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How Did I Miss That?

Part 28: Tithing is not Enough

 But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practiced, without neglecting the others. Luke 11:42

Of all the expectations placed on the churchgoers among us, few cause as much discomfort and difference of opinion as the obligation to financially support our houses of worship. Tithes and offerings are spoken of regularly in both Old and New Testaments, although the expectation to tithe is more explicit in the Old. A tithe means a tenth; thus, the common understanding that we are to give a tenth of our income in support of our church. In previous generations, that may have been clear-cut, but not anymore. Are we to tithe on our gross or our net income? Do donations to other worthy causes count as part of our tithe? If we have an unusual expense one year, can the “tenth” be reduced? If we find $20.00 lying in the street, must we tithe on that, too?

Historically, one of the 12 tribes of Israel, the Levites, were designated as the keepers of the Temple. Because their livelihood was the business of the Temple, they could not make a living in other ways. The Levites were dependent on the people of the other 11 tribes for their support. The concept remains in place today, with members of a church providing financial support to pay the salaries of the staff and expenses of the church. Often overlooked is that the Biblical expectation for giving went well beyond the tithe. Separate offerings were also requested at various times, and those offerings could add another ten to twenty percent of income or wealth on top of the tithe. Today, I believe the percent of income given by the average church member is about 2%. Five percent is considered generous, although a tithe is still held out as the standard.

Jesus, however, held a much different measure for giving. He did not request a simple tithe; he wanted followers who willingly and happily gave everything. A rich man (Mark 10:17-22) tells Jesus he has followed every commandment and asks what else he must do to enter the kingdom of heaven. Jesus tells him to sell everything he has and give it to the poor. The man walks away, disappointed, for he was not willing to give up his many possessions. In a parable found in Matthew 13:44, Jesus tells of a field with treasure such that someone desires to sell everything he or she owns in return for that one field. In the next verse, he tells of a pearl of great value such that one desires to sell everything else in order to obtain. For Jesus, the important matter is not how much we have or give, but of where our heart is – what do we most desire? Do we prefer our “stuff” to the life Jesus offers? The treasure-filled field and the pearl of great value represent the kingdom he encourages us to seek. When our heart is in the right place, nothing else will matter.

Far be it from me to imply churches are the only organizations worthy of financial support. Actually, I think that line of reasoning misses the point. Where is our heart? Where is our desire? Tithing – supporting our houses of worship – is a good start, but it is not enough. The key is to find ways to make every act of every day an offering for God to use for good. Whether we are eating, exercising, playing, getting ready for bed, or working, offer everything to God’s purposes. Whatever we do, our actions and decisions impact others. Making our life an offering is recognizing that God is with us all the time, in every circumstance, whether we want or sense God there or not. God will not be locked in a church. God is an active presence in our lives, no matter how mundane or profane some of our moments may be. Jesus reminds us in the Gospel of Luke that we cannot neglect justice or love. Jesus tells us when we willingly dedicate our heart and life to following him, the rest will fall into place. It is not that where our money goes is unimportant, but it is more important to examine the desire of our heart. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21)

Tithing is not enough. How did I miss that?

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Life Notes—October 3, 2013 

  “If there is among you anyone in need, a member of your community in any of your towns within the land that the Lord your God is giving you, do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor.”  Deuteronomy 15:7

“Just because I’m presumin’ that I could be kind and human, if I only had a heart.”  The Tin man

Dorothy and the Scarecrow are on their way to the Emerald City when they come across a rusted man made of tin.  Once they get his joints oiled they find out he, like they, believes he is lacking something crucial.  He has no heart.  The Tin man is convinced he could be kind, loving and sentimental if he only had a heart.  Of course, the Tin man is arguably the most kind and sentimental of anyone in Dorothy’s community, with or without a heart.  Even so, he feels he cannot be complete without one.

In the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy the Jewish people receive instruction in how to live a life of obedience to God.  That instruction includes guidance on how to treat each other.  They are not to be hard-hearted with a neighbor in need.  The writing goes on to say they are to share from their abundance with their fellow Jews in need.  Jesus, in the New Testament, repeats the very same sentiment when he commands us to love one another.  We cannot be loving and hard-hearted at the same time.  Unlike some of the early Jews, the Tin man wants to love others, but feels incapable of doing so.  It is easy to become hard-hearted toward others, even with that big red muscle pumping faithfully in our chest.  We convince ourselves because we have worked for what we have, others should be able to do the same.  We assume someone else will meet a need we ignore.  Perhaps most commonly, we become so consumed by our daily lives we leave no time to notice or attend to the needs of others.  However, the command to love others was second in importance only to loving God, at least according to Jesus.  As Christians, we are called to have a heart for God, and to have a heart for others.

As the Wizard awards the Tin man a heart he says, “And remember, my sentimental friend, that a heart is not judged by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.”  What must we do to earn the love of others?  We first love them by providing time, attention, and giving freely of ourselves according to their need.  The Tin man shows his love through selfless acts for his community. We need not worry how our hearts will be judged if we do the same.

Tom will be preaching downtown where Life worship is at 10:00 in Brady Hall and traditional worship is at 8:30 and 11:00 in the sanctuary.  Mitch is preaching at the west campus where contemporary worship is at 9:00 and 11:00.

Come home to church this Sunday.  Have a heart for others.

Greg Hildenbrand, Life Music Coordinator

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