Friday, February 04, 2011

No Fear

“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 9:10)

Now, I certainly do not proclaim to be wise, nor do I claim to have knowledge or understanding of the Holy One, rather, I consider myself to be a full-time, long-term, struggling student of the Word.

I have been in the church for 49 years now. I gave my life to Christ 36 years ago, so suffice it to say that I have heard a great many sermons on many different subjects. It is also safe to assume that I have sat through more than my fair share of sermons on tithing and giving. Putting money in the plate on Sunday morning seemed natural to me since, well basically, on Sunday morning that is just what you do. But I had always put in a dollar or two or whatever my grandfather gave me to put in there. And I never really thought much about it.

I continued to “tithe” during my early adult years, but it was still always an embarrassingly small amount. I can still remember the day when I learned that the word “tithe” means ten percent. But I didn’t feel embarrassed or ashamed, I felt fear. How could I give a full ten percent when I have a wife and child at home, while attending college full time, and we barely get by as it is? I increased my giving a little bit but it was still nowhere near ten percent. I’d heard someone say that God values your time more than He does your money, so I began volunteering my time at church. Sometimes I had even used that as an excuse for not tithing.

Once I finished college and began my career, I heard a pastor explain how “tithing” is an Old Testament requirement and that Jesus changed all that when He came here. According to Jesus’ teaching in the New Testament, He wants it ALL. 100%. All of your time, all of your heart, all of your mind and body, all of your soul, all of your spirit, and as for money – it is His to begin with. He merely allows us to manage it for Him. And according to the lessons in Crown Financial Ministries, He lets us use 90% to live on. It ALL belongs to God anyway. In fact, everything we think we own belongs to God, He just lets us use it.

Well, ten percent was still a lot of money to me, so I volunteered even more time at church and increased my giving to what I considered to be a comfortable level, but still way short of ten percent. And, although I consider myself to be thrifty and manage money wisely, I have still struggled financially.

I came to Northview in December of 2004, and became a member soon after. So it has been six full years since I first heard Pastor Steve’s annual tithing challenge, where he quoted from Malachi 3. You see, my only desire is to please God and live my life for Christ, but I had never thought of myself as robbing from God. I work hard for a living and earn my own way and provide for my family. But still, times were hard and the idea of tithing a full ten percent seemed like a lot to ask, but then Steve quoted “Test Me in this”, says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

So I signed the card and took Steve up on his challenge. I did the math and wrote that first check for the full ten percent. I could not help but think that a whole month’s worth of those tithe checks added up to a really nice car payment! But I stayed the course and waited patiently for God’s blessing to pour out all over me. But things did not get better for me financially, they got worse! I remember thinking about Steve’s challenge and that money back guarantee, and thought of how much all that money could really help me out. I also remembered the lessons from Crown Financial Ministries in that it all belongs to God anyway, so there was no way I was going call and ask for that money. The challenge was for only 90 days, but I had decided to give it a full year, in case God was also testing me in patience.

Each year Steve laid down the same challenge, and each year I signed that card and gave the full ten percent. But each year my financial situation did not improve. My savings account was depleted, and there were times when I feared I could not get to work since I could not afford to put gas in my truck. There were days when I drove on fumes and a prayer. And just like Mother Hubbard, often times the cupboards were bare. I had to borrow money and use credit cards just to stay afloat.  (another thing you are not supposed to do!)

I found myself unemployed for a few months in 2007, but God did provide and I was able to find a new job at basically the same salary as before. And although those few months of unemployment brought a lot of problems for me financially, as soon as I started my new job, I resumed tithing as well. But those blessings still did not come. But now I was also haunted by the debt accrued during unemployment.

During all of this, I still had a rather dim view about tithing. I was not a cheerful giver and I found no joy at all in giving money to the church, let alone adding the Next Chapter campaign on top of it. I still gave, but I was giving grudgingly. And around this time every year, Pastor Steve presents his tithing challenge with the guarantee that God will pour out blessings. But the blessings still did not come. I was getting rather frustrated. “Okay God, I’m ready! Here’s your check. I’m ready to receive those blessings now!”


I saw tithing and giving as a chore and I realized that I was only in it to get something out of it. I wanted those blessings God had promised in Malachi 3. But the blessings were not coming. It was also during this time that I met another fellow in our church whose financial situation had been worse than mine. He told me that he had reached the point of turning everything over to God and telling God, “I’ll trust You all the way to zero”.

Those words struck me very deeply, and I decided to do something I should have done from the very beginning – I decided to pray and turn over my whole heart, including my finances, over to the One who provided them in the first place. “Seek first His Kingdom…..” Yeah, I remembered that memory verse from Sunday School. “…….and all these things will be added unto you”. What things? ALL things. All my needs, all the necessities of life. All of the blessings He had promised. From the Crown Financial Ministries course, I understood the difference between needs and wants, but I was still struggling.

You see, I was being obedient, as He instructs me to do in His Word, but my heart was in the wrong place. I wasn’t doing it for Him, I was doing it for me! So I asked God to change my heart, and offered myself to Him as His humble servant. I asked Him to help me live my life in a way that is pleasing to Him.

I also prayed, “Lord, I trust You all the way to zero”. And sure enough, God took me all the way to zero, sometimes below zero, but He always provided and brought me back up. I learned to appreciate what He gave me. I also learned to live on a very small budget.

Just over a year ago, things began to change. Certain financial situations began to turn and go my way a little. Not much, but just enough to where there was a little bit left over at the end of the month. Financially, I was no longer suffocating and I could breathe a little better. I also began sponsoring a child in Indonesia through Compassion International. What a blessing! I was even able to complete my Next Chapter pledge early, and give a little extra as well.

Then a job opportunity opened up at work and I applied for it. There had been a salary freeze at work for the last several years, so there had been no raises, even though the cost of living had increased. God blessed me with the new job, which meant a promotion and a small raise. I remember my first thought as being, “Wow, I get to tithe more! Now I can do something for someone else!” I was genuinely excited, but then asked myself “Where did that thought come from? That certainly doesn’t sound like me!” I thanked God for the blessing and for changing my heart.

And the blessings started. Not a lot, but small abundances. I noticed that each one of those abundances were also accompanied by an opportunity. An opportunity to help someone else in need.

Sometimes I laugh at the fact that the opportunity to help someone out financially, was the exact amount of the abundance that God provided. My greatest joy in doing something for someone is that they never find out where the gift came from. As long as God gets the glory, I’m okay with that. He is the One responsible after all.

I was still under a mountain of debt, but that mountain was shrinking. God is so good. I have learned a lot from this experience and it took a whole lot longer than 90 days to see God working and to realize His blessings. The “floodgates” haven’t opened up and I certainly do have room for more blessings, but God will take care of that in His own time.

My heart and my attitude have changed in regards to tithing. I get paid every two weeks, and it happens electronically. So I have set up reminders on my Outlook calendar for each of those days. On payday, I log onto the Northview website, and pay my tithe electronically. It is the first thing I do on payday. Ten percent from the “first fruits”. I budget the rest of the month from there. There is gas in the truck, food in the fridge, and every once in a while I can afford to go play a round of golf.

And that mountain of debt? This time next month, with the exception of the mortgage, I will be debt free. One more payment to go. I can hardly wait to see what opportunity He presents to me then.

God is so good.

I’ve never been irresponsible with money. I’ve always disliked spending it, especially on myself. So frivolous spending and poor money management was not the problem (my truck is 13 years old and was paid off 11 years ago). What I needed was an attitude adjustment and a heart transplant. And that fear I mentioned earlier, has now turned to joy.
God is good – all the time!  And for Re:Imagine - my pledge is twice the amount I gave to "The Next Chapter".  God made that possible too.

Since God has proven Himself to be faithful, true to His Word, and that He will meet my every need, I asked Him to allow me to win the lottery to prove to Him that all that money will not change me.

Have you ever heard what sounds like uncontrollable laughter from heaven?

Yeah. It is a lot like that.