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Saturday, May 28, 2011

2001--on tithing and giving

            My name is Tom, this is simple church minute.  One can easily find in most Bible commentaries and dictionaries that in the Old Covenant days, there were clearly two tithes for certain, and possibly a third.  One was for the support of the Levites, who, unlike the other eleven tribes, did not have land, but whose job was to direct the worship of the Lord for all of Israel. Key Bible verses about this tithe are Leviticus 27 verses 30 to 33 and Numbers 18 verses 26 to 32. Another tithe was to be used for festivals. Key verses for this are Numbers 18 verses 20 to 26, Deuteronomy 12 verses 1 to 19, and Deuteronomy 14 verses 22 to 26.  The third tithe was either every third year, or a third of a tithe every year, or 3 of 7 years of Sabbath years, its not clear from our current vantage point.  If there is a third tithe, the key verses are Deuteronomy 14 verses 27 to 29 and Deuteronomy 26 verses 12 to 15. It was for helping the poor, of which it seems that the Levites were a part of.  When Israel was a nation, the budget of the nation came out of the tithes.  By the time of Jesus, the rabbis had made a rule, not found in scripture, that the Jews were not to give more than 40%, because rich Romans were spending large amounts of personal fortunes on public works projects as political advertising to get into the Empire’s public offices.  When Jesus died on the cross, the early church understood His death as the ultimate sacrifice that fulfilled the Old Covenant.  The early church gave generously to help spread the message of Jesus, help other believers, and help those in need nearby.  They did not have buildings, and leadership was by God’s leadership gifts. It needs to be noted that in Acts 15 verses 22 to 29, where the leaders of the church in Jerusalem meet to guide the early church as to what of the Old Covenant Law believers were still to follow, tithing is not mentioned.  Saul’s parents were apparently wealthy, as he was a citizen, and his parents or previous ancestors, being from Tarsus, almost assuredly purchased their citizenship.  When he became a Pharisee, it was a rule that Pharisees had to learn a trade to support themselves, because Levites in the past had a difficult time getting by when large amounts of Israel fell away from God and didn’t tithe.  When Saul came to follow Jesus, grew in faith, and started on his missionary journeys, he had the trade of tent making to support himself with.  When Jesus said “a worker is worth his keep” in Matthew, that was not license for churches to have a payroll, but he was specifically indicating that the those who would receive teaching and leadership had a responsibility to support brothers and sisters who went to bring the message of Jesus. This is particularly true when they go to places so culturally different that being able to make a living with their skills was unclear to impossible.  Jesus commended the widow in Matthew 12 verses 41 to 44 for giving a little out of little or no income, as opposed to those who gave much larger amounts out of their abundance.
          The teaching of a 10% tithe came back into the church in the 8th century, when the Catholic Church started owning land in northern Europe, where 10% of a year’s crop was the traditional land rent.  The local leaders, who at that time were trained in performing ritual, but not necessarily understanding scripture, then got it confused with the Old Testament writings.  Whether that was an honest mistake or not is beyond our reach.  Possibly this did not get cleared up in the Protestant Reformation or later due to church leaders not being as prepared as Paul was to earn a secular living.  Today, in traditional churches, 85% of offerings go to building costs and payroll alone.  Interestingly, we see little growth in the number of believers in the free world, and a great move of coming to faith in Jesus in the Marxist, Buddhist, and Muslim lands where such expenditures are usually impossible.
          You can find out more about believers in this area worshipping without corporations and buildings, and with believers committed to building up each other at   I can be reached at (at the time of this post, I am anticipating a change in phone number).  If you wish to review what I said, a transcript is on my blog,, dated May 28, 2011.

Friday, May 20, 2011

May 19, 2011: My latest lifechanging day

          Funny when life changing moments happen.  For instance, the night I prayed that initial prayer of surrender to Jesus for the first time was a weeknight the week after the 1968 Democratic Convention, but it never occurred to me to remember the specific day until years later when there was no way for me to figure it out.  The specific day, though, is irrelevant in comparison to all the twists, turns, and changes along the way.
            In a sense, today (actually yesterday, May 19, as I’m writing this after midnight), is one of those life changing days.  Early on the morning of January 1, 2009, I did the pickup portion of the last rental I would have before closing my business.  Little did I know that over the next nearly 2½ years I would have such difficulty getting a stable job.  I had already been living in my son’s house for a little over a year. I had been struggling with pain in my knees for years, which made some of the work I had done previously impossible.  Anyway, in December 2010, my son, who is in the Navy, was told that he was going to be transferred to a little desert town in the intermountain region in the late summer/early fall of 2011.  As I had no savings or stable employment, I felt that I had no choice but to follow him, but, for a few days, I was in a kind of shock/depression.  I have lived near an urban area for my whole life, and I was having difficulty finding work here.  How was I to find work there?  Further, the past couple of years, the Spirit had been teaching me about the subjects I normally write about on this blog, but I have little idea of how to go about things in a town where I didn’t know anyone, and I had not been able to find anyone so far who has been walking down this same road of following Jesus without the added man made structures and traditions.
            Today, everything changed.  My son called and told me that his orders were changed, and he was now going to stay in the same city he has been in for the last six years.  I am no longer in a holding pattern waiting to begin learning how to live in a new area, but I am suddenly looking at, “Lord, how do I honor you right here, right now (as I guess I’ll be here a while)?
            I just started reading a secular book about following one’s passion in the latter part of life.  The assumption within this writer is along the “do what you love the money will follow” idea, but part of simply following Jesus is that doing so isn’t a vocation, although each of us is responsible for covering the needs of our brothers and sisters who go where, for whatever reason, it isn’t or might not be possible to earn a living due to the culture being so foreign.  My passion for the moment is to find one neighbor (geographically) who is destined by the Spirit to begin walking down the path I’m going, that I can share what God has been showing me and vice versa (with the latter being equally important, not just a phrase to tack onto that statement to sound humble). 
            I live in a suburban neighborhood.  Neil Cole, in Organic Church, speaks about working in poor neighborhoods.  That last business I had had me visiting the poorest neighborhood in my metro area often.   No one could afford to run the air conditioners consistently, so on hot days, everyone was on their front porch.  That can be trouble, as that situation can allow for two or more people to be physically hot, and inwardly angry about not being able to do something about their situation, and if one rubs another the wrong way, the frustration spill over to violence.  Conversely, everyone knows (whether for good or ill) their neighbor.  In my neighborhood, everyone comes home from school or work and hides in their a/c’d house, or cooks on their grill in the back yard with eight foot high fences.  Normally, the rest of the neighborhood’s contact with them is only smelling their steaks waft over the fence.
            Therefore, this change makes me seek immediately how to contact my nearby walled society.  I am almost certain that it isn’t going to be easy finding my neighborhood’s first “person of peace.”  I am on the lookout for any signs in the culture around me, even in the Christian subculture, of the slightest hint that simple church exists.  I wrote a couple of weeks ago about the Irish band getting video play on JCTV.  Yesterday, I was in Books-A-Million, and looked in their Christian section.  Now, I couldn’t figure out the order of books on the shelves (most bookstores, within a genre, order by last name alphabetical order, but that didn’t seem to be the case in this store), but the only author I found on the shelf which I had heard mentioned in simple church circles is Bruce McLaren, and he his a theological writer, i.e. the book I picked up isn’t what I’d call a light read, although more readable than some seminary level texts.  Today’s the next day, and I can’t remember anything of what I read.
            With this change in my life, a new challenge awaits.  I wish to live and work in excellence, but first comes competence.  Chesterton wrote, “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”  A bad plan is better than no plan.  I am trying to come up with a bad plan that the Spirit may correct.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Studying the Bible in Cultural Context

A couple of weeks ago, I was in a group of believers who are in some way involved in house church in my area, and one person (I no longer remember who), who asked (as I recall) about whether others had found any ways of telling others about what we had learned about simple worship that was effective. There was no overtly positive answer. To this, the phrase, "a bad plan is better than no plan" comes to mind. The outline, below, is one I have come up with for the basis of a discussion, as opposed to a speech, on a subject that brings up various topics that support the propriety of simple worship. I will say that this is a second draft that I have not personally used, but print this as a basis for discussion.

1.  Ephesians 4:28 NKJV
            a.  “He who has been stealing must steal…”
            b.  “He who has been stealing must steal no more”
            c.  The first is out of literary context
            d.  This is obvious; the problem is that some things are not so obvious.
2.  What is being out of cultural context?
            a.  The gospel as told in the play/movie Godspell
                        1.  Intentional removal of story from it cultural context to make a point
                        2.  Makes some ideas more obvious
                        3.  Many ideas are totally obscured
            b.  It is taking an idea or story that was in one culture and time, and sticking into
                 a different one.
                        1.  Some pieces of the story come up missing
                        2.  Some things that weren’t there get added (intentionally or un-)
                        3.  This can happen due to a sufficient separation of time.
                        4.  How long is enough time—two full generations
                                    a.  Egyptian pharaoh Ramses II became head as a mid-teen, and
                                         lived to 93, when average lifespan was 35.
                                    b.  Outlived his 5 sons who were designated as successors.
c.  His people knew no other pharaoh, and his length of days                                     seemed supernatural
d.  Possibly the idea of king as a god came from him.
            c.  David & Goliath—1 Samuel 17 & 18
                        1.  We hear a simplified version of this story in Sunday School.
                        2.  Why was David there?
                                    a.  David (ch. 16) had already been anointed king by Samuel,
and had been found to play the harp such that it soothed King Saul (16:18).
b. Therefore, King Saul knew this boy.  David still went back to      his father’s place to feed sheep (17:15).
                                    c.  In our culture, does anyone drive over to the base to bring relatives food?  Since 9/11, a civilian can’t even get on a base without paperwork filed from inside, and due to how our country moves persons to different areas, few have local relatives. 
                                    d.  to bring his brothers bread and grain (17:17).  For what its worth, one could make beer from grain.
                                    e.  to bring their 10 cheeses to their captain (17:18)
                                    f.  “to bring back news of them”—as much as it doesn’t sound like it in English, in Hebrew it comes across as an order not to forget to bring home a receipt that shows that Jesse has paid, with the cheeses and grain, a war tax (17:18).
                                                                                                                                              3.  Zechariah 12:10-14
            a.  This is obviously a prophecy of Jesus’ death
            b.  Who or what is Haddad Rimmon?
                        1.  To us, sounds like a name of a town or area.
                        2.  Haddad—Caananite storm god
                        3.  Rimmon—its title, thunder
                        4.  corroborating evidence—2 Kings 5:18
                        5.  Note:  So far, I don’t believe I have said anything to upset anyone’s status quo.  I can’t promise that for the balance of what I will say.  On the rest of what I say, you will not only need to search the scripture, but also history.
For example:

4.  Why didn’t Jesus, the disciples, those they taught, even the leaders of the Reformation, use phones, fax machines, personal computers?
            a.  Obviously, they weren’t invented
            b.  Jesus, as God, had, in some sense we cannot understand, ability to understand all that, but chose not to affect the universe in that way.
            c.  The rule is that, overtly or not, we can assume that those in the latter days understand what those previously has said or done, and not vice versa.
            d.  There are places in the Middle Ages in which this rule is not valid.

5.  Luke 1:26 to 2:52 (read 1:26 to 1:38)
            a.  How old was Mary when this happened.
            b.  It is frequently taught in our culture (David Jeremiah, for example) that she was 16, which, in our culture seems shockingly young.
            c.  In both Jewish and Gentile culture at that time, arrainged marriages for girls happened at age 12 to 16, but usually 12 to 14.  Therefore, 16 isn’t totally wrong, but unlikely.  Usually this is a factoid that is avoided.
            d.  Yes, this is not healthy for mothers and babies.
            e.  Yes, that was a male-dominated society, and this was a convenience for adult men.
            f.  Unlike Gentile arrainged marriages, there is a place in the betrothal ritual which demands the girl’s approval—Jesus parodized it in his introduction of communion.

6.  1 Corinthians 11:17-34—Jesus at the Last Supper
            a.  What were they doing? Celebrating Passover
            b.  What was a Passover ceremony? A ritual meal, featuring lamb, bitter herbs, roasted egg, bread, wine, other foods.
            c. Verse 21 warns the church in Corinth not to overeat or get drunk while celebrating.  Have you ever seen this as a problem?
            d.  Communion means fellowship
            e.  Communion as a ritual was not introduced to the world until the Roman Empire legalized Christianity, forcing organization, paid personnel, buildings, and other rituals, like Roman paganism had, into the faith, and many pagan orators “converted” to get speaking jobs.
            f.  Therefore, that 3rd century and on debate over whether communion represented Jesus’ body and blood, or whether it supernaturally turned into his body and blood could not have happened until the Roman Empire legalized and in a sense took over Christian leadership, because communion was a meal over which believers communion was a practical thing with other believers.
7.   Word study—“ekklesia”  church
            a.  Five meanings of church, today, developed after Christianity’s legalization by Rome.  That is important in that none of these were in the mind of the writers of the New Testament, the churches who received those books, or would be recognized by unbelievers of that day as a definition of the word.
            b.  Those five are:
                        1.  Roman Catholic Church
                        2.  a denomination
                        3.  a building
                        4.  a special type of not for profit corporation
                        5.  the people who make the policies of the not for profit corporation
            c.  Five definitions of ekklesia that the writers and readers of the NT would recognize:
                        1.  All believers over history.  Heb. 12:1.
                        2.  All believers in a city or area.
                        3. A group of believers who meet to worship Jesus.  Acts 2:41-47
                        4. A group of believers who meet to edify (build up) each other.  1 Thessalonians 5:11.
                        5.  A group.  Acts 19:32, 39, 41.  In this example, the “ekklesia” is a group formed by pagan idol makers to protest Paul’s being in Ephasus, as his teaching was turning enough persons away from the temple of Diana (fertility/sex cult) that they were feeling an effect on their profits.
                                    a.  This tells us that church was non-organizational, informal, was totally based on faith, not ritual, and able to be spread by any believer when the group was forced to be scattered, as both Rome and the Jewish status quo occasionally did.
            d.  From Acts 2:5-12, a) Jews in Jerusalem from all over, in town for Passover.      b) Gentiles from many places because Jerusalem was on a trade route.
 Those that came to faith in Jesus dropped what they were doing to learn from the apostles and others taught by Jesus how to live to honor Him.  The travelers may have had less than they owned with them.  Those that came to faith in Jesus dropped what they were doing to learn from the apostles and others taught by Jesus how to live to honor Him.  The travelers may have had less than they owned with them.  Many who were residents were poor.

8.  “poimen”—word study
            a.  This word appears 18 times in NT.  17 of them, it is translated “shepherd”, meaning:
                        1. a sheep herder
                        2. Jesus is to us as a sheep herder is to his sheep
            b. One time, Ephesians 4:11, it is translated “pastor”
                        1.  Pastor is a transliteration of the Latin word for shepherd.  Clearly, in this instance, it does not mean either of the definitions above.
                        2.  Many include this in the “fivefold ministries”, an idea that only dates back to the mid-1800’s.
                        3.  Before the Reformation, there is no record of any leader being titled pastor.
                        4.  In the Bible, the other four “ministries” are used to describe a believer’s giftings.
                        5.  The word “some” breaks this phrase into four parts, so “shepherd/pastor” may easily be a modifier for “teacher.”
            c.  In the Bible, the only one of these ministries that even has the appearance of being supported financially by other believers are “workers”, which appear to be apostles and their helpers who were going to areas so culturally different that they might not be able to support themselves.  Even so, God chose Paul, who had a largely societally transferrable skill, as an apostle who is the example we see the most of in scripture.

9.  The concept of the tithe
            a.  In the Old Testament there were clearly two tithes.
                        1. One supported the Levites
                        2. One supported the temple, and when Israel was a country, the government.
                        3. Some scholars say that Dt. 14:27-29, 26:12-15 is speaking of a third voluntary one-third of a tithe or a tithe every third year for the poor.
                        4. All this adds to 20 to 30% off the top of income, which in an agrarian society was crops or livestock.
            b.  In the early church, it was understood that Jesus fulfilled the Law, and the only aspects of the Law believers were to obey was what the leaders agreed about in Ac. 15:24-29.  There is nothing about tithe in there.
            c.  Believers were notable by their generosity.  Ac. 2:45
            d.  The early church did not have buildings or salaries to pay for; the NT shows Paul collecting for the special problems of the church in Jerusalem (many elderly Jewish persons wished to die in Jerusalem, and there were many widows in need) and to send apostles to unreached areas.
            e.   Roman Empire forced buildings, officials onto the church, and collecting gifts to offset costs, as Roman paganism did.
            f.   In 8th century northern Europe, typical land rent was 10% of crop.  Catholic church started owning land.
            g.  Over 100 years, Church went from collecting rent, to confusing OT Scriptures, and forcing all to pay 10%.
There are some excellent books on cultural context I wish to mention:
*Robert Banks, “Paul’s Idea of Community”
*George Barna & Frank Viola, “Pagan Christianity”
*Craig Keeener, IVP Bible Background Commentary—New Testament
*John H. Walton, Victor H. Matthews, and Mark W. Chavalas, IVP Bible Commentary—Old Testament
Potential ideas that may fit into this presentation:
Matthew 5:3  That while this verse is commonly taken as a condemnation of poverty in general, Jesus is specifically speaking that for his followers, as a consequence of their faith and how it will disturb those who choose not to believe, they will suffer poverty for his sake.  At that time, the Jews were already a group out of favor by the Empire.

I Sam. 8:16  Because of a lack of contact the translators of the KJV had with the culture of the time of the writing, the word “cattle” appears in the KJV, whereas later versions translate this “young men.”  Notably, a current defender of this error has his defense come up first on

Sunday, May 8, 2011

On Incompetence vs. Duplicitousness

            This morning (Sunday), I was listening to a news discussion program, analyzing the death of bin Laden, on whether the Pakistani government was duplicitous or incompetent.  From past recent history, a couple of decades down line, that question may be answered.
            From that, just for fun, let me do the opposite of what I seriously speak against in many of these blogs, and take that question totally out of context.  If I had the choice upon myself, would I rather be found duplicitous or incompetent?  Now a government body or a corporation, by necessity, will choose duplicitous.  There must be things a government or corporation hides from the public for the greater good.  From a biblical standpoint, with regard to personal morality, duplicitous is a moral negative, whereas to be incompetent, although it is something one would wish to avoid, can be done with a clear conscience.  Furthermore, for as much as each of us has abilities and passions in certain directions, with regard to most things outside of those abilities and passions, we are incompetent. 
            Since this just occurred to me, I see within this idea one more possible explanation as to why corporate organization within groups of believers has a great tendency to force said organization to be unable to move as the Holy Spirit leads.  When we make a man-made organization, it can easily bog us down with all the things that maintaining an organization entails.  I am at this point still of the belief that there are times when the benefit outweighs the negative, but it is also becoming more clear to me that it is not an unbridled good.

Friday, May 6, 2011

On bin Laden's death

            It’s now been five days since the announcement of the death of bin Laden.  I had to be at work early on Monday morning, so I was asleep at the time of the announcement. Ironically, I heard the news from the mouth of sports talk guy Mike Greenberg.  I say ironically as, while he is the consummate professional, he’s at his worst when subjects of death, tragedy, and belief come up, and Osama would be of no special matter without his beliefs.
            From what I have heard these past few days from fellow believers in Jesus, we do not rejoice at the news of the death of an enemy.  Clearly though, among those in are culture who are secular, the “patriotism is first” cult, and political moderates worldwide, including a number of countries with a Muslim majority, there was significant rejoicing.
            The most notable side story was the tweets of American football player Rashard Mendenhall, for saying (and this is correct at a certain simple level) that one shouldn’t cheer the death of someone you don’t know, and a statement that, I am told is “common knowledge” in parts of the Islamic world, that 9/11 was some kind of conspiracy, in that it is unbelievable that two planes could cause that much damage.  Mendenhall quickly removed that tweet, but the media saw it and reported it.  Later, he issued an apology on a blog, and reporters said that it was actually from him, and not marketing people, as there were grammatical and spelling errors.  I am fairly certain that no one at his alma mater, University of Illinois, will be publishing that in their self-congratulatory publications.
            Over the last three days, as the military stated that they captured a lot of information, we will, via the media, receive a steady drip of new information for a while.  As usual, what is important, we will only learn years, or even decades, later.
            Now my opinion and it is only my opinion.  I am in agreement on the never rejoicing over death, with the exception of the believer in Jesus, particularly one who has been in suffering and is at the end of one’s natural life.  My feelings on that are no doubt affected by my age, and that pain has been slowly building up for about ten years, and I have no clue how much the medicines I take lessen what would otherwise be the natural amount.  More importantly, I have friends and friends-of-friends ministering in highly difficult areas, my prayers are for their safety, especially those of U.S. citizenship, upon whom it is most difficult at this time.  As for the future of the Jihadist movement?  I am not in a position to even know what I hear is fact and what is adjusted for public consumption, so my opinion is irrelevant.  I just figured I’d say that because people rarely do.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Life is an experiment in worship

            Life is an experiment in worship.  If one’s worship, in daily life, isn’t experimental, there is at least a degree to which it isn’t really going on.  If one’s worship, corporately, isn’t experimental, it has moved from true worship towards mere human ritual.  Most of our corporate worship has moved to mainly ritual for so long that we believe that is normal.  Many well trained leaders have implicitly told us so since we have been believers in Jesus, and if one grew up going to traditional churches, as long as we can remember. 
            I only see one ritual in the Bible—baptism.  This usually happens with only believers around.  Our leaders, over the years, have concluded that, to communicate the message of Jesus, the principal method is sermons/speaking.  The reason, I imagine, is that it is something that can be conveniently packaged as a presentation, and packaging how a believer lives his/her life aright cannot, kind of like, as sporting events, basketball and figure skating package well for media presentation, and cross country racing, because of the distance of the playing field, and war, due to danger to spectators, media, and inability to just see the strategy, does not. 
            A couple of years ago, I signed up for the Reimagining Church RSS feed, and late last night I was reading old ones that I missed when first published.  One was about how the economic slump has precipitously raised the number of forclosures on church buildings in the states hardest hit by the recession.  Personally, I have noticed a street I must drive down for work in which three storefront churches have moved out of their rented buildings. 
            On yesterday’s blog, I mentioned Rend Collective Experiment.  The thing that strikes me as being unique about their music videos is that I feel that they really don’t care whether or not people like it or they become famous musicians, unlike anything I have seen since the beginning of music videos, and like some of the Christian music of the late 1960’s and first half of the 1970’s, when music business consensus was that Christian music wasn’t profitable (to them).
            Following Jesus isn’t about profit.  This week I got a funds solicitation letter from Voice of the Martyrs, one organization I feel at peace about supporting because they help our brother and sisters in Jesus who live in countries in which being a believer is either illegal or socially unacceptable.  The beginning of the letter has a quote from a Christian leader in Columbia (in that country, it is the drug cartels who oppose believers), and the quote is, “Jesus commands us to go.  He never promised that we would come back.”
            Going back to my original idea:  Life is an experiment in worship.  When doing an experiment, one doesn’t know the results.  In the real world, in a chemistry lab, if one does a certain thing, one always gets the same result.  If one doesn’t, you didn’t do something right.  In the realm of the Spirit, the opposite holds.  The Spirit goes where He wills.  If one witnesses a certain way, that it works (whatever that means) today, it almost assuredly will not again.  There was a tv evangelist in the 1980’s who showed clips of his praying for persons.  In the clips, he always had someone who was deaf, he always prayed for them the same way, and they were always healed, although the facial reactions differed.  Eventually, someone found out that these scenes were acted, and the “evangelist” disappeared from tv for about two decades.  When he returned, the scenes were replaced by persons telling about a healing incident, i.e. you had to imagine it in your mind.  In a strange way, it reminds me of the Barry Greenstein commercial on the Game Show Network, “I could steal from the rich, but poker is more fun.”