Out of the Cold

It is a cold day in east Tennessee. Two days from now, the weather professionals are saying we will have record cold temperatures. Not something to look forward considering the homelessheating my home has decided to go out.  I am thankful for my wood stove which is knocking off some of the chill. Though thankful, I am aware of how much I take for granted the seemingly small things, like heat and walls to block off skin-biting winter winds. What about the homeless with no shelter, no winter coat to protect exposed skin from freezing temperatures? How will they persevere out in the cold? 

God has been gracious to allow me to be cold “out of the cold.” My house inside is frigid, but I am not frozen. I still have shelter and can drink a hot cup of coffee. He has provided the means to get my heat fixed so I know this is temporary. Many out in the cold know that their situation is anything but temporary. It is the reality of their lives and they too must persevere. 

So instead of complaining of how cold my house is or that my heat doesn’t work, I must focus on the goodness and kindness of God that this is a short term inconvenience and remember that He is the only true warmth and shelter from the cold.


Tithing in 2014

We are now exiting the season of giving and beginning a new year. This is the time when many, including myself, will make resolutions for a variety of things. I have chosen in recent years to just call them goals and I follow through on some, but fail on just as many, if not more.

This year I challenge you to continue the “giving spirit” and resolve to tithe to the local church you attend each week.

This past year, I asked several people this personal question: Do you tithe to the church you attend? I then followed up the question with Why? if they answered yes and Why Not? if they answered No. Most that answered yes said that they do so because that is what the Bible says to do and they wanted to be obedient. Those that answered No had a variety of answers ranging from “Can’t afford it” to “Tithing is part of the law and I am not under the law.” One person said No and then immediately followed it up with “and I am living in disobedience now.”
One thing is interesting if you ask someone if they tithe. If the response is “Yes, I give to the church,” then the truthful answer is probably no to the actual question. In my questioning, if someone replied this way I would clarify the tithing part of the question, meaning do they give 10% which is what a tithe is by definition. Giving statistics have consistently shown that most Christians do not tithe, yet if they drop a dollar in the offering every now and then, they will claim that they tithe because they have confused tithing and giving.

So why tithe and why resolve to tithe in 2014 and every year thereafter? 

In Malachi, God uses some of his strongest language regarding the tithe:

8 Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 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.11 I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. 12 Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts. (ESV)

It is clear in this passage that God viewed the failure to tithe as robbing Him. He even says to test Him in this, the only time he says this. He promises blessing and provision in this. I know that many reading this will respond with the point that this was part of the old covenant law which is a fact I will not dispute. So let’s get into the New Testament and a passage that is too easily dismissed by most believers. The words coming from Jesus’ on mouth as found in Matthew 23:23:

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. (ESV, emphasis added)

The argument against tithing in this passage is that the main point of Jesus is that the religious leaders are putting an emphasis on tithing even the smallest of things while neglecting living lives that model justice, mercy, and faithfulness.  This is true, but ignores the commendation and approval of the tithe in his words “These you ought to have done.”  When I read Jesus saying you ought to do something, I take notice that this may be important. Commentators and even some of the leaders of my own church downplay Jesus saying we ought to tithe by pointing to this taking place before the cross and the new covenant being sealed at the cross. Because the law was still in force, his words aren’t a command for what comes in the new covenant.  I won’t dispute this either, but find it troublesome since we could throw out most of the gospels and Jesus’ words about how to live if we are consistent with this application. I will agree  with the fact that tithing doesn’t save anyone, but neither does loving my neighbor or making disciples. These are all actions that result from a heart and life that has been saved. They are the fruit.

So, we see that tithing is important to God and Jesus (as his incarnation), at least under the old covenant law.

There is a fascinating character in the book of Genesis called Melchizedek.  He is found in Genesis 14:18-20.

18 And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine. (He was priest of God Most High.) 19 And he blessed him and said,

“Blessed be Abram by God Most High,
    Possessor of heaven and earth;
20 and blessed be God Most High,
    who has delivered your enemies into your hand!”

And Abram gave him a tenth of everything. (ESV, emphasis added)

So why is this important? Let’s go back to the NT and the book of Hebrews, chapter 6:17-7:3, in the New Testament where Melchizedek is mentioned again.

17 So when God desired to show more convincingly to the heirs of the promise the unchangeable character of his purpose, he guaranteed it with an oath, 18 so that by two unchangeable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have fled for refuge might have strong encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us. 19 We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain, 20 where Jesus has gone as a forerunner on our behalf, having become a high priest forever after the order of Melchizedek.

1 For this Melchizedek, king of Salem, priest of the Most High God, met Abraham returning from the slaughter of the kings and blessed him, 2 and to him Abraham apportioned a tenth part of everything. He is first, by translation of his name, king of righteousness, and then he is also king of Salem, that is, king of peace. 3 He is without father or mother or genealogy, having neither beginning of days nor end of life, but resembling the Son of God he continues a priest forever.

Jesus is in a superior priestly role in the order of Melchizedek, the order that is forever and has no beginning nor end of life. Melchizedek basically appeared out of nowhere in Genesis and Abraham recognized his worthiness as the priest of the Most High God. His response: He gave him a tenth of everything, a tithe. Jesus is in the same priestly order and like Abraham, our response “ought to be” (to use Jesus’ words) a giving of a tenth, a tithe.  It is important to note here that this Melchizedek encounter is prior to the law and stands apart from it. The tithe response to the High Priest predates and transcends the law.  God ordained tithing long before a formal mandating of it in the written law.

Do you want to draw closer to God and learn more about who he is? I hope your answer would be yes, especially if you have managed to make through all my wordiness that has come before this point. The discipline of tithing will help facilitate the closeness you desire. It is not a stand-alone discipline but in conjunction with prayer, reading and studying God’s word, worship, and fellowship with other believers, you will learn to trust God to give you what you need for the current moment…your daily bread, so to speak. When you give God a tenth on the front-end, God will prove faithful in providing what you need through every moment. God does not promise to give you everything, but everything you need. Tithing comes down to what you believe about God. Do you or I really trust God to take care of us? If we do, then we tithe first thing, knowing he will provide. If we don’t trust him, we handle all of our financial needs (and greeds, I might add), then give out of what is left over. If God is first, put him first. If he is not, then we need to stop pretending and deceiving ourselves and just say, “I will give God what is left after I get all that I want for myself.” None of us want to say that, do we? Our actions say it whether our lips do or not.

 I don’t know your heart or your financial situation and don’t want to be another Pharisee putting burdens on you that you can’t bear. I simply want you to consider tithing and see what God will do. I know from experience that it is hard, especially in hard times and when things come up. Trust me when I say that something will always come up. The enemy wants you to trust your circumstances and yourself more than God. Silence his deception and put your trust in God.

And don’t let it stop with tithing. God loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7) and it is more blessed to give than receive (Acts 20:35). Tithe to your church body, but give your time and additional money to other ministry efforts as well.

Happy New Year and Blessings on your 2014.