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Joel BelzVoices Joel Belz

An unexpected opportunity

Rediscovering the spirit of generosity

An unexpected opportunity

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I’m so embarrassed. It was a basic principle of Christian stewardship—and I almost missed it! And as I’ve checked around, I sense others may be missing it as well.

To make the point, I have to tell you candidly that I’m a few years older than my wife, Carol. Which means that I became eligible for Social Security benefits a few years before she did.

And I also need to tell you that Carol and I believe in tithing. For us, that has always been a happy assumption—and never a legalistic sort of obligation. It has always been a joyful guideline by which we can resist the temptation to spend too much on ourselves and invest instead in various facets of God’s kingdom.

Indeed, both of our parents modeled that commitment for us in their own quiet way. I remember Dad telling us kids, when he and Mom upped their giving to 20 percent of their income (which at the time was only $200 monthly), that such giving to the church and other causes was the best part of their financial planning. “You can’t out-give God,” Dad said repeatedly—and never with a sense of legalistic obligation.

‘You can’t out-give God,’ Dad said repeatedly—and never with a sense of legalistic obligation.

So here’s the scenario. About a decade ago, when I could still pretend that I was a very young man(!), I made arrangements to begin drawing on Social Security. It was a sort of wonderland experience, because through my entire life, I’d been barraged with warnings that such a day would never come. Social Security is a phony program, I was told. You’ll never draw a penny of the benefits you’ve been promised.

But I did. And through the wonders of direct deposit, not once in all those years did the good folks at the Social Security Administration go back on their promises. Don’t get me wrong. I still believe Social Security has deep flaws in its long-range plans, and those long-range plans are getting closer every day. But that’s another story.

For now, I return to the surprise my wife Carol had waiting for me—however inadvertently—a couple of years after she started claiming her Social Security benefits. It was during one of those casual evening sessions we used to call “Family Finance,” where we sought to keep up with each other’s financial activities and assumptions.

“You mean,” I asked with embarrassing surprise, “that you tithe on your Social Security payments?”

“Of course,” she answered, but more politely than it sounds. “It’s income, isn’t it?”

She was so right, and at first I couldn’t believe I was the one who was missing out. I checked around with some of my trusted friends. Probably two-thirds of them agreed with Carol. But the other third was as startled as I was. Almost none, however, had given serious thought to the matter. Several folks noted that it made a difference whether someone had tithed his or her gross income, rather than the net. That reminded me of another of my dad’s rejoinders: Do you want a gross blessing or a net blessing?

Carol’s reminder prompted me to think what joy we could bring somewhere by paying our “back taxes” to the Lord’s work—never as an obligation, but always as an opportunity. And I couldn’t help thinking: What if a third of all WORLD’s readers and listeners were like me, blithely stockpiling as my own the resources I had, in principle, intended to give away? What if a third of all WORLD’s readers had missed the delight of calling Social Security part of their tithable income?

It reminded me of another of Dad’s stewardship maxims: “Don’t pray on your pocket.” Is there some aspect of God’s kingdom work you’ve been praying for? It’s OK to pray—but if the funds you’ve been praying for are in your pocket, don’t ignore the nudge to keep praying and start giving.

This particular column isn’t about our needs and your opportunities for giving here at WORLD News Group. I expect to focus on those matters in the next issue’s column. For now, as I’ve suggested here before, I urge you to pick just two or three charitable causes you think are doing exceptional work. Then support them this year-end with gusto—as if you had just learned a brand new lesson about giving. If you have to tithe your Social Security payments to do that, consider yourself blessed.


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  •  Peter Allen's picture
    Peter Allen
    Posted: Fri, 01/26/2018 10:58 pm

    I would agree with the opinion that it can depend on if you tithed on gross or net through your working years.  Those who tithe on "net" still enjoyed the benifits of roads, government services, etc. in addition to future medicare, and social security.  Social security being only a part of what they did not yet tithe on.  And if you tithed on "gross" perhaps you should consider the return on retirement investments as income, and give even if only on the gain.  Yet not be legalistic about it all and in every case give joyfully.