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God’s gifts, our giving: Part 2

With what shall I come before the Lord? 

Aaron L. Christie 

Regardless of one’s political persuasionor lack thereofit seems that the American economy is booming. Unemployment is at a lifetime low. The stock market has had some hiccups, but it still is positive in the long run. Wages are up, but paradoxically, something is down: Personal giving to religious charities. 

A giving snapshot 

If statistics can be trusted, it seems that Christians gave less than 2 percent of their income to churches last yearBut what about WELS members? We are not much different from the rest of Christians in America. Here is a giving snapshot for the large church that I serve in the WELS heartland: 

  • 3 percent gave 30 percent of all offerings. 
  • 10 percent gave 31 percent of all offerings. 
  • 20 percent gave 26 percent of all offerings. 
  • 67 percent gave 12 percent of all offerings. 

Interestingly, the giving levels of my previous parish in metro Chicago lined up exactly with the giving levels of my current parishMy hunch is that your church’s giving analysis might look much the same. 

But what do those numbers really mean? Those numbers mean that two-thirds of our members gave less to the Creator of the human body than they did to the local gym to keep that body in shape. They also mean that 87 percent of our members give more to talk/text on cell phones than they give to the One who has spoken to us, once for all, by his Son. 

So how much faith does it take to pay for a gym membership or a cell phone bill? 

Answer: God knows. And we do too. 

Yet many Christians become animated when they hear preaching about money. We are guilty of a major words/deeds inconsistency! We say that we believe that God createdand therefore ownsthe world and everything in it. Yet we tip our server 15 percent and tip the Creator of food 2 percent? We need to repent of our self-centered greed, which is idolatry! 

Proportionate giving 

Last month’s article discussed the matter of giving first fruitsWhen we give first to the Lord, it helps us clarify our prioritiesplacing him first in our lives—not in theory, but in realityGiving first fruits takes aim at the attitude enclosed in our hearts rather than the amount enclosed in our envelopes. This month the biblical practice of proportionate giving begins the conversation of what “first and best” means for each of us as we decide in our hearts what to give. Proportionate giving means giving in proportion to how God has blessed us. It entails giving a fixed percentage of our incomes (1 Corinthians 16:2). Experience teaches and statistics show that giving amounts are not directly tied to tax brackets and bottom lines, but to the depth of our faith in the promises of our God. 

The Scriptures give us several examples of proportionate giving that provide us with an opportunity to ponder the percentage of our own gifts 

  • After victory on the field of battle,Abraham gave 10 percent of all his possessions to Melchizedek, the kingly-priest of Jerusalem (Genesis 14:20). He gave a tithe of his significant riches to thank God for the riches of his grace. God would direct his people to give various tithes later in the Law of Moses.  
  • Thousands of years later, Zacchaeus would give 50 percent of his significant wealth to the poor (Luke 19:1-10). He gave away half of his possessions because he was wholly possessed by gratitude for the salvation that Jesus brought to his house!  
  • We even hear of two women who gave 100 percent of their income to the Lord: The widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:7-16) gave her last meal to the prophet, and the widow at the temple (Luke 21:1-4) gave her last two small coins.  

All of these gifts were given out of gratitude, not under compulsion. 

These examples from Scripture lead us to consider proportionate giving from another angle: Proportionate giving is not so much about how much I give, but how much is left over to live on. Abraham offered the Lord a tithe but had 90 percent of a significant amount to live on. Zacchaeus offered 50 percent but had significant resources left over. The two widows gave 100 percent of their income to the Lord. All they had to live on was faith in the promises of a loving Father. And having those promises, they had everything. So how much of God’s gifts do we really need to live on? May God bless that ongoing, prayerful conversation with him! 

Like Abraham of old, many Christians find joy in giving 10 percent of their income still todayThey do so with a heart that is 100 percent free in Christ and not because they feel they must. For some in our congregations, giving 10 percent is a goal to which they aspire. For others, richly blessed, giving 10 percent may be just a starting point. 

No matter what percentagwe choosethe encouragement is the same: Give in such a way that demonstrates faith in the power of God’s promises. Take God at his Word. Stretch yourself. Give as a reflection of God’s gracious gifts to you in Christ! 

And then tell the devil to go and pinch his pennies! 


Aaron Christie is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


This is the second article in a three-part series on giving. This series follows the outline of the congregational stewardship program, 10 for 10. 


Thinking proportionally 

Not long ago the Lord provided St. Paul in Green Bay, Wis., a golden opportunity to consider the matter of proportionate giving. After the funeral of one of our lifelong members, we were surprised to learn that St. Paul would receive about $1 million from her estate. What a blessing! 

As our church family gave thanks to the Lord, we began to feel the weight of responsibility: Now what? Our member did not designate how we should use the gift; she simply wanted the money to go to the Lord’s work. She trusted her congregation to make good decisions. We needed to figure some things out. How much of this gift should we save? How much should we spend?  

We established a committee to study short and longrange ministry goals in light of this gift and to bring a proposal to the congregation. Soon the committee wrestled with another question: Should we give a portion of this gift away? There is always plenty of work for our congregation to do close to home, but the riches of God’s love in Christ and the selfless gift of our sister in the faith helped us to remember the Lord’s work around the world. We eventually chose to give a portion of the gift to WELS, trusting that our leaders would use the money wherever it was most needed.  

But how much should we give? We wanted to think proportionately, to give in keeping with what we’d been given. In Christian freedom, we decided to use the Old Testament tithe as our example. So we gave WELS ten percent of what we had received, a gift in the amount of $100,000.  

Blessed though we were by the gift, it wasn’t easy to agree on what to do with that much money. Yet we gave in proportion to what we were given because of the Holy Spirit’s work in our hearts through the gospel, the same Spirit who worked in the heart of our sister in the faith. To God alone be the glory! 

 

Jon Zabell is pastor at St. Paul, Green Bay, Wisconsin. 


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Author: Aaron L. Christie 
Volume 106, Number 10
Issue: October 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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God’s gifts, our giving: Part 1

First things first 

Aaron L. Christie 

Americans have an issue with discerning theory from reality. We have hundreds of friends on Facebook, but they are friends in theory. In reality, we don’t know many of them. We have gym memberships to help us get in shape. Unfortunately, we don’t get in shape in theory but by making real choices on diet and dedicating ourselves to exercise. 

If we struggle with theory and reality as Americans, we struggle far more as sinners. Do we love the Lord in theory? Or in reality?  

The First Commandment comes first for a reason. The Lord unapologetically asks to be first on our life’s list. We are to fear, love, and trust in him above ALL things. We all know that. We are quick to say that the Lord is the Lord of our lives. God comes first! 

Showing the reality of our priorities 

But does he?  

Is God really truly the Creator of everything that exists? Has God personally blessed us with eyes, ears, mind, members, strength, and abilities? Does everything we possess really come from him? We talk about questions like these as if they were theoretical. In reality, all of these questions are either yes or no.  

In order to help make loving and trusting God into something real, tangible, and personal, the Lord commanded his Old Testament believers to offer him their firstfruits: “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops” (Proverbs 3:9). Whether the offering was one of grapes or grain, the first and the best of the harvest went to the Lord.  

In other words, it is an easy thing to say that the Lord is “Lord of the harvest.” It is an entirely different thing to recognize him as such with the tangible very first portion of the harvest. It is one thing to say that the Lord will “take care of us.” It is an entirely different thing to offer him the first portion of the harvest—even before you have fed your family or stored away seed for the next planting. The Lord’s commands regarding giving firstfruits helped the Israelites put the Lord first—not just on paper, but in practice. It helped them live by faith in God’s providence. God did not intend for them to give just with words but also with faith-stretching deeds. 

Humanly speaking, firstfruits offerings don’t make a bit of sense. Investment professionals tell us that if we “pay ourselves first” and invest it carefully over time, our money will grow. Human logic tells us that if we make the Lord’s work our firstfruits priority, then that means we have less for every other area of life, including important things like mortgages and medications. It’s true: Humanly speaking, giving firstfruits doesn’t make a bit of sense. 

It’s also true that giving firstfruits goes against every inclination of our sinful nature. The default setting of our sinful nature is to keep stuff, stockpile stuff, even hoard stuff in a never-ending quest to look out for number one. We call it the good life. God calls it greed. We call it being sensible. God calls it sin.  

God takes many positions in our lives, but second place dare never be one of them. There is no theory here: Our offerings either recognize God’s position of first place in our lives or they don’t.  

Reflecting God’s attitude 

There are consequences to putting God first in theory, but not in practice. Take a moment to read the major stewardship message contained in the book of the minor prophet Haggai. Look how the Lordnot in theory, but in realityturns people’s eloquent excuses for withholding their offerings upside down: You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it. . . . You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little (1:6,9). In other words, the people had less, because they gave little. God himself was seeing to that with one drought, one holepurse at a time! Think about it. The God who once fed five thousand hungry stomachs using only a boy’s picnic lunch is the very same God who can ensure that a stockpile of stuff won’t be able to make ends meet. 

But even more wonderful, giving firstfruits recognizes and reflects the giving nature of our God. He himself practiced giving firstfruits. He didn’t place our salvation toward the bottom of the list of things that needed to be done. He didn’t give us a bite of daily bread to keep us from starving until he sent us to the hell that our misplaced priorities deserved. What did he do? The giving heart of the Father gave us his first and best: His firstborn, his only begotten Son. First things first! And with his Son, he graciously gives us all things! “God so loved the world that he gave . . . (John 3:16). 

The point? Offering our firstfruits in Christian freedom is more about an attitude of gratitude than agriculture. It is more about God being our priority than it is about our personal property. It is about being who we really are in Christ: The firstfruits of all creation (James 1:18); blessed with the firstfruits of the Spirit (Romans 8:23); and rejoicing in Christ, the firstfruits of all who have fallen asleep (1 Corinthians 15:20).  

In offering our firstfruits, we are simply reflecting the giving nature of God who gave us his first, his best, his only begotten Son! 

 


Aaron Christie is pastor at Trinity, Waukesha, Wisconsin. 


This is the first article in a three-part series on giving. This series follows the outline of the congregational stewardship program, 10 for 10. 


A different way to give 

When you read the Bible, it tells all over the place about giving your firstfruits,” says Becky Wagner, a member at The Vine, Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. “I’m just so thankful for everything I have and have been given to take care of in this life, and I want to use my time, talents, AND treasures to give back.” 

Wagner uses Electronic Funds Transfer (EFT) to give her offerings to The Vine. This commonly used payment method allows Wagner to set funds to be transferred directly from her bank account to her church on a recurring basis.  

“It’s nice to have that knowledge that it is taken care of because it is automatic. It’s done; it’s set,” says Wagner. “It’s not anything to question—Did I do it? Did I forget? You don’t have to worry about it because you know you’re doing what you want to do.” 

Kevin Schultz, pastor of The Vine, says about ?? percent of his members use EFT for their regular giving. He says it’s a convenient way for his members—and himself—to give that also offers accountability. “I tell my members don’t think of it as paying a bill once a month or once a week. Look at it as an opportunity to give without the devil getting his hand in there,” he says. “We’re making a commitment to God, and we want to fulfill that commitment without having those temptations to go back on our promise.” 

The Vine also offers the traditional envelope system as well as one-time online giving through a giving app for those who don’t carry cash or a checkbook. “It’s not that one way is better than another,” he says. “It’s just offering multiple ways to give in a culture that requires multiple ways.” 

To consider: Have you thought about giving your firstfruits offering via EFT? If so, why so? If not, why not?


SUBMIT YOUR STORY

Do you have a manuscript, idea, or story from your own life you’d like to share for use in Forward in Christ or on wels.net? Use our online form to share it to our editorial office for consideration.

SUBSCRIBE TO FORWARD IN CHRIST

Get inspirational stories, spiritual help, and synod news from  Forward in Christ every month. Print and digital subscriptions are available from Northwestern Publishing House.

 

Author: Aaron L. Christie 
Volume 106, Number 9
Issue: September 2019

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © 2019
Forward in Christ grants permission for any original article (not a reprint) to be printed for use in a WELS church, school, or organization, provided that it is distributed free and indicate Forward in Christ as the source. Images may not be reproduced except in the context of its article. Contact us

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