raw thoughts Category
At one point in my life I attended a church that was extremely laid-back about the subject of giving. It wasn’t talked about much at all. There was no offering of any kind and the issue of money came up extremely infrequently. It was downplayed to the point of being out of sight, out of mind. Whether this was in response to an overemphasis that had left a bad taste in the pastor’s mouth or the desire to rely fully on the Lord’s provision I am not sure. I certainly am not judging that ministry decision, but what I do know is that it wouldn’t be until later on that I would discover the richness of all that the Bible has to say about the subject and it floored me.
Consequently, during that period I sporadically gave when I felt “lead,” which, if I’m honest, wasn’t all that often. It was more like a “tip” for a good sermon, or when I felt extra generous. I might have called it a tithe but it wasn’t, it was nowhere near a tenth of my earnings. Things certainly seemed to be humming along at the church though, and for all I knew the congregation was full of millionaires that gave so much that it really didn’t matter if I contributed or not. Also, I made very little in my job at that time and so I felt justified in keeping almost all of what I earned for myself.
Looking back, I am horrified that I would enjoy teaching that I didn’t support, be lead in worship by a team using equipment that I did nothing to offset the cost of, and bring friends to church, taking for granted that a chair was there for them to sit in and hear about Jesus but not help cover the costs to make it all happen. If I could go back in time I would tell a younger version of myself that only having a little to give doesn’t let you off the hook either. God expects us to honor Him with what He has entrusted to us and He is able to do a lot with a little. Yes, the amount I would have given (if I had been tithing) would have been a relatively insignificant amount compared to the staggering costs of all these things, but what I would later learn is that giving is less about my money being needed, and more about me needing to give it.
I could give many, many more but here are five reasons why I love to give and why there is nothing on earth that could stop me from returning the first and the best of all God puts in my hand right back to Him.
1. You only get to keep what you give away
Every penny I keep and everything I buy here on earth I will eventually walk away from when I die. Naked I was born and naked I will return, but every cent I have given to God is waiting for me in Heaven with serious interest. My daughter Lenya who is in Heaven left all her toys and clothes behind, but everything she gave to God is hers to keep forever.
2. It breaks down idolatry and greed
When your hand is clenched and you hold on to things tightly it is easy for your possessions to possess you. When you open your hand to give it is easier to keep a light touch on things. Worshipping God through giving money away is the only way I know to keep myself from worshipping money as god.
3. You get equity in the only thing that will outlast everything
No earthly companies, businesses, institutions or non-profit organizations will be in Heaven, but the church that Jesus Christ is building on earth will go marching on. The church is the only thing that exists today that will be here forever. By helping fund the building of the House of the Lord, as Jesus constructs it out of living stones, there is fruit that abounds in your account.
4. It causes you to be obsessed with the things of God
When you invest in the stock market, be it technology or agriculture, you don’t have to remind yourself to check up on it. You automatically think about it. To a degree that is borderline OCD if you have an obsessive personality like me. It’s the same way with giving to God. Where your treasure goes, there goes your heart. The fastest way to have a greater heart for God is to invest in His Kingdom.
5 You are opened up to God’s blessing
This has been the biggest surprise to me. It shouldn’t really, because He is God after all. I have found that He can’t be out-given. No matter how much I have increased my giving over the years above tithing (fair warning—giving is addictive) He has boomeranged it back to me and then some. Not just in entrusting me with more money to steward, but with opportunities, answered prayers, peace in storms, and dreams that have come true far beyond what I could ask, think or imagine.
For the last year I have been dreading the end of fall because I knew that it would signal the start of the Christmas season. Christmas is always a force to be reckoned with. On a normal year it approaches with the subtlety and restraint of a runaway locomotive. We began planning for Christmas at Fresh Life this summer and even then, when it still seemed far away, it was difficult to think about facing the world wrapped in lights, silver bells and and holly. Last week I walked into a Starbucks in New Mexico and saw eggnog lattes were on the menu and they had a big display of Advent calendars near the counter. Ready or not, here it comes.
The truth is, every holiday has been difficult this year. Mother’s day was really hard. My birthday was too. As was Alivia’s birthday, the Fourth of July, Father’s Day, and Easter. These days are when the pain of Lenya’s absence is exaggerated. We miss her every day, but on days when you would always be together or have special traditions the ache just gets a little bit louder. The hardest, by far, this year was Lenya’s birthday. Not being able to be with her on a day that is all about her was unspeakably difficult. We know that Christmas will be very hard. She went to Heaven on December 20th, and we celebrated her life and had her funeral on December 26th.
Back to the runaway train. As I was falling asleep on Halloween I was thinking about how Thanksgiving is all that separates us from Christmas now. Once December begins everything in our society is built into making the ramp up for Christmas as loud and as visible as possible. Twelve days of Christmas. Little numbered doors hiding chocolate. These days and numbers all bring painful memories and traumatizing associations with them. Lenya’s favorite Christmas carol was “Santa Clause Is Coming To Town” by Justin Bieber, but truth be told I wouldn’t really mind it if old St. Nick got lost instead. I realize that I sound like Ebenezer Scrooge, and I am ok with that. Naming your fear is a part of getting through it and I am scared of Christmas.
Fortunately, I know that God isn’t scared of what scares me. Jesus is going to be with us, just as He was last year and just as Lenya is with Him now. I don’t have to pretend like I am not frightened either. I trust Him. He will walk with us through the flashbacks and the associations and the sleepless nights and the tears and the lack of tears. We will celebrate the birth of the One who came to destroy death and bring light and immortality to light through the Gospel. We will sing until our voice won’t let us. We will preach and celebrate seeing people come to know Jesus just like we did days after Lenya died in my arms. We will party if we can muster the courage, cry when we miss her and collapse if we have to. Even though He slays us we will bless His name. We always have a choice and I choose to rejoice.
About once a month we take a day to fast and pray as a church. This is one practical way we live out one of our core-values and that is: “3. We bow before the battle.” On these very special days we get together in the evening, across the state, and pray and worship together. Nothing flashy or fancy, just an old-school Holy Ghost prayer meeting. It’s awesome.
The format changes, but I often have different campus pastors give devotional thoughts. Sometimes we take communion. I love these nights so much. No webcast or time crunch. They are some of the most extraordinary and powerful worship experiences. I often will share something about our vision or something the Lord puts on my heart right then in the moment. Last night we also heard something very special from a daughter of the house, my oldest daughter, Miss Alivia Sky Lusko. Check it out:
Early this morning I received a text that made me pause and breathe deeply. It said, “Pastor Chuck just passed into glory a little while ago.”
Instantly I felt my heart simultaneously sink and then soar. I thought of the sadness of his wife, his family and Christians around the globe who will miss him; and yet I also knew the great cry of his heart had been answered — he was present with the Lord. Pastor Chuck Smith, who pastored Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California, that lead to an entire tribe of Calvary Chapel churches that would spring up the world over, was intrinsically connected to the storied “Jesus-movement” of the 70’s. He who faithfully and relentlessly exposited scriptures, pointed people to grace and trusted in the Holy Spirit has left the tent and gone Home.
I thought of how he was no longer in the tent of his body, a tent that had been afflicted by a stroke and then through a prolonged fight with cancer, and how he would never struggle or feel pain again. Like my daughter Lenya, he was in the Paradise of God, in Heaven. The house has got what the tent does not. He had run his race, fought the good fight, and there was laid up for him a crown of righteousness that waits for all who love His appearing.
Pastor Chuck is a hero of mine. There is no doubt that there would be no Fresh Life Church if it weren’t for him. He directly impacted those who impacted me, and through attending the Bible College he started I learned so much. As part of our curriculum we listened to hundreds and hundreds of his messages through the Bible. I thoroughly enjoyed it. His distinct, rich, warm voice and loving tone as he methodically worked his way from Genesis to Revelation, chapter-by-chapter, verse-by-verse is permanently engrained in my heart. I still regularly listen to him teach, both on Fresh Life Radio and as I teach through books of the Bible myself. Just a couple months ago I spent several hours listening to him teach the entire book of Philippians in two monster-sermons in prep for the Rampart Series. Speaking of Fresh Life Radio, it was Pastor Chuck who gave us the radio station we operate in Billings, Montana. Which is a perfect snapshot of his generous heart.
I had the chance to say hello to him just a few months ago when I saw him in passing at a conference. It was brief but in his eyes I could see he was as strong as ever inwardly, but you could tell he was in pain and a shell of himself outwardly. Last summer, however, we were both backstage at a Harvest Crusade and I had the opportunity to sit down with him and tell him how thankful I am for him. I told him that what God is doing through Fresh Life is all fruit to his account — the thousands of decisions for Christ and all God has done. I will never forget when I was trying to decide whether I should stay in California or move to Montana and I went to see him in his office. As I communicated the options, I waited for him as the General to tell me where I should deploy to. He wouldn’t. Instead, he told me, “Both options are good Levi. People need Jesus everywhere.” I see his wisdom now. He refused to be Yoda. He knew I would put stock in his opinion and wanted me to discern the will of God myself.
I celebrate the tremendous life he lived and marvel at the impact one man committed to Jesus can make. Millions and millions of people experienced God’s love because of him. Much like the late Steve Jobs, who innovated in not just one but in multiple areas, God used Pastor Chuck to change the game on many different levels. He altered the landscape when it comes to Christian music by embracing modern worship and giving birth to Maranatha music, pioneered in church-planting, and disrupted ministry in general through his evangelistic approach that reached out to a counterculture while maintaining both doctrinal orthodoxy and an openness to the Holy Spirit (Ed Stetzer made the case on his blog that he altered the face of Protestant Christianity in America). I grieve that we will see his face no more on the earth but rejoice over what he is now experiencing and the way his life will continue to make waves and ripples for many, many, many years to come and on into eternity.
I have been working out with a heart rate monitor this summer. At first it kind of freaked me out. Watching my heart respond to the stress I was putting it through was crazy, and sometimes discouraging. (I think I might be a hummingbird) The worst was determining my max-heart rate, which is usually somewhere around 220 minus your age but can be higher or lower. I took my road bike up a steep mountain road as fast as I could and three-quarters of the way into the climb found out just how fast my heart can beat. At one point I was convinced it was going to explode.
Usually when I ride I am focusing on speed and cadence. How fast I am going and how many times in a minute my pedals are turning. Now I am not just thinking about my legs and lungs while riding, I am also watching my heart. One article I read suggested that long rides keeping your heart in a low zone are better for you than just constantly riding yourself into the ground. Though it seems counterintuitive, by riding slower you can supposedly become faster.
As a result I have taken a number of rides where my goal has been solely to keep my heart in certain zones. This has been harder than I would have thought. On the flat roads it’s not a big deal as I found my typical riding pace kept me in the sweet spot naturally. But downhill I have to work like crazy to keep my heart from dropping too low.
The most difficult and at times humiliating, has been anytime there is an incline in the road. Since this is Montana (mountain in spanish) that is very often. I love to accelerate and bound up hills but if I do that my heart goes too fast. On steep sections I have to slow down so much that it is hard to stay upright, my heart just one beat away from breaking into a zone I am trying to avoid. On one of these hills I was actually passed by a chick–a soccer mom on a ten-speed. It bothered me more than I care to admit.