Thursday, October 04, 2007

A Bit on Tithing

For a few Sundays in September, Pastor Mark from Graham Friends Church included some words about tithing in his sermons (I'm not real sure "sermon" is the correct word for a Quaker based church, but I"m guessing most people will be familiar with the concept). Sometimes the subject was the primary focus and sometimes it was secondary. I know one of the points he made is that tithing does not have to be viewed strictly within the confines of monetary commitments - it may involve other aspects of what you can give back to God (or let him keep?) like your time and efforts.

A few years ago my wife and I made the commitment to tithe at the church we were members of at the time. We had been giving, but felt it was time to step up. Unfortunately, a combination of events brought that to an end. First, I left my job and that caused some severe strain on our finances as we were essentially living off of savings and credit for a while. I suppose technically there was nothing to tithe in that situation, but it was still unfortunate. The second issue were some changes at that church that caused us to abandon it. For a while we didn't attend anywhere, then my wife found a church she liked, and I finally got in gear and started looking around, eventually finding Graham Friends Church.

In the interim, our commitment to tithing had fallen by the wayside. Not that we completely abandoned our efforts to be charitable as we did our best to help out with a variety of causes. But getting back up to the tithing level and directing that to our church(es) always seemed to get short shrift. This was especially true as we have struggled financially while trying to get my business going. It seemed there was always an excuse - bills to pay, etc.

Anyway, back to Pastor Mark's message. Part of his lesson (I think) is that we need to make the commitment to make the tithe our "first fruits". For me, this meant I had to plan to give my tithe first from any money I could make and then trust that God would provide a way for the rest of the bills to be paid during the month. Committing to such giving has been a struggle for me as it can be a very scary proposition when you live month to month, almost literally bill to bill. I have also struggled with whether making that commitment would somehow represent a "test" of God - if I tithe, then he'll take care of things. It feels a little bit like a challenge to God and I know we shouldn't do that.

This past Sunday, Pastor Mark shifted his message and asked what I thought was a very deep question - "what is holding you back from a full commitment to God?" This was based on the story of the rich young man who was a "good" follower of God. But Jesus told him he would have to give up all his possessions to be able to truly follow Jesus and this made the man sad as he didn't want to give those possessions up. Although this story may frequently be used to encourage followers to give up possessions, give more to charity, etc., Pastor Mark explained the giving up of possessions could also be interpreted as an analogy for each of us to let go of the things that hold us back from a full commitment to God and his calling for each of us. That really struck a chord with me as I consider how much Jesus used analogies and parables in his lessons. Why shouldn't that story be considered in the same manner?

That message continued to weigh on my mind - actually, I am still trying to work on it. What is holding me back from doing something like becoming a missionary in a foreign country or some other commitment? I still don't have the answer. However, on Monday I decided that my desire to tithe was being prevented by my fear over being able to pay bills and support our family. So I decided that I would set that fear aside and make the commitment to tithe. I prepared the billings for my business on Monday and figured out how much would be coming in and figured out what the tithe would be on that. I made the commitment then and there (well, here at my desk where I am writing this) that I would write a check for that amount to give to the church.

The footnote to this story is that the very next day, I received a job offer. And pending some final paperwork and such (those who do hiring know how involved that process is) it looks like I'll be starting that next stage in my life. Coincidence? Or a concrete example of the teachings of Jesus in action? You'll have to decide for yourself. But that is my testimony.

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