Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Deciding What To Give

It's Christmas season and with all the talk of spending flying around we thought it would be great to talk more about finances and giving/tithing in particular.

For many couples deciding what and how to give is difficult, especially in the midst of a struggling economy. This issue is also affected by the different family backgrounds of you and your spouse. It can be quite frustrating when the two of you have different opinions about giving.

What makes this conversation a thousand times more difficult is that there are varied interpretations of what Biblical giving should look like. Even on our last blog post about building a budget, two of the comments were specifically about this issue and what the Bible calls the tithe.

The basic understanding of the tithe comes out of the Jewish Scriptures and is understood as giving 10% of your income to the church. After this basic explination though, there are still many questions:
  • Does the 10% apply to our income before or after taxes? 
  • Do you have to give the 10% to a local church or can you give it to a mission agency or non-profit organization? 
  • What about if you are struggling financially, can you give less than 10%? 
  • What about people who are extremely wealthy and 10% is like pocket change to them? Are they obligated to give more? 
  • What do you do if you want to “obey the Bible” and give 10% of your income but your spouse doesn’t agree with your theological understanding about giving and isn’t comfortable giving that much? 
  • What about gifts, bonuses or other unexpected checks? Do you have to tithe on those too? 
Perhaps some of these questions have come up in your marriage or relationship and the resulting disagreements have really taken the joy out of giving. How do you decide where to start and what is the right amount for your family to give?

1) As you guys start conversations about giving don’t begin with the tithe debate. Getting caught up in a conversation (or argument) about “10%”  actually misses two very important aspects of giving that supersede the conversation about a specific amount.

First, ask why the two of you should give in the first place. Sadly, it seems more and more people are choosing not to give. Barna Group, a Christian research organization, has reported fairly consistently over the last few years that giving is on the decline. (See their most recent stats here). In our opinion, failure to give anything as a Christian in many cases points to a spiritual immaturity that really does as much harm to ourselves as it does to the people who we are neglecting to help.

The whole reason it is even possible to have a relationship with God is because God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit gave. As Christ’s followers, we are called to follow in His footsteps. Jesus’ disciples completely understood this as they started the church in the book of Acts. Read through the first few chapters and see how many references there are to the early Christians giving, sharing and helping others out. Think about James 1:27, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress.” The only way we do carry this out is by giving!

Second, the other thing we need to keep in mind is that God doesn’t want 10% of our finances; He wants 100%. The money that we are blessed with is a gift from God – along with the gifts, skills and talents He has given each of us to earn said finances. We have the responsibility to be good stewards with all – not just 10% - of what God has given us. Consider the widow that Jesus affirms in Luke 21:1-4 who gave “all she had to live on.” As you discuss giving, the conversation must be broadened to not just focus on how much God wants us to give but instead to ask the question, “How does God want us to spend every dime we make?”

2) With those two big issues in mind, it is now appropriate to start talking specific amounts. When it comes to this we don’t think there is a “correct” answer or percentage but instead echo Paul’s words to the church in Corinth:

Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)

A couple of points about this passage:

First, giving in this passage isn’t about meeting any particular percentage. It’s about the heart and the motives of the giver. Spend time talking, praying, searching Scripture and reading books about how you and your spouse should use your income, including giving, make a decision and just go for it. Giving 10% is a fantastic benchmark to aim for but don’t get legalistic about it nor use it as a reason to not give more because “you’re giving the amount God wants.”

Second, regularly challenge yourselves to give more. We try to evaluate what we give every 6 to 12 months. We also challenge ourselves with this whenever we get an extra freelance job, gift or bonus. Compared to the rest of the world, those of us who live in the West are very well off and we have more to spare than we often admit. (For specifics, check this calculator out: http://www.givingwhatwecan.org/resources/how-rich-you-are.php.)

We have found that this passage definitely rings true and the more we give, the more we reap! This isn’t always a return in a dollar amount but in the joy of loving other people, growing in our faith and a shift in our priorities from our stuff and ourselves to God and others.

-Jake

The Money Series:
Part 1: Starting the Money Conversation
Part 2: Building a Budget
Part 3: Deciding What to Give (you're reading it)
Part 4: Do We Really Need That?
Part 5: Cutting Corners: Tips for Tight Budgets

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ear Plugs: A Lesson In Forbearance

"Since God chose you to be the holy people He loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other's faults and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others." Colossians 3:12-13 NLT

There is a man living in the apartment complex across from our house who gets on my very last nerve. Every day, sometimes twice a day if I'm lucky, he takes his massive Rottweiler on an achingly slow walk by our property. Not only do I find large mounds of dog droppings in front of our mailbox on a daily basis, but without fail this man spends the entire walk yelling at the top of his lungs into a cell phone.

The yelling is in Spanish, so it helps that I don't know exactly what he's saying. But, in addition to the ear-splitting volume, his voice has the highest pitch I've ever encountered in a male human being. It's like a munchkin from Oz. A ten year-old girl munchkin.

And he has bright blond hair. For some odd reason this offends me the most.

Literally everything about this fellow and his walks makes me want to tear my eyes out. I can not fathom why he needs to yell so loudly and why this must be done in front of my house for fifteen minutes every day. I'll admit one time (it was dark) I lost my cool and shouted, "Shut up!" out the window. It was not my best moment, nor did it bother him in the least. He continues to walk-shout with carefree abandon.

Yesterday, as I was seething in frustration about his lack of respect for people with ears, I felt God whisper to me the above verse from Colossians. It convicted my heart. (I must note though, our God is a God of whispers. He understands appropriate noise levels and I love Him for it.)

How many times do I let the annoying things other people do eat away at my mind, heart, and patience when God is calling me to bear with them? It's just not worth it to let my decibel-y challenged neighbor get to me the way he does. In the whole scheme of things does it truly matter if he yells? I need to let him yell and let it go.

This is harder to accomplish in my marriage, this bearing with one another and allowing for each other's faults. My husband's faults offend and hurt me on a very deep level. My instincts tell me to latch onto every failing and allow resentment and hurt to fester unchecked. It can be satisfying to give into this predisposition, but ultimately it creates bitterness and division.

I'm not suggesting husbands and wives forgo accountability or avoid conflict, but I know my marriage would be more peaceful, loving, and supportive if we both were more adept at bearing with and forgiving one another.

Voltaire says, "We are all full of weakness and errors; let us mutually pardon each other our follies."

I am convicted of my need to mature in the area of forbearance with Christ's help and guidance. With both small annoyances and more serious offenses, I should be trying harder to let things go.

I also need to stick in some ear plugs.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Submissive Wife?

Yesterday I came across the following article on a web-site called Start Marriage Right : 

http://www.startmarriageright.com/2011/11/helping-your-husband-lead-well/

I thought it was interesting. I'm not sure where I stand as a woman on the whole submissive wife thing. It seems to me that many Christian men abuse this concept to be controlling and sometimes abusive.

The author did make some great points though.  I agreed with her conclusion that many women expect their husbands to fulfill all emotional needs. Which as I have learned, does not a good marriage make. Our deep emotional needs should first and foremost be brought to the Lord. He is the only one who can truly understand, shoulder, and heal our hearts. He fills the empty parts of us, not our men.

I liked the verse she used to talk about a wife's behavior - 1 Peter 3:1 "Likewise, wives be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives."  But I would add 1 Peter 3:2 which finishes the sentence, "...when they see your respectful and pure conduct." This verse seems to me to be talking about a specific situation, rather than a blanket statement about submission. It's addressing a wife whose husband is an un-believer and telling her that by her conduct and respectful treatment of him, she will be demonstrating the love of Christ most effectively and clearly. 

The passage most often referenced in relation to submission is:

Ephesians 5:22-33
New International Version (NIV)

"22 Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

"25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband."

So often we focus on the first part of the passage where it could sound offensive in today's culture. But the passage as a whole addresses the conduct of BOTH the husband and wife. That is key. I think that there will probably always be a debate as to exactly what "submit" means in the everyday life of a modern marriage, but the overall point of the passage is (to me) that husbands and wives are to be mutually submissive to each other; just in different ways.

Wives who act and speak respectfully to their husbands communicate that they love them. Respect is very often the love language of men.

Husbands who act loving and speak loving words to their wives communicate their care. This is how women receive love.

I honestly don't agree with everything mentioned in the article. Do I think the Bible tells women that they should just be quiet, stop crying, and listen to their men tell them where to go? Probably not. That probably wasn't the best story/illustration to use. And her article did have a tone that women should always be "behind" their men, which I don't love. Women have wisdom, leadership skills, and are out in the world doing great things. Perhaps the author was suggesting that wives should be supportive of their husbands?

To me the submissive wife thing should be how women can respect, support their husbands, listen to their opinions and help the family and marriage succeed. The passage in Ephesians should be taken as a whole I think. We husbands and wives should take from it that Christ desires good, loving, and mutually submissive behavior from us both. Men and women are different. We experience love differently and so the Bible gives gender based guides for how to best treat one's spouse. The fact that Ephesians lumps the expectations together for me is a big deal. Marriage is to be done as a team. We work together, sacrifice for one another, and submit to the needs of the other person. We're different, but equal.

We'd love to hear your thoughts on this topic of submission and we hope that it opens up a respectful dialogue either here or at home. Many people disagree about this topic, so it's important to talk about it in a manner that is considerate and kind, no matter how strong our opinions are.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Holiday Plans

A couple of weeks ago, the hubs and I were couch surfing when he casually asked what I wanted to do for Thanksgiving and Christmas. I answered that I thought we could do Thanksgiving in Maryland with my family and Christmas with his in Massachusetts. We hashed out some details about driving and dates, but they were hashed in a very amicable manner. It took about five minutes when everything was all said and done.

We continued to read and chill on the couch in a satisfied manner. Then Jake looked at me and said, "Did that really just happen? Did we decide about holiday plans in under ten minutes with no arguing, yelling, or tears??!!!"

It was a total fluke. Probably will never happen again.

Holidays are so tricky. I feel like most couples end up arguing about something. The problem with holidays is that they are so entangled with emotion and there are often many people and families involved.

This time of year really can test a marriage. That's why it's important to reflect on what being a team means. You and your spouse are a team. You're there to support and care for one another. Family traditions are most often tied to deep sentiment and we're all individually responsible to make sure that traditions which are meaningful to our spouse are affirmed and validated.

This doesn't mean that every tradition must be observed or that every extended family member must be placated. It means that we should try to suppress the deep, gravelly demon-possessed voice inside that wants to demand, "We always eat ham on Christmas and this is the way it must be done!" Instead, we should do the infinitely harder thing and work towards loving compromises. Everyone's feelings about the holidays are valuable. How can you as a couple support each other and make your respective families reasonably happy? That should be the goal. Not to win or to out-rank each other.

As I said before, this year was a total fluke. It's really not an easy thing to do at all, this holiday planning. And it morphs a bit each year as people, circumstances, and families change. I think the best we can all hope for is to get a little better a loving our spouse each holiday season and working on our compromising skills ad nauseum!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Sex and Rogue Boogers

One night last week, Jake and I were....well...you know, "In the mood."

My husband is a very handsome man, but he has this ginormous German nose. It's a schnoz and a half. I have a large nose too, but his I think his beats mine in both width and girth. This nose can be tricky to navigate around when kissing and we've dealt with multiple instances of eye gouging.  It is a force to be reckoned with.

So there we were working towards having a wonderfully sex-filled evening and his nose kept squishing violently against mine when we kissed.

After a couple minutes of this, I had to stop. Number one, a girl has to breathe. Number two, Jake's nose had squished all the boogers in my left nostril into one giant booger clump and something needed to be done about it. I didn't want to get up and break the sexy mood of the moment, so what did I chose to do? (I know you're all going, "No! Don't do it Melissa!")

Yep, I picked my nose. But wait, this booger clump was not so easily giving up it's cherished home. No, it had decided to go rogue. So there I sat, trying to still be sexy while fishing around inside my nose like a three year old for this stubborn and elusive booger. 

Finally, the rogue booger clump was located and dispensed with, but I could not stop laughing. I'm not really a giggling kind of woman, but giggle uncontrollably I did.

Why am I sharing this graphic and slightly disturbing story? Well, because it's funny and also because the point is that after the booger was dealt with and we stopped laughing, we went on to finish our sexy evening. What prepares you for sex and rogue boogers? Nothing! What we see and hear about all the time is that sex is this seamless, confident and arousing experience. Sometimes it is. But many times, it's not. It's awkward and silly and fun and messy and real.

Sometimes marriage is all about these ridiculous moments we find ourselves sharing with our spouses. It's special to be able to laugh and be total dorks with one another. And if Jake and I can do anything to help dispel some of the fantastical hype about what sex should be, well then I humbly submit the rogue booger incident as proof that sex is not always that glamourous. But it sure is fun!
Our goal of this blog is to share stories (both good and bad), thoughts and insights about our marriage and we would love for you to jump into the conversation.

The goal is to provide three things:
1) HOPE for struggling couples that they are not alone.
2) GROWTH in our marriages and our understanding of marriage.
3) ENCOURAGEMENT to keep loving your spouse unconditionally.