Monday, November 26, 2012

The First and Best

I always found it interesting that the only time the really nice dishes came out of the cupboard was when “company” was coming over. Mom’s good China dishes and fancy glasses were used almost exclusively when guests joined us for Sunday dinner. In reality, I didn’t really care about the dishes we ate on, I only cared about the food that would land on my plate. But, I also noticed that the best food was served when company was over. My dad was a pastor of a small country church when I was growing up and mom was a wonderful pastor’s wife. She viewed her role in supporting dad’s ministry as being warm and hospitable, opening up our home to guests on a very frequent basis. These guests would get the best we had to offer— the best dishes, the cleanest house, the choicest cuts of meat from the freezer, and a killer dessert.

I didn’t mind all the special attention that was given to company, the benefits were obvious to a growing boy who loved to eat. I knew it would be the best meal of the week. But, there was a moment at the beginning of each of these meals that would trigger a bit of concern in me. You see, there was this rule in our home that guests would be served first. After the prayer, each dish on the table would be lifted from the table and handed to the guests. I wasn’t to take anything until our guests were served. So, when that platter of fried chicken was placed on the table, I would eyeball the best piece hoping it would still be there when the platter got to me. I hated the idea that our guests got the first shot to grab the best piece. Selfish and petty, I know, but that was my boyish, child-like mindset in those situations. Looking back though, I can’t remember not getting a satisfying portion of all the food offered at any meal. In fact, we always had enough for seconds and even thirds.
No one taught me how to feel and think that way. Selfishness and self-protection came natural to me. I think it came from a primal, fleshy view of life that says, “Get what you want and deserve, then protect it with all you have.” Ironically, being generous, hospitable, and selfless had to be taught and learned. Those principles of living didn’t come naturally.
As God formed his chosen nation, Israel had to learn the same lessons. God wanted them to be distinct, set apart, and different from every other nation on the planet. Every other nation had a “get all you can and protect it” mindset but God’s people were to stand apart from this selfish life-view. God wanted them to realize that all they had came from the generous loving hand of God; and he wanted them to trust him to provide on a continual basis.

This principle was clearly seen in the festivals, or the celebrations, that God placed on their yearly calendar. The Festival of the Firstfruits was a time God set for them to express their joy and gratitude for their annual harvest. In essence, God tells them to throw a party because the harvest was gathered and it was good—God had provided them with what they needed in abundance. But what’s interesting about this celebration is what God asks them to do before they enjoy the fruits of the harvest. Check this out:

When you enter the land I am going to give you and you reap its harvest, bring to the priest a sheaf of the first grain you harvest… you must sacrifice as a burnt offering to the Lord a lamb a year old without defect, together with its grain offering of two-tenths of an ephah of the finest flour mixed with olive oil—a food offering presented to the Lord, a pleasing aroma—and its drink offering of a quarter of a hin of wine. You must not eat any bread, or roasted or new grain, until the very day you bring this offering to your God. (Excerpts from Leviticus 23.9-14.)

I find that interesting. Before they could enjoy the fruit of their harvest, God asks them to give back their first and their best. Why? I think it’s because they were like me at that the table with the platter of fried chicken. They needed to be taught to trust that God had provided more than enough, even when their best had been given away. The alternative was for them to give from their leftovers. How would that reflect the heart of God?
Hundreds of years later, God demonstrated this principle of giving the first and the best in the most dramatic way. Mankind had a sin problem that could only be resolved with God giving something of high value. He gave his Son—his first and his best.  Jesus, the Son of God, the second member of the Trinity, came in humble fashion as a baby. This baby grew into a man, the Messiah, who died an unimaginable death to pay the penalty we owe for our sins. Jesus was the ultimate lamb without defect. Now that Jesus, the ultimate firstfruits offering is given, we can celebrate life—eternal life.  I’m so glad God gave from his first and best and not from his leftovers.
So, how does the principle of firstfruits affect the way you give? Are you giving your first and best from the resources God has provided you? Or, do you give from what’s left over after you’ve grabbed the best from the platter?  Something to ponder this week.


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