Last Sunday we talked about tithing - the responsibility of every Christian to give a tenth of their income to God. Our text was a hard one: Malachi 3:6-12.
“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. 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." (NIV)
It's a tough thing to give a tenth to God - everyone struggles with money, and to give such a big amount to God seems like a big load. But the verse comes with a promise, as God always does -- He won't leave us alone. This isn't a time to struggle and add pain to pain. Instead, when we're faithful to God, He'll be faithful to us, and much more.
As the saying goes: when you give to God, you always get more in return!
This is all theology though, and most of it is from the Old Testament. What about now? Does God still require a tithe from us? And will He really hold us up when times are hard? Does He reward our faithfulness?
The answer is a resounding yes! We had several members of the congregation come forward and share about a time when things were really hard, but they clung to God - and God blessed them beyond imagining. With financial help, with helping their children, or their health, or their struggles with addiction - God has no limits!
And God is always faithful. The only question is - are we?
Last night at our vespers service the group examined The Parable of the Dinner Party coupled with the The Great Commission. These two biblical passages focus on the idea of invitations. In the parable Jesus sets the scene by referencing the opportunity to eat with God in his Kingdom. Comparing it with a man who threw a dinner party and had his servant go and get the invited guest only to have his invitation rejected by those invited for various reasons. The man then instructs his servant to go and find anyone in the city and bring them to the party. Having additional space at the party he sends the servant to the outer fringes (the countryside) to get others to attend the dinner party. The man wanted his house full and he wanted those in attendance to be in need of a square meal, to be hungry. Last, the man states that none of the original invitees will get anything to eat at his dinner party.
The great commission which is Jesus' final instruction to his disciples, is about the invitation to go and train everyone you meet in this way of life i.e. making disciples, baptizing in the name of the Father, the son, and the holy spirit. Teaching them in all the things Jesus exampled and commanded.
The concept of inviting others into the fellowship, the Gospel, the salvation, the grace that comes with a personal relationship with Jesus was articulated in various ways by numerous members in the group. One of the things I took away from the evenings sharing was how different each of us perceives what the Dinner Party symbolizes and means.
One perception was that the original invitees were so close to the man that a dinner party had become common place and they were okay with not accepting because another invite would be forthcoming. And that those that were hungry for more intimacy with the man, starving for his food so to speak would not miss the opportunity. A desire of proximity to the man and his dinner party was desirable. Others needed more time to process the depth of the parable and its meaning for them. The group then was asked to answer the question of grading themselves on their individual responses to the great commission. How well we were going out and training everyone we meet in the ways of our lord and savior Jesus the Christ.
Most gave themselves failing grades, though a member who thought she struggled at going out was uplifted as to how her teaching the children in our Sunday school program was planting seeds in the children that were attending. In fact, several of our teachers are inviting children to know Jesus on a deeper level then they previously had known. Another shared how just earlier in the day she had an opportunity to speak with a member who had been away from the fellowship for a long period of time, but because she had taken time out to listen to this person and invite her back into the fold, she believed the person may be ready to return. Listening and being there and giving a personal invitation to the Dinner Party might restore hope. We ended with a time of prayer where each person shared a personal prayer concern with another and then that other person then prayed aloud for their concerns right then and there with the group also praying along in silence. An excercise in uplifting and caring for each other by communing with God in intercessory prayer.
Of course the fire pit was also enjoyable. There is something really spiritually powerful for me to be outdoors in fellowship with Gods creation of people and environment. Its very nomadic to be sitting around a fire in the dark of night praying and sharing our thoughts and beliefs with one another.
We know that we can't save ourselves by doing good things. Ultimately, no matter how hard we try, we'll never be perfect, and we can't earn our way into Heaven. It's just like Earthly law - if you get got caught stealing, you go to jail, no matter how many times you didn't steal that car! So it is with God.
But last night we talked about the other side of the coin. As Christians, it's not enough to just rest on our Savior, lay back, and wait for Heaven to come to us. We have responsibilities! And as James said, if you have real, living faith, it will propel you to good deeds. But what does that look like?
We got some powerful answers. Of course, Jesus's Golden Rule: "Do unto other as you would have them do unto you." If I was hungry or cold or afraid, I would want you to help me, even if I didn't really know you. If I'm really in need, I don't have the luxury of being picky about who I ask. So when we turn it around, we see that whenever we see need, Jesus commands us to help -- no matter who is the one who needs us.
There were others, too. After Peter getting out of the boat to walk on water with Jesus, someone said "A good deed coming from faith is when you step out to do something you know is impossible, but you feel God telling you to do it anyway." What is God calling you to do that you know you absolutely cannot do?
And most humbling to me was the story of Moses leading Israel through the desert. His journey started so well: the amazing display of force and glory in Egypt and leading an entire nation of slaves into freedom. They walked across the Red Sea on dry land, received divine law in the Ten Commandments at Sinai. But for forty years after all that, they wandered through the desert. The glow wore off and the people complained. They were hungry, they were thirsty, they were tired. They were sick of walking and sick of the desert, to the point where many wanted to go back to the "good old days" of brutal slavery!
But for forty years, Moses faithfully led them, corralled them, managed them, all with God's help, so that they could enter the Promised Land. And at the end of that time, he didn't even get to go in. He gave his whole life, laboring for people who resented him, trying to prepare them for this grand gift God would give them, and he never even got to see it. He did this on faith, because he loved God.
What is God calling you to work for? How will you serve?