Thursday, January 09, 2014

Sickness, Snow, and the Sunday Offering

[Even before you start reading, it's best to just say it.  Just seeing this post is a bit comical, isn't it?  A pastor.  Writing about giving.  On a week after there was no church service.  No offering.  Giggle to yourself.  I did.  Then I thought, "How should we think about these things?"  And I decided this question was worth the giggles...the rolled eyes...the criticism.  So, now that that's out the way, let's get started.]

We've all been there.  It's Saturday night.  The kids are bathed.  They're sound asleep in bed...or at least, that's what we're telling ourselves.  Eventually, we tuck ourselves in bed.  The alarm is set.  And we fall asleep looking forward to being with our church family the next morning. happens.  Either in the middle of the night or first thing in the morning.  The greater majority of the house has picked up the latest bug going around.  Wartime mentality sets in.  Quarantine the sick.  Get the meds.  Pull out the humidifiers and the gas masks.  And try to make sure the healthy remain healthy.  And...we can't go to church.  [Of course, there are times when our absence is not unexpected...say, if we're out of town.  Keep that situation in mind as you read this post, as well.  It's relevant.]

This past week, it wasn't sickness that kept me out of church.  It was snow.  A major storm was set to move into our area this past Sunday morning.  A different kind of wartime mentality set in.  Grocery stores were emptied of the usual supplies (i.e.- bread and milk).  But I also saw one cart with frozen pizza and a multi-flavored cheesecake.  It must have been a tasty couple of days for them!

Either way, the unfortunate reality set in on Saturday afternoon.  While getting to the church building would have been possible, getting home would probably be another story altogether.  So, for the sake of safety, we canceled our services Sunday morning.

One of our members commented on Facebook, "It just does not feel like Sunday morning!"  I couldn't agree more.  Sunday doesn't feel like Sunday without gathering with God's people.  Encouraging others and being encouraged by others.  Singing God's praise together.  Praying together.  Opening and hearing God's Word together.

That's the stuff we always think of, right?  Fellowship with one another.  Singing.  Praying.  Preaching.  But, there's one element missing.  We also give when the church gathers.  To promote gospel ministry in our local church.  To support missionaries all around the world.  To help meet the needs of those struggling financially, especially in my own congregation.

So, what do we do about our tithes and offerings?  Do we just let them go?  Do we simply forget that we had planned to give X% of our income in worship to the Lord?  But since we didn't gather, can't we just roll that into our spending?  Save a little extra this week?  I think these are important questions, and the apostle Paul can help us answer them.  Look at his words to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 9:7 - "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."

Paul has been talking about a collection for the churches in Judea.  Those Christians were struggling, and Paul is getting churches from other regions involved in providing their needs.  In chapters 8-9 of this letter, Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to generously participate.  And while these chapters are about a special offering, we also learn a great deal about Christian giving, in general.

And that's what we have here in 2 Corinthians 9:7.  This isn't just about a special offering.  This is about the Christian's method and manner of giving.  Let's go backwards and start with the manner of giving.  That's in the second half of the verse.  "...not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver."  That's how we should give.  Whether helping a struggling family, supporting a church planter in Pakistan, or putting my check in the offering plate each Sunday.

Giving is not to be a drudgery.  Just something I have to do.  It is a joy.  We'll see that we must do it, but we musn't do it reluctantly, under compulsion, or with a grimace in our hearts.  A few verses earlier, Paul makes it clear that the Corinthians' offering was to be "a willing gift, exaction [i.e.- a tax or payment for service]."  Also, remember John's words?  "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments.  And his commandments are not burdensome" (1 John 5:3).  That certainly applies to giving.  It is not a burden to bear, but a joy to experience.

Now, let's go back to the beginning of the verse to see the method of giving - "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart..."  Break that phrase down.  First, "Each one must give..."  This should go without saying, but Christians are givers.  The One who saved us is a Giver.  Jesus Christ gave Himself for us on the cross, so that He might give us forgiveness, reconciliation, and eternal life.  Through His poverty, we have become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).

Also, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talked about three deeds of righteousness...deeds that should be done properly.  "When you give" (Mt. 6:2).  "When you pray" (Mt. 6:5).  "When you fast" (Mt. 6:16).  He didn't say if in any of these situations.  Most people would agree that prayer is really not an option for the Christian.  It is, as Robert Lewis Dabney described it, the Christian's vital breath.  However, we don't typically put fasting and giving into that same category.  But Jesus does.  He's saying that His disciples are givers.  Christians are givers.  "Each one must give..."

The second half of the phrase says this, " he has decided in his heart."  Isn't that interesting?  Paul isn't telling Christians to give if they feel a certain way...if they feel moved.  Certainly, there are times when you and I are moved by a difficult situation.  Or by a missionary's work.  Or something else.  And we give.  But there are also times when we feel like we can't afford to give.  We don't feel like being generous.  We don't feel as moved.  Yet, we should still give.  Why?  Because Christians don't give based on feelings.  Really, we don't live based on feelings.

Don't get fooled by the word "heart" here.  It's not a reference to feelings.  In the Bible, the heart is not a factory of feelings, as it is in pop culture today.  The Scripture speaks of the heart as the very core of who we are as human beings.  So don't associate "heart" with only "feelings."

With that in mind, realize that Paul is calling us away from emotional manipulation.  Away from waiting on our emotions to get revved up before we write the check.  Away from thoughtless giving.  Instead, we must think.  Think about the generosity of Jesus Christ toward us in salvation.  Think about the generosity of God toward us in providing our needs...and beyond.  Think about the act of giving as worship.  Think about the fact that as I give, I am recognizing the greatness and faithfulness of God.

Now that we've taken a look at this verse, let's go back to the sick day.  Back to the snow day.  I've missed a Sunday.  Should we just let that offering go?  Use it for something else?  Well, based on this verse from 2 Corinthians 9, I would say the answer is, "No."

Here's why.  Before that missed Sunday.  Before the sickness.  Before the snow.  You and I made a decision to give.  In my home, we try to have a written budget every month, which is code for "it doesn't always get written down".  But written or not, giving is at the top of our budget, and we give every week.  You may give bi-weekly or monthly in your home.  Point is...we made a decision to give.

And Paul says, "Each one must give as he has decided in his heart..."  Because we have decided to worship the Lord through giving, we must give.  Our yes should be yes...especially to the Lord.  We should give the missed week's offering and the current week's offering together.  In our home, that will mean doubling the check written.  Not because it's a toll.  A tax.  A payment for the worship service.  Not under compulsion because we'll be behind budget if the snow day offering isn't made up...though that's true.  Not reluctantly because it's double what we normally give in one week.

But we should give as we have decided in our hearts because it honors the Lord.  We're recognizing that the provision during the week we missed church and the provision of the week we're back...both came from His hand.  God graciously gave us both week's provision.  And if we had decided beforehand to magnify Him through giving X% for every week of provision He gives us, then we should do it.  We must do it.  And we must do it with joy.  Because He is faithful.  He continues to provide.  He feeds the birds and clothes the fields with beauty, yet He values us all the more.

So, yes...we must give as we have decided in our hearts.  But really, why wouldn't we?  Isn't our God worthy of such giving?  Answer: Yes...and He's worth infinitely more.