It's about love and obedience, not prosperity, tithers say

WOODSTOCK, Ga. (BP)--They have suffered such financial setbacks as bankruptcy, car repossession, staggering credit card bills and scratching for cash to buy their next meal.

However, since they started tithing, half a dozen Christians told Baptist Press they have more than enough money to provide for their needs. And, they feel they are making positive contributions to God's work in the world.

"It's not what the prosperity teachers teach," said Raquel Perez of Elizabeth, N.J. "Give because it's an indicator of your heart toward the Lord. What you love you put your money into, whether it's your house, car, or whatever. Give because He is worthy. We're not to serve God for what we can get out of Him."

Kevin Maude of Woodstock, Ga., who started tithing immediately after his conversion in 1999 despite $15,000 in debt, agreed.

"The blessings aren't all monetary," Maude said. "I'm talking about friends, family and the way your kids are growing up. Just to know that if you leave it in God's hands and let it work His way, it will -- that's what we've learned. That's the key."

Andrew Stull, a 25-year-old environmental health specialist from Lawrence, Kan., felt led to start tithing two years ago when he heard the late financial counselor Larry Burkett mention Luke 16:10: "Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much."

Often broke in college, after finding fulltime employment Stull wondered why he didn't have more money left at the end of the month. Then he started tithing and saw a huge difference.

"It's strange -- after a month or two I didn't notice it because I always had plenty of money to go around," said Stull, a member of First Southern Baptist Church in Lawrence. "And I was able to build my savings back up."

CONVINCED IN ORLANDO

Two members of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Fla., say they saw how God provided for their needs in often-miraculous ways.

Diane Graves had seen her family's debts mount to $25,000. So after the women who led her to Christ in 1980 told her she needed to tithe, Graves protested that she simply didn't have the money.

"You have God's money; you just don't have bill money," the woman replied. "You're supposed to give God 10 percent of your earnings."

After promising she would when things improved, Diane sensed the Holy Spirit saying, "If you can't trust me when things are hard, you'll steal from Me when times are good."

Initially, her giving was sporadic. When she failed to tithe mishaps occurred -- the car broke down, her children got sick or the family ran short on food. Finally, Graves said, "Okay, God, I'll give you your money."

After that, the Orlando hairdresser secured a new client who gave her $100 a week regardless of how simple a service she performed.

However, still struggling to make ends meet, the family later faced foreclosure on their home. Two weeks before that was to happen, a woman in Graves' Bible study group offered her $5,000, money the friend had made on some investments. Her only condition: Anonymity.

"That was the beginning of the miracles I saw with tithing," Graves said.

Although he became a Christian in 1983, Jim Alafat didn't "walk the walk" until after he moved to Orlando in 1997. Still, it took another 18 months before he started tithing.

Initially, he donated money to a Christian radio station, until an announcer mentioned gifts should only be made after donors tithed to their church.

Still, Alafat struggled with the concept until reading Malachi 3:10, "'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 throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.'"

Since then, Alafat has paid off more than $10,000 in debt, found a job that pays far more than any previous position, and gotten married.

Last year, he and his wife were able to buy a home and have set a goal of paying it off in seven years.

God also revealed to him that prosperity doesn't refer to earthly riches, but in wise stewardship that ultimately stores up blessings in heaven.

"Once you start giving, it's like saving," said Alafat, a mortgage broker. "You realize you can live without it and that it's going to help people. It brings joy to your heart."

FIRST-TIME HOMEOWNERS

Two members of First Baptist Church in Woodstock, Ga., have moved into their own homes after they started tithing four years ago.

When Kevin Maude and his wife, Teri, arrived in the Atlanta suburb in the summer of 1999, they had $11 in their pocket and $15,000 of debt after filing for bankruptcy in 1997.

The Maudes moved from Seattle when Kevin's brother asked for help with his growing airport shuttle service. Kevin also accepted Christ as his Savior at First Baptist right after they arrived.

When his brother told him tithing was one practice Christians should follow, Kevin replied, "I want to do it."

At the time, Teri hadn't started her home-based business, so they relied on one income. But extra money started materializing. The Maudes received money from an old insurance claim, sales commissions from a former job, and other sources.

They were also able to buy their first home with a loan from the Veterans Administration.

Today, they have established a retirement plan through Kevin's job, a savings account and a strong belief in tithing.

"God blessed us at our time of need," Kevin said. "Looking back, we see He was blessing us for being obedient. Now our goal is to be givers and bless others."

Sheri and Rodney Stewart also purchased their first home last year after 19 years of marriage.

When they moved to Georgia five years ago, they brought along $10,000 of credit card debt. Rodney had paid off his car loan by cashing in a 401-K when they left North Carolina.

Although they had been Christians for more than 20 years, Sheri said they struggled financially because they didn't have any plan for what to do with their money.

"We came to the end of ourselves; we were desperate," Sheri said of their decision to seek financial counseling at First Baptist Woodstock. "We knew not to [file for] bankruptcy, but we could see why people do."

After counseling, they agreed to tithe. Two Scriptures that were especially meaningful were Jeremiah 29:11, which talks about God's plan to bless His children; and Lamentations 3:22-23, which discuss God's mercies being new every day.

Since they began faithful giving, the couple has always had enough money. Sheri resisted a suggestion that she return to her occupation as a teacher, which would prevent her from home schooling their two children.

However, she did secure a part-time child care position that helps with their bills.

"We've never struggled because of tithing," Sheri said. "When we weren't, we were struggling to put food on the table and we never had enough money. It was like sand in our hands. If you don't tithe, you're missing out on all that God has for you."

A QUESTION OF OBEDIENCE

For New Jersey's Raquel Perez, tithing is the key that enabled her to get out of debt two years after she started.

Once stressed out by the flock of creditors who hounded her, after she started giving to her church the largest one called and offered to write off half the debt.

After settling that bill, another creditor called with the same offer. Eventually, she paid everyone and began planning for her wedding in May of this year. She and her new husband paid for the costs in cash.

For her, tithing is a matter of obedience.

"I didn't want to (tithe)," said Perez, who owed more on her car than it was worth when she lost it to creditors three years ago. "I had so many bills I couldn't make ends meet. But when I began to be obedient, the creditors stopped calling."

In Orlando, Diane Graves thinks many Christians don't understand that tithing is a form of worship.

The tithe belongs to God -- not because He needs it, but because she needs to be obedient and allow the Lord to teach her how to live on His economy, Graves said.

"It's not only freedom financially, it's freedom inside," she said. "When you're not being obedient to the Lord in giving, there's a tendency to be in bondage to everything. When you're obedient, you can relax and allow Him to take care of you."


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