Strength and Wealth

If you’ve been teaching the Bible, reading the Bible or just curious about the Bible you know the inevitable question:  What’s God’s deal with money?

First some context: In some ancient Near Eastern languages the words for ‘strength’ and ‘wealth’ are interchangeable. In Deuteronomy 6:5, the so-called shema, Moses tells the Israelites to love the Lord their God with all their hearts and with all their souls and with all their strength. The problem with this verse is that it literally says to love God with ‘all your exceedingly.’ Obviously, ‘all your exceedingly’ doesn’t make sense and so translators had to figure out how to put that into sensible English.

Not a New Problem

The funny thing is that ancient translators experienced the same problem. The translators of the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament made before the time of Christ, used the words power or might. This is where we get the translation ‘all your strength.’ The targums, Aramaic translations of the Old Testament, use the word mammon. This is the very word Jesus uses when he says, “You cannot serve both God and mammon,” i.e., money.

Beyond Money and Guilt
The point is that in Deuteronomy we are being told to love God with everything we’ve got, including our money. It’s not about tithing. It’s about loving God with all you’ve got, not just the first ten percent. It’s also not a guilt trip. Moses wasn’t some greasy con-man who just wanted people’s money. Moses was telling us that God wants us to love him with every financial decision we make: paying rent, eating out, buying groceries, investing in your 401(k)… everything. God’s desire is that we revel in his blessing while eagerly desiring to pay that blessing forward.

November 30, 2015

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First Fruits

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The Old Testament describes several rituals and ceremonies, including the consecration of the firstborn, which is tied in with the celebration of the Passover. It’s a commemorative sign of what God did for the Israelites; a ritual they would perform to remember.

Let’s Remember Where This Came From

But the firstborn ceremony is not the only first-fruits type offering. There is an offering described in Deuteronomy 26 that is specifically about the first fruits of the soil. The point is this: the first thing you do when you receive your income—the first fruit of your labor, so to speak—is give some of it back to the Lord as a reminder of who provided for you in the first place. When the first fruits offering were presented in Deuteronomy 26, it was accompanied by a narrative: “Our ancestors were in Egypt and the Lord delivered us and he brought us into this good land so we give back to the Lord a part of what he has given to us.”

In other words, “Hey Israel, God delivered you from Egypt, and as a way of remembering who ultimately provides for you, you need to give back the first fruits of all of your income.”

Be Creative in Your Offerings

Let’s think for a moment about the implications for us. There are two big ramifications for us as believers: First, God really likes it when we commemorate his provision by giving back to him. It doesn’t really matter what it is, though it’s easy to think in terms of income. I’ll give back a certain percent of my income right off that bat and that makes good Biblical sense. But we’ve got to think in terms of everything. What is it that the Lord is giving us? If you have a plot of ground in your backyard where you grow some awesome corn, when you harvest that corn, take a little bit of it and give it away. Or throw a party with your friends and eat some awesome corn. The nitty gritty details of exactly how we give back to God are not important. The important thing is that we continually remind ourselves of who is ultimately our provider.

What Makes a Good Leader (and does it really matter?)

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We’re all looking for good leaders, even those of us that might be considered leaders are looking for someone to lead us. But what are we looking for? What marks a leader as good or bad? Does it really matter?

Oh it matters. It so matters.

The Old Testament is riddled with examples of why the quality of your leader matters and it all comes down to this:

As the leader goes, so goes the nation.

Let that sink in for minute, because it’s still true today.

Two Qualities of Good Leaders

Good leaders possess two major qualifications: character and competence. One without the other is no good. We see this when we look at Moses in his early days, full of character but lacking the competence to keep up with the demands of the job. Thankfully Mt. Sinai happened, Moses learned to delegate, and went on to be a great leader.

Was Wisdom Really What Solomon Needed?

When Solomon took the throne God gave him permission to ask for anything. Whoa. Not sure about you, but I could come up with a few things. Solomon—he asked for wisdom. Well played. God responded favorably and granted Solomon the discerning heart he asked for and wealth and honor. Throughout 1 Kings, we see Solomon acquire riches beyond his wildest imagination. Chariots, shields of hammered gold, a personal zoo—these were crazy riches in the Ancient Near East. Did I mention his 700 wives and 300 concubines? It would be easy to think, “Wow, God really blessed Solomon!”

Are We Missing the Real Message for Leaders?

See, in Deuteronomy 17 God gave some pretty specific guidelines for the king who would rule over the nation. Those guidelines warned a king not to take a great number of horses, not to take many wives, and not to accumulate large amounts of gold and silver. Oops. Solomon just happened to do all of those. While we thought we were reading about Solomon’s blessings, what we were really reading was Solomon’s descent off the deep end. Solomon had competence but his character couldn’t contain his success. He allowed his heart to be dragged in different directions and to other gods. As a result, his nation was split. As the leader goes, so goes the nation.

Let’s be on the lookout for leaders with both competence and character, leaders who will stay true to God’s directions and who will guard their hearts from the many gods that compete for a piece of it. Better yet; let’s be those leaders. Let’s hold fast to God’s promises for his people, fine tune our craft, and ask for God’s wisdom and discernment.

Character and competence—go find it. Go live it.