“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Friday, December 29, 2006

Cheerful Giver Part II

STEWARDSHIP – OLD TESTAMENT-STYLE

In the Old Testament, we find that Abraham was tithing before the Law required him to do so. In Genesis 14, Abraham tithes Melchizedek – why? Was it because he was forced to? No, it was out of gratitude to God. Then we find Jacob, as he flees from his angry brother, having a vision in Beit-El [Genesis 28], and making a vow that everything the Lord gives to him, he will give back a tenth. Again, this is before the requirements found in the Law! These men understood that everything is the Lord’s and by their tithe they were recognizing God's sovereignty. Could you see Abraham saying – “Should I give out of my gross or my net?”

In Deuteronomy 14 we find the Israelites commanded to bring their tithe to the place where God chooses to make His name dwell, (Jerusalem), and they are to eat the tithe of their grain in the presence of the Lord – learning to fear Him. And if they lived too far away, they were to convert their tithe into money and bring it to Jerusalem and then buy whatever they desire and eat it before the Lord and rejoice!

Some may be thinking – “Now, that is more like it, buy what I want and enjoy it, why give to the Church?” If you feel this way, you have missed the point of Deuteronomy 14 – they did this in order that they might be reminded of their total dependence upon the Lord, and in this knowledge of His goodness, they celebrated the tithe with joy and thanksgiving.

Throughout the Law we also find that the tithe was used to support the Priesthood and the upkeep of the Temple, AND to support the downtrodden, poor, orphans and widows. These are the works of ministry! We are not giving our money because God is cash-strapped; He does not need our money -- we are giving to MINISTRIES in order to glorify our God for what HE HAS DONE!

STEWARDSHIP – NEW TESTAMENT-STYLE

There are many who say that tithing is not a New Testament command; that we are not under law, but under grace. They are right – we are under grace, but it is a sad fact that many are so poorly versed in God’s Holy Word that they do not know the fact that under grace, we who could not fulfill the Law, now have it written on our heart. Therefore, tithing as a burden imposed upon the people of God as an act of works is gone, but now, with the Law written on our hearts, we now give out of joy to our God! Remember Romans 12 – we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, which is reasonable service compared to the great gift of our Lord and Savior!

The early church sold what they had and gave to all who had need, this is a little more than the 10% -- as a matter of fact, in many instances in the New Testament, there is no discussion of a tithe, rather there is the example of giving away what you have.

Jesus tells the Pharisees in His great woe to them [Matthew 23], that they tithe mint, cumin and dill, but have neglected the weightier matters of the law. In this passage, He does not say – “No need to tithe”, rather He says, these things you ought to have done, WITHOUT neglecting the other things. For the Pharisees tithing had become a mark of their ‘spirituality'; you see it again in the parable of the Tax Collector and Pharisee who went down to the Temple to pray [Luke 18]. The Pharisee is bragging about his tithing – but is not justified by it! We, who are Christ’s, should know this – we are not justified by our acts, but by faith alone, in Christ alone, through grace alone.

Giving for the New Testament believer is not about fulfilling the law in order to be justified, rather for us, as it was for Abraham, Jacob, David and all of the saints of the Old Testament, it is about recognizing the sovereignty of God over ALL of our resources, and out of gratitude to Him for what He HAS ALREADY DONE, we give to the work in His kingdom!

So many miss that important point – giving in the context of the New Testament is not with an eye to getting something in return, nor is it to do something to chalk up points on our holiness scale, it is because of the continuing grace of God working in our lives, made possible by the finished work of Christ on the Cross!

One should never give out of a compulsion that is man-centered, but only out of a spirit that is God-centered. 2nd Corinthians 9:6 is one of the most abused passages regarding giving – televangelists will tell you that you are to give to get, and they will tell you that it is verified in 2nd Corinthians. This is obviously one of those proof-texts that people love to extract from its setting and use as a tool to manipulate the base attitude of greed in the heart of man. Yet, when put in its context, this passage says that we give out of a cheerful heart, through the grace of God, not under compulsion; and ultimately for the glory of God, NOT to increase our coffers. We will have benefits, absolutely, but they are benefits in line with the Kingdom of God. That does not mean that one might not be blessed financially, but if you are giving for that reason, you may well be sorely disappointed.

Our true treasure is found in Christ, and God has ALREADY blessed us beyond our understanding, on a hill called Calvary, 2000 years ago. It is the finished work of Christ that is the ground of all our blessings, NOT THINGS. As Paul says in 1st Corinthians 2:9 -- "...no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him"…

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Cheerful Giver

As David came to Ornan, Ornan looked and saw David and went out from the threshing floor and paid homage to David with his face to the ground. And David said to Ornan, "Give me the site of the threshing floor that I may build on it an altar to the LORD--give it to me at its full price--that the plague may be averted from the people." Then Ornan said to David, "Take it, and let my lord the king do what seems good to him. See, I give the oxen for burnt offerings and the threshing sledges for the wood and the wheat for a grain offering; I give it all." But King David said to Ornan, "No, but I will buy them for the full price. I will not take for the LORD what is yours, nor offer burnt offerings that cost me nothing."

~ 1st Chronicles 21:21 – 24 ~

The earth is the LORD's and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah. Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah.

~ Psalm 24 ~

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

~ Romans 12:1 ~

I recently posted on the servant's heart and I thought I would complete the short series with a couple of posts on giving. There are a few more thoughts running around in my head, and may post them at a later date.

True servants of God are ones whose hearts have been transformed by the Spirit of God. We cannot ‘work’ our way into a servant’s heart – oh, we can put on a façade that LOOKS like a servant’s role, but the Lord examines the heart, not the outward actions – ask Saul who thought he could placate God by sacrificing the best animals of Amalek – it cost him the kingdom; maybe you could ask Ananias and Sapphira – they thought that their outwardly magnanimous gift would elevate them in the eyes of the embryonic Church; instead, they were truly slain by the Spirit of God! (giving 'slain in the spirit' a whole new meaning!)

We cannot ‘become’ servants by reading a book on our purpose, nor can a pastor enforce servant’s hearts on the congregation by pounding the pulpit hard enough – no, servant’s hearts are the result of a heart transplant by God -- from a heart of stone into a heart of flesh, followed by the sanctifying work of the Spirit in our lives, driven by a life of prayer. We are called, as we read in Romans 12, to be living sacrifices, which is our reasonable worship. Our prayer should be, as David’s in Psalm 51“Create in me a clean heart, and restore a right spirit in me”.

We are called to be HUPERETAS – fellow under-rowers on the great ship of faith. We are people who are not our own, but bought with a price [1st Corinthians 6:19, 20], no longer living to ourselves, but rather living to the Lord [Romans 14:7, 8].

With that backdrop, this post will touch upon a subject that many are uncomfortable with – as I was when I began in ministry. It will discuss our Christian service as stewards of the things that God has given us.

As I have been studying this, I went through many passages regarding tithing, and money, but at the end of it all, I discovered something quite remarkable – that giving to the Lord’s work has ALWAYS been an act of worship, not an act of reluctant servitude.

It is said that if you want to know a person’s god or idol, you need only follow the path of their time, talent and wallet. This will ultimately lead you to what they love or desire more than anything else. It is truly sad to say that in our society we might find that the god/idol of some is a Sony Playstation, an iPod, a nice car with 22’ wheels and spinners, a motorcycle, or even a career. Even sadder, the Body of Christ finds that the trail of their time, effort and money often leads to similar or identical idols!

As a Pastor I have often heard the following questions: “Do I tithe on the gross or the net of my income?” or “Is tithing actually a New Testament principle, I mean, now we are under grace, right?” As if giving to the Lord’s work was as cumbersome and forced as giving to the IRS, or paying a traffic ticket!

Of course, I understand that many so-called preachers have abused the concept and have extorted or downright swindled money out of good, God-fearing people, all the while they drive luxury cars, have two or three mansions, and a suite of private aircraft and bodyguards. Oh, of course they will distribute a pittance of the gifts to ‘doing the work of the kingdom’. Sadly, these selfsame people ‘rob’ from the local church, as they coerce people to give to THEIR ministries, so that the giver will get! Money gets sent in, oftentimes being deducted from the work of the local church’s ministry, with the promise that somehow this ‘seed’ will blossom into a ten-fold blessing for the giver.

This is not the spirit of giving that is discussed in God’s Word – God is not our lottery ticket – He MAY bless our giving, but if our motive is to give to the Kingdom in order to get financially rewarded, we will be sadly disappointed most times. Our Messiah says that we are not to lay up treasures on the Earth, but to store them in Heaven where moth, rust and robbers cannot get to them!

So the local church and its pastors have been painted with the same brush as these abusive ministries, and therefore many unbelievers, (and sadly, believers), adhere to the fact that preachers (i.e. me) are always standing with their hand out. Well, truth be told, I have spoken on giving once in five years.

God is no beggar! I am not standing with my hand out – as I hope to point out in these posts, it is not our BURDEN, but our PRIVILEDGE to put our resources into the work of the Kingdom!

God owns the cattle on a thousand hills -- [Psalm 50:10 – 15] -- For every beast of the forest is mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know all the birds of the hills, and all that moves in the field is mine. "If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world and its fullness are mine. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving, and perform your vows to the Most High, and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me."

Does that sound like He is begging? No, He is calling His people to offer a sacrifice of Thanksgiving – give out of a Thankful and cheerful heart. God is not strapped for cash; He needs nothing from His creation, but offers to us the indescribable privilege of participating with Him in the work of the Kingdom!

I will complete my thoughts in a second post.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Thank You

Thanks for the prayers -- I was greatly encouraged this week, and had we had a great weekend. We were able to deliver ~120 boxes of Angel Food to the community, and our motorcycle ministry was able to reach out to several folks this weekend during a large Toy Run.

Last night we invited some local churches to our place to have a gathering. It was wonderful! We had everything from contemporary Worship, to Spirituals, and even had some young men from a local juvenile facility perform a few songs.

This is what I love -- joining with the Body to celebrate our common heritage and faith! We should do this much more often -- we had teens, older folks, black, white, asian, hispanic, Jewish -- it was truly a picture of heaven!

Thank you all for your prayers, emails, calls, and thoughts -- the Lord is incredibly faithful, and sadly, while my head knowledge of this is there, oftentimes my deceitful heart pulls me into a self-pity mode. I apologize for the tenor of my last post.

May all of you have a blessed time during this Christmas season.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Prayer

I wanted to post briefly and request prayer from the folks who periodically visit this place.

As a small-church pastor, it is always difficult to lose families; this weekend we had a family announce that they are leaving our church to go to a nearby Mega-church.

I love these folks dearly, and their announcement out of the blue somewhat blindsided me. I must admit that I struggle with the reality that folks (not only this family) leave our church where they are involved, loved and needed, and go to a church numbering in the thousands. These are wonderful folks, and dear friends, and they will get plugged in at their new church, but, oh, how we could have used them here.

I love this congregation -- their heart and commitment always amazes me. I am privileged and honored to be the shepherd of such a wonderful group. And when things such as this recent event occur, I call into question my leadership, and skills. The gospel is preached at our church; we believe in, and practice discipleship; and have church discipline. We may not have all of Mark Dever's 9 Marks down, but we certainly are moving towards that. I believe that I have been called to preach at this church, and we have seen some wonderful moves of God sweep through the church. Yet, when folks move on with a vague "The Lord told me to", I wonder....

It is hard to argue with the subjective aspect of 'The Lord said so', I believe that this is why the reason is often used -- you can't disprove it, and should you even question the fact that this might actually be their own feelings driven to the surface, people look at you like you have blasphemed; so strong is the therapeutic, and feelings-driven gospel entrenched in the evangelical community! The Proverbs state that there is wisdom in a multitude of counselors, however, so often people will say nothing and just make a jump.

When I see people who are being used in a mighty way in the smaller, local church, leave for a church that has an abundance of people and material resources, I know how the local 5 & 10 feels when Wal*Mart comes to town. We, as a small church, cannot compete with ALL of the junk that a mega-church throws at people, and when you combine that with a message that really focuses on the felt-needs, you have a strong one-two punch. And quite frankly, what is so sad is that many of these larger churches are acrimonious to the smaller church, believing that it is 'stuck' in the past because it still preaches out of the Scriptures, and actually has church discipline etc. I have had one 'leader' in a Mega-Church actually laugh about the plight of smaller churches, saying that we had failed in our ministry because we have never grown above 100. I guess that would make most of the New Testament Church a failure?

Enough about that -- I will continue to preach the Gospel, and love this congregation, but these types of events rattle my cage. The good news is that we have brought in several families this year who are regulars. God is sovereign, and that is a great comfort to me!

Second -- today is my daughter's birthday. She would have been 26 today. I lost her when she was 18 months old, and while I always feel that I have healed -- this date hits me in the head every year. I do not sit around and mourn for days anymore, but it is still like a painful scar that hurts when bumped too hard.

So -- keep me in prayer, many thanks...

Ray

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Soon

Sorry I have not posted in a bit -- I have been very busy, but hope to put something up tomorrow -- regarding stewardship... This is part of the servant series that I am working on.