Thursday, January 14, 2016

How The Lord Generously Provides

When I first heard about the book of Malachi nearly thirty years ago, I thought it was written by an Italian. I never heard of Malachi, let alone the tithe principle. At first, I wasn't too excited about giving ten percent of my income (a tithe) to the Lord. Maybe it was because I was already in the hole every month. For the longest time I thought ‘tithing’ was spelled ‘teething’. To get me to tithe was like pulling teeth. However, I knew I should be giving ten percent (because my wife told me so), so I started the process. I'm sure glad I did. 

Malachi is the name of the prophet who wrote the last book of the Old Testament. The tithe principle is found there, although the precedent was set long before by Abraham's offering to Melchizedek. The idea of offerings to God goes way back, even to Cain and Abel. 

The tithe is not given because we want to make sure the preacher is paid, or the church building's electric bill is paid, etc. Those things are important but are really secondary benefits. Think about the Old Testament animal sacrifices. They were for atonement of sins, although secondarily, it benefitted the priests because they were permitted to eat the meat as their provision. Don't get the proper perspectives mixed up.

The tithe is not conditional. In other words, we are not to give our offering only if things are going good, or if we have our budget under control, or if we get a big paycheck, or if the church is being run according to our liking. We are not to withhold our tithe. If we do, God feels that we are robbing Him or what is rightfully His - that we are taking His portion and using it for ourselves. Not good!

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me. “But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’ “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. (Malachi 3:8-9)

Our tithe is not to be for the wrong motives - to show off or look good - or to give so as to expect a big payday in return, like it's some type of monetary investment. It's not playing the lottery to expect a win.

No, the tithe is a proper offering to God (ten percent of what we acquire) that demonstrates 3 things: (1) Our acknowledgment of Him, (2) our trust in Him, and (3) our honor to Him.

First, a tithe demonstrates our acknowledgment of Him -  that all things come from God, and that everything we have, our talents and abilities, as well as the opportunities that come our way are from God's hand. Therefore, all we are offering to Him is simply a portion of what He has first given us to begin with. 

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand." (1 Chronicles 29:14)

Secondly, our tithe demonstrates our trust in Him. By giving Him ten percent right off the top, even in tough times, we show our trust that He will somehow provide the rest and make up the difference and more. It demonstrates our faith in Him - that He will provide everything we need. 

"And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:19)

Thirdly, a tithe demonstrates our honor to Him - our reverence to our King who is the object of our worship and our loyalty. 

“Honor the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” (Proverbs 3:9)

The good news is that if we properly tithe, God promises to bless us, and bless us abundantly. He even challenges us to test Him on it. 

"Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it." (Malachi 3:10)

Looking back, I’ve learned that the promises of God found in Malachi do not necessarily equate to financial gain. It seems like more years than not, our family barely got by from month to month. We still committed to the tithe. It was during the times I needed provision the most is when God stepped up to his promises.

For my family, here's how God provided and blessed us as we faithfully tithed...He wouldn't let anything I had wear out! He sustained everything so that I didn't need money to replace or repair anything. Time and time again, this became obvious to the point of being ridiculous. When we couldn’t afford appliances or vehicles, he would sustain what we had far beyond the normal life expectancy. He seemed to make our material things last forever. 

I remember buying a used van with 111,000 miles on it and praying that God would get it to 200,000. Well, I sold it at well over 200,000 miles and I wouldn't be surprised if it's still running! My hot water heater lasted for 24 years before I removed it still in working order. I bought a new Chevy Cavalier in 1998, drove it 225,000 with no major issues and then gave it away, still running. By the way, the first set of standard tires on that Cavalier lasted an incredible 88,000 miles. I just changed my truck tires after 85,000 miles, and the tires were on the truck when I bought it used. 

Our water pump for the house lasted 23 years and it was preowned when I originally bought it. Our cooking range is over 30 years old and still working. We dug our well by pounding pipe down into the ground 53 feet. That was 31 years ago and is still our well today. We use our ceiling fan virtually every day of the year. We put it in 31 years ago. We just bought a new toaster. The old one was purchased in 1985, and we probably still could use it, but we got tired of it after 30 years! Even our cat, Bob, lived for 20 years!

Don’t get me wrong, I do have things that break down. I recall when my wife’s glasses snapped in half. It happened three weeks before the six month warranty ran out - so, free replacement. I remember my satellite tv receiver dying, and the next day unexpectedly receiving an offer in the mail to receive a free unit upgrade. Once, my daughter’s laptop hinge broke a week before the one year warranty ran out (free repair). I could go on and on. He didn’t bless me with abundant wealth, but he sure helped out with my spending plan over the years and faithfully got me through the lean times.

The blessings I attribute to God goes way beyond all those material things. I’ve experienced the promise from Malachi 3:10, “...see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it”. I can testify His promise is true...I have proof. Over the years God has poured so many blessings in my life I can’t count them all. My wife, my family, my church, my friends and my ministry are all part of it. How He has intervened in my life and how His providence is demonstrated time and time again continues to amaze me. 

Honoring God with your tithe is just part of the big picture. Honoring Him with your life makes your devotion complete. When you honor God, He will bless you beyond what you could possibly imagine. There is no doubt about this. The more He blesses, then the more you want to honor and serve Him. The more you honor and serve Him, the more He blesses. And the wonderful, unending cycle goes on and on forever.

Monday, January 4, 2016

From Everyone Who Has Been Given Much, Much Will Be Required"

What if your boss gathers everyone together and reads the new official company policy, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked."

Can you imagine the response? I would guess that the most common reaction would be, "Wait a minute, will I be paid more for doing more?"  or "I was hired to do a specific job, and now you want to keep adding on work?" You'd think your boss was a slave driver, piling on more and more work for you to do. Taking advantage of you. Well, you're not going to put up with it, are you?

But guess what? That quote is directly from Jesus! That's right. Jesus said, "From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked." (Luke 12:48b NET)  

That statement will stop you in your tracks. Or at least it should. It did for me. It's a heavy duty verse. It requires a different perspective - a spiritual perspective. It involves a desire to please God, as opposed to a worldly, selfish "what's in it for me" attitude. 

God has given each of us an ability to do something. It may be a gift of hospitality, or encouragement, or compassion toward others, or of public speaking or writing. It may be a talent of music, or art. Whatever it is, God has equipped each of us in unique ways. And whatever gifts He has given us, He wants us to be responsible managers (stewards) of those gifts in order to serve others and advance the Kingdom. He wants us to live to glorify Him, and exalt Christ and His church. 

"Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms." (1 Peter 4:10)

And the more one has have been blessed, the more God expects from that person. And the more that person is a faithful steward of God's grace, the more God sees that person as a reliable and effective servant who will do much for the Kingdom. That's precisely the type of person God is looking for.

But why does the above quote from Jesus not offend us who are Christ followers? Why do we look at that statement differently? Why do the same words from a worldly perspective seem to have a polar opposite reaction than those same words if spoken by Jesus to His followers? 

The answer is LOVE. Christ's love compels us -  to live for Him, to serve Him, and to worship Him. It's the least we can do once we begin to grasp the extent of Christ's love - coming to this world to die for our sins. The statement by Jesus is not a drudgery, rather a privilege. As followers and disciples, we want to know Him more intimately, grow closer to Him, and please Him in every way.  

Paul, in His letter to the Colossian church, pleads with them (and us), "We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to Him, bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God." (Colossians 1:9-10)

Yes, when love is the motivator, perspectives change drastically. Instead of a selfish attitude, it's a selfless attitude. Instead of the least we can do to get by, it's the most we can do to serve others. Instead of an oppressed slave, we become a willing and ready servant.

"From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked."  

Welcome the opportunity.