As a pastor in metropolitan Dallas, Texas, I faced this same reality when our area suffered a recession in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The oil crisis devastated the real-estate market and affected the banking industry. The crisis in our savings-and-loan institutions was felt throughout the world.
One of the saddest stories that I heard involved a young man who had done very well in real estate. In fact, he had just grossed $5 million, but immediately he made a bad deal and lost it all. I’ll never forget the day I delivered a $200 check from our church so that he could buy groceries for his family.
Later I talked with him about his situation. He said, “I got too much, too fast and I acted irresponsibly.”
I had not faced the reality of how little Christians give until our church was affected by the financial crisis. Only then did I begin to realize that many Christians were giving out of their “leftovers” as an afterthought rather than out of their first fruits (Leviticus 23:17) as planned gifts.
Many had been simply “billfold” givers. They would drop $5, $10, $20, even $50 or $100, into the offering basket. They were not systematic and proportional givers as God instructs (1 Corinthians 16:2).
When the economic crisis hit, it affected people’s leftovers. The extra money they used to have in their checking accounts and billfolds suddenly was needed to make the payments on their homes and cars and to maintain the lifestyle to which they were accustomed. These people had never put God’s work as a priority in their financial planning.
One of the elders in our church confirmed this state of affairs. For years he had been in the banking business and had negotiated loans for people. One day he said, “Over the years I have processed loans for many Christians, and I always ask for their personal budgets. I can count on one hand the number who have God in their budgets. They have specific amounts budgeted for everything else but not for giving to God’s work.”
Seek First His Kingdom
Please don’t misunderstand. It is not wrong to accumulate things. But when the purchase of things replaces our investments in God’s Kingdom, we have misplaced priorities.
Many American Christians who claim that they cannot tithe pay their cable and satellite bills every month! And whole families have cellular phones, iPods and even Blackberries.
Many families dine out regularly. Some go to the theater once a week, spending money on popcorn and drinks, which cost more than the tickets. Yet they do not set aside a portion of money to give to the Lord’s work because, they say, “We just can’t make it!”
Think of what would happen if all Christians who claim they can’t give would eliminate these luxuries and give that same amount to God’s work. Some people might then be tithing (which means giving 10 percent); and if they did, I am confident that God would honor this priority. He may even make it possible for them to have some of those luxuries again.
A Blessing in Disguise
For our church the financial crisis actually became a blessing. I asked a special task force, along with my fellow elders, to study everything that God’s Word says about how to use our material possessions.
After six months of intensive work and meeting once a week for three hours, we completed the whole of Scripture. We discovered that the Bible has a lot to say about how we should use our material possessions. In fact, we found more than 100 supracultural principles in Scripture.
Two of the principles were that we should focus on godliness and contentment rather than riches that can result in discontentment (1 Timothy 6:6-10, 17-19), and that we must guard against self-deception and rationalization in an affluent society (Revelation 3:17-18).
To communicate these principles to our congregation, we followed the story in Acts of how God brought His Church into existence. We brought in biblical concepts from the Gospels and the Epistles, and we looked at relevant passages from the Old Testament to help us understand God’s plan from the beginning.
One major lesson emerged: We, as Christians, need a comprehensive perspective on possessions and on how our use of possessions relates to our total Christian experience. We need to discover “what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2, KJV).
©1999, 2008 BGEA
Dr. Gene Getz is Pastor Emeritus of Chase Oaks Church (formerly Fellowship Bible Church North in Plano, Texas) and now directs the Center for Church Renewal. He hosts a daily radio program called “Renewal” and has authored more than 60 books.
The results of the intensive study referred to in this article are published in “Rich in Every Way–102 Supracultural Principles for Handling Material Possessions,” by Gene Getz. To order a copy of the book, visit Grason.org.