Gideon was a bit of a Taunter.

I just read Judges 7:1, and was pretty floored by the nickname that Gideon apparently embraces.  The previous chapter translates the name Jerubbaal as “Let Baal contend with him.”

Gideon had just destroyed a pagan altar to the god Baal.  The modern day equivalent might be burning down a mosque and a whorehouse next door to the mosque.  Then he embraces this nickname “Let Baal contend with him.”  Basically, by starting to be called that name, he’s essentially saying “bring it on, fake god.”  Imagine after burning down the mosque (which I am in no way recommending) you start answering to the nickname “Allah can’t touch this” — with all due respect to MC Hammer.

The attitude of courage and boldness here is pretty intense.  While I certainly wouldn’t recommend such a brash approach to people of other faiths as mosque -burning, It does raise the question of why Gideon, Joash, and company were so confident.  That’s why there is a distinction to made between brashness and confidence.  God had spoken to Gideon specifically, telling him to  tear down the altar to Baal.  Knowing God had called him to that specific act of destruction gave him the confidence to embrace the nickname.  A confidence that God is who He says He is is what motivated Gideon here, not some religious vendetta or agenda.

So much of what I do, by contrast, has been an effort to build my confidence.  In high school and college I was the super-Christian “good kid” not because I was confident, but in order to make myself confident.  If I kept all the rules, God would surely love me and protect me and my interests.  My attitude and actions could not have been father from the gospel.  What Gideon does here is completely different from what I did.  He acts based on confidence in who God is.  He’s still scared–the story indicates that he chickened out of destroying the altar during the day–but he is not acting out of the fear, he’s choosing to trust God at His word.

Even today, my default mode is self-reliance and lack of confidence.  I trust in my ability to parent, or to develop ministry partners, or whatever else!  But the gospel, the most amazing news ever told, assures me that even in the face of my doubt, sin, and disobedience, God has already won.  In Christ, I am victorious.  Now, I am free to obey, and even join Gideon in mocking silly religious people that think they can earn God’s favor–with the sincere hope that they will join me in repentance.

What are some ways you can move from fear to confidence in God and his Word?  Comment below.

Perspective check, 1…2…3?

I got three emails yesterday.  2 of them were people letting us know they are no longer able to partner with us financially–to the tune of -$125 per month. The other was from Piter.

I was too busy wallowing in poor-me-land (or more accurately, trying to evaluate the situation to help to avoid wallowing there, but doing a remarkable job of pre-wallowing) to even read Piter’s email.

I met Piter in 2007, in Korea.  He’s on staff with CCC in Bangladesh.  I remember asking him and friend what the hardest part about being in ministry there was.  Without hesitation, they answered “language barrier.”  They went on to explain that there was no common language uniting the students there, and that even though between the two of them they spoke about 10 languages, they often had trouble communicating the gospel due to language.  They added also how hard that makes it to raise support.  They hardly know any Christians, and the ones they do know don’t speak the same language.  It’s tough to passionately cast vision for a ministry when you don’t speak the language.

After my pre-wallowing session, where I asked the Lord to help raise the financial partners we need and more importantly to help me to fix my eyes on Jesus in the midst of this time, I finally got around to reading Piter’s email.  It was short, and directed us to give to his ministry as we were able.  I followed the link in the email, and learned that currently they (a family of 4) have $300 dollars per month coming in.  And they need $250 more in order to cover their needs.  I’m bad at math, but that translates roughly to a 45% shortfall every month.

I personally could give enough money from our emergency savings right now to cover them for the next 7-8 months.  And I am broke in almost every sense of the word by American standards.  Even in the midst of my financial woes, God is reminding me that all I have is by grace.

Two action points:

  1. I average about 35 visits per day to this website.  On posts where I talk about my son, family, or something funny in the title, I average more hits.  So this post will probably be read by 20 or so individuals. If you gave just 20 bucks a month (let’s call it 2 Pizzas and 3 trips to the Redbox) to Piter and his ministry, he’d have more than enough to reach Bangladeshi students for Christ, without having to devote extra energy and time to raising funds.  Please give to Piter and his wife Mary Beauty now by clicking here.
  2. You clicking the “Like” button right below this line will give your friends the opportunity to help Piter and Mary Beauty.

Ted Haggard and my Sinful Heart.

I’ll be honest, my first reaction when I see that Ted Haggard is starting a new church is bitter judgement.  This isn’t a statement of whether or not he should be doing it, and I honestly don’t know.  It is a statement of the fact that I am so quick to excuse my own moral flaws and so quick to try and nail guys like Haggard to the wall for theirs.  So as Christians, I would challenge us as we approach this issue to do it with our arms and hearts open and aware of our own weakness.  Pointing fingers and throwing mud will just further the stereotype that we have earned of shooting our wounded just before we toss them under the bus.

As I talk about the issues, and discuss the biblical ramifications of him starting this new church, I need to take care to watch my own heart, that I am not stumbling myself.

If You have Nothing to Hide, Hide Nothing: a look at the financial transparency of Christian organizations.

Does transparency matter?  Not according to the likes of Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and TD Jakes.

I spent some time recently on a the website of a ministry called (the  online database component of Wall Watchers) to see, among other things, how Campus Crusade for Christ (the ministry my wife and I work for) is doing when it comes to honesty, openness, and transparency regarding financial issues.  I was thrilled, though not surprised, to see that we rank among the elite in terms of “putting our money where our mouth is.”  That’s one big reason why I work for this organization, and will for as long as the Lord continues to provide.

Where I was shocked was as I perused other ministries, and specifically those ministries associated with what’s been called the “prosperity gospel.”  Teachers who say that God intends for us to be materially wealthy are not being honest about their material wealth, when asked.

TD Jakes, for example, according the the site, was noncompliant when asked about his ministry’s use of funds.  That means that if you have ever given money to TD Jakes and his ministry, you have no idea how that money was spent.  Legally they may not be required to tell you how they are spending your money, but you can bet I’m not giving a dollar until I know how they will use that dollar.  And you shouldn’t either.

Plus, when Joyce Meyer, who clearly correlates financial prosperity and God’s blessing, is asked about how much she is compensated for her ministry efforts, why wouldn’t she jump at the chance to be totally honest and share how God is blessing her?  But according to the site, she’s released info about her ministry, but nowhere in it does she mention how much money her family makes off of the donations of others.  That is shady, at best.  It’s like she’s ashamed of the income she makes.  Again, that’s not an accusation, so much as a point of fact.  She has not been transparent.  Christians should be transparent.  Especially ones with massive budgets.

That brings me to Creflo Dollar.  His ministry is literally worldwide, with offices in South Africa, the UK, Nigeria, America, and Australia.  He and his wife Taffi co-pastor a megachurch that has spawned multiple corporations and ministries.  Then, when being asked to be transparent and tell folks who give how that money is being used, (and even being asked to do so by the federal government) they still refuse to give any information out regarding their financials.  While I don’t think it is the government’s place to investigate churches and their financial records, I do feel like the folks who give money to his ministry have every right to know how that money is being used.

Dr. Dollar, in the response to the government posted on his website, justifies their financial secrecy with the verse from Matthew 6:1-4 that references individuals giving in secrecy, NOT corporations stewarding in secrecy.  Again, I think the federal government is overstepping its bounds (and please don’t get me started on that as a topic in general), but I think Dr. Dollar’s justifications for corporate and organizational secrecy are absurdly unbiblical.  Nobody is asking him to disclose what particular individuals gave, just that he disclose a dollar amount of total giving, and how those funds were used.  To use the very verse he quotes, he’s on the “openly” side of the equation.  The members and others gave in secret.  It’s time for God to bless openly.  So openly that anyone who wants to see it can see it.  His own (half-biblical) theology says that God will openly bless his church financially if they are faithful.

God doesn’t do back-alley accounting.  He honors integrity and honesty.  If you have nothing to hide, hide nothing.

The list doesn’t end with those.  Go see for yourself which ministries refuse to give account of how they use funds.

What do you think?  Should churches and other ministries strive for openness and transparency?  Why or why not?  Comment below.

How listening to Christian radio could be hurting you spiritually.

I’m a parent of a two year old, so I reserve the right to change my tune on this fact in the coming years, but it bothers me when Christian radio calls itself “safe for the whole family,” because though it may be easier, I don’t think it’s any more safe to listen to Christian radio.

Derek Webb recently said in an interview (to paraphrase) that any time you hear the word “Christian” applied to anything other than a human being, it is nothing more than a marketing term.  Christian books, Christian music, Christian T-shirts, and Christian clubs are all misusing the word “Christian.”  What drives “Christian” marketing is the same thing that drives other marketing.  Dollars.

Webb went on in that same interview to highlight that fact by saying that on the “Christian” radio station, there are entire sections of the Bible that he would not be allowed to read on air.  Don’t believe him?  Check out Ezekiel 16:15-17, or the sweet little tale in Genesis 19:4-8.  The advertisers would have the head of anyone who read such terrible things on the air.  Why?  Because they aren’t “safe for the whole family.”  Nothing like a little gang-rape to spur some after-dinner discussion with your 10-year-old.

We do our kids a disservice when we gloss over the wickedness in the world, and especially the wickedness in our own heart.  And while I’m not mad at Christian radio stations for giving us a place where we won’t have to listen to a running stream of F-bombs, there’s an aspect to Christian radio that could actually be LESS safe for my kids: it promotes a subtle form of works-righteousness. Also, instead of actually having to parent, and shepherd our child’s heart, we are given the option of just ignoring that there are terrible things out there that are hard to explain.

Terrible stories of God-dishonoring things going on in the world provide excellent teaching moments about the terrible God-dishonoring stuff that goes on in my heart (and in my child’s heart).  And if I don’t see any God-dishonoring things in my heart, then I am afforded a chance to repent of my self-glorifying religious arrogance, and thinking I don’t need Jesus.  Instead of giving me a mirror to see my own sin (the way “secular” radio does), Christian broadcasting would have me believe that I am not so bad.  After all, I’m being a good parent by listening to radio that is “safe.”

I’m not saying that we shouldn’t watch what goes in the ears and eyes of our children.  But we most certainly should not assume that because a product was marketed with the word “Christian” in front of it that we are safe to turn off our discernment.

What do you think? Comment below.