Friday, June 03, 2011

Numbers don't lie, but what do they mean? The Middle

Much of the discussion/debate about financial support of a ministry, at some point, turns towards claims of benefit or loss from the practice of tithing, or that of sacrificial giving. On the one hand, someone tells the story of how they gave their mortgage money and, miraculously, enough money showed up, just before the default deadline, to make the payment, and sometimes with extra thrown in. On the other hand, someone describes, in gut-wrenching terms, giving in response to a request, writing a check with money that isn't actually in the bank yet, or paying that tenth of his/her income and being short on the power or water bill, but then nothing else comes in, and they are left having to explain to family and friends why they are "suffering in the name of the Lord."

I know that both scenarios have happened - to someone - and that there is the possibility that such things can happen, either for good or for ill. I bet, though, that neither of these experiences are the norm. Instead, I suspect that most people either give or not, pay or not, and life goes on. Since, according to research by the Barna Institute, tithing has been practiced consistently by less than 10% of Christians, generally hovering between 5-7% in the years 2000-2008, apparently the positive anecdotal evidence has either not spread to the general Christian public, or we don't believe it.

Of course, regarding things of faith, as the old saying goes, "one plus God equals a majority." If the things that tithing proponents say are valid, then the statistics don't matter. If less than 10% of believers give 10% of their income, then that means they get more of God's blessings that might have gone to the other 93-95% of church attendees who are rejecting God's offer of protection and provision. If anything, maybe this information should be kept a secret, lest unbelievers take advantage of the spiritual imperative that the principle seems to hold forth. After all, if God is obligated to bless those who tithe, as I have heard preachers say on occasion, then even those who reject the Gospel, but in a pragmatic investment move, support a ministry, will receive abundance from God, in the manner of someone buying the protection of a local mafia family against business competitors. After all, Malachi 3:8-12 has no disclaimer statement limiting the results to those who are baptized believers. It simply promises results to those who "try" God to see if He will "open the windows of heaven and pour out a blessing..."

What I have found, in my own experience, is that these anecdotes remind me of similar promises made on late-night television about real estate investment plans, tax certificates, multi-level marketing concepts, and other offerings that promise results that only a small segment actually experience, no one of whom most of us know personally (do you know any Publishers Clearing House winners?). They sound great, and, if true, would make my life so radically different from what it has been for much of my adult life, as to make it seem foolish to not try it out, at least for a while. I admit it, I have closed my eyes, taken a deep breath, and wrote those checks. I have waited, watching my mail box and my bank account, for the promised windfall. "Is my living in vain? No, of course not," I sang with all the energy that I could muster, watching for my change to come.

Unfortunately, just like my attempts with Dean Graziosi, Kevin Trudeau, and Matthew Lesko, I tried and fell short. According to some, like Creflo Dollar, it's my fault. I lack either the necessary faith or the necessary joy. If I doubt, God doesn't have to do anything. If I am less than completely happy about obeying, God can be less than abundant in His response. Of course, Dean, Kevin, and Matthew said the same things, but they don't have a heaven or hell to put me in for disbelieving them, they just say that I'm already there, and I'll stay there for not following their perscriptions for wealth.

Now, that's my anecdotal story, or at least the Cliff Notes version of it. Sorry, I didn't drop names, telling about the pastor that benefitted from my largess, but I don't think that my anecdote should be more weighty than anyone elses. I'm hoping to hear from people who have had what I didn't, who can, perhaps, tell me what step I might have missed. One thing upon which I think we will agree, God has no problem with providing resources, for "the earth is the Lords, and all of its fullness" (Ps 24:1). Most of my adult life, while I have never been rich, I have not been destitute either. Like most members of the middle class, I have moved from payday to payday, making enough to live contentedly, and give regularly, but still needing to get up every Monday to go to work, rather than simply working for the joy of having work to do. There is enough space in the comments for your anecdotal stories which explain the way to do it right, so that we get the promised results. If there is a right way to start a car, and I'm not doing it, it's a lot cheaper to find out the proper technique, than to leave the car sitting on the driveway and take the bus. So tell me your story.

Otherwise, I shall move on to the next part of this saga, a different view on giving. In it, I shall discuss what the concept of Spirit-led giving is, and what it is not. If nothing else, it only offers me the prospect of helping others because I love God, giving me the opportunity to share His love in a way that matters, to God, to others, and to me. Any positive economic change that happens afterwards is just collateral blessings, due to the gracious mercies of God.

By the way, while you're commenting, don't forget to check out the sponsors' links, since they are a part of my page, and "the laborer is worthy of his hire." :)

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