Friday, May 2, 2008

Who really tithes anyway?

This will be the first of a two part series on tithing. I've come across a great blog entry and message about tithing and I want to pass it along and to start a conversation.

Disclaimer: I do not work on commission. My salary is set (it's been the same for 2 years) and it doesn't fluctuate with our church's giving. So this is not about raising my salary, it's about experiencing God's best in our lives.

Now I realize money is a taboo topic, but since the Bible talks more about money than prayer and faith combined and Jesus himself talked more about money than anything else, I'm willing to have an open conversation about the topic. I found a great entry on Bil Cornelius' blog today. I met Bil at the Evolve Conference. He's a great leader with a great heart and he's an amazing communicator. I'm going to post his blog entry below and then ask a few questions.

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Too Good
I was just about to drop a new blog when this came across my desk. This blog is from a faithful member of our church, and obvious supporter of our ministry. If you are a leader in any way, you should take the minute or so it will take to read this:...money talks.
I just returned home from a birthday party for a three year old. In researching my new business venture, I've priced the different things that are made available for birthday parties. I'm probably underestimating the cost of the party to be $400. On a three year old. If the parents were to read this they'd probably scoff, I wish $400.....the cost alone was not my issue. It was coupled with the really large presents people were bringing. I'm quite sure some of the gift bags cost more than what we spent on our gift, again not the entirety of my issue.
The conversation came around to where people go to church. The second Bay Area came out of my mouth, the talk turned to money. They are always asking for money. The crowd cheers when they announce offering. Money, money, money. One lady made the comment that they were used to putting in their wadded up dollar, "so people saw" them putting in something, and this church was asking for $1,000/year for three years. OMG. Who tithes anyway. "We do". That stopped the conversation quite quickly.
These are the same people who were talking about how many Vera Bradley bags they had, and "Have you gotten the Coach clutch?" Not my normal crowd I guess. No money left after birthday parties and purses.
I haven't noticed the constant money talk at Bay Area. I do know that they ask for it, but it hasn't really bothered me that they do so, since we've been giving. We're the ones who cheer when they announce offering. It's not weird when you are on the tithing side of things. When they were asking for $1000/year we committed to a double tithe, based on the salary of a job that we didn't have at the time. It was more than $1000/year, but we believed that we'd get the job, and the salary bump would be bigger than a 10% bump in giving. I'm not saying that we promised to give in order to get a "raise", but rather we knew God would give it to us if he could give through us. It's worked out well for us. But not at first.
When we first started giving we didn't get the job when promised. Not the first month, not the second month, not the third month. We still gave the first month, the second month and the third month. We have not had any real money problems since. Of course we've had some issues and what not, but there aren't any starving naked kids running around the house. Even a couple of weeks ago we got a letter from our insurance company, they were dropping us because our roof appeared to be an overlay. Turns out overlays haven't been legal since 1993 or something, and the previous owner should have put on a new roof when we bought it six years ago, yadda yadda yadda. This was immediately after promising an attorney several thousands of dollars to adopt our kids, and getting ready to start a business. None of which we can "afford". We're doing what we can, but are relying on God to come up with enough money to pay the attorney, repair our house, start a business, and feed the kids. I don't really want the Coach clutch, but I'm sure He'd throw it in too.
God allows us to test him in the tithe. I'm sure that four years ago when we first committed to giving seriously, it probably was a little bit of a test on our part. I also am pretty sure my crowd tithes. We don't discuss it but their kids are neither starving or naked. The whole "can't afford to tithe" argument goes out window when you have two Lexus' and live in the Lakes. Tithing is not for rich people. 10% is 10% and we get really excited when a tithe has a comma in it, it means good things for us. I'm actually looking forward to the day I can put two commas in a tithe check. Then they'll say "well, if I had ten million, it'd be easy".
I think the problem us humans have is we are used to mathematical accounting. We use the God accounting system and it nets more somehow. So, who tithes anyway, we do, we can't afford not to.
Posted at 02:16 PM

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Too Good? Pretty amazing considering your blogroll. Thanks for the nod.
Posted by: Annie April 28, 2008 at 04:09 PM
This is AMAZING! Thank you SOOOOOOOO MUCH for sharing!
I, too, am one of the crowd that cheers at offering time. It is a BLESSING to give to God! And sometimes it is more than 10%, and sometimes my bank account says no...but God says YES! So, I do. In the end, I know that He will Bless! Not because I gave to get (which I didn't), but because I have chosen to be obedient to His Word. THAT'S enough!
Thanks again for the inspiration!
Posted by: Susan April 28, 2008 at 07:09 PM
I am also a cheerful (cheering) giver of the tithe. I am just trusting God and so far ,He hasn't let me down. Sometimes I don't know how I'm going to be able to pay the bills but I know that God will somehow make it enough.I'm not even afraid when things are really bad, like the house payment went up $300 due to an escrow shortage and there is not very much in the bank. I have had alot and didn't tithe, now I don't have very much and I tithe.I have learned to be content in any situation because I know that God will provide my every need! I made bad choices before(with money) and I believe that God is teaching me how to be a better steward of the resources that He entrusts to me. I will not listen to the enemy when he lies to me and tells me I can't give to God first. I will not mishandle my seed anymore! I will continue to sow my seed into the good soil of BAF through tithes, offerings and service.I can't wait till next Sunday's offering time to sow some seed into God's Kingdom! Yeah!!!

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Here are some thoughts:
I think it's awesome that people celebrate their offering, kind of like Mars Hill cheering when Rob Bell says, "if you're giving an offering, there are joy boxes in the back." What would it look like for us to do that?

I realize this is going to sound brash, but I believe we can all tithe. If we're submitting to the "b" word (budget) and tracking our spending, we can give away at least 10% of our income. I also believe it requires serious lifestyle changes, though. We'll never be able to get everything we want (no matter our income), so saying 'yes' to a tithe means we must say 'no' to something else. I also believe that unless we're tracking every dollar we spend, we don't know where our money goes and we'll live under this constant fear of not having enough and a constant guilt from not giving. We can't just write a tithe check and then blow the rest of our money saying, "God will provide." That's not the point.

I think it's hilarious that Bil's church is the church that "is always asking for money." I also found it interesting that the person telling this story didn't think the church was "always asking for money." It was the people spending every last dollar they made on unnecessary stuff for their kids that complained about the church "asking for money." That's both funny and sad.

I agree with the line, "tithing is not for rich people." My parents were dirt poor, but tithed and we never went naked and we always had food. It's NOT a coincidence that when this family began putting God first, they never lacked for anything they needed. God's math is different than our math. 90% of our paycheck, with God in control, goes so much further than 100% with us in control. On paper, it may seem impossible to tithe, but God will come through in ways we don't expect. I really, really, really believe that!!!!!

I thought the responses were as interesting as the actual post, which is why I'd love to have a conversation about this. What do you think? Is the tithe biblical or is it something made up by the institution to support the institution? What are good reasons to tithe? Why don't people tithe? Are there legit reasons not to tithe? Is it a sin not to tithe? Is it oppressive to expect people to tithe? I realize that my above comments reveal my position on tithing, but I'd really like to open up this conversation.

I know this blog is read by people at all different points in their spiritual journey, so any non-anonymous comments are welcome, although I reserve the right to counter any points made in the comments.

Who really does tithe anyway?

11 comments:

Keri said...

I have to say that I have asked how much you are "supposed" to give to many people since starting my church going jouney about a month ago. I remember being little and my mom giving me a dollar or a quarter so that I could put it in the offering tray growing up. I just knew that I was supposed to give more than a quarter so I started asking. I heard the 10% "rule" but I also heard to give what your comfortable with. I know I haven't stretched high enough for the 10% rule............but am hoping as things become more comfortable and clearer to me in my journey I will get closer. Thanks for a post that made me think!

Donnie Miller said...

Keri,
Let me say it's an honor that you've started your "church journey" at TFC!
I'm glad this post made you think, my next post will share a few more biblical ideas on the tithe.
And you're exactly right on about "the journey." Our walk with Christ is a journey, God will continue to guide you in what he wants you to do. When he calls you to take the step of faith toward a tithe, it will be the right time. When God shows you the next step - take it, the next step after that - take it. It's all about the journey. Keep taking steps!

Travis said...

I guess I have a few questions because I am new to tithing with Keri. They are from different angles so they may come off a little random but you made me think!!!
Is it considered a sin to not tithe? Where does the 10% rule come from? Are there references in the bible saying you are supposed to tithe or is it something we just have to do to keep the church open? Where does the money go, other than the things I know like rent and salaries? I'm sure I will come up with a few more but those are the questions that popped into my head right now.

Anonymous said...

I'll add to the conversation as a long-time church attender and follower of Christ and as one who is unwillingly withholding tithe. I say "unwillingly" because I would like to tithe. I am one of the people stating that my family can't afford it. We have made a LOT of bad financial decisions in the past. The end result is a very large mountain of debt. So here is MY question. What if I give and I simply don't have enough money left over? Is there a biblical mandate for God to meet my financial needs? Can you tell me that if I give sacrificially and there really ISN'T "enough" money to meet my needs (housing, transportation, food, utilities, etc) that God has some sort of mandate to meet my needs? Because I am thinking no. That God is asking for the sacrifice no matter what the cost may be. And that just might be a step I am not ready to take yet. Or are you saying that it is a leap of faith where God won't let me fall behind on house payment, will provide a method of transportation, provide enough to feed my family, etc. as long as I am being faithful to God and to a budget?

Donnie Miller said...

Travis,
Great questions, man! I'll just go through them one by one.
I do think that for someone who has been a follower of Jesus for a long time and knows that tithing is the right thing to do, yes it is a sin not to tithe.

I'll talk more about the 10% standard (better word than rule) in my next post. But for the New Testament, Jesus makes reference to the tithe and just assumes it's the right thing to do, Matthew 23:23-24. Jesus doesn't diss them for tithing, he says that tithing alone isn't the point. Just becuase we tithe (as Jesus assumes his people are to do) we aren't off the hook from "the more important aspects of the law - justice, mercy and faith."
There is then 2 Corinthians 8 and 9, where Paul is calling the church in Corinth to generously share with others. He doesn't mention a tithe but he does call people to sacrificial giving. Which, for most affluent Americans who are truly managing their money a tithe is both doable and sacrificial. He may also not have mentioned the tithe because the offering was for other churches, beyond what the people were already giving to their local church. So, yes the bible does assume we're to tithe.

Where does the money go? The Old Testament idea of the tithe was that it went to the temple so the temple could feed the priest (who lead the people) and feed the poor. In the New Testament, the temple is no longer the central representative of God's body on earth, but now the church is the body of Christ. So the tithe is given to the local church. The book of Acts talks about the offerings to the local church being used to feed the widows. So, it's very clear the people's tithe is for taking care of the poor, in addition to running the church. So, yes, a part of a tithe goes to pay rent and salaries, but not all of it. The church is to be the body of Jesus in the world, finding ways to serve the community, so of course that takes money to make it happen.

Hope that helps.

Donnie Miller said...

Anonymous,
I don't usually post anonymous comments, but your comment wasn't the usual pot-shot that most anonymous comments are, I'm assuming it was anonymous because of the sensitive nature of your question.

I listen to the Dave Ramsey show all the time. People often call up and are emotionally exhuasted, saying things like, "I've got no choice but to declare bankruptcy." Dave never accepts that right away (although at times he does admit bankruptcy may be the only way out), he always asks two question, "what's your debt" and "what's your income." He then talks with the caller about the wonderful 'b' word - 'budget.' "Get on a budget of rice and beans/beans and rice until you've paid off your debts." If the caller is a Christian, he encourages them to tithe during the period of paying off debts. Until the family is living on a written budget and tracking every single dollar they spend, there is now way to know whether it's really hopeless or not.

Which is exactly how I'd treat this case. Is the person following a written budget? Can they report on where every single dollar that came in went over the past month? If we can move past some of the painful emotions of guilt and despair and look at the black and white numbers on a budget, we can know where the family really is.

Whenever I have this type of conversation with someone and they follow my advice to get on a written budget, they feel as if they've gotten a raise because they stop the hemoraging of money that was occuring before tracking spending.

So, a Christian gets on a written budget and follows that budget, tracking where every dollar will go and actually does go. They then KNOW that they only have enough money for transportation to and from work and school, food, utilities (whatever is essentially necessary to stay alive) but has NO money left over for giving. Then, that would be a problem. Somehow expenses must decrease and/or income must increase. I also think that's where God's grace comes into play, I've made sinful financial decisions, which keep me from tithing, which is also a sin but God's grace is beyond all of my sin. But we continue to live in sin if we don't start making changes to income/outflow that enable us to give.

I personally haven't had any experience with a family truly having NOTHING left over after the bare essentials, I'm not saying it's not out there, I just haven't seen it. It's usually $20 here leaking out, $30 here leaking out before the essentials are paid and then we're left with the feeling of I don't have enough, but the real problem was not knowing where all our money was going, which is how a budget solves that problem.

While I wouldn't say it's a sin to choose food for my family over giving, I would say it's a sin (when God is dealing with a person in this way) to take my family to McDonalds (rather than the grocery store) for food before I've given. It is a sin (again, when God is speaking to us about this and we know what he expects - that takes time in the spiritual journey) to buy ANYTHING that isn't necessary for survival before giving.

So, I think all of those questions can only be answered if the person knows where every single dollar is going.

I'm sorry this is so long. Two more points I need to make. Anonymous, I'm assuming you've been a Christian for a long time and that God has been dealing with you on the issue of giving, you seem to be familiar with the biblical teaching of a tithe. I want to make that distinction from earlier comments that are coming from those new to this journey of faith and are just beginning to struggle with the issue of giving.

Secondly, God's math is not our math. 90% with God in control is greater than 100% with us in control. That doesn't mean we give a tithe and then are careless with the rest, but it does mean that God works miracles when we're obedient.

In his book, Blue Like Jazz, Donald Miller (not me) tells a story of a conversation with his pastor about tithing. He told his pastor, "No way I can tithe, I can't even pay my rent." His pastor challenged him to be obedient and trust God. Miller started doing it and has never missed a rent check. Two reasons for that, tithing taught him to better track his money and God made up the difference.

Sometimes we can't afford to tithe because we don't tithe.

Whew, my fingers hurt.

keri said...

Donnie:
Thanks for your comments and starting this discussion - I love when things make me "think" like this one. Anonymous, I can 150% say I have been where you are right now. A few years back my husband was laid off and we were living in a home that was a mess, sometimes not making pennies meet each month (and living a lot on credit cards). I kept hearing the more you give the more you will get. I started giving to things like the MS Society (I lost my mom to MS) or the Cancer Society (I lost my mother and father in law to cancer) and different foundations like that even though I wasn't making ends meet. Lo and behold slowly and surely I found that we were digging our lives out in little ways. 3 years later I can say we have been able to buy a more stable home (one that didn't rain inside everytime it was raining outside), paid off most of our debt and I can finally say this past year I have been able to sleep each month without panic of how we will make it. Before taking my first step and finding a church (and I thank God everyday for leading me to TFC), I just thought the saying was true on how if you give (even if it wasn't 10%, give something) you will be paid back. Now looking back, I think it was probably the first sign of God knocking at my thick head showing I should have faith in him and that I needed to keep giving. Right now I am spread - I give a little to the church, a little to the different charities, etc. but I do try and always give. I just want to say to you Anonymous, don't give up faith. You are obviously further along than me and with more faith. At the end of the week if you only have $2 to give, give that and you might be surprised in a month that you're able to give $4 per week, etc. Ok, now my fingers hurt! :o)

Donnie Miller said...

BEAUTIFUL!!!

Ben said...

Donnie, I think you make a great comment when you say-It is a sin to buy anything that you don't need for survival before you give.

Donnie Miller said...

Ben,
Do you mean "great" in a good way or a crazy way?

Ben said...

Well, in a way, it's both!