Writhing About Tithing

It started with a comment my wife shared with me, told to her by a mutual friend of ours; a comment that went something like this: “Jesus never taught tithing.”

Cue footage of atomic bomb exploding in my head. 

Let me first say before I proceed, that I’m “old-school” when it comes to much of my theology and doctrine.  And when I say “old school” I actually mean “biblical”.  I believe (and have for most of my life) that if you’re a Christian then certain things should be true of you: you should be a committed part of a local body of believers, faithfully attending worship services (Heb. 10:25), and involved in the ministry (Gal. 5:13).  You should love those around you freely, just like God loves you (Matt. 10:8).  You should be actively involved in evangelism; that is, sharing the Good News of Christ when given opportunity by the Holy Spirit (Mark 16:15).  And you should tithe–giving 10% of your income to your local church.  I do this personally and have for years.  Right off the “top” of any and all income I receive, 10% goes to the Lord as an acknowledgement of His provision and grace in my life.  Not only that, but I have challenged other Christians to do the same.  Not out of compulsion, guilt, or anything but gratitude.  I’ve stood in front of large crowds, sharing my conviction that God desires us to be “cheerful givers” and that our tithe (literally meaning “tenth”) is something He desires–even expects.

Pretty simple, right?

I’ve begun to dive into a study on what the New Testament (including Jesus & the Pauline epistles) say about tithing, which was primarily an “old covenant/Law of Moses” instruction.  And the more I read, the more convinced I become that tithing is more than a good idea, its a practice taught by Scripture.

First, let me share some of the verses that address the issue of tithing:

“A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the LORD; it is holy to the LORD.” –Lev. 27:30

This verse in Leviticus is a great “nutshell” of the other nearly 30 verses in the Old Testament that have to do with tithes.  Another OT verse that is often used to support tithing is Malachi 8-10, especially verse 10:

“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 there will not be room enough to store it.”

I’ve heard this verse used countless times to teach the concept of tithing, and the jist of the teaching goes like this: “If you tithe on your income, God will bless you.  If you don’t, He won’t.”

But here’s the rub: Malachi was speaking about food, not money.  WARNING: Don’t stop reading here and think I’m going to conclude that Christians today are under no obligation to give money to their church.  From my experience, many Christians have done just that, paying exorbitant mortgages and ridiculous car payments while their local church literally falls apart.

Now, to look at the New Testament and what Jesus and Paul specifically instruct about tithing.  First of all, its true that Jesus does NOT articulately teach “You must tithe on your income.”  You might be breathing a sigh of relief right now, but let me instead suggest that you hold your breath.

The most prominent passage where we see Jesus referring to giving money is found in what has become known as “The Widow’s Mite”.  Take a look at these verses in Mark chapter 12:41-44:

“Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts.  But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.  Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.  They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

In this instance, Jesus seems to bypass the entire “tithe” principle and go straight for the jugular by showing that the woman who gave only a few cents gave much more than those who gave large amounts of money.  We see here another example of the backwards, upside-down Kingdom and economy of God.  An economy where less really is more.  The reason why Jesus praises the giving of the widow and not the wealthy was because the widow was giving “all she had to live on” while the others simply gave from their “surplus”.  So, while we might have an argument that Jesus doesn’t teach that we should give 10%, we should quickly realize that Jesus teaches the amount we give should be from an attitude of willingness to release all we have.  Jesus seems to downplay the actual dollar amount and rather focuses on the attitude with which the widow gave.

And now, let’s see what Paul says about the issue of giving.  First of all, there was a call to give regularly (1 Cor. 16:1-2).  The practice of giving was ongoingly needed, so it was likewise ongoingly encouraged.  The monetary gifts Paul was referring to here was to benefit those who were destitute in the famine-stricken Jerusalem.  No matter the destination, the practice of giving to those in need was regularly upheld by Paul.

Next, the giving should come from an act of free will by the individual–not necessarily mandated or prescribed as to the amount.  The Old Testament teaching of the tithe is replaced in the New Testament early church by the giving of money as an act of grace, generosity, and loving care for others.

Also, it should be pointed out that the giving of money is necessary to support those called to ministry; the pastors and leaders of the church.  While I’m not trying to be self-serving (since as a pastor I definitely fall into this category), I do feel that the Bible is clear that regular, faithful, cheerful, and generous giving by Christians today is a practice upheld by Scripture; for the benefit of ministers and those in need in our community alike.

So, does Jesus teach tithing?  Most certainly He taught tithing to those who were under the Law, just as He was (Matt. 23:23).  But as for those who are under grace (Christians at and since the cross), we are “obligated” to give out of the overflowing abundance of grace that God has shown us on that cross.  The question, “What shall I do for God?” can always correctly be addressed by asking “What has God done for me?”  It is THIS principle, and not that of a dollar amount or percentage that ought to drive our giving today.

So, how and why do I personally still practice the tithe today?  Why am I not living out my freedom to give 8% or 25% or 0%?  It’s because I believe that the tithe is a fantastic guide for giving.  It creates for me a discipline of giving and in that giving a mindfulness that none of what I could call mine is what I should call mine.  All I have has come from God, belongs to God, and will ultimately return to God.  And it is with that mindset that I give cheerfully.

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My funeral

I’ve been tasked by my wife to plan my own funeral.  Its not that she’s planning on me kickin’ off any time soon, its that she’s incredibly afraid that I actually will (before she does) and that she’ll be in no condition to make any decisions.  Fair enough, right?

Well, death is something I’m actually looking forward to.  I regularly think as days go by, that I’m one day closer to death.  And if you know me, I’d hope that you’d agree I’m anything but morbid.  The truth is, I’m looking forward to it.  Not the process of dying mind you, just the event itself; the moment when I pass from one location to another.  The short trip begins and ends in the time it’ll take my last breath to leave my lungs.

Now, back to my funeral.  First of all, you’re invited.  All I ask is that you laugh more than cry.  And I plan on making sure that’ll happen.  In fact, it’d be really great if your guts hurt by the time you left.  Go ahead, laugh it up.  I sure will be!  Also, if you plan on hanging around, pick up a bucket at KFC on your way.  I figure if everybody brings a little, we’ll have a lot.  Not to mention, who doesn’t want to be around someone with a bucket of chicken?  You’ll probably make some new friends–MY friends, so you better treat them well.

The music at my funeral will consist of sing-along tunes so you can, uh, sing along.  Some of my favorite top-of-my-lungs-alone-in-the-car tunes include classics like “Living on a Prayer”, “The Piano Man”, and whatever the name of that song is by Four Non-Blondes–you know the one where she sings “And I scream to the top of my lungs, ‘What’s going on!?!'”  You know that one.  And I’ll probably throw in a Christmas tune no matter what time of year it is because after all, who doesn’t like Christmas (I mean, besides Jews and atheists)?  I will not however be having karaoke.  That’s just tacky.

Now, who do I want to give the message?  I don’t know.  I honestly don’t know.  No one knows me like my wife does and I can bet my last life insurance dollar that she’s not getting up and saying jack squat, you can take that to the bank.  So, I’ll have to think about it.  If you’d like to apply for the position, email me an essay in 1,000 words or less why you’d do a good eulogy.  Oh wait, I just remembered Rob.  Rob has probably read my blog as much as my Mom.  Maybe more (sorry Mom).  And he always says really nice things about it.  So, I think Rob is definitely a front-runner at this point.  You’re welcome, Rob.

Okay, so we’ve covered food (don’t forget the bucket), we’ve got music taken care of, and I’ve given Rob the preliminary head-nod on the whole eulogy thing.  What else is left?  Oh yeah, the dancers.  Can somebody make sure there are back-up dancers?  And not fresh-out-of-dance-school dancers.  I want good ones.  Preferably 50 and older.  Seasoned veterans.

Well, that just about covers it.  I hope you’ll come and enjoy looking at my smiling face (don’t worry, I’ll be smiling) one last time.  I hope you have a great time at my funeral, and I hope that reading this has made you think about yours.

Don’t forget that bucket of chicken.  Thanks.

On the ledge…

You’ve been reading my blog for at least 5-8 seconds now.  But some (Hi Mom!) have been reading it for years.  Up until now, I’ve really only been blogging my “cerebral meanderings” and have often only happened upon a point to convey.  Judging by the feedback I’ve gotten over the years, many people have seen my point.  I can’t tell you how gratifying it is to know my blog is being read by you (you’re up to 30-40 seconds by the way).  So, thanks.

But on the horizon has been a leap forward in what I’ve always hoped and wanted to take.  And that is to branch out into a website that is dedicated more specifically to youth ministry and those who are knee-deep in ministry to teenagers.  That site will likely launch sometime in 2011, and sooner than later.  It will be at a different address than this one and at this point I’m planning on leaving this one right here and continuing to blog whenever I can.

The reason I’m jumping headlong into the world of youth ministry resourcing is because I truly feel like I’ve got enough years behind me to say a thing or two to those who are in the trenches with me.  I’m in my 16th year of full-time ministry to students, and I can honestly say that I feel stronger as a student pastor & leader more now than I ever have.  I’ve learned so much along the way and I’m excited to share all I can with those who’d be curious/wise/bored enough to actually listen.

Another aspect of the new site will be youth ministry resources.  I’ve built up quite a collection of discipleship tools and small group resources that I’m excited to share.  These resources are by no means theoretical; they are tested and proven; tried and true–good to go for any youth ministry leader and dripping with practicality.

Now, all this leaves me with a dreadful sense of anticipation and excitement for what could unfold as we roll it out.  We’ll have a marketing plan unfolding, ways to connect with youth leaders who are rockin’ the world of student ministry, and other tools to help anyone out there doing what we’re doing–loving and leading students; or banging your head against a wall trying.

So, in the coming months watch for more news on how I’m taking the leap into a new adventure.  Pray with us, and if you’re in student ministry of any kind, drop me a line and let me know how we can serve, encourage, and bless your ministry.

Thanks for reading.

I doubt it.

Doubt is a crazy thing isnt’ it? Sometimes doubt comes directly from past experience. Like when I ask my youngest daughter, “Did you clean your room?” “Yes” she replies. I continue, “Did you clean it well?” She says, “Yes, I did.” I doubt it. Experience has taught me that she is not the tidy type who enjoys the simple joys of life, like having all her dresser drawers pushed all the way in.

Doubt can also be a result of a collision between fact and feeling. When something happens that we didn’t see coming or didn’t think should happen, we have a sense of doubt. Take Thomas as an example. He knew Jesus was dead. When he was told otherwise–voila–say hello to “Doubting Thomas”.

But doubt by definition is hinged on our feelings, isn’t it?  Isn’t doubt our trump card for faith, hope, and belief?  Doubt is our reasonable response (or so we think) to adversities of life.  We think its reasonable because we use our emotions and sensations as our compass; as the thing that dictates to us what is true, what is real, and what isn’t.  And in those moments, doubt becomes the very poison Jesus warns us of.

You think the word “poison” is too strong?  Check out what James said in the first chapter of his book:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.” –James 1:6-8

Wow, did James just say that those who doubt shouldn’t expect to receive ANYTHING from the Lord?  Sheesh, if that’s not poison then I’m not sure what is! So, how do we stop ourselves from doubting?  Well, I’m not wise man on a hill, but I do have a few thoughts.

First, understand where doubt comes from. We can trace the origin of doubt back to the Garden of Eden when the serpent introduced it to Eve in the form of a question that started, “Did God really say….?”  Eve, meet doubt. Doubt, Eve.

Now, believe me when I say that I’m absolutely not a “the devil the made me do it” kind of Christian.  But I do believe that we should rightfully acknowledge the adversary of our souls.  Satan wants nothing more than to drive as big a wedge between you and God as he can; and he’ll often use the wedge of doubt to start the process of your demise.  So, knowing where doubt comes from can give us a sobering reminder of what (and who) is behind it.

Next, we need to be realistic about what doubt does. Doubt weakens our view of God’s ability.  Doubt takes a subjective viewpoint (ours) and imposes it on an objective reality (God’s power).  We often allow what we see to dictate to us what is.  This is also referred to as notion that “perception = reality”.  My sister-in-law Markelle has battled with cancer for 5 years now.  And for 5 years we have prayed daily for her healing.  Every day, all of us.  Not just us, but people across the country and in other parts of the world.  5 years. Everyday.  And what does God do?  Nothing.  Now, we could say, “God isn’t really there, isn’t really listening, and doesn’t really care.” because that’s our perception; that is our angle on the information.  But we all know (Markelle included) that her current reality does not decide the goodness of God.  In truth, God is good no matter what.  He can heal her this instant and He is good.  He can take her home right this moment and He is good.  He can leave her to continue to walk with Him on the journey of chemotherapy and other medications for years to come and He is good.  But doubt tells us that God’s goodness is in flux.  It ebbs and flows based on how things are going for us.

Lastly, doubt keeps us from fullness in our lives. Jesus scolded the disciples who didn’t seem to have the ability to do what Jesus did.  Jesus only explanation for that was the presence of doubt.  When Thomas came to Jesus after He had risen from the dead Jesus said to him, “Stop doubting and believe.”

Dealing with doubt is not an easy thing to do, especially when every message around you screams that you are justified in your disbelief and doubt.  But consider the possibility that God is calling you to trust Him.  Trust Him with your job, your education, your house, your family, and your life.  It’s a huge faith step, but as far as I can tell, God is batting a thousand on rewarding such faith.