My first recollection related to stewardship comes from long before I was in school. I got a birthday card in the mail from my grandparents. Tucked into the card were two one-dollar bills which seemed an almost unbelievable sum to my young mind. Mom said, "Now, Maxie Carle, the first thing you are going to do is take out the tithe that belongs to Jesus and take it to church next Sabbath." So, I did, and I felt mighty proud that I had something of my own to give at church as the plate was passed to me. It felt good to give!
I started first grade at a one-room church school in the basement of the Jamestown, North Dakota, church. We had 18 kids in that one room taught by Mrs. Rau. I remember an arithmetic assignment where we were to figure the tithe on different amounts of money. Some of the problems asked the percentage (10 percent), others asked it as a decimal problem (.10). Our very wise teacher was teaching us about mathematics, but she also was teaching us about systematic benevolence. I could hardly wait to get some more money of my own, so I could figure out my own tithe! It was fun to feel so grown up.
When I qualified for a California State Scholarship of $4,000 per year to help with my college tuition, I had to sort out in my own thinking, the definition of "increase" as discussed in Acts of the Apostles on page 336. Even though this scholarship went directly to my school account, was it an increase to me and should I return tithe on this amount? I decided the answer was "Yes." That meant I needed to generate tithe from my otherwise very limited resources to keep my heavenly accounts up to date. I liked feeling responsible, and I liked the creativity it required of me to figure out how to keep my promise to God!
While at college, I met the beautiful woman (who later would become my wife). Fortunately, Linnea was a dedicated spiritual person, and during our engagement we read the book, Adventist Home, out loud to each other. Doing this activity brought up a whole spectrum of topics that led us to discuss ideas which might not have come up in our normal day-to-day conversations. One of those conversations related to finances in general, and stewardship in particular. Happily, we found ourselves in agreement and committed to making it part of our lifestyle as a married couple. We were excited to see how God would keep His promises to provide for our needs if we kept our promise to be generous givers of both tithe and offerings.
I began my ministry in an era when men almost always wore suits and ties to church. It was kind of an unspoken dress code that the pastor should certainly wear a suit, not only for meetings at the church but also when visiting members at home or in the hospital. College students didn't wear suits that much, so the one I owned was getting serious wear and tear during my first few years of ministry. One communion Sabbath, I knelt down in front of the brother whose feet I was going to wash and, as I bent forward, I felt my suit pants give way. Fortunately, they ripped in the seam and, if I was careful, my coat covered the gaping hole. I was able to complete the communion service with no one the wiser. When I got home and held the pants up to the light, I was amazed at how much I could see through the worn-out fabric.
Sunday, we went to a men's store and discovered an amazing coincidence! (Was it really?) They were having a "two for the price of one" sale! Linnea carefully helped me choose two suits. We were so happy! On our way home, my wife pointed out that in this instance, God stretched the nine-tenths we had to work with, making it go farther than if we'd had ten-tenths by leading us to a store that gave us one suit free. We need to keep our eyes open, looking for what God is doing for us!
The story didn't end there! A few weeks later, we were visiting in the home church of Linnea's parents. One of the members was a mortician who had recently lost a lot of weight, but quickly gained it all back again. While he was slimmer, he bought four suits, because, well, a mortician wears suits every day. He saw me after church and asked what size suit I wore. I said, "42 Long.” He grinned and said, "Do I have a deal for you! I have four practically brand-new suits that I can't wear anymore, and they're all 42 Long. Could you use them?" I was dumbfounded! My closet at home was almost too small for all the blessings that landed in my lap when God opened those windows of Heaven. What a thrill to experience His promise of faithfulness at work — for me!
One of my favorite stories from my years as a church pastor happened on a bitterly cold winter evening. I had been out visiting some of the church members and was headed home. It occurred to me I wasn't far from Kurt and Glenda's house and was impressed to stop. I drove down the long gravel drive and pulled up in front of their bungalow. A blast of cold air hit me in the face as I opened the car door and I pulled my overcoat tightly around me. I picked my way around toys and frozen puddles and knocked on the door. I waited. I knocked again, and waited some more. Rather suddenly, the door flew open and Glenda reached out and grabbed me by the arm. "Get in here, pastor! I want to show you something." The kitchen table was covered with bills and a checkbook. "It's a good thing you came by because you need to tell us what to do," she said. Kurt ambled in from the other room and said, "Yeah, pastor. What do we do? We have enough money to pay our tithe OR the electric bill. Which one do we pay?" Interestingly, they were the same amount. I'd never been in their situation, so the Scripture I was about to read them took on new meaning for me, too.
"I can't tell you what to do, but I can remind you of what God says about the decision you need to make." I turned to Malachi 3:10 and read, Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down a blessing until there is no more need. The room was silent, so I prayed for them and left them to their thoughts.
The following Sabbath as I sat on the platform, I scanned the congregation. Kurt and Glenda weren't there. As the offering was being collected, the back door of the church flew open and Glenda rushed up the aisle to where the deacon was standing with the velvet offering bag. She thrust her hand into it, then turned around and ran out, as though to protect from a change of heart.
There is more to this story as well. A few weeks later, on Sabbath morning, Glenda shared her testimony. She told the story of how God impressed me to visit, right at the time when their faith was wavering. She told how they struggled with whether to give God His 10 percent, or pay the electric bill so their little kids would be warm. She said, "We decided to trust God and test Him, and I thought you would like to know what happened." I had, of course, been dying to know! "Well, that week my husband got a dollar an hour raise at his work — totally unexpected. In the same week, someone left two boxes of food on our porch and, if that wasn't enough, we got a money order in the mail from someone we didn't know. The amount was exactly what we needed to pay the electric bill,” she said as tears of gratitude crept down her cheeks. What an incredible lesson in the joy of faithful stewardship!
If only more of God's people would take the leap of faith and "prove" Him! "When all are faithful in giving back to God His own in tithes and offerings, the way will be opened for the world to hear the message for this time" (Ellen G. White, Testimonies, Vol. 6, pg. 450). Even so, come, Lord Jesus!