Monday, November 15, 2010

On Tithing/Giving

Disclaimer: I originally sent this as a private message to a friend who wanted to hear about tithing, so I apologize if at any point the intended audience seems mixed. I am going to try to modify it where appropriate for a blog, but in some ways it may not be possible.....

I want to speak of tithing in a particular order of things. I want to put it in its place, in its context of the overall story of what God has done and is doing on earth, of God’s love, and of our response to that love. Of God’s kingdom coming to rise up on earth and obliterate all the sickness and perversity and power plays that work to bring everything and everyone down. I don’t think I can just start blabbing away about tithing as if it is disconnected from a larger reality. So….

That larger reality starts with the overwhelming, unconditional, unstoppable and forever love of God...for YOU. When I went to the prayer vigil on Saturday that pretty much marked the end of my [church-wide 40 day] fast [not from food, for most members, including myself], I walked into the sanctuary, and was immediately overwhelmed. I had tears in my eyes before I uttered a single word of prayer in my mind, on my heart or through my mouth. I was wondering what was going on, and, still before I said one word of prayer, God spoke directly to me (this doesn’t happen too often), saying: “I love you. I have always loved you. I will always love you. I can never not love you, because I am God.” One of the names for God is Jehovah Jireh, which is typically translated as “The Lord will provide”, or “Lord Provider”, or something of the sort. God’s provision for us can never be separated from his abundant and never ending love that could never run out.

The story from which that name for God originates is that of Abraham’s near sacrifice of his only son Isaac. Keep in mind that God had promised, through a sacred covenant, to bless Abraham as a FATEHR OF NATIONS. And yet Abraham was like 100 years old or something crazy, with no kids. Then Abraham finally has his one and only young son (who was supposed to be near the head of the genetic line of MANY NATIONS), and God tells him to go to a particular mountain to sacrifice this precious boy. Abraham actually listens – out of pure and simple obedience!

Here are Abraham and his son trekking on up the mountainside with firewood, fuel to light the fire, ect, and do you think Isaac was wondering where the sacrifice was? Just as Abraham was about to bring the knife down on the boy, who at this point was tied to a stone altar that he had probably helped his dad build, and an angel stops Abraham, and tells him that now he knows he “fears” God. Keep in mind that in the Bible “fear of God” doesn’t mean “fear.” It means something like “silent wonder”, “radical amazement” and “affectionate awe.”

Just then Abraham SEES a ram caught by the thorns in the thicket that can be sacrificed in the place of his son Isaac. What “Jehovah Jireh” actually means in Hebrew isn’t so much “provider” as “The Lord Who Sees,” or “The Lord Who Will See To It.” In other words, the Lord is always with us, always here to care for us and our DEEPEST needs, no matter the circumstances – OUT OF HIS GREAT LOVE FOR US. The master of the universe watches over us in care. WE ARE NOT ALONE.

What God said to Moses in appointing him to lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt was: “I’ve taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt. I’ve heard their cries for deliverance….I know all about their pain. And now I have come down to help them.” 2,000 years later God’s one and only begotten son was sacrificed in my place to bring me out of my slavery to my uncontrollable and destructive life of sin and into a land of freedom and opportunity, where I am now in a place of greater freedom and joy than I have ever been.

Which brings me to the idea of OUR RESPONSE to this incredible love of God, who wants to be ever closer to us and will never let go. The way that Jesus most often referred to God in speaking about Him and praying to Him is typically translated as “Father.” But that is utterly misleading. This was the same word in their native Aramaic that a 2 year old toddler used when he was about to jump into the arms of his “DADDY” at dinner time with a huge smile on his face and a look of utter trust and delight in his eyes. Out of this simple trust in the One who created….everything, lol….the obvious response is simply to love Him back. To listen to what he says, and do it – just like that 2 year old. And trust that it is for the best. “Let the little ones come to me.” Obviously, for a long time when I was aware of God’s love, I did not do that.

What God wants is our HEART. What else can we give to God Himself? He just wants to be close to us, and He has done everything to get our attention, to woo us.

From Mark, Ch. 12: “Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.’”

What she gave was her heart, and God in the flesh was impressed, and very happy! I can hear the excitement in his voice! So then on a practical level, he also said: “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” He did not say that your heart gets all ushy mushy and full of joy and generosity, and then you give out of such a spirit. He said to simply put your money in the hands of God, and that’s where your heart, your trust, your mind and your strength will be also. The command in the Old Testament for tithing was that the Israelites give their first fruits. We give to God from the top of the harvest for a reason.

So all in all, the reason to give a tenth of our income to God right off the top is that it is a humble, awe inspired, small and utterly pitiful return on God’s investment in His very Life of love for you and me (most primarily demonstrated in the death and resurrection of His Son on the cross). But there is a little bit more reason, too, which is sort of an added bonus :D Luke 6: 38: “Give, and you will receive. You will be given much. It will be poured into your hands – more than you can hold. You will be given so much that it will spill into your lap. The way you give to others is the way God will give to you.” I’m not an expert on this one, because I’m too much of a saver still at this point in my life, I guess. But my pastor and his wife have literally given EVERYTHING away three times now, in an effort to out-give God, and they have failed miserably, lol. He now drives a corvette.

From Malichi, Ch. 6: “’I the LORD do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 7 Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the LORD Almighty.

‘But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

‘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. 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. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,’ says the LORD Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the LORD Almighty.

The other thing God said to me directly, this one once I was already in prayer during the prayer vigil on Saturday? “Turn to me, and I will heal your land. Rather than be angry and bitter at the world’s sickness, turn to me, and I will heal your land. Turn to me, and you will see that I will not fail you."

Interestingly, after Malichi wrote the above about “testing God in this” (the only place the Bible says to test God), the Israealites actually listened to Malichi, lol. So then the storehouses for overflowing when a great famine came through the land. And guess who was feeding who at that point? Yes, Egypt, formerly Israel’s slave driver, was coming to get the crumbs off their table.

As one of my best friends in Los Angels said (with whom I ran the coolest open mic in LA, by many accounts): “You get what you give.” Its like a fundamental universal law or something, lol. As an example unrelated to money in particular, I wrote this in my journal as a realization I had during that prayer vigil: “Before the 40 day fast, I didn’t really think it was possible for my needs for intimacy with that special someone to be met [at least, that is much of my history] Just as I didn’t think purity was possible. God changed my heart, my faith, and my very view of what sexuality and intimacy is about, bringing an order. I gave sex its proper place in relation to God and intimacy (basically), and now it all seems possible together.”

Then of course there’s the idea of tithing as a kind of spiritual discipline of “character formation”, as some folks in Christian circles call it. Basically for me this simply means that I am aware that at any moment I could or am prone to becoming a greedy douche bag who wants to hoard all my money and resources for myself, whether monetary resources, emotional resources, spiritual resources (in prayer, for example) or my time. Giving helps me to be more generous with all of those things, and just more generous and free spirited and joyful in general.

So yeah I think I’m done with my passionate rant now lol.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

How Tears Came To Be

One day in my third year of architecture school I was sitting in studio, very intently drawing some geometric forms after having read "The Poem of the Right Angle" by one of my favorite architects, and suddenly everything clicked. See, my professor seemed to be on to something ever since I had met him in first year. That was why I took him third year. I spent about two thirds of that third year moping around, because I couldn't figure out what he was talking about....ever. But I knew, by intuition, that somehow it was all connected, and that somehow he was correct in what he was saying.

Then suddenly this day, with this poem and architect in the background, drawing geometric configurations of how things come to be in the world (I realized as I was drawing them), it all clicked. I was filled with exhilaration and excitement, and was covered in goose bumps. I was so excited I was jumping up and down, and everyone around me (the late stragglers in our 3 hour studio class, who were having some typical deeply intellectual conversation with my professor and hadn't yet gone to dinner) was wondering what on earth was going on, lol. It wasn't the kind of thing you keep to yourself, so I had to go over to them and share. I felt a kind of high for the next day or so.

Well today something happened to me that reminded me of that experience. I had what has been for me lately an unusual period of almost two hours to sit, relax, read, and spend time with God as best you can in the middle of Starbucks. I have been reading Every Man's Battle (which I finished a little while ago) and Every Man's Marriage (even though I'm single), and I have gotten to the end of the Marriage one, where he starts to talk about sex. I am toward the end of the book, so I was expecting to finish with time to spare before I had to be at work. But he kept saying such simple things that were so profound and hit me so deeply that I found myself stopping, thinking and praying often (subtly, since I was in Starbucks).

I guess my heart must have softened, because the next thing I knew my life was flashing before my eyes, I was having a deep moment of repentance at the core of my soul, and I had tears streaming down my cheeks - right there in the middle of Starbucks. Just from reading the following rather simple few of sentences: "God knew our desire for intimacy - and how we could attain it - from the beginning. He knew that women give and receive intimacy through sharing, talking, hugging, and touching. After all, He created her so that men might not be lonely. These traits are perfectly fitted to that purpose."

The train of the authors thoughts were obviously heading somewhere, but he blew me right off his tracks with that, lol. I felt the same kind of exhilaration I felt that day in the middle of studio while drawing geometric forms, as well as the same desire to share with others this seemingly universal and powerful truth that had just hit me so squarely between the eyes!

So I had to stop reading, because "it all came together" for me! Just as I put so much energy in college into trying to figure out what my professor was saying, I have spent similar amounts of time, energy, and willpower lately trying to piece my sexuality back together after a lifetime of brokenness. I had mentioned that I was moping around campus that year, but recently I've been on this journey full of hope and joy, deeply moved by a new found faith in myself, in God, and in God's plan for my life. Suddenly lately, life-long purity seems possible, so its obviously an occasion for joy. And just as I couldn't quite grasp what my college professor was saying but had enough intuition to know he was correct, I knew the author of this Every Man series was onto something.

I was excited and inspired by everything he said about purity in Battle, and about how service, sacrifice and (mutual) submission edifies your wife (and the husband) in Marriage and tends to give her a feeling of intimacy, thus bringing life to the marriage bed (which is such a stronger and more central desire for the husband)....but....there was something more. Simply, why? Why was all of this so true? Architecturally, when I find myself asking why questions, I know enough by now to know that they are usually a clue to look back to the beginnings of whatever it is I'm asking about. But in the area of my sexuality, my weakness, my blindness, I couldn't see clearly enough to even think to look back to the beginning. Nor even to consciously ask "why?" And yet here was some relatively simple-minded macho-manly almost-anti-intellectual author - with a core theological notion about some funny "sin nature" and a thoroughly modern anthropology I don't enjoy or agree with - answering a profoundly simple question that I hadn't even thought to ask!! And in such a powerful way, with utter nonchalance, that he left me in tears. How humbling, lol.

And of course, because "it all came together" I saw ever so clearly how I had been tearing it apart for my entire life! In the presence of God, and with no thoughts of beating myself up over it, I was in full realization of just how in the wrong I'd been my whole life! I saw just how utterly blind and selfish I have always been. God set it up PERFECTLY - not only "IN MY FAVOR", but as a kind of "favor" to me ("God saw that it was not good for man to be alone") - and up until recently I have been doing EVERYTHING I POSSIBLY CAN to obliterate the fragile picture of unity, wholeness and intimacy that God painted on the souls of a man and a woman - FROM THE VERY BEGINNING.

God took her from man's rib. Woman CAME FROM MAN to be his companion. This is a rather deep and profound truth that I had intuited enough to ponder, but never really understand. This is another dose of "it all coming together" after my spending so much time, energy and willpower seeking after an amazing realization that included the simple fact that God made woman from man as his companion and then gave her all the most perfect gifts and desires for relationship at the core of her soul (such as being hospitable, sympathetic, caring, nurturing and a good judge of character) to meet that purpose and reflecting that origin. And lets not forget the never ending and amazing mystery of her beauty that draws us as well, and gives us all the more extra reason to cherish her and build her up! How amazingly magnificent for both the man and the woman!!

I mean, there it is right there in the script for the universe from the beginning, in plain English, ever so simple, and I not only missed it, but I trampled all over it with the way I constantly objectified women sexually (I mean in general, but not in every instance, of course, but you get the point). I ran hard after sexuality to find intimacy, while God, from the very beginning, had ALREADY SET IT UP for me to have the intimacy I was looking for, out of which sexuality arises!! How foolish could could I have been!? I could have said whatever I wanted about the value of woman and her gifts and tried to understand and listen to her as best I could, but my actions told the truth. I was being a selfish pig, and my selfishness blinded me to a reality not only of who Woman is, but to an ever so much greater general reality in harmony with how the universe came to be.

"Male and female He made them in his image." I guess there is a reason why marriage is depicted in the Bible as being analogical to worship. The joy of such a realization, combined all in the same moment with being impressed by the Holy Spirit to the point of such conviction of how wrong I have always been in my actions, thoughts and attitude - and in such a gentle and non-violent way - was overwhelming to me. So there I was, crying cleansing tears of joy and repentance all in one in the middle of Starbucks, lol. And I have felt high ever since.

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