PassingthePlateYesterday, I posted Christian Smith and Michael O. Emerson’s conclusions about why Americans don’t give.

Now, here are six facts they discovered in their research about American giving.

  1. At least one out of five American Christians – 20% of all U.S. Christians –give literally nothing to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.
  2. The vast majority of American Christians give very little to church, para-church, or nonreligious charities.
  3. American Christians do not give their dollars evenly among themselves, but, rather, a small minority of generous givers among them contributes most of the total Christian dollars given.
  4. Higher income Christians – like Americans generally – give little to no more money as a percentage of household income than lower income earning Christians.
  5. Despite a massive growth of real per capital income over the 20th century, the average percentage share of income given by American Christians not only did not grow in proportion but actually declined slightly during this time period.
  6. The vast majority of the money that American Christians do give to religion is spent in and for their own local communities of faith – little is spent on missions, development, and poverty relief outside of local congregations, particularly outside the United States, in ways that benefit people other than the givers themselves.

See also:

Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money

Christian Smith on Why Americans Give So Little Financially

Don’t Store Up Treasure on Earth: John R.W. Stott on What Jesus Doesn’t and Does Mean


Be Sociable, Share!

Why I Am Thankful for Nurses

Chris —  October 1, 2015 — Leave a comment

Screenshot 2015-10-01 09.35.49Stories like the one below illustrate the love people demonstrate even to strangers. So many nurses excel in showing love to those they barely know.

As a pastor, I spend more time in hospitals than most people with the obvious exception of health care workers. One group of people I am so thankful for is nurses, volunteers, doctors, and many others who show compassion when caring for people.

Last night, NBC news ran the story of a lady, Amanda Scarpinati, who was severely burned as an infant in 1977 when she was only 3 months old. A photographer took a picture of a nurse caring for baby Amanda.

Anyone who sees the picture can recognize the love the nurse is showing for a baby she had not previously met. The nurse is caring for this little baby like you would want someone to care for your baby if she was badly burned.

Because of her burns, Amanda went through many operations. Other children were mean to her. But, even as a child, she was comforted by the picture of the nurse caring for her.

Yet, she did not know the identity of the nurse. Only recently did she show the picture on Facebook and ask for help finding the nurse.

You can read the rest of the story on NBC’s web site.

Be Sociable, Share!


It is a great duty of natural affection (it will be said) for a father to lay up for his sons; rather it is a great vanity, one who must soon die is laying up for those who must soon die also.


See to it that greed does not take you in with a sweet suggestion and lovely deception like this: that you intend to advance yourself or your children into a higher . . . social position. The more you get the more you will want; and you will always be aiming for something higher and better. No one is satisfied with his position in life.”

Of course, balance is in order. It is not wrong to leave provision for one’s family.

Be Sociable, Share!

Christian Smith, who coined the term “moralistic therapeutic deism,” is one of the foremost sociologists in the world. In a book he wrote with Michael Emerson and Patricia Snell, Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money, Smith summarized why Americans give so little. He breaks his conclusions down into six points (p. 175-179):

  1. Materialistic consumption has become a nearly inescapable way of life in the United States . . . The first and perhaps most formidable rival to generous voluntary giving of American Christians, then, aiding and abetting any of their natural human tendencies toward selfishness and stinginess, is America’s institutionalized mass consumerism.
  2. A lot of pastors appear to be uncomfortable with the issue of money in their churches . . . Many are also afraid of being branded by the money-grubbing stereotype. The net result seems to us to be a lot of pastors out there who have made peace with low expectations, tolerance for chronic paltry giving by many of their members, and the use of money collection procedures oriented as much to minimize problems and conflicts as to effectively build their churches and the spiritual faithfulness of their members.
  3. More than a few American Christians seem to be at least somewhat uninformed or confused about the meanings, expectations, and purposes of faithful Christian financial giving. . . a lack of clarity among American Christians about the expectations for giving by their faith traditions and church leaders.
  4. Some Christians mistrust organizations to which they would give money. . . The good of financial responsibility, when tainted by distrust, thus comes to serve the bad of miserly giving.
  5. No Americans seem to talk with anyone else about the question of voluntary financial giving . . . The de facto practice is: every person for themselves. And that does little to facilitate generous financial giving.
  6. Many American Christians appear to avoid adopting systematic, routinized methods for carrying out their financial giving. Instead, they want to give in an unplanned, situational, almost impulsive manner.

“Put all these factors together and we may conclude it is a wonder that American Christians give away as much money as they do. As best we can tell, numerous powerful cultural, organizational, interpersonal, and institutional influences work together against generous financial giving. In the face of these dynamics, it would seem to require the truly highly committed, deeply involved, well-taught, very organized, culturally critical, and confidently led Christian to faithfully give away, say, 10 percent of his or her income. Such Christians do exist in American churches. But they are a distinct minority. And so, the actual financial giving of American Christians as a whole turns out to be . . . [ungenerous].” (page 179)

Be Sociable, Share!

The Message of the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7 : Christian Counter-Culture)

Screenshot 2015-09-30 17.04.16

Be Sociable, Share!

The oft quotable F.D. Bruner interacting with Matthew 6:19-21 in Matthew: A Commentary. Volume 1: The Christbook, Matthew 1-12
writes (page 321):

Jesus does not quash ambition; he elevates it. The Christian is to be ambitious, passionate, acquisitive, enterprising — for the Father’s approval, for the “well done” of God’s Final Judgment. Thus Jesus’ ethic is not so much ascetic as athletic.


The moth is nature’s corrosion eating away, the rust time’s corrosions, and the thief humanity’s corrosions — and all three together represent the insecurity of life lived for accumulation.

Be Sociable, Share!

The Story of Operation World

Chris —  September 28, 2015 — Leave a comment

Sunday, I encouraged our church to focus on fasting. My central proposition was that one of the ways we should respond to horrific evil in the world is to fervently pray for global missions.

One of the greatest resources ever produced for the sake of praying for missions is Operation World: The Definitive Prayer Guide to Every Nation (Operation World Set). This book offers an overview of every country of the world and offers suggestions about how to pray for them. This resource would be on the short list of books I think every Christian family should own.

In the below video, Jason Mandryk interviews Patrick Johnstone about the origin and development of Operation World.


See also:

Operation World

The E-mail Syrian Christians Would Write to Us

Be Sociable, Share!

Focus on Fasting

Chris —  September 28, 2015 — 3 Comments

One of the ways God’s people should respond to grave injustice in the world is to fast and pray for the gospel message to go out to all nations. A number of our flock responded to my sermon on Matthew 6:16-18 and a challenge to focus on fasting. You can listen to the sermon here.

The black notebook to the right is the binder I use for some of my prayer notes for our church family. This week, I have crammed into it many response sheets from those who want prayer and/or are committing to fasting and praying on Tuesday. This was in response to the sermon on 9/27/15.

The logic of my sermon developed as follows:

  1. I asked our people if a captain in the United States army was justified in “beating up: an Afghan leader (one who the United States helped put in place) who sexually abused a young boy he had chained to his bed. (See U.S. Soldiers told to Ignore Sexual Abuse of Boys by Afghan Allies).
  2. We defined fasting (per Lloyd-Jones) as voluntarily giving up a legitimate activity for the purpose of prayer and spiritual focus. Food is one obvious example but we might also choose to fast from media, screens, entertainment etc. The possibility of rewards and God answering our prayers should encourage us to do so.
  3. We reviewed Jesus’s warnings about fasting. Don’t fast to look spiritual in front of people. Be careful not to do acts of righteousness with the applause of people in view (Matthew 6:1). Further, do not approach fasting as a “work” to earn or merit something from God.
  4. We reviewed examples of biblical occasions of fasting (2 Chronicles 20:3, Ezra 8:21-23, Nehemiah 1:4, Acts 13:2-3, Acts 14:21-24. We concluded with Calvin that, ““Wherever men are to pray to God concerning any great matter it would be expedient to appoint fasting along with prayer.”
  5. We then returned to the original question. How should we respond to the sexual abuse in Afghanistan? It isn’t really for us to know precisely what should have been done in that situation. What is far more important than whether or not we would hit an Afghan leader as a soldier is to consider if we are so concerned about the cause of missions in the world that we fast and pray for the gospel to go out? We should consider which  we believe would help more: (a) Punching someone (b) Proclaiming the gospel?
  6. Bearing in mind that our heavenly Father who hears in secret will reward those who pray in secret (Matthew 6:18), we were challenged to consider making a specific commitment to fast.

I asked people to consider fasting during the daylight on Tuesday. I also encouraged our people to let our pastors know if they are fasting and praying and to share their prayer requests. Many responded.

Now let’s follow through. Let’s be praying people who cry out to God for justice.

See also:

John Piper’s recommended study: A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer

Scripture Passages to Help You Pray

Pray the Lord’s Prayer, Don’t Chant It

Be Sociable, Share!

Scripture Passages to Help You Pray

Chris —  September 25, 2015 — 3 Comments

If you struggle knowing what to pray, or how to pray, one of the best practices is to prayerfully (Psalm 119:18) read biblical passages/prayers and then pray a current version of them. The Bible is full of passages that will help you pray. Here are some suggestions to get you started . . .And consider watching the video at the end!

Text What It’s About How It Can Help You Pray
Neh 1:4-11 Nehemiah was broken because Jerusalem,  which was central to Old Testament worship, was a mess. Follow Nehemiah’s example in seeing our messed up world through the eyes of the gospel (Jesus is the only answer!) and cry out to our great and loving God to use us.

If you read Ezra and Nehemiah, you will be motivated to pray for the “Good hand of the Lord on our lives”! See this post.

Matt 6:9-13, 7:7-11 The Lord’s Prayer: Jesus outlined the categories which should be the handrails of our prayer life. Pray the Lord’s prayer – – don’t chant it! See this post:  – – Ask our heavenly Father for good things. He won’t give us serpents!

See also Jesus Example of Prayer in the Gospel of Luke

Luke 18:1-8 Jesus taught this parable to his disciples so that they would not give up. Persist in praying with an expectation that our heavenly Father, who is is far more generous than a crooked judge, will hear our prayers. See this post for more explanation.
Acts 1:6-8 Jesus repeated the Great Commission to the disciples and stressed the role of the Holy Spirit. Pray that we would be a church that keeps its eye on the mission of making fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. Remember: “A local church is not a local church.”
Acts 14:19-23 The early church appointed elders after fasting and prayer. Pray that God would use our pastors (our elders) to give overall leadership to our church and that other gospel centered people would be used in leadership in our church. Pray our church would be committed to biblical leadership.
Eph 3:14-21 Paul prayed that the Ephesians would not only objectively know the good news of Christ, he prays they would experience it as well. Pray that the Lord would give an experience of the Holy Spirit that we cannot even put into words: that we would experience the unknowable love of Christ.
Eph 6:19-20 Paul asked the Ephesians to pray for his proclamation of the gospel. Pray for all the teaching ministries of our church – – and our pulpit in a special way – – that the Holy Spirit would anoint the Word so that it would go out with boldness and power. Notice the explanation of the word “fired” in this post.
Col 1:9-14 Paul prayed for the Colossians to be strengthened in patient endurance. Consider how Paul positions his prayer for the Colossians in the context of the gospel. It is only as we are in Christ – – only as we have been delivered from the dominion of darkness and transferred into the Kingdom of His beloved Son – – only as believers – – that we find patient endurance. Meditate on this prayer and ask for patient endurance with joy.
Revelation 22 John shared a vision of the New Heaven and the New Earth Notice how many times John uses the Word “soon” relative to Jesus coming back. Think about all the pain in the world, and the people you miss, and pray “Thy Kingdom come!”

Remember: We are meeting at the 5th Tree on the Right Side of the River!

Be Sociable, Share!

Children praying during a time of worship at Vacation Bible School in 2013.In our series at the Red Brick Church on the Sermon on the Mount, one of our central emphases has been to pray rather than chant the Lord’s Prayer. It is of no value to mindlessly recite the Lord’s prayer. Rather, praying the Lord’s Prayer means understanding what each phrase means and how it should guide our prayers.

Think of the Lord’s Prayer as “hand rails” we hold onto as we pray. But we must walk through the prayer in our minds as we engage with God.

If you are unsure what each phrase of the Lord’s Prayer means, then follow this link (Westminster Confessions and Heidelberg Catechism on the Lord’s Prayer) to a document I created which brings together the explanations given by the Westminster Shorter and Larger Catechisms as well as the Heidelberg Catechism. These catechisms give beautiful and elegant explanations of the Lord’s Prayer.

The below video from the New City Catechism will also help you understand the Lord’s Prayer.

Be Sociable, Share!