Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Stolen Offerings

For being the men chosen to serve nearest to God in the Tabernacle, the priests sure cause a lot of problems in Israel. This is the case when we first meet the sons of Eli the priest, priests themselves, who will very shortly be smitten by the Lord for their unfaithfulness.

God had set apart a special portion of Israel's sacrifices for the priests; it was their payment, their provision, for doing the work that He had called them to do. Since most priests were so busy with their duties at the Tabernacle that they didn't have time to really build their own homesteads or tend their own land or flocks, this was God's way of making sure that they eat.

The problem with Eli's sons is that they weren't content with the provision that God had made for them and started making provision for themselves. Specifically, they started taking portions of Israel's offerings before they were appropriately given to the Lord.

Imagine if you brought your ram, lamb, or one-year-old male goat and only, say, 2/3 of it ever made it to the altar. Imagine if you were the Lord who required an offering made by fire and the aroma pleasing to you was 1/3 less than what it should have been. 

This is the problem the priests were causing. Not only that, but they were taking the women who served at the tent and turning them to serve the needs of the priests before the needs of the Lord. This was a serious abomination, as it was well-known that other nations had cult prostitutes at their worship sites - a sin that the priests themselves probably knew of when they started this whole thing - and now, Israel's priests were turning her faithful women into prostitutes at the worship site. No good.

Fast forward several thousand years, and it's a fine line that we walk in our churches on this issue. 

No, I'm not talking about shady/dirty pastors or priests who are skimming off the top. I'm not talking about persons in our churches who are taking advantage of others. I'm not talking about those who are trying to get ahead by taking what others have. I'm talking about something much more pervasive and so commonplace in our churches that it slides sinfully right under the radar:

The volunteer system.

So many of our churches run on volunteers. They're stepping up everywhere and in every capacity to do the kinds of things that need done in our churches - cleaning our buildings, teaching our children, changing our light bulbs, running our sounds systems, handing out our bulletins, tending our parking lot, locking and unlocking our doors. If you're in a church, no matter what your capacity, you know just how many opportunities we have for the members of the church to serve. 

The question we have to ask is...who, or what, are they serving?

We have persons graciously teaching our children who have no business teaching our children. Not because they aren't loving, caring, compassionate individuals, but because they don't have a spiritual calling to teach our children. We have persons who are changing light bulbs just because they are the least busy persons and have the time to do it, not because they feel any special inkling to be the ones to step up for that ministry. We have persons passing out our bulletins whose gifts are wasted at our front doors. 

We are stealing the spiritual capital of our congregations and putting it to use for our own purposes, convincing our members to offer themselves to the church before they offer themselves to the Lord. 

Read that again. Because it's absolutely true. You have persons right now in your church whose spiritual gifts are going to waste because they've been commandeered by the church herself and put to work in service of programs and ministry "needs" rather than any particular calling or giftedness. Maybe you're one of those persons. 

And you think, maybe, that some things in the church just have to be done; they don't require a special calling, but someone's got to do them anyway. Bull. There is nothing that needs done in our churches that God hasn't put one someone's heart. Our challenge is to find the places where our needs feed the souls of the called, not the pursuit of the programmed. 

Yes, there are persons whose souls are nourished by fixing toilets. I'm serious. There are persons who thrive on being the face at the front door. There are persons who give their best to God when they are teaching our children or watching our infants. Our challenge, as the church, is to match these persons not with our needs, but with God's needs and put them in places that God needs them. 

Right now, sadly, that's just not often the case. More often, we're co-opting them, taking advantage of their good nature to serve our more pressing needs. But what if we took advantage of their best nature and put them where they could shine?

What if our priority was that every man, woman, and child in our churches gave their offering to God first? And then we, the church, feasted on what God has given us from that? 

It would revolutionize our churches. But even more than that, it would revitalize our Christians. And it would reinvigorate our faith. 

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