Stump the Rector Part 3

First Fruits

This was a comment to a recent blog.

“I’d like to play the devil’s advocate (if you’ll pardon the expression)… I have been trying to answer questions for somebody who is mad at God. They feel as if they’re being punished.
Knowing them as I do, their objections would be quick and clear:

With regards to financial issues… Poor decisions do lead to difficulty, agreed. What do you do when you’re already in that position? Tithing is not an option for some people, no matter how much they want to.

I don’t know how to fully answer some of these questions. Typically, my response is to have faith. Often that answer seems quite inadequate. Any suggestions?”

I will respond to the third question posed but first I want to recount a conversation that I had years ago that greatly influenced my attitude about giving. I was on a short teaching mission in Haiti, speaking to about 70 clergy who had gathered at an orphanage. Most if not all of them were bi-vocational. In many cases that was a misnomer because often they received nothing from the churches that they served. Our goal support these men by giving them lessons that they could preach to their congregations as well as trying to encourage and strengthen them. A number asked for personal time to receive counseling.

One pastor came to me with a significant moral dilemma. He knew from reading the Scriptures that God calls us to be generous in our giving and he wanted to respond to this call. His dilemma was that it was the end of the month and he was nearly out of food. In fact he was down to his last 5 potatoes and he had 5 children. But he also knew that his neighbor was out of food and he too had children. His question to me was does he keep the 5 potatoes for his children or does he split them with his neighbor’s children or does he give all 5 away? It did not even come up in our conversation that he and his wife would go without food. For him, that was a given.

To this day I cannot remember what I advised him. I was so shocked by the question, and even more shocked by the seriousness of his situation, that whatever I told him was probably wrong. But it also made me see that if this man was willing to give of his last 5 potatoes, then very few who live in America are in a place where they cannot give. We just choose to have different priorities.

So when someone tells me that they are unable to give even though they want to do so, I would challenge that thesis. I have had people ask for help with food and when I meet them at the market they are smoking a cigarette. I have had a mother tell me that she cannot afford medicine for her sick child and when I arrive at the pharmacy she was talking on her cell phone. I have had people tell me that they cannot give to the church but they are able to rent movies, they have cable TV and they even eat out every now and then. We can always do what we really want to do; it is a matter of priorities. So how do we make giving to God a priority?

First, we will change our priorities when we understand that it all belongs to God in the first place. Thus we are simply returning to God a portion of that which is rightly His. “All things come of Thee, O Lord, and of Thine own have we given Thee.” (I Chronicles 29:14). Instead of grumbling that God wants us to give 10%, we should be amazed that He allows us to keep 90%. And by the way the tithe is only a minimum standard for giving, but that is another sermon.

Second, we can become motivated to change our priorities when we see what we are doing by withholding from God. “Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Malachi 3:8-10)

It does not take a student of theology to understand that we do not invite God’s blessings on our lives when we are stealing from Him. That may sound like an exaggeration but that is what God says we are doing when we withhold our tithes. What is also interesting about this passage is that it is the only one that challenges us to put God to the test. Does God come through? I have never met a person who tithes that regrets it but I have known plenty who withhold from God and then don’t understand why their finances are in such shambles.

Third we will change our priorities when we better grasp God’s promises for our obedience. Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Luke 6). Actually I think that this principle covers more than money but it does include it. When we give love, we will receive an abundance in return. When we forgive others we experience our Father’s overflowing forgiveness. And if we are generous with our finances, He is generous with us in return. In fact Jesus tells us that when we are generous, with what the Apostles called “filthy lucre,” true riches are being stored up for us in heaven (Mt 6). Conversely if we cannot be trusted with filthy lucre, then neither will we be trusted with spiritual riches. “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?” (Lk 16:11).

Once you change your priorities about giving, the next thing to do is to begin and begin immediately. Most of us know that if we wait to pray or we wait to read Scriptures until we have the time, then we will because we never have extra time. The same is true with giving. If you wait until you have it to give, then you never will. God expects from us our “first fruits” not our leftovers (Ex 34:26). It may mean giving up a luxury or cutting back in other areas or even going without, but if you wait until you can “afford” to give, then you never will. The pastor who was down to his last 5 potatoes still knew that he had the potential to give. What about us?

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