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This past weekend I attended a Stewardship training conference for the Lutheran churches in the Florida-Bahamas Synod.  I am the worship leader and stewardship chair for my church, Family of God in Cape Coral, FL, and I went with my pastor and another member of the church to this 1 day conference, hoping to learn something.  Sadly, all I really learned was how far out of step many in the church are.

The day began with prayer – always a good thing – then Pastor Rita, the pastor that serves as the Bishop’s right hand, er, person, did a demonstration of how stewardship works.  If you’ve been around business a while, you’ve probably seen this particular object lesson before – I believe Stephen Covey was the first to use it many years ago.

Pastor Rita pulled out a glass food storage jar and asked folks what kind of minor bills they had to pay – electric, cable, entertainment, food, etc… Then she filled a good portion of the jar with unpopped popcorn.  Turning to larger expenses, she placed pieces of fruit in the jar to indicate our mortgage, car payments, insurances, and finally, with a large grapefruit, our offerings to God.  Of course, the grapefruit stuck out considerably and the point was made – put first things first.  Which was good, and I agree – I always remind people that your tithe is specifically mentioned as coming from your First Fruits.  In fact, back when I was struggling with money, but still wanted to make Christ a priority, I forced myself into a physical discipline to reflect the spiritual discipline.  At the time, I was using a modified version of the envelope system and I forced myself, when I cashed my paycheck, to immediately take out the 10% I wanted to give back to God, so that I was reinforcing, in my mind if no where else, the First Fruits concept.

But I noticed something odd when Pastor Rita reversed the process.  She first added the grapefruit (tithes), then the mortgage fruit, the car payments fruit (a lime), then the insurances, then poured the popcorn over, leaving, about 1-1/2 inches of empty space at the top.  “And that,” she declared, “is the best example I’ve ever seen of how steawardship works.”  Well, this immediately bothered me and I got distracted trying to figure out why.  Then it hit me – here we were, at a church function, surrounded by a few dozen pastors, and NO ONE had mentioned Kingdom Finances.

You see, Pastor Rita’s example was fine – in fact it was a great explanation for the Pareto Principle, espoused by John Maxwell.  However, other than the admonition to put our commitment to God first, it really didn’t illustrate at all the Kingdom Economic principles.  After much thought, I determined what I think is the best way she could have continued the existing example, but bring God into it more:

Place the jar inside a 2″ deep baking pan.  Then take a pitcher of water and pour it over the entire container, filling up the remaining space within the jar and spilling out over into the pan.  You see, when you place God first in your finances, He responds to that – because He wants to, because He loves us – by filing us up to overflowing – providing not only for our needs, but blessing us with an abundance so that we may bless others.  Later in the seminar, during a question and answer session, I brought that up.  I asked, “I know we’re struggling in many churches just to get people to tithe (the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is ahead of the ballgame – 2.5% of their members tithe as opposed to the national average in all churches, 1.9%), but why are we not even discussing offerings – those gifts that go above the tithe?”

His response was sadly typical.  While he agreed with me that the tithe should be a floor, not a ceiling, he kind of danced around the fact that there was more of a fear mentality in the Lutheran church than one of looking to bless others – despite Martin Luther‘s personal stance on this issue.

Just to finish off, at the conclusion of the seminar, wherein they handed out materials to all of the attendees that they told us to use in our churches, I noticed that absolutely nothing had been said about teaching the children stewardship.  Maybe it’s just because we are in Florida, often joked about as “God’s waiting room,” but I thought it odd that we were not encouraged to teach our children stewardship, tithing and giving.  When I inquired, I was told that I could request materials via e-mail from the speaker and he would be happy to send them to me, yet no mention was made of this to the larger group.  Which wouldn’t be as big a deal if they hadn’t interrupted our discussion just a few minutes before to explain how to handle snowbirds & part-time residents.  Apparently, they are more important to this church than raising up their children (as few as they are) in the proper Christian beliefs and faith.

On a somewhat related, but different note, an interesting thing has been happening in my area of Southwest Florida recently.  A few short weeks ago, one of our officers at the Fort Myers Police Department was shot in the line of duty.  While I had only met Andy once, I have known his wife and her family for the better part of 25 years.  As part of the community coming together, a number of officers from all of our local police agencies volunteered to stand outside of various shopping centers and Wal-Marts, collecting donations for the family, who has three very young children.  The donations collected (and still being collected in some instances) amounted to well over $100,000.

Recently, some folks have expressed some confusion over why this family was singled out and received such a huge outpouring of community support.  Now, as a friend of the family and former law enforcement officer, I have my own strongly held personal opinions about why the Widman family should be blessed in this way (not to mention Andy took the job to raise money so he and Susanna could go overseas as missionaries), but the detractors raise an interesting point – one they seem willing to back up.  And in that I support them.  They rightly ask, “Where is all of the money for other widows, where is the community support,”  and they are making a lot of noise about starting a fund for those other widows, to which I respond, ABSOLUTELY.  And while you’re at it, let’s take care of the orphans as well.  I’m pretty sure that’s in the Bible…

Dueteronomy 10:17-18 “For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing.”

In fact, the book of Deuteronomy is replete with admonitions to leave behind a portion of your crops, for the fatherless and the widowed.  Twice in that book alone, the writer mentions that you should, “bring all the tithes of that year’s produce and store it in your towns, so that the Levites (who have no allotment or inheritance of their own) and the aliens, the fatherless and the widows who live in your towns may come and eat and be satisfied, and so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work of your hands.”

You may recall my article last year, “Why Social Security, Welfare & Medicare Don’t Work – And Never Will,” where I talked about how the church and its people have abdicated their responsibility to care for the least of these to various government programs.  While the almost universal response I got from the people who read the article can be summed up in, “Well, that’s a nice thought, but it’ll never work,” its nice to see that some others – even those without a faith foundation to fall back on – are embracing the same principles.  Now why can’t we get the church involved?

Maybe that’s just too much Jesus for them.  Maybe we should review the words of the great reformer, Martin Luther:

“There is no true, basic difference between laymen and priests, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of the spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops, and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.” – Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation (1520)

Now get out there and change the world.

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Since I started doing this teaching blog a little while ago, I have gotten a variety of responses from the readers, some as comments, some as personal e-mails, both positive and negative in their feedback.  One subject that seems to spur more controversy and general angst than any other is the subject of tithing.

There are two basic points of view about tithing in churches, and I never realized the huge gulf between the two concepts – in part, because there isn’t one, just a manufactured controversy that results from too many assumptions about the other party, and secondly because of the high emotional context that many non-tithing (often also known as free-will offering) teachers operate from.

It’ll probably be easier to understand if I give you some examples.  Most of the arguments people have given me consist of a few similarities.  I’ll summarize.

The first is, “Christ established a new covenant with his followers, especially the gentiles, and we should no longer serve the old Jewish/Old Testament edicts.”

The second is, “Churches and pastors have browbeat people into giving.  The teaching on tithing has been abused to build up some church leader’s egos and for building projects and to take advantage of the poor who have less than the rich.”  This one’s usually preceded by the phrase, “I’m mad.”

Often times, these arguments are bolstered and exacerbated by the many assumptions that are prevalent in the arguments.

Tithing teachers and followers often assume that their free-will offering counterparts are using their beliefs as a crutch to give less or not at all, because they haven’t felt the Spirit move them.

Free-Will Offering teachers and followers assume that their tithing friends are legalistic, mean and teach that God doesn’t bless those who don’t give 10%.  They also assume that many tithers use the 10% as a crutch to only give the barest minimum of what they have been blessed with, and feeling smug and secure.

There are a variety of other less-prevalent arguments and assumptions, but the ones I have presented here cover a majority of what I’ve heard.  One notable exception was a gentleman who explained to me in depth why tithing was a remnant of the Mosaic law and that we are under a new covenant and not Jews and should not be bound by the Mosaic laws, then proceeded to tell me that he believed that his stance on Free-Will Offering was established in the book of Deuteronomy (I’ll pause and let the irony sink in).

I said that the controversy was manufactured and I want to explain that, because I don’t want to leave any misunderstandings out there.  I also don’t want anyone to think that I am stating that one group or another manufactured the controversy.  That is not true.  Unfortunately, there is another presence in our world that likes to create things, especially things that mock the true creation, and I believe he is the source of this manufactured controversy.

In First Timothy 2:14-17, Paul explains this: “…Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.  Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.  Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.  Their teaching will spread like gangrene.”

I believe this is what has happened here – Satan has gotten in and subtly manipulated us, using some pastor’s all-too human failings, pride and greed, to establish a controversy and an argument between two viable bodies of Christ for no apparent reason other than the controversy itself.

Now follow me here, because this is the question I have for my free-will offering friends who don’t believe in the tithe.  First, “Why not?”  But before you answer that question, let me offer my proposal for how we can resolve all of the conflict and come into a unity with regards to expressing our stewardship by giving to the Lord. 

You see, once I understood the basic principles of Spirit-led free-will offering, the answer became obvious to me. 

First, we do not deny the tithe – it is a Biblically-expressed spiritual principle, tied to God’s spiritual laws.  However, the tithe is just a starting point.  As we mature and grow in our understanding and knowledge of Jesus Christ and how His kingdom economics work, we follow the Spirit’s leading (which we can hear and discern better now) and increase our giving, our free-will offering, as we are led.

Think of the tithe as the spiritual milk that babies eat and the free-will offering as the spiritual meat that adults transition to.  The two don’t have to be at odds with one another – it makes sense, spiritually, that they should compliment each other.  We are blessed by God, in part, due to the way we handle money, and giving new Christians a standard to judge themselves by only makes sense.

Through all of my praying and preparing for writing this, I have sought God’s wisdom in this matter, and through His divine intelligence, He has given me a phrase that I think just might revolutionize the way tithing is taught and understood by most of the church.

The phrase is this: “Tithing is not legalistic, it is opportunistic.”

Now, I’m not going to argue with the people who take offense that a spiritual concept might be ‘opportunistic.’  God is a God of opportunity – after all, it is He who gives us the ability to create wealth, so why would He then deny us that opportunity.  If you don’t agree, then you might as well head over to ChristaNet or Yahoo or whatever, cause this won’t make sense to you.

Instead, I’m going to explain why the tithe is opportunistic.

You see, I believe that there are three levels of blessing that God engages in.  The first is general blessing.  We all get the benefits of that, by the very fact that we live on the earth He created.  Jesus explains that in Matthew 5: “your Father in heaven… causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.”

The second blessing is a believer’s blessing, which is similar to the blessing the Jewish people still hold.  Paul explains in Galatians 3:

“Just as no one can set aside or add to a human covenant that has been duly established, so it is in this case.  The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ.  What I mean is this: The law, introduced 430 years later, does not set aside the covenant previously established by God and thus do away with the promise.  For if the inheritance depends on the law, then it no longer depends on a promise; but God in his grace gave it to Abraham through a promise.

What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. The law was put into effect through angels by a mediator.  A mediator, however, does not represent just one party; but God is one.

Is the law, therefore, opposed to the promises of God? Absolutely not! For if a law had been given that could impart life, then righteousness would certainly have come by the law.  But the Scripture declares that the whole world is a prisoner of sin, so that what was promised, being given through faith in Jesus Christ, might be given to those who believe.

Before this faith came, we were held prisoners by the law, locked up until faith should be revealed.  So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.  There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.”

Paul even points out earlier in the chapter, that those who rely on observing the law are cursed.  I repeat that the Biblical tithe is not legalistic – otherwise, it would go against God’s promises.

Finally, the third blessing that God bestows is the blessing of obedience.  You see, we’re given free will.  Anyone can do anything he likes or doesn’t like.  God does not make a distinction.  Further, we can follow or turn away and we can be obedient or disobedient to God.  However, I don’t believe that God punishes us for that – not in the way that the world thinks, anyway.  God is not sitting up in heaven with a giant SMITE button on His captain’s chair, waiting for us to screw up so that He can take away our blessings.  No, the beauty of it is, being our Creator, He understands how we work, and knows that the consequences of our actions or inactions will be sufficient in most cases.  This is especially true of those who have believed in Jesus Christ, crucified, risen and ruling still.  But by that same token, those of us who are saved by faith, should also respond to that gift with love and obedience.  In fact, we have a higher responsibility, by nature of the gift we have been given.  Again, we could chose to ignore that responsibility and devalue that gift, but where would that leave us?

You see, the tithe is not legalistic – and God does not punish or penalize us for not following the tithe.  At the same time, He does not withhold His blessings from us, if we don’t tithe – and this is the most important thing – WE withhold those blessings from ourselves!

God is standing there, willing, able and longing, YES, LONGING, to bless us with more financial wealth, more relationship wealth and more spiritual wealth and power, but He chooses to follow the rules He himself has set up, because He knows His creation.

Luke 16: 9-11 – “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”

I Peter 1: 14-15 – “As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance.  But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do;”

Why does God long to bless us financially, spiritually and relationally?  Because His desire is that we bring about a change in our world – a movement that glorifies Him and draws many many more to His promises and truth of the Gospel.

Just one more thing I’d like to point out, for the people who still object to my teaching on tithes.  I am not a pastor (in the traditional sense), nor do I represent a church.  I am a member of a church, and I have been a member of other churches.  At no point have I ever taught the tithe to raise money for myself or any church or ministry.  I teach the tithe, because I believe it is truly the way God wants us to behave, augmented by free-will offerings when the Spirit moves you.  No one should give out of obligation or fear and no one should ignore Biblical teaching because of someone else’s propensity for using the Word of God to elicit guilt or fear.  Sorry, that’s just the way it is.

As for this ministry/website/blog – everything here is paid for out of my own pocket.  When I do seminars, whether for churches or other organizations, I do not ask for any money.  I have been given money in the past, but not as a result of my request.  I don’t even have a button on here to support me voluntarily through PayPal or anything like that.  That said, I have posted a couple of flyers on the site that you can download to share with friends who are seeking Biblical teaching on finances. 

Dennis Peacocke, author of Doing Business God’s Way, points out that Paul often writes that we are given the resources necessary to fulfill our God-given calling.  In I Thessalonians 1:11-12, he writes, “With this in mind, we constantly pray for you, that our God may count you worthy of his calling, and that by his power he may fulfill every good purpose of yours and every act prompted by your faith.  We pray this so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.”

2 Corinthians 9 expresses it this way:

God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. As one psalmist puts it,
   He throws caution to the winds,
      giving to the needy in reckless abandon.
   His right-living, right-giving ways
      never run out, never wear out.
This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way, producing with us great praise to God.

Carrying out this social relief work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs of poor Christians. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgivings to God. This relief offering is a prod to live at your very best, showing your gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ. You show your gratitude through your generous offerings to your needy brothers and sisters, and really toward everyone. Meanwhile, moved by the extravagance of God in your lives, they’ll respond by praying for you in passionate intercession for whatever you need. Thank God for this gift, his gift. No language can praise it enough!”

(The Message)

May God bless you as you prayerfully consider the words I have written here.  And may you find the level of giving you are able to handle and allow God to grow you spiritually, financially and relationally into His perfect creation.
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