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.

Although tithing is portrayed as a banner that we must exhibit on the walls of New Testament Church, it is still fabricated from the same cloth that was torn from top to bottom. We have decided to pick up those pieces and mend them with brand new cloth.

I don't believe i need to explain the consequences of mixing new wine in old wineskins, or of mixing cloths of different material. But i wanted to illustrate the warning signs.

The New Testament system of works - motivated by grace and influenced by the Holy Spirit, does not need any form of supplement, extension, or prosthesis to function. The gifts of the Spirit were given to empower and equip us with the necessary tools to accomplish our mission. If tithing was necessary in any form or fashion to fund God's operation, then He would have eliminated the Spiritual gift of giving and the opportunity to worship with freedom when the Spirit of the Lord is present.

If the Holy Spirit is capable of calling any man to the darkest region of the world, is He not capable of calling others to support him? If we do not use the levitical code to dictate how our ministers serve, then why do we use this code to dictate how we should give?

- jared
not interested in arguing with you dude, sorry
I apologize if it seems my comment was portrayed in a dissentious manner. With tithing aside, i appreciate the tone of your post, and can agree with the heart of what you are saying.

- jared
I had a feeling you saw something that you agreed with or thought was powerful, or else your comment wouldn't have had the zeal it had. I do appreciate what you had to say, actually. And I especially appreciate the tone of your second comment. Its not worth breaking unity in the body. Although that's not necessarily what would happen....I also just don't have time to argue over it lol. I might try to engage you more fully later....never know. In Christian brotherly love...thanks Jared,
I might point out that the widow tossed in TWO coins. From what I understand of the rules at that time, she was not allowed to toss in just one--not enough so disrespectful of God! So she had three choices. None, break the traditions and get into trouble, or all. That byplay is all but forgotten now. Note that the traditions were based on "reverence" to God.

In 1John God inspired John to tell us how to give to God--give generously to your poor brother. That implies you need to know about his needs. That implies loving relationships. That implies that we can love as God loves.

How can we love as God loves? "Abide in me..." said Jesus, "and I in you." When we are ONE with God by faith then we can love like God.

Just lurking through.
good stuff muddleglum....i actually didn't know that about the rules of the time. that's interesting. but i still think Jesus was pretty excited seeing her give like all she had out of reverence to God! no? just cuz it was a rule doesn't negate the act or the heart of the act, right?

and sorry for the late response. just saw your comment.
I am glad that I stumbled upon your blog. Nice post. I agree on your some points
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