Pastoral Musings from Rain City

it's about 'what is church?' it's about whether 'emergent' is the latest Christian trend or something more substantial. it's musing on what it means to live the city, in America, in community, intergenerationally, at this time in history...

Monday, May 30, 2005

Keeping Our Kings Straight: Now more than Ever

There once was a time in American politics when working across the aisle and moving towards centrist policies were viewed as virtues. Today, however, it seems that, on both sides of the aisle, such behavior is considered weak and unprincipled. While I appreciate that there are principles for which we must be willing to die, I am concerned with the deeply polarized politic of our country right now, and even more concerned that this politic is dividing our religious communities.

Bethany is, perhaps, one of the few churches that has been able to maintain a civility in our discourse, even though we by no means voted uniformly in the last presidential election. But wherever we are on the political spectrum, we need to be careful:

On the left:

1. We must worry in the present environment that cynicism is only creating a capacity to critique, and not a capacity to offer constructive solutions. To point out weaknesses in a current administration's policy, especially retrospectively, is frighteningly easy. Cynicism and criticism, left alone, will usually lead to the easiest path of all: disengagement. On the other hand, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, when he saw weaknesses in the rise of the Reich in Germany, came to the conclusion that he could not simply write from the other side of the ocean about the dangers. He needed to return to Germany. His return led to the establishment of an underground seminary, his participation in a failed plot to assisinate Hitler, and ultimately to his arrest and execution. Of course, writing essays from New York would have been easier, but the real solutions usually require blood.

We are called to pray for our leaders, asking that God would give them wisdom, in order that we might be able to live in peace. Too often, anger and cynicism have left no room for prayers.

On the right:

We must be mindful of the dangers of the current environment because it is an environment that, whether intended or not, discourages questions or challenges to present positions. In such an environment, even conservatives who question present policy are immediately labelled. Let us begin by thanking God that we are in a nation where any critique is tolerated. But let us move, individually and collectively as God's people, to carefully weigh policies and decisions against the teachings of Jesus and the history of the church. For example, it is not unpatriotic, nor unsupportive of our troops, to consider the church's historic teachings on what constitutes a 'just war', looking at it from the left and the right, and to be persauded in our own hearts about these things before the Lord.

We must be crystal clear in our distinction between the kingdom of God and our nationalistic loyalties and aspirations. We can appropriately pray and sing, asking God to bless America, but let us never confuse our primary loyalties. When the day is done, the everlasting kingdom to which we belong and to which we owe our primary loyalty and our lives, is the kingdom of God in Christ. Making patriotism and spirituality somehow synonymous inevitably leads to trouble.

Is it possible to have civil discourse between followers of Jesus who live on the left and those who are on the right? Of course, but not without humility! May our Lord grant us such as we listen to each other in the coming days, continuing in the meantime to pray for leaders, for the victims of war, and for those serving in the military.

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Two Weddings and a Funeral

This Memorial Day weekend, I've been present to grieve with a woman who lost her husband of 52 years and counseled a couple that's preparing to marry in July. And then, this evening, I'll be officiating at the wedding of a different couple, whose rehearsel I was at last night. The convergence of weddings and funerals is always sobering. I listened to this woman share stories of her husband's health decline. He was an athelete, loving softball, basketball, and batting cages. But the last five years, a rare brain disease rendered him virtually helpless, stealing larger and larger parts of his independence and strength until, last night, it finally took his life.

Tonight, the couple will stand before God, each other, and their friends as witnesses and will say, "for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health", and they will say the words with the confidence of youth and strength of good health. They will mean the words, and I believe that this wonderful couple will live them out for the rest of their days. But they don't know what they're saying. They can't know what 'sickness' lies ahead, if any. They can't know which of the two of them will lose faculties first. They can't know the cost of caring for the other, and the hole that will be left. No couple can know that, and yet they say the words, and they mean them, I believe, with all their heart.

That's the power of a covenant. A covenant is the commitment to a relationship, a commitment to loving another through all the peaks and valleys that lie ahead in life, knowing that when the promise is made, neither party has any way of knowing what peaks and valleys await them. What a profound thing it is to say to another: "I'm going to commit to caring for you, knowing that such a commitment will ask of me sacrifices that I presently can't possibly foresee." In an age of disposable relationships, short-lived commitments, and utilitarian values, these words are all the more powerful, because to live them will require swimming upstream, against the prevailing currents of our culture.

So there will be a wedding tonight, and it will be a good one. And two people will begin a life together, the likes of which neither of them has any way of predicting. But both of them know this: As they draw upon Christ for the strength to fulfill their covenant, they will find their own destiny, living the adventure that God has for them, an adventure that will no doubt contan a full measure of joy, laughter, tears, sorrow, gifts, and loss. Such are the covenant people: fully alive - a blessing to the world.

Have a good weekend.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Leadership Yoga

I try to practice a series of Yoga excercises on a regular basis because Yoga, more than any other excercise routine of which I'm aware, has a knack for balancing strength development for opposing muscle groups. Thus the quadriceps and hamstrings both get challenged to stretch and strengthen. Many excercise routines develop imbalances in the body, and eventually (around 49 years old apparently) these imbalances start showing up in little quirks and pains. And so the issue of balance comes to forefront, as I recognize that health has nothing to do with unlimited development of one area at the cost of others.

I'm thinking about this issue of balance these days for another reason: we're retooling the structure of our internship program at Bethany. This restructuring stems from a concern that training for ministry is, in many places, out of balance. In general there is a heavy emphasis on theology, certainly born out of a concern that leaders be discerning and protective of truth. It is good to have the capacity to learn Greek and Hebrew, to recall the pressing issues present throughout church history, and to understand both the dangers and opportunities in a pluralistic and post-modern culture. But if this is the exclusive, or even the major focus in one's preparation for leadership, the reality is that several other vital components will be underdeveloped. So what are the components that need developing, and that need to be developed in balance with one another? We've identified four, and hope that each person who interns with us will be learning and practicing in:

1. Theological Discernment

It's vital that those who are involved in leadership learn to use their minds, open their hearts, absorb truth (from many sources - creation, culture, Bible, history, conversation, and more), sift it, digest it, re-articulate it, receive it, personalize it, contextualize it for one's community, weigh it against the prevailing tides of culture, and much more. Towards that end, helping people become students in all these arenas becomes an important part of any internship.

2. Missional Practice

It's wholly inadequate to believe that simply absorbing truth leads to fruitful living. In fact, the testimony of the God's people throughout history is that one of our greatest weaknesses is our tendency to equate intellectual acquisition with spiritual advancement. The reality, of course, is that Jesus commends people, not for what they know, nor even for what they say, but for what they actually do. Towards that end, those who are with us need practical ministry components, practical ways of expressing their giftedness, and testing what gifts they may or may not have, and making a great priority of linking that which is learned in the book with action.

3. Spiritual Formation

The volume of noise and activity in our culture has a cumulative effect of dulling our sensitivity to the voice of Christ, draining our souls, hardening our hearts, and leaving the landscape of our hearts ravaged by drought. Streams of living water are available to change the landscape, but requires intentionality in the realm of spritual formation. Towards this end, each student will be encouraged to develop a spiritual practice - a set of activities that become the means whereby our hearts are opened to receive from Christ.

4. Community Living

One can do all these things, but still fail in effectiveness because, when the day is done, the single most important component of our life in Christ is our commitment to loving one another. Thus the relational components of confession, truth telling, forgiveness, encouragement, celebration, and service will be vital parts of the experience.

All of these areas are vital, and only as one's life experience and ministry experience are challenged in all of these areas will one's potential for ministry be maximized. But of course, this isn't about vocational ministry and internships. This is about ministry (no matter what one's occupation) and all followers of Christ. We need balance! More on this later...

Sunday, May 22, 2005

How Swings Work

In the introduction to a series on Christian Ethics, I tried to articulate the dangers of both legalism and libertarianism, framing that discussion around the analogy of a body's immune system. An overactive immune destroys the very elements we need for survival, while a passive immune system allows destructive forces to damage and ultimately overtake the body.

Reading through church history, one can see a tendency towards the extreme ends of both legalism and libertarianism, perhaps because the church has often been formulating its positions in a reactionary manner. Lawlessness and anarchy give way to the police state, not only in political history, but in the history of the church.

That's why what is needed in any ethical discussion are the foundational principles that I outlined today:

1. I need a commitment to the person of Christ that supersedes my commitment to a certain interpretation of the Bible. Remember, it was those who thought they knew the text best (because they had studied it the most), who killed Jesus.

2. I need to a commitment to love that supercedes my knowledge. The religious leaders of Jesus day used their knowledge of the law to destroy. The church at Corinth was using their knowledge of their liberty in an equally destructive manner. When the day is done, John the Apostle said it clearly and often: your love will be where the confirmation of your testimony will appear. What does this love look like when we are called to demonstrate to our enemies, to those with whom we don't agree, and to those who are quite different than us? Our capacity to answer this question and live it out will be a large determinent of our capacity to be a 'river of living water' to our city.

3. I need a commitment to transformation rather then entrenchment. Why are we in the church often threatened by those whose understanding of the truth is different than our own? How can we better embody our calling to continual renewal of our mind, so that our transformation can be, as the scriptures say, continually upwards, from glory to glory? What kind of structures are needed to enhance the needed conversations that will lead to transformation? What kind of attitudes are needed on the part of Jesus followers?

These are important questions for the church to be asking at this time in history, because the land is dry and thirsty, and the opportunities for us to be a blessing are enormous!

Friday, May 20, 2005

Life is absorbed and appreicated more fully in the wake of loss

Finding Life in Loss

A member of our congregation died late Wednesday evening, bringing his battle with cancer and a brain tumor to an end. He was only in his early fifties, had a deep love of life, and was happily married. When his cancer was in its earlier stages, Bob would visit the Thursday morning theology sessions that I hold in my office for the pastoral staff. He had a keen intellect to match his large heart, and a commitment to not only study the Bible, but live out his faith, even in his dying.

Aside from grieving the loss of a friend, and pondering once again the scourge of cancer in our culture, my associate pastor and I spent time together yesterday contemplating 'the end of life' as we drove to Bob's house to visit with his wife and plan the memorial service. We live in a culture where the last days of one's life are up for grabs. Early exit strategies are juxtiposed against medical technologies which now have the power to sustain life, at least at the breathing and brain wave level almost indefinately. The fight for the right to die is pushed by some, and contested by others (mostly the religious right). Often lost in all of this is a more fundamental question, a question that needs to be asked in the framing of these discussions:

Why are we here?

If the answer has to do with production, making things, and contributing to the gross national product through the creation of goods and/or services, then it follows logically that those who aren't 'productive' anymore are expendable. A culture saturated in Darwinian ideals may well move towards that end. I suppose that if this were purely a material world, such thinking makes sense. But we have the Gulag to remind us that such thinking, while workable on a material level, strips both soul and civilization of all beauty, hope, and mercy (and we need to be careful in the west, lest our barbs tossed at communism blind us to the dangers of economic Darwinism inherent in capitalism).

The truth articulated in the Bible points us in a different direction: People have value because they are image bearers of God, and they are no less image bearers in affliction than in health. In fact, the Bible says that while the outer man (the physical body) is wasting away, the inner man is being renewed day by day. So Bob, though he slowly lost his faculties, never lost his capacity to share life - just his presence, his struggle, his grace in the face of suffering, his hunger for God, his love of his wife, spoke; and spoke right up until the final day. His life was a gift to all who knew him, up until the very end.

Henri Nouwen
writes of his experience in leaving academia in order to live in community and spend his days caring for the developmentally disabled. He reminds us, in the book that's linked here, and many others, that people have value because of who they are, not because they can be measured as units of production.

Finally, a more personal note. Days planning memorial services are hard. But last night, I arrived home and my wife had prepared a lovely meal for the two of us, who found ourselves alone for an hour before an evening obligation she had. We sat at the table, and as soon as it was quiet, we joined hands to pray. It was raining outside. The new, vibrant green shoots of life on our fir tree were glistening with fresh moisture. Life was everywhere. And when the prayer was over, there were tears. Somehow the intrusion of death rekindles in me an appreciation of the gifts of life - always present, but rarely appreciated. Maybe, as part of living well each day, I need to contemplate loss more than I do. Maybe that's why I'm a pastor.

Monday, May 16, 2005

What will I do with what I have?

We finished our stewardship focus this past week, and it remains to be seen what the next steps will be for the Bethany Community as we seek God's will regarding the His purposes for our community. But in general, the stewardship focus has been very good, at least for me, as I've revisted the question of what I'm doing with the resources I've been given.

So often, the resource question diminishes into questions only about money. But it seems that money is really the least of it. The real questions, the first questions, are more internal:

What am I doing with my New Identity? The incredible truth that if any person is 'in Christ' that person is a new creation, is probably the most earth shattering truth of all, for it insists on growth and change in our lives, insists that we continue to pursue the 'new life' that God has for us. I know in my own life that my failures always begin here. When I'm bored, or bitter, or discouraged, the temptation is to believe that I've not changed at all, that I'm the same person today as I've always been. The loss of one's capacity to believe the promises spoken to us is where the real battle seems to rage, for the Bible tells us that it is by these 'great and precious promises' that we become partakers of the divine nature. When I forget about the promises, I begin to doubt my new identity, and I fall back into old patterns, much the same way that when I fail to excercise my back reverts to twisted patterns and pain. Always, reverting to the old makes the new seem even more implausible. So the battle has to do with my identity. Here's a link that offers many 'identity truths'. It's always helpful to pray through these with thanksgiving when going through tough times (depression, in the wake of failure or condemnation, sense of inadequacy for one's calling).

So the question of what I will do with what I have is really the 2nd question. The first question is this: Do I really believe that I have the things God says that He's given me? To the extent that I can answer that question positively, I am well on my way to being a good steward of the precious days God has given me. But the battle at that fundamental level is always enormous. That's why we have such a need to saturated with the Bible, developing a practice of spiritual disciplines that will enable us to 'abide' - remain, in the realm of our truest identity.

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Preparing to be Provoked -

If you're going Wednesday night, and you've not yet read 'The Code', here are some sources to consider:

The DaVinci Code from Christianity Today

Themes from those who subscribe to the Code

The essence of the 'the problem' with the code

At stake here is the issue of how we treat history, and how we know. This discussion shows us that the debates about epistimology (how one 'knows' something) isn't being held solely, or even primarily, in ivory towers. It has spilled out into the streets of our post-modern world, provoding both earth shattering opportunities for the real gospel, and an increased sense of vulnerability for that same gospel, as deconstruction of previously held ideas is now both fashionable and expected.

Friday, May 13, 2005

A Source for Being Provoked

In my introduction on the sidebar, I speak of how my own theology is continually being squeezed and deconstructed, the effect of which is to bring me out on the other side of the squeezing into a more spacious place. "Why are you being squeezed?" might be a question some would ask. The answer is longer than today's entry, but part of the answer is simple: those who show up and listen to the ideas of others with an open mind will have their understanding of God and the world continually challenged and re-shaped. It is, of course, vital that in the midst of such exposure, we remain committed to truth (rather than expedient shifts for the sake of accomodating cultural drifts). But we will definitlely need to allow ourselves to be provoked, for without such provoking, without allowing our ideas and convictions to be challenged and tested, we will forever remain the same; the same dogmas - same strengths - same weaknesses - same blind spots. Thus entrenched, we are in grave danger of rejecting the true gospel when it appears to us dressed differently. Should we succumb to such rejection, we would join a long line of fundamentalists throughout history who have been unable to make any paradigm shifts along the way, and so ended up missing Christ and the good news.

One great source of challenge to my thinking is NT Wright. A site with links to his writings will give you more material than you can possibly digest, and will no doubt introduce you to his thinking if you're willing to digest an article. I'm introducing him to you today, because he'll be in town this coming week, and his offerings look good. You might want to put your discernment hat on, open your mind, and come listen to him share.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

The art of preposition - too sensual for Christians?

I remember, as a seminary student, studying Greek and being told that the prepositions in a sentence are, in many ways, the most important words, as they declare the relationships between subjects and objects, and the proximity of the players involved in whatever drama is unfolding.

Little did I know how right my teacher was. Over the years that I've been in ministry, I've found that 'IN' is one of the most important words available to authors, especially when it presents itself as an upward evolution. What was once, 'WITH' has now become 'IN'. This is the subject which Christ goes to great lengths to embody and declare throughout His entire life. But this distinction reaches its apex in John 14 and 15, the passages I'm studying today in preparation for this coming Sunday.

In the Old Testament, and even in the early days of Christ's arrival on earth, the prophets vision for Messiah was limited by virtue of preposition. They could see God WITH us; by our side, coming to our aide, our helper, even our guru. But they were unable to see the far more radical, for more powerful reality of Christ IN us! Suddenly, by virtue of a different preposition, we are changed from weak to strong, from some sort of spiritual celibacy with Jesus as friend, to the powerful reality of spiritual union, with Christ as our bridegroom and we, his followers as the bride. We are loved and cherished. We are united. It's not a stretch to say that we are penetrated, recipients of His seed in order that we might bring forth life, something we can't do on our own.

I don't know if it's because we love legalism, or because we're afraid of the sexual imagery, or perhaps both, but we are often missing the power of this reality. We settle for God WITH us, and reduce what is intended to be a passionate love relationship to nothing more than a moral code, or an institution with codified political alliances, blind to it's own weaknesses because she has cast off her lover, perhaps preferring political or economic power instead.

The most important truth in Christianity, the element that ultimately gives our faith a distinction, is that Christ is united with us, that we are IN Him. And, in fact, the overwhelming teaching of Paul and Jesus is that our first, our primary consideration, is simply to remain in Him, trusting that out from that will flow all that we need - our daily bread, our kingdom ethic, our power to change lives, our passion for each day, our capicity to love (both neighbor and enemy), and our many gifts along with the opportunity to use them to further God's purposes.

Why would we settle for a shabby moral code when we are offered so much more. A favorite quote of mine says,
“We believe our moralism sets us apart as exemplory Christians, when it merely confirms our mutual fixation, with the rest of humanity, on the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. At best, moral exertions will produce the tinny kindness of well-meaning persons who are not entirely engaged, not entirely there. Death, not life, is so served
There is a better way. It's the way of living in union, but of course union means relationship, and relationship means time, and messiness, and ambivilance, and so many things that are, at times, taxing, as we're forced to relinquish control. Maybe that's why the preposition 'IN' is so threatening; you can leave'WITH' behind when things get messy.

Monday, May 09, 2005

Joyful Giving

I began the day yesterday with more apprehension regarding a sermon than any time in recent memory. Most Sundays, I'm just excited to share what I've learned through the studying the Bible, but yesterday was different. While I was excited to share, I'm also aware that the church at large has a reputation for being preoccupied with fundraising, and that this is one of the main reasons people don't give Christianity a chance. I was a pastor back in the 80's when church financial scandals were common fodder for Time and Newsweek. I saw the fallout firsthand as people whose view of Christianity ranged from ambivilant to hostile gained ammunition for rejecting the faith outright.

So I've been hesitant to preach and teach on money in the past, as I haven't wanted preoccupation with dollars to supersede vision. This past three weeks have been good for me, however, as I've come to discover a couple of important truths:

1. What we do with our money is a matter of deep spiritual significance
2. While money matters can become a preoccupation that supercedes vision, clear vision for ministry isn't really clear at all if resourcing the vision isn't addressed, and the resource question is, of course, a money question.
3. If I fail to teach on money, I fail to teach on a subject that is addressed in the Bible more often than heaven or hell, or divorce, or homosexuality.

Yesterday's teaching on joyful giving was an invitation to enter into a lifestyle of generosity, motivated by relationship, and belief that our God is both active, and a God of abudance, and that our involvement in His Kingdom purposes (seeking first the kingdom, as we're admonished to do in Matthew) is the only way to live our lives to the fullest extent possible. It seems that a devotion to God's Kingdom purposes will mean a generous involvement in those works where the Kingdom of God is breaking in to the World, and there are many such works supported by Bethany (Word Made Flesh, International Needs, and Torchbearers Romania all come to mind, though there are many more). We're hoping to support Agros in the future as well. My firm belief is that by strengthening our home base so that we can more effectively train leaders, and then begin a strategy to plant churches, we will have a multiplying, exponential, impact on the kingdom. That's why, right now, the home base needs attention.

Meanwhile, we continue to work with Bagley Elementary School to help keep it open. Special meetings continue to occur, and we contiue to hope, pray, and offer a voice for keeping the school open, as healthy schools are vital to the strength of the neighborhood. You can have a voice in how the schools should solve their budget woes by going to their worksheet web site and filling it out.

Saturday, May 07, 2005

These mountains should be white in May!

McClellan Butte - Worth it!

After one of the busiest weeks in recent memory, I decided to get out into the mountains yesterday after probably the longest stay away from them in over 15 years. This past winter I didn't ski after early January because of the convergence of bad snow and a very busy schedule. So yesterday, needing to prepare for an upcoming climb in June, I went out for the morning, breaking in the legs once again on McClellan Butte. The third gully was crossable only at a snow bridge which was pretty weak. So, being a father of three and all that, I elected to turn back at the snow bridge, promising myself to continue trying the Butte every time I can until I conquer it. It's a great workout, and much less crowded than the other training, Mt. Si.

Times alone in the mountains are good for prayer on the way up, and for listening to music on the way down. It's amazing how powerful the memory trigger is when it comes to music. A certain Dave Matthews song takes me to the Gorge with my kids. Rich Mullins takes me back to the days living in the mountains, and I'm suddenly outside on my deck looking at a million stars while I listen to him sing of peace. Simon and Garfunkel take me back further and I'm in Fresno, listening to them just as I was beginning to wonder what it was all about, in the late sixties when Woodstock and Vietnam were shouting questions so loudly that even the protective walls of my church sub-culture couldn't shut them out (thank God). Every song triggers a memory, but never more powerfully than when I'm hiking alone, downhill, in the mountains.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Isolating ourselves to death

My bicycle was stolen this week - right out of my back yard. I should have known to lock it when I parked it there at night, should have known that people roam the streets sometimes, looking for that which is open, because open is sometimes translated as, 'here I am - take me!' But that's fine, I'll learn from it and move on.

The incident, though, started me thinking about some things that I read in Seattle papers over the weekend, in particular, an article by a pastor. This pastor was bashing the Seattle schools, and explaining why he'd be enrolling his children in a private school this fall.

The difficulty is that such posturing becomes a display of isolationism. "Don't like the schools? Pull your kids out. Go private." There are a couple of problems with a leader articulating this. By so doing, the leader overtly encourages wholesale withdrawal from the culture, and I'm left wondering how this encourages people of faith to be present in the world, as Jesus invited us to do. It is never the prerogative of one parent to tell another where their children should attend school, yet so often Christian parents are zealous that their way, be it public, private, or home-schooled, is the right way. Such attitudes are bad wherever they are demonstrated. When articulated by leaders, they are even worse, functionally becoming an endorsement for only one way of educating. When that endorsement leads to isolation, one wonders: How is this helping us bless our city?

In contrast to this, our church has a very close relationship with the public elementary school across the street, (which is easy to do in this case, as it is an excellent school) and have encouraged parents and children to thrive in that environment. This is part of what it means to live faithfully in one's culture, and to love one's neighbor: we must seek to bless the institutions of our city, working together for the common good, for only in so doing will we be what the Bible calls 'salt and light'. (towards that end, we are working to save our schools) To those who choose private school, spiritual leaders should encourage involvement in the broader culture in other forms, as should be the case with those who are home schooled. But make no mistake: It is not the prerogative of spiritual leaders to dictate school choice; rather our role is to encourage people to raise their children in such a way that they will love Christ and bless their world. Each parent must wrestle with that individually.

In C.S. Lewis classic book, "The Great Divorce", hell is described as that place where you have everything you want and nobody bothers you, but you are completely isolated. Houses are thousands of miles from each other and continually drifting further apart. It seems to me that statements which encourage withdrawal have the effect of isolating. And in the end, our bike won't be stolen, and our hands won't get dirty, because nobody will be nearby to bother us. But of course, since our heart is made for community and relationships, this wouldn't be heaven at all... it would be hell!

I like Jeremiah's word to us. Work and pray for the prosperity and blessing of the city (and the schools and the theaters, and the museums, and the galleries, and maybe even the sports teams) of the city in which you live. For in so doing, you will become the blessing you're meant to be!

Monday, May 02, 2005

Malachi: God says, "Show me the money"

The book, "Your Money or Your Life" is a kind of modern classic, the Bible of the voluntary simplicity movement. Though not written from a "Christian perspective" it challenges the prevailing cultural mores about materialism, and provokes us towards simpler living.

Yesterday's teaching (avialable online by Tuesday morning on the Bethany website) on tithing always seems to raise the same questions:

1. Isn't tithing just an Old Testament principle?
2. Is 10% the real number, or is it more because of the other taxes that were rolled in during Israel's theocracy, or less, precisely because it was a theocracy?
3. Is my tithing supposed to be of gross or net?

My response to all three questions is the same: If we are beginning to pick at this doctrine in these ways, we're closer to legalism than trying to capture the spirit of giving, and it was the spirit of giving that was at the heart of Malachi's complaint. On the other hand, it's important to see that one's inward attitude is reflected in our giving patterns. This is where the testimony of so many who have 'put God to the test' comes into play. Those who have been faithful to give, have found blessings!

I have, historically, found it difficult to teach on these things, because of the scandals and greed that have so often characterized the church. But I am increasingly convinced that to be silent in these matters is to be disobedient, as God is interested in transforming every area of lives. Perhaps no area needs transforming more than our relationship with money.