Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Because Sherrah Wrote About Giving


Sherrah is a friend of mine from Con-You, Austin. We had a few classes together and we worked together at Camp Lone Star. She is a thoughtful and smart woman. I always remember her as being a little on the quiet side, but when she had something to say it was usually very important and was a point that needed to be considered carefully. So, too, her blog. If for no other reason, go read her blog because she is a good writer, much better than me-- but any way, she wrote this entry about "pledge sunday" at her church. As I read it I became a bit upset. I have to give her credit for sticking around, I might of walked out of the service.

Sherrah wrote:

He said that our faith can be measured by what percentage of our income we give, and he tried to back that up with scripture. I can't remember what scripture he used, but I have a problem with that statement. Does that mean that because I don't give 10% of my income, I don't have enough faith? Does that mean my faith is less than that of someone who does give 10%?

And how do you quantify faith, anyways?

So I put my envelope in the offering plate as it passed, and I made my pledge, and I felt guilty about it. Because it's not 10%. I wish it was. I wish I was able to give 15%, or more. In this matter, it's not my faith that lacks, it's my checkbook.

I left church feeling guilty, judged, and angry... That man asked me to put a dollar amount on my faith. I've been having a conversation with God about this all day, trying to figure out if he is asking me to do more. No answer has been reached yet. I'd like to be able to give more money to church.... I'd also like to get out of debt....

It really bothered me. I know for fact that I don't give 10% of my income to the church every week. I did for awhile, but I just couldn't afford to do it, matter of fact I have had a hard time the last few months of paying bills on time.

Her pastor probably used Malachi 3:10:

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
in his sermon. Which is fine. I've used that verse on myself many times when I've been struggeling with my collection envelope. But to question someone's faith by how much they put into the collection plate is just wrong. That way of looking at collection is not giving because of faith, but more like "ponying up" because you have to like paying a bill or a debt. On a side note, my church makes it real easy to "give." I can have them take it out of my checking account, all I have to do is give them my checking account number and they'll automatically debit my account for the amount... I have the form under some papers on my desk... but that is neither here nor there...

I asked my dad about it and he said that the tithe is an old testement law. I thought that was interesting. So, I thought about that for a little while and I remembered something I read in Luke a couple weeks back. The story of the old woman and her two little copper coins she put in the temple collection box:
As he looked up, Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. 2 He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. 3 “I tell you the truth,” he said, “this poor widow has put in more than all the others. 4 All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
-- Luke 21:1-4.

That widow gave what she could. Through her poverty she made a gift, a small one, sure, but to her it was probably huge. Because of her faith she gave.

Paul speaks to this in his letters. In 1 Corinthians he writes "Now about the collection for God’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. 2 On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income..." 16:1,2(a).

This is a tricky subject. I know it is. I've been known to absent myself from church during the month of November when the talk turns to money and giving. I give what I can. I strive for ten percent, but I often fall way short. I am by no means rich, but I have faith and I am moved to give what I can.

I completely understand where Sherrah is coming from in her post. I have been thinking about it ever since I read it on Sunday night. The only two beings that know your heart are you and God. God doesn't want you to feel obligated, He wants you to give because you want to-- it is not works but faith. James writes about this when he writes:
What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him? 15 Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to him, “Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.
18 But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”
Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do... James 2:14-18

I will continue to give what I can; I hope someday to be able to give more than 10 percent to the church, but until that time I will pray continually that Lord guide me in money decisions. He knows what I can give and he will bless me, just as he will bless Sherrah and her giving.

I don't know if it is scriptural, it might be, but the phrase "God, loves a cheerful giver" is important here. I believe that is true. There is a vast difference between giving because you want to and because feel you have to. There should be no guilt attached to giving to the church, it should be good feeling.


Josh said...

You're right about money being a touchy subject. I might be able to give a little perspective on this...

As a pastor, I can tell you that this is one of the hardest things to preach on. I know that people have taxes. I know that people have tuition for their kids in private high school and in college. I know people have mortgages and older parents they have to take care of and student loans and all kinds of other expenses.

However, I've also seen the beemers and Mercedes in parking lots of churches who have trouble making their payroll each week.

Here are some of the realities (these numbers are consistent for all Protestant denominations in the US):

25% of members give less than $1 per year.
50% of members give less than $20 per year.
In Protestant churches, 5% of the members provide 80%-90% of the annual budget.

And the one that makes the biggest statement:

If the pastor at your church tithes on the salary you pay him, he is probably in the top 5% of givers.

As you know, pastors don't make much.

As a pastor, I would never tell my people that I can measure their faith by what's in the offering plate. However, I know what it costs to run our church. I know the bottom line figure that I need to see each week when the counting committee turns it in. And I know what it feels like for a pastor to see that number fall woefully short week after week. It is gut-wrenching for a pastor to then have to decide which ministries are "more important" and should be funded and which ones should be cut because the people benefiting from them are not supporting them.

I think the problem that most people have isn't spiritual- they want to give to their Lord and their local church. The problem is that we have never really learned how to handle the whole money thing (I know I was never taught this). If you're looking for some good, practical advice on the money thing, I recommend the Dave Ramsey method ( His book Financial Peace Revisited has kind of changed my life. Dave offers these "baby steps" to financial peace:

Before you do anything, you need to budget. Write down every penny you spend. Then,

1. Save up a $1,000 emergency fund.
2. Pay off all debt except the house using the debt snowball.
3. Build your emergency fund up to three to six months of living expenses.
4. Invest 15% of your income in pre-tax retirement accounts.
5. Save for your kids' college funds.
6. Pay off your house early.
7. Build wealth and give it away!

So right now, I'm working the baby steps with 90% of my income. I'm on #2 and will be there for a little while yet (until student loans are paid off), but I am definitely making progress. I got out of Sem with some credit card debt, but that is almost all gone. I can't wait until I get to #7 and I'm giving it all away!

So those are just some thoughts. A tough question any way you slice it.

loofrin said...

Yeah, I know.

Orycteropus Afer said...

Congratulations on an Aardie-winning post. Now you know why I didn't comment earlier.