God’s will

Tithing: Constructive Giving

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For many people, tithe is simply loose change in a straw basket passed passively from church member to church member, from pew to pew. Giving when faced with the presence of “The Basket,” often stems from guilt, habit or obligation. This type of tithing is not constructive and therefore not tithing at all.

Tithing must be targeted to a purpose, a need. Tithing revolves around God, is from God and thus should always be directed by God. Tithing is not simply something that God said to do, so we follow suit. We followers of  Christ are “called” to tithe. Thus, tithing should look different to different people.   For one person, perhaps tithing should be centered primarily on the financial needs of a church. For a different person, perhaps tithing should be focused primarily on the needs of orphans or poor children in less developed parts of the world. Tithing depends entirely on how God is calling you to reinvest what he has invested in you.

God wants everything we do to highlight what he has already done for us. He wants all of our activities to increase our faith in him so that we become more aware of his presence. Tithing is no different. It should start with searching out the heart. It should lead to prayer which should lead to more prayer and then on to what God has called you to do with your money. The final step in tithing is to invest his money with a full dedication and commitment to wait, trust and watch God heal others with what he first gave you. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul mentions that he was asked by James, Peter and John to continue to remember giving to the poor in Jerusalem.

Galatians 2:9-10

James, Cephas and John, those esteemed as pillars, gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship when they recognized the grace given to me. They agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.

The request is not as important as Paul’s response. He stated that this act of giving or tithing was something that he personally had already been moved to do. Paul had clearly sought God for guidance concerning his money and in turn was led to supply aid to the poor in Jerusalem. He then proceeded to organize an expansive relief effort in the Gentile churches, like the church in Corinth, to raise money and assist the church in Jerusalem during the severe famine they were experiencing. This call to tithe led to incredible testimonies Paul saw in the Gentile churches.

2 Corinthians:8-15 

And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. So we urged Titus, just as he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving. I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.”

Tithing is not and must not be reduced to simply an act of giving your money to something else. Tithing requires faith. It requires a dialogue with God and a commitment to follow his guidance on where to reinvest his resources.

 

Tuesday Devotional: Lamentations 5

bible Read Lamentations 5

Things are not the way they are supposed to be.  This we can all agree is indisputable.  The questions we ask are “Why?” and “What can we do to change our situation?”  Our instinct is to look at external factors influencing our status and to seek a remedy to those factors.  We see injustice and decide that the best course of action is to address the social and legal issues underlying the injustices.  We see poverty and decide that a new social initiative requiring more legislation or community activism will most effectively change the situation and fix the problem.

The problem is that poverty has never been solved.  Injustice has never been solved.  We do in fact have an obligation to do what we can to improve our communities and the lives of those around us. However, regardless of the amount of time, energy and resources we throw at a problem, the problem will persist, most likely grow and exist for others to wrestle with after we have passed on.

So, is there any hope?  Is there any point in addressing these issues if the outcome will never change and our efforts will have little to no impact on the problems?  If we rely on our own efforts and believe that our new idea or program will conquer the insurmountable summit of suffering in this world, then no.  The solution to these problems is counterintuitive.  Where we think that the first step is to attack the problem head-on, the opposite is actually true.  In order to address problems in the world and discover a solution we must look internally rather than externally.  The problem is in each of us.  The problem is not others.  The problem is inside of us. Only by addressing the problem within each of us will we find the origin of our current world issues.  We will also discover that by finding the origin of our problem we also find the origin of the solution.  God created the world we live in upon the spirit of shalom.  The world was created for balance, harmony, unity, self-sustainence and comprehensive blessing.

When we compare our imperfections with the harmony of the created order, we will be pointed in the right direction of fixing what is broken and healing what is sick.  In Jesus Christ exists the fulfillment and revitalization of the created order.  In Jesus Christ there is hope that change WILL happen and that it CAN start today.  In Jesus Christ there is no longer fear, there is no longer hunger, there is no longer injustice.  No fear, because Jesus conquered the threat of fear by overcoming the thing we fear the most, death.  No hunger, because the words of God illuminated by the Holy Spirit sustain us daily, even when our physical bodies endure weakness and pain.  No injustice, because the injustice we perceive is actually just punishment for our undeniable sin, and true injustice is revealed in the perfect God accused, mocked and murdered upon a cross as a condemned criminal in the face of cheers and jeers from a guilty crowd.  We want change.  So does God.  The question is, are we willing to inherit and adopt God’s heart for change? or do we look upon Jesus and say, “I’ve found a better way”?

 

Thursday Reflection: Carnival Kings and Dizzying Dynasties

pen-and-paper_400x295_39No matter how many times I read certain portions of the Bible, I tend to react the same way, with the feeling I’m taking a seat on one of those ever-popular “spinning” carnival rides where the entire structure spins in circles while each individual car spins independently, on its own orbit of pure nauseating insanity. While getting buckled in by the ride attendees, my gut and my mind voice hesitation, fear and confused excitement. An inner dialogue can be faintly heard: “Are we really about to do this?” As the loud, punctuated whistle of the ride-operator initiates the craziness, all that I can do is hold and keep holding on. In a weird way, these same sensations arise the moment I proceed deeper into certain books of the Old Testament, especially the books of the Kings. Reading the name, “Jeroboam” is like me getting buckled into my seat. Reading “Rehoboam,” I know that the ride has begun and disorientation will soon meet me head on.

For me, this feeling is triggered by the knowledge that in the books of 1 and 2 Kings, the names come fast, they change even faster, the stories intertwine and bypass each other, and there seems to be an overwhelming sensation of confusion.

My approach to these books of the Bible resembles my notoriously bad approach to the books I used to read in high school where my eyes would finish pages before my brain could comprehend anything I’d read and, before I knew it, the pages indicated that I was done. The time passed aligned with the amount needed to read a passage of that particular size, but my brain seemed more empty than before I started reading in the first place. One thing that a Bible reader should constantly be asking is, “What is the point?” Or perhaps, “What did I just read?”

There are several areas of the Bible evoke this inquiry more often than others. In my experience that 1 and 2 Kings finds me checking for my own understanding frequently. With the storyline transitioning back and forth between some Kings doing good, followed quickly by an overwhelming list of Kings acting like heathens, repeated with the rhythm of a pendulum, it is justifiable to ask, “What is the point?”

 

I sense two things happening to me as I read the Kings. The scripture gets denser due to the fact that there are more names, more countries and more individual “power-players” to keep track of and understand. And my mind, trying to keep track of this Biblical “carnival ride,” starts to work harder and harder to keep up and focus. Interestingly, my feeling of confusion toward the text is mirrored in the relationships I read about within the text. More specifically, my feelings are mirrored in the cycle of the relationship of God to his people and their commitment to Him as shown in the text. The more names that come into view, the less clear the view became for them and for me. The more stories I am called to follow, the less I seem able to follow the one most important story. I become disoriented just like the Kings of Israel. I become distracted, just like the Kings of Israel.

What we find, beginning with King David and leading into the divided Kingdom, is that the further Israel wandered away from God the more complicated it was to be God’s chosen people. The more Israel divided their attention and gave God company in their hearts with the temptations of sin and the outward attitude of idolatry and apostasy, the more complicated their lives, both as individuals and as a people, became.

There is a clear progression from David to his grandson Rehoboam: from a point of near total commitment to God and the fruits of a “one on one” relationship in David, to a juggling act of idolatry with David’s son. The result is that the proverbial balls drop and the carnival act suffers. The more the Kings tried, and the more we try, to juggle God amongst other things, the less focus and commitment we are able to devote to God completely.

For example, on a day-to-day basis, our time, energy, thoughts and actions are constantly pulled in different, often opposing directions. However, living a life for God means that there is only room enough for one God on the throne, only one voice to be listened to. This reality is at the heart of a Christian. To try to balance the two contradicts God, contradicts Jesus Christ and contradicts the claim that one is a Christian at all.

This idea of one King and one voice in total control of our lives is often offensive to people, and this idea of one God that demands our full attention seems selfish and unreasonable. However, these negative responses to God’s claims on himself are only understandable if there is a misunderstanding of the God making such “offensive demands.” What kind of “God” is demanding this totally radical restructuring of the soul? If God is just a demanding and judgmental deity then, of course, one might hesitate to put him uncontested on the throne, and rightfully protest such a demand. However, if this God who demands the entire life of a believer is a provider, a healer and a father, one might second-guess their initially visceral response to his rights as God.

The original intention of God for his relationship to his people was that human or worldly Kingship would never be needed in the first place. In the beginning, there was supposed to be pure trust and dependence on the one true God concerning every aspect of our worldly lives, so that the need for a human King would be unnecessary and illogical. However, as we know, the story took a different turn. Israel demanded and got a human king, and the years of “Israel’s Kings” began.

Throughout the period of Kingship and Dynasty, we notice that the more Israel as a people disintegrated from within, the more disintegrated their relationship with God became. The more they divided their mind and heart between God and everything else, the more things became uncertain and unstable. This can be seen in our approach to God as well.

When our hearts are divided between job, family, friends, dreams, hobbies, and then there’s God, it’s no surprise that the attempt to juggle everything at once is doomed to fail. Imagine trying to speak with 10 different people all at once. The chance of fully understanding each person equally, giving each person the focus and concentration that their conversation requires of you, is literally impossible. The case is the same with God. The more he takes hold of the entirety of our hearts, the more we are able to see him completely, and the more clearly we can hear his uncontested voice.

While the analogy of the conversation offers an audio example in understanding the nature of distraction, let’s use binoculars for a more visual analogy. Imagine you find yourself at a sporting event. You know your seats are directly across the stadium from some friends of yours, and in an attempt to spot your friends, you pull out your binoculars. However, before putting the set to your eyes you must first glance with your naked eye at the area of the stadium which you think most likely contains your friends. From where you sit, using just the naked eye, it is impossible to see any one person clearly. All you see is a collage of colors and shapes. This is like trying to view our lives in one moment without the clarity that God provides us. We try to see everything all at once, and ultimately cannot see anything clearly at all. The view in front of us is overwhelming, intimidating, and impossible to comprehend or decipher. Such is the experience of a life lived without the focus on God, of God and by God.

At this point in our fictional stadium scenario you remember your binoculars. As you put the set to your eyes and aim at the area you think hosts your friends, you find that the view is blurred and nothing is clearly visible. However, adjusting the dial slowly brings the view into focus. To your surprise and delight, you find your friends, distant and small, but with every detail accentuated and clearly visible. This is the effect that the Holy Spirit has on us when we no longer try to take in the view in front of us unassisted, but allow our sight to be purely on God the Father, enhanced by his vision. By centering our sight on God alone, and through the focusing power of the Holy Spirit, we can finally see a life that is not only clearly visible but also completely manageable and possible. What we now have is a confidence in a God we can trust, that not only understands the difficulties of this world, but has also overcome everything in it, and offers us the power to overcome it with him. One of the reasons why the saga of the Kings in Israel’s history is so confusing and disorienting is that God’s authority was not the focus of their Kingly positions. God’s authority was not used to focus their lives, although their Kingship was intended to glorify God and accentuate His primary Kingship over creation and in turn bless them according to his will and design. The result was a blurred and nauseating period in Israel’s history that takes even readers today on a dizzying ride through this tumultuous period of man’s relationship with God.

The Kingship era in Israel’s history is an approach to life that focuses on idols while still claiming to have a place in our heart for God. The result is not clarity. The result is chaos and we create trouble that God never designed for us to experience. One must return to the moment before boarding the carnival ride. The pre-Kingship design of God to man had at its center a relationship. As in a marriage, time, energy and effort were to be divided between two mutually adoring and selfless parties with no need or desire for anything else. It is in this relationship that each party enjoys clarity and purpose. It is in this relationship that God desires to be united with us and it is in this relationship that Jesus Christ has provided the door through which we may seek entrance. We know he promises to open that door. The question is, are we knocking?

The lesson learned from reading the Kings is that life has the potential of becoming complicated and disorienting. However, the choice to allow such disorientation rests with each of us. We have authority over the door to our hearts. We control how hospitable we are toward temptations and distraction. We have control to realize our place as the created under the authority and care of the Creator. We can also convince ourselves that we are not held accountable to any higher power. In confronting the Word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ ,we must ask two important questions. First, do we desire to be defined by a greater and more powerful King, and accept his will and his authority? Or second, do we desire to define our own path with the hopes of becoming a great and powerful King, and are we willing to accept the risks and dangers of doing so? My advice would be to learn from Israel’s Kings and be redefined, led and protected by the “King of Kings” in Jesus Christ, and be thankful that God has given us a warning view of the dangers of that carnival ride, and provides us the opportunity to choose to never get on in the first place.