity.  If anything, it is an example of subjective hermeneutics.  He himself says that one can tweak word studies to help you in your effort. How do we know that Chan didn’t do such “tweaking” in his simple reading of the Gospels?

In the second area, Chan didn’t want to examine a passage by dissecting it but to read each gospel in a single sitting and to do so like a 12 year old for the first time.  It isn’t at all clear how this method of exegesis is superior to doing proper basic Bible study.  Chan gives little in the way of explaining how this method provides greater objectivity than pondering the verses over and over again to see what Jesus is saying.  It would appear that Chan is saying simple Bible reading is superior to in-depth Bible study but he fails to provide arguments as to why this is the case.

Chan concludes:

Jesus’ call to commitment is clear: He wants all or nothing.  The thought of a person calling himself a “Christian” without being a devoted follower of Christ is absurd.

Despite weaknesses in his exegetical approach, Chan draws an accurate conclusion.  Contemporary pop theology has produced a weakened definition of what it means to be a disciple of Jesus. Jesus was quite firm about the need for obedience in order to truly follow Him and that it was not simply a matter of calling Him Lord (Matthew 7:21)

Chan writes: “Let’s face it. We’re willing to make changes in our lives only if we think it affects our salvation.”  In other words, the main focus of much of contemporary evangelicalism is ‘am I going to heaven and what do I have to do to get there’.   Going to heaven becomes more important (an anthropocentric view of the faith) than loving the Lord Jesus and following Him (a Christocentric view of the faith).

Chan could be accused of promoting a works-righteousness gospel but he rightly points out that all of us have lukewarm areas in our lives.  The difference lies in striving for obedience and surrender to Jesus day by day, all the while being covered by His grace.  The hardened lukewarm would never concern themselves about the areas of their lives that were not under Jesus’ lordship and it is to those people that Chan is speaking to.  He questions their motivation: Can I go to heaven without truly and faithfully loving Jesus?

Crazy Love highlights the depth of God’s love for His children and how that should motivate the Christian to live for Him and to move out of his comfort zone.  The book is a challenge to all Christians, and those who call themselves Christian, to examine themselves and determine if their lives reflect being a true disciple of Jesus, as the Scriptures define it.

Despite the weaknesses of his exegetical method and view of lukewarm Christians, Chan’s conclusions are consistent with what the scriptures do say about true discipleship and authentic Christianity.  Chan is not advocating a kind of works gospel but rather a true conversion that leads to repentance, dependence and obedience to the Master and Lord.  It is a message that many North American Christians need to hear and heed.

Three out of five stars.

2014 © Ed LeBlanc