Let Justice Roll Down

Amos 5

By Chuck Griffin

The wisdom in Amos, much of which is about justice, has helped me to better understand tithing and other offerings, including our offerings of time.

Amos is famous for one verse in particular. The prophet says in chapter 5 that God no longer wants what the Jews would have considered “traditional worship,” music and animal sacrifices. Instead, he says, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24).

In other words, the mark of a people truly in love with God is that justice is done in mighty and wonderful ways in their community. From that, we are left to ask, “What is justice?”

Scripture gives us a rich, clear answer. In fact, the answer is at the very core of Jesus’ message in the New Testament.

Just as Amos talks about a coming time of judgment, Jesus talks about judgment, too, and he tells us in Matthew 25 that our fate at the judgment will depend on whether we’ve brought justice into the world.

For Jesus, justice is a straightforward thing. It happens when those who have resources help those who aren’t so fortunate. The hungry need food, the thirsty need drink, strangers need welcoming, the poor need clothing, the sick need care, and the prisoners need visiting.

Help them, he says, and it is as if you did it for Jesus.

That brings me to tithes and offerings. Too often, we’re so caught up in operating budgets and building needs that we forget the primary reason we exist as a church. We are to inject God’s justice into a broken world.

Buildings are important and lights are important, but they’re just the basics, functioning as tools the church can use. Here’s a tough question every church needs to face: Have we failed to bring justice to those who need it simply because we lack resources?

To do a noteworthy job in bringing real justice to the world, it takes more money and time than most American Christians seem willing to give. Yes, the coming of Christ did away with legalism in giving. But frankly, the coming of Christ—the coming of “Kingdom of God” justice—calls us to do even more than our tithing Jewish forebears were ever required to do.

The next time the offering plate goes by, or a call for ministry volunteers goes out, remember that you’re being given the opportunity to participate in the greatest event in history, the remaking of the world by God.

Lord, reveal to us the best way to spend our time and money on behalf of your kingdom and in thanks for eternal life. Amen.

God in Art: The Widow

This Sunday at Holston View United Methodist Church, the sermon will draw from Mark 12:38-44, where Jesus again causes us to think about our spiritual relationship with money. If you cannot join us in person, join us online at 11 a.m., or watch a recording later.


As we prepare for Sunday, James Tissot’s “The Widow’s Mite” is offered for your consideration. Much of the artwork developed around this story shows the widow with a child in her arms. While the addition of the child is an elaboration, going beyond what we find in the text, these depictions do remind us of the basic call to care for “widows and orphans,” the most vulnerable people in Jesus’ day. Note in particular the expression captured on the widow’s face.

Tissot, circa 1890, courtesy Brooklyn Museum through Wikipedia

Lord, keep us mindful that in your eyes, treasure is stored in the heart. Amen.

A Shocking Assertion

This Sunday’s sermon at Holston View UMC in Weber City, Va., will be “Investing In the Future.” It will be based on Jeremiah 32:6-9. If you want to view the sermon but cannot be present, the entire worship service will be available through Holston View UMC’s web page.

Today’s preparatory text: 1 Timothy 6:9 (NRSV)

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.


By Chuck Griffin

A couple of times before on Methodist Life, I have referenced a John Wesley sermon, “The Danger of Riches.” As we look toward Sunday’s Jeremiah text and consider how to live boldly, I thought it would be useful to consider what the sermon has to say.

Bold behavior for the kingdom doesn’t have to involve money, of course. But let’s be realistic. Money does make the modern world go around. When we are bold for the kingdom, we likely run into one of two scenarios. We either give from our abundance or we make life decisions that reduce our opportunity for abundance.

As we make these choices, we need to fix in our minds a question, one along the lines of what I wrote for Wednesday. Do we live as if this life is the only one that counts? Or do we live as people who believe something greater is happening—that God’s kingdom is truly arriving, and that the kingdom is where we store our true treasures and live out eternity!

Once we choose the latter option, we’re ready to hear what Wesley said as he expanded on 1 Timothy 6:9.

In the sermon, Wesley asserted that God provides for the roof over our heads, food, and other basic needs, allowing us to ensure the well-being of our families and even businesses we may own. What we own beyond those basic provisions count as riches, and they have been given to us to use “to the glory of God.”

Often, this means using our riches to help those who are less blessed materially, playing a role in God’s provision for people’s basic needs.

Wesley offered us an interpretation that might even surprise a tither. I have no doubt someone accused the founder of Methodism of having “gone to meddling.”

His very correct interpretation of Scripture should force a reassessment of every decision we make regarding how we handle our income and possessions. When we learn to make such decisions in the light of God’s dawning kingdom, we not only trust God daily, we begin to participate actively in the kingdom’s growth.

In other words, we become quite bold.

Lord, the world needs people who look to you as the source of all that matters and then act accordingly. Raise up a bold generation so that your Holy Spirit may rush through them, making your Kingdom work complete. Amen.

The Gift of Giving

2 Corinthians 8:1-7 (NRSV)

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, so that we might urge Titus that, as he had already made a beginning, so he should also complete this generous undertaking among you. Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you—so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.


By Chuck Griffin

In 2 Corinthians, Paul was writing to a church in an affluent part of the world, with well-off people mixed into the membership. (Sound familiar?) But when he wrote about an offering being taken up for the destitute Christians in Jerusalem, he cited what had already been raised among other churches nearly as poor.

In effect, he was asking, blessed Church of Corinth, will you do your share?

For Paul, giving was a matter of the heart, and it only made sense that people blessed with abundant resources would give abundantly. Yes, the idea of the Old Testament tithe, the giving of 10 percent, became obsolete in the light of New Testament grace, but it appears most early Christians interpreted that life-giving grace as a reason to go much further in their giving than a simple tithe.

Acts 2:43-45: “Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

This pooling of resources sounds strange and even shocking to us today. As members of a capitalist society coming out of the Cold War and headed toward similar tensions with China, a lot of us don’t like anything that smacks of communism.

Don’t get lost in modern politics as you consider all this. The early Christians were filled with the Holy Spirit and madly in love with Jesus. Their resources became a way to show that love even from city to city, and Paul was praying the Christians in Corinth would join that movement, imitating what the earliest Christians and the Macedonian churches already had done.

The current-day lesson in all of this is pretty obvious: Our giving reflects our love for Jesus Christ and what he has done for us. Do we have a need to grow in love?

Dear Lord, inspire us with a deeper sense of your grace and a new understanding of how we are to use our resources to care for one another in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.

Giving and Receiving

Proverbs 3:9-10

Honor the Lord with your substance
    and with the first fruits of all your produce;
then your barns will be filled with plenty,
    and your vats will be bursting with wine.

As we launch into the first work week of 2021, let’s think about what we plan to dedicate to the Lord this year, supporting the work of the church.

It’s good to start a new year deliberately praying about how we will participate through our tithes and offerings in the kingdom work that will happen. If we seek guidance from God, we will find clear answers, and from there we can make commitments satisfying to our souls.

In the Old Testament, a “tithe” usually is a reference to 10 percent of what a herd or field produces. That concept, of course, can apply to monetary income, too.

Mainly, I want us to understand the value of thinking in percentages—a percentage commitment can be made before we know for sure what we will receive. Wherever I have led as a pastor, I have encouraged people to write down a percentage commitment early in the year and post it where they will see it regularly, for example, on a bathroom or dresser mirror.

Once you’ve faithfully and bravely done all that, the rest is just a matter of following through.

I have to be careful with what I next say. The above proverb also promises abundance to those who make and keep such commitments. I don’t want to sound like a prosperity gospel televangelist, saying $10 will return to you for every dollar you contribute.

But simultaneously, I will always affirm that a life lived with God, a life where we conform our resources to God’s unselfish plan, is better than a life where we simply look out for ourselves. After all, we live as reflections of the God who rained manna where needed, who turned a few loaves and fishes into great abundance, and who gives us eternal life through the cross.

As we are blessed through our close walk with God, we may even find ourselves making offerings above our basic commitments, if for no other reason than to show gratitude.

Lord, guide us in regard to how we are to use our resources in 2021. We trust we will receive our daily bread; knowing that, we seek to better understand the purpose of any abundance we see. Amen.

Giving in Good Times and Bad

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

1 John 2:15-16 (NLT)

Do not love this world nor the things it offers you, for when you love the world, you do not have the love of the Father in you. For the world offers only a craving for physical pleasure, a craving for everything we see, and pride in our achievements and possessions. These are not from the Father, but are from this world.


It’s obvious that Covid-19 has impacted our ability to worship. What may not be so immediately obvious is that the pandemic also has created a stress test for the typical American approach to church giving.

Folks, at this point it is safe to say the stress test has revealed a lot of cracks.

As a pastor, I was concerned about giving patterns long before the pandemic came along. As Methodists, we do not talk about the link between money and ministry the way we should, and we certainly don’t talk enough about what our relationship with money says about our relationship with Jesus Christ.

Let me jump over hurdle number one as quickly as I can. There always will be people who complain when church leaders, particularly pastors, talk about money. But the devil had a good day when he convinced church people to behave as if money is unmentionable.

Sixteen of Jesus’ 38 parables are about how to handle money and possessions. Ten percent of all the verses in the gospels deal directly with the subject of money. How we handle money and possessions needs to be discussed in church regularly.

The Problem

Now, it’s obvious hard times can affect giving in a direct way. When people lose their jobs, it is difficult or impossible for them to give. These are people possibly in need of church assistance, and they should never feel pressured to give.

I’m convinced however, that there are other factors behind the declines in giving some churches are seeing:

First, there’s what I call the movie theater effect. Giving is treated like buying a ticket, so if you don’t go to worship, you don’t buy a ticket. We see this attitude impact giving at other times, too, for example, when there’s prolonged bad weather in the winter.

Second, there’s the impact of increased anxiety—”We had better hold on to everything we have.” If that’s your situation, I will simply ask you to consider who it is that gives you the greatest hope, and how it is he works in this world through us today.

Third, the vision for what we do as the church is fading.  We aren’t entering the building regularly and mixing in Christian community, and we can forget why the church exists. This is largely a communications challenge for church leaders.

The Prayerful Solution

Let me offer us a quick, two-part formula for how to plan our giving. The great thing about this formula is it helps us keep perspective on money and possessions in good times or bad.

Let’s begin by establishing our committed support. Don’t think in dollars, think in percentages. Nearly everyone has some form of income, regular or irregular, a paycheck or a draw taken from a retirement plan.

Make a prayerful, firm decision about what percentage you can share with the church, and then follow through. I encourage people to write the percentage down on a piece of paper and stick it in the corner of a mirror used daily. The number is between you and God.

Here’s why I like for people to think in percentages—your commitment remains the same regardless of whether your financial situation improves or worsens. Years ago, a friend of mine, a committed tither (a giver of 10 percent of his income), lost his job, and was lamenting, “It kills me that I can’t tithe.”

I asked him, “Hey, buddy, what’s 10 percent of zero?”

“Well, zero,” he replied.

“You’re tithing!” I said. “Your commitment remains the same, just as it will when you’re working again.” He’s now doing very well financially, by the way, and I’m sure he’s a tremendous blessing to his church.

We also need to ask God’s guidance regarding our special support. This is when we recognize how blessed we are and go beyond our committed giving to fund something extra we think is important to the kingdom.

When we take committed support and special support of the church seriously, we position ourselves to better understand Jesus’ teachings about the role of money and possessions in our lives. We learn from the experience of planned giving. To some degree, you’ll just have to trust me—try it, as if you’re laying a fleece to receive guidance from God.

Regarding a vision for what the church does: As a pastor, I’m working to do a better job of communicating how churches truly change the world. There are great stories out there. Help me tell them!

Lord, committed givers have sustained your global church in the brightest and darkest days, in the most affluent and in the poorest parts of the world. Help us to better understand how your Spirit provides. Amen.