I have two traumatic memories from my childhood that have heavily influenced the way I look at offering.
Using Offering Money for Personal Ice cream Gluttony
I grew up in Koreatown, Los Angeles and attended the Korean Central UMC of LA. Every Sunday morning, the neighborhood ice cream truck magically appeared outside the steps to our church right after Sunday School was finished. It was like the ice cream truck man just knew.
My parents have always been generous to me so each Sunday, in addition to my $1 for the offering basket, they would also give me a quarter to buy an ice cream after service (yes, every ice cream on the menu was 25 cents). One Sunday, it dawned on my pea-sized intellect that if I forego offering time, I’d have enough cash to buy not one, not two, but FIVE ice creams. Moreover, I could become Mr. Popular and buy ice creams for my friends, maybe even cute girls. I was the Gordon Gekko of ice cream.
Alas, mothers always have a sixth sense when it comes to their children’s disobedient ways.
One Sunday during offering time, I again passed the basket without putting my offering in, pulling it off with another feigned “oops, I think I left my offering in the car” look of stupidity on my face (coupled with the obligatory patting down of my pockets with mock urgency) – and soon after, I found myself at the front of the line, ready to spend my hard-earned $1.25. my life motto might as well have been seek ye first the ice creamdom of god.
Lo and behold, while trying to get my grubby little hands around my frozen cavity sticks (see pic below for illustration) I heard a distinct, “상신 아!!” Momma Nam wanted my attention. While only my name was mentioned, everyone who grew up with Korean parents knew that my mom really meant to say, “imma kill you when you get home.” I got a well-deserved butt-whuppin later that evening. I never misused my offering money after that day – even long after my mom stopped giving me $1 for Sunday offering.
are you ready for K-town’s Most Wanted, circa 1981?
God wants your heart, not just your $1
Years later, I learned another powerful truth about offering, and again the setting was Sunday School and the object for this lesson was the ubiquitous $1 bill. My Sunday School teacher at the time was the current Rev. Jonathan Park, a man I consider a dear friend and great mentor. One Sunday, Jonathan tried to teach us the value of giving God our hearts. He told us, “Everyone puts in a dollar because that’s what your parents give to you before you come to church on Sundays. But guys, God wants more than just a $1 bill that you didn’t work for. God wants your heart of obedience & even if all you truly possess is 1 penny, God would be more pleased with your sacrifice of 1 cent over that measly dollar.”
Being the smart-aleck 5th grader that I was, I chose to internalize only what I wanted to hear – God only wants 1 cent and not 1 dollar? The next Sunday, i put in a penny and kept my dollar. Perhaps I thought somebody would laugh. Maybe others would follow suit. Nobody laughed and (thankfully) nobody followed my asinine behavior. That was the last time I ever left a penny inside the offering plate.
Is there an upgrade available from the current “$1 bill” model of offering?
When it comes to offering and Christian worship, young people who grow up in the Korean immigrant church are by and large ignorant. We are, for the most part, inconsistent and irregular givers and we often lack any disciplined method of setting apart God’s “sacred portion.” This phrase is taken from Deuteronomy 26:13 and what should surprise us about this teaching of tithing is that this tithe is a special tithe to be given every three years in addition to the regular tithe that God’s people were expected to regularly give. This special tithe was reserved for the Levites, the alien, fatherless and widowed – essentially the people in society who had no income or means of support. Social welfare done through obedience to God is regarded as sacred because God declares it so. Let us never forget that.
For some, firstfruits still mean firsfruits.
Still, there must be a better way to teach our children and youth about the joys of sacrificial giving. Recently, I found this envelope laid aside after one of our youth worship services:
i know the young lady who wrote this. it took me about 15 minutes to figure out how to blot out her name (a photoshop scholar i am not). finding this envelope was a holy moment for me. tears of conviction and gratitude welled up in my eyes as i thought of student LEE (by the way, she checks the “tithe” box but that is inaccurate; student LEE gave 100%, not 10%, of her first fruits). i am grateful for this young woman’s parents and their insistence on teaching their daughter the value of giving our firstfruits to the Lord. i also affirm her first bullet point – she wants more money. =) thatta girl. you go, girl. ask yo daddy for mo money.
may this type of sacrificial giving – not only of our money but our affections, time and yes, even ourselves – become the normative experience for Christ’s disciples today.