Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Old Dogs and New Tricks

“Is this the little girl I carried?
Is this the little boy at play?
I don't remember growing older
When did they?

When did she get to be a beauty?
When did he grow to be so tall?
Wasn't it yesterday
When they were small?

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly flow the days…”

These lyrics from Fiddler on the Roof explain the whole phenomena of old dogs and new tricks.

This is really a kudo to David who taught me a thing or two this week. He, who is computer phobic, got excited about our cable company’s latest gizmo. He dutifully ordered the boxes for the new Xfinity and, when they arrived, he was anxious to get them installed. I wanted to wait until the beginning of the next week, thinking it might take some time to get the cable company to do their part. Ok! So, maybe I was just engaging in avoidance behavior but I had my excuse ready!

He sat down with the instructions (something most of us do not do) and began methodically to study them. He went into the guest room to apply what he had learned. A surprisingly short while later he returned to announce that he had “installed” the box and now I need only to program the remote. While I’m hardly computer phobic, programming a new remote is the quickest way to strike fear in my heart. We came to an agreement which filled me with dread for the entire weekend.

Monday morning, we proceeded through installing the boxes on the other two tvs and the dread deadline arrived: programming the remotes. We called the cable company and wallowed through the process with the help of an incredibly gracious young woman. And, voila, it was accomplished without either of us pulling any hair from ourselves or others. So, what was all the fuss about?

Old dogs and new tricks. That’s what.

We are created to derive comfort from routines and established habits. As long as those are not interrupted, we don’t notice small changes. The hair turns white one gray hair at a time. The wrinkles evolve from "laugh lines." We don't notice the small changes until one day, we look in the mirror and our facade has changed. We're still the same inside. Only the outward appearance has changed. Or, so we think.

Major changes we resist without recognizing that they are really just an accumulation of minor changes. David is a lover of major change. I resist. I am a lover of minor changes. He seldom notices. We’re a ying and yang of change. Together, as our friends in Mississippi loved to say, we “get ‘er done.” One longterm friend used to tease me and say that between us, David and I could make a complete sentence. As we grow older, I find we don’t always need to complete the sentence with each other. It’s almost like a code

I’ve noticed among our older friends that the ones who are still young at heart are the ones who embrace change. They do not fear it. As John Grayson likes to say, “The majority of what we fear never even happens.” I pray he is right! As we approach another “ought” year (60 and 70 respectively), I find myself wondering how we will handle this problem or that crisis if it should occur. As I pray about these imagined difficulties, I return to the same place: God is still in control and He is still God.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Tithes and offerings: What is our obligation?

"Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed Thee? In tithes and offerings." - Mal.3:8

Many, today, question whether today’s Christians are obligated to tithe. What settled that question for me (in my teens) was the fact that Jesus honored the tithe and the temple tax. If He felt He should be obedient in these things, so should I. Each of us has to settle that between us and the Lord.

So, first, I would want to share what I know and what I believe about tithing and making offerings. They are not the same. John Clark, Sr starts his pamphlet Tithes & Offerings thusly: “There is a distinct difference between tithes and offerings. They are mentioned separately throughout the Bible, even though the Lord required both to be brought to Him.”…

“Offerings are gifts brought to God beyond the tithes. The tithe was always ten percent of one’s increase, but with certain offerings, God gave His people some discretion as to the amount or number of offerings to bring. Their financial situation in life and the depth of their zeal for God was shown by their choices concerning offerings. Here are some of the offerings that God instituted in Israel for the people to bring to His servants.”…

Several years ago, a neighbor and I were discussing a church service which he had not attended. This particular neighbor had been our pastor until his retirement and we thoroughly enjoyed the company of him and his wife. I made the mistake of relating something that had happened during the offering. I used the term collection rather than the traditional Anglican term of offering. He chided me saying offering was the proper term. I responded that, according to what I knew of offerings and tithes, no offering was possible until all tithes were “collected.” He challenged me to “go home and find the Bible support for that.” I did. A few months later, he was rejoicing in a sermon he had preached as an interim pastor on the difference between tithes and offerings. He had passed the teaching on as I would like to do with you.

The tithe or “first fruits of your labors would refer to today’s income. Many ask, “Should I tithe on the gross or the net?” My understanding of that question is a reluctance to restrict the tenth as much as possible. Many will ask, “Do you want to be blessed on the net or the gross?” I’m not comfortable with that either. The “first fruits” says to me, before anything else is taken out.

A major difference between tithes and offerings is this. The tithe is a minimum obligation which must be paid regardless of any other circumstance. Only two of the offerings have the same sense of mandatory participation: the sin offering and the guilt offering. The three voluntary offerings are for surrender and thanksgiving.

The offerings in Leviticus (starting with Chapter 1) were for different purposes. The burnt offering represents giving the best of our best, complete surrender of our best. The unblemished livestock may be comparable today with an unblemished lifestyle which will give testimony to our children of our commitment to God. (That’s just my idea of how to translate this offering into today’s lifestyle.)

The second is the grain offering which, again, is voluntary but testifies to our thanksgiving for the fruits of our labors. It is an announcement of our gratitude that God has done exactly what He said He would. He has blessed us “pressed down and overflowing” (Mal 3:10).
Next is the Fellowship offering (also called peace offering). This offering is a symbol of our fellowship with Almighty God, maybe comparable to wearing a wedding ring to remind us and others of our vow. It signifies gratitude for a specific blessing or symbolizes a vow we have made to God.

Then, there is the mandatory sin offering (also called the purification offering though the offering itself does not purify us). This offering was made when someone had sinned unintentionally against another and is the representation that that sin has been atoned for, that relationship restored insofar as the sinner was able to do.

The mandatory guilt offering was made when a person had deprived another of his rights, that is had taken advantage of him knowingly, willingly or had desecrated something that was holy. Examples might include using false claims to knowingly sell someone something which was other than you claimed it to be. Another example might be the violation of marriage vows.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Six Steps to Purity

Back in 1988, I read a book called Discipline and Discovery by Albert E. Day. He offered six steps to purity which he discussed in some detail. I summarized his ideas and wrote them on one of the blank pages in the front of my Bible. They were such good reminders that I transferred them to the next four Bibles I owned. Here they are.

First: Avoid anything which lowers your inhibitions. It doesn't matter whether that is a substance, a place, a situation, or a person. Avoid anything which entices you to act in a manner you should not.

Second: Set a watch on the door of your eyes. One of the examples I remember tied to this one was King David as he watched Bathsheba. The first time he saw her was an accident (wrong place, wrong time) but he continued to return to watch her bathe.

Third: Guard your imagination. Thinking about how situations might develop to put you into a particular situation opens a floodgate of thoughts over which your inhibitions have little control.

Fourth: Do not run toward temptation. Scripture tells us to avoid temptation, to "resist the Devil". Instead we sometimes head toward temptation instead of turning away. It's what mothers used to call the "bad boy syndrome" when Christian girls were attracted to boys who were obviously not engaged in living for the Lord.

Fifth: Restrain your indulgent curiousity. No sin can ever gain control if we do not "try it just once." I can remember, as a young person, being told that there were untold thousands of potential alchoholics who had never drank even once. But, I was told, had they ever "tried it just once," they would have had difficulty resisting further use.

Lastly: Let your thoughts dwell on what TO DO, not what you should not do. For many years (despite Philippians 4:8), I did not understand this. Then, as I trained to be a teacher, we learned that making rules in the positive (that is: the expected behavior) made it much more likely they would not be broken.

"Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable--if there is any moral excellence and if there is any praise--dwell on these things."