Reading Through The Bible in 2011, Part 57

What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 8-9.

What Stood Out About What I Read Today: 2 Corinthians 8: 9-14, “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that although he was rich, he became poor for your sakes, so that you by his poverty could become rich. So here is my opinion on this matter: It is to your advantage, since you made a good start last year both in your giving and your desire to give, to finish what you started, so that just as you wanted to do it eagerly, you can also complete it according to your means. For if the eagerness is present, the gift itself is acceptable according to whatever one has, not according to what he does not have. For I do not say this so there would be relief for others and suffering for you, but as a matter of equality. At the present time, your abundance will meet their need, so that one day their abundance may also meet your need, and thus there may be equality…”

Random Thoughts About What I Read:

I didn’t realize that I’d been given a very healthy view of giving to the church…or to missions…or to the building campaign, or whatever. In fact, the Bible church that I was a part of during my formative years was highly focused on being joyful when you were doing. I did, in fact, give joyfully out of my paycheck, first from Green Valley Country Club and later from Cobb’s Hoover Square 6 Theaters. I never thought about amounts…just made a mental calculation in my brain of how much was in my bank account and how much I might need in that week and gave whatever seemed to make sense that week. I was glad to be a part of paying the pastors and for the air conditioning and the kids ministry and the various missionaries we supported. It seemed fair, and I had plenty.

In fact, I had to ask my friends in my small group (part of another organization) what they meant during a discussion we were having on giving, exactly what was “tithing.” They showed me. Basically it came out to 10% of their paycheck. For some reason, without question, I started deducting 10% from my paycheck.

Eventually, my giving tapered off.

It wasn’t fun anymore.

I began to resent it, too. Hence, the tapering off.

It wasn’t until later that it came up in college when we talked about giving. Some of us didn’t have jobs and others did, so we discussed it. Basically, we researched tithing for a few weeks. I landed back on joyful giving…but I didn’t really have any money that was my own to give, but when I had a few extra bucks, I was glad to give the guy that was discipling me a few bucks to take his girlfriend out or treat him to a CD every now and then. It was fun again.

And never thought about again, really. Even when I was a part of a ministry that raised funds from believers to do the work of the ministry, I simply assumed that people were joyfully giving to the work we were doing and happy to be a part of it.

Then I got a job in a denomination that diligently teaches 10% tithing across the board. Interestingly, they wanted me to be seen as more than a youth minister so they asked me to teach an adult Sunday School class…and we were going through this very book/passage.

I didn’t know the Molotov cocktail this little question would become: “So, what you’re saying is that you don’t tithe?”

I answered honestly. I also happened to ask a question along the lines of that if tithing were a part of the spiritual life don’t you think that Jesus or Paul would’ve brought it up? Needless to say, I followed up with my belief that if you were to add up all the giving the Israelites were asked to do (which is far beyond the 10% mentioned in Malachi, the tither’s key passage) it would come out to somewhere between 25% and 35% of their income, depending on the amount they made. Lots of festivals and every other year giving for the poor and some other odds and ends would make it that way. Of course, the rant continued with the fact that I think 10% could be limiting…I mean, what if someone was only giving that basic level when they could actually give away 75% joyfully and still be faithful to their other demands and goals? For good measure, I threw in my initial joyful giving story and what tithing did to it.

Obviously, I was excited to enlighten my brothers and sisters in Christ on the research we’d done in college as well as my current understanding I was garnering at seminary.

You got it.

There was a meeting on Monday.

Let’s just say that there was a pretty direct line of questioning on all this. This particular denomination took this very seriously. Unfortunately, the pastor hadn’t really studied much about it and he was starting to defend his position and we’d have a bit of give and take on the matter. He was starting to get curious. After about an hour of looking up verses and chatting, he actually said, “Well, that does make sense. And, I do think you can back up what you believe. So, I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree. But the official position of this church is that giving 10% across the board is what will be taught in our pulpits and classrooms. Let’s be honest, if you’re a mature believer, joyful giving works. But we have to get these baby Christians to give their 10% before they can understand that.”

They sent out a letter to all Sunday School teachers and ministry leaders that if they weren’t giving 10% they would be asked to step down from their leadership positions.

I didn’t like that…so me and another staff person decided we’d start giving cash.

The pastor asked us both why our giving had gone from one level to another in the last month. We told him we were giving in cash because we didn’t think it should be monitored. We were having our own little protest.

He informed us we needed to use the cash giving envelopes so they’d have a record for tax purposes. We told him we didn’t care about the tax deduction.

They started taking it out of our paycheck.

See where all this went?

Before all this started, I was a happy camper. Now I was back to grudgingly giving…even moreso now that I was being strong-armed.

I even recoiled during my current church’s initial building campaign. Thankfully, our staff was like-minded on things like not having thermometers in the auditorium and all those kinds of things. But we hired a church consulting firm to guide us through such a “big-ticket” deal. At their advice (they were the experts and we were paying them, right?) we held a big luncheon with a slide show (back when those were harder to make than they are now) and a big old “Kick Off” way of thinking where people could make their initial donations and such.

Thankfully, our staff was like-minded in our thoughts about that event: We didn’t think it was “us.” Sure, it was a quality event. Sure, it rallied the troops. Sure, it gave us some nice start-up giving. Make no mistake, this company is good at what they do and certainly did what we asked them to do. But in our review of the event, it still didn’t “feel like us.” Someone actually asked in the staff meeting if we could just stand up in front of the church, tell them how much we need and what it’s going to go to and how we’re going to minister to people more effectively because of it and just trust God to bring us what we need? That wasn’t me, by the way…but he said what I was thinking.

That became our plan of action. Beyond tithing, I simply don’t like anything about giving unless it’s presented in a joyful way. this was. We even had people thank us for the approach, even if it took a few months longer than we thought and caused a few changes to building plans/designs along the way. Nothing major…but still.

Yeah.

I know.

My church also uses a course from a well-known Christian money manager who spends 55 minutes of video teaching on the importance of that 10%. I approved that class (back when I was in CE) on the condition that they would send an elder in after that portion of the course to teach what my current church believes about…

…joyful giving.

They did. Still do as far as I know (I’m not in CE anymore). But I was dead serious. I don’t care if you spend the first 5 minutes of the video saying that every church doesn’t teach this and they need to check with their elders. The 55 minutes of emphasis certainly buries that belief. In fact, I have a former student who works for that very organization writing curriculum. I should call him. Nonetheless, it’s nice to work for a church that has a document saying we believe in joyful giving.

But the point is, folks, give joyfully to causes you love and causes you believe in with all your heart and that you want to be a part of. Let’s be honest, shall we? Nobody really likes getting a Christmas gift that the giver really didn’t want to give, right? And if you joyfully tithe, well, rock on…You have major denominations and big-time radio hosts in your corner. It’s all good.

Really.

It is.

Let’s just all give to the Lord’s work joyfully. Or save your cash, man. Seriously.

(Tomorrow’s Reading: 2 Corinthians 10-11)

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