Tithing: Obeying God, Denying Self

Laila and I drove away from  Covenant Sunday rejoicing in the worship and fellowship of the morning services. Folks stayed a long while after the Second Service refreshing friendships and enjoying talking about dreams and hopes. The rain was steady. We had a gift card for a restaurant. However, after waiting for a while to be served there it became apparent that eating there on a Sunday was a casual event. We only wanted food, not an afternoon social.

We walked to another restaurant, which indicated they had maybe a 30-minute wait. We ended up at a place where food was ready. Buffet-style.  Quick and satisfying.

Food for the stomach is not first on the agenda of a pastor's heart on a Sunday. Preparing for Sundays is a journey. Not a Saturday night Google search. A pastor carries people in his heart. A pastor talks with God, reads the Bible and allows the Holy Spirit to speak to the needs of the people present and future. Yes, a pastor is always thinking: "Where does this congregation need to be in five years, ten years and when Jesus comes?”

Congregations lost in the moment become selfish. Folks can think church worship is about their narcissistic notions, i.e., that meeting with God is about God working angels overtime to make sure the "saints" are all well-fed, living dreams, prospering and happy. A pastor knows that allowing a congregation to sink into selfishness will spell the death of a church.

At the heart of a New Testament church there must be a passion for righteousness. Keeping a congregation on queue with the Great Commission is hard work. The work is so difficult that it cannot be accomplished without Elders, Pastoral Staff and church leaders uniting with singular hearts to follow in the footsteps of Jesus.

Denying ourselves is not a one-time event, but daily. Taking up our cross is not an emotional revival moment, but a way of life. Following Jesus is not as a distant admirer, but keeping feet in the path all the way home.

We left the restaurant and drove through the rain to Hospice. Our greater mission was to see James Nicely. Young, too young...his days are numbered to go be with Jesus. In less than a year cancer has ravaged his body.

James came to Covenant 17 years ago.  He shared Sunday that a single phone call from a pastor motivated him to make Covenant home. He became one of the best volunteers in Covenant's history. His devotion to children's ministry, drama, audio-video, etc., helped to form teams and produce events that forever will remain treasured memories.

When we walked into the room James and Patty were having a quiet moment. Patty spoke to me and said: "How fortuitous that you came just now. I was just getting ready to mail a check for tithes. You can take it to church."   She handed the already-written check to me.

It was a very humbling moment. The tithe is so sacred. So holy. In heaven Jesus receives the tithe. There I stood with a dear brother and his wife. The brother soon to depart and be with Jesus. His wife sitting beside the Hospice bed and making sure that the tithe check was dutifully on time.

Bearing the treasure of tithes back to church was an honor. As Laila and I walked out into a drenching rain I pondered that James' devotion to God was greater than sickness, cancer and pain. He really believes that he is "laying up treasures in heaven, where moth and rust cannot corrupt, and thieves cannot break in and steal," (Matthew 6:19ff).

I also pondered the favor of God upon a congregation with folks who love God so deeply that when death is imminent they persist in doing what is just and holy.

Yesterday I visited twice with James and Patty. Between morning and evening his body grew weaker. I asked him if he would like to have a message recorded.

He whispered "Yes." I have the video message.

I am writing to you on Tuesday morning while waiting for the sun to rise. In a little while a message will come about James, maybe today...maybe tomorrow. Not many days. Unless the Lord performs a miracle.  Which he is still able to do.

But if not, James has asked for a joyful service and emphasized he wants a sermon. "Preach, Pastor," he said.

As I finish this message workmen will be arriving at Covenant to continue with concrete and block. Construction progress is steady. We are thankful for the dream being fulfilled of joining our buildings together in a marvelous complex.

However, our real passion is to win people to Jesus, make disciples and share the gospel with those near and far until Jesus comes.

The work of the Kingdom is not about food and drink for the belly. It is souls (Proverbs 11:30b). In the rain, snow, heat and cold we labor on while it is day. We do what we can while we can. We are diligently and dutifully seeking to "occupy, until he comes" (Luke 19).

The Apostle Paul said: "Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ," (I Corinthians 11:1)