The Freedom I Found in Giving

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(image courtesy of chucklarsen.com)

Please, please, please understand from the very beginning of this: I AM NOT TRYING IN ANY WAY TO RAISE MONEY! I AM NOT SEEKING DONATIONS FOR ANYTHING!

However, I am going to proceed into a topic that is downright sensitive to many and clearly off-limits to many more: the giving of money.

To re-iterate, I share with you my experiences in the realm of giving only in hopes that others will find the joy I have when the power of the dollar loses its hold on you.

For a quick review, allow me to share some of the formative background of my approach to money and the acquisition of things. As a child, I watched my Dad work hard to supply his family with our basic needs and a few of our wants. He was happy to fulfill his role as provider, but was equally guarded about how any of his hard-earned would be spent outside of our home. The idea he installed was to take care of your own, and anything left over was to be saved for that rainy day that was sure to come. It was not disposable it anyway toward charity of any kind.

As I have chronicled before, my early adulthood was a travesty of waste and destruction brought about by my alcoholism. All childhood lessons regarding money were forgotten or ignored, and I accumulated a large sum of debt.

Coming out of that haze and into recovery, I was driven to pay back every dime I owed. I was blessed with employment that enabled me to make good money, meeting the needs of my own family while paying down the mountain of debt.

It was during this season of life that I was introduced to the idea of tithing. I found the idea of giving 10% to the church I was attending a novel idea, but one that had no practicality in my circumstances. Once I heard the part about giving some of my money, I apparently shut my ears to the rest of the explanation. By doing so I missed the entire point about giving back to God first because anything I had came from Him anyway. The Bible refers to this as giving to God the first fruits of our labor, I simply called it crazy. I mean, how could I give any percentage when we barely had enough coming in to cover expenses.

As I look back on those days now, I am ever so grateful that my wife Betsy did understand from the outset what this giving was truly about. She was able to slowly help me to see the selfishness and short-sightedness of my hold on to it at all costs approach to our finances.

God, as always, was gracious and patient with me as my heart softened. As I came to more fully realize that everything we had or earned was all because of His love for us, I came to understand why it was God calls us to give back to Him ‘off the top’ instead of grudgingly handing over leftovers.

It was now that He began to reveal to me the freedom that comes when giving to God unreservedly. Instead of viewing giving to the church as a burden that was going to further tighten our budget, I began to see how I was spending on not so necessary things. For example, the rationalization that our busy lives necessitated having take-out food 2-3 times a week was replaced with a spirit of cooperation that allowed us to plan and make family meals together. This not only saved lots of money, but it also fostered a much more unified front with regard to the family finances.

Throughout the ensuing years we have continued to tithe to the local church. Please understand that we hold to no formula of giving. Nor to do we believe that we are checking some cosmic box that will earn us favor with the Almighty. We do use 10% as a benchmark, but these days we often find we are blessed to give over and above that number. Again, not because we have to, but rather that we get to.

The freedom that I mentioned at the top has grown from this last point. Giving is an act of obedience, not obligation. With my heart positioned in this way, giving becomes a joy because I know that obedience to God in any matter brings joy to him. And my personal belief is that when we come to obey in these areas that were especially difficult to give up or move away from, His joy is even greater.

Please understand, we are not living some austere life as we follow God’s direction. To the contrary, we are blessed with so much more than we ever have had before. The thing is that the blessings these days are not measured in material wealth, but rather in the deep assurance of God’s sovereignty over our lives.

My advice to any who ask me about the topic of finances is this: Live within your means and always remember to thank God for all He gives you. My willingness to give back to Him sprung from the development of an attitude of gratitude toward all He provides me. I present no formula for success. But I do share with you the joy of the freedom that came (and stays) to my life when I placed the importance of God over the importance of money. The freedom I speak of has been purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. The joy is in living this out in all aspects of life.

As always, any thoughts you want to share on this topic are welcome. I would enjoy some dialogue on this.

Thanks for reading. Be blessed and be a blessing,

Pastor Chuck

Bye Bye!

See the source image(Image courtesy of funcheaporfree.com)

No, I’m not leaving the blogosphere.  Rather, I used that title for this entry in hopes of grabbing your attention about an issue many, many people don’t like to talk about, family finances.  Living this life as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ has brought us many blessings.  If I were to make a list of them (you know how I love to do that!), the financial freedom Betsy and I have experienced would be toward the very top.

Please understand that this has been a process, as there has been no supernatural deposits into our checking account of the years.  As God has grown our faith, we have, together, come to a much clearer understanding of how to use our finances for His glory.

With regard to the process I mentioned, we undertook the task of paying down our debt some 5 years ago.  The inspiration for this entry came yesterday, as we mailed in the payment that eliminated all of our credit card debt.

Re-arranging our financial priorities has not always been easy.  Many simple home-cooked meals have replaced the dining out we both so enjoy.  The vehicles we drive are functional, not flashy.  We’ve also discovered that a few relaxing hours fishing on the local river satisfies for us the wanting to get away on some expensive vacation.

To be clear, I find nothing wrong with nice cars or enjoyable getaways.  My point is that as we discover more of the depth of joy in living simply to honor God in all things, the contentment He then gives us moves these other things way down the priority list.

As I said, this process has not always been easy, but the approach to it is quite simple.  Household finances, like any other area in family life, are best served when there is frequent and honest discussions about them.  When we keep each other aware of our thoughts/concerns/questions about the budget, potential bumps on the road are avoided or drastically reduced because we have been open with each other regarding money.

I have found through my discussions and counsel with couples that the single greatest hurdle to financial contentment in the home is the idea of having ‘my money’ v. ‘her money’ or ‘my’ v. his.’ This set-up, by its very nature, is a fertile breeding ground for anxiety and resentment.  The goal of the common good is often swept away as one partner feels overly burdened by bills, resenting the lack of help toward paying them from the partner.

From the outset of our life as followers of the Lord Jesus, Betsy and I have maintained that the income brought in is to be pooled, not kept separate.  Through the years, we have been blessed by this simple system.  By taking on the challenge of our finances as a couple, we have been able to teach each other lessons along the way that have helped us grow closer as a team as God continues to draw us closer to Him.

Above and beyond paying the bills, our primary financial purpose is to bring glory and honor to God by handling our money as the gift it truly is; from Him! One example of this is the paying off of the credit card bill which frees up money that was being spent to pay the high interest rate attached to it.  This ‘new-found’ cash will now be used to support local charities, for example.

Another important aspect of our family budget has been the faithful maintaining of the tithe to the local church.  There is not a legalistic bone in either of our bodies, so we don’t give to the church out of some type of obligation (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 for more on this!). Rather, we choose to give back in this way as one way to bring the before mentioned honor to God.  Because we do follow the biblical concept of bringing the first fruits to God as an offering, we write the tithe check before any other bills get paid.

Let me share one last thought, especially with those who may be interested in this, but can’t see any way it will work for you.  First of all, “Yes you can!” This is not an insurmountable mountain,  rather it is a steep, but climbable hill.  Here’s the encouragement: Betsy and I have made our greatest strides with regard to our finances in the last 3 years, when we, by choice, became a one income family.  I stepped away from my good paying 40 or more hour per week job as a painter so that I could do ministry the stuff full-time (with no paycheck!).  Betsy’s income as an executive in a not-for-profit organization here in Fulton provides us with what we need.

Please know that the decision to drop to one income was not made lightly or quickly.  We spent many hours in prayer and discussion about our financial picture, going over our expenses with a fine-toothed comb, looking for areas we could reduce.  God blessed this time of preparation as He got our hearts and minds more in-sync with His plans for us.  He is faithful to do the same for you!

If you have questions or want to discuss this further, feel free to email me at pastorchuck38@gmail.com  I will gladly, and confidentially, listen.

Blessings and thanks for reading,

Pastor Chuck