Sunday, October 17, 2010

What's in it for me?

Every once in a while, a pastor or minister will preach a sermon on something that believers "ought" to be doing. Praying, reading the Bible, tithing, and so forth.

Let's use tithing - a largely misunderstood concept - for the sake of argument. It's commanded in Malachi 3:10 - give a tenth of the income to God, right off the top. After exposing their heart attitudes of "giving God the leftovers", God actually dares the people to test the principle of "tithing off the top of the pile" and see for themselves the blessing He will pour into their lives because they put Him first.

Face value is face value; the principle of tithing does work. But fear value is fear value too. Jesus is about the heart. He is about generosity out of a sense of gratitude, not out of a sense of obligation or of fear of what will happen if we don't "toe the line."

I believe in tithing; I tithe because He gave everything for me, and to remind myself that He gets first place, my best, not leftovers. Time after time God has provided for me as I have given Him not only my money but also every area of my life. I'm not disputing that tithing "works"; I have experienced it in my life. But to hear some of these preachers talk, you'd think that God is into retribution if you don't tithe, that the church isn't in revival because not everyone in the whole church tithes, that the reason why the Lord's return isn't happening is because somehow we are preventing it by not doing what we are supposed to do. The rules and regulations start coming out of the woodwork, and always and ever, the "promise" of blessing (or the withholding of it) is held out like a club over your head.

That wasn't God's intent. He wanted people to give their money, not because He needs it (because He doesn't!!) but as a symbol, a reminder that He made the first move by making it possible for us to even approach Him in the first place. We give out of gratitude for what He has given, not out of a desire to get more (even if we DO intend to bless others with it!) Focusing on the blessing in store - is bribing (see the drawing above) and it misses the whole point. It puts the focus on our performance, not on Him. The whole idea of 'blessing' (and the crafty ones say it's not just financial blessing but miracles, revival, etc.) in return for tithing, just panders to the idea that we can help God do His work, that we can hinder His plan by not doing what we are "supposed" to do, that we can make His kingdom appear on earth just because we open our pocketbooks or our wallets. Another term for all that is "the pride of life." The "reward" aspect of it appeals to the lust of the eyes (it looks/sounds good, appeals to our sense of equity) and the lust of the flesh (we can get more stuff if we give more). The enemy perpetrates this kind of "gimme" heresy by mixing it with the truth that putting God first in everything is its own reward.

The missing ingredient (as with all religion-based heresy) is the heart-attitude. It's out of a profound sense of thankfulness that we give... not to get a blessing.

Jesus started a kingdom of the heart without money. Not without personal cost to Him - but without money. He Himself said that His kingdom is not of this world because if it were, His servants would fight. He was the One who took the initiative. Humans had nothing to do with this. Humans didn't choose the time of His coming; God did. Humans didn't even believe He was who He said He was. He came anyway. Even if NOBODY ever accepted His free gift, He STILL would have gone to the cross. That's love. That's heart. That's giving.

That's the point.

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