The subject of giving is always a bit of a third rail in churches.
Which I find odd, since the various writers of the Bible found no
problem holding court on the subject. David urges the people of
Israel to give to the temple his son will build. Jesus praises the
poor woman for her sacrificial giving. Paul exhorts his readers to
give cheerfully. And yet we can't plead for money?

This Sunday, our church is holding a congregational meeting to look at
a preliminary budget for 2008. I have no doubt that different people
are going to pick at different lines of that budget, because that's
what you do when you're given a budget. And there's nothing wrong
with picking at a budget, because that's what this meeting is about,
is that level of transparency.

But it is my hope and prayer (and on Sunday, I will have the
opportunity to speak this directly to the congregation) that picking
at the budget is not the end-all and be-all of the exercise. But
rather that we will decide that, by and large, there is a certain
amount we plan to spend in 2008; and thus, we will have to bring in
that same amount of money or else face painful cuts. In other words,
that we will make the connection between our invitation to give
because the Bible tells us to, and the ability of our church as an
organization to fulfill the various functions we hope for it for 2008.

Usually when we pay for stuff, we see and enjoy the benefits directly:
if I buy a soda at the corner store, I immediately experience the
refreshment associated with drinking it, or if I pay for college, I
know it is helping make me a better person. But when we pay into
communal structures, like paying taxes to a government or tithes to a
church, sometimes we can forget why it is important that we are paying
in our share.

Maybe subconsciously we're hoping to be free riders: if everyone else
but me pays in, I can still enjoy the benefits without incurring any
of the costs. Or maybe, because we don't immediately see and enjoy
the benefits of our disbursement of funds, we forget that the things
we enjoy from these entities - police protection and clean streets and
childrens' programs and worship services - cost money to provide.

Either way, it's good to be reminded that we need to supply the money,
or else those things we enjoy can't be provided to the level we'd
like. And this coming from a fiscal conservative and overall
spend-thrift. But even I know that if we under-give, services will
suffer. And, to return to what the Bible says, I also know that to
give is not just for the usefulness of the amounts offered, but for
the health of our own souls.

And so on Sunday, I'm bracing for some picking and picking and
picking. But I'm also hoping for some folks to make the connection
between those expense lines and the amounts they pull out of their
pocket and put in the collection plate every Sunday morning. Because
no matter how much of a third rail it is as a topic of conversation,
giving, according to the Bible, is an important thing to talk about
and to do.

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