Publication: Pastoral Letter, December 2009
Dear Friend in Christ:
In the course of your life, you will help many people. Some of them will use you for their own purpose and leave you when it suits them. Others will thank you from their hearts and be faithful to your interest and not just their own. If you knew whose heart was with you and whose was not, which one would you entrust with your treasure? As you think about that, I want to remind us today that God knows our hearts.
A pastor suggested to one of his members that the member should give more than he was giving. The member’s response was, “God loves a cheerful giver; if I gave more, I wouldn’t be cheerful about it.”
So what was this man’s problem, his giving or his heart? I imagine that he was more cheerful about some other pursuits than about his relationships to God.
The Bible uses the word “heart” to describe our core thinking – and motivation – what moves us to act. The first commandment is that we should love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and strength, and that we should keep His words in our hearts. Why is it so important to love God with all of our heart? Is it for His benefit? No. Deuteronomy 6 goes on to describe the abundant benefits that come to us when we do so.
When our love for God and His Word grows cold, we get into trouble. When we stray from Him and the truth, we become ensnared by lies that destroy us and hurt others. Because the heart of God is for us, He commands that we love Him with all our hearts. His is jealous of our affections, for our benefit.
The question is, “Where is my heart; is it toward God first?” Jeremiah 17:10 says that God tests our hearts. He gives us “reality checks”… not so He can know, because He does already. He tests us so that we can know where our heart is. For example, the United States is in a reality check. The economy and numerous other issues are challenging us to seek God. We didn’t get here overnight, and we will not get out without facing some basic issues.
Lately I have been reading The Life of George Whitfield, a leader of the Great Awakening in the 1700s. At age twenty-four, he was preaching to many thousands (sometimes 40,000) in the open air. His heart was undivided and undeterred, though he was fiercely and unfairly opposed. His life and ministry affected nations, including our own. Whitfield’s heart devotion to God has challenged my own devotion. He reminds me that when hearts are right great things can happen.
One of the worst indictments God made upon Israel is found in Isaiah 29:13, where it says they honored God with their mouths but their hearts were far from Him. They loved the language and form of worship but lost the motivation to love and serve God. Bad things were happening and worse things were coming.
Proverbs 4:23 tells us to keep our heart with all diligence, for all the issues of life flow out of it. We are admonished to keep the love of God and love for God central to our thinking because it affects everything else. Jesus said it this way: “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
So the question is, “Where is my heart and how is that affecting me and others? And how is it affecting my finances?”
I was blessed with great parents who taught me theWord of God. When I was eleven years old, I got my second paying job. The boss promised me three dollars per week, but when I got my paycheck, it was for two dollars and forty cents. I asked about the lower payment. “Social security and income tax,” he replied.
Now I had a dilemma: do I tithe on three dollars or two dollars and forty cents? So I asked Dad, thinking that he would solve my problem, “Do I tithe on the net or the gross?” He looked at me and said, “Do what is in your heart.” I went away to examine my heart; it was six cents difference and I could buy a Popsicle with six cents. I was looking for a rule; God was testing my heart. I finally overcame and tithed the thirty cents. It was a defining moment for me (by the way, tithing is not giving; it is our debt to the Source of all our blessings).
BEYOND THE LAW
It is amazing how when love is lost, law takes control. The less we are motivated by love, the more laws come into being to attempt to enforce what we ought to do by love. But laws cannot long cover the lack of love.
The Pharisees loved law, but lacked love. Jesus commended them for tithing but rebuked them for lack of justice, mercy, and love for God. They loved form and imagery, but lacked substance in their hearts (Matthew 23:23).
Of course tithing predates the law by hundreds of years. Abraham practiced tithing because of his love and faith towards God. He tithed to Melchizedek after his great victories. Melchizedek was King of Salem and a type of Christ (Genesis 14; Hebrews 7). Abraham rejected the rewards offered by the King of Sodom and tithed to the King of Salem (gave one-tenth). Melchizedek gave to Abraham bread and wine, the covenant meal, and immediately following that, God made a covenant with Abraham (Genesis 15).
When God made the covenant with Abraham, He promised Abraham a seed, abundance, and land. All nations would be blessed through Abraham. The relationship between Abraham’s heart, his tithe, and God’s covenant is significant and should be so to us. Abraham’s motive was not prosperity; if so he would have accepted the King of Sodom’s offer. Rather, his motive was faithfulness to God who gave him victory. Prosperity was a by-product.
It would be approximately five hundred years later when God would give the law toMoses in order to re-train Israel, who had been affected by Egyptian slavery and customs. But the law was always broken when Israel lost its love, when their hearts were away from God. Heart and treasure wind up in the same place eventually. In Matthew 6:21, Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
Malachi is the last book of the Old Testament, written by the prophet Malachi around four hundred fifty years before Christ. He confirms the truth that heart and treasure will go together. At that time, Israel had lost its true love for God while maintaining the forms of temple worship. In fact, they despised God’s altar and they offered lame and blind sacrifices (see Malachi 1). The priests themselves lacked a heart for God and engaged in marital infidelity, failed to know the Word of God, and failed to correct immoral behavior.
The Lord charged Israel with robbing Him in tithes and offerings. “Robbing God” seems unimaginable, but they did … and many still do. They owed ten percent of their increase as a debt to the Author of their blessings, but they withheld the tithe and spent it on themselves. They drew near with their mouths but their hearts were far from Him. Was the problem with their giving and tithing, or with their hearts?
Should one who steals from God praise Him with their lips? As my friend Stuart Farley says, “If you don’t tithe, and you drive a car, it’s a stolen car.” There are a lot more stolen cars than the police report. To go on with religious activity and language, when in fact our treasure belies our confession, is unacceptable. The real issue is our hearts, not only in tithing, but in all matters. God wants our hearts.
Is our current economic situation due to America’s heart condition? I believe that it is and so are numerous other problems that we face.
While Malachi condemns hypocrisy, he also offers great promises to Israel if they will return to God with their hearts. In Malachi 3:7, God says, “Return to me, and I will return to you.” Returning with their hearts meant returning with their treasure. If they did so, He would favor them with great results, as we read throughout the remainder of Malachi:
- He would open the windows of Heaven and pour out a blessing that they would not have room to receive.
- He would rebuke the devourer that destroys the fruit of the ground.
- They would become delightful land and declared blessed by all nations.
- The Lord would listen to their prayers.
- The Lord would remember them as precious to Him.
- The Lord would spare them.
- They would be able to discern between righteousness and wickedness.
- The Son of righteousness would arise with healing.
- They would triumph over the wicked.
- “Elijah” would return and restore the hearts of fathers to the children and the children’s hearts to their fathers.
These are great promises to them and to us if we return our hearts and treasure back to God. It is not enough to complain about conditions or lament the state of the nation. To be sure, there are serious problems, but they are only symptoms of the real problem – our hearts. Our treasure tells us where our hearts really are.
I thank God for those whose hearts are toward God and whose treasure reflects that. Thank God that He has not changed and remains faithful to His Word and still calls us back to Himself (Malachi 3:6). Thank God that the Holy Spirit still convicts and corrects and that He still sends messengers to us who do love him. Bear in mind, our change must be beyond laws; it must come from the heart.
BELIEFS AND BEHAVIORS
We do have a choice; we can continue as we are, or we can humble ourselves before God and seek His face. Given where our nation is, humility should not be difficult. We should join David’s prayer, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your Holy Spirit from me” (Psalm 51:10-11).
If we fail to close the gap between our beliefs and our behavior, we will lose our most cherished possessions: our children, our freedom, and our future. But if we return, He will preserve and bless us abundantly. It is time for another awakening.
This time of year we celebrate God’s greatest treasure given to us, His Son, Jesus. It is celebrated with giving … how appropriate! Since He gave His best, our best should go to Him.
For 40 years now, we have been sowing biblical truth through publishing magazines and audio and video resources. This past season has been very trying in many ways, but we continue to see good fruit emerging, and new opportunities in the midst of much opposition. We covet your prayers and we sincerely ask for your continued financial support, even during this month.
Enclosed with this letter, you’ll find information about how to receive an audio Bible teaching of “Hearts and Treasures,” and I hope you’ll take the opportunity to hear it and share it with friends. Also, we invite you to visit us online at www.csmpublishing.org for regularly updated news-you can even interact with us in the Discussion Forum.
Have a very blessed Christmas and New Year!
Scripture Reference: Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Proverbs, Matthew, Genesis, Malachi, Psalms