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

Being a Joyful Giver

As I continue sharing some thoughts on tithing, the giving of 10% to the local church you call home, it is my hope that if this an area of struggle for you, my experiences might shed some light on to the freedom one can find when being obedient to God’s commands regarding your finances.  I say finances because in our time it is far more practical to give monetarily as opposed to bringing in the first fruits of our labors like the largely agrarian society of biblical times did.

As I mentioned last time, I do not teach that tithing is something one must do as some sort of obligation.  I base my teaching/counselling on this topic on what the Apostle Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7: Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7 Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver (NIV).

These verses indicate that God is far more concerned with our heart position than He is with us meeting some mathematical formula of what we owe Him.  When looked at in this light, the scripture seems quite clear; to give what we have decided in our heart to give.  Hence, the importance of our heart position toward God.  I firmly believe that how we feel about, and handle our finances, goes a long way in revealing our heart attitude toward God.

As I share what my wife and I have experienced as faithful givers to the local church, I do so in order that you too might find the joy in giving as we have.  Another important point at the start; we don’t give to receive a blessing(s) from God as if the tithe were like some employer matching your donation to a retirement fund.  Having said that, I do firmly believe that God does bless those whose heart is glad to give.  Here’s how He it did it for us.

As I have mentioned before, I had lived a ruinous life in the death grip of alcoholism through the first 8 years of our marriage.  During that spree of destruction, I managed to dig a very deep financial hole for us.  As a business owner I had failed to meet my tax obligations to both the State of New York and the Federal government to the tune of over $100,000 (in 1991).  By God’s mercy I was able to find good employment soon after becoming sober and we, as a family, set out to clear the books.

Some six years later, we were able accomplish this.  There was no fanfare, just the satisfaction of knowing we had used what God provided in such a way as to pay off the debt.  From the start, through my wife’s gentle urging, we tithed our income.  We didn’t have some deep understanding of the Scriptures, but we knew from where things were coming from.  We gave the 10% because it was the right thing to do.  We gave it without any expectations of reward or blessing, we were simply being obedient to what the Scriptures said.

We had our two children by this time, and though we kept them in good clothes and always had food to eat, we had set absolutely no money aside for their future college expenses.  It was in this that God showed His mighty and faithful hand at work.

Our oldest child was a sophomore in High School when I landed the job as Facilities Painter at Le Moyne College.  One of the benefits of employment at the college is the ability to have your children/spouse go to school there tuition free.  The only condition is that you must be employed three years to receive this benefit; the exact number of years before our oldest would start!

There is another verse from Scripture that is often quoted during teachings about tithing: “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.” (Malachi 3:10) NIV.

Obviously, the prophet was speaking about bringing in the first fruits of the crops, but the principle is the same today.  We were obedient to bring the tithe of our earnings each week, and God did indeed bless us.  I bring your attention to the latter part of the verse above where God says He will give so much blessing for obedience in this matter that you won’t have room for it all.  In the case of our oldest child, we received full tuition remission because of my employment at the school.  Here’s the overflow part; our son also earned a full scholarship because of his SAT scores! We were blessed beyond what we had need for.  We believe without any doubt that this is a tangible expression of God’s faithfulness.  He made the promise and then He fulfilled it, as written!

As wonderful as this account is, it really isn’t the true blessing that we have found by being faithful in our giving.  The result has been that we are the ‘joyful givers’ that I mentioned at the top.  As we came to more fully understand God’s provision, it became natural for us to want to give back the first fruits (off the top) of our labors.

From this attitude grew a deeper trust in God’s provision and care for us in all things.  This resulted in a wonderful freedom from the pursuit of fulfillment through material things.  We are more than happy to drive a seven-year-old car.  We find more satisfaction is doing for others than taking extravagant vacations.  I’ve got nothing against vacations, but when we do travel, we make the effort beforehand to save some money to cover expenses.

The bottom line, if you’ll pardon the pun, is that we have chosen to be obedient to God’s Word regarding giving.  The result of this is having the burden of worry about finances lifted from us.  Simply put, we are thankful to God for the employment opportunities He gives us, and we show our gratitude by giving back to Him what is truly His anyway, which, by the way, is what tithing is all about!

 

 

Giving Money to the Church?

 

The subject of money is usually touchy for most people.  For those involved with a local church, it can get downright divisive.  The idea of tithing, the giving of 10% of your income to the church, sparks many a debate.

I truly understand the difficulty that the concept of giving money causes so many.  I had plenty of reservations about it at the beginning of my life of faith.  With a sheepish grin these days I can recall my questioning of the first church leader who brought this subject up to my wife and me.  “Who decided on 10%,” I self-righteously asked.  It seemed like a random choice to me until this person gently explained that the word tithe means 10%.

Also, we were having trouble enough making ends meet.  As I have written of before, my riotous life as an active alcoholic had brought us just past the point of financial disaster.  Now that my life was becoming livable again through sobriety, I was concentrating on paying off the large debts I had incurred while now trying to properly take care of my family.  There didn’t appear to be anything left over to give away to anyone, let alone a church.

Since those early days as a Christian, what tithing is (and isn’t) has become quite clear to me.  Some of the things it is not are: an attempt to curry favor with the Almighty.  You do not have to give a specific amount before you can expect God to bless you.  As a matter of fact, the greatest blessings I have received have had nothing to do with finances.

Tithing also is not simply a ‘box’ to be checked as if it were some way to pay for your salvation (Indulgences went out a long time ago).  I encourage folks who have a church body they call home to support it both monetarily and with an investment of their time.  Ministry just doesn’t happen; things need to be paid for, the building(s) kept up and teaching resources bought, to name just a few.  These must be accompanied with the donation of time, less any thing the church purchases for kingdom work collect the dust of not being used.

What tithing is: An ongoing opportunity to be obedient to God, and not in a 10% kind of way, either.  Being joyfully willing to give 10% (or whatever amount) off the top is the key.  As time goes on, I realize how much I have because of God’s redeeming love for me.  With this deeper understanding/appreciation of who God is and what He has done for me, I desire less of the shiny things of this world.  Those things are merely distractions that want to keep my attention from God.

The key to becoming a joyful tither, at least in my experience, is to comprehend what it is that God is looking for from us in this regard.  The Old Testament is full of examples of the Israelite’s bringing the ‘first fruits’ of their crops as a gift to God.  I didn’t have any sense of what this meant at the start.  As I said, when first considering this idea I looked for left over money after all the bills were paid.  That is the opposite of first fruits.  I have learned, over time, that God wants my giving to be off the top because I recognize everything I have or earn comes from Him in the first place.

That’s all well and good, you might be thinking, but what about my bills.  Don’t I have to pay them? The answer is of course yes.  I never recommend someone give to a church instead of paying their heat and electric bill.  What I do recommend to folks I have this discussion with is to honestly look at the way they are spending their discretionary money.

Here’s how things changed for me once I did this: After I had read the verses from God’s word that were suggested about tithing, I felt my heart begin to change about giving in general.  It no longer looked like a fool’s game to me, but yet I still couldn’t see how I was going to be able to give anything.  Though I was beginning to see what the meaning was of giving back to God, the bottom line of the household budget still didn’t reconcile to giving any percentage of our earnings away.

It was at this point in my life when I heard yet another teaching about tithing.  This one was different, however.  Oh, it still used Malachi 3:6-11 to make its biblical case for giving back to God, but this speaker brought the entire issue to a personal level for me.  I heard him ask, ‘What is it you spend your disposable income on?’  For the first time, as that sank in, I began to see my spending was conformed to my ideals, not God’s.

After all, I made all my monthly payments plus the penalty and interest that accrued from my destructive drinking.  Both the IRS and the State of New York were quite insistent that I pay all the back taxes I owed.  God blessed me/us with a good paying job that enabled me to eventually come clean with both those government agencies.

So what was I spending my money on? Why was there still nothing to give to the church I now called home? It took and honest look at my expenditures to reveal the painful truth.

What I discovered was that while I was being good with our money, my personal concerns and comforts were still in the forefront of my mind.  The bills were being paid on time because I was working so hard to do it.  From this self-centered approach came a slightly trickier one; my kids and wife (and I) deserved take out dinners 2 or 3 times a week.  Have I mentioned I was still smoking cigarettes at this time? I certainly needed them to keep going at the wonderful new pace I was working.

As I began to ponder these things, I realized that I had placed them in an ‘untouchable’ category in our budget as if they were fixed expenses.  It was easy to do, as life was becoming such a joy to live and these types of things seemed to make everyone happier still.  Yet I discovered that at the heart of the issue was still my lingering selfishness.  This was my money I was working hard for and I would spend it on these ‘necessities’ before I would give money to church.

I came to realize that walking out this faith I was professing to have would require some changes on my part; primarily that I truly start thinking of others before myself (Philippians 2:3-4).  Doing this allowed me to get to the place where I could, cautiously, begin to tithe.  Next time I will share some of the many blessings God has poured out on us because of our faithful lives that have included tithing to the local church.

Thanks for reading.  I would love to hear your thoughts about tithing.