No more Mr Nice Guy!
I am not a pastor. Never have been, despite the title I carried for years. I think it is vital that we stop calling people who are not pastors, pastor and here’s why.
The evangelical population scores pretty low on the prosperity scale in the USA when measured by religion. That’s a problem. The Jewish community are the most prosperous, by a large margin.Our giving as Christians is currently 2.5% per capita but during the Great Depression it was 3.3%.
In pretty much every teaching I have heard on tithing, the system works like this. You give to avoid being cursed and to access blessing. A proverbial carrot and a stick. Some have really prospered under this, most, not so much. In fact, with only approximately 10-25% members of a normal church tithing (or 5% of the US population) it is clear that neither the stick nor the carrot encourages us to give. In the US, of all those who state they are fully committed to the ministry of a local church, 33-50% give nothing. Zip. Nada. Others nuance their giving like they are measuring fine spices—they weigh income v’s expenditure, make decisions based largely on inherited family values about what is considered income and each year their personal net worth increases while their giving does not.
So, what makes the difference, what causes prosperity to happen in our lives and how can we do it better? Simple. God is after your heart, He loves a cheerful giver. Giving with a bad attitude will seldom produce good fruit. BEFORE you start giving, own the desire to give, get your heart in the right place for your treasure to be invested. The irony is that to get your heart in the right place, you should put your treasure where you want your heart to grow. Sow where you want to grow.
The nation of Israel had no idea how to handle wealth and prosperity. After 400 years of slavery they needed taught on how to get the slave mentality out of their lives and finances and make way for prosperity in all parts of their lives. They were taught to do it this way:
· Give first to a person. Yep, the first giving was not to your local house of worship but to your priest—the person who is your spiritual authority in your life. This was a practice that was maintained through Jesus’ day when the decrease of agrarian society required the first fruits offering or the wave offering to be monetized and a guideline was made in the Mishnah that if you gave a fortieth of your income to your priest, your eye is clear and your whole body will be full of light. But if you gave only a sixtieth, your eye is bad, and your whole body will be full of darkness. Yes, that is the language Jesus used in Matthew 6:22, He seems to be using the Mishnah, the language of the day to communicate effectively. This principle of First Fruits giving continued in the early church and is mentioned in the Didache. This principle is called the Turumah.
· Give to your place of worship. 10% of the remaining 97.5% should be given to your place of worship. It was NEVER intended to go to ministries, missionaries, pet projects that you love, etc; it was always intended to go to the place you call your spiritual home. If you find yourself not able to do that because your heart isn’t there, move on. Move your heart towards your church or move your body to find a place you can pour into financially.
· Give 10% to yourself, most months. The last piece of God’s plan to get slavery out of His people was to allow them to increase in wealth so they would be able to pursue the things that they were supposed to do. Attend festivals, go to conferences, grow in their destiny. God wants you to save and prosper. One third of that tithe, either each entire third month or 1/3 of this tithe each month is earmarked for the poor.
Then comes alms, random giving, supporting missions etc.
In the Old Testament people were told to harvest their fields but not to harvest the corners. If a circle is drawn inside a square, it comprises 78.5% of the area. We are to live on 78.5% of what is ours. Following the giving principles above is almost exactly the same percentage, leave the corners and live in the circle.
As 2018 approaches, try this system, use it as a Holy experiment for six months, maybe a year. Start logging all the gifts, increases, and anything else you receive. More importantly, start recording the additional favor, insight, revelation, and whatever else the person and church you are giving too carries that becomes manifest in your life. Write it all down.
The Terumah is not to be done secretly, it is waved before the Lord as a sign that if the first is blessed, so will the rest. Give to your local church faithfully, regularly and generously. Give to yourself. Open a savings or investment account. If you need to pay off debt, use a portion of this savings ON TOP of your regular payments to pay off debt quicker. Treat the poor well. You may think you do but this is a commitment to give 3.33% of your income to ones that need it most.
Let 2018 be the most prosperous year in your life, in every way imaginable.
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The day before I arrived in the USA, I spoke at a conference devoted to peace building and reconciliation in contested societies. Representatives from all over the world were present including education secretaries, politicians, and community activists. I was one of the keynote speakers talking about my work in the inner city in Belfast, engaging young people to be better citizens even if they felt society had let them down. The other keynote speaker was the Minister for Education in Northern Ireland, Martin McGuinness. We both spoke from our current roles in what was becoming the post conflict era. There was a secret that was not publicized but was well known to the attendees, both keynote speakers were former combatants in the conflict.
Martin McGuinness had his history and I had mine, both on opposite sides of the conflict. I found him to be warm, generous and incredibly sincere, a man now dedicated to peace and reconciliation. I hope he would have said the same about me.
This week, Mr. McGuinness passed away. It is kind of strange what this kind of thing stirs up. I have seen some of the very worst that bitterness, rage and hatred can do. I have also seen the best of what forgiveness and reconciliation can do. Jesus told us to forgive each other and love our enemies. Mr. McGuinness was my enemy and I was his yet he became a man focused on reconciliation, believing in a brighter future and used all his energy is the pursuit of moving forward, not looking back. He became a man I respected.
There simply is no alternative to forgiveness. For the wife whose husband has betrayed her, forgiveness is the end goal no matter what decision is made about the marriage. For the person who has been victimized at the hands of someone else, forgiveness is non-negotiable. Of course, reconciliation is another thing and not all forgiveness will result in reconciliation and that is OK. Forgiveness is what I do, reconciliation requires both parties and sometimes that is simply not a safe option or even desired by both parties. After all, Jesus forgives us all, some just don’t want to be reconciled to Him.
I listened to Dr. Rodney Hogue speak on forgiveness this last weekend and it was powerful. You can buy his book by clicking here. It was the most hopeful, practical sermon on forgiveness I have heard. I left feeling that forgives is a strategic weapon of great significance for the church in these days. It certainly sounds better than the alternative of bitterness, anger and rage.