I set forth several conditions about where I would live when I retired, one of which was that I would live at least one mile from any church. Like most of the other conditions, this primary one was not met. By a fortuitous arrangement with the congregation I last served, I live immediately across the street from the church – so near, in fact, that on a sunny morning the shadow of the steeple falls across my front lawn. None of the problems anticipated about living so near the church have materialized; but there is one unanticipated problem.
In order for you to understand that problem you would have to know that my lovely wife, Hilda, has always been the treasurer and bookkeeper in our household. She is, and always has been, the soul of frugality, which is a fortunate characteristic for a clergy family. Her insistence on frugality tends to extend to any institution we support, the main one of which is the church whose steeple shadow falls across our front lawn. From the front windows of our house you can see some window in most of the whole church plant. Hilda cannot stand to see a light on where light is not necessary. I can handle that in our house, but First Methodist Church is a big building and people sometimes fail to turn off the lights when they leave. Guess who gets nominated to get dressed and go across the street to turn off those lights. Moi!! Hilda insists that God’s money should not be wasted. (Finance Committee, you may write a note of appreciation at your leisure; and by the way, send one also to me.) My experience here puts me in mind of a story.
One Monday morning a pastor in Texas answered the knock on his study door to find the church treasurer standing there with a check in his hand. He said: "Pastor, we have a little problem here; this is a check for five hundred dollars." The pastor opined that he could live with a few more problems like that. The treasurer said: "No, you don’t understand! Look at the check." The pastor took the check and read across the top line: Pay to the Order of God. When the pastor raised his eyes, the treasurer asked: "Now, who is going to endorse that?" According to the legend, the pastor handed the check back and answered: "You are! I certainly would not want it to get out that this church received an offering intended for God and didn’t know what to do with it!"
Before he retired as pastor of Hennepin Avenue United Methodist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota several years ago, Dr. Rodney Wilmoth told of being at the church one Saturday morning. When the telephone rang he picked it up and said, "Hello" without identifying himself or the church. The voice on the other end of the line said: "I would like to order five pounds of barbecued ribs and five pounds of potato salad." Dr. Wilmoth said: "I believe you have the wrong number." The lady said: "You don’t have ribs and potato salad?" "No," said Dr. Wilmoth, "You have the wrong number." Then the woman said: "Well, what kind of business are you in?" Dr. Wilmoth said that question haunted him for a long time.
When you give your money to the church there are three things you should understand. First, it is no longer your money. It is now God’s money. The second thing you should understand is that it should be spent, not hoarded. The church is not First National Bank! The third thing is that it should be spent with great care. After all, it is God’s money!
OK, I’ll get dressed and go across the street and turn off the lights!! I not only feel responsible to God, I also have to live with the lady at my house who writes the check for our tithe on the first Sunday of every month!
AN ENCOURAGING WORD for September 20, 2007 - written by Dr. Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church