My anti-Tithe

Giving all of ourselves to our God, whom we call “Lord,” would include giving our everything. To me, my devotions would be my job, my girlfriend, my extended family, my friendships, my songwriting, my blog, my habits…everything. This would include my finances.

Of course, my devotion and dedication to God changes moment by moment, as we all have seen in our own lives, but my desire is to be 100% sacrificial with my life, for the sake of Jesus and His way of life. It’s my longing (usually, almost always) to give everything I have, own, and do to the cause and purposes of Jesus.

I do not go to a church, however…mostly by choice. I don’t see myself being involved with just one church, but more of a networker/discipler between believers from different churches (including the unchurched). Due to my circumstances, I’m held back from doing so, but it doesn’t mean I haven’t started to prepare for Cyndi and my house group, hosting parties and sleepovers at our home, or an online community, not unlike the blog that I keep.

Even though I do not attend a “traditional” church, which is usually a meeting that looks nothing like what I believe that Jesus had intended, I do contribute to parachurch organizations, international relief ministries, friends going on mission trips, and to the local homeless people looking for a meal.

“But that’s not to your local, community church,” some would often say.

First, let me assure you that I’m not one of those postmodern believers that use the emerging church, Gen-Y excuses to avoid furthering the Kingdom of Heaven, neglecting spiritual responsibilities. Everything, if I’m interpreting Scripture right, is God’s; He’s entrusted me with what I have. How I use/give what I have reflects my motivations.

A little theology: Tithing in Malachi is the Old Covenant. The 10% thing is overshadowed by the cross. Paul writes that for those who wish to keep a section/fragment of the Written Law is then required to keep all of it (including the sacrifices and stonings in the Torah, if I’m interpreting Scripture right).

Okay, what does the New Covenant say about tithing? Acts 2 says that in the stated community of believers, they sold all that they had, so that what they had could be distributed among themselves. Perhaps, things were different in other underground, house/city churches, but I assume that they did things quite similar in order to just survive and thrive. It was a matter of practicality and simplicity. And Scripture says no one was in need; nobody did without.

Simplicity. Generosity. These are characteristics of a compassionate believer. Mercy towards the needy, justice toward the broken. These are marks of a Christlike servant. How I treat the needy, broken, incarcerated, homeless, fatherless, persecuted, single mom, infected, etc. is how I’m subsequently treating Jesus. These are the ones He cares for and has a special place in His heart (if I’m reading Scripture as it should be read), and neglecting these people with my finances would be like neglecting Jesus’ needs.

If the “local, community church” is having a hard time finding the time or budgets to do these deeds of caring for the needy, broken & forgotten, then I have to either find groups or people that are, or step out into the real world and give to these people myself.

I believe it’s my responsibility to see to it that the money that’s been entrusted to me is a blessing to others, advancing a Kingdom of love, simplicity, practicality, compassion and sacrifice. If that means that the “local, community church” will not receive my “tithe,” then so be it. I’m sure these churches have well-meaning pastors, attendees and routines, and I’m sure God’s interests are their desire, but I believe these rituals, traditions and habits need to be rethought.

Showing love through my finances is important to me, even to the point of being un-traditional.

Forcing things and handing over power

My relationship with God has been sinking for a while now. Nothing dramatic – just more of my usual dread of prayer, and more of a dead feeling when I do try to pray, and less relief of the feeling that there is nothing there.

I’ve been somewhat at a loss as to what to do about it. I’ve tried regular, disciplined prayer for a few weeks at a time, but in terms of my feelings* I haven’t seen anything change.

*By the way, the old adage about how it’s not about feelings – I’m not sure I understand that any more: what else is it about?

Our church group decided that we wanted to spend some time trying to work out what our “calling”s were, or at least what God wanted us to do at the moment, and this fitted quite nicely into the fact that I/we are thinking about our future: my job, where we live etc. We assigned each other a couple of names each to pray for, and one of the friends who was praying for me felt that God was telling her to read the book of Joshua in the Bible, and asked me to read it too in case something came out of it for me.

Of course, nothing came out of it for me.

Last night we had our meeting and she told me that the part of Joshua* that struck her as being about me was the part in Joshua 7 where a guy called Achan steals some of the plunder from destroying Jerico, instead of handing it over to be given to God. This was extremely brave of her since she must have been terrified that she’d be confronting some terrible (probably sexual) sin in my life and didn’t know how I would react.

* As an aside that I just can’t leave out: I want to make it clear that Joshua is probably the hardest book of the Bible for me to accept as being from God, or, normally, of being any use, because it is basically just an account of a genocide backed, nay commanded, by God.

I didn’t suddenly break down and confess to a propensity to place gerbils in any orifices. In fact, I didn’t know how to take it on board at all. I couldn’t see what the terrible sin in my life was: I knew there are pretty crippling sins of pride and greed going on, but not some nice specific thing I can stop doing.

A couple of weeks ago, I felt a little comforted by the idea that maybe what God wanted of me was just to try and follow his “ways” i.e. live our life as a family in a generous and kind way, and be gentle and attentive to my colleagues at work. I felt that I was doing that: on the big decisions we were trying to consult God (with little appearance of answers from him) and trying to do the right thing for our kids and for other people.

As we prayed last night, and prayed and talked and thought today, I have begun to think that what God is trying to say to me is that I am holding back something that belongs to God, like Achan (who, incidentally, was stoned to death along with his wife and daughters). What I am holding back is power over my life.

I think I sort-of knew this already, but I hadn’t considered it to be such a bad thing – one of the mini-sins that we all have a bit of and can’t do much about. The comparison with Achan is shocking, not just because of what happened to him, but mainly because what he did was seen as so wrong – disobeying a specific and direct order. But what am I doing when I hold back power over my life from God? I am making worthless the key thing that being a Christian is: you turn from your sin, and you “follow” God – you submit to God, you “accept” him as your master. So suddenly the idea that this is some grievous sin makes more sense.

What I am left with, then is what to do about this? It is difficult to make a plan of action about something as woolly as giving power back to God. This evening we were praying about our future and I was saying all I’ve written above, and I felt a sense of release. I’ve been extremely tense (my sleep has been utterly shot) as we have been thinking about the future, and some of that tension seemed to be released. Not all of it, by the way, or I would be asleep now instead of writing this.

I realised we have been trying to force it: to bend life to the way we want it to be. When I became a Christian* I turned to God, submitted to him: promised to follow him. How do I do that? I don’t really know, but I think I need to stop having areas that are reserved for me – that may be influenced by him, but it’s my final call.

*Although there’s another potential article in the fact that I don’t have a good moment I can point to when I did become a Christian.

Having the final call is too stressful anyway. I sort of long for relief.

It’s ok to have children without getting married now, isn’t it?

The title of this post is what someone said to me today, as a pointed accusation that I am secretly intolerant.

I changed the subject and felt hurt that they wanted to do this, and now I feel guilty I didn’t respond properly, so I’m going to try and make myself feel better by writing here what I should have said.

Presumably you think it’s wrong to cheat on your wife? Why is it such a stretch then to want to avoid “pre-emptively” cheating on her?

Should I bring it up tomorrow?


[Another post from ~]

My wrestle with God is about how I find it difficult to do the one thing he asks me to do; Spend time with Him.

There are no doubt many reasons for my neglect of God but I just don’t know where one is expected to find the time. And I don’t even have kids!

My fairly limited understanding of my situation is that if I don’t attempt to involve God in my daily activities then I don’t let him get involved much with my life. The biggest problem I have with this is that God is offensive or I’m too proud.

So now I have a problem different from the one I initially started with. But let me try to get back to the issue of time. I guess I want to enjoy spending time with God. This means I would want to spend time with Him. What I find is that it is very hard to talk/love/walk with someone who does not respond in human ways. More over as I get older in my faith I find myself making more decisions without God and involving him less in my day to day life.

So is this the biblical way? Am I supposed to be given less support and more responsibility over time by the Almighty God? Where is the helpline when you want to call up and check that you are still in favour? Where do you go to find time with an invisible God? More importantly where can I find time to actually wrestle with Him?

Where do you go when things start falling apart?

[This article was emailed to me by ~]

This is my very real question.

There are times when you seek family or friends and there is time when you seek God. My question is when you have tried all known routes and still things appear not to work – where do you go then?

Is life just hard work? Am I being silly to expect that life can be fun?

What is wrong with hoping life to be full and rich?

Will you share biblical pointers or personal experiences?

The Soul Painting

There was once an Artist who believed in people. He believed that every single person who lived had within them one great masterpiece, a Soul Painting, and he devoted his life to this creed. As an in demand artist of considerable talent he could have committed himself to his work and lived in fair comfort for the rest of his days, but he forsook such things to travel, be with people and pass on the message of the Soul Painting.

One day the Artist met a woman whom no-one had ever believed in. She was enchanted by the Artist and his message of the Soul Painting. Although the wounds were still too fresh and raw for her to believe in herself, she dared to believe in his belief and began to paint. It took her many years but eventually she had finished her Soul Painting. It was strikingly beautiful, tragic and unique; one of the most amazing works of art that anyone had ever seen. During this time the woman had learned to love the Artist and his message and devoted the rest of her life to spreading the story of the Soul Painting. Wherever she went people clamoured to see her. Many were amazed by her story, many more captivated by her beautiful Soul Painting.

One of the men who heard her speak wanted more than anything to possess his own Soul Painting. He had heard her talk about the Artist and his belief in her which had led to her painting but he was too afraid and intimidated by her amazing Soul Painting to pick up a paintbrush himself. “I could never paint anything as good as her.” he told himself, torn between his desire and his doubt. One day he had an idea and, at a time when no-one was watching, he took out his camera and snapped a good photo of the woman’s Soul Painting. He took the camera home, printed out the biggest, best quality copy of the Soul Painting that he could afford and had it framed. He told his friends of the Artist and invited them to come and see his own Soul Painting. His friends visited his home and were awestruck and touched by the beautiful masterpiece on his wall. They too wanted their own Soul Painting. The man only knew of one way to pass on the magic of the Soul Painting, so he invited his friends to take their own photo of his photo and then it could be their own Soul Painting. His friends readily agreed, as it seemed an easy way to get a masterpiece.

The friends took their photos home and showed their friends, who in turn asked to take a photo of the photo of the photo. They, in turn, invited their friends to take a photo of the photo of the photo of the photo and so it went. With each layer of photos the detail and beauty of the original painting was distorted further and further until there was a crowd of individuals each clutching photos showing nothing more than an ugly splodge of random colours. The beauty had been lost a long time ago. Over time the number of people wanting to take photos declined and declined. Every now and then another person would be convinced to take a photo of one of the photos but whatever their motivation, it was now never because of the beauty of the Soul Painting.

One day the Artist will travel from town to town crying out “Bring me your Soul Paintings” and he will be crowded by a mob of people waving grubby, crumpled polaroids shouting “Master, Master, look at my Soul Painting, my beautiful Soul Painting!” and the Artist will look at them and say “Get away from me. I never knew you.”

Do you have to ask to be forgiven?

At youth group last night (sadly no longer considered young enough to be one of the youth, but still in denial about that) one question that got raised was whether you have to ask for forgiveness in order to be forgiven.

I realised as we were talking that I’d not really thought about it – and then we got side-tracked onto predestination, the trinity and other things…

Anyone have any comments?

Welcome to Wrestles with God!

Hello all! I’ve relaunched this site (which used to be called Guilty Expression), with a slightly different format, and hopefully some new energy.

I want to make it easier for people to contribute, so I’ve changed to a blog format, which allows (some) people to post directly to the front page (without getting any approval), and which encourages you to post short snippets as well as larger articles.

The name Wrestles with God comes from the name God gave to Jacob after he fought with him. The new name was Israel, which actually means Wrestles with God. As Christians, we inherit Israel’s name as adopted children, and that name encourages me that struggling and complaining are essential parts of being a Christian.

Have fun, and get in touch if you have any problems with the new format. Also let me know if you see any spam, or any of the stories from the old site are missing or corrupted.

If you had a login on guiltyexpression, the same username and password will log you in to this site.

I’m hoping we can get some discussion going in the new format, and one way I’m trying to help with that is by not creating a message board (forum) or Wiki. By limiting us to the blog and comments, I hope we will all bump into each other, instead of being too spread out. However, I’ve been looking though the discussions and Wiki pages from guiltyexpression, and there is some amazing stuff in there, so I am open to suggestions about what to do – I could certainly create a forum or Wiki, or I could just make the archive of the old stuff available, or something else. Let me know what you think. I may even edit some of the old Wiki pages and make them into articles.

One cool feature of the new system is the live chat room on the right-hand side. It tells you who’s logged in, so you can chat live, but it also preserves the last thing someone said, so you can use it a bit like a message board. More like a fridge, really. Feel free to chat frivolously there!