Tithes….what do you think?

10 Comments

Recently, I have posted a few topics pertaining to blessings, gifts, and church finances.  This has brought up a discussion I figured we could all discuss – TITHES.

What do you think about tithing?  Please don’t give us specifics, as that is between you and the Lord, but just give us an idea of where you stand on the issue…

Is it necessary?

If so, is there an amount or percentage?

What scriptures are you using to make your decision?

Do all of your tithes, or offerings, go to your local church, or do you divide them between church and charities?

Do you consider giving of your time & other resources an offering as well, or do you feel that the term only refers to monetary gifts?

I know where we stand on the issue, but would prefer to get others’ input before I throw mine out.  I will say that my ideals have been recently challenged, and have changed. 

Please comment and let us know what you think – and remember, since this is a Christian issue, be sure to back up your thoughts with scripture references so the rest of us can check it out!

Looking forward to the discussion!

Toni

Written in Anger…

4 Comments

I just finished listening to Adventures in Odyssey with my two girls. We listen every night, and it is a time that our whole family looks forward to. We watch the clock, and just before 6:30pm every weeknight, we turn on the radio (if it happens to be off!) and tune in to the show.

Odyssey is a radio program geared to kids, yet has lessons for all ages. Tonight’s episode was no different.

It was about a little girl and her family struggling to make friends, find jobs, and discover happiness in the Christmas season. The little girl’s father was in prison, and her mother was barely, if that, able to make ends meet. Connie, Whit, and Tom Riley pitched in using the Angel Tree and presented the family with gifts for each, plus something special from their father. Their father had been studying in Tom’s Bible Study group at the prison, and had become a believer. He wrote a stirring, heart-wrenching letter to his wife and children asking their forgiveness, and I must admit, I was in tears at the end of this “kids’ show.”

Now, I’m not writing about Adventures in Odyssey to offer a plug for the show (although, if you haven’t, I HIGHLY recommend you check it out), but rather to use as an introduction to this post. It deals with Christian generosity.

Bear with me for a minute or two, as it will seem as though I am getting off topic – I promise to come full circle.

How much money should a church keep? Enough to create a “cushion” for use in rough times? Or just enough to cover necessary expenses, then trust God to provide when rough times hit? Should there be 20 different funds within the church’s account to use for different things? Or should the money be available to use for those in need without concern over which fund it comes from? (And I’m not suggesting spending frivolously, either.) 

Now, I am ALL for budgets! I think if the companies we are spending billions on were running on a budget like mine (thanks, Lois!), we wouldn’t be spending billions…but that’s another topic. I think that churches should have a budget – something that tells what their monthly and yearly expenses are, and should plan accordingly. But, and here’s where most of your comments will come, I’m sure, I think the money received over and above that should be used to care for the needy in the church and in the community. I think the church’s job is ministry, and that if we sit on hundreds or thousands of dollars in the name of “creating a cushion” that we can’t do that.  I think that when a church is sitting on a “cushion” of thousands of dollars and a single mom calls asking for help with her electric bill, the answer should be a resounding, “YES!”  The answer should NOT be, “Well, I think we only have $50 in that fund.”

Now, what do I mean by caring for the needy? I mean, when there is a widow in need, we provide food, or pay her bills for a month, or help get her to a doctor appointment, buy her medication, help repair her car, help with medical bills, etc. For the children, we provide them with clothes, a Christmas or birthday gift, RELATIONSHIPS, school supplies, needed medical/dental work, etc. We take the man of the house on a job search and help him find and purchase a bicycle or car, if feasible, to get back and forth to that job. We make a monthly habit (or more) of holding a church soup kitchen – providing food, warmth, and a friendly face to the homeless and downtrodden of society.  (Remember, there but for the grace of God, go I.)

Guess what? In every one of these instances, we have the chance to show the love of Christ and present the gospel to them! Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me. The least of these!!  And instead, we have become the church that turns its nose up when a beggar walks into our pristine chapel.

So, why then is it so hard for some people, who call themselves Christians, to give the money that is in God’s house anyway? Why is it so hard for us to give of our time, our services, ourselves? Aren’t we supposed to love our neighbor as ourselves? Do we despise ourselves so much that we would ask others to treat us as we do them? And, why on earth, when we behave so badly, do we wonder why so many claim they stay away from church, and many times Christianity completely, because the church is full of hypocrites? Are they really so wrong? All too often the answer is no. They’re entirely too right.

I apologize for sounding so angry….no, actually, I don’t apologize.  I’m not sorry for being angry, and I think its justified in this case. It makes me furious (not to mention shamed and embarrassed) when we preach generosity and love to all, then refuse to back it up with action and actual giving of our time, resources, and ourselves.

I’m going to close this post with this: I am not advocating that churches (or individuals) refuse responsibility for their financial obligations. But churches are not there to make a profit or have the biggest plasma TV money can buy or brand new hymnals because the ones we have are a little old and have yellowing pages. Make improvements where needed, keeping in mind that God has not blessed churches with that money to be able to buy a gold-plated collection plate to collect more money to hoard. And I think that if there is a choice between helping someone in need and buying new pew cushions, the choice should be obvious.

Still seething yet trying to give it up to God,

Toni

Homemade & Inexpensive Gift Ideas

1 Comment

Here is a (very) short list of ideas for homemade or very inexpensive Christmas gifts (that could easily be used at other times of the year!)

Crochet/knit/sew a scarf or hat for a child

Take a favorite photo and frame it in an inexpensive frame for a distant relative

Create a coupon book to give to your spouse:  back rubs, date night, dinner for two at home, etc.

Coupons for your children:  30 minutes with Mom/Dad, picnic, extra game night, extra bedtime story, their choice for dinner, etc.

Coupons for neighbors, friends, parents, etc.:  help rake the yard, help spring clean the house (hint hint!), wash their car, etc.

Make loaves of fresh breads and wrap slices individually, labeling the flavor, and give a sampling to several people

For the kiddos, try our suggestion:  this year, at each house, the kids had to make their own gifts for one another….they chose names, chose the gift they would make, and made it.  The cost needs to be very low – no more than $5 each for materials – but preferably something you already have.  For instance, one of my girls chose to make bobby pins and barrettes with buttons as a gift.

Look up an inexpensive bath salt recipe online and make a batch.  Present them in cleaned, empty jelly jars with a small scrap of fabric covering the lid and tied with raffia or a ribbon.

Make flavored olive oil in small vintage bottles:  stuff fresh herbs into bottles, fill with olive oil, place a cork in each.  Tie with raffia, add some small silk flowers, and present in an inexpensive wicker basket filled with shredded tissue.

Make snack mixes, etc. and present in large clear plastic cups wrapped in colored celophane.  Tie a ribbon or raffia around each cup.

Make a set of scented sachets for a lady to place in her dresser drawers:  create 4×4″ pillows from scrap fabrics and fill with rice and some lavender buds, rosemary, or other favorite frangrance.

Pick up an inexpnsive calendar and paste your own photos on each month.  Be sure to add all the special dates the recipient has to remember!

Soup, jambalaya (for you Cajuns!), or other mixes – present with a wooden spoon and 2 pretty bowls.

Create a small pedicure kit for a young girl:  place dollar store finds in a small basket, paint can, or other container and wrap with ribbon.  The paint can has the advantage of a smooth surface that can be decorated very easily with paper and stickers you already have on hand.

Create placemats from photos that didn’t make the cut to go into your scrapbook:  on an 11×14 sheet of paper (posterboard will work, but since you’ll want to laminate it, it will get pretty thick), make a sort of “scrapmat” from your photos and scrapbook papers.  Be careful using items that are bulky, since once you are done, you will want to take these to your office supply store to have them laminated.  Sets of 4 are great gifts for grandparents, parents, etc.  You can vary this and use only papers with no photos for a more general theme.

Use the above method for creating coasters on a 3.5-4″ circle.  Laminate each.  (I recommend sets of 6 or 8.)

Let a young girl learning to cross-stitch create a sampler or small project for a grandparent or neighbor.

Be sure to involve your kids in the selection process!  They not only LOVE to make things, sometimes they have much better ideas than us big people do!

There are TONS of places online that can give you some great ideas for very meaningful Christmas (and other ocassions!) gifts.  I hope you and your family have a wonderful time this year creating this and other gifts so that you can enjoy the True Meaning of Christmas!

Blessings,

Toni

If you have some more great inexpensive or homemade gift ideas, please add your comment and let us know!

Christmas for Kids: To buy or not to buy

2 Comments

It’s that time again.  Christmas!  The gorgeous trees, the twinkling lights, the delicious foods (gluten-free for me, please!), the beautiful carols of old, and snowmen, reindeer, a fat guy in a red suit, and gifts?

I love Christmas…really I do.  I love the emotions that surround it – people seem to be much nicer (excluding the cases of trampling at Black Friday sales – that was horrible) and even more forgiving.  But I think that somewhere along the way we have gone drastically wrong in our interpretation of what Christmas is supposed to be about.

We recently exposed Santa Claus to our kids – STOP!  Finish reading before you deride me for be a horrible, uncaring, miserable Scrooge.  There is a very good reason for it.  Our girls are young – 7 & 9.  But, for some time now, we have been experiencing the conviction from the Lord that using Santa in our Christmas celebration was a secular way of taking the focus off of Jesus.  Think about it:  when we talk about Christmas to our kids, here’s the conversation:

“You better behave because Santa is watching you.”

“What do you WANT Santa to bring you this year?”

“Go to sleep because Santa can’t come if you are awake!”

And on and on.  Now, if you choose to leave Santa at your house, so be it.  That is a decision between you and God and your family.  I am not here to judge.  My point is that when we continue to point out Santa to our kids as the reason for good behavior, are we not taking credit away from Jesus, where it rightfully belongs?  Not to mention the fact that we remind our children often of the “truth” of Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, etc., and know that someday, they’ll discover it isn’t true.  The risk is too great that once they learn that we essentially “lied” to them about Santa, they may wonder, “did Mom & Dad tell me the truth about God, too, or is He made up also?”  I know, I know….some of you right now are saying, “Toni, this is really taking things to an extreme….I mean, it’s ONLY Santa…BIG difference in Santa and Jesus.”

But wait, there’s more. 

What about our Christmas decorations?  What do they say about our priorities at this, one of the two holiest of Christian holidays?  Do we throw Santas, snowmen, bells, and bright red bows over everything?  Or do we place a bright star at the top of the tree – and then EXPLAIN to our kids WHY that star is there?  What do we have for decorations in the yard – Snoopy and Barney wearing (again) Santa hats, or a Nativity scene?  Those things are cute, and yes, Christmas should be fun…but we need to be careful to make it fun and HOLY and WONDERFUL for the right reasons! 

And yet, I’m still not done…..

The gifts…..ahhh the gifts.  I think that the incident….no, make that the TRAGEDY at Walmart less than a week ago highlight where I’m going with this.  Jesus, the Savior and Creator of the world (read: universe) was born in a MANGER.  Do our children understand what a manger is?  Do they realize that while we sleep in warm beds every night, that his first bed was a trough for feed, and that this precious little baby was surrounded by animals, and everything that comes with them?

If we as adults understand that, then why do we feel the need to purchase such extravagant gifts every year?  Sure, we claim that it’s in honor of Christ’s birth….but, is it really?  Do we say to the recipient, “This is a gift to help you remember the birth of Christ throughout the coming year,”?  Generally, no.  And, it should be that the gifts we give are an expression of our love, not just our financial position.  I know people who tend to get very upset if they don’t get gifts that at least meet a certain price range criteria.  I’m sorry, but that seems so very shallow.  And, to top it off, we are doing a HUGE disservice to our children if we buy them everything they ask for….and sometimes if we get them anything they ask for.  If they don’t understand WHY the gifts are exchanged, and if we don’t make that Truth a priority, then nothing on their wish list should even be considered.  (And, yes, that’s my opinion.)

This year, our girls, as most kids will, have created a relatively long list of “I wants.”  However, not only because of our finances, but also because of conviction, we have decided to make all except one, possibly two of their gifts.  They will each receive a homemade Bible cover, and a bed pocket.  We have considered purchasing one game each for their DS’s (Yes, they have them, but they are not allowed to play them except at certain times and for short periods.  These games are something they have to earn the right to play – it is, therefore, a reward of sorts.)  In fact, nearly all gifts given by our family this year will be homemade, and next year, we don’t plan to buy anything.***  We aren’t being cheap, and its about more than frugality.  Its about bringing back, at least for our part, the true meaning of Christmas.  Christmas is not about mp3’s, plasma TVs, Barbie’s, DVD’s, and new spinners for your car.

Christmas is about the birth of the One who came to earth to save us all from our sins.  Its a time to reflect on His glory, and His love shown by His willingness to come in such a humble way. 

Our family is resolving to put Christ first in our Christmas celebration this year.  My challenge to you, dear reader, is to do the same. 

Is there something you know God is quietly telling you to change, or to stop altogether?  Is there something He wants to teach you this Christmas season?  I’m sure there is….if you let Him.

 
***If you are interested in some examples of homemade Christmas gift ideas, check out my next post!

Homemade & Inexpensive Gift Ideas