Yesterday, a young Dad came in the office and asked me if he could borrow $20 until payday . . . Of course, I loaned him the $20. It took me back to another time in my life and caused me to think about where Sandy and I were back then . . . and where we are today. That young Dad today was a reflection of me at one point in time. In fact, when Courtney was a baby, she got sick. We had to borrow money from our little country bank to pay the doctor and hospital . . . and then I had to be the night janitor at that bank to repay the loan. Work by day to provide my family . . . work by night to pay the medical bills. That was good stuff; it taught me a great deal about responsibility, being dependable, commitment, hard work, determination, goal setting, and finances. Indeed, they were hard times . . . but they were also good times.
Because Sandy and I were there, I like to have a discussion with young couples about finances and the path to financial freedom. It is a subject I know a little something about . . . hard times are a good teacher. I want to help young families learn something wonderful that Sandy and I have learned as we have walked through life. It is something we knew very little about when we first married. I am not selling anything . . . I just want to share an amazing financial principal . . . Here it is: God can be trusted . . . and He wants to be able to trust you!
I like to remind young couples that opposites attract . . . and that can be great . . . or it can be a disaster, depending on how it is handled. I know in our situation it was great while we were dating and having a good time . . . we liked the same music, we like the same foods, the same movies . . . we pretty much liked everything the other one liked. We were just happy to be together. The struggle didn’t show up until we got married and had to start making some decisions about life, money, home, autos, furniture, and then later about parenting. It was at that point that we began to discover how different we were. I remember early on, I bought her a small diamond ring for Christmas. When she opened the box, much to my chagrin she put her face in her hands and began to cry . . . duh, and I thought diamonds were a girl’s best friend (that is what the bill-board said). Confused I asked her why on earth she would cry over a ring. That sweet girl said, “Honey, we need a new sofa.” She has always been practical, and I have always loved to give gifts. She did manage to overcome that thing about jewelry.
To my way of thinking, I believed that you can trace a person’s heart and devotion by where his or her “minutes and money” are being invested . . . wherever one invests those two things says a great deal about what is important in his or her life. I simply could not buy a sofa for the house and call it a present for my wife. I believed if we needed a sofa, I was responsible for earning the money to buy it and I was glad to do that . . . just not as a present for Sandy. The present was about her . . . my love and appreciation for her . . . It simply could not be about what we needed for the house. I am still like that, and she has come to appreciate that now. What happened for us is that we influenced each other and found a comfortable operating place somewhere toward the middle . . . and we became a team. On occasion, there is still some debate about who is the Team Captain . . . and that can be good, too.
Sandy is still, for the most part, a very practical person . . . and I still have the “minutes and money” philosophy, but we have made some important discoveries along the way. The most important discovery is that “part of what we get and have is not ours . . . it belongs to God and we are responsible for returning it to Him.” It is called Tithing. There are mixed messages being sent across Christianity today on this subject, with some declaring it as only having been an Old Testament thing, while others use the subject to preach a “Name it and Claim it,” and “Nab it and Grab it in Jesus’ Name” theology.
This is not how it is with us; we view tithing as a bridge . . . a bridge about trust . . . a bridge that leads to prosperity (not wealth, but wholesomeness). How does that happen? We view it is a matter of our trusting God and God being able to trust us. Our experience is that it happens in four (4) ways, as follows:
- It deepens our discipline. We fully believe that God wants to prosper us (prosper in the context of doing well); but we also believe that He fully expects us to participate in that exercise (see Proverbs 11:25). We get up in the morning and we go to work . . . neither of us has ever been lazy . . . and we have never expected anyone to give us anything, nor believed that we were owed anything. Many today operate on a philosophy of “Get all you can, can all you get, and sit on the lid.” We are very thankful that we know that is not how it is supposed to be for us. We want to always be faithful to share what we have and what comes our way. We believe that God wants to bless us . . . and that He wants to bless others, too . . . and sometimes He wants to bless them through us, so we try to be sensitive to those opportunities.
Here are three things we have learned about discipline:
Initially, it is painful;
It is reliably progressive; and
It is ultimately profitable.
We believe giving our tithes and offerings deepens our discipline because it requires us to dedicate, consecrate, prioritize and sanctify a portion of our finances . . . for God . . . and for God alone! Honestly, in the early years it was actually quite difficult for us to reserve some of the finances just for God, because we live in a culture that teaches us differently. A culture that says, “If you are going to have, then you have to get.” The truth is that our culture in the USA is incredibly undisciplined . . . and the news we are getting about the budget battle, the deficit, and the way our government functions in Washington certainly reflects that truth. Proverbs 21:20 has something to say about that . . .
We had to learn to live on a budget . . . that taught us to live within what God gave us . . . and it prepared us to live with what He would later give us. We had to learn that a budget is not a restrictive element in our family life . . . in fact, what we discovered is that it is actually a liberating element. As we learned to live within our budget, we soon found that we could sleep at night rather than worrying about things falling apart. We learned that financial disaster can, generally speaking, be avoided by discipline and proper planning . . . and living with what we have.
We adopted a financial program of Give 10%, Save 10%, and Live on 80%. In the early years, it was difficult because our culture is designed to get people spending . . . and to keep people broke. Just look at the ads and marketing campaigns. As an example, you can buy a new smart-phone (actually any electronic device) and very quickly, it is out-dated and the marketing trick is to make you replace/update . . . even if the one you have is working. Unfortunately, as a nation we have been duped into believing that our cell phones say something about our status . . . so the pressure is on to keep up!
Here is what Sandy and I had to learn (and our Federal Government must learn): When your out-put exceeds your income . . . then your upkeep will become your downfall!
2. Tithing declares our devotion. Our faithful tithe demonstrates our love for and devotion to God. We have come to believe so strongly in tithing that it seems to us that when we give, Heaven hears and windows begin to open. Of course, that is not the reason we give . . . but it sure seems to be the result.
We believe an important element of true worship involves sacrifice and giving. We struggle with the new notion of this generation that true worship involves making noise, calling attention to oneself in corporate worship, raising hands, dancing in the aisles, and singing the same words over and over with closed eyes. We believe that giving is a very tangible expression of worship and devotion. In fact, we believe that worship without sacrifice is more akin to entertainment than it is to true worship.
I am reminded of an old story about a wealthy older man who married a beautiful young woman. Several months after their wedding, he worked up the courage to discuss the object of her love . . . was it him or was it his money? He asked her, “Honey, if I lost all of my money, would you still love me?” she said, “Absolutely, I would still love you . . . and I would really miss you too!”
3. It defines our distribution. We have learned that we can always do better than the 10%, and we have come to understand the “Storehouse of the Lord” is far greater than just the place where we go to Church. We see the Children’s Home as a wonderful place to give, as are mission projects, purchasing school clothes for low-income kids, helping a sick person buy needed medicine, helping one struggling with a utility bill, or helping a young, struggling family with several kids get a much needed car. The truth is the Kingdom of God cannot be put in a box or inside four walls. I find that sometimes it even includes buying a meal for a person standing on a street corner holding up a sign, or buying a plane ticket for a struggling waitress to fly home to see her dying mother.
We have learned that God’s economy is built on a firm principle, “If you have, you need to give.” We are faithful to share what we have and what comes our way. We look for people we can bless and do it with an open heart . . . but we have often discovered that when we were blessing someone . . . we are putting future blessings on lay–away. We fully believe that God gives favor . . . and we always try to be willing to go where His favor is trying to take us.
4. It provides protection. We firmly believe that God blesses what we do and that He looks after us. We believe that is the protection of a loving father. We are amazed how He has blessed our investments; how He has taken things that we had to do and caused them to prosper. How He has taken things that could have turned out badly for us and amazingly turned those very things into a blessing. The point here is simply that we believe that God seeks people He can use as a channel . . . where He can put something in one place and then get it to another place when He wants it there. If He gives you something to hold on to, He is not going to allow something bad to happen to it while you hold it for Him. We are amazed how He has blessed us . . . Lest you misunderstand . . . this is not about money and wealth . . . it is about love, trust, obedience, and the fruits of those disciplines.
The truth is that one’s possessions do not define a person . . . it is what he does with those things that defines him.
Recommended reading . . . Luke 12: 13 – 21 . . . a family feud over money . . . and a story (parable) Jesus used to explain the danger of greed. In fact, he began by saying, “Watch out!!”