These days, it seems like nearly everyone is struggling to make ends meat. If you want to eat healthy, that often means paying more at the grocery store. I won't even tell you what my grocery bill is for the month to feed my family with 4 kids, but it's more than my mortgage. Couponing helps and is fun, but honestly when I watch Extreme Couponing, I see a lot of overweight people buying food that is so unhealthy. Yes, it's "free" technically, but in the end it is costing them their health if they eat all that stuff. I'm hoping one day to make it on to the show showing how you can coupon and still eat healthy! :) I do get some free healthy stuff but it's certainly not to that extreme.
Anyways, I know there are a lot of people who would love to start the Feingold Diet or start eating healthier, but just don't have the money. I have been very blessed in that I have not come up against this issue yet. God has always provided for our needs and I feel eating healthy is a real need. I had to laugh when I found an old budget from 10 years ago showing we spent about $350 a month on groceries and household goods. Our costs have skyrocketed since then partly because our family has grown, but I wondered how it was we are able to afford it. I know of a few reasons, but I believe the main reason is because we have sought to put God first in our finances. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you." Meaning, if you put God's work first, he will make sure that you yourself are taken care of. Today at church, the sermon was on just that and I thought I'd share my sermon notes and thoughts.
The first point came from I Chronicles 29:11-12 - God owns it all. "...for everything in heaven and earth is yours...Wealth and honor come from you." God owns everything....EVERYTHING. Nothing is ours. We are only stewards of what God has given us. Don't try to hold on to your money because it's not really yours to begin with. I think of it this way. God is in heaven and we are on earth. If He wants to do something on earth, sometimes he will give us money and then watch us give part of that money to help a person in need that he wants to help. He uses us to accomplish his plans. Personally, I think it's pretty cool to be on a team with God. It's like he's passing us the ball and telling us to shoot it. We get to be the ambassadors of His great plans. Some people might get the ball and want to keep it, saying "No, it's my ball. I earned it. No one's taking it away from me." Bad plan. If you choose to hoard the "ball", not only do you miss out on the joy that comes from working for Christ, but ultimately I believe God will take that ball away from you.
Example from my life - at one point in time, my husband was against giving money to the church. He was not walking with Christ, and had a conversation with someone saying it was his money, and he thought the church was only out for your money. He was asked what he would do if tomorrow he lost his job. He said that wasn't going to happen. Side note - if you are in a marriage where one spouse does not want to tithe (usually the husband, sorry), do you still give? I wrestled with this question, but not for long. I asked a few pastor type people (I e-mailed radio programs), but I didn't like the responses I got. :) So, I looked for the answer in the Bible. While I'm still not conclusive, for me, I believe you should still tithe (give 10%) of your own income, if any. I did have an income, so that is what I did. Reason being, when we get to heaven, we are not going to have to give an account for our spouse. We are going to give an account for ourselves and what we did with our time and money and how we obeyed God and His Word. We are not going to be married when we get to heaven and judged as a couple. The Bible is clear that we are to care for the needs of the poor. It is also clear that we should tithe. It also states in Acts that we should obey God rather than man. If your husband is telling you to not take care of the poor, then he is telling you to do something that goes against what is written in the Bible, and therefore, I don't believe that is an instance where you should practice submission. Just my opinion. Not many people agree with me, though I did find one old man counselor who did. Others said you should be able to give cheerfully. Well, I myself was giving cheerfully. I can't speak for my other half at the time. But, obviously, if you are in this situation, it's something you want to handle with prayer and gentleness.
Anyways, about a month later, my husband did lose his job. We still had two more weeks of pay coming from 1 week of salary and a week's vacation pay so guess what we did? We started tithing. I don't think I even asked my husband. I just did it. He had no other job lined up. As far as I knew, after these last two paychecks, our income would be cut by 2/3. My pastor has a saying - 90% with God, is more than 100% on your own. Meaning, if you choose to give God 10% of your income off the top, you will ultimately be better off than if you choose to keep 100% of your income, and go it alone without God. As my husband did not want to give up 10% of his income, he ended up losing all of it. All glory be to God though, about 3 weeks later, my husband did find a good job, earning close to what he was making before. We have tithed ever since. Lesson learned. :)
The second point came from I Kings 17:1-6 - Partnership with God is the best way out of a drought. This is the story of the widow who gave the last bit of food she had in the house (flour and oil) to be used by God's prophet, Elijah. Even though she had nothing, she gave what she did have and God met her needs. We are to put God first, God's House first (your local church), and God's work first. From this story we learn that if we put God first, he will meet our needs as he did for this widow. She did not die after giving away all that she had left to God. God made her flour and oil never run out until the drought was over in the land. Our economy is not based on farming anymore as it was back then, but I would say that we are in an economical drought. Even if you feel like you have nothing to give, give what you do have and watch God work.
Third point - God invites us to test him with our tithes and offerings. Malachi 3:8-11 I love these verses. "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it." Note - a tithe is 10% off the top (gross, not net), before taxes, before 401k and other deductions. An offering is out of love, not because you have to, but because you want to.
I've heard it said that if everyone who claims to be a Christian in this world gave 10% of their income, there would be no world poverty. Wow. So I guess we should spend more time teaching generosity and the principles of tithing to the saints then sending off jars of peanut butter trying to end world hunger. Not that I'm knocking doing that, but that is a shocking statistic, isn't it?
I have seen in my life over and over how God provides when I have given and put Him first financially. One year, we got a big tax refund and as always, I had decided to give the church 10% of it, but I forgot to do it right away and a couple weeks passed. We had a big credit card bill that month, which we always paid off each month. I realized I had forgotten to write out a check to the church and also realized that I if I did, I wouldn't be able to pay off the credit card bill that month. I didn't know if I should go into debt to tithe, but I knew that I had purposed in my heart to tithe that money, and that we should always put God first. I didn't know how I'd pay off the credit card bill that month, but wanted to be faithful and obedient to God, so I decided to give the money to the church as I had planned. Within seconds, my phone rang. It was my mom. She said the company had done well that quarter and they decided to give out bonuses. My bonus was going to be twice the amount of the money I had just decided to give to the church. :) Of course, you know what I did with 10% of that bonus.
Teach your kids to tithe too. You'll be doing them a favor. I went to a Christian grade school, and in 7th grade, I had a teacher who encouraged us to sponsor a child through Compassion. Me, and 3 of my friends decided to sponsor a child for $21 a month. After the school year, I continued to sponor the girl on my own. We were both 12 years old. I continued to sponsor her till she was 20, and have since sponsored several other children continuously to this day. The first girl I sponsored recently e-mailed me on Facebook and it was really neat to talk to her again 15 years later.
I don't remember any time in my life where I have not had my needs or wants met. God has always provided and I am thankful that I learned at a young age the importance of honoring God with my money and tithing.
My son's teacher encouraged his class to go on World Vision's web site and purchase an item such as a chicken, etc. to be given to a child or family in an impoverished country. He decided to buy a goat. We were looking online and told my younger son who is 5, that his brother was buying a goat. We must have forgotten to explain why to him, or else he wasn't listening, because a few minutes later, he says, "Oh yeah, Cody - just make sure you don't let your goat in my room.":)
If you are not a Christ-follower, I still believe that you will be blessed for giving to the poor and to God's work. The Bible doesn't say that only if you are a believer you will be blessed. Proverbs 22:9 says, "A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor." And if you are poor yourself, I think you can still give. The poor widow gave all that she had left and God blessed her and took care of her needs.
You can also give of your time and material possessions. If you have old clothes that your kids have grown out of, consider giving them away to someone in need. I like to hold on to things, just in case I need them again some day. My brother would call me a pack rat. I did finally get rid of a lot of my baby stuff, thinking I was not going to have any more. Of course, wouldn't you know it, I got pregnant just a few months later. I was kind of bummed at first, because I had just gotten rid of all that stuff that I now needed. But, someone else really needed them at the time. I gave our crib to a local crisis pregnancy center. But, the cool thing that happened is that I got to get all new baby stuff, which was kind of fun, and I never would have been able to, if I had kept all my old stuff. Most of it was gifted to us too. Plus, we bought a new house, which was a model home, and after we bought the house, found out we got to keep all the furniture and decorations in the house. This meant my older daughter had a bed here, so we could use her bed for a crib. It was a convertible bed that used to be her crib.
Also, I love Freecycle. Google a freecycle yahoo group in your town. You can post things you want to give away, or you can try to claim something that someone else is giving away that you need.
I believe God wants us to give our tithes to our local church that we belong to, but if you are a Christ-follower and for whatever reason are not attending a church, I think giving to a Christian organization is OK. When I was not attending church several years ago, I used to give to a non-profit Christian organization that I was volunteering for called Children With Hope and Destiny (CHAD). If you are looking for a trustworthy authentic non-profit to give to this holiday season, this is a great one. I handled all of their donations here in the U.S. and maintained correspondence with sponsors for 10 years. They are a young Christian couple who started a non-profit in Malawi, Africa where they live. They adopted 25 orphans off the streets and are raising them as their own children. They also have 4 of their own biological children. They also do many other outreach services for the poor in their country, which is basically everyone. They are sustained mostly by individual contributions from sponsors here in the U.S. and other countries. They are raising these kids to love God first and foremost, and to be responsible citizens in their country, who will hopefully one day, rise up and change the face of Malawi.
Anyways, whenever I hear of someone having serious financial trouble, the advise I want to scream (but I never have) is: GIVE! God's Word says that if we put God's house first (the church), that God will open up the gates of heaven and pour down blessings. Have faith and believe God for His word. He never lies. His blessings won't always come in finances, though sometimes it does. It may come in the form of answered prayers, or other blessings. But God promises blessings when we obey His word. So, what are you waiting for? :)