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Jericho Ridge Community Church (Archived)

First Things First

 “Keeping First Things First”

 Message @ Jericho Ridge Community Church – Sunday, Jan 18, 2015

Text: Proverbs 3:9-10 // Series: The Genius of Generosity

 

Every family has traditions…  Rituals.  Actions that you do that signify something to you.  Sometimes you don’t realize you have traditions until you get married and you try to continue the traditions you grew up with and your spouse - filled with compassion and love that only they can muster looks you in the eye and says “that is the dumbest thing I have ever seen or heard!  There is no way we are keeping that tradition going in our house!”  This happened to Meg and I the first Thanksgiving we were married.  We were pastoring up at North Langley Community Church in Walnut Grove and I was in charge of organizing the Thanksgiving display at the front of the church.  There are wonderful godly senior saints there and they brought it for this display.  There was a full on antique wooden flat wagon, jars upon jars of canning (Deb, Wendy, Heather – you would have been proud!).  There were pumpkins and fall mums and sheaves of wheat – it was beautiful!  So as things were winding down for the morning, I said to Meg “So let’s head up to the front and get our picture taken by the Thanksgiving display”.  This is 16 years ago, right, so this is before you did that to post it on Facebook.  Meg looked at me as if I have lost my mind.

 

But you see, in my family growing up.  This was a tradition.  You just went and got a picture by the display after church on Thanksgiving Sunday.  No questions asked. It was as much a part of our family rituals as opening one present on Christmas Eve (which was always pajamas).  And I realized that morning that Meg didn’t share this tradition with me because I hadn’t explained it to her.  I just assumed that she would practice it with me.  I also realize that morning where that tradition came from.  I grew up in a small farming community in Northern BC.  And in that little country church, Thanksgiving was a big deal.  It was deep and significant part of our traditions and the rhythm of rural life.  When we sang hymns like “brining in the sheaves” or “We plow the field and scatter the good seed on the land, but it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand” we were singing what we lived.  As a farming community, people actually did that stuff.  That’s why Thanksgiving was in some ways, the pinnacle of our year because it was harvest time.  So that display at the front of the church was about waaaaaay more than window dressing.  It was a dramatic statement of gratitude for God’s generosity to us. 

 

I can remember hardened, knobby kneed old farmers who had tilled the same soil for generations tearing up as they came to the front of that church and laid down a sheaf of wheat [photo] on the altar.  Sometimes it had been a wet and late spring where they almost lost their entire crop before it poked up through the ground.  Some years we had bad hail or frost or pests or summer droughts or any number of perils that could wipe out your whole year’s work and your livelihood in one weekend.  So when that first wheat of the season was harvested, it was precious to those farmers.  And as a declaration of their gratitude and thanks to God, they marched up that narrow aisle of that old church with their hearts full of joy at God’s continued provision and protection and his abundant goodness and they laid that first sheaf of wheat on the altar as an act of worship. 

 

What I didn’t think about at the time but I came to understand later was how great of an act not only of gratitude but also of faith that that was.  Because usually over 90% of the wheat was still standing in the field.  So every little bit that you harvested was precious.  In October, the weather could still turn, snow could still come early and all could still be lost.  But that is what made this ritual so beautiful.  It was an act of faith.  Not only gratitude for God’s generosity but also a statement of confident trust that God would continue to provide. 

 

Here at Jericho Ridge, most of us are not farmers so we don’t have the same kinds of associations with the fruit of the soil.  And so in some ways, we have to work that much harder to understand and live out gratitude for God’s provision for us.  We’re in a teaching series right now called The Genius of Generosity where we are exploring what the Bible teaches on the topic of how to live with a posture of generosity in every aspect of our lives.  Next week we’ll talk about how we can be generous with the skills and abilities God has given us. On Feb 15th Al Thiessen will be speaking about how we can be generous with our time. In March, Rob Toews will be with us to talk about being generous in times and experiences of suffering. 

Today, we are going to look into God’s Word and we’re going to see that just like those farmers and that Thanksgiving display,

Generous Living Involves…

-      Giving God our first & our best

-      Giving first to God requires faith

 

Turn with me in your Bibles or on your phones to the book of Proverbs chapter 3.  Tucked away right after the perhaps more famous 3:5-6 is a little gem of a verse that drove my farmer friends down that aisle every Thanksgiving.  Reading from the New Living Proverbs 3:9-10 says this

Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce.

Then He will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.

The message translation says “Honour God with everything you own, give Him the First and best”  The NIV says “honour the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops”.  That little phrase “first fruits” shows up all over the Bible, depending on your translation.  For us non-farmers, First Fruits is more of a metaphor so we have to work harder to understand the principles that undergird it when we get paid electronically for working with our minds and our mouths not our hands.  But the principles of first fruits living are the same whether you are bringing in sheaves of wheat or teaching or selling houses or driving truck or preaching…The Bible invites all of us to live with an understanding of what Proverbs 3:9-10 invites us to consider.  That in order to really grasp the genius of generosity, we need to honor the Lord with our wealth.  With whatever we receive – small or great – from what we produce.  The first and best part belongs to God as an act of worship and gratitude.  This brings us to First Fruits Principle #1

If God isn’t first in our lives, everything else is out of order 

Photo - Second is no place for God.  If God isn’t first in my life, in your life, it doesn’t matter how well ordered you have other aspects of your life, they are out of order.  Keeping first things first is one of the hardest things to do not only spiritually but in all aspects of our lives.  So when God says “honor me with your wealth, the first and the best part of it”, the reason why is because that is a tangible and demonstrable action that He is first in our lives.  We can say God is first all we want but how would we actually live that out?  That’s what this series is all about!

 

You might say, OK Brad.  That’s interesting. A little verse tucked away in Proverbs talking about giving God my first and my best.  That doesn’t really build a federal case for first fruits.  Where Does First Fruits Come From?  Intriguingly, we can go back all the way to Genesis and see this principle play itself out in We see it in the story of Cain & Abel

Brothers, sons of Adam and Eve.  In Genesis 4, we see their

  • When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift.”  (Genesis 4:3-4)

Have you ever thought God was being unfairly harsh on Cain?  I have.  I mean, Cain brought some of his crops, Able brought some of his lambs – what’s the big deal?!  But look more closely and you see that there is a huge difference between their offerings. [Photo of Abel’s offering]

  What did Abel bring?  The first and the best.  What did Cain bring? “some”…  And when did he bring it?  Some scholars believe that Cain literally brought God rotting leftovers.  Bottom of the barrel.  Abel brings his first and best and it is acceptable to God because it shows Abel’s heart. 

First fruits principle #1 is “If God isn’t first in our lives, everything else is out of order.  In the story of Cain and Abel, we see First Fruits Principle #2:

When we give to God, we give our first and we give our best

 

Abel understood that [fruit photo]  First Fruits… Giving our best, not our leftovers

 

As we move on in the biblical narrative, we encounter more explicit instructions around First Fruits in the Old Testament.   Just like with Cain and Abel and my farming friends, we see that Giving is always connected to worship

In the books of the Law, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, God gives people instructions for life.  And as part of these instructions in each of those books, there are explicit commands around First Fruits.  Look with me at Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 10-11

  • When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you as a special possession and you have conquered it and settled there, put some of the first produce from each crop you harvest into a basket and bring it to the designated place of worship—the place the Lord your God chooses for his name to be honored... Then place the produce before the Lord your God, and bow to the ground in worship before him. Afterward you may go and celebrate because of all the good things the Lord your God has given to you and your household.” (Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 10-11)

It’s easy to breeze through that text without thinking about how sacrificial and how time consuming that would be.  Think about it for a moment.  You’ve just harvested your olives and begun to press them into oil.  You pack the first and best up and you head not to the bank or to town to sell your crop, but you basket it up and head to the temple or tabernacle for worship.  This was so institutionalized in ancient Israelite culture that they built their calendar around it.  They had a festival called the Feast of First Fruits.  The whole country would gather and it wasn’t a somber “let’s get this over with so I can get back to my farm” kind of thing.  It was a massive celebratory party.  It was my Thanksgiving display on steroids.  You can read about it in places like 2 Chronicles 31 under Hezekiah or in Nehemiah 10 and 12.  But think about the faith that it takes to walk away from your field and make the trek to give God your first and best.  You begin to wonder “will my crops still be OK when I get home?”  What if it hails while I’m gone?  This is partly why first fruits is such a big deal. 

 

First Fruits Principle #3

Giving first to God requires faith in His continued provision for us

When we give from our leftovers – what is left over in our account at the end of a month, what is left over in our calendar after our first and best time has been given out to everyone else, when we give only from what we have left, that’s takes no faith at all!  First fruits giving takes enormous faith because it says to God “I trust you to continue to provide for me”.  When it comes off the top we are not guaranteed the rest.  Being generous in that way requires faith.  Not one of us knows what will happen tomorrow.  Worldly wisdom says “spend first, save second, give last.” But generosity inverts that and says “give first, save second, and then begin spending.”  That is a statement of radical faith because something could happen to your business or employment or family.  But first fruits living says “I trust God enough to take care of me and my needs not just today but into the future”   

 

Saint Augustine said this about faith “Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe.” 

 

And make no mistake, friends, the reason Generosity is genius is because there is a reward.  Often I think we shy away from talking about this because we don’t want to get lumped in with the negative excesses of prosperity gospel preachers who say “if you give to God, God will make your life trouble-free and awesome”.  So sometimes because of those negative associations, we shy away from talking about the incredible promises of God to those who honour him in first fruits living kinds of ways.  Remember Prov. 3:10… Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the best part of everything you produce. Then He will fill your barns with grain, and your vats will overflow with good wine.

 

Here we begin to see the fourth and final First Fruits Principle #4

First fruits isn’t just about our gifts to God, but also about His good gifts to us   

 

In Ezekiel 44, the prophet is prophesying about the restoration of people who are far from God and he “The best of all the first fruits and all of your special gifts belong to the Lord… when you do this,   

–      “The Lord will bless your home” (Ezekiel 44:30)

The text doesn’t say that this is some kind of financial compensation for paying a “god tax”.  The prophet is saying that one of the signs of a restored heart is right priorities.  And the Lord will bless the homes of those who live in this way.  Here I think of people at Jericho who are figuring out how to share generously with others.  Wendy Janzen set up a Facebook group called “Free Food Blessings” where whenever anyone gets a surplus of free food, they post it so others can share in that blessing.  I love the creativity that people are using to distribute the good gifts that God gives to them in ways that have nothing to do with money but everything to do with generosity. 

 

As we progress through the Old Testament and into the New Testament, the term First Fruits also develops to help us understand not only our gifts to God and others but also His incredible gifts to us.  In Romans 8:28 we are told that the     

–     Gift of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:23)has been given to thosewho have expressed saving faith in God as a kind of firstfruits of all that is to come.  The Holy Spirit is a first fruits gift that God himself has poured out into our lives as a kind of pre-payment on what is to come.

 

But the gifts don’t stop there.  Not only has God given us the Holy Spirit, but 2 Thessalonians 2 says “we ought to always thank God because God chose you as firstfruits to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.”   

–     Forgiveness of sins (2 Thess. 2:13; James 1:18)

The mercy and grace God offers us in the forgiveness of our sins when we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God has raised Him from the dead is a first fruits gift God gives to us!   James 1L18 says the same thing “God chose to give us birth through the word of truth that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created”. 

 

First fruits is not just about our gifts to God but about His god gifts to us.  The highest and best express of this is that when you and I acknowledge God as the forgiver and leader in or lives, we come to know 

–     Salvation through the finished work of Jesus    

And guess what language is used to describe the resurrection of Jesus?  First fruits!  [photo] “But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep” (I Cor 15:20)

 

In a few moments, we are going to celebrate this incredible gift that God has given us when we share communion together as we respond to God in worship in song.  But before we move there, I want to ask you to reflect on the following first fruits questions: For Reflection and Response

  1. Who or what is currently getting the first and best of me? (time, talents, money)

The reality is that you and I are giving our first fruits somewhere… What’s at the top of your priority list? The top line in our budget? The immoveable block in your calendar?  Someone or something is getting the best parts of you.  If God isn’t first in your life, everything else is out of order.  Today as we move into communion, it might be appropriate for you to pray a prayer of confession and repentance and invite God to take His rightful place again.  Perhaps for you, you’ve never done that.  You would do that by praying “God, I need you to be in charge.  I give you all of me.  My allegiance, my life… I will live with my first and best for you from this day forward.” 

 

  1. How would you rate your current attitude about first fruits living?

Today might be a day of reorientation for you.  This isn’t about legalism – getting God off your back by putting a percentage of your paycheque into an offering bag.  This is all about your heart.  Giving is always connected to worship. So perhaps today you need a heart check.  God, I have been giving you an attitude that reeks of leftovers.  I repent.  I desire to change.  Come fill me again with your Holy Spirit that I can be generous in ways that honour You as the giver of all good gifts and allow your blessings to flow again into my life.   

 

But we can’t just give lip service to this… Generosity has to show up in our calendars, our bank accounts, our words and deeds.  So for you, ask God and ask a trusted friend: 

  1. What specific action will you take this week to communicate to God that He has your first and your best?

 

Let me pray for you and we’ll watch a video as we prepare our hearts for communion.

 

VIDEO – First Fruits

 

Instructions: Jericho table is open to everyone; come to front, take bread, cup, return to your seat (stand or sit)…  Prayer team is available to serve you and stand with you in your journey.  Something to celebrate and thank God for, you might be facing a challenging time – as representatives of the community of faith, would you let us pray with you prior to you going to the table.  The team will sing 4 songs so there is no rush.  The bible invites us to make sure our hearts are ready, so abstaining from communion is also OK if you are not in that place today.  Dustin and the team will lead us, it’s not a Thanksgiving display, but the table is set and ready with a sign of God’s gift to us.  Come and receive as we worship together.    

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