Part of the Planting Roots journey is about resources. Specifically, God's resources and our relationship to them. For much of my personal planting roots journey, which began when I was saved at age 11 and started in earnest when Jennifer and I were expecting our daughter Lauren, my relationship with God's resources has been in total disarray.
Ask my Mom or wife: I can be a bit stuff-obsessed. When I wanted something as a little boy, I would execute a three-to-four month campaign of wearing my parents down. Like a siege army, I would deplete their resolve until I had secured the object of my desire. I would like to say that this has not been the story of my life, but I would be lying. Compounding matters, I have always been a planner and saver with money. I know how to earn it, save it and amass it. Thriftiness is typically a virtue. However, I had a relationship with my money and stuff, and as a result it strained my relationship with the One who gave me the money and stuff. You know WHO I mean.
In my mid-twenties when I began to seek my Savior in relationship, Jennifer and I were involved with a terrific group of Christian friends in a weekly (sometimes daily) small group. During this time our group -- all of us recent college grads and newlyweds -- decided to take an obedience challenge. We decided to take on Proverbs 3:9-10. Money was something I was good at. Surely I could at least be obedient though giving to the church I attended.
I told Aaron last week that I am reluctant to give people my testimony about tithing, because I think they will get the wrong idea. He told me I didn't have a choice. As the story goes on you will understand what I mean.
As I said, I thought I was pretty good with money and I had sufficient income that making my tithe would be an easy first step in obeying God more fully. Jennifer and I started with a decision to tithe, but we ended up where we should have started...with prayer. Our decision was to give the full tithe (old testament style). For those not yet following, that meant the first tenth of every dollar we made, would now go to Bandera Road Community Church. Our next step was to make a budget, which we had not had to this point in our marriage. It was at this point I discovered my relationship with stuff was preventing me from growing in the relationship with the One whose resources I spent on the stuff. Jennifer and I had two new car payments, a mortgage, and a new baby. What we didn't have was ten percent of our income to pay a tithe.
It was at this point we regrouped and circled back to where we should have started in the first place: prayer. From our budgeting, we knew that we could give three percent, but we wanted to give ten percent. We agreed that all that we had belonged to God. So, it occurred to us that if we wanted to serve Him with what is already His, perhaps we should just ask Him for an assist. (Matt 21:22)
That month we gave three percent. After more prayer and a harder look at our budget, we cut out some luxuries and found that God had provided enough in our budget to not only tithe, but cover all of the obligations which we made before we considered financial obedience. By the second month of the challenge we paid our full tithe. I had not yet read Malachi 3:10 (read it now), but I am convinced this was God's answer to our obedience. Also, this is where things took a turn for the weird. That month I received a check in the mail from my Military Travel Credit Card reimbursing me for multiple overpayments I had made during overseas travel. Apparently, I benefited from the exchange rate and my math had been conservative. Here is the thing though -- the reimbursement was unexpected and more than the amount I tithed by roughly ten percent. I know...makes the hair on your neck stand up.
Needless to say, I kept tithing. I will admit this hasn't happened every month since we started tithing. Though unexpected money has shown up at critical times of need since then. But more than that, out of our tithing God put us on the path of stewardship and budgeting that allowed us to pay off our car debt and build a rainy day fund. Through steady obedience in this small way, God has shown us that we cannot out-give Him. The best part has been that He has matured us on the subject of resources. I know now that God does not want me to be dogmatic about some percentage; He wants 100 percent. It is His. He wants us to experience the joy of being generous as He is generous. What is funny is that He is so generous that He allows us to give away His stuff! (2 Cor. 8)
Having tested and seen that God is good in the area of resources and money, Jennifer and I resolved to set a dollar amount to give to our local Church. We felt this is important for two reasons. First, God faithfully allows me a paycheck twice a month; I should acknowledge His generosity. Second, I believe it is important to give at the place where you are serving and being served. Since I have five members in my family, I require a lot of service, so this turns out to be a real bargain for me.
The best part about this is that God wants you to bring the tithe into the storehouse. He wants you to fill up the storehouse, so that there will be plenty to feed His Kingdom. This means giving is wide open. When you give, ask yourself, "Is this for my glory or God's glory?" If the answer is that you are giving for God's glory, then sign the check. If you are worried that it felt too good to do something nice for another person with the money God gave you (i.e. you think you might be glorifying yourself)... STOP WORRYING!!! Think how much more God is smiling that you gave to a person in need so He could be glorified.
I believe in giving to my local church, but if given the choice of dropping it in the offering box or meeting the need of another person who is hurting. I choose the person every time. Seldom do I have to make a choice between the two. God has made a way to do both.
If you are new at Element or a Military person who will likely move in three years, you may ask, "What stake do I have in the building program?" Perhaps none. Perhaps everything. As a nomadic Christian, my roots have been planted in the community that I have found at many churches. In Christ's eyes, we are one body of believers. It is no different for me to give to build a building in Santa Maria or Timbuktu, so long as it houses a body of believers who exalt Jesus Christ.
As Jennifer and I transitioned from California to Maryland, God allowed us a wonderful gift of generosity. Without a Church home, He allowed us to give our full tithe to serve people whom we know and love. We even got to give a few months to a building fund for a group of believers whom we love, but may never get to worship with again.
As you give from the resources that God blesses you with, you get to experience your Father in Heaven in one of the best ways. You get to feel His generosity. Someday when we experience the full measure of His lavish generosity, it will seem strange to us that we ever held back, when all we had to do to know Him was give.