Why I Talk about Tithing

Whenever I begin to talk about tithing, I’m immediately hit with two major objections. First, tithing is never mentioned or commanded in the New Testament. Second, a ten percent gift is a shallow understanding of tithing and giving as taught in the Old Testament. If you total all of the various sacrifices and offerings in the Old Testament, you’ll end up giving somewhere between 25% and 30%.

As to the first objection, yes, it’s true tithing isn’t mentioned in the New Testament. The standard of giving in the New Testament is the cross. You don’t bow in front of the cross and debate percentages. Jesus gave everything for us and we dare not give less back to Him.

As to the second objection, yes, I know all about the various sacrifices outlined in the Old Testament. Several of the books, such as Leviticus and Deuteronomy go into exhaustive details about when the sacrifice is to be made and how it’s to be presented. And yes, it seems there is some kind of special offering or sacrifice every month. It can be and even to the early Israelites, it was overwhelming.

But here’s the difference for me. I’m a pastor. I’m not a biblical scholar or theologian. Yes, I love studying Scripture. I love digging deep into the text and pondering the various facets of Biblical truth, but my role as a pastor doesn’t afford me the luxury of ivory tower scholarship. I get a few hours a week…at best…

I often tell people I don’t have the luxury of studying combat theory at the academy. I’m the platoon sergeant in charge of getting his soldiers up the next hill.

Most of the time, the subject of tithing comes up at one of two places. Either a person is a new believer and wanting to know what’s next, or a person is wanting to get serious about their faith and they want to know what they should do next.

The key phrase in both of those situations is “next.”

  • How does someone who’s just beginning their faith walk learn to trust Jesus with their finances? Tithing is a great next step.
  • How does someone who’s determined to go deeper in their faith show Jesus they’re serious? Tithing is a great place to start.

And it’s just a start. When you start to tithe, one of the things that happens is that you begin to confront the idols that have begun to control your life – sometimes without you’re even knowing it. For most of us, when we start to tithe, it’s the first time we’ve told our money and our money hasn’t told us! In tithing, God will show us how faithful He is in the little things of our lives, and we’re encouraged to trust Him with even bigger and bigger things in our lives. Before we know it, we’ve moved on to giving more than a tithe. Jesus is faithful and we find joy in following Him – even in our finances.

Tithing isn’t the complete message of the gospel. It’s just one part. One piece. If we had to understand the whole thing at once, none of us would be believers.

I talk about tithing because I spend my time with people who are broken, but healing; floundering, but regaining their balance; a long way from the finish line but know they have to start somewhere.

So, we’ll start with a tithe. It’s easy. If you make a dollar, give a dime. It’s just a start, but it is a start. A start to a lifetime of joy in discovering how graciously faithful Jesus really is. But you’ll never know until you start.

Through It, Not from It

When I pray for God to help me with a problem, I want Him to grab me and throw me on the other side of the problem. Then, I want to pick myself up, dust myself off, and run as far away from the problem as I can.

In my experience, God has never dealt with me that way. In fact, it’s been just the opposite.

Whenever I ask for God’s help with a problem, He takes me directly to the problem. We don’t avoid anything. By His leading and in His power, we are led to face our issues head on.

Let me give you an example.

Let’s say I have falling out with a friend. (I know, with my gentle personality you’re thinking this would never happen. Like I said, it’s just an example.) But let’s say it did happen.

And I pray, “Lord, help me restore my relationship with my friend.” I’m hoping Jesus will just give me a good feeling in my heart. You know, a deep warmness in my chest filled with good feelings toward my friend.

That’s not what happens. Nope, God will lead me to all kinds of situations where I will find myself with that friend. The Lord will then open the door for an honest conversation about our friendship, what happened, and how we move forward. And yes, it usually involves an apology from me. God won’t let me run from it. I can’t escape it. He forces me to deal with it.

It took me a long time to understand this, but I finally got it. Do you know why God does that? He does it so you never have to be afraid of it again. You’ve dealt with it. You’ve done what you needed to do and said what you needed to say. It’s over. You’re now free to move on.

Did you know there was an early teaching in the church that claimed God tricked Satan in the crucifixion and resurrection? The story goes that God promised Satan the body of Jesus in exchange for all of the souls of world, and then, at the last minute, He snatched Jesus back. Like I said, it was a heresy in the early church, but if Jesus only tricked death, then what happens the next time death finds us?

No, the good news of the gospel is that Christ defeated death. That’s why we don’t have to be afraid of death anymore. The battle’s been fought. The victory has been won by Jesus. It’s over.

The Hebrew children went through the Red Sea, not around it. We walk through the valley of the shadow of death, not close by it. In each moment, God in Christ Jesus saves us through it, not from it.

That way, we never have to be afraid. We can move on. It’s over. That’s why Jesus always saves us through it, but never from it.

Can These Bones Live?

When I was little boy, I went to a small mill village church in Huntsville Alabama. Our pastor, Reverend G.D. Barrett was a gifted preacher. I think it was listening to him that made me want to become a preacher. He could paint a picture with his words that forced you to do something. After all, you just couldn’t listen to a sermon like that and then walk away as if nothing had happened. I joke with my friends that if “Brother Barrett” preached on hell, your clothes smelled like smoke at the end of the sermon.

His best sermon was from Ezekiel 37, the story of dry bones. Do you remember it? God takes Ezekiel to the place of a famous battle where the bones of the fallen soldiers had been left to bleach in the sun. God asks the prophet, “Son of man, can these bones live?” I can still remember sitting on the wooden pews of Huntsville Park Baptist Church and being mesmerized by the story of the bones of dead people becoming a crowded congregation.

I hadn’t thought about that sermon until a few years ago. One day, I was reading the paper when I noticed several church buildings for sale. I’m a sucker for sacred spaces, so seeing these ads was particularly painful for me. I had noticed this trend before. Church sanctuaries and cathedrals are being converted all over the world. They are taking these sacred structures and turning them into upscale restaurants, condominiums, and office buildings. I don’t blame the people for buying these buildings. They are beautiful structures.

I just hate seeing churches sold. I especially hate seeing them sold in Middle Tennessee.

Now, understand. These churches are being sold by a group of people who are sure no one will come to a group of people who are sure someone will come if there’s something different in the building.

Why can’t a new church be what’s different in the building?

That’s why the revitalization of churches in transition is one of the major efforts of the Middle Tennessee Initiative. There are several advantages to this approach.

The church facilities are still in a good location. True, the neighborhoods around the church have changed, but there are still people around the church. Most of the time, there are a lot of people around the church. Perhaps a different ethnic group has moved in. Maybe a different language group has moved in, but there are still people who need to hear the gospel.

This new neighborhood may not match the old membership of the church. (Most of the time, it’s Caucasians driving in from the suburbs to the old home church. Not always, but most of the time.) If the church can seize the challenge of the new opportunity, the church can be restored to a vital and kingdom-impacting ministry. Yes, it probably means a new pastor and a new staff, but the church can stay alive.

Second, working with a church like this means you have a ready-made facility to use. Sure, there are usually some upgrades that have to be installed, but this can be done for nickels on the dollar. For one thing, you’d never be able to find the land, and second, who can afford a building with stained glass windows?

Third, the neighborhood is usually glad to welcome a new congregation because the church adds value to the neighborhood…or it should anyway. The facility is painted and repaired. The grounds are kept neat and trimmed. People are coming in and out. There’s life in the neighborhood.

We’ve seen it happen again and again. A church that was down to 25 or so members explodes to a weekly attendance of well over 100 and sometimes 200 or more! The looks on the original members’ faces when they hear babies crying in their worship services is priceless.

The last thing about revitalizing churches is you never run out of things to do. There’s always another church, always another people group that needs to be reached, always another challenge. We’re never bored.

But how good it is to see our God work. To stand like Ezekiel and look at the valley of dry bones and hear God say, “Son of man can these bones live?”

I love being able to answer, “Yes, Lord, these bones can live. We’ve seen You do it before.”