I tithe. I have for over twelve years.

I’m not trying to show off — it’s not a big deal, but it took me a while to figure that out. I was Treasurer of my church for a while. The experience was humbling — after seeing how much others were giving to the church, and comparing that with their lifestyles, I realized that “just tithing” made me “just average”.

Some would argue that asking a church if it needs money is like asking a dog if it is hungry — the answer is always “yes”. And they’re probably right — but this is not about the church. And even though the church could single-handedly solve most of society’s problems if all of its members “just” tithed, it is not about tithing, either. It is about generosity.

For me, tithing is a statement of priority — and a direct challenge to God to use the remaining 90% to meet our needs like he promised he would. He has yet to disappoint me.

Some of you don’t tithe, or don’t want to — I get that. Find another way to be generous. Sponsor a child in a poor country. Find a local or national charity that aligns with your values. Do something constructive with your money other than spending it all on yourself — for generosity is the antidote to greed. And greed turns good people into self-absorbed clots of bitterness.

We live in a society that preaches discontentment. We are told that to be successful we have to dress a certain way, drive a nice car, live in a fashionable part of town and make lots of money. And so we spend money we don’t have to buy things we don’t need to impress people who don’t care. And there is a multi-billion-dollar business dedicated to perpetuating the system by parting us from our money — or worse, getting us to sell ourselves us into financial slavery. Strong words, but what would you call it when someone hates their job?

Fortunately I am not from around here, and when we showed up here we bought some fairly old-school ideas with us. Don’t buy anything on impulse. Learn to tell yourself “no”. Save up for big purchases. Buy used rather than new where possible. And never go into debt for stuff that goes down in value.

But you don’t have to go far to find an excuse to not be generous. Too much debt. Too many payments. Too much month left at the end of the money. But in the end it is usually because we are trying to live beyond our means rather than within them. If you are already there, perhaps it is time to amputate something. If you can afford beer/cigarettes/lottery tickets/cellphone/cable TV/iPad/PS3/DS3/Xbox/etc, don’t talk to me about “the downtrodden 99%” and how hard life is.

While some folks are genuinely suffering, a great many “victims” are reaping what they sowed — like the young couple who bought a big expensive house they could barely afford… and then she got pregnant. Or the young dude who signed up for payments on a shiny new sports car… and then lost his job when his employer downsized. Or the man who gambled his house to expand his business with borrowed money… and lost. All sad stories, mostly self-inflicted, usually preventable. No savings, no emergency reserves, no “what-if?” thinking, no contingency planning. Blue-sky thinking that denied the existence of a rainy day.

As for us, we have no debt besides our house. Two paid-for cars, ten and nineteen years old. A simple, risk-averse lifestyle. Our biggest expense is food — good food is expensive, but it is better to pay the grocer now than the doctor later. All on one slightly-higher-than-average salary. There are plenty of two-income families who make more than I, but we live well enough on one. A friend raised six children on one salary. If you believe the talking heads on TV, this should not be possible.

The way I see it, the problem is not a lack of money, it is a lack of focus. Bad things happen when you are not paying attention — things like missed payments, late fees, interest, accidental overdrafts. Money fights and money problems cause more divorces than infidelity.

I am incredibly fortunate to have a wife who isn’t fighting for control. We plan out our finances, discuss needs, make plans and agree on the priorities. Neither spends without checking in with the other. And sometimes we tell each other “no”.

Tithes, food, utilities, mortgage, transportation, savings, generosity. Those are our priorities. Show me your bank statement and I’ll show you yours.

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