Live to Give

Do we the church cling to wealth? Do we go out in the world seeking fame and fortune, wanting more and more? Do we ignore those who are in need; do we leave it to others to help the needy?  How should the church deal with money? How should we as Christians live? After all, 1 Timothy states

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life

God gives us everything, and thus we must use it for good. If you do give, you will be blessed, not like how prosperity men talk as if it’ll solve all your problems, but God will bless. Sometimes the fear of prosperity teaching makes churches shy away from talking about giving, but we should be known as a giving church, but not to those who have it all, but to those who have nothing. God has entrusted us with gifts, it may be wealth, if it is, then it should be used to help further the kingdom.

Two Bible verses always stand out to me, and of course we must take everything in context.

Mark 10:21-22:

Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. (NIV).

And in Acts 2:

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (NIV).

So what we see here is a heart for giving. For the rich young man, wealth got in the way of following Jesus. He loved wealth more than God, and the Bible tells us that we are prone to do so. God knows what our weakness are, and our desires, but He wants us to put Him first. Wealth is not inherently bad, but ‘is a root of all kinds of evil (1 Timothy 6:10).’ It can be a huge stumbling block in our service to the Lord.

In the verses from Acts, what do we notice? The church put others before itself. They looked after one another and gave to the poor; don’t forget, Jesus and the disciples gave constantly to the poor. Here the Apostles and the greater church gave all they had so others could be better off. They did it without any hesitation, they trusted God would care and provide for them, and He did and He still does, for us! Therefore, we need to trust Him more and give more to those who are in need.

Can a Christian own a mansion?

Well, nowhere in the Bible does it say, ‘Thou shalt not own a mansion’. But, if there are those in need in your church, even in your community, and you have a mansion, surely there’s something not quite right there? Not that a mansion in itself is bad, but if you let that mansion and your worldly goods get in the way of loving those in need, then it is a stumbling block. I know it is never easy to part with money; it is something I certainly struggle with, we want to save money, and spend it on ourselves and those around us, again nothing inherently bad, but it can also be a stumbling block. We should give, and give all we can.

James 5 does not give the rich a good outlook if they are selfish with money:

1Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. (NIV).

If you are wealthy and do not do good with it, then it is testimony against your heart. As Christians we’re called to stewardship of the gifts God has given us, that includes wealth. If you value what you have here on this earth, whilst others are in need then your heart isn’t set on Jesus. We need to look to Him and Him only! I know that I should give much more than I do, I pray that we will all be a generous and giving church.

Let us think on James 2: 14-17

“What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

We are meant to meet the needs of others, if we have faith but our works show nothing, then it is as James says, dead. Let us really think of these verses and how this reflects in our lives. Let us be active Christians that play an active role in their communities, rather than academic ones who rather talk about doctrine all day rather than live out the faith.

In the Christian life, we are meant to be humble, and we are meant to give it all to God. I think Hebrews 13:5 sums up the Christian attitude nicely I think. Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” God is with us, He is all we need, He has given all to us, let’s give it all back to Him. Serve Him and do not hold on to the things of this world!

Music As a Form of Worship

The phrase ‘Let us start worship’ or ‘Let us begin worship’ is one that never sits easy with me. The term ‘Worship Leader’ for me doesn’t seem to be a biblical principal. In this post, I am to pick apart these terms and phrases and suggest what I believe we should be actually doing instead.

Is Worship something we turn on?

I do hope that no church flicks a switch and suddenly they are in ‘worship’ mode, I would be extremely concerned if it did! In my interpretation, worship is something that we are, we are made to worship. It is also not just solely music and singing, as we can sometimes think; in fact music is just a small part of what worship is all about.

So can we just turn it on with a flick of a switch? No! We don’t start worship, and we don’t just begin in worship, we should be worshipping God in all our thoughts and deeds, in our actions and in our words.

There is no start, and there is no end. To be frank, no one can lead you in worship. No man can lead you in worship to God, only the Spirit can give you the words to say, give you desire to praise such an awesome God we serve. You don’t just go to church where someone there helps your heart focus on God, that’s all through the Spirit, through your own heart and through you as an individual before the Lord. We worship collectively as individuals.

Music isn’t all worship

Let’s be straight here as well. Music is only a tiny fraction of what worship actually is. The Bible says:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship” (Romans 12:1).

Worship is everything we do, it is a way we can communicate with God, it is a way we can give Him praises, and it is a way in which we can actually remember truths and passages from the Bible. If you look at hymns for example, their purpose is often to help people remember key truths about the Bible and about God. Are we losing that today?

Nonetheless, music isn’t worship. Music is a tool God has given us, to help us and to give it back to Him. Martin Luther said, ‘Next to the word of God the noble art of music is the greatest treasure in the world.’ However, I think, we, the church, can get too focused on just one facet of what worship is. We will rehearse, practice and make a fantastic performance on stage, but what is our prayer life like? Do we spend time with God? Do we read our Bibles? Do we show a Christian life by our actions always? Sometimes we focus on one facet that we forget all the others which are just as, if not even more, important. We may get excited over a song, but we have to ask the question — do we get excited because we love the tune, love the music, but not what worship is all about?

I’m not against ‘Worship Leaders’ but..

I understand the need for someone to help keep everyone in tune, in focus and in musical cohesion, but let’s be straight here, no person actually leads worship. If anything the Spirit helps us in our singing praise, but again no person should be in a position like this, it is though as if it was just a title given to someone to sound spiritual.

Again, I am not against someone at the front helping the congregation sing and what not, but it’s the term that I have problems with, can it not be just an ego situation?

So is Music bad?

Certainly not! Music is a great gift! (Psalm 71:23; 105:2; 150: 1-5, Colossians 3:16; Revelation 14: 3-4) and one we should cherish and love to do, it allows us to be creative and it allows us to express ourselves when words fail us. Nonetheless, we must remember that it is all about Him, the mighty God, the One we are told to hold in reverent fear as well as love and adore. When we sing to our Father we do need to be serious and mean what we say. If we sing ‘I surrender all’, for example, then we should surrender all to Jesus, rather than merely singing for the sake of it (or because it’s catchy and modern) then going home and forgetting all about it. Jesus told the Pharisees that they were hypocrites and, to be frank, we can be very hypocritical in our music.

Music shouldn’t also be about using the latest snazziest catchphrases. For example, in recent times ‘oceans’, ‘waves’ and ‘storms’ having been doing the rounds. Before that it was ‘dry bones’ and I can keep going on. When we write music as worship, it should all be from the heart, about what God is telling us, and what we have been through, not what is trendy. Let’s be frank, modern songs/hymns have produced some amazing and great songs that really come from the heart, but there are also a number which just sound like they have been regurgitated time and time again, the same phrases, the same things being said. When we describe God, surely there are more ways of saying ‘You are awesome’ or ‘You are great.’ Don’t get me wrong, these are amazing truths, but sometimes it feels to me that less time has been put into the lyrics and more time into the production quality. Lyrics are important! Sometimes I can’t resist rewriting certain songs for my own personal use, and I’ll probably go on a massive rewriting spree now with many others because sometimes the tune is great but the words are so weak.

When we worship, via music, via songs, we must ensure it comes from the heart and that we mean it. We must also be prepared to learn, to be prepared to be challenged. We must acknowledge all aspects of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Conclusion

Now I love music, I love music in churches, but I just wanted to write this. I think sometimes we get the wrong concept of what worship is. We don’t start or begin worship, when we sing we actually join in with the choruses in heaven, but our whole life is worship, of one form or another. Live a life that worships God, love Him with all your strength and yes praise Him in music, but always remember Who you are worshipping.

Remembering, Commemorating and Romanticising the Reformation.

Five hundred years ago a big event happened in Europe that changed the course of history forever. Five hundred years ago this month, a monk nailed 95 theses to a door, a move which would shake the foundations of the European world and indeed the global world forevermore. Five hundred years ago, was the beginning of the Reformation.

You will undoubtedly see many a post this month, and probably have seen this year about how important the Reformation was in history. But in this post I would like to offer a warning about romanticising the past, as well as the exciting opportunities and lessons it can give us.

Before we really get going, I feel a brief word about the Reformation is necessary. It was a movement in the late medieval/early modern period of history, mostly in the 16th century, although reverberations continued well into the next. It saw the likes of Martin Luther, John Calvin, Ulrich Zwingli and other ‘Reformers’ lead the split from the Catholic Church. Luther famously nailed his 95 theses on a church door, each point showing the wrongdoings of the Catholic Church. It was a time which would see the establishment of the Church of England, the dissolution of the monasteries, as well as bibles being written in common languages, and where God was shown to be a personal God, not a distant one, shrouded in mystery, approachable only through a priest or a ‘Saint’.

The ‘darker side’ of the Reformation

There are many paintings, many lectures, and many stories about the lives of the Reformation brethren. All these include their heroic deeds, the amazing and humble lives they led, and how positive the Reformation was. I’ve read articles on how we should tell our children about them, most fascinating I must say, but there is a danger in this. We romanticise the past, maybe this is because of the Victorian approach to history (Hobsbawm’s Invention of tradition comes to mind) but it should stop. Below are a few reasons why it was not so black and white:

    1. The saints involved were far from perfect, and should not be placed on any sort of pedestal, as some have been. This is painfully ironic as one of the issues the Reformers fought against was the idolisation of past saints; men like Luther and Calvin would probably turn in their graves at the sort of attention afforded to them today.
    2. The Reformation was a torrid time. It brought war, death, disorder to the lives of so many. It was a time of instability. It arguably saw the worst war in European history.
    3. Protestants fought Protestants. It wasn’t as straight forward as Catholic versus Protestant.
    4. The Catholics aren’t the ‘bad guys’. Both sides did terrible things! Both sides also had good godly Christians, who sought to do what was right before the Lord.
    5. Propaganda was one of the most-effective tools at the disposal of different figures and governments. There was a ton of it!
    6. The Reformation saw a rise of witch trials. Mainly this was on nation borders as people divided themselves more and more. This shows us just how divided people were at the time.
  • The Reformation, to a large extent, created the nation states that we know today. Borders were drawn up, and people more divided than ever before.

 

So what did the Reformation give us?

These are just a few things that show a darker side to the reformation. Nonetheless, despite all of this, the effects of the Reformation were, and still are, amazing; it paved the way for free thought and free press. Sometimes we talk about the spiritual awakening brought by the Reformation, and of course that was tremendous. But when we talk to our non-Christian friends and they talk about history, what do we say to them? God brought light to Europe? He sent his Spirit? Arguments that will never hold up in the present day, because people do not believe in God. We know what God has done, but in an age of evidence and argument, we need to show what God has done; cold hard facts.

So what did come out of the Reformation? Free thought and press would alone give vent to many scientific discoveries and political discussions.   New theories, new theological ideas all came from the Reformation, finally ‘religion’ could no longer control people as it had. It gave a voice to the common person; it allowed them to engage in national debates.

The Reformation would lead to us being able to read, to write, to engage with discussions around us. Now some people take this as people before didn’t know what was going on in their country and what not, and that is wrong. But the Reformation allowed a stronger sense of identity, and protest. It allowed people to read, it would allow people like you and me to actually have an education.

The Reformation quickened superstition’s death. Although witch trials did increase, it did allow eventually for superstition to decrease. And whilst superstition is still around today, ‘touch wood’ and all that; it is nothing like what it was like in the medieval period.

The Reformation induced free trade, and gave way to a bigger and more powerful middle-class. Now, you could be a Marxist or a socialist reading this and think this was more a negative, and to be honest, I do see your point. But what we see is people that were once disregarded in society, elevated to positions such as Parliament, and perhaps giving us greater social mobility, even if it was still very limited. It saw the begins of a capitalist system, which has indeed given us benefits, and even if you are a Marxist reading this, then it is one step closer to communism/socialism!

The Reformation showed us that people can stand up to authority and win. It shows us that we can stand up as the smaller guy and win; it shows us that if there is something you believe in, fight for it, and don’t give up. It gave us people, even if you don’t have a faith, to look at and admire for their bravery. If you are a Christian, then it shows us that anything is possible with God, if he is with us, what can stand against? For the Christian, it put the ‘church’ back in its place, and emphasised a personal relationship with God through Christ, instead of some weird distant god through priests, bishops, indulgences and purgatory. Instead of a wealthy domineering powerbase, the Reformation turned back to the original meaning of ‘church’ in the Bible: ‘congregation’ or ‘assembly of believers’.

And where did all this come from? The Bible, that great book, finally translated into the common languages of the European peoples. The greatest thing the Reformation gave anyone was the Bible finally in their own language.

In fact, the entirety of today’s society is built on the back of the Reformation, on the back of the Bible. Yes, it wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t a picturesque time by any stretch of the imagination, but it gave us things we value so much. The society we live in now comes from the Reformation, and that we can be thankful for that. The fact is, no period in time is lovely, it is all gritty and scary, and that is something Christians need to remember. When we teach our children about it, we have to ensure a balanced approach. Romanticising the past is dangerous, it can lead to misconceptions, and can lead us to living in the past, or our own idealised fantasy world. It can lead us to forgetting the awful things that were done. At the same time, it is an event to celebrate, but always do it in balance.