Confessions of a College Student: My Excuse For Not Tithing

We sit on the packed Sunday school benches of the slum church; children of all ages are sitting atop each other in a way that resembles stacked Legos, they sing as an offering plate is passed around by a little girl in a pink “princess dress”. The room feels thick and I am sweating slightly (I will spare you the details on the amount so that you can maintain a lady-like picture of me). I catch my breath as I hear the words to the children’s song: “we give to those who need it more”. The breath that I had just caught grasps my heart painfully as I see every single child in the room give what is roughly equivalent to ten cents.

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As a college student, my professors often refer to me as a member of the “temporarily poor”. I will elaborate: I am a full time student, I spend roughly 18 hours in class each week, followed by homework lasting long into unbelievable hours of the night, the job I have offers me two hours of work each week, by the end of my quarter this gives me just enough to pay for text books for the next quarter. My point is, in America, I am considered poor. And you know what, I have taken that as an excuse to not give and I ran with it. I have gotten so good at this excuse that I have created another, more disturbing excuse: “I really want to give, but I would barely be able to give anything at all, so what is the point of giving? My ten bucks is worth almost nothing to this church”.

As I sat on the wooden bench, sweating out my conviction onto the unlucky child mashed against me, I became furious with myself. In the week that followed I thought deeper into this anger of mine. Why have I come up with this excuse? Where did it come from? I felt powerless against my sin. And then I was struck by a thought: how many times have I seen in society those who have the largest sums of money are the ones who are given more authority? And the more I thought on this, it all became about power to me.

In essence, my excuse was not just one of feeling personally incompetent, it was a feeling of marginalization (oh what an angst ridden word); in other words, I had equated tithing in the church with power. I sat and fumed again as I thought about this, part of me praying that I would forget about this discovery and continue living the way I had in peace. But as I prayed, it would not sit right with me, is giving in the church really all about power? Then God reminded me of a story:

Mark 12:41-44 (NIV)

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

“This poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.”

I read this line over and over again, and eventually saw that there needs to be a change in my heart. This parable not once mentioned the widow gaining any power with in the church after her offering. Monetary amounts have never, and will never indicate the amount of authority God will give, tithing does not equate with power within the body. My tithes to God should be an offering of love and trust in response to the gospel message!

As I thought about this I was dumb founded at how obvious this should have been, of course I should be giving my ten dollars, it is what I have to give, God calls me to give everything I have to Him, and if ten dollars is all I have today then that is all I have, I cannot refrain from tithing expecting to be able to give more the next time around. I came to find peace knowing that to God, my ten dollars is as much to him as the “fat check” that the well established woman who sits in the front row gave with a joyful heart, and even less than the ten cents that the five-year-old wearing a pink “princess dress” in the slum church gave as she sang of helping the impoverished. Oh how beautiful is this God that we get to know, that we are not judged by our physical means but by the position of our heart in relation only to Jesus Christ.

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As you go to church this Easter Sunday, I encourage you to give what you can, whatever it is you can, whether it is ten cents or a thousand dollars. Take joy in the reminder of Gods loving sacrifice of His son for you so that you may be forgiven of your sins. It is humbling for me to ask this of you as my own personal sin is of a greedy heart, but I seek repentance as I am reminded (especially during this week) of Gods ultimate generosity. I will remind myself of the widow in Mark, who gave all that she could and give joyfully, free from the burden of the worldly authority that money possesses.

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I’m Going to Africa… Tomorrow!

Grace (my little sister), walks into my room this morning wakes me up by shooting me with a Nerf gun, announcing that it is time to drive her to school. I roll out of bed, slowly mosey my way down the stairs, still in my PJ’s I might add, and vacantly stare at the kitchen wall as I wait for my sisters to be ready for me to drive them to school. Grace begins jabbering excitedly at speeds that only natural extroverts can manage that early in the morning, and as usual, I zone out and occasionally nod my head as she speaks to give the appearance of an attentive listener. She suddenly cuts short and takes a breath before she looks at me and says: “Julia, in 24 hours, we will be getting on a plane!” She took another breath and said in a slightly emphasized manner: “Julia, in 48 hours, we will on a plane!” Then she giggled at the grimace on my face as I thought about the amount of time it will take us to travel to Kenya.

But then it hit me, at this time tomorrow I will be on an airplane heading for Kenya! That is a nerve wracking thought. I continued to be lost to my thoughts on the drive to their school. The sun was rising in front of us as we drove (a lovely sight that I rarely get to see; incase you didn’t know, waking up before the sun is not a normal activity for the average college student), I was struck by the thought that the next time I saw the sunrise would be tomorrow, above the clouds, looking down on my hometown where everyone else was going about their typical daily tasks as I fly to the adventure of a lifetime in a completely different country and culture. This was an overwhelming thought for me, especially as this thought hit me with only 24 hours to process it!

Let me explain something about myself; I am a planner, I like to plan just about everything weeks (or years) before they happen. I plan everything from which homework assignments I will do which days to what jobs I will be applying for in a few years; I even tried to plan out what emotion I would feel when my parent dropped me off at college. It is probably also important to state, as I am sure you can assume (especially when it comes to emotions) that though I am a planner, my plans usually don’t go the way I planned them to; I am simply unable to account and plan for the ways that God will move through these events. God likes to catch me by surprise with His plans, plans that are always much better than my own and leave me captivated by His love and beauty. Today, I was again caught by surprise by our awesome God. I realize that I have not planned at all for this moment, I have no expectations as to what He will teach me, I have not even thought about how I will feel when I see my family’s sponsored child again. Outside of the fact that the trip has a preplanned itinerary, I think that the farthest I have planned personally has been planning what I will be wearing each day so that I pack efficiently. And this morning, as I watched the sunrise I grew truly excited about the awesome things God will do on this trip. I continued to drive, captivated by the thought of how He will surprise me with His plans for the trip. And for the first time in a very long time, I felt completely at peace with the thought of not having any plans at all.

Re-entry

I have a confession: I am a huge worrier. No matter how many times I force myself to read scriptures on worrying, friends remind me that I a being ridiculous, pray pray for peace, or remind myself (or God reminds me) that He will take care of me, I have the most difficult time leaving my worries behind and trusting God. That being said, let me give you a short list of my ridiculous worries about Kenya:

  • How bad my clothing will smell when I get back (after nearly two weeks under the Kenyan sun, you can bet it will be quite the smell to worry about)
  • My roommates reaction to that smell
  • Forgetting hairbands and waking up with some new unwelcome pets in my hair… Let’s just say, I learned my lesson on our first trip to Kenya

And a few more serious ones:

  • I worry that I will callous my heart and refuse to let it be broken by what breaks Gods heart
  • Letting my fears stop me from loving the children and the Compassion projects the way God desires me to love them
  • Not going home with my family and flying straight to school

I have told myself over and over again that these worries are (for the most part) illogical (though I would argue that the smell thing and the hairbands are completely logical). Though one worry that I cannot get out of my head this week is the last one, not going home with my family. I know it is silly to worry about re-entry before I have even left for the trip, but I have never come home from a trip without my family, I’ve never come home without someone who was on the trip with me, I have never even flown into a different airport than my home town airport as my final destination. I have always been blessed with an extremely loving and supportive environment to come home to. An environment where I can take my time to process the things I have seen and know that if I act strangely after the trip because of the processing I am doing, my family will completely understand.

This time I will come home to a different airport, a friend will pick me up, the next morning I will go to an eight-in-the-morning Spanish class, and will not see my family until Easter. I worry that I wont let myself process what I have seen and done, I worry that the ladies on my dorm floor wont understand when I act strangely, and I worry that I will be more homesick than ever, wishing that I could sit around the dinner table with my family and discuss the ways that our hearts were broken.

I know it is silly to worry, and luckily, I am almost too excited to worry now that the trip is just six short days away; but I ask for your prayers about my worries anyway. I ask for your prayers over the trip in general, please pray that God will work through us, that we will not let our worries or fears stand in the way, and that upon our re-entry we will be able to listen to the things God has pressed upon our hearts.

Oh, and if you feel so inclined, pray that my roommate has a plugged nose when I get back!

The Same Sun

This morning I woke up to sun leaking through the blinds to my dorm room window. Though I usually would not be so keen on being woken up before my alarm, it was the first time that I had woken up to sun this entire school year. Opening the blinds I was actually excited to walk to a meeting at church I had this afternoon, I even left early so that I could have extra time to bask in the elusive Northwestern sunshine. As I walked I praised God, thanking Him for the wonderful weather and enjoying the lovely smell of blossoming cherry trees that surround my area. Before my meeting I stood outside in the warm sun (I even dared to remove the jacket that I had worn) that was reminiscent of the weather played a role in the majority of my favorite adventures. I stumbled upon the memories of my families trip to Kenya in 2009.

Sitting on wooden benches under the scorching sun of the Masai Mara shaded only by a thinning acacia tree my family watched in awe of the traditional dances of the Masai tribe that the small children of the Compassion project were preforming for us. Their colorful beaded jewelry jingled as they danced and their bare feet stomped the dry orange dirt keeping perfect time. They sang as they danced. The bench hard underneath me, the bright sun melting the sunscreen on my too-easily-burnt skin, sweating in my long skirt, and occasionally coughing at the clouds of the orange dirt that surrounded us, the longer I sat their the brighter I smiled.

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Taken completely out of my accustomed surrounds of green grass, squirrels, evergreen trees, and snow topped mountains, I saw God in a shockingly new way. In this place, this land of lions and giraffes and droughts and the burning equator sun, I did could not understand God. He did not work the way I knew Him to work. Here, He is the God that encourages the church to protect young girls from marriage at the age of twelve, He is the God that convicts men to take only one wife, He is the God of the woman with ten children in a mud hut praying for her children to be educated, He is the God that families rely on to provide food and water, He is the God of the persecuted church, He is a big God.

In two weeks I will be back in Kenya, back on the Masai Mara, back to the land where giraffes and zebras freely roam, back where people live in mud-hut-villages and need to defend their cattle from lions, where little children humble me with their faith, and God blows my mind with just how big He is.

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As I basked in the sunshine today I remembered that the same sun shines down on the Kenyan savanna, and the God that I chat with on my walks to church is the same God that a little Masai boy chats with as he herds cattle. And as I stood in that sunshine, I couldn’t contain my excitement for this return adventure. I simply cannot wait to hold those beautiful children whom God loves so much and to sing and dance with them, praising the God that we both know and love.

Thank you God for the sunshine today, that sunshine in 2009, and the sunshine in two weeks.