2010 – Goose Island State Park, TX
Sin, murder, and grace
Genesis 4: Sin is lying in wait for you…you’ve got to master it.
The first children are born to the human race, two boys. These boys become men and these men are worshipers of God. One is a dirt farmer and the other raises livestock. These two worshipers of God bring sacrifices to the Lord. To Cain’s dismay God likes his brother’s offering better than his own. I’ve heard a few sermons on the reason why. In fact, I’ve attempted to deal with the topic myself. Some people think it’s the lack of blood in Cain’s offering. Others pounce on the “firstborn” aspect of Abel’s offering and the writer of the book of Hebrews focuses in on the faith aspect of it. Deciding why one offering is more acceptable than the other is a hard call. After all, Cain brought from what he had, just as Abel did. Of course, we know that this passage isn’t here to elevate one type of offering over the other. This account is about sin, murder, and grace. When Cain’s angry with God about his brother’s offering the Lord warns him that he’s skating on thin ice. Being disappointed with God, apparently, isn’t sin in itself; but such an attitude attracts sin. The Lord speaks to Cain like a father talking to his son, warning him that it’s a dangerous road he’s traveling. This situation has potential for Cain to be humbled. If he responds to the Lord by asking for an explanation concerning why his offering is inferior to Abel’s we won’t have the mystery concerning it. Instead, Cain proves God right by doing the wrong thing. At this point, the score is Sin: one, Cain: nothing.
Take away: Some things that aren’t quite sin, can, if I’m not careful, open that door.
Hum “Family of God” as you read this one
2Corinthians 9: God loves it when the giver delights in the giving.
In spite of Paul having written some pretty stern stuff to them, he remains confident of his good relationship with the Corinthians. In fact, he moves from the topic of his first letter to them to encourage them to be generous in their giving to a special relief offering he’s collecting to be taken to the Christian poor in Jerusalem. If you think about it it’s quite an impressive thing he’s doing. These Gentiles wouldn’t have given a second thought to some Jews living in Jerusalem just a few years earlier. They felt no connection to them and they certainly wouldn’t have considered sending them a relief offering. Now, though, it’s all changed. Their lives are now linked to the lives of people throughout the region. Before it was “us and them” but now it’s all “us.” What has happened? Jesus! His presence in their lives has made them part of a family. These days, they not only know about fellow believers in distant Jerusalem, but they’re willing to send them some of their hard earned cash to help them through hard times. What Paul began so long ago continues to this day as Christians send offerings to people in distant places in the Name of Jesus. God’s people are the most generous people on the face of the earth. The reason, according to Paul, is that we’re behaving like our Heavenly Father who’s the most generous Being there is. We’re part of a great family and our Father has set for us a powerful example of giving. We give to all who are in need, but we’re especially willing to give, even sacrificially, to help our brothers and sisters. “I’m so glad I’m a part of the family of God.”
Take Away: God’s people are wonderfully generous people.
2Corinthians 8: We don’t want anyone suspecting us of taking one penny of this money for ourselves.
Paul’s collecting an offering for the Christian poor in Jerusalem. The idea came from the churches in Macedonia but has now spread throughout the Gentile Church. There’s no pressure as to what individuals give. Paul just urges people to give the best they are able. He does note though, that in spite of the Macedonian Christians going through some hard times of their own that they’ve set the giving bar pretty high. Now, Paul’s sending some folks to Corinth to collect their offering and take it to Jerusalem. He’s quite business like in his approach and wants to assure them that Titus won’t be alone in caring for this money but will be joined by another trustworthy individual in handling it. The Apostle adds that he doesn’t want anyone to have any reason to think he’s skimming expense money off the top of this designated offering. He wants them to be confident that everything they give will go to its designated purpose. As a pastor I’ve always followed Paul’s approach in money matters. I try to stay away from handling church cash if at all possible. Also, in the church we deal with money handling issues using accepted business practices along with a dose of sanctified common sense. Like Paul, we want to handle money and other church assets in such a way that no reasonable person will have reason to question our honesty. Beyond that, of course, we’re well aware that the Almighty sees it all and that someday we’ll stand before him in Judgment.
Take Away: Good business practices are good business for the church.
Free will offering
Acts 5: The money was yours to do with as you wished.
As the Church is being established there’s wonderful unity among the believers. These first Christians love and care for one another. If someone is in need, those with resources take care of that need. We first meet Barnabas because he sells some land and brings the money to the Church to use in meeting the needs of some of his fellow believers. Apparently, the action of Barnabas has the unintended result of making him somewhat of a celebrity among the believers. I say this because immediately following is the story of a couple that attempts to gain favor in the Church without making the same level of sacrifice. Ananias and Sapphira are part of the Church. They see what Barnabas does and the reaction of people and decide to follow suit. However, they don’t want to give all they receive in the sale of their land. Instead, they scheme together to claim to give it all, but to actually hold back a portion of it. The result is the condemnation of the Lord and their untimely deaths. They’re judged by God, not for withholding a portion of the money from the sale of their property, but for doing so and then lying about it. I find it interesting that Peter, as he realizes what they’ve done, says, “Before you sold it, it was all yours, and after you sold it, the money was yours to do with as you wished.” Sometimes I read about how the early Church operated, that they “shared everything,” and come away thinking that the preferred model for the Church is communal living in which there’s no private ownership. I might even go a step farther and think that socialism is more “Christian” than is capitalism. It’s enlightening to balance the “shared everything” statement against “before you sold it, it was all yours” and “the money was yours to do with as you wished.” As I make this connection I see that the action of Barnabas and some unnamed others is the real deal. They don’t give what they have because socialism is God’s preferred mode of operation for the Church. Rather, they give because they want to. It’s theirs and there’s nothing wrong with them keeping it. Instead, though, they see the need of fellow believers and want to meet that need.
Take Away: Obviously, required generosity isn’t really generosity at all.
Nehemiah 10: We will not neglect The Temple of our God.
Part of the pledge that’s signed by the civil, religious, an family leaders (and then ratified by the people) is a commitment to pay attention to the support of the Temple. The “not neglecting” part isn’t about attendance at worship services. Instead, it concerns their physical support of their place of worship. While it’s clear that our meeting houses are a far cry from the Temple in everything from architecture to national significance to actual worship practices there’s still the “House of Worship” connection. The Temple is where they worship and our churches are where we worship. In fact, the issue at hand presents a pretty strong connection between Temple and church. The people of Nehemiah’s day pledge themselves to proper support of their Temple. They’ll see to it that every resource necessary for its operation is provided. Today, I thank God for those who support the church like that. Because of their faithfulness the energy of the church can focus on doing the ministry it’s called to do rather than on endless fundraising that the bills might be paid and the maintenance might be done.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for faithful supporters of his work.
Water from the well
1 Chronicles 11: He refused to drink it.
Included in the genealogy of the Chronicles are the names and sample exploits of great warriors who serve under David. “The Thirty,” is a band of brave and capable fighters. This group has an awesome leader and some especially outstanding men called the “Big Three.” At one point David, who’s on the run from Saul, comments that he’d love a drink of water from the well at Bethlehem. However, Bethlehem’s under Philistine rule at the time. That detail doesn’t stop the “Big Three” from fighting their way into Bethlehem, drawing water from the well there, and then withdrawing to bring it to David. David’s overwhelmed by this gift and refuses to drink it. To him, this is a gift too precious to be received as a common thing so instead of drinking the water he pours it out as an offering to God. I’ve never had anyone go to battle to bring me a drink of water but I’ve had some people do some wonderful things for me. When that happens I don’t want to treat their sacrifice as a common thing. Some gifts that are intended for me are so valuable that I know they’re too good for me. When that happens, I can take the example of David, and make it an offering to the Lord.
Take Away: Kindnesses done to us ought to be appreciated. They should also humble us.
2Kings 12: Why haven’t you renovated this sorry-looking Temple?
The sample we’re given of Joash’s leadership of Judah is his faithfulness to repair the Temple of God. Any building will deteriorate if it is not cared for and Joash realizes that the Temple is overdue for some serious work. He orders the priests who serve there to use offerings for that purpose, but it never happens. Instead of being used on the building, the money is absorbed in the everyday operations at the Temple. When Joash sees this, he changes tactics and creates a system by which money can be given for this specific purpose. The people respond and during his reign Joash sees the Temple restored to much of its former glory. So what do I see in this incident? First, I’m reminded that the building where worship takes place needs regular attention and that the Lord gifts some people for this task. The church needs to recognize that and both finance and empower these people for their work. Second, I see that without leadership things gradually fall apart. In this case, not only is the building deteriorating, but the plans for financing the renovations also come apart without Joash’s leadership. It isn’t enough for him to have the vision and then put a plan together. He has to be sure that the plan continues to completion. Third, I see that the best way to finance such an operation is with money specifically given for that purpose. The expenses of the Temple continue even through the building project so the money has to be given above the regular offerings. Finally, I see that people are willing to give to such a project. People don’t have to be brow beat to give if they see the need and that something is really happening. Clearly, these are good principles for today even as they were good so long ago.
Take Away: Leadership not only provides vision and plans. It also stays engaged as the vision is made reality.
The power of enthusiasm
Exodus 35: Then they came back, every one whose heart was roused, whose spirit was freely responsive, bringing offerings to God for building the Tent of Meeting.
God gave Moses the plans for the Tabernacle and now Moses has passed them on to the people. A one-of-a-kind of worship center will be constructed. It will be portable but in spite of its portability it will be an elaborate structure, a place reflective of the God they worship. When Moses tells them what God requires it sparks excitement throughout the congregation. Now, without any pressure, the people freely give so that the Tent of Meeting can be constructed according to God’s plans. As I look at the people coming with their gifts, my attention is drawn to those “roused hearts.” Enthusiasm is a powerful emotion. As it does for them, it stirs me to action and makes me willing to make sacrifices. I want to have a “heart that is roused” when it comes to my relationship with God and his Church. There are many things that demand my attention and my support. Those things may or may not be worthy. However, doing God’s work is always worth the effort. Stir my heart, O God, that I might be “roused” to enthusiastic, sacrificial service of you.
Take Away: I serve the Lord, not because I must, but because I may.