Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. (1 Tim. 6:17-18)

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

How To Give The Tithe In The Right Way

Photo by elycefeliz
Tithe Questions

A few days ago, one of my faithful blog readers sent me this email:
Hi Larry,

One topic that I have been very interested in lately is
[the] tithe.  Have you done any writings on where to give your tithe?  What does giving to the Lord mean? Right now I have my tithe "diversified" to several ministries. Is it okay to use tithe money to give gifts to friends in need or just for encouragement? 
This reader asks several interesting, related questions to the Biblical tithe. I have found her current method of giving of the tithe to be a growing trend among Christians, especially the younger generation.

But, what does the Bible say regarding where to give the tithe and to whom? We will investigate that question in today's post.

The Biblical Perspective On Where To Give The Tithe

While I'm a firm believer that the giving of the tithe applies to pre-law, Mosaic Law, and post-law, the majority of Biblical references on the tithe happen within Old Testament Law. So, this is where we need to start on determining a Biblical perspective on how to give the tithe back to God.

In Old Testament times, the majority of the tithe and offerings were given in the form of animals and agricultural produce. These were burned up on the altar in the form of animal and grain sacrifices. Financial contributions were also required for the upkeep and service of the dwelling of the Lord. In Exodus 30:16, we read: "Take the atonement money from the Israelites and use it for the service of the tent of meeting. It will serve as a reminder for the Israelites before the Lord to atone for your lives."

So, where did God command the Jewish people to give their tithe? Answer: at the Jewish center of worship. The tabernacle was the first location. A few hundred years later, Solomon's Temple was the second location. After the exile and diaspora took place, we see a move away from the temple as the primary place of worship. The synagogue in each community became the center of Judaism, and the people gave their tithes back to God through these local synagogues.

When we move into the Church Age in the New Testament, we see the continuation of Jewish tradition of giving to the local worship meeting location. Instead of a synagogue though, we see a shift to the newly formed church. As the good news of Jesus Christ moved from Jerusalem, to Judea, to Samaria, and to the rest of the Roman world, we see the establishment of a local church in each town. The believers gave their tithes and offerings back to God through their local churches.

We can see this demonstrated through the Apostle Paul's collection for the poor saints in Jerusalem. Believers in each local church setting were being asked to set aside funds for this special love offering for the poor:
Now about the collection for the saints: You should do the same as I instructed the Galatian churches. On the first day of the week, each of you is to set something aside and save in keeping with how he prospers, so that no collections will need to be made when I come. When I arrive, I will send with letters those you recommend to carry your gracious gift to Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 16:1-3, HCSB).
These special offerings were collected by each local church and then handed off to leaders within the Universal Church, such as the Apostle Paul. These leaders then distributed these mass offerings to the poor saints back at the church in Jerusalem. There was no special special ministry established to execute this. It was accomplished by the universal church fathers and local church leaders.

The Local Church Is The Appropriate Giving Vehicle

In this very fast overview of both Old and New Testament giving patterns, we see that giving through the local place of worship (synagogue or church) is the appropriate giving vehicle. Even with a "special offering" for poor Christians in Jerusalem  such as the one collected by Paul, we see the people of the local church body coming together to give.

While many leaders of para-churches would like to claim that you can split up your tithe and give the majority of it away to Christian organizations outside of the local church, I just don't see this reflected in Scripture. I think it's a stretch to say that any organization with the label "Christian" has the right to collect tithes or a portion of the tithe. God has established the local church as the Body of Christ. We are supposed to be the hands and feet of Jesus to those around us. The local church needs the regular giving of the tithe of its members in order to accomplish the mission of the church.

So, in answer to my reader's questions above, here are my bullet point, final answers:
  • Giving the tithe back to the Lord should be done through His primary New Testament worship vehicle - the local church.
  • I wouldn't diversify the "tithe" among other ministries. I believe this violates Scripture. Many local churches have been damaged financially as a result.
  • Generous giving to other credible para-church ministries or specific individuals is fine above the tithe, provided you have been blessed by God with financial increase.
In my next post, I'll explain my thoughts on where I believe we as church leaders have blown it in our teaching and example on giving. To be continued.

Also, check out these related posts:

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

How To Put The Length Of Our Lives And The Accumulation Of Stuff In Perspective

Photo by Kyle McCluer
Life Is Short

This week I turn 42 years old. When I entered my forties a couple of years ago, I really started contemplating life and it's briefness. All of the sudden, I felt as though the time clock of my life dramatically sped up! I guess you might call that a mid-life crisis.

When you're a teenager, in your 20s, and even in your 30s, you feel immortal, possibly invincible. You can't really clearly see the end of your life. You feel like you have plenty of time to do whatever you want.

Then, you reach that magical mid-life age of around 40 years old. You start looking around at your life, your family, your career, and your friends. You realize that you have a list of goals and dreams that have not materialized. You start to feel like you have wasted a bunch of time and money on stuff that really doesn't matter.

In Psalm 39:5-6, we read these words:
You, indeed, have made my days short in length,
 and my life span as nothing in Your sight.
 Yes, every mortal man is only a vapor. Selah. 
“Certainly, man walks about like a mere shadow. 
Indeed, they frantically rush around in vain,
 gathering possessions
 without knowing who will get them."
The Accumulation Of Stuff

We learn the accumulation of stuff at an early age. We learn to be selfish. We learn that awesome self-centered word "mine" when we're just figuring out how to talk as toddlers.

And, that attitude can continue from birth to death. As we enter adulthood, we're told if we are wise financial managers, then we should have a stock portfolio. We need to have retirement planning in place. We should be piling up a big "nest egg" for our golden years.

I'm not arguing that there isn't a lot of wisdom here in these statements. The challenge we run into, though, is that our financial pile ends up owning us. We get greedy. We become obsessed with if we will have enough money in our retirement accounts. Unfortunately, we forget about God as our ultimate provider.

Also, we can fall into the trap of possibly wasting a bunch of money on stuff that really doesn't matter this side of eternity. Sure, it would be great fun and a huge ego boost to own a huge home, a couple of sweet sports cars, a lake house, and a yacht.

I'm not saying there is anything wrong with these things. I think the bigger question to consider is have we truly put our relationship with Christ above the accumulation of money and possessions? Are we in control of the blessings of God, or does our stuff control us?

Putting This All In Perspective

As believers in Jesus Christ, how do we put this all in perspective? How do we reconcile the brevity of life, the accumulation of stuff, and the financial wisdom contained in God's Word? Here are three key thoughts to consider as I bring this post to a conclusion:
  1. Recognize that your life, finances, and possessions are God's to begin with. When we can get this truth in perspective, everything else falls into place. God owns all things; He created all things. There are numerous Scripture passages to support this statement. All of us battle the grip that money and stuff can get on our heart.
  2. Have a long-term vision for your life, money, and possessions. Don't let your money and stuff happen to you. You decide how your life, money, and stuff will impact your family, your church, and even the world. 
  3. Have a legal plan for your money and stuff in place for when you pass away. This is simply the next logical step once you have a long-term vision for your money and possessions. If you've never done so, be sure to visit with an attorney to create the legal documents necessary to direct your financial assets where to go after you die.
In the verses we read earlier, the psalmist states that the human race is running around under the shadow of death, piling up wealth for someone else to spend. Our lives here on earth are so brief in light of eternity. Don't let money and stuff rule over you. Be sure to place them in their proper perspective before it's too late.

Also, check out these related posts:

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The Secret To A Healthy Financial Life

Photo by Jaysonphoto
I Got The Call

Every once and while, I get "the call" from family or friends. This call will somehow be related to giving out some piece of financial advice. Since people know that I do the stewardship/Dave Ramsey thing at my church, then they will occasionally seek me out for advice when they have a big financial decision to make.

So one evening, I got the call from a friend about the need in his family to replace a car. He gave me a financial amount he had to replace the vehicle and then asked for my advice. I told him that I had actually just gone through a similar situation myself a couple of years ago. I even had about the same financial number to work with. I explained to him the process I went through in buying my vehicle. You can read my entire story in this blog post: How I Bought My Newer Car On Craigslist In 4 Hours.

As I was speaking with my friend over the phone, I caught myself saying phrases such as,
  • "I planned ahead of time..."
  • "If you have time..." 
  • "If you can hold out a little longer and wait..."
  • "If you can come up with creative solutions while you wait around and look for a deal..."
The Secret

If there is any one big "secret" in making big financial decisions like this, then my secret advice is to have patience; don't be in a big hurry. This is true for anything in our lives, whether it be buying a car, buying a house, getting married, or changing churches. Any major decision should be proceeded with slowly and bathed in prayer.

We all end up in trouble when we're in a rush. We don't think we have time to wait, so we press the "easy button" to solve our problems. Unfortunately for all of us, pressing the easy button usually means that we end up with long-term problems, such as crushing debt.

So, for example, in the case of buying a replacement vehicle, if we get into a hurry and don't spend enough time looking around, we end up with a car loan that we can't afford long term. Or, maybe we buy too much house because we think we're getting such a great "bargain" in a down economy and then we can't even afford to furnish our new place. We've just saddled ourselves with a major liability going forward.

We've all heard the saying "patience is a virtue." In the case of major financial decisions, patience is crucial for your long term personal financial success.

Learn The Virtue of Patience

In Galatians 5:22-23, we read these words:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.
As believers in Jesus Christ, we should be "working out" these various fruit of the Spirit. Although I believe the original interpretation has more to deal with our relationships with people, I still think we can apply the principles of peace, patience, faith, and self-control into our financial lives. If we possess these four types of fruit, or we are at least are working on them in our lives, then we can and will make better long-term financial decisions.

How about you? Are you a patient person? And, if you're not very patient, have you struggled financially as a result? What action do you need to take today to turn this around in your life?

Also, check out these related posts:

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

The Secret To Living An Excuse-Free Life

Photo by vandys
Playing Trumpet Excuse Free

Over twenty years ago, I used to play my trumpet and travel with a professional, Christian brass group called The King's Brass. The members of the group had a running joke whenever we would mess up on stage. When we had a break during our program and ended up backstage, we would look at each other and simply say: "No excuses, just results."

This was a simple reminder for those of us in the group that we could make a bunch of useless excuses as to why we messed up if we really wanted to. Our "chops" were tired. We didn't get enough sleep the last few nights. It had been a long day of driving. You name it, we could come up with a variety of excuses as to why we messed up. But, in that moment, we also knew that we had a job to do. We needed to quit making excuses for our mess ups; and then, we needed to turn things around and produce extraordinary results.

Excuses From The Prophet Jeremiah

In Jeremiah 1:4-10, we see the Lord coming to Jeremiah and announcing his destiny - "I chose you…I set you apart…I appointed you a prophet to the nations."

But what does Jeremiah do? He proceeds to make excuses. He tells God, "Oh no, Lord, God! Look, I don't know how to speak since I am only a  youth." To paraphrase Jeremiah, "I'm bad at public speaking and I'm way too young. Lord, this can't truly be Your will for my life!"

And what was God's response to Jeremiah's excuse making? In a nutshell, He told Jeremiah to stop making excuses. But why should he stop? Because God promised to take care of all of those things that Jeremiah feared. God was with Jeremiah. He would put the exact words that Jeremiah needed to speak into his mouth. Jeremiah just needed to get out of the way and allow God to do the work.

No Excuses, Just Results

If God has called you to do something, then it's time to quit making excuses. If He wants you to teach a Bible Study class in your church, then He will empower you to do that. If He wants you to be a part of the worship ministry in your church, then He will give you the time and ability to lift His name in praise on Sundays. If He wants you to be part of a missions trip to Africa, then He will provide you with the necessary resources in order to be able to accomplish that trip.

I don't know what God has called you to do that you are currently making excuses about. As Christians though, it's time for all of us to stop limiting God through excuse making. Embrace His choice and appointment for your life. No excuses, just results.

Do you like to make excuses? What are some excuses that you're currently giving God even today?

Also, check out these related posts: