Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Saying I Love You is NOT Enough

As a proud Canadian and a Christian, I have managed to insulate myself quite comfortably from helping my fellow man. I have been seduced into believing that everyone is being taken care of in our society through our social system. I am aware of the dysfunction of the system and yet somehow still managed to take comfort in it. This allowed me to focus on the "best" help that can be given to anyone by tithing to make sure we had a nice building in order for them to hear the gospel and accept Jesus as their Saviour. The primary purpose of giving in order to financially help/bless others is relatively new to me.

How did this happen? I have no one to blame except myself, but I would say that there were contributing factors that led to this deception.

When I became a Christian at 19, I immediately began to tithe to my church. I was taught that this was the appropriate application of giving generously. The fact that only a tiny fragment of those monies actually went to physically help anyone was not a concern for me. I assumed that the leadership in my church heard from God and knew what they were doing.

After being a Christian for about 2.5 years and having landed a decent production job at General Motors, I was doing well financially. I owned a house and had 2 children. I was then laid off from GM and was over my head with a mortgage that had jumped from 10% interest to 18% at that time. I even had a foreclosure letter from the bank. During that time of falling behind on my mortgage payments, I never fell behind on my tithing. Meanwhile, Terry was pregnant with our third child and the pressure on our marriage was mounting.

Even though everyone at church knew we were going through a very stressful time, we never received any financial help or counsel other than to remain faithful in our tithing. We do remember receiving a bag of groceries with a bag of dated, broken cookies in it. Terry simply cried because of this gift. I think that is when I finally broke down to my brother in law, about our financial dilemma and he went to the church leadership to see if any help was available. I was young, proud and very embarrassed. They did give us $500, which didn’t get us out of our foreclosure dilemma. I had given at least $5,000 to the church over the past couple of years and had remained faithful in giving. I even tithed on the $500 that they gave us. Fortunately, just before losing our house, I was recalled to GM and even ended up getting an apprenticeship as a toolmaker. Some would say, “See, tithing works.”

Even though we had gone through a serious crisis in our young marriage, I didn’t understand what John meant in 1 John 3:17 “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

A few years later, we had friends who were in a worse situation than we had been. The wife and mother of three was on chemo for cancer and the dad had lost his job because of a severe back disorder. They were a very nice couple and very positive but were truly up against the wall. I remember that they told us about having to “borrow” toilet paper from the church because they literally had no money.

It never dawned on me that perhaps I should divert my tithe to help them. We gave them a few bucks but I would certainly not have stolen from my tithe to do so. I know they did receive some anonymous help, which they were very thankful for. I have no idea if the church helped them at all. If they did, it was never talked about. In fact, I don’t ever remember a sermon from the following passage that put Christian love into a tangible perspective.

This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. 17If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? 18Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. 19This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence 20whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.
1 John 3:16-20

I look back on those days and realize I had the opportunity to see something for what it really was. I don’t think anyone was purposely being cruel or hardhearted. We, and this included the leadership, were being faithful to what we were being taught about tithing. (There is a different interpretation on tithing that I have written on titled, Malachi 3.)

I find myself reading passages that I had virtually not comprehended about caring for others and I am dismayed that I missed such simple language and instructions about making money in order to provide for my family and others.

He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need.
Ephesians 4:28

"Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. 34You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. 35In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive.' "
Acts 20:32-35

It seems that in my zeal to do what I had been taught, I had become what Jesus said of the Pharisees.

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.
Matthew 23:15

Perhaps what I regret the most about the tithing/offering model was that it depersonalized giving to such an extent that we missed the joy of seeing a single mom blessed with a new washing machine or sponsoring a third world orphan to go to university or whatever else the Lord would have put in Terry's and my heart to do. I was so busy giving to the church in "secret" (a sealed offering envelope) that I missed the opportunity of doing what Jesus said to do. "I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings."
John 16:9

The church system I was in did not put into practice, in any significant way, the basic message of demonstrating love by giving practically to others. I was quite proud of tithing to the church and teaching others to do the same. I literally loved our new building and being able to see our pastoral staff increase because of the great work we were doing. At the same time, friends had to steal toilet paper.

Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth. This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence whenever our hearts condemn us.
1 John 3:18-20

We don't have to look far for opportunities to bless and/or help others. If you don't know anyone close at hand don't miss the opportunities of giving to those further away who will die without our help.

You might want to consider spending $100 to buy 4 goats for someone in Kenya which will give them a livelihood for life.

Or you might consider Hands at Work. A prophetic ministry to widows and orphans in South Africa.

If you want to personalize your giving to those far away you can go to to get to know someone who is definitely worse off than you.

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