Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Give and you will be _____

I am perplexed. In “KJV bible-ese” I may be getting close to “undone” (cf. Isaiah 6:5). We are currently doing a series on stewardship at New Life. I do not know if it is because…well I just do not know – but I was not looking forward to it.

It is not that I am against talking about money (a while back in a sermon I suggested with a Kingdom perspective we do things differently: like seeking to live on less in order to support a “missionary” or if both spouses work seriously consider giving a salary away to help the “least of these” – or to meet needs and then give it away, etc.). I suppose what I do not like is how quite often the way giving is talked about within the church rubs me wrong. In typing that please understand I am seeking to be humble because I realize the way I go about things may rub people the wrong way as well. I want to learn from others and humbly offer some reflections for others to ponder.

With all of that said, in reading, praying, and studying for this past Sunday’s sermon I became – well I am not sure what I became. If you are still with me I am not trying to be confusing. I suppose my hem-hawing around is due to how my eyes are continually being opened by God’s Word…and sometimes I do not like what I see. Perhaps more accurately that last statement should be what I see both excites and disturbs me.

I cannot recount the number of times I have heard Malachi 3:10 utilized when encouraging people to “tithe”. Last week I read and re-read Malachi several times (a good principle for Bible study). I do not know how many times I had read Malachi last week before I realized what verse 10 said. The plea is for there to be “food” in God’s house.
(Disclaimer: this sermon did not focus solely on Malachi; at the beginning of the week I had a thought of looking at Malachi 3:10 at some point in the sermon…so during the week I read and re-read the book several times. I mention this disclaimer to state it is possible I am wrong…BUT PLEASE if I am, help me by showing me – just be gentle as I am seeking to be). Please note, I try to keep these somewhat brief so they are read in their entirety…so please either a) stick with me or b) look at the cliff notes at the bottom of the post (if I remember them).

Malachi 3:10 says, Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Every verse has a larger context within a pericope, chapter, book, Bible. With this in mind if we quickly back up to 3:6 we read, “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed.” Another way of translating the end of verse six is “…O children of Jacob, have not ceased” or “…have not ceased to be the sons of Jacob” (Baldwin, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: TOTC). We must remember Jacob’s name meant he was a deceiver (cf. stealing Esau’s birthright). So basically YHWH (the LORD) is consistent, but so too are the “children of Jacob”. In other words, God is consistent in showing mercy and grace while His people are consistent in rebelling against Him. Ouch!! (Did I mention Malachi was a prophet? Also, 47 of the 55 verses in Malachi are in 1st person form directed at Israel as a collective whole – this last from Hill & Walton, A Survey of the OT.)

Yet I am sure you noticed v6 starts with “for”. In the Hebrew text this is a ki-clause, which is very important for understanding what is taking place. Basically it gives a reason for something (e.g., Malachi 1:14 says YHWH deserves the best when it comes to offerings “for” He is a great King).

So, we need to back up a bit further – for the sake of time we will only go to Malachi 3:5, “Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness against the sorcerers, against the adulterers, against those who swear falsely, against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the LORD of hosts.” The last part of verse five speaks loudly to issues of social justice. A casual reading of the Bible clearly shows God is concerned for “the least of these” – those who are in need and totally dependent on others for help.

So, we see God upset at the people of Israel for covenant unfaithfulness (e.g., Mal1:6ff; 2:10) which leads to (among other things) the oppression of people (e.g., Mal3:5). Not long after that we have God say (paraphrased) remember, all you have is Mine anyway…but if you bring in just the small portion of what I ask for…test Me…

Why does YHWH want the “full tithe”? Why does He say “test Me”? Is He promising a bigger blessing in that if you “tithe” He will materially bless your socks off to the point you are overwhelmed? This is often what is practically said (if not blatantly taught) with this verse – at least in my limited experience. Yet read Malachi 3:10 again, Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing UNTIL THERE IS NO MORE NEED.

I put the last few words in caps to emphasize them ;). Firstly, “until” is a temporal conjunction – meaning it is “time-bound”. In other words, God will do something until something else is achieved; in this case when there is no more need. This raises an obvious question, what is the need? Secondly, remember why he wants the “full tithe” – for there to be food, period. Remember the “oppressed” back in 3:5?

At this point I will mention how Deuteronomy 14:28-29 states every three years the tithe will be used to feed the Levite, the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow (and more other gracious acts were intended along the way). Hmmm…the last three of those are identical to Malachi 3:5. In fact, I think it is fascinating how the two sets form a chiasm (but I will not press the issue because these are two separate books…BUT it is really cool). Why did God say that in Deuteronomy? That YHWH may “bless you in all the work of your hands that you do.” This in turn obviously means the needs of people will be met. What does He promise in Malachi when the full tithe is brought into the storehouse? He promises to “open the windows of heaven” until there is no more need. Whose need? My needs so I can have what I want? No. The needs of the oppressed are clearly the focus.

For the sake of length I will begin to wrap up. I would say this is “part one” – but sadly I have yet to do “part two” of an earlier post (it is not that I do not want to…well, I suppose stewardship plays a part in it). So, what does Malachi 3:10 teach us? God wants us to give back to Him (and I did not even go into “the tithe” concept – that is another issue…) not so He can ipso facto (by that very fact) give back all the more to us (He may do so…in fact it seems often He does – He is serious about needs being met). No, He wants us to give back to Him so that the needs of others are met.

While it is not popular in our culture, the Biblical principle seems to be “no one has too much and no one does without…or has too little” (e.g., Proverbs 30:7-9). This raises an obvious question, “What is too much and too little?” That is not the issue of this post. The issue is there are real needs in our culture and around the world. I cannot remember where I first read/heard it, but 26,500 children die EVERY DAY due to poverty related issues. This saddens me – but not as much as it should I am afraid…

What is The Church’s responsibility in that? Well, those 26,500 children fit squarely into the groupings of Deuteronomy 14:29 and Malachi 3:5. Look at our church buildings. Look at our cars. Look at our clothes. More and more I am becoming a man “undone”…

Cliff Notes:
1. Typical ways of talking about finances “in church” bother me…
a. I realize what I do may bother others – there is grace for all (thank God)

2. Malachi 3:10 – a personal promise to “give a little and gain a lot” or a command to give back to God what is His (the portion for which He asked in the OT) so needs can be met?
a. The focus is on physical needs of people being met.

3. We live in an affluent culture that will never say “enough”.
a. This is a hard teaching for me…

Monday, November 15, 2010

But I Am Baptized [pt2]

So...I was doing good keeping up with sermons for a minute...

Part two of this will be coming (hopefully in the not too distant future).

Do We Really Believe in the God of the Bible?

I realize this title may strike some of us as a bit odd. Yet it is a legitimate question. Now, I am not going to delve into issues of hermeneutics (studying the Bible / interpreting Scripture) and applying those findings to life. Well, not too much anyway...because any reading of the Bible automatically makes one an interpreter [and Theologian :)]. What I mean by not delving into issues of hermeneutics is I am not going to get into caricatures we make of God (e.g., a “Calvinistic” God or an “Armenian” God or a "Prosperity" God or any other “Type” of God we like to put into a Theological box…it seems He busts all of those).

What I mean by “do we really believe” is – do we believe He owns everything? It seems Revelation 4:8b and 4:11 are clear. God is Eternal (Rev4:8b) and has Created Everything (Rev4:11). Translation, God owns everything (e.g., Psalm 24:1; 50:10-11). This means we are stewards. Therefore, we have been entrusted with what is His to do with it as we please. EENNT!! I am sorry, that is incorrect.

God has not entrusted us with what is His to do with it as please (although humanity often does). God entrusted us with what is His with the hope of us doing as He pleases. Just what exactly is His? Everything. We are to be good stewards of our time…friends…material things…finances…thoughts… you name it, it fits into the blank.

So a basic question. With what do you struggle the most in being a good steward?