Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Everything I learned about giving I learned from the tithe

Disclaimer: I have a LONG way to go before I have a good grasp on tithing and giving. I can't stress that enough.

Not quite two years ago, Matt and I made the decision to get serious about tithing and giving as neither was an area producing much fruit in our lives. I will share with you what God has revealed to us through our searching and journeying and failing and praying. Did I mention we are still learning and growing and failing? Lots of failing. Lots of humbling.
  • Let me start with the definition of tithe. Tithe literally means "a tenth part." You can give 2% or 8% but you cannot tithe it, much like you cannot call 5 eggs a dozen (great analogy, Rebecca.)
  • Semantics aside, our goal is that all of our tithes and offerings are acts of worship. This is one of the reasons I love writing the check. It helps me to stop and be aware of what I am doing, praying and praising as I write. But don't get too excited, I am guilty of treating this action just as I treat the water bill, without reverence.
  • We are called to have a steward mentality and eternal perspective. Being a good steward of God's money (and resources) involves many things (saving, investing, giving, tithing, just to name a few). Ultimately we will give an account of our lives, according to the fruit of our deeds (Jeremiah 17:10). I love this quote by Matthew Henry: "It ought to be the business of every day to prepare for our last day." Being a good steward of God's resources while maintaining an eternal perspective is where we try to position ourselves, and try as I might, I fail miserably at this all the time.
  • I want to share a quote from Randy Alcorn's book Money, Possessions and Eternity. He does a good job of helping me understand how the tithe applies to my life today in the era of grace. "[Tithing] is a meaningful expression of dependence on God and gratitude to him. Tithing requires calculation. When we deal specifically with the amounts God has provided, we assess God's goodness to us . . . Tithing was, and can still be, a built-in reminder at every juncture of life of our unlimited debt to God." Dontcha just love that?
  • The tithe (10%) will always remain non-negotiable for our family (Please don't read this as legalism. I pray you understand that this is what God has revealed to OUR family. I'm not implying this is what God commands for you. That's between you and Jesus.) In the Old Testament, the tithe was the starting point for giving (I love the passage in Exodus 36 when the Israelites were actually restrained from giving materials to build the tabernacle because they had given more materials than needed!) The model of paying back to God His firstfruits was the tithe, and as I've studied the OT, I found that it was more than paying 10% off the top. There were actually multiple tithes required of the Jews - their tithes and offerings well exceeded 10% (Deuteronomy 14). In the New Testament, every example of giving goes beyond the tithe. The way I see it, there is no evidence for less than 10% of giving anywhere in the Bible. For us, the tithe is a base figure. It is merely a starting point for our giving.
  • Can tithing be legalistic? Of course. As can any other spiritual discipline. The dangers don't only include legalism, but also complacency. When we view tithing (or church attendance or volunteering) as a box to be checked, we've missed the point completely. But when we approach tithing (and giving, among other things) with prayer and a worship-filled heart, we put ourselves in a space to receive the eternal and internal blessings that God promises to those who honor Him (The story of the rich young man in Matthew 19 is one of my favorites. He's promised eternal reward for giving to the poor, and it is in this passage when Jesus tells His disciples that they will receive a return of hundredfold for their sacrifices.)
  • I have to wonder what it communicates to God when we don't tithe, when we don't give him the firstfruits of His provisions? I think that is when we begin to say, "God, you can't handle all my needs, not to mention my debts and loans and the demands of this crappy economy. You can't handle it, but I can." What if instead we said to God, "I don't know how this is going to all work out, but I trust that you will provide. Therefore I give you the firsts of this paycheck, before I pay a single bill or make a single purchase." This is also a good space to pray that God shows you what is (and what is not) a need, not to mention showing you ways that you can save money when you didn't think there would be enough - this is an area where God has humbled me big time. I sometimes feel like Veruca Salt, spatting, "I want an Oompa Loompa! I want an Oompa Loompa now!" I so deserve her fate, a bad egg who is dropped down the garbage chute. But God's mercy is so good. In time, I find myself getting used to life without the coveted Oompa Loompa, ultimately experiencing contentment with less.
  • To the point of being able to give like no one else, my suggestion: start with the tithe. Start with the building blocks that are revealed in God's Word. And then don't stop. Continue to ask God to stretch your dollar, your heart, and your pocketbook. Not for you, but for the blessing of giving.
  • I so appreciate the comment from my dearest friend Mary Kate. She said, "I cling too tightly to my 10% tithe, because giving it all can seem terrifying." I can SO relate. The tithe isn't my ticket to spend the other 90% on whatever I damn well please. It's not for me to clear my conscience, so to speak. All - all 100% - belongs to God. I don't get to do whatever I choose with any of it. The 10%, the 90%, the 100% - it's all His. And it's His to do with as He pleases.
He who has God and everything has no more than he who has God alone. - C.S. Lewis

11 comments:

  1. Well, goodness. I can't think of a single thing to add. Thanks for taking the time to spell all of this out, friend.

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  2. Once again--nicely said. Sometimes I wonder if the principle of tithing applies to the other dimensions of living--especially time. For the past three and half years I have not had a predictable income or regular paycheck--and much of what we did receive was generous gifts from others and student loans. Is it appropriate to tithe on gifts others have given to us or on student loan money? In times of little to no income I have tried to invest of myself in the spirit of tithing. Living with open hands, hearts, and wallet allows us to be a conduit of the blessings that God pours into our lives. The principle and discipline of tithing you described has great power is centering our hearts on God. Thanks for the stirring reminder that all I have is His and the whether I have much or little I want to live with an open hand.

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  3. WOW! I was looking forward to this post and you handled it wonderfully. I keep re-reading the third to the last paragraph and that is SOOO true! Not tithing is a matter of not trusting. Such a great reminder.

    And thanks for the shout-out. I have a thing for analogies. ;)

    Be blessed, sweet sister!

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  4. ....and this is why I so dearly miss Vista - people like you. Your last paragraph is so real...love it. We should move back. Today.

    ps - I carry and faithfully use the Dave Ramsey wallet with envelopes attached inside. uhhhh, because my husband makes me - BLAH! It's ugly, big and bulky...stupid Dave! ;)

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  5. @Tim Stauffer I think about this a lot. Our kids are the only grandchildren on both sides. That means there are 4 grandparents and 2 aunties who make it their job to spoil our kids :) We are blessed beyond measure by their generosity. And I'm often wondering (and I need to do more praying) how I can tithe that, if that makes sense. We try and donate a toy every time a new one enters the house, but it goes far beyond toys - it's meals and clothes and babysitting, etc.

    I love your phrase "live with an open hand." It goes both ways, don't you think. Be open to receiving God's blessing and be open to letting go. He gives and takes away, after all.

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  6. @Rebecca My biggest hurdle is my own flesh. Even when I understand God's Truth, and I intend to obey, I still wrestle with my own selfish nature.

    Thanks again for your encouragement. It means a lot.

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  7. @Jill I COMMEND you for your devotion to the envelopes. I remember when you started them many moons ago. I am so impressed that they have become a way of life for you guys. It is inspirational.

    I miss you too, girl. Thank goodness I can keep up with you (somewhat) on the blog :)

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  8. Tithing brings up a lot of stuff for me. Where do I being?
    I used to attend a church that demanded the tithe. Everyone had their own offering envelopes and every year they signed up to give their 10%. My husband and I went along. This is giving under compulsion. After leaving this church, I've questioned whether the tithe had to be to one's local church. In the Old Testament, the tithe was to support the running of the Tabernacle or Temple and support the Levites. There was also another tithe that was to be used for a big party - everyone was supposed to feast together (is that right? It's in Deuteronomy 14). There was also a tithe every 3 years (is that right?) to be set aside for the poor, the sojourner, and so on. Are we supposed to keep one of those tithes and not the other two? Are we supposed to follow part of Old Testament law and not the other part? How do we know which tithe to follow? What if we're supposed to be partying every year with 10% of our income - having a giant feast and celebration? Is that Christmas for some people (not me, we can't afford to spend 10% of our income on Christmas)?

    So I guess what I've interpreted from this is that the tithe really is Old Testament/Old Covenant. It's part of the ritual law that the Isrealites were under in the Old Testament, like circumcision and not trimming your beard and not eating pigs. It set the Isrealites apart as holy to the Lord.

    After Jesus' death and resurrection, there is no mention of the tithe. Instead, we are taught to give to those in need, not under compulsion, to give cheerfully (2 Cor. 8 and 9). If we have extra, we give it away to help those who don't have. When we are in need, those who have extra give to us. We are blessed to be able to give. We are blessed to receive when others give to us. If we have enough food and clothing, we are to be content. Simple living. I love a story I read in Brother Yun's book Heavenly Man - when a person was called to go out and preach the gospel, everyone present would empty their pockets, the person would take the money, buy a ticket, and leave to go and preach. This is giving. So that others might have enough food and clothing, so that others may hear the gospel preached, so that Jesus' name may be glorified!

    I'm not saying it's wrong to tithe today, but tithing is not a part of the New Covenant as far as I can tell. And I do believe it's wrong to blindly tithe to the church (it's wrong to blindly give anywhere without seeking God's direction). I also believe it's wrong for the church to tell people they should be tithing to the church. I go to a wonderful church but I don't tithe to my church because my church is not in need and it spends the money as our culture dictates (pretty much), the latest equipment, stuff, etc. I can't reconcile that with the fact that there are people in need who need my money much, much more. So instead, I give to those in need. I seek to give where God directs. I try to give freely, not under compulsion, but with a cheerful, willing heart. I mess up sometimes and fail to give where God directs. I repent, he forgives, I seek to obey him. I'm as greedy and selfish as the next person, but when I submit to God and give, I'm greatly blessed. And I learn more and more to trust him for everything.

    This comment is as imperfect as I am, I'm sure (except for the Bible passages). I would love to know more about this - so please let me know where I've gone wrong in my reasoning. Is tithing really part of moral law? Is it a sin not to tithe? What about the other tithes mentioned in the Old Testament? How do we know which ones to keep and which ones to ignore?

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  9. @Mandy Wow!!! This is thorough and full of SO many good questions! I am so thankful for people like you who bring up questions that push us to better know God's will for our money. Thank you!

    I think it would be best for me to share a link with you. I am still learning and growing in this area, and the Bible is chalk full of Scriptures that relate to our giving and tithing. Randy Alcorn does a great job of answering some of your questions - from his perspective. I absolutely recommend reading what he has to say and then holding it up to the Word to see what the Holy Spirit reveals to you.

    http://www.epm.org/search/?inurl=&q=tithe

    Thank you again!

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  10. Thanks, Ali! I'm checking out the link - looks like there are lots of articles. Should keep me busy for a while. I prayed a lot about this yesterday after I wrote the above comment. And I really resonate with what you wrote, "The tithe (10%) will always remain non-negotiable for our family (Please don't read this as legalism. I pray you understand that this is what God has revealed to OUR family. I'm not implying this is what God commands for you. That's between you and Jesus.)"

    After praying for a long time, asking God to seriously help me comb my heart for errors and blindness and selfishness and pride, I started the school day with my boys. We always start with Bible. Yesterday's lesson focused on the story of the poor widow who is out gathering sticks to make a fire to bake the last little bit of flour and oil she has left into bread for her and her son so they can eat their last meal and die. Along comes Elijah. Elijah asks the woman for some water and some bread. Here's what the woman says, and Elijah's response from 1 Kings 17 (ESV):

    12And she said, "As the LORD your God lives, I have nothing baked, only a handful of flour in a jar and a little oil in a jug. And now I am gathering a couple of sticks that I may go in and prepare it for myself and my son, that we may eat it and die." 13And Elijah said to her, "Do not fear; go and do as you have said. But first make me a little cake of it and bring it to me, and afterward make something for yourself and your son. 14For thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, 'The jar of flour shall not be spent, and the jug of oil shall not be empty, until the day that the LORD sends rain upon the earth.'"

    The woman has a choice. She can hold onto what she has and keep it for herself, or she can give and accept God's provision. She does give Elijah food first! And God provides for her and her son until the famine ends.

    What does this woman do right?

    She honestly shares her situation with Elijah before God. She doesn't try to pretend everything is okay. She doesn't just shut Elijah out and say, "No, sorry I can't help you. I have to go now." She tells the truth about her circumstances to herself, to God, and to the person God has sent into her life.

    She listens to what God has to say to her through his prophet Elijah. God has a wonderful promise for her and she takes the time to hear it, think about it, and decide whether she will believe it and act accordingly.

    She takes a risk and chooses to give to meet Elijah's need. This woman probably doesn't know God very well, not being an Israelite. But she takes the risk of giving when God tells her to, even though she hardly has anything left to give. I find it interesting that it doesn't say how much she gave (at least not that I can discern). She might have given Elijah the biggest cake or she might have made him only a tiny one - or maybe she divided everything evenly among them. I don't know. But I do know that God met her where she was and provided for her just as he had promised.

    That's what I hope to do in giving - be honest about where I am, listen to what God has to say, and take risks in giving to those in need - even when it doesn't seem like I have enough to give. I know God will meet me where I am, give me what I need, and help me grow. Thanks again for the link and for your patience.

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  11. @Mandy You humble me! The fact that you are taking the time to pray through and consider all of this - wow. wow. wow. Truly, I am so humbled. I have learned so much just in the two weeks since this original post. God continues to stretch me and teach me, and I can only pray that I am listening and obeying. It is so much easier said than done.

    Thanks again, Mandy. You are an absolute gem.

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