Thursday, March 26, 2009

Giving to Charity: a rambling thought

It's tax season. And, for our family, that means re-evaluating our current (and future) giving. I was noticing the other day that I'm not alone in my thinking about giving, so I thought I'd share some rambling thoughts.

1) First, there's tithe. I interpret tithe as some arbitrary amount that we give to a local church. Literally it's ten percent. In the Old Testament sacrificial system, various tithes and offerings to God made up about 1/3 of an income. Today ten percent is pretty common in the conservative circles. I wish we would challenge ourselves to give a full 1/3 of what we make to God's work -- not just the local church, but organizations and people that glorify God in what they do. (Many of us give 1/3 to the government, don't we?)

2) The local church should be the primary recipient of our tithe. The scripture that comes to mind in support of this is the idea that the "laborer is worthy of his wages" (1 Tim 5:18). That is, the person responsible for spiritually feeding us deserves to be paid for the job. So pay the church a fair wage. It makes sense. If I attend this church, I am trusting them with my spiritual well-being at least to some extent. I should trust them with our tithe too.

3) Ministries and individuals outside your local church are also worth investing in. For us, this is over our "tithe", and have given rather careful consideration to the few that we support before we took them on. Do we agree with their mission? Do we think they do their job with excellence (would we hire them for the same position)? Do we see God working through them, etc? In the case of extra-church organizations, if we think the money is being spent poorly, we should let them know, and probably move our money elsewhere -- that's good stewardship.

4) Don't play games. The money we give isn't ours. It's not before we give it, but it's certainly not after we give it. Once it's given, to try to control it seems kind of like manipulation to me. If we decide to give a particular amount, we should give it (not playing the "tithe deductible" game either -- you know it -- "I drive an hour to church, this costs me about $15 each week, so I'll deduct $15 from my tithe, since it costs me that to attend"). God will take care of the results of our giving. Each ministry answers God for how it spent the money it was given. Once I've decided to give, it's not my responsibility.

Here's how some of this works out in my life right now:

Since it's tax season, we're looking at our giving. My wage has increased ever so slightly, so we upped the tithe (we tithe pre-tax -- I don't know if it's necessary, but we think it's right). It's amusing to me that I have almost no idea what money our church has or how it's spent. We don't get updates on it, and we didn't at our annual meeting last summer either. But I'm completely comfortable with that, because I trust the leaders. If I didn't trust them, didn't trust the teaching, or specifically didn't trust what they were teaching my kids, I wouldn't go there. This might be a bit naive, and in some cases it would be. I'm okay with it for now. I do periodically ask a member of the leadership for a bit of a financial update, mostly so that I can designate a special gift toward something that's a current need.

We also try to increase the overall percentage that we give each year. This is a real bugger, because it's starting to hurt (at times like this when we're already financially over-extended....) This is a decision that we made when we got married, and really want to keep though. It's worth it. Sometimes this plays out as sending a nice gift to each of our missionaries, sometimes we take on a new missionary or support a short-term trip. Eventually we'll actually be investing 1/3 of our income (and maybe more!) in God's work.

A couple of months ago, two cute little girls (probably about 9 or 10 years old) came by selling flowers to raise money "for their church". I asked what church it was, and they answered with the name of a nearby church. This church has done me and our neighborhood a lot of good, so I bought $20 worth of flowers, paying in cash. Later, I wondered if they were telling the truth (especially when I noticed what house they live in, and I'm fairly certain it's not a "Christian" household). And so far, no flowers. I was tempted to call the church to find out if they were running such a fund raiser, but decided that I had given the money with a clear conscience, and if I got scammed, I got scammed. It wouldn't be the first time :)

I wouldn't apply this logic to ministries that I regularly support, but in this case, that's what I did, and I'm comfortable with it. God knows where that money went. I don't feel like I need to.

Which leads me to one final thought:

A lot more can be changed by recongnizing Who is really in control here, and making appeals (prayer) to Him. In reality, we don't control how much money we make, we don't control what happens to the money after we give it away, and we only marginally control the other parts of it either. (We don't control how much goes to taxes, for example). But God does. And as I pray, He will act. He can (and will) change my attitude about all this stuff too.

Anyone want to add some experiences, or some Biblical principals (especially with references?)
Leave a comment :)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A House of Prayer

A couple of weeks ago, we went to dinner at a new friend's house. This is quite a treat for us, since many (if not most) are intimidated by our family (due either to our personalities, or to its size, I'm not totally sure).

So, we drove a bit over an hour to get to dinner at their house, and had a blast. I still need to write them a note telling them how much fun it was....

They're new to our church, so one of the things we asked them was what made them decide to attend our church. One of the first things they mentioned was that they had never seen such a prayer-filled church as ours. They loved how our church prays.

Now, personally, I'm in the infancy of my prayer journey. And we've had some big crisis' in church lately that we've ALL been praying a lot about. And God has been super gracious and answered our pleas. It's been totally amazing and incredibly cool to watch, and to pray impossible prayers and have God answer. Somehow, though, because I'm such a baby in this, I sort of assumed that all of us in the church were just infants to toddlers in the whole realm of prayer (except, perhaps, the pastor). So their comment on how the church prays really surprised me.

Fast forward to today. In a conversation with a friend, we were talking about a different church, one facing some financial problems. They've been not meeting their financial obligations for a couple of years now, and are going into debt to just stay alive. At their annual meeting, one of the congregation scolded the others for the church's general lack of prayer and prayerfulness. My friend and I (who both care about this church very much), were wondering what God's plan for that church really is. Is He closing it? Is He just testing it? Does He want the few who attend there to give more? Does He want the staff to be paid less? Should they perhaps sell the building, etc?

Matthew 21, which I decided to read today, brought these two churches together in my mind. Verse 13 says "It is written, 'My house shall be called a house of prayer'; but you are making it a robbers den". Hmm... God's church is supposed to be about prayer. Not money. Specifically, not money (or at least not making money).

Following in the same passage, Jesus heals some people, and lots of people see it. The children cry out in praise to God, but the teachers become indignant and shush them. "Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babes You have prepared praise for Yourself" (v 16).

Jesus commends the kids for recognizing one of the things that church is really for -- celebrating what God is doing.

Now, I'm not accusing this church of being about the wrong things. Not in the least. I just noticed the dichotomy. One is really growing in prayer, the other is dominated by financial difficulty. I notice a parallel in my life. When I pray, I see God doing. When I don't, I'm robbed of my joy, and worry sets in.

Lately, even with all the answered prayers of our church, I've found myself worrying far too much about money and spending far too little time celebrating what God is doing. May my body be a house of prayer, not one where I'm always looking for some way to make a bit of money.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Monday, March 23, 2009

A game of tag

So, when I blogged regularly, I wanted so badly to be tagged. And no one tagged me.

Now that I blog almost never, I get tagged (Thanks, CalvaryGirl!). And my amazon account has a bit of money in it. (Bought two books, Intended for Pleasure and Sheet Music, both excellent books, for a friend getting married with the $10 that was there today). These things are weird.

So, in honor of my first tagging, I'm joining the game. I'm not going to tag anyone else though, since I only read blogs once every few weeks at this point (I'm still working my way out of time-wasting in this area).

So, here goes: A game of Threes.

These would be so much more interesting if it was "three names I have gone by". Then it could include "skinny minnie, babe, ames, amarie", and the like.
1. Mommy
2. Mrs. Davis
3. Amy

Hmm... have I even had three jobs? Yeah, I guess I have. But most of them are pretty boring.
1. As a gardener for the city -- taking care of flowers
2. At IBM, as an intern
3. At the city mission, as a volunteer -- this was my favorite "job"

I think I'll take the term "lived" rather loosely.
1. Cameroon, West Africa (for 7 weeks)
2. Rochester, MN (for 3 months)
3. Nebraska (pretty much the entirety of my life)

Umm... since I don't have a TV, and don't watch other's TVs, I'm not sure I could even name three current shows. Sorry.

Hmm... I'll try to use places that I didn't "live"
1. Mexico (a few weeks ago, we drove in about miles, visited a company, then returned. Saw nothing)
2. Nigeria (while staying in Cameroon, we walked across the border, just because we could)
3. Smokey Mountains (on my honeymoon - wonderful place!)

1. India
2. China
3. Thailand

1. Ice cream
2. Lamb or Beef Rendang (but not too spicy, I've become a wimp since having kids)
3. Just about anything my husband makes, Asian food in particular (he's a great cook)

1. Quitting work (am I allowed to say that?)
2. Chester being out of school (still several years left)
3. Ripe fruit of this season -- the trees are budded!

1. "Kitty" was my cat in childhood. My brother was allergic to him.
2. "Pedro" was a plecostamus (or however you spell it) that we had for a few weeks with the kids. He was ugly
3. We tried adding 5 goldfish to "Pedro's" tank, before we gave it away, but they died.

Considering that I'm not tagging anyone, no one :)

Umm.. showing my geekiness. I don't even know anyone who plays sports on a team.... And I don't watch sports otherwise either.

1. Water
2. Fresh Lemonade
3. Chai

Three top Concert experiences:
I was a concert junkie (all classical music) in High school, but it was so long ago, and now it's wayyyy outside my budget..... Can I even remember what I saw and loved?
1. The first opera that I saw live. I can't even remember right now what opera it was. But it was incredible.
2. Stomp. Great show.
3. Les Miserables? Moscow Symphony? There's a lot of great ones that I saw back in the day...

Three Things that make your SKIN CRAWL:
1. Horror/Thriller movies. They still make me scared after 15 years. I don't watch them anymore.
2. "people noises" in the night -- like the door opening, when you're pretty sure no one that lives here is coming in or going out.... I'm glad God is always with me!
3. Large spiders. (There was this one that jumped on my head in Africa, while I was on a paranoia-inducing malaria drug. Yeah, they still give me the willies).

Three Things that calm me down when I am stressed:
1. Praying
2. Reminding myself of scripture
3. Having a warm drink (if it's making me lose sleep)

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Gratitude in odd places, and a lot of rambling

The other day (actually more than a week ago), I was really convicted by a Charlotte Mason quote that I read on the Ambleside year 0 email list. I'm too lazy to look it up, but says something to this effect:
Be careful not to make your house too comfortable. A simple shelter is the best, for anything more than that will keep you from experiencing and enjoying all that nature has to offer.

As much as I like my comfortable house, it wasn't hard for me to see the logic: The nicer my house is, the more I want to be in it, rather than outside enjoying creation. Another consequence follows: The more stuff I have and the nicer my house, the more time I must spend cleaning and maintaining, organizing and the like. This very much takes away from my freedom to be outdoors, enjoying what's going on in the part of God's world that I take as my back yard (or nearby neighborhood park). Furthermore, even if we wouldn't be outside, taking care of my "stuff" takes time away from my kids and my family.

After mulling on this for a while, an old familiar bitterness revisited me. I have a husband who is very handy and loves to start projects. I'm the type of person who likes projects finished. See the problem? Several times in recent years (we've only been married about seven and a half years), I've had to really take a couple steps back to keep the unfinished-project bitterness from taking root.

Then it suddenly occurred to me that these unfinished projects that I consistently work to ignore (so that I won't be bitter), are actually a blessing. They make my home less comforting to me, making outside more inviting. Who cares if the walls have coloring on them and are covered with smudges? They're ugly without trim anyway. Instead of wash them, I'll go outside and plant some seeds in the garden with the kids. And so, for the first time, I'm feeling ever so slightly grateful for these unfinished areas of our home. They remind me that this isn't home anyway, and I shouldn't be getting too comfortable.


A couple of days ago, I read 1 Timothy. I liked it so much that I read it again the next day. It really hit me between the eyes (and I'm not too lazy to look this one up). (1 Timothy 6: 3-11 or so). It's talking about how people promoting false doctrines are bad and promote controversy in God's church because they suppose that godliness is a means of gain (v 5).

6.But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. 7. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. 8. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.

Okay, so Godliness is a means of gain (even great gain), but only when accompanied by contentment. That means, that if I'm godly in hopes of gaining something for myself (say, a nicer house, or more money in some way), then I'm wrong. That's not the Godliness that produces a great gain. Godliness is only a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. Can I really say that if I have food an covering, I'll be content with these? (The NKJ translated this food and "cover", if I remember right, which seemed to me that it implied both clothes and shelter -- who knows). Hmm... I have a lot of food, a lot of clothes, a perfectly adequate house with a few unfinished projects. Can I be content with that, or am I always dreaming of the next thing? (hint, it's the latter).

Now, I'm not saying that dreaming of the next thing is necessarily bad. I'm a visionary -- I need these dreams and hopes of the future. And I think it's Biblical to be yearning and working for our future (especially eternity). But when my dream is "Maybe he'll have some down time and finish a project.... " That, my friends, is lack of contentment.

Then Paul takes it further in 1 Timothy.
9. But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11. But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness.

Okay, I'm not going to lecture on how we're all rich. We know it. We know that the poorest person in America is filthy rich in worldwide standards. I don't have to have any money in my bank account to be rich -- I have a house, more vehicles than I care to admit (the men around here, not just my husband but also his brothers, have a thing for buying vehicles), toys for my kids, mountains of clothes, mountains of food, yada yada.

In what ways does my richness draw me into evil, or away from God?

We have a family of friends, who are raising support to go into missions. He's been out of work for nearly two months, and their fourth child is almost due. They're living on, quite literally, no income. Chester hired the husband for a couple of days to help out with the house we're fixing up to resell (ooh, I actually have two houses -- ouch), but ran out of money to pay him. To me, this family seems amazing. I think I might go insane, living for months without income (they've never made much, and I doubt they have savings to live on). If I remember right, this is their third time that they've had extended periods without income in their five year marriage.

That to say, I'm contemplating quitting work when this baby comes. I believe that it's a godly desire to be with my kids. I think that my motives are right. I'm beginning to see some harm done from my having been the sole breadwinner for the past couple of years, and I think it's time for that to change. Chester agrees heartily.

But I'm scared to death of the prospect of living with no income in the event that Chester goes with fixing and reselling houses as our main income. One lump of income every several months? Spending LOTS of money to fix up these houses? What if they don't sell? What if they sell slowly?

In reality, It's God that I'm not trusting (and probably a bit of not trusting Chester too). God has always provided for us. Why would He stop? Our missionary friends are fine -- they're still eating, still have a house to live in, etc. My wealth is causing me to rely on myself, not on God. It's enticing me to not fully trust, causing me to sin.


Charlotte Mason and Paul are really saying the same thing, I think. Too much nice stuff makes you miss out on what God has for you. Charlotte Mason is harping on nature -- that's her thing, and it was in a section on the importance of outside time in a child's development. God broadens it in 1 Timothy through Paul's pen. My too much stuff breeds a lack of contentment, which leads down the road to desiring more. This causes me to distrust God, and probably causes a host of other problems I just don't notice yet.

So what do I do about it? I'm starting out by acknowledging that God is faithful and has always provided for our needs. I can trust Him to continue to do so.

Secondly, I am becoming grateful for what I have -- not the the things (indeed, I'm working to get rid of some of that excess), but for the reminders that God has better things for me that I can ever earn through a job. I can enjoy God's lovely creation more when I care less about inside. I can take time to really love my kids (which also means parenting properly, rather than lazily), when my energy isn't spent in ratraces for more. Gratefulness, just might be the road to contentment. And it's that lack of contentment that causes the problems (well, and ungodliness...)

Third, I will talk with my friends, interview them, to find out how God provides for them when they don't have an income. I tried to have them over tonight, but their kids are sick. I'll share what I find here. I think these are some giants in the faith, and want to learn from them.

So there you have it. Directly from my mind ramblings.