Archive for January, 2015

Giving to God

Cowboy Sunset Cross

by Charles Henderson

A young man asked Jesus, “Teacher, what good must I do to have eternal life?”

Jesus answered the man (Matthew 19:16-22), “Why do you ask Me about what is good? There is only One who is good. If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”

And as so many young people will retort, the young man asked Jesus, “Which ones?”

Jesus answered him:

“Do not murder; do not commit adultery; do not steal; do not bear false witness; honor your father and your mother; and love your neighbor as yourself.”

Again as so many will argue, the young man told Jesus, “I have kept all these. What do I still lack?”

Then Jesus responded, “If you want to be perfect, go sell your belongings and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Clearly, this overwhelmed the young man, as it would so many of us, and Jesus knows it too. The Scripture concludes that when the young man heard that command, he went away grieving, because he had many possessions.

We all can identify with that young man. We have much and do not easily give what we love away. Yes, we do love our material world, and those things that we possess. We are human, and God knows this about us. Very, very few of us give up all we own and follow Christ. We want to have our stuff, and Jesus too.

Jesus then turned to His disciples and told them (Matthew 19:23-26), “I assure you: It will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven! Again, I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.”

His disciples were astonished and asked our Lord, “Then who can be saved?”

Jesus looked at them and said, “With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”

We know that eternal life with Christ comes only one way, through Christ Jesus, Himself. (Ephesians 2:8-9) “For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift–not from works, so that no one can boast.”

All of us have broken many of God’s commandments. How many of us are willing to sell all that we own and give to the poor? And how many of us are willing to even come and completely follow Christ?

Following Christ means letting go of this worldly life and living in God’s will, wholly serving Jesus as our Lord, doing all that He calls us to do, and turning away from all that we want to do for ourselves.

Yes, that last part is the hardest part. Turning away from all that we want to do for ourselves, and doing all for Christ. As human beings are we even capable of it?

So, what is the least we can do? As Christians, what ought we do?

Paul says that we are slaves of Christ by our free will, our own choices, when we are saved. As slaves of Christ, the Lord owns us body and soul, and all that we have. Yet, none of us, not even the best and most righteous of us, come close to what Jesus told the young man.

God knows this, and has known it all along. Jesus knew it when He told the young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor, and come follow Him. He was asking the humanly impossible.

However, to serve Christ we must at least give it our best efforts. And I think that this is what matters to God. We give to Him our honest best efforts, put Him first in our lives, and beg His forgiveness when we fail. And we do fail daily. Believe me.

So, you may ask, what does this best effort entail?

One thing clearly, the Holy Spirit will show you. Each day you will have choices, selfish ones and giving ones. Choices that serve God’s will and choices that serve your own desires. Believe me, you will know it when you encounter the choices. The Holy Spirit will tug at your heart, or gut. You will feel that little pull on your strings somehow, somewhere, and rather than ignoring that twist at the pit of your stomach, stop and listen to what the Lord says to you.

While the Bible does not command us to give, we know that God wants us to give. Does that make sense?

Paul repeatedly tells us that God has made each of us with talents that support and serve His will and the Body of Christ, His Church. He calls some of us as preachers and teachers, some as prayer warriors, mentors, some as musicians, some as financial managers and fund raisers; each of us different, and most of us with multiple talents. But God calls all of us to serve Him in one way or another, in all the ways that we can.

Perhaps the most troublesome subject among church-going people is the practice of Tithing and regular financial offerings. It is vital to every church that the congregation give to the church financially, so that God’s work can reach all who need Him. Today, many, many people need greatly.

Nowhere in the Bible does God command us to Tithe. He does not require us to give a dime. Yet we must give something back to God, some of what He gives to us, in order for His church to do its work and flourish.

Think about it for a moment. Consider yourself and the gifts that others give to you. Except for some greedy children at Christmas, do you command your family to give you gifts, such as on your birthday or Christmas? Yet, for most of us, our families give abundantly to us. Why do you suppose that is?

We give gifts because we love the people to whom we give them.

Same goes for giving to God. We give to Him because we love Him.

God wants us to have a joyful, giving heart. Giving not only to Him, but giving to all who need. Jesus told the young man to sell all his possessions and give to the poor. God loves them, and that is how He gives to the poor. Through us, who love God.

gods_handsWe are God’s hands. Therefore, we do His work, and we give to His church so that God’s work can reach those who need Him.

Therefore, Tithes long ago became a standard among Christian churches.

Tithe in Hebrew means a tenth.

The practice of giving a tenth comes in many respects from the example that Jacob sets for us in Genesis 28:22, when he named the place, Bethel, or God’s House. Scripture says, “This stone I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to You a tenth of all that You give to me.”

This Scripture comes after Jacob, who God later names Israel, departed from his home and had received from his father, Isaac, the family inheritance, and had received Isaac’s blessing ahead of his brother Esau. Esau, in turn, went to his uncle, Ishmael, and married his daughter, Mahalath. Another story.

As the inheritor of Isaac and the covenant of Abraham, Jacob listened to his father and mother, and departed for Paddan-aram, where he would find his wives, Leah and Rachel.

And thus we have the following Scripture that tells of Jacob’s dream, God’s blessings to come, and Jacob’s vow to God:

Genesis 28:10-22 (HCSB)
10 Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran.
11 He reached a certain place and spent the night there because the sun had set. He took one of the stones from the place, put it there at his head, and lay down in that place.
12 And he dreamed: A stairway was set on the ground with its top reaching heaven, and God’s angels were going up and down on it.
13 Yahweh was standing there beside him, saying, “I am Yahweh, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your offspring the land that you are now sleeping on.
14 Your offspring will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out toward the west, the east, the north, and the south. All the peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.
15 Look, I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go. I will bring you back to this land, for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I did not know it.”
17 He was afraid and said, “What an awesome place this is! This is none other than the house of God. This is the gate of heaven.”
18 Early in the morning Jacob took the stone that was near his head and set it up as a marker. He poured oil on top of it
19 and named the place Bethel, though previously the city was named Luz.
20 Then Jacob made a vow: “If God will be with me and watch over me on this journey, if He provides me with food to eat and clothing to wear,
21 and if I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God.
22 This stone that I have set up as a marker will be God’s house, and I will give to You a tenth of all that You give me.”

Some people interpret what Jacob vowed as him striking a bargain with God, and in return for that bargain he would give a Tithe or a tenth back to God of all that God had given to him. One hand washes the other. A contract with two sides.

I interpret it differently than Jacob striking a bargain with God. We do not bargain with God!

I believe that Jacob loved God, and spoke his vow as reassurance, knowing without a doubt that God will take care of him in his journey and will bring him home safely. For Jacob, this dream was the proof that God was with him, and he knew it.

Therefore, in praise of God and with a joyful and giving heart, Jacob pledged to God a tenth of all that God gave him.

Jacob realized that all that exists and all that he had inherited came from God, and that he was blessed by God. Jacob’s dream told him this! Jacob’s vow was simply him verbalizing all that he realized, largely shown him in the dream: That God was with him and would take him to this far-away land safely, protecting him, and would return him home safely. And that God’s plan for him was a great nation. His offspring would be like the dust of the earth, and would spread in all directions, and the land where he rested would be his, for his nation, Israel. God promised this to Jacob, without any bargaining.

Jacob pledged to God a tenth of all that God gave him. Jacob made this promise and gave his Tithes because he loved the Lord. Jacob praised God for His blessings. For His promises.

As I said, there are those who will argue that it was simply Jacob’s side of a bargain he struck with God. If God delivered His side of the deal, Jacob would give a tenth of all he received from then on.

I am sorry, but I choose to believe in the goodness of Jacob; that Jacob did not bargain with God but loved the Lord, and celebrated God’s love for him by giving back to God his Tithes.

Today, many Christians follow this example and give a tenth to God of all that God gives to them. That tenth, or Tithe, is the very least they give, their bottom line. It is not a limit to giving but a floor. We do not just give our ten percent, but at least give that much.

We give with a free and joyful heart. Giving because of our love of God. Tithing is one of many ways we praise God, and show Him our thanks for all He gives to us.

Another aspect of this giving is where we draw the line to base that tenth.

We know in Genesis 4 that Abel was a shepherd and Cain worked the ground. Cain presented some of the produce of the land as an offering to God, but Abel presented as an offering to God some of the firstborn of his flock and their fat portions.

I do not know the quality of Cain’s offering of some of his produce, Genesis 4 does not describe it, but God did not find Cain’s offering favorable. However, God did find that Abel giving his firstborn pleased Him. God found favor in Abel’s offering.

Of course, God favoring Abel’s offering sparked the murder of Abel by Cain. Jealousy of brother against brother, the sin that led to murder.

From Abel we learn that God favors the firstborn, or the first fruits. We see that repeated in all offerings throughout history. God favors the first fruits. Its meaning is symbolic of the most valuable and most significant to us. Our gifts to God should have strong meaning with us. It should be a sacrifice to give them, thus they are important and put God first of all things in our lives.

Remember this? God loved us so much that He gave His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for our sins, for our salvation. Jesus is our Heavenly Father’s firstborn Lamb, God’s first fruit.

Thus, in our offerings to God, giving to our church, we should consider our first fruits as offering. In modern times, many of us regard that first fruit as the gross amount of money that we earn.

What does God give us? All that we have or ever will have. From everything that we receive from God, we should consider taking His portion off the top, not the bottom.

“I can’t afford to give to the church, I am behind in my debts,” some may say.

Others may object, “If I give a tenth to the church, then I am short that much in my family budget. God needs to give me more, so I can afford to give offerings to God.”

On the opposite end of that argument we have churches that basically tax their congregations ten percent of earnings and more. Many do it. They require members to submit annual earnings statements and pledges of their Tithes. They demand ten percent. Some church leaders will say that Tithing is Scriptural Law, which simply is not true. And many in the churches honestly believe it too.

Such practices have many Christians turning away from churches, and condemning even the mention of Tithes. It causes members to begrudgingly give anything.

God wants our hearts, not our money!

God does not need our money! He created all that exists. All of it belongs to Him in the first place.

We should only give to God because of our love for Him, and our desire to serve Him in all that we can do.

For the Christian family, giving a Tithe, is often a good practice. When I was a child, I was taught to call it my “Love Offering.” And I joyfully gave! I love God!

Tithing is a good way for a family to budget its funds too. It is a sound practice for a family that projects its spending, and follows God’s will for us to be good stewards of all that He gives to us.

A tenth, in my opinion, is the least a person can give, or ought to give. And we should always give more at every opportunity. When God calls us to give, we give!

Not just giving from our money, but giving our time, our talents, our energies. Putting God first in all that we do.

We should not fear giving to God, but strive to do it. Lay not treasures on earth but in heaven. After all, the things of this earth will pass away, and burn in the furnace, but the spirit–our spirits–will live for eternity, with our Lord, Jesus!

At the end of this lesson, Jesus told His disciples:

Matthew 19:28-30 (HCSB)
28 Jesus said to them, “I assure you: In the Messianic Age, when the Son of Man sits on His glorious throne, you who have followed Me will also sit on 12 thrones, judging the 12 tribes of Israel.
29 And everyone who has left houses, brothers or sisters, father or mother, children, or fields because of My name will receive 100 times more and will inherit eternal life.
30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

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