Leaning against his newly constructed Tuscany marble marquee, Reverend Stillman flashed a million dollar smile at the workers atop the magnificent 150 foot electronic steeple/belfry, as they attached the copper clad peak.
“Beautiful. Simply beautiful,” he reverently effused to Bob Jenkins, head elder at the Stunning Revelation of Enlightened Saints church.
“Amen reverend. Amen,” brother Jenkins affirmed, flashing his own glistening smile. “You know, at the beginning of this marketing campaign…”
“Whoa, brother Jenkins. Let’s rephrase that statement, please. What we are seeing here is the culmination, the fruit if you will, of our successful, four-year Tithing Big Because You Can’t Outgive God campaign. This is also a reminder of God’s hidden promise to increase our storehouses to show how much He loves us.”
“Right on, rev. Right on. I slipped up on that one for sure. So, did you ever dream the final tally on our opulent palace of God’s promises would add up to $12 million? Heh, heh, heh. It sure surprised me, I’ll tell you.”
“Oh ye of little faith, Bob. I’ve always wanted to say that to someone. Well that’s just one more example of why I am the Reverend in charge of this great work of the Lord and you are just the head elder who can be replaced at any time. Heh, heh, heh.
“As a matter of fact, I had no idea how much it would finally cost but I did know that the good and generous folks here at Stunning Revelation would cough up the cash…er, so to speak. Brother Bob, it takes money to represent the Lord in a building. What would we be saying to the world if we put up some two-bit, $200,000 chapel?”
“Oh, well, I think…”
“Rhetorical Bob. Simply rhetorical.”
“I can tell you what we would be saying to the world. God is cheap and He doesn’t care about our amazingly beautiful building. Now we know that isn’t true don’t we. Uh. Save it Bob. God told Solomon to build a great temple, adorned with gold and silver and precious jewels. And He’s passed that assignment on to us. No matter what the cost.”
“Well, I’m sure you are right, Rev. At least it always seems that way. By the way, I’ve been meaning to give you the ol’ thumbs up for such creative preaching and teaching on the principle of tithing. After a while, I simply gave up on trying to find all those verses. And then making the ones I did find line up with your teaching. Just one more classic example of why you’re the reverend and I’m not.”
“Amen brother. Amen. God has given me the spirit of divination and wisdom and discernment, and…well, that’s enough about me. I need you to arrange a meeting with the building committee next week to reveal my plans for our missionary outreach chalet in Switzerland.
“Was that thunder I heard? Sounds pretty close!”
Although the Stunning Revelation of Enlightened Saints Church is fictional, begging and cojoling congregants and parishoners for more and more money, using the Bible as leverage, is not. Quite the contrary. Church leaders have taken many liberties with the tithing principle to shore up dwindling coffers and shaky building programs. Pastors routinely prepare annual tithing/giving sermon reminders. And how often have heard that special giving must not interfere with your tithe? More than once probably.
Should we tithe? And if so, to whom? Does God command it? Let’s look at the New Testament as we ask God to reveal the truth to us.
Here is a section of Scripture where Jesus rips open all pretext and exposes our intentions, using a poor widow as an example. Luke 21: “And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury. And He saw a certain poor widow oputting in two small copper coins. And He said, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all of them; for they all out of their surplus put into the offering; but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.”
I must confess that I am stunned by the implication of Jesus’ words, “…but she out of her poverty put in all that she had to live on.” All that she had to live on? Are we to take His words literally? That seems to fly in the face of our reasonable logic. What about the tithe? I tithe regularly…well, semi-regularly. Plus I help people here and there (keeping a mental tally to soothe my conscience). Although reeling from this apparent revelation, I think we should move on to either fortify what we’ve just read or, temper this dramatic expectation (sounds like my carnal self talking).
Because we have so many expenses in the American church, and because the IRS has agreed to lighten the tax burden on those who do contribute to those expenses, we see a financial light at the end of our annual income tax obligation. Not only may we deduct direct contributions, but we find that gifts-in-kind may also fall into that “lighten the tax burden” category. Of course there are limits as to what may qualify. And I am certain that we have always been completely honest regarding those guidelines. As a friend of mine used to say regarding our honest intentions, “Do you swear on your love for Jesus?”
Hold on to your seat because I have another one of those “throw-cold-water-in-your-face” scriptures regarding our giving habits. Look at Matthew 6 . . . “Be careful not to perform your religious duties in public so that people will see what you do. If you do these things publicly you will not have any reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give something to a needy person, do not make a big show of it, as the show-offs do in the synagogues and on the streets. They do it so that people will praise them. Remember this! They have already been paid in full. But when you help a needy person, do it in such a way that even your closest friend will not know about it, but it will be a private matter. And your Father, who sees what you do in private, will reward you.”
Is it cold in here? Because I feel as though someone just stripped me bare and I am standing naked before His eyes. How often do I subtly suggest or outright tell friends or associates about my giving or helping others? And what about income tax incentives? Am I willing to give anonymously, foregoing all tax credits?