Monday, February 21, 2011

The Life of Faith, Pt 4: More Practical Issues

Applying our faith to the practical issues of life is essential to our spiritual growth. In the past few posts we have looked at what the definition of faith is and how it should affect our lives. We are not to separate our faith from any aspect of our life. Last time we began tackling specific areas of our lives and how to apply some biblical principles of faith to them. I began with finances because so many people tell me how difficult it is for them to really apply their faith to that area.

Some of the teaching going on in the church today has contributed to confusion about how the Lord would have us deal with finances. The doctrine of "prosperity" would have you believe that the evidence of your faith is in direct correlation to how much wealth you accumulate. I am sorry if I offend anyone, but this is not biblically accurate. If it were then we would have to surmise that all the Christians living in the Sudan were lacking in faith. There is nowhere in scripture that teaches the idea that if you just had enough faith, you would be wealthy. In fact the Bible warns of the dangers in desiring wealth or putting your trust in your possessions.

Remember the story of the rich young ruler. You can read about it in Matthew, chapter 19. The bottom line is that this young man loved his possessions so much that he could not give them up in order to follow Jesus. Jesus then commented to His disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." (Matt 19:23-24 NIV) Does it sound to you like Jesus measures your spirituality by your wealth? Look at these two scriptures:

1 Tim 6:10-11 for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

Heb 13:5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, "Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you."

So in following principle #1, (Did you already forget? Its ok, so did I. Look back at the last post. J) we want to correctly apply biblical principles to our financial decisions. I know for many of us, the biggest financial issue we struggle with is what we give back to the Lord. The number one question that comes up is "Are we as Christians required to tithe and does that mean ten percent of our income? If so, then is that ten percent of our gross or net income? Some churches teach that the ten percent must go to the local church and anything you want give to other ministries must be above and beyond that amount. Is that what the Bible teaches? Well, without going into too much detail because it would take a lot more than one post to cover this topic, I don't think so. Now, I am not going to be dogmatic and I respect others who disagree, but I think much of the confusion over this issue is because we miss the whole point of why we give today.

Some of the problem here is because of theology that teaches that God is done with Israel and has replaced her with the church. If that is your belief than you should probably be tied to the Old Testament teaching of tithing. I beg to differ and want to remind you that on the night that Jesus died, he established a new covenant by His blood, poured out for us (Lk 22:20). I prefer to live under that covenant since the instructions came from Jesus. All through the New Testament we see Jesus teaching that what God is after is the heart of man, not ritualistic, legalistic and meaningless adherence to manmade regulations. He gave us principles to follow for all of life, including our giving back to Him. Let's look at these and see if we can be sure of what He would want from us.

Matt 6:3-4 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Matt 6:19-21 "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Matt 6:31-33 so do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.

Luke 12:15 Then he said to them, "Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions."

You see Jesus is more concerned with the attitude of our heart than the amount that we give. The reason the rich young ruler went away was because his possessions were more important to him than even his eternal life. When we receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, it means we give everything to Him to do with as He wills. He explained this in the story of the poor widow, who put only two small copper coins into the temple treasury. It was a miniscule amount of money for that time, but look at what Jesus says about that offering; Luke 21:1-4 As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. "I tell you the truth," he said, "this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on."

The fact of the matter is that the word tithe is only spoken about on one occasion in the New Testament. It is recorded in both Matthew (23:23) and Luke (11:42). In this account, Jesus is rebuking the Pharisees for disregarding things that were more important than their tithe of herbs. He does say that they should pay the tithe but not neglect the weightier provisions of the law. Of course, he is speaking to the Jewish leaders, not born again believers. Hardly a proof text for New Testament tithing, yet some pastors and teachers use it that way.

You see God knows us. He knows that if we get locked into the tithe as our only standard, we will lose the joy of giving. Instead, He gave us principles to follow that will lead us into giving from our hearts. Look at these verses;

2 Cor 9:6-7 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Paul encourages generous giving, but emphasizes the attitude of the heart. It is interesting to me that in all of Paul's instructions to the church, he never mentions a specific amount or percentage of income that believers should give to the work of the ministry. I believe the instructions are clear in the above verses. He does say one more thing. "If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing." (1 Cor 13:3)

The practical advice here on giving of your income to the work of the ministry is that it is a personal issue between you and God. You must seek the Lord, ask for His wisdom and guidance and most of all ask Him to increase your faith through giving. Remember that where your treasure is, there your heart will be. Start with one guiding principle; Jesus is the Lord of my life, therefore everything I have belongs to Him, not me. I promise you that He will provide for you all that you need!

Eph 3:20-21 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever! Amen.

May God bless you as you seek Him in your life of faith,


Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Life of Faith, Pt 3: Practical Issues

One thing that I hear a lot is "how does faith actually affect the practical issues of my life?" So, as promised, I want to delve into that subject. Many people, who call themselves Christians, don't seem to apply much of what the bible teaches about the integration of our faith into our daily life. They separate their "spiritual life" from their "real, everyday life." Maybe they attend church on Sundays but there is no carryover into the rest of their week.

As we defined in part one of this series, saving faith is a total trust in Jesus for our salvation. It seems that some people believe that there is nothing more to it. "Ok, I'm saved, now I run my life any way I want. I've got my fire insurance." But if you look a little closer at the scriptures, there is no evidence you can find, that defines faith in Christ as trusting Him only as your Savior. It is always connected to trusting Him as your Lord. Acts 16:31 says "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved." The New King James translation of the Bible uses the term "the Lord Jesus" SIXTY times. If you don't see Jesus as your Lord, It is hard to see how it is possible that He could be your savior. Don't just rely on me though, search the scriptures yourself and put it to the test.

The Greek word for Lord in these passages is kurios. It can also be translated as master and it is defined as supreme in authority. Included in the description of this word is the idea of having power. If we are going to trust Jesus as our Savior, we must also trust Him as our master, a master with the authority and power to actually save us, but also to meet our deepest needs. If we have accepted Jesus as Lord, (master) that would imply that we are choosing to follow and obey Him. That is what Jesus meant we He said to His disciples, "Come, and follow me." So when we look at how faith affects our lives, in a practical day to day sense, we must acknowledge this truth as our foundation.

When we have truly accepted Jesus as our Lord, it will affect every aspect of our lives. We say with Paul, "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me." (Gal 2:20 NIV) Our entire life is one lived by faith, so let's begin to look at that in practical applications. I would like to take examples from the major categories of our life and see how it might work. Before we get to each specific area and how to apply our faith, I want to give you some universal guidelines for applying our faith to all the practical areas of our lives.

  1. Proper application of our faith is explained in the Word of God; therefore I must study the scriptures that teach about the specific areas to which we apply that faith and the scriptures concerning faith itself.
  2. We do not put our faith in faith; we put our faith in Jesus Christ. He is the object of our faith. Whenever we say the word faith, it means faith in Christ (Mk 11:22)
  3. God gives you a measure of faith (Ro 12:3) and your faith in Christ rest on God's power not men's wisdom (1Co 2:5)
  4. We live by faith (in Christ) not by what we see. (2 Co5:7)
  5. When we pray in faith, we know that He hears us and that His answer is always in our best interest. (Ro 8:28)
  6. The Holy Spirit has been given to us for guidance and counsel. Seek His help. (Jn 16:13; 14:16)

I am going to make an educated guess that one of the areas that might you struggle with, is how faith operates when it comes to making financial decisions. Why do I say that? Well, it's a hard one for me so I figure it must be difficult for you as well. If not, you can just go ahead and skip this section. OK, I see you are still here, so let's continue and see how this works.

Let's say you are trying to decide on a major purchase, like buying a house. It can be overwhelming to think about all the ways a bad decision could affect your life, so you want to be sure it is the right thing to do. You also want to be sure that if you do decide to purchase, that you make the right choice, considering space needs, budget, location etc. So how can we apply these principles to making that decision?

Let's start with principle number five. Knowing that God wants what best for you, seek Him in prayer. Ask Him to give you wisdom in this decision. Trust (have faith) that He will, because He promises that to us in James 1:5-7, " If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord;" (NIV)

Next, go to the scriptures (pr. #1) and look up the passages that speak about money, possessions, and our responsibilities for its use. You might want to get a topical bible or bible dictionary to help you find those verses. There are more passages about money in the Bible than almost any other subject, so take your time. Ask the Lord to show you what He would want you to learn and how these verses apply to your specific situation (pr. #6).

Do all your practical homework in terms of researching the market, looking at what would best fit your needs and seeking advice from professionals. Once you have done all of these things and you sense that you have a direction from the Lord, don't proceed in fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and love and a sound mind. (2 Ti 1:7) Use the knowledge you have gained, the wisdom that the Holy Spirit is giving you and rest in the measure of faith He has provided you (pr. #3).

One thing I have done when making these kinds of decisions is to pray that if I am not doing the right thing, that God would slam the door shut. When I do that, I am just saying to the Lord, "your will be done!" Even if it means I don't get what I thought I wanted, it gives me the confidence that if I do, it was the right thing. I have to admit that sometimes, even after you do all these things, it may look as though the final decision turned out to be wrong. Maybe you didn't get the house you desired or maybe you did, but now it looks as though it was a bad decision. Look again at principle number four. Sometimes a good decision can look bad, but we must walk by faith, not by sight. Remember, Jesus said in Matt 7:9-11 "Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!" (NIV)

Now it is possible, that even though we followed these guidelines, prayed with sincerity and trusted the Lord, we can allow our fleshly desires to cloud our judgment and actually make a wrong decision. But, I sincerely believe that if you do follow these principles, that such a case will be a rare occurrence. If however, that turns out to be the case, then we confess our sin and He is faithful and just to forgive us. (1 Jn 1:9) We may have to suffer some consequences but remember, God loves you and He will use every circumstance of your life to conform you into the image of His own dear Son.

This is one example in applying our faith in the practical decisions of life. Next time we will look at some other examples of financial decisions as well as other practical areas of life and how we apply these biblical principles of faith.

May God bless you as you continue to follow Him,