Dating, No-Hitters, and Throwing Pennies in a Fountain

Posted: November 12, 2009 by Matt Horan in ReEmergent Church
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By Matt Horanrabbit_foot

A professor was giving a big test one day to his students. He handed out all of the tests and went back to his desk to wait. Once the test was over the students all handed the tests back in. The professor noticed that one of the students had attached a $100 bill to his test with a note saying “A dollar per point.” The next class the professor handed the graded tests back out. This student got back his test, his test grade, and $64 change.

It seems that, if we have enough money, we can solve any problem.  Being sued?  Get a great lawyer.  Kids not learning enough?  Send them to private school.  Health problems?  See a great doctor and get some medicine prescribed.  Don’t like how you look?  Join a gym, get some cosmetic surgery, or buy the South Beach Diet book.

I’ll confess that I’m not always a big fan of generosity.  I’d much rather have a lot of money and buy myself something nice.  Or, I’m also often tempted to buy things for my daughters, Jenna and Ashley, to spoil them and make them happy.  I love it when we’re at a Toys R Us and I can say, “Okay, sure, you can get that.”  They both cheer, “Yay!” and I feel so good.  Of course, they will play with whatever I got them for less than 24 hours.  I every time I do that I realize that they like it more when I just spend time with them and play with them.  Times when I play with them stay with them, and they’ll remember fun times spent together for months, even years sometimes.  “Daddy, remember the time that we…”  In fact, they never say, “Daddy, remember the time that you bought me…”

We all know the song, right?  “You can’t buy me love”?  In fact, we probably all believe it too.  I do.  But I still like to try.  I still have these feelings that real happiness and peace is one satisfying purchase away.

Which is why I don’t like being generous all that much.  I mean, when you mail a check to a worthwhile charitable organization, I don’t get two little girls cheering for me.  There’s no “Yay!” the moment that I seal the envelope or close the mailbox door or pull up the mailbox flag.

When I give to the church it’s the same way.  I have an automatic deduction set up, and every time it happens the senior pastor doesn’t run into my office and shout “Yay!”  How about you?  When you put your check in the offering plate, have you ever had the usher jump up and shout, “Yay!”?  We just don’t always get the kind of reaction we get from spoiling little kids or buy ourselves that purchase that will bring us true happiness.

Sometimes I talk to people who don’t go to church, or who used to go and have left.  Many say they left because, “The church is always asking for money,” or “All they wanted me there for is my money.”  The problem is that the Bible talks about money all the time.  If the church is to teach from the Bible, well, we’re going to talk about money.  The story of Malachi is one such example.

Malachi’s ministry occurred while Nehemiah was away, back in Babylon after leading Israel to rebuild Jerusalem.  After a while, they returned to a halfhearted worship of God.  That’s how we tend to do it when things are going well.  Why do we need to depend on God when we’re so awesome on our own?

Malachi’s was a prophet in Israel, called to speak against the corruption that had crept back into their lives.  They were lazy and selfish.  They offered unacceptable sacrifices.  They were taking the leftovers—unusable crops, unsellable animals—and using them as their offerings to God.  He taught that a lack of generosity is a symptom of idolatry and Godlessness.  Ouch.

superstition shirtThe way they operated back then is different than we operate now, but they were still human, and still had consciences like ours.  If they weren’t going to give God all that they could have, why give anything?  I think that it might be because they didn’t have a relationship with God and God’s people.  All they had was superstition.

That’s a creepy word to use in talking about the Bible, isn’t it?  I mean, can we call something a superstition if we use it towards God?  Superstitions are in sports and wives tales.  It’s like when a pitcher in baseball is throwing a no-hitter, nobody on his team will talk to him.  It’s like throwing pennies in a fountain, not walking under a ladder, carrying a rabbit’s foot, or knocking on wood.  We toss a gesture up in the air in the off-chance that it might help.  I mean, if we think about it, will we mess up the no hitter by talking to the pitcher?  Does isolating him make them better?  If that was so, they’d have a separate “pitchers’ dugout” for them to sit in.  How about the rabbit’s foot or knocking on wood?  Do those really have an impact on our situation enough to affect the outcome?

Is putting money in the offering similar to that for us?  Do we toss it in there, hoping that this will “Get God on our side?”  Are we afraid not to for fear that God will not make things go our way?  If we’re hoping for some extra good fortune this week, do we think about putting more money in?  Or, if things go badly for us, do we ask, “God why is this happening to me?”  Do we wonder if we’ve put enough money in to curry enough favor?”  Do we put our leftovers in the offering because, “Oh well, it’s better than nothing.”

Be assured—giving damaged, leftover goods for the offering in ancient Israel did not build up their relationship with God.  In fact, their offerings were hurting the relationship.  Actually, such an offering is not better than nothing.

Malachi answers the concerns that they had then, and that we have today.  We may worry about being able to afford generosity, but God says, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house.  Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out such blessing that you will not have enough room for it.”

So, if we put our spare change into the offering thinking, “Well, that’s better than nothing,” or if we think, “Let me give something extra, because I can use all the help I can get,” It would be better for us to keep the money, because that’s not going to cause us to grow in our relationship with God.  This will not cause us to grow in our love of God and love of neighbor.  This is not God saying “You scratch my back I’ll scratch yours.”  The promise is that our desires will become God’s desires, and we will be blessed by seeing God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Someone asked me this week, “What difference does it make if I become a member of the church?”  That’s a really good question, and what I and others tend to say is that it’s like dating vs. marriage.  When you’re dating, you stick together because you both feel good, both make each other happy, both having fun, etc.  When you get married, there’s now a covenant.  You’re now responsible for each other.

When we’re just attending the church, it’s like we’re dating.  We like it, got a lot of good, enjoyable stuff going on, we’ve found people that are like us, etc.  Becoming a member means that we’re now responsible for this congregation, and the congregation is responsible for us.  The plans and vision of this church is not “theirs.”  There’s not a phantom “they” that are calling the shots and making plans and begging people to pay for it.  The plans are ours.  The vision is ours.  The work of the church is now our responsibility.  The church is all of the believers together pooling our resources to make the difference that God is calling us to make.  We’re not giving to “them.”  We’re not giving to “the church” as if it’s some entity in a smokey back room greedily counting stacks of gold coins.

Instead, we’re doing two things.  First, we’re growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ.  By prayerfully giving to God of the first fruits of our labor, our priorities and focus will be changed—improved!  By prayerfully considering what God is calling us to give, we will grow in our love of God and love of neighbor.  We will be more like Jesus.

Second, we’re called to important work, and we’re most poised to do it if we’ll be generous.  Sometimes I wonder about all of the good we could do if we were really generous.  The standard in our faith tradition is to give the first 10% of our income away, but statistics show that the average churchgoer tends to give about 2%.  Can you think of the difference we could make if we were truly generous?  Sometimes I wonder if the government has to get bigger and bigger to offer the charity that the church is failing to offer.  As the church fails to be generous, does that drive the government to take on more responsibility, raise more taxes, take on more debt, etc?

We’re called to make a difference in our neighborhood and world—offering kindness and charity and hospitality and healing to those in need.  Don’t be generous to soothe your conscience.  Don’t be generous out of superstition.  Don’t be generous in the hope that God will do you a favor back.  Do it to love God better.  Do it to love your neighbor better.  You might have less stuff and less money, but when people look back at a life marked by generosity, they won’t measure you by your accumulated stuff.  Perhaps they’ll simply say:

“Yay!”

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