Open the Window

Malachi 3: 10

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house and test Me now in this,” says the Lord of hosts, “if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.”

There is much talk about giving to the church, but it seems to me that there is little understanding. I suppose it is just one of those uncomfortable subjects. Well, let’s just look at God’s words and see what He says about it.

This one little verse says quite a bit. It contains both a command and a promise. God would that you would pay attention to both parts. The “tithe” is one tenth of your income which was supposed to be given to the church for the maintenance of those who minister: ministers, priests, etc. This tenth part is also used to minister to the needs of others. So in old times, as now, it is used to support the ministry so that the ministry can continue to perform its function. Now this ten percent was a command of God, not a suggestion.

The part of this verse that I wish to bring your attention to, though, is the part which contains the promise. God promises to pour out the substance of heaven on to you. He promises to pour out a blessing so huge that you cannot even contain it. That is what overflow is; more than you can contain. Now what do you suppose you might do with that overflow? You are probably going to bless others. So God has great interest in keeping you overflowing so that all may be blessed. Eventually those who have been blessed abundantly by your giving also mature in Christ and they begin to give. First they begin with their tithe. Then as the blessings of God overflow, they also become great givers in the Kingdom. Then their giving allows other people to be reached and blessed. I guess you see how this works.

What I want you to see is that God has a vested interest in prospering you. If you have proved that you can be trusted with money, He wants to give you more so that you can continue to bless others. He is adamant on this point and here is where I think most American Christians lose God. He is so resolute that He invites, nay orders us to test Him in this. He commands us to hold Him accountable to His word regarding our giving. Many Christians want to give without any expectation of receiving. That sounds good and I think comes from a kind place in their hearts but it is just not biblical. Satan is the only one who does not want you to reap from your giving, not God. Satan doesn’t want you to reap a reward from your giving because He knows you are going to turn around and give some away again. He can’t have that. If you keep that up you are going to set people free. You are going to cause great damage in his kingdom.

God wants you to hold His feet to the fire and require a thirty, sixty or hundred fold return from Him. Look, even dirt gives you a return if you plant a seed. Isn’t God much more rewarding than a patch of dirt. I know that you give a gift out of the kindness of your heart. And that is a great thing. God wouldn’t change that. He just wants you to understand that what is a gift to you and probably to the recipient as well, is a seed to Him and He wants you to expect a yield. He wants you to sow your gifts towards greater gifts so that He can do more for you. No matter what we want to believe, He cannot give us what we will not receive. So keep up your generosity. Even increase your giving but in your giving expect God to do something great. Require Him to keep His word to you. In His own words, “test me now in this.” You will not lose your holiness by expecting a return from Him and you will gain a new level of obedience. As you reap, listen to Him and He will show you how you can continue to bless Him and His kingdom.

Giving and Taking

Psalm 37: 21

The wicked borrows and does not pay back but the righteous is gracious and gives.

Do you know what it is called if you borrow and fail to pay back? It is called stealing. Yep! That’s what it is. Now why would any of us intentionally steal from one another? An absolute and complete lack of understanding and faith is why. If you understand God and who you are in Him, then you have no reason to withhold payment from those to whom it is due or not to give generously to others. Only those who are looking to their own hands to prosper themselves would make such a huge mistake. You are stealing meat from your own house.

For those of you who are gracious and giving, you have the love of God in you. That love expresses itself in your kindness and generosity. And God can most certainly work with that. He is gracious to multiply your seed so that you “always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed” (2 Corinthians 9: 8). You are his precious gift to us because you and He together can express His goodness to every good work. He can keep prospering you and wants to, in fact, so that you can keep blessing others with your generosity.

It is God who multiplies and those who understand that do not withhold their seed. They are willing and generous givers. They know whom they serve and long to be like Him in thought and deed. You are a blessing to all of us and I celebrate you today. May God richly bless your giving!

Pastor for Hire

Luke 10: 7

The worker is deserving of his wage.

There is an emerging trend in pastoring/mentoring in the church today of which you should be aware.

The very fabric of pastoring has changed substantially. Once upon a time, most mentoring, counseling and pastoring came through one’s local church. The church hired ministers and paid their salaries. The congregation tithed (10% of their gross income) to the church, the church using those funds, in addition to offerings, to meet the needs of the budget, including salaries. Things are very different today. There are hosts of ministers who are not affiliated with a specific local congregation. Think of all of the preachers you know from television and books.

These ministers are also called upon in a pastoring capacity. Pastoring may be thought of as caring for the flock. That may mean teaching, as it so often does, but it may also include counseling, guidance, and responding to questions. Most of these are roles which were traditionally the purview of the local pastor.

The modern church, however, is less restricted to a church building. Many Christians are what I term “the great unchurched.” These are people who receive most of their teaching and guidance online, through television or other outlets rather than the traditional attendance of Sunday Services. These are not pagans. They are the faithful. It is simply that the modern church is the product of a more mobile society and wide-spread media opportunities. We can bounce a message off of a satellite and send it around the world now. And, so we do.

There are two factors which have serious impacts on these ministers as well as on the local church. First, we have not translated our tithing and offerings to the church to those ministers from whom we draw sustenance from television, the internet or other media outlets. Second, even in our home congregations, Christians are not substantially tithers. Per capita, we give less than Christians did during the Great Depression. Some sites report that only 5% of American Christians tithe. The charitable say that the number may be as high as 20%. Regardless, there is a trend towards not giving to the church. There may be any number of factors which contribute to this trend including that people carry little cash and rarely write checks. In any event, the church is not receiving as much support as it did. It seems to me, also, that we are becoming accustomed to receiving something for nothing. Certainly, this is not to say that no one ever gives to independent ministries. That absolutely is not a true depiction. Many ministries, my own included, are dependent on contributions and are blessed by people sending unsolicited donations. None the less, there are large groups of people who take a lot, but give little. The solution?

Ministers must begin to charge for their services. Where ministers could once rely on people to honor them with donations, that may be changing. Pastors have lived on faith; giving freely. Jesus lived by faith and that has been the model others have followed. That is the space every minister and every ministry wants to live in. However, I see it changing. As the demand on independent ministries increases, those organizations are increasingly having to charge a fee for what they do. I will not be surprised when the local congregation begins to charge for some of their services too. This is not the model most of us wish for but I believe it may be the new reality.

We have lost our way in our relationship to giving to the church and to ministries and this may be a simple realignment. Our thrust was once what our donation could do for others. Christians wanted other people to benefit from the good news they heard. So, our gifts were part of our evangelism and for the support of those who carry the good news. The focus of the current church may be more inwardly focused, both corporately and personally. Corporately we must ask if our desire is only for a bigger building of if there is something the collective donations can do for our congregation and beyond. What can we do in the community to bless God’s kids?

Individually, do we give only so that we can receive. Is there a private incentive to our giving? I completely agree with expecting a harvest from your seed. I want you to expect God to be true to His word and give you a return on your donation. However, as I mentioned last week, there seems to be an element of “What can God do for me” mentality in our present working theology. This may also impact our individual giving. If I believe I will get something out of it personally, will that belief influence my giving? Sure. I might, though, balance giving away my money with buying something I want and the donation suffer in the balance. Truly in this age of consumerism, that is an impactful dynamic.

What should we do about this? Whatever you choose to do. Nothing if that is your determination. In the main, the answer is both corporately and individually that we should turn that question into the Father and get His answer. Is this a trend we should even be concerned about and if it is, is there anything we should do about it? Do you believe in your heart of hearts that there is anything you should do about it personally? Should you write a letter? Make a speech? Ask your friends their thoughts? Should you start your own ministry the entire purpose of which is to encourage people to fight back against this emerging trend by giving more of their income to the church? Should you demand more services from the church and independent ministries and encourage ala carte pricing? Maybe you can find a way to make giving easier so that people who have a heart to give are not frustrated by the process.

If you think I came bearing the answers, you are wrong. I am not even convinced it is a problem. I do think, however, that it is wise to notice emerging trends and ask ourselves the important questions so that we augment the development of them rather than await their establishment and then complain about that which is becoming entrenched. Even more importantly, I think all wisdom resides in the Father and that you, yes you, have a direct pipeline to Him. I also think that you are every bit as responsible for what happens in the church as the pastors. YOU are the church. We are only employees of God first, and you second. You are the body. The body moves the fingers not the fingers moving the body. Although the pastors are leaders in many respects we are also instruments of the greater whole. How do you want the modern church to deal with finances? What model makes sense in this day and time? What does Yahweh say to You when you ask Him these questions? I will admit that I do not want to end up in a “Buy a prayer, rent a sermon” paradigm but I also do not want to minimize the important work that I believe these anointed people are doing for us and for the Kingdom of God. Please put in your quarter and receive a prayer.

I would have you know that our prayer line is open. There is a prayer request page on our website. The Word of the Day is free to everyone and you are encouraged to freely distribute it. These things are gratis and will remain so. They are not the subject of today’s devotional nor should this message be construed as a solicitation of funds. If it is a solicitation for anything, and I think it is, it is a solicitation for prayer and meditation; a request that you talk with the Father about church finances and a solicitation of your thoughts, which I whole heartedly desire. Let the body of Christ be heard.

Give a Little

Luke 6: 38

Give, and it will be given to you.

Sometimes I believe everything important can be learned from children’s shows. In fact, I am not sure why we don’t express the same life values in adult programming. I found this verse in Santa Claus is Coming to Town. It is the story of the Christmas Spirit, the story of giving.

Santa, Kris Kringle, is confronted by many ornery characters in the story. As he traverses the mountain between Kringle Village and Somber Town, where he intends to deliver toys, he is accosted by a mean wizard known as Winter Warlock. Santa, however, knows how to unlock even the coldest heart, with a gift. The simple act of giving a toy to the evil wizard melts his frozen heart. Winter then becomes good and a lifelong friend and companion of the Kringles.

In town, Santa explains to the children that whatever you wish to get, you must first give. If you want a little love, give a little love. He sings, “Whenever you take, give a little back.” Oh that we actually taught our children this important lesson. Even better, that we should not only be reminded of it ourselves but also embrace the philosophy. The Living Bible rendition of today’s verse is, “For if you give, you will get!” Pretty simple, huh?

Santa wins over Jessica with a gift and later she becomes Mrs. Santa Claus. He built a culture of giving but in his version, people give back. We live in a culture where people take and take. There seems to be little charity among us. We walk by the Salvation Army kettles like they are an annoyance to us rather than allowing ourselves to be motivated to support a group who is doing the work of helping others. This is not our essential nature though. It is not who we are. We are kind and generous in our union with Christ. We just allow the culture and our schedules to poison our attitudes.

So, here is my Christmas wish for you. Go get the collection of old-time Christmas animated classics. Get a big bowl of popcorn and watch them with your loved ones. Listen and watch for the message of Christ and let it melt you. Allow your love and generosity to bob to the surface. Let your tenderness show and let it have its say. I wish for you to receive greatly but I know that you must give if you want to get. Let Jesus fill your heart and bless you abundantly. That is my wish for you, immeasurable abundance of Christ in you and with you. Merry Christmas!

Invested Bread

Ecclesiastes 11: 1

Cast your bread on the surface of the waters, for you will find it after many days.

This is such an archaic message. I wonder if it has lost its meaning. Let’s see if we can put a little modern spin on this for everyone.

The New Century Version says it this way, “Invest what you have, because after a while you will get a return.” There, that makes much more sense. I guess if you think of the term the way it was used in the 70’s it helps in understanding too. People back then called money “bread”. So cast your bread out there, invest it so that it can make a return for you. Several other versions agree with this idea even though they use the old language because they add that more will come back with the original. So you cast your bread, receiving it back and more besides.

The Living Bible reads, “Give generously, for your gifts will return to you later.” Here we learn that the investment is a gift. Is there a guarantee of a return when the invested bread is a gift? No, generally not, but then there is no guarantee in any investment. There is one giving that does guarantee you get your principle back along with earnings on it. It is the subject of today’s verse. When you cast your bread to God, or give to Him, then your investment is guaranteed. This is the Kingdom of God. “Do good wherever you go. After a while, the good you do will come back to you (ERV).” This is God’s investment strategy and He guarantees we will make money on it.

As you know, there are a lot of broke Christians. Many of them have never been taught God’s economic system, which is really sad. Then also, there are some who are just stingy. They don’t give because they want every dime to spend on their pleasures. They don’t believe God rewards giving or that He gives a return on investments made with Him. Perhaps, many of us just have no faith, while others always seem to see a conspiracy like someone, the church, the pastor, are after their money. I don’t see my giving to a ministry solely as a gift to that ministry, even though it is worthy of my gift. I see it as a gift to Dad, money for His Kingdom work here on earth. That alone is a good return but then our Father actually multiplies the money as well and returns it to us.

Don’t you want in on this deal? How can we lose as we invest in spreading the Good News of God? Well, cast your bread on the water. Send out money on every wave so that every wave will bring you return. I guarantee that the Kingdom of God is the best blue chip investment you will ever find.

Building the Temple

1 Chronicles 29: 9

Then the people rejoiced because they had offered so willingly, for they made their offering to the Lord with a whole heart, and King David also rejoiced greatly.

God has made us to be givers. We are in His image and He is the greatest giver of all time. One of the things that hangs us up, though, is that our offerings go to people. Truthfully, we do not always trust people and sometimes in our hearts we do not wish to bless people. If we could give right into God’s hands, we would joyfully give. We probably couldn’t give enough to satisfy the desire to bless the Lord.

In today’s story, David was at the end of his life and thus, his term as the king and leader of Israel. His son, Solomon, would be tasked with building the temple to the Lord. David, though, gave gold, silver, brass, etc. towards the building of the temple. He even gave gold so the walls could be covered in gold. It was in his heart to bless, the Lord, his God. As the people listened to his words and observed his example, they also dug deep into their resources and gave more gold, and other metals. It was a joy and a delight to these people to give to their God and they gave with a whole heart. I would like to go back in time and witness their joy.

We have a number of cultural issues which impede our giving. First, there is that keeping up with the Jones’ thing. If we give and give, then others will have more than we. What if we give so much directly to our pastors that their prosperity begins to eclipse our own? We seem to have a mentality which requires pastors to be broke. This is a thought pattern which strains my brain because it seems to me that in the world of logic, especially in Kingdom dynamics, those who serve God (including you) should be the most prosperous on earth. I don’t know where we got this poverty mentality, the Puritans perhaps, but it defies logic for me. Surely, you have noticed how wealthy preachers are criticized. I do know of some churches, though, who seem to consider it an insult to themselves if the pastors are not in nice clothes and driving the nicest cars. How would that go over in your church? What are the tapes running in our brains that would never allow that to happen.

Another problem our giving suffers is that we are living in a time when there is so much to spend money on. We can go on nice trips, drive nice cars, buy bigger homes and multiple homes. There is a new electronic gadget out almost every day that attracts our attention. What would the Israelites have done with all that gold anyway? If they did not give it to the temple would that have meant they could take a Caribbean cruise? I think they were not as distracted by a world full of pleasures as we are. I believe that is why we have to purpose in our hearts to be givers. There are many things we can give our money to, is the church the most attractive of these? I doubt it. God, likely is though. If you can get face to face with Him I think we would all want to give Him anything we could.

The Israelites received a revelation of the elation in giving. They gave to God with their whole hearts and rejoiced in the gifts. Maybe in our quiet time with the Lord, he can give us a revelation too showing us how giving will benefit us while it increases our joy. Let’s ask him about that, shall we?

Dams

Proverb 3: 9 – 10

Honor the Lord from your wealth, and from the first of all your produce, so your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will overflow with new wine.

Sometimes humans are the dullest form of intelligent life. This verse couldn’t get much simpler, and yet there is tremendous resistance within the church to giving. God has told us how to have abundance. He wants us to experience overflow. Overflow is when you have more than enough. That is a typical God plan. He never stops at just filling a cup. He runs it over. So, if we are not experiencing overflow, what is damming the flow?

It turns out that we use our intelligence quotient to construct dams in our lives. We are blocking our own flow, in other words. The principle pointed to in today’s proverb is no different than what Jesus taught. It is the principle of sowing and reaping. God is a multiplier. He multiplies what we give Him and gives it back to us. In the old days they taught us that a hundred times zero was not a good yield. A hundred times one is better but if I understand God and His ways, I can use the kingdom principles He put in place thousands of years ago and receive whatever yield I need or want.

So how do we honor the Lord from our wealth and the first of our produce? One of the obstacles some people face is that they are happy to bless the Lord but they don’t like giving to person in order to accomplish that goal. Well, as I have said before, if you cannot trust your minister with your money then you probably want to look for another church home. Secondly, I find it hard to believe we can’t find one minister in all the world who we believe will use God’s money in the way He directs them. Third, pray over your giving. God will honor and multiply your gift without regard to what the person you give it to does with the money. Your part is just to give. When you let go of it, then the rest is up to God.

So, what I want to say to you is, “Don’t worry about it.” I want you in overflow. I want no financial stress on you whatsoever. Therefore, I encourage you to pour out your gifts to the Lord, even if they go through a person, so that God can overflow your cup. Tear down the dams in your life and let God bless you.