Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cain and Abel

Many Christians reject out of hand the Old Testament teaching on giving, tithing in particular, protecting themselves from the concept of the tenth on the grounds that Jesus freed us from such formally structured legalistic kinds of standards in our relationship with God. But who would you rather be, Cain or Abel?
Cain is a murderer and a whiner, you get the sense he’s just a jerk all the way around. But then, Abel is victim and who wants to be a victim? It doesn’t seem like there is much of a choice - but you have chosen, you are one or the other. Cain’s name means “gotten” or “acquire,” that should give you a clue to his nature right there. He was very concerned about his possessions. Still, when it came time to bring God an offering, and he did bring an offering, he wasn’t a total deadbeat when it came to worshipping God with his material things; he gave God the “fruit of the ground.” That’s where the trouble started because Abel came along and brought God a different kind of offering, and God noticed the difference.
The key to understanding Cain’s offering is the description of Abel’s, “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions.” Cain brought God an offering; Abel brought God an offering of the best, the firstborn and the most valuable parts. Cain’s offering was token, the casual ritual of measured obedience. Abel brought God an offering rich in love and trust. The Scripture gives the story of Cain and Abel to teach us that our offerings are a tangible and measurable representation of our relationship with God, and that God cares about the difference between the two.
As I reflect on the story of Cain and Abel, and on what Jesus teaches about giving and worship, I don’t see where God has changed at all. I believe God wants you to give the first and best of your material blessings to him for his use. I believe in so doing you declare your trust in him, you declare your recognition of his provision for you, and you declare you value his glory over everything you give as an offering to him. How do Jesus’ commands, “do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth…” (Matt.6:19) and, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matt.6:33) reflect a change in God’s heart about our offerings? How does Jesus’ praise of a widow who gave her last two coins, “all she had to live on” (Luke 21:1-4) communicate to us God is indifferent to the offerings we give? How does Paul’s exhortation in 2 Corinthians 8-9 to sow bountifully and cheerfully allow us to think God is now happy with an offering of “fruit of the ground” as much as with an offering of “the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions?”
I don’t believe people who claim the grace of the New Covenant commissions us to be stingy with God. I think the reason the tithe isn’t repeated in the New Covenant is because the men who wrote the New Testament couldn’t imagine it needed to be. I think resistance to the tithe is simply an indication that many, many followers of Jesus have given themselves over to Cain’s perspective on giving, convincing themselves that something, anything, is an acceptable offering.
Here’s an ironic statistic: according to Edmunds Auto the average American devotes 11%, a little more than a tithe, of their gross income to the payment on one car, while the average Evangelical Christian gives less than 4% to their church. And get this, if the people who attend Clear Creek Community Church contributed on a monthly basis the amount of one average car payment the financial resources of our church would triple!
Don’t tell me that Jesus didn’t know what he was talking about when he said “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt.6:21)
I repeat the question. Who would you rather be, Cain or Abel?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

One More Kiss

“One more kiss” she said as they tried to lead her away. “One more kiss.” So her friends held her up and turned her around so she could lean over the casket and kiss her sister one last time. Funerals, if you pay attention when you’re there, have a way of waking you up to a generally ignored but inescapable truth, you are going to die. People you love are going to die. And, when it happens there is no going back. You cannot apologize, or forgive, or bless, or inspire, or love a dead person. They are gone, and all the sweet, sappy things we say about dead people at funerals don’t help that corpse in the tiniest way. Besides that, they aren’t true; she did have a mean bone in her body, he did actually say unkind things, yes, she was selfish in some ways. I’ve often wondered why lies are so freely offered and consumed at funeral services. Maybe we say that stuff to make ourselves feel better for a little while, but it doesn’t really help much when deep down inside we know it isn’t true.
I think that much of what passes for grief at funerals isn’t really grief, it is regret. It is the empty ache inside when you know you should have said you’re sorry, you know you should have made those visits, you know you should have enjoyed the good and had patience with the annoying – and now you can’t. So now you stand around and whisper little sweet sounding lies to bless and celebrate someone who can no longer hear you.
As I watched that little old lady give her dear sister “one more kiss” God called to my mind all at once a whole sea of faces and he screamed in my ear “Go Kiss Them Now!” Go hug them now! Go encourage and forgive and affirm them now! Go now and let them know that even though they aren’t perfect, even though you disagree sometimes, even though they have some bad habits you love them and appreciate them and you are grateful for them! Go! Now!
I hope that when you die I won’t have to say anything nice and kind and affirming about you that I haven’t repeatedly said to you. I hope I am learning to love you well even when you are wrong and selfish and annoying, in spite of all that. I hope that God is teaching me to number my days so I live aware of how precious and fleeting our flesh is. I hope that when I lean over your casket and give you one more kiss it is a kiss of gratitude and love, no regrets.
I have a lot of work to do.