How God Changed My Mind

Last night I went 10 pin bowling. This is a rare event, it only happens about once a year. Once again it took me a while to start knocking down pins other than ones and twos. Occasionally I bowled straight but mostly it was a case of the ball going to the left, then I over compensated and bowled the next one down the right. So it went on for the first game, off track, over compensating and being off track again but in a different way. By the second game I had managed to bowl straight and was only one point away from winning!

I realise that this is a picture of how I have approached giving and stewardship in my leadership within the church. Fearful of bowling to the left I have over compensated and ended up bowling to the right. Let me explain.

For me bowling to the left in giving and stewardship is the error of putting unhealthy pressure on people to give. I have seen it happen too many times and reacted against it, which has resulted in bowling to the right.

Many years ago I was in a church service in Sierra Leone, it was the poorest congregation I have ever been amongst. The preacher was encouraging his flock to give in the midst of their poverty. He motivated them to give by comparing them to Christians in America. Christians in America tithed and as a consequence were rich, they were not tithing and so were poor. If only they would trust God and tithe they would become rich like the Americans.

This is an extreme case, but not untypical of what I considered to be an unhealthy and unbiblical pressure to give exerted by church leaders.

Perceived wisdom is that people give to vision, therefore churches and charities generally pump out grand visions and then ask people to give to it. It can feel that we are in a vision war, with a variety of visions competing for people’s money. I felt uncomfortable about playing that game.

In response to this I have emphasised the need to give not to need or vision or to become rich but to give to God. For many years at Hope Church we haven’t taken a weekly offering, instead allowing people to put money in an offering box at the back – if they could find it! I have spoken about the faithfulness of God in supplying our needs as a church, and He has. I can’t remember being accused of putting pressure on people to give.

However, in reaction to the error I see around me, I have come to realise that I over compensated and did not given the due emphasis to giving. To avoid bowling to the left I have ended up bowling to the right.

God spoke to me about this through a book I was recommended, ‘’Maximise’ by Searcy & Henson – Click To Buy From Amazon .

I was challenged by quotes such as…..

It is your responsibility to lead your people down the path of biblical stewardship so their resources can be released for both kingdom expansion and their own spiritual development—two things that clash with our enemy’s intentions.

Jesus was never afraid to talk about money. Outside of the kingdom of God, stewardship was his favorite subject. He talked more about money and possessions than about faith and prayer combined. He spent more time dealing with denari than with heaven or hell. In fact, if we were to teach about money as much as Jesus did, we would have to make it our topic every third Sunday. Why? Because Jesus knew that this issue of money and possessions has the power to consume and derail us more quickly than anything else.

When we as New Testament believers, living in a far more affluent society than ancient Israel, give only a fraction of that given by the poorest Old Testament believers, we surely must reevaluate our concept of ‘grace giving.’ And when you consider that we have the indwelling of the Spirit of God and they didn’t, the contrast becomes even more glaring.

Our people are not growing spiritually and are awash in the cultural mind-set of consumerism.

God changed my mind. I need to start bowling straight when it comes to giving, generosity and stewardship. Not doing so results in God’s people being vulnerable to the idol of greed and the worldly culture of consumerism. I don’t teach on giving to get more money but to get disciples of Jesus.

 

Tony

 

tonyt

Tony Thompson is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.

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News From Niger

Hope Church Member Moumouni Koudougou reports on his former churches & school in Niger that were damaged in January’s riots.  Read how God is at work in peoples’ hearts in the aftermath of the riots, and how He is still building His church in Niger.

Niger Riots – 7 months later

Moumouni writes … At last, I arrived in Niger on the 7th July for the much awaited and long planned visit to the churches and the school after the 17th-18th January riots. You may remember that following the Charlie Hebdo events, mobs set fire to and looted a large number of churches

Niger1and Christian businesses. Both of our churches and our school suffered considerable damage. My visit was delayed a number of times due to an eventful house moving process in which we have been trapped since the month of March. (The good news is that we finally exchanged yesterday and will move on the 12th August!).

I intended the visit to be one of encouragement and sup- port to the churches for their rebuilding process, in both a mate- rial and non-material sense. This was greatly enabled by your

generous gifts following our appeal on behalf of the churches and school after the riots. In all, we received around £4000 which I was able to pass on to the churches and school to address out- standing needs. Seating, windows, doors, electric wires, bulbs, paint, musical instruments, church teaching materials, pulpits, water supply, provision for extra security, and school teaching materi- als were amongst other things still on the list and in need of reinstating, repairing, purchasing or adding.

It’s been encouraging to see that the prompt reaction of churches and individuals has signifi- cantly helped to curtail the negatives effects of these riots.

A Time of Reunion and Communion

Niger2The visit also gave me an opportunity to input to the churches, I was asked to be the speaker during a two day teaching seminar themed: ‘Living out one’s faith day to day’. It’s a much needed area of training in this time of persecution with the potential to force some believers underground. This was attended by members and leaders of both our two churches andbeyond. It has been a time not only of nurture around the Word, but also of celebration, com- munion in the Spirit, joyful reunion and sharing of food during the whole length of my seven day visit.

The success of this gathering as well as the previous ones now motivates them to want to make it a yearly event where the focus will be on teaching, hearing from God together for the future, celebrating God’s love and encouraging communion amongst the churches. So we may be returning next year if circumstances allow.

“I Will Build My Church…”

This promise isn’t mine but the Lord’s. Although there still is uneasiness about the riots and numerical growth is somewhat slow, the churches are doing well. It was obvious while in- teracting with everyone that morale and determination are high. It is in sharp contrast to the intention of the riots to intimidate and silence. Morale is especially high among the leaders as they now see the work that God is doing in peoples’ hearts in the aftermath of the riots.

Niger3The initial shock was followed by a surge of determination, and gathering soon resumed in private houses weeks after the burning and looting. This unprecedented episode has not only shaken the church but it also has been a learning curve for the whole Christian community. It demonstrat- ed that beyond the tussles for power and influence what is really worth fighting for is one’s relationship with God.

To date, a number of church buildings are still standing charred and desolate and there is a sense of apprehension as to what the fu- ture may hold. However there is equally a great sense of optimism that God is in control, an optimism that is fed by a belief that God is avenging the church through recent tragic events in Niger such as an unprecedented meningitis epidemic. This may sound superstitious to some but the prevailing cultural mind-set is that things have their origins in the supernatural. This optimism is supported by story after story of people finding faith in Christ in the aftermath of the riots even in the hardened city of Niamey. It has highlighted the peace-loving attitude of the Christian community.

The story of “Ali” illustrates this reality. “Ali” is a son of a prominent religious leader and a friend of one of our colleague. He has had many years of witness but has never shown a spark of interest. However the latest violence against Christians set him thinking, various snippets of his life story collided to bring the light that his background has been sheltering him from. One Sunday morning, unprompted, “Ali” woke up and walked straight to church to give his life to Christ. This move was met with suspicion by many of the church but months have gone by and A is still firm and now talking about getting baptised as well as bringing his wife and four kids to the church. While I listened to “A” I was reminded that it is in no man’s power to save and that God’s ways remain inscrutable to us.

A Brass Camel as a Symbol of Endurance

Niger4I was given a brass camel as a reminder that the church is determined to persevere in the face of adversity. This metaphor is drawn from the harsh physical reality of Niger. The real camel is built to cope with its environment and prowl unintimidated across the desert land of Niger to the shores of the Sahara. It’s a reminder that the church is braced to suffer it lots. They are well aware that riots of this nature may happen again given that this first act went largely unpun- ished, this, despite the government’s attempt to show good will by contributing to the expenses caused to the churches. This determination not to give in to fear and intimidation is comforting.

The Anoura School

The damage done to the school was so extensive that we feared it would take at least a year before the school could reopen its doors to the children. But here as in the case of the churches, God has been faithful and the school was able to reopen its door to the kids, largely Muslim, soon after the riots. The overseer writes:

Niger5“We thank God for this school year, it was literally a vic- tory … another class finished the primary level and we are certain that everything that is planted in their hearts will grow one day.

Praise God for our staff, head teacher, teachers, cooks, the two guards, missionaries, and volunteers… they succeeded with the help of the Lord to lift their heads and rebuild from the ashes … he gave us the victory”.

I cannot finish this letter without thanking you again on behalf of the churches to you all for your much-appreciated assistance in a time of need and your concern for the suffering church in the M majority context of Niger.Niger6

People Before Pigs

Mark 5 v 1-17  – a moving story from the Bible:

A demon possessed man is addicted to self-harm. Jesus meets him and cast the demons out into 2,000 pigs who rush down the mountainside and are drowned. When the pig farmers come to Jesus, they see the man who had been possessed now properly dressed and relaxed – completely changed. The farmers were afraid and they began to plead with Jesus to leave that region.

 

The well-being of people is often sacrificed at the mercy of big business. I have worked in the business world for many years and am acutely aware that profit so often comes before people.

I once worked for a company where the some of the main directors openly said that they would “use and abuse” people for their own ends. We need godly business people to bring the light of Christ into the marketplace.

 

In the bible, we read many miracles of healing done by Jesus. We are often captivated by the mercy shown to the individual. However, Jesus also uses miracles to expose hate filled hearts in those who cannot celebrate from the heart what has happened.

 

Let’s ponder some examples:-

 

The man with a shrivelled hand is healed by Jesus (Luke 12:10-13). The Pharisees hated that it had been done on the Sabbath.

 

The 10 lepers who were healed in Luke 17:11-19 : Only one of the 10 said thank you to Jesus highlighting the ingratitude of the other 9.

 

The paralysed man is healed by Jesus in Matthew 9: 1-8. The Pharisees are offended that Jesus not only had power to heal but authority to forgive sins.

 

Ok, back to the pigs.

 

Let’s ponder the pigs and the wonderful deliverance of the demonised man. The question is would the pig farmers be celebrating the fact that this demonised man was now wonderfully healed ? Or would they be just like the Pharisees in the above examples.

 

Sadly, their response was not to celebrate the healing of the man. They were full of fear to the extent that they were desperate for Jesus to leave them.

 

Why were they full of fear ?

 

“Jesus, 2000 pigs are dead. Our cash flow is flowing dead in the water. Jesus, you are so irresponsible ! We had an order for hundreds of bacon sandwiches but now our competition down the road will get the order after we have to admit we can’t deliver. Couldn’t you have sent the demons to a more convenient place ?”

 

For Jesus, people came before business.

For the farmers, business came before people.

 

Today, I shared this over lunch with a Christian company director and we asked “how would we have responded if we were those farmers ?”

 

In all honesty, we really weren’t sure ! Ouch…..

 

We realised that a business can indeed gloriously serve God but would we be willing to see it destroyed for one man’s life ?

 

We felt challenged to re-centre life in Christ and hold on to everything lightly.

 

Jon

Jon Gledhill is a member of Hope Church Luton
Jon Gledhill is a member of Hope Church Luton

 

 

Helping people discover the truth about Jesus – Part 7

Final thoughts

I want to finish this series by bringing some concluding insights.

To help people discover the truth about Jesus we need to recognise that networking, building mutual strong friendships with those outside the church community AND pioneering, making contact with people in other ways, e.g. on the streets, are BOTH valid and needed.

We need to recognise that everyone is called to help others discover the truth about Jesus. It is not just the calling of a gifted and motivated few. We need a church that is involved rather than a few enthusiastic individuals.

Leaders need to model it, authenticity is authority. Leaders can’t tell others to do what they are not doing themselves.

We need to keep reminding the church community of its calling. Just because we mentioned it once we should not presume everyone is still on the front foot or the same page. We need to regularly re-teach and re-launch to keep churches missional – vision leaks!

We are called to a great work, of which helping people discover the truth about Jesus is a major part.

If you haven’t discovered that truth yet yourself then now is a good a time as any to start your journey!

Tony

Written By Tony Thompson

tonyt

Tony is the leader of Hope Church Luton.  He works full time for the church and is married to Anne and they have 2 sons.