Monday, May 5, 2008

Those are MY jelly bellies!

I just heard a great message from John Burke, pastor of Gateway Community Church in Austin, TX about tithing. I don't know if I've every heard it explained better than he did. I was mowing my lawn yesterday, listening to this podcast, thinking, "I've gotta share this."

This message was a part of a sermon series, Ka-Ching-Onomics, which you can listen to here, scroll down about 1/3 of the way down the list of sermons and you'll find it. I'm also thinking about preaching this same series next January.

John tells a story about buying his son a bag of jelly bellies while at the mall. It was a funny story, but the summary is that when he asked his son if he could have some, his son responded, "no." Then slyly moved the bag to the side away from his dad. The thought that went through John's mind was, "those are my jelly bellies! 4 year olds can't buy anything. I wanted him to realize I gave him good things because I love him, I could buy him many more, even bury him in jelly bellies. My son does not need a greedy mentality but an abundance mentality with me becuae I love him and he can trust me. And there's more where that came from."

The connection to our relationship with God is obvious. The following is taken from John's message:

Thousands of years ago, before Jesus came, God established a test, to see whether our hearts would trust and love God more than money. Moses called God's people to give a tithe (the word literally means "tenth") from everything they produced; grain from the earth or fruit from the trees. 1,000 years late, when the people of God weren't following God's command, the prophet Malachi challenged the people of God to "bring the whole tithe into the store house. Test me in this, says the Lord, see if I do not open the floodgates of heaven with blessing, so much you won't have room for it. I'll prevent the pests from devouring your flock and the nations will know that I" am the Lord."
God's saying, "if you say you love me, demonstrate it. Take the first 10% of everything I've given you and direct it toward my purposes through my house." In our case, that applies to the local church, acting as the body of Christ in serving our community.

But why this benchmark amount? Because it seriously tests our loyalty. It's not easy but it's not impossible. It makes us face head-on the god of money who says, "you need more. Hold me tight and I'll save you and make you happy." The tithe forces us to choose which God ultimately we'll trust. Which may be why God says, "test me." This is the only place in scripture God calls his people to test him. See if I'm not a good Father who can pour out more jelly bellies than you can possibly handle.

If this makes you defensive, it's worth asking 'why?'. Why am I feeling threatened? When I talked about this a couple years ago, a lady emailed me and said, "When you first said 10% to God, I nearly gagged, it was a huge blow. I'm a new christian but you challenged us to do it three months and see if we weren't glad we did. So I took the challenge and I have to tell you I was blown away by what happened. Some of my financial situations worked out in ways I could've never predicted."

People think, I can't afford to tithe but you're leaving your Creator out of the equation, leaving your creator out of the accounting. Which is probably the problem. Maybe the reason you can't afford to tithe is that you don't tithe. Maybe the reason you feel like there's never enough, that the pests keep devouring everything you have, is because you're never obedient in this area. The only way past that is to trust and to risk. God knows our fears, which may be why he says, "test me and see if I won't be faithful."

One couple told me about being buried in $100,000 of medical debt. They'd been giving to things along the way but had never surrendered their finances to the full tithe. "This new year's eve, I finally decided to give God the full tithe, 'okay, God, it's yours.'" I work on straight commission. New Year's Day a new contract came in. My office manager called to tell me because that never happens on NY Day. The next day, another contract. The next day another, and then another the next day. Then two more contracts. God has accelerated our efforts to become debt free."

But here's the warning, this is not God-lotto. This is a relationship, not a get-rich scheme. God doesn't deal with us all the same, because our situations are different, but God is faithful.

Then John goes on to explain all the mean and evil things people will assume about him for saying this. I've been told the exact same things. But I'll give the same reminder John gave, "I won't make an extra penny for preaching this."

The reason for sharing all of this is so that we can experience freedom, true riches and God's faithfulness. And even though I won't get paid another 1$, I'd love to see our church be able to better serve as the body of Christ in our community.

So, here's the challenge - who is ready to take that step? Who is ready to give a full tithe and begin experience God's best in their lives? We have a money-back guarantee through our church. If you commit to tithe for 3 months (a full 10%) and at the end of the three months have not seen God meet your needs, we'll refund the money. I'm dead serious, our Advisory Council has approved this. If you're ready to take that step, you can post on this blog or shoot me an email.

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