We like to flaunt it, hate to talk about it and never have enough of it.
It's the least popular sermon topic, even though the use of our money and possessions is one of Jesus' most frequent topics.
The denomination I belong to often tops the list in surveys of how much people give to their church. But as a whole our denomination is somewhere around 4%; most denominations have people who average giving 2%.
Tonight at church Pastor Jan strongly spoke about giving (and I applaud her for doing so bravely). She urged us to look at what we're giving, to have heartfelt talks with our spouses (making sure we're actually talking with each other about our income and expenses) and step up our giving. It's a matter of faith. Do we put more trust in God or in our money? Do we fear giving too much or do we fear God? Do we trust God to provide all our needs or do we hold tightly to what we have?
If you'll permit me, I'll get personal for a moment. We decided early on in our marriage to give 10% of our gross income to whatever church we attended. It's never been easy. For most of our thirteen years together we've lived mostly on one income with salaries mostly between $20k and $35k. For a few jobs, I was blessed with having housing provided as part of my work. We've always lived very frugally--grocery shopping at Aldi, buying clothes from thrift shops or on sale at outlets, going to the cheap theater if we go out, rarely eating out--and we've never been without our basic needs. Despite raising a family on one income, we've paid off college and car loans. We've been without work at more than one point during our marriage, but never been able to be on unemployment. We were only able to buy a house this summer because our income was low enough (our mortgage is less than our rent was). And yes, our house is full. I would love to replace our hand-me-down couches as some point, but they do their job. Thrift shops, cheap auctions and curbside finds have supplied us with more than we really need. And we try to take good care of what we have. I know there are people in our neighborhood who think we must have money because we have a new house and decent things. Yet, we buy groceries with WIC checks and Anders gets reduced-price meals at school. We haven't rented a movie in years--we wait until we're able to get what we want at the library (I think we waited almost a year to see the movie Juno after it came out).
That money we put in the offering every other week (depending on when paychecks arrive) would be very useful. We could pay down the interest on our mortgage payments, not worry about eating as cheaply as possible and even see inside some of the theaters in downtown Minneapolis. But we're committed to our tithe. Not because of any sort of legalism, but because it's how we want to live. Actually, we want to give more than that. We want to be able to sponsor kids through Compassion International like we have in the past. We want to support our friends who are missionaries.
Here's the thing: Jesus never commands us to tithe. It's an Old Testament concept that New Testament Christians would have probably followed, but Jesus doesn't really talk about it (other than "woeing" the Pharisees who give a tenth of their spices but neglect justice). The word "tithe" doesn't even show up in the New Testament in the NIV.
Instead, Jesus calls us to follow and trust Him fully. Instead of tithing, He is more likely to tell people to give away everything they have. He invites us to follow His example of generosity and stewardship.
And so, I've got a ways to go. More often I find myself worrying about finances or being jealous of those who seem to have more. I don't fully trust God all the time. I try to be generous with what I have, but sometimes I cling to "stuff" too tightly. But the offering basket allows me an opportunity each week to tell God, "I trust you with all I have. It all comes from You; it is all Yours to begin with. Money is not my first priority." After all, it is not our sacrifices He wants (though we may be expected to give sacrificially), but our hearts and our lives. A fullness of life awaits when we turn it all over to Him, trusting Him fully and following His example in living and loving.