Unto Me

Matthew 25: 37 – 40

Then the righteous will answer Him, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry, and feed You, or thirsty, and give You something to drink? And when did we see You as a stranger, and invite You in, or naked, and clothe You? And when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Truly I say to you, to the extent that you did it for one of the least of these brothers or sisters of Mine, you did it for Me.’

I hope you all took advantage of Giving Tuesday. If you haven’t yet, you still can. Regarding giving, I had someone say something very disturbing to me recently. I want to share it with you.

Because things are hard for so many people right now, this believer wanted to do something to help someone in real need. As we talked, she told me her ideas. She said she thought about taking money to the local church, “But,” she said, “I am not sure they will do with the money what I want.” She had doubts that the church would actually give the money to a person in need. How tragic! And yet, I fully appreciate her concern. She said, “I am supposed to give my gifts to the church and then the church is supposed to take care of the needy.” Yep! That is how it is supposed to work. Why do we doubt it actually does work out that way? So, I wanted to let you know some things about this ministry.

First of all, Ivey Ministries tithes. We give at least 10% of every dime that comes into the ministry and always have. Furthermore, we believe in giving and helping others. We give of our time and our resources. Part of the dynamic of ministry is that it is an organization of believers. Because we join together and join our resources, we are able to accomplish more and affect more people than any of us can individually. When five of you give twenty dollars to the ministry, we are able to do more than one person giving twenty dollars, say, to the food bank. Combined we can buy cases of food instead of cans. That is the idea of giving to the church, that collectively we can have a great impact. The church is supposed to be here to serve you and the community.

Now, as Paul Harvey used to say, for the rest of the story. This saint asked if she could send me the money and me use my resources to find someone to help. Absolutely! I will receive her donation within the week and the entire amount is going to help people in need.

If you ever feel like you want to do something tangible to help people with real needs but don’t know what to do, I will do my best to meet your need to be kind and generous and direct your gift to someone who needs God’s touch. Call me, email, put a note with your check. Tell me what you wish to accomplish. We can always find ways to bless people and meet real needs.

Melchizedek

Psalm 110: 4

The Lord has sworn and will not change His mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”

Melchizedek is an interesting figure. He appeared in Genesis 14: 18 after Abram defeated the three kings. Interestingly, though, Melchizedek is mentioned more often in the New Testament than the Old. When Abram returned from the battle, Melchizedek, the King of Salem and High Priest of God, brought out bread and wine to Abram. Abram, in turn, gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the spoils of war. Very interesting indeed!

First, let us not miss that Salem means peace. So, this Melchizedek was the King of Peace and Jesus is called the Prince of peace. Also, the bread and the wine foreshadow the communion which is the remembrance of Christ’s body and blood being broken and spilled for us. Today’s verse speaks of Jesus that he is forever a priest according to the standing and ways of Melchizedek. Jesus’ priesthood is of the order of Melchizedek.

We can glean many things from today’s passage and those other passages about Melchizedek to which it points, but it cannot be missed that a very important aspect is that Abram gave a tithe of all to the ministry which represents the coming Lord and High Priest.

People really get hung up on tithing and it truly amazes me. I find it harder and harder to teach or preach on tithing because it increasingly seems that it is like breathing, meaning it is just something we do but not something that generally needs a great deal of discussion. When I am pressed to discuss it, I hardly know what to say. Father Abram set the example. Melchizedek brought him out wine and bread, symbolically the broken body and spilled blood of our beloved. How can that remembrance not invoke in me a desire to lay my pittance upon the alter that received my Lord? How is ten percent of anything of more value than my precious Jesus? Abram was only looking forward to the coming Lord. In our day, the Lord has already come and endured horrendous suffering for each of us. Is that not enough to motivate us to replicate Abram’s simple act? And really, should it even take thinking of Jesus’ sacrifice to spurn me to such minuscule action? What of his and the Father’s kindnesses to me today and every day? What of the promise of eternity in their presence? If all God has done for us does not inspire us to a desire to bless Him, then what could He ever do to earn our generosity? You see, I just don’t get it.

We should consider it an honor to support His ministry. We should race each other to the alter to give into His work. I am not unsympathetic, it’s just that I don’t understand the hesitancy. I am blessed, without a doubt, and I bless God that I am able to add my little bit to His offering plate. I could not do it without His grace and help and I know that. I am nothing in myself, but our God enables us to be a blessing and I thank my God that He allows me to be a contributor. It is a joy we should all experience. It should bless our hearts and just feel good to get to partner with God.

Bless the Lord and bless you. I know I am preaching to the choir today. You are the people who give. You are the blessing God has sent. I bless you today in the name of our Lord, Jesus, who is the Christ, the one who has saved and anointed us into his own ministry. May you continually wear his loving grace as a cloak about your shoulders.

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.

Bless the Lord

Matthew 8: 2 – 4

A leper came to Him and bowed down before Him, and said, “Lord, if You are willing, You can make me clean.” Jesus stretched out His hand and touched him, saying, “I am willing; be cleansed.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you tell no one; but go, show yourself to the priest and present the offering that Moses commanded, as a testimony to them.”

Tell me, what jumps out to you from this passage? There are many messages easily gleaned from these verses. As I read it recently, I was captivated by the last sentence. The facts are seen in the first two verses: evidence of faith, a request for healing, healing, and compassion. Jesus’ verbal response to the former leper is intriguing, though. The first message is this distinguishing between telling and doing. Jesus says, go do something. That actually is important because a leper would have been considered unclean and prohibited from going into the temple. However, the even more interesting part of Jesus’ statement is the directive to present the prescribed offering.

I am reminded of the story of Abram (Abraham) and Melchizedek from Genesis 14. Abram had just returned from battle when Melchizedek went out to meet him. Melchizedek brought wine, bread and a blessing. This is the blessing Melchizedek spoke over Abram, “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand,” (Genesis 14: 19 – 20). The narrative reveals that subsequently, Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all. That’s the tithe and this occurrence happened many years before the law. Therefore, Abram did not give a tithe out of any obligation imposed by the law. This all happened before Moses lived so you have to think it happens before Jewish custom as well because the tribes of Israel did not yet exist. Why then did Abram give a tenth of all and does this inform our lives in any way?

People really get hung up on the tithe and I just thank the Lord that my teachers led me to tithe early in my Christian life. Folks get all twisted here about Old Testament, New Testament, the law, grace, etc. There is no need for this theological maelstrom. You can figure this out for yourself. Clearly there is something going on here. The similarity between the telling of Abram’s story and the recounting of the leper’s experience with Jesus is revealing. First God blessed. Then man blessed God. Abram didn’t tithe in order to get God to do anything. God had already done everything. He gave the enemy into Abram’s hand and then sent His high priest with bread, wine and a blessing. Abram’s offering was a response, not initiative.

The same is true in the case of the leper but in this instance, Jesus had to teach the man as to a proper response. He said, go show yourself and present the prescribed offering. Other translations use the word gift instead of offering which I believe casts a different light on the matter. It makes me think of a gift of thanksgiving. God has done something wonderful. Does it not seem reasonable to express our faith, gratitude and thanksgiving in a tangible way?

Here is what I trip over – Why in the world do we resist giving to God? Was Abram concerned with how Melchizedek would use the tithe? He was not even asked to give, he just did, willingly and with a good heart. What makes Abram different from us? How is it that he could so easily give Melchizedek a tenth of the spoils without grumbling or worry? What is hard about it for us? Did Abram look at Melchizedek and judge the man or did he make his offering to God?

Jesus directed the leper to go give to God as an appropriate response to the gift of healing. Have we come so far in our societies that this is a foreign concept? Have we become cultures of takers rather than givers such that the thought of doing something nice for those who bless us is unique? Tips have become mandatory in many establishments rather than a deliberate blessing for someone who has treated us well? And, if so, is that something that has tainted our giving impetus. Or is it more basic than any of these sociological questions? Are we just self-gratifying pleasure seekers for whom the next toy is more important than thanksgiving for all the blessings our Father daily bestows upon us?

This passage makes me want to bless my Father. He will never be impressed with the pittance I lay upon the altar, but I pray that the condition of my heart and the appreciation and love with which I give, will bless Him. How much joy do you think you may find in a love offering from you to the lover of your heart? “Bless the Lord, O my soul,
And all that is within me, bless His holy name,” (Psalm 103: 1).

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.

Seed Supplier

2 Corinthians 9: 10

Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.

The first thing any of us needs to understand about God is that He is love and that everything He does is out of love. One of the next things to understand is that He operates by the principle of sowing and reaping. Your life and your understanding will be so much easier once you grasp that truth. So now, let’s apply this simple truth.

As you see, God is the one who provides seed to the sower. Who is the sower? You better hope it is you. He sows into our lives so that we can sow into other lives. If we are not sowers, why would God give us seed? When your harvest comes in, you give Him 10% of it, the first 10%. That is called the tithe.

Your own finances, you will find, work in much the same way. You are given your seed. You sow into the kingdom, return ten percent back to He who provided the initial seed and you get ninety percent to work with. However, you, like your father, are a giver so you continue to sow seed into the kingdom. That seed comes back to you. In the same way that we give ten percent of our harvest back to God, your harvest comes back on every wave. From the Father’s initial seed, the harvest is multiplying.

The seed that you sowed into your church or other ministry is invested into the Kingdom where another crop is produced. That ministry returns ten percent to the Father and sows more seed into the Kingdom. This is the sheer beauty and force of multiplied seed. It can cover the earth in a short time but what happens when someone clogs up the works?

Did you know that the Garden of Eden was a seed garden? Adam and Eve’s job was to take the seed from the garden and multiply it across the entire earth. It was a big job but a simple one really. When they didn’t perform their part of the equation, they broke the whole machine. Actually, the whole fight between Cain and Abel was over the tithe. Cain didn’t want to tithe. He was rebellious. Abel was joyous in his tithe and we know that God loves a cheerful giver, so Cain was jealous and committed the first murder.

God gave the first family all the seed they needed to populate the entire earth with plants and vegetables. The entire earth would have been an Eden, a utopia. Instead, they lusted after the one thing that was God’s. That tree, I believe, represented their tithe. They, like so many of us, ate their tithe. In that meal was death and estrangement. It is the very same for us today. We commit the same crime of Adam. We don’t give what we should and we consume what we should not. In so doing, we break the system that was meant to prosper us. The machine works if you work it or we can be like Adam, Eve and Cain. We clog up the flow of God’s provision and then we wonder why we are not more blessed. The only one in the family that joyfully blessed the Lord was killed so there was no good example left in the earth, only selfish, greedy people. Surely we can learn from their example and not make the same mistakes again, and again, and . . ..

 Making it Easy

Deuteronomy 14: 12

“You shall surely tithe all the produce from what you sow, which comes out of the field every year.”

Hey, let’s make this easy on you and answer some questions about tithing and offerings. Well, first of all, yes, there are more gifts to the Lord than just tithes. There are times when you will want to give a gift which is above and beyond your tithe. Today, instead of the theology of tithes and offerings, though, I want to talk about the practical side of life. Let’s begin with some basics though.

Tithe, quite literally, means the tenth part, hence ten percent. The tithe is paid on gross income. You have probably heard it said that God gets the first ten percent. Paying on gross rather than net is what that refers to. So, if you are an employee that means you give God ten percent of your gross pay. You can do that each paycheck if you like and that certainly makes it easy. You can also do it monthly if you prefer. You could even give every week. Just find something that makes sense with your pay schedule and your life. If you own your own business, then you would give ten percent of your total income. Again, do that weekly or monthly.

Okay, now, how about the question, “Who do I send my tithe to?” Well, it should be sent to the one who is feeding you. Who do you rely on when you need help? Who is feeding you day in and day out. Are you a member of a church congregation? That church supports you by having regular weekly services and providing for your needs in other ways. When you give that church your tithe, you pay the electricity bill, the water bill and all of the other necessaries, including salaries, which allow that church to keep providing services.

This once was not to be a difficult question because we all simply gave our tithe to our local church. Today, however, we may be fed by any number of ministries through internet or television ministry. Do these ministries deserve a portion of your tithe too? Well, perhaps so. However, you can also reserve a gift for those ministries if you like. In other words, you could still give your whole tithe to the local church and send the other ministries that feed you a monthly gift. Some ministers teach not to split up your tithe. Personally, I am alright with it. I do feel we have a responsibility to the church we attend every week but I also think there is something fundamentally wrong with us feeding off of a ministry and never providing any substance back to that ministry. Take this question to the Lord in prayer but don’t be so bound by tradition that you cannot hear His leading.

What about setting up an auto payment? You have probably heard some ministers teach not to set up your tithe on auto payment. Their reasoning is very good but at the end of the day I have reasons which for me are more compelling for using an auto-payment function. One of the key reasons some folks don’t want you to use auto-pay is because your tithe and your gifts and offerings should always be purposeful. In other words, we should be engaged with God over our giving. Every time I give something to the work of the Lord I want to be engaged emotionally and intentionally in that transaction. That can be hard while using bill pay. Besides being purposeful, our giving should also always be done prayerfully. Again, this can be difficult if you use an auto payment feature. One thing you can do, though, is set up your bill pay so that it sends you an email when that payment is about to go out. Pray over that gift then. It might not be as perfect as sitting down and writing checks but I think it will work.

The real advantage to the auto-pay feature is that you don’t forget. This is a big deal for me because I travel a lot. I don’t want to get two months down the road and realize I have forgotten to send in my tithe. So whether I am on the road or in town, I know my tithe, gifts and offerings are going to be sent on time.

One other thought. I really do believe in tithes and offerings. I never give only ten percent. That doesn’t make me special. I am just more desperate for God’s blessing in my life than some other folks. Sometimes, though, when we set up our tithe on auto-pay, we disengage mentally from the whole process. That is the thing I would not have you do. I want us to all be conscious every day about what the Father is speaking to us about giving. He might have a gift He wants you to sow today that has nothing to do with your regular giving. So, my bottom line is this: first, whatever Dad tells you to do relative to who you give to, how much you give (above the tithe) or the delivery method, you should do. I strongly believe this should be something you do with the father. Secondly, if any of the technological conveniences cause you to be disengaged in this process, then I suggest abandoning them. I personally hate to miss a month, especially when I know some ministry is counting on my regular monthly contribution but you can make it up next month if you do make a mistake. Don’t mishear me. I am not saying it is okay to miss a month. I am just saying that if you do, send double next month or send a check the moment you realize. It is important for your giving to be done purposefully and prayerfully. I don’t want your bank account tithing. I want you tithing. So, if you set up your bill pay and then forget it, disengaging in an activity that should be done mindfully, then take it out of bill pay and go back to the old fashion ways.

Lastly, if you have more questions, you may use the comment function of this devotion to post your question or click here to go to our Ask Ivey webpage and ask your question there. We would love to hear from you and you will get a personal response from me. Your question might even inspire another Word of the Day because if you are thinking it, so are other folks.