Thursday, March 03, 2005

Answering Kim

I started to respond to Kim's question about tithing in the comment section where she left it, but it turned into a long rambling diatribe so I figured I might as well post it here where people are used to my long rambling diatribes.

I hope it makes a small bit of sense because I'm dashing it out rather quickly, but I think this is an important issue which almost everyone I know has had struggles.

First off Kim, I don't think it's too personal, I'm glad you asked.

The answer is yes...and no.

There was a time when I had a hard time writing any check to a church and in truth what persuaded me at first to give a lot more was when I realized the tax benefit. I might as well be honest; I'd rather give my money to God than the government.

In the past we have had years where we have been able to give 10 percent of our income to the church, in recent years we have not. You can get bogged down by this issue in a lot of ways. Do I give ten percent before taxes? After taxes? At one time our church was so small and both the church and our home finances so tight Amy and I vowed to give ten percent of the entire church budget.

Last year and the year before I don't think we gave anywhere near what we hoped, much less ten percent of our income...we couldn't...wolves were at the door.

We rationalized it well though. I do a lot of yard work at the church. Amy puts in many hours, more than most people realize serving as the church music Minister for which she has never been paid. This year, anticipating tough financial times I doubled the number of times I volunteered to clean the church.

Still we want to be a tithing family.

I will tell you this...we have NEVER been disappointed, NEVER gone hungry, NEVER been unable to meet our basic family needs when we have written a check to the church even in the most tenuous times. Yet I still quite often put a check in the collection plate thinking, "Please God, don't let this bounce." Last August I wrote about one dicey experience which actually became a turning point in my thinking...if not a divine kick in the butt.

Our church budget works like this...we ask people to pledge -anonymously- what they think they will be able to give each year and then our Elders add up those pledges, factor in a few other things based on past history and that total is our budget. We don't pay our Pastor anywhere near what most churches do. Every other position in the church is a volunteer post although this year we're adding a part time "administrator" to try to organize Gordon...there's not enough money on earth to make that possible, but she'll be paid a very token amount and earn every cent.

This year I vowed that we would be faithful in our giving, maybe not ten percent, but every dime we could and certainly what we pledged to give. The other day I wrote about having a breakdown at church and rushing out the door after flinging a check into the collection plate...that check was for 10 percent of our income tax refund. I already have earmarked 10 percent of the money we'll get from this recent car mishap for the church as well.

God has proven to us over and over that He will provide, yet it's still hard for me to put my faith in writing...on a check.

I don't believe God punishes people who can't give any more than He rewards those who give a lot. In truth Jesus left little doubt about His thinking regarding wealth. Ironically He was far clearer on that issue than He was on the "big issue" dividing Christians so often these days. Gordon mentioned that exact thing to our Sunday school class last weekend... Jesus said nothing about homosexuality that we know of, but He was pretty vocal about the evils of money.

Some years ago, a young couple started attending our church and the husband pulled Amy and me aside and said, "We want to join, but I don't think we can....I don't think we can make the financial commitment." This couple had three small kids, one job and a real need for God. We told the husband what I will tell you - we do believe God is keeping count...of our faith.

Tithing is certainly important and it's a very demonstrable way for US to keep tabs on such things, but God knows our hearts and our circumstances.

So what's all this rambling mean?

To me it means we should give as much as we possibly can and then give more. Give money, give time, give your love, give of yourself. I think that's what God is trying to teach us through to give.

He doesn't need our money, He needs US.

Not 10 percent...100 percent.

And when we come up short, the books in Heaven balance out thanks to His immeasurable grace.