Thursday, August 7, 2008

Sowing, not "Giving"

A few weeks ago, in a ladies forum I am in, there was a discussion about finances and tithing. There were many wonderful testimonies of how the Lord had blessed different families when they tithed. Those blessings aren't always financial. Sometimes it comes in the form of good health, so less is spent for medical issues, or maybe your clothes don't wear out so fast, or maybe those tires on your vehicle last a little longer than you estimated they would. There are also spiritual blessings of peace, and knowing you are obeying the Lord, for example. The list goes on an on.

John Calvin pointed out a long time ago that "we are not giving, we are sowing" when we give financially to the work of the Lord. The Lord considers it as seed for the harvest, sown in the soil by men. Think about it. Our abilities are limited. We can't convert anyone, that is the Lord's job. We don't have infinite wisdom to see what is coming down the pike, or how our example will encourage someone else. The Lord's work effects people on so many multiple levels it is impossible for our minds to grasp.

Instead we get stuck on what we do know, which when it comes down to it, isn't really a lot, is it? We focus on OUR lives, our own little bubble, and if we can't see the "where" or "what for" or how it will all work out, we figure it is in vain. This post is specifically about giving finances, but there are many areas in our Christian walk that have slid backwards over the last few generations. Personal standards, for example. Or how about good old fashioned Bible reading? I touched on that before concerning mothers, and yes I still will be posting against some myths I have heard over the years, but that is another subject all together. ;)

Let me get more specific. God loveth a cheerful giver, not a conditional giver, not grudgingly, as per 2 Corinthians 9:7. Some excuses I have heard is: "We can't afford it." Oh yeah, we have been there and done that. True testimony from our own experience, and this is just one instance out of many. When we bought our first house, we were a young couple, and dh was making minimum wage at a cheese factory, and only working about 30 hours a week. We searched for a house we could afford, and found one that was being forclosed on. We went in to apply for a 15 year loan, and as the banker was looking over our financial statement, all but laughed us to scorn. There was no way in his eyes we could afford this house. Then he saw how much we were giving to "charity" (aka, to our church) and said "ah, there's the problem. I'm sure your church would understand if you didn't give for a while until you get on your feet financially." We bit our tongues and tried not to give him an earful. We WERE on our feet financially. We had absolutely NO debt at all. We had none of the usual expensive vices like drinking or smoking. We didn't own a tv.. no cable. In fact, at that time, we didn't have a washer or dryer, or even a phone. We knew we could meet the monthly payments by God's grace. It would be tight, but the Lord was leading us to this house. It wasn't a palace either, by the way. It was the proverbial House that Jack Built, and to tell the truth, he didn't do a very good job.

Back to the banker. I forget exactly what we said to him, but the point was that would the church mind if we stopped giving? No, no one would come after us, that is for sure. But we were giving UNTO THE LORD, not to man. Would the Lord rain hail and fire and brimstone on us? No, but we would miss out on some serious spiritual growth, some wonderful times of fellowship with Him, and increasing our faith. It would have been a wonderful opportunity lost for serving Him in that area.

The banker finally put the loan through, and we bought the house. We NEVER missed a payment, somehow. Looking back on it now, I know the Lord had to be working because there were many many many times when we looked at our bills, and knew there was no way the ends would meet. Yet somehow, the needs were always met. Sometimes mysteriously, sometimes through someone slipping us money, sometimes through making things last longer than they should have. We also always gave above and beyond the tithe... called "love offerings". This is seperate from the tithing. We gave to missions every week, plus squeaked out some for special speakers. I shake my head wondering how we ever managed, especially after the children started arriving. I know how... the LORD did it, not us. Yes, we try and be good stewards with what He provides us. But sometimes you have to step out on faith. That means there is prayer involved.

You can't outgive God. You just can't. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills. His resources are infinite. What piddly little we can do we should be GLAD to do. If you love your father, you like to do things for him. If you love your husband, you do things for him willingly. How much more should we willingly give back to the Lord, what is already His anyway? He had much more to lose on the cross. For our sakes He became poor (2 Corinthians 8:9).

We can't outgive God.. but we can rob Him. Malachi 3:8 says: "Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings."

Tithes AND offerings. Many times when this verse is referred to the focus is on tithes. But God's Holy Word says... "AND offerings". Read on to verse 9 "Ye are cursed with a; curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation." Remind you of anywhere? Someplace that has been called a Christian nation? Someplace that God lead Europeans to be the first of His Lights on darkened shores? How He blessed the firstcomers here! It is amazing how clear it was when He blessed the pilgrims and puritans with little sickness and bountiful crops, when they obeyed Him, and how that provision was withheld as the spritual condition decayed after only a couple generations. People look at the weather patterns and mutter how strange it all is. Is it? Is God showing judgment? The rain falls on the just and the unjust. This nation, as a whole has strayed very far from the mark. People don't go to church anymore. People don't give anymore. And certainly there isn't a repentant attitude when faced with preaching of a Holy God, our Savior.

But there is good news! Read verse 10: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saigh 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."

That is technically an "If... Then" statement. You won't receive the blessing from the Lord in this area UNTIL you obey. That is stepping out in faith.

This verse brings up another excuse.. the storehouse. That would be your local New Testament church. There are those whom I have heard say "well, we don't go to a church" or "we give to different people, not the church". There are different reasons for both, which I won't get into now. Suffice it to say that God wants us to give to our churches. Not to pad the pockets of our pastors (trust me, that is NOT the case! My dh works besides pastoring. There are no padded pockets here!). That is a sad take on the whole thing. Obviously there are those that might abuse the financial status of the church, and that is horrible and sinful. However, that is NOT an excuse for not giving to your church. Now if there is a misappropriation of funds, then yes, it should be investigated. But let's say there isn't. Someone might have been burned by that once, but it certianly isn't the norm for godly churches or pastors.

Of course, you can't give to a "storehouse" if you aren't part of one. I understand there are homechurchers in some places because there isn't anything close to them. But I have met several homechurchers who don't attend a local church because they don't like the pastor's style, or they disagree with a small point of theology, or the people aren't "godly" enough for them. I have gotten to know several of these families, and no offense to them, but basically it boils down to that the husband has a problem with authority. He doesn't want to be "under" anyone. You don't have to like the style of the pastor, or exactly how they do things in a church to belong there. But that is yet another post, and this one is getting long enough, eh? And please, I'm not saying that is the case with all homechurchers either.. I have met some lovely families who homechurch, though I do notice a trend that is a little concerning that the homechurch families tend to be "ingrown" in some ways. They don't outreach or interact with other families who don't live up to their "standards" for fear their families will be spiritually contaminated. Or their families come before God, which is just another form of idol worship. There should be a healthy balance, but some of these families take it to an extreme. All their children are learning is that they can just claim "family" and they don't have to do a thing for the Lord. Family is important, don't get me wrong, but "family time" shouldn't come before God.

There are many that are comfortable with what they are giving and how much, or not at all. Maybe it is time to rethink our attitudes?

"Woe unto them that are at ease in Zion," Amos 6:1.

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