Tag Archives: Stewardship

When There’s a Knock at the Door: Zacchaeus in Community

Knock knock. If it’s a joke, you know what to say: “Who’s there?”

But knock knock means something different to different people. Throughout my childhood, when I heard a knock knock on the back door, I could guess the knocker within three guesses. If the knock knock was rapped on the front door, all bets were off. I had no idea who it was, so before rushing to the door, I’d peek through the blinds to see who might be knocking, to find out the answer to the question: “Who’s there?”

While there’s only one response to the knock knock of a joke, people react in different ways to a knock at the actual door. If the resident is able to peek between the blinds or through the peep hole, they might not answer the door. Or if nosy passersby see the knocker and know the resident, they might start speculating, “Now, now. Why are they knocking on that door?” What’s true about welcome, hesitation, or speculation when there’s a knock knock on literal doors is also true when there’s a knock on the door of someone’s spiritual home. Some might peek at who is knocking and never open the door; curious onlookers might see who’s knocking and wonder, “What are they doing knocking on that door?”

The second question has been passed on for centuries. People divvy up others according to group: who is in or out, the “haves” and “have nots,” those who are reputable or bring disrepute, us vs. them. When a crowd saw Jesus going to the house of Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), they voiced surprise in reaction to this moment of knocking. “He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.” (Luke 19:7)

But it is not a holy moment of wondering; it is a hateful moment of muttering. It was the same kind of reaction recorded earlier in Luke’s Gospel when the Pharisees and teachers of the law muttered their displeasure at Jesus going to eat with sinners and tax collectors. (Luke 15:2) But while familiar Bible readers might expect the Pharisees and teachers of the law to grumble their disapproval, it might be surprising to notice that this time, it’s the crowd grumbling. In Luke 19, Jesus is entering Jericho on his way to Jerusalem, on his way to set his mother’s song to reality: to bring down rulers, to fill the hungry, to send the rich away empty. So why are the crowds muttering their own disapproving reaction? Because the sinner who Jesus has gone to visit this time is Zacchaeus—a tax collector who is wealthy.

It’s dangerous to be wealthy in Luke’s Gospel. Beyond Mary’s song, Jesus has blessed the poor but warned of woe for the rich (6:24); Jesus has told a parable about one who intended to build bigger barns but instead lost his life as a rich fool (12:13-21); Jesus has described justice in the afterlife as the rich man in torment being separated from Lazarus by an uncrossable chasm (16:19-31); and describing Jesus’ encounter with a wealthy young man, Luke tells us the man rejected Jesus’ invitation because he had great wealth, prompting Jesus’ lament, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” (18:23-25)

So then, when we encounter this tax collector who is wealthy, no wonder the people are muttering. There must have been some expectation of Jericho justice: Zacchaeus has been squeezing life from them, fraudulently making their poverty that much worse. Why is Jesus going to be with him? He’s one Jesus is supposed to be busy bringing down!

Which, beautifully, is exactly what Jesus does.

Zacchaeus had gone looking for Jesus but has been crowded out by the cheated and, as a result, climbed this tree for a view. Here Luke’s brilliant story-telling brings together Zacchaeus’ resourcefulness in business and resourcefulness in the moment. Zacchaeus is a chief tax-collector, one who is collecting the tolls, the cost of doing business, through a profitable and effective enterprise of subordinate toll collectors. The tree he has climbed, a sycamore-fig tree, recalls the tree from which the fruit was eaten, of the leaves that were sewn, and among which the first Man and Woman hid. Just as they had eaten fruit in an effort to make themselves greater, so has Zacchaeus been climbing the tree throughout his life. By climbing the literal tree, he is showing what he’s been doing all along: climbing over others for his own sake.

And now, notice the switch! Zacchaeus climbs the tree to see Jesus, but it is Jesus who looks up and calls him down. While Zacchaeus thought he was seeking Jesus, it was Jesus seeking Zacchaeus. As St. Augustine would comment, “The Lord, who had already welcomed Zacchaeus in his heart, was now ready to be welcomed by him in his house.”

The muttering of the crowd, directed against Jesus, shows that Jesus takes Zacchaeus’ shame when he gives Zacchaeus public honor: Zacchaeus responds to the crowd’s muttering with a promise to restore judiciously, taking the same penalty and way of restitution for stealing another’s sheep (Ex. 22:1), vowing to give generously. (Luke 19:8) What a switch! As my friend Dr. Dan Freemyer has commented, “The tax collector has become the gift distributor!” (Dan claims to have read this in a commentary, but we can’t find the original author.) Mary’s song praised God for calling down the rulers, filling up the poor, and sending away the rich. And indeed that’s what Jesus has done: he has called Zacchaeus down from his tree, he has filled the poor through Zacchaeus’ remorseful generosity, and he has sent Zacchaeus away, emptied of his guilt and stigma, and restored to his name, which means innocent. The early Desert Father Ephraim the Syrian captured the full exchange like this: “The first fig tree of Adam will be forgotten, because of the last fig tree of the chief tax collector, and the name of the guilty Adam will be forgotten because of the innocent Zacchaeus.” Jesus calls Zacchaeus down from the tree on his journey to carrying his cross.

There are different responses are possible to the knock knock sounding on our doors and in our hearts. Just like a knock might prompt an effort to see—to pull back the curtain, to peer through the peep hole, or to crane your neck to ask why they were knocking at that door – this is a story about seeing, as well.

Zacchaeus had wanted to see Jesus, but he could not see over the crowd. The crowd muttered when they saw Jesus going to Zacchaeus’ house. Zacchaeus implored the Lord’s attention as he responded to Jesus’ grace with gratitude and justice. Jesus affirmed his mission to seek for the lost. But the whole passage started with an urge for the reader to see, as well. Luke introduces us to Zacchaeus by telling us to “Behold!” (See Luke 19:2; although not always translated, it is found in the King James and New King James Version and noted in other versions, as well).

Just as we are urged to behold Zacchaeus, so we stand ready to behold the activity of God when he brings us in contact with others. Certainly, when God directs us to stop and look up, to knock on the lives of others, some of them will peer through the blinds, look through the peep holes, and quietly slip away. But others will look, open the door, and respond with gratitude that God has entered their lives. “You were exactly who I hoped would come!” And certainly, when God guides us to step into the lives of those who willingly open the door, there will be nosy grumblers who mutter and question our actions; but others will stop and behold, recognizing that God is about to do something amazing in this house because God has already welcomed its inhabitant into his heart.

Can you imagine the responses that Zacchaeus and his troupe experienced when they went collecting, knocking on the doors of Jericho’s inhabitants? But how different would it have been after his transformation!

May it be so for you and me, too. May we choose a response of gratitude and generosity because Jesus endured scandal to come into our homes, too. And may gratitude, justice, and generosity make it so that when we knock on the lives of the tree climbers in our own lives, they too gladly choose to come down, opening their lives not only to us but to Jesus.

Featured image courtesy Conscious Design via Unsplash.

Jeff Rudy ~ When Simplicity Is Difficult

Simplicity isn’t easy.

I used to think that “simple” and “easy” could always be used interchangeably, like when asked about a particular task that didn’t require a lot of physical or mental sweat, one could say, “it was simple” or “it was easy” and both would mean the same thing: “No big deal!” But when it comes to what Richard Foster calls the “discipline of simplicity,” whatever other descriptors one may attempt to describe simplicity, “easy” cannot be one of them.

People who enter into a monastery take vows and they typically center on three virtues that become the benchmark for the life of a monk: poverty, chastity and obedience. A monastic community in the British Isles known as The Community of Aidan and Hilda has reworded the first two, such that their three life-giving vows are these: simplicity, purity, and obedience. At a conference on Christian revitalization I attended several years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland, John Bell, a representative from Aidan and Hilda, described how these vows are life-giving. He said this: “Simplicity leads us into a deeper experience of the generosity of God; purity leads us into a deeper experience of the love of God; obedience leads us into a deeper experience of the freedom of God.” This sort of simplicity is of a centering sort and narrows our focus in a similar way with what Wesley called “The One thing Needful.”

It has been quipped about the modern tendency of humans in Western civilization that, “we buy things we do not need with money we do not have to impress people we do not like.” Richard Foster adds to this that the pressure placed on those who desire to live in simplicity when he said:

We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality…[Consider that] the modern hero is the poor boy who purposefully becomes rich rather than the rich boy who voluntarily becomes poor. (We still find it hard to imagine that a girl can do either!)…It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick. Until we see how unbalanced our culture has become at this point, we will not be able to deal with the mammon spirit within ourselves nor will we desire Christian simplicity.

So it becomes clear that simplicity isn’t easy!

A couple of years ago, I was honored to preach at the memorial service of a man who served as a Navy pilot in World War II. It wasn’t something that he talked about, for he was a very unassuming fellow who quietly lived out his days, not seeking attention or accolades for his achievements. But when I scripted his eulogy, I kept coming back to two characteristics that I felt defined his life: simplicity and perfection, both of which are central to Wesleyan theology and spirituality. Here’s why I say that.

There is a quote attributed to several people in the last few centuries, including Elizabeth Seton, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa: “Live simply so that others can simply live.” When I think of that man who exuded simplicity so well, of course I do not mean he was simple-minded. Even to the very end of his life as he struggled with severe Parkinson’s he had a sharp mind, keenly aware of his surroundings, of his identity, of his story, of Scripture and of his world. Rather, by simplicity I mean the way he lived and shared the grace of God he had been given. It was that trademark of humility and valuing the betterment of his neighbors rather than seeking his own prosperity. The man’s son said that he “feared of having too much money more than he worried of not having enough.”

This brings to mind the wisdom about simplicity and stewardship shared by John Wesley, who is (falsely) attributed to have said, “When I have money, I get rid of it quickly lest it find its way into my heart.” Though this statement is nowhere in his writings, I think we can say that it at least sounds “Wesleyan.” Wesley did, however, explicitly lay out three simple rules to guide about the use of money/resources: gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can. Some will abide by the first two, but the mark of a true Christian is to follow it to the end, and give all you can. Whether this man knew that rule or not, he lived by it.

Now let me tell you one more thing about this Navy pilot and why he made me think of “perfection.” He flew fighter planes over the ocean that took off and landed on aircraft carriers. Because of the moving target that is an aircraft carrier, it is not that uncommon for a plane to be waved off, circle around and try again if the controller aboard the ship discerns that a safe landing is in doubt or question. Well, in over 900 landings, this pilot I knew never had to be waved around a single time. He always stuck the landing on the first attempt. Whatever negative connotations may be heard in the notion of “perfection” in today’s world, I can’t really think of any word to use to describe the fact of this man’s flawless landing streak other than “perfect.” Perfection, as any student of Wesley knows well, isn’t about an absolutist sort of ideal where there is no more room for growth. It is, however, about aiming at “the one thing needful.”

And so we come to see that living in simplicity goes hand in hand with a life in pursuit of holiness, or sanctifying grace. For if you do a word search of “simplicity” through Wesley’s works, you will quite often find that he speaks of it in relation to Mary’s action of sitting by Jesus feet, drawing deeply from the well of the “one thing” known as intimate discipleship rather than Martha’s actions of being concerned about “many things.”

To bring the point to a close, Wesley wrote in his sermon Causes of the Inefficacy of Christianity the following:

Why has Christianity done so little good, even among us? Among the Methodists? Among them that hear and receive the whole Christian doctrine, and that have Christian discipline added thereto, in the most essential parts of it? Plainly because we have forgot, or at least not duly attended to those solemn words of our Lord, ‘If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow me’…The Methodists grow more and more self-indulgent because they grow rich…many are twenty, thirty, yea, a hundred times richer than they were when they first entered the [Methodist] society. And it is an observation which admits of few exceptions, that nine in ten of these decreased in grace in the same proportion as they increased in wealth.

So it is that when more and more resources become available to be used and disposed by us, the more and more difficult it is to live in simplicity. But to live as Christ would have us live means that we ought to define ourselves not by what we consume or possess, but how, in modeling our God who gave of himself, we deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Christ, giving ourselves for others.

That may be simple, but it isn’t easy.

May the Spirit empower us to live in simplicity!


This post from our archives originally appeared on Wesleyan Accent in 2015.

The featured image, Cranes from Quick Lessons in Simplified Drawing ca. 1823, is by Katsushika Hokusai.

James Petticrew ~ Money, Money, Money

I can remember in Bible college getting a book about pastoral ministry which had a chapter entitled, “The Oh So Delicate Subject.” I turned to the chapter assuming it would contain some wisdom on preaching about sex, to find it was actually a chapter about money and asking for money for church. After many years of preaching I think that book was right; I can’t think of a more delicate and difficult subject to preach about than money – especially asking for money.

The difficulty surrounding talking about and asking for money in church probably stems from a couple of factors. Firstly, there are cultural factors at work. In our culture money, how much you have and how you use it are profoundly private matters and talking and asking about them feels like we are invading people’s privacy. Talking about money in the UK makes both the preacher and those listening feel very uncomfortable, so we tend to avoid the subject.

I think the other reason we tend to avoid talking about and asking for money is because we want to avoid guilt by association. We all know the800px-guaranteed_payday_loans-cash_money_store scandals surrounding television evangelists and we recoil when we hear them greedily trying to fleece gullible people in Jesus’  name to fund their luxury lifestyles. In our determination to distance ourselves from these church charlatans all too often we avoid the subject of money at all. So in our attempt not to be seen as greedy money grabbers we end up being silent about money. The problem with our silence on money is that  according to Scripture, money and our attitude to it  is one of the most important indicators of the condition of people’s hearts. The danger of our silence is that if we ignore the subject of money, both the mission of the Kingdom of God and the spirituality of God’s people will ultimately be impoverished.

Over the decades that I have been a preacher, I have struggled with the subject about how to talk about and ask for money with integrity but clarity. Recently I found a little gem of a book by Catholic theologian and spiritual writer Henri Nouwen called The Spirituality Of Fundraising. It’s only 64 pages long, but this book has given me a better perspective on this subject than anything else I have read. I thought I’d share some quotes from Nouwen’s book to give you an insight into where he is coming from but mostly to encourage you to get a copy for yourself. If you are a preacher or involved in fundraising for the church or missions, you should have this book in your library. Nouwen’s book isn’t a “how to” book but rather a “why” book. It won’t give you strategies when it comes to fundraising and challenging people to give sacrificially, but it will show why you should and will give you more confidence to do so.

So here are some nuggets of inspiration from Nouwen:

415qui41ql-_sx311_bo1204203200_“Fundraising is a very rich and beautiful activity. It is a confident, joyful and hope-filled expression of ministry. In ministering to each other, each from the riches that he or she possesses, we work together for the full coming of God’s Kingdom.”

“Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.”

“We will never be able to ask for money if we do not know how we ourselves relate to money. What is the place of money in our lives?”

“Are we willing to be converted from our fear of asking, our anxiety about being rejected or feeling humiliated, our depression when someone says, ‘No, I’m not going to get involved in your project’?”

“The Spirit of love says: ‘Don’t be afraid to let go of your need to control your own life. Let me fulfill the true desire of your heart.’”

“Fundraising is also always a call conversion. And this comes to both those who seek funds and those who have funds. Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration.”

“We must claim the confidence to go to a wealthy person knowing that he or she is just as poor and in need of love as we are.”

“I ask for money standing up, not bowing down because I believe in what I am about. I believe I have something important to offer.”

“We do not need to worry about the money. Rather, we need to worry about whether, through the invitation we offer them (the donor) and the relationship we develop with them, they will come closer to God.”

“When we give ourselves to planting and nurturing love here on earth, our efforts will reach beyond our own chronological existence.”

Andy Stoddard ~ Simple Gifts

One of the things that I love most about God is how God can take our small efforts, the things in our life that we don’t believe are good enough, and make them truly amazing.  He can take our small, human efforts, and perform divine miracles with them.

He can make the impossible, possible.  Listen to what happens in John 6: 8-11:

One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?” Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all. Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

Jesus is here with a crowd of 5,000 (men, there were, most assuredly many woman and children there also) and it’s time to eat. But there is nothing there to eat, at least nothing that could feed a crowd this big.

But in this text, we see two people who I’m sure must have felt foolish offer up a small little gift when they saw a huge need.  

First, the boy offers to Andrew these five loaves and two fish. And then Andrew offers them to Jesus.

You can almost see the child sweetly offering up the food, as a child would go to their piggy bank when their family has a need.  The parents smile knowing that it won’t be enough.  You can almost see Andrew do that.

But then he takes that sweet gift to Jesus, knowing that there is no way it can help, but at least it’s something.  And Jesus performs a miracle.

From one small gift, Jesus feeds thousands.

food-healthy-man-personToday, we all have gifts that seem so small with all the needs around.  Offer them anyway.  Give them to Jesus.  Give to them to his mercy and grace.  And see what he can do.

He can take our simple, small gifts, and do amazing things with them.  All for our good (and the good of others) and his glory!

Today, give your simple gifts to Jesus.

Christianity Vectors by Vecteezy

American Freedom or Christian Freedom?

Always a lover of history, currently I’m partway through Ron Chernow’s excellent biography of American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton – the book, incidentally, which son of Puerto Rican immigrants Lin-Manuel Miranda turned into the hit Broadway musical. With a decent dose of Scot in my blood, I can get into any story of a struggle for freedom easily. Why else would I own a t-shirt emblazoned with “Boadicea: Warrior Queen of the Celts“?

While I do not lack in feistiness, the principle, reality, ideal or goal of freedom has preoccupied my thinking lately, because my feistiness can serve Christ in different ways. And feistiness doesn’t always serve its own desire for personal freedom.

Consider the Apostle Paul: a feisty disciple of Christ if ever there was one – after all, “I confronted Peter to his face,” and Dr. Luke tells us in Acts of Paul and Barnabas’ sharp dispute and parting. But the feisty Saul-turned-Paul was not allowed to fight for himself – “to live is Christ, to die, gain.” He went from breathing murderous threats and arresting Christians to a great deal of suffering (imprisonment, harsh travel, shipwreck, beatings) and dying for his faith. Saul was feisty; Paul was feisty. Saul was feisty for a cause. Paul was feisty for Christ.

Anyone who follows international news (and North Americans have to discipline themselves to do so, because our news sources focus on North American news or “news” almost exclusively) is quickly acquainted with the varying degrees of political and religious freedom around the world. Recently Russia has been debating religious freedom, possibly putting the most restrictions on it since the fall of the Soviet Union (outlawing evangelism online or even invitations to a private residence for the purpose of religious meeting). Recently ISIS burned 19 Yazidi women alive in a cage for refusing to have sex with ISIS fighters. Reading these headlines should rekindle gratitude for freedom in the hearts of those who, at least for the time being, have it. After all, freedom is not and has never been a guarantee. 

Yet as proud as I am that a great-great-relative fought and was injured in the Civil War, specifically against slavery – as proud as I am that great-great-relatives fought in the Revolutionary War – as grateful as I am for young men who retched into their helmets as they prepared to land on the beaches of Normandy – as grateful as I am for a nation that is maddeningly imperfect but still remains a hope, an ideal, a far-off luxury in the minds of millions – Christians are called to exercise their freedom for others. If there is any great divide, it may be the difference between Americans who, in general, exercised their freedom for others, and Americans who, in general, exercised their freedom for themselves.

How ought Christians to steward our freedom, wherever we live in the world, whether we live in relative abundance of freedom or whether we live in restrictive, closed countries with censored internet?

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.

Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience,  for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.”

If an unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience.But if someone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the one who told you and for the sake of conscience.I am referring to the other person’s conscience, not yours. For why is my freedom being judged by another’s conscience? If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for?

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. – I Cor. 10:23-33

Paul writes here about personal freedom to do something in good conscience that someone else may have qualms about. The principle is similar to not drinking in front of a recovering alcoholic: you may have no problem with addiction, but out of concern and love and even basic politeness, you give up your “freedom” to drink when you are with that person, because the person is worth more than your right to exercise that freedom.

In a society compulsively obsessed with individual rights, this is revolutionary. Of course, in North America, I have the right to post something on Facebook. But maybe I shouldn’t as someone called to be feisty for Christ more than feisty for my nationality. In another nation, of course, I have the right to report my neighbor for something. But maybe I shouldn’t as someone called to be feisty for Christ more than feisty for my government. For Christians, all causes must be submitted to Christ, viewed through Christ, sanctified to be Christlike. I cannot love my cause more than my Christ. I cannot define myself more by my cause than my Christ. I cannot give more for my cause than I give my Christ.

Patriotism isn’t a form of faith; it’s a form of being a good citizen. Patriotism, then, is always subservient to Christ (as Europeans who illegally hid Jews in their homes in the 1940’s practiced at great sacrifice). Our citizenship does not define us, though: we are pilgrims, as John Bunyan pictured, pilgrims, travelers, strangers, foreigners – refugees… The author of Hebrews paints this reality beautifully in chapter 11:

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to set out for a place that he was to receive as an inheritance; and he set out, not knowing where he was going. By faith he stayed for a time in the land he had been promised, as in a foreign land, living in tents, as did Isaac and Jacob, who were heirs with him of the same promise. For he looked forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God.

Therefore from one person, and this one as good as dead, descendants were born, ‘as many as the stars of heaven and as the innumerable grains of sand by the seashore.’

All of these died in faith without having received the promises, but from a distance they saw and greeted them. They confessed that they were strangers and foreigners on the earth,for people who speak in this way make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of the land that they had left behind, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; indeed, he has prepared a city for them.”

All the citizens of earth hunger for “a better country;” we know that the best country on earth still suffers natural disaster or disease, war or poverty. But for Americans, for Iraqis, for Russians, for Nigerians, for Tibetans, for all from pole to pole who “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one,” God is not ashamed of them. There is no shame in refusing to exercise individual liberty, for the sake of others; it is the way of Jesus.

Jeff Rudy ~ Simplicity: For Richer, For Poorer

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

I rejoice in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned for me, but had no opportunity to show it. Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. In any case, it was kind of you to share my distress.

You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once. Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account. I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Philippians 4:4-20, NRSV)

What comes to your mind when you hear the word “simplicity”? Perhaps you think of the communities of people who we might describe as primitive or at least aren’t as bogged down by the “stuff” of the material world, like Mennonites and Amish or Quakers and Shakers, the latter being the tradition from whom comes the song “Simple Gifts” we sang earlier. Perhaps hearing the word simplicity calls to mind a particular nostalgic feeling of when things were far less complicated and messy.

I think of a rusted metal sign out in front of my Papaw and Granny’s old house that read “Friendship.” It was attached to a metal pole and sat inside a planter next to the sidewalk that led to the front door. My cousins and I would often go out in the yard during the summer and play whiffle ball. We would pretend to be announcers like the late Jack Buck and say, “Broadcasting today from Friendship Field, it’s a great day for baseball!” It was a simple time, but there is a story behind that “Friendship” sign. It paid tribute to a moment in my family’s history when things weren’t so great. Papaw owned several farms around Oscar in other nearby communities named “Monkey’s Eyebrow” and “Needmore” and a farm store he owned with my father in “Bandana”…and yes, those are real names of real places in Ballard County, Kentucky.

Well, the mid-1980’s were not so easy on a lot of small town farmers in rural areas like Western Kentucky. The business, all the farms, and even their house was in jeopardy of being lost and they would have lost everything if it weren’t for the community coming to our aid. The community sponsored an event at the local high school called “Bill Rudy Day” and raised enough funds to save the house and a few acres around it, though everything else was lost. And so, Papaw and Granny and the whole family came to an intimate awareness of the significance of “friendship.” That’s a time I think of when I hear “simplicity.” It has been quipped about the modern tendency of humans in Western civilization that, “we buy things we do not need with money we do not have to impress people we do not like.” Richard Foster adds to this that the pressure placed on those who desire to live in simplicity when he said:

We are made to feel ashamed to wear clothes or drive cars until they are worn out. The mass media have convinced us that to be out of step with fashion is to be out of step with reality…[Consider that] The modern hero is the poor boy who purposefully becomes rich rather than the rich boy who voluntarily becomes poor. (We still find it hard to imagine that a girl can do either!)…It is time we awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick. Until we see how unbalanced our culture has become at this point, we will not be able to deal with the mammon spirit within ourselves nor will we desire Christian simplicity.

Persons who enter into a monastery have to take vows and they typically center on three virtues that become the benchmark for the life of a monk: poverty, chastity and obedience. There is a monastic community in the British Isles known as The Community of Aidan and Hilda that has reworded the first two, such that their three life-giving vows are these: simplicity, purity, and obedience. At a conference I attended several years ago in Edinburgh, Scotland, John Bell, a representative from Aidan and Hilda described how these vows are life-giving. He said this: “Simplicity leads us into a deeper experience of the generosity of God; purity leads us into a deeper experience of the love of God; obedience leads us into a deeper experience of the freedom of God.”

This ideal is so counter to the culture in which we find ourselves that we discover that the more and more inundated we become with “stuff” and the increased pace of the world, the more difficult it is to be contently serene with living in simplicity. Indeed, we could see it as challenging as Jesus’ injunction that to be his followers, we must deny ourselves and take up our crosses and follow him.

I used to think that the words “easy” and “simple” could always be used interchangeably because both words could be used to describe when a task didn’t require much mental or physical sweat – both meant “No big deal!” But now when it comes to living in simplicity, I’ve discovered that there is a tremendous difference between easiness and simplicity. We are so far from truly understanding Jesus’ admonitions in the Sermon on the Mount to not worry about anything but to do just one thing – seek God’s kingdom. We are so caught up in the modern cry for “more!” that we know next to nothing about Paul’s contentment that God’s grace is “enough!”

What comes to your mind when you hear “simplicity”? Listen to the wisdom from the ages: Thomas á Kempis said: “Simplicity and purity are the two wings that lift the soul up to heaven.” François Fénelon, a French theologian from the 17th century who had an impact on the Wesleys said: “True simplicity is that grace whereby the soul is delivered from all unprofitable reflections upon itself.” In view of the modern tendency to find solace in the “stuff” of the world, Rabbi Abraham Heschel offered this: “There is happiness in the love of labor, there is misery in the love of gain. Many hearts and pitchers are broken at the fountain of profit. Selling himself into slavery of things, man becomes a utensil that is broken at the fountain.” And before we draw from the well of the Wesleys, hear this beautiful statement that has been attributed to such luminaries as Elizabeth Seton, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa – “Live simply so that others can simply live.”

I once knew a Navy pilot who fought in World War II who lived this simplicity well. He had that humility and valuing the betterment of his neighbors rather than seeking his own prosperity. His son said that he feared of having too much money more than he worried of not having enough. A quote is often linked to John Wesley that although there is no definitive proof he ever said it, yet it sounds awfully like something he would say. The line goes like this: “When I have money, I get rid of it quickly lest it find its way into my heart.”

However, we do have multiple references to how Wesley exhorted the Methodists to live in simplicity, specifically with regard to the contentment of… ‘for richer, for poorer’ when he gave these three simple rules: “Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” Some will abide by the first two suggestions, but ignore the third. Now here is where it’s going to start to sting a little bit, so don’t say you weren’t warned, but Wesley said this:

And yet nothing can be more plain than that all who observe the two first rules without the third will be twofold more the children of hell than ever they were before…Many of your brethren, beloved of God, have not food to eat; they have not raiment to put on; they have not a place where to lay their head. And why are they thus distressed? Because you impiously, unjustly, and cruelly detain from them what your Master and theirs lodges in your hands on purpose to supply their wants! So…as long as we gain and save, we must…we MUST give…otherwise I can have no more hope of your salvation than for that of Judas.”

Again, that’s Wesley, not me. So hold your tomatoes! And then this – again Wesley – “The Methodists grow more and more self-indulgent because they grow rich…many are twenty, thirty, yea, a hundred times richer than they were when they first entered the [Methodist] society. And it is an observation which admits of few exceptions, that nine in ten of these decreased in grace in the same proportion as they increased in wealth.” What does this have to do with a sermon series where we are supposed to be focusing on serenity? Sounds awfully discomforting to me! Let me give you an example, from among the early Methodists. (The following example is illustrated in Wesley’s Sermon, The More Excellent Way.)

A young man budgeted his yearly needs for living and determined that he needed 28 pounds to live on. The first year he earned 30 pounds, so he gave away the remaining two. The next year he received 60 pounds, he still lived on the 28, and gave away the other 32. The third year he received 90 pounds, he still lived on the 28 and gave away 62. The fourth year he received 120 pounds. Still he lived as before on 28, and gave to the poor 92.

I don’t know that I could do that. But here was a person who lived simply so that others could simply live. To bring this point home, Wesley suggests this piercing question as the guide for how to practice simplicity: “How can you on principles of reason spend your money in a way which God may possibly forgive, instead of spending it in a manner which God will certainly reward?”

Consider this – the first sin in the Bible is a sin of consumerism. A perceived need was portrayed to humans – “Hey you can be like God…just eat this fruit. Be powerful, live extravagantly; partake of its sweet juice.” It is as though you can hear the serpent saying, “Take and eat; this is how you become like God.”

In the story of our redemption, we have a Jewish man who grew up in a peasant family who lived and walked in simplicity, who on the night he was betrayed, offered a different vision of who God is and how we can be human, when in contrast to the perpetual temptation for love of gain, Jesus said, “Take and eat; this is how God has given and become like you.”

The redeemed, the serene, the peaceful ones who are reconciled with God will find our God-aimed identity not in what we buy, accumulate, save, or consume, but in how we give. And we will discover not a false security of peace, but a freeing life of simply enjoying and sharing of God’s friendship…God’s generous grace…for richer, for poorer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Mark Trotter ~ A Fool and His Money

It is a familiar scene in courtrooms, families arguing over an estate. It is an especially ugly scene when dividing the inheritance divides the family. That is the scene that opens our text for this morning, the gospel lesson from Luke.

A man came up to Jesus, and said, “Make my brother divide the inheritance with me.” The request was crass and boorish, but probably not uncommon, for Jesus was known as a Rabbi. In fact, in this passage, he is addressed as Rabbi: “Teacher, make my brother divide the inheritance with me.” Rabbis could settle these disputes because the laws were part of the religious scriptures. The Rabbis were experts in the scriptures, so they were often called upon to interpret the law and to make a decision in a dispute between two people.

That is what is happening here. According to the text he is also addressing a large crowd. At the beginning of the twelfth chapter, it says that there were thousands there, “stepping on one another.” Which means, it was something of a unruly crowd, as well. And there is one man in the crowd, shouting at Jesus, interrupting his sermon (I can tell you preachers don’t like that), saying, “Make my brother shape up.”

Jesus’ annoyance is obvious. He replies, “Who made me a divider over you?” Then instead of adjudicating the case, he lectures the plaintiff, “Beware of all covetousness; for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

When he said that, you could hear a gasp over the thousands who were gathered there. For Jesus, with these words, has challenged a fundamental assumption of that society. Everyone believed that a person’s life was measured by the abundance of his or her possessions, because the abundance of possessions was seen to be a sign of God’s favor on your life. Their reasoning was, if you are right with God, then God will be good to you, you will be rich, and you will prosper in all areas of life. If you die separated from God, if you are a sinner, then you will be poor, and you will suffer calamity in your life.

That is how they read scripture. They could point to chapter and verse. They could say, here it is, right here in Deuteronomy, where God says, “I will make a covenant with you. If you will obey my laws and live righteous lives, then I will give you this good land, and you will live in it and your descendants will live in it, and you will prosper. But if you disobey my law, and do not live righteous lives, and chase after other gods, then you will be punished, and your days in this land will be few.”

That is a narrow and literal reading of Deuteronomy. A reading, incidentally, that was challenged by all of the prophets in the Old Testament, who said that righteousness does not result in personal wealth; righteousness results in social justice. If a society is righteous, if the citizens of a society are righteous, the result of that will be a moral society, not necessarily personal wealth.

The equation of wealth and righteousness was also taken on in the Old Testament by the Book of Job. A tale about a rich man who was righteous altogether, zealous in morality, loved his neighbors, exemplary citizen, devoutly religious, and he ended up suffering the most devastating tragedies in his life, and in the lives of his family, beginning with the elimination of his wealth.

So the assumption that wealth is the reward for righteousness was wrong. But it was very popular and very persistent. Even into Jesus’ time it was still the popular theology of the people. Jesus, therefore, attacked it with all the fury of the prophets. Like the prophets, he used exaggeration, hyperbole, to get their attention, saying, “Blessed are the poor.” That is just the opposite of what everybody believed. Everybody believed that you were blessed if you were rich. Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.”

A rich man came to him. This is at the end of the Gospel of Luke. “Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” That in itself was shocking, a rich man asking for the meaning of life? The assumption was that the rich man had found the meaning of life. That’s why he was rich. He had found it. Jesus, with even greater irony, now tells him, “Go obey the commandments, if you want to find this life.” Of course, the man’s reply is what we would expect, he has obeyed all the commandments, even from the time of his youth.

So here is a man who is righteous, who has the evidence to prove it, he is wealthy, and still he is separated from God. He does not know God. That society would have said, that is impossible.

But then comes the coup de grace, “Go sell all you have and give it to the poor.” It is the most shocking way to say it. It is designed to get their attention. “A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

Now our text. There was a rich man, who had more than enough possessions to guarantee his comfort. The obvious conclusion was this is a righteous man, this is a man who has been blessed by God. In fact, he must be very righteous, because his blessings just keep coming. No matter what he does, all these wonderful things keep happening to him, making him richer and richer. He must be doing something right in his life. The man, in order to insure his future, or as the parable puts it, so he can “eat, drink, and be merry,” into an indefinite future, builds more barns so that he can store his surplus wealth.

That night, the parable says, ironically, the night that he completed building his barns, he died. God came to him, and said, “Fool! Tonight your soul is required of you; and the things you have prepared, whose are they now?” He died just as he finished preparing for his future. Jesus told these parables to shock people, to get them thinking about the way they were living, the priorities in their life.

Luke put them in his gospel for us, so that we would take account, too, think about your life, about all that you have, about what you are doing with your life. He wants you to think as you hear this parable, maybe that could be me. He wants you to ask, what have I sacrificed in order to gain wealth? What values have I devalued because I value possessions most? What immorality have I condoned in order to get wealthy? What have I not given to my family in order that I might give them material things?

Luke wants to get you thinking. He wants you to think about what really constitutes the “good life,” and to ask yourself, have I been seeking that, or have I postponed it until I have enough? Then I will take care of those matters, that’s next. But today I have to secure my future. Someday I will spend more time with my family. Someday I’ll sit down and say to my loved ones what I have always wanted to say to them. Someday I’ll sit down and listen to them, to find out who they are and what they have to say to me. Someday I’ll do that, when I have enough time, when I’ve got it made.

“You are a fool!”, says Jesus. Someday you may hear the voice of God speaking to you. Well, maybe not the voice of God, not directly, but maybe the voice of a doctor who tells you what you thought you would never, ever hear.

The man was just 29 years old. It was in the newspaper some time ago. He was married, and had three kids. All three kids were under five years of age. He is an attorney in Illinois. One day he woke up with a headache. As the day went on, it got more painful. Then he had difficulty seeing. Then he had difficulty walking. He went to the doctor. The doctor said, “You have a brain tumor that will require special surgery right away. If you survive the surgery, then there could be a critical time of recovery for about a year. If you survive that, then each year after that you can be more assured of a full recovery.” He made it through the surgery. He made it through that first year. Then he had this interview. A reporter asked him, “Have you learned anything through this?” He said, “Your life is on loan.”

That is the message of this parable. The obvious point of the parable, the one that everybody seems to get, is that we can’t take our possessions with us. We are going to leave our possessions behind. “The things you have prepared, whose will they be?” But that is not the main point of the parable. The main point of the parable is that your life is on loan, too. “Fool! This night your soul is required of you.”

Incidentally, the Greek word translated “required of you” can also be translated as “a payment due.” That is the real point of the parable. Not just your possessions, but your life belongs to God. That is the classical, Christian understanding of our lives. We are sojourners here, pilgrims, travelers. In the beautiful words of the Letter to the Hebrews, “Here on earth have we no continuing place.” We are here for a short time. We are supposed to use that time in order to live responsibly as stewards of the gifts that God has given to us. Christians have always believed that. We are just travelers, passing through, so make the most of it.

John Bunyan made that idea a part of our consciousness in all of western civilization in his book, Pilgrim’s Progress. I understand that up until the 20th century, in most American homes you would find three books: the Bible, McGuffey’s Reader, and John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Everybody read it. It shaped our consciousness of who we are as human beings. Everybody read it.

Nobody reads it now. In fact, we no longer see ourselves as sojourners, pilgrims, or as travelers. We see ourselves as settlers now. No longer dependent on a power that is greater than ourselves for our life and for our sustenance, but independent, autonomous, free moral agents. From childhood we are told that our life is our own, and we are free to make up our minds about what is right and what is wrong, according to our own perspective.

Instead of uniting us as one people, one culture, with a story, such as Pilgrim’s Progress, in our time there is a spate of autobiographies, thousand of stories, not written necessarily by older people who have lived a long time and done great things, and now have wisdom to share with us all, but from people who have gained notoriety. That is the only qualification necessary now to write an autobiography, or have a biography written about you. People in their teens and twenties now are writing autobiographies that are filled with self-indulgence and self-congratulations, all reflecting the common assumption of our time, that this is my life, no one else’s, and I can do with it what I want, as long as it doesn’t hurt anybody else.

Both assumptions are wrong, according to the Bible. The Bible continues to be an affront to us. It maintains what you do affects other people. Immediately, your family. Then, your friends and neighbors. Then, this society and the next generation. All are affected by what you do. What’s more, this is not your life. You belong to God. You bear God’s image, that’s the way the Bible describes it. You belong to God. If you call yourself Christian, not only do you bear the image of God, you have also been bought by the blood of Christ. You now belong to him. That is the meaning of your baptism. You belong to Christ.

The man who had the operation put it this way, “My life is on loan.” That helped him put his priorities in order. He said, “It has really strengthened our family, what’s happened to me. Now my wife and I are trying to raise our children to be happy, right now; to live each day, right now; because there are no guarantees. My message to people would be to accept each day as given to you as a gift from God. Because I lived for 28 years, and then one day I woke up with a headache. It was that sudden.”

The parable of the rich fool is a judgment parable. Jesus told judgment parables for one reason: to wake us up. Stop being foolish about these things. What is really important is life, life itself, the life that God has given to you as a gift. You may want a whole lot more. You may want to store up a whole lot of things. But you are a fool if you think you need these things. And you are doubly a fool if you sacrifice the present in order to get something else in the future.

It is common to call Luke, “the gospel for the poor.” There is so much evidence of this in the gospel itself. The poor are the heroes in the gospel, and we are to be concerned about the poor. It is here, after all, where Jesus says, “Blessed are the poor.” The beatitude in Matthew is, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” But Luke edits it, and says, “Blessed are the poor.” There is other evidence that Luke’s gospel is for the poor.

In spite of that, I have another theory. I believe that Luke wrote his gospel for the rich, to warn us about the foolishness that you hear about wealth. In his day the foolishness was to say that if you are wealthy, that means that you are living a righteous life, and have God’s blessing. In our day, wealth convinces people that they are independent and autonomous.

Wealth is dangerous because it can shield you from your mortality. If you were to live day by day, if you were to live hand to mouth, then you would be aware of the transitoriness of our lives. That is the real situation of our lives, we live from day to day. But if you can store up stuff for the future, then you can be seduced into believing that life is your own, and you can do with it what you please. If you really believe that, then you are a fool. So I think Jesus is really preaching to the rich, not to the poor.

Notice also, Jesus doesn’t condemn wealth. He just says, don’t trust it, don’t believe in it. Trust God, put your faith in God, be rich toward God. That is the way he puts it at the end of this passage. Then, use your wealth to do some good. Do some good for yourself, but especially do good for other people.

The lesson that he will teach in other places is that your life is not going to be judged by what you have, but by what you give. In another place he will say, “To whom much is given, much is required.” That is the basis for the whole understanding of Christian stewardship. We have a responsibility to use what God has given to us for God’s purposes. He talked about stewardship all the time, even in this chapter he talks about it. The chapter begins with the parable of the rich fool. It ends with the parable of the wise steward who is put over his master’s possessions. We are given what we have, to do good. And we are given a limited time in which to do it. That is the message of the parable. It is as if “a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” but in the quality of his charity.

A minister in Columbus, Ohio, has a friend who works downtown. He is a shaker and mover in Columbus. The man was something of an enigma to this pastor, and as far as the church was concerned, the man ran hot and cold. But they were good friends, and had a grand relationship, got together often.

On this occasion they are together in the man’s office downtown. The man is looking out the window, and says, “Barry, you know I’ve kind of got it figured out. The Big Guy is going to ask us two questions when we get up to the gate. I am serious, now, I really mean this. First he is going to ask, ‘What did you do with what I gave you?’ And then he is going to ask, ‘Who did you do it for?'”

He was a man who finally woke up and saw that his life is “on loan,” and that we are stewards here. “For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions,” but in what he does with them.

Scott Pattison ~ The Gift of Time

I find myself very thankful for many gifts and experiences this year. The one I find most intriguing, as I reflect, is the gift of time. It is something we all have. It is something we all can give. It is something that is wonderful to receive, as well as give. Yet it is something that can easily be taken from us, or that we can hoard. It is something we can squander, or something we can strategically invest.

As I age, I find myself wishing I had better invested my time in some areas, and so glad I invested in other areas. There is a part of me that would love to go back to the “younger me” and instruct myself as to how better invest the daily allotment of each 24 hours over this past half-century of life. Regardless of how I have spent, squandered, or invested my time, I still have the wonderful gift of this set of 24 hours. Regardless of how I spent “yesterday,” I still have today. I can waste today by regretting yesterday or yearning for tomorrow. I can spend the day selfishly on myself or investing in others. Even when people, like employers, regulate a section of our time, we still choose how we will use it. As a Christian, our relationship with God has placed a call on how we will use our time. Will we use it for ourselves, or for Kingdom purposes?

While we look to buy or make gifts to be wrapped and given this season, don’t forget that each day is a Christmas present. God created, Christ died and arose for our redemption, and the Holy Spirit sustains and empowers our lives, so that we may fully be who God created and redeemed us to be. Each day is given for us to unwrap. Some days will be wonderful gifts, others may seem like garbage wrapped in tinsel – but each day is our day to unwrap, invest, and grow in. I have found that when I talk with people who have been given a limited amount of time to live on planet earth, these moments become amazingly more precious than before the diagnosis. Nothing changed, but the filter “your time is limited” has now been added. I find that in those circumstances I adjust to embrace my time more carefully – until things (even good things) start stealing my time again.

As we come to the close of one year, and the start of another, I invite you to reflect on how you spend your gift of the 24 hours given afresh each morning. Some days will crawl with mind-numbing slowness, and others will zip with the speed of light (literally). Some days we will want to speed by, while others we wish we could slow, so that we could savor them a bit more. Yet, each day comes, and each second, minute, and hour pass at the same pace as yesterday. So how will you invest it? Who are you investing it with? To what end? Gayle Sayers (one of the best running backs in history) wrote a book entitled, “I Am Third.” That was his filter in investing his time as a Christian. Sayers’s credo is, “the Lord is first, my friends are second, and I am third.”

How will you unwrap your gift of time? Invest wisely, forgive yourself frequently, and enjoy the moments regularly!

Maxie Dunnam ~ Generosity

Note from the Editor: I hope that you are spending Thanksgiving Day interacting with people in a way that shows them that they matter to you. We post today not to distract from time with family, nor to distract from opportunities to serve and listen and learn. We do post for those who may be having a Blue Thanksgiving, or are far away from family and friends, or who find themselves with a moment to meditate on God’s goodness. Whether you offer a cold and broken hallelujah this Thanksgiving or revel in an abundance of joy, I pray God’s presence will be felt in your life today. ~ Elizabeth Glass Turner, Managing Editor, Wesleyan Accent

Jesus dealt with possessions in a radical way because he knew that our possessions too often possess us. It is a sign of our original sin that we are possessive. The unconverted self, the ego (by nature it seems) is in bondage to things, slavishly persistent in acquiring and keeping. So the discipline of generosity is essential for spiritual growth.

(For a scriptural survey, you are invited to explore passages like Genesis 4:3-7, Genesis 14:17-24, Genesis 28:10-22, and Malachi 3:6-10.)

The Practice of Generosity

Every spiritual discipline has its accompanying freedom. Generosity frees us from a raw possessive ego and also from our bondage to security in material things.

Albert Day in his book Discipline and Discovery gives a kind of catalogue of the characteristics of the ego when left to itself:

• It is persistent in acquiring and in keeping
• It has to be taught to give
• It is possessive

“Mine” is its dearest adjective. “Keep” is its most beloved verb! As Day notes: “Because of this possessiveness of the ego, the practice of generosity is very significant. It is a denial, a repudiation of the ego. Faithfully practiced, generosity weakens the ego’s authority. Every departure from the pattern the ego sets, makes the next variation easier. We are made that way.” (Discipline and Discovery Workbook ed., p.80)

So we practice generosity to free ourselves from our raw possessive egos and from our bondage to material security.

Tithing and a Standard of Generosity

Since money is integral to our lives, how we give money usually reflects our overall pattern of generosity.

In most Christian churches, when the stewardship of our money is considered, the principle of tithing comes to the fore. It is the biblical pattern set for practicing generosity in the use of our money.

The principle, which became a law in Judaism, began not in a focus on money but on all we possess: land, flocks, crops, even “bounty” out of war. Tracing the biblical witness on tithing will give us the perspective we need to consider this principle as a discipline of generosity.

The story of the first offering in history is found in Genesis 4:3-7. This is the story of Cain and Abel making their offerings to God. The big issue in the story is that Abel’s offering was acceptable to God but Cain’s was not. Why? It had to do with the quality of the offering. Abel gave the firstlings of his flock, while Cain’s offering seems to have been an indiscriminate collection of the fruit of the ground.

The story in Genesis seems a bit confused as to the reason one offering was acceptable and the other not, but in the Epistle to the Hebrews there is this word: “By faith Abel offered to God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain’s” (Hebrews 11:4).

In the original story the meaning is difficult to comprehend. There is no indication why God preferred the gift of Abel to the gift of Cain. On the surface it seems that the whole business is unjust. Yet, when you live with it, for a while at least, this much comes clear: God requires the best we have to offer.

We move from that story of the first offering to the first mention of tithing in the Bible. This is in Genesis 14:18-20. It’s the story of Abraham paying tithes to Melchizedek, who was a king of Salem as well as a priest of God. It was after Abraham had won a great battle. Melchizedek blessed him. After receiving this blessing Abraham gave the priest a tenth of everything.

Here the amount of the separated portion is designated for the first time. It is the tenth. It was a common practice among ancient warriors to tithe the spoils of war. Abraham, no doubt, was familiar with this custom. Yet there was something different about this act of Abraham. It was an act of genuine devotion. He was worshiping the one true God and was giving to God the tenth of all he received. Therefore, it set the precedent of tithing. The concept grows in the Old Testament, and Jacob is the first person on record to enter into a tithing covenant with God (Genesis 28:10-22).

Now to be sure, there is something far less than Christian about such praying and such a relationship with God. God is not one to be bargained with. We don’t make deals with God! God is not one from whom we can buy favors. Still, the story of Jacob and what Jacob is doing, though primitive and certainly not yet Christian, is something to reckon with.

Jacob had a vision of angels ascending and descending on a ladder between earth and heaven, and the Lord spoke to him with a great promise. When, in reflection, Jacob prays again and enters into that tithing covenant with God, it is on the basis of having received the promise from God. It is as though he is testing that promise and seeking to offer a response to it. That is certainly only the beginning of the development of the tithe in the history of the Hebrew people and in the Christian church, but it symbolizes the fact that our relationship with God always involves giving to God a portion of that which God has already given us.

It is this principle—returning to God a portion of that with which God has blessed us—that must be at the heart of our understanding of the tithe.

After that final law, the book of Leviticus closes with this word: “These are the commandments that the Lord gave to Moses for the people of Israel on Mount Sinai” (Leviticus 27:34). So the precedent was set firmly in the fabric of Jewish life.

The classic and most dramatic warning about tithing came from Malachi. In language that is strong and unmistakable, this prophet painted out that disobedience to the law of the tithe was the cause of Israel’s apostasy in his day and that reformation in this regard was the sure and only way to the restoration of the divine favor and blessing. Those words from Malachi are enough to cause us to know what the witness of the Old Testament is concerning the tithe. Consider it:

“Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, ‘How are we robbing you?’ In your tithes and offerings! You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me-the whole nation of you! Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”
(Malachi 3:8-10)

Tithing Gives Us Perspective

For many Christians the scriptural precedent set for tithing is enough to lead them to a commitment to tithe. It should be so for all Christians if we are going to be people of “the book.” However, other reasons merit consideration.

For one thing, tithing gives me perspective. Giving my tithe to the Lord is an ongoing reminder of what money can and cannot do. It would be wrong to idealize poverty. And it would be equally wrong to caricature riches as though they were innately wrong. Having money can make an enormous positive difference in our lifestyles. But it is crucial to maintain perspective about the fact that there are certain things money cannot buy.

Money can’t buy friendship, nor can money buy love.

And money won’t buy respect. We may get some of our selfish wants with money. We may use it to gain loyalty and deference from others. But this loyalty and deference are a charade for respect and usually turn into contempt.

Perhaps the most significant perspective we need to own is that money won’t buy exemption from the problems that are common to everyone. Money or the lack of it doesn’t keep children from breaking their parents’ hearts. Money or the lack of it doesn’t prevent incurable diseases from ravaging our lives. Money or the lack of it is no key for holding marriages together. Money cannot shield us against the early death of a marriage partner and the loneliness that follows.

We don’t buy character, meaning, and direction in life. We can’t put peace of mind on our Visa cards. Money can’t purchase eternal life, but how we spend our money may rob us of eternal life. Jesus said, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21).

Tithing Enhances My Performance in the Cause of God’s Kingdom

Though it sounds lofty, it’s the most down-to-earth, practical thing I know: tithing enhances my performance in the cause of God’s Kingdom.

There are things that you and I can never do for Christ and the kingdom by ourselves. We have to be a part of a body, a community. This is especially true in the use of our money. This is the primary reason that we are to bring our tithes into the storehouse—into the church. The church can use that cumulative money to accomplish far greater things than we could ever accomplish on our own.

John Meunier ~ The Big Ask

My son and I were talking about church and politics the other day. He works in politics. I am a pastor. He was talking about the way he recruits people to work on campaigns and take leadership in the organization. It comes down to explaining the plan the campaign has for winning the race and asking the person to do some specific thing. Once you’ve sold them on the soundness of your plan, you don’t make an open-ended request for help, you get concrete. Can you give me $500? Can you volunteer two hours on Thursday? Will you commit to recruit five other volunteers to help out next week?

I told him that was very helpful as I think about the challenges of recruiting help in the church and evangelism. Can we articulate “our plan” and do we ask people to do specific things? Are we concrete enough when we make “the ask”?

And then my son followed up with his concerns.

In the church, he said, there are two problems. First, in a political campaign you have a target date. The election is coming and you have to get more than 50% of the votes by that date. It makes it easy to focus attention. Second, in politics, he said, you always know that there are going to be a lot of people who disagree with your or don’t like you.

In the church, we often are so soft about what we are doing that we can’t speak to people about concrete objectives and goals. We can’t even tell whether we are doing well because we don’t know what doing well looks like. And, my son observed, we often seem more concerned about everyone liking us than speaking what we believe.

As we chatted, I found myself thinking about John Wesley who used to preach while people threw rocks at him because he considered preaching the gospel so important that it was worth the risk.

I know many of my brothers and sisters are engaged in bold evangelism and discipleship. May more of us remember that great gift it is to value what we are doing more than we value the good opinion of other people.




Used with permission – Next Step Evangelism