Archive for October 13, 2012

High-Way Robbery?

Stewardship and money are not popular topics. Prayer is another subject we don’t talk about a lot or as much as we should, but what if we approached our topics in proportion to the frequency of their occurrence in the Bible? That seems reasonable. So, for example, money and possessions would be preached on in proportion to prayer in the same ratio as mentioned in the Bible. There are some 500 references to prayer, and 2,300 references to money and possessions. So, for every sermon on the subject of prayer, 4.6 sermons or discussions should be on the subject of money and/or possessions.Prayer is pretty important and very few would object to a sermon or article or even a series on prayer. With over four times as many references to money and possessions, it is a subject that merits our consideration, but why are we afraid to talk about money? … because there are TV preachers who have tainted our thinking about money? … because the world sees the church as greedy? … because we’re inundated with continuous appeals for various needs within the church as well as outside the church?

What the Bible says about money and possessions is related to who and/or what is number one in our life. Is God Number One or is the self Number One? In the Book of Malachi, the last book in the Old Testament, God laments being robbed. The word “rob” jumps out. It appears four times with its variation. Robbery is a pretty serious charge. It’s one of the Ten Commandments. There are several types of robbery – forceful robbery with a weapon, embezzlement, and the more recent identity theft. It also comes in the form of cheating. Three entities are affected by the type of robbery that Malachi talks about.

This is not to be taken lightly. We rob God when we deny God what is rightfully his. We deny God what is fully his when we hold our “tithe” from God or his church.  We say “Hey, I worked hard for that money. I have bills to pay.” Truthfully, all that we have is God’s to begin with. God allows us to have income. Our act of thankfulness is giving back to God an acceptable portion of what God gave us. “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (Psalm 24:1) God owns the entire world. We are merely tenants on God’s land. The very least we can do is offer a part of what we gain to God.

We find the CLAIM of God in: “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings.” (Mal. 3:8) God asserts that the Israelites were robbing him by withholding tithes and offerings. In Malachi’s time, the Jewish people had just returned from seventy years of captivity in Babylon. The land was in ruins, the Temple had been destroyed, Jerusalem lay in ruins. It was a desolate land, work was scarce, money in short supply and poverty ruled the day. They were a destitute people struggling to provide food, shelter, and clothing  for their families. They had almost nothing. There was drought in the land and their crops weren’t growing. In this dire situation, God says, “You are robbing me.” Can’t God see these people have nothing? They’re scrounging for food, they can’t pay their rent, they can’t buy new sandals for their kids, or enough grain to make a decent loaf of bread. Yet God says, “You are robbing me.” They argue back, “I can’t afford to give anything.” Have you ever made that claim?

No matter what our level of income or wealth, God expects us to give back to him a portion of what he has given us. Remember the widow with the two coins? They didn’t have much, but they had something. It’s not about the amount of the gift but the motive and sacrifice behind the gift. God says, “You are under a curse—the whole nation of you—because you are robbing me.” (Mal. 3:9) This is the CRITICISM of God. The word “curse” can be troubling as it is often associated with witches, wizards and magic potions, making it malicious and harmful. God is not saying, “I don’t like those people so I’m going to put a curse on them.” A curse is a matter of consequences. God is talking about the consequence of their action. As a consequence of their action or inaction, they received less and less. The consequence of failing God is the removal of the hand of blessing from our lives which is what the Jewish people were facing. Their poverty deepened with their unfaithfulness to God. Their partial unfaithfulness grew into full unfaithfulness. If one is faithful for 364 days of the year and unfaithful for only one day, one is still unfaithful. By being unfaithful, the people were bringing ruin to the entire nation. So when a congregation or any member is not carrying its weight, GOD IS BEING ROBBED. 

God is God and owns everything. God doesn’t need our money to be God, but the Church needs money to be the Church. In order to fulfill the mission of the Church, financing is needed for upkeep. The city does not give free electricity or water or gas. Repairs and maintenance aren’t free. The CALL of God is quite simple. God says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.” (Malachi 3:10) The storehouse is the centre of God’s activity. At the time of Malachi it was the Temple. Now it is the CHURCH. Which storehouse do we give to? The one where you are being fed spiritually? God calls us to support his ministry on earth. Jesus charged the Church to go into all the world and preach the Good News. Part of our duty, in addition to supporting the local Church is to provide for missions through Benevolence giving. In addition, we are charged to provide spiritual food for those who don’t enjoy the privileges we have. It’s not enough to have a nice sign and friendly people. We need to feed them with the spiritual food they need when they come. In the same verse, we read about the CHALLENGE of God. God challenges his people to support the work of the Lord. Malachi’s people were mired in desperate poverty, yet were challenged to rise above that and provide for advancement of God’s Kingdom.Paul wrote: “We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own free will….” The churches in Macedonia were very poor, but gave generously. Paul wrote this to a wealthy church in Corinth. The challenge is for us. We are wealthy. We may not be rolling in money but are quite wealthy compared to the rest of the world. God is challenging us to step up and step out in faith to support the work of God’s Kingdom through Benevolence and mission outreach.

By withholding our offering/tithe, we not only rob God and the Church, we rob ourselves of the blessings that God pours out on those who are faithful to him. That doesn’t mean we give solely to get, or buy, special favour from God. We cannot buy off God. God promises to supply the needs of his people who obey his commands. Tithing was a command that the people were expected to follow through just as much as telling the truth, being faithful, being kind, compassionate and loving God above all else. We rob ourselves of a vibrant relationship with God when we allow something to get between us and God. If we value money and possessions more than our relationship with God, then our relationship with God will suffer. We will lose fellowship with God if we don’t make God number one in our lives. Tithing is not about money. It’s about commitment to God, it’s about our relationship with God. When we fail in that commitment to God, we rob ourselves of a complete relationship with God.

It all comes down to our attitude of who owns what. If we believe we own all that we have, we will have a stingy attitude toward God. If we realize God owns all that we have, we will gratefully give to God out of a heart of love. The question is, “Who owns your possessions, bank account, and even your very life? We have no control of our possessions, money, or life. Our house might burn down tomorrow. The stock market may take a dive and slash the amount in our retirement fund. Our life may be taken at any time. We don’t own ourselves, much less the stuff we possess. God owns it all. God gave us what we have, It’s all a matter of our attitude toward what we have and who we are. “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 you will not have room enough for it.” (Mal. 3:10) God wants us to put him to the test. God promises to be faithful to those who are faithful to him. When you are faithful to God, he will supply your every need. If you are a faithful and cheerful giver, God will supply what you need.

Some of us are under the mistaken assumption that our church’s Investment, which we are so fortunate to have, is there to release us from our responsibilities. This is a great misunderstanding. Money can be both a curse and a blessing. It is a blessing in that it helps us pay for the upkeep of the Church and God’s challenge to preach the Good News and for God’s world. It is a curse in that it relieves us of our responsibility to God, to the Church and to ourselves. We need to think of money in a different way. Consider all the saints who were here before us and the sacrifices and contributions that they made to fulfill their responsibility to God, the Church, themselves and to us in leaving us a rich legacy. Imagine that they are sitting in the pews with us every Sunday, as they continue to support the church they loved through their legacy. We have no right to abdicate our own responsibilities by falling back on the gifts of others. That is robbing God, the Church and Ourselves. All we have belongs to God. We must never forget that.

Our forebears have set us an amazing example of giving back to God what is rightfully his. Let us continue in the same light of faith and generosity by responding to the CLAIM of God, the CRITICISM of God, the CALL of God, and the CHALLENGE of God. We do that best by remembering that we are called to be A Covenant People In Mission for Others. We have a covenant or agreement with God – we follow God’s commands – we give from the heart. In return we will be blessed beyond our dreams and expectations.