Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Secrets to Financial Stability

Our nation is currently experiencing one of the most difficult financial downturns in our history. Many families have lost their jobs, their homes and their retirement funds. Some areas of the country have been hit harder than others and some families have experienced more loss than others. While there is no way to guarantee financial success, there are three simple secrets that churches need to teach to their congregations in order to give them financial stability. What are these three simple secrets? 1. Do not accumulate debt, 2. Save a little of your money each month, and 3. Always tithe to your church. Older generations knew these three secrets and most practiced them. Few young people in our postmodern era have grasped these concepts yet. If young people do not learn these secrets, their lives will be much more difficult than they need to be.

Debt has become a way of life for far too many Americans. Young people graduate from college with students loans and credits card bills and often a car payment. They are in significant debt before they get their first real paycheck. Their parents are seldom any better off. This cycle of debt limits young people’s futures and often destroys their hopes and dreams. We must teach young people not to spend what they don’t have. While from time to time a situation may arise that requires a person to accept some level of debt, that level should always be as low as possible and be paid off as quickly as possible.

Saving was a virtue of the older generation, but often unheard of in younger generations. There are many reasons to save. Perhaps it is to buy a large item like a car, or perhaps it is for a down payment on a home, or maybe a long awaited vacation or just to have a rainy day fund for emergencies. Whatever the purpose of saving, the same principle applies. A small amount saved consistently over a period of time begins to accumulate faster than what one may think. Paying cash for a big purchase, or having an emergency fund to draw from when the car breaks down, not only feels good, it just makes good economic sense.

Learning to tithe to one’s church is an important spiritual discipline. Some people think they cannot afford to tithe. But the reality is that a Christian cannot afford NOT to tithe. The prophet Malachi has strong words for those who fail to tithe; he says they are robbing God. God has promised to bless those who do tithe and keep the “destroyer” away. Christians who choose not to tithe are missing out on this blessing. Many Christians are constantly broke and seem to have one financial calamity after another. When we find ourselves in such a situation, we may need to examine our checkbook and make sure we have been tithing like God asked us to.

Though there is no guarantee in the bible to the Christian for financial success, knowing these three secrets and putting them into practice sure can give believers greater financial stability. In these difficult days, financial stability is a blessing of its own.

For a complete study on tithing read: "Malachi: Finding Hope in the Midst of Adversity."

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Importance of Little Things

As a young adult I learned a valuable lesson about saving. I was taught that if I put aside a little bit of every dollar that I earned, then eventually I would have enough money to buy something big. This concept has served me well over the years when I wanted to take a vacation or needed to buy a car or replace a household appliance. But the concept of taking many small pieces and accumulating something of significant worth has more than just financial applications. For example, if we spend a little bit of time each day praying and reading the Bible, over the course of a lifetime, we will have learned much about the Bible and develop a strong prayer life. If we exercise some each day, our bodies will function better and longer. If we show love to our families in little ways, our families will be able to endure the difficulties that life throws at them.

The concept of little things being done consistently over time and producing big effects used to be well understood in our society. But we have now become a society that wants instant gratification. The younger generation wants success and they want it now. Seldom are they willing to take time to invest in all the little steps that are required to build a good life.

One of the tasks of the church in our current era is to help young people rediscover this vital concept. We can help young people rediscover this concept if we talk about it more and if we show examples of how it has worked in our own lives. Teaching these concepts does not require big budgets, or fancy programs or the completion of formal educational programs. All it takes is one person caring enough to invest himself or herself in a younger person. It seems like Paul had something to say about that in his letters to young Timothy.

Spend some time this week thinking about some ways in which little things you did in your own life produced some big results and then ask God to show you creative ways to share that experience with the young people in your sphere of influence.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What is Real Faithfulness?

Our culture is currently experiencing a crisis in faithfulness. People make marriage vows and commit to be faithful to one another, only to break them when temptation comes along. People make financial commitments, only to break them when the budget gets tight. People join a club or fitness center but stop going as soon as the schedule gets squeezed. People make spiritual commitments to the Lord and to the church, only to drop them if the weather looks good for boating on any particular weekend.

The interesting thing about this lack of faithfulness in our society is that the very people who are breaking their commitments often consider themselves faithful. As a culture, we have forgotten what faithfulness is. Instead we prefer to create our own version of faithfulness even if our activities deny the real meaning of the word.

I was thinking about this recently after a series frustrating experiences with some young people who considered themselves faithful, but who clearly were not. I realized that these young people really do not understand what faithfulness is.

Though there may be many definitions of faithfulness, the one I like best is: “Faithfulness is consistently and competently doing something you enjoy for an extended period of time even in the face of difficult situations.”

The first aspect of this definition is consistency. If we only do something every so often, that is not faithfulness. While no one is perfect, faithfulness demands that most of the time we are consistently doing a certain thing. If we are not consistent, then we are not faithful.

The second aspect of this definition is competency. Some people do things consistently, but they do them in such a low quality way that someone else has to come along after them and correct their errors. Doing something that poorly is not true faithfulness. Faithfulness requires doing something with a level of competence that someone else does not have to fix our mess.

The third aspect of this definition is doing something you enjoy. Sometimes we do things because we have to. While there is something commendable about doing the right thing even when we don’t feel like it, to really be considered faithful, we must actually enjoy what we are doing. Otherwise our bad attitude begins to show through and the results of our efforts will be significantly less than if we were doing something we actually enjoyed. This is the probably the aspect of this particular definition that people will struggle with the most. But can we really consider ourselves faithful if we hate what we have committed to?

The fourth aspect of this definition is that that the activity must be done for an extended period of time. Anyone can do something for a short period of time. But doing something for a little while does not demonstrate faithfulness. While there may not be an exact length of time that defines all aspects of faithfulness, a general rule of thumb is that when a person has done a certain activity long enough that people associate that person with that activity, they have probably entered into the realm of faithfulness. If we haven’t done an activity long enough for people to associate us with that activity, we probably haven’t been doing it long enough to be considered faithful to that particular task.

The fifth aspect of this definition is that the activity must be done even in the face of difficult situations. All commitments that we make will face challenges. People who forsake their commitments at the first sign of difficulty are not demonstrating faithfulness. True faithfulness requires a person to continue the activity even when doing so costs them something. We never know how important something is to us until we have to sacrifice in order to keep that thing in our lives. Once we have remained committed in the face of difficulty and sacrifice, then we have demonstrated true faithfulness.

If our culture is to survive for another generation, we must rediscover faithfulness. We need to help our children understand faithfulness to marriage, to family, to their jobs and most importantly, to their faith. Without it, our culture will continue to decay and eventually unravel. Let us commit ourselves to faithfulness in every situation.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Can Post Modern Worship Be Biblical?

One of the hallmarks of today’s post modern young adults is that they like to “experience” things. They are not as interested in sitting in a classroom hearing about rock climbing as they are in actually climbing the rock. They are not as interested in learning about acting theory as they are in actually standing on the stage and just doing it. They are not as interested in reading about South America as they are in visiting South America and meeting the people, eating the food, etc. Today’s post modern young adults like to be fully engaged in what they are doing. This has given rise to “extreme” sports and other experience based adventures.

Many churches have struggled in keeping young adults active in worship services because many churches offer little in the way of “experience” during a typical worship service. Churches hire student ministers to plan trips and activities, and young people flock to those events, but when it comes to actually attending worship services, the number of active young adults drops dramatically.

While some cutting edge churches are experimenting with “new” kinds of worship, perhaps we might consider going back to the ancient ways of the early church. In the early church a large group did not sit and just listen to a man speak. They often interacted with the speaker and asked questions. Paul even had to address this in one of his letters to the church of Corinth because the question asking was so great that it had begun to distract from the point. Early worship utilized the experience of communion much more than many evangelical churches today. On a regular basis they actually passed a piece of bread around the room and each person pinched off a piece and ate it. That is so different from the once a quarter pre-packaged communion wafers that some churches use today. Even baptism was an experience in the early church. They only practiced full body immersion of an adult believer in the first century. Just think about how much more a powerful experience that would be compared to the few drops of water sprinkled on the head of an infant that is often practiced today. Even the music was more experiential in the first century. The Psalms was the early hymn book of the church. When we read it we see that a number of instruments were used, not just one person playing the organ. And a number of people were leading the worship, not just one “worship leader.” All those people who were involved were part of the experience, not just observers of someone else doing it. Even the songs themselves were experiential. The early church sang songs TO God not just songs ABOUT God. When we read the Psalms we see that they are interactive exchanges between a Holy God and His people, much more so than many of the one way conversations of far too many hymns in our 1950’s era hymn book.

The reality was, first century worship was VERY experiential. And if we want our worship services to be biblical then they need to be experiential too. Interestingly enough, having more biblical worship services will actually help us reach more post modern young adults. Who would have thought?