What are we believing God for?
I’ll never forget. I was a marriage pastor at a mega-church. Loved the people. Loved the ministry of pouring into young couples. The salary? Not so much! After my family’s medical was taken out, and after Uncle Sam got his, my take home was less than a teacher’s salary in one the most expensive areas in the city. Seriously. In the year and a half we labored to make it work, watching our savings bleed away, there were many times we felt like we needed a life line.
I can tell you now, we learned many valuable faith lessons in that season. We prayed hard and trusted the Lord. On one particular occasion, we had no idea how we were going to cover a tax bill for around a thousand dollars. So we prayed. What’s crazy is that we didn’t tell a soul (not that there’s anything wrong with sharing your needs - in other cases we HAVE brought in community). Low and behold, we found the exact amount in our mailbox within a day, George Mueller style! Steph and I have lost count over our years of ministry the number of times that the Lord has miraculously provided.
If you ask my bride, she’ll tell you that I have the gift of faith. There are many other spiritual gifts in which I am horribly lacking (and need a lot of grace!). However, I have never struggled with simply taking God at his Word, trusting in his promises, and stepping out when I believe he is calling. I don’t know if I have a “life” verse, but if I did, I think it would be Matthew 6:33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” I’m not an anxious person by nature, but I have many dear friends who battle worry and anxiety. It doesn’t make them any less spiritual or me MORE spiritual. We’re all hardwired different ways, and we all have different giftings. I say this to hopefully set the table. My heart is, for what I’m about to write, not to be misconstrued as some dude on his self-righteous soap box, lecturing others on faith. Not at all. If you hold a different view or have a different conviction on all of this, no judgment! I would just ask that you be gracious with me as I’m still in process with these thoughts myself. More than anything, here’s my goal:
I just want to start a conversation in the Church.
Perhaps the question I want to tackle most is this: What would it look like for the American Church (because that’s my context) to actively trust God right now? Before I jump in on that, a couple of disclaimers. First, the focus of my writing is not on individuals, it’s on churches as a whole. So for example, my wife is a realtor (shameless plug if you’re in Bryan/ College Station - she’s amazing…but taken…and has an extremely strong and dangerous husband). Her business is hurting right now, and we have talked about what the options are in regard to government help for small businesses. Whatever your take is on the recently passed massive stimulus package, no matter how you slice it, the check is in the mail. Well, maybe not yet. But it’s coming, and even the most staunch fiscally conservative Republican will cash that bad boy and put those funds to use. We’ll all be on that gravy train. So I don’t know if I’m supposed to make a distinction between the business owner, the individual, and Restoration Church Bryan as a whole, but I am. That’s my take. So I’ve been wrestling with this in my heart and mind, doing my best to filter this through the Word of God. To be fair, I’ve heard brothers on the other side of this thing use Scripture to justify taking bail-out funds for their church. But I’m not there. I don’t think less of them. But I’m not there.
The evangelist, Manley Beasley, years ago was known for asking the simple question: “What are you believing God for right now, that if he didn’t come through, you’d be sunk?” This question has left its imprint on me for over a decade since first reading it. In Luke 18, after sharing the parable of the persistent widow, Jesus said this: “…when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?” As I look around the American Church landscape, I’m wrestling with these questions and doing my best to imperfectly apply them to this Covid 19 trial. In the face of a GLOBAL crisis, what should the response of the Church as a whole be? When things get hopeless and hard, what should the unified bride of Christ do FIRST?
Look at Acts 11. First, another disclaimer. I don’t want to just flippantly leverage biblical passages to justify a viewpoint. Please know that’s not my heart, and if I’m seeing this wrongly, I’m open to correction. Again, I just want to have a conversation. Back to Acts 11. At the end of the chapter (in v. 27-30), it tells us:
27 Now in these days prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. 28 And one of them named Agabus stood up and foretold by the Spirit that there would be a great famine over all the world (this took place in the days of Claudius). 29 So the disciples determined, every one according to his ability, to send relief to the brothers living in Judea. 30 And they did so, sending it to the elders by the hand of Barnabas and Saul.
A global crisis. A shortage of food. People suffering. Anxiety and fear? You better believe it. People’s way of life interrupted? For sure. Everyone impacted? The text tells us “all over the world”, so it would seem so. Now I fully understand the differences between Rome and the United States, but notice the Church didn’t look FIRST to Rome. A unified Church made a plan, they mobilized, and they moved toward one another! In Acts 4:32-35 they had already put it into practice on a smaller scale. Those with much helped those with not enough. Some will try to argue this as a proof text for socialism, but it wasn’t socialism! As my good friend, Pastor Billy Bernhard says, “It was Gospelism!” There was no external constraint or regulation to give. There was no human authority requiring them to share, they just did it! They did it in response to the Gospel, in response to Jesus giving everything for them. People were free to hold onto their stuff, and they were free to give it away. But the more people started responding to the good news of Jesus Christ crucified and raised, the more their hearts burned with generosity and charity.
Their FIRST option was for the Church to move toward need.
The past couple of weeks, I’ve watched as many churches are struggling. A few days ago, I heard of a pastor in New York whose church is suffering. Their giving is significantly down. To make matters worse, the pastor contracted Covid 19 and had to battle through sickness all while trying to lead and sustain the church. Listen, here’s my struggle. If the best we have for this brother and his local church is “Hey, you need to go get that government money” (yes I know it’s money from the banks…given to them by the government); and if other larger churches are saying that while sitting on tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars in the bank (or more!), we need to take a hard look at ourselves. Could it be exposing a lack of unity and perhaps even our own idolatry? As pastors, are we still focused on our own little mini-kingdoms, or are we focused on THE kingdom? Does our willingness to sacrificially give right now reflect that?
I get it. That $300,000 is for that next project. That $10 million is for your building fund. Okay, but can we, in good conscience, sit on those stockpiles of cash during crisis while fellow gospel ministers languish? While churches suffer and contemplate having to close their doors? Can we sit on those funds, knowing we can help, and in good conscience tell a brother, “Here’s that link to get your money from the bank, or the government, or some other entity” - all of which are NOT the people of God rallying together to sacrificially reflect the Gospel? Pastor, if God raised up those funds before, he can do it again. I may be the dissenting minority voice on this. Heck, I may be the only voice! I’m okay with that. My intention is not to judge. I have many dear brothers in the ministry who already have the wheels in motion to secure their funds. I just want to have a conversation.
What are we believing God for right now?
Do our decisions reflect an active faith in God and in his Word?
If churches can answer a hearty “yes” by relying FIRST on the government, amen!
I just want to start a conversation.