Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Forest Gate

Forest Gate: A NovelSome nights when I read the Bible it's just words. I don't feel a connection to them and my soul doesn't feel any different when I close the pages. Some nights I feel incredibly inspired and find myself jotting down almost every other verse, and when I'm done, my mind races with all that I've learned. Other nights are like last night: I felt deeply convicted, and every turn of the page only served to drive the knife deeper into my heart.

Jesse and I left our former church almost a year ago. I didn't talk about it here because I felt so hurt by what had happened there, it was too difficult to share. After burning out of two church in about three years, we just stopped attending church altogether. There was a church in the Falls that we talked about visiting, but we were so fearful of being hurt again, the idea was tabled indefinitely. Until an odd set of circumstances suddenly demonstrated that we were absolutely to go to that church.

Mia's been attending Wednesday night Awana's, and we've been attending irregularly as a family for the last couple of months. I went to a Bible study, and Jesse went to one, and I was just blown away by terrific it was. While I am still gun-shy enough to refuse to call it "my" church, I am willing to say that we'll be regulars.

In the year since we have attended church, I am ashamed to admit that we did not tithe to any church. God called me on the carpet for it last night.

"Because while you've run around, caught up with taking care of your own houses, my Home is in ruins. That's why. Because of your stinginess. And so I've given you a dry summer and a skimpy crop. I've matched your tight-fisted stinginess by decreeing a season of drought, drying up fields and hills, withering gardens and orchards, stunting vegetables and fruit. Nothing—not man or woman, not animal or crop—is going to thrive." Haggai 1:10-11

God was angry with the Israelites because after they returned from their exile, they were so busy rebuilding their own homes, they weren't taking the time or money to restore the Temple, which God called his home. Because they were stingy with their giving to God, he was going to be stingy in giving to them. They would face a drought that would not allow anything in the land to thrive. The people had no one to blame for it but themselves.

Pastors often give sermons encouraging their parishioners to tithe, and it's usually so that the church can survive. While that is a good reason to tithe, God lays it out far more clearly.

'I own the silver,
   I own the gold.'
      Decree of God-of-the-Angel-Armies
.Haggai 2:8

"Do honest people rob God? But you rob me day after day.
   "You ask, 'How have we robbed you?'
   "The tithe and the offering—that's how! And now you're under a curse —the whole lot of you—because you're robbing me. Malachi 3:8-9

Everything I have, every single item in my home and life has been a gift from God. It all comes from him, and when I refuse to tithe, I am stealing from him. It's so hard to even type those words, because it feels too harsh, but that's how he sees my inaction, so I need to change my perspective so that I feel the same way.
It's not just our money that God expects us to tithe.

If any of these survivors fail to make the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship the King, God-of-the-Angel-Armies, there will be no rain. If the Egyptians don't make the pilgrimage and worship, there will be no rain for them. Zechariah 14:17

God was letting the Israelites, and the rest of the world, know that anyone who failed to come to the Temple to worship him would face drought. A drought of faith would bring a drought of rain. God wants our worship as well, and while I did worship at home by reading my Bible and praying, I deprived him of my worship in song and in support of others.

Jesse and I have faced an enormous amount of challenges this past year, and I can see now that our lack of tithing and worship to the Lord caused him to cut down on the blessings he pours out on us. I've seen an amazing amount of blessings during this time, but I wonder just how much better it could have been had we loved him as we ought.

Bring your full tithe to the Temple treasury so there will be ample provisions in my Temple. Test me in this and see if I don't open up heaven itself to you and pour out blessings beyond your wildest dreams. Malachi 3:10

That is a wonderful promise, but I have to keep up my end of the deal, with my money, my worship, and my time. Whatever I give, I know that he will match beyond anything I can imagine. I can't wait to see what the next year holds.

Forest Gate by Peter Akinti is a shattering look at life as a Somali refugee in London. James and Meina struggle to find a new life after the suicide of her brother, his best friend. The young men had made a pact, but when James' rope didn't snap his neck, he realized that life was worth fighting for, and he survived. The two recreate the days leading up to the tragedy as they slowly fall in love. Meina is a strong young woman who has already been "married" six times by her greedy aunt before she was rescued and brought to London. James faces unimaginable humiliation and horror in his life. Too smart to fit in with his drug dealing brothers, and always at risk of attack by the police or rival gangs, he's been forced to disengage from day to day life. This dark tale is almost unreadable at times for the stark horror it portrays, but the message of hope is powerful.

I wouldn't recommend this book to my average Christian fiction reader. It's definitely NC-17, but it will give mature readers something to think about.

Thank you to Free Press Publicity for providing me with a copy of this book for review.

I'm running a new book contest this week. Forget Me Not by Vickie Hinze is a suspenseful thriller about identity and love. If you'd like the chance to win, just drop me an email or leave a comment here before 10 pm on Thursday, April 15th. I'll announce the winner here on Friday, April 16th. Good luck!