Be it ours,when we cannot see the face of God, to trust under the shadow of His wings. C.H. Spugeon
Saturday, March 29, 2008
Sacrifice is the murder of a scapegoat, an innocent party, with an intent to free, liberate or rescue a guilty party from the consequence of disobedience to a required legal, moral or ethical condition of life. "without the shedding of blood there is no remission for sin", but, "it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins." In this, the propitiation (satisfactory sacrifice) of Jesus, provides for the expiation of sin, the creation of a holy heart, the purifying of the soul and this scapegoat (Jesus) now sits at the right-hand of God, constantly affirming our place in fellowship with God by His willing sacrifice.
Psalm 40:6-8, "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; my ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require. Then I said, "Behold, I come; In the scroll of the book it is written of me. I delight to do Your will, O my God, And Your law is within my heart."
Hebrews 10:5-7, "Therefore, when He came into the world, He said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, but a body You have prepared for Me. In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure. Then I said, 'Behold, I have come-- In the volume of the book it is written of Me-- To do Your will, O God.' "
Obedience to obligation, whether legal, moral or ethical is a requirement of faith. Faith, personal and private communion with God, is the result of a guilty and condemned party (me) acting without any substitutionary, intercessory or intermediate appeasement releasing one (me) from condemnation or guilt, and by that action of faith receiving reward to which it has no legal or moral position to claim. Faith existed before the fullness of God's redemptive work in the world was initiated and revealed in His Son Jesus Christ. This faith, is the Philip. 2:12, "...work(ing) out (of) your own salvation with fear and trembling;..." It is the personal faith and belief that moves each of us to continue on in spiritual growth and maturation; it is the personal faith and belief that is our own relational experience with God apart from what anyone else can know; it is the personal faith and belief that requires a dependency upon the mercy and grace of God extended because of His son Jesus; it is 'kenosis' which exists because of Jesus, in response to Jesus; it is not the scapegoat removing responsibility for repentance; it is not the scapegoat removing accountability; it is not the scapegoat replacing obligation for personal holiness reflected in honest, vulnerable relationships with God and with other Christians; it is not about stoic expressions and ritual observances, it is about worshipping with our hearts; it is acknowledging the failings of ourselves and others in proclaiming the worth and value of the scapegoat; it does not negate the value of the scapegoat by our understanding of our human condition and the fluctuations of faith/fear, hope/pain, and struggles with defining love; it does not affect grace; it does not absolve from obedience to the Law (Ten + 2); it is the impetus for obedience; and, it is intrinsically linked to our actions and our attitudes and our ...
The operation of obligation in this instance is in effect the offering of ourselves as a sacrifice, however, it is offered and subsequently received as an offering less than worthy of acceptation because of the inherent blemish that is contained within, it is less than satisfactory, unless it is offered in relation to the faith previously noted.
This is viewed, but possibly not recognized or understood, at least cognizantly, as the killing of an innocent man (me), [and in this concept lies the identification of myself with the scapegoat (Jesus) because of the love expressed in the offering], by a self-interested party (me) who wishes to retain my power and the status quo [meaning to desire the best for myself with the least possible cost incurred]. This can present a conflict of interest, the appropriation of reward at the expense of another, combined with the willing and discerning presentation of myself, in faith, as a living sacrifice. Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service."
This can quite easily become conditional, an expression of devotion, hinged upon personal discernment, circumstance and a number of arbitrary or prized attitudes and reflected by either a lack of commitment and/or an esteeming of that cost already paid by Jesus' propitiatory sacrifice (grace vs legalism; sola gratia sola fide ("by grace alone, by faith alone") and in that a facetious and/or heartfelt reverence which either fails to or succeeds in acknowledging the inherent hypocrisy residing in all of our Christian lives. This can become the wall or rift between generations, between cultures, between individuals, between churches, a dividing from what is seen as 'proper religious observances', from what is expected or sought after by a generation or group striving for relational, reality-based relationships,[represented by forgiveness, mercy, grace, vulnerability, acknowledging hypocrisy, etc.,] as a condition of relationship between God and interpersonal between people. In this we see the vehemence expressed against any legalistic approach to church doctrine by those who through indifference to the understanding of either pleasure or pain refute the true intent of the religious experience of Jesus' redemptive work as a heartfelt, loving yearning for a level of accountability and openness which does not diminish grace, but enlivens and expands grace. It is about the personal walking and talking with God, it is about God reaching our hearts and touching and healing the personal soreness of life's pressures and pains. Can I emphasize the personal aspects of this enough to catch your attention? I am not referring to a euphoric, emotional, sensationalist expression of worship, (that has its place, too!) but the acceptance of God's working in lives through His Holy Spirit, when we as observers, or when we as those enrapt in God's love, may not have understanding, and to not "...quench the Holy Spirit" at work in the believer. We do not want to impoverish the church, we want to see the church acting in the conciliatory power of God's Spirit.
The Law (Ten + 2) is not designed to establish the strictures of an authoritarian dictator who simply wishes to dampen and subvert joy and happiness in this life, the Law (Ten + 2) is designed to point to the absolute, abject poverty of man to redeem and bring value to life. The Law (Ten + 2) liberates through its inherent quality of defining the parameters for the expression of love in willful observance to the mandates of God, who desires that the health and welfare of the compliant servant is maintained and enhanced. In this there is no allowance, by observing worship or faith in action, for judgement upon the moving of God in relation to His people and the person's religious experience. As God continues to move and pour out His Spirit upon His people it is important to not cast doubt and aspersions upon the heartfelt awe and wonder of that personal expression of faith.
Romans 12:2 "...and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." The acceptance of the personal sacrifice is in the faith with which it is presented both in terms of denial of self and with regard to the 'one-anothers' in our world. Can we really have the ability to say that we have spiritually and physically expressed in sacrifice all that there is in our life in faith? Can we ever have all faith? Can we ever have enough faith?
There is a tendency to divide obligation, obedience or works from concepts of sanctification, holiness and justification because they appear to be polarized positions. There are those who have used these polarized positions to advantage in the promotion of doctrines designed with good intent and with perverseness in an attempt to edify or damage the church. Oswald Chambers states, "The greatest spiritual crisis comes when a person has to move a little farther on in his faith than he believes he has already accepted." The question has to be asked, 'What is it I really believe to be true about God?' Is that truth all there is to God and His dealings with me? with others? We cannot put a capstone upon God and what He is prepared to, and rightfully can ask. That has already been tried and failed, "...but they found the stone rolled away from the tomb."(Luke 24:2)
Saturday, March 22, 2008
2 Cor. 5:7 "For we walk by faith, not by sight."
It is easy to be misunderstood in the discussion of tithing. The import of what I wish to bring to the conversation is not the issue of the money, however the money is the issue, if it is an issue; the money isn't an issue, if it is about the faith.
I fully believe that God can do with any amount of financial resources, if it is 2 Cor. 9:7 "...give(n) as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver." The multiplication of resources in whatever application they are given is the sole responsibility of God for the increase. We as givers are only responsible and accountable for what we can do in faith, believing fully in the aforementioned premise.
In bringing to the conversation an essence of obligation, it is further assumed by myself, and I believe this will be made manifest in application, that the resources received will not be in excess of the needs of either the church nor any needs brought to the church to which we would feel compelled to alleviate. This again is a reflection upon my belief in the resources and multiplication of God, doing what He and only He can do with our obedient faith-based tithe. In the discussion of excess I do not believe that the Elders or the Bookkeeper will be drawing wages or salary from the coffers of the church, however I do believe that we will operate at a balanced and quite probably zero-balance expense to income ratio. [On a personal note I do not believe a church should have a savings account, at least not in the aspect of storing to compensate for lack of obedience or storing with a lack of faith for the provision of God.]
What I see as the heart of the issue of tithing is the principles of faith in practical application to that avenue of life to which most if not all people are intrinsically tied. It is in the tying or bondage we have to our money that we see the greater detrimental effect upon the health of the church, in that, the lack of faith expressed through the stewardship of money reflects throughout the church with regard to its ministry and the seeking of God first and the following of His leading. The promise of the blessing of God upon the bringing of the tithe I feel is in relation to the effect of the selling of land and the subsequent gifting upon Barnabas recounted in Acts.
We all have bills to pay!! We all have expectations of unforeseen expenditures!! We all have worries about the future and the cost!! We all have plans which have a cost!! We all say we have faith?? These events which are occuring are not the strictures upon faith, they provide the opportunity to release and let God be God.
James 2:14, "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him?"
James 2:17-18, "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works."
James 2:20-22, "But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?"
James 2:24, "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only." Faith can have no value if it is not followed by good works; that is, that it is not real faith, and that good works are necessary if a man would have evidence that he is justified. Faith does not operate outside the reality of obedience, faith does not in application negate action. Faith in application does not negate a change of attitude. Faith builds and edifies belief in God, His sovereignty, His provision. I wish to see God stirring in our midst, God penetrating into our souls and seeing afresh or for the first time His blessings upon our fellowship, our worship, our church and our community. I wish to see God's blessings manifested in an outpouring of the Spirit of God upon our meetings and our people both young and old. I wish to see the practical, pragmatic, realistic approach to our budgeting and stewardship shaken by the revealing of God's ability to do what is 'possible'; "for with men these things are impossible, but with God all things are possible"
Friday, March 21, 2008
Malachi 3:14, "You have said, 'It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, and that we have walked as mourners before the Lord of hosts? As I read this passage I asked myself, How has God been profited by His dying for me?
As Jesus moves through the land and observes the people, He takes notice of 'kenosis' as He sees it appearing in society. One of these instances is recorded in the Gospels, in relation to giving. Luke 21:2-3, "...and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all;..." It should be noted that Jesus is sitting observing the people bringing tithes and offerings to the Temple. He does not condemn the giving, He makes a point of the attitude shown in regard to the contributions. The many who are coming are not giving sacrificially, they are only giving what is a minimum requirement, failing in their estimation of God's (Jesus') watching of them, these are giving from an abundance, probably not indicative of their actual net worth or what is legally required had their income been made public.
Jesus continues to introduce the disciples to the intent of the calling to a life of sacrifice and faith. By His observing, He also points out the ridiculous attitude which declares that I can hide from God my attitude or actions. This becomes even more evident with regard to Ananias and Sapphira who thought that the unrevealed or hidden would never come to light. This is hypocrisy in giving, they had expectation of relationship with God without acknowledging His sovereignty
The widow with the two mites, is an exemplary model of faith and kenosis. The money she gave was all she had, there was no recourse for her, she had given the very substance of her ability to live, she would not eat until that money had been replaced. In this we see faith, she believed in a God who would provide (Jehovah-Jireh); the God who sees (El-Roi), and she committed all that she had to His care. She gave in faith, she gave in love, she gave with a view to the glory of God, she gave without misgivings as to the end-use, she gave in accordance with what she had, she gave willingly, she gave with trust.
As with all cultural influences, the esteemed values of man can be propagated within, as well as the detrimental or disrespectful behaviours and attitudes. It is the very nature of culture to imitate; to build upon; and to learn from social models. As we see in Acts 4:36-37 a man "Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles' feet." He was not the only one, many had done this in recognition of the need of the poor in Jerusalem.
Acts 5:1-3, "...but a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles' feet. But Peter said, "Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself?" This instance is remarkable in that it points to the nature of hypocrisy, and goes on to illustrate the art and cunning of the enemy in attempting to corrupt the church, and to pervert the religion of the gospel. Hypocrisy consists in any attempt which seeks to imitate the people of God, or to assume the appearance of religion, in whatever form it may be manifested. In this case, religion had been manifested by great self-denial and benevolence. The hypocrisy of Ananias consisted in attempting to imitate this appearance.
Ananias faith was insincere and filled with doubt, it revealed by his actions that he did not believe providentially in God, nor did he understand the sovereignty of God and God's desire to raise a people imitative of the kenosis modeled by Jesus, that which is required, esteemed, sincere, unpretentious, and indicative of the trusting relationship. Ananias' actions were indicative of his vain and covetous insecurity. Ananias' actions were seen by the Apostles as the seed of doubt planted in the heart of the church; the yeast which, when left, infiltrates the whole amount of dough (Galatians 5:9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.); the consensual yielding to Satan's influences and the insidiousness of lies invading the thoughts and intents of the church; the introduction of sin into the fellowship of Saints, 'sin lying at the door' seeking to devour, consume and waste life's efforts; the opportunity afforded to Satan to entrench a hardened and cheating mind-set; the destruction of the favorable circumstances for the promotion of faith and relationship, and in this, that sin was identified and dealt with by God in a shocking and stern fashion.
Praise God that His mercy and grace abound today and the expedient judgement of God is restrained.
2 Cor. 5:7 For we walk by faith, not by sight.
Monday, March 17, 2008
When the unlovable becomes the lovely, it is a god in our lives. When what is a tool for the sustaining of life, the procurement for what is best for oneself and others becomes the stumbling block to faith, then the god has become a demon. The tithe is God's answer to the idolatry and love of money that so easily overtakes men.
At some stage in life almost everyone comes to a realization that we are only renters on this Earth. It is in this reality that God speaks to the heart of man, where he lives in relation to his opinion of himself and the abilities that man believes he possesses in the providing for; the sustaining of himself and his family.
In Isaiah 1:3 God addresses the attitude of ingratitude and the lack of acknowledement of His sovereign ability to ensure that His people are provided for, when He says in Isaiah 1:3 "The ox knows its owner and the donkey (ass) its master's crib; but Israel does not know, My people do not consider." There was a lack of evidence of understanding by the people of Israel of their abject poverty without the provision of God. They were totally insensible of the hand of God, and God takes note that the stupidest and brutish of animals had more understanding of obedience, servitude, and Lordship than a people who owed their very existence to One who had called them by His Name and had provided all that was necessary for their survival.
"Even the stork in the heavens knows her season;
And the turtle, and the swallow, and the crane, observe the time of their coming:
But my people do not know the judgment of Jehovah.
Hosea has given a very elegant turn to the same image, in the way of metaphor or allegory:—
"I drew them with human cords, with the bands of love:
And I was to them as he that lifts up the yoke upon their cheek;
And I laid down their fodder before them."
Faith is that recognition of abject poverty and is merely acknowledging the right of One who has secured redemption at an expense that only He could afford. In this, all that we have is owned by God and the tithe as well as all aspects of Jesus' teaching is to give back, whether in scarcity or in abundance, it is not about what we lose, it is about what we give up.
The tithe in light of the object of attaining to kenosis (emptying oneself), is merely the least of what we can do, a minimum expectation of acknowledging our relationship with the only living God. After all your money follows your heart.
Luke 16:13 "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
Luke 16:11 "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?"
Monday, March 10, 2008
In Genesis 4 we are told the story of Cain. Cain has an attitude problem, it is an attitude problem that exists throughout the history of God revealing Himself to His people. Cain has a desire to have relationship with God, however, he wants to base the relationship on terms and conditions he feels are appropriate. This is contrary to the teaching of God directly to Adam, the teaching of Adam to his children, and the subsequent modelling of the proper attitude by Abel.
Genesis 4:6-7 So the Lord said to Cain, "Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it."
The Hebrew word picture of sin lying at the door is richly indicative of the New Testament offering of Jesus and the love of God in not only desiring relationship through sacrifice but willingly procuring and/or supplying that sacrifice.
The other word picture is one of lion waiting at the door to fulfill its desire to devour, consume or waste life's efforts.
In either instance the underlying significance is in the stated position of God allowing for the opportunity for a change of attitude by Cain, seemingly at this time without further consequence.
This attitude of Cain's is very similar to the attitude of the people of God at the other end of the Old Testament in Malachi.
Malachi 3:8 "Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, 'In what way have we robbed You?' In tithes and offerings.
There are two reasons why the people of God are called to tithe.
One reason is the practical, it provided provisionally for the Levites, the Priests, the Temple and the poor.
The second reason is spiritual, it was the basis for the establishment of relationship with God as a theocratic institution, it was to celebrate God's goodness, and it was to acknowledge the ownership and authority of a sovereign God.
It is a foundational principal of consecration and sanctification, the removal of dross, the promotion of faith and the calling of a people to a life of serving a living God.
Those who were profoundly influenced by this thought, are scattered throughout the Old Testament. There by-word is 'kenosis', the 'emptying of oneself'. It comes with the recognition that we are little more than renters on this Earth and that all things come by the hand-of-God.
Jesus in His intersection into the life-of-man begins to instruct through observation and example of this principle both in His life and in the lives of those around Him. The first example is the calling of the disciples, they 'left' their nets, their homes, their families to follow Jesus. There is in this the 'transferring of ownership', more appropriately the recognition of Lordship, if I may say the true Theocratic institution manifested, the Kingdom of God revealed not in the strict and legalstic observance of the Law, but in the intent of the heart in light of the abject poverty of man to procure an acceptable offering or attitude either desirable or satisfactory to God.
This is not a new concept to the people of God;
Abraham left Ur without destination, solely upon a promise, and for this his faith was counted to him as righteousness;
Moses left Egypt with all its riches never to arrive at the Promised Land;
Jesus took a walk up a hill...
Phil 2:8 "...and being in the appearance as man, He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross."
As we further investigate the attitude problem with respect to tithing we come across Matthew 23:23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of breathe mints and table salt and bottled water, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone." There is an absence of 'kenosis' for they are unable, blind or unwilling to recognize their impoverished position in adequately meeting the requirements of the law, so in that absence they provided what they were able and built their religion upon their estimation of a satisfactory attitude and offering, esteeming the tithe, as that is what is available, as a recompense for sin rather than the recognition of their abject poverty and the need for 'kenosis; in this Jesus calls them hypocrites, they exchange the filth of money, believing it to be compensatory for the blessings of a living God who provides all, and only desires our heart, continually, constantly proving to His people that His love, His care, His provision is worthy of that gift.