Map of earth painted on two hands with blue sky and white clouds in background

Two New Posts on Medium: How to Translate the First Word of the Bible

This may sound weird, but one of my favorite hobbies is Bible translation. If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to translate Hebrew to English, you can check out these posts on my Medium blog. I just did the first word, bereishit, and it took two posts. All that just for the first word? Yep. If you have a modern study Bible, you might see the verse read, “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth.” But there might be a footnote saying, “Hebrew reads, ‘When God began to create the heaven and the earth'”.

In the Beginning … Or Not? This post will be enough for you to understand why this controversy exists.

In the Beginning, Part 2, and Justice for the Aleph. I get into some of the more technical aspects of translating bereishit. Then you can get some insight into the Rabbis who preserved and taught these scriptures over the millennia through a story of why they say creation begins with the second letter of the alphabet and not the first.

If you are following my blog on Medium, let me know in the comments if you like having a blog dedicated to religious topics. I will start posting some of my ideas on writing soon. After all, this is supposed to be an author’s blog.

Thanks for reading. Until next time, remember these words from Matthew 7:12. “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets” (NRSV).

Mockup of imaginary physical bitcoin with BTC symbol in center: around the edge reads "Bitcoin Digital Decentralized Peer to Peer 1 Troy Oz Fine Copper MJB Monetary Metals"

Bitcoin Update: What Happened to the Four-Year Cycle?

I wrote a post about Bitcoin a few months back. It was intended to be a primer for those who want to understand it better. If you are new to Bitcoin (BTC), you might want to read it to understand some of the terms I’ll be using here. While I talked about some of my strategies for investing, it was not intended as financial advice. And here I am again making the same disclaimer. I am not a financial adviser. This article is for information and entertainment purposes only. There is inherent risk in all investing, so do your own research.

Mockup of imaginary physical bitcoin with BTC symbol in center: around the edge reads "Bitcoin Digital Decentralized Peer to Peer 1 Troy Oz Fine Copper MJB Monetary Metals"
Digital Gold

Back in July, I believed Bitcoin could either drop below $20K or go to six figures by the end of November. Neither scenario played out. While it did reach new all-time highs in November, it then fell about 30% and is now moving sideways between $40-50K. That’s not bad in the grand scheme of things, and I still believe the long-term future for Bitcoin is very bright. But it’s a far cry from breaking $100K, as most of the experts I listened to believed it would do by the end of the year. Their belief, and hence mine, was based on what is called the Four-Year Cycle. I explained that in my previous Bitcoin article.

The Four-Year Cycle should have given us a bull market that should have ended sometime between September and November. Then there would have been a crash, and a long bear market would have followed, though the price would recover to some degree before the next Four-Year Cycle. If the all-time high of $68K we saw in November really was the end of the bull market, the price should have crashed down to about $10K. We have not seen the kind of price run-up or crash we should have according to the Four-Year Cycle, and I think I know why.

Whale Manipulation

On August 20, 2020, Microstrategy became the first listed company to buy Bitcoin. Since then, the company’s CEO Michael Saylor has become one of the most outspoken advocates for Bitcoin, singing its praises as a prime store of value, a hedge against inflation, and key to the company’s long-term financial strategy. Since then, many other corporations and institutional investors have jumped in, notably Paypal, Tesla, Square, ARK Invest, and Pantera Capital, just to name a few. The big money they brought to the market helped propel the price of Bitcoin from $29K on January 1 to a then all-time high (ATH) of $64K on April 14.

While it was exciting to see the price climb and Elon Musk tweet that Tesla added $1.5 billion of Bitcoin to its balance sheet and would accept it as payment, in the back of my mind there was this nagging thought. If anything could change the Four-Year Cycle, this would be it. If whales—big money investors—have the power to move the price up, they also have the power to move the price down.

After April 14, the price dropped some, settling into the $50,000’s, but no one who knew about the Four-Year Cycle was freaking out. It looked like a normal price correction, but according to the Four-Year Cycle, we were still in a bull market. Then in May, a flurry of negative press came out, including Elon Musk reversing his position and saying Tesla would no longer take Bitcoin as payment, citing concerns over its carbon footprint. After that, the price did not just drop. It plummeted as low as $29K before the end of the month, more than 50% off its recent ATH. That is not normal in a bull market. I don’t think it’s normal in any market. One billionaire tweets an endorsement, and the price immediately pumps. A couple months later, same billionaire tweets something negative, and the price immediately dumps. And how many people do you think were really interested in buying a Tesla specifically with Bitcoin? How many people really said, “What? I can’t buy a Tesla with Bitcoin? That’s the only reason I bought it in the first place. I’m selling!” This reeks of manipulation.

What Does Market Manipulation Look Like?

Sometimes markets move. Sometimes markets are moved. Whales are people or entities that have enough money to manipulate the market. They want to buy low and sell high, but they don’t always wait for the price to go up or down. Through strategic buying and selling, they can make the price go up and down.

In the 1930’s, a man named Richard Wyckoff found that market manipulation follows consistent patterns. The big investors who manipulate the markets all act the same way, so he referred to them collectively as “the Composite Man.” When you see signs of manipulation, ask yourself, “What does the Composite Man want, short-term and long-term?” Long term, it’s pretty simple. If it’s an asset they want and believe will go up a lot in value over time, they want to acquire as much of it as possible at the lowest price possible. Short-term, they either want to drive the price down, so they can buy at a discount, or drive the price up to take profit. This goes in cycles. Wyckoff created very detailed charts that show how to recognize what the Composite Man is doing, and the price action of Bitcoin this year has followed those patterns.

Without getting too technical, a Wyckoff pattern occurs in two stages called Accumulation and Distribution. During the Accumulation stage, the Composite Man is buying but careful not to buy too much too quickly. This is when he wants to keep the price low, so he can accumulate a sizable chunk of the asset. When the Composite Man (I’ll call him “the Man”) is ready, he buys more aggressively to drive the price up. The Man wants to tie this to some story or series of stories in the media, so when smaller investors see the price go up, FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) will kick in, and they will rush to buy, driving the price up even further. It works even better if the Man has access to those media channels (or 55 million followers on Twitter) and can push positive stories at the right time.

When the price is as high as the Man thinks he can make it go, he switches to the Distribution stage. This is when he sells off, not all of it, but enough to make the price dip 10, 20, maybe 30% very quickly. Again, they like to time it with some negative story (or stories) in the news. Retail investors who FOMO’ed in now experience FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) and sell to cut their losses, driving the price even lower. When they sell, who buys? That’s right. The Man, the people who created the FUD in the first place. Now the Man is back to Accumulation, and the whole cycle repeats. If you want more detail, here is a video that explains it well.

The End of the Four-Year Cycle?

I’m not saying Elon alone is responsible for this. Remember, the Man here is not one individual but a composite of big money investors. I think the Man had this planned all along, and Elon (wittingly or unwittingly) gave them cover first for Accumulation, then for Distribution. After revisiting its annual low of $29K on July 19, it appeared the Man had accumulated what he wanted, because Bitcoin started going up again. It reached another all-time high of $68K on November 10 before going down again. For the past two weeks, the price has been fluctuating between $42-49K.

The Four-Year Cycle has pretty well-established patterns of bull and bear markets. This kind of movement looks like neither. If $68K in November was the top of this bull market (which is when it should have ended), the price should have dropped about 85%, which would put it around $10K. We would know then the switch from bull to bear market has happened. Why isn’t Bitcoin behaving like it has in the past? I think it’s because this is the first Four-Year Cycle we have seen where “the Composite Man” is going after Bitcoin. Even experts who have followed Bitcoin for five years or more are at a loss to say whether it’s time to take some profit in anticipation of the bear market, or whether the Man will drive the price up one more time.

I’m beginning to think we need to stop thinking in terms of the four-year cycle and start thinking in terms of Wyckoff’s Accumulation and Distribution.

There is one more thing you need to know about the Man. They have a hierarchy of investment priorities for different levels based on risks.

  1. Traditional markets (stocks and commodities)
  2. Bitcoin
  3. Altcoins (any cryptocurrency other than Bitcoin)

1 is less risky than 2, which is less risky than 3. When the traditional markets are down, they tend to move money out of riskier investments. That means when the traditional markets drop, Bitcoin drops. When Bitcoin drops, altcoins drop. It works the same in reverse. When the traditional markets are up, Bitcoin is up. When Bitcoin is up, altcoins are up. I saw this happen in May. When Bitcoin dumped, my altcoins followed. I traded most of them for Bitcoin and Ethereum (ETH) to wait for the next upturn.

Earlier this month, the traditional markets dropped, so the latest drop in Bitcoin and altcoins can be somewhat attributed to that. But considering that a normal cycle would have had the price down to $10K, a price hovering in the 40’s isn’t so bad. Furthermore, there are indications that a new bottom might be in.

Retail Investors Wising Up

Data shows that the amount of Bitcoin on exchanges is the lowest it has been in a long time. What does that mean? People buy, sell, and trade cryptocurrencies on exchanges like Coinbase, Binance, and Crypto.com. However, most people don’t keep them there. They will keep most of their crypto on a digital wallet because it is more secure. Some popular wallets include Exodus, Coinbase Wallet, and Trust Wallet. These are sites on a blockchain network where you can deposit BTC and other crypto, and you are given encrypted keys to access it when you want.

While there are many factors to consider when trying to determine where the price is going to go, one factor is the amount of BTC on exchanges. When there is a lot of BTC moving from wallets to exchanges, that means people are looking to sell. But when a lot of BTC is moving off exchanges to wallets, that means people are planning to hold for a while. With BTC on exchanges at such a low level as it is now (at the time of writing), the chances of a huge sell-off driving the price down much further are very low.

Furthermore, two of my favorite crypto analysts (Crypto Jebb and Satoshi Stacker on YouTube) showed data that says of the BTC that moved onto exchanges recently, around 5% came from wallets holding less than one BTC. That means despite the recent drop of 25-30% in just the last few weeks, retail (or small) investors are not selling. That also proves while the Man has great power to manipulate the market, that power is limited. If they are trying to scare small (and probably inexperienced) investors into selling at a discount, it is not working. When retail investors see through the FUD and Hodl (not a typo), the game of shaking BTC out of weak hands becomes pointless. I hate that this is part of the game, but if you want to invest in BTC, you have to be wise to the Man’s manipulations. But I am encouraged that other retail investors like me are catching on.

Again, this is not financial advice, but this is why I’m not selling yet. There probably will be a bear market at some time in the future, but this looks more like Wyckoff Distribution at the moment. While I don’t know when or even if it will happen, I think the price has to go up again before another bear market. If it does, that will confirm to me that the Four-Year Cycle is dead, and anyone investing in BTC will need to study Wyckoff in more depth.

I can’t help but think that once the Man sees he has gotten the price as low as he can, he will send the price up again for another round of profit taking. He might spend a few more weeks keeping the price below $50K so he can accumulate more. But his M.O is to drive the price down to accumulate, then drive the price up to take profits, and repeat. I look at the fundamentals of Bitcoin, and they are still strong no matter what the Man says. No one has ever lost money holding BTC for at least four years. Therefore, the only time to sell for me is just before a bear market. That way, when the price drops, I can buy back at a discount, just like the Man. But until then, I intend to keep calm and HODL on.

BTCUSD history — Timeline of major events — TradingView

New Post on Medium: “Advent Reflections: The Seed of Abraham”

Advent Reflections: The Seed of Abraham

Abraham, Sarah, and Isaac
“Is anything too wonderful for the LORD?”

Abraham and Sarah had a son, Isaac, when they were both “as good as dead.” What does that tell us about Jesus? My latest blog post continues the seed motif I began with “On Snakes and Advent.” As subscribers to this blog, I am giving you free links to my Medium articles. FYI, Medium offers three free articles per month. But my free links will not count toward that three.

New Post on Medium: On Snakes and Advent

hand grasping golden apple
Photo by Alan Cabello from Pexels;

For a while now I’ve been posting here first and then importing it to my publication on Medium. I’ve been posting about religious topics, which I love. But since this is my author blog, I think this site should be focused on writing and publishing. From now on, religious posts will be exclusively on my Medium page called Almost Ordained. However, I will post links to new posts starting with the one below. Medium is a paid subscription service. But as my subscribers, I will provide free links from this webpage. The latest post is for Advent. It is a reflection on this verse and how it foretold the coming of the Messiah.

And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel (Gen 3:15 KJV).

https://almostordained.medium.com/on-snakes-and-advent-e96197c50fb6?sk=72956a853f7c64d17a0449de83cd6ef7

Photo two faces obscured, eyes closed, text reads "Love your neighbor as Yourself"

Why Won’t God Speak to Me?

In my last post, I talked about why I believe there are no more apostles and prophets in the church. That was actually to lay the groundwork of a much bigger issue for me. Why won’t God speak to me? The answer appears to be the same as why God doesn’t call apostles and prophets anymore. God has already spoken, and the apostles and prophets of old wrote down God’s word in the Bible. Great. So they got to hear God speak to them directly, and we get a book that’s full of contradictions.

What? How can I say the Bible is full of contradictions? Because of passages like this.

Do not answer fools according to their folly, or you will be a fool yourself.

Answer fools according to their folly, or they will be wise in their own eyes.

(Prov 26:4-5).

See, one verse says don’t answer fools according to their folly, and the very next verse says answer fools according to their folly. Which is it? This is one of many examples where it says one thing and then later the opposite. And that is supposed to guide us every step of the way in God’s plan for our lives. Why can’t God just tell me what God wants from me?

I wanted to hear from God directly, and some televangelists convinced me I not only could but should hear God. Once I was saved, I had the Holy Spirit dwelling in me. Oh wait, I have to be filled with the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in other tongues. So I had someone pray over me and started speaking the way they told me. After a few weeks practice I got pretty comfortable with it. So I should have been able to hear God speak to me directly, a rhema word they called it. Almost ironic. If I pray in tongues, I will hear God in my own language. That was how it was supposed to work.

Regarding the rhema word, they made a distinction between the Greek words logos and rhema. I was taught that the logos is the written word, i.e., the Bible, and a rhema word is a word from God that speaks to your specific situation. For example, where does God want me to go to seminary? I can’t look that up in the Bible and see, “David, listen to your mother and go to Duke Divinity School.” That’s the kind of situation where I needed a rhema word. From what they told me, I should have heard it clearly. But it was like trying to tune in to a radio station at the edge of reception, where you only get static with a few words breaking through here and there. And just when you think you’ve got enough to go on, a few minutes later you hear the opposite.

The Word of Faith vs. the Word of God

The Word of Faith really raised that expectation in me. Some preachers would describe conversations with God like, “I said… and God said… and I said… and God said…” just like God was standing right in the room with them. Why can they hear God, but I can’t? When they say, “God told me this,” or “God said that,” how do they know it’s God and not their own imagination?

They gave a few guidelines that were somewhat helpful. For one, they said a rhema word would never contradict the logos, i.e., the Bible. I’ve already mentioned how that can be confusing. Even so, they made some pronouncements so unbiblical, even at my most confused I knew they could not be from God. And even when they are proven wrong, they do not repent. They keep on speaking for God. That seems to have been happening more and more in recent years. Some of them openly say a rhema word has more authority than the Bible. So if they say “Thus says the Lord,” or anything along those lines, you have to believe it, even if it contradicts the written word of God.

Despite my claims that the Bible confused me for some time, in one area it could not have been clearer: Identifying false prophets and the false words they speak. The Bible is helpful if you remember this. The Bible never says if they claim God is speaking through them, you must believe everything they say without question. Quite the opposite, it says do not believe every spirit but test the spirits to see if they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1 Jn 4:1). The Bible gives two specific tests for this.

  1. If what they say in the name of the Lord does not come true, the Lord did not speak it (Deu 18:20-22).
  2. If what they say comes true, but they tell us to follow gods that neither we nor our ancestors have known, again, the Lord did not speak it (Deu 13:1-4).

That is how I knew what they were saying was not from God. Their prophecies did not come true, and they had God saying things that the God of my ancestors would never have said.

A God I and My Ancestors Have Never Known

The God I and my ancestors have known is indefinable, which is why I believe the Bible contradicts itself sometimes. There was not one author but many different authors, each trying to understand God the best they could. But at the end of the day, they were finite creatures trying to understand an infinite God. In a collection of writings like that, some apparent contradictions are inevitable.

That being said, when I think of the God of my ancestors, I have found the Apostle’s Creed to be helpful as a starting point. There is God Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. There is Jesus Christ, his only son—only son—our Lord. There is the Holy Spirit. When the Holy Spirit speaks and acts, it will glorify Jesus Christ, not another (Jn 16:14). If you are not a Christian, what I’m saying may or may not mean anything to you. But if you are a Christian, whenever someone claims to speak in the name of God, God not only expects us to test them before we believe. God commanded it. With that in mind, should we believe something like this?

“Nothing is going to stop me from putting my Son, Donald Trump, back in that White House … says your God!”

Say what???? My God would never say that. I don’t care what you think of Trump. Love him, hate him, indifferent to him, whatever. This fails both tests. It did not come true. Donald Trump is not in the white house. And it has God saying something our God and the God of our ancestors would never say. Again, if you are not a Christian, you can take this or leave it. But if you are a Christian, there is only one person we are allowed to call the Son of God, and it ain’t Trump. She can say, “Says your God” all day. I’m going to keep saying, “No. He. DON’T!”

Prophecy as Wish Fulfillment

In a way, I get it. We want God to speak to us, not just from a book but in an actual voice. When God spoke to people in the Bible, they seemed to have no problem knowing it was God. I don’t know how, but somehow they knew. We think if God spoke directly to people back then, God would continue to do it now. We might even start imagining we hear God speak. Maybe the philosophy of cessationism I explained in the last post applies here as well. If God does not speak in such direct fashion anymore, it must be because the Bible is already written. We are not supposed to write the Bible. God has already told us what God wants us to do in the Bible.

But you already said the Bible is full of contradictions. How can it tell us what to do?

A lot of the confusion I had earlier is clearing up for me. In that example I gave of answering or not answering a fool, it takes wisdom to know which to apply in any given situation.

You mean God doesn’t want us to just read the Bible and do what it says without thinking? We might have to use wisdom in applying it? Yes. If you are looking for a book that will just spoon-feed all the answers to you, the Bible is not it.

The Bible is God’s word, but we need wisdom in applying it, and we need context. That is why I will probably say this a thousand times if the Lord lets me live long enough. Just because they are quoting scripture, or they say “Thus says the Lord,” does not mean they are speaking the word of God. The Bible is only the word of God when it is rightly interpreted, rightly read, and rightly applied. And rightly doing all of that begins with three things: context, context, and context. And as for that “prophecy” I mentioned about Donald Trump, when you read the Bible in context, there is no way you can call anyone other than Jesus the Son of God.

What Has God Already Told Us?

If you are wondering what God wants you to do with your life, here are a couple of verses that have become anchors to my soul.

He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

(Mic 6:8)

Do justice. Love kindness. Walk humbly with your God. Is that enough for you to do? How about this.

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

(Mat 22:37-40)

In Matthew’s Gospel, when they talk about the law and the prophets, they mean all of scripture. Remember, at the time the New Testament had not been written, so their Bible was the law and the prophets. Jesus said all of scripture comes down to two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. So that is another way to know whether what they say agrees with the word of God. Does it encourage loving your neighbor, or discourage it?

So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

(Mar 10:42-45)

In the world, people like Alexander and Caesar were called great because they conquered and lorded over many people. In God’s kingdom, greatness comes from serving others.

Do you want to know what God requires of you? God has already told you. Love God, and love your neighbor. Do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with your God. Be the servant of everyone, just as Christ came not to be served but to serve. That was the foundation for the Christian community, and it still is. That does not answer questions like, “Where should I go to seminary?” But it does tell you where to focus your attention once you get there. So maybe you’re not hearing God because God is leaving that choice up to you.

How I Stopped Worrying about Missing God

But you say, “I want something more specific? Doesn’t God have a plan for my life? What if I miss it because I can’t find it in the Bible, and I can’t hear God’s rhema word for me?”

I know what you mean. I was anxious for many years because I thought God had a plan for my life, and I was missing it because I couldn’t hear God. I’ve decided to stop listening for rhema words, because more often than not, they led me astray. That tells me it was my imagination, not God. I haven’t prayed in tongues in years, and I haven’t missed it. That makes me think maybe what I spoke wasn’t tongues but gibberish. That’s what most of it amounts to when you look into it. And I feel much more within God’s plan now than I ever have, even though I don’t quite understand it.

I’m not saying you can’t pray for God to direct your paths. But the answers probably won’t come in a voice like you expect. And they definitely won’t come from false prophets and wolves in sheep’s clothing. I believe the best way to find your calling is first commit to what God has already shown you: Do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with your God, love God and love your neighbor. Then pray for opportunities to use whatever gifts God has given you to serve others. Do that and see where it leads. Don’t worry that God is going to tell you something, and you’re going to miss it. You will never miss God by loving your neighbor.


Unless otherwise noted, Biblical quotes come from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Photo credit: Rich Anderson on Visualhunt.com
Heavy construction equipment digging a foundation

No More Apostles and Prophets

When I hear someone call themselves or someone else an apostle or prophet, I’m skeptical. I think we all should be. I accept that apostles and prophets were once part of the church. However, I don’t think God calls people to those roles anymore. God may call people to other roles—pastors, evangelists, teachers, deacons, or bishops, to name a few—but there are no more apostles and prophets today. I think this is best illustrated by comparing two passages from Ephesians.

 Some Apostles, Some Prophets?

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,

(Eph 4:11)

Five church offices are listed here, prophets and apostles being among them. I remember a demonstration from one of my former pastors. He used the fingers of his left hand to demonstrate. The thumb is like the apostles. They can touch each of the other fingers. The index finger is like the prophets. They point where to go. The middle finger (please do not make any jokes) is like the evangelists. They reach out farther than any other finger. The ring finger is like pastors. They are married to the church. And the pinky is like the teachers. They get in your ear. (Imagine putting your pinky finger in your ear to clear it out).

This would have been a good demonstration for the church at Ephesus in the first century. The problem I have is I can’t find any credible references to apostles and prophets in the church after the first century. Earlier in the same letter, we have this.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

(Eph 2:19-20)

There are plenty of references to evangelists, pastors, and teachers throughout church history. They have been with us all along and are still with us today. Not so with apostles and prophets. And yet, the author of Ephesians says they are the foundation of the Christian community. Why then are there no references to apostles and prophets after the first century? How could the church have continued without its foundation?

I think I’ve found an answer for it. It was not the answer I wanted, but it’s the only one that makes sense to me. In Ephesians 4:11, the author is clearly referring to apostles and prophets as officers of the church. But 2:20 says the Christian community is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Maybe in 2:20, apostles and prophets do not refer to offices in the church.

Think about it. If God is still calling apostles and prophets and speaking to them, that means the Bible is still being written. We need to add what they are saying on behalf of God to the Bible. So far, we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. If God is adding to the Bible, what testament would that be? The Post-New Testament? The Bible is finished. The Old Testament tells about the promise of a Messiah. The New Testament tells about its fulfillment in Christ Jesus. That is why he is the cornerstone that joins the two together. The Bible, with Christ Jesus as our Messiah, is the foundation of the Christian community.

Heavy construction equipment digging a foundation
A solid foundation ensures the building will endure.
Photo credit: timn.eu on Visualhunt.com

The Church’s One Foundation

Here is another possibility to consider. Who gave us the Old Testament? The prophets. Who gave us the New Testament? The apostles. Our foundation is the Old and New Testaments, and Christ Jesus is the cornerstone that joins them together. Of the offices listed, they were the only ones directly involved in writing the Bible. Once the Bible was written, the apostles and prophets had served their purpose.

In the same way, the temple once served the purpose of atoning for sins and giving access to God. But after Christ, the temple was no longer necessary. The office of priests in the temple was no longer necessary. I believe the same thing happened with the offices of apostle and prophet. They served their purpose in writing the Bible. They received the word of God directly from the Holy Spirit. We receive it now in what they wrote.

I admit that answer does not satisfy me completely. It sounds so complicated. I mean, why can’t apostles and prophets just mean apostles and prophets, as in the people God calls to serve in those offices? But again, I have never seen any credible references to apostles and prophets after the first century. If this theory is correct, we still have our foundation, even if God is not calling apostles and prophets anymore. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized this is the way it had to be, because the canon is closed.

Who Is Writing the Bible?

Think about it. If God is still calling apostles and prophets and speaking to them, that means the Bible is still being written. We need to add what they are saying on behalf of God to the Bible. So far, we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. If God is adding to the Bible, what testament would that be? The Post-New Testament? The Bible is finished. The Old Testament tells about the promise of a Messiah. The New Testament tells about its fulfillment in Christ Jesus. That is why he is the cornerstone that joins the two together. The Bible, with Christ Jesus as our Messiah, is the foundation of the Christian community.

Sometime around the end of the first century, God determined that the foundation was finished. After you finish a foundation, do you keep building it? No, you build your structure on top of the foundation. How many times do you lay a foundation? Once. When a foundation is finished, it is finished. Time to start building your structure. The author of Ephesians says the Christian community is that structure. Everything we have built since then has been on that foundation. If we remember Jesus’ commands to love one another, that foundation will be “Solid” as a rock.

Cessationism vs. Continuationism

This is a prime example of a debate between two philosophies, cessationism and continuationism. Cessationism is the belief that some things we read about in the Bible were for that time only. They have ceased, hence the term cessationism. Continuationism believes that everything in the Bible is or should have continued from the beginnings of the church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the still-awaited return of Christ. This has mainly to do with supernatural gifts and activities mentioned in the Bible, e.g., miracles, healings, prophecies, speaking in tongues and such. The argument extends also to whether or not we should expect God to call people to be apostles and prophets anymore. You can probably guess I am on the cessationist side. However, that is a recent development.

The Word of Faith folks are among the continuationists. When I was in that movement, I was definitely a continuationist. Even after I left, I still expected to be able to perform at least some of the miracles I read about in the Bible. I expected God to speak to me directly, even if I wasn’t a prophet or apostle. I expected some people would flow in the gift of prophecy. I thought every believer was supposed to speak in tongues to give evidence that the Holy Spirit dwelt in them. After decades of disappointment, I finally had to admit that cessationism made a whole lot more sense.

Continuationists or Restorationists?

Even continuationists admit the church went without apostles and prophets after the first century. They claim those offices are being restored in this generation, because we are in the last days. If you ask them when the restoration began, they might point to the Azusa Street revivals of 1906, or maybe one the Great Awakenings in America. But that still begs the question, why is there such a big gap in our history with no apostles or prophets? I never heard them give a satisfactory answer to that.

So they actually admit the offices of apostle and prophet were discontinued. If they believe apostles and prophets are being restored now, that means they ceased at some point. Instead of continuationists, they should call themselves restorationists. But putting that inaccuracy aside, I suppose it is possible. If God wants to restore living apostles and prophets to the church, who am I to tell God, “You can’t do that”? But by the same token, if God has decided the apostles and prophets have fulfilled their purpose and are no longer needed, you can’t tell God to bring them back.

In the Bible, you will find when God called apostles and prophets, God did not expect people to believe them just because they said so. God gave signs to prove what they spoke really was the word of God. The prophets prophesied in the name of the Lord, and their prophecies came true. The apostles performed miracles and healings that only God could do. Do we see that from so-called apostles and prophets today? All I’ve seen are prophecies that don’t come true, false signs, lying wonders, healings that are nothing more than the placebo effect, and parlor tricks they claim are miracles, but even they have to know they are not. Has any one of them healed one case of Covid-19? Of course not. That should tell you everything you need to know.

Their whole shtick is getting back to the Bible. “Forget about your dead traditions. Forget about history. Just read the Bible and do it. You don’t have your proof, because you don’t believe the Bible.”

Well, the Bible says real prophets and apostles showed proof they were sent from God. The Bible says,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

(1 Jn 4:1)

It does not tell us, “If they say, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ believe every word they say and don’t ask for any proof.” Test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Why do we need to test them? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Even when there were legitimate prophets, there were also many false prophets. How much more do we need to test them today? If they claim to speak for God, you are not being unfaithful by asking for proof. You are just doing what the Bible says.

concept money trap dollar sign attached to a lying nose, a group of business people jumping off a cliff trying to grab the dollar

It Only Works if You Believe in It. And That Is the Problem.

The Prosperity Gospel makes big promises of health, wealth, great relationships, and success in all your endeavors. The promises often don’t come true. When they don’t come true, the most common answer to why is you didn’t have enough faith. But the good news is you can exercise your faith and make it stronger. How do you build your faith? Romans 10:17 says, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (KJV). What you hear over and over again, you will eventually believe. They combine this with a belief that what you believe and speak will come to pass (Mar 11:23-24). So don’t give up. Keep listening to positive, faith building messages. Stay away from negative, “It will never happen” messages. Keep believing you received your blessings, keep speaking as if they have already come, and they will come. So if I keep listening to and believing the promises of prosperity in the Bible, I will become prosperous. I will get that book deal. I will write that bestseller. In the meantime, I will have a day job that pays the bills, leaves enough leftover the give to my church and the poor, and includes full benefits. All of that can be mine if I believe and do not doubt.

After several years of believing and (not) receiving, I realized the problem with this is it only works if you believe in it. No matter how many messages I listened to that God promised to both meet all my needs according to God’s riches in glory, and give me all the desires of my heart, when month after month, year after year, it came time to pay the bills, and I had nothing leftover, how was I supposed to keep believing? I tried. I kept meditating on the scriptures that promised health, wealth, and success. I kept listening to them on tapes, CDs, and TV. I kept confessing prosperity, not poverty. But it was like this guy I heard of who showed up to work one day with his hand in a cast.

“I was in my karate class and about to break bricks for the first time. I meditated to get my ki going. I knew I could break those bricks. I raised my hand up. I knew I could break those bricks. I brought my hand down with all my might. I knew I could break those bricks. My hand was about to make contact. I wasn’t sure I could break those bricks.”

That is what “believing and receiving” all those promises of health, wealth, and success year after year did to me. Much as I wanted to, I could not force myself to believe I had money that I didn’t have. The only way this could ever work for me was if I could found some promise in the Bible that did not depend on my belief, and my doubt could not stop. It could not be like a placebo, where it only works if you believe in it. It had to be like gravity, where it works whether you believe in it or not.

Just Obey. No Belief Required.

Well, I found it. There is a scripture on tithing that appears to promise prosperity whether you believe in it or not.

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it. And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the Lord of hosts.

(Mal 3:10-11 KJV)

God is saying, prove me. See if I will not open the windows of heaven for you. See if I will not pour you out a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it. See if I will not rebuke the devourer for your sake. None of that “first believe, then you’ll see” nonsense. God told the nation of Israel here, just obey, and you will see. So if I give at least 10% of my income, no matter how small, to a “Bible preaching, Bible believing church,” I should see more money roll in for me than I have room to receive.

So here is a promise in the Bible that does not require you to believe, only obey.

Now in case you’re thinking this verse did not promise money, it promised “a blessing,” there are many ways God can bless you, money is only one way, and the blessing might come in a different form, that is not the way the Prosperity Gospel reads it. The Prosperity Gospel says this promises wealth to those who tithe. For the Israelites, wealth was in land and crops. God promised to make their land produce crops in abundance if they tithe their harvests. Wealth for us today is in money. Therefore, God will bless you with an abundance of money if you tithe 10% to a “Bible preaching, Bible believing church or ministry.” By that, they mean it has to be a church or ministry that preaches the Prosperity Gospel.

It makes perfect sense. It serves God’s interests as well as yours. You give God 10% of your income, and God will grow your income so that the 90% you keep is greater than the 100% you would have made without God’s blessing. 10% of more means your tithes will get bigger as your income gets bigger. As your tithes get bigger, God will bless you with more money. 10% of more means your tithes will get even bigger. And that cycle will just keep repeating until you don’t have to be concerned about money anymore.

How will the money come? It’s not going to just fall out of the sky or magically appear in your bank account. It might come through raises or promotions at work, that big contract that seemed out of reach before, the book you write that becomes a bestseller, or people might just give money to you. Why? Because God told them to. Prosperity preachers say that last one happens to them all the time. I wonder why people do that? Maybe because they tell people by giving to them, you are giving to God, so God will give to them in return. After all, their books become bestsellers by telling you how to get rich by giving to them. Isn’t that wonderful? God is so good.

Smiley face emoji with dollar signs in eyes
God will bless you if you give me your money.

My Tithe Check Bounced

There’s the punchline of the joke of the Prosperity Gospel. My tithe check bounced. I don’t mean when I was just starting out, and there had not been time for money to reach me. I had been diligently setting aside 10% of any income I made, no matter how small. Even if it was $10, I would set aside $1 for the tithe. Thirty years I had been tithing faithfully, and finally there was not enough money to cover it.

And it wasn’t a faith check. You know what a faith check is? That’s when you write a check and believe God for the money to cover it before it gets cashed, because you don’t have the money in your account at the moment. Very bad idea, and even Prosperity preachers will discourage it. I never did that, or at least I thought I didn’t. When I wrote that check, I honestly thought I had the money in my account to cover it. But this was one of those instances where I had missed my payment the month before, so I put two month’s tithe on that one check. You know how much it was? $200. After thirty years of tithing, I did not have enough money to cover a $200 check. How much was I making? 10% = $100. Do the math, and you’ll see I was not even close to “a blessing for which you do not have room to receive.” And again, the Prosperity Gospel is clear. The blessing in this verse is supposed to be money. It’s been thirty years. Where is my money?

It didn’t work for you because you don’t have enough faith.

Oh no! You don’t get off the hook with that excuse this time. This verse says it will work whether you believe in it or not. “Prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.” God said, “Prove me now,” not “It only works if you believe in it.” The only thing required was obedience, not belief. I gave God thirty years to prove himself. What happened?

Context, Context, Context

If you read my last post, you know what happened. The Prosperity Gospel takes that verse completely out of context. I listened to people who told me that God promised me things that God never promised me—or you. In that post, I give a detailed explanation of why this Malachi scripture has nothing to do with making us rich. I won’t rehash the whole thing here, but here are the main points.

  1. The promise was made to the nation of Israel, not to the church, not to any other nation, and not to you and me as individual believers.
  2. The tithes in Israel were taxes, not the voluntary offerings we give to the church.
  3. The tithes were food, not income. The purpose was to ensure there was food for everyone, even the poor and those who had no land.
  4. God was telling people who were already rich to pay their tithes, i.e., taxes, not telling people who were poor how to get rich.
  5. God did not tell the rich they will be richer if they tithe. The metaphors of opening the windows of heaven, and a blessing that they will not have room to receive only meant that they would have more than enough for themselves and their families. It was not an investment with guaranteed positive ROI (Return on Investment).

So if you are tithing because you think God will give you back more than you give, just remember God never promised that. That was the trap I fell into, believing God promised me things that God never promised me. And how did I fall into that trap? By listening to people who profited by reading the Bible out of context. Think about it. If your preacher says, “Look how rich I am. It’s because God blessed me. God blessed me because I tithe. And God will bless you if you tithe,” who receives those tithes you pay? Who receives those tithes everyone pays?

They might say, “It doesn’t go to me. It goes to the church.” But who controls the purse-strings of that church? Do they tell you how they spend all that money they receive? My church shows the budget to all the members, and we vote to approve it. So we know how much our pastor makes. If he showed up to church driving a Mercedes or a Lambo, you’d better believe we would ask him where he got the money for it.

Where Do We Go from Here?

It may sound funny to say this, but I am grateful for that bounced check (with apologies for whatever inconvenience it caused my church). Because any time my prayers for healing, income, a job, protection, or building a career as a writer were not answered, prosperity preachers could it was my fault for doubting too much or not having enough faith. But when it came to this scripture, they could not say that. The deal here is, if I obey this one commandment, God will bless me financially. There is no other requirement. I obeyed. How can it possibly be my fault? What should I conclude from that?

One thing I love about Jesus is when his enemies would try to trap him by presenting him with two options, both of which were bad, he would catch them in their own trap. For example, should we pay taxes to Caesar or not? If he says yes, he will be discredited to those who believe he is the Messiah. If he says no, he will be in trouble with Rome. Which is it, A or B? In situations like this, he would choose C. He held up a coin and said, “Whose image is on this?”

“Caesar’s.”

“Give therefore to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s” (Mat 22:21 NRS).

They gave him two choices, thinking “Heads we win, tails he loses,” and he chose a third option they had never even considered.

So back to the question of why God wasn’t filling his end of the bargain when I tithed, it seems we only have two choices here. A., the Bible is wrong. Or B., God wants to bless me financially, but somehow I keep screwing it up. It can’t be A, so it must be B, right? That’s why I fell into the trap of always trying to get more faith. But I never seemed to have “enough faith” to make it happen. But this promise specifically says it does not depend on my faith. God was practically daring Israel to tithe and see if they receive more wealth as a result. Could it be that there is a C that I had never considered?

C. They are reading the Bible out of context.

You think what they say has to be true because it comes from the Bible. I will say this a thousand times if the Lord lets me live long enough. Just because they are quoting scripture does not mean they are speaking the Word of God. The Bible is only the Word of God when it is rightly read, rightly interpreted, and rightly applied. And rightly doing all of that begins with three things: Context, context, and context.

By now, I think I have shown that in context, this is not a promise of positive ROI if you give 10% of your income to your church. It is not a way for the poor to get rich, and the rich to get richer. It was a message to the rich that if they paid the tithes God commanded, they would still have plenty for themselves and their families. Not more than before, but more than enough. If you still don’t see that, again I will refer you to my previous article where I explain in depth the tithe Malachi was referring to. The tithes were meant to help the poor, not bring more hardship to them.

And in the New Testament, there is no minimum amount we are required to give to the church. Not 10%, not even 0.1%. We give not under compulsion, not under the threat of a curse if we don’t, or expecting a return as if we are investing in stocks or cryptocurrency. If you have a heart to give to your church, then by all means give. The church needs money to operate, just like any other organization. Give as you are able, and give with a willing heart, because God loves a cheerful giver. And remember, money is not the only thing you have to offer. You can give of your time by volunteering, serving on a committee, visiting sick church members, teaching Sunday school, singing in the choir, or ask your pastor where they need help. And never let them bully you into giving more than you can afford.

The lesson I learned was much bigger than the purpose of tithing or even the right way to give to the church. It taught me something about the true nature of faith. Faith is not something to manipulate God into giving you what you want. It is a relationship with God based on trust. You can ask God for what you want, and whether God gives it to you or not, you trust that God always loves you and will work whatever happens for good. When understood like that, faith is not something you use as a means to an end. It is an end in itself.


Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave a question or comment below. No trolling, but I am happy to engage in honest discussion and debate. As always, remember these words from Matthew 7:12.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

(NRSV)

Grace and peace to you.

blond woman hiding face behind money

The Tithe of Malachi 3:8-11 Was a Tax

Word of Faith, a.k.a., Prosperity Gospel, preachers love to talk about tithing. That refers to a traditional practice of giving 10% of your income to your church. If you listen to them, most likely you will hear the same things I heard.

  • “Tithing is the door that opens up the blessings of God.”
  • “If you tithe, you will be blessed. If you don’t tithe, you will be cursed. It’s that simple.”
  • “10% of your income belongs to God. Therefore, if you don’t tithe, you are robbing God.”
  • “Every sinner I know who got saved started by tithing. Then they saw how God blessed them and gave their lives to Christ.”
  • “God can’t bless that which is cursed. That’s why God isn’t answering your prayers. You’re not tithing; therefore, you are cursed.”

If you don’t mind my giving away the ending, all of that is crap. But I don’t expect you to take my word for it, so I’ll show you where that doctrine came from, and why it is both unbiblical and unchristian.

But first I want to make it clear I am not against tithing per se. Many people have given 10% of their income to the church their whole lives, and it has never been a hardship for them. It can be a good exercise in discipline and stewardship of the resources God gives you. I am certainly not against giving to your church. The church needs money to function, just like any other organization. What I am against is the message that every Christian is required to give 10% of their income to the church, even when it is a genuine hardship to do so.

Giving to the church should be done voluntarily and not under compulsion (2 Cor 9:7). It should carry neither the threat that God will curse you if you don’t, nor some false promise that God will give back to you more money than you gave. God loves a cheerful giver. Give because you believe in the work your church is doing and want to contribute to it, not because some preacher told you to pay your protection money. And if you think tithing carries a supernatural guarantee of positive ROI, stick around, because you need some truth.

What Do the Scriptures Say?

There are several scriptures that explain tithing. I believe the one most abused by prophets of greed to line their own pockets is Malachi 3:8-11.

8 Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.

 9 Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation.  

10 Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

11 And I will rebuke the devourer for your sakes, and he shall not destroy the fruits of your ground; neither shall your vine cast her fruit before the time in the field, saith the LORD of hosts.

(Mal 3:8-11 KJV)

I can hear your thoughts now. How can you say this is unbiblical? There it is from the Bible, plain as day.

  1. If you don’t tithe, you’re robbing God (verse 8).
  2. You’ll be cursed if you don’t bring all your tithes to God (verse 9).
  3. If you tithe, God will pour you out a blessing for which there is not room to receive, and God will rebuke “the devourer” for your sakes (verses 10-11). I don’t know what “the devourer” is, but I want God to rebuke him.

I will probably say this a thousand times if the LORD lets me live long enough. Just because they are quoting scripture doesn’t mean they are speaking the word of God. The Bible is only the Word of God when it is rightly read, rightly interpreted, and rightly applied. And rightly doing all that begins with three things: Context, context, and context. This reading and the doctrines that derive from it are out of context. Therefore, it is not the Word of God. I’ll show you why.

How Do You Read?

Reading it rightly includes reading the whole passage. How do I know it’s out of context? Because I read the whole book of Malachi, not just the verses cherry-picked by prosperity preachers. Reading it rightly also includes asking the right questions, for example, who is this for? What is it really about? What did it mean to the people it was written for? So let’s see what a difference context makes.

Who Is This For?

If you read the whole book, right away you should see this is not for America or the church today, nor for you as an individual believer.

An oracle. The word of the LORD to Israel by Malachi.

(Mal 1:1 NRS)

The very first verse Malachi writes tells us his whole message was for Israel. Contrary to what you may have been taught, America is not Israel. They were a theocracy. America is a democracy. And the church is not Israel. Israel was a nation. The church is not tied to any particular nation. Even though tithing was a requirement for Israel while the Temple stood, that doesn’t mean it is required for us today. Because Israel was a theocracy, the tithe could be considered a tax. Giving to God is voluntary, but taxes are not voluntary. And again, America is not a theocracy. It is a democracy. In a democracy, the church cannot impose a tax on people. Therefore, giving to the church is voluntary.

What Is It Really About?

To answer this, we have to ask another question: What is the tithe? Contrary to what you have been taught, the tithe is not 10% of your income, and it never was required of everyone, even in ancient Israel.

There are three parts to the Biblical tithe.

  1. 10% was given to the sanctuary in Jerusalem (the temple tithe).
  2. 10% was given to the Levites (the Levites’ tithe).
  3. 10% every three years was given to the poor (the poor tithe).

Add that up: 10 + 10 + 10/3 = 23.33. Why don’t they tell you you must pay 23.33%? Maybe because they know people would balk at that, especially if they claim that’s gross, not net. Many churchgoers can accept 10% of their income as reasonable, but 23.33%? On top of taxes that you already said are not voluntary? A lot more people would be challenging that.

That being said, prosperity preachers don’t claim all of these tithes. They tell you about the first part, claiming that the church has taken the place of the temple in Jerusalem. Therefore, they are entitled to 10% of your income. And as Malachi says, if you don’t pay them your tithe, you are “robbing God.” But if we must pay that, then we must pay not only the temple tithe, but the Levites’ tithe and the poor tithe. They never tell us who should receive those. And they certainly don’t connect those with any blessing or curse.

Here is where context is important. The tithe Malachi refers to in the passage above is not the first tithe to the temple, but the second tithe to the Levites. Malachi was chastising Israel for not supporting the Levites. It had nothing to do with the tithe to the temple in Jerusalem.

A Tithe for the Levites

Who were the Levites, you ask? Levi was one of the twelve sons of Jacob whose descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel. While the other tribes were each given a plot of land, the Levites did not have any land of their own. That’s because God set them apart to serve as priests and ministers to all the tribes, with the provision that they would be supported by a tithe of all food produced in the land of Israel. You had to be from the tribe of Levi to be a priest, but not all Levites were priests. The majority of them served administrative roles in either the Temple or the government, as we see here.

 2 David assembled all the leaders of Israel and the priests and the Levites. 3 The Levites, thirty years old and upward, were counted, and the total was thirty-eight thousand. 4 “Twenty-four thousand of these,” David said, “shall have charge of the work in the house of the LORD, six thousand shall be officers and judges, 5 four thousand gatekeepers, and four thousand shall offer praises to the LORD with the instruments that I have made for praise.”

 (1Ch 23:2-5 NRS)

The Temple had not been built yet, but God had already told David that his son Solomon would build the Temple in Jerusalem. In this scene, David knows he is about to die, and he wants Solomon to know the assignments of the Levites. You see they administered not only the work of the house of the LORD. They were also officers, judges, and gatekeepers, i.e., civil officials. That is how we know tithes were taxes. At least some of them went to the people who were responsible for the administration of the government.

The claim some preachers make today is you are robbing God because the church is entitled to the Temple tithe. But when Malachi talks about robbing God, he means the Levites’ tithe. Therefore, there is no chance he is saying you must give 10% to your church. Why didn’t Malachi make that clear, you might ask? Because the people he wrote this for would have understood that. They didn’t need to have that explained to them. This is what happens when you read the Bible and “just do what it says,” but don’t take into account the fact that it was not written to us today. The book of Malachi was written to Israel in approximately 400 BC, not the church in the 21st century.

Food, Not Income

Furthermore, the tithes were not taken in money. Every tithe came from food that was produced in the land of Israel. That means only farmers and herders tithed. They gave tithes from the crops they grew and the livestock they raised. It was only food from the land, so fishermen did not have to tithe. It was only from the land of Israel, so Jewish farmers outside Israel did not have to tithe. And it was not money or income, so merchants and craftsmen did not have to tithe. If you think about Jesus and his apostles, four of them were fishermen. They did not tithe. Matthew was a tax collector, so he did not tithe. That did not stop them from following Jesus. Heck, Jesus himself was a carpenter. He did not tithe.

Nowhere in the New Testament does it say you have to give 10% of your income to your local church. In the time of the New Testament, there were no local churches. Believers gathered in people’s houses to worship. Even in the Old Testament era, they did not even say you had to give 10% of your income. They tithed food, not income.

What Did It Mean to The People It Was Written For?

The storehouses Malachi refers to collected food, not money. And as I already mentioned, this tithe was to feed the Levites. Since the Levites had no land of their own, they could not grow food themselves. God commanded those Israelites who were blessed with their own land and produced food off that land to set aside a portion of it to feed people who by the nature of their calling could not produce food for themselves and their families.

Since the tithe was food and not money or income, what does it mean that God would “open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it”? Opening the windows of heaven meant that God would send the rains in their season to make their crops grow. There would “not be room enough to receive it” meant their land would produce plenty of food for the tithers, more than enough to fill the Levites’ storehouses and their own personal storehouses.

What is “the devourer”? The word in Hebrew is ha-’ochel. KJV and ESV call it “the devourer,” while NRSV calls it “the locust.” NIV is the most explicit, saying “I will prevent pests from devouring your crops” (Mal 3:11). I think in context, NRSV and NIV get it right (see Translation Notes below). Even if the farmer is diligent in plowing, planting, and keeping wild animals away, and the right amount of rain comes at the right time, there is always the threat the locust will come in and devour all the work of their hands.

This was answering the objection that the tithes were too much of a burden for them. God is telling the landowners, “Obey me concerning the tithes, and I will make sure you have plenty of food left for yourselves and your families.”

When God chides them for not bringing the tithes to the storehouses, they understood that was the Levites’ tithe, not the temple tithe. God is chastising them specifically for not supporting the Levites. Of course, they still had to bring the temple tithe and the poor tithe as well. But that’s not what this verse is talking about. Notice how there are tithes not only designated to the Temple and its administrators but also to the administrators of the government, the judicial system, and the poor. Also notice the tithe is food, not money. I’m stressing that point, because that was part of the purpose of the tithe: to be sure everyone in the land of Israel could eat, even those who could not produce food themselves.

This was especially important during the religious festivals. Holidays like the Passover and the Feast of Tabernacles were supposed to give them a foretaste of the coming Kingdom of God on earth.

In the Kingdom of God, no one goes hungry. There is plenty for everyone, rich or poor.

It doesn’t matter if you are a wealthy landowner with full barns, a craftsman getting by on your trade, a tenant farmer, a fisherman, a day laborer living hand to mouth, citizen or alien, Jew or Greek, male or female, slave or free, widow or orphan, too poor or disabled to work, can’t afford it–none of that matters. You can eat your fill. God has blessed our land with plenty of meat, bread, grain, fruit, olive oil, and wine for everyone. It also shows why they collected food, not income, as tithes. It wasn’t because they didn’t have money then. They did (Gen 23:12-16; 2 Sam 24:23-24). It was because you can’t eat money.

Tithing and Taxes

So when Malachi talks about tithes in this passage, he’s really talking about taxes, not the voluntary giving we do in church. For those who didn’t meet the requirements to tithe, there were other taxes. But since we’re focused on the Levites’ tithe, I find it interesting that God commanded a tax that was only for the wealthy (landowners) and for the purpose of paying government officials and feeding the poor. When the wealthy complained about paying taxes and feeding the poor, God told them, “You have two choices. You can set aside the 23 1/3% I commanded for the priests, Levites, and the poor, because they can’t produce food for themselves, and keep 76 2/3% of what I provide. Or you can keep 100%, let people who serve Me and the public go hungry, and take your chances that the rain and the locusts will be favorable.”

When people wax nostalgic about the 1950’s and the old Leave It to Beaver suburban lifestyle, do they ever stop and think in the 1950’s, the wealthiest people were taxed 90%? They still lived well. Warren Buffet gives away 99% of his income to charity, and you don’t see him in line at the soup kitchen. When you deny government services and public assistance to the people, you rob the nation (verse 9). That is the real meaning of Malachi’s message on tithing.

Why Not Theocracy?

We are a democracy, not a theocracy. Our constitution is set up to allow everyone to follow whatever religion seems good to them, even if that’s no religion. Therefore, the government cannot be seen as favoring any religion over the others. Personally, I think that’s a good thing.

Just because Israel was a theocracy does not mean we have to be. God does not have any kind of fetish for theocracy or any particular government. There is no authority except from God, so God can work with any form of government (Rom 13:1; Joh 19:11). The only thing God requires from those in authority is justice and righteousness (Isa 1:17; 3:14).

If we want God’s favor, we need to do what ancient Israel failed to do: execute justice and righteousness, defend the rights of the widow, the orphan, and the alien, protect the poor from exploitation by the rich and powerful, accept the results of our democratic elections because there is no authority except from God, and see that no one lacks basic necessities, no matter what race, religion, or nationality they are (Jer 7:4-6; 22:3). That is what I think a real Christian nation would look like.

Summing It Up

If your preacher is telling you that if you don’t give at least 10% of your income, you are robbing God, and that is the root of all your problems, they do not know how to read the Bible in context. Don’t be afraid. God is not going to sick “the devourer” on you. Tithing or not tithing has nothing to do with whether God answers your prayers or whether you are saved or not.

The blessing and curse described in Malachi 3:8-11 had nothing to do with giving to the Temple then or to the church today.

In the New Testament, it’s possible some people tithed voluntarily, but no one in the church was required to tithe. Jesus never connected his healing and ministry to people tithing to him.

But he had to get money somehow. Yes, people gave to him voluntarily but never as a quid pro quo. And no, tithing does not guarantee God will give you more money than you had before. If they promise positive ROI for giving to them, don’t be surprised when it doesn’t materialize.

On the other hand, if you go to a church where no one feels obligated to give 10% or any minimum amount, where some give more than 10% and are happy to do it, some give 10% because that’s what they have done their whole lives, some struggle to give 1% but give what they can, and some really can’t afford to give anything but come because they want to worship God in spirit and in truth, chances are good there is a place for you there.

Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or question below. No trolling, but I am happy to engage in honest discussion and debate. As always, remember these words from Matthew 7:12.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

(NRSV)

Translation Notes

Ha-‘ochel (Mal 3:11 WTT): Verb qal participle, masculine singular absolute with definite article.

The most common meaning for this verb (’achal) is eat, consume, or devour. As a participle (’ochel), it often refers to some kind of destruction or the means of destruction itself, such as fire, wild beasts, the sword, famine, or pestilence. Sometimes it is the locust (Joe 1:4; 2:25; 2 Chr 7:13; Amo 4:9) or more broadly of pests that devour crops (NIV). Since in this context Malachi is talking to farmers concerned about locusts devouring their crops, this seems most likely.

Two mackeral and a loaf on a board

On the Art of the Sermon

I am late with this. My pastor retired at the end of June. My televangelists of the past mocked the idea of pastors retiring. I don’t think any of them really retire from ministry. Their ministry just takes on a different kind of practice, so I don’t begrudge them their retirement. I have been in churches all my life, but I think this was the first time I was there to see a pastor give his or her final message before retirement.

What I’m doing here, though, he might question. He said he sent all his old sermons to the recycling bin. Though he meant every word of those sermons at the time he preached them, he said, “something goes out of them after their preached, and … they’re done.”

I was a little sad to hear that. I had often wondered if he would ever collect his sermons into a book. Apparently not. I would have bought that book. If you’ll forgive me Dr. Bailey, I don’t think this last sermon is done, so I’m going to share for those who weren’t there some highlights. He said a number of interesting things about the art of ministry and preaching sermons. For anyone who has ever wondered how pastors feel about the enormous task of proclaiming the word of God, I think you’ll appreciate his insights.

He said he gave his first sermon on July 4, 1982, called “New Beginnings.” This one, the last before retirement, he called “A Couple of Thousand Sermons Later.” That alone says a lot about why he is qualified to give advice on how to write and deliver a sermon. He thanked not only us but his former congregations for having “open minds, a sense of humor, and forgiving hearts.” No pastor can last long without that.

He believed pastoring a congregation was based on two foundations.

  1. Relationships of trust built by being a faithful friend and pastor.
  2. A willingness to continually go through the process of wrestling with scripture, prayerfully seeking from it what is God’s message for today, and delivering that message in a way that makes sense and makes a difference.

I’m not the only member who will attest he did very well on both counts. I think that’s why when at times he said some things I knew a lot of the congregation did not agree with, they did not push back too hard or try to get him fired. They already considered him a faithful friend and pastor, and they knew he would not say anything from the pulpit without honestly wrestling with the scripture and prayerfully seeking from it God’s message for us. That is where the ability to speak the truth in love served him well. He could let you know where he stood without being confrontational about it.

I Am a “Dinosaur”

Looking back to when he was interviewing for this position, he told the nominating committee that he was “a dinosaur.” It seemed the megachurches had brought a new style of worship that included rock bands, short film segments, multi-media presentations, light shows, and stadium seating. That was not his style, and he hoped that there were some people who still found the traditional style of worship appealing.

Though sometimes I feel like I’m a dying breed, I am among those who still find the traditional style of worship appealing when it’s done well. In fact, a few years ago, I watched video of a megachurch service with all the bells and whistles that usually come with that. When I was younger, that would have appealed to me. But now it seems I’m at a point in my life where I want church to be church. That includes corporate and responsive prayers, singing of hymns, music from a choir (traditional or contemporary), reading of scripture, reading of the Apostles’ Creed or something similar, and a sermon that explains the scripture well.

Pastors Work More than One Hour

Most of the sermon was focused on the art of preaching itself. It is not the only part of pastoring, just the most visible. The pastor actually does work more than one hour per week. I remember in seminary, I heard a professor say you should plan on one hour of preparation per minute of your sermon. So if your sermon is 15-20 minutes, that means about 15-20 hours of preparation. And that does not include other duties like committee meetings, hospital and home visits, weddings, funerals, counseling, et al, and I was blessed to experience his wisdom and grace in all those capacities.

In an age when we are bombarded with media of different kinds competing for our attention, preaching is challenging today. It requires sustained attention from both the preacher and the listeners, and while megachurches have many tools to keep your attention, the traditional preacher only has words.

As a writer, I think that is what I appreciate about the art of a traditional sermon. I know what it’s like to have to determine not only what I want to say but what are the right words to say it. As Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is … the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” So I appreciate pastors who know how to capture the lightning. Pastoring requires regular writing on a deadline that has to communicate the word of God to the listeners, which is why I don’t understand why more pastors don’t collect their best sermons into a book, Dr. Bailey’s comments about them being “done” notwithstanding.

Complete Honesty

He realized early in his career that effective preaching required complete honesty. And so he would confess some things about himself in sermons that he would rather not tell us in private conversation. Because of that, it was always a challenge when he had to preach more than once on the same day, as when we did multiple services to accommodate Covid restrictions. I never heard him complain about it, though perhaps he did in private. But throughout the Covid crisis, his first concern was our safety. So if that meant preaching multiple sermons to keep social distancing or putting more effort into directing people to the church’s YouTube channel, or just doing things that were uncomfortable, he was willing to do it. And I agree that honesty is truly necessary for effective preaching.

Some Sundays, he felt like he had completely failed to get the most important points across. But then as he greeted people at the end of the service, someone would enthusiastically tell him that something he had said really made a difference for them. Then there were other Sundays where he felt great about both the sermon and delivery, but afterwards someone would ask, “Are you okay?” I imagine anyone who speaks in public regularly can relate to that.

How to Stay Encouraged with Low Turnout

On Sundays when people commented there was a low turnout, it never discouraged him. He said he was always amazed that anyone showed up. He knew most of the reasons people show up had nothing to do with him. But even so, he said, “I hope you will allow me to say that your presence here … is and has been the most wonderful affirmation for me that you believe God has called us into partnership to be a community of faith together.”

Lightning. The pastor is the leader of the congregation, but he is not the whole show. I don’t trust pastors who take an authoritarian approach, a model that is sometimes called shepherding, where the pastor’s word is law. As Dr. Bailey said, church should be a partnership, not only between pastor and parishoners, but within the congregation as well. I joined the church because I liked the pastor and his sermons, but also because there were people there who made me feel welcome from the beginning, especially in my Sunday School class. Going there feels like a family reunion, where there are families with multiple generations represented, and you know you are already loved even before you walk into the building. That is what I think being a community of faith together means.

The Privilege of Focusing on God’s Word

“It’s an amazing privilege in one’s job to be able to study and pray over God’s word at length and then attempt to bring that word to others, and to have people show up to engage you in that enterprise with you.”

Lightning again. Though I am not ordained, I feel most alive when I am able to study and pray over God’s word at length and then attempt to bring that word to others. That is why I started this blog. It’s a sign of his humility and grace that he recognizes that is a privilege, one that no preacher should take for granted, to be able to do that, and have others around who believe in you enough to pay you to do that, not for them but with them.

Hope, Joy, Good News, and Challenge

“My hope and prayer is that in the long run, the sermons have brought mostly hope and joy and good news to people as well as the challenge to live the way God calls us to live in Jesus Christ.”

Lightning again. I’ve heard some preachers say they only want to bring hope, joy, and good news to people. I’ve heard others who complain about them, saying speaking the truth of God’s word needs to challenge people and convict them of their sin, but they don’t have much to say that is encouraging. The way he described it strikes the right balance. He hoped that his sermons brought mostly hope, joy, and good news, while also recognizing living the way God calls us to live in Jesus Christ is a challenge, and preachers need to be honest about that. Again, speaking the truth in love goes a long way to earning your parishioners’ trust.

Truth-telling and Ambiguity

He quoted a line from Frederick Buechner, one of my favorite authors. Buechner called the sermon “… a creative type of truth-telling that is willing to live with ambiguity, willing to live with unanswered questions rather than presuming to have all the answers.”

I wish more preachers today would take that to heart. Too many of them presume to have all the answers, maybe because they never learned to live with unanswered questions. You’re human. It’s okay to admit you don’t have all the answers. But they have to make you think they know everything, so they quote a Bible verse or two, usually out of context, and say, “This is the word of God,” meaning there is no more room for discussion, no possibility that they might not see the whole picture.

I heard one Jewish woman say, “Jews open the scriptures to begin a conversation. Christians open the scriptures to end a conversation.” Like most statements of this nature, that is true–to an extent. But I agree Jewish tradition is much open to conversation than Christian tradition. Opening the scriptures, and hence sermons, should be an invitation to further thought and discussion. Yes, there are some things I think are the Truth (with a capital T), and I try not to compromise them. But even then, I have room in my thinking for honest and thoughtful debate. On most of my posts I make my opinions clear. But I take the time to explain why I think or believe the way I do, and I’m always hopeful that people will use the comments section to share why they agree or disagree. Most of the time, I am looking to begin a conversation, not end it.

New Beginnings

His final prayer for us: “I pray that God who began a good work in you will bring it to completion in the day of Jesus Christ. And I pray that you will continue to open your hearts and your ears and your mind to those who will stand here in the pulpit in the future, attempting to the best of their ability to tell the truth.”

In other words, he hopes we will treat the next pastor the same way we treated him. And he hopes we will continue our partnership of being a community of faith together with whoever is next to occupy our pulpit.

Presbyterians don’t usually applaud, but we gave him a standing ovation. Even the “frozen chosen” have moments when we must show our appreciation. I said in an earlier post I think the next pastor will have big shoes to fill. But if he/she (yes, women can be pastors, at least in PCUSA) honestly wrestles with the scriptures to give us the truth to the best of their ability, is a faithful pastor and friend who invites us to join in their work of carefully studying God’s word and trying to draw from it God’s message for us, whose preaching invites conversation rather than shutting it down, and who offers hope, joy, and encouragement in the challenging work of living as God in Jesus Christ calls us to live, I for one will accept them with an open mind, a sense of humor, and a forgiving heart.


Thank you for reading. Feel free to leave a comment or question below. No trolling, but I am happy to engage in honest discussion and debate. As always, remember these words from Matthew 7:12.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

(NRSV)
hand grasping golden apple

The Mind of Christ

In my last post, I talked about the claim from some preachers that if you are born again, you are a “little god.” I argued that is not true, first by pointing out that when the Bible says we were made in the image and likeness of God, that is not the same as being a god.

I’m sure some of them will say, “Well, what about Philippians 2:5-6?”

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

(KJV)

See? It says we should have the mind of Christ Jesus and think it is not robbery to be equal with God.

Problem is that reading is out of context. Context is so important to understanding the Bible, so let me explain what that means. Reading in context is about trying to figure out what the author meant when he wrote it, and what it meant to the audience it was originally written for. When I say something is being read out of context, I’m saying that is not what the author meant when he wrote it, and/or that is not what it would have meant to the original audience. When the author of Genesis 1:26-27 said the first man and woman were made in God’s image and likeness, he did not mean they were equal to God. The original audience would have thought of an image or likeness in the same way they would have thought of a statue, drawing, or painting of a person. It can look just like the person, but it is not the person. Therefore, reading image and likeness as equality is out of context.

With that in mind, does Philippians 2:5-6 say we should think of ourselves as equal to God? What does it say in context? That’s what I am about to examine.

Context: What does the verse really say?

To answer that, we have to dive into the Greek a little bit. If you didn’t know, the Old Testament was written in Hebrew—except for a few chapters of Daniel that were in Aramaic—and the New Testament was written in Greek. Or maybe they thought Paul wrote in King James English. If so, you need to know he wrote in Greek, because that was the language of the people of his congregations. And because King James English was over a thousand years and hundreds of miles removed from even one person speaking it, but I digress. For us trying to understand today what any of the Biblical authors wrote, it is inevitable that some things will get lost in translation.

In Greek the word translated robbery in the KJV is harpagmos, which could mean “robbery” but also could mean something taken, plunder, a prize, or a thing to be taken or held onto forcibly. Most other translations say “a thing to be grasped.” So should we consider it not robbery to be equal with God, or should we consider equality with God not a thing to be grasped? More context is needed.

Context: What does it mean within this particular section?

In this case the section we are looking at is Phil 2:5-11. Here is the World English Bible’s translation, which I am using because it is not copyrighted.

5 Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus, 6 who, existing in the form of God, didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, yes, the death of the cross.

9 Therefore God also highly exalted him, and gave to him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, those on earth, and those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

(WEB)

The Mind of Christ

So Paul starts with “Have this in your mind, which was also in Christ Jesus” (v. 5). I prefer the NRSV, which says , “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phi 2:5 NRSV). What does it mean to have the same mind as was in Christ Jesus? That is what Paul explains in the rest of the passage. We believe verses 6-11 were a hymn. If so, it could be the oldest Christian hymn we have record of. They didn’t know how to write music then, so we can only guess how it was sung. But the Christians in Philippi would have known and probably sung along in their minds as it was read to them.

Having the mind of Christ means humility and love that is willing to sacrifice oneself for others, even if it means suffering and death.

The hymn starts by describing Jesus as “existing in the form of God,” but then goes on to say in verse 7, he “emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men.” So the hymn begins by contrasting his existence before he became a man with the human form he took as a man called Jesus of Nazareth. And when he was “in human form, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, [even] the death of the cross.”

In between his being in the form of God and in human form, verse 6b says he “didn’t consider equality with God” harpagmos. In that context, which is more likely, that he did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, or did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped? Considering how verses 7-8 stress how in his human form, he humbled himself, taking the form of servant, becoming obedient to the point of death, that does not sound like someone going around saying, “I don’t consider it robbery to call myself equal with God.” That sounds like someone who did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. Unlike us, he already existed in the form of God. He had the right to claim equality with God. But instead, he humbled himself, taking the form of a servant. Paul is saying that is the mind of Christ that you should have.

Context: What else does the Bible say about this?

I’ve already talked about Genesis 1:26-27, where it says human beings were created not equal to God but in God’s image and likeness. This passage from Philippians makes the point more powerfully by saying even Jesus did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped. That particular phrase also connects this passage with the Creation story in Genesis.

First, God placed them in a Paradise and gave only one restriction.

15 Yahweh God took the man and put him into the garden of Eden to cultivate and keep it. 16 Yahweh God commanded the man, saying, “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; 17 but you shall not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; for in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.”

(WEB).

They can eat from every tree in the garden except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. They should consider that poison, because “in the day that you eat of it, you will surely die.” They were fine with that until a serpent told them,

4 … “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

(Gen 3:4-5 NRSV)

They probably never thought about being like God before. But now that the serpent put that idea in their head, they thought, “That would be awesome.” So at a tree on a hill, they considered equality with God a thing to be grasped, and they grasped it. Because of that, they were banished from the Garden. God would still be with them, but it would never be the same.

hand grasping golden apple
Photo by Alan Cabello from Pexels;

The Second Adam

In Romans 5:12-21, Paul describes Christ as a second Adam. When he was brought to a tree on a hill, he did NOT consider equality with God a thing to be grasped but humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death, even death on a cross—the perfect act of faithful obedience to God and loving self-sacrifice for us. And in so doing, he reversed the curse and restored our broken relationship with God.

Having the mind of Christ means humility and love that is willing to sacrifice oneself for others, even if it means suffering and death. He had a right to claim to claim equality with God, but instead he submitted himself to God’s plan to redeem humanity. How much more then should we stop grasping for equality with God and show God’s love through service and humility?

God Highly Exalted Him

That was the first half of the hymn. The second half describes how God highly exalted Jesus in response to his perfect obedience. He gave Jesus a name that is above every other name, confirming his status as Christ and Lord. Because God glorified him, he can be called equal with God. We cannot expect to be glorified in the same way. But Paul said in the book of Romans we are children of God and heirs with Christ “if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him” (Rom 8:17 NRSV). If we share in his suffering to redeem the world, we will also share in his glory.

Furthermore, he said, “I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us” (Rom 8:18 NRSV). We still won’t be equal to God. But whatever we are, it will be awesome.

Jesus is not a model for us to claim equality with God. He is the model of a servant who submits to God’s will, even when it means suffering unjustly at the hands of others. God’s will was for the redemption of humanity, even those who persecuted him. God’s will was to show the extent of God’s love in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Only after Jesus’s death and resurrection did the disciples understand what it meant for him to be the Messiah. It meant suffering and death, not for its own sake, but to save others.

A Suffering Messiah

It was foreshadowed in one of Isaiah’s songs of the suffering servant. God prophecies of someone called “My servant,” who is beaten so much that he does not even look human anymore. People see his suffering and think it must be the wrath of God on him. The servant does not demand justice, because he understands they do not know what they are doing. They are like lost sheep who have gone astray. Somehow they see God glorify him, and their conscience is pricked. They seek the one whom they once despised and rejected and want him to teach them the ways of justice and righteousness (Isa 52:13-53:12).

And the irony was he could have rescued himself. He could have grasped the equality with God that was already his. Before he came to us in human form, he was in the form of God. But he willingly surrendered that status as Son of God to become the suffering servant. If you want the mind of Christ, meditate on that for a while.

So if you think this verse is about how you can become equal with God, you have missed the point entirely.

Thanks for reading. I hope you’ll come back next time. Until then, remember these words from Matthew 7:12.

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

(NRSV)

Grace and Peace to you.