Tuesday, August 24, 2004

On Debt And Doubt

When we found Covenant, it was a struggling church. In some ways it still is, but back then the struggles were perhaps more tangible.

The members were meeting in a school cafeteria. Covenant had been founded by folks who had money, but most of them had left by the time our family joined.

Not long after we became members, the church family was called together and the message was clear - there wasn't enough money to pay the bills...including Gordon's rather modest salary. We were asked to pray about it....pray hard.

Amy and I had only recently bought our home, more home they we could really afford, but we went over our finances and came up with a dollar figure far above our usual offering. We said we would "live lean" but get by and help our new church out of the hole. I wrote that check and without hesitation put it in the offering plate.

Only a day or so afterwards Amy came to me in a panic. She had looked in my wallet and found a wad of ATM withdrawal slips. Something she was certain hadn't been factored into our finances. Although our check to the church might still clear, we were not going to be able to live lean... we were going to have live on nothing.

I think Amy even emailed Gordon saying we were afraid we may have over extended ourselves.

Yet we didn't try to get the check back. We believed in this little church, we knew we were closer to God there than any other place we had been, and we knew the church needed us to be faithful.

It was scary. Several days went by. I vaguely recall a few dirty looks from Amy and repeated reminders spoken as if to a child that if, "we take money out of the bank account, we have to write it down." I deserved them, which sadly is often the case with Amy's little reminders.

Amy stayed vigilant on the bank balance, watching to see what cleared and when.
Then she panicked some more and went back over our finances line by line, entry by entry. Suddenly she shouted to me to come running. In truth I thought she had discovered even more unrecorded ATM receipts wadded up in my pant's pockets.

She pointed to the entry of the check we had written to Covenant to remind me of the amount (not like I was having any trouble with that) and then she said, "I went back over our entire account and guess what?"

I was certain I was about to nailed to the cross of the check registry.

"You did record all those ATM receipts you had in your wallet!

What's more, so did I!"

This was indeed a miracle all by itself, but then Amy pulled out a calculator. She entered in each of those ATM receipts and hit total.

The amount of money in our bank account, which we didn't know was there, was the exact same amount as the check we had written to the church...down to the penny.

It was a convincing moment.

Right then, Amy and I decided the first check we wrote each pay day would be to the church.

For many years, we were able to do that....I must confess in recent years it has been tougher. I could rationalize it easily. Amy is sick, lost her last good paying job years ago, and can work infrequently at best if she's not in the hospital. There are a lot of bills.

I could even reason that both Amy and I give much of our time and energies to the church whether it's leading music or mowing lawns, which is worth something, though it won't pay the light bill.

The church understands. Our budget is based on anonymous pledges. No one is going to call us from the church and say, "You're behind in your giving."

I feel God calling though.

He's not saying, "You're behind!"

He's saying, "You're blessed!"

The pledge we made may have technically been to our church, but in truth it was to God.

God has made a pledge to us too.

He has been faithful.

We will be faithful too, no matter the cost - not because I expect "barns will be filled to overflowing,
and your vats will brim over with new wine"
...rather because I think they are already.

We have lots of debts these days which we're working through, but the one we know we can never repay is the one to which I'm certain we should be paying the most attention.