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Thursday, March 3, 2011

Cattle and Hills

I've gone to church my entire life. I'm sure I was just a few weeks old when I made my debut at the little Nazarene church in Santa Fe, New Mexico where my family attended for 50+ years. I've heard a multitude of sermons on tithing and giving to God what belongs to Him. I'm quite familiar with the verse in Psalm 50 that speaks about cattle and hills. Basically God is saying He owns everything, including "the cattle on a thousands hills."

Being that I've heard that verse many times in my life you would think it wouldn't have had such an impact on me this week. But it did. In fact, the whole passage of Psalm 50:7-15 brought me to my knees in a puddle of grateful and repentant tears.

Let me explain.

My husband and I were married in 1987. For all our married life we have tithed. We've given 10% of our income to our church. Admittedly, though, there are years when we fell short of ten percent but didn't realize it until the giving record arrived in the mail in January for tax purposes. I would ask God to forgive us, promise to do better the next year and then make sure the tithe check was written along with all the other bills.

And therein lies the problem.

Tithe should not be treated like the gas bill or the mortgage. God doesn't send out monthly bills for services and charge interest if it isn't paid. Angels aren't going to get laid off because Christians aren't paying their tithe. But that's sort of the mentality a lot of us have about tithing. That it's something we have to pay right along side with the credit card bill or the cable bill. Tithe should always, always come off the TOP of ones income, not from somewhere in the middle or the tail end.

Why?

Because of this word: Firstfruits.

Even before the Law people were tithing. In Genesis 4:3-4 we see Cain and Abel bringing an offering, or a tithe, to God. Cain brought "some" of the produce he'd grown. Abel, however, brought the fat from the "firstborn" of his flocks. God looked on Abel with favor.

Exodus 23:19 says, "Bring the best of the firstfruits of your soil to the house of the Lord your God."

In Leviticus 27:30 we read, "A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord."

But the one that got me is found in 1 Corinthians 15:23: "Christ, the firstfruits."

Jesus is the firstfruits. "The firstborn" as Paul says in Colossians 1:15. God gave His very best when He gave us Jesus! Jesus was essentially God's tithe.

That's where Psalm 50:7-16 comes in. Here it is from The Living Bible:

"O my people, listen! For I am your God. Listen! Here are my charges against you: I have no complaint about the sacrifices you bring to my altar, for you bring them regularly. But it isn't sacrificial bullocks and goats that I really want from you. For all the animals of field and forest are mine! The cattle on a thousand hills! And all the birds upon the mountains! If I were hungry, I would not mention it to you--for all the world is mine, and everything in it. No, I don't need your sacrifices of flesh and blood. What I want from you is your true thanks; I want your promises fulfilled. I want you to trust me in your times of trouble, so I can rescue you, and you can give me glory."

Even though I've been in church my entire life and have tithed my entire marriage, I didn't fully understand--didn't grasp it in the depths of my soul!--that tithing is more about ME than it is about GOD. That it isn't about my money. It isn't even about following a biblical law.

It's about my heart.

It's about firstfruits.

It's about giving God the best of what is in my heart. The firstfruits of my heart.

I may not have cattle on even one hill, but what I do have is God's. All of it!

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