Posts Tagged ‘generosity’

Deuteronomy 24:5-7 (Part 3 of 4)

Miscellaneous Regulations

Sometimes, we want something so bad that we will do anything to get it. We used to do that as kids. We would trade away something that belonged to us to another kid who had something that we wanted more than anything. Then, we got what we wanted. Then, we longed for the things that we gave up. We realized that what we got for our trade deprived us of the things that we valued and gave us no greater happiness.

 

We are sometimes like that as adults. Are we not? I know for a fact from my own life. Now, due to being smarter with my money and less enamored with appearances, my financial situation is the best that it has ever been. However, it has not always been so. There was a time in my life when I wanted all that was new and flashy.

 

Fancy vacation homes on the beach would be the way that I used my tax refunds instead of paying off debt is an example. Now, for example, this year, I had to replace by old truck, finally, because it gave up its life when the engine finally blew. I had been without a car payment for five years but had to go in debt to replace it with a newer car, an SUV, back in November. In February when I got my tax refunds from the Fed and the state, instead of blowing it like I would have a decade or more ago, I paid off almost all of the debt on my Toyota 4-Runner. I still owe about 4 grand on it out the original 12 grand. The old me would have thought, why pay it off when you can’t pay it off in full.  That would have been my logic as to why I could go blow 8 grand something new and flashy.

 

In an earlier time in my life, after the bad credit disaster that was my second marriage, child support from my first marriage, and a second divorce, my credit rating was ugly. But I still wanted to keep up appearances. I was a single again. I wanted to look the part. Dodge made a vehicle, at that time, that would make me look the part. I wanted that vehicle and I let a high-pressure salesman at local car dealership in Greenville, SC play on those desires. My credit rating was so poor that no major bank would touch me. Only Chrysler Financial would at a high rate of interest. You know you want it. But man that payment’s too high. I love that car but I can’t afford a $646 a month car payment. You know you want it. No, I can’t afford it. You know you want it. We’ve been here for hours trying to figure out a way to get you in that car. You know you want it. Finally, against all common sense, I agreed. Over the next three years with all the obligations that I had (on a much lower salary that I have now), that SRT4 was pretty but it was such a great burden on me. That was no way to save with that burden. Ironically, a decade or more later after wise financial decisions and saving and being smart with money, when we downsized our house and our mortgage this past year, my current house payment is less than what my car payment was for that SRT4 back in the day. Talk about trading your soul for a bright, shiny toy. That SRT4 was fun to drive. It would go 120 mph and still have pedal left. It was small but fast. Turbo-charged and pretty. That thing would fly and looked good doing it. However, that car almost broke me with the payment each month. Not to mention the higher car insurance because of the risk of high speed and small car made insurance companies nervous for some reason. Not to mention that insurance rates are based not only on driving experience, the type of car you are insuring but also on your credit rating too. I wanted new, shiny, and flashy and was willing to do anything for it. Then, after getting what I wanted, I found that it was more than I bargained for.

It was like that old show, Fantasy Island. If you remember that show from the late-70’s-early 80’s, people would come to the Island to experience their dreams, the things that they could never do in real life back home. The show was kind of a morality play on the premise of “be careful what you wish for.” At the beginning of each show, the person would really be enjoying their fantasy (sometimes it would be a homely girl getting to experience the life of a jet set model, sometimes it would be a guy imagining himself an athletic superstar when in real life he was a nobody in a cubicle farm living a life in anonymity). Somewhere around the midpoint of each installment of the show things would turn sour with the fantasy because there would have to be some choice made between good and evil. The person would have to choose between selling their soul for their fantasy or doing the right thing. Ultimately, by the end of the show, the person would realize that our fantasies are not all they are cracked up to be and that we should appreciate the life that we live now. That was my SRT4. It was my Fantasy Island. It was living the dream, but the reality is that I could not afford the dream and it became an albatross around my neck to the point that I had to let the car go back to the bank – which further exacerbated my poor credit rating.

 

It was only through the wise counsel of the woman who became my third and final wife, Elena, that I needed to quit chasing the American dream and chasing financial windmills and work on my credit. Through paying of old debts, making settlements on repossession, and using refunds and bonuses to fix my credit that I now stand before you as a man with an excellent credit rating. It was a long hard road I will tell you. But, now, with the help of my wife, we live simply and would rather own nice and functional rather than sell our souls for bright and shiny. We would rather have no debt and no worries than the newest, brightest, shiniest.

 

God does not want us to be slaves to our debts caused by unwise desires. With that in mind, let’s read the passage, Deuteronomy 24:5-7, and for this morning let’s concentrate on Verse 6:

 

5 If a man has recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.

 

6 Do not take a pair of millstones—not even the upper one—as security for a debt, because that would be taking a person’s livelihood as security.

 

7 If someone is caught kidnapping a fellow Israelite and treating or selling them as a slave, the kidnapper must die. You must purge the evil from among you.

 

God provides a law here that is meant to protect us from ourselves. God knows that we like bright and shiny. Sometimes to the point that we are willing to sell our financial future to get what we want. How many times do we increase our spending when we get a raise instead of saving? How many times do we go next level on the purchase of a new home instead of downsizing to what we can afford? How many times do we buy more than we need in a car? How many times are we slaves to our debt? How many times are we in a situation where we have more month than we have money?

 

Financial pressure robs us of our joy. Financial obligations beyond what we can do causes despair. God does not want that for us. He wants us to live with margin in our lives. He wants us to learn to live on less than we make. He wants us to know begin making idols of our debt – anything that gets in the way of our relationship with Him. Don’t get me wrong. God is not against us being wealthy. He just does not want us to become beholden to and make gods out of our money or lack of it. He wants us to use our wealth to impact the world for Jesus Christ. He wants us to have margin in our finances such that we can be generous people. He wants us not to make to make a choice between our car payment and helping our fellow man. He wants us to be able to be generous for eternal things not earthly things. Does moving into a bigger house that you can barely afford make a statement in eternity? Or does it rob you of your joy and your ability to assist God in the work of the Kingdom.

 

God wants to protect us from ourselves and foolish worldly desires. He does not want us to sell our soul to the bank. He wants us to be people with wisdom. He wants us to realize that we cannot take our toys with us so why let our toys rule us. Live simply. Be generous. Have margin so that you can breathe! Live so that you can help your neighbor! Live so that you can help expand God’s kingdom! Live with financial margin in your life! No greater joy is there when you are not constantly worrying about how to pay your bills! Enjoy life, not things! Enjoy having the freedom to be generous without thinking about! God wants that freedom for you! Let’s start today to live that way!

 

Amen and Amen.

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Deuteronomy 23:24-25

Alleviating Hunger

 

There was a song, released in 1970, by a group called the Five Man Electrical Band entitled “Signs” where part of the lyrics said this:

 

And the sign said anybody caught trespassin’ would be shot on sight

So I jumped on the fence and-a yelled at the house

“Hey! What gives you the right?”

“To put up a fence to keep me out or to keep mother nature in”

“If God was here he’d tell you to your face, man, you’re some kinda sinner”

 

It was definitely a protest song against the status quo of the establishment culture. All of us are about protecting our property nowadays and preventing others from stealing it or enjoying it without our permission. Written by Five Man Electrical Band lead singer Les Emmerson, this song is a prescient look at class divisions and property rights. Emmerson wrote the song after taking a road trip on Route 66 in California, where he noticed a plethora of billboards that obscured the beautiful scenery. This posed a question: Who is allowed to put up signs that interfere with nature? This led to another query: Who gets to make the rules that appear on so many signs? The song gave voice to those without power or property rights, which in many cases, were the young and the poor. Our society has become less about caring for one another and more about amassing property and protecting it.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I am a Republican and I believe in hard work and I do not believe in creating classes of people who lose the value of hard work through governmental support programs. There should be, in my mind, no permanent government help programs. All of them should be designed in such a way to push people back toward independence. There should be no government programs that perpetuate dependence on the programs themselves. There should be no government programs that create a class of people who have no desire or incentive to go back to work. There should be no government programs that are so attractive in the benefits that they provide that it is a penalty for a person to get a real job making real wages and paying real taxes. Except for a couple of very short periods of unemployment, I have worked continually since I was age 14. I have always wanted to work and worked hard at whatever I have had as a job. Therefore, having sympathy for those who seem unwilling or desirous of working for a wage, whatever that may be, just blows my mind. I realized at my first job, at the Furman University Dining Hall, cleaning up after snotty nosed rich kids that I did not want this to be my life. It began a journey of working hard to continually better my skills, education, and experience. I realized then that the minimum wage is just a starting place and that if I wanted more I needed get more experience, education and skills to move beyond where I started from. I never saw the Furman Dining Hall as a career destination.

 

Having said all that, we do now live in a society of government programs for this and government programs for that. Our federal and state governments are behemoths now compared to what they were just say 75 years ago. We now look for the government to take care of the gaps in the social fabric. It did not used to be that way. There was a day when we churches and families took care of their own and took care of people in the community. We complain about the size of government and how some government programs perpetuate dependence on the government.

 

Somewhere along the way, we forgot how to share our wealth with one another. We became a nation of fenced in subdivisions. Enclosed communities with fences and signs everywhere. We have become a nation of alarm systems to protect all the toys that we have amassed. We have become a nation where we are protecting our stuff rather than sharing what we have. We have become a nation that on average gives 2% of our income to our churches even though we have been commanded to give much more. No wonder the churches can no longer serve the poor. We have become a nation where charity has to have spotlights shined upon us as we give. We no longer are a nation of Christian charity.

 

That song by The Five Man Electrical Band was what popped into my head when I read this passage for today, Deuteronomy 23:24-25:

 

24 If you enter your neighbor’s vineyard, you may eat all the grapes you want, but do not put any in your basket. 25 If you enter your neighbor’s grain field, you may pick kernels with your hands, but you must not put a sickle to their standing grain.

 

In this passage, this remarkable law indicates that ultimately the Lord owns Israel’s land. Thus, providing for the poor from our land is recognition that we are simply stewards of the bounty that the Lord provides us. It is also a warning to those who benefit from our charitable giving from our bounty not to abuse the privilege. When hungry, we may rely on the farmer to provide for our needs but we should get only what we need to alleviate our immediate hunger and should not steal the entire harvest of the farmer. We may get what we need for the moment but we are not to set ourselves up for the winter. We did not work for the grain that the farmer produced so we have no right to take more than only what is necessary to get us by – alleviating our immediate hunger.

 

Therefore, this passage is both charitable and responsible at the same time. We are commanded to be generous with the bounty that we have been given. God expects us to use our bounty, our wealth, to solve problems of hunger and poverty. We are called to share our wealth rather than hoard it. We are called to give succor to the poor and the widows and the downtrodden rather than hoard our wealth behind fences and alarms. We are called to live simply and be generous. We are called to take care of the hungry in our midst. We are called to do more than buy big screen TVs, buy Alexas so that we don’t have to lift a finger to do research, buy cars that can park themselves, boats, and jet skis, pools behind fences, five computers, and five cell phones. We are called to be a generous people not people who need fences and alarms to protect all the crap we buy and think we need.

 

At the same time, those of us who need assistance, should not think that we are entitled to millionaire lifestyles without doing the work necessary to gain that lifestyle. We need to end a generation of people thinking that McDonalds should provide you with $15 an hour. We need to raise a generation that sees McDonalds for what it is – a place to start. We must teach the value of hard work to the next generation. We must build government programs to be what they were intended to be – temporary stop-gap measures while people figured out how to get back on their feet. We must not think that people who have worked hard and earn good money as the enemy. We should aspire to be like those who have put in the hard work and effort to get where they are.

 

We are called to be a charitable people as Christ followers. We are called to be generous. We are called to help set others on their feet and not leave that job to the government. We are called to get out from behind our fences and alarms and be in the world and using our bounty and blessing to solve real problems in our world. We are called to give rather than gather. We are called to give rather than amass all the toys we can. We are called to give to others sacrificially just as Jesus gave to us through His sacrifice on the cross. We are called to be so generous that our churches can actually help any person that needs it in ou community rather than think its somebody else’s job. We are called to be generous by God. Ultimately, He is the Creator and it is from Him that our talents are given. It is from our talents that we earn our livings. Therefore, it all comes from him. Why then are we so intent on seeing it as ours and whomever has the most toys at the end wins? Be generous. Be uncommonly caring for those in need around you. But let us help in ways that will set people up for independence rather than dependence. And let us be people who, when in need, take only the charity necessary to get ourselves back on our feet.

 

Wise counsel from the Lord in two very short verses.

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 16:9-12

The Festival of Harvest

In its research on the topic of tithing….wait! come back! Where is everybody going….OK. So, let’s start again. In its research on the topic of tithing, I recently read an article, “What Would Happen if The Church Tithed?” by Mike Holmes in the online version of Relevant Magazine. From his research for the article, he learned that tithers often make only 25% or less of the typical congregation. Christians give less, on average, now to their churches (on average 2.5% of their income) than churchgoers gave during the decade of the Great Depression (on average, 3.3% of their income). Holmes pushed the supposition of what could be done by the global church if every post-salvation maturing Christian tithed. He estimates that there would be another $165 Billion (that’s right, billion) annually in the coffers of churches. What could be done with that additional money, he asks. He says that:

 

  • $25 Billion could be directed at world hunger and it could be vanquished within five years.
  • $12 Billion could be directed at global illiteracy and could be a thing of the past in five years.
  • $15 Billion could be directed at solving clean water and sanitation issues globally
  • Only $1 Billion is all it would take to fully fund Christian missionaries the globe over.
  • And then the remaining billions could be invested locally by churches to impact their town, their nation, and their world for Christ.

 

Just imagine that world! Just think about the impact that your local church would have if everyone took seriously the point of putting God first in our finances. Just look at my church. At my church, last year, 485 giving units gave at least one donation during the year which generated our church’s funding for 2016. The average giving unit donation (I say average because the 485 includes a number of people only gave one time all year) for our church was $1,600 annually ($133.33 per month, or approximately $31 per week). If that was tithing it would mean that our church’s average annual income was only $16,000 per year. Further, the 485 giving units means that there is a whole segment of the average 700 attendees to our church that do not give at all.  Just say the statistics show us that the median income in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area is approximately $50,000 per year. What if that represented who we are as a church. What if we tithed based on the statistics? Just say that there is always going to be that 10% of your attendees that do not give so that knocks us down to 630 potential givers each Sunday. That 630 represents family giving units so we must divide that number by 2.5 (to account for single people being less than two people but making up a giving unit and to account married with children which on  average is 4.5 people per giving unit). That leaves you with 252 giving units potentially on each Sunday. Then making on average $50,000 per year were giving each Sunday and were tithing on their gross income. That’s $96 per week per giving unit times 252 potential giving units which equals approximately $24,200 per week and that would equal $1,258,400 per year. $96 per week per giving unit would amount to an average giving per year per family of almost $5,000 per year. However, our average per giving unit is 30% of that and our annual budget is about 60% of the potential that I mentioned earlier. What a difference we could make in our community if we gave to our fullest potential. What a difference could make in spreading the gospel message. What if we did not have to choose between paying the light bill and lighting up the community and our world with the loving message of Jesus Christ. It boggles the mind when you think about it.

 

I am not writing this to condemn anyone or guilt anyone into giving more than they do, but rather to give and idea of what could be and how far and deep we could impact our world with the gospel message. As we see in Luke 8, there were those ladies in Jesus’ traveling entourage that helped finance Jesus’ earthly ministry from their own means. So, yes, there is a business side to the gospel message. It costs money to spread the gospel. That is just a fact. As Mike Holmes said in his article, what it all God’s people really grasped the idea of firstfruits. What if we all gave the best of our modern day “crops” to the Lord right off the top. That is what I thought of this morning as I read Deuteronomy 16:9-12. Let’s read it together now:

 

9 Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.

 

The key phrases in this passage are (1) giving in proportion to the blessings given us and (2) remembering that we were once slaves. I think it is important that we remember how richly blessed we are by God each one of us. In the United States, we are blessed beyond measure. Travel abroad and see how some people have to live. You come away realizing just how mightily we are blessed. Things that we take for granted are luxuries in some parts of the world. There is an old saying that you can tell a hungry man about Jesus until you feed him. We are blessed to live in this country and we could have easily been born elsewhere, say, maybe, in a third world country, barely eeking out an existence. We did not earn being born in the United States. We were born here by the grace, the grace only, of God. With great wealth comes great responsibility. Even us middle class folks are part of the richest 2% of people in the world. We did nothing to come by our access to the things that we have in the United States. It is a gift from God that we were born here. Therefore, we should simply be thankful for that when it comes time to give to the churches that we go to. We should be living lives of thankfulness for just being born in this country. Just think if we all acted as if we were thankful to the Lord for this blessing alone rather than thinking that we somehow deserve it all. That might lead us to live lives of generosity. That might lead us to give God the top 10% or more of what we make. That might lead us to change the world through the uncommon love and generosity of Christians rather than being Christians who think like the world and think that whomever has the most toys at the end, wins.

 

The second thing we must remember when we think of being obediently generous to our church is to remember that like the Jews being slaves in Egypt, we too were once slaves to sin that condemned us to hell for eternity. We deserve hell but yet when we gave our life to Christ, He covered our sins and imputed His sinlessness to us. We do not by rights deserve this grace. But we serve a generous God. He gave us what we needed to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus. He gave this grace to us. We did not and do not earn it. We can’t be good enough to make up for the taint of the sins in our lives. The first sin and all the others after it make us unholy and undeserving to be in the presence of the Lord in eternity. But God is so generous and loving toward us even though we don’t deserve it. He gave us our prize, the perfection of Jesus Christ that we are clothed in when we accept Him as our Savior. So, we should be living lives of complete adoration and thankfulness to our Lord. Our secured eternity should give us this essence of thanksgiving that transcends and permeates everything we do. We should give God our best no matter what it is. We must give Him our best, then, too, in our finances. He should get the best of that too. He should get our best “crops” not our leftovers. It is an act of thanksgiving. It is an act of obedience. It is an act of trust. Trusting God to do reach the world through each of our donations to our church.

 

Just think what an impact, the bride of Christ, the church, could have on a dead and dying world if we all understood the concept of giving God the best of the fruits of our labors. What if we quit trying to keep up with the Joneses and tried to keep up with the ways of God. What if God’s people gave because they saw it as an opportunity to participate in sending the gospel message out into the world. What if we saw it as being able to participate in life change. What if we saw it as an opportunity to contribute to reaching people and their coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

 

What if…

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Deuteronomy 15:1-11

Release for Debtors

Yesterday, we talked about a story of a girl who cried a river and changed the whole world. We borrowed the chorus from a song by a group called Nine Days as a lead-in to our story. It was a fictionalized story with real examples that we see every day. It was a story about a single mom who had two kids that made some poor choices as a teenager and was now deeply awash in a lifestyle where it was difficult for her to rise above her financial situation. She is the type of person who gets locked into poverty by some poor choices of their own, the choices that others sometimes force upon us, and sometimes by the combination of life choices and the expectations of the world around us. There are those around us who live on the edge of disaster on a daily basis.

 

Many of us look upon those who are poor as deserving of their poverty and/or that they simply want the government handouts that are doled out to them. Sometimes, that may well be true. There are certainly those out there that “are just working the system” to get what they can get without having to work for it. They actually feel that the world has made them this way (not their own choices) and they deserve to live off the government and the guilted generosity of others. Probably the majority of people that come seeking help at our church each day the church office is open are the career charity seekers that bounce from church to church and from agency to agency trying to get what they need. The story is always urgent and they typically always want cash. These are the career charity seekers. However, there are those who are genuinely in need. Being able to tell the difference is often difficult because the natural inclination becomes jaded after a while and you automatically think that a person is just “working the system.”

 

Then, there are those who genuinely need help that want to be above the poverty line but circumstances are keeping them there. There is a girl that my wife knows that has made some poor choices in life for sure – the biggest of which are two choices to sleep with men that she was not married to and that resulted in pregnancies. She has an oldest son who is ten who lives with her mom’s choices every day. A gentle little soul is he and he has bounced around from crisis to crisis with his mom. The second pregnancy resulted in another sweet little boy but this boy was born with down syndrome. This mom loves her children immensely but the needs of her youngest child keep her from holding a steady job of any kind. He requires constant attention. Doctors appointments galore. Development challenges are daily. Yes, she made poor choices and it seems that those poor choices are going to haunt her for a long, long time. This single mom knows now that she is living with her poor choices. She knows her poor choices have caused her to live permanently on the edge of one financial crisis to the next. However, she is truly one of those people that are not able to work. My wife invests much time and tenderness with this woman and just loves her. My worry with any investments that we make in her financially are just band-aids. My worry is how can we get her to a place of independence. My worry is that such a day will never come. How can you continue to help someone when there is no way to improve their situation. You want to think that your help will result in making permanent life changes in someone’s else life. But what if there is no way to change things. Having a child with down syndrome is a lifetime commitment that strains even the best of marriages not to mention what is doing to this single mom. But when you watch this mom love her youngest child, it is a reminder that love never questions. Love just loves. This single mom is in love with her child and will do anything she can for him. She doesn’t care that never gets a moment of peace and that the demands are so demanding. She just loves her child. I know that she wants more out of life than she is getting. It is not that she wants to live in poverty and live from financial crisis to financial crisis. She wants to be free. She wants to climb out of the poverty hole. But she will probably remain there for the rest of her existence. So, do we not help her because she will never get out of the hole.

 

Then, there are those whom you help that are around us (sometimes even those that related to you) that never seem to get it. They always have reasons for their crises. They always have justifications. They seem to want to live out of an entitlement mentality. Maybe they grew up spoiled and think that the world is supposed to take care of them. They never seem to get the concept of that their own hard work will result in the improvement of their situation. They have amazing capabilities and they have nothing other than their own fears and rationalizations that hold them back. They, too, live from crisis to crisis and often only seek you out when there is a financial crisis that they need to avert. You want them to see that there is nothing that a little hard work and dedication and working at a job for more than a year can’t cure for them. You pray that someday they will get it. They often, upon receiving your help, say that they do get it and will do better in the future. But year after year you see no change of the crisis to crisis mentality and just a sense that they do not see past the next weekend. Do you have someone in your life like that? They live crisis to crisis. Maybe, they are the result of your unwillingness to let them show them tough love. Maybe they need to crash and hit rock bottom. Is this the story of someone close to you? What do you do? Do you stop helping? Do you cut them off and refuse to help in the slightest? Do they blame you when you don’t help them?

 

These are the tough choices of generosity. Do you help once. Do you help twice. Do you quit helping? Do want to see results as a condition of your help? We are called to be generous but we are also called to be wise. These were the things that I thought of today when I read about the forgiveness of debts that God called the Israelites to with the cycle of forgiving debts every 7 years in Deuteronomy 15:1-11:

 

15 At the end of every seven years you must cancel debts. 2 This is how it is to be done: Every creditor shall cancel any loan they have made to a fellow Israelite. They shall not require payment from anyone among their own people, because the Lord’s time for canceling debts has been proclaimed. 3 You may require payment from a foreigner, but you must cancel any debt your fellow Israelite owes you. 4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, 5 if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. 6 For the Lord your God will bless you as he has promised, and you will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. You will rule over many nations but none will rule over you.

 

7 If anyone is poor among your fellow Israelites in any of the towns of the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hardhearted or tightfisted toward them. 8 Rather, be openhanded and freely lend them whatever they need. 9 Be careful not to harbor this wicked thought: “The seventh year, the year for canceling debts, is near,” so that you do not show ill will toward the needy among your fellow Israelites and give them nothing. They may then appeal to the Lord against you, and you will be found guilty of sin. 10 Give generously to them and do so without a grudging heart; then because of this the Lord your God will bless you in all your work and in everything you put your hand to. 11 There will always be poor people in the land. Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your fellow Israelites who are poor and needy in your land.

 

In this passage, God told the Israelites to help the poor among them when they began to live in and possess the Promised Land. This command was an important part of possessing the land. Many people think that the poor are responsible for their lot in life. And if they just got off their rear ends and worked that it would change their story. In some cases that may well be true. But there are those among us that are going to always be poor because of personal limitations or by limitations of someone in their family that they must care for. Does the assumption about those who are working the system excuse us from helping anyone who is poor? This kind of reasoning helps us make our heart hard toward anyone in need. We are not to invent reasons for not helping the poor. We are to not ignore the issue altogether. We are to engage those who are poor and understand their story. We are called to be a generous people. Each one of us with the right sequence of circumstances and right length of those circumstances are only a couple of paychecks and a savings account away from losing everything we have. Everything that you and I have is simply a blessing from God and it could all be taken away in an instant with an extended period of unemployment, an illness of ourselves or of a loved one that saps the family’s finances, a major life event that sends you reeling into poverty because you can’t handle life for a while. We are all just a step away from being on the street.

 

No one is immune to poverty. We should not pride ourselves in what we have accumulated. We could lose it all in very short order. Therefore, we should be generous to the world around us. We do not judge others for their poverty. We simply help. Sure, we ask God for discernment when we are dealing with habitually lazy people but we do not write off all people as lazy. We do not ignore the poor. We get to know them. We get to know their story. We help. We love. We give. We help. We love. We give. We do this because God so loved us that He was exceedingly generous to a fault with us through Jesus Christ. God is a generous God. We are to be a generous people.

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 35:1-8

Towns for the Levites

As many of you know, I grew up as a preacher’s kid. My dad was a minister in the South Carolina conference of the United Methodist Church. For much of his career with the church as I was growing up, he served rural churches in farming communities outside of mid-sized towns in South Carolina. I was born during my dad’s first appointment in Lamar, SC. After that we moved to Anderson, SC. Then onto Walhalla, SC followed by Rembert, SC. After Rembert, we moved to Hartsville, SC. From there, we moved to Elgin, SC. From Elgin, we moved to Anderson for a second time. Once we were done in Anderson, we moved to Travelers Rest, SC (and, yes, that is the actual name of the town). After the Methodist Church decided to move my dad from Travelers Rest, I stayed behind at college at Furman University and got married to my high school sweetheart. My dad then moved on to Charleston and then to Spartanburg, SC. After Spartanburg, the church moved him to Woodruff and then to Bluffton, SC. After Bluffton, came Georgetown. After Georgetown came Conway. After Conway, came Union, SC. Finally, after 14 appointments and more than 50 years of full-time ministry, my dad went into semi-retirement and started serving two small churches in Iva, SC that could not afford a full-time pastor near his lake home until he fully retired a few years ago.

 

In all that time, as I was growing up and then watching my father as an adult, he earned his living and paid his bills based on the generosity of the members of the churches he served over those 50 plus years. He was a minister of God’s Word and he relied on the generosity of those who attended the churches he had served. We lived in parsonages as I was growing up. There was no home of our own to speak of growing up. My dad did not purchase a place to call his own until we were about to move from Anderson to Travelers Rest when I was a teenager. The parsonages were provided by each church and each parsonage was constructed by those churches, or purchased by those churches, through the generosity of the people of those churches. It kind of set up situations where the salary and the home were contingent upon not making people angry with the double edge sword of God’s Word. My dad was never shy about choosing to speak the truth of the Bible rather than compromise to keep his appointment to that church. In the Methodist Church with its interconnectional nature, every preacher is guaranteed a church and every church is guaranteed a preacher. So, there is a little more freedom to speak the truth of God’s Word because you know that the Methodist Church would move you to a new church if things got too rough. However, they could withhold raises and refuse to contribute their apportioned requirements to the state conference as retribution against a pastor.

 

Amazingly enough over those years, even with dad walking the tightrope of pleasing people while holding to the integrity of God’s Word, we never went without. Sure, being a preacher’s kid and my dad having a preacher’s salary, we did not have the finest things in the world, but we never starved. We never went without clothing. We never lived in a dark house with no electricity. The Lord always provided for my dad and his pursuit of ministry in the Lord’s name. I never noticed anything less than a normal childhood just like any other kid (except for the moving every two or so years). The Lord provided for us as my dad ministered to the people that God chose for him to serve.

 

It was that idea of making provision for those who dedicate their entire lives to serving the Lord as a full-time occupation that came to mind as I read today’s passage, Numbers 35:1-8:

 

35 On the plains of Moab by the Jordan across from Jericho, the Lord said to Moses, 2 “Command the Israelites to give the Levites towns to live in from the inheritance the Israelites will possess. And give them pasturelands around the towns. 3 Then they will have towns to live in and pasturelands for the cattle they own and all their other animals.

 

4 “The pasturelands around the towns that you give the Levites will extend a thousand cubits[a] from the town wall. 5 Outside the town, measure two thousand cubits[b] on the east side, two thousand on the south side, two thousand on the west and two thousand on the north, with the town in the center. They will have this area as pastureland for the towns.

Cities of Refuge

 

6 “Six of the towns you give the Levites will be cities of refuge, to which a person who has killed someone may flee. In addition, give them forty-two other towns. 7 In all you must give the Levites forty-eight towns, together with their pasturelands. 8 The towns you give the Levites from the land the Israelites possess are to be given in proportion to the inheritance of each tribe: Take many towns from a tribe that has many, but few from one that has few.”

 

The Levites were ministers. They were supported by the tithes of the people. The people gave them homes, flocks, produce, grains, and pasturelands. Likewise, we are responsible to provide for the needs of our ministers and missionaries so that they can be free to preach God’s Word in spirit and truth. We are responsible to provide for them even when their sermons cut us like a knife and expose our own sins. We are to provide for them because it is a command of God to provide for them. We are to be obedient to the to support our local church not because we like or love or dislike or hate the preacher. We are to support the mission of God’s church not necessarily the people carrying out the mission. It is not between us and the preacher. It is between us and God. He expects us to put him first in every aspect of our lives and that includes our finances. We are to give him the firstfruits of our labors. We are not to give it begrudgingly. We are simply trusting the Lord to bless our obedience. We give not to have a stake in what is done in our church. We are giving to be obedient to the Lord.

 

What results from that? We provide for God’s purposes in this fallen world. We provide first for our ministers who lead us in the ways of the Lord. We provide second to finance the spreading of God’s Word outside the church. We are to give not necessarily to finance big buildings and monuments to ourselves that our physical churches can be but we are to provide for a base of operations from which we fan out into the world. We provide to help people who need help. We provide to help get the gospel out into the world around us locally, nationally and internationally. We provide to help disciple our people into deeper and deeper relationships with our Savior. We provide to help preach the gospel to the next generation. We provide to help create weekly worship events where the gospel is preached and God is worshiped. We provide to make sure in any given week someone will meet Jesus Christ as their Savior. That is what we give for – for people to come to know the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

 

What if we are stingy and are not obedient to the Lord with our tithes or more (10% of what we make or more)? We cause all of the above to suffer. It is not someone else’s job to give to the Lord through your local church. It is about you and God. When you stand before the throne on your judgment day, when God asks about what you did with your life, can you present your boats, cars, vacations, and trinkets? When we stand before the Lord we want to say that we provided for eternal things. We provided for our ministers. We provided for Christ’s church. We provided for the gospel to be spread among the nations! We provided for the saving of souls. When I look back on my days as a preacher’s kid, I am thankful for those who provided my dad with a salary that, in turn, provided for my mom, my brother and me. So, my dad could preach the gospel for 50 plus years. So, my dad could preach God’s Word for to two generations of people that passed through the doors of churches he ministered. Are you investing in eternity? Or are you chasing temporary things? Things that you cannot carry to heaven! Would you rather stand before God and say that you were obedient to His commands and that you invested generously and happily in the kingdom of God!

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 18:8-32

Support for the Priests & the Levites

I am going to pull no punches today. This is a straight up challenge to who we say we are as Christians…

Have you ever wondered why churches struggle to make ends meet? Sure, there are large mega-churches out there that seem to have turned that corner and have sufficient funds to do whatever they want (or so it seems from the outside). The average church, according to Barna Research and other church statistical sources, of my church’s size, 600 per Sunday, with an average potential 350 in giving units (families or singles who are your potential givers), typically operates on a budget of $750,000. A budget of $750,000 would mean that weekly giving (online, mail and Sunday morning) averages around $14,425 per week. Statistics show that in churches of my church’s size, you will actually average about 115 giving units per Sunday (out of the average 350 giving units that attend each Sunday). That means these 115 giving units give about $125 per week. Certainly that is the average, there are a select few who give extremely generously each Sunday and there are those who give a $10 spot each each but must be counting as a giving unit. That means too that there less than half the average 600 attendee church, 115 out of 400 giving units, actually gives to the church or 33.28% of mid-sized churches give to their church.

 

In churches my church’s size in the Southeast in suburban areas (where our church finds itself – in a suburban area of the Greenville-Spartanburg metropolitan statistical area), the average income of church attendees is about $50,000 gross income before deductions. If we take that out to its potential, each giving unit in a 600 attendee church should tithe $5,000 annually. If each potential giving unit, all 350 of them in a 600 attendee church, making an average of $50,000 annually gave 10% annually, the average church budget would $1,750,000 for a 600 member church. Wow! What a difference that would be if we all just did what we are commanded to do.

 

I know that this sounds all financial and everything but I am a financial guy who is passionate about being obedient to the Lord in this area. What if we had all our potential giving units giving in our churches today. What if the church did not have to choose between ministry and paying the preacher? What if the church did not have choose between pay the electric bill and doing ministry outside the four walls of the church? What if we could have pastors who could take care of their families instead of scrimping by and praying that they have enough money to send their kids to college when the time comes? What if we could fully fund a helps ministry that helps people with getting themselves out of poverty? What if we had the money to help teenage girls who have gotten pregnant? What if we had the money to help get girls who have had to succumb to prostitution off the the streets and teach them marketable skills? What if we could fund missionaries who go to foreign nations and help girls get out the sex trafficking trade? What if we had the money to go into the cities and open satellite churches and really make a difference through education and outreach to street gang kids? What if we could help the little old lady living in a dilapidated house just down the road from the church? What if we thought more of that than spending 104% of what we make on ourselves? What if we tithed or more? What if we put our money where our mouth is about being a Christian? What if we lived off of 90% or less of what we make as God has commanded us to do?

 

It was that idea that God made provision for the ministry of the Tabernacle by requiring the Israelites to tithe of their crops and animals. It got me to thinking about how we as the modern church could learn so much from being obedient to the Lord in the area of finances and giving. We have written off the need to support the church. We have abdicated our responsibility to “they”. They will take care of it. I don’t have to. If we cannot be obedient in the area of supporting the church, it breeds a take it or leave attitude when it comes to obeying God. We see how that has worked out for the Israelites throughout the Old Testament. Let’s read what God commands about supporting the ministers and ministry of the Tabernacle, in Numbers 18:8-32:

8 Then the Lord said to Aaron, “I myself have put you in charge of the offerings presented to me; all the holy offerings the Israelites give me I give to you and your sons as your portion, your perpetual share. 9 You are to have the part of the most holy offerings that is kept from the fire. From all the gifts they bring me as most holy offerings, whether grain or sin[a] or guilt offerings, that part belongs to you and your sons. 10 Eat it as something most holy; every male shall eat it. You must regard it as holy.

 

11 “This also is yours: whatever is set aside from the gifts of all the wave offerings of the Israelites. I give this to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.

 

12 “I give you all the finest olive oil and all the finest new wine and grain they give the Lord as the firstfruits of their harvest. 13 All the land’s firstfruits that they bring to the Lord will be yours. Everyone in your household who is ceremonially clean may eat it.

 

14 “Everything in Israel that is devoted[b] to the Lord is yours. 15 The first offspring of every womb, both human and animal, that is offered to the Lord is yours. But you must redeem every firstborn son and every firstborn male of unclean animals. 16 When they are a month old, you must redeem them at the redemption price set at five shekels[c] of silver, according to the sanctuary shekel, which weighs twenty gerahs.

 

17 “But you must not redeem the firstborn of a cow, a sheep or a goat; they are holy. Splash their blood against the altar and burn their fat as a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord. 18 Their meat is to be yours, just as the breast of the wave offering and the right thigh are yours. 19 Whatever is set aside from the holy offerings the Israelites present to the Lord I give to you and your sons and daughters as your perpetual share. It is an everlasting covenant of salt before the Lord for both you and your offspring.”

 

20 The Lord said to Aaron, “You will have no inheritance in their land, nor will you have any share among them; I am your share and your inheritance among the Israelites.

 

21 “I give to the Levites all the tithes in Israel as their inheritance in return for the work they do while serving at the tent of meeting. 22 From now on the Israelites must not go near the tent of meeting, or they will bear the consequences of their sin and will die. 23 It is the Levites who are to do the work at the tent of meeting and bear the responsibility for any offenses they commit against it. This is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. They will receive no inheritance among the Israelites. 24 Instead, I give to the Levites as their inheritance the tithes that the Israelites present as an offering to the Lord. That is why I said concerning them: ‘They will have no inheritance among the Israelites.’”

 

25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering. 27 Your offering will be reckoned to you as grain from the threshing floor or juice from the winepress. 28 In this way you also will present an offering to the Lord from all the tithes you receive from the Israelites. From these tithes you must give the Lord’s portion to Aaron the priest. 29 You must present as the Lord’s portion the best and holiest part of everything given to you.’

 

30 “Say to the Levites: ‘When you present the best part, it will be reckoned to you as the product of the threshing floor or the winepress. 31 You and your households may eat the rest of it anywhere, for it is your wages for your work at the tent of meeting. 32 By presenting the best part of it you will not be guilty in this matter; then you will not defile the holy offerings of the Israelites, and you will not die.’”

 

 

Do you think God just might bless us if we obeyed Him? We are no longer under the penalty of the law in Jesus Christ but Jesus said He came to fulfill the law not abolish it. Paul tells us that we should be generous givers because of what Jesus has done for us. Paul felt that 10% was just a starting point not a stopping point. He felt that we should give that and more to help the ministry of the gospel. The Lord will bless those who obey Him. He will bless you with a new perspective when you tithe and more. He will breed in you a heart of generosity rather than a self-seeking selfishness. When you give to the Lord first, you see things in a different way that begins to permeate through the rest of your life. When you give to the Lord first in your finances, you begin to put him first in everything else. When you give to the Lord first in your finances, you see that the rat race of collecting things means nothing in eternity. When you give to the Lord first in your finances, you think of giving to make eternal things happen instead of what newest thing you can buy that you think will fill your soul. It’s funny how it changes your perspective. It sure changed my and Elena’s attitude about our money. It actually changed everything when we worked out where in our finances to where we could get rid of debts and could begin to tithe. I would dare say that beginning to tithe was the beginning of seeing the world from God’s perspective and see his generosity to us be generosity that we must repeat.

 

Think about obeying the Lord and changing the perspective. Think of giving instead of collecting. Think of living off less and living more joyfully. Think of being free to be generous rather than being a slave to your debts. Think about it. Just think of the impact that our churches could have if we all were obedient to the Lord and were generous givers to the cause of Christ.

 

Amen and Amen.