I know that there are lots of secret lurkers on this blog; both people I know and don't. To both groups of people, I want to issue a disclaimer about this post:
I am a follower of Jesus Christ, and that fact pervades through every aspect of my life, finances included. I've tried to shy away from posting too much about my faith, but I realized I can't be all that personal about my personal finance without referencing it somewhat frequently. I realize that this post may come across as 1. annoying 2. cult-like and 3. pointless if you do not share the same beliefs as myself. If that describes you, then I hope that you can refrain from making any mean comments directed at my faith and instead, take new insights on how people of a certain religion handle their money.
That being said, let's get into the thoughts/rants that have been swirling in my head the last few months.
I really hate how churches handle the topic of money and finances. In fact, I think a lot of churches mismanage their money. I greatly dislike that churches will talk about money maybe once a year, and the sermon consists of explaining the Biblical reasons of why we should tithe, followed by a call for tithes and offerings that ends up leaving me feeling a little manipulated and guilt-tripped into giving away my money. I wish churches had more transparency. One of the things I love about the church I normally attend is that my pastor will welcome the congregation every week and specifically tell guests and newcomers to not give a tithe. He explains that he'd rather them keep their money and instead receive Jesus Christ's teachings. And then he addresses the regular churchgoers and asks them to please give, because it's a blessing for the church and the Lord commands it. He finishes with a summary of exactly what the money is going towards (a larger facility to accommodate the large and ever-growing size of its congregation).
While this is a start, I would love to hear a sermon on tithing. But not about the traditional tithe of 10%. I want to hear a message on the topic of generosity. Because while 10% is commanded in the letter of the law, a generous way of life is what is preached in the spirit of the law.
The other day, I was convicted of being too legalistic. I'm a financial management major hoping to become a certified financial planner. It's probably not too much of a shocker that I keep a fairly detailed budget. (insert shocked gasp here) I even have a category for tithing/giving (I use the term loosely). Last month, I had already given away the money I had allotted to give away, when I was walking with a friend through downtown and saw a homeless man sitting on a bench holding a cardboard sign that read, "Hungry. Any help would be appreciated." I felt compelled to buy the man a sandwich, but instantly I remembered that I had already spent my giving budget. And then I felt horrified with myself; that I would let something as small as going over a budget get in the way of loving my neighbor in a tangible manner. I bought him that sandwich, and left to process through my internal struggle.
The Bible tells us to give 10%. I think what God wants is for us to live generously. Why was I so bothered that I went over that 10%? For a moment, I forgot that all money is God's money and got too swept away by the sub-categorizing of my budget.
I feel like this is a sentiment echoed by a lot of Christians, whether they're aware of it or not. I was chatting with one of my friends, who happens to be devoted to full time ministry. In order to do that, she needs to raise support every year. Asking people for money can be a very hard thing (I had to go through the same process when I went to Hawaii on summer project, although I had to raise a much smaller amount), and there are moments of great discouragement. She told me that she hates it when she asks for support from people and they say, "I'm sorry, but I'm just not able to give right now." It's not the refusal that bothers her; it's the attitude. She would be fine if they said, "I'm sorry, but I can't give to your ministry right now, because I'm giving elsewhere." But claiming that you can't give shows a lack of faith or trust in God. Hasn't He told us He will provide for us? Yet do we really trust Him? Are we living our lives in a way that aligns with what we proclaim to believe?
Our comfortable, middle-class American lifestyle has become so safe that we no longer need to trust God to provide for our everyday needs.
God has called us to give. Not give when we're in a place of financial stability; not give when we have a higher paying job; not give when it's convenient for us, but simply, to give.
And I think the whole "I'm a college student with no job and my parents/loans/grants are paying my way through college so I can't give because it's not my money to give" is not an excuse either. Ten percent of earned income is not just God's money. All money is God's money. If He has provided you with money to live, whether it be from a job, your parents, a bank or the government, give thanks and praise to the Lord and obey His commandment to give.
Giving should hurt. It should take some kind of sacrifice. That's how you know you need to rely on God to provide for you. If what you're giving doesn't hurt, you're probably not giving enough. I've been reading through the Old Testament, and the story of Moses and the ten plagues. For the final plague, Moses instructs the people of Israel to kill a 1 year old male lamb without blemish for the very first Passover feast in history. While most people talk about the symbolic significance of killing a lamb without any blemish, let's take a look at the socioeconomic effects of this act. A 1 year old male lamb without any blemish would be a highly valued asset in Biblical times. A perfect lamb like that could have been bred to produce more fine sheep, sold for some serious money, or used to produce fine wool. But instead, they were commanded to sacrifice it. You've got to sacrifice in order for it to be a sacrifice.
A cool story that I like to share with people is a really good example of sacrifice and God's provision in my life. Within my community, summer missions trips are highly encouraged. This means that every March, I get bombarded with tons of letters from my friends, asking for support as they go on missions. To avoid giving away hundreds of dollars in just one month, I started socking away money every month to give away in March. When March rolled around, I had about $400 that I had set aside to give away to missions. After prayerfully considering the people and places, I ended up promising God that I would just give to anybody that asked me for support. It wasn't too long until I had given away the entire $400 and was faced with several letters that trickled in at the end of the month. I decided to trust God to provide for me in my everyday needs and continued writing support checks. I gave $200 more than I had budgeted for. Let me just say, as a college student making $10/hr, $200 seems like a lot. I really had to trust God to provide food for me (food is my main expense every month; my parents pay for rent). I figured He would simply send friends to make me food or treat me to dinner and have leftovers or something. But no; instead I got an email a little while later, asking if I would be interested in a survey. The compensation amount? $150. Sweeeeeet. So I found out my assigned time and logged in, ready to participate. Unfortunately, it looked like the survey was down or there was some kind of technical failure. Disappointed and hoping it didn't mean I couldn't participate anymore, I emailed the company and logged off. The next day, I got a reply saying that there had been a glitch in their system, but it was working now and if I was still interested, to email them back ASAP. I responded quickly saying I was, and they thanked me and told me that for my trouble they would be giving me...an extra $50. The delta I had from trusting God was given back to me in the exact amount of $200. Praise. God. There really is no reason to doubt His faithfulness.
PS- For all the extremists out there, no I'm not saying you should sell all your possessions and give it to the poor. Heck, I want to be a financial planner. My future livelihood is dependent on helping people steward their money well. I don't think that everybody should take as drastic an action to live as a penniless monk/nun, although I still believe the Lord would provide for your needs should you actually sell all your possessions. But the point is, you should have a heart that is willing to, if the Holy Spirit moves you.