years ago, when wanda and i were just a young couple, we were challenged to live our lives with a sense of purpose. we were taught by people we admired and respected, to be open to living our lives for something greater than our own pleasure and comfort.
i remember one of the first (of many) times we heard tony campolo speak. back in the late 70’s, he was a christian “radical”…a political activist…a pastor…a college professor…an author and speaker. he still is today. before tony came along, i had never met a church leader that lived very far outside the traditional, conservative christian box i grew up in.
tony did. and the words he spoke that day rocked us…and though we didn’t follow his footsteps exactly, we took them to heart. deep to heart.
in a humble and unassuming way, he said between his pastoring, teaching and speaking, he probably made over $80k per year. in 1979! that would be easily 5-6 times that amount today… but it wasn’t what he “made” that was so shocking. it was how he chose to use it.
he said that some years earlier, before he started to make that kind of money, he and his wife made a decision about how much they needed to live on…to pay their bills and live a happy and healthy lifestyle for them and their young family. they determined that number was about $30k.
so they made a decision. they wouldn’t change their standard of living…even if they made more money. their thinking was, “why should making more money change what we decided our standard of living to be?” wow. that seemed so counter-cultural. so different than the american dream.
everybody i knew…including my own family…instinctively lived exactly the opposite. making more money was your ticket to raising your standard of living. it was your right. it was your divine right. it was what you were supposed to do with god’s “blessing”.
but tony pointed us to another option. another way of living. something that seemed much more biblical.
why not pick a standard of living…as low as you can, yet still enough to still live happy and comfortably…and then use the rest of your money (god’s money) on things of nobler purposes? why not live on a little less, so that more could be invested directly into god’s kingdom purposes? it made sense to us. and it’s how we’ve tried to live our lives the past 35 years.
it’s also why “tithing” doesn’t make sense to me. well…that and the fact that it was old testament taxation of the jews that is no longer required in the new covenant. here’s how it challenges my sensibilities:
if a family is living on $30k here in 2013 united states, it’s not easy. and “requiring”…or even expecting…them to give 10% of their income to the church could place a serious burden on them and their family. $250 a month is a huge amount to them!
on the other hand, if a family lives on 300k per year (what’s left over after taxes), a “tithe” of $30k per year to the church shouldn’t (i hate that word) place an undo burden on this family. they ought to be able to live comfortably on $270k, don’t you think? especially if they had made a decision to lock in their standard of living at, say…$175k per year. that would free up 125k per year…of god’s money…to be used on god’s things. amazing. why would they limit their giving to just a tithe?
how we spend most of the money we have (after taxes) is our choice. it’s nobody else’s choice. and we can always choose to spend less on ourselves and more for a greater purpose. always.
friends, i know this is not an easy discussion.