A mailbox can be just as good as a calendar when it comes to telling the time of year.
Clearly, advertisements abound in our mail year-round, but there are nuances included in the rest of our mail that tell us what’s around the corner.
Now, I’m as guilty as the next person of immediately depositing grocery and department store ads into the round file, but in this frenzy, I need to be careful not to discard something important. Something like what is beginning to hit our mailboxes right now.
With temperatures dropping along with the leaves, solicitations to support a variety of charities are beginning to arrive in the mail. In a reflexive fury of auto-trashing junk mail the other day, I nearly tossed a couple of important invitations.
Now, given the overwhelming number of opportunities that seem to bombard us each day to financially help others, it’s perfectly understandable to have that instinctive urge to file requests to support charities. But maybe take this occasion to pause on the subject and consider, where does giving fit into your priorities?
In Matthew 6:21, Jesus tells his disciples during his Sermon on the Mount, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In this portion of his sermon, Jesus is saying both literally and figuratively, where we spend our financial resources, time, and talent is generally in direct relationship to what we value.
Reflecting on this verse gives us a great opportunity this season to consider our spending priorities, and how we spend our time, for that matter.
Immediately before this, in verses 19-20, Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
His teaching here is clear. Apply the blessings we’ve been given to eternal things, to those things that bless others and bring honor and glory to the Lord. But how much is one called to give?
In one of the many instances when the Pharisees tried to trick Jesus (and always failed), our Lord, on the issue of finances said in Mark 12:17, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.”
The Bible makes several references to tithing. The word tithe, which means one-tenth, is most commonly used as a verb and in the context of giving to the Lord what is his. Two verses where this clearly articulated are in Leviticus 27:30 (TLB), “A tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain or fruit, is the Lord’s, and is holy.” And 2 Corinthians 9:7 (NIV) says, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
The notion of tithing, or giving the Lord 10 percent of our gifts and earnings, is a far-flung pipe dream for many. At the end of the day, it comes down to a matter of trust, which is the very essence of faith.
The first two commandments handed down to Moses (Exodus 20) are all about trust, “You shall have no other gods before Me,” and “You shall make no idols.” Which brings us back to where we store up our treasure, and those things (idols) that provide us convenient rationalizations to not trust the Lord.
With wage increases not keeping pace with inflation, tithing seems like an impossibility, but it’s not with one’s heart in the right place.
Not too long ago, a friend of mine had become restless in his professional life and was searching for something else. Though he was being generously compensated, which made it easier for him and his wife to tithe at that time, he was looking to make a greater impact on the kingdom, even if it meant making less.
Through his church, he became aware of the opportunity to teach at a Christian school, which was something he had never considered but, nevertheless, excited him.
He seemingly found the calling he had been searching for, and when he received word that he had been hired, he was on cloud nine — that is until the compensation package was presented.
Crestfallen, he shared the news with his wife, who was disappointed for her husband, and yet, shared his healthy skepticism over the prospect of losing a third of his income — and still somehow trying to tithe. After much prayer, my friend and his wife mutually felt the Lord’s call to serve and support a career change, despite the significant financial impact.
Closing in on 25 years later, it has been amazing to witness God’s faithfulness to this couple. They often share with people the fear they had at that time, and the inconceivable blessings they have enjoyed since then, both financially and otherwise.
Suggesting this as a direct cause and effect for tithing does not reject out of hand the many other reasons why such blessings may or may not occur in one’s life. It just so happens to be one story of many I know of first-hand, and have read, where God’s grace multiplies beyond imagination for those who trust the Lord.
And while there are many ways to trust and obey the Lord, doing so with the first fruits of one’s earnings is an important one that can bless others. And as a highly successful accountant I know once said about tithing, “It often doesn’t pencil out when budgeting, but in the end, it always seems to work out.”
And so the next time you open your mailbox and see an invitation to give, pause and consider your treasure, and where your heart is. Then, pray over expanding your blessings upon others starting this season. Each according to his/her means.
“Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, ‘Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’” (Luke 22:1-4)
Brian Underwood is director of School Development at Sierra Lutheran.