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There are all kinds of holiday gifts, other than the shiny new ones you generally find beneath the tree. You might give someone an “experience gift,” like when my mom, in lieu of presents, took us to Disney World the week after Christmas. Then, for those who are short on cash, there are service gifts—like a coupon for a free massage, car wash, or gutter cleaning, that you intend to perform yourself. Instead of store-bought presents, I have one family member who plans on giving handmade gifts this year, and I can’t wait to see what her creative mind concocts. Maybe someone will give you a card, saying that ten Gideon Bibles were donated in your name. The antique lover might not want a new present at all, but would be delighted to open something that’s a hundred years old.
But how would you feel if your loved one gave you a thrift gift this year—like if you unwrapped your present and found a manky old coffee cup with thirty years of stains and a chip on the handle? Or worse yet, if you had plenty of other options but chose instead to give your favorite nephew a broken He-Man action figure from the 1980s that you picked up from a thrift store for a quarter? Assuming that the giver can do better, how would the person receiving a thrift gift feel? Probably like they were being slighted.
Malachi says this is how God feels when people bring cast-offs as their offerings. In chapter one, verses 6-14 (ESV), the Lord speaks:
“A son honors his father, and a servant his master. If then I am a father, where is my honor? And if I am a master, where is my fear? says the Lord of hosts to you, O priests, who despise my name. But you say, ‘How have we despised your name?’ By offering polluted food upon my altar. But you say, ‘How have we polluted you?’ By saying that the Lord’s table may be despised. When you offer blind animals in sacrifice, is that not evil? And when you offer those that are lame or sick, is that not evil? Present that to your governor; will he accept you or show you favor? says the Lord of hosts. And now entreat the favor of God, that he may be gracious to us. With such a gift from your hand, will he show favor to any of you? says the Lord of hosts. Oh that there were one among you who would shut the doors, that you might not kindle fire on my altar in vain! I have no pleasure in you, says the Lord of hosts, and I will not accept an offering from your hand. For from the rising of the sun to its setting my name will be great among the nations, and in every place incense will be offered to my name, and a pure offering. For my name will be great among the nations, says the Lord of hosts. But you profane it when you say that the Lord’s table is polluted, and its fruit, that is, its food may be despised. But you say, ‘What a weariness this is,’ and you snort at it, says the Lord of hosts. You bring what has been taken by violence or is lame or sick, and this you bring as your offering! Shall I accept that from your hand? says the Lord. Cursed be the cheat who has a male in his flock, and vows it, and yet sacrifices to the Lord what is blemished. For I am a great King, says the Lord of hosts, and my name will be feared among the nations.
Just ask any pastor about “spotted lambs,” and there will be stories to tell. Like the old TV set that someone donated to the nursery in a church I served years ago, with a note taped to the top of it that read:
This TV was given by ______________. If I need to borrow it or take it back, I can, because I gave it anyway.
Or, like the time another church I served had a “kitchen shower” (like a baby shower or wedding shower) in order to re-supply the church’s kitchen. Somebody donated an old, first-generation microwave oven—you know, the kind that had the dial and an analog readout. Attached to the microwave was a note:
This microwave oven was given by _____________. Please do not remove this label.
That person wanted the label to remain on, just so that everybody who ever used the microwave would remember them and their generosity, and honor them for such a lavish gift. What they didn’t realize was that every time people used that oven they thought to themselves, “Cheapskate!”
Don’t get me wrong—if you want to give to the church and all you can afford is something used, that’s great! If that’s your best, then that’s wonderful! But if you can do better, and you do worse, God Himself will be offended. It’s like you gave Jesus a thrift gift!
In Malachi, God says that people were robbing Him by withholding their tithes. Also, when they were supposed to make offerings of healthy, unblemished, pure white lambs, the animals they brought instead were those that were sickly, spotted, lame, or blind. Instead of giving the best of their flocks to the Lord, they gave what would have died, anyway. In Malachi 3:6-12 (ESV), God says:
“For I the Lord do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the Lord of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the Lord of hosts.
Spotted lambs can come in all shapes and sizes. Spotted lambs look like a few dollars in the offering plate, if you could otherwise afford to give more. Or, a spotted lamb could be a talented singer who doesn’t rehearse her song for the worship service, because she’s relying on sheer ability rather than hard work. A spotted lamb might be a deacon who attends meetings yet never makes a visit, or it could be a teacher who neglects to prepare his lesson. After all, isn’t it good enough that he shows up to his class on time?
As you give shiny, new gifts to your loved ones this Christmas, I wonder—what kind of gift are you going to give to Jesus? Will you give God your best? Or will you give Him a thrift gift? Will you give the Lord your cast-offs, or will you give Him your all?
Reprinted from revgregsmith.blogspot.com. Greg is a Baptist minister who has served churches in Central and Southside Virginia. He lives in Halifax County VA with his wife and children. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.