Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Tail and the Dog

This week I sat down with some financial software and did a sort of year-end review of Soper spending in 2007. One of my purposes was to make sure we had given what we had intended to give to West Houston and the other ministries we support. Each year Angela and I decide the percentage of our gross income we are going to give away, and then we decide the recipients (most recipients continue year to year). The local church always gets the first ten percent (our “tithe”) and then other ministries/organizations get the remainder (our “offerings”). I remember hearing a sermon in the 1980’s about how in the Old West a man always took care of his horse first, and the local church is a Christian’s “horse.” That made a big impression on me and it has been my paradigm since.

Well, sure enough, when I ran the report our offerings didn’t equal what we purposed to give at the beginning of the year. I talked to Angela and we decided to take it out of our savings to meet our “obligations” (self-described) for the year. I feel good about that decision, but here is the main thing I want to focus on. Isn’t it significant that our offerings fell behind what we intended for the year, instead of ahead? I suppose it’s possible that some people discover at the end of the year they gave more than they planned (I admire that!), especially if they experienced an unexpected financial inflow of some kind. But my bet would be that most of us give less than we intend. We mean well, but then life circumstances interfere: we incur unexpected expenses, or we pursue opportunities to do or buy special things.

Here is where the real spiritual challenge takes place. Will we let the tail wag the dog or will we insist that the dog wag the tail? In other words, will we let our lifestyle choices determine our giving to God, or will we insist that our giving to God determine our lifestyle choices? In many ways, our finances are a spiritual battleground. Will we serve God or money/lifestyle? This is why Jesus mentions money so often in his teachings and why he uses so many examples that involve money and stewardship: he knows that this will be a continuing spiritual challenge for us and that how we address it will determine in many respects what kind of disciples we become.

Let me challenge you in this regard: Ask yourself what your financial giving this year to the Lord’s church says about your discipleship. Does it reflect favorably? If not, will you make the changes necessary to “give” the way you want to “walk” with Jesus? If you ran a personal financial report for 2007, would you be ashamed or satisfied with the percentage of your income you gave to God? What would you say to God if he asked you, “What kind of steward have you been of the resources I blessed you with in 2007?”

Some people complain that preachers talk too much about money, and maybe this has been uncomfortable for you to read. But Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). God wants our hearts, and he knows that our hearts can’t be separated from our checkbooks. This is true for everyone.

Have you given God room to bless your financial faith choices? If you can make sure the dog (giving to God) wags the tail (lifestyle choices) instead of vice-versa, you are on the right path.


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