Monday, June 30, 2008

Deliver Us from Evil

"Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith" (1 Peter 5:8-9, NIV).

In Bible days, a ferocious lion was among the most feared dangers, as a quick search of any concordance will verify. A modern equivalent might be the terrorist awaiting an opportunity to strike, or a Category 5 hurricane turning toward land. Whatever the analogy, the devil bides his time until he sees a chance to do as much damage as possible.

And like most hunters, he knows that the best time to catch prey with its guard down is while it's concentrating on satisfying its appetites. The "self-controlled and alert" are less vulnerable to Satan's schemes because they are less likely to be lulled into a false sense of security, or to insist on walking into obvious trouble in the name of reaching something that looks luscious.

Ultimately, though, we are all too weak to remain self-controlled and alert on our own. We can only stay safe from sin by keeping in close touch with God and fighting battles in His strength.

From the roaring lion who would devour,
From our own weak hearts, from enticement's power,
From the world and all who would see us sin,
Lord, protect our souls that You died to win.

That we grow in You and in Your strength,
That we be adorned with Your crown at length,
That we honor Your great and holy Name,
Lord, keep us from all that would bring You shame.

Let us seek Your will through all our days;
Let us live for Truth and delight in praise;
Let us find our strength through the Life You bring--
Lord, may we forever proclaim You King.

Friday, June 27, 2008

"As We Forgive Our Debtors"

Many Christian virtues are easy to commend until the time comes to practice them. Patience is one of the top contenders. Generosity is another. The ability to cope with tragedy is a third--compare C. S. Lewis's matter-of-fact approach in The Problem of Pain with his reaction to personal pain in A Grief Observed.

Lewis also wrote, referring to another easier-in-theory virtue: "Everyone says forgiveness is a lovely idea, until they have something to forgive." The sins committed against us personally always seem to be the worst sins in the world. A grudge can easily become a best friend--there are people who, twenty years after some trivial offense, can still be counted on to complain about the matter during the first five minutes of any conversation on any topic.

Whether the actual "crime" is small or horrendous, the reason we find it so hard to forgive is usually that we ourselves are harboring some degree of the worst sin of all--pride. We all want to believe we are too important to be hurt or inconvenienced. So when others disprove that notion, we hate them for it.

While in cases of serious hurt we may not sin by being angry--even with God--for a time, our broken hearts can all too quickly become hard ones. Once "I don't see how I can ever forgive" crosses the line into "I refuse even to try to forgive," we are on the way to becoming like the servant who, in Matthew 18:21-35, forgot how much he himself had been forgiven as soon as he remembered that someone still owed him.

The best cure for "I will not forgive" is to stop and take a good look at Jesus on the Cross: the one Person Who truly never deserved to have anything bad happen to Him, battered, despised, taunted--yet praying, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34, NIV). Who are we, by comparison, to say we are too important to forgive?

Especially when we were among the ones He prayed for. Every angry thought we ever entertained, every selfish act we ever thoughtlessly committed, helped put Him on that Cross.

If you would accept the forgiveness God offers,
But still have Him punish the ones who wrong you,
Your heart is too proud to be cleansed in completeness;
Your soul is too selfish for peace to be true.

The one who's forgiven of millions of dollars,
Then stops to demand that a thousand be paid,
Will forge his own prison of bitter resentment,
And lock himself in with a key he has made.

Our Christ, Who was sinless, forgave those who hurt Him;
Our God, Who is pure, offers cleansing to all.
Who are you, to claim to forgive is beneath you?
Beware of the pride that precedes a great fall!

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Thine Is the Power

Even more amazing, perhaps, than God's full control of the vast universe is the attention He gives each living soul. C. S. Lewis wrote in The Problem of Pain,"[T]he sheer difference between [God and ourselves] is one compared with which the difference between an archangel and a worm is quite insignificant.... But at the same time... the intimacy between God and even the meanest creature is closer than any that creatures can attain with one another."

And God went further--much further--even than wanting us for friends. The person willing to die for someone else is relatively rare. The person who would do it for anybody besides his or her closest loved ones is the extreme exception. And few of us would care to admit openly that we consider our own lives worth the sacrifice of anyone else's.

But by Christ's standards, not only was the lowest of human beings worth dying for, but we were worth the additional sacrifice of leaving heaven to spend thirty-plus years on this imperfect, troubled earth--and in poverty and service, under frequent misunderstanding and abuse, at that. The greatest paradox surrounding God's power is that its strongest display is through voluntary weakness.

Ours no less than His.

The Power of God
Is the Power that bore
All of earth's humiliation--
The Power of Love,
That which gives and gives,
That which bought our vindication:
That Power which won
Through renouncing all
Brought the crown of Life unending;
The Power that rules
Never showed contempt
For the weak He's still defending.

We who are His
Need not fear to bear
All the hate of those who mock us,
For through His Power
We can give our all,
And no power of earth can rock us.
If you would win,
Then surrender now--
Trust that He will bring you glory--
Bow your head to Him,
And absorb His love,
And go out to spread His story.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Lead Us Not into Temptation

Many Christians are puzzled to see "lead us not into temptation" (Mt. 6:13, NIV) in the Lord's Prayer. Doesn't the Bible itself say, "When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me.' For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed" (James 1:13-14)? So if God would never deliberately lure us into evil, why should we have to ask Him not to?

The second half of Matthew 6:13, "but deliver us from the evil one," provides one clue. Only God can protect us from the influence of the real tempter, from an assault that continues until we are no longer capable of resisting (cf. 1 Cor. 10:13). God can actually use temptation to strengthen our faith and character--but only as long as we do resist. Every time we give in, we take a step in the opposite direction.

When we do fall, often we immediately face additional temptation--temptation to blame God instead of ourselves. Saying "I asked God to keep me from temptation, and He didn't," is as bad as accusing God of being personally responsible for the temptation. And praying "keep me from the enticements of evil" isn't going to do much good if we're simultaneously thinking "but don't ask me to give this up" or "but I won't be held responsible if even the remotest hint of temptation crosses my path." Just happening to pass a bar on your way home neither means God has broken His promise to keep you from enticements, nor absolves you from blame if you go in to get drunk--especially if you knew perfectly well what was on that street and that there were alternate routes home.

Determining to cooperate with God in resisting temptation, however difficult we find the test, is the only way to pray the prayer sincerely. Demanding that He do all the work--that He make temptation literally impossible for us to find--is both unreasonable and lazy.

All along the path of each mortal life
The temptations wait to pounce,
And across the roads that we take each day
Gaudy lures to evil bounce.
If we wish to keep in the steps of Christ,
We must let Him hold our hand,
For the Lord alone plans the path of life
And has scouted out the land.

Let us pray, "Dear God, watch the ways we walk,
And protect our lives from sin";
Let us also choose to observe our Guide,
Our eyes fixed alone on Him.
Through each day of life, on each way we go,
The temptations lie in wait;
But our Lord, our Way, leads us to the end,
Ever up toward Heaven's gate!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Though We Never Would Steal or Murder

Many people seem to think it possible to sin without actually being a sinner. The person who bluntly states, "I've never done anything wrong" is the exception--and even most of those will break down under cross-examination. But ask the average citizen on the street, "Are you a good person?" and odds are the answer will be "yes"--meaning, "I've never murdered anyone, stolen anything valuable, or disappointed anyone without good cause." Reserving the right to define "valuable" and "good cause" for oneself, of course. Many a self-proclaimed good person has used the company account for personal leisure, or tossed aside "till death do us part" marriage vows, or kept an accidental extra $5 given as change, without feeling a hint of guilt.

People like to think of themselves, and perhaps the larger part of humanity, as deserving only good things. More than one in four Americans disbelieve in hell, and many of the others consider it a place reserved for the most blatantly evil--definitely not for honest, hardworking, good-to-their-families types who haven't done anything worse than to consider God beneath their attention. Which is akin to saying God isn't really important, and the good-versus-bad sum of human deeds is all that ultimately counts.

Before we as Christians get smug about knowing better, let's ask ourselves: how many times have our actions professed exactly the same thing? Every time we snub a "worse" sinner than ourselves, or object to any but "respectable" people entering our churches, or get nasty at a call for reform without even giving it a hearing--we are in effect saying, "We are too good to admit we are still fallible or to associate with people who obviously are." If we consider it Christian to "keep ourselves from being polluted by contact with the world," we might remember that the Christ Who supposedly set the ideal example was derisively called a "friend of sinners" because He didn't object to hanging out with the "disrespectable" crowd--and that it was the respectable and religious people who most wanted to get rid of Him permanently.

We may be justfiably angry to see atheist books proclaiming "Religion Poisons Everything" from bestseller lists. But are we handing ammunition to the enemy by allowing pride and self-righteousness to poison our religion?

Though we never would steal or murder,
Nor be tempted to outright crime,
Yet we fail to see hardening of our hearts
Coming subtly in course of time.

It is not sins obscene and blatant,
Where forgiveness is quickly sought,
That so often leads on a gradual slope
Far away from the Path Christ taught:

It is pride in our sense of "goodness,"
And the love of a life of ease,
That will make our love for the Lord grow cold
Till we do only as we please.

Though Christ died for the open sinners,
Those who showed the most obvious taints,
It was not such kind who called for His blood
So much as the self-righteous "saints"!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Father's Day

The Sunday school class was memorizing the Lord's Prayer, and some children were struggling. One little girl, normally a fast learner, couldn't even seem to get past the opening "Our Father."

Asked what the problem was, she stammered, "God isn't really like a father, is He?" Like most youngsters, she had a mental picture of "father" based on her own; and her earthly father was an alcoholic who could be counted on for nothing except to regularly get drunk and lash out at anything and anybody unfortunate enough to be within reach.

Some of you reading this can relate. You find nothing to celebrate in Father's Day; and you can hardly believe that the commandment "Honor your father" applies to you, because you've never seen yours do anything honorable. There are fathers who lie and cheat without a hint of guilt; there are fathers who take household money for their own pleasures while the family goes hungry; and there are fathers who permanently banish their underage children for being "too much trouble."

There are also fathers who themselves permanently walk away. Some refuse to have anything to do with their children from the moment the pregnancy is discovered. Perhaps even more hurtful is the once devoted family man who decides he's not happy with that family anymore.

Of course, not all fathers are lost by their own choice. You may have gone through this Father's Day with an aching heart and memories of your father's funeral--mixed, if you're anything like me, with guilt over times you failed to appreciate him while he was there.

And even the best of earthly fathers are human enough to fail us at times. So it's important to remember that God is not like our human fathers so much as He is the prototype of the perfect father. One translation of Ephesians 3:14-15 states that "all fatherhood in heaven and on earth derives its name" from God. Some men are horrible translations; but they cannot change our Heavenly Father, Who never becomes angry for trivial reasons, Who never abandons us to pursue selfish pleasures--and Who cannot be taken from us by death nor by any other power supernatural or mortal (cf. Rom. 8:38-39), because He is above all powers and because through Christ He has also freed us from the power of sin and death.

So if your earthly father abused or deserted you, thank God that He will always be there and will always treat you kindly. If you have or had a good father, thank God for him.

And if Dad is still there for you, tell him today that you love him!

You, well-blessed with human fathers
Who are wise and loving men,
Give your thanks to God in heaven;
See His image stamped on them.

You, whose fathers have passed onward
To the realm beyond our sight,
Trust your God will watch between you,
Till the day you reunite.

You, whose fathers mar God's image
With their selfish, violent ways,
Know your Father in the heavens
Still is worthy of your praise.

You, whose fathers did forsake you--
Though they scorned your broken hearts,
There is One Who can be trusted,
Never changes nor departs:

God, the Father of all fathers,
He Who watches all from birth,
He, the Comforter of orphans--
Praise Him, children, for His worth!

The Sun Still Shines

In the three years since Hurricane Katrina ripped through the New Orleans area, Gulf Coast residents have regarded the June-November hurricane season with greater-than-ever apprehension. Notwithstanding that 2006 and 2007 were relatively mild, talk of "increased hurricane activity in the face of global warming" continues.

Not that the weather has to unleash an all-out hurricane to cause disaster. Living in Houston for thirty-five years, I have waded through a fair number of floods caused by milder tropical storms, even by small-but-intense thunderstorms. Thankfully, the water has never come as high as my door; but more than once I have seen nearby streets overflowing to the sidewalk.

One characteristic of a really bad storm is the thickness and blackness of the clouds. Sometimes the midday visibility level falls as low as at night. And in all but the lightest rains, every car's headlights go on regardless of the hour.

There are times when one wishes that lighting up one's mood were as simple. Anyone who has ever wrestled with severe depression knows that "misery" is too mild a word for the overwhelming sense that the world is dark and hopeless. Sometimes there is an obvious cause--a death in the family, the loss of a job--but it is also possible to feel "absolutely nothing matters" with no logical reason. Cheering up from such deep depression takes more than flipping a switch (or popping a pill).

Even immersing ourselves in the true light of God's Word (cf. Ps. 119:105) may not be a "quick fix." Those of us in the computerized, high-speed world hate to wait, especially for things that make us feel good. But demanding that God cheer us up "immediately" is not likely to work any better than insisting He make the sun rise at 2 a.m.

But it always does rise--in His time. We need to perservere in prayer and Scriptural meditation through our dark hours, trusting that He will likewise bring light to our souls according to His own perfect schedule.

When the day is dark and wet with rain
And the world seems lost in endless gloom,
The sun still shines behind the clouds,
And will show again as the sky makes room.

When the night shows neither moon nor stars
And the world is lost to human sight,
The sun still shines around the world,
And will rise again with the morning light.

When all life seems dark with bleak despair
And all hope lost in a grim, dull daze,
God's Sun still shines to lead us on,
And will yet break through with His hope's bright rays.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Do You Believe?

The Apostle Thomas gave his name to the phrase "doubting Thomas" when he responded to the news of Christ's resurrection with, "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." Jesus eventually gave Thomas the physical proof he demanded, but He also chided him with, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." (See John 20:24-29.)

Lest we be too hard on Thomas, let us remember that he stands out only because he missed the earliest appearances of the risen Christ; not one of the disciples believed the news when they first heard it! If they wanted proof Jesus had come back, His promise that He would--combined with their having personally seen His miracles and never having known Him to be wrong--should have convinced them even before they saw Him in person. They failed to believe, because they were caught up in their preconceived ideas of what was impossible.

And if we want proof that God will always be there for us, His promise that He will--combined with all the times He has provided for us in the past--should be enough. Often we won't let it be, because we remain caught up in our preconceived ideas of how (and how quickly) He should handle a situation.

Our faith doesn't deserve the name if, like the Israelites in the wilderness, we toss it aside every time the least little thing goes wrong.

Do you believe in light,
Even when in the dark?
Do you fear, when the sun sets,
That it is for good?
No; you trust that the day
Will soon come back again:
Do you trust God's own Light, then,
The way you should?

Do you believe in air,
In the invisible?
Do you fear it will sneak off
Before your next breath?
No; though you see it not,
You still have faith in it:
Do you trust God's own Life, then,
Though facing death?

Do you believe in love,
In what no eyes have seen?
Do you fear all your loved ones
Are lying to you?
No, though you read no minds,
You still trust others' hearts:
Do you trust God's own Love, then,
Mighty and true?

Do you believe in God,
In the Unfathomable,
He Who cares for the hurting
And soothes those who grieve?
We, who now walk in faith,
One day shall look at Him:
We, blessed not to have yet seen,
But to believe.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Daily Bread

"Plan for the future" has become an American mantra. Set one-year and five-year goals. Keep six months' worth of living expenses in savings. Set aside a few hundred thousand for retirement.

Not that such advice is all bad, or that we don't need some chiding. At least one in three Americans regularly go to dangerous opposite extremes: letting their savings accounts sit empty; treating credit cards like blank checks; regarding exercise and nutritious eating as optional to good health. But--as even the dedicated planners tacitly admit through their admonitions to prepare for any contingency--there is no way to absolutely ensure a long, healthy, wealthy life. A speeding car can knock anyone from peak physical condition to permanent quadriplegia in a second. And we have no money-back guarantee that our society--which we implicitly count on to sustain our savings--will remain intact and stable for another fifty years.

"Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth," warned the Proverbs (27:1, NIV).

"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth," Jesus echoed in the Sermon on the Mount. "Do not worry about tomorrow" (Mt. 6:19, 34).

James 4:13-16 adds: "Now listen, you who say, 'Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.' Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, 'If it is the Lord's will, we will live and do this or that.' As it is, you boast and brag. All such boasting is evil."

Planning for the future becomes both foolish and sinful when it leaves God out of the equation. If we aren't careful, we can end up like the rich fool in Luke 12:15-21, who was sure he had enough to support himself in luxury for the rest of his life. And in a way he was right; he didn't live long enough to spend any of it.

The only prudent first step in planning for the future is to submit ourselves to God's plans.

"Give us today our daily bread"--
So goes the ancient prayer,
But most of us would also seek
Tomorrow's and to spare.

We would demand a bakery
With lifetime guarantee,
And would exchange a childlike faith
For things that we can see.

"Give us today our daily bread"--
Yes, so the Scriptures say:
Put off all dread of things to come,
And serve the Lord today.

The Master's path is paved in trust;
The view ahead is dim,
But we can trust the One Who leads
And put our faith in Him.

"Give us today our daily bread,"
For we can eat no more;
For all who stuff tomorrow's in
Add groaning to the store.

Some rich and poor alike die young;
No earthly thing is sure--
So eat your daily bread for strength
To build what will endure.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Hunger and Thirst

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled" (Mt. 5:6, NIV).

Have you ever been thirsty--really thirsty--for God and His righteousness? Have you ever come to church, or to your private prayer time, as eagerly as you sit down to a good meal after a day of hard labor, or approach a water fountain after a long, hot walk?

If you have to answer "no," don't feel too guilty--you've got plenty of company. Most Christians in wealthy, free societies take our faith somewhat for granted. We treat church as an optional activity or even an annoying obligation; we rarely bother to open our Bibles; and we call it "prayer" when we say a quick "bless the world" before falling asleep.

Why don't we appreciate the incomparable blessing of God's even deigning to pay attention to us? Probably for the same reason that those who have food constantly on hand complain about what they were served for dinner. If we had to worship in secret because there were armed soldiers everywhere enforcing a law against religion--if there were no Bibles available or if we were illiterate and unable to read them--odds are we'd more than appreciate the chance to hear even a little of God's Word. But where there are churches on every corner and Bibles in every bookstore, we figure they'll be there when--if!--we "need" them.

And we forget to be grateful for being saved because we forget what it was like to be lost. How often do you give conscious thought to the air you breathe? But trap someone underwater for ninety seconds and he'll wholeheartedly thank God for that air when he finally comes up. That's how desperate a situation we were in before Christ saved us from our sins--and that's how thankful we should be.

Dying of hunger or thirst is a terrible thing. But being accomplices to our own spiritual starvation is far worse.

The hunger for food can gnaw within
And displace all other concerns:
Would that we were equally hungry for God,
For Whom every pure heart yearns!

The thirst for a drink can burn the throat
Till the stalest water tastes sweet:
Would that we were equally thirsty for Christ,
And so longed our great Lord to meet!

The gasping for air, the search for breath,
Cuts as sharp as a jagged knife:
Would that we were equally desperate for Truth,
And the Spirit that gives us life!

Thursday, June 5, 2008

God's Kingdom

There are times when even the most vibrant spirit feels it can hardly take any more of this world. When conversations constantly turn toward rising prices, rumors of wars, environmental disaster, and imminent collapse of Social Security; when the doctor finds a tumor and you're already out of work with bills two weeks overdue; when To Do lists get so long that it seems the only hope for rest is to land in the hospital--then the prayer "Thy Kingdom come" takes on special urgency.

Not that there's anything inherently wrong with that--the Bible itself urges us to pray for Christ's coming (cf. Rev. 22:20). Life's troubles are actually a blessing in that they keep us from loving this world too much for our own good. But if our only motive for wanting the Kingdom to come is to see an end to our problems, the prayer intended to express a yearning for God's glory and righteousness becomes a cry of selfishness. Especially if we are unwilling to make the effort to be productive citizens of the Kingdom.

Heaven does not mean the privilege of lounging around on clouds forever; it means finally being able to worship and serve God with pure, untainted hearts and minds. Work existed in the Garden of Eden before the Fall (Gen. 2:15), so it's safe to assume that God will keep us busy in the future Kingdom. The difference will be freedom from frustration and reluctance; we will serve God with our all because we will love Him with our all.

It's a good idea to practice for that time right now. If your first thought tomorrow morning (and this can happen to "morning people" as well) is, "Do I have to get up?" try immediately replacing that thought with this one:

"God has wonderful things in store for me today, and I am so blessed to have the privilege of serving His Kingdom."

There's a crown for every servant
In a land with just one King;
It's a place where least is greatest,
And to work a joyous thing;
It's a Kingdom where the wisest
Is as trusting as a child,
And a world where every question
Will at last be reconciled.

It's God's country, everlasting,
Where all pain at last will end,
Each of us a prince or princess,
Every stranger turned a friend.
If you wish to seek this Kingdom
Where all saints one day will stand,
Use your earthly life to practice
All the servant-love you can.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Lord, Keep Me Close to You

"My sheep [people] listen to my voice," said Jesus. "I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand" (Jn. 10:27-29, NIV).

Notice that Jesus doesn't tell us to hold on to God's hand! There are plenty of believers who are letting anxiety eat them up because they feel they aren't strong enough to "hang on" as Christians. Of course they aren't; no one is! But God isn't dangling us from the end of a pole that He plans to drop if the weight of our failures gets too heavy. He isn't even holding us just by one hand; He has a firm grip on the whole of each of us.

Anyone who has raised children knows that, when you take a preschooler across a busy street, you may say "Hold on to my hand," but you're also careful to keep your own, stronger grip firmly on his hand. And if the way is obviously too hard for his young legs, you pick him up and carry him. That's what God does for us; He knows we're too weak to get anywhere on our own, but He loves us enough to give us all the help we need.

The One Who is greater than all isn't about to drop us.

Lord, keep me close to You
Through day and night:
When hope grows dark and dim,
Be my soul's light;
When life is rich and glad,
Let me still know
All comes from You alone,
Each place I go.

Lord, keep me close to You
In heart and mind:
Let not my wandering thoughts
Leave You behind;
When I am tempted by
Worry and fear,
Deepen my trust in You,
For You stand near.

Lord, keep me close to You
Till my life's end:
Walk with me night and day
As my true Friend;
And when this earthly life
Closes its door,
Bring me home safe with You,
Close evermore.

Monday, June 2, 2008

All That I Have is Yours, O Lord

"But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this?" prayed King David as Israel dedicated its contributions toward the future Temple. "Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand" (1 Chron. 29:14, NIV).

There are quite a few Christians today who could learn from David's attitude. Research consistently shows that as many as ninety-seven percent of us give less than ten percent of our income to Christian causes. And when we do put money in the offering plate--or spend part of our free time volunteering at church, or donate our old clothes to charity drives--we act as if we're doing God a big favor by deigning to notice Him. When we hear of someone who gave away her new clothes, or gives ninety percent of his income to the church, or left a thriving business to become a career missionary in a country that doesn't even have indoor plumbing--and who is brimming with joy over the privilege--our reaction is as likely as not to be, "This person must be a little weird in the head."

We could remedy part of the problem by cleaning up our language a bit. Instead of legitimitizing selfishness by constantly saying "my income, my car, my time, my life," we might adopt the philosophy attributed to entrepreneur and lay evangelist Robert LeTourneau: "The question is not how much of my money [or any other resource] do I give to God, but how much of God's money do I keep for myself." It's not simply a matter of how much we drop in the church plate, either; we can donate twenty percent of our income and still effectively keep it for ourselves, if we treat it as a "tip" to ensure God will prosper us in return, or if we expect human applause for our generosity. Likewise, we can spend part of our income on simply enjoying ourselves and still give it to God, if we enjoy ourselves in thankfulness to Him.

But let's start by giving the "firstfruits" directly to God's people and their work. If Christians took this responsibility seriously, there'd be no complaining that "the church is always asking for money."

The worst problem would be the one recorded in Exodus 36:3-7--that people were giving too much.

All that I have is Yours, O Lord,
For all has come from You:
You give the strength that drives my hands--
The brain that guides them, too;
So how can I say all my wealth
Was earned as rightful due?
You gave me all my property--
I give it back to You.

All that I have is Yours, O Lord,
For all has come from You:
You preordained each year I live--
Each hour and minute, too;
So how can I say I have right
To choose what I should do?
You gave the precious gift of time--
I give it back to You.

All that I have is Yours, O Lord,
For all has come from You:
Your very life was paid for mine--
For all I proved untrue,
For all my pride and hardened heart,
That pierced Your own heart through,
Your mercy gave me back my life--
I give it back to You.