Thursday, November 8, 2018

Keeping 90%


By Ed Klodt 

“There are three conversions necessary to every man: the head, the heart and the purse.”

That’s from Martin Luther, who knew a thing or two about human nature. Luther understood that even those who have given their life to Christ and accepted salvation still have difficulty sharing their financial resources.

Why is generosity so difficult for us? Not just generosity, but biblical generosity.

Scripture talks about the tithe. The term means “one-tenth,” and the idea in ancient times was that God’s people were to give back to God one tenth of all that they were blessed with, whether that was income, produce, livestock or precious jewels. Even household herbs like mint and cumin were included in the percentage that would be given back to God.

The concept first shows up in Genesis (14:20) when Abram presents to Melchizedek the King one-tenth of the spoils of war he has received. We also see it later in Genesis 28:22 when Jacob, after a vision, offers a tenth of his property to God in return for the promise of safety on his journey. Tithing becomes institutionalized in the Law of Moses. Leviticus 27:30 tells us “A tithe of everything . . . belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.” Ultimately the tithe was collected by the priestly tribe called the Levites.

Have your eyes glazed over? Here comes the cool stuff . . .

Even some theologians think that tithing was strictly an Old Testament requirement. After all, they argue, Jesus came to free us from the law. No more animal sacrifice or avoiding people with skin diseases or prohibitions against mixing certain foods.

Yet are they overlooking how Jesus validates the tithe when, in Matthew 23:23, he tells hypocritical religious leaders, “You give a tenth of your spices . . . But you have neglected the important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.” In my reading, Jesus isn’t dissing the tithe, he’s simply deepening the ways in which we engage with God. That’s consistent with Paul in Romans 12 when he writes, “Therefore, I urge you . . . to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God . . .” God doesn’t just want our dollars; he wants us – all of us, heart, body and soul.

Some argue that a tithe would have made more sense in earlier times before the advent of income taxes, import duties, health insurance premiums, utility surcharges and countless other taxes Americans pay. They believe the tithe is simply impractical today when most people are already overtaxed and overcommitted financially.

Yet, look at the financial ledger in Jesus’s time. First Century Jews offered up to 25 percent to God 
when the temple tax, the land sabbath, Jubilee years, first-fruits and various freewill offerings were tallied. And then Roman taxes were heaped on top of that. Tithing was even more difficult in those days.

I’ll leave you with a final thought . . .

Ten percent of our earnings is a big nut. Some of us spend most of our lives trying to grow to that level of giving. It’s difficult. It involves sacrifice. It’s countercultural.

Could God have come up with the tithe so that we would have to depend on him instead of ourselves?
When we tithe or are even more generous are we not saying to God that we are thankful for the 90 percent he has allowed us to keep? Does it not acknowledge that all that we have is a gift from God anyway? Does it not require us to trust that our generosity will be repaid a thousand-fold (not necessarily financially!) and that we will be blessed in some way?

Perhaps it’s helpful to remember David’s “God owns it all anyway” prayer:

“Wealth and honor come from you (God);
you are the ruler of all things.
In your hands are strength and power
to exalt and give strength to all.
Now, our God, we give you thanks,
and praise your glorious name.

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? 
Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand.(1 Chron. 29: 12-14, emphasis added).

Our generosity is made possible only by the blessings of a generous God. And, in the process, we become participants in those blessings as we give of our time, our talents and our financial resources.

© Ed Klodt, 2018

(Views from the Pews are occasional insights written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension. Questions and insights can be addressed to him in the blog post on Ascension’s website or at jonahfactor@gmail.com.)

Monday, October 1, 2018

Got Church?

By Ed Klodt


Were you at church last weekend?

If so, you are among a shrinking number of Christians in America who believe that weekly worship is an important part of their faith walk. More and more of us stay home on Sunday mornings to pour ourselves a second cup of coffee and tackle that 50-pound weekend newspaper.

A recent Pew Research Center study showed church attendance in the US at an all-time low. Among Christians surveyed, 30 percent said they go to church “seldom” or “never,” and 33 percent attend “a few times a year.” Only 36 percent said they go to church once a week. (Strangely, 1 percent said they “don’t know” whether they go to church. 😊) And the younger you are the less likely you are to be part of the worship experience, with teenage participation in weekly church life at only 11%.

This goes hand in hand with a general decline in organized social activities like bowling or dancing.

In his book Bowling Alone – published in 2000 before social media, iPhones and video games became part of the landscape – Robert Putnam takes aim at television as the culprit most leading to the downfall of American social life. He notes, however, that not all groups have come under the spell of the TV remote (or Facebook!). He holds up the Amish as having resisted the trend. When asked why they continue to engage in such a vibrant social life, one Amish member tells Putnam that the lack of electronic devices in Amish homes is a big reason. He says, “They (electronics) would destroy our visiting practices. We would stay at home with the television or radio rather than meet with other people . . . How can we care for the neighbor if we do not visit them or know what is going on in their lives?” Church is a powerful bonding force in Amish life.

Americans have also gotten busier. Among the pastors, priests and ministers I’ve worked with across the country in the past decade, most of them are losing the battle, with members coming to church less or stopping altogether because of kids’ sports, demanding jobs, and simply being too tired to add one more activity to their week. Kicking back on the weekend is their antidote to overstretched lives.

In this crazy, busy age when believers can worship online – even taking Communion while plugged into a website (check out https://saddleback.com/archive/blog/internet-campus/2014/01/24/take-communion-online-with-us) – do we really need church anymore, much less to come together in worshipping God? Isn’t that so last century?

We are reminded that humans are social creatures. Engagement with others is critical to our wellbeing.

That shouldn’t surprise us since we are created in the image of God. We understand God to be “triune,” three persons who are one in perfect relationship with one another. God chooses to engage with us in prayer and worship and Bible study; and we’ve been created to live in a community of faith, where we come together to worship the Almighty and minister to one another, our community and our world. Church also represents a “timeout,” where we can catch our breath.

Think of yourself as an electric car. Church is your charging station.

We are also reminded that worship of God is a necessity, a way of keeping him in the pole position of life and of drawing closer to him. It’s been that way since the beginning of recorded time as God’s people gathered around primitive altars, desert tents, magnificent temples, humble homes and awesome cathedrals that have represented places where people come together in community to encounter God and be together as his people.

For those of us in that rapidly shrinking demographic of hopelessly delusional regular church goers, Ascension has been that safe place where we worship side-by-side, where we can ask the tough questions of faith and lift up one another when life’s challenges become too great, where we can try out a new skill or explore a new opportunity that promises to make a big difference in other people’s lives. I’ve been challenged, comforted, picked up, dusted off and sent back into the battle of life countless times at Ascension, just like thousands of others who have come through the doors of our church over the past 70 years.

That’s what churches do. That’s what regular fellowship with other Christians does.

Here’s a parting thought . . . On a hilltop in the little town of Montforte d’Alba in Northern Italy stands a medieval church with a tall, slender steeple. It’s topped with a cross. Its bells still ring hourly, erupting in a medley of chimes on Sunday mornings, presumably as a call to worship. Yet the sanctuary has been completely gutted, turned into a makeshift cafeteria to serve attendees of weekend music festivals held in the church courtyard. Like many churches and cathedrals throughout Europe, it no longer serves as a place of worship or of ministry or of faith-filled community. It’s a concert venue. The peal of the bells merely echoes a time in which the townspeople gathered to worship the Almighty.

Is that the future of churches in America?

Some things are worth saving.

© Ed Klodt, 2018

(Views from the Pews are occasional insights written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension. Questions and insights can be addressed to him in the blog post on Ascension’s website or at jonahfactor@gmail.com.)

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Rediscovering the Sacred


By Ed Klodt

Is nothing sacred?

That used to be a popular refrain when I was growing up. It usually followed something stupid my friends or I would do or say. Or perhaps after an uttered profanity.

The same question could be posed today. But different time and different meaning.

With angrier voices, coarser language and music, a greater gap between rich and poor, and growing distrust of our government, businesses and religious institutions, have we lost sight of the sacred? Do we pause to experience the holy amidst all the noise of the culture? Have even our churches lost their sense of it in trying to conform to the culture with the mistaken idea that it will attract more members? Worship as a rock concert?

Old Testament Israel had a deep sense of the sacred. God’s people built structures and altars to house and honor the sacredness of the Almighty. From the ancient Tent of Meeting to the Ark of the Covenant to the Temple, they created holy space where God dwelled. They developed rules and regulations – too many, it turns out – to become a holy people, a witness to other nations for the God they worshipped. This, they hoped, was how holy people lived.

God tells Moses and Aaron: “Say to the Israelites . . . I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy” (Lev. 11:1a, 44).

Is it time for the people of God to rediscover holiness and seek out sacred moments?

Ascension’s sanctuary remodel goes beyond pews and carpeting. We are beautifying the central meeting space in which we worship God. We gather there as God’s people to honor and glorify him. He is present with us in that place. A glorious God who not even Moses could look in the face deserves a glorious space in which to be worshipped.

On September 16th, we move our worship services back into our “new” sanctuary. God’s sanctuary. What if we treated that new space as sacred right from the moment we first walk in? We no longer look at it as simply a place to hear a great sermon, to experience great music or to simply go through the formalities of worship. Instead we come to honor God, to experience his love in the fellowship of our fellow Christ followers and to be strengthened in whatever challenges life throws at us.

Perhaps this sanctuary again becomes holy ground.

Moses first encountered God through a burning bush. As he approached the bush, Moses was told, “Take off your sandals for the place you are standing is holy ground” (Exod. 3:5). By removing his shoes, Moses honors the sacredness of his encounter with the Almighty. It’s symbolic, of course. God has nothing against shoes or sandals. Rather, he’s asking Moses to do something out of the ordinary to honor this direct encounter with a holy, perfect God. It’s a sacred moment.

What if we were to do the same on September 16th as we reenter the sanctuary? In the act of removing our shoes we remind ourselves of God’s holiness and how life-changing it is to enter his presence. We strip away every thought and action that diminishes a holy God when we treat him as simply a best buddy or a convenient butler in the sky to cater to our whims and desires. After all, he’s God. He’s holy. All “salvation and glory and power” are his” (Rev. 19:1).

Nothing may be sacred. But Someone is.


© Ed Klodt, 2018

(Views from the Pews are occasional insights written by Ed Klodt. He and his family are longtime members of Ascension. Ed earned his Master’s Degree in Theology from Fuller Theological Seminary, has served as an interim pastor and has been a longtime lay minister at Ascension. Questions and insights can be addressed to him in the blog post on Ascension’s website or at jonahfactor@gmail.com.)