Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A letter to my parish: Giving as Worship.

About 4 years ago I learned something new. {which is special for me because as you know, I already think I know everything). I watched a teaching on the internet given by a preacher from Seattle of all places. I have to tell you that it changed my perspective on giving in about 2 minutes. Because before that day I had been driven to give (when I gave) out of guilt and peer pressure.

On any given Sunday, I would reach into my pocket and pull out what change I had (my friend calls it “tipping God”) and throw it into the plate, or many times I would give the usher the “Anglican wave off” and watch the plate move to the people behind me. I had a terrible relationship with that plate. The same sort of relationship I had with my dental hygienist who would have to beg, cajole, or brow beat me into flossing just to save my teeth. I would see that plate coming my way and visualize a robber coming to take my hamburger money.

But that has changed, and it’s one of the few instant miracles I’ve been given in this life. The first words I heard were:

Who is your God? Whom do you worship?

Of course my answer was “Jesus” I mean, wouldn’t yours be? The second question sent me reeling. It had never been asked of me before:

“Where do you dedicate your time, talent, and money?….because that is your God.”

I was furious. Furious that some TV preacher in a Members Only Jacket had challenged me like that and, more honestly, furious because for much of my life I had been worshipping a false God.….sometimes my God was my intellect, sometimes my God was my appetite, sometimes my God was my desire for leisure…..but rarely, using the benchmark of “time, talent, and giving” did I end up with Jesus as my answer. The same Jesus who gave all so that I and my wife and my kids and my friends who claimed to love Him might live forever.

Moreover, when I did give, I had had this sense that I was now part of the leadership of the church, “I pay your salary, I better get something out of this place in return!” But that left me quickly that day. I became, as the Christians say, “Convicted”. And for the first time in my life and ministry I believed fully, that Jesus was truly Lord of my life and not just of the world.

Years later I ran into this little story:

Once upon a time there was a gardener who grew an enormous carrot. So he took it to his king and said, "My Lord, this is the greatest carrot I've ever grown or ever will grow. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you." The king was touched and discerned the man's heart, so as [the gardener] turned to go the king said, "Wait! You are clearly a good steward of the earth. I own a plot of land right next to yours. I want to give it to you freely as a gift so you can garden it all." And the gardener was amazed and delighted and went home rejoicing. But there was a nobleman at the king's court who overheard all this. And he said, "My! If that is what you get for a carrot—what if you gave the king something better?" So the next day the nobleman came before the king and he was leading a handsome black stallion. He bowed low and said, "My lord, I breed horses and this is the greatest horse I have ever bred or ever will. Therefore I want to present it to you as a token of my love and respect for you." But the king discerned his heart and said thank you, and took the horse and merely dismissed him. The nobleman was perplexed. So the king said, "Let me explain. That gardener was giving me the carrot, but you were giving yourself the horse." Timothy Keller, The Prodigal God (Dutton, 2008), pp. 60-61;

Of course, the king represents God, and for years I had been the nobleman and not the gardener.

The next step for me was to prayerfully find the stumbling blocks to my giving. There were three big ones staring me in the face.

  1. Since I had changed from checking to debit card use, I didn’t have a check with me when went to church….so coins it was.
  2. I found that when I would write the check or take out cash I couldn’t give sacrificially or with regularity.
  3. I didn’t think my contribution mattered, like taking one grape from the produce stand and eating it doesn’t hurt anyone.

The answers:

  1. To fix problems one and two I set up an automatic check that went out the day after my paycheck hit the bank…I didn’t have to write it…it was just sent… no pain, no inner debates.
  2. I realized that the church actually counted on the amount that I had pledged and had to do things like cannibalize funds for other ministries just to keep the lights on. So my giving was important in a practical sense and not only a spiritual one.
  3. I discovered that my giving to the Lord tells Him and tells me that I am dedicated to serve Him not only with lip service but with my most precious possession…. money. It has opened up my worship, freed my soul and blessed my family.

So, Fr. David, you want me to tithe?

No, I want to you to give regularly and consistently as worship. With the same regularity that you open the prayer book, kneel at the altar, and sing the hymns I want you to acknowledge who your savior is with your giving. 10% is great 5% is great 3% is great, but ask God first and find out what He wants you to do. He will tell you if you ask.

I won’t do a lot of talking about this….its a tough subject but it’s a real subject. If you have any questions about this please call me here at the office

May the Lord bless you and keep you,


No comments: