Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behavior, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil. Therefore it is necessary to be in subjection, not only because of wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For because of this you also pay taxes, for rulers are servants of God, devoting themselves to this very thing (Rom. 13:1-6).
I wonder if you are like me. When I read this passage from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, I think to myself, “Paul, what were you thinking?” Because what Paul wrote obviously isn’t always true. Some rulers don’t seem to be “ministers of God” in any sense. Many practice and promote what God says is evil. Paul himself suffered under corrupt rulers. According to early church historian Eusebius, Paul’s martyrdom by decapitation was due to the decree of one of those corrupt governmental leaders, Roman emperor Nero.
It is said the wise avoid discussions about religion and politics. The reason is because people can be passionate, and thus unbending, about religious and political convictions, and the inevitable consequence of heated discussions is broken friendships. So if you want to preserve your relationships with friends who might differ on religion or politics, avoid those subjects we are told.
That piece of advice, I think, contains some truth. Obviously, however, mature and gracious people can discuss topics of disagreement without harming their relationships. It is only the immature who can’t respectfully disagree. Moreover, humble people love to have their personal convictions challenged, as they realize that they could be wrong. To thus avoid any and all discussions about religion and politics betrays that I think that all people, including myself, are immature and ungracious.
Ignorance, as the saying goes, is indeed bliss…until you realize that you are ignorant. Then it is embarrassing. And sometimes horrifying.
I know what I’m talking about, having experienced the shameful realization that what I’d been teaching for years under the banner of “incontestable biblical truth” was dead wrong. People trusted me, and I misled them on matters of eternal importance. Worse, some of that misleading teaching is still in print, scattered in places where I can’t possibly recover it, like hidden land mines buried during a war that is long over. (How thankful I am that cassette tapes have become an outmoded technology, effectively silencing thousands of my old sermons.)
In November’s e-Teaching, I made the case that all nonprofits and charities incur inevitable expenses for fundraising and administration. That was true when Paul raised funds for poor saints in Jerusalem (a fact I elaborated on in my last e-teaching), and it has been true every time funds have been raised ever since. Even in the case of an all-volunteer organization, there are still expenses incurred for fundraising and administration, expenses that are often paid by the volunteers themselves.
So let us admit it: It costs money to inform potential donors of needs, and it costs money to use donated funds properly in order to meet the needs for which they were given.
I don’t think that “fundraising” is a dirty word. Rather, fundraising is biblical. You can find examples of it in both Old and New Testaments.
Paul, for example, was quite a fundraiser. He devoted two chapters of his second letter to the Corinthians to communicate the needs of poor saints in an attempt to persuade his readers to give sacrificially to meet those needs. That is fundraising. When people sometimes tell me that I shouldn’t communicate needs or attempt to motivate people to meet those needs—but instead just pray about them—I point them to 2 Corinthians 8-9.
In my previous e-teaching in this series, I promised that I’d share with you the story of the biggest spiritual event in my life, besides being born again. I’ve told this story hundreds of times around the world since it happened. It is my tenth confession.
I was in the midst of my third church-planting pastorate, which began in 1991. In just a few years, the congregation had grown from five people (my wife, myself, and our three children) to close to 300 people (if you counted pregnant women twice, which I did). We’d rented public school space for several years and then purchased acreage on which we erected a church building. The sanctuary could seat 400 people. We borrowed $800,000 from the bank, and that, along with our savings, got us Sunday School rooms, wall-to-wall carpeting, air conditioning, offices, and a paved parking lot.
God knows I love pastors. I was a pastor, off and on, for about twenty years. I’ve spoken to thousands of pastors around the world and expended myself on their behalf. I know something about the challenges they face. But sometimes they say things that I’m certain they will one day regret.
For example, have you ever heard a pastor say, “Your tithe belongs to the local church”? I’ll bet I’ve heard that hundreds of times over the past 40 years of my Christian life. That familiar claim is often followed with, “If you want to give to other ministries, you can give offerings over and above your tithe.”
While I was attending Bible School almost four decades ago, I happened to notice a cute little Oklahoma girl named Becky Smith. The first thing that attracted me to her was her long hair, which I soon learned had never been cut. I mean never. The midwestern Pentecostal denomination that Becky’s family was involved with, known as the Free Holiness Church, sincerely believed it was a sin for women to cut their hair. So all the Free Holiness women had long hair. The older women kept their hair up in Pentecostal buns (something I’ve always considered a sin!).
Becky’s family lived near the Bible School where we were both enrolled, and I faithfully attended Becky’s family’s church three times a week during the time we dated. I was much more interested in her than I was in her family’s church. But it was at her church that I learned that there were many things people could do to sin that I had never heard about.
My third confession in last month’s e-teaching—an admission of visiting an Assembly of God church in the summer of 1976 and experiencing what they called “the baptism in the Holy Spirit”—leads to my fourth, fifth and sixth confessions this month. But first, some background.
One week after my Pentecostal experience, I began my freshman year at Penn State University with the intention of majoring in forestry. I soon became involved in a campus ministry called Lamb Fellowship. It was led by a group of young men who had all been influenced by the Charismatic Renewal Movement—begun in 1960 when Episcopalian priest Dennis Bennet announced to his California congregation that he had been baptized in the Holy Spirit and had spoken in tongues. By the mid-1970s, the Charismatic Renewal was sweeping through traditional denominations across the U.S. and around the world. Those were amazing years.
It has now been almost 36 years that I’ve been serving in vocational ministry. Along the journey, I’ve learned not just a few lessons. How I wish I could have known 36 years ago what I know now! I would have done so many things differently.
Thankfully, one thing I’ve learned is that God is in the redemption business. He can use even our mistakes to produce something good. Perhaps this series of e-teachings will serve that purpose to some degree, if I can help others—who have begun their journey more recently than me—to avoid the mistakes I’ve made.