A look back

This shot is one of my favorites, it is a line of people waiting to get in the Strand theatre for skull church, back-lit by a beautiful Montana sunset.

This weekend at freshlife we celebrated all that God has done in the four years since this church was planted. It was tremendous looking back and I got choked up every single service watching the history movie and recounting God’s faithfulness. It is important that we don’t live in the past, but it is also vital not to miss out on an opportunity to remember what God has done and worship Him for it.

My favorite part of the service was getting to share some of the stories with the church from a few of the many people that have come to know Christ through this ministry this year. There have been hundreds and hundreds of people who made decisions for Christ; but they all have names and stories. God doesn’t see crowds, He sees individuals. People are what it’s all about! I am grateful and thrilled to the bone be a part of what is so evidently a move of God’s Holy Spirit.

I gave a message on the subject of worshipping God through giving that was a challenge and a joy to prepare and preach. I read recently that 1 out of 5 American Christians gave nothing last year to their local church, not even a token $5 gift. The average percentage of income that is “tithed” is currently 2.5 percent. It would be easy to blame this on the economy but the number is lower today than it was during the Great Depression.

In one comprehensive study that was done recently on the topic, researchers explored why this is exactly? (documented in the book Passing the Plate “–link) They found that the biggest reason people don’t give is not that they don’t trust their church, or have the money to give, but because they aren’t taught how. The study found that pastors are reluctant to bring it up because it is awkward and because they often don’t give themselves. Both of those things are lame. Leaders should lead by example and be willing to speak about issues that are important, not just what’s easy.

Jennie and I have been delighted and blessed to give God our firstfruits and have found that as we honor the Lord, He has honored us (Proverbs 3:9). You simply cannot out give the Ultimate Giver of good things. Our budget had to take a major downsizing when we moved here and planted this church and we can remember months where we did not see how we would possibly be able to pay our bills after giving our tithe and offerings, but God has always more than met our needs.

The paradigm shift that has revolutionized my life when it comes to giving is remembering that I am a steward and not an owner. As a slave purchased by Christ’s blood I own nothing. In Christ I am a joint heir and have a spiritual treasure in heavenly places, but on this earth everything I have is God’s. (NERD ALERT) It’s kind of like in the Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, there is that dude Denethor who is not the king of Gondor, just the steward. He is not supposed to sit on the throne, but on a small chair in front of it as a reminder that he is only taking care of things until the king returns. (if you are confused, here is a pic to clear it up) He did a terrible job of being steward and instead turned himself into a petty tyrant, acting as though it were his empire when it wasn’t. He also had a bad ending. (if you don’t remember how things ended for the shady steward of Gondor click here)

We are waiting for the King of Kings to return and when He does He will demand an accounting of what we did with what was His while we had the opportunity. Did we honor the owner? Invest wisely and make His money make an eternal difference? Or Foolishly hoard up treasure on earth? This judgment will not determine whether we go to heaven, but how we are rewarded in Heaven. Keeping that in mind will help us make wise decisions about what we do with what we are stewards of. Not just the no-brainer 10 percent that we honor Him with (immediately and off the top) but with the other 90 percent as well.

Augustine, an early church father, put it this way:“Tithes are required as a matter of debt, and he who has been unwilling to give them has been guilty of robbery. Whosoever, therefore, desires to secure a reward for himself let him render tithes, and out of the nine parts let him seek to give alms.”

You can download the 2010 ministry report PDF here. And check out the freshlife history highlight video that is at the beginning of this vid: