Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Importance of Regular Giving During the Covid-19 Pandemic

Allow me to be clear right up front.  This particular blog entry is intended for those who consider themselves to be committed Christians who’s desire it is to follow God’s word for their lives.  My congregation will often hear me refer to 3P giving as our biblical model for giving to the church.  I didn’t come up with it. I got it from Andy Stanley out of North Point church.  But I think it addresses New Testament giving pretty well.  The 3 “P”s are priority, percentage, and progressive.  That is first we make our giving to the church a priority.  What we give comes off the top.  We give to the church up front before we pay our bills and before we go spending on entertainment for the weekend.  The idea behind this is God is not interested in our leftovers.  He wants our giving to be an up-front commitment.  Second, we make sure we have a set percentage of our income that we are giving to the church.  This is often where the concept of a 10% tithe comes into play.  The 10% tithe is more of an Old Testament concept, so I encourage my congregation to choose a percentage that challenges their faith a little and then give it joyfully.  Following this plan there are some who give even more than 10% of their income.  The final “P” is to remember to make our giving progressive.  That is as we continue to give and as we continue to live biblically with our finances, our margin tends to grow, and we can look to increase our percentage giving.

But what do we do when financial hardship hits as has been the case for many during this pandemic?  Well my short answer is you keep right on giving.  There is no reason why you still can’t practice 3P giving even when times are tough.  I’ve always been inspired by the sacrificial giving of the Macedonian church referred to in 2nd Corinthians 8:1-3.  We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord. I think we can safely say we are experiencing a “servere test of affliction” right now, but like the Macedonian church we can still be regular 3P givers.  It might look a little different, but we can still do it.  I can think of three ways it might look for you. 

1. You step out in faith and keep on giving the same amount even though what you are taking in has decreased.  That’s not necessarily a recommendation for everyone but depending on your financial circumstances it might well be something you can commit to and feel good about. 
2. You keep giving at the same percentage you always have but because you have less coming in, the amount you give will also be less.  For some of you this may be what you are faced with doing.  Especially if you already didn’t have much margin between your income and your expenses before your financial hardship hit. 
3. You still give regularly off the top, but you have to temporarily decrease your percentage.  If your situation is dire, this may be a choice you have to make. 

But I still can’t stress enough the importance of regular 3P giving.  I put it right on par with reading your bible and prayer as vital spiritual disciplines in your Christian life.  I can remember the earlier years of our marriage when we weren’t making much money at all and God had also clearly led us to international adoption as the way He wanted us to have a family. In trying to save up for the significant cost of adoption the temptation was there to cut back on our 3P giving.  I’m so glad we didn’t!  God provided in some truly miraculous ways for us to adopt our two children.  Perhaps that’s another blog for another time.  It was such a joy to see God provide for that specific need as we continued in our faithful giving. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that God honors our faithful giving. Perhaps especially so during difficult times.  The need to give to the church is as great now as it has ever been.  May you keep up your faithful giving during this time, and may you know the blessings God will continue to bring. 

Monday, February 11, 2019

No Choice but to be Pro-Life

I am trying to figure out what’s going on with our country around the abortion issue.  Seeing New York and Virginia in the news lately legislating and promoting late term abortions and even in some cases infanticide has been downright shocking.

I am pro-life.  I am pro-life unapologetically so.  And by pro-life I mean that I am against abortions.  I see abortion as the taking of a human life so that should not surprise you.  What scares me is the thought that some people might see abortion as the taking of a human life and are still pro-choice.  I tend to give people who are pro-choice the benefit of the doubt that they must see what’s in the womb as not a human life (even though it’s not long before what’s in the womb happens to have a heart beat and is able to feel pain). 

And if it’s okay with you I can do without the argument that people who are pro-life are not so pro-life when it comes to issues after a baby has been born.  All that does is confuse the issue.  Everyone should know by now that the term pro-life refers to being against abortions only.  I am happy to have a good rigorous discussion with pro-choicers about all those other issues, but they have nothing to do with the pro-life stance. 

To me in an ideal world everyone would be pro-life.  It wouldn’t even be an issue. Then all the politicians could have their ongoing discussions about what to do with health-care, gun control, welfare, and all sorts of other issues affecting the quality of our life, but everyone would agree that babies deserve the chance to be born into this world and not killed.

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.  Psalm 139:13-16

Here’s another reason I am pro-life.  I’m an adoptive parent.  I am eternally grateful to a woman in Vietnam and a woman in Russia who I will never meet, because those two women gave birth to my son and my daughter.  Giving up a child for adoption when you don’t feel like you will be ready to take care of that child is one of the most courageous, selfless, and beautiful acts imaginable.  I’m quite sure it was inconvenient and hard for the birth-mothers of my children, but I sure am glad they did the right thing.  Adoption is a choice everyone should be able to get behind.  Actually, I long for the day when pro-choice would mean something entirely different.  I long for the day when pro-choice would mean either the child is kept or the child is put up for adoption.  That’s a pro-choice stance I could get behind.

So why am I writing this blog?  As a pastor I felt like I had to.  I felt like not somehow speaking up in an environment that is growing more and more toxic towards the unborn would go against my role as a Christian leader.  God put it on my heart to speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves, and I’m glad I did. 

Monday, February 4, 2019

Is Tom Brady Becoming Likable?

I’ve got my hometown football team on the mind after yet another Super Bowl victory last night.  It looks like that passage from Daniel came true. I saw it (the goat) attack the ram furiously, striking the ram and shattering its two horns. The ram was powerless to stand against it; the goat knocked it to the ground and trampled on it, and none could rescue the ram from its power. (Daniel 8:7-8).  I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised.  Daniel is after all a prophet. But let me be clear; I’m not writing this blog to gloat as a Patriots fan.  I’m more wondering about the possibility that Tom Brady is actually becoming a likable guy.  When I say “likable” of course I am not talking about New England fans.  We all love him.  I’m talking about what the rest of the country thinks of him. Was it just me or did Brady come across like an older, wiser, more humble version of himself during this Super Bowl run?  He seemed more thankful and almost dumbfounded that he was playing in his 9th Super Bowl.  I heard him more and more talking about family and good friends and the things that really matter in life.  And who can forget this classic answer from a young kid’s question about what to do with the haters? He tells him you have to love the haters and wish them the best. It reminds me of Romans 12:20. On the contrary: If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this you will heap burning coals on his head.

Look, I get why people outside of New England don’t like the Patriots and are a little tired of Tom Brady.  I’d imagine if I wasn’t from the New England area and I was rooting for another team I might feel the same way.  But I would like to think that Brady is giving fans outside of New England more and more reasons to at the very least respect him, and maybe even like him.  In an honest moment, I always liked Drew Bledsoe more as a person than I did Tom Brady, but I find lately Brady is giving me more reasons to like him as a person and not just as the greatest quarterback of all time.  I can remember about 3 or 4 years ago the N.F.L. brought out their all-time greats to be introduced before a game.  To me it ended up being a fascinating lesson on the condition of our society.  Ray Lewis, a likely accessory to murder, received a rousing ovation, and Tom Brady got booed. Unbelievable! At that time I think the fans just saw the arrogant pretty-boy quarterback who is married to a supermodel, who is tainted by spy-gate and deflate-gate, and who they were sick and tired of seeing win.  Today I’d like to think they are starting to see him a bit different; as a genuinely good guy who is thankful and even a little bit astounded by his success.  That’s how I seem him anyways. 

Monday, January 21, 2019

In Defense of Masculinity

With the latest Gillette ad causing lots of acrimony I thought I would throw in my two cents. First of all, I’m glad they did it.  It’s not that I agree with every single part of the ad.  And let me just say I’m not a big fan of any ad that leaves me feeling like I’ve just been sanctimoniously lectured.  That being said, I feel like the ad has started a meaningful conversation about men and their behaviors.  The buzz-phrase these days is toxic-masculinity.  In the past we’ve used terms like chauvinistic, sexist, and boorish, and if that is what toxic-masculinity is then count me as being against it one hundred percent.  Except that I think on the part of some, these more obvious obnoxious behaviors are not what they are talking about.  I think some are simply equating masculinity with toxic.  As in anything that happens to emphasize your manliness is a bad thing.  That is where I would part company.  You see I believe that God created me as a man and along with that there are certain masculine aspects of being a man that God intended; the good things about being a man.  The bad things happen when our sin screws up what God intended.  I have a verse that I use at the bottom of all my communication with our men’s group that I think sums up what Godly masculinity might look like.

Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love. 
1st Corinthians 16:13-14 (E.S.V.)

Even beyond the obvious command to act like men, you can see how the rest of that verse encourages what I might call a healthy masculinity.  The watchful part brings to mind being protective.  We are on the lookout for people or things that might bring harm to those we love.  The more we stand firm in our faith the more we become men of character and integrity; men who do the right thing when it’s easier to do the wrong thing.  And yes we are called to be strong and that’s okay.  Obviously that is referring to more than just physical strength.  It’s also about being dependable, reliable, and courageous.  Of course we can’t rely on the first group of characteristics without the last and most important part of that command; to let all that we do be done in love.  Therein lies the challenge for all men (and women too for that matter).  When we forget the love part, we start doing things out of self-interest and selfish ambition, and yes, that sometimes can lead to a toxic form of masculinity as opposed to the masculinity God calls us to; the masculinity that this verse calls us to.  Let’s embrace the masculinity of 1st Corinthians 16:13-14.  And come on ladies; isn’t that the kind of man you want in your life?  It’s anything but toxic.  Its men as God intended.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Kavanaugh and Forgiveness in Politics

I’ve been struggling with this whole Judge Kavanaugh thing.  Here’s what I’m getting at.  What if the allegations against him are one hundred percent true?  And what if he were to admit that and apologize for it?  What if he said something like the following?  “I did in fact make a terrible mistake back in high school.  I am deeply saddened by the pain I have caused this woman over the years.  I was young and dumb but there is still no excuse for what I did and I am truly sorry for it. It was a single moment in my life where I failed to show respect to a member of the opposite sex.  It was the only moment and it was under the influence of a good deal of alcohol.  My life besides that has been marked by nothing but the utmost respect and care for all women as is evidenced by the many who have come to my defense.”

If Judge Kavanaugh came out and said something like that would we forgive him?  Would you forgive him?  And what would that forgiveness look like?  Should he still be allowed to go forward and be confirmed?  If Kavanaugh has shown a pattern of disrespect for women and sexual abuse similar to the Bill Clintons and Donald Trumps of the world that would of course be a totally different story.  If there was a way to do it I think both of those men should have been disqualified from running for public office.  But a onetime offense 36 years ago in an otherwise moral and upright life seems to me to be entirely different.  If you know me and my writings, you know that I lean conservative.  But I think I can sincerely say that if it was Hillary Clinton who got elected and the exact same situation was taking place with a judge she nominated, I would say that judge would deserve to go forward with the confirmation process too.  For many ideological reasons I wouldn’t want to see that judge get confirmed, but would still think he should be able to go forward with the process.

I think if we are honest with ourselves, when it’s someone we disagree with politically we tend to be unforgiving and at times downright condemning, and when it’s someone we agree with politically we are far more forgiving and willing to find excuses for their behavior.  I know that is my inclination but I do my best to fight it.  It was Jesus who said we should forgive our brother 7 x 70.  I realize that doesn’t necessarily mean that the person being forgiven still shouldn’t have some consequences for their actions but in the particular case of Kavanaugh it would seem to me the insistence on punitive consequences is entirely political. 

For the record I am not even close to sold on Ford’s story and I’m disgusted with the timing of this on Feinstein’s part which is a political move for the sole purpose of delaying the confirmation.  But all that aside, my challenge in writing this post is to get us thinking about forgiveness and consequences in the political sphere.  I highly question the allegations against Kavanaugh, but given the scenario I’ve painted I am willing to forgive and forget.  Are you?                 

Friday, July 13, 2018

Still Proud to be an Evangelical

I’m tired…… and sometimes a little angry at all the confusion I see around one word.  That word is evangelical.  When I say there is confusion around this word that’s probably an understatement; more like massive delusions in some cases.  Perhaps it might be helpful to share up front what evangelicals are not.  They are not white.  They are not Republican.  They are not conservatives.  They are not nationalists.  And they certainly are not racist, bigoted, homophobic, and hateful as some like to portray them.

So what is an evangelical then?  I think Ed Stetzer of Christianity Today gives a pretty good summary in listing four distinct beliefs that evangelicals hold. 
·        The Bible is the highest authority for what I believe.
·        It is very important for me personally to encourage non-Christians to trust Jesus Christ as their Savior.
·        Jesus Christ’s death on the cross is the only sacrifice that could remove the penalty of my sin.
·        Only those who trust in Jesus Christ alone as their Savior receive God's free gift of eternal salvation.
Evangelical comes from the word evangelion which refers to sharing the good news about Jesus Christ. So to all of my Christian friends out there I would just like to say if you buy in to the four points listed above you are an evangelical regardless of what your political persuasion.  Based on those points I am proud to wear the evangelical badge.  I think the thing that saddens me most is that more and more I am hearing other Christians speak derogatorily about evangelicals even though using the identification above they are likely evangelicals themselves.

So I guess this blog entry is just a friendly reminder to my left leaning Christian friends that those Christians who may be more conservative then you are not the enemy.  They are your brothers and sisters in Christ.  And yes a decent chunk of them even voted for Trump.  Some did so because they actually liked him as a candidate.  I believe most did so because they saw him as the lesser of two evils that they felt forced to choose between.  Either way I think it’s important to point out that this group of people believes our calling to care for the least of these is just as important as you do.  The Christian left does not have sole claim there.  There are just two very different philosophies as to how you go about doing so and the government’s role is in doing so. 

The bottom line is we are all called to the two greatest commandments Jesus gave us; to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  And if you ask me those four points I listed should be at the core of what all Christians believe; not just those who identify as evangelical.  Personally I always found the term “evangelical Christian” to be redundant.  Because whenever I would read a definition of evangelical I would come away thinking “how is that different than simply being Christian?”  Biblically speaking it’s not.  So maybe we should be done with the term evangelical all together and we’ll just call ourselves Christians.  One big massive world-wide group of people with all kinds of political persuasions with one thing in common; we’ve all repented of our sins to God and have accepted His love and grace in making Jesus our Lord and Savior.  It’s either that or we all work at redeeming the word evangelical together and bring it back to its true Christian meaning.  I could get behind that too but unfortunately at this point I think the former would be a lot easier. 

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Pondering College and Student Loan Debt - Time to Stop the Madness

I have one kid finishing up his sophomore year in college and one kid finishing up her senior year in high school with her post-high school decision still looming, so needless to say I am right in the middle of dealing with how to pay for college.  One thing is for certain; as a country we are out of control with college debt.  It seems the more I read about it and the more casual conversations I have with other parents about it the more shocked I become.

There seems to be a prevailing mentality out there that you do whatever you have to do to get your kid through a 4 year college.  If that means taking on massive debt then so be it.  The conventional wisdom is that it will pay off in the long run.  But for more and more young people it’s not paying off the way they thought it would.  It doesn’t necessarily guarantee them a good paying job in their choice of careers.  I was reading just the other day that only one third of college graduates get jobs upon graduation in their chosen career. ( And in 2014 51% of college grads were in jobs that did not require a degree. ( There are more and more baristas and bartenders out there with four year degrees.  Many of whom have large monthly student loan payments. 

I believe young people and their parents need to start asking the tough questions about whether or not college is the right choice.  Many college grads would have been far better off going to a tech school and learning a trade.  The average college debt in 2016 was $37,172 and the average monthly payment was $351.00. (  On a personal level I have talked to many who are saddled with student loan debt far worse than that.  For some it was a worthwhile investment; for many others it has not been.  I actually spoke to a parent the other day who was figuring her child would have to come out of college with around $100.000.00 in debt, as if she had no other choice.

It’s time to stop the madness.  We have lots of other choices.  Community College, Junior College, tech schools, on line learning, enlisting in the Military and letting them pay, and working full time your first year out of high school to save up first are a few options that come to mind.  We need to get away from this idea that our kids are somehow missing out if they don’t immediately go into a 4 year school upon high school graduation.  They will survive and might even learn some valuable life lessons along the way.  And don’t even get me started on the cost of fraternities and sororities.

Since this is a blog with a Christian emphasis let me close with a couple of thoughts based on what the bible has to say about debt.  Romans 13:8b states Don’t’ run up debts, except for the huge debt of love you owe to each other. (The Message) The book of Proverbs has a good deal to say about going into debt.  I think my favorite one would be Proverbs 22:7 - The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. (N.I.V.)  I think that depicts perfectly what debt can do to us.  It makes us slaves.  We have to get through life with a massive ball in chain we call debt.  It’s just not worth it and as parents we certainly don’t want to saddle our kids with it.  I am thankful to be able to say that our son will graduate with no debt and depending on the choice our daughter makes she will graduate with either a small monthly payment or no debt as well.  As parents we all should do what we can to help our kids make wise decisions in this area.  They may not thank us initially, but they definitely will down the road.