23 Mar

COMMENTARY: STABILITY

By Doug Inglish … For some of you, this might be new, but I’ve seen this before.

When I was a young driver, not really needing my own car, yet but finding it necessary to borrow one of the family cars from time to time, I had enough sense of responsibility to put some gas in the tank now and then. No big deal. So, by the time I did buy my first car, the habit of paying for my own fuel was well established.

Then everything changed. Or, I should say everything began changing on a daily basis, sometimes multiple times in a day. Every time I passed a gas station, a new and higher price was posted. One evening, I came in from the construction job I had that summer and told my dad, “I don’t know how I can afford to drive to work if gas hits fifty cents a gallon.”

Always a man of calm perspective, he replied, “There will come a day, and soon when you will wish it would hit fifty cents a gallon again.”

As usual, he was right. That day was very soon after, and every day since then for that matter.

Things eventually settled down, and for several decades inflation was at a more reasonable, manageable pace. In fact, a lot of items actually went down in price while going up in quality, such as electronics. Gas itself has been a more volatile ride, with the global market being affected by wars, labor issues, technological advances, and political disputes. When it went past a dollar, I never thought it would go back under, but it did for a time. Same thing at two dollars.

But now everything seems to be going up, and fast. You can read about it in the news or go see for yourself at any store. Inflation is soaring again like it was around the time I was filling the tank on my battered Chevy Impala. Not only at the gas pump. We are all paying more for food, energy, insurance, clothing, tires, and household goods. Inflation is even affecting me at work, where my ability to invite a gifted pastor to fill a position in one of our churches is frequently stymied by the cost of housing.

With this kind of instability, it’s hard to plan. Can the water heater last another couple of years, or should I get one before the price jumps? Can we afford a vacation? Is the price of used cars going to come back to earth before this one falls apart? Will a college degree be out of reach?

I am not an economist, and happily so, because I consider the field to be one of the black arts, like voodoo, witchcraft, and automatic transmission repair. But as I said in the beginning of this article, I have seen this before, and watching our country (and indeed, the world) go through it again, I think I can safely declare a very real economic principle: Stability is an illusion. It seems to be around for a while, but then everything goes haywire, and you get left wishing gas would hit fifty cents again. Or two dollars, or whatever. Soon enough, we may find ourselves longing for the good old days of five-dollar-a-gallon gas prices.

But we long for stability in life. We like to know where our next meal is coming from, for everyone to stop at red lights, and to not get hit with a pop quiz in our 7:30 class. The stress of watching prices rocket toward the stratosphere is just one more reminder that stability is not just an economic illusion; it’s a fleeting vapor that we chase in our jobs, our relationships, our health, and our golf game, if that’s your thing.

But God is stable. He’s the Rock upon which the church is built (Matthew 16:18), our shelter (Psalm 61:3), our fortress (Psalm 91:2), and the One Who hears when we cry out to Him (Psalm 55:17). When things go bad, God is good. He is dependable. Unchanging. Stable.

One bit of evidence of His stability is found, oddly enough, in economics. Inflation has had a profound effect over the last 4000 years, but I am returning the same tithe that Abraham did that long ago.

If you don’t think that’s a remarkable fact, consider sales tax rates. When I was a boy growing up in Indiana, the state sales tax was 2%. Today, it is 7%–more than a threefold increase. If God were only as stable as the legislature of that rather conservative state, our tithe rates would now be 35%, and yes, that’s before offerings. But the One Who is from everlasting to everlasting remains steady, never adjusting His rates because circumstances change.

I know that is a function of the fact that it’s not about revenue for Him (Micah 6:6-8), or about His needs (Psalm 50:12); it’s about recognizing His sovereignty (Psalm 24:1). Nevertheless, the fact that tithe has remained at a steady rate throughout its history is an indication, from the dark field of economics, that our God is stable. The kind of stable that lets me know, even when inflation is eating away at our security and foiling our attempts to plan ahead, that I can count on Him to keep me afloat.

I’ve seen this before. Tithe is my anchor in this storm because it is the assurance of God’s stability.

–Doug Inglish is RMC vice president for administration and stewardship director; photo by Rajmund Dabrowski

13 Jan

IT’S ALL ABOUT THE BLESSINGS

By Doug Inglish — I went to a public university for my graduate degree, which is not to say that I was surrounded by a crowd of atheistic, evolution-spewing hedonists whose every thought, word, and action was bent toward evil. That may describe a subsection of both students and professors I knew there, but far from all of them. Many were active in their churches, and overwhelmingly, they respected my beliefs. I am happy that I went to an Adventist college during a more formative period of my life, and I recognize that my deep involvement in the local church while in graduate school kept me grounded, but spending time with people of other faiths, as well as people of no faith, was a learning opportunity.

We who were serious about our faith recognized that same quality in others around us. We shared mutual academic interests with partyers, so we got along well with them, but we didn’t spend much extracurricular time with them.

Of course, one thing we all shared was relative poverty. Some had full-time jobs and only took a class or two at a time, but most of us were full-time students, mostly on graduate fellowships. The fellowship had minimal work requirements, so it was a great way to pay for your education. It just wasn’t a great way to pay the rent, which meant many grad students had side jobs.

One of the students I got along with best was a fellow Christian who worked as a waiter to help make ends meet. We were talking over an assignment one day and fell into a common topic; namely, how can you live on the $400 a month without either a working spouse, extra job, or trust fund? He told me how much he typically brought in waiting tables for an evening, then, almost as an afterthought, added, “Of course, that’s before tithe and taxes.”

Now, with my upbringing, tithing was normal. It’s not just what my family did; it’s what most active members did, what we heard in sermons and read about in church publication (yes, like this one), and learned about in Bible class at church school. I knew all about tithe, including the fact that Seventh-day Adventists are a minority among churches not just because we understand what it means, but because we even use the word at all. Most churches, despite the fact they depend on giving from their members for the overwhelming majority of their financial support, don’t talk about, let alone practice, true tithing. So, when my friend used the word, it caught my attention.

“Tithe? I didn’t know that Catholics tithed.” I realize now that there was very little tact in my observation, but in my defense, he had caught me completely off guard.

He smiled and declared, “We don’t. But I do.”

It was one of those moments when you know that someone else gets you. Really, really gets you. Both of us were struggling, but that didn’t keep either of us from tithing.

But digging deeper into the three sentences that I have here reported from the larger conversation, there is something else that strikes me about his faithfulness. He mentioned two things that took a bite out of his income. One of them, taxes, was something over which he had no control. The other, tithe, was entirely within his power to ignore. But he spoke of those reductions in income as if they were beyond question. In his mind, obviously, they were.

But why was tithe beyond question for him? I had a lifetime of exposure to cheerful givers who taught by word and deed that tithing is an expression of trust that brings peace and security. I had seen the blessings in my family growing up and had experienced them firsthand since establishing my own household. But his church, which has never been shy to impress upon its members their sacred duties, did not require tithing. How did he end up with the same attitude I had, in which robbing God was as unthinkable as living on Saturn?

I’m just going to have to live with not knowing the answer to how tithing became a way of life for him. I didn’t ask because it was enough for me at the time to enjoy the fact that here, in this secular environment, was somebody who got me on a really personal level. It was one more thing we had in common, and when you are as outnumbered as we were, that’s a pretty special thing to discover.

I don’t regret that Adventists teach stewardship. To do otherwise is, as Ellen White pointed out, to ignore “. . . a matter which involves a blessing or a curse…”  (Counsels on Stewardship, p. 106). But I also know that there is a danger that our faithful stewardship might be less about enjoying the blessings and more about avoiding the curses.

My Catholic friend from graduate school, whose education on the matter was almost certainly not as thorough as mine, didn’t grow up with his church teaching him anything about tithing, but somewhere along the way, he picked up an understanding of the blessings. And it was clear from the way he spoke those simple words, “But I do,” that the fear of a curse had nothing to do with his choice.

My prayer is that somewhere along the way, you, too, learn of the blessings and that your choice isn’t motivated by the fear of a curse. We, of all people, should know these things.

–Doug Inglish is RMC stewardship director; photo by iStock

07 Dec

COMMENTARY: GRATEFUL

By Doug Inglish … I know it’s after Thanksgiving, but I’m grateful that I have a job and that I love it, but it would have been nice to have had the time to do this article when it was requested. Instead, I got to hop around to several cities on the first stops of our Town Hall meetings, then to my brother’s house to spend time with my siblings, kids, and dad.

During that time, I had many opportunities to reflect on what made me thankful. Of course, you can guess what a lot of them are, and maybe those things are so common as to be cliché, but that doesn’t mean we should take them for granted.

I get along with my brothers, and my dad is still sharp at age 91, and my kids are active in church, and I’m closing in on 40 years of a continuing honeymoon, and I live indoors, eat plenty, and have good health. I think I can check all the boxes and say I am grateful for all of them.

But it wasn’t just my vacation time when I was able to reflect on blessings. In the days leading up to my time off, I was in many hotels and on a lot of airplanes, away from my wife and not getting good rest. Eating on the road usually means a lot of poor choices with limited options, which was undoubtedly a factor. Meetings ran long after sunset, and I had to get up early to get through security for a flight. Through it all, I was aware of some special blessings that are mine.

I work for the Rocky Mountain Conference, so those days on the road, I saw a lot of beautiful landscapes. I went to meetings with people who care enough about the church’s mission to show up and talk with us about it. We had lots of good stuff to share with them, like a strong financial picture, a newly organized church, some baptisms, and some ordinations.

And I spent those days with Mic Thurber and Darin Gottfried, men of sound judgment and exemplary character who love the Lord and are dedicated to making good decisions and doing the Lord’s will, and who are, by the way, delightful to be around. Already it is becoming evident that we consider it a privilege to share the journey with each other, and we look forward to seeing how the Lord is using our pastors, teachers, and lay leaders to spread the gospel. We may tremble at the thought of leading those terrific people, but we know that we are not alone. We have a healthy constituency, we have solid leadership on all our committees, we have each other, and we have the Lord as our guide. More than that, we cannot ask.

I hope that when you think about your place in God’s work, that you too are grateful for what He has given you to fulfill your role. I pray that you can say that your fellow elders, or Sabbath School teachers, or school board members are godly, dedicated people with whom you delight to work. I pray that you have a budget to accomplish what must be done. I pray that you see growth.

Yes, I was grateful during the holiday. Very, very grateful. But even the tiring trip before my vacation was full of opportunities to be aware of my blessings, which made my return to the office also a happy moment.

May each act of service that you do for the church’s mission likewise be a blessed experience.

–Doug Inglish is RMC vice president of administration and stewardship director; photo by Unsplash

29 Sep

IN CONVERSATION: WE KNOW OUR ULTIMATE FUTURE

By Chelsea and Doug Inglish — Doug: Well, this could be interesting. It’s not the first time you and I have talked about issues in the church, but it has pretty much always been about the present or the near future. The question of what we imagine Adventism will be further down the road is a lot more speculative, and it is based on very little evidence.

Chelsea: True. It is impossible to predict the future, but I think a lot of people are wondering what the future of Adventism is, as we near the Second Coming.

D: Which brings up what ultimately every Adventist knows is our ultimate future–the Second Coming. But pretty much every generation thought it was so soon that speculation on our future was a waste of time. Naturally, I hope that today’s conversation will be made pointless by Jesus’ immediate return, but so far, we are still here.

C: I know you’ve been an Adventist your whole life. What kind of changes have you seen in the denomination over the years?

D: Fortunately, I don’t think those changes have primarily been doctrinal or theological, as in most denominations. There are exceptions, of course, such as our initial reluctance to accept the existence of the Holy Spirit and fringe elements still fight over that. Some would also argue that seismic shifts have occurred at one point or another, and the points of some matters may not necessarily be fully settled. There have also been attacks from time to time on settled points of doctrine, but things have been mostly stable in my view, although saying so will likely generate some letters with contrary opinions.

Instead, most of the changes within the church are cultural. When I was in boarding academy, wearing jeans to class was just not done. When I started pastoring, I could drop in on members unannounced. Now we laugh at the strictness of some of the dress codes but are much more careful about calling ahead.

Another big change is administrative styles. Churches and pastors have more input on pastoral changes. That’s just one example, but there is a far less authoritarian model at work in most places.

What about you? Notice any differences from the time you left college?

C: I’d say the fact that I am a woman in ministry is a big change, maybe not since college, but since my childhood. I never thought of women as pastors when I was a kid, because I didn’t see them, and yet here I am today with an entirely different outlook and deeper insight into issues of equality in the church because of my personal experience. I know this isn’t a doctrinal issue, but the division of opinion over it can make it seem so, at times.

D: I agree. There were women involved decades ago, but I appreciate that it is now common enough that it generates very little comment. In some ways, that has followed cultural trends of more women working outside the home since the end of WWII. When I was a kid, few women were doctors, and now that doesn’t seem even mildly curious. I believe ministry is becoming that way, and I appreciate the perspective that it brings to congregations and to the pastoral work force.

So, what are we saying? That most of the changes to Adventism in the future, like women in ministry and fewer neckties in church, are mostly cultural?

C: I think that the changes we see are mostly cultural, but as people of the Word, it is important for us to remain open to the Holy Spirit, should He guide us into further truth, as we continue to root ourselves in the Word.

D: I don’t see a coming change in beliefs, but I am aware that the Holy Spirit may lead us to further understanding our beliefs. “New Truth” is always being peddled, but I haven’t seen any in my lifetime that stood up to the scrutiny of the Bible or got a wide and sustained following. Nevertheless, we can’t close our minds to God presenting things that are as of yet hidden.

C: As far as cultural changes go, I think it is important for us to be able to distinguish culture from doctrine, so that we continue to be people in the world, adapting to changes that do not actually defy doctrine. I think we often struggle with this, holding onto the past culture as if it is doctrine, when it is simply tradition.

D: These are very good points. Of course, you are also getting into uncomfortable territory for a lot of people. There have always been, and still are, significant battles over whether a particular practice is doctrinal or merely cultural. I remember my elementary school teacher saying that when she was a little girl, the church was split over feathers in women’s hats! For some, that was a doctrinal matter. On the other hand, we can’t blithely say that everything is cultural, either.

But even in solid doctrinal matters, we must adapt to a changing environment. Fifty years ago, a public meeting in which truth was presented by a gifted evangelist standing in front of a crowd yielded results. Now there are diminishing returns with that approach. But in its place are new methods of outreach, mostly driven by technology, but not entirely. The way that people respond to any kind of information is changing, and I am glad to see the church exploring different options. I am convinced that those methodologies will continue to adapt to cultural changes while the truth we teach remains stable, but honestly, I can’t predict how.

C: I agree. Culture is like a language. We can translate the Bible into any and all languages in the world, but the message remains the same. I think it is important to be able to spread the message in the cultural language of today, and I believe we can do that without diluting the message. It may take some work, but it is well worth it, and it is what we are called to do.

D: Absolutely. I don’t believe for a second that the future of Adventism involves a change in beliefs or in mission. It does involve remaining sensitive to changing cultures and methods, but that has always been true. The leaders of the church in the past resisted pastors owning cars, doing radio evangelism, and producing their own television programs. Now we take all those things for granted, while other methods have had to be abandoned. Ingathering didn’t die, as some would argue, because members got lazy. It died because strangers knocking on your door became offensive to the culture. Staying in touch with a changing world is key to our future.

C: None of us can know exactly what the future of Adventism will look like any more than we can predict how our day will turn out when we wake up in the morning. But I do have hopes for the future of Adventism. I hope the future of Adventism involves a willingness to listen and learn in love. I hope it involves the courage to admit when we’ve been wrong and to grow when necessary. I hope it involves a strong commitment to loving people as Christ does, both within our culture and, in some cases, despite the culture around us. I see that happening right now, and I hope it will continue!

D: I see that as well, and having conversations with your generation, and with the generation that follows yours, solidifies that conviction. For all that we have in common, being related as we are, you and I are not only of different generations, but we are also different genders and involved in different parts of church work. But I have enough interactions on topics like this with teachers, young pastors, lay leaders, students, and others to know that the viewpoints we just shared are widely accepted.

C: Yes, we do have differences, but we also have some strong similarities of experience, such as growing up in the church and being employed by the church as pastors. It’s interesting to discuss topics like this, coming from our own points of view. I know it is easy for us to discuss because we are in the same family, but I hope that others in the church are also able to discuss topics like this, despite differences in perspectives. Open and loving communication, even of sensitive topics, is critical to a successful future for our denomination.

— Chelsea Inglish is youth pastor of Madison Campus Church, Madison, Tennessee, and daughter of Doug Inglish, RMC vice president of administration, Denver, Colorado. Email Chelsea at [email protected] madisoncampus.org; email him at [email protected]

21 Sep

COMMENTARY: Don’t Save the Best for Last

By Doug Inglish — You’ve all heard the phrase “save the best for last.” I suspect it has its roots in describing a meal, in which desert typically comes at the end, but whatever situation brought it into usage, it has since acquired other applications.

A competing phrase, also in general use, encourages us to “put your best foot forward.” I have no idea where that may have originated, but the idea is also widely understood.

Used car dealers put their best models out front, with the high mileage cars on the back row. Realtors post pictures of the recently remodeled kitchen and hope buyers don’t notice the proximity to the railroad tracks. There is even a biblical example of this when the ruler of the feast where Jesus turned water into wine noted how most people serve the best at the beginning and save the cheap stuff for later (see John 2).

Isaiah has an interesting illustration about a man who uses the wood from a tree that he chops down:

Half of the wood he burns in the fire;
over it, he prepares his meal,
he roasts his meat, and eats his fill.
He also warms himself and says,
“Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.”
From the rest, he makes a god, his idol;
he bows down to it and worships.
He prays to it and says,
“Save me! You are my god!”
— Isaiah 44:16-17, NIV

The purpose of the illustration is to show the absurdity of idolatry. How can half of the tree be fuel and the other half a deity? Point taken, but that’s not the point I want to make here. Instead, I wish to draw your attention to the order in which the wood is used: the first part is for himself, and the last part is for his god.

I would like to suggest that this order for the use of resources is pagan. If I make sure that I get my needs met before I consider how much I can spare from the leftovers for my God, I’m not rising too far above the idolater in the illustration, even if I am not bowing down to chunks of wood. Maybe I’m not actively engaged in the worship of a false god, but I can’t make the argument that taking a Me First attitude about my resources is illustrative of true worship.

True worship doesn’t save the best (God) for last. God asks for the first fruits (Proverbs 3:9-10), not the leftovers. The only way to honor that request is to put our best foot forward, giving Him what He claims from the beginnings of our resources and doing so with a heart full of gratitude and respect.

If we put things in that order, what’s left for us will be no problem (see Leviticus 26).

–Doug Inglish, RMC vice president of administration and stewardship director; photo by iStock

23 Jun

COMMENTARY: IT’S NOT A COMPETITION

By Doug Inglish … Okay, I’m human. We all have things in common, and competition is certainly a big one. It doesn’t have to be in sports or games, either. It could be school, business, even yardwork (“Did you see the new landscaping across the street? We better put up that pergola we’ve been talking about before everyone starts talking!”) can become a competition.

In fact, it’s almost hard not to get competitive. Back in ancient times when we did door-to-door Ingathering (ask someone who’s been in the church for fifty years; they remember), we always knew at the end of the evening who brought in how much. If we had just emptied our collection cans into a big pile and counted up a single total, not one less dime would have gone to disaster relief work, but I’ll bet none of you can think of a church that did it that way. No, everybody counted up their own collections, and it got recorded by your name, and then we added them all together. So yes, competition is practically built into even noble endeavors.

Competition can bring out our worst characteristics if we don’t keep an eye on ourselves. A win-at-all-costs attitude can lead you to cheat, lose perspective on what matters, or do other things that you later regret.

So, here’s an idea for how to avoid being competitive in situations that should not be a contest: Rejoice when someone else is doing well, no matter how you are doing. If your neighbor’s flower garden is doing well, be happy for them, and fix up your yard for your own reasons rather than trying to keep up with them.

I make a lot of calls to leaders in other conferences, and one topic of frequent comment among us is how tithe is doing. Well, as you are no doubt aware, it’s going well in RMC. Five months in and we have double digit increases. That’s reason to rejoice! When I am on the phone with another conference and tithe comes up, I’m happy to share, because it’s good news.

You know what else is good news? Brace yourselves: When it comes to tithe increases in 2021, comparatively the Rocky Mountain Conference is about in the middle of the pack. And very often I find myself rejoicing over the gains in another conference, as they rejoice with me over our good news.

In fact, if the increase that we have right now was dead last in the division, that would still be cause for rejoicing. It would mean that we wouldn’t have any less because of the gains elsewhere, and that people in other places were also being faithful. I would be happier still if we had double or triple our current increase and still came in behind every other conference.

I love the fact that, at present, a 14% gain is not the best in the North American Division–I’ve seen times when no conference had as much as a 5% increase–because I know the Lord doesn’t have a money problem, but numbers like we see right now indicate that our people don’t have a selfishness problem. And why would it make me happy if other places were struggling? That response would only make sense if tithe increase was a competition among the conferences.

But it isn’t. Thank the Lord for that. And thank Him that we have faithful people, as there are in other places.

–Doug Inglish is RMC vice president for administration and stewardship director.

19 May

COMMENTARY: I’M NOT THE PROBLEM

By Douglas Inglish … By the time I turned 16, I had developed an odd, but occasionally useful, ability. In my bare feet I could touch an eight-foot ceiling with the fingertips of one hand. Normally that would be just beyond reach for a person of my height, but my arms are absurdly long. (For reference, my predecessor Eric Nelson and I have the same sleeve length, even though he is several inches taller.)

When we moved into our new house in Colorado, there was a push pin in the ceiling of one of the bedrooms. Because the head stuck out from the surface, I knew I could just get a grasp on it and pull it out, and reached up to do so. But I couldn’t get it. I had to go downstairs and get a step stool so I could pull it out.

I was dumbfounded. As any contractor can tell you, both 2 x 4 studs and drywall come in eight-foot sections specifically to make it easy to put up walls that give you a standard eight-foot ceiling. But this room had a ceiling height of eight feet and one inch. In fact, a little investigation showed that all the ceilings in my house were eight feet one inch high. Why in the world would anyone do that? It was more work and it sure wasn’t enough difference to notice.

My move to Colorado required not only a new place to live, but a whole new set of professionals (mechanic, dentist, etc.). When I showed up for my first appointment with my new doctor, the mystery of the too-tall ceilings in my new house was solved. The physician’s assistant stood me up against the wall and declared, “Six feet even.”

“No,” I corrected him, “Six foot one.”

He stood his ground. “No, six feet even.”

I was ready to pull out my new driver’s license and prove him wrong when the light dawned: It’s begun; I’m shrinking! Theoretically, I knew that people lose height as they age, but it had not occurred to me that I should be expecting it quite yet.

Close on the heels of that epiphany came another: My ceilings are not eight feet, one inch high. That doesn’t even make sense. I’m the problem, not the contractor.

Well, I always like a good laugh, and if it’s on me then it’s still a good laugh. But getting older isn’t what I find funny about this. What makes me laugh about it is my very human reaction when I first got evidence that I was getting shorter. Instead of thinking that I was the problem, I reached an entirely improbable conclusion and blamed the person who built my house. It never even occurred to me that the ceiling was perfectly normal, it was I who needed a redefinition of normal.

That’s the way we all are, going back to the biblical Adam’s refusal to own his behavior when confronted about the fruit he ate. When a problem rears its head, it is amazing what ridiculous conclusions we will reach in order to avoid admitting that, yes, this is on me.

I hope this change in subject doesn’t give you whiplash, but how is your local church budget doing? Having a hard time spending it all? Or, and this seems more likely, could you easily find good uses for it if you had more? Even worse, is the board discussing where to cut expenses in order to cover the bills?

Like everything else, the natural reaction to a shortfall in the church budget is to think that the problem is with other people, not me. People with higher income, or who bought their house when prices were reasonable, or whose children are finished with school and out of the house. If those people did their part, the budget would be fine!

Okay, I’m not going to beat this into the ground, because you already get the point. Instead of always thinking that the problem must lie outside of ourselves, we need to own our piece of the problem. Even more importantly, no matter who is to blame for a problem, solutions nearly always start with me stepping up and doing my part.

It’s like when I couldn’t reach the push pin in the ceiling. Even when I was misidentifying what the problem was, I knew the solution was a step stool.

I also knew who had to go get it. And no, it was not going to be the contractor.

–Douglas Inglish is RMC vice president and stewardship director.

11 Mar

COMMENTARY: I LOVE IT WHEN THAT HAPPENS

By Doug Inglish…It’s a phrase we have all heard, and most of us have used it from time to time. When you pull into a service station just as they lower the price of gas, or your teenager remembers to mow the lawn without being asked, or some other pleasant surprise comes along, you let a smile brighten your face and exclaim, “I love it when that happens!”

Of course, something can ruin that happy feeling. Suppose your beloved teenager storms in from the garage, and on his way to the shower, he declares, “There, I mowed your stupid lawn. Happy?”

Well, the lawn is still mowed, so that’s good, but I would guess that you would not be happy. Your relationship with your child is far more important than the lawn, which you could do yourself. After all, you took care of it before he came along and you will be mowing it long after he leaves. Besides, the main reason you want him to do it is to teach responsibility, and his foul mood indicates that the lesson is not quite taking hold as you wished.

But, at least the lawn is done.

This specific scenario may never have happened to you. It didn’t’ happen to me. I taught my son to mow, and while he didn’t particularly enjoy it, things never got ugly. But something similar, in which somebody did something nice for you, but ruined it by having a bad attitude, has happened to everyone.

It happens to God, too.

I think that’s the key to understanding the phrase, “God loves a cheerful giver.”  It comes from 2 Corinthians 9:7, but none of you need look it up because we’ve heard it over and over. Unfortunately, you may have heard it in the context of getting hit over the head with it in an over-the-top guilt trip of a stewardship sermon. It is possible that a few unfortunate ones among us may have even heard it from me, because I have to admit that early in my ministry, I was not above trying to guilt my members into giving.

But time, experience, and raising teenagers has taught me that while guilt works, it also damages relationships. And it turns out that relationships are not only more important than mowed lawns, they are more important than church budgets. And no relationship is more important than the one you have with God.

That’s why He makes a point of saying that He loves a cheerful giver. Of course, He loves you even if you fire off an electronic payment to the Conference with the phrase, “Here’s your stupid tithe. Happy?” But it doesn’t make Him sit back and say, “I love it when that happens!”

Whether your attitude is good or bad when you tithe your income, the tithe still comes into the storehouse. And whether you give anything or nothing, God still loves you. The only thing that suffers if you have a bad attitude about giving is your relationship to the One who cheerfully gave His life.

So, how much is that relationship worth to you? Hopefully, enough to be cheerful. Because He loves it when that happens.

–Doug Inglish is RMC director for planned giving and trust services

11 Jan

COMMENTARY — APECHEI, A MESSAGE FOR THE CHURCH

By Doug Inglish — Did you ever read something in the Bible and notice an odd word or phrase? Like most everyone else, I spend the majority of my reading in relatively recent translations, meaning those from the last 150 years or so. But even in that span, language has changed enough to cause certain words or terms to fall on 21st century ears in a way that may be to some degree different than intended by 19th century writers. Read any book by Ellen White (in their early editions) and you will see some examples.

So, naturally, if you read much in the King James Version, you will see many instances where we may get the meaning, but recognize that a modern writer would not have put it quite that way. Usually, we assume we know what was meant, and usually we are correct in that assumption.

Once in a while, though, I get struck by the way a passage is written and wonder if the assumptions I have always had about this particular passage are correct, or if I am missing some nuance that the author intended. It can send me into a study through several translations, the SDA Bible Commentary (and sometimes a couple other commentaries as well), and an observation or two from Ellen White on those verses.

My experience indicates that God’s oversight of how His Word was originally written and His protection of it through various translations is so thorough that the true meaning is there for us, and most of the time, my curiosity ends with me satisfied, knowing that I haven’t missed anything in our modern translations. But a deeper study is often rewarded with deeper understanding, and from time to time, the effort to see through the quirky phrasing yields a wonderful surprise. It is also true that sometimes it yields a previously-unnoticed warning.

Mark 14:41 in the KJV reads, “And he cometh the third time, and saith unto them, Sleep on now, and take your rest: it is enough, the hour is come; behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners.” Various other translations render the phrase ‘it is enough’ as in ‘Enough of that’, ‘that’s enough’, or simply, ‘Enough!’ Not really too much difference. But it caught my eye because none of the other Gospels, which all report on this event, indicate that He said this specific thing, no matter how it was translated.

The story is familiar enough. Following what we call the last supper, Jesus and the apostles, minus Judas, have gone to the Mount of Olives. He implores them to pray while going off by Himself to pray alone, knowing that the trial, the cross, and the grave will follow in rapid succession. Three times He returns to find them sleeping, and the last time He returns occurs just as Judas arrives with Jewish leaders and Roman soldiers to arrest Jesus.

But if you read the passage in Matthew, Jesus’ words to the apostles do not contain anything that corresponds to the phrase ‘It is enough’. Luke is not only missing those words, but he only records once that Jesus returned from prayer and said anything to them. In John’s account, there is not even a mention that the apostles slept while Jesus prayed.

I don’t have a problem with these differences. After all, when John wrote his gospel there were already accounts of the sleeping, and he was less focused on events than on teaching. Luke was not an eyewitness to Jesus’ ministry, so his impressive research reports some details that others missed while some things are left out that others included. Matthew’s variation is a minor one. None of that leads me to doubt the reliability of Scripture.

That leaves Mark’s account, which is widely regarded as Peter’s report to Mark of his experiences with Jesus. Perhaps, and this is a reasonable speculation, some of the apostles were not awake enough to catch all of Jesus’ words, but Peter was among those who did. And when he recalled the event, he remembered a word that does not appear in the other accounts: Apechei.

It is a Greek word, and this is its only appearance in the entire Bible. I am not a Greek scholar and those who are can quibble if they wish, but my study on this word relies on sources I trust. Its most accurate translation is indeed the English word ‘enough’, but it isn’t used in quite the way that we use it. Its most common use was to write it across a receipt or an invoice, and it meant that no more money would be exchanged in this transaction. When you paid off a purchase and you wrote apechei across the invoice, you were telling the other party, “That’s all you are going to get”. In similar situations today, we most commonly use the phrase “Paid in Full.”

In light of this, Jesus’ words in Mark take on a new meaning. He is not saying, “That’s sufficient prayer time for you to face what lies ahead”, or even, “That’s enough praying, we have other matters to attend to now”. Those interpretations leave room for the idea that although He had encouraged them to pray instead of sleep, whatever prayer they had done was good enough, because, as we all know, prayer is a powerful thing and a little can do a lot.

Instead, He is using that one word to express His frustration over the time wasted in sleep. A more thorough expression of His meaning would be along the lines of, “It no longer matters how much prayer time you really needed, because whatever time you have spent in prayer is all you are going to get. If it is insufficient, then it is too late to do anything about it. You are not going to get any more.”

Maybe that word stuck with Peter because moments after it was spoken, he tried to kill a man, and hours later he was denying he even knew Jesus. Perhaps when he was weeping bitterly over his decidedly un-Christlike behavior, it rang in his memory because he wished he had spent more time praying and less time sleeping. If he had taken advantage of the time available to pray, his story might have been different. He could have been fortified to stand beside his Lord through anything. Instead he resorted to violence, cowardice, and lies.

I think there is a message here for the church in what is, prophetically, the time of Laodicea. A trial awaits us all, and yet it is so easy to sleep instead of pray. But how any individual is able to perform when everything gets real is closely related to how they use the time available to them for preparation.

  • Apechei is that moment when the starting flag is waved, and there is no more time for the crew to tune the car because the race has begun.
  • Apechei is that moment when the professor drops the final on your desk, and there is no more time to study because the test has begun.
  • Apechei is that moment when the minister says, “I now pronounce you husband and wife”, and there is no more time to date around because the marriage has begun.
  • Apechei was that moment in the garden when Jesus declared, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners.Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” Mark 14:41-42 (NIV).
  • Apechei will be that moment prophesied in Revelation 22:11-12, when Jesus declares, “Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy. Look, I am coming soon!” (NIV).

We, who live in the eleventh hour before that final pronouncement, are no less in need of prayer than the eleven who slept in the garden. The parallels between our situations are striking. Three times Jesus told them to pray, and three times in Revelation 22, He tells us that He is coming soon (verses 7, 12, and 20).

The hour is approaching. Watch and pray, because soon enough, it is apechei.

Doug Inglish is RMC director of planned giving and trust services; photo by UnSplash

04 Jan

WHEN THE WEALTHY GO BEGGING

By Doug Inglish — Typically, when we see people looking for handouts, we presume they are poor. We could have an all-day-long sociological discussion on the causes, whose fault it is, or whether giving to them is appropriate, but none of that would change the underlying assumption that such people are poor. You may have heard an urban legend or two about exceptions, which even if true, would never account for the overwhelming majority who gather at intersections or in front of stores with cardboard signs.

And of course, we read news stories about “corporate welfare,” which would be at the other end of the scale—big companies with millions of dollars in assets who are seeking tax breaks, grants, or donations. In this case, we could have an economic discussion on the nature of capitalism, or a political discussion on whether the government should pick winners and losers, or a host of other issues related to whether the public, through one form or another, should support big companies who pay their top employees many times the median salary of a taxpayer.

In both situations, there are pros and cons to giving support. Fair minded, compassionate, intelligent people can disagree about handouts to street people or write-offs for corporations. But there is probably one thing we would all agree on: If a rich man, who had immediate and unfettered access to all his assets, asked you for a handout, that would be appalling.

I suppose those who just like to argue could conjure up circumstances where it would be appropriate (the diner won’t take his credit card) but notice that I said immediate and unfettered access to all assets. So, sweeping aside any bizarre scenarios, I’m talking about an embarrassingly wealthy person who could easily pay for anything outright, asking you to give him money with no goods or services rendered in exchange. I don’t think any of us would excuse that for a moment.

Why, then, does God ask you for money?

No question that He has the resources: “For every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills” (Psalm 50:10) “The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it” (Psalm 24:1).

Of course, He also has immediate access to His vast wealth. As the angel said to Mary, “ . . . with God nothing shall be impossible” (Luke 1:37). That pretty much covers access, along with a whole lot else.

Does He need your money? There is an interesting pas- sage about that in Psalm 50:12: “If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for all the world is mine and everything in it.”

That’s sort of like telling me, “If we need someone for special music, we aren’t going to call on you.” I would never be insulted over that because I have nothing to offer in terms of musical performance. It’s just not in me, and there is no shame in me coming to terms with it and admitting the obvious truth that I don’t have that talent.

Neither is there any shame in any of us admitting that if God was hungry, there is nothing that any of us could do about it. Does God get hungry? Well, that’s a whole other subject, but if He did, why should He tell us? He can do everything, and we can do nothing, so no point in complaining to the wrong people.

In the context of this passage, hunger is a stand-in for needs in general. It’s similar to the familiar line in the Lord’s Prayer, “Give us this day our daily bread. (Matthew 6:11). That’s the only part of the prayer that addresses our personal needs, so if we want healing, or housing, or work, or help with a geometry test, it all falls into the general category of “daily bread.” Asking for daily bread is shorthand for requesting help with our personal needs.

Therefore, when God says, “If I were hungry, I would not tell you,” the broader meaning is there is no point in Him asking us for any personal need, because we could never supply it. Heaven is His home, creating and managing the universe, is His job, and everything in the physical world is His possession, so what could you do to meet any of His needs?

Nothing. At all. Ever.

So then, why does He ask for your money? Obviously, it is not to meet the needs of the One who owns it all and wouldn’t tell you if He was hungry. So, if it’s not because He needs your money, then the reason He asks must lie at the other end of the giver-receiver transaction.

He asks for your money because of your needs, not His.

It’s not merely because His cause needs support, or that you will be blessed in return (see Malachi 3:10 on both of those points), although both are true. Rather, it involves the more essential elements of your relationship with Him:

Giving builds trust
Giving recognizes His ownership
Giving declares that you are His
Giving says that you support His cause
Giving teaches you to care about the things He cares about
Giving helps you understand the Giver

Those are all relational matters. They have little to do with needs, which makes sense in a relationship where the only need we can possibly fill for God is the need He has to connect with us.

I used to live in a house with nearly an acre of lawn, and I absolutely loved mowing it. As long as I was on that lawn tractor, I had time to think about anything. I could credibly say that I was accomplishing a necessary task, while at the same time, I was not answering the phone, preparing for a meeting, or addressing an unpleasant matter with an angry person. I was mowing, and I used that time to think about whatever I wanted, not what someone else demanded. It was blissful. The last thing I needed was someone to take that from me.

But at the same time, I had a son who was just about the right age to take on some responsibilities for lawn care. So even though I did not need him in the least to help me mow, I taught him how to do it. I showed him how to maintain the trimmer, the push mower, and the tractor. I let him do each task under my supervision, then on his own. The truth is he didn’t enjoy it at all, and I missed just doing it myself, but I had something more important in mind than the length of the grass. I was teaching him to be a responsible adult, and building a relationship with him by having him work with his dad.

Then came the day that he had his own lawn. He called me up to talk about what he should look for in a mower. He respected my experience and welcomed my opinion because we have a relationship, and it matters to both of us.

God does not need your money any more than I needed Josh to help me with the lawn. But He wants to see you grow to spiritual maturity just as I saw the need for my son to develop the skills he would need in adult life. And God wants a relationship with you, just like I wanted time with my son. He loves His work of creating and maintaining the universe, and He doesn’t need your help to manage any of it. But part of running that universe is having you be a meaningful part of it.

So how does He, who owns everything and wouldn’t tell you if He was hungry, help you, who have nothing and couldn’t do anything for Him, develop into spiritual maturity? How does He grow a relationship with you in which you learn to depend on Him, understand His role in your life and your place in His work, and see the world as He sees it?

In part, He asks for your money. It’s not about His needs. It’s about yours.

Doug Inglish is RMC director of planned giving and trust services. Email him at: [email protected]