Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Why I Tithe...the offerings

My generosity should extend far beyond my tithe.

This past weekend my wife attended a mini youth conference at the House of Prayer in Chesterfield Virginia (great church if you live that way!).  The conference is called Origins, hosted every year there.  Vannessa was sending me texts about how proud she was of our two oldest.  Ethan was buying gifts for his siblings, raffle tickets for friends, StarBucks drinks for Vannessa, etc...living a generous life!  Then, our oldest Derick in a service prayed that if he won the mini-ipad in the raffle, he would give it to a friend who was attending Origins.  The friend and his family are new to City Life and this was their son's first youth outing with us.  Guess who won!  Guess who gave away that mini-ipad!

Our two boys didn't come back from that trip with a calculator trying to figure out how much they could deduct from their next tithe, valuing money spent and items given...why?  Because they understand that there is a difference between the tithe and offerings and that giving beyond our tithes is wonderful way to demonstrate hospitality toward others!

One of the most important extra-Biblical references are the writings of Josephus.  In regards to tithing and offerings, Josephus says that one-tenth (the actual tithe) was to be given to the Levites (locally and they gave tenth to High Priest), one-tenth was to be applied to feasts in the metropolis (mandated offerings), and that a tenth besides these was every third year to be given to the poor (mandated offerings).  And we know from our study of the Old Testament and further writings by Josephus, there were even more offerings expected as part of their ritual worship practices, not to mention special projects like building temples!

I see four primary reasons for offerings in Scripture that I believe are still relevant for today.  They are giving to the poor (Proverbs 28:27), giving towards hospitality (Leviticus 19:9-10), giving for special projects at your church (Exodus 36:3-7), and giving for global missions (Romans 15:25-26).

A God honoring approach to personal finances has at its center the tithe and then goes on to accommodate offerings and other opportunities for generosity.  I hope that as you enter into this holiday season, that you are looking ways to be generous!  Pick up the tab of the person behind you in the drive through...if you see someone in the store who has obvious financial needs, buy a gift card and slip it into a card and just quickly give it to them and say Jesus loves you!  Can we get to the other side of the 2014 holiday season and have the humble privilege of looking back and seeing scores of generous moments we ourselves stepped into as the Holy Spirit directed us?  Will this mean less for us?  Will this require sacrifice?  Will this change our standard living?  Will this decrease moments of earthly, temporal enjoyment?  Most certainly!

You can enjoy more temporal things now or you can enjoy treasures in heaven forever (Matthew 6:20)!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Why I Tithe...the attitude

The standard of the tithe is not reached until the sentiment of the heart from which it comes crosses the threshold of gladness.

This is the the fifth reflection in a series of blogs that will last eight weeks, addressing the question of why our family tithes.  And with this focus today, we are reminded that just following the right steps of the instructions we are receive from Scripture are not enough...how is my heart?  This is something Vannessa and I teach our own children.  When they were young, in those seasons of the daily struggle for obedience, we weren't striving for compliance.  We have committed our lives as parents to shape their hearts.  We want them to choose well not to avoid consequence (compliance) but because of an unshakable love of virtue (wisdom)!  Our great hope is that our children will be values driven in life and not consequence avoidance motivated.

If I am giving over the course of a year ten percent of my gross annual income, I still may not be tithing!  What if the attitude in my heart as I make those gifts is one of entitlement?  What if the attitude of my heart is one of jealousy towards others who have a higher standard of living because they give less?  What if the attitude of my heart is resentment toward God for asking what feels like too much?  What if the attitude of my heart is anything but gladness?

In 2 Kings 23:1-3 we have this intriguing story of Josiah finding some lost scrolls and realizing that as a nation they had been neglecting many of the commands of God.  The approximate date of this great national revival was 624 BC.  David was king in 1056 BC so in 400 years, we see a nation that had lost its sense of devotion to many of the practices of worship that God had given Israel.  As Josiah addressed the people, the text tells us he took his place by the pillar.  This is key.

1 Kings 7:13-22 includes some details about the building of Solomon's Temple that are paramount in understanding this reference in 2 Kings about Josiah taking his place next to a pillar...there were actually two.  God gave these two great pillars names:  Jakin and Boaz.  Jakin is believed to mean "He establishes" and Boaz is believed to mean "in Him is strength" and I am capitalizing those pronouns because I believe they are prophetic references to the nature of God.  Every time someone entered the Temple, passing between those pillars, crossing that threshold they would have been reminded to consider what they believed about God!  Did they believe that God was strong enough to keep His promises to them and faithful enough to establish their lives in the favor that comes through the glad obedience of worship...worship that included prayer, song, Scripture, and yes, tithes and offerings...all forms of worship at that great temple!

These pillars were over 30 feet tall including their decorative tops and 18 feet in circumference...because there is nothing small about the nature of God and His promises!  I often think of Jakin and Boaz when I am giving.  I like to envision myself walking up those steps, standing between those pillars, pausing for a moment and then crossing that threshold.  And every time gladness fills my heart!  Joy overflows.  Celebration lifts my soul.  I am tithing.  This is tithing not only because the math is right but because my heart is right, in fact, I would humbly suggest that even when you have the right math but the wrong heart, you have yet to tithe.

The standard of the tithe is not reached until the sentiment of the heart from which it comes crosses the threshold of gladness.

See you next week!

Pastor Fred

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Why I Tithe...the place

This is number four of eight reasons I am sharing as to why our family has at the center of our family financial plan something Scripture refers to as a tithe.  If you are just joining us, please take a few minutes to read the three previous posts as they will help provide some context and possibly answer some questions this post might cause you to ask.  All eight of these reasons have been shared at our church, City Life, in three sermons.  You can find them on our website...enjoy!

The place.  One of my frustrations with teachings on tithing is that, in my opinion, pastors tend to over teach certain points of view.  Meaning, they assert clarity that I feel does not exist.  You might be accusing me of this already!  I trust however that I have made a great case for everything so far and because the blog has limited space, I hope you are listening online to the sermons.  While I believe Scripture makes it very clear that a tithe is a timeless practice for all people for all generations, the place to where that tithe should be given is a bit vague.

For me, Deuteronomy 12:6-12 and Joshua 21:1-3, 41-5 are a great starting point.  The text in Deuteronomy is critical to this conversation because it marks the beginning of Jewish practice born out of a divine command of bringing their tithes and offerings to a designated place of worship.  Next, Joshua 21 reminds us that Levites did not have a land inheritance and were therefore the responsibility of the remaining tribes.  The other tribes were tasked with the financial support of the priests.  These two texts are foundational for me personally.  My interpretation is that they introduce two very important Kingdom values.  First, we should financially support the church we call home...the designated place of worship we believe God has asked us to join.  Second, a society needs people whose sole vocational purpose is the spiritual well being of their community, which is only possible when that community provides for their necessary financial support.

Others argue however that the pattern we see in the New Testament supersedes these texts.  And what we see in the New Testament, in my opinion, lacks clarity, which gives people a sense of freedom to direct their tithe prayerfully among multiple Christian initiatives....this may include their church, missionaries, para-church groups, benevolence in their community, and etc.  While the New Testament has many examples of individuals and congregations collectively being instructed to give financially, I am not aware of any one text that specifically says that one's tithe must be given fully to their local church.  That which is clear in the Old Testament lacks clarity in the New Testament.   The question before us is did the members of New Testament churches follow the same pattern of tithing we see in the Old Testament?

I have learned a great phrase.  "The culture of our church is..."  I use that phrase frequently.  In our brokenness, we need others to feel wrong in order for us to feel right.  Sad.  I have seen many people leave churches because their ideas of right and wrong extended far beyond foundations.  We call them open handed vs. closed handed issues.  For me, the deity of Christ is a closed handed issue.  There is no room for disagreement there.  Women serving with their husbands as elders, open handed.  City Life proudly celebrates that practice but respect other churches that do not.  Read Acts 15...the early church fathers set into motion that very day this idea of open handed vs. closed handed issues.  They were telling us to not be unnecessarily divisive!  I fear too many churches are unnecessarily divisive on the matter of tithing.

In 1 Timothy 5:17-18 we find an important command.  And the wording is instructive!  Not only do we see here a New Testament justification for vocation church leaders but the command is that they should be paid well!  So this is my conclusion.  I believe the New Testament mandate is that every church should be in a position to provide a livable wage for their staff, that is my understanding of "paid well."  I have been managing church budgets since 1999.  And I have yet to see a church that can meet that very clear Biblical mandate and fund the many ministries that accompany a healthy, growing church unless the members of that church are committed to giving their tithe fully at home.

If you want to divide your tithe among multiple Christian causes, that is your prerogative.  But if your church is struggling to fund its ministries and pay a livable wage to the staff, you have a serious question to answer.  For me, when I believe I am acting based on freedom provided to me by Scripture but the result of that action causes me to violate another part of Scripture...I tend to find that I am mistaken in the first!

Pastor Fred