Luke 16:11: “So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?”
The bible speaks so much about money. It is mind blowing. Yet somehow in our Christian church, we seem to be self satisfied and completely lacking discipline to address this. I have used the scripture above to speak to this before in this blog, but this is such a powerful concept that we cannot pass it by. Recently in this life, I got to see two individuals that felt that they were doing God’s calling. I want to use a real life example to call out how I see the difference and why I would support one and not the other.
Now we are going to go down a rabbit hole, and if we are not careful, we can break our neck. The funny thing about the Bible and the Gospel that we live: we do not have certainty. As a matter of fact, all that you can be certain of is that you might be wrong. It is because of the uncertainty that you seek the Lord’s guidance every day. He is the quiet voice turning uncertainty into you steps. So, I am going to state that my examples might not be perfect, and may even be wrong. However, I fundamentally believe the principles that I will talk about are right.
The first persons that I would like to call out is my brother and sister Terry and Melissa McGill. They founded an organization called Sister Schools based in Seattle, Washington. I will not call out all of the nature of Sister Schools, but if you spend any time on their website, you’ll find out that they basically are working to make sure that kids in Uganda have more opportunities in life. In a charming picture above, which is taken from a video, you’ll see Terry trying to get the kids to get brighter face for a video they are doing. If you know Terry, which we have for over 30 years, it wouldn’t matter if he was talking to kids in Seattle or Uganda. He really loves kids.
The other person, which I will not mention here, is a teacher of sorts. I know him well, and he is a deeply spiritual man that loves the Lord. As a matter of fact, he has made some tremendous sacrifices in his life so that he can teach young men in his chosen field at minimum wage. He has Ph.D. and is tremendously smart. He believes that he is able to teach certain knowledge so that Pastors can lead their flocks better. He recently told me that “this is all that I want to do.”
So faced with both of these people, which one would I choose to support with the giving that I feel the Lord would have me do?
I am not a sacrificial giver. I give what the scriptures has told me to give, which I believe is roughly 10% of your increase. What does this mean? To me tithing is taking 10% of whatever you get in your pocket, and you give 1/10th of it to the Lord.
In other words, if you make $100 dollars, the government takes $30s, and you are left with $70, you give $7 to the Lord. In recent years, because the Lord simply blessed us more than what I could conceive, I have given a little more than this. However, I have simply given a little more because I feel that the Lord gave me a little extra, and he called me to give more. It is a gift of joy and abundance, but really it still isn’t anything sacrificial. Nor is it something that I believe the scriptures would compel me to do, other than allow me the opportunity to say thanks. Also, on top of this, we do support our local church more with our core giving driven by my salary.
So again, of the two different people above, who should I support for my giving beyond my core church giving?
I look for a couple of signs that I think are clear. The first off, I don’t believe that the Lord is calling many, and maybe not any, to be poor. He calls out that the poor will always be with us, but in Old Testament, he says that if we live our life correctly, there will be not be poor in the land.
Deut: 15:4 However, there need be no poor people among you, for in the land the LORD your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you,
I believe that the Lord would like us live lives of ordinary means, and be able to be self sufficient, and if tragedy does strike, family or insurance is there to help catch you. While we are called to give alms to the poor, we are not asked to become poor.
What is poor is a difficult thing to say. The poor in America may look like a wealthy person in Uganda. However, I think of being poor as not being able to take care of your family and kids. Not giving them the opportunity to support their family by having them learn a trade or get an paying education. I believe that the Lord calls us to have a home that we go to. He calls us to live in a land, and grow and prosper.
I believe that every Christian in America should have enough salary to pay for medical insurance and save for retirement. I don’t believe that the Lord wants us to be vassals to the the state. If you need to depend on medicaid and welfare, other than for a family tragedy or because you were tested by having children with special needs, you are not living the life that God would have you lead.
Mind you, I am not saying that being poor is a sin. I am also saying that the Lord may test you and simply have you experience an unfortunate series of events. There is a genuine core of people that simply poor because life gave them bad breaks, and we are not there to judge them. On the other hand, personally know people who are more than capable of making a very good salary, but simply reject the idea that they need to use their talents for making money. They would rather live off of their in-laws or take hand-outs or not be responsible for their future.
One of the key pivot points in my life was a dinner I had with my Dad. I wish that I had always been as I am now, but when I was in my late teens, I was not hyper responsible. I wanted to be an actor, and do plays for a living. Through conflict with my Dad, he would not allow me to do this. He felt this was irresponsible. I was not overjoyed at his input.
So, I did a career that he wanted me to do. I graduated with a degree in finance and accounting, and while I studied, I will not say that I was serious in all that I did. After graduating, I did not want anything to do with this degree. So, after losing my way for a couple of years, I went back to school to get my electrical engineering degree. My Mom and Dad ended up helping me go to school for 9 years. However, on my second degree, I was serious and I worked hard.
After finishing my EE degree, I really only had one good offer from IBM. However, I remember going out to Zoopa (soup and salad) with my Mom and Dad, and I was going to explain to them that I really wanted to be closer to home, and the IBM job was going to make me move to Rochester, MN, which wouldn’t allow us to be close to my parents. I was going to turn the job down.
My Dad said that this wasn’t a good idea. The Lord had opened up a door for a very good paying job, and if that meant that we needed to move away, having the financial security of this job was critical for me. He explained that the Lord doesn’t always open the door that we want to go through. The Lord opens his door. This was the job that I was offered, and it was a very good job. He said that I should take it.
I am a big believer that the Lord’s word goes through our parents, so I followed my Dad’s advice, and my life took a dramatic change. If you look at my job history, I have never run a company, and I only made it to a Vice President level for a short while, before I was humbled and settled at a lower level. But my salary has been good. Well beyond what I could ever expect if I had been in Seattle. So, although I did not want to do it, my success has contributed to myself and to others.
This is true for those in that are serving the Lord. Now there are two ways not to be poor. Paul calls this out both in words and in action. The first way is if you are serving the Lord, it is very fitting for you to pull a salary. Paul calls this out in his writing, but also the Old Testament sets up a system so that the priest get paid. The average senior Pastor in the USA is around $60K per year. I am not saying that this is not hard work, and they could get paid more in a non-pastor role. I am saying that it would be possible to live on $60K per year, and support a family.
The second thing that you can do is what Terry and Melissa did for many years. They made tents. Now they really didn’t make tents, but Melissa worked hard at her business because it allow Terry to serve the Lord. The idea of making tents goes back to when Paul made tents in Antioch so that he could live. Paul understood that it took money to live. He could have begged, but he said that he would work. Out of that work, he paid for his pastoring. For many years, Terry was able to serve by virtue of his wife’s work. As time has gone on, he has been able to pull a salary from his work. This, to me, smacks of something that is very, very correct in the lives of Terry and Melissa. They understand how money works, and they use it as a tool.
Finally, and this is where we become very dangerous, we have to ask ourselves of the value of the work that these people are doing. In my example above, you basically have a somebody that is trying to help Pastor’s do their work better. I am not saying that this is bad, but I am saying that when I look over this work, I see this as a nice to have and not a core item. However, I feel that Terry and Melissa have hit a home run in the Kingdom of God. In their work, they are fundamentally changing the lives of young men and woman that grow up in areas with no resources at all. If these young people can get a bit of education, they can move out of incredible poverty.
What most people don’t understand is that helping people in poverty will be the thing that separates us from the rest of those that don’t make it into Heaven. This is called out in the scriptures in Matt 25:34ff.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Let me make this exceptionally clear. The Lord calls out five key activities that all those were saved acted on:
1. Feed and give drink to those that are hungry and thirsty
2. Provide clothes for the poor
3. Take care of the stranger
4. Take care of the sick
5. Visit the prisoner
It is easy to get confused when you read the gospels because sometimes Jesus exaggerates and sometimes he does not. For example, I know he is exaggerating when he says, “Pluck out your eye.” However, I don’t believe in this case that he is exaggerating at all. He says that those that make it into heaven are going to show these five signs in their lives.
When I look at this list of activities, I can say that Terry and Melissa are clear addressing 1-4 in their work in a a very direct fashion. They are helping the poorest of the poor. People that are my brothers and sisters. Although I have never been to Uganda, I know that if I support Terry and Melissa, I am helping them help others.
So now that we have established this with such certainty, I am now going to take a half of step back from the ledge. While we are called to the social gospel of feeding physical needs, we also need to realize that tithing can be a simple act of adoration. There was a time in the gospels when somebody broke a very expensive bottle of perfume over Jesus’s feet, and the Holy men said, “What a waste. Why not give this to the poor.”
It was at this very time, when a piece of giving was looking like a big waste that Jesus calls out, “the poor you will always have with you.” The point of this is to understand that we come first to the altar with a sense of overwhelming gratitude. God looks first at the heart, then he looks at the actions. A sacrifice given in the right way but with a wrong heart means nothing. However, an offering given with a contrite heart, even if the sacrifice looks like a suboptimal use of the offering, is one that pleases the Lord.
What the Church lacks is a conviction that working hard and paying our tithes is a high calling. Our giving and making sure we give correctly is a very high calling.