Trying to Practice What I Preach

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Note: I wrote this article about four months ago, but I’ve been afraid to publish it.  I didn’t want it to seem like I’m boasting.  However, I think that through transparency we can all encourage each other towards spiritual growth in our giving.

Earlier in the year, I read Neither Poverty Nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions by Craig L. Blomberg.  At the end of the book, he talked about how he and his family practice some of the things discussed in the book.  I found it helpful so that I could pinpoint how he actually applied some of his teachings.  As such, I’m going to attempt to do the same.

Four years ago when I started this blog, my wife and I were giving 10% of our income and investing 15%.  At that time, we had no debt other than our home.  That New Year, my wife and I agreed that we would follow the principles of something called the graduated tithe.  Essentially, we agreed that as we made more money, we wouldn’t just increase our cost of living, but we would use some of the excess (in increasing amounts) for the kingdom.

The next year, we decided that we needed to increase our giving, so we gave 12% of our income.  We also invested 15% in retirement.  I saved 100% of my blog income as a business emergency fund.

The following year, we again wanted to increase our giving, but we found it difficult to know where to get those funds from.  As missionaries, we found that we didn’t have a lot of discretionary income.  After some study and prayer, I concluded that I couldn’t in good conscience contribute more to my needs for tomorrow than I could to the needs of the church today.  As a result, we dropped our retirement contribution for the first time – from 15% – 12.5% and increased our giving to match our retirement savings.  You can read more about that here.

I was keeping my blog income completely separate from our other income, so I used about 75% of my blog earnings for different ministry things I was doing in PNG.  The bulk of that went to a small business program I attempted to start in Papua New Guinea.

In 2012, my income increased as I transitioned from a missionary to a self-employed missional entrepreneur.

This year, we included all forms of income into one and were able to give around 30% of our income.

If our income level remained where it was in 2011, we would’ve struggled to give 30%.  One thing I’ve learned is that sometimes our generosity doesn’t change, but our income does.  Those who give more are not necessarily more generous, but have simply been blessed to be able to have stewardship over a larger income.

I know many of you probably wish you earned more so you could enjoy a greater share in the grace of giving.  However, we must recognize that God only asks us to be responsible with what he has given us.  Depending on your income, giving 10% could be very generous under your circumstances.  However, 10% could also be a stingy amount to be using for the Kingdom of God.

Yes, we do have luxuries in our home.  

I bought a 21″ iMac.  We bought an Xbox 360 family gift for Christmas.  I own an iPhone.  In 2012, we spent about $5,500 on travel.  We go out to eat a couple times a month.

I believe that God is pleased when we can experience the joy of his blessings.  We have a nice home, two cars, and more gadgets than we need.  We spend money on things we don’t need.  This includes different types of entertainment, activities, and games.  We pay for gas to visit friends and family.  We are richly blessed and live a full life.

However, the fullness does not come from what we own or buy.  We find our satisfaction in Christ.  He is our hope.  If God decided to take away the things we have, we can only pray that he’d help our faith to continue to grow.

Still, there is a limit to what we spend on ourselves.  We have determined how much is enough, and when we earn more than that amount, we use it for Kingdom work.  It’s an amount that allows us to experience the blessing of God’s kindness to us, while also accepting our responsibility to minister to others.  There are things we do to ensure we’re not wasting what we’ve been entrusted with.

There is more – much more – we could be doing.

We don’t eat rice and beans.  We don’t refuse to do anything that costs money.  At this point, we feel like we’re being faithful with what we have, but we also recognize there are many ways God may help us to grow in the grace of giving.

Here are some proactive steps we take to be sure we have something for others:

  • We buy 95% of our clothing second hand. 
  • We’re in the process of closing on a home in a nice neighborhood, but we did make an intentional decision to buy far below what we could afford.  (We actually backed out of that deal and won’t be buying the home).
  • We take advantage of special deals that lead to savings.  We use coupons whenever possible.  We buy items when they are on sale. 
  • We always try to live without something before we rush out to buy it.  We embrace a certain amount of minimalism since we recognize that some of the things we could buy simply are a waste.  My wife doesn’t have every kitchen gadget imaginable, but she uses items that do the job.
  • We keep a close eye on entertainment expenses to ensure we’re not entertaining ourselves and neglecting others.  My wife and I each have a $10 per month entertainment budget.  That doesn’t leave much room for going out to movies, but we struggle to pay more simply to entertain ourselves.  We’re often just as happy going for a walk as we are going to the movies.
  • We buy only what we can afford and don’t borrow money.  
  • We do our best to keep a tight dining out budget ($65 per month), but willingly go over budget when we have an opportunity to socialize with others we’d otherwise neglect to visit.

There is much, much more we could be doing.  We feel like we are able to bless people by making these few simple ‘sacrifices‘.

We try to focus our giving in equal parts to the following three categories:

  1. Churches, specifically the local church.
  2. Ministry to the poor.  We like what Healing Hands International is doing.
  3. Missionary work (mostly international).

Conclusion:

I still wrestle with what God calls our family to do with our finances.  This is a chapter in our lives, not a conclusive description of what God calls us to be.  I can only pray that in the years to come, God will teach us more and increase our faith even more.

Comments

  1. Gabe says

    Craig,
    This is such an encouragement. My wife and I have the desire to do these sorts of things, but sometimes lack the discipline (okay, that’s mostly me…). Your articles, especially ones like this, with practical and Biblical principals are a huge encouragement to us.
    Thank you!

  2. Diana says

    Thanks for being open about your finances and spending as a Christian. I struggle with spending money on things I enjoy because I always thought Christians are suppose to do with as little as possible- it’s more “spiritually mature” to live off no extra expenditures, particularly those things that are surface value (clothing, entertainment, decor), ie. only have what you absolutely need (but then, how do you define “need”?). And yet, I do believe that God is pleased when we enjoy those kinds of things- I know I love to provide little “treats” for me and my family! Maybe the level of indulgence is based on each individual’s personal conviction?

    • says

      Diana,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences.
      I think you’re alluding to a very important point – motivation matters. Acting ‘because we should’ produces very different results than giving ‘because we can’.
      I teach about proportional stewardship. That means what we give is in proportion to everything – our income, our experience, our love languages … Since the Master made us all very different we can expect that our responsibilities with our finances is very different.

  3. says

    Hi Craig
    Good work and brave of you for posting. I understand the issues in stepping out by exposing possibly damaging personal information. One danger that I see in all your materials is that of reducing giving (and other matters of faith) to financials. The goodness of God is naturally diminished and this paradigm (especially in your country) actively oppresses faith. Dollars are simply a representation of value (time, effort, creativity, value-adding, giving, blessing etc). Percentages as well, are VERY limiting and I would like for a moment to draw you back to your PNG experiences and ask you this question. If you had no money, no income, no job, no cash how would you operate? I tithed for years, at times literally to the cent, yet it was an increased understanding of the ‘time tithe’ and a ‘reverse tithe’ (keeping only 10%) that opened my up to the true potential of living by faith. Even those concepts though were blown away for me having emmigrated to a third world country and experienced more of the biblical gift economy (that Jesus operated within) and virtually NO money! I am a lot less comfortable now with thinking and working with both the cash economy and certainly with percentages. I would be encouraging a greater, bigger, wider, more comprehensive biblical world view in your readers as end-times approach.

    • says

      Dennis,
      Thanks for the feedback.
      If I were in PNG and had no money, income, job or cash I’d probably do what the New Guineans do – garden and rely on government or church funds to pay for activities that require money.
      I’m all for a bigger, wider, biblical and more comprehensive world view. I’m doing my best to live out God’s call on my finances. Certainly I’m thankful to know that others are living out their faith in a way that challenges how I’m currently living.

  4. says

    I’m looking forward to your future post “I’m feeling guilty we bought huge flat screen TV, and our charitable gifting is up to 75%.”
    When you do such good for others, it’s ok to enjoy some of the fruits of your own labor.
    Keep up the good work!

    • says

      JoeTaxpayer,
      Honestly, I would feel guilty buying a huge flat screen TV :). That’s not intended to be a judgement on others. It’s just not part of my financial disposition and call. We’ve found it a tremendous blessing to be able to give and hope that we prioritize all of our decisions accordingly.
      Yes, you are right that it is OK to enjoy the fruits of ones labor. We certainly feel so blessed to spend money on non-essential items that bring us joy (i.e. travel). However, we also have the discipline to avoid non-essential items that we don’t really care about (i.e. big screen TV).
      I know that I may be reading into your witty comment, but did want to take a moment to reply.

  5. Jane Morrow says

    Hi Craig
    I regularly check in with your blog and have really found your comments a great help to managing my finances. I would love to hear your thoughts on having a mortgage. I decided to pay off my mortgage as fast as possible. I live simply and don’t have a car and decided that living in a rental property did not help our family or society. I didn’t tithe. Now my house is paid off and I have that simple security. I am now be in a position to give because I no longer have debt or interest on that debt. If we lived in real communities we could support each other by now going on to help others pay off their debts.

    • says

      Jane,
      Having a mortgage is better than having many other kinds of debt, but having a mortgage is not better than having a paid off home.
      We decided to pay off our mortgage as quickly as possible, but we were also committed to giving throughout that process. Personally, I’d suggest that a person prayerfully consider doing both (giving and making extra payments) instead of only choosing one or the other.

  6. Gabe says

    Craig,
    The last comment had me thinking about something…one course of action my wife and I have considered recently, though have yet to implement, is to cut our giving in order to double our debt payments. The intent being that we could more than halve the time spent paying to debt, and more quickly increase our giving, to higher levels.
    It seems as though you disagree with this approach, and I was hoping you might be able to elaborate.
    My initial thought would be that 1 Cor 16 mentions that they take an offering on the first day of the week. I, and many others before me, have used that as “legitimizing” a weekly gathering of the offering. Though I have no qualms with that practice, I believe that was a matter of convenience for a specific gift I think Paul was planning on taking to the Macedonians when he arrived to Corinth (but I am not 100% on that). As such, my wife and I, due to our budget, only contribute once a month, but it is the total amount we have set aside for that. (But I digress…)
    Why can this principle not be extended to greater time restraints, in that the gift is only collected for specific reasons or over greater periods of time (i.e. for one year no gift is collected from an individual, so as to collect a greater gift in the future)?
    Sorry for the novel, but was interested in your thoughts.

  7. Wes Smith says

    Thank you for sharing your experience Craig. Many other people are willing to share how they gathered a large nest egg with particular investing strategy, we need more people willing to share how they give!

    • says

      Wes,
      I do wish we had more giving heros. People who’s stories we can follow as positive contemporary examples. I’m sure there are a lot of positive examples, but we just don’t share our giving stories as a desire to be sure we’re doing it for the right reason. Hey, it took me several months before I was brave enough to post this article.

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