Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Tithe, Coin Star, and IOU

This is a Golden Oldie, one of MY favorites! Enjoy!

“Honey, I don’t know how to say this….I don’t want to pay the tithe anymore,” I said to my husband on Sunday night. Now, wait! Don’t panic ladies; I haven’t fallen off the wagon on the way to the storehouse. Let’s just say the wagon had to make a few extra stops on the way. It all started, when my husband, the financial manager in the family, placed in my hands the grocery money, and the tithe money, informing me I was to pay both. The Lord’s money in one hand, Wal-mart’s in the other. Up till this point, my husband has faithfully tithed, placing that check in the offering plate, while I have looked on with admiration for my godly husband. Apparently there is also a great responsibility that comes with paying tithe, and my husband wanted his poorer half to share in the blessing and responsibility. He overestimated his other half, well more like his one fourth.

All was well as I paid for my groceries at Save-A-Lot, and continued on to Wal-Mart to buy the name brand products I can’t live without-Miracle Whip, Heinz Ketchup, and a few dozen others. We, the kids and I, walked down every aisle, some a couple of times, gathering all the snacks and products that allow our home to run smoothly, or at least give us something good to eat when things get a little rough. As we proceeded to check out, with exhausted kids hanging all over the buggy, I found I had made a mathematical error, thirty dollars over. With a line behind me of other exhausted people,(I wonder if they looked that way before they got in line behind my kids), and not having any idea where in the buggy the $20.00 ink refill was for my computer printer, and not really remembering what all I had bought that could wait until next time, I reached into the sacred pocket of my wallet. As lightening and clouds formed around my hand I removed the required bills. Trembling I handed the Lord’s money to the clerk, and silently prayed a prayer you will not find in the Bible, or any devotional, “Lord, would you bless me so I can give you your money back?”

As I left the store, I pictured two large, Italian looking angels wearing black leather jackets, gold chains, rings, and brass knuckles following me to make sure I covered the stupid bet I’d made. “Please, just give me until Sunday morning! I promise I’ll get you your money,” I yelled towards the sky, as I heard door locks clicking on surrounding vehicles in the parking lot. I know the Bible says He loves a cheerful giver, but He never mentioned the fearful borrower.
The drive home was a long one. I felt like a get away car driver after a bank robbery. I wondered if the satellite had picked us up yet. I was afraid to look in the rear view mirror, and maybe see a trail of glorious blue light flashing chariots as they pursued me. I felt as obvious as a white bronco on the LA freeway. When I passed the interstate off ramp, I had an inspiring idea. I could stand on the corner with my “Will Work For Tithe Sign”. I might even make enough for an extra love offering! But I knew what would happen. People would offer to buy me a meal instead. I have groceries, I need more tithe! As I got home and unloaded groceries, I started forming a pile of possible returns I could make so my heavenly account wouldn’t be overdrawn. I pictured a cloud, with “Curse” written on it, hovering over Monday on the calendar, and it had no silver lining.

As I continued unloading groceries, another problem arose. Panic. I started yelling at the kids, “Don’t open those cookies, we might not keep them!”
“Why are you taking back my cookies, what about Rachael’s?”
“Mom, we have to have toilet paper!”
“Here, take the vegetables back!”
I did find the printer ink, and realized if the Italian angels broke my fingers I wouldn’t have anything to print off anyway. That left ten dollars. Then I remembered a source of income that had provided me gas money on many a day as a teenager. Loose change!

I found almost $10.00 in loose change in my purse! Oh.no! It was 8:00 on a Saturday night. All the banks were closed. I don’t think the tithe envelopes are made for $10.00 in change. (At least not one I want to put my husband’s name on.) I realized that there was no law that said tithe had to be paid on Sunday morning. I could go to the Coin Star (where you turn your change into cash) machine at Kroger’s before church on Sunday night. That led to another problem. How do I get my husband to stop at Kroger’s on the way, without telling him why? Problem solved itself. “I can’t tell you why…”
“Is it something personal you need?”
Paying the tithe was my personal responsibility, and I’m sure I would be held personally responsible if it didn’t get paid. Yes, I would say it was a personal need.

My husband decided to drive on his own so he wouldn’t have to leave early. (Not to mention I needed to stop at Wal-Mart, to have the wagon full to bring to the storehouse that night.) So I returned my printer ink, cashed in my change and………
“Oh, come on God, couldn’t you cut me a break!” The change machine kept a dollar as a fee for using it. I was a dollar short! Have you ever noticed they are no envelopes at church for IOU’s? I did see some envelopes for missionary contributions. I thought about putting my name on one, and the tithe in it, so that when Chris found out and I fled to Africa I’d have funds to buy a spear and hut.

I thought back to when I was a kid, and my mom and dad made my brother and I tithe our allowance and extra money. My brother borrowed about two dollars from me every Sunday to pay his tithe. I could borrow a dollar. I looked down the pew at my kids and my father-in-law and mother-in-law at the other end. I couldn’t ask to borrow dollar from my in-laws….(I don’t know though, I have kind of felt like they’ve owed me since August 30th almost nine years ago.) I could get Rachael to ask. No she knows too much.
(Subtleness is not in Rachael’s vocabulary.) I’ll just have to pay what I’ve got. I felt a little embarrassed when I filled the tithe envelope. My husband uses larger, crisp bills so the envelope fills nicely and is easy to lick. I had ones, fives, tens, and a few receipts that got stuck in my hurry to fill the envelope. The envelope barely closed, and I’m now missing my Social Security Card.

When my husband arrived at church after the offering was taken up, I was so relieved I told him the story. Turns out, with all the extra gas it took running my extra errands, and having to drive two vehicles to church, He could have paid the missing tithe.
I look back on all that energy and effort it took to pay that tithe, and I know why I did it. It wasn’t out off fear of God’s wrath; it was because I realized all that my husband went through when he paid the tithe. All the decisions he had to make about what to spend, what to wait on, yet he has consistently made the right decision to obey God, and our family has been blessed because of it.

In Leviticus 9 verse 6, when the people were bringing their offerings to God, it reads , “And Moses said, This is the thing that the Lord commanded that ye should do: and the glory of the Lord shall appear unto you.” When I think of Chris tithing, I see the Glory of the Lord. I see an Almighty God ruling and reigning in the Priest of our home. There was a time when we didn’t tithe consistently. So I see the Glory of God in that he dealt with and changed my husband’s heart. If He can do that, what else can God’s Glory do in our home? If all I could see was God’s glory revealed in the Sun, that would be enough to believe He could make thousands of lights called stars to light up the night sky. God’s glory changes our mundane existence day after day, by revealing to us the supernatural at work behind the veil of our flesh and carnality. God’s Glory, is what escapes the wonder of Heaven breaking through the barriers of blinded eyes, prison walls, bound souls, and weak wills to reveal the greater power beyond, and even more glorious, proclaiming that that power is available to us, to work in us and through that we may all become windows that the Glory of God can revealed in. God’s Glory prompts our Spirit man to look beyond what we can see, and believe what we’ve only dreamed, or never believed was possible.

After this whole experience, I realize why God said to give our first fruits. When you give your first fruits, you cut a lot of hassle out. You give God His portion first, and the rest of your decisions are clear cut. When you wait, every decision is laborious as you struggle to work it all out to make room for Him. I think of the first fruits of my day. Psalms 63:1-2 says, “ O God thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is. To see thy power and thy glory , so as I have seen thee in the sanctuary.” Giving God the first fruits of my day, can produce and reveal His Glory. Instead, I have been giving my children my first fruits, (getting up when they do), and have spent the remainder of the day giving to them. But to seek Him first, I would have the remainder of the day to enjoy His blessing on my day, rather that wearing myself out all day trying to pursue Him to give Him the fruit already wilted from the days struggles. First fruits, are fresh fruits. They give the receiver the honor of being the one worth the labor it took to produce the fruit. Bellsouth, Cumberland Valley Electric, Whitley Water, and Wal-Mart, are not worth the labor to be presented with our families first fruits, and they certainly will not turn around and bless us for paying them first. Nor will my children ever come to know Christ as Lord, as long as they find me always serving them at the table, and not first serving Christ. Not only that, I rob them of seeing God’s Glory revealed in me as I am obedient, and I rob myself of seeing God’s Glory in them as I train them to take their tender, delicate first fruits to Him. For after all, it is Christ that gives the increase, in all areas of our lives, and He should be allowed to savor the fruit of His vineyards first.

So, “Honey I don’t want to pay tithe anymore. You do it, and I’ll try to be more supportive, and not complain so much about where all the apples went. And on your next trip to the storehouse, would you care to take an extra apple? I was a little short this trip.”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The View from My Pew

This morning I had the privilege and honor of attending the Baby Dedication of Bree Smith. I love baby dedications, but it is always a more special event when you are personally involved in the lives of the family. Recently, in a hair emergency, Alex, the father, made a midnight run to Wal-Mart for hair dye for me and Leah, the mother, skillfully applied it. The way to a man's heart may be food, but the way to a woman's heart? Make her look good. Those two worked their way to top of my list when they sacrificed sleep to repair my hair. (You know it's a bad hair do when a MAN feels compelled to get involved in fixing it.) So needlesss to say, I have some history with these two, that blossomed out of a close friendship with Leah's mom Heidi.

As the ceremony began, I watched Leah, Bree's mommy, who it seemed like only yesterday was a young teenager desperate to be allowed in the youth group, confidently carry her daughter to the alter to be dedicated to God. She was the ONLY teenager my husband and I have ever trusted to watch our three children. Our only regret is that we didn't start using her sooner. Leah has that rare quality of fun that is tempered with responsibility. She has the gift of being able to get on a child's level with creative imaginative play while never losing her authority as the adult. She was a skilled babysitter, but that was just how God allowed her to use her gifts until it was time for her true calling- Motherhood. I always knew this was Leah's destiny, but watching it unfold has been a precious journey. She approached the Pastor, no longer a little girl, but a woman on a mission, unwavering at the task before her, uneffected by the mass of people behind her.

And then came the second half of this parenting team. Daddy Alex followed, taking his place. As he stood opposite Leah, facing her as the Pastor read the responsibilities of a parent, it was so obvious the speech was a needless part of the ceremony. These two knew their responsibilities long before they entered the sanctuary that morning. They knew long before they said, "I Do." But the value of the ceremony was not in what was heard, but what I saw.
I watched Alex's face transfixed by what I saw. It was the one moment that will forever define him in my eyes. He will never fall or excel beyond what I saw in him this morning. If Leah or Bree were ever to come to me voicing their displeasure in their husband or daddy, I will remember this moment, take a deep breath, and valiantly defend this man. I saw his heart.

I watched Alex's face as he found himself in a dilemma. His heart of so full, his eyes couldn't keep up with his emotions. He would look at Bree, his eyes tender, as if to say, "Wow, that's my daughter." But then his eyes would quickly travel upward locking eyes with Leah, and his eyes would radiate as if to say in awe, "Wow. She's my wife." Then he would look back at Bree, as if to say, "She's beautiful". Quickly, his eyes found Leah's face, again, as if to say, "Of course, she's pretty. Look at her mama." His eyes darted back and forth, as if his eyes lingering on one of his girls too long, made him miss his other girl. It was clearly not just Bree's day. Alex was as proud of his wife as he was his daughter. Leah was not replaced by this tiny new little female who joined their still new nest. She had been elevated to a new level in Alex's heart reserved only for the love of his life, the most priceless of his treasures.

And then came yet another moment that brought the tears streaming down my cheeks. As the Pastor asked them to face him so they could take their vows, Alex placed his arm around Leah and gently placed his hand at the small of her back. I know, you're thinking, "You Sap! What is the big deal!" Well, here's the big deal. That small gesture spoke volumes. I have been to MANY baby dedications and if you review the tapes, you will find very few where there is any physical contact between the parents. Usually one parent holds the baby. The other parent stands by in case the baby gets fussy and needs to change parents. This was different. Alex wasn't concerned about the congregation knowing he meant what he said. He wasn't worried about the Pastor believing he meant his vows. Before God, his gesture spoke louder than his words. Alex was saying, "We will do it, God. We will do it together, Leah. I will be here for both of you through every step. " He made his vows this morning not just to Bree before God. Alex renewed his vows to Leah before God.

Bree may have her daddy wrapped around her little finger, but the ring on Alex's hand that glistened against the fabric of Leah's shirt as he held her close, declared his life was wrapped around another beautiful woman's life first and foremost- his wife Leah. Bree was tenderly knit together in her mother's womb by God, but that fabric is only made stronger by her two parents who have allowed God to knit them together as one first.

If you're reading this, and you're thinking, "How Sweet", or "I wish I could have someone look at me that way,", I want you to know, you do. You are the Apple of God's Eye. The love I saw in Alex's eyes this morning was boundless by man's standards. Yet it was limited by Heaven's standard because he is still a mortal man unable to love anyone as much as God does. If you could catch one glimpse of the Father's eyes as He looks at you, you would forever be unsatisfied with only the love any mortal could give. Your heavenly Father loves you, adores you, and desires you. His vows of dedication to you are written in His Word. His love for you cannot be wrapped around your little finger....His love is measured by the hands of His son as they stretched from East to West as His love for you was wrapped around a cross.

I think I would have been stunned this morning had Leah pulled away from Alex's embrace, or refused to look at him, especially after I had seen the love on his face for her. If you are not saved, everyday you are shrugging off the arms of God that only want to embrace you. You are turning your back on the one whose back was scarred for you as he was whipped beyond recognition. And through every shrug, act of defiance, rebellion, and rejection, His unfailing and unfaltering love for you has not changed. And on the day you accept Him as Savior, you are born again. You become an infant in the arms of Jesus and He presents you to the Father. You begin again, a clean slate, a fresh start with a Father who beams and proclaims to all of Heaven, "This is MY child in whom I am well pleased." Alex was a wonderful picture of Christ this morning.

Maybe you were there, and you're thinking. "I didn't see all that." Yeah, well, you didn't have my seat. And I might add if you choose to criticize this couple from your seat, as we sometimes do out of ignorance or a false security in our own knowledge, on their decisions, or parenting choices, and try to shake the confidance they have in God and one another right now, you might find God telling you, "Hush..You don't have MY seat. From here, I am well pleased in what I see in my son and daughter." And if I were to discover anyone discouraging, judging, or hindering this little family in their pursuit of building a godly home, I just might have to eject you from your seat, and I can't promise you'll see any love in my eyes when I do it.

I had the best seat in the house this morning, and it didn't cost me anything, but what I saw was priceless.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Airhead and the Flat Tires

I don't know if you are one of the lucky ones who was born with common sense, but if you are you will not be able to relate to this story. Apparently, when God made me, He decided that common sense can only be appreciated when it is displayed against a backdrop of blissful ignornance. I am one of the happiest morons you will ever meet. While on some levels, I am considered intelligent, on other levels, I am considered to be the poster child for "You did WHAT?"

I once turned a three hour trip to Cincinatti from Kentucky, into a nine hour tour blissfully lost in Indiana.
I once removed a burned out headlight from my car by cutting the wire attached to it. Apparently, they simply unplug.
I once put all the wrong checks in the uitility bills' envelopes, delivered them all, forcing a spur of the moment summit meeting of representatives of each company to meet to exchange the checks.
I once nearly wrecked flashing my lights at an oncoming motorcycle that refused to dim his brights. Turns out it was an oncoming train running on a track parallel to the road.

For my latest stunt, I decided to do my husband a wonderful favor, and mow the yard. We have a zero turn mower, and after a quick demostration by my husband before he headed to work, I felt equipped to handle the job. I mowed for 3 hours straight zipping around trees and poles, excited to to show off my accomplishment to my husband. Mowing a couple of acres is no small task. As he got out of his truck at about midnight, (he worked second shift), he eyed the yard suspiciously. I quickly mentioned I missed a few spots, but I would get them the next day so he wouldn't feel the need to point them out.

The bewildered look on his face didn't go away. I'm sort of used to him looking at me that way, but I usually know why. I didn't have a clue what the issue was this time.

He walked around the yard , in the dark for a few minutes, then asked to see the mower. I was quite proud to show him I had maneuvered and parked the mower exactly where he always does. My pride took a quick nose dive when he looked at the mower, looked at the yard, looked at me, and then a light seemed to spark in his eyes, while I was still very much in the dark.

"Didn't you notice you had two flat tires?"

I really despise techinical questions- such as "Didn't you notice the red light on the dash?", "Didn't you smell the smoke?" or my favorite, "Didn't you hear that noise?".

No, I did not smell, hear, or see anything.

In my usual non-committal voice, I replied, "You mean on the mower?".

"Yes, on the mower."

Now here is where I get confused. If there are two flat tires on a vehicle, technically it should not be able to move. As long as movement is possible nothing is broke( or does that just apply to bones.)

Apparently, the two flat tires were on the same side. Now, this still meant nothing to me. Some of you have already figured out the problem. My husband than took me under the flood light in the yard so I could get a better look at my handiwork. The entire yard looked like a bad haircut. The mower had leaned to the flat side, cutting each row at an angle, with a difference of about 4 inches from side to side of each row.

Of course the most disturbing part of the whole situation- I didn't notice.

I didn't notice I was personally leaning to one side. I didn't notice the yard wasn't even. I didn't notice I was having difficulty steering the mower. And honestly, if every man who worked for us hadn't pointed it out this week, I'm not sure I would have ever noticed. I only looked at my effort, not the result.

I have struggled to find the REAL spiritual meaning in this event. I truly believe there is always something to be learned. My first thought was, "I'll never do another one of my husband's chores again. That'll show him!" But alas, while my flesh cheers at my new decree, my heart knows that is truly the easy way out. My non-existant common sense tells me to air up the tires on the flat side, and flatten the tires on the opposite side, and mow again thereby evening out the yard. But again, there is this rather faint voice in my head saying, "That only makes sense in your world, where all logical thinking has been suspended in order to ensure that your days are filled with laughter."
And so I step up to the looking glass, where I look upon myself through the purest light of God's Word, and find the error of my ways. Much to my surprise, not really, the error had little to do with flat tires. I realized that if I had not been so caught up in making myself look good, I would have been more focused on making my husband look good. I wanted him to come home and ramble on and on about what a wonderful wife he had. I wanted all the farm workers and visitors to the farm to see me mowing with that big commercial piece of equipment and marvel at the man that was able to "snag her as a wife". I wanted my husband to tell me I didn't have to cook and we'd order in because I was surely exhausted from all my hard work. I wanted him to overlook all the dirty laundry, dirty dishes, dust, and unmade beds, because I had SACRIFICED to do something significant for him.
Now we come to the heart of the matter. I had rejected all the tasks given to me by God and my husband in order to do something a little more exciting and noticable by the world. In the mirror of my heart I see I Samuel 15:22 shimmering on the glass, "to obey is better than sacrifice...". My husband would have been more pleased with me, if he had returned home to a clean house, a clean towel to use when he showered, a hot meal, and an end table that his glass of soda didn't stick to while he watched the news. Instead he had none of those things, and still had to mow the yard again.
Motive is EVERYTHING, when in service for our King. We can be doing seemingly great things for the King in the world's eyes, but still be disobediant by not doing what he asked. The greatest sacrifice is striving to do more AFTER you have exhausted yourself doing all He asked. Then all of our efforts become focused on Him, because our heart cry becomes, "I have little left to give, but all I have left is Yours." How much sweeter sacrifice becomes after obediance.
I may never again mow a yard, in this life or the next-(God has informed me the cattle on the thousand hills keep them looking nicely so He has no need of my services there either.) I do know that I will strive to obey, keeping more air in my tires and less air in my head.