"Everything I have and I am comes from God. Of course, we work hard to get to where we are in life, but that’s only possible because God walks beside us along the way. For some, giving back to God is a business transaction, like paying a monthly bill: how much is left for the Church, after paying other monetary obligations? After all, God doesn’t send a bill! Even so, for anyone who’s not given regularly in the past, this is a perfectly acceptable place to start giving. But the process of giving changes and deepens over time. Truly giving back to God is a transformational journey that begins when we recognize that we’re not alone on life’s journey; that God has touched our lives in ways we cannot know or express; and that giving to God is a joyful thing for which we can be grateful. In the beginning, I admit, I gave to God from what remained after paying other commitments and desires. Then, one day it happened: I made the transition from giving first to myself and second to God to giving first to God. My giving is more than just my gift to this Church for all that it means to me. It’s also an expression of my relationship with God. What a joyful feeling!"
"We belong to the Forest Hills Swim and Tennis Club. We don’t play tennis and we don’t go to the pool all that much. But when we do want to use the pool, it’s great to have a great pool so close to home. This past summer, its Board asked what members think about increasing the number of members allowed to join the club. I thought it would be fine since the pool is never crowded and because I know a lot of neighbors who are hoping to join. Joe had a different, more interesting thought…as he usually does. He said, “it depends… would that mean that current membership dues would decrease?” This led me to think of more questions: Will greater membership significantly increase the cost of maintaining the pool? What is the motivation for increasing membership, greater income? For our family, do we use the club amenities enough to stay members if the dues increase? How much will it increase, 10%, 5%, 2%? Does it retain value for our family? This is a typical scenario, weighing value for cost, usage, priority, etc.
Now for something completely different! Our offering to God requires fundamentally different calculations. Tithing is not a result of weighing what we give with what we get out of church. Granted, we make out our checks to the church and make our pledge to church, so it is easy to mistakenly associate our offering to God with something like giving to PBS. We give to God as an expression of worship, service, obedience, humility, and love. Church, then, is just the location where we live out our identities as people of God.
Here, I’ve tried to define offering by mostly talking about what it is not. I encourage each one of you to define “offering” and “tithing” for yourselves as you pledge for the coming year. Email me your definitions/thoughts (Find my contact info in Church Life). I think they will be helpful as Joe and I think through and plan our pledge for next year as well. Thanks!"
"For years I dreaded reading the Gospel story of the rich young ruler. This is the story of the young man who asks Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds that he should give away all he has and then follow Him. Even though it wasn’t necessarily Jesus’s intent, this parable made me feel guilty and dejected. My response was exactly that of His disciples, “Who then can be saved?” I felt frustrated and helpless. I grew to simply avoid this passage whenever reading the Gospels. This went on for years. No matter how much I gave of my time, attention, and money, it would never be enough. So, I settled into a glum compromise of “doing what I can” and feeling generally dissatisfied.
And then a few years ago I read the parable again, and for the first time I was struck by something else Jesus says. When the disciples dejectedly say, “who then can be saved?”, Jesus replies, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” I had read that line numerous times before, but this time something hit me. Jesus wasn’t asking me to do it all on my own. In fact, He knows I can’t possibly do it all on my own. I finally realized that it is only with God and by His grace that this relationship works. God was inviting me to work with Him by giving my time, talent, and treasure to others in love, and in doing so, advance His kingdom.
That changed everything for me. It became exciting to give. I was no longer coming up with justifications in my mind of why I couldn’t give more. Instead, I was excited to figure out all of the stirring ways I could give more. Now, that’s not to say that I’m giving as much of myself as I can or should, but I’m now excited to work with God to honestly look at my life and see new possibilities.
I no longer dread this parable. In fact, I now carry it with me, “but with God all things are possible.” Amen."