Sunday, September 30, 2007

Your Money and Your Life #9: Give the Firstfruits

Now, like me, you live in America where wealth is a premium value – or at least acting like you have it is. Comfort is king. We are expected to pursue wealth and spend money. Our culture wars against the thought that wealth isn’t king. How do we stem the tidal wave of our culture’s values? How do we put wealth in its place? How do we find that middle ground of “neither poverty nor riches”?

Start by doing something really difficult. Give the firstfruits of your wealth. We’ve looked at the attitudes, particularly humility, and the need to put wealth in its place. But that’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Thankfully God gives us tools to help us do it. Namely, the tithe.

Proverbs 3:9 Honor the LORD with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; 10 then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine.
Give a portion to Him … your first portion. It isn’t that He needs it – Scripture tells us He owns the cattle on a 1000 hills. It isn’t His need, I need to give, you need to give. We’ll be blessed when you do. In Donald Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz, Donald, after a humorous run-in with an unlikely tithing friend, tells of his confession to his pastor, Rick, that he didn’t tithe:

Rick had come over to the house, and we were lying about how much we could bench-press, and then I just blurted it out, “I am not giving any money to the church, Rick. Not a dime.”
“Okay,” he said. “Interesting way to change the conversation. Why?” he asked. “Why aren’t you giving any money to the church?”
“Because I don’t have any money. Everything goes to rent and groceries.”
“That sounds like a tough situation,” he said, very compassionately.
“So am I exempt?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said. “We want your cash.”
“How much? I asked.
“How much do you make?”
“I don’t know. About a thousand a month, maybe”
“Then we want a hundred.
And you should also know how much you make. Part of the benefit of giving a portion of your money is it makes you think about where your money goes. God does not want us to be sloppy with our finances, Don.”
“But I need money for rent.”
“You also need to trust God.”
“I know. I just think it would be easier to trust God if I had extra money to trust Him with.”
“That would not be faith, then, would it?”
“Well, bud, I just want you to know I hate this part of the job, ‘cause it sounds like I am asking for your money. I don’t care whether or not we have your money. Our needs are met. I want to tell you that you are missing out on so much, Don.”
“So much what?”
“The fruit of obedience,” he said, looking very pastoral. “When we do what God wants us to do, we are blessed, we are spiritually healthy. God wants us to give a portion of our money to His work on earth. By setting aside money from every check, you are trusting God to provide. He wants you to get over that fear – that fear of trusting Him. It is a scary place, but that is where you have to go as a follower of Christ. There are times when my wife and I don’t have enough money to cover bills, but we know the first bill, the first payment we make, is to the church. That is most important. If the other bills get neglected, then we need to watch how we are spending money. And there are times when we have found ourselves in that situation. But it works out. We are getting good at trusting God, and we are getting good at managing money.”
The next week I emptied my checking account, which had about eight dollars in it,
and I gave it to the church. Another check came a few days later, and I gave 10 percent of that to the church, then I got another writing gig with a magazine in Atlanta, and as I deposited that check into my account I wrote a check to the church. One after another, I started getting called to speak at retreats and conferences that usually pay pretty well, and each time I would write a check to the church. Since then, since that conversation with Rick, I have given at least 10 percent of every dollar I make, just like Curt. And I have never not had rent. For more than a year my checking account had hovered or dipped just over or just under zero, and suddenly I had money to spare. I decided I would open a savings account in case some day I would get married and have a family, and with each bit of money that came in I would give 10 percent to the church and 10 percent to the savings account. I was actually budgeting money. I had never done that before. But that is not the best part. The best part is what tithing has done for my relationship with God. Before, I felt like I was always going to God with my fingers crossed, the way a child feels around his father when he knows he has told terrible lies. God knew where I was, He didn’t love me any different when I was holding out on Him, it’s just that I didn’t feel clean around Him, and you know how that can affect things. (And he goes on a bit from there…)

This isn’t just a proverbs thing, either. Malachi 3:10 is pretty clear: “Bring the full tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.”

This is a discipline in knowing that it isn’t your money, it’s God’s, and we need to learn to trust Him with His money. Because it is ultimately His, not ours. It isn’t your wealth, it is God’s that He’s given you as a steward. I like what Miller’s pastor said. Our needs are taken care of.

At our church we have a big budget for this coming year, big plans, that depend on giving, faithful tithing. God will provide for what He wants done. But there’s bigger things than meeting budget. The thing about 400-500 people tithing that would make Satan tremble is not the church budget. It is 400-500 people who are willing to trust God in one of the areas we’re often last to be obedient in. It is the symbol of an army of people who are mobilizing to stomp Satan because it reveals our obedience to God – even in the tough stuff, even if we would rather buy some flashy new technology or a new outfit.

Tithing is as much a gift to us as it is to God. Probably more. It shows us whose money it is. It teaches us how to trust. It teaches us who or what to place our trust in.

What are the challenges you face in tithing? What are the joys you experience in it?

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