Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Why I Tithe...the priority

This weekend I was driving home from my 25 year college reunion, still smiling from an amazing day rekindling friendships with people I love deeply, reflecting on how dramatically different my life has become since those years at Randolph-Macon.  I think the best way to describe the impetus behind my journey of change is that making a vow of devotion to Jesus means giving up a life lived based on self-generated values.

Following Jesus is surrender.  Following Jesus is abandonment.  Following Jesus is a complete and total transplant.  Following Jesus is fully embracing Kingdom generated values.  Where mine conflict, His reign supreme because everything about Jesus is transcendent, superior, matchless...perfect.  I am flawed.  I am desperately hopeless in my spiritual ineptitude.  There is such freedom in accepting my depravity and living a life of total dependance on Jesus' ways...His ways are my ways this day and every day.

Part of that way requires a Kingdom approach to the stewardship of my material resources.  And what I find in Scripture, our guide to Jesus' values, is that there is a tithe.  This blog series has covered already two of eight principles that direct my family's conviction to tithe.  Today is number three and can be heard in a recent sermon I shared at City Life.

The priority.  Matthew 6:33 speaks volumes about how central the theme of priority is to a relationship with Jesus.  He is first.  This theme of priority is something we easily embrace when considering our affections.  When we hear Jesus' great proclamation of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength we say, "Of course we should!"  When we hear the Apostle Paul in his epistles talking about thinking of others as more highly than ourselves, putting others first, being forgiving we say, "Of course we should!"  When we hear John in Revelation talking about how even now just the vision of God's glory should draw from us a song of praise that rises above all else we say, "Of course...!"  But when this same sacred Book challenges us to have a tithe as the central part of our personal finances, the priority of our monthly budget we say, "Hey, that's a little extreme."

We cannot read texts like Proverbs 3:9-10 and 1 Corinthians 16:1-2 and deny that God expects our giving to Him to be our most important financial priority.  I like these texts because they remind us that our giving is supposed to be much broader than just a tithe.  Remember, there are eight principles I am sharing...these principles build on one another.  Tithing is certainly just a part of any Kingdom based stewardship plan but the tithe is the cornerstone.

Our family has had its share of financial crisis.  I still remember that fateful night in September of 2009 when we realized that the town home we purchased using as a down payment our life's savings was constructed with toxic Chinese drywall.  We lived the next 5 years on the precipice of bankruptcy.  We exhausted cash reserves we have finally replenished, accumulated debt we have finally paid, lost equity that has yet to be restored, tapped retirement monies that are still waiting to be replaced...our tithe was never negotiable, is yours?

I cannot expect to walk in the blessing of the tithe if I do not give in the spirit of the tithe.  Tithe demands a priority.  Otherwise, that monetary gift is just a donation.  Every act of material generosity that is given with the right heart and for the right reasons is a candidate for reciprocity.  That is for a another blog at another time but I assume most of you are familiar with the Christian concept of reaping what we sow.  But a tithe goes further.  A tithe is redemptive.  If I give out of what is left over, there is still the hope of reciprocity.  If I give my tithe as a priority and then build my monthly budget based on what remains, that tithe is not only a candidate for reciprocity, that tithe redeems the 90 percent that remains.  This is part of the supernatural side of life with Jesus.  There are times when God asks us to stand in a place of having less because He is trying to position us into a place of receiving more.  Receiving more is about reciprocity but also about redemption.  God's promise as related to a tithe is that reciprocity brings blessing to us because of what is given AND that redemption brings blessing onto what remains because of how I gave...a priority gift.

See you next week!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why I Tithe...the consequence

Check out last week's post for some background on this series of articles entitled "Why I Tithe."  There will be eight total and last week and this week were covered in a message I shared at our church, City Life, during the October 11th service.

I have been in vocational ministry since 1999, and in all those years, I have found that many people are uncomfortable with the idea of Christianity being consequential.  A national figure a few years ago was accused of apostasy for his book that bordered on the line of teaching a heretical belief known as universalism.  Why?  Because this author like many people eschew the possibility of God legislating consequences that are either temporal or eternal.  Too many people mistake the sacred concept of grace for permissiveness.

Grace does not mean there are no expectations...it means there is forgiveness...and forgiveness does not mean there are never consequences!  Let's just take the Pauline epistles for example.  I don't understand how anyone could read Paul's letters and not come to the conclusion that God expects MUCH of us!  And yes, when we fall short, which we will inevitably do, we can trust there is a loving, forgiving Father waiting for us.  But He doesn't change those expectations.  He expect us to do better next time...and oftentimes part of us learning that lesson and finding the motivation we need to grow spiritually is walking through the consequence of our foolish disobedience.

Malachi 3:7-10 should inspire us all!  Some brief history.  Malachi's ministry marks the beginning of 400 years of prophetic silence that is not broken until the beginning of the ministry of John the Baptist.  God likes a good dramatic pause!  We understand that this was God's plan for amplifying the message of John the Baptist.  When there hasn't been a prophet for four centuries, the prophet that breaks that silence is going to have the attention of the people.  But I believe God was also amplifying the ministry of Malachi.  If someone told you that you couldn't speak again for 40 years, two statements would matter...your final statement before silence and your first statement breaking silence.  Malachi is God's final statement before 400 years of prophetic silence.  Malachi is a book that we should read with a deafening effect...and one of Malachi's most pronounced themes is:  there are consequences for our foolish disobedience.

God suspends His prohibition against testing him in this text.  And what is the context of this test?  The tithe.  And this test is consequential.  If we are obedient, we are promised blessings that are the equivalent of an open heaven over our lives.  If we are disobedient, God says we will be under a curse.  A word of caution.  Do not picture God as some Harry Potter in the sky with an incantation He speaks over everyone disobedient to Him.  When I fully embrace all of God's decrees, all His expectations of me, I am living within the boundaries of life with God.  In that place, I am positioned under His "open heaven."  When I choose to be disobedient, stepping outside those boundaries, I am choosing to forego His blessings...I am stepping outside of His favor...that is the perfect picture of being "under a curse."  A blessed life is a life lived under God's authority.  A cursed life is a life lived under nothing, and in that place I lack His favor and am also spiritually vulnerable to Satan.

Two other great verses that speak to this idea of blessing and cursing are Proverbs 3:33 and 2 Corinthians 9:6-11.  Remember, stepping outside of God's boundaries occurs when we do what we should not but also when we fail to do what we should...sins of commission (I shouldn't have stolen that money) and sins of omission (I should have read my Bible).

When I don't tithe...there is a consequence...I am under a curse.  Not only am I forfeiting His favor but I am willfully choosing to live in a spiritually vulnerable place.

This is the second reason why our family has faithfully practiced tithing our entire Christian lives...the consequence!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Why I Tithe...the portion

Over the next eight weeks, I am sharing eight reasons why our family (Me, Vannessa, and our three children) practices tithing. I am teaching these eight at our Newport News Campus on Saturday nights so if you would like to listen, here is the link (October 11 sermon) to last Saturday.

I covered two in this sermon and will be writing on one of them today. These messages are part of a sermon series entitled #projecthope where we are following the word hope throughout Scripture. In my study, I wanted to see where "hope" appeared first in the Old/New Testaments, last in the Old/New Testaments, how often throughout Scripture, how many words in the original languages, any identifiable trends, and etc. These next eight blogs and next few sermons are inspired from the last mention of "hope" in the Old Testament which is Zachariah 9:12 during which God makes this amazing promise of repaying two blessings for every one trouble we endure. In reading that verse, I felt like the Holy Spirit gave me this truth: God has a Kingdom economy for us, one that is governed by His Scripture and never transcended by our conclusions. Tithing is a Kingdom economy concept. Tithing transcends human understanding...how can I end up with more by choosing to have less? So much of the Kingdom of Heaven is counter, opposite, backwards...relative to the rules that govern this temporal world. When my human understanding brings me to conclusions that contradict Scripture, I choose Scripture, the transcendent truth!

I tithe because I believe a certain portion matters to God, one that He calls a tenth part.

We find the first mention of tithing in Genesis. Abram (God has not yet changed his name) returns from rescuing his nephew Lot, defeated kings and armies in the process, was now in possession of the spoils of war and he gives a tenth, a tithe (which literally means a tenth part) to Melchizedek who was a priest and king (a prophetic picture of Jesus). This verse is important to me because this practice of tithing pre-dates the Mosaic Law. Biblical principles that pre-date the Mosaic Law are an important consideration. The Apostle Paul talks of faith, being justified by faith, teaches about Abraham being justified by faith, that being justified by faith pre-dates the Mosaic Law, observable through the study of the life of Abraham and his relationship with God. Tithing pre-dates the Mosaic Law. This is important because we know from studying the Pauline epistles we are no longer bound to the ceremonial and civil aspects of the Mosaic Law. Yes, tithing is taught in the Mosaic Law, but as a continuation of something that God had already established therefore it is not set aside like so much of the Mosaic Law.

The next mention of tithing that is profoundly instructive to me is found in Matthew 23:23. Anyone who says Jesus never talked about tithing may not have actually read the Bible! Here Jesus rebukes some religious leaders but in the text, He clearly affirms the practice of tithing. He actually says, "...you should tithe..." and that is a direct quote from Jesus given to us by the Holy Spirit through the gospel writer Matthew. So, these two verse are bookends for me. Genesis on one side and Matthew on the other. I believe this is intentional by God so we would not fall into the trap that some have laid for us that tithing is a part of the Mosaic Law that we as Christians should not now be expected to practice. Now I have heard some people acknowledge this text but in doing so point out this was a very specific conversation that Jesus had with a very specific group of people. I agree with that. However, I cannot agree that every time Jesus has a very specific conversation with a very specific group of people we should corral those teachings, separate them, and exclude them from Christian doctrine. If we did that, we would be setting aside a frightening measure of the total of Jesus' teachings... Christianity would then be reduced to a mere handful of precepts. All of what Jesus says should matter deeply to us all!

The Bible should never be leveraged to justify living less. Scripture is given to us to find a deeper way in...not an easier way out! The portion matters to God.

Next week I will share about the consequence...but if you can't wait, check out #projecthope in the link above or come visit us in Newport News on Saturday nights at 5pm or Sunday morning in Williamsburg at 10am (www.citylifeva.com).

Pastor Fred