07 December 2011
on giving, briefly
Giving. Churches are notorious for talking about tithing, even though the perceptions seldom match reality. Some people think that the only real things that the pastor is interested in is getting money from your wallet into the offering plate. Others will say that their pastor never talks (adequately) about tithing, typically understood as the reason for struggling finances in the congregation. Again, these two extremes do not often serve as accurate descriptions of what is actually happening in a given church community.
What have I discovered throughout my church experience and ministry? First, that any understanding or conversation about giving should always include much more than finances. Many times I hesitate to refer to giving because I intend to speak of an attitude and practice of life, but I know that many ears will hear nothing more than money. So we must push forward and advance the notion that giving is being a living sacrifice, a notion which encompasses every aspect of our lives - both individually and corporately.
Second, I have learned a simple rule of thumb that I have yet to have seen disproved. Those who grumble and complain are those who do not give. Always. Again, although this encompasses the area of giving financially, it is more than that. Within the church community those who are not investing their lives typically do not see the positives of the ministry that is happening around them. But they are quick to identify and problems (real or perceived) and share their disappointments with those who will listen. It is easy to be a pessimist, and easier still to be a dissatisfied consumer. It is human nature, and that is what the Spirit's work in sanctification is trying to overcome.
Jesus spoke about streams of living water (John 7) which would flow from him through the one who believes. If we receive the Spirit but keep it to ourselves we are stopping its life and causing it to pool up and become stagnant, dead water. Only when we give of the grace we have received does the Spirit have the full effect of making us children of God. Thus, the stench of a life that is filled with stagnant water emerges in the attitudes of those who are not allowing the Spirit to flow. The result of this typically reminds us of another image which Jesus used to describe the so-called religious elites of his day: whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23) - looking good and clean on the outside, but decaying and rotting on the inside. The only power in all of creation that can dam this living water (that is, the only power that can stop the Spirit of God) is the human heart.
As I mentioned above, I have never seen a situation where this was not the case, though it is rare for people to actually confirm that they do not give (financially, volunteer, prayer, etc) to their church community. But it does happen, and I do know of some repeated troublemakers who can see nothing good in what God is doing simply because they have not allowed their lives to be surrendered to the supremacy of Jesus. May their hearts be changed, their minds be renewed, and the kingdom glorified through the living water that is desperately trying to flow.