Thoughts about Tithing

Posted 5/20/2018

We are stewards -- managers — of all God has given us. Not least among those gifts is money. In fact, in the Gospels, Jesus speaks more about how we use our wealth than he does about any other topic. Clearly, how we use what we have is very important in Jesus’ eyes!

As I’ve been considering (again) what it means for us to be good Christian stewards, I found myself thinking about what it means for someone to be a “good steward” (fiscally responsible) of whatever money I am setting aside for retirement. In today’s world, we’ve all had to more or less get used to having fees attached to the management of our investment accounts. As we consider who to have as our investment counselor or what fund to invest in, we are urged to consider the percentage of such fees.

That got me to wondering. What if instead of looking at how much we give back to God we looked at what we kept — what we might think of as our investment fees. Suddenly, the Biblical suggestion of a tithe (1/10) doesn’t seem so much. After all, we’re getting to keep 90% of the funds invested for ourselves! That’s quite a fee!

Whether you give a tithe or some other amount, I encourage you to think seriously about how you use the money you have and how you can be a good steward of God’s gift.

 

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Generosity and Tithing

Posted 5/13/2018

My “history” with tithing goes back quite a ways and is what one might call “ambiguous.” From my earliest days in ministry I heard about the importance of tithing. It was a staple in any stewardship training. But tithing was presented in such a way that I felt it was something I had to do. As a pastor I needed to tithe to set a good example of stewardship. And, those sitting in the pews needed to tithe because this was what God demanded as the minimum we give back to him. 

It took me a while to actually get to the point I tithed. And, I confess, as my finances changed, there were times I got below the tithe after I first achieved it. But the biggest thing that has changed for me over the years is not how MUCH I give but WHY I give. 

I still think a tithe is an appropriate amount to give, but I don’t give that amount “to set an example” or “because God expects it.” I give that amount because I WANT to. I give it because I realize that giving a tithe is a great way for me to express my thankfulness to God. Furthermore, it seems to me, when I consider all I’ve been given, like the appropriate amount to give to God in thanksgiving. 

What I’ve learned over these years is that our generous giving to the church — our stewardship in relation to the church — isn’t about giving a set amount because God expects it, or about setting a good example for others, or about meeting the church budget. Generous giving — stewardship — is about showing God how grateful I am for all I’ve received. Stewardship is a carefully considered decision about how I express my thankfulness.

I invite you to take the time to carefully consider how you express your thankfulness to God in your stewardship giving. 

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Generosity

Posted 5/6/2018

In the church I served before I came here my position was only one-half time. The limited income that provided required me to live on a pretty strict budget, but I learned to be content with what I could afford. However, is also meant any unexpected expense — whether medical or something like a car repair — put a serious strain on my finances. When I had to replace my entire computer system (computer and printer) as well as do a major car repair in a space of about 6 months, I was finding my budget was stretched more than beyond the limit. There just weren’t any more places to cut expenses….

The wonder of this experience was that God provided what I needed. At the times I found myself truly becoming concerned about how I could afford to pay this or that bill, I almost inevitably found myself surprised by a gift from a friend. The gifts weren’t huge amounts; just enough to get me through that month. Every time it happened I was thankful to God for the gift and to my friend for their generosity.

Right before that 6 months will all those extraordinary bills I had a friend whose medical expenses were astronomical. With my half-time salary I surely couldn’t make a dent in her medical bills; but I knew I could do something. I knew her bills were reducing her to a life that had no “extras” in it. It wasn’t much, but for several months I sent her a few dollars with the instructions she was to use it to do something for herself. I discovered even with my limited funds, I could afford to be generous.

Generosity is a part of stewardship; and being generous is something all of us are called to be. The wonder of stewardship is, we really can afford to be generous people!

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Thank you, God!

Posted 4/29/2018

In a world where writing thank you notes has become increasingly rare, I’ve begun to understand the importance of such notes. I confess, I don’t remember my parents telling me to write thank you notes when I was a kid. It’s a habit I’ve picked up as an adult. 

 

Why is a thank you note important? Much as I sometimes struggle to write one, I know that the note causes me to really think about the gift. Not just that someone gave me something; but that they gave me something specific. Writing a note forces me to think about how the gift was an act of caring, an act of sharing.

 

Stewardship does much the same thing. It makes us pause to consider the gifts we have received from God. It helps make us aware of just how much God cares for us and what all God shares with us. Being a good steward is the Christian’s way of writing a thank you note to God.

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Stewards

Posted 4/22/2018

 We live in a world that encourages us to consider ourselves to be self-made men and women and to have earned all we possess. We expect that what we own will be carefully protected, so we can do whatever we want with what is ours. The idea of “private property” is foundational to our society and our economic system.

 

Yet Scripture challenges our assumptions. It says that all we have and all we are comes from God. We are not our own — we have been “bought with a price” (1 Cor 6:20a). We were created by God and, as our confessions say, “we belong to God.” 

 

Yet it isn’t just we who were created by God. All of the world was created by God and belongs to God. We are not the owners, we are only the stewards. That is, we are only the “care-takers.” We are called upon to manage the earth and all in it with care on behalf of God. We are called upon to do so keeping God’s vision for the world in front of our eyes.

 

As you think about God’s vision of the world — about the world God intends — what kind of steward are you? Are you managing God’s resources in a way that would please God?

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Seeing Jesus

Posted 4/1/2018

I like the Easter stories of how the disciples DIDN’T recognize Jesus. That may sound strange to you, but I like them for a reason. You see, so often I fail to recognize Jesus and his presence myself. 

 

Sometimes I fail to recognize Jesus’ presence because I’m expecting him to act in a different way. As an example I may have been praying for Jesus to solve a relationship problem. My expectation, since I think the other person is responsible for the tensions in our relationship, is that Jesus will somehow change them. I may fail to recognize Jesus’ presence for the longest time simply because I refuse to recognize Jesus is asking me to change my attitudes and behaviors.

 

Sometimes I fail to recognize Jesus because I’m sure how he would “look.” I’m positive Jesus would look like a “good, up-standing, hard-working” person, just like me. As a result, I fail to see Jesus in the unemployed person who is willing to share what little they have with another person who is in even worse financial shape than they are. 

 

Yep, I’m like those first disciples. I fail to see Jesus and his presence — often until the moment he says my name. But the good news of the gospel stories of the resurrection is Jesus does say our name, or break the bread, or…. Jesus does open our eyes to see him. And then, what joy it is!

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What an Entry!

Posted 3/25/2018

Scripture: Mark 11:1-11

When I was in Zambia, I found myself wondering as we drove down the road why all these pedestrians we were passing kept doing (wave hand in “slow down” fashion). While we were going a bit faster than I like on the all dirt roads, I knew the driver wasn’t going fast by African standards. And, again by African standards, the road was really rather good. Besides that, we were the only car in sight. So why in the world would everyone keep telling us to slow down?! It was only when I asked another ex-patriot that I discovered my error. In Zambia (wave hand again) means the same as (do “hitch hike” motion). 

For anyone who travels from nation to nation — or even region to region of our nation — you quickly discover the potentials for misunderstandings are great. As another example of what I mean, I am glad I had someone draw me aside quickly after I arrived in Kentucky for an internship. They asked me if I’d heard anyone say “I wouldn’t care to” yet. When I said “No.” They appeared relieved and proceeded to explain that in Kentucky this phrase DIDN’T mean that the person didn’t want to do whatever it was you’d asked them to do. It meant they had no objections to doing it. This same person went on to explain several other phrases that probably would have contributed to major misunderstandings if I hadn’t been “clued in.”

Today’s gospel lesson is another case where there is not only potential for, but an actual misunderstanding occurring. I think the musical “The Cottonpatch Gospel” perhaps captures this misunderstanding in the most dramatic way I’ve even discovered. This musical is a “modern rewrite” of the gospel, with the setting for Jesus’ ministry being in the Southern US during the early 1960’s, in which Jerusalem becomes Atlanta. In the song “Goin’ to Atlanta," the musical’s recounting of Palm Sunday, you hear the disciples singing with excitement about taking their "show...to the big time” and "going to the top.” You then hear Jesus slowly and almost mournfully singing of how going to Atlanta is the start of his passion.

The disciples of Jesus — the crowds — they all were jubilant at Jesus’ arrival into Jerusalem. The prophet who had made such an impression was now in THE city. Surely something spectacular would happen. Surely the one who had feed multitudes and healed the sick would do something truly miraculous in Jerusalem. Who knows, perhaps if he is, as some in the crowd probably quietly hoped, the messiah he might even throw the hated Roman army out of the country! Surely great things are coming! Surely Jesus’ arrival is a reason for celebrating! 

And celebrate they did. They welcomed Jesus much as they might welcome a king coming into the city. They covered the road with branches and cloths. They shouted a joyous greeting. They praised God for what they hoped was about to happen.

However, like has happened throughout the gospels, the disciples (and the crowds) mis-read the situation. Jesus didn’t ride into Jerusalem on a mighty war-horse as the head of a conquering army; but on a lowly donkey, the sign of a peaceful arrival. Jesus hadn’t come to Jerusalem expecting to receive a joyous welcome from the religious rulers; but to receive their hostility and rejection and eventually their death sentence. Jesus wasn’t coming into Jerusalem to overthrow Roman rule; but to die under the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Jesus came, as he had told the disciples again and again, to “be handed over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death; then they will hand him over to the Gentiles; they will mock him, and spit upon him, and flog him, and kill him” (Mk 10:33-34).

Yes, Jesus made an entry into Jerusalem on that day so long ago. And, in the eyes of many, and often in our eyes too, it was quite an entry - a time for celebration — a time for a joyous party. In the eyes of Jesus, however, it wasn’t a party; but a humble entry into the passion that leads to our salvation. For Jesus this was his entry into the events of the following week, when the joyous crowds would turn to an angry mob demanding his death and the rejoicing disciples would all betray and desert him and he would die upon a cross. 

What an entry — with crowds yelling praises. Yet the truth is this was an entry to save. And the only proper response to that is to say, “What an entry

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Forgiven

Posted 3/21/2018

One of my friends would tell of how she would ask her nieces and nephews who would come to her complaining that “it isn’t fair” to show her their “fairness guarantee.” When they would protested they didn’t have such a thing, she would respond, “Life isn’t fair.”

 

Life isn’t fair. Yet that doesn’t mean God isn’t just. The wonder of the gospel is that God shows his righteousness (justice) by forgiving us “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). God’s word of mercy and grace is spoken to us. Such forgiveness, mercy and grace calls for a response of gratitude and of a forgiving nature on my part. Ultimately, I can forgive, only because I know myself to be forgiven. 

 

As we walk through the days of Lent — and the days of our lives — may we both know ourselves to be forgiven and be empowered by God’s forgiving, loving Spirit to be those who forgive. 

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The Good News

Posted 3/18/2018

There is perhaps nothing in all the gospel that is more precious than Paul’s declaration, “While we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). While our Lenten journey is one of repentance and renewed obedience, the good news is that this whole journey is rooted in God’s loving forgiveness. It is not a matter that we somehow work up the willpower to live new lives. Rather it is that God’s gift of forgiveness opens our hearts to new gratitude and a new way of living. God’s forgiveness changes us!

 

That is the good news of the gospel. It isn’t up to me to change myself. Rather, God has given me a new heart in the gift of his forgiveness. My old life, filled with rebellion, sin, guilt and regrets, is no longer — God has both forgiven it and forgotten it. I have a new life in Christ. This is the good news, and the power, that enables us to truly walk the Lenten journey of renewed life — new life in Christ. 

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Forgiving

Posted 3/14/2018

I know I should forgive; but that doesn’t make forgiveness easy. Sometimes forgiveness seems impossible. Sometimes the hurt goes so deep into my soul that forgiveness seems to be beyond what I am able to do. At such times the best thing I can do is to share my hurt with God. It also helps to share my hurt with another who is trained in helping people heal — someone trained as a pastor, a counselor, or perhaps even as a mediator. 

 

Yet the truth is there are other times when it is not so much the hurt goes so deep into my soul that forgiveness seems beyond me but that I simply don’t want to forgive. At such times it is helpful to look in my heart to see why it is I don’t want to forgive. What “benefit” do I gain by not forgiving? Am I simply enjoying being the victim too much to forgive? Do I need to get a wider, deeper perspective on the situation — a God’s-view perspective? 

 

In the end, Jesus reminds us that we are able to forgive only because God has forgiven us. It is only as we come to know ourselves as those who both are in need of forgiveness and as those who have been forgiven that we become free to forgive. 

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