Summary: Firstfruits is intended to be about giving, real giving, not God taking it from you, but learning why God wants you to give, how He designed us to be givers….And perhaps the most important teaching about giving is the one we miss the most. Is that God wa

Imagine the following two scenarios (act out)

Scenario 1 - I know Christmas is about 2 months away, but I just couldn’t wait…you know I love you, you are so good to me, you treat me so much better than I deserve, and there is no gift that can repay you for all you have done for me, I wanted to give you something you might enjoy. A bike! (reveal Harley Motorcycle on stage)

Scenario 2 – Look, I know it’s not Christmas yet, but I’m really going to be busy around that time, so I need to go ahead and get this over with. Apparently, we’re supposed give presents (not really sure why you NEED a present), but anyway, I heard a bike is a good present, so here you go…(reveal old rusted bicycle)Now, which of these gifts would you rather receive? Is there any difference? After all, they are both bikes, right? But of course there is a difference. And it’s not just the amount or the cost or the money. Everyone loves to receive gifts. But the best gifts are the ones that reflect the heart of the giver.

For a few weeks, we’re going to do a series called “Firstfruits”. Now some of you think you already know what this is about…church is trying to get more money out of me, not going to do it, don’t know why we’re talking about it anyway…You might be interested in this new wallet (slide 2-wallet with padlock) they’re selling…designed for church stewardship series…I hope we can get past that mentality, that fear that it’s all about beating you about not giving, give more more more…Firstfruits is intended to be about getting back to the Bible and what the Bible teaches us about giving, real giving, not God taking it from you, but learning why God wants you to give, how He designed us to be givers…And perhaps the most important teaching about giving is the one we miss the most. Is that God wants us to give our BEST. We get all caught up in the tithe, the tenth and how much do I HAVE to tithe and all that. I believe scripture teaches that and we’re going to dig into the tithe thing next week. But today, we really just have one point…The question for ourselves today is: “Am I giving God the best of what I have?” This lesson comes up very early in the scriptures. Genesis 4 with Cain and Abel. (read scripture vv. 2-7) Like our demonstration here, both Cain and Abel offered a gift. But the scripture makes clear that there was a great difference between Cain’s gift and Abel’s. What was it? Look at the scriptures again. In v. 3 it says “Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord.” In v.4 it says “But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock.” We can’t know exactly what each person brought, but what I think the scripture is telling us is this: Cain brought an offering, but Abel brought his best. We get the idea here that Cain brought something… “some of the fruits”….could have been anything. Maybe he grew corn…what kind of corn was it? Like this or like this? (show pix of good and bad corn) Maybe apples, like this or like this? (show pix of good and bad apples) Does it matter? Of course it does! We need to remember that our gifts to God reflect our love for God. Early on in the scriptures, God went to great lengths to describe what kind of gifts we needed to bring before Him. God cares what kind of gift you bring and how you bring it. You can read in Leviticus all the laws about all the types of offerings like the sin offerings, guilt offerings, burnt offerings and there were so many rules about how you did it and what there were for. The main purpose of these kinds of sacrifices were to atone for our sins and to express our love and worship for God. But if you read all these chapters and all these regulations about giving gifts to God, two things really stand out. The first would be this: bring something! When the people came to the temple, they knew that to come before God with nothing was an insulet. You didn’t just not give. Because they knew the scriptures, they knew that in the Bible, it was clear that you never come before God without an offering of some kind. Most of the time in the Bible, God says it this way: “No one is to appear before Me emptyhanded” – Listen to how God instructed the people in Deuteronomy 16:16 – “Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks and the Feast of Tabernacles. No man should appear before the LORD empty-handed: Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the LORD your God has blessed you.” Now why does God want us to bring offerings to Him? Does He need the money? Of course not. Our offerings can’t compare to His gifts to us or all the wealth that He has. It’d be like us trying to impress Bill Gates by giving him $20. But it is insulting to come before the Lord with nothing at all. Because it shows that we do not value Him. It’s a sign of respect. It also shows that we trust in God more than in our resources. What did Jesus say? “Lay up your treasures in heaven…for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” Another way I’ve heard it said in modern times… “Show me your checkbook, and I’ll show you what you love most.” It’s not about the amounts. Not everyone can give the same. That’s not the point. But everyone can give something and God commands it “No one is to appear before Me emptyhanded.” Another thing that’s made clear over and over again in all the regulations: No defects! We shouldn’t dare think of coming before our God with nothing. But do you know what’s just as bad? Trying to give to God something substandard. Giving God your “leftovers”. Apparently, God knew that we would be tempted to do this because God uses this phrase “without defect” over 30 times in the Old Testament when talking about bring our gifts. Here’s just one example: Leviticus 22:21 – “When anyone brings from the herd or flock a fellowship offering to the LORD to fulfill a special vow or as a freewill offering, it must be without defect or blemish to be acceptable.” As I’m sure you know, the people in Biblical times were much more of an agrarian society, meaning that their livestock and their produce were their livelihood. And when you got a great cow or sheep or harvested some really exceptional produce, you wanted to keep those so you could use those animals or seeds to produce even better and make more money. But the diseased produce, the lame livestock, what would you do with it? You’d give it to the poor or throw it away. Well, believe it or not, that’s what some people tried to do when it came to their offerings to God. That’s probably what happened with Cain. He gave an offering of his fruit, but it wasn’t his best. It was probably stuff he wouldn’t have kept anyway. Do you see how God could and should be insulted by something like this? Listen to what God said to the people in Malachi 1:6 and if you really listen to these verses, I think you’ll hear God’s heart in this…“…you show contempt for My Name…"But you ask, ’How have we shown contempt for your name?’ "You place defiled food on my altar….When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?" says the LORD Almighty…When you bring injured, crippled or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?" says the LORD. "Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king," says the LORD Almighty, "and my name is to be feared among the nations.” Now you hear this and read this and you might be thinking “what does that have to do with how we give today?” We don’t sacrifice animals, we give money, so how can a gift of money be “defective?” The same thing can happen when you bring a monetary gift to God, but do so with a defective spirit. Don’t think amount here, think affection! Again, consider 2 scenarios. The first. You’ve gotten your paycheck. You’re sitting down to do the bills. And before you begin, you say “Lord, thank you for what you have given to me and to my family. I will now give back to you based on what you have given to me. Even before I look at the bills, no matter what I owe, Lord this belongs to you and all I have is from you.” And then you write that check or place that money in the envelope, set that aside, saying God I will trust in you and not in my money. And then you bring that gift to church and give it to God with a thankful heart. Do you think God would love a gift like that? Of course He does! It’s like a child who works hard all day to draw you the very best picture he or she can and when you come home they come running to you saying “Look mommy or daddy what I made for you!” Now whether your child can really draw or not doesn’t matter. You immediately recognize it was from their heart. And you love it and they love giving it to you and it draws you closer. Compare that to this. Scenario 2. You come to church. You sit down. The offering begins and you go “oh man, I didn’t write a check, wait do I even have the check book? Let’s see a twenty, a ten, a five, a one,…hmmm five out to do it, wait, I remember what I said to my brother in law…, better go with the ten…” And your trying to stuff it in there, but with no real thought, no heartfelt prayer and no form whatsoever of giving with a glad and sincere heart. Now, did you technically give a gift? Yes. Was it defective? Yes. And is God pleased? No. Again, it’d be like coming home and your child’s watching TV and you go over to speak to them and they say “I guess I’m supposed to draw something for you once in a while, right?” Scribble, Scribble…there you go. Now would that touch you? What went into your offering you gave today? Did you come emptyhanded? Was it something you and your family prayed over? Or was it just what you had on you? Now again, if you think this is about how much money, you’re missing the point. But why the emphasis on this in the Bible. “Bring Something, No defects.” Why is this repeated so often? Why is this so important? It’s because of this…now don’t miss this…God wants us to be in the habit of giving to Him, because God wants us to put Him first in our lives. The best thing for us, the best way for us to live our lives is for God to be in charge and one of the ways we do that is to give our gifts, our treasure to Him. This is so important. Think about it this way…Do you think it’s fair to say that whoever we give our best to, money, time, energy, etc..the person that we give our best to is who we really worship? Fair to say? Well guess what? If you are keeping the best for yourself, then who are you worshiping? Yourself! You are saying to God, “I value me more than you and I will give myself the best there is and you, well I’ll just give to you out of what I choose to spare.” We give God our best to demonstrate our devotion to Him, saying He is God, He is the most important. Not because we are trying to buy Him off or win His favor.

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