Posts Tagged ‘ministry’

Deuteronomy 14:22-29

The Giving of Tithes

Back in 2000, there was a song that was one of those one-hit wonders of a band called Nine Days. It was called “Absolutely (The Story of A Girl)” from the group’s debut album, The Madding Crowd. The lyrics of “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” portray John Hampson’s (lead singer and main lyricist for the band) love towards his girlfriend, despite her tears and sadness. “Absolutely (Story of a Girl)” is the presentation of an undying declaration of love between Hampson and his girlfriend at the time. Hampson and his girlfriend supply the basis for the characters. It peaked on the Billboard Hot 100 at number 6. It was one of those songs whose chorus sticks with you, years afterward, and it is part of that chorus that I am thinking of this morning. The chorus goes something like this:

 

This is the story of a girl

Who cried a river and drowned the whole world

But while she looks so sad in photographs

I absolutely love her

 

The first two lines of the chorus are what I want to rip off from the band and tell you a story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world. There is a single mom in my town. She is nameless and faceless. She sits at her kitchen table on a Saturday morning while her kids are outside playing in the parking lot outside her low-rent, government-subsidized apartment in a low-rent part of town. She is trying to figure out how to pay the bills. Her baby daddy of a husband flew the coop after the second child was born and she doesn’t know how she is going to make ends meet. She has more bills than she has month. She finds it hard to find a good paying job because no one wants to give her chance. And when she does have a job, the fact that she is the sole-caretaker of her children causes to have to miss work when one or both of the kids are sick. She has lost two jobs that way already. She wonders how it all ended up this way. She was once one of the most popular girls in high school just six years ago. She got in with the wrong crowd, started partying, fell in love with the local bad boy. Got pregnant. Had to drop out of school and get married. The marriage was doomed from the start. He didn’t want to be tied down and cheated on her while she was pregnant. She thought another child would make him love but it made him leave instead. Now, she doesn’t know where he is. Probably in prison by now. People thinks she wants her life this way. She sits at the table on a Saturday this fall morning. Trying to figure out what happened. Her life is a mess now in epic proportions. She feels like she deserves the fate of her life. She has made poor choices. She knows this. But she doesn’t know how to get out this hole that she and her six year old boy and cute as buttons three year old girl find themselves. She promised to take the kids to Burger King today so they could play in the indoor playground. A simple pleasure to most but she doesn’t know if she will even have the money to do that little thing. The kids are oblivious to the financial mess as kids are. They are just happy and playing outside. She watches them through the apartment window and she cries. This is the story of a girl who cried a river and drowned the whole world.

 

The in the stack of mail she sees a card from LifeSong Church about the Fall Festival that they are having this year. It says it is all completely free including the food. She says to herself. What’s their angle? Completely free? What’s up with that? Everybody wants something these days, even churches. But something inside tells her to go even though she is afraid of church people. She has been judged by churchy people before for the mistakes she has made. They have said to her face that she deserves this lot in life. But she goes. She has heard that LifeSong is a different kind of church compared to most. So, she grabs up the boy and the girl and buckles them into the car. She is nervous about stepping foot on the property of a church where she knows no one. Will they judge her too? She comes up to see kids running everywhere and booths with games and rides and bounce houses and little ponies for the kids to ride. The kids are excited. She comes up to the first booth and one of the young ladies in the booth and she is so nice and they strike up a conversation. The young lady in the booth tells her that she is a single mom too and the people in the booth are all members of the life group that she is part of. She explains what a life group is and tells her how it actually saved her life. This life group that she is in is her family. They care about each other and they help each other out when help is needed. The members of the group actually helped her find a job and they helped find affordable child care. When she had surgery, the life group helped her with the kids. The girl who cried a river found out that people at this church actually care about each other from that conversation. She takes the kids over the bounce houses and she finds men from the Ironmen ministry helping with the kids. These men are actually laughing with the kids and hugging them and kidding around with them and the kids just love it. Wow! Men who actually love children. That a new one to our girl. She visits the pony rides and meets people from Celebrate Recovery and she talks about how the hardness of her life drives her to anger. Her divorce has made her bitter. Her deadbeat dad of a husband is nowhere to be found and he doesn’t support the kids. The lady that runs the Celebrate Recovery ministry invites her to come back to church on Tuesday and hang out with people with the same hurts and hang-ups as her. She gets free food for the kids and people smile at her as they serve her and her kids. These people are from the Kidzlife ministry and they tell her about all the cool stuff they do with the kids on Sunday as they teach them about the Bible. Before she leaves she stops by a booth where the ladies from the Elevate ministry are there to pray with anyone who wants to or needs to. These ladies are so much fun and so normal and so not churchy. After spending the whole day there on Saturday. Kids with full bellies and are tired beyond belief. She goes home. She thinks about how nice the people at LifeSong are and decides to go to church for the first time since she was a kid at home that next day, Sunday.

 

When she arrives she is greeted by the parking lot attendants who welcome her. They tell her where Kidzlife is and she takes them there. Everyone is so nice to her. She then goes in the main building and everyone greets her and makes her feel at home. She thinks wow these people are nice. They tell about the church and then help her find a seat in the auditorium. The music starts and it is so not churchy. It’s actually music that has a beat to it and they have drums and guitars and she likes it. No pipe organs here. She then hears a sermon by the lead pastor and she feels as though he is preaching to her alone. Her heart starts pounding and everything drowns out and she is hearing straight from God through the lead pastor’s words. She knows she is a sinner for the first real time in her life. She knows that she doesn’t deserve God’s grace but the pastor says that it is a gift. We cannot earn it. She is filled with hope and joy and when the pastor calls for those who need prayer after the sermon, she comes down. She begins to cry a river and it changes her whole world. The pastor leads her to the cross and she accepts Christ as her Savior. She still has problems now but she has a hope that passes all understanding in Jesus Christ.

 

Fast forward a year later, a young lady with two little boys comes up to a booth at the next festival and meets our girl who cried a river and it changed her whole world. Our girl tells the new girl about how this church and Jesus Christ changed her whole life because of the generosity of these people. Our girl tells the new girl that there is hope and there is strength. She tells her about this life group that she is with that changed her whole world. They are her family. Right there, a new girl cries a river and it changes her whole world.

 

That’s what I thought of this morning as to why we give our best tenth of what we have to the Lord as a tithe when I read Deuteronomy 14:22-29. Let’s read it, you and me, together:

 

 

22 Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields produce each year. 23 Eat the tithe of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the firstborn of your herds and flocks in the presence of the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name, so that you may learn to revere the Lord your God always. 24 But if that place is too distant and you have been blessed by the Lord your God and cannot carry your tithe (because the place where the Lord will choose to put his Name is so far away), 25 then exchange your tithe for silver, and take the silver with you and go to the place the Lord your God will choose. 26 Use the silver to buy whatever you like: cattle, sheep, wine or other fermented drink, or anything you wish. Then you and your household shall eat there in the presence of the Lord your God and rejoice. 27 And do not neglect the Levites living in your towns, for they have no allotment or inheritance of their own.

 

28 At the end of every three years, bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, 29 so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.

 

We give the Lord our first tenth, the best tenth, of the fruits of our labors not because of it being some money making scheme for the church. It is because of obedience. We are to do it in trust in the Lord. We don’t do it because we get some investment return on it although God does provide for those who obey Him (but it is not always with some earthly financial windfall). We do it because the Lord tells us to do so. We trust Him with the results. He takes it and multiplies with the tithes of others. He takes and uses it to minister to the world around us. He takes it and allows churches to be show uncommon kindness to a world that so desperately needs it. He takes it and uses it to minister to His people through the ministries of the church that disciple them into deeper walks with the Lord. He takes and invests it in the community and world around us. He takes it makes a difference with it.

 

He takes it and uses it to minister to a girl who cries a whole river and cannot change her whole word. He uses it to reach her with the gospel message of Jesus Christ. He takes that girl who cries a river and changes her whole world. He takes it to leads her to Christ. He takes and uses it to change her whole world and that of her children. He takes it and redeems lives with it.

 

Who are we then not to be obedient to the Lord when there are people out there that need to know Jesus Christ. It may be that you tenth helps reach someone for Jesus Christ and it changes their whole world. Do you not want to be a part of eternity? Or is that newest house, that newest dress, that newest rifle, that newest boat, that newest house really better than effecting the eternity of a story of a girl who cried a river and your obedience to the Lord in your tithe changed her whole world?

 

Amen and Amen.

Romans 15:14-22 — In this passage, Paul basically tells the church at Rome that he cannot come visit them because they are doing so well that he has more important things to do. He didn’t mean this as a slam but rather a compliment. Paul had more urgent matters to tend to — to preach the gospel where the name of Christ has never been heard. It has been heard in Rome and they were flourishing. Paul was needed elsewhere.

He is saying here that hey you’re doing OK so I don’t need to visit you just now. Paul needed to go where the challenge was greater and there was a greater need. He felt that the church at Rome was in good hands. He needed to be where there was nothing. He needed to build up churches where the gospel was unknown. By implication for us, it can be said that we need to know when our work is done and its time to leave. We need to know when God is leading us to something new, something urgent, and not be afraid to leave our cocoon.

This message kind of reminds you of when you know its time to leave your current job and seek a new one. There comes a time in most jobs where you feel like you have done all you can at this time and its time to move on. It’s time for a new challenge. For example, when Steve Spurrier was at University of Florida from 1990-2001, he had the world by the tail, he won 8 division titles, 5 conference titles, and 1 national championship. However, he left it all and took on a new challenge in the NFL and that eventually led him to the University of South Carolina. The new challenges were greater than the need to maintain excellence with the Florida Gators. He has done so much more meaningful work at USC than he could’ve ever done in maintaining the program at UF. We all have opportunities in life where it is necessary to leave a good situation where everything is known and everything is neat and tidy. Sometimes it is necessary to break out into the unknown and find the new challenge. Sometimes it is time to step into what God has been preparing us for.

For some that looks like a friend of mine. She has been a ER nurse for 14 years and is very good at it. She has no reason to leave. She could stay in the job and her employer would be happy as clams with that. She is good at what she does. However, she has been called by God to teach her skill to others and to minister to others through home health care. Paul could have visited Rome but He was called to do what God prepared him to do. This friend has been prepared for the next phase in God’s plan. She can do more for Christ by teaching a new crop of nurses how being a Christ follower makes her job a ministry and also to minister to others in home visits one on one in a way she could not in the ER. The ER was not wasted though. The intense nursing required in the ER has taught her much and it will be used in this new phase of God’s plan for her life.

For me and Elena, this idea looks like this. We love LifeSong Church with all our heart. If we had our way, we would never leave. We love this church and the way it touches the community and the world around us. We love serving there in the ways we serve. I help with the financial accounting and budget processes at the church (because of my secular work background). Elena and I work together as leaders in our church’s community outreach ministries. Elena carries most of the workload there and she loves it. We are leaders of our life group and being part of the Christ following growth that is happening there. All of our friends are at LifeSong. 90% of our friends are members of this church. We could stay there forever if we had our own way. It is known. It is safe. It is good. There would be no shame in staying there.

But, as you know, I feel called to be a pastor. It is been a thought always in my mind that we are called to be God’s servant in reclaiming a dying church, to re-awaken what has fallen asleep. We could stay here at LifeSong and be very happy and participate in doing many good things for the kingdom. Sometimes though God calls us to finish the preparation time and step into that which He has been preparing us for. We can’t miss the opportunity when it is time. Paul could not go to Rome because he had urgent work to do spreading the gospel in places where it had never been heard. He COULDN’T miss that opportunity that God laid on His heart. He knew Rome would be fine until a later visit. We must seize our God-ordained opportunities when they arise. We must seize the opportunities to serve the Lord in the way He has ordained for us. When we are called to do what God has called us to do, Elena and I must recognize the Spirit’s leading and go where He leads us. We must fight the urge to stay in the known, the comfortable, and trust that God will sustain in what is unknown, uncomfortable, but yet where God intends us. Our time in Livermore Alive Community Church in California was training for being at LifeSong back home in South Carolina. LifeSong is our training for what’s next in God’s plan for our lives. We must trust in Him to sustain us for what’s next and not be afraid to step into it. We must go wherever God calls us and wherever He needs us to serve. We can’t be afraid to leave what is established and working and is a well oiled machine to do the work of the Lord that needs doing.

Just like Paul, he could have gone to Rome and had a great visit there for several months or years but Rome was already flourishing. God called him not to the flourishing but to those who did not know Jesus. Sometimes, we as Christ followers are not called to serve what is already working well but to serve where we are really needed, where the trail has not been blazed, where souls need re-awakening, where dying churches need to meet Jesus again. We all have our safe places in life, but the real rewards come from when we take on new challenges. We can stay in the safe place and be fine, but sometimes God calls us to do the challenging, the difficult, and we may fail by human standards but the success comes in the obedience to God.

Father, I know that these lyrics belong to Hillsong, but I offer them as my prayer today. Spirit lead me where my trust is without borders. Let me walk upon the waters wherever You would call me. Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander and my faith will be made stronger. Help me to trust that You will sustain us in whatever you lead us to do. Help me to never be afraid to leave my boat where everything is known and safe and step out into the waters of the unknown and keep my eyes on You following wherever you may lead us. We are willing. We have been preparing. We love you, Lord. Amen.