Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Tithing Resets the Center of our Lives

I'm considering a special note in each monthly newsletter at the church which would accomplish three things: The readers would be able to identify the spiritual purpose of tithing, the ethical/theological purpose of tithing and the practical purpose of tithing. Below is the first note, which is largely spiritual, but also kind of ethical I guess. anyway, would you my 2 dedicated readers look this over and tell me what you think?

Tithing Sets the Center
‘The patterns in our lives form about the deep and usually unarticulated attitudes we hold toward ourselves, the world, and others. ‘ Luke Timothy Johnson

I’ve decided that instead of waiting for the fall to unload a big stewardship and tithing sermon on Berean, I’m going to write a note every month about tithing for the rest of the year. And the theme for this month is, Tithing Sets the Pattern. North American Christians live in a notoriously consumeristic culture in which we are bombarded with two confusing messages. One message tells us that the stuff we buy is of the ultimate importance. We can buy pthat ills will save our love life and our marriage. We can purchase cures for baldness that will make our careers more successful and improve our prospects for dating. We can buy a car that will make us a better parent and cause us to be admired by neighbors. We can charge some new clothes which makes us feel better. Advertisers promise that the pursuit and purchase of consumer goods will bring us the happiness, peace and satisfaction we desire.
But the competing message that we may not be conscious of, but still, I think sense, is that all this stuff is replaceable and easily discarded. As soon as you get a PC, cell-phone, ipod, and get it home, it is obsolete. A newer version has come out which is new and improved, making your version ‘old’ and ‘out of style.’ Of course I am exaggerating a bit, but you get the picture. New styles of clothing and shoes have come out as soon as the Macy’s bag with new purchases has settled in the back seat of the car outside the mall. Have you ever noticed how rare it is to get things repaired? Why bother to get the TV repaired, just replace it. Do you know if there is anyone in Rhode Island who can repair worn out shoes? It is easier to discard, producing more waste, and replace with something new, than to treasure and care for the old we already have. So the stuff we buy is of great importance for our satisfaction and well being, BUT it is easily replaceable and quickly discarded. It doesn’t last, isn’t meant too, and made to cast away. So we are caught in a cycle of pursuing, possessing, momentary satisfaction, then casting away so as to pursue again.
Is it any wonder our society suffers from anxiety and depression? We are caught in a system or a pattern, if you will, where we are promised happiness, satisfaction and safety in consumer good, but they never last and so we must constantly pursue these goods and the satisfaction they promise but can’t quite deliver. We buy it, use it, discard it and must chase it once again. No wonder our culture largely feels dissatisfied. This pattern keeps us always wanting more and trains us to place a high value on created things. Over-valuing created things is Paul’s definition of idolatry and according to Paul in Romans, is the cause of sin, the root of sin. Instead of seeking and abiding in the presence of the Creator, we spend our time seeking and abiding with created things.
This is why we tithe. One reason anyway, the spiritual reason for the tithe, because the pattern of our lives in this culture is based on putting our hopes in created things. Tithing resets our pattern. In sitting down to plan our budgets so that we offer thanksgiving to God for all God’s gifts, we are re-setting our pattern. Through the tithe we are putting our finances and the material goods they provide at the service of God first. Finance and Material Goods are brought into proper perspective through tithing, for they will be used to serve God and not as a replacement for God. Tithing reminds us that we value differently than the world around us. Well, we should value differently than the world around us. But the lack of tithing in American Churches and the conspicuous consumption that American Christians engage in makes us look just like everybody else.
Lent is a time to reset our patterns, to release practices that take us aware from centering on God and picking up practices that focus us on God as our center. Lent is a great time to reassess tithing.

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