H.A.B.I.T.S. – Tithing
Psalm 62, Genesis 14:19-20, Matthew 6:19-21
Sycamore Creek Church
October 18, 2009
Comment on this sermon at www.sycamorecreekchurch.org/blog
Note to reader: This is a manuscript and not a transcript. While I prepare a manuscript, I don’t preach from it. All the major points are here, but there are bound to be some small differences from the sermon as it was preached live. Also, expect some “bonus” material that wasn’t in the live sermon.
What would it be like to win the lottery and get rich quick? Growing up my dad used to bring home lottery tickets to let his kids pick the numbers. When I was in 3rd or 4th grade I almost won $3.5 million. I picked all the right numbers except the last one: 29, which is the day of my birthday. Instead of $3.5 million, I got $1500. Actually, my parents gave me $25 of it, and made me put $20 in savings. I ended up with only $5! I asked my dad about this recently, and he told me that if we had won that $3.5 million jackpot, our lives would have been seriously messed up. He’s actually happy we didn’t win it! He’s happy we didn’t strike it rich.
I heard a story similar to this on the radio show This American Life (This American Life #329 – Nice Work…: www.thisamericanlife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?episode=329). Ira Glass, the host of the show interviewed Ed Ugel, who used to be in the lump sum industry. He was part of a business that helped lotto winners get out of debt by buying their future lottery payments with an immediate lump sum. The problem lotto winners always get into is that they begin to live like millionaires. What they don’t realize is that a million dollars over twenty years ends up being only $35,000/year after taxes. When you’re making $35,000/year, you can’t live like a millionaire. Ed Ugel claimed that the “financially troubled lottery winners are the rule, not the exception” and the show described winning the lottery as akin to “getting cancer. Not just a mixed blessing but a catastrophe”!
Today’s sermon is not about giving to the church. It is about money. I know that we are using the word “tithing” in the acronym of the series, but that’s only because H.A.B.I.M.S. is not a word (even though it does sound a bit like a Hebrew word). Let’s take a moment and review where we’ve been.
H – Hang Time with God
A – Accountability
B – Bible Study and Memorization
I – Involvement with the Church
T – Tithing
S – Serving your Community (next week).
Before we dive in to today’s sermon, will you take a moment and pray for me and for those around you.
God, money is a pretty touchy subject. May the words of my mouth in this sermon, and the meditations of all our hearts be pleasing and acceptable to you, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
So we were talking about getting rich quick by winning the lottery. It probably won’t solve all your money problems. But it also raises the question, who is rich? How much do you have to make to be considered rich? Anyone want to claim being rich? Most of us probably don’t consider ourselves rich. I’d like to challenge us a bit on this self conception.
John Wesley gives a very clear and easily understood definition of what it means to be rich. He says, “Whoever has sufficient food to eat and raiment [clothing] to put on, with a place where to lay his head, and something over, is rich” (Sermon 87 – The Danger of Riches: http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/87/). Umm…I’ve got food. Check. I’ve got plenty of clothing. Check. I’ve got a beautiful house that you all have provided for us. Check. I have money left over in the bank. Check. Ahem…I’m rich. Anyone want to claim being rich under that definition?
There’s a great tool on the internet put out by Dr. Amy K. Glasmeier at Pennsylvania State University. It’s a living wage calculator (www.livingwage.geog.psu.edu). You plug in a zip code and it tells you what it costs in your area for food, child care, medical, housing, transportation, other, and taxes. More or less the basics of life. Here’s what it says is a yearly living wage for Lansing, MI:
One adult: $16,735
One adult & one child: $32,736
Two adults: $25,686
Two adults & one child: $41,757
Two adults & two children: $54,346.
Now it’s always tricky to nail down numbers like this, but this gives us at least a place to begin conversation. Give or take on these numbers, they let us begin to ask some deeper questions about our money and whether we have “something left over.”
So what does the Bible teach about our money, the way we make and what we do with it? There are hundreds and hundreds of verses on money, and I think a simple way of summing up what the Bible teaches about money is to make all you can, save all you can, and give all you can (John Wesley – Sermon 50: The Use of Money http://new.gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/50). You may have heard this maxim before. If so, stick with me as I unpack it. I might have something to add that you haven’t thought about before.
First, let’s begin with make all you can. Perhaps the most obvious part of this statement left unsaid is that you make all you can in ethical ways, in ways that don’t hurt other people. Psalm 62 says, “Don’t try to get rich by extortion or robbery” (62:10). Earn your living in ways that don’t conflict with how we are to love God and love our neighbor.
There is a very early church membership booklet from the 3rd century (200s AD) called the Apostolic Tradition. It would be the three-ring binder you received if you were going through the early church’s membership class. One of the points of following Jesus that this membership book covers is how you earn a living. It lists several professions that are considered incompatible with following Jesus. We may not agree with everything on the list, or the situation may have changed for today, but we can probably agree that if you’re going to fully follow Jesus, there are some ways of earning money that aren’t consistent with his teachings. The Apostolic Tradition lists these professions as inconsistent with following Jesus: brothel owners, prostitutes, idol makers, actors (because the Greek plays of the day promoted other religions), teachers of small children (because teachers were expected to teach children other religions), soldiers (if you were already a solider you were allowed to remain a soldier if you agreed not to kill anyone), gladiators (the obvious killing theme pops up again), charioteers, priests of idols, government law enforcement (because you might have to kill someone), magicians, and so on. Again, we might not agree completely with the specifics of this list, but the idea behind it is that we should think about whether our money making ventures are consistent with following Jesus.
Maybe a less obvious and more subtle way this plays out in today’s world of finance has to do with how we earn money in the stock market. When we own part of a company and we’re making money off that company, aren’t we then somewhat responsible for how that company is making its money? What if that company is participating in illegal behavior, or profiting off of sweat shop labor in another country, or discriminating against a certain group of people, or polluting the environment? If we own a stock in that company or if that company is in a mutual fund that we own, aren’t we then at least a little responsible for the harm that company is doing to others?
Sarah and I are trying to give up entirely on credit cards. This doesn’t have to do with debt. We have always paid off the balance at the end of every month. We have only ever used credit cards as a convenience and to earn points. But a year or two ago someone very dear to us went through a bankruptcy, and we realized that we were in bed with the predatory lending practices of these credit card companies that contributed to (though was not at total fault for) this bankruptcy just so we could get some free airfare every couple of years. We decided that we just didn’t want to have anything to do with this industry. So we’re pulling out.
Make all you can, but do it in ways that don’t harm others.
Second, save all you can. This doesn’t mean to put money in the bank and save it, though that can be a good practice. Rather, it means to live simply, to be frugal. The most obvious way to save all you can is to not spend more than you make. According to MSN Money:
- About 43% of American families spend more than they earn each year ($1.22 for every dollar they make).
- Average households carry some $8,000 in credit card debt (An $8,000 debt at a rate of 18% interest will take more than 25 years to repay and cost more than $24,000).
- Personal bankruptcies have doubled in the past decade.
Debt is a dead weight around our necks and our souls. We live in a culture that constantly tells us we’ll be happy with one more thing. The truth is, when you get that one more thing, there will always be just one more thing you “need.” Alexis de Tocqueville, a Frenchman who visited America between 1831-1832 and wrote a painfully accurate description of what he saw said,
“It must be acknowledged that equality, which brings great benefits into the world, nevertheless suggests to [people]… some very dangerous propensities. It tends to isolate them from each other, to concentrate every [one’s] attention upon [oneself]; and it lays open the soul to an inordinate love of material gratification.”
In Romans, Paul tells us to “owe no one anything, except to love one another” (13:8). One group that is trying to do that is the Junky Car Club (www.junkycarclub.com). Have you heard about them? Their motto is “living with less so we can give more.” They encourage people to stick with their old car and not buy a new one. This is one way that we could live simply, but you could create a Junky fill-in-the-blank Club around just about anything (clothes, house, food, etc.).
So what do you do with the money you save? That brings us to our last point: Give all you can. Certainly this is where giving to your church comes in, but it means more too. Let’s begin with giving to your church the tithe. “Tithe” literally means one tenth. Throughout scripture, especially in the Old Testament, God asks people who would follow God to give the first tenth of their earnings to the temple to support the temple and through the temple to support the poor in the community.
We find this first not as a command, but as a spontaneous response of Abram (later renamed Abraham) to the priest Melchizedek. In Genesis Abram meets Melchizedek after going on a rescue mission to save his nephew, Lot. After restoring Lot and his goods to freedom, Genesis tells us that:
19 Melchizedek blessed Abram with this blessing: “Blessed be Abram by God Most High, Creator of heaven and earth. 20 And blessed be God Most High, who has helped you conquer your enemies.” Then Abram gave Melchizedek a tenth of all the goods he had recovered. (Genesis 14:19-20, NLT)
Abram gives one tenth of the spoils to Melchizedek, the priest of God. It’s not commanded him at this point. It is done out of thanksgiving to what God has done in Abram’s rescue mission.
When I was growing up my mom taught me about tithing by giving me a weekly allowance of ten dimes. She also had a set of envelopes for each of us. One of those envelopes was labeled savings. One was labeled tithe. I don’t remember what the others were labeled. Each week when we I got my ten dimes, one of those dimes went in the tithing envelope, and that’s what I put in the offering that Sunday.
Tithing is the ground floor of giving. But there is more, much more. Jesus teaches in Matthew:
19 “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where they can be eaten by moths and get rusty, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be (Matthew 6:19-21, NLT).
Psalm 62 says, “If riches increase, do not set your heart on them” (62:10, NRSV).
The best way not to store up treasures or not set your heart upon increasing riches is to give those treasures away. I’m not talking here about giving to the church. I’m talking about giving to the needs that are around you both in your community and the world. Certainly there are times, like this month with Compassion Closet, when your church gives you an opportunity to give to the needs of the community through the church, but there are all kinds of opportunities beyond that.
Most of us if we were living simply could give much more than 10% away. Rick Warren is something of a lighting rod individual these days. As his political involvement has gone up, some people hate him and some people love him. Love him or hate him, something that deeply impresses me about Rick Warren is the way he has handled his personal finances after becoming rich from selling millions and millions of books. He and his wife have decided to reverse tithe. They live on 10% of their income and give 90% away. He even paid back his church for all the salary they’ve ever paid him! It’s hard to argue with a lifestyle like that.
While Sarah and I haven’t sold millions of books, we have decided to follow a similar method of handling our personal finances. We have set a ceiling of how much we will live on. It is much higher than the living wage I spoke about earlier, but it is a first step for us of saving all we can and giving all we can. Personal finances tend to be something of a taboo in our culture, and I’d like to break some of that taboo down today by sharing with you what we make and how we spend our money. I’m trying not to do this to make a show of myself and Sarah, but rather to begin an open and authentic conversation about what it means to follow Jesus with our money. So here goes:
You know what I make because you vote on it: I make $40,000/year in salary and the benefits include a house to live in, utilities paid, health insurance, and a pension. It all adds up to about $77,000. Sarah writes books and her income fluctuates up and down. Some years she’s floating in money and other years she’s not making anything. Sarah and I have covenanted with a group of friends from seminary to live at about $36,000/year salary plus benefits. That’s our ceiling. That means that we’ll have the joy of giving away everything that Sarah makes. We came up with that number because it’s the base salary that each United Methodist Church is required to pay its pastor. (This, by the way, is not an invitation to be cheap to us in the future. That would be robbing us of the joy of giving money away!) The friends from seminary that we have covenanted with to live like this plan to get together yearly to share our tax return forms with one another to hold one another accountable to living under this ceiling and to discern together all the questions that will arise by trying to live like this.
So that’s the income side of things. Let’s look now at the expense side of things. Here’s how we’ve spent our money so far this year:
Petoskey House Mortgage: 4312
Rent while at Seminary: 2062
Property Tax: 1602
Health Insurance: 1360
Petoskey Utilities: 1292
Loan Money: 1242
Sarah’s Business: 596
Tax Prep: 225
Business Inventory: 124
Bank Fee: 60
What you don’t see there is the debt we currently have. We have about $5000 in debt right now that we hope to have paid off by the end of next year. We were able to graduate from seminary debt free but not make it to a first pay check debt free.
I share this with you not to puff up Sarah and me. I share it for two reasons: first, it is an act of accountability for me to tell you what our plans are to live under a ceiling and give the rest away. Second, because the taboo around personal finances isn’t consistent with following Jesus. You need to have someone else in your life besides your family, with whom you’re sharing information about what you make and how you spend it. This person can then hold you accountable to making all you can in honest and ethical ways, saving all you can by living simply, and then giving all you can beginning with a tithe and then even more.
Will you pray with me?
God, you give us an abundance beyond what we can even imagine. Help us to live into ways of using our money that are consistent with following your son, Jesus. May this be true in our lives through Jesus and by the power of the Holy Spirit.Share on Facebook