12 January, 2009

When Man Manipulates God

For most of the past year I have had friends in the ministry tell me how that the downturn in the economy was affecting their church, yet somehow, it was not really taking it's toll on the church where I pastor.
I just continued to thank God that we were not facing what seemingly most churches were facing. Somehow, we actually saw an increase in giving. Actually, I think some of this was due to another occurrence that was beginning to take place in churches do to the economy bust. With the downward spiral of the economy, people have begun returning to the church. Imagine that? Things get rough, people turn to God. We saw the average attendance in our church swell from an average of 42 per week last Spring, to over 85 in October and most of November. Giving in our church did not drop through most of 2008, but then again, it did not increase either, despite doubling in average attendance.
So, in reality, giving was certainly dropping during this time, but the increase in attendance and the offerings that the new folks gave offset the loss.
But then something interesting happened. Gas prices began to fall drastically. And guess what happened? The last 6 or 7 weeks of 2008 our attendance fell by nearly 45% and giving fell off by nearly 70%. There is only one way to view it... when the pressure let off, people no longer had a need for God in their lives... so they began to stay home and they kept their money as well.

Now, what does all this say? In my humble opinion, it means that there are a lot of people who have not yet surrendered their life, all of their life to God. They want God on their terms and their conditions. What they really want is a rescue net, not a Master to whom they are servant. It seems they only want God for what they can get, rather than for what they can give. Yeah, I know that some will get a bit angry when they read that comment, but the only people who will be angered are those who are trying to manipulate God.

I'm not writing this to "slam" my church. Far from it.
This is a trend that is happening in churches all across America. In the past few weeks I have spoken to several other pastors who are facing a severe financial crunch too. One shared that as of January 1 he had to let 3 staff members go because they money just was not there to pay them anymore.
Another pastor told all of his staff (including himself) that they would all be taking a 15% cut in pay effective January 1. One church where a friend pastored made the decision to cease operation at the end of December and he has gone on staff at another large church.
The list goes on and on. The financial crunch is definitely impacting many churches, some worse than others.

In my church, we are hanging on, but by the slightest of threads. As I said, attendance has been way down, and giving is so bad that we have only met budget 3 of the past 16 weeks. We cannot sustain that much longer.

Now here is the question that I would like to ask: Isn't 10% ALWAYS 10%?
I mean, no matter what you base it from, 10% is still 10%... and that is what the tithe is... the first tenth of our increase. Just a couple of days ago, someone told me that they were making less so they could not tithe any more. They said to me that they had to make a choice to cut something, so they would have to cut giving to the church.

THAT, my friends, is the crux of the problem!
When we decide to cut the tithe, then it is no longer the tithe! The reality is that we have decided that we know better than God.
God told us:

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.

OK, so church giving is down... which means people are no longer taking God at his Word... which can only mean one thing... That same passage tells us that when we do not obey God's command in our giving, we are cursed with a curse. God's blessing and protection is not on us. It becomes a vicious cycle. We withhold on our tithe and offering, and God's blessing ceases to be there, which makes things get worse, so we withhold more, and the cycle continues. And many people, simply stop going to church, because when they go, they feel guilty because they know they are robbing God, so the old, "out of site, out of mind" thing falls into play. Meanwhile, their finances suffer, problems keep cropping up in their lives and the lives of family members... the job is threatened or gone, and they become mad at or question God why these things are happening.

Suggestion for anyone in that place..
Take a look at the family budget. Has the FIRST tenth gone where God says it should go, which reflects h is ownership? If not... then you have discovered the problem. When we simply obey God, in faith, with our tithe and offering, He says he will rebuke the devourer on our behalf. When we disobey in our giving, then we are saying that we don't trust or honor God... and the devourer is free to reek havoc in our lives.
How is it corrected? Simple... start obeying God!

Forget the idea of going back and making up for the past... start anew.
Ask God to forgive you for the past, and begin today to do what the Word of God says and watch what happens. God says "Prove me now" or "Test me in this." If you will do what he said, He will do what He said, you will be blessed and prosper, and churches will not suffer in the process. Pretty simple.

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