Friday, November 20, 2009

What to do when the gift is too holy to receive

Good morning my friends. There is a story of David that often perplexed me. It was before he was king, when he was on the run from king Saul. He and his merry band of misfits were hanging out in a cave because David refused to fight the king. Although he knew Saul was not a great king, David still had the knowledge that he did not have the authority to do anything to the king; that was up to God. In this story David had grown thirsty so some of his men risked their lives and brought back some water from a local well. David was so moved that he refused to drink it, it was too holy a gift. He considered there was only one who was worthy to receive a gift of this importance and he offered it to God. When I first read this story in my youth I did not understand it and figured his friends must have been pretty miffed at him. Today I understand.

As a leader of people I am sometimes given gifts of support and encouragement. For the longest time these gifts made me feel uncomfortable because I knew they were often given out of need. Like David I felt I was not worthy of such sacrifice. It has taken me decades to gain the understanding and ability to receive these gifts of sacrifice. Unlike David, I, and other leaders, are not to "waste" the gift by turning it into a drink offering. It is like we accept it on behalf of our God because it is a beautiful offering to him. When people offer these gifts it is often in support of God's work and it is because they see Jesus in us. We need to get past the personal embarrassment. We need to gain the attitude of Paul as he wrote to the Philippians:

Moreover, as you Philippians know, in the early days of your acquaintance with the gospel, when I set out from Macedonia, not one church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you only; for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. vs. 15-16

There was a special bond here between Paul and the Philippian church. There usually is between minister and the supporters of the minister. They were with him from the very beginning and their faithful support made a difference to him. Now those of you in ministry who may be struggling with receiving these gifts as I had done, read this next part carefully:

Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. v. 17

Paul writes as if they are investing in their future. It seems to be a weird thing in the Church, so much emphasis on money; it always makes me uncomfortable. Yet, there is this strange balance in the scriptures where God is telling his people that he does not need their sacrifice but instead their obedience. But then to the obedient he emphasizes the importance of their generosity. So, if you are trying to buy your way into heaven it is not going to work but if you already have your priorities in place then God is expecting that generosity will be a big part of your character. Generosity is going to increase your reward. We are about to see how it does more than that but first consider how these gifts are received:

I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. v. 18

Paul receives them for what they are, as David had recognized it, an offering to the Lord, an acceptable sacrifice. Such gifts of support are always received with such an attitude. I am not worthy but then again I am only the servant. The one who is receiving such sacrifice is the Lord and promises are attached with such sacrifices:

And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. v. 19

Promise after promise is held out to those who put the Kingdom first and themselves second. There is something incredible that moves the heart of God when people sacrifice out of their own needs. Consider the widow and her pennies at the temple. This woman had touched the heart of Jesus so much she provoked a lesson for others.

It is a strange thing but ministers you need to stop being hesitant and feeling awkward about accepting these sacrifices. God is doing something in the hearts of the people and you have to allow it to happen. And people, respond to what God is moving you to do, especially when it comes to supporting missionaries. Like with Paul, your gift has more value than just the physical aspects, it also represents love and the knowledge that people care about what those missionaries are doing. Give out of your own need and then see how the Lord will in turn meet those needs for you. Allow your sacrificial offering to become a fragrant offering to the Lord.

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