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"Out of Their Most Severe Trial…" Giving During Difficult Times

Outcome versus process

We have heard a great deal over the last few years of how difficult it is for people to give to their churches, ministries, and nonprofits. We read how some giving is down, and for others, budgets are cut and pastors are laid off.

And we hear a lot about the difficult economy. I know things are better now for many in the country. And that is good.

I would like to address what it means to give sacrificially versus out of our discretionary income. As giving is still around 2% for most Americans and among Christians it is reported at 2.2–4%, we find ourselves in an interesting time. Churches are closing and giving is down, yet in many churches (62% Kluth, State of the Plate 2013) they met or exceeded their giving goals.

So what is the real situation as it relates to giving? You know I have written for years that poor giving habits flow from the lack of correct teaching on biblical stewardship. And correcting that is still my number one motivation. But I believe there is another reason that some struggle with giving — it hurts.

What hurts? Giving more hurts us in the world's money system. It hurts us in our monthly budget. We believe it "takes away" something that belongs to us. That is why the teaching in the second letter to the church at Corinth is so interesting and important. Paul writes to them telling of how the Macedonian churches gave "out of their most severe trial" (2 Cor. 8:2). Their situation was not good. It was uncomfortable. It was not easy. Their giving was sacrificial. It was going to cost them something. Yet they pleaded with Paul to be included in giving to the ministry.

Today, much giving is from discretionary income. Income that could be used for travel, new items, going out to dinner, extra clothes, gifts, and upgrades to the things we current own. And yes, even coffee. (I know I am treading into dangerous territory here. But you are not guaranteed lattes in the Bible!)

We all know we are among the wealthiest countries in the world. We have heard this since we were born and as our world becomes smaller we see how much we have and how little other people groups have. We want to be generous, but only to a point, it seems. That point is pain. We give up to, and just before it hurts. If I give more, I would have to sacrifice something. That's too much to ask. I "need" to keep this much for myself. Does this resonate with anyone in your thinking?

This is why Jesus talked so much about money. One key teaching is Luke 16:13 is where Jesus states that "man cannot serve both God and mammon" (mammon = the things of this world we desire).  To "serve" them means to make them the priority, to put them in the highest place in our lives. Jesus warned us, yet this temptation is so common today. Everything on TV says you should have the best car, house, and vodka! (I have never seen so many ads for vodka.) Accept nothing mediocre, always serve yourself first is the message!

And Jesus warned us. I wonder, can there be any commitment to anything without sacrifice? Can we follow Jesus without sacrifice? Can we be a disciple without being a steward? Can we be a steward without sacrifice?

Sorry if this is a rambling eNewsletter. I think Paul wanted us to be aware that to really follow God is hard. And it will hurt sometimes. And giving is the same way. It is hard, and sometimes it hurts, but it is the way he wants us to follow him and be his disciple.

This is a difficult message to preach and teach from the pulpit. It can become negative, preachy, and full of guilt. But if it is presented as part of our relationship with Jesus, and he promises to supply and guide us on the journey, isn't that worth taking a chance?

Blessings to you, and I would love to hear your thoughts on this.