Friday, December 19, 2014

I'm Uptight White

As many of you already know, on November 24th, my Dad crossed over to glory.  And one of the ways we have celebrated his life together as a family is through watching some 8mm home movies, no sound, mostly black and white but also a few in color.  We hang a sheet on the wall and use this 1940's Revere projector that we found in a little consignment shop (Red Feathered Nest) here in Newport News.  The best $30 I may have ever spent!

This projector produces a little 6 inch square image on that sheet.  But the clarity is amazing...the hum of that projector, all those memories, us huddled together, pure nostalgia!  And there is young, so full of life, so happy to be with his family!  And the second time through our favorites, both my brother and I noticed something we had never seen before.  In one of the frames, there was some footage Dad putting up his first mailbox at the house they built in 1965, the house where I grew up, the house where he died, the house our family still calls home.  And right there on the flag you raise to let the mailman know there are letters to be mailed...a small confederate flag.  What?  That wasn't on there when I was growing up...and as a child, we loved watching these home movies...never noticed that before.  And the more I reflect on that image of that flag on that mailbox, the more I smile.  Why?  Because it's just another reminder of how Jesus changes people.  If you knew my Dad, expecting something like that on his mailbox, impossible!  And just in case there is some Southern historian readying their comments in defense of that Dad was born in 1933 and history was not his passion.  He grew up in a rural, white South...and back then, that flag on your mailbox had nothing to do with history.  But Jesus changes people!  And I'm so glad he changed my Dad and now that spiritual heritage is passed to me.  That spiritual heritage demands two questions:  how is Jesus changing me and am I doing the work of passing that spiritual heritage to my children?  I want to talk about that first question.

I'm uptight white.  What does that mean?  Back when Vannessa and I lived in the inner city of Richmond, I had the privilege of taking some post graduate classes to help prepare for my vocation in the ministry.  I chose the seminary at Virginia Union for two reasons.  One, they offered a program where all classes were Friday evenings and Saturday mornings.  Second, this was a black college and a black seminary.  I wanted to be in an environment where I would be challenged in my view about social equality, social justice, multiculturalism, diversity, and especially my Christian views that had been shaped in a very white world.  It was an amazing experience!  One of my classes talked specifically about cultural norms and how they varied from one ethnicity to the other.  He talked about how in the black community, relationships transcended everything.  Being on time was far less important than begin present.  Meaning, if you had a schedule that day but ran into a friend you hadn't seen in years, you stop.  You are late for everything else the rest of the day.  People matter more than schedules.  Now of course there are always exceptions, but generally speaking, for white culture, it is all about efficiency.  If that had been me, I would have pretended not to see them so as not to mess up my schedule then Facebook stalk them later when I had time to say hello!  I'm uptight white!  The class continued giving basic generalizations about different ethnicities to help us as pastors better relate to our diverse communities and hopefully diverse congregations.

At our church, City Life, we talk openly about wanting to be a diverse church.  But I wonder sometimes if people really mean that?  I think what lots of people mean is that they like the idea of different colored people worshipping long as they can adjust to who we are culturally.  We want to look collectively like a rainbow on the outside but secretly desire being collectively monochromatic on the inside.

We had the awesome privilege of inviting someone to join our staff last year.  Our church continues to grow which requires expanding staff roles.  We were ready to hire a Director of Creative Arts who would also be our primary worship leader.  We did not set out with any strategic goal of broadening the ethnic diversity of our church but that is exactly what happened.  We hired Chris House.  Love him!  Vannessa and I attended his wedding to the lovely Shanicka Atlanta last weekend.  The wedding was scheduled for 5pm that Saturday.  Earlier that day, you know what Vannessa and I did?  We drove to the venue that morning to make sure we had good directions, paid attention to traffic patterns, had alternative routes in case of traffic...we are uptight white!  Saturday afternoon...we promptly arrived at 4:30.  There was one other person there.  By 5...there were maybe 10.  People were still pouring in at 5:30.  The wedding didn't start until 6.  We both had to get up to use the bathroom twice before the ceremony even started!  And I loved every minute!  I started thinking of that class years's not about a schedule Fred, it's about people, about relationship, about loving people deeply, about spontaneous conversations...the schedule only exists to serve the meaningfulness of people's lives.  I'm so glad I'm on Chris' and Shanicka's team...I have so much to learn from them!

But that cultural exchange goes both ways.  I've had the opportunity to be with Chris on a few occasions when he is inviting people to visit City Life.  And when that person is black, this what Chris says, "Hey, you should come visit my church, the service only lasts for 90 minutes."  The response, "WHAAAAAAT?  And it's Christian?"  Cultures need one another, but not in the sense that we need to change each other.  If there are excesses, then sure, let's temper one another.  But diversity brings inexplicable beauty to our world...let's protect that!

So if a church is going to be truly diverse, it needs to be open to cultural shifts.  And part of that cultural shift needs to be asking more questions than we are offering opinions.  I'm an avid reader of Facebook.  You learn a lot about people there.  That's really helpful when you are their pastor!  And with everything that is happening in our great, beloved Country right now, I think we would all be better served to ask some questions before we offer opinions.  If you have some strong opinions about Ferguson...if you have some strong opinions about the Eric Garner tragedy...find someone you respect who you know has different views than yourself, buy them lunch and ask some know who would do that...Jesus.  Have you ever noticed how much time He spent with people who were ethnically different from Himself?  Now you might say, "Fred, He didn't do that to learn from anyone."  That is true, but He most certainly did meet with them to affirm them, to celebrate them, to offer acceptance when everyone else who shared His views and His culture only offered rejection, ridicule, and contempt.  How about the Samaritan woman at the well, how about the Syrophoenician woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit, how about the Roman Centurion whose servant was sick?

I'm uptight white...Jesus change me.  I don't want to walk past people who need to know they matter just because my routine matters too much to me!  I don't want to start on time when being delayed means someone was cared for!  I don't want to end on time when being over-due means more people were awakened to a living God and His great love!  I've never had a mailbox like that one my Dad once had...but I'm not so naive to think that my heart is pure of any subtle biases and prejudices.  Jesus change me!  JESUS CHANGE ME!

I know you see me Dad!  As the Apostle Paul said, oh death where is thy sting, oh grave where is thy victory!  He is changing me Dad...just like you taught me...and as long as I have breath, I'm teaching my children.  I have a spiritual heritage.  I have an eternal purpose.

Oh, and by the way, church tomorrow might not start until 6...and go to 10...

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why I Tithe...closing thoughts

If you have been following this series, thank you for taking the time to consider the point of view I have been sharing about tithing.  I hope that whether or not you agree with everything written, you have been inspirited to live a life of deeper generosity!

Since my last posting, my father was born into eternity...his journey this side of Heaven began on October 15, 1933 and he breathed his last earthly breath on November 24, 2014.  My Dad would have loved this series of articles.  One of the many God honoring life lessons he taught me was that it is always better to have less so that we can give more.  Dad, may your legacy of generosity live on through us all!

Some closing thoughts...

Walking in the supernatural often begins by embracing the practical.  I believe that God has a material destiny for all of us, one that is predetermined.  My life of wealth is based on God's divine plan for me.  However, while my material destiny is ultimately determined by His sovereignty, my progress toward that end is achieved through my activity.  If I am unwilling to live according the principles of Scripture, I have little hope of achieving all the wealth that God has set aside for me. And my activity is plainly prescribed for me...if I am willing to read all that God has written by way of instruction!

Knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are three words we often find in Scripture.  And although they are often used similarly, interchangeably...they each still hold a distinct meaning.  We find them listed together in texts like Proverbs 2:6 and Colossians 1:9.  Biblical knowledge only comes through the discipline of learning Scripture.  We must avail ourselves to the body of eternal truth that God has so graciously given us.  This requires commitment, time, reflection, study, learning from others, prayer, and so many other activities that are self evident for spiritual health and well being.  Simply, knowledge is having a command of what the Bible says.  Understanding is then taking that knowledge and making it personal and actionable.  I may "know" that the Bible says I am to love my enemy.  Understanding is then considering who my enemies are and then plotting a course of action that will consistently demonstrate love toward them.  Understanding is having comprehended what my knowledge of Scripture now expects of me personally.  Wisdom...that is the courage to now act.  Wisdom is having the courage of conviction to put into practice what I understand to be true for me based on my inventory of Biblical knowledge.

If you have read these now know Scripture states that tithing should be a part of every devoted follower of Christ's stewardship plan.  What will that look like for you?  How do you need to change your budget to accommodate this Scriptural mandate?  Once you have determined a course of action, you have stepped into the realm of understanding...actually doing it, welcome to wisdom!

There are a host of resources out there available to you if you need assistance.  From Crown Financial Services to Dave Ramsey...find a resource that resonates with you and begin the work of building a sound, Biblically based plan for stewarding your material resources.

Proverbs 3:5-6 is one of the first verses I memorized as a new Christian.  I can't think of a more appropriate text to consider as we are concluding our conversation about tithing.  Ultimately, whether I tithe or not is about trust.  Do I trust God?  Even if I read chapters like Psalm 24 and am convinced that all I have belongs to God, trust is what empowers me to give much of those possessions away.

I hope you take the time to read a favorite story of mine found in the Old Testament, 2 Kings 4:1-7.  Every time I obey Scripture, I am gathering one more pot for Him to fill!  I hope you live a generous life, that you commit yourself to be a pot gatherer, not so that you can be enriched but so you can be well positioned to give even more!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why I Tithe...the offerings

My generosity should extend far beyond my tithe.

This past weekend my wife attended a mini youth conference at the House of Prayer in Chesterfield Virginia (great church if you live that way!).  The conference is called Origins, hosted every year there.  Vannessa was sending me texts about how proud she was of our two oldest.  Ethan was buying gifts for his siblings, raffle tickets for friends, StarBucks drinks for Vannessa, a generous life!  Then, our oldest Derick in a service prayed that if he won the mini-ipad in the raffle, he would give it to a friend who was attending Origins.  The friend and his family are new to City Life and this was their son's first youth outing with us.  Guess who won!  Guess who gave away that mini-ipad!

Our two boys didn't come back from that trip with a calculator trying to figure out how much they could deduct from their next tithe, valuing money spent and items given...why?  Because they understand that there is a difference between the tithe and offerings and that giving beyond our tithes is wonderful way to demonstrate hospitality toward others!

One of the most important extra-Biblical references are the writings of Josephus.  In regards to tithing and offerings, Josephus says that one-tenth (the actual tithe) was to be given to the Levites (locally and they gave tenth to High Priest), one-tenth was to be applied to feasts in the metropolis (mandated offerings), and that a tenth besides these was every third year to be given to the poor (mandated offerings).  And we know from our study of the Old Testament and further writings by Josephus, there were even more offerings expected as part of their ritual worship practices, not to mention special projects like building temples!

I see four primary reasons for offerings in Scripture that I believe are still relevant for today.  They are giving to the poor (Proverbs 28:27), giving towards hospitality (Leviticus 19:9-10), giving for special projects at your church (Exodus 36:3-7), and giving for global missions (Romans 15:25-26).

A God honoring approach to personal finances has at its center the tithe and then goes on to accommodate offerings and other opportunities for generosity.  I hope that as you enter into this holiday season, that you are looking ways to be generous!  Pick up the tab of the person behind you in the drive through...if you see someone in the store who has obvious financial needs, buy a gift card and slip it into a card and just quickly give it to them and say Jesus loves you!  Can we get to the other side of the 2014 holiday season and have the humble privilege of looking back and seeing scores of generous moments we ourselves stepped into as the Holy Spirit directed us?  Will this mean less for us?  Will this require sacrifice?  Will this change our standard living?  Will this decrease moments of earthly, temporal enjoyment?  Most certainly!

You can enjoy more temporal things now or you can enjoy treasures in heaven forever (Matthew 6:20)!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why I Tithe...the attitude

The standard of the tithe is not reached until the sentiment of the heart from which it comes crosses the threshold of gladness.

This is the the fifth reflection in a series of blogs that will last eight weeks, addressing the question of why our family tithes.  And with this focus today, we are reminded that just following the right steps of the instructions we are receive from Scripture are not is my heart?  This is something Vannessa and I teach our own children.  When they were young, in those seasons of the daily struggle for obedience, we weren't striving for compliance.  We have committed our lives as parents to shape their hearts.  We want them to choose well not to avoid consequence (compliance) but because of an unshakable love of virtue (wisdom)!  Our great hope is that our children will be values driven in life and not consequence avoidance motivated.

If I am giving over the course of a year ten percent of my gross annual income, I still may not be tithing!  What if the attitude in my heart as I make those gifts is one of entitlement?  What if the attitude of my heart is one of jealousy towards others who have a higher standard of living because they give less?  What if the attitude of my heart is resentment toward God for asking what feels like too much?  What if the attitude of my heart is anything but gladness?

In 2 Kings 23:1-3 we have this intriguing story of Josiah finding some lost scrolls and realizing that as a nation they had been neglecting many of the commands of God.  The approximate date of this great national revival was 624 BC.  David was king in 1056 BC so in 400 years, we see a nation that had lost its sense of devotion to many of the practices of worship that God had given Israel.  As Josiah addressed the people, the text tells us he took his place by the pillar.  This is key.

1 Kings 7:13-22 includes some details about the building of Solomon's Temple that are paramount in understanding this reference in 2 Kings about Josiah taking his place next to a pillar...there were actually two.  God gave these two great pillars names:  Jakin and Boaz.  Jakin is believed to mean "He establishes" and Boaz is believed to mean "in Him is strength" and I am capitalizing those pronouns because I believe they are prophetic references to the nature of God.  Every time someone entered the Temple, passing between those pillars, crossing that threshold they would have been reminded to consider what they believed about God!  Did they believe that God was strong enough to keep His promises to them and faithful enough to establish their lives in the favor that comes through the glad obedience of worship...worship that included prayer, song, Scripture, and yes, tithes and offerings...all forms of worship at that great temple!

These pillars were over 30 feet tall including their decorative tops and 18 feet in circumference...because there is nothing small about the nature of God and His promises!  I often think of Jakin and Boaz when I am giving.  I like to envision myself walking up those steps, standing between those pillars, pausing for a moment and then crossing that threshold.  And every time gladness fills my heart!  Joy overflows.  Celebration lifts my soul.  I am tithing.  This is tithing not only because the math is right but because my heart is right, in fact, I would humbly suggest that even when you have the right math but the wrong heart, you have yet to tithe.

The standard of the tithe is not reached until the sentiment of the heart from which it comes crosses the threshold of gladness.

See you next week!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Why I Tithe...the place

This is number four of eight reasons I am sharing as to why our family has at the center of our family financial plan something Scripture refers to as a tithe.  If you are just joining us, please take a few minutes to read the three previous posts as they will help provide some context and possibly answer some questions this post might cause you to ask.  All eight of these reasons have been shared at our church, City Life, in three sermons.  You can find them on our website...enjoy!

The place.  One of my frustrations with teachings on tithing is that, in my opinion, pastors tend to over teach certain points of view.  Meaning, they assert clarity that I feel does not exist.  You might be accusing me of this already!  I trust however that I have made a great case for everything so far and because the blog has limited space, I hope you are listening online to the sermons.  While I believe Scripture makes it very clear that a tithe is a timeless practice for all people for all generations, the place to where that tithe should be given is a bit vague.

For me, Deuteronomy 12:6-12 and Joshua 21:1-3, 41-5 are a great starting point.  The text in Deuteronomy is critical to this conversation because it marks the beginning of Jewish practice born out of a divine command of bringing their tithes and offerings to a designated place of worship.  Next, Joshua 21 reminds us that Levites did not have a land inheritance and were therefore the responsibility of the remaining tribes.  The other tribes were tasked with the financial support of the priests.  These two texts are foundational for me personally.  My interpretation is that they introduce two very important Kingdom values.  First, we should financially support the church we call home...the designated place of worship we believe God has asked us to join.  Second, a society needs people whose sole vocational purpose is the spiritual well being of their community, which is only possible when that community provides for their necessary financial support.

Others argue however that the pattern we see in the New Testament supersedes these texts.  And what we see in the New Testament, in my opinion, lacks clarity, which gives people a sense of freedom to direct their tithe prayerfully among multiple Christian initiatives....this may include their church, missionaries, para-church groups, benevolence in their community, and etc.  While the New Testament has many examples of individuals and congregations collectively being instructed to give financially, I am not aware of any one text that specifically says that one's tithe must be given fully to their local church.  That which is clear in the Old Testament lacks clarity in the New Testament.   The question before us is did the members of New Testament churches follow the same pattern of tithing we see in the Old Testament?

I have learned a great phrase.  "The culture of our church is..."  I use that phrase frequently.  In our brokenness, we need others to feel wrong in order for us to feel right.  Sad.  I have seen many people leave churches because their ideas of right and wrong extended far beyond foundations.  We call them open handed vs. closed handed issues.  For me, the deity of Christ is a closed handed issue.  There is no room for disagreement there.  Women serving with their husbands as elders, open handed.  City Life proudly celebrates that practice but respect other churches that do not.  Read Acts 15...the early church fathers set into motion that very day this idea of open handed vs. closed handed issues.  They were telling us to not be unnecessarily divisive!  I fear too many churches are unnecessarily divisive on the matter of tithing.

In 1 Timothy 5:17-18 we find an important command.  And the wording is instructive!  Not only do we see here a New Testament justification for vocation church leaders but the command is that they should be paid well!  So this is my conclusion.  I believe the New Testament mandate is that every church should be in a position to provide a livable wage for their staff, that is my understanding of "paid well."  I have been managing church budgets since 1999.  And I have yet to see a church that can meet that very clear Biblical mandate and fund the many ministries that accompany a healthy, growing church unless the members of that church are committed to giving their tithe fully at home.

If you want to divide your tithe among multiple Christian causes, that is your prerogative.  But if your church is struggling to fund its ministries and pay a livable wage to the staff, you have a serious question to answer.  For me, when I believe I am acting based on freedom provided to me by Scripture but the result of that action causes me to violate another part of Scripture...I tend to find that I am mistaken in the first!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why I Tithe...the priority

This weekend I was driving home from my 25 year college reunion, still smiling from an amazing day rekindling friendships with people I love deeply, reflecting on how dramatically different my life has become since those years at Randolph-Macon.  I think the best way to describe the impetus behind my journey of change is that making a vow of devotion to Jesus means giving up a life lived based on self-generated values.

Following Jesus is surrender.  Following Jesus is abandonment.  Following Jesus is a complete and total transplant.  Following Jesus is fully embracing Kingdom generated values.  Where mine conflict, His reign supreme because everything about Jesus is transcendent, superior, matchless...perfect.  I am flawed.  I am desperately hopeless in my spiritual ineptitude.  There is such freedom in accepting my depravity and living a life of total dependance on Jesus' ways...His ways are my ways this day and every day.

Part of that way requires a Kingdom approach to the stewardship of my material resources.  And what I find in Scripture, our guide to Jesus' values, is that there is a tithe.  This blog series has covered already two of eight principles that direct my family's conviction to tithe.  Today is number three and can be heard in a recent sermon I shared at City Life.

The priority.  Matthew 6:33 speaks volumes about how central the theme of priority is to a relationship with Jesus.  He is first.  This theme of priority is something we easily embrace when considering our affections.  When we hear Jesus' great proclamation of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength we say, "Of course we should!"  When we hear the Apostle Paul in his epistles talking about thinking of others as more highly than ourselves, putting others first, being forgiving we say, "Of course we should!"  When we hear John in Revelation talking about how even now just the vision of God's glory should draw from us a song of praise that rises above all else we say, "Of course...!"  But when this same sacred Book challenges us to have a tithe as the central part of our personal finances, the priority of our monthly budget we say, "Hey, that's a little extreme."

We cannot read texts like Proverbs 3:9-10 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 and deny that God expects our giving to Him to be our most important financial priority.  I like these texts because they remind us that our giving is supposed to be much broader than just a tithe.  Remember, there are eight principles I am sharing...these principles build on one another.  Tithing is certainly just a part of any Kingdom based stewardship plan but the tithe is the cornerstone.

Our family has had its share of financial crisis.  I still remember that fateful night in September of 2009 when we realized that the town home we purchased using as a down payment our life's savings was constructed with toxic Chinese drywall.  We lived the next 5 years on the precipice of bankruptcy.  We exhausted cash reserves we have finally replenished, accumulated debt we have finally paid, lost equity that has yet to be restored, tapped retirement monies that are still waiting to be replaced...our tithe was never negotiable, is yours?

I cannot expect to walk in the blessing of the tithe if I do not give in the spirit of the tithe.  Tithe demands a priority.  Otherwise, that monetary gift is just a donation.  Every act of material generosity that is given with the right heart and for the right reasons is a candidate for reciprocity.  That is for a another blog at another time but I assume most of you are familiar with the Christian concept of reaping what we sow.  But a tithe goes further.  A tithe is redemptive.  If I give out of what is left over, there is still the hope of reciprocity.  If I give my tithe as a priority and then build my monthly budget based on what remains, that tithe is not only a candidate for reciprocity, that tithe redeems the 90 percent that remains.  This is part of the supernatural side of life with Jesus.  There are times when God asks us to stand in a place of having less because He is trying to position us into a place of receiving more.  Receiving more is about reciprocity but also about redemption.  God's promise as related to a tithe is that reciprocity brings blessing to us because of what is given AND that redemption brings blessing onto what remains because of how I gave...a priority gift.

See you next week!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why I Tithe...the consequence

Check out last week's post for some background on this series of articles entitled "Why I Tithe."  There will be eight total and last week and this week were covered in a message I shared at our church, City Life, during the October 11th service.

I have been in vocational ministry since 1999, and in all those years, I have found that many people are uncomfortable with the idea of Christianity being consequential.  A national figure a few years ago was accused of apostasy for his book that bordered on the line of teaching a heretical belief known as universalism.  Why?  Because this author like many people eschew the possibility of God legislating consequences that are either temporal or eternal.  Too many people mistake the sacred concept of grace for permissiveness.

Grace does not mean there are no means there is forgiveness...and forgiveness does not mean there are never consequences!  Let's just take the Pauline epistles for example.  I don't understand how anyone could read Paul's letters and not come to the conclusion that God expects MUCH of us!  And yes, when we fall short, which we will inevitably do, we can trust there is a loving, forgiving Father waiting for us.  But He doesn't change those expectations.  He expect us to do better next time...and oftentimes part of us learning that lesson and finding the motivation we need to grow spiritually is walking through the consequence of our foolish disobedience.

Malachi 3:7-10 should inspire us all!  Some brief history.  Malachi's ministry marks the beginning of 400 years of prophetic silence that is not broken until the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist.  God likes a good dramatic pause!  We understand that this was God's plan for amplifying the message of John the Baptist.  When there hasn't been a prophet for four centuries, the prophet that breaks that silence is going to have the attention of the people.  But I believe God was also amplifying the ministry of Malachi.  If someone told you that you couldn't speak again for 40 years, two statements would matter...your final statement before silence and your first statement breaking silence.  Malachi is God's final statement before 400 years of prophetic silence.  Malachi is a book that we should read with a deafening effect...and one of Malachi's most pronounced themes is:  there are consequences for our foolish disobedience.

God suspends His prohibition against testing him in this text.  And what is the context of this test?  The tithe.  And this test is consequential.  If we are obedient, we are promised blessings that are the equivalent of an open heaven over our lives.  If we are disobedient, God says we will be under a curse.  A word of caution.  Do not picture God as some Harry Potter in the sky with an incantation He speaks over everyone disobedient to Him.  When I fully embrace all of God's decrees, all His expectations of me, I am living within the boundaries of life with God.  In that place, I am positioned under His "open heaven."  When I choose to be disobedient, stepping outside those boundaries, I am choosing to forego His blessings...I am stepping outside of His favor...that is the perfect picture of being "under a curse."  A blessed life is a life lived under God's authority.  A cursed life is a life lived under nothing, and in that place I lack His favor and am also spiritually vulnerable to Satan.

Two other great verses that speak to this idea of blessing and cursing are Proverbs 3:33 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-11.  Remember, stepping outside of God's boundaries occurs when we do what we should not but also when we fail to do what we should...sins of commission (I shouldn't have stolen that money) and sins of omission (I should have read my Bible).

When I don't tithe...there is a consequence...I am under a curse.  Not only am I forfeiting His favor but I am willfully choosing to live in a spiritually vulnerable place.

This is the second reason why our family has faithfully practiced tithing our entire Christian lives...the consequence!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why I Tithe...the portion

Over the next eight weeks, I am sharing eight reasons why our family (Me, Vannessa, and our three children) practices tithing. I am teaching these eight at our Newport News Campus on Saturday nights so if you would like to listen, here is the link (October 11 sermon) to last Saturday.

I covered two in this sermon and will be writing on one of them today. These messages are part of a sermon series entitled #projecthope where we are following the word hope throughout Scripture. In my study, I wanted to see where "hope" appeared first in the Old/New Testaments, last in the Old/New Testaments, how often throughout Scripture, how many words in the original languages, any identifiable trends, and etc. These next eight blogs and next few sermons are inspired from the last mention of "hope" in the Old Testament which is Zachariah 9:12 during which God makes this amazing promise of repaying two blessings for every one trouble we endure. In reading that verse, I felt like the Holy Spirit gave me this truth: God has a Kingdom economy for us, one that is governed by His Scripture and never transcended by our conclusions. Tithing is a Kingdom economy concept. Tithing transcends human can I end up with more by choosing to have less? So much of the Kingdom of Heaven is counter, opposite, backwards...relative to the rules that govern this temporal world. When my human understanding brings me to conclusions that contradict Scripture, I choose Scripture, the transcendent truth!

I tithe because I believe a certain portion matters to God, one that He calls a tenth part.

We find the first mention of tithing in Genesis. Abram (God has not yet changed his name) returns from rescuing his nephew Lot, defeated kings and armies in the process, was now in possession of the spoils of war and he gives a tenth, a tithe (which literally means a tenth part) to Melchizedek who was a priest and king (a prophetic picture of Jesus). This verse is important to me because this practice of tithing pre-dates the Mosaic Law. Biblical principles that pre-date the Mosaic Law are an important consideration. The Apostle Paul talks of faith, being justified by faith, teaches about Abraham being justified by faith, that being justified by faith pre-dates the Mosaic Law, observable through the study of the life of Abraham and his relationship with God. Tithing pre-dates the Mosaic Law. This is important because we know from studying the Pauline epistles we are no longer bound to the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Mosaic Law. Yes, tithing is taught in the Mosaic Law, but as a continuation of something that God had already established therefore it is not set aside like so much of the Mosaic Law.

The next mention of tithing that is profoundly instructive to me is found in Matthew 23:23. Anyone who says Jesus never talked about tithing may not have actually read the Bible! Here Jesus rebukes some religious leaders but in the text, He clearly affirms the practice of tithing. He actually says, " should tithe..." and that is a direct quote from Jesus given to us by the Holy Spirit through the gospel writer Matthew. So, these two verse are bookends for me. Genesis on one side and Matthew on the other. I believe this is intentional by God so we would not fall into the trap that some have laid for us that tithing is a part of the Mosaic Law that we as Christians should not now be expected to practice. Now I have heard some people acknowledge this text but in doing so point out this was a very specific conversation that Jesus had with a very specific group of people. I agree with that. However, I cannot agree that every time Jesus has a very specific conversation with a very specific group of people we should corral those teachings, separate them, and exclude them from Christian doctrine. If we did that, we would be setting aside a frightening measure of the total of Jesus' teachings... Christianity would then be reduced to a mere handful of precepts. All of what Jesus says should matter deeply to us all!

The Bible should never be leveraged to justify living less. Scripture is given to us to find a deeper way in...not an easier way out! The portion matters to God.

Next week I will share about the consequence...but if you can't wait, check out #projecthope in the link above or come visit us in Newport News on Saturday nights at 5pm or Sunday morning in Williamsburg at 10am (

Pastor Fred

Friday, May 16, 2014


Hey @CityLifeVA...we are excited about our up and coming summer series entitled Rescued!  It's gonna be epic!  Here's a little taste of what's to come...each week beginning with the weekend after Father's Day all the way through August, we will be looking at a person in Scripture who made a commitment to live for God, all in, completely abandoning oneself in devotion to Saul on the road to Damascus in the book of Acts.  This blog speaks to the desperate need we all be redeemed and why we are giving our entire summer to ask this one simple question, have you been rescued?

In Numbers chapter three, we find the most foundational teaching of Scripture, redemption.  There are some criteria in my own observations that an act of rescue must meet to rise to the height of redemption.  Have you ever been redeemed?

First, the person needing rescue is otherwise incapable of saving themselves, meaning that apart from the gracious act of the rescuer, the one held captive, either by people or circumstances, is hopelessly desperate.  Either their guilt is too egregious to ignore without the intervention of an advocate, their debt too enormous to ever be paid by their own potential of future earnings, the lineage of a husband’s name facing extinction in his death having yet to produce an heir, or a murderous malefactor in need of judgment, and so as the stories of redemptive practices fill Scripture…calling for the intervention of an advocate.  Have you ever been redeemed?

Second, the advocate is fully capable of fulfilling the vow of redemption.  They have the resources to pay the debt, they are the next of kin to fulfill the role of the kinsman redeemer, they have the physical presence necessary to apprehend a violent criminal…they are willing, knowing that their only reward is the satisfaction of having given themselves to prodigal generosity, or in the case of a ceremonial exchange, the redemptive price is in keeping with God’s economy as prescribed by the Law.  Have you ever been redeemed?

Finally, the act of redemption is a moment of last resort.  There is no legal statute to otherwise employ, the guilt of the one held captive is not in question, the one in a position to extend mercy is either unwilling or the collective need for the communities’ sense of justice is too great to forgo, no amount of waiting will alter the circumstances…have you ever been redeemed?

Be careful in reading through the Old Testament, especially books like Numbers, that you are not dismissive of their ability to reveal life transformative, life enriching truth.  In chapter three, verse 39 we read that there were 22,000 Levites numbered in the census.  However, there were 22,273 firstborn males among the remaining eleven tribes.  Since God had established that the priestly service of the Levites was a redemptive price in exchange for all the firstborn males that belonged to the Lord (Numbers 3:11-13), there was a gap of 273.  There were not enough Levites to fully redeem all the firstborn.  Picking up with verse 44, “The Lord spoke to Moses again:  Take the Levites in place of every firstborn among the Israelites, and the Levites’ cattle in place of their cattle.  The Levites belong to Me; I am the Lord.  As the redemption price for the 273 firstborn Israelites who outnumber the Levites, collect five shekels for each person…give the money to Aaron and his sons as the redemptive price for those who are in excess among the Israelites.”  Have you ever been redeemed?

The 273 could not just be ignored.  The redemptive price demanded satisfaction.  So here’s the turn, with Jesus, there is no gap.  It took one Levite to redeem one first born male of Israel.  Have you ever thought of every sin, every mistake, every moment your choices have displeased God, whether by omission or commission?  Jesus is enough.  What about every sin of every person who has ever lived, who will ever live, every person since the beginning of time until its imminent end, Jesus is enough.  No additional tax is needed, no other sacrifice necessary, no gap exists…Jesus is enough!  So I ask again, have you ever been redeemed?

Have you pondered the lack of your life?  I have, I do, often.  I am not enough.  I am indebted to my innate inclination of selfishness.  The debt I have amassed in life from my sin is incalculable, innumerable.  The circumstance of my spirituality is desperate.  My sin demands justice.  I need redemption.  Jesus is my Redeemer, there aren’t 273 sins remaining that He could not address, He is enough.

Have you ever been redeemed?

Pastor Fred

Wednesday, March 26, 2014


I grew up in a small Episcopal church just east of Richmond, Virginia, in Varina, the church, Varina Episcopal.  I have the most wonderful memories there, bowing in reverence as the cross was marched down the center isle to hymn, the bells in the tower being rung by a rope that hung enticingly low to every child, the Apostle’s Creed, the Doxology, organs and operatic sounding voices, and of course, the fellowship hall where sausage balls and other delightfully southern concoctions entertained our palettes.

But my most coveted memory is communion.  As children, Mr. Edleton, the rector of our parish, would place his hand on our heads and speak a blessing over our lives.  I believe in the power of a blessing spoken in faith over another; may we all give generously of the blessings we are empowered to bestow this side of eternity.  I also remember seeing Mr. Edleton being accompanied by another church leader, often my father, consuming the remainder of the wafers and wine.  Because they had been consecrated, set aside for a sacred purpose, simply discarding them was profane.  Consecrated, sacred, holy, precious.

Would you be willing to ask God some questions with me this day?  Am I discarding prayers that I should have offered?  Am I throwing away praise that I withheld?  Am I throwing away time that I should have consumed in Scripture?  Have I directed resources that were destined for generosity?  Work that should have been rest, solitude that should have been community, silence that should have been witness, reluctance that should have been intentionality…

The Gospel is “good news” ultimately because eternal life is within reach of everyone who has breath and is willing to be embraced by Jesus’ offer of forgiveness and pledge their lives in devotion to Him.  And in His grasp, we are held by the hands of many heavenly sentiments, ones that superficially appear contrasting from the perspective of humanity but in God’s infinite wisdom, they are always commendatory of one another.  Grace without judgment is permissiveness.  Liberty without boundaries is avarice.  Love without devotion is cathartic.  Accessibility without sacredness is common.  Prayer, worship, Scripture, gathering, reaching…a sampling of what we at our church call Pathways ( are accessible to everyone who is a devoted follower of Christ, but may we never forget the sacredness they hold, may we never let their ease of reach diminish their holiness, their availability defame their consecration.

If I close my eyes, I am a child.  I am sitting in a wooden pew with a velvet covered kneeler at my feet.  Up the stepped platform, across the expanse that separates the two choir lofts, one on the left and the other on the right, filled with a robed choral, behind a railing accompanied by a padded step where we had just knelt, where I had been blessed, I see two men standing, backs to us, facing an enormous cross hanging above the altar, reflecting the light that pours in upon it…they are eating the wafers, drinking the wine…we are silent.

Recapture the sacredness waiting for you in every day.

Pastor Fred

Thursday, February 20, 2014

True Love Always Has A Choice

In eastern Henrico County on a back road adjoined to Route 5, there used to be a small private school called Chickahominy Academy.  All the way through sixth grade, this was my place for learning in the classroom, fun on the playground, horrors in the cafeteria, trouble in the library, napping on the bus rides, and realizing that girls didn’t have cooties after all…okay maybe some!

I remember sitting down with my Mom the week of Valentines Day each year after having purchased a box of kid’s Valentines Day cards, with my allowance money of course.  The pack had an assortment of messages and then I would enclose one of the heart shaped candies that had a stamped message.  Everyone in class was doing the same thing.  Everyone got a card.  No one was left out.  Those were the rules.  So the strategy was now what to say to each girl.  Some cards and hearts were about friendship and other cards and hearts were for romance…getting those confused could be disastrous!  But even in the innocence of adolescence, I was learning a monumental life lesson…true love always has a choice.

I am careful to use the word “has” and not “is” because I grow weary of hearing people say that love is a choice.  Love is not a choice.  Love is not a decision.  Love is a feeling.  That makes some people nervous because they view emotions as superficial sentiments.  I think those people are trying to convince the world that love is a decision because misery enjoys company!  I do believe that right feelings follow right actions so if you are in a loveless marriage, there is hope for you!  But the hope is for feeling to return, for the emotion of love to fill your heart again for the one to whom you promised your life through the sacred vows of matrimony.

1 Corinthians 13 has not found its way into the consciousness of even secular culture by being a chapter about decision making.  This sacred text is so celebrated because those are the feelings we want others to have toward us.  They are the feelings we aspire to have for others!  This love is so special, so celebrated, so coveted because it always has the choice to be impatient, to be unkind, to be jealous, boastful, and proud, to be rude, to demand its own way, to be irritable and keep a record of wrongs, to rejoice at injustice, to give up, to lose faith, for hope to wane, and endurance in difficult circumstances to fail…but it does not.  True love always has a choice.  True love finds a deep, abiding affection for someone even when our humanity is tempted to feel something contrary.

I don’t want a marriage that exists only in decision.  I don’t want children who relate to me only through acts of will.  I don’t want parents who pursue me only out of obligation.  I don’t want siblings who spend time with me only because of duty.   There is something in this world that is eternal.  There is something in this world that God says is the deepest, most cherished of all.  It is not faith.  It is not hope.  It is love.

Today as you open the Bible, see Holy Scripture as a single card, a card with only two words…be Mine.  He loves us.

Pastor Fred

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Biblos Geneseos

These are the first two words of the Gospel of Matthew.  Scholars debate their full meaning, ranging from "record of genealogy" to "record of origins" to "record of history" and whether Matthew intended this statement to refer only to the genealogy of Jesus or was it a heading defending the historicity of his entire gospel?  As we begin this new year, I would like to suggest another question…am I aware of the sacredness of my life, that my life is a link in the chain of the destiny of another, that my life is going to affect the future, that my life is bigger than today, I have the opportunity to create generational momentum!

You might by now have realized there are two genealogies given to us in Scripture relating to Jesus.  One here in Matthew and the other in Gospel of Luke.  I am of the camp that believes these two genealogies are the lineage of Joseph (Matthew) and Mary (Luke).  Joseph's line traces back to David through the kingly line of Solomon while Mary's tracks through another one of David's sons, Nathan.  They both trace to Abraham which is vital because OT prophesies speak to the Messiah being a son of David and a son of Abraham.

Now stay with me, even if I have already surpassed your appetite for details, keep reading…there are more details I going to ask you to endure!  In looking at Matthew's genealogy in comparison with OT genealogies, we begin to realize some names have been omitted.  For example, as Chuck Smith in his commentary on Matthew points out, where are Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah?  These were grandchildren to Ahab and Jezebel…two of the most evil people in all the OT narratives!  Of course Matthew left them out!  But not to hide them, not in hopes of obscuring some scandalous history of Jesus' line.  If you share in my conviction that Matthew is just the human instrument and the Holy Spirit is the author, there is another reason for their omission.  I believe it is because God is reminding us that the destiny of future generations can be because of us or in spite of us…which testimony do you want to possess?  Our mistakes, even if they become as egregious as Ahab and Jezebel and their immediate family, cannot derail the sovereignty of God!  Are you going to create generational momentum or are you going to be erased from God's glory story?

Now let's fold into our recipe the ingredient of Luke's genealogy.  Here we find some women included, four to be exact, and three of those women have questionable histories, less than stellar reputations:  Thamar, Rahab, and Bathsheba.  Why would they be included and the three people above excluded?  I have a theory.  Mistakes don't automatically disqualify us from being a part of God's glory story…they do not automatically displace us from our hopes of being a creator of generational momentum.  In fact, we can say everyone in both genealogies given to us in Matthew and Luke are disqualifiable because Paul writes in Romans 3:23 that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God!  The question is not wether we have sinned, the question is whether or not we have availed ourselves to the grace of God.

I see my past.  I deserve the plight of Ahaziah, Joash, and Amaziah.  I deserve to be omitted.  But like those who have been included in the gospel genealogies, I have found His great grace.  His grace keeps me in His glory story, His grace keeps me in the adventure of creating generational momentum, His grace keeps me.  We are all undeserving, the question we have come to is are we rebellious?  Are you rejecting God's right to rule in your life?  Are you rejecting His offer of forgiveness that only comes through His Son…the reason for these two greatly profound genealogies!

Find His grace in 2014, find His grace in Jesus, find your name on a list, be in your history, be included in the lineage of your family…advance the destiny of someone in the future because of who you are becoming and not in spite of who you are…a person always availing themselves to rule of Heaven and the grace of God.

May 2014 be the year of being counted, the year of our names being mentioned…I am written!

Pastor Fred