Charitable Giving Horror Stories

There are some stories in the Bible that make you just think, “What? Why did that happen? This doesn’t seem like the God that I know?”

One that has stood out to be since my childhood is the story of Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5. The short version is that a man and his wife sell property and donate the proceeds to the early church. The only problem is that they held back part of the money for themselves but made others believe that they gave all. In today’s world, this may seem like just a clerical error, but it wasn’t a little thing to God. When Ananias came into the church fellowship to make his presentation he died. So, did his wife a few hours later when she came looking for Ananias.

As a child, I remember learning a song that I never forgot. It was all about Ananias and Sapphira and being a cheerful giver. I will save you the horror. But it left a strong impression on me that trying to make a show of what you do for God doesn’t win you in any brownie points in heaven.

The amount they gave wasn’t the problem. The issue was that Ananias and Sapphira conspired to deceive the church and God. Why did this happen at that point? I am sure that many other people since then have done the same thing or far worse and lived to tell about it. I believe this is more an indictment of our churches and society today than it is a warning about things that happened in the early church. Back then the Spirit of God was moving so strongly that deception in the camp could have disastrous consequences.

When the Holy Spirit moves, He strongly encounters demonic lies and spirits that come against God’s standard. Holiness is serious business. I am reminded of the man who accidentally touched the Ark of the Covenant in the Old Testament and immediately died. Our sin results in death. That is why we need Jesus and His righteousness.

Today, the warning is about spiritual showmanship or exhibitionism. Any time we do something for public praise, we are on dangerous ground. It is better for us to do something in secret and let God bring it to the forefront if He so desires. Jesus did amazing miracles and then told people to keep it quiet. But today if something happens where God’s power shows up, some are too quick to take credit for it.

There is a thin line here because sometimes we need to go tell others about what God is doing. We need to proclaim righteous causes from the mountain tops, but we just need to check our motives and make sure we are really doing whatever it is for the right reasons.

Are we sharing about a situation to inspire others? Do we want to call others to join the effort? Those are usually good reasons. Or do we want somebody to give us praise?
The deepest lesson here is that even when we deceive others, we will never fool God. In God’s Kingdom, honesty is the best policy because the enemy tends to lurk in the shadows of our lies.

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True Love Requires Truth

Have you ever wondered how many lies you encounter in a day? According to researcher Pamela Meyer, author of Liespotting, the average person is lied to more than 10 times per day. Depending on the life situation, that number can sore to more than 100 ties per day.

Years ago, a study in the UK found that on average, 60% of people lied at least once in a ten-minute conversation. I still don’t know if I believe that one. 

Speaking truth can be hard to do. Speaking the truth in love can seem almost impossible.

So, why is truth critical to experience true love? That may seem like an easy question to answer. But it may also be harder than you think. People today have very different definitions for love. One word can mean so many different things.

The verse I want to explore today is Ephesians 4:14-15.

Ephesians 4:14-15 (NIV)

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.

The key concept in this passage is “Speaking the truth in love.” Interestingly, this concept occurs in a chapter with a focus on unity in the body of Christ. We are unified for a mission. And our purpose isn’t to just keep the peace or to make everybody feel good. We are to be unified to grow and reach maturity (v14), striving to reach the fullness of Christ.

Our mission is to seek God’s will and to let go of anything that gets in the way. When this happens, we will no longer act like babies in our faith, that is what Paul said. We won’t be tossed back and forth by various false teaching. We won’t fall prey to schemes of people who are looking to deny God’s truth.

In order to do this, we must speak the truth in love – especially to those who belong to God’s family.  But this can be hard to do.

 

Here are Some Things to Remember When It Comes to Speaking the Truth in Love

  • Many times, Christians only tell part of the truth. We withhold the hardest part because we don’t want to risk a relationship or hurt the feelings of the other person.
  • People tend to error on one side or the other. We are only “love” and will not share the truth. Or we brutally share the truth without compassion and mercy. Which one are you? Truth without love. Or love without truth?
  • Pray for guidance and talk to the other person second. Bathing a situation in prayer can give you the grace you need to navigate any situation.
  • The objective is to come to a restored relationship between us and the other person as well as God. Restoration cannot happen without truth.
  • Restoration happens when we go directly to the other person first. We can go to God for guidance. But we shouldn’t really involve third parties in most situations until our face-to-face efforts have failed.
  • If you are helping to mediate a situation, you aren’t looking to pick sides, you are trying to honor God and others in the relationship as you seek a resolution.
  • Words are not weapons. Be careful what you say that you can’t take back.
  • You can disagree and still love each other. Disagreement does not equal hatred.
  • Check your motives? Do you really love this person and have a relationship to have standing to have this conversation?

 

Love Is Based on Truth, Otherwise It Isn’t Reliable.

Today, the culture is confused about the difference between Love and Tolerance. People will say, “If you love me, you wouldn’t say anything to me about sin.” But the opposite is true. Sin is like playing with a cobra. It can kill you. Let’s look at this video about love and tolerance.

Love is better tolerance. And God’s love is better than human love.

Now That Changes Everything

Everyone wants the good life. But what if the good life isn’t good enough? What if God’s best is different than our ideal dreams?

I wrestled with this today while listening to Pastor Charlie Hill’s message at Steamboat Christian Center. What if it isn’t that our desires are too strong, but they are directed toward the wrong things? What if our desires are trully too weak?

I am reminded of this famous quote by author and theologian, C.S. Lewis. He wrote in the Weight of Glory, “It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”

The forces of darkness want us to run after things that are a lot like Chinese food. These things may taste good in the moment, but they leave us feeling hungry in less than 30 minutes.

I live in a vacation paradise. It is beautiful in Steamboat. But this town also has a dark secret. This county has fairly high suicide rate. I first discovered this reality when I moved to town and talked with a friend who works with the local hospital. He is called in to help counsel and minister to those who are suspected of trying to commit suicide. He told me that he gets more calls than you would imagine.

People come to the Boat expecting this vacation mecca to solve their problems. But funny thing, after a while the world-class skiing, biking and fishing doesn’t seem to satisfy. Many people have pinned their hopes on the  wrong things. Sure, those activities are fun and fulfilling. But I believe that God designed us all to have deep connections both with Him and with others.

Pastor Charlie preached on John 14:6 where Jesus made a pretty radical statement. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” This seems like a pretty exclusive statement. What about those who have not known or believed in Jesus? And what do you have to believe to realize this blessing? Is this just a creed you must believe? Or is it an invitation to something more?

Back during Jesus’ earthly ministry, many people wanted to know the way to eternal life. This was a question sometimes asked of rabbis and teachers. Jesus made it clear that other paths lacked something critical — a personal relationship with God through Jesus. This statement wasn’t about keeping people out. Its purpose is to clarify what works. It is found in a passage where Jesus is going to add rooms onto His house so that more people can stay there with Him forever. This is an invitation to deep intimacy. The kind of love that says, “Come move in forever.” Now that is love.

Jesus was making it clear that lives apart from God will never be enough. There will always be emptiness and brokenness. The good life we seek is not found in stuff, other people or experiences apart from God. It can only be found in a deep relationship with God where He makes all those things more enjoyable. You can’t truly have forever fun until you find your for real freedom.

This news Jesus spoke may seem exclusive. But it is open to all. It may only seem restrictive if you rebuff his invitation. Jesus said, “Come to me, and I will give you rest.”

If you want peace and purpose, there is no better place than the arms of Jesus. Please go to a Christian friend or a godly church in your area and chat with a minister or member who can help you. If you have tried everything else, why not try Jesus? You may just discover like I did that He truly changes everything.

Scared But Prepared

At the Vous Conference 2019, Rich Wilkerson Jr., Chad Veach and Michael Todd spoke on leadership in the church. They summed up leadership as simply influence. And we are all leaders at some points in our lives even if we don’t feel like it. The following were some of their leadership nuggets…

  • Rich said that Christian leadership is a walk with God, a journey of dependence on the Holy Spirit.
  • Mike admitted, “I am a leader and don’t what I am doing a lot of the time… The Lord said to me, ‘I need you to be a leader and to step toward the obstacle not move away from it.'” He further encouraged those listening to stand and declare what God has placed on our heart and make that a regular practice in our prayer life.
  • Chad suggested, “You don’t know what you are prepared for until you step into it… You should be living now like what you are waiting for.” “Opportunity knocks but you are complaining about the noise.”
  • Chad challenged, “We don’t go off our feelings; we go off our faith. If feeling is our guide, we won’t lead long.”
  • Mike pointed out that having the right pace is critical to reach our destination in Christ. People take the attitude, “I am going to have to do it because I don’t trust that God will.” Instead of hustle and grind, what if we trust and wait.
  • Mike mentioned that Jesus even had to slow down to live at the pace of grace. He suggested that the silent years between Jesus’ childhood and earthly ministry was a time in the darkroom where he developed. Too many people today are in a rush to get onto the platform and make their name known. Todd commented, “Your wait will never be wasted.” God will do something through those times of waiting if you let Him. We have this fear of missing out or missing our opportunity. But the “right thing at the wrong time is a curse.”
  • Mike added that he learned from the Lord, “Anything you make up outside of me, you will have to sustain outside of me.”

As leaders we are all in the same boat. Sometimes we are affraid to stand up. Sometimes we feel unprepared. But when we follow God’s prompting, He will supply what we lack. When we wait for His timing, we will reach the peak at just the right moment.

Dangerous Dreams

One of the most common supernatural experiences in the Bible besides healing is people having incredible dreams or visions of the future. From the first to the last book of the Bible, dreams are part of the human experience. DawnChere Wilkerson spoke at the recent Vous Conference on the impact of our dreams on our lives. She focused more on “dreams” as our hopes and plans for the future. But these dreams are just as important as the supernatural kind because they can impact the course of our lives.

Looking at Acts 4:29-31, the early disciples faced serious risk after Jesus ascended. They were in danger for their very lives. They looked to Christ for strength and miraculous power. And the Holy Spirit showed up and shook the entire place. They were anointed to boldly speak the Gospel.

The experiences of the early Church were likely different than what the disciples had dreamed or imagined. In the middle of persecution and challenge, it would have been easy for them to give up. Disillusionment likely knocked on the door of their hearts. They may have wondered if the words and predictions of Jesus would come true. They may have thought, “Are we being guided by the right dream?”

Peter, John and the others knew that they lived by faith and not by sight. DawnChere warned in her message, “Living the dream is different than dreaming the dream.” You will face challenges living the dream that you may have never imagined when you dreamed the dream. She added, “God is not honored by the size of your dream but your faithfulness to it.”

Dreams can be funny things. They can propel us forward. But they can also sap our strength when they take too long in coming true or work out in a way far different from what we imagined. How can you know if a dream is worth following?

DawnChere offered this key piece of advice. She said, “A dream is not worth following unless it is centered on Jesus.” As Christians, our starting and ending point is new life in Christ. Is this dream taking you closer or farther away from the heart of God?

No matter the dream. At some point, you have to choose what you will believe and follow. In order to live the dream, you have to believe in it enough to follow it. Following God’s dream is a team sport. One of the things you will see in this chapter is how the early Christians supported each other and provided encouragement to hold to the words of Christ. They needed each other to realize the dream. We pick up courage and strength in community.

One of the big reasons that so many people stop chasing the dream is that they get disillusioned along the way. They think they will never reach the dream. But many times, God is doing more than you can see. He is working behind the scenes and is way ahead of you. As DawnChere challenged, “First comes faith than the fortitude.”

Frequently in life, you will have huge setbacks in realizing your dream. Joseph in Genesis is a great example of this reality. He had amazing dreams. Then, he was abused by his brothers, sold into slavery and taken to a far-off land. He was falsely accused of rape and thrown into prison. He was forgotten in jail by those he had helped. Joseph had a lot of experiences stacked against those dreams. DawnChere admitted, “Just like Joseph, sometimes living your dream is a nightmare.”

Even though the number of bad days may have far outnumbered the good days, what God did in the good days overcame and restored what was lost in the many bad days. God can restore in an instant what we have lost in a lifetime. Joseph had to activate his dream by choosing to forgive and do what was right. There are some opportunities you can’t enter into until you forgive and let go of the pain in the past. This isn’t letting others off the hook. It is allowing God to administer justice. You may struggle to do this on your own, but the Lord is right there to help you.

Going back to the early Church in Acts, they prayed and sought the Lord even though they weren’t sure what was going to happen. Along the way, they discovered that knowing and realizing the presence of the Holy Spirit in greater measure is living the dream. The Holy Spirit produced courage and brought assurance that they were not alone. The reality is the early believers were in over their heads. As DawnChere pointed out, “God hasn’t called you to do hard stuff but impossible stuff.”

That is why every believer needs a growing relationship with the Holy Spirit. He convicts the world of sin, equips the Church and reveals the thoughts and mind of Christ. This dream is a dangerous dream because it will upset our self-focused, little worlds. But in the end, it is the only dream worth really dreaming.

No One Else Is Coming

That sure sounds like an awkward theme for a Christian conference. But that was the theme for the 2019 Vous Conference in Miami. This theme hit on a key point that strangles today’s churches and Christians. Frequently, we look around waiting for some charismatic leader, innovative ministry or new move of God before we act.

But Jesus left His earthly ministry thousands of years ago. And Christ sent us forth to carry forward the Gospel. So, what are we doing standing around with our hands in our pockets?

Each person in the body of Christ has something to offer. We can’t stand around and say we don’t have what we need. Jesus said, “All authority in heaven and hearth has been given to me, so therefore go and make disciples of all nations.” Sure, this command was directed to the disciples. But it equally applies to Christians today.

Christians have the call, the example, the resurrecting power of Christ, the anointing of the Holy Spirit. What else are we waiting for? Nobody else is coming.

Vous pastor, Rich Wilkerson Jr., challenged the conference attendees. He said, “Reaching the world for Jesus depends on the Church. Everyone and everything we need to change the world is in this room. We shouldn’t look around waiting for somebody else? We have a responsibility to carry forth the Gospel. If not you, then who?”

We all know people who need to know Jesus. So, why don’t we just make an introduction? We don’t have to cram religion down somebody’s throat. All we need to do is tell our story. We need them to know that Jesus is for them, no matter what they have done. Repentance is sweet, and it is the key to unlocking freedom from our past.

Rich said, “The Church of Jesus is the most powerful force on the planet.” Jesus declared  that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church. Gates are defensive measures. Basically, Jesus was saying, “Not even hell is protected from the Church.”

The key point that Rich made in his opening talk was the importance of unity. He admitted,  “The devil doesn’t fear a big church; he fears a united Church.” Unity is crucial for the Church to fulfill its mission. Rich added, “If you don’t have unity, you can’t have community.”

The key Scripture that Rich used was Jesus’ prayer as He approached the cross.

John 17:20-23

20 “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, 21 that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22 I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one— 23 I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Jesus stressed unity that leads to intimacy. It centers on love and directs people to God. More than just unity, Jesus was calling for oneness — when people are unified around the thoughts and plans of God.

Rich talked about the four things that get in our way:

1.) Comparison

Rich said, “It is really hard to carry out your calling if you are focusing on what others are doing around you.” You must be who God has designed and called you to be. Comparison is a trap that robs us of our potential. And in this social media driven culture, comparison is like a plague.

 

2.) Competition in Ministries

Many of those you are competing against don’t really care about competing against you. People want to do big things for God. But sometimes our call is smaller than we wish. As Rich said, “You will never get big if you refuse to be dedicated to the small.”

Rich stressed, “Authenticity comes from identity – what God has put inside of you that attracts others.”

The big problem is that competition causes jealous, which brings division. We need to get to a point where we say, “Your win in ministry is my win…Collaboration is multiplication.”

Rich said, “I am super competitive. You just have to know who your real competitor is.”

 

3.) Critical Spirit

Sure, we need to be discerning. We don’t need to approve of everything that another preacher or ministry does. My motto has been, “Eat the meat and spit out the bones.” I try to look for what I can learn from others, even from those who may a bit off in places.

I also know that other ministries are not accountable to me. There is one Lord, and He will judge each believer for our actions. As the Apostle Paul asked, “Who am I to judge somebody else’s servant.” But Christians can be the worst in shooting our own.

Rich admitted, “I was ready for criticism. I just wasn’t expecting so much friendly fire.” If you are doing anything for Christ, expect to get some crossfire.

Where does a critical spirit lead? It will always lead to a doubting heart. It makes your vision smaller. We can choose if we want to a critic or if we want to be creative. But it is hard to truly be both.

 

4.) Character Falls Apart

Rich pointed out, “Charisma gets man’s attention. But it is character that gets God’s attention.” Your character is critical if you want a long, successful life and ministry. Charisma can only carry you so far if you don’t have the character to sustain your life pace. Every minster that falls starts with subtle compromises. We stop reading the Word for ourselves. We stop praying for the Lord to search out our heart and show us any wicked way within us. Character is not optional. It is the one thing we need to be a leader worth following.

Have any of these four stumbling blocks impacted your life or ministry? What is getting in the way of reaching your full potential in Christ? How could unity make the difference in your community? Now more than ever, it is critical in a country so divided.

God has sent you. Nobody else is coming. What are you going to do with God’s call?

Note: This is the first blog post in a series that is going to explore key themes and messages from the 2019 Vous Conference. 

Camping with Jesus

Have you ever wondered if Jesus was an outdoorsman? I think he must have been to gain the respect of a bunch of fishermen. He walked from place to place and lived on the move during his three-year ministry. He sometimes didn’t even have a place to lay his head. Jesus loved to find solitude in the wilderness. Yeah, I believe Jesus must have been at home in the great outdoors.

Thinking about this led me to consider what I like and dislike about camping. I love getting away from everything, especially technology. I really like all the varied landscapes and outdoor activities. There is something just soul filling to stare into a camp fire. So, what don’t I like about camping? That’s easy — the difficulty cleaning up after cooking, not taking a shower for days and having to leave at the end of the trip. I always want to stay a little bit longer. But sometimes, you just have to go back down the mountain to reality.

While Scripture doesn’t tell us if Jesus ever enjoyed a smore, we know that he once took his three closest disciples to a high mountain to experience something that they would never forget. This story in Mark 9:2-10 is a first for the disciples. This moment cracked the divide between heaven and earth, revealing just how amazing Jesus truly was.

 

Mark 9:2-10 (NIV) — The Transfiguration

After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.)

Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: “This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to him!” Suddenly, when they looked around, they no longer saw anyone with them except Jesus.

As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus gave them orders not to tell anyone what they had seen until the Son of Man had risen from the dead. 10 They kept the matter to themselves, discussing what “rising from the dead” meant.

 

Sometimes Jesus has to takes us away from the crowd to get our attention. He knows that we need to get away and unplug. These three disciples had no idea what the Lord had in store for them.

Suddenly, Jesus was transformed before their eyes. The disciples got a glimpse of Christ in some of his true glory. Jesus became what he always was. His clothes became a dazzling white suggesting his purity. And as if this wardrobe change was not enough, suddenly Elijah and Moses show up and start talking with Jesus. These are two of the most important figures in Jewish history. Moses represented the Law, and Elijah was one of the foremost prophets from the Hebrew Scriptures. I have always wanted to know what they talked about. But the Bible doesn’t tell us. These little missing details always bug me, but they also create a sense of wonder and mystery.

The three disciples must have been stunned, amazed and frightened. Then, Peter said (Chaille translation), “This is amazing, let’s stay right here. We can pitch three tents — one for Jesus, one for Moses and one for Elijah. Let’s just camp in this moment for a while.”

Maybe Peter said this because he wanted to mark this unbelievable situation and create a memorial to it. Maybe he was scared and didn’t know what to do, and he wanted to create some privacy and protection for this unique encounter. Maybe he just wanted to make this amazing interaction last forever.

The whole situation got more intense when a cloud covered them and suddenly a voice from the cloud identified who Jesus was and his relationship with God the Father. Secondly, the voice instructed the disciples to follow what Jesus instructed. Without any time to debrief or discuss what happened, you see the disciples quickly coming down the mountain.

That was the last thing they probably wanted to do. I can just see them asking, “Where did Moses and Elijah go? Can’t we just stay here a little while longer? Why do we have to go down the mountain?” Even if they didn’t say those things, that would have been what I would have thought and maybe had the courage to say.

I believe that Peter wanted to camp out in this moment. It was the kind of thing that was so unreal that you would want it to last forever. But Jesus knew something that Peter did not realize at the time. The crowds were waiting at the moment. Jesus’ mission was going to be fulfilled down there not up here.

Sometimes we can be transformed and inspired on the mountain. But we can’t fulfill God’s mission until we come down the mountain.

The mountain experience is meant to sustain and inspire us when all those people and situations down there become too difficult to handle. The mountain may seem like a safe place, but it can be perilous to stay up on the mountain when a storm comes.

Take note that Jesus did not turn this miraculous encounter into a self-promotion vehicle. Quite the opposite, he told the disciples not to tell anyone until after his resurrection. Even this command, was a head scratcher. The disciples didn’t know what Jesus meant by rising from the dead.

The two lessons that I see here is that sometimes what we experience with the Lord is just for us. We aren’t intended to share it with others until the time is right. We need to just marinate on it ourselves and let the experience transform and fuel our lives. Secondly, we may not always understand in the moment what Jesus said and did. Our job is to trust and obey not to fully grasp the entire plan. For those who like to be in control and know what is going on, this reality can be a huge challenge. But just as this episode with the disciples demonstrates, many times we aren’t in control. We just need to let God be God. We need to embrace the unexpected.

That is all part of moving on from transfiguration or God moments so that we can embrace our primary mission. The people we need to impact aren’t usually found on the mountain tops. They live in the valley and on the hills. We find them in our everyday routines and lives. As great as it is go camping, we can’t live forever high atop the mountains. We have to return to “normal” life and that is where we can have the greatest impact if we don’t lose sight of what we discovered on top of the mountain. Think about those moments as fuel for what awaits you down the mountain.

Consider this question, “Why do you need to come down the mountain?