I want to tell you a story of something that happened recently. It s stories like these that keep me doing church the way I do, and why I pastor in my style. It was a small group setting. We were catching up with each other. A young woman started sharing how she was feeling tons of condemnation and judgment. She d grown up under a legalistic style of Christianity, and in her adult years continued to do the same. She'd been taught that if anything was going wrong in her life, the first question she was asked was, Are you tithing? In fact, she was terrified to confess this to us because she was sure she was going to be punished and expelled from involvement in our church community. She was really struggling financially, even to the point of probably having to claim bankruptcy. She was basically confessing to us that they couldn t tithe or give any offerings, and felt the judgment of God on her life because she d been taught that she was robbing God and he is a just God who wouldn t let her get away with it. She cried. We all listened patiently and sympathetically.
Finally, I said, That sounds really harsh. That s not right! I stated that this idea of tithing is just the tip of the iceberg in her view of God, which is legal, harsh, vengeful, retributive, and frightening. I went on to explain that what God delights in is a cheerful giver, not one who gives out of fear of punishment or out of desire for reward or to appease her conscience. Very gently and lovingly, we gathered around her and affirmed that God isn t retributive like that. God s grace and love are total, and her freedom is complete. I said that it is good to give, but wait until you can do it spontaneously and cheerfully.
My experience as a pastor is that when people move from legalism to grace, love and freedom, it takes time. Sometimes years! If I have that kind of patience, my income being directly affected by peoples offerings, then I m sure God has that kind of patience. Even more so! It was a memorable delight to watch her released from the oppressively heavy burdens right before our eyes! (The young woman gave me permission to tell this story.)