While Phil is metaphorically licking his technological wounds this morning, I realized that this is Wednesday and that I ought to do something about participating here other than
This morning I'd like to talk about the idea of being a joyful giver -- because I'm sure that unlike the rest of the world everyone who reads TeamPyro is a joyful giver who gives generously to his or her local church, and also makes offerings of charity in various kinds all the time.
This topic comes to my attention because (and this is one of my hobbies, so forgive me for being a bit of a nerd) I was looking at some stats lately on giving that pretty much blew my mind. I was talking with a friend, and he let me in on something that shocked him into laughing about his own church.
Recently, the church took a "state of the church" survey provided by a ministry and counselling organization which will remain nameless. It's a new tool they are developing which measures a church's "well being" (whatever that means), and they are about to go live with the tool selling it to many churches so they can find out scientifically exactly how they are doing as a community in Christ.
Yeah, OK: that's not the punchline, but you can roll the laugh track here as I get back to the point.
In taking this survey, the church self-reported "tithing" (that is: giving 10% of net household income, or more, as defined in the survey) at a rate of about 60% of the households participating -- which was about 80% of the regular attending membership. So in that, the statistical validity of the survey has to be pretty good because the sample was pretty large, right?
Well, my friend is also on the finance committee of his church and happens to know something factually about his church. If there are 1000 "giving units" (read: households; also read: these are not the actual counts but are the same proportions) in his church, only about 300 of them are giving regularly -- let alone giving anything resembling a "tithe".
Moreover, the same survey had them self-report a net income base for the church of about $100 million, but it has never given more than $5.5 million, including years when there have been special emphases for capital improvements and what-have-you (same caveats as above apply).
So what, um, gives?
The first thing I have to say is this: you should pay your taxes, and you should support your local church. You know -- when Jesus had the opportunity to establish conscientious objection to paying taxes (cf. Mat 22:15-21), he made it clear that men should not make a moral issue out of a purely-political issue. Man coins money; man lays claims on money; don't haggle with man.
But in that same breath, Jesus also said something which is far more convicting (because, of course, he's Jesus): "[render] to God the things that are God's."
What, exactly, are we to make out of that? A big take-away there is that God doesn't really care about your money. That seems rather creepy when we understand that there are literally dozens of passages of Scripture that talk about the use of money -- why would God waste so much pneustos over a thing that he doesn't care about?
But let me suggest something in that: in this particular instance when Jesus could have gone off about the cattle on a thousand hills and all that, he says that money is not half as important as something else. Let's read the whole exchange there:
15Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk. 16And they sent their disciples to him, along with the Herodians, saying, "Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone's opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances. 17Tell us, then, what you think. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" 18But Jesus, aware of their malice, said, "Why put me to the test, you hypocrites? 19Show me the coin for the tax." And they brought him a denarius. 20And Jesus said to them, "Whose likeness and inscription is this?" 21They said, "Caesar's." Then he said to them, "Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's, and to God the things that are God's." 22When they heard it, they marveled. And they left him and went away. [emph. added]The thing which Christ was vitally concerned about here was the condition of men's hearts. Yes: the conversation was clearly about money -- but who brought it up, and why? Was Jesus giving a Financial Peace seminar?
No: the topic came up because some hypocrites wanted to entangle Jesus with his own words. So in saying "pay your taxes", Jesus doesn't just leave it at that -- he wants to expose hypocrisy for exactly what it is. These men not only did not want to pay their taxes, but they wanted to make Jesus (you know: Christ; son of God; Wonderful Counsellor; Mighty God) look bad in order that they might look good.
"cent," says the passer-by, "OK: I've read it before. What does this have to do with half of the people who report themselves as 'tithers' being liars about it?"
It has this to do with that: man has not changed in 2000 years. We still want to make God the liar; we still want to trip God up in his words -- especially us religious people who prop up words like "tithe" for what we do when the last person to truly tithe probably died before Nehemiah was born.
Listen: this is not a rant about whether you should "tithe" or not. This is a rant about whether or not you're like Jesus or like the Pharisees. On the one side, there is a kind of giving which is purposed and cannot be thwarted because it is not only intentional but is made in real love for the sake of real ministry without any conditions; on the other, there's a kind of giving that thinks it looks pretty good, is a duty that is carried out with military precision, and which, because of the motives and intentions behind it, separates itself from God and robs God of something owed to him.
Personally, I have no stake in whether you "tithe" or not. But as a blogger here at TeamPyro I have a stake in the Gospel, and that Gospel ought to get to some place in you that causes you to be grateful about something -- in fact, about everything. Be grateful -- don't tithe: be grateful. Act like a grateful person. Do something which demonstrates thanks in a flesh-and-blood way to the one who did the work already.
That's what a joyful giver looks like -- not someone who knows the tithe on mint and cumin (which is, of course, fine duty), but someone who is also involved in the matters of justice and mercy and acts like he's the one who deserved justice and got mercy.