Marriage and the Means of Grace

I’ve been married for thirty years to a man I absolutely adore. When my husband and I met, we were not practicing Christians. We shared an interest in the faith and a history of it, but spiritually we were far from home. It wasn’t until we’d dated three years and were married for four that spiritual fires were kindled in our marriage.

Since then, we’ve made every possible mistake, some of which should have been the death of us. But God, in his mercy, has not only preserved our covenant but has given us beauty for ashes, the oil of joy and the garment of praise.

For all the mistakes, there are three things we’ve done intentionally that I believe have made all the difference in the health and duration of our marriage: tithing, prayer and Sabbath-keeping.

Tithing taught us to approach life as givers. It helped us make the mental shift from consumption to generosity and that has taken the fire out of any money-based arguments we might have had. We approach our finances, our investments and our possessions as givers.

That sounds like something a pastor would say, right? But I’m convinced that this shift in our approach to family finances has made all the difference in the world in how we talk about money (which, statistically, is the most divisive topic in a marriage). Rather than talking about what we make and what we want, our most animated discussions are about what we give and to whom. It has made us more appreciative of the work of others and sort of stunned by the fact that the funds never seem to run out. There is a lot to be said for approaching life as a giver.

The second thing we’ve done has to do with prayer. They say that about 50% of all marriages in the U.S. fail, and that statistic holds whether a couple is “Christian” or not. Saying you’re a Christian doesn’t improve the odds. But in marriages where two people who call themselves Christian pray daily together, they say that the odds of success are dramatically improved (a study I read years ago said that only one in a thousand ends in divorce, when couples pray daily together). If those stats are even close to right, then it really is true that the family that prays together, stays together.

The ability and comfort we have in praying together daily is such a gift in our marriage. Praying together does two things in a marriage. First, because it is such a real and intimate thing, it is a place where you really get to hear the other person’s heart. People tend to be more honest, more transparent when they pray. Second, because it is a prayer, God hears it. Jesus says that wherever two or three are gathered together, he is right there with them. So if you want to make that triangle thing happen in your marriage, prayer will do it for you. Prayer is like a zipline that takes you immediately into God’s presence.

So we tithe and we pray together daily. And the third thing we’ve done intentionally to build our marriage is to observe a Sabbath.
In other words, we pay, we pray, and we play!

Sabbath. Every major figure in the Bible talked about this habit. Jesus himself was faithful to practice it. The Bible in both testaments claims it as the key to healthy living — spiritually, mentally and physically. And yet, we rarely discuss it and seldom take it seriously. It runs consistently through the Bible, but it’s the one thing I’ve consistently and dangerously neglected in my own life.

When we first came to Augusta to plant a church, I was really wrapped up in the work. I got so wrapped up in it, in fact, that I began to neglect not only my family but my own spiritual life. And I was a pastor! Somewhere along the way, we decided that the only way for us to restore some kind of rhythm to our lives was to begin practicing a day of rest every week — one day when we could cease work and worry and just be with each other. It is a day we rest, play and sleep. In other words, we try to just enjoy life.

Sabbath gives a holy rhythm to the practice of our faith, and it has been the one thing in our home that has the power to calm the storms.

Because I’m a pastor and work on Sunday, my Sabbath is 6:00 p.m. Friday to 6:00 p.m. Saturday. My husband usually takes the whole day on Saturday as his Sabbath. We’re not legalistic about it. There are plenty of Saturdays taken up by mission projects at the church and by paperwork that needs to be caught up on. And laundry. But there are also naps and slow lunches, second cups of coffee and plenty of time to talk. We don’t do the Sabbath perfectly every week but we do make it our goal because this is one way we get our lives back in line with God’s design.

Here’s what we’ve learned after thirty years of giving this our best shot: You will never make enough money to make yourself happy, and you will never have enough time to do everything that needs to be done. Tithing, prayer and Sabbath are ways of trusting God and for us, they have been the means of grace that have made this union a treasure.

Read More

Karma, Abundance, and the Prosperity Gospel

“God is able to bless you abundantly so that …” – 2 Corinthians 9:8

Let’s start with a Kingdom definition of abundance.

Paul tells the Corinthians that God is able to bless us abundantly. I suspect Paul is saying not just that God is able, but that God wants to bless us abundantly. I lean for evidence on what Jesus teaches. He tells us we leave things on the table all the time because we don’t ask (John 11:22, John 14:13, John 15;7). He tells us we misunderstand the character of God, treating him for all practical purposes more like a cosmic zapper than a good father (Matthew 7:11).

Paul says, “God is able to bless you abundantly.” This is not just his ability but his desire and if this is our Creator’s desire, then this must be our created design. We are designed to operate out of a spirit of abundance. Our design yearns for an abundant (lavish, ample, full) connection with our Father, while our fallen nature tends toward scarcity. In other words, our design yearns to trust God, while the unsaved parts of us suspect that maybe God does not have our best interests at heart.

Meanwhile, Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” His teaching doesn’t square with our fallen tendencies. God’s great desire is to be faithful to us — a desire God can make good on because God is able. God has been … is … will be faithful, because that is who God is and what God promises. Jesus said so. “I came that you might have life and have it abundantly.”

That brings us to the two words that blow the lid off the prosperity gospel. Paul tells the Corinthians why God gives abundantly. It is not so people can be fat and happy; it isn’t about physical rewards at all. Paul couldn’t make it more clear when he tells the Corinthians, “God is able to bless you abundantly so that in all things at all times, having everything you need, you will abound in good works.” We are enriched so that we can participate more fully in the harvest, so that we can increase our participation in righteousness, so that we can experience abundance that way it is defined in the Kingdom of God.

Paul says we are enriched so that we can be generous. Pastor Alec Rowlands of Westgate Chapel says this, “The blessing of God always goes hand in hand with holiness.” Amen. Always.

The premise of the prosperity gospel — the idea that our giving results in material blessings — seems at every level like a gross misreading of the scripture, not to mention a conscious blindness to the lifestyle of Jesus himself. Let’s be clear: the biblical understanding of abundance has nothing to do with the prosperity gospel. We don’t believe that if you tithe, God is going to give you a Mercedes. That isn’t Christian; that is the Buddhist principle of karma and Christians don’t believe in karma. Faith for us is not a lever we pull to get Jesus to do as we please or a manipulation that requires God to give us things. That kind of thinking is sheer heresy.

Paul’s “so that” says nothing about making us rich for the sake of comfort. We are enriched so that we can be generous. “So that” is all about Kingdom advancement. It is for the purpose of fulfilling the work of Jesus’ own prayer: “Your Kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.” Our sense of abundance is inextricably tied to Kingdom advancement.

We are enriched so that we can practice the art of holiness and participate in the coming Kingdom.

Does God give extravagantly? Absolutely. Why? So thatprayer in one hand, a shovel in the other — we can be gratefully positioned at the center of the next great move of God. What better pay-off could there be?

So here’s your sanctification question for the day: Does your access to abundance lead to an excess of generosity? If not, you are not only missing the biblical principle of sowing and reaping, you are missing out on God’s promise of abundance. When we give time, talent, gifts, service and witness to Kingdom projects — when we engage the world with Kingdom motives — we position ourselves at the center of Kingdom advancement and through our witness God is glorified. His glory is the fruit of abundance, and it is what we are after when we boldly talk about and enter into giving for Kingdom causes.

Read More

Wanna get rich?

Paul Piff is a psychologist who explores the affect of money on human nature. His team conducted an experiment using a rigged Monopoly game and two college students to whom Piff has given the names “T-shirt” and “Glasses.” When the game begins, T-shirt has $2000 in Monopoly money and collects $200 every time he passes “go,” while Glasses gets $1000 from the Monopoly bank and $100 for passing “go.” T-shirt can roll two dice but Glasses can only roll one. They are given fifteen minutes to play this rigged game while a team of psychologists watches on camera to analyze every facial tick and hand gesture.

T-Shirt has no choice but to win and at first, he acknowledges it. Soon, though, he is whizzing around the board, banging his Rolls Royce game piece as he counts out his turn (the game piece for Glasses is an elf). By the time the game is over, T-shirt is totally self-absorbed — counting moves, counting money, taking his opponent’s money without no sign of sympathy.

The experiment is designed to expose something about how money affects behavior. Piff discovered that “putting someone in a role where they’re more privileged and have more power in a game makes them behave like people who actually do have more power, more money, and more status.”

Money can create the sense of superiority. It has the power to make us influential and also selfish, courageous and also defensive. It has the potential for both blessing and curse, whether you have too much of it or too little.

Jesus tells a story very similar to Piff’s experiment. In his story, a wealthy man gives the equivalent of a hundred years’ wages to one man, forty years’ wages to another, and twenty years’ wages to a third. By any standard, any of those three men are holding great wealth but the comparison causes the third guy to shut down. While the first two invest their funds and produce a 100% return, the third guy buries his investment and has nothing to show for it.

Their story inspires me to think about the psychology, challenges and opportunities surrounding the “haves” and “have-nots.”

Five-talent People: Rejecting self-absorbed power

“I used to spend a lot of time thinking about my money,” a wealthy friend once told me. “I thought about it when I had none of it. I worried about it inordinately then. And when we finally made some money, I worried about losing it.”

For five-talent people, this is an interesting psychological shift. The danger is idolatry in one of two directions: 1) thinking “somehow I did this myself,” my friend says; or 2) thinking “money is what I can lean on and believe in, because money is easier to understand.”

So how do we reject self-absorbed power? The real trick is learning to hold money with an open hand. The answer seems to simplistic: Learn to give.  Those who do discover there is a freedom and joy in the stewardship of money that we simply can’t find in the “ownership” of it.

Two-talent People: Embracing creativity

Kevin Myers talks about the difference between the five-talent servant and the two-talent servant. He says five-talent leaders seem to live above the law of gravity. Things seem to come to them effortlessly. Most of us live under the law of gravity. In other words, Myers says, some people lead in leaps, but most people lead in layers.

Living in layers requires a kind of patience that breeds frustration. The day-in, day-out of making a living can sap the creativity out of life. The challenge for two-talent people is to embrace creative opportunities when they come our way. Maybe we don’t have a ton of resources, but what we thought was impossible might just be possible. This may mean letting go of things we can afford, like impulsive on-line buying and eating out and Starbucks, all of which may actually stifle the bigger dreams God has for us. It also means being more intentional about looking for creative opportunities to serve and give, to make the most of our investments.

One-talent People: Rejecting a spirit of poverty

The challenge of the one-talent person is to reject the spirit of poverty and fear-based habits. Living at the level of survival can keep us from trusting God to provide.

A friend says this: “The clenched fist around that $20 also prevents additional blessings from coming to you. There is a faithfulness that is scary, giving money especially when you don’t have it. Maybe it even brings bigger blessings. Like so much of the gospel that is a paradox, it is when it is hardest to step out that we exercise our faith most …”

The times in my life when I’ve clamped down on everything,” my friend continues, “I’ve suffered for it. When I think, maybe this isn’t a good time, maybe I shouldn’t now … that is exactly the time when I know I need to lean in. I don’t want to say there is such a thing as a prosperity gospel, but I can say that when I give, I am the one who benefits.”

Interesting isn’t it? — that the amount of money doesn’t really change the solution to our management of it. Whatever the level, giving is how we keep a healthy perspective. Giving is how we remember whose money it is and how we keep our imaginations nimble.

The point of giving isn’t that God wants you to send him a check so he can get things done. The point is that the Creator of your life knows how you’re wired and what it will take for you to make the most of this existence.

In a word: give. As with most things of the Kingdom, it isn’t logical but it is true: giving is how we get rich.

 

* Find Paul Piff’s TED talk here: https://www.ted.com/talks/paul_piff_does_money_make_you_mean?language=en

Read More

Developing Givers in the Kingdom of God

Before I was a pastor, I was a development director for a local non-profit. I learned on the job how to develop funds for an agency with a very focused mission and tight budget. It was the best training I could have gotten for what lay ahead. Daily in my life as a pastor, I’ve pulled from my experiences in non-profit development. Maybe the most fundamental lesson I’ve learned is this: helping people means raising money. One who is not comfortable with that ought not get too close to pastoral ministry.

That’s not a bad thing. Helping people place their giving in the context of discipleship and in the context of a compelling story is a healthy and important part of building a sustainable Kingdom initiative.

Through my experience, I’ve discovered a few things about developing Kingdom-minded givers:

EDUCATE.

Contrary to what pretty much everyone who goes to church tells you, it is not wrong to talk about money in church. People are not put off by discussions of practical things; to the contrary, I believe they starve for it. Folks genuinely want to know what is expected not just from the church but from God. They yearn for the theological underpinnings that make things like giving make sense. In fact, I believe folks are generally starving for compelling reasons to follow Jesus more sincerely, and as spiritual leaders it is our responsibility to make that happen.

Giving, like any discipleship issue, requires education. Further, as priests our primary work is to facilitate the true worship of the Living God. Most folks assume churches ask for money because that is how we pay our bills. While it is true that we use donations to make ministry happen, that’s not our primary motivation. Actually, it has a lot more to do with God than with us.Worship is what people are designed to do and since the fourth chapter of Genesis, God has asked his children to make giving part of their worship. Of course, back then, offerings consisted of sacrificial lambs and bundles of wheat. Over the generations, our modes of giving have changed. We no longer sacrifice animals on the altar or offer up the first of our harvest. Nor do we drop silver coins in a box as the widow did (Mark 12:41-44). Only within the last few decades have people been giving by check. Now, it is an electronic world.

Making use of all the ways our culture allows us to give, churches should be committed to making worship accessible for anyone ready to move forward in following Jesus.

ASK.

Peter taught us, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that is within you” (1 Peter 3:15). I wonder if he was thinking about giving when he wrote that.

The fact is, it takes money to run a ministry. Non-believers know that. Believers know that. No one is surprised or offended to find out it takes money to run your ministry. And if your ministry is struggling financially, as Gordon Cosby says, that may be God’s way of motivating you to tell your story. Listen: people do not give to needs or deficits (especially people who have learned to manage money well); they give to compelling stories and visions. Well-resourced donors will not put their money into a sinking ship, but they will give to places where they see a move of God. Tell your story like you believe in it so others are privileged to become part of it.

DEVELOP FRIENDS.

Giving is relational. Surely this is why God made giving part of our relationship to him. It deepens our connection, and what happens on the vertical plane happens on the horizontal plane, too. When someone gives to your ministry, it deepens their relationship with the work and the community.

And that is a two-way street. Your donors deserve your care and concern even as they are sowing into your work. One of the biggest lies of the enemy is that you’re “bothering people” if you are in touch too often. You’re not bothering them; you’re keeping them in the loop. Folks who give money want to hear they are investing in something that is strategic and successful but for Heaven’s sake, please do so authentically. Love people not for their money but for the sake of their souls. Keep them in prayer. Sow into them as disciples.

DEVELOP DISCIPLES.

Here are a few hard facts:

  • Those who do not give have an issue in their relationship with God.
  • Those who give with strings attached have an issue in their relationship with God.
  • Those who are not reaching their potential as givers have an issue in their relationship with God.

At the end of the day, another person’s giving is not about funding your ministry (or helping you sleep at night). It is about following Jesus and inspiring others to do so. Our main work is not to develop givers but to develop disciples. And according to our scriptures, healthy, committed disciples will be compelled to give.

As we said already, people are designed to worship God. Giving is a means of doing that — a tangible, practical way of showing devotion. Our main work as spiritual leaders, then, is to help people worship God in the ways he has designed us to worship him. We want to help people shake loose old, dysfunctional, agenda-laden habits so they can experience true freedom.

Helping people develop a good theology and practice of giving is a wonderful gift and perhaps the very best way to help them become serious followers of Jesus.

Read More

Serve me, Jesus.

What would it look like for Jesus to serve you?

Jesus once told his followers that he came “not to be served but to serve.” It is tempting to hear that only as some kind of rule of life. Jesus came to serve, so I ought to serve. Jesus didn’t ask people to serve him, so I ought not ask people to serve me. This is how I ought to live my life — like Jesus. Serving.

That works, but only if the Bible is a book of principles and not a living truth.

But if Jesus saying that he came to serve actually means he came to serve, then what does that mean? For me? For you?

Jesus qualified his comment further. He said he came to give his life as a ransom. If we take that seriously and literally (and I think we should), then Jesus has defined his brand of servanthood. This isn’t something for me to emulate, but something he has done and is doing precisely because I cannot. Jesus came ultimately to serve me, not to be served by me.

Jesus came to serve me, to ransom me from captives who sought my destruction.

But only if I’m willing to let him.

Let that sink in: Jesus came to serve us. Not like a waiter serves a table, but like a mother serves an infant crying for milk in the middle of the night. Like a nurse serves a child on life support who is hanging from a thin thread, dangling between life and death. Jesus serves us like a father serves his son, giving nourishment and wisdom and protection and identity.
Jesus came to serve us like that.

Do you begin to get just how radical a thought that is?

What does it mean for Jesus to serve you?

I once asked that question of a small group, and someone responded that for him it probably meant taking more time to pray for people he didn’t much like. He said, “Here is a place Jesus can serve me, because here’s the thing: I don’t like praying for people I don’t like. And yet, Jesus asks me to do just that, so I need him to span that gap between where my patience for people ends and his begins. I need him to love though me as I pray.”

Another person said, “Jesus is probably offering to serve me all day long, and I keep turning him down because I don’t recognize the offer for what it is.” She was referring to people who show up in her life with offers of help — offers she politely declines for pride’s sake.

Think about that. It is one thing to decline an offer of a friend’s help; it is another thing entirely to find out you’ve declined the offer of Jesus’ servanthood.

That thought caused someone else to wonder: “What if letting others serve us begins with letting Jesus serve us? What if I can’t receive from anyone — not well — until I’ve learned to receive from Jesus?”

When Jesus begins to serve us there is deep, spiritual movement. In the midst of our small group conversation, someone in our circle confessed through tears, “I don’t know who I am, and I’m just now realizing it. I have no idea who I am, and I need Jesus to tell me.” For her, allowing Jesus to serve meant letting him give voice to her identity in Christ.

I’m profoundly moved by this notion of Jesus serving me. I find myself in the face of that offer saying with Isaiah, “Woe is me!” I feel my inadequacies.

I’m drawn to the scene in John of Jesus washing his disciples feet, arguing with Peter who so pridefully (ignorantly) pulled away from the act. “You will never wash my feet!” To which Jesus replied, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” After Jesus has washed all their feet, he asked, “Do you understand what I’ve done for you?” I suspect he asks because he knows just how deep an act it is, just how counter-intuitive to our self-protective nature.

Just how uncomfortable …

To let Jesus serve us is the ransom.

To serve, not to be served turns out being more than an elective or a nice thought for a plaque. It is how we have a part in Jesus.

Read More

Make a spectacle of yourself.

Sometimes God uses spectacles. An overly bright star. A cast of angels. A talking donkey. A burning bush.

Sometimes, he makes us the spectacle. In this season, radical kindness would definitely get some attention. It’s a spectacle God can use.

What if we were to make spectacles of ourselves for Jesus this month? And what if you picked a few random acts of kindness and used them to bring attention to your love for Jesus? What if you made the love of Jesus your message and what if you made those random acts your voice?

I want to share 20 easy ideas. Choose two or three to accomplish by Christmas.

1. Pay for the person behind you in line at the drive-through of your choice.

2. Leave a present on top of the mailbox for your mail carrier (label well!).

3. Bake and deliver goodies to someone who would appreciate the pick-me-up.

4. Donate food to a food pantry (how about Mosaic’s Pantry?).

5. Keep a stash of candy canes with notes tied on in your purse, and hand them out to anyone you see who might need a little treat — cashiers, deli workers, taxi drivers…

6. Leave quarters and a note at a laundromat.

7. Leave a note and the correct amount of change on a vending machine.

8. Ask the librarians if you can pay someone else’s past due fee.

9. Buy a gift card for groceries, then turn around and hand it to the next person in line.

10. Leave an extra big tip at a restaurant.

11. Leave an encouraging message in sidewalk chalk on a neighbor’s driveway.

12. Figure out something tiny, nice, and unexpected to do for your co-workers.

13. Bake something for your significant other to share with his/her co-workers.

14. Leave a positive comment on every blog you frequent this month. Trust me, it will make their day, especially the smaller ones.

15. Buy boxes of crayons at a dollar store and give them to kids.

16. Clean out your closet and donate gently-used items to appropriate organizations.

17. Collect all of the travel-size toiletries you have lying around and deliver them to a homeless shelter or battered women’s shelter (or Bags and Hugs).

18. Bring Christmas flowers (like a poinsettia) to a nursing home and ask the front desk staff which resident would most appreciate them.

19. Volunteer to babysit for a particularly sleep-deprived friend or relative.

20. Do a chore for someone else in your household.

In what ways are you planning this season to make light shine in the darkness?

Read More

Three Secrets of a Strong Marriage

In my last post, I mentioned three things Steve and I have done intentionally that have had a positive impact on our twenty-nine-year marriage. The first one is that we learned how to approach life as givers by tithing. The second one has to do with prayer.

strong-marriageDo you know the percentage of marriages that end in divorce in the U.S.? 50% of all marriages don’t make it. How many Christian marriages end in divorce? 50%. Evidently, saying you’re a Christian doesn’t improve the odds.

However, in marriages where two people who call themselves Christian pray daily together, something like one in a thousand ends in divorce. It really is true that the family that prays together, stays together.

About the time we got serious about our walk with Christ, Steve and I started praying together. The first few times we did it, it felt awkward. To me, prayer is the most intimate thing you can do with your spouse. Getting that personal and that real with each other takes some practice. But over time, we got used to it and now, it is such a gift in our life together.

Here’s what we do. When we get in bed at night, the first thing we do is a little mental check to see if there’s anything we needed to tell each other that we haven’t had the chance to say. Then eventually, one of us will say, “Who’s turn is it?” And whoever’s turn it is will pray. The next night, it is the other person’s turn.

Praying together does two things in a marriage. First, because it is such a real and intimate thing, it is a place where you really get to hear the other person’s heart. People tend to be more honest, more transparent when they pray. Second, because it is a prayer, God hears it. Jesus says that wherever two or three are gathered together, he is right there with them. So if you want to make that triangle thing happen in your marriage, prayer will do it for you. Prayer is like a zipline that takes you immediately into God’s presence.

So … We tithe. We pray together. And the third thing we’ve done intentionally to build our marriage is that we observe a Sabbath.

In other words, we pay. We pray. And we play.

Sabbath. Every major figure in the Bible talked about this habit. Jesus himself was faithful to practice it. The Bible in both testaments claims it as the key to healthy living — spiritually, mentally and physically. And yet, we rarely discuss it and seldom take it seriously. It runs consistently through the Bible, but it’s the one thing I’ve consistently and dangerously neglected in my own life.

When we first came to Augusta to plant a church, I was really wrapped up in the work. I got so wrapped up in it, in fact, that I began to neglect not only my family but my own spiritual life. And I was a pastor! Somewhere along the way, we decided that the only way for us to restore some kind of rhythm to our lives was to begin practicing a day of rest every week — one day when we could cease work and worry and just be with each other. It is a day we rest, and play and nap and try to just enjoy life.

Sabbath gives a holy rhythm to the practice of our faith, and it has been the one thing in our home that has the power to calm the storms.

Because I’m a pastor and work on Sunday, our Sabbath is 6:00p Friday to 6:00p Saturday. At least in theory, it is. We don’t make it there every week. I am in a season now when Sabbath rest has been scarce, and I am recalibrating to restore it to my life. Sabbath has to be the goal, because this is one way we get our lives back in line with God’s design.

Here’s what we’ve learned after twenty-nine years of giving this our best shot. You will never make enough money to make yourself happy, and you will never have enough time to do everything that needs to be done. Tithing, prayer and Sabbath are ways of trusting God and for us, they have been means of grace.

Read More

Why We Tithe (or, How to Make a Marriage Great)

Steve and I can’t take much credit for twenty-nine years of a great marriage. Mostly, it has been mercy and mistakes. But there are a few things we’ve done to make our marriage work that we often share with young couples — things we’ve done intentionally that have made a significant difference.

For instance, about twenty years ago, we began to pray together nightly, and we believe that has carried our family and especially our daughter. About fifteen years ago, we instituted an intentional Sabbath in our home. From 6:00 Friday to 6:00 Saturday, our home is a work-free zone — at least as much as church life allows.

That third thing? Tithing.

When we married we were not practicing Christians, so tithing was not part of our life for those first few years together. We started going to church in our late twenties when we got involved in a Bible study. That’s when we started doing what most people do, dropping a twenty in the plate most Sundays. We were probably giving about 2% of our income to the church and to be honest, we felt good about that. We were tippers, not tithers. We were also  renters with credit card debt and two car payments, so giving anything was a stretch for us.

Then a man we both respected a lot (Sam Pursley) stood up in church one day and talked about the line from Jesus, where he says, “Give and it will be given to you, a good measure pressed down, shaken together and running over.” He talked about how his dad would sell grain that way, and how the farmers would tell his dad, “Mr. Pursley, you give good measure.”

Then Sam talked about his Sunday School teacher, who told him as a young man, “Sam, you will never be all you are supposed to be until you begin to tithe.” He asked her what exactly she meant by tithing and she said, “Ten percent. Tithing is giving 10% of your income back to God. It is an act of faith.”

Sam then asked the question we all ask. “Is that 10% of my gross income … or net?” And she said, “Gross.” From that day on, Sam tithed and discovered that as he gave, it was given to him — a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.

We heard Sam’s story in church one Sunday and when we got home, Steve said, “Carolyn, I think we ought to do it. I think we ought to give 10%.” Now, I hate when my husband gets spiritual on me about money. I told him it wasn’t possible. We were renters. We had credit card debt. We owed on two cars. We were barely scraping by when we gave about 2%. It wasn’t possible to give more. I argued reasonably with Steve, but he didn’t back down. Finally, I gave up. I figured, when we ended up with more month than money, he’d get it. I mean, how many ramen noodles do you have eat before you get it?

So we went from 2% to 10% in one week. And I know it isn’t supposed to happen this way, and I know how dangerous it is to tell our story just the way it happened, but this is how it happened for us. We gave, and it was given to us — a good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over.

In the twenty-plus years since we started taking God at His word, everything we’ve needed we’ve had. Without debt. We’ve even continued to step forward from the tithe in our giving. We’ve learned that the Lord provides. And as I said, I know it’s dangerous to tell these kinds of stories, but I think it is important.

I want you to hear how our marriage has thrived, and I would be doing a disservice if I said anything less than what that lady said to our friend, Sam, that day. “As a follower of Jesus, you will never be all you are supposed to be (and your marriage will never be all it is supposed to be) until you begin to tithe.”

Why?

Because the tithe is how we get past the lie that life is short and into the truth that life is designed to be eternal.

And the tithe has changed the spiritual atmosphere of our home. It makes us approach life and finances and big adventures as givers, and that changes everything.

No wonder God asks us to give. He asks, because he knows how we are made and he knows what works.

Read More

Habit #4: Joyful people give from a place of grateful generosity.

Some of us have sinned a lot. Some of us have sinned a whole lot. Some of us ought to be dead (or at least incarcerated for an extended period of time). Some of us should be very, very grateful for the things they don’t know about what we’ve done.

And some of us who have sinned a lot, who have made a lot of mistakes, who have walked on the dark side, have discovered in Jesus a kind of forgiveness that hardly seems possible. When we found grace, we fell on it like a starving man at a buffet.

Grateful people are a joy to be around. People who have found life after years of mere existence are inspiring. They tend to respond to life with a grateful generosity that is catching. If you are one of them, consider yourself deeply blessed. To live from a place of deep gratitude is a real gift.

Not everyone cultivates this gift, however; left to itself, gratitude can starve again. If you want to lose your joy while giving, follow these seven way-too-easy steps:

1. Respond to every need as if it is your personal responsibility to meet it.
Here is a spiritual principle: The need is not the call. The call is the call. If you want to lose your joy while giving, then respond as if the need is the call. And of course, there are more needs than any one person can ever possibly fill so pretty quickly, you’ll be overwhelmed and you’ll get bitter. This is a great way to lose your joy.

2. Let yourself believe you’re the only one who cares.
I call this the Elijah Principle. Maybe you remember that story in 1 Kings of the time when Elijah ends up on top of a mountain talking to God and he gets a little whiny. He says, “Everyone else has abandoned you, God, and I’m the only one left.” We’ve all felt that way.  When you’re the only one taking out the trash, or doing everyone else’s job, it can feel lonely. Discouragement can give you tunnel vision. But God told Elijah, “Son, there are 7,000 people down in the valley waiting for you. You’re not alone. You’re just not tuned in.”

The truth is, God chooses to work through us but it won’t all fall apart if we somehow can’t keep up. There are others working, too, and God’s plan will unfold. That’s a given.

3. Make guilt your driving motivation for giving.
One of the bigger lessons I’ve learned about the Spirit-filled life is this: You cannot be in two places at the same time. That’s both a physical reality and a spiritual principle. The same frustration we have when we try to do squeeze too many things into our calendars is the frustration we feel when we are in one place internally and another place externally.

John Townsend and Henry Cloud talk about this in their book, Boundaries. They talk about the internal yes and the external yes. It is the battle between our commitments and our feelings. When the internals don’t match the externals, the Holy Spirit has no room to move.  If you’re spiritually frustrated in your giving, maybe this is a question for you: Do your internals match your externals? Because folks, you can not be in two places at the same time.

4. Close your heart toward every need except your own.
The other end of that spectrum, of course, is being so self-protective that we ignore every other need except our own.

5. Have an agenda behind your giving.
If you want to suck the joy out of giving, give with strings attached. Decide you’ll only give if it makes you feel good, or if your name can be on it, or if it gets used in a very specific way. That’s a surefire way to generate frustration and choke out joy.

6. Have no personal strategy or vision for giving.
Give as a reaction instead of a reasoned and prayerful response. Kingdom giving is always about “call,” and not just about “can.”

7. Don’t ever pray about it.
Give for the emotional rush, or give because of an emotional appeal or because someone makes you feel guilty or because someone has manipulated you. But for goodness’ sake, don’t give because you’ve prayed about it and sought the counsel of the One Person in the universe you can confidently say is smarter than you.

That’s how to lose your joy while you’re giving. If, however, you’d like to cultivate joy rather than kill it when you give, then Paul has some good advice for us: Holy Spirit living leads to Holy Spirit spending. Let the Spirit invest in your life, then invest your life in the Kingdom. Find things that make you grateful (like your salvation, for instance) and give from that place.

When we think more intentionally about the use of our resources, our giving flows from a more grateful place and leads to deep joy and real peace.

Read More