God’s Timing Over Ours

In Acts 16 there is a powerful story illustrating clearly God’s timing over ours.

“As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”And this she kept doing for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour. ” Acts 16:16-18 (English Standard Version)

The slave girl was filled with a spirit of divination, the Greek word used is pythonissa, meaning she was possessed with such a spirit of divination and likely part of the delivery of oracles of Apollo at Delphos. Such diviners “often dictated ambiguous answers to those who consulted, which served to gratify their vain desire of knowing things to come, but often deceived them.” (Matthew Henry)

The reality is what she was saying was true. Paul and Luke were both servants of God, and they did proclaim the way of salvation. She was right, but she was not speaking in accordance to God’s timing or His will.

So often we may speak the right words of encouragement with the greatest faithfulness to the Bible, but our timing is not according to what God has had it to be proclaimed. I think that is the greatest weakness of our encouragement, when we do not consult God first before we do anything. We may be proclaiming the gospel with the greatest passion and the strongest theology, but if we have not the Holy Spirit, any breakthrough we make is only temporary. We may be as passionate as Billy Graham in our fervour and speak with the boldness of Charles Spurgeon, but if we have not prayer how can we know anyone will be changed from the words we have said.

Moreover, how often are we like the slave girl and speak the right words and live a completely different life elsewhere? She was trying to deter the men from prayer by annoying them when she intercepted the men along the way to a place of prayer. Her message was tainted with the knowledge of the people around that she served Greek gods. Especially across the internet, there is an ability to pretend to have things all together, as if our relationship with God is healthy while our hearts are beating otherwise. While our hearts may be in utmost turmoil, we can post blogs which make us seem as if we are growing in joy in Christ.

Charles Spurgeon once preached a sermon that he felt was horrid, filled with stammering, he felt that it was a complete failure in what he did. That night after the sermon he prayed to God, “Lord, God, You can do something with nothing.  Bless that poor sermon.” Throughout the next week continually he prayed that prayer day and night.

He became determined in his next sermon to preach a great sermon. That is what happened, with him being praised highly by the listeners of the sermon that night. He was pleased by himself and slept soundly knowing that he had accomplished a difficult task. Coming back and watching the results of the two sermons, he was able to trace 41 souls saved through the poor sermon, while not one was saved through his successful one.

There is something wonderful in the way that God takes our best moments and shows us how helpless we are. While our worst of times, we find that God is the one that brings goodness back onto us. The slave girl may have spoken the right words, but if not backed up with God’s timing and will for how the events in the world should unfold. Without the primary sanctifying working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, speaking words of truth are nothing more than the Devil working. How often do we destroy the work of the Kingdom by not seeking and surrendering to God first? How often does Satan want to instil in us a sense that we are sufficient and complete in our current state?


Christians and Giving (Part Two)

Frank was talking the other day about the “happy” church that he attends on occasion. They were participating in a faith promise campaign, beginning in giving out forms to complete: “for their faith promise commitment that requires the following information: name, address, total income, phone number, % of increase of last years giving, and the option to drop the donation in the offering plates or letting the church take the giving directly out of the giver’s checking account.”

Beside the fact that it seems they are breaking rules of confidentiality and some human rights as well, it doesn’t quite see any shame in asking for money from its congregation. I can’t say this would the most correct method to ask for more money, the reality is, it is one among a myriad of possible ways to ask. What method that a church asks for money is probably best measured against the Bible which prescribes that:

“Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (2Corinthians 9v.7)

I know it’s a tried and used passage about giving, but it’s still often used too carelessly. In fact, I’m pretty sure reading the context, the verse isn’t even specifically referring to money, the passage surrounding talks of reaping what you sow and therefore, you must give generously to God because He is the author of our lives. Exactly what the passage is talking about is the refocusing of ambition towards God, cheerfulness in giving not out of compulsion or of guilt.

Previously, I argued that we cannot begin to make givers out of unsaved people. Similarly, I would argue to make cheerful givers, there needs to be understanding of the grander reality of the Kingdom. There is a unhealthy perception of church from many peoples as a boring and irrelevant place. According to what other people have thought, a lot of churches have changed and molded to what other people want the church to be. Unfortunately, the church isn’t a circus, nor is it a country club and it isn’t a Fortune 500 company either. While I find there is always room for improvement, as being part of the Church we are aiming towards the perfection of Jesus always, the people that are the problem more often than not are not the people within the church but the outside people knowledge of the people within the church.

Changing the knowledge of people outside of church is difficult. I don’t have answers to counteract the power of mass-media, and stopping the multitude of movies that are so driven for pushing down Christianity dishonestly. *cough* Easy A *cough*

Finally, on the topic of giving, all the money we have is not ours, it is all from God. How could we have this money without the grace and mercy that God has shown to us? The first premise of correct Christian giving comes not from a percentage of your total income, but from a fundamental understanding of our own poverty. Charles Spurgeon says:

So deep are our necessities, that until we are in heaven we must not cease to pray. Do you want nothing? Then, I fear you do not know your poverty.

God sustains us. Money does have a central role in our society, so much so, I admit sometimes it feels like a sustaining force as well. Having money is equated to having power, and celebrities are celebrated because of their wealth. If we can begin to understand how powerless money is, it cannot sustain us beyond one more breathe that God has breathed into us, only then would we be good with investing more into the Bride of Christ. If we can change the perceptions of the Church; A church not controlled by man’s thirst for power but only accountable to God, only then could we be expecting enough to sustain the church. Then, only then, will giving to the church be equated to giving to God as an instrument for His work in this fallen world.

We all should be giving 100%. Giving 100% of our money, but of our hearts and of our lives. Nothing we have is ours, but all is given and blessed onto us from God alone. How can we begin to be like Anaias and Sapphira and begin to hold some back from God? How can we be like Adam and Eve and pretend that we could run and hide away from God? The money we have is utterly worthless and we should invest more in Jesus and the Kingdom coming to reign in our hearts.

i personally love that pic. got a nice ring to it, i guess every superhero need his theme music. oh yah. this book really helped me. not. http://tinyurl.com/5s7xn8p

Christians and Giving (Part One)

Especially with the recent bankruptcy in Crystal Cathedral, it exposed a certain fragility in churches in the dependency on the money that it receives. It’s an age-old question of how people should pay for their church services. It has been reported that their church nativity scene, complete with live animals cost well into the $60k area. (source) This also is the church whose founding pastor was none other than Robert Schuller, the founder of the popular television program “Hour of Power”. How does a television program continuing running without the constant inflow of advertising revenue on top of viewer donations? The viewer donations which have been the staple of tele-vangelists of the past 50 years.

Senior Pastor Sheila Schuller Coleman of the Crystal Cathedral blamed the recession as “budgets could not be cut fast enough to keep up with the unprecedented rapid decline in revenue.” (source) While it could be expected that the recession will naturally reduce the funds that are available for a congregation to give, I don’t find it surprising that people find the first thing to stop spending on is the church. (I’m also not surprised by the congregation that meets in a $18million church designed by Philip Johnson)

In this post, I don’t wish to comment on the use of the money, which I think is flagrant and a unwise account of the wealth that God has given, but rather the people giving the money. Not that how much a church congregation gives is illustrative of how holy the flock is, the bankruptcy is more illustrative of a lack of teaching from churches on giving.

With the introduction of Christianity on television, pastors with flocks of only 1000, suddenly could get an captive audience of 1,000,000! It is the power of mass media, the gospel is much more able to be applied to many, with greater efficacy than ever before. I could liken it to George Whitefield who could address 30000 followers on a Sunday morning on the slopes of Mount Hanham and every single one of them could hear! Then again, while the tool of mass media has its merits, but also can a slippery slope if abused, which more often than not considering the sinfulness of man, seems inevitable. The slippery slope being the high costs of maintaining and broadcasting a television channel has transformed this mode of communication to begin to be totally weighted towards the consumers in the church while maintaining apathy towards its believers.

My question is: If there are no believers, how can it begin to expect funds?

There is a shift in our churches today, the people that come in through the front doors are nothing more than consumers. The pulpit on which the Word of God was once preached has been transformed into a stage, where the people standing on it are merely performers onto droves of adoring fans. These churchgoers lack commitment with the smallest distractions enough to sway their attention, loving things for a short period of time before moving on. A culture of tourist Christians is created (I blogged about this here), with people continually moving from one attraction to the next and only what is relevant being the measure of what is good and bad.

I’m not just bashing Crystal Cathedral or any specific church, but the church in general across the world. There has developed this need to keep people entertained in the church, and the reason is mainly the irresponsible use of mass media in the church. Abuse of mass media leads to dependance on earthly means to bring believers. If awe in earthly things is our central message, and we forget the awesomeness of the holiness of God, how greatly then are we diminishing His glory? Moreover, what does it show about my trust and belief in God? When the way that the notices are presented have more resources poured into them, as opposed to praying for the pastor’s sermon on the pulpit, there is something wrong.

A fragmented understanding of the church, and its function, will lead disjointed giving in not just money, but as well, their lives to God. In a church that does not demand total devotion to the gospel, how can you begin to demand funds to be given to the work of the church?