Saturday, March 31, 2018

Ransom

Redeem seems to be used in two senses in the scriptures. One where the redeemer pays a ransom to the kidnapper to set the enslaved person free. The second where the redeemer uses superior force to set the captive free. The Exodus was the second type. No ransom was paid to Pharaoh (except the deaths of firstborn and his army, but he paid that not the redeemer).

If Jesus death was a ransom, then the redemption must be the second type, where a ransom was paid to the kidnapper. God was the redeemer not the kidnapper/enslaver.

Christus Victor and ransom are not the same. Christus Victor would be a rescue like the exodus, where the enslaved people are rescued by superior force and no ransom is based.

Mark says that Jesus was a ransom, so the atonement is more like the second type of rescue where a ransom was paid. God paid the ransom by offering Jesus. The ransom was paid to the spiritual powers of evil who had enslaved humans at the fall. They used to the requirements of the law to demand death for sin. Paying the ransom robbed them of their power, so by being a ransom Christ ended up being victorious (Christus Victor).

Jesus was death was a punishment, but not one demanded by God. God had given Israel his law to enable them to live in peace in a new land. His approach to the penalties of the law was gracious. However, the spiritual powers of evil used the law against God to demand that the penalties specified by the law be paid in full. They said it would not be just, if humans were let off scot-free, and they were not. The accuser was able to indict humans for breaking the law, so he demanded the penalty specified by the law, which was death. So Jesus died in our place, as punishment demanded by the accuser, not one demanded by God.

God was happy to forgive, because he is gracious. But the spiritual powers of evil who love death and destruction demand that the full penalty be paid.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Caring for the Poor

The New Testament teaches Christians to care for the poor. People who understand this requirement have been drawn to support governments that introduce welfare programs. This approach to poverty has been a huge mistake.

Government welfare programs have to be operated by a bureaucracy. Bureaucracies have to be rule-driven organisations to ensure that funding is controlled. The bureaucrats who administer welfare programs have to apply the rules in an even-handed way. These rules leave no room for love, and very little scope for flexibility to deal with individual circumstances.

When it is your job to care for the poor, it is almost impossible not to become hard and harsh with people who have continually messed up. What love the bureaucrat had when they started tends to get overwhelmed and numbed by the hardship and suffering they deal with.

Without love, welfare is demeaning. Recipients lose their faith and self-respect. The consequence is that many recipients of government welfare get locked into poverty.

Handing responsibility for caring for the poor to the state has been a huge mistake by the Church. The justification was that the problem was too big for the church, so they wanted to marshal the greater resources of the state to the task. This is an illusion, because the state has made the problem worse, so even more resources are needed.

Christians should be more effective in dealing with poor than governments. Love is essential for the task, and we should be experts on love. The Holy Spirit gives Christians the strength to keep on loving in the face of persistent hardship and despair.

Escape from poverty often needs a change of heart and mind. The Holy Spirit is an expert on changes of heart, so people who can bring him to the task have a huge advantage.

Taking care of the problem of poverty would be a huge responsibility, but a great opportunity for the gospel. It would need massive resources, but Christians own a huge amount of unrighteous wealth that could be used for this challenge.

This article is not a justification for voting against welfare programs. You can’t replace something with nothing. Taking state welfare away before we have established something better would be cruel.

Rather if Christians got serous about caring for their neighbours who are poor (1 John 3:16-17) and once that was done, moving into poor neighbourhoods where there are no Christians, poverty would gradually disappear.

The need for state welfare programs would shrink and they would gradually disappear. Welfare budgets could be cut, because they would not be needed.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Trade Wars

Donald Trump is angry about the US trade deficit. He blames manufacturing nations like China and Japan for ripping off America, so he is imposing tariffs on Chinese imports into the US to punish them.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump does not understand the economics of international trade, so he is attacking a symptom, rather than dealing with problem.

There are several reasons why the US has been running a trade deficit for many years.

  • The United States is a high-income country, (although many Americans are not feeling it.). High-income countries find it hard to compete with manufacturing from low-income countries. Multi-national countries tend to move their production to places in the world where educated labour is cheap. High-income countries have to concentrate on the highly-technical and capital-intensive manufacturing where they have an advantage. The United States has done well in this area, but it needs to do better because many blue-collar workers in the US are still directly competing with cheap labour in Asia.

  • Low oil prices and container have made the shipping of manufactured goods from Asia to the United States economic an economic activity.

  • The trade balance is only one part of the Balance of Payments, and they all interact with each other. The United States trade balance is the natural corollary to a surplus on the capital account.

  • The US dollar is the strongest currency in the world. Since the demise of the Bretton Woods system, many nations in the world hold their international reserves in US dollars. They do this by purchasing US dollar assets, mostly treasury bonds. This inflow of funds has given the US a surplus on its capital account, which has to be balanced by a deficit on its current account. The trade deficit is the direct consequence of the US dollar role as a reserve currency.

    The big benefit of this role is that the US has been able to import cheap manufactured goods without paying for them. The US has been able to engage in numerous overseas wars without paying the full cost. (Wars affect the Balance of Payments in the same way as imports because stuff needs to be purchased overseas. The difference is that they are blown up, rather than carried into the US). Wars and imports have been paid for with bits of paper (mostly US treasury bonds).

    Buying things with bits of paper is good if you can get away with it. Donald Trump does not like the Chinese buying US treasury bonds, however if he wants to stop that practice, the US will have to start paying for all its imports and wars.

  • One reason why the US dollar is popular as a reserve currency is that oil is mostly traded in US dollars. Following a spike in oil prices in 1974 the United States persuaded Saudi Arabia to only sell oil for dollars. The U.S. agreed to buy oil from Saudi Arabia and provide the kingdom military aid and equipment. In return, the Saudis would plough billions of their petrodollar revenue back into Treasuries and finance America’s spending. This dollar hegemony worked well for the US, so it has attacked countries like Libya that tried to sell oil for currencies other than the US Dollar. The petrodollar is becoming less important as US dependence on Middle East oil. However, if the US lets it go, the need for US dollar reserves would decline and the trade balance would improve, but US economic hegemony would weaken. I am not sure that this is what Donald Trump wants.

  • The United States congress has consistently approved budgets that do not balance for many years. The ongoing budget deficits have to be paid for by issuing treasury bonds. If these were only sold within the United States, interest rates would have to rise significantly. No one wants that, so many of the treasury bonds are sold outside the United States with the Chinese being the main buyer. If the US balanced its budgets, the supply of treasury bonds would shrink dramatically, and the US surplus on its capital account would shrink too. This would have a positive effect on the trade deficit, but no US politician is interested in that solution.

The US trade deficit is mostly the result of decisions made within the US that have produced a surplus on the capital account. Without getting rid of that surplus, the trade deficit is likely to remain, whether or not Donald Trump engages in a trade war.

The Chinese may have manipulated their currency to make sure that they get their share of the US trade deficit. This does not harm the US. They benefit from the cheap televisions and refrigerators. Rather it harms other manufacturing/exporting countries (especially in Asia) that get squeezed out of the US market.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Sabbath

After God rescued his people from Egypt, he told them what he expected of them.

The main thing that he told them to do so was to do nothing for a day.

Not just a day. He told them to take a day off every week for the rest of their lives.

That is grace.

Yet many Christians manage to turn this into hard work.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

House Church

I sense that the house church movement in New Zealand has peaked. My experience is that most house churches were started by people frustrated with existing churches. They knew what they did not like, but they did not have a clear vision of what God wanted to establish. Many brought baggage with them.

Most still wanted to receive the “services” that they thought traditional churches were not providing adequately.: good teaching, good worship, etc. The list is quite long. Church leaders were soon exhausted trying to provide these services. Members remained frustrated because the level of service did not match their expectations.

The people who joined House Churches had not been reaching out to the lost people of the world from their traditional churches, so they did not do any different when they got into a house church. Consequentially, house churches had very little success in sharing the gospel.
A house church that does not have new believers coming in gets very self-centred. New believers are often disruptive in a good way. Existing members grow by putting their energies into discipling and teaching them. Without this challenge, they get bored and grumpy. Their house church becomes quite inward looking.

I don’t think many people in New Zealand caught the vision I shared in Being Church Where We Live. It has been more popular overseas.
I am not despondent. I still think that the vision I shared is the best way for followers of Jesus to support each other through a season of persecution or economic shaking. I still think it is the only way the Church as a whole could absorb a massive number of people coming to faith in Jesus, if we had revival in New Zealand.

I am not sure which of these two possibilities is most likely.

Friday, March 23, 2018

North Korea

Prophetic Christians are declaring the people of North Korea are going to come to faith in Jesus in massive numbers. Many other are praying that this will happen.

This seems a bit na├»ve. Why would the people of North Korea turn to Christianity when a Christian nation is threatening to destroy them? When a Christian leader is threatening to nuke them if they don’t submit to him.

Many Koreans remember how the American bombers wrecked their cities and land, killing thousands of civilians in 1952. They fear it will happen again.

In this context, military threats are not the best method of pre-evangelism.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Words Change

Words are strange. Over time their meaning can change. Sometimes a good word can have stopped being used. The word “household” is an example. It is still used by statisticians, but in a very narrow way, as all the people living a dwelling (sharing meals together). They conduct household surveys and publish so-called household statistics. Most users would prefer family statistics, but family are a fluid concept and hard to measure, especially if members of a family live in different dwellings.

Despite this technical usage, the word household has gone out of normal usage, probably because we no longer have households with servants or extended family members in them. People talk about family, ie Mum (Dad) and children. In New Zealand, we have the Maori word “whanau” for the wider extended family. People speak of their “whanau”, but never talk about their household. Marketers used to address junk mail to “The Householder”, but they have stopped doing that because they realised the word is no longer has any meaning here.

I am not sure what Christians think when they read about the Household of God in the Ephesians, if they have not had teaching about the nature of ancient households.

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God (Eph 2:17).
At least with the word “kingdom”, people have a residual idea from nursery stories and television shows like “Game of Thrones”.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Tithing (8) Religious Leaders

Malachi does not advocate tithing to support religious leaders. He actually condemned the actions and teaching of the priests before he spoke to the rest of the people.

And now, you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honour my name,” says the LORD Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honour me (Malachi 2:1-2).
God was unhappy with the religious leaders. They were not honouring him, so they lost his blessing. He did not want more wealth going to them.

Preachers who use Malachi to advocate tithing should read all his message. Malachi is blunt about those who twist God’s word.

For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge because he is the messenger of the LORD Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble (Malachi 2:7-8).
The tithing teaching twists God’s way from faith and grace into doing good works to earn his favour. The tithing teachers claim that they have been blessed with prosperity because they have tithed. They say that those who are struggling financially are suffering because they have not tithed. This turns prosperity into a reward for doing good works.

God is gracious. His way is always:

Receive Do
He blesses us and expects us to serve him as an expression of his gratitude. Jesus died for us, while we were his enemies. In response to the gift of salvation, we serve him. This was the message of the gospel. It was also true in the Old Testament. He rescued his people from Egypt and blessed them with freedom before he gave the law describing how they should live as redeemed people.

Religions are always the other way around:

Do Receive
People who do what the religion requires might receive a blessing.

The Old Testament teaching on tithing was:

Receive Do
When you have received God’s blessing, take some of it and enjoy a celebration. Bless others by sharing with them.

The modern teaching on tithing is the other way around.

Do Receive
Do something first. Give a tithe to the church, and then you will receive the blessing of prosperity. If you don’t do, you will not receive.

Malachi would say that those who teach this way have failed to “preserve knowledge” for those “seeking instruction” and “caused many to stumble” (Malachi 2:7-8).

This full series is available on Kingdom Watcher at Tithing

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Tithing (7) Robbing God

Malachi is the favourite prophet of preachers advocating tithing. They claim that those who fail to tithe are robbing God and have placed themselves under a curse.

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the LORD Almighty. “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 3:8-10).
This is a strong word, but it must not be taken out of context. Malachi begins his message by challenging the economic injustice that is prevalent in Israel.
I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud labourers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 3:5).
The people were practising sorcery and adultery. They were committing perjury and oppressing widows, orphans and aliens. They were not paying employees fair wages for their work. They seemed to be ignoring most of God’s Instructions for Economic Life. God did not seem to be worried about lack of resources at the temple. He was worried about tithing, because his people were not caring for the poor and needy, as required by the Instructions for Economic Life.

The prophet declared the people of Israel were ignoring all God’s commands, not just those about tithing. This is why they had lost his blessing.

Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty (Malachi 3:6-7).
Malachi was challenging general disobedience of God’s commands. Failure to tithe in support of the poor was just one sin amongst many, but God wanted that sorted out first, because he cares for the poor.

When Malachi said that they were robbing God (Mal 3:8), he was referring back to the Law of Moses.

Do not take advantage of the widow or the fatherless. 23 If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly hear their cry. My anger will be aroused, and... your wives will become widows and your children fatherless. (Exodus 22:22-23).
When people take advantage of widows and orphans, God is offended. He will come to their aid (Ex 22:24).
Do not deny justice to your poor people in their lawsuits. Have nothing to do with a false charge… for I will not acquit the guilty (Exodus 23:6-7).
People who treat the poor badly are offending God. He will remove their blessing. Malachi challenged the people for withholding tithes because the poor were suffering and God was upset.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Tithing (6) New Testament

The truth that tithing is redundant is confirmed by the fact that it is rarely mentioned in the New Testament. Tithing is mentioned or three occasions.

  • The letter to the Hebrews links Jesus to Melchizedek (Hebrews 7). The passage describes Abrahams tithe to Melchizedek, but it does not link tithing forward to followers of Jesus. It just describes a situation that existed before the law had been given, without any application of tithing to the present. This passage cannot be used to justify tithing under the new covenant.

  • Jesus criticised the scribes and Pharisees for forcing people to tithe on herbs.

    Woe to you Pharisees, because you take a tenth of mint, rue and other garden herbs, but you are passing by justice and the love of God. Now these it was binding for you to do, and not let go those (Luke 11:42).
    Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are taking tithes of spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you are leaving the heavier matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. Now, these it was binding for you to do, and not leave those (Matt 23:23).
    The scribes and Pharisees were placing a burden on the people that was too heavy to bear. This was an unfair use of the law.
    When Jesus was speaking, the temple was still functioning, and the Levites were still undertaking their service, so the two roles for tithing specified in the law were still practical, although they were mostly being neglected. However, Jesus never stated that he expected his followers continue tithing after his death and resurrection. This is a massive gap for those who expect Christians to tithe.

  • The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector (Luke 18:9-14) is part of a series of parables about unrighteous wealth. Jesus explained in this parable that tithing on unrighteous wealth does not make it righteous. The righteousness of wealth depends on how it is acquired, not on how much is tithed. Acquisition of wealth must be consistent with God’s Instructions for Economic Life. The Pharisee failed to meet that standard, so he was benefiting from unrighteous wealth. His wealth looked fine on the outside, but it was actually no better than the tax collector’s. The tax collector knew he was living unrighteous wealth, whereas the Pharisee did not.

These are the only references to tithing in the New Testament, and none of them state that followers of Jesus are expected to tithe. Because the temple sacrifices would come to an end and the temple would be destroyed, and the Levites would be scattered around the world, the role of tithing would need to change if it was to continue into the New Testament age. Jesus, or one of the New Testament writers, would have explained that change and described the new role for tithing, but that was not done. Therefore we can assume that tithing does not carry through to people living in the new covenant.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Tithing (5) New Covenant

The tithe had two purposes.

  • Food for a celebration feast at Jerusalem three times a year.
  • Material support for the Levites and other poor people living in their towns.
These purposes for tithing do not carry forward into the New Testament. Jesus made the perfect sacrifice on the cross, so the tabernacle/temple sacrifices became redundant. Jesus fulfilled the feasts. There is no temple for us to visit, so it is not possible to take produce and have a celebration meal at the temple. Once the gospel went to the world, returning to Jerusalem for feast became impossible.

We are the temple of the Holy Spirit. He lives within us, so we can celebrate in his presence every day. A shared meal with the body of believers that we belong to fulfils the role of the feasts. Followers of Jesus, are expected to share food with other believers when the body of Jesus meets to celebrate the Lord’s supper.

Similarly, there are no Levites serving at the temple needing the tithe for their income. Giving to the Levites was rural to urban giving. This may be needed in the body of Jesus, but it will be prompted by the Holy Spirit, not by a rule to be obeyed.

God still cares for the poor. While under the law, the Holy Spirit had not been given in fullness, so people need a rule for giving to the poor. Specifying a tenth ensured that people were generous. Under the new covenant, the Holy Spirit has been poured out on all who believe. He can lead his people into generous giving. In the book of Acts, there was no tithe, but they gave to everyone who had need.

They shared everything they had. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them (Acts 4:32-34).
Generous caring and sharing led by the Holy Spirit is more effective than tithing.

God still expects his people to care for widows, orphans and disabled. In the New Testament that takes place through giving and sharing (Acts 6:1-7; 1 Tim 5:3-16). He also expects that churches will support each other when the need arises (2 Cor 8,9). These activities are led by the Holy Spirit, not by a rule of the tenth.

Under the new covenant, there is no temple, and no Levites caring for it, so the role of the tithe has disappeared. Tithing is replaced by generous giving and sharing led by the Holy Spirit. Deacons were appointed to direct giving to the poor.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Tithing (4) Caring for Levites

The Levites were one of the twelve tribes of Israel. They are the descendants of Levi, who was Jacob’s third son. The Levites were called to serve God. They were responsible for carrying and maintaining the tabernacle while the children of Israel travelled through the wilderness into the promised land.

Aaron was a Levite. The priests serving in the temple were always selected from his descendants, ie one branch of the Levite tribe.
The Levites were not allocated agricultural land when they entered the promised land (Num 18:21-24). Instead, they were allocated forty cities spread throughout the land.

The towns of the Levites in the territory held by the Israelites were forty-eight in all, together with their pasturelands (Jos 21:41).
Once the temple was built in Jerusalem, the Levites were rostered times to serve there (1 Chron 24:20-31). Some Levite families were rostered to be singers and musicians in the temple (1 Chron 25). Other families were rostered to be gatekeepers and ushers, ensuring that people visiting the temple knew where to go (1Chon 26:1-19). Other Levite families maintained the storehouses in which offerings made to the temple were stored until they were needed (1Chon 26:1-19).

The Levites spent some of their time serving in the temple, and they had not been allocated agricultural land, so they might not be able to produce enough to support themselves. God provided for the Levites through the tithe (Deut 18:1-2).

Do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own. At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands (Deut 14:27-29).
When you have finished setting aside a tenth of all your produce in the third year, the year of the tithe, you shall give it to the Levite, the foreigner, the fatherless and the widow, so that they may eat in your towns and be satisfied (Deut 26:12).
At the end of every third year, the tithe was to be taken to their own towns and stored to be available for the Levites, and others who are poor (Amos 4:4). Some commentators have argued that this is a second tithe, on top of the one to be taken to Jerusalem, but the text in Deuteronomy does not say that. (It makes God seem mean, whereas, the tithe represented his generosity). I think it is more consistent with his grace that every third year, the people did not need to take their tithe to the temple but were to take into their towns and give it to the Levites. The Levites were responsible for distributing some of this food to foreigners, widows, and orphans.

According to the census taken in the wilderness, the Levites were only a small tribe. The largest tribe Judah was four times as large. The Levites were less than a twentieth of the population, so they did not need a tenth of the food produced every year. They were able to engage in productive activities when they were not rostered to the temple, so they did not need to get all their upkeep from the tithe. They had pasturelands around their towns (Jos 21:41), so they would be able to keep some of the livestock for milk and wool.

Getting a tenth of the nation’s production every would be more than they needed. Getting the tithe every third year would be enough for them to live well. The law does not specify a national standard for the third year. People could choose which year they stayed at home, provided that it was every third year. This could mean that the Levites might get a third of the tithe every year.

This is more grace. The Levites received a gift to sustain their life. The Israelites got the gift of a year off from travel to the temple.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Tithing (3) Eat with the Lord

Leviticus says that the tithe belongs to the Lord, but we have to go to Deuteronomy for teaching about how it should be given to the Lord. The tithe was to be eaten in the presence of the Lord as a celebration.

You must not eat in your own towns the tithe of your grain and new wine and olive oil, or the firstborn of your herds and flocks, or whatever you have vowed to give, or your freewill offerings or special gifts. Instead, you are to eat them in the presence of the LORD your God at the place the LORD your God will choose—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites from your towns—and you are to rejoice before the LORD your God in everything you put your hand to (Deut 12:17-18).
This is surprising. The tithe is to be eaten by the people who gave it as a celebration. However, they are to not to eat in their own towns. The tithes were to be eaten near his tabernacle in Jerusalem, where the presence of the Lord dwelt. The tabernacle was eventually replaced by Solomon’s temple. The tithe was to be eaten in the presence of the Lord’s as a celebration of his goodness.
At first thought, it does not seem possible for the people to eat a tenth of their production during a celebration. However, the Israelites were expected to visit Jerusalem, three times a year
  • Passover — 1 week plus a sabbath
  • Feast of Weeks — 2 days
  • Feast of Tabernacles — 1 week plus a sabbath.
A trip to Jerusalem would take two or three days there and a similar time to get back. Thus, a family would spend the following times in Jerusalem or travelling their and back.
  • Passover — 2 weeks
  • Feast of Weeks — 1 week and a day
  • Feast of Tabernacles — 2 weeks.
An Israelite family would spend 5 weeks plus a day away from home each year. This is a tenth of their time (5.15 / 52 = 10). While they were away, they would need to eat. While travelling, the wastage of food would be greater. In addition, they usually made a contribution to priests for sacrifices at the temple (Lev 23:8,19,36)

Each family was expected to take their servants, the Levites, widows, orphans and foreigners living in their town with them to enjoy the celebration in the Jerusalem for the Feast of Weeks (Deut 16:11) and the Feast of Tabernacles (Deut 16:14).

Be joyful at your festival—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, and the Levites, the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns. For the LORD your God will bless you in all your harvest and in all the work of your hands, and your joy will be complete. (Deut 16:14-15).
The entire community was to be included in the celebration. The families with crops were expected to share their tithe with other people from their community.

Families would be away from home celebrating the feasts for a tenth of their time. They were expected to share with others during that time, so it is not surprising that they would consume a tenth of what they produce during their visits to Jerusalem.

The tithe demonstrates the graciousness of God. He says that the tithe belongs to him because he created the earth and gave its produce to the people. Then he tells them that they can consume his share in a magnificent celebration. He takes a portion of the what he had blessed his people with and gives it back to them as a blessing they can use for a celebration. What amazing generosity and kindness.

Travel Costs
If people had to travel a long way to Jerusalem and carrying the tithe was too difficult, they could sell it for silver, and buy what they needed when they got to Jerusalem.

If that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the LORD our God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the LORD will choose to put his Name is so far away), then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the LORD your God will choose. Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice (Deut 14:24-26).
This practice made life simpler, but it had a cost. The person tithing would be selling their produce at a place where many other people would be selling. When they got to Jerusalem, everyone would be buying. They would be selling in a weak market for low prices and buying in a tight market for high prices. Therefore, by swapping their tithe for silver, they would lose out. Only those with really good crops would be able to afford this economic loss.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Tithing (2) Law or Grace

Most biblical teaching on tithing is in the Law of Moses. Most Christians respond to this by saying that we live under grace, not law, so that we can ignore commands about tithing. This response is too simplistic.

God gave his laws to Moses to provide a system of government that would allow people to live in relative peace in a new land. These laws are still God's standard of justice. God also included Instructions for Economic Life to guide their economic interaction. The still stand. The law of Moses also provided a system of sacrifices to deal with sin until Jesus should come and deal with it completely. These sacrifices were fulfilled by Jesus, so they are no longer applicable to his followers.

The Law of Moses provide wisdom for dealing with numerous issues that still exist, so we cannot just say that the entire law of Moses is redundant, because it is replaced by grace. We must assess each group of commands and decide if they have been fulfilled by Jesus. We no longer need to obey those that he has fulfilled, such as the tabernacle sacrifices. However, there are other laws that are still relevant. We must decide which category the commands about tithing belong to, before choosing to ignore them.

The Hebrew word for tithing means “tenth”. Tithing is defined in Leviticus.

A tenth of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD (Lev 27:30).
A tenth of everything that grows on the land belongs to God. This includes grain and fruit from trees.
Every tithe of the herd and flock—every tenth animal that passes under the shepherd’s rod—will be holy to the LORD. No one may pick out the good from the bad (Lev 27:32-33).
A similar principle applies to domestic animals. The phrase “passes under the shepherd’s road” is not clear. I presume that this refers to all new animals that are born into the flock or herd. If God took a tenth of the entire flock each year, it would almost disappear after ten years. It makes more sense that a tenth of animals that are born belong to the Lord.

The animals that belong to the Lord must be selected randomly. The farmer cannot pick out which ones he will give because the might be tempted to keep the best ones for himself.

Redeeming the Tithe
If the farmer wants to keep some of the grain from the tithe, he can swap it for money, but he must pay an extra fifth.

Whoever would redeem any of their tithes must add a fifth of the value to it (Lev 27:31).
If the farmer wants to keep some of the grain or livestock for breeding, he might decide to redeem it. Similarly, if the tithe is too difficult to transport to the temple, he might decide to swap if for money that is easier to carry. The person redeeming some of their tithe must pay an extra fifth.

Leviticus allowed the farmer to swap a tithed animal for another if it is needed for breeding, but the animal that is swapped cannot be redeemed.

If anyone does make a substitution, both the animal and its substitute become holy and cannot be redeemed (Lev 27:33).

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Tithing (1)

I am frequently asked about tithing. Many sincere Christians have been made to feel guilty if they do not tithe. They want to know if the scriptures require tithing. The answer is that the commands to tithe are all in the Old Testament. We need to assess each of these commands to determine if they still apply under the new covenant established by Jesus death and resurrection.
Bad Start
Tithing got off to a bad start.

The first recorded example of a person tithing is Abraham (Gen 14:17-22). When he had defeated the kings who had captured Lot along with several neighbouring kings, Abraham met Melchizedek, who was king of Jerusalem. He brought bread and water out to Abraham. Melchizedek was a priest of the most high God, so he blessed Abraham.

It seems that Melchizedek had established an order of priests to serve God. The scriptures don’t tell us how he came to know about God, but I presume God called and he answered.

Abraham gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the loot he had plundered. Melchizedek said that he did not want it. However, it seemed that Abraham had made a vow to God that if he would give him a tenth of the plunder if he blessed him in the battle. The only way that he knew to give it to God was to give it to Melchizedek, the priest, so he insisted that he take it. If Melchizedek refused to take the loot, Abraham would be breaking his vow. The mention of the oath seemed to satisfy Melchizedek.
We should notice several things about this incident.

  • God did not ask for the tithe.

  • Melchizedek did not ask for it, and did not want. He was a king, so he had plenty of wealth.

  • Abraham did not understand grace. At this stage of his life, he thought he needed to promise something to God to obtain his blessing. This was an attempt to manipulate God, by doing a deal with him.

Abraham later came to understand God’s grace. He realised that God blessed him because he loved him and because Abraham trusted God (Romans 4:16,17).

The second incident involving tithing was a promise to God that Jacob made when he was leaving home. He promised a tenth of everything to God if he watched over him and kept him safe (Gen 29:20-22). This was manipulation. Jacob was a conniver. He did deals with everyone he met to try to get ahead. In this instance, he tried to do a deal with God. The scriptures do not record whether Jacob actually kept his promise and tithed.

Jacob thought he needed to make a promise to get God on his side. He was wrong. God had chosen to bless him. God chose Jacob because he loved him (Rom 9:14), despite his deceitfulness and manipulation, not because he promised to give wealth to God. No one can out give God.

Tithing got off to a bad start, as the first two examples in the scriptures were situations where people tried to do a deal with God. They committed to tithing if God would agree to bless them. This is still a common reason for tithing. People tithe to their church, believing that God will bless them in return by multiplying their wealth. This is manipulation, not grace and faith.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Shaking

Many years ago (1977) I had a vision of an economic shaking affecting New Zealand, but it could only be effective if a remnant of Christians were prepared. I believe that God has attempted to allow this shaking several times, but he has always had to hold back because the remnant was not prepared so that the shaking would do more harm than good.

I have been sensing for a while that evil has now progressed so much more, that God now has no choice, but to allow the shaking to prevent evil getting worse, even though his people are not prepared.

When that shaking comes, it will be quite scary because no one is prepared. His followers who have been comfortable in the world will be really scared, as the darkness will be intense. They will flee to the church for safety, but it will seem to be falling apart. The Holy Spirit will be trying to tell his people what to do, but they will be so overwhelmed by the darkness and confusion that they will not be able to hear what he is saying.

During this time, prophetic people will need to deliver God’s word boldly. Not condemning or judging, but explaining clearly to his people what they need to do for safety and to prepare for the next season. This will be especially necessary when the shaking pauses. Prophetic people will challenge God’s people not to go back to what they were doing, but to prepare for what lies ahead.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Place

Place is important, but...

If you sit in Starbucks or McDonalds, you meet a sample of people from the catchment the restaurant draws from. If you build them into a church, you still have a gathered church, just it is gathered from the same catchment has the restaurant.

To really do place, you need to live in a neighbourhood, and walk among and serve your neighbours. You need some other followers of Jesus living in the same place, so people in the immediate neighbourhood, can see you loving each other.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Gun Violence (6) Spiritual

The issues described in previous posts are contributory, but they are not the main cause of gun violence in the United States. The main cause is spiritual. The main political spirits and government spirits with a stronghold in the United States are the following.

  • religious spirit
  • good works
  • violence
  • fighting and war
The problem is not guns, and it is not people. The problem in the United States is the violent evil spirits that have easy access to young people across the nation. People who are worried about gun violence should be asking why evil spirits of violence have such a strong hold on the nation.

I guarantee that one thing is present in each school shooting: an evil spirit. I presume that in every case it is a spirit of violence.

The solution is not gun control, but evil spirit control.

It is strange that a nation with such a strong Christian influence does not understand how to deal with this powerful principality and power. The problem is that the spirit of violence permeates American life: from the federal government to international relations, through culture and entertainment, and onto life on the street. It has been there a long time, but it is now more entrenched. Unfortunately, the American people are so familiar with this spirit that they do not notice it, except when it breaks out into a school or shopping mall.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Gun Violence (5) Culture and Entertainment

The films and television programs that come out of the United States are full of violence and guns. I presume this has an effect on some of the young people who watch it. I presume that it opens the door to spirits of violence.

We see the same films and television dramas, but we recognise the culture as American, and different from ours. We don’t expect to see these things here. Our police don’t look like that.

I presume that American’s see these films and televisions as representing their culture. They are much closer to everyday life there, so their effect will be more powerful. I presume the impact of the cultural message is stronger when you are seeing it in your situation, not somewhere way over there.

When television and movies fill the living rooms of the nation with violence and war, and political leaders exult in military force and war as the solution to most problems, it is not surprising that the same violent spirit manifests in the nation’s youth.

Thursday, March 08, 2018

Gun Violence (4) Zeal for War

Something that stands out as different about American culture is the zeal for war. The United States has military personnel stationed and fighting all over the world. American special forces seem to be entitled to go into any country in the world and fight. Judging from the blogosphere, Americans believe that all these military forces are doing good.

The problem is that the evidence for that view is missing. In recent years, American supported or controlled military invasions have wrecked Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen, but faith in the ability of military force to solve problems has not been shaken. Even when civilians are killed by American bombs, it just bad luck. They were in the wrong place at the wrong time, while the bombers were doing good.

The attitude is very different here. New Zealanders did there fair share during the world wars, and more in Korea and Vietnam. Because of these experiences, very few New Zealanders believe that war is the solution to every problem.

This zeal for war goes right back to the foundation of America. Whereas all other British colonies were able to negotiate independence, Americans fought a war. Whereas most other western countries passed legislation to ban slavery, Americans fought a war. Even Christian Americans till believe the myth that these wars were necessary, despite the terrible loss of life and suffering.

I presume that the American zeal for war as a solution to every problem is one reason why the spirit of violence has made its home in the nation.

Military Cadets
One consequence of this difference is that America still has military training in schools and universities. Thes seems to feed the interest and faith in guns.

When I was in high school, we still had military cadets (a legacy from World War 2) for the first two weeks of the term. Most of us hated it because all we did was march around in the summer sun. The school had a rifle range, but very little ammunition. During the three years, I was at school, I only ever got to fire two 0.22 rounds. The rifle range was a big concrete wall. The main use of it was by students to hide while smoking cigarettes where teachers and prefects could not see them.

Fortunately, military cadets are gone from our schools.

Teaching impressionable young people to fight seems to be very important in American schools. Does this trust in guns feed violence?

Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Gun Violence (3) Protection against the State

Many Americans seem to believe that they need a gun to protect themselves from an evil government. They see the right to own a gun as a bulwark against political dictatorship.

This view does not exist in New Zealand. Many people hate their government. Some hate all governments. But none of them see armed rebellion as a solution. They realise that is a fight that cannot be won.

The American hope seems to be totally unrealistic. When governments go rogue, they also have the power of guns on their side. The rogue state will win all the battles, because it is ruthless, and has the best weapons.

If a swat team turned up to disarm and American who has chosen to fight against their government, they will be quickly be outnumbered and overcome.

The American government could be going rogue already, but by the time most Americans wake up, it will be too late for resistance. Over recent years, the federal government has dramatically increased its powers. It now takes a large proportion of income as tax. Its ability to control people has increased significantly. Rather than resist, most Americans have gone along, because they do not want their comfort to be disturbed.

I don’t know anyone who wants a gun so they can fight against the government, if it gets out of control. That seems to be a big difference between here and the United States. Faith in guns as protection against political tyranny is an odd belief. It seems to be a strange thing to teach young people.

Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Gun Violence (2) Fear

Many people in America seem to be afraid and buy a gun for protection. One educated man brought a gun after a stranger visited his house and scared his wife (without doing harm). It seems that many Americans who are afraid think their best option is to buy a gun.

There are plenty of evil people in New Zealand, but people do not seem to be responding in the same way. It is not that they expect the government to protect them from these evil people.

There are plenty of places where I would not go, because nasty people live there, but I do not need to go to those places anyway. The only situation where we would meet with these people would be at work, when they are subdued, and often scared.

There are plenty of guns in New Zealand, but shootings tend to be limited to suicides, domestic violence, where a gun gives no protection, and warfare between gangs and their associates.

I grew up in the country. We lived a mile away from our nearest neighbours. The lock on the door of house was broken and could not be locked. My Dad had a 0.22 for shooting feral rabbits, but we never felt like we needed a gun to protect us from intruders.

I have never encountered an evil person face to face on my own. I don’t know many people who have. I have never been in a situation, where I felt like I needed a gun to protect me from evil people.

There are plenty of people here in New Zealand who are afraid. Their response is to put up a fence and buy a big dog. Very few would think about getting a gun to protect themselves.

I prefer to trust God. I believe that a big angel provides better protection of my home than a big dog or a big gun.

The best protection from evil people is to belong to a strong community of people committed to loving each other.

The fear of evil and the desire for guns as protection from it seems to be unique to the United States.

Monday, March 05, 2018

Gun Violence (1)

I have been watching with interest the debate in the United States about gun violence. People are alarmed by school shootings and want solutions.

Gun Control
People are clamouring for government action to limit the availability of guns. Unfortunately, that horse bolted long ago. There are millions of guns in the United States. Even if the government totally banned the sale of guns, they would still be readily available.

Black markets would emerge and people who wanted guns would find them. The Prohibition demonstrates the limited power of government controls. Government regulation cannot prevent people from buying things, if they want them badly enough. I find it ironic that Christians who believe in “grace not law”, seem to think that law can solve the problem of gun violence. Violence is a problem of the heart.

Opponents
Americans who oppose gun control claim that people kill people, not guns. That is true, but trite. They suggest a number of reasons for violence in schools.

  • Mental illness
  • Break down of family life
  • Absent fathers
are their favourites.

The problem with these explanations is that we have all these ills here in New Zealand, but we don’t have school shootings like in America. This suggests that there is a deeper reason for the rabid violence there. I have observed several different aspects of the American attitude to guns that are uniquely different.

Saturday, March 03, 2018

By His Stripes (5)

Sickness is tough to deal with. Resisting Satan while standing alone is difficult. It is hard to have faith when burdened with sickness. Resisting is hard when we are weak or unwell. We need others to stand with us and do battle on our behalf. If we are under attack by sickness, it is hard to stand alone. This is the main reason that the modern church does not have victory over sickness. Christians are often isolated, so Satan is able to pick them off one at a time. Christians have compassion for friends who are sick, and often ask God to heal them, but they rarely go into battle with them.

Paul left Trophimus sick at Miletus (2 Tim 4:20). This is the only case of sickness in New Testament that was not healed. There is no explanation, but Paul complains that his colleagues had deserted him and left him alone. I presume that he was isolated and under pressure, so he did not have the strength to overcome the attack on Trophimus. No one was standing with him.

Victory over sickness comes from being in relationship with Christian friends, who will go into battle against a sickness attack and push through to victory.

Christians need to be with people who have victory over sickness.

Two or three people have more authority than one standing on their own. The sick person might not be that confident in resisting sickness. If some friends join in declaring that the sickness has no legal right to be in his body, the sick person will be more resolute.

The faith of friends can be really important.

  • The paralytic had friends with faith for him to be healed (Luke 5:18).
  • The man by the pool had no friends to stand with him (John 5:5-7).
A sick person may be so overwhelmed that they struggle to have faith and speak with authority. The key thing that the friends can add is extra faith.

Thursday, March 01, 2018

By His Stripes (4)

In John 15, Jesus told his followers to abide in him. If we are abiding in Jesus, then underserved sickness cannot affect us, because Jesus takes it up and carries the pain on our behalf. If Jesus has experienced pain on our behalf, we should not have symptoms. He has already experienced that pain, when he was beaten and bruised, so we should not feel it.

In contrast, a person who does not remain in Jesus will wither away, shrunken by sickness and disease (John 15:6).

Jesus made a special promise to those who trust him.

If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7).
When sickness strikes, those who understand Jesus teaching about healing should ask him to take it from them. We should give it to him, so he can bear it for us.
If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love (John 15:10).
After asking him to take the sickness, he will tell us what to do. We must do exactly what he says.
  • Jesus told the blind man to go to pool of Siloam and wash his eyes. By sending him to do something that did not make sense, he gave the blind man an opportunity to show that he trusted him.

  • Naaman was a good man, so his leprosy was an undeserved sickness inflicted by the spiritual powers of evil. Elijah told Naaman to go and wash in the Jordan river. This seemed stupid to him, but while he was bathing, he was healed.

  • Jesus told the ten lepers who asked to be healed to go and show themselves to the priests. While they were on their way, they were healed. Their faithful obedience to Jesus released their healing (Luke 17:14).

Each of these people, proved their faith by their obedience.

Faithful obedience = healing

Jesus is quite likely to tell us to do something that will prove our faith. When we are attacked by underserved sickness he may require us to something that does not make sense to us to prove our faith. Faith demonstrates to the spiritual powers of evil that we are in Jesus. They cannot argue with faith. They cannot cheat against faith. Actions that demonstrate faith, destroy their ability to attack us with underserved sickness.