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 :)