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Posts Tagged ‘sacrificial giving’

Mike Brown.

Mike Brown.

Today, Feb 23rd is my husband’s birthday. My deceased husband, that is. And I’ve rather put that fact on the back burner all day. I did a little Facebook post, but in a hurry, keeping the feelings at bay.

But now, the day is winding down and it’s time to ponder today’s devotion. So, what jumps out at me, “They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.” [2 Corinthians 8:5b, NIV] But not like this, the words come out more like this: “He [Mike] gave himself first of all to the Lord, and then, by the will of God, also to me.”

Like many men, Mike, never fully trusted the women in his life. And yet, of all the women, he trusted me the most. And I can say that with some appreciation for a fight hard won. But whatever he might have withheld from me, he held nothing back from God, from the Christ. To God, he was devoted. I benefited from his faith, for it led the way to our marriage, our adopted children, and our 32 years together.

Mike was peculiar and saw everything through a unique lens. He didn’t really expect anyone to look through the same lens with him, but he did ask that people respect his point of view. It took me a while to get that. The Sarah in me wanted to change him. The Eve in me wanted to turn him. The Bathsheba in me wanted to lure him. But he was a steadfast man, even stubborn, which served his faith.

It wasn’t like he didn’t change over those years. He did. We both did, becoming less conservative and perhaps more progressive in the way we wanted to walk out our love for God. Mike was the first to reach out to people outside the box from men in prison to orphans in Africa. He could talk to just about anyone.

Mike gave hours and hours to the church, particularly our current church in its mission to reach people far away from God and bring them closer to new life in Christ. It’s a mission that resonated with Mike, but behind the scenes.

He was a good man. And today, we would have gone out to dinner and toasted to another year of blessings, and he would have said, one year closer to retirement, that is from his day job. Mike would have worked tirelessly for God until the end. Well, he did that anyway. I know his last word would have been the name of Jesus.

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Widows-MiteIt’s not really about the amount we give; instead, generosity is often measured by the cost to the giver to give it [hint: as in “sacrifice”]. In other words, it is some part of the story about the woman who gave only two coins, her last two coins, and she was cited for being far more generous than the rich men who gave out of their abundance. [Luke 21:1-4]

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. . . . They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us. [2 Corinthians 8:2-3, 5b, NIV]

As a believer for many years, I have been around the bend several times about giving and tithing. As a baby Christian, although I loved Jesus dearly, I was church-skeptical. Why should I give them my money? How will they use it? How can I trust them to use it wisely? (So self-righteous, as though I was using my funds well. Hardly.)

Then I went through a period of legalism where I tried to follow the letter of the scriptures, from purity to tithing; I was determined to please God, to perform superbly. And perhaps, if I was very good and very faithful and very exacting, I could become a super Christian and perform miracles for God. Forgetting of course, that we all fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23].

money pressueShortly after that, I began to follow various teachers and did my best to align my understanding of the intentions of God with their explanations. I became a kind of disciple, from teachers who garnered thousands in arenas to popular television evangelists. It was during this time that I met my husband, who I put through the paces of meeting my mother and getting her approval, etc. (it was a Gothard thing, for the folks who remember him). And yet, we were engaged in 3 days and married in 4 months. I think it was all that “purity” talk that put us on a fast track.

As a couple, we started out in a more traditional setting in Mike’s home church. The people were kind enough, but there was little fire. I had been introduced to contemporary praise and worship by then and a traditional service felt wanting. The whole giving thing went to a back burner as newlyweds and he had never practiced tithing.

Thetake-the-plungen, we found another church and our faith exploded through the body of believers, the anointed pastor, and the call to service. Here we gave willingly and for the first time, even sacrificially, of our money and our time. We trusted God and we trusted them. We also discovered several Cursillo-type para-church organizations that moved yet closer and closer to Christ, and another outlet for giving. Such joy.

When we came to Maryland, we continued in our love and faith, but we were being challenged to give where we knew no one. Again, the distrust from old came rearing its head.

Around this time, I was challenged by the remarkable story of Jackie Pullinger who went alone, in her zeal, to Hong Kong in 19giving to poor66 (and still remains) where she made a powerful impact. But what stayed with me the most from one of her sermons was her story of giving without reserve to the poor. A visiting friend chastised her saying that the man to whom she gave money would probably spend it unwisely, and she said that her Christ instructed her to give; what happened to funds afterwards was God’s problem.

And with that, we began to tithe faithfully, ten percent, as written.

habitsBut, then, the challenges to our commitment began: the costly adoptions, a new house, travel to family far away, and so on. And although we gave consistently, I would not say it was generous of us at all. Not really. We were doing good things, serving, and going on mission trips, of course. But we simply got out of the habit. Like anything else, the longer you do (or stop doing) something, the more natural & comfortable it feels.

Restore Church

Finally, Mike and I found ourselves at our current church, Restore Church, right in our small Maryland town. The love for the people and the pastor was an updated experience of our Atlanta days. But we were also being challenged to consider giving generously, not comfortably. A few months before Mike’s death, we committed to tithing again. And God blessed our decision immediately, with a light shining out of the financial morass we had made.

oneNow, with Mike gone, our family financial situation is tenuous at best, but I am in this one mind: God is the author of my journey, which now is missing my life’s mate, but God is God and so, this is the new way. I have an inner conviction that I cannot shake that I must trust God more than ever, tithe and even give above that tithe, because I am no longer my own, but God’s and God is my essential one priority.

 

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givingCan you imagine it? The call had gone out to all the Israelites to contribute freely to the building of the Tabernacle, an extensive list of what was needed from gold to silver to bronze and precious jewels and fabrics. And over time, they collected more than enough. The people had to be restrained from giving more. What minister or leader wouldn’t mind being in that situation?

Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work. [Exodus 36:6-7, NIV]

But that would be rare indeed. Instead, the issue of giving seems to be the bane of every organization, whether religious or secular. There never seems to be enough money to go around. Is it the lack of money really or is the projects we are hoping to fund? Are there more good ideas than there are resources?

Back in those days, there was only one primary task before them: the building of the Tabernacle and setting up the tools and arena for worshiping the God; that same God who saved them in the desert, who brought them out of Egypt, who showed them miracle after miracle. And in their midst, the evidence of God was still quite present: the cloud during the day and the fire at night.

What do we have? We have many, many good causes raising the call for donations. Many churches are also looking to build their buildings or their programs, to expand their reach, to broadcast their message. Humanitarians are looking to ease the burdens of hunger and poverty, inequalities and tragic losses. Those affected, either directly or indirectly, are raising consciousness about various diseases that need more research or children dying unnecessarily. Others are fighting causes to protect the unprotected, the weak or the disadvantaged. And still others are fighting for funds to raise brighter, stronger, smarter, and more valiant children, the next generation to whom a troubled world is being inherited. And still others are simply looking to brighten our world with beauty, art, and music, but lack the means to be effective.

All of these enterprises have value, some for many and some for only a few. Where do I put my energy? Where do I put my funds? To whom do I commit my dollars? My time? How do I choose? And what portion is appropriate? Is it just the sacred tithe of ten percent or more? What does my own family require or not?

I think sacrificial giving, which has become a real buzzword in the church, is a dangerous misnomer. It implies a painful aspect, giving beyond what one is comfortable giving. It implies that one’s own needs may not be met in the face of giving for the sake of another. The sacrifice is not in the giving itself but in the heart. It is giving out of commitment and belief that the gift will matter and will make a difference.

Giving may do better with intent and outcome. I mean, anyone can give a dollar to a homeless person on the street and feel some relief but the bigger picture has not been touched by the gift. If my heart is sincere about this person’s needs or situation, then the gift must go deeper and further. It simply must or it’s just a spray of pennies.

When the Israelites gave for the building of their Tabernacle, they knew that the one gold bracelets would be melted into the ton of gold that was used to cover the poles and the Ark and the table. They saw the gold every day and knew, one fraction was theirs. And it was theirs too. They gave out of a passion for the place in which God was present.

Passionate giving has power.

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