Sunday, December 27, 2009

Tithe and Sabbath

I dropped off students at a Youth Workers Convention recently and then drove around for a while trying to find parking for a large van in downtown Vancouver. So by the time I arrived back at the hotel, all the morning seminars had started. I stood there wondering which direction to go and realized that my-favorite-camp-speaker-of-all-time was the seminar speaker in the room right in front of me. I walked in, took one of many empty seats and as I listened began to wish the room was full, or that Jon Imbeau had the opportunity to be the keynote convention speaker.

When I sat down he was talking about tithing. Really. At a convention where the janitors cleaning our toilets make more money than most of the paid youth workers, and where any volunteers are young and also probably not wealthy, this seemed rather audacious. But that's how Jon usually talks and why we love him so much. After he talked for quite a while, someone brought up the inevitable "ten percent in the Old Testament" question and if it applied today. Uh, uh, uh... replied Jon, and he pointed out that he had never said anything about ten percent. It was the principle of tithing that he was concerned about, not the amount or percentage given.

Then he talked about Sabbath. I think I saw some people looking wildly around to see if they were at the right convention. But really he was talking about the same principle applied to a different issue, the stewardship of time. Time and money, the two things our world chases after more than any other, that in practice most people consider of more value than any other; the things we are most bummed about if we lose them, and most stressed about if we don't have them.

As various people began to speak up, my mind wandered and I realized that the principle Jon was giving us is absolutely critical to people of ministry. Not only do I need to pass this principle on, but I need to think it through some more, and especially I need to start living by it. So here goes.

I have never been a wealthy man, according to Western standards of course. My 23 year old son starts a job in January as a junior draftsman in an engineering firm, and he will make nearly what I do, and I'm making more than I have ever made in my life. I say that not by way of complaint; long ago I took to myself the words of Agur son of Jakeh, in the book of Proverbs:
    Two things I ask of you, O Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:

    Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.

    Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, 'Who is the Lord?'
    Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.
So that's how we live, and we always have enough to live on, though we generally walk a fine line. And we have usually been able to be generous in our giving, but not so much in the past few years. I think I have justified giving less by the fact that we walk this fine line, which doesn't seem to get any broader. In fact, it has become tighter. But I now think that our current financial difficulty is not about the small amount of money we receive; it has everything to do with the increasingly small amount of money we give.

Before I explain, with the help of my friend Jon, let's talk about time, which I wrote about in my last blog as one of my big frustrations in life. Here too, I walk a very fine line. I never seem to have enough time, and the situation if anything has become worse, not better, in the past few years. I sometimes feel that apart from the very cool time I spend with Kaleo, I don't have much time for a life for myself and my family or my community. But I now think that my current difficulty with time is not about the small amount of time I am given; it has everything to do with the increasingly small amount of time I give.

Some of you who know me will stop me here and say, "Hey Jim, don't be silly. You are always giving! You pour heart and soul into your ministry, your home is always full of people, you always take time to listen to us; everyone thinks of you and Sarah as generous." So I need now to explain Jon's principle and how my apparent current generosity misses the point.

Jon said (and I may embellish here) that God gave us things like tithing and the Sabbath to place us in a position where we would have to trust God in order to live in this world.
  • By tithing we give to God to the point where we don't have enough money to live on, so that we must trust him and allow him to provide for us.
  • By keeping the Sabbath, we give to God to the point where we do not have enough time to get everything done, so that we must trust him and allow him to do what we cannot.
Tithe and Sabbath free us from prideful or rebellious independence and allow us to rely on him alone and not on our own means. It is what the poor of this world learn naturally, and what the wealthy of this world must learn by giving to God until it hurts.

This also means that when we don't tithe and don't keep the Sabbath, we are bound to become frustrated with time and money.

Furthermore, I think it proves that the "prosperity gospel" is out to lunch, this idea that if we give enough, God will bless us with material abundance. That too misses the point entirely.

But wow, I really don't know what this will mean for me and my family personally. I know that as a leader in God's kingdom I need to live and model these two disciplines I have misunderstood and neglected. If I thought New Year's resolutions were useful, these would be mine. What I probably need is simply "long obedience in the same direction," to quote Eugene Peterson (who was quoting, of all people, Friedrich Nietzsche). Your suggestions and comments, encouragements and admonishments, are most welcome. I will add to this post as I come to understand this concept better.


Jamaicamon777 said...

I really enjoyed this post, and I'm going to be contemplating this too. I like how Jon realizes that the 'ten percent' is a guide, just as the Sabbath was 'created for man, not man for the Sabbath.' It's quite pointless (and most likely detrimental) to make a legalistic point about giving ten percent. And I agree that when we don't tithe or live with a Sabbath mindset, we are bound to be frustrated with time and money.

It seems the crux of this post is the statement that "God gave us things like tithing and the Sabbath to place us in a position where we would have to trust God in order to live in this world," followed by two sub-points. These are very noble statements, but I am wondering if these statements can be proven biblically. The verse you pointed out from Proverbs is a great verse, but it's talking about having 'enough', and not giving to the point where we need to rely on God to provide the rest.

So here's the question: does the Bible tell us that God gave us things like tithing and the Sabbath to rely on Him, or to remember Him?

Of course, after we determine the answer to that question, we're left with the question of defining what 'poverty' is, and what 'riches' include. Although I think we're given a pretty good clue in the last verse of that passage in Proverbs.

Jim Badke said...

Thanks for your comments, Jason, and I appreciate your astute thinking. I was curious about the discussion my post would raise.

In answer to your question, the statement about tithing is a little easier to illustrate from Scripture:

Mark 12:41 - Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. 42But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a fraction of a penny. 43Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. 44They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on."

Also, there is the story of Elijah and the widow and her son in 1 Kings 17. Neither of these are enough to build a principle upon, but they do show that God is pleased with this kind of faith.

The Sabbath side of things is harder to illustrate. The rationale for this command in Exodus 20 is this: “For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” The idea seems to be that to use the seventh day would be to set our work in significance above God’s work of creation, which could be completed in six days. To set apart that day for his exclusive use is to trust him that the six days he gave us are enough, even when they don’t seem to be.

Anyway, I’m still thinking this through, and am glad for your question, your admonition, even your correction! Please let me know your thoughts as they come to you.

The Joshua Field said...

I'd just like to point out the difference between giving time and resting. I see the sabbath as a day of rest, to regroup in God's arms. When you say that you need to give time until you need to rely on God there's a danger of taking on too much. Getting busy Monday through Saturday and taking up more than we can handle can be an problem too, even with a day of rest. I think the idea of giving time needs to be combined with your "do less, better" idea.

Other than that though, I appreciate the challenge. I just got a job waiting tables and have been tempted to use all my money to pay off my student loans rather than give to God. It can be hard to trust with such a great amount looming, but I also know that God hasn't let me down yet, so he definitely won't if I give back in trust.

Jim Badke said...

Thanks for the comment, Josh! This is just what I meant, though perhaps not explicitly enough. Sabbath means taking time that we think we should use to work, serve God, whatever and use it for rest instead. Even if it seems we can’t afford the rest. Interestingly, right after I wrote this I found myself at the end of a three week period with not one day off. This old dog is still trying to learn a new trick.

Andre Felipe said...

Hey Jim, you know, It`s wonderful how the things happen… I`m in the same way of thinking has been a while. Working on Saturdays, sometimes studying, and in my heart I feel that I m not doing the things well. Like, I don`t have a time to really honor God, I m not talking the time in the church, but time to me, to me and God alone, to work for the things of the heaven… To me and the community, and finally a good time to rest independent of how the things are going.

Sometimes seems too clear for me, Exodus, the life of Jesus Christ, He observed the Sabbath too, and He taught how to do that, the disciples did the same. The apostles after him did the same. The preparation of the people who had been around Jesus when He died, the Sabbath of rest, and here I ask myself, why Jesus waited to the Sunday to raise from the death? He was not teaching something on that?

And then we come to how the thing changed, how the day of service changed, how the day of rest changed. By a man? I don`t see God telling us to do that.

I think God did this, created the Sabbath because He knew how things were going to be, He know us very well. He gave us the Sabbath to honor him, not only to this, but to rest. Like the night, It`s incredible how our body needs the night. I`m getting the conclusion that he gave us the Sabbath to rely him, and to remember him, and honor, praise, do good things, and rest, just like Jesus did.

About the Tithe, I have my own experience, we are full of excuses to run away from that. We wanna eat better, buy good things, pay the bills well, and make some more bills and pay. It’s wonderful how God know us so much, that I agree of your thoughts, God want us to be different mainly in the two things the world values most. Time and money.

Andre (Brazil)