Generous With Our Money

This is a hard one, y’all. I’ve been challenged and continue to be challenged with how God wants us to be with our money. It’s the area where I am the least brave. If I have the choice between paying for a place to live and food to eat versus giving money to the church, usually, the first one will win out. We all tend to be most interested in our own survival. And then there’s the question the author asks in today’s devotion. “But are you brave enough to believe that if you are generous with your money, you won’t run out?” (100 Days to Brave, Annie F. Downs) My answer to that question most days is ‘I don’t know.’

And coupled with that answer is one of the main reasons I might eventually lessen my involvement on social media. At least lessen the amount of time I look at other people’s pictures. Because, sometimes, I have a hard time looking at the pictures of someone’s trip to Hawaii, Europe, or somewhere in the United States, reconciling it with that particular person saying we needed to give more to the church, and being jealous that they got to take those trips. Now, before anyone gets bent out of shape, I’m talking about how I feel and how I’m sinning when I have those thoughts, not about anyone else. 🙂

God wants us to be generous with what money we have and not wish we had someone else’s money. This one is so hard for me and is a part of my giving story. So, for the rest of this post, I’m going to re-post something I wrote last year. I hope you are blessed.

The Complexity of Giving–My Giving Story–January 2017

On Saturday, someone I know posted a Facebook status asking people why they thought people didn’t give to the church. I was interested in what people might say so I kept going back to the post over the afternoon though I had no intention of answering the question myself. Why, you ask? My answer would have been more complex and might not have fit in the character limit for a Facebook comment. Actually, that’s not true. 🙂 I don’t know what the character limit for a Facebook comment is. I just thought it would help you understand that my experiences with giving involve a story more complex than a Facebook comment.

But, then I saw the sound bites start to come in. “up to their eyeballs in debt” “not agree with church leadership choices” “not connected” “easiest expense to dump when necessary” “We are all selfish.” “amount spend on bricks and mortar and not on helping people” The sound bites went on and on. Now, I’m not saying these aren’t true. Most news reports have sound bites that draw people to listening to the whole report, and with the attention span we all have nowadays, the sound bite might be the most we get out of the issue. This is sad, but it is what it is.

That’s when I heard the promptings from God. ‘Daughter, you need to share your story. People need to know giving to me isn’t a sound bite.’ I argued with God a bit. My story involves a painful part of my past that I would prefer not to revisit. But, as those of us who are believers know, arguing with God tends not to work.

So, in all its glory, here is my giving story.

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. God wasn’t spoken of in my home, and neither was tithing. If we did go to church, which wasn’t often, it might have been at Christmas or Easter. My parents would hand me a few dollars to put in the offering plate, but that was it.

When I was a teenager, they allowed me to go to church with a friend. I think it was a prompting from God. I heard about Jesus and his unconditional love and grace, and it was amazing to me. I accepted Christ as my Savior not long after. I started learning about the Bible in my youth group and during the services. I heard teaching about tithing and giving too, but it seemed far above me. I was a teenager, after all, and didn’t have a regular income to tithe. It was also not being reinforced at home. So, I continued putting a few dollars in the offering plate at this church and the other churches I went to as a teenager and didn’t think about it anymore.

Then, I went to college across the country from my family. I found a college church and a campus ministry to become involved in. I thrived in college because of this community and made lifelong friends. We were encouraged to give, but community was what was most important. We were college students, after all. This was a precious time for me. Like I have said, I still have relationships with some of these people over thirty years later. We did mission work. We were a part of our community and impacted lives for Jesus. I ended up going to graduate school at the same university so I was in college for six years.

Eventually, though, I entered the real world and started working as a teacher. I was still going to church and still giving, but something changed. It was no longer about the community or serving God. It was about seeing how much you could accumulate. The talk among my friends was who had the newest car, who had the newest clothes or music, or who had a boyfriend. I was still at my college church which I loved, but there was one thing it was missing. Single guys! The message I was getting was that it was time for me to settle down. I decided I needed to try some of the larger churches in town. I went through a couple of boyfriends and then found the man I would eventually marry when I went out for visitation with the church I had started going to. It was love at first sight. He was recovering from surgery, but there was something about his kind eyes, his sarcastic wit, and the way he made me laugh that I was drawn to. He asked me to marry him six months later, and we married a year after that.

For the next few years, we drifted between churches. We were both Christians and wanted to go to church, but we couldn’t find anywhere we felt comfortable. He also had not been raised in the church so neither of us had good teachings about giving to draw from. We also had not had good teaching about community. In particular, I remember one Sunday School class where we were asked when we were going to buy a home with the implication that living in an apartment was not a good thing and that we would not be welcome if we didn’t buy a home. We did not stay at that church.

We moved across town a few months after I found out I was pregnant with my first son. After he was born, we decided we wanted to plant roots in a church, but not one where we would be noticed. We went to a few smaller churches, but then found a bigger one we liked. There were things to be involved with and ways to serve so we became involved pretty quickly. We also started giving more, but we weren’t tithing, and it wasn’t as regular as it should have been. We had our second son, and he was dedicated in that church. Life was good.

But, we started noticing things, little things at first, and then they got bigger. Because, you see, we had moved to one of the wealthier parts of town. We were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. The talk at some of our Sunday School class fellowships started to be about what houses people had bought, what cars or boats people were thinking about getting, and where was the best place to get exclusive children’s clothing. My husband and I tried to keep up, but there was only so much we could do. The talk was about the toys and not about Jesus. Oh, we still helped people, but the unspoken implication was that we were better than them. As I think back, it makes me sad that we lost sight of who Jesus was in this church.

Then, it started getting noticed that we didn’t have as much or give as much as other people. The people who gave the most were recognized at our church. It was a competition we had no hope of winning. People would give us the side-eye if we were not wearing the best clothes or not driving off in the nicest cars. Conversations would stop when we walked up. I remember one thing in particular. My husband asked a guy in our class where his jewelry store was–that he wanted to buy me something. The guy replied in a snooty voice, “Don’t bother. You can’t afford anything in my store.” We were in shock and didn’t know what to say.

This was all building to something though–something that would take us away from that community. A family tragedy brought something out of the shadows that had happened a long time ago. It was something that made us unworthy in the eyes of the person who found out. He thought it was necessary for the whole church to know, and we were betrayed. The hurt was unimaginable. We had lost what we thought was our community. Fortunately, my husband found a job in another city, and we moved there not long after.

My first thought upon moving to our new city was to find a new church. I wanted to meet people. We did find one. It was where our older son was baptized. It didn’t take long for the same things to happen again though. People thought they were better than us because they had more and gave more. What we gave wasn’t enough. It hurt me down to the core of my being. We left that church and the church itself for what we thought would be forever. We told ourselves we could be Christians without having a church. This is true, but we didn’t understand what we would be missing out on since we had never been in a true Christian community.

Years passed. We moved to the Midwest and then back to the Southeast. Our kids grew, and we decided to homeschool them. Finally, we moved southwest from where we had been after we had experienced another family death, surgery, and job loss. Finding another church wasn’t even on our radar, but God hadn’t given up on us. My fifteen year old son asked if we could go to church, and a friend told me about one and said we needed to try it. We’re still there, almost five years later. It was so refreshing. No one cared that we lived in an apartment. We were welcomed warmly every single time we walked in the door. And this was with me staying in the background after I had walked in trying to figure out these people and what agenda they had. For the first several months, I just came and participated in the services and figured the agenda would come out soon enough, and we would be hurt again. It didn’t though. My sons made friends, and the trappings didn’t matter. We learned the way God truly meant for us to love one another. I didn’t know how wealthy some of the people were until we actually went to their homes. They were that down-to-earth. No one knew how much other people gave to the church.

Several months passed with all of this staying the same, and my husband and I talked about becoming consistent givers. We had never done this, but we were in a place that was touching our family in miraculous ways so we wanted to try. God blessed us from that first time of giving. Now, I’m not saying we became instantly wealthy. We didn’t. We have gone through heartbreak galore over the last four years–unemployment, multiple hospital stays,  health concerns, and just struggling to believe God and our community wouldn’t desert us again. It was logical. We had been deserted before so there was every possibility it would happen again. We haven’t been deserted though, and I don’t believe we will be even though I relive our pain every year at stewardship time. Sometimes, I flash back to the past when I hear stewardship sermons because of what we went through, and we are giving now.

So, before you reduce someone’s giving to a sound bite, ask them what their giving story is. It will probably be more complex than you think.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Small Steps (Beyond Our Walls)

Yesterday, I spoke of how I was taking a small step out of my comfort zone this weekend by participating in and facilitating an hour of a 24-hour prayer vigil. I did this without realizing that the title of today’s prayer vigil was Taking Small Steps. When I looked at the devotion booklet this morning, I was not sure I had anything else to say about this topic. I did though. I had a lot to say and a story to tell.

Zechariah 4:10 says, “Do not despise this small beginning, for the eyes of the Lord rejoice to see the work begin.”

Several months ago, I had the idea to start a newsletter at my church. I thought this would be great. I would be using my talents for God, and I would be helping a place I had grown to love. It took me awhile though to be brave enough to even offer my talents. I was afraid of failure. Finally, I did, and the people I talked to thought it was a great idea. I was told I needed to speak with a specific person about it, and I sent the person an email. A few days later, I received a reply saying the person was not available to meet with me right now and wouldn’t be available for a month or so. Whoa! That answer deflated me quickly, and I gave up on the idea just as quickly. I assumed the other people I had spoken with had not been as enthusiastic as I thought. I was hurt, badly hurt, but I stuffed the hurt down because my family was dealing with the reality of my husband being unemployed.

Shortly after this, my church introduced its capital campaign, and the last couple of months have been spent hearing messages of what we were trying to do and messages of stewardship. All of which, by the way, I agree with. I just didn’t feel like I was a part of things because my family wasn’t going to be able to participate in a big way.

It’s been five weeks since my husband started working again and twenty-three days since we started our forty days of prayer. It’s been a learning experience for me, and I’ve realized I’m ok with the way things turned out now. I wasn’t ready to work on a newsletter. There were people more talented than me in the art of communication. I needed to learn some things about me and my writing. I needed to dig things out of my past and deal with them. I needed to learn how to write consistently and honestly. I needed to be honest when an overheard conversation about raising money triggered me with images from my past. I needed to take the small steps of healing from my past so I could move forward.

Everything I’ve written here today has been stored in the recesses of my heart. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to share it, but, after what happened on Wednesday, I realized I needed to share. I overheard a conversation about raising money and how the pressure needed to be kept up instead of loosened. I’m not sure what the context was. It might have been that God was working in the hearts of people who needed to take a more active role in giving money and using their gifts. It might have been that people were caught up with the idea of raising money for their glory instead of God’s glory. I don’t know. But, the conversation triggered me and elements of my past came to the forefront. Heartbreaking experiences of when money was used to beat my family down and to withhold love because we didn’t have as much as other people. If you’ve never had that kind of experience in a church, consider yourself very lucky.

Anyway, I teared up and barely spoke for the rest of the night. I have had this on my mind for the last two days and wasn’t sure what to do about it. God brought this to my mind, and I took the small step of writing about it. I’m not sure I would have done that if I had done what I first thought God was leading me to all those months ago. (starting a newsletter)

I want to make one thing clear before I finish. Because of the way our society is now, money is necessary to support God’s work. Not only to pay the people who are working in our churches, but to pay for all the materials we expect to have. I understand this and support it. We just need to make sure we are raising money for God’s glory and not our own.

I am thankful that God has given me the gift of writing and pray He helps me take the small steps necessary to improve my craft and use it for His glory. I pray the same for all of you.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Acting on What I Believe – A Challenge

In all the years I’ve been a professed Christian, I’ve never really thought about this until the last few weeks – how action translates what I believe into something beautiful. Into something Jesus wants to see from all who claim belief in Him.

I know we all have been in our churches and heard sermons on stewardship. Yes, giving money is not the only thing we can do in Jesus’ name, not the only action, but it’s the one I’m going to talk about today. Now, back to those sermons. Have you rolled your eyes at least once when you’ve heard those sermons? I will admit it. I have. It seems like all the yearly pleas for money have made us immune to what the money is really needed for. Do we really want to win our world for Christ? Or is church and what we do at church just something to check off our list and not even the most important part of our list? I don’t want church or my faith to be something to check off a list.  I want my life and my money to show what I really believe in. I want people to see Jesus in me. I might not be able to give as much money as someone else, but, from what I can give, money, as well as time, I want people to see  what my priorities are.  And my very first priority is my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

I write this today because today is Commitment Sunday at my church for our 2015 budget. And it is the very first time my heart is in tune with my actions. I want to “touch God’s heart with a renewed sense of generosity”.  God has tremendously blessed my family in the last few weeks, and I want to turn that around and bless others. I hope my church family joins me.  But, more than that, more than just money, I hope that all of you who are Christians will love people in Jesus’ name today.

God’s blessings on all of you!