5 Ways You Can ‘Breathe’ This Christmas

Don’t just believe…breathe

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Even though Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, we sometimes forget to breathe. Mark Schultz penned it the best — “we’re running just to catch ourselves.” We may experience moments of rest, but at the end of the day, Christmas can end up becoming more stressful than helpful. As Christmas Day approaches, I want to share five ways we can all breathe.

5 Ways You Can Breathe During Christmas

As a Christian, I find myself reassuring our family that we make sure to “keep Christ in Christmas.” Yes, it’s a cliché, but it’s impossible to focus on more than one aspect of Christmas. We can enjoy several aspects of Christmas that are outside of Christ, but we can only actually focus on one. Hopefully, we choose to focus on the mission of Christmas (Click here to read about what I mean).

When we learn to focus on Christ, we’ll learn how to breathe. Christmas will move from chaos to mission; from overwhelming to a blessing.

Based on Advent, here are five ways we can practically breathe during the Christmas season:

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What’s The Biggest Threat to Christianity?

Godlessness in the Church

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Is Christianity under attack?

What’s The Biggest Threat on Christianity

It depends who you speak with.  I hear some Christians who are determined to think North American Christianity is not only under attack, but under persecution. While others see no attack at all.  I think the only fact we can all agree on is that the influence of the Church has changed in our culture.

I live in Canada and, I can say with certainty, Christianity no longer has a strong voice in our culture.  I grew up in a culture where Christian leaders and denominations had significant voices in politics, schools, and the community at large.  While that has changed over a number of years, we’ve seen a significant change in the recent times.

Does that mean there’s a threat on Christianity?  If Christianity ceases to be a major voice in our society, does that mean Christianity is under attack?  Are religions like Islam a threat to the Christian Church as immigration continues to fuel population growth?

I find it difficult to believe that what someone else chooses to believe, or not believe, has an impact on what I believe.  Yes, its possible government policy can make it difficult, or even illegal, to believe something, but it doesn’t change what I believe.  In fact, Christianity is growing rapidly in areas where it’s difficult to be a Christian.

Instead of focusing on the faithlessness around us, we should focus on remaining faithful to the gospel. Click To TweetInstead of focusing on the faithlessness around us, we should focus on remaining faithful to the gospel.

Paul warned Timothy of “godlessness”…

In the “last days” (today, until Jesus returns), there will be an increase in people moving away from God and towards themselves:

“…people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, 4 treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power. Avoid such people.” (2 Timothy 3:2-5, ESV)

We might be quick to point fingers at those around us when we read this text, but Paul was clearly talking about godlessness WITHIN the Church.  People who have “the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.” In other words, Christians who “look the part,” but have focused their attention away from the true gospel.

We’re called to make disciples and be Jesus’ witnesses to the world around us (Matthew 28:19; Acts 1:8).  That’s the mission, and any true threat to Christianity is what can actually derail that mission.

As a Christian, I see selfishness and pleasure becoming a norm in the Church (I’ll be honest — even in our family).  We protect our time and money to the point where we encourage personal pleasure over sacrifice for the Kingdom.  Our Church services have often become entertainment to ourselves before entertainment to God, and our weekly schedules revolve around our wants and not God’s call.

We only have to ask a few questions to find the reality in those statements:

  • If our worship times were filled with songs we didn’t know, would we choose to quietly bask in God’s presence, or complain?
  • If a ministry opportunity presented itself, would we schedule our recreation plans around the ministry, or schedule our ministry around the recreation?

You can only change yourself, not others…

It’s easy to point our finger to someone else, or another religion.  The fact is, however, it’s impossible to change someone else.  The only thing we can control, is how faithful we are to the gospel mission.

We have to ask ourselves: “Am I living for myself, or selflessly putting God at the center of all I do?”  (Whos More important?”)  That’s a question we have to personally ask ourselves.

I find we’re quick to point to different beliefs, ideologies and government policies, and say how they will push God away and hurt our faith.  When in reality, all are free to believe and belong to any religion they wish.  It’s called freewill, let alone human rights.  What someone else pursues doesn’t really impact my faith at all.

The biggest threat on Christianity is godlessness among Christians. Click To TweetThe biggest threat on Christianity is godlessness among Christians. And the crazy part — many of us don’t understand that. We’re too busying identifying the “sinful problems” around us that we’re missing the godlessness creeping into the Church.  If we spent the same effort identifying and disciplining ourselves away from potential godlessness, and pursued authentic holiness (a closer relationship with Jesus), any threat against Christianity would be minimal.

Our world is looking for authentic Christianity.  I think what they see most of the time is the “appearance of godliness,” but the power of the gospel is absent.  We’re too caught-up in our pleasures, rights, and personal desires, that we miss out on being a disciple of Jesus.

Paul gave Timothy three safeguards:

The good news is that we have safeguards that can help us stay the course.  Paul gave Timothy three in particular:1

  1. Follow Paul’s example (3:10-13)

Paul led the way before Timothy and he encouraged him to follow in his footsteps.  As Paul wrote in another letter: “follow me, as I follow Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).  This is true for us today on many levels.  Not only can we follow Paul’s example in scripture, but we can also follow the faithful Christians and leaders who have recently navigated the faith.

  1. Remember Your Training (3:14-15)

Sometimes we think Sunday School is for children, but basic orthodox teaching can guard us against most godlessness that may creep into the Church.  If we can remember the good teaching, discard the bad, and continue to learn in our faith journey, it will serve us well!

  1. Study Scripture (3:16-17)

Well studied scripture will never fail us!  Yes, we can all take a verse out-of-context and end up believing a multitude of things.  But if we faithfully read and study scripture, we will faithfully remain true to the power of the gospel.

Your turn…

What do you see as the biggest threat against Christianity?  How do you safeguard against them?


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The Problem with Tithing

3 Problems with tithing and how to overcome them

Reading Time: 4 minutes

No one wants to talk about their money. For some reason, we’ve bought into the lie that our money is personal and God only speaks to us personally about our wealth. It’s funny how the Bible doesn’t share that view.  There are over 2000 verses in the Bible that talk about our money, and Jesus either talked about money or used our wealth as an example in about 40% of His parables. Why? Because our wealth is a big part of our lives, and how we view our money will have a big impact on how we view the Kingdom.

The Problem With Tithing

We recently worked through a series with Bethel called “Money Matters.”  In the chaotic world we live in, we have to figure out how we can spend less, to give more, and to save more!  The Kingdom is too valuable to allow the power of money to overcome us.  Giving more and saving enough for the future will help us to be effective as possible for the Kingdom.

I understand the tension we face — I naturally enjoy having control over my finances.  This obviously causes problems when it comes to giving.  One thing I can honestly say though, is that God has graciously led me through the journey of letting go.

When I first starting to give to the local church, I had a separate “tithing account.”  Yes, that’s where I would put aside my giving each week and then, when I knew I didn’t “need” it at the end of the month, I gave it to the church.  The problem was — I always “needed” it.  Let me come back to that story later.

Tithing today…

There’s been much debate over whether or not tithing is something Christians have to do today. It was certainly practiced under Old Testament law (Malachi 3), and sacrificial giving was certainly promoted under New Testament grace.  It’s also certain that giving has nothing to do with attaining salvation, but yet an inseparable activity of someone who has experienced salvation.  Tithing becomes one of our responses to God’s grace — its one of the ways we show how much we love Jesus.

Perhaps, we can say: tithing is a voluntary act of discipline that’s driven by our value of grace and salvation. We don’t give 10% of our income to gain salvation, favor, or status; rather, tithing is a call to believers who value the expansion and funding of the Kingdom.#Tithing is a voluntary act of #discipline that’s driven by our value of grace and #salvation. Click To Tweet

But here’s the issue — even if we do practice tithing, it can be problematic if we don’t allow ourselves to be truly transformed first.  There are some pitfalls of tithing that can really hinder us.  Let me share three of them with you, and how we can overcome them.

1. Tithing avoids “sacrificial giving.”

Tithing can imply that 10% is enough and less than 10% isn’t good enough. The point of giving isn’t found in a percent, but in the sacrifice.  The early Church sold their possessions to give the poor (Acts 2:45).  They willingly and cheerfully gave something up to help the Kingdom.  That means, for some, 10% is only a start, and, for others, 8% could mean significant sacrifice.

2.Tithing makes us think “legalistically.”

Sometimes we have the tendency to think, “I pay my 10%, so I deserve… or I want…” You can fill in the blank. The problem, however, is that our giving doesn’t increase our “rights”. It’s our responsibility to selflessly give to the Kingdom and we can’t allow a number to increase or decrease our voice or impact.  The early Church collected and handed their money to the Church Leaders for disbursement.  Paul clearly stated that money collected was not a way to receive reward or power, rather an investment into the Kingdom (2 Corinthians 9:6-7).

3. Tithing doesn’t help us “surrender” our money.

#Giving is..realizing that God owns everything..& He expects us to be good stewards.. Click To TweetThe story of giving is all about realizing that God owns everything we have and He expects us to be good stewards of those resources.  If we’re not careful, we can view “tithing,” as another expense in the budget and not a complete surrender of our money.  Just because we give 10%, doesn’t mean the other 90% is ours for the taking.  That mentality will easily give way to our world of consumerism — a world Jesus is not calling us to pursue (Luke 18:18f).

So how do we overcome these problems?  We need to view our generosity as an act of daily discipleship, and start thinking of tithing this way:

Think: How much more can I give?

Even though we’re living in grace and tithing is now a voluntary act, our underlying question can’t be: “How can I get away with giving less?”  If we ask that, we’ve missed the point all together.  We have to ask: “How much more can I give?”  The final answer to that question may not monetarily change much, but the mentality behind the question changes everything.  Our desire should be to give as much as we can!

Think: How can I support God’s activity?

#Giving is a selfless act out of our grateful response for what God has already done for us! #disciple Click To TweetWe give to enable God’s activity in God’s Kingdom.  Giving is a selfless act out of our grateful response for what God has already done for us (2 Corinthians 9:12f).  As a result, we have to think selflessly and not selfishly as we give.  Even though church politics and hidden agendas often exist, there’s no room for them in the Kingdom!  We must support God’s activity, not our own.

Think: How does God want me to structure my budget?

Just because our culture wants us to think we own our money because we earn our money, it’s not a biblical way of understanding our financial blessings.  God owns everything and is responsible for enabling us to work in the first place.  We are simply his faithful stewards, who ask: “God, how should we use these resources effectively?”

Final thought…

Back to my story…Along my gracious journey with God, I slowly learned that my giving was my grateful response to what God has given me (the gift of grace), and not what I give to God. My journey went from struggling with tithing (why I had to give 10%) to wanting to give as much as I could!

Our giving shouldn’t be out of any compulsion, rather freely given out of a cheerful heart (2 Corinthians 9:7).  But that doesn’t mean we avoid the discipline of tithing.  We have no reason to believe that Jesus didn’t practice tithing himself.  It does, however, mean we avoid the potential pitfalls.

Your turn…

How have you viewed tithing/giving?  Has it helped or hindered your view of generosity?


If you liked this post, please take a moment to share on your social networks so others have a chance to read it as well!

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You Can’t Fight Hate with Hate; Respond With Love

3 Reasons Why Christians Must Respond With Love, Not Hate

Reading Time: 3 minutes

The world is in bad shape.  It seems like every time I turn on the TV or read a news article online, I’m faced with another tragedy or senseless act. Even the local crime rate seems to have escalated.  As I read each story and witness the pain, I’m left to respond in some way.  It’s difficult, however, to find words or even manage emotions.  I’ll be honest, it’s easier when the tragedy or crime is at a distance, but the reality of the pain and the thoughts of a potential parallel situation, are difficult to absorb.

love-not-hate

Question: How do we process this? How do we respond? What if it becomes personal? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

Jesus gave us a clear teaching: don’t fight hate with hate; respond with love.

Here are 3 reasons why:

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Taxes: Step Up and Help Those In Need

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Not sure where you may be reading this, but in my home province of Newfoundland, Canada, we are experiencing an unprecedented provincial budget full of new taxes.

taxes

The provincial debt has ballooned.

Taxes and fees have increased.

Services are continually being cut.

All economic classes are affected.

Tax-payers are backed into the corner of repayment.

Those seem to be the facts.  After that, everyone seems to bring their particular set of circumstances to the forefront.  No matter how difficult it may be, however, I’m constantly asking the question: as a follower of Jesus, how do I respond responsibly and effectively?

Christians have a responsibly to act humbly and selflessly, while respectfully making a difference.

Paying tax isn’t a new issue; neither are the problems and potential economic pain that can follow.  Yes, we see it in modern history.  But there are biblical examples as well.

The Jewish temple tax…

Long before Jesus’ ministry, the Jews were paying taxes to pay for their way of life, buildings, walls, and other projects.  Gifts were often used, but the regular form of income was the “annual half-shekel tax” paid by all adult Jews.1 This “temple tax” was a long-time observance and continued into Jesus’ ministry (Nehemiah 10:32-33; Matthew 17:24-27).

Paying taxes to Rome…

In Jesus’ day, the Romans had economic control over the Jews.  In terms of tax rates, there was very little difference between today and that of the first century Palestine.  The problem was that what Rome instated and what was collected was dramatically different.

Publicans (“tax collectors”) paid Rome the instated amount and in turn collected the tax from the taxpayer and pocketed the extra.  Ultimately the weight of the expenses fell on the poor.2

Jesus’ response to paying taxes…

One of the Roman taxes was known as a “Roman tribute,” which was one denarius (about a day’s wage).3  4

In order to trap Jesus they asked him whether or not it was lawful to pay tribute.  As many have noted, Jesus was between a rock and hard place.  If he said, “yes,” then the tax-payers would hear his support of the Romans.  If he said, “no,” then the Romans would charge him.  This was his response:

24 “Show me a denarius. Whose likeness and inscription does it have?” They said, “Caesar’s.” 25 He said to them, “Then render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” 26 And they were not able in the presence of the people to catch him in what he said, but marveling at his answer they became silent. (Luke 20:24-26, ESV)

Knowing the two “tax systems” (Temple and Roman), this starts to make sense. Jesus wasn’t about to deny the system the Romans had put in place and he certainly wasn’t about to deny what God asks of his followers.  However, there was a problem with their focus.

The people were more concerned over the secular than that of the sacred.  Jesus’ main point, as he already stated in the gospel, “you can’t serve two masters…you can’t serve God and money.” (Luke 16:13)5  While they were trying to trap Jesus, Jesus was trying to show them their true responsibility.

Christians paying taxes today…

For the most part, when I’m in the middle of “Christian conversations” regarding taxes, I hear comments of how “it affects me.” I believe we, and I’m including myself, need to re-evaluate how we view our position on the economic scale.  We very seldom think we’re in a position of wealth – there’s always someone richer. Christianity is all about selflessness and helping the poor.  It’s the message of the gospel and one of the main purposes of Jesus’ ministry (Luke 4:18).

Jesus simply stated, “Give back to Caesar what is already Caesar’s.”  The political system was created by them, so give it back to them.  After all, we are called to support and submit to governing authorities (Romans 13:1-7). But Jesus didn’t stop there.  He also simply stated, “Give to God the things that are God’s.”  We are also called to support and submit ourselves to the ministry of those around us (Acts 4:32-37).

The question isn’t if we pay tax or become upset with the amount we have to pay. That’s a given. The question is are we focused on the message of the gospel or worried about the state of our chequing account?

That’s where our re-evaluation needs to come into play.

What’s the real impact and how do we respond?

When taxes increase and services decrease, everyone is impacted in some way.  Everyone will have less money in their pockets and fewer services at their disposal.  But we need to ask: Am I in economic trouble or do I simply have to cut back spending?

There’s a difference, and a different response for both.

For some, the increased taxes will mean further economic trouble.  Just as the poor took the weight in the New Testament, the same is very possible today.  If I find myself needing financial help, I should have the confidence that God will work through fellow believers to provide the help that I need.

For others, that means finding ways to cut spending in other areas in order to fulfill our responsibility as believers.  Perhaps it means helping someone with an expense, offering a free service (ie. childcare), or sending respectful correspondence to your leaders in an effort to help the marginalized.  If we limit our help to things like complaining on social media, then we have already lost our impact.

In either case, we need to be honest, remain faithful with the resources we have, stand up for those who are truly impacted, and bring relief to those who need it.

Economic despair is no match for the hope of the gospel!

Economic despair is no match for the hope of the #gospel! #nlbudget2016 #taxes Click To Tweet

Let’s be the Church – pay our taxes and help those in need!

Your turn…

  1. Are you in a place of economic trouble or in a place of cutting back spending?
  2. Are you TRUSTING in God’s provision; how is God calling you to HELP?

References   [ + ]