Testing God is usually discouraged by pastors and churches. After all, there are pretty good reasons for avoiding the practice. In Matthew 4:7 Jesus quotes from Deuteronomy: "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'" In the book of Acts, after discovering some questionable donations, the apostle Peter asks a woman named Sapphira, "How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?" The consequences of her actions were not pleasant.
But LifeChurch.tv, a multi-site, media-intensive church out of Oklahoma City, encourages testing God. They not only advocate such testing, they back it up with an unorthodox guarantee.
Senior Pastor Craig Groeschel refers his congregation to Malachi 3:10, where God challenges His people to bring a tithe—ten percent of their income—to Him. "Test me in this," He tells Israel.
"It's the only place in all of Scripture where we are given permission to test God," says Groeschel. "If you want to test Him, we'll give you the chance."
LifeChurch.tv calls it the "Three-Month Tithing Challenge." Participants commit, via the Internet, to tithe to the church for three months. If at the end of the challenge participants are not convinced of God's faithfulness, they can get a full refund of all they have given. According to Groeschel, "If something didn't work out for you, you contact the church, we'll cut you a check for every penny you gave."
Pastor Groeschel initiated the tithe challenge 11 years ago. He is careful to tell his congregations, "I don't ever want anyone to hear the message that you give to get, because that's not why we give. But the bottom line is when you are faithful to God, He blesses you in ways that maybe are financial, or that are much more important than your finances."
Does it work? Ask Cathi Linch, senior executive of finance for LifeChurch.tv. "I love the tithe challenge. Over the years I've heard so many stories—great stories of how God came through."
The church of 20,000 gathers at 11 locations across the country, and a satellite video link provides each campus with Pastor Craig's sermon every week. While the tithe challenge is available for new givers anytime, a recent message about tithing inspired 550 individuals to sign up.
When the three months are over, says Linch, most people continue to give not because they have to, or because they've signed up for it, but because they have a desire that springs from the inside. "Giving is not a chore, but a privilege," she says.
Dave, a doctor in the church, had never tithed before. He struggled with the decision—not only had he never given that much money, he brought down a salary that would make 10 percent a big bite. But he took the challenge. When he sat down with his accountant to work out his taxes that year, his refund equaled the exact amount he had tithed.
Not everyone has a positive experience. In the four years since Linch has been on the job, she's handled ten refunds. From the recent big push, five participants out of the 550 who signed up requested their tithe be returned. "Some offer an explanation for why they're asking for their money back, but we write them their check, no questions asked. The issues are between the giver and God."
The vast majority of those who agree to put God to the test find that He passes with flying colors.
Kelli is a single mom who receives only sporadic child support payments, and she's struggling to make it. "I was arguing with myself over tithing. I had no idea how I was going to make it the next two weeks without that ten percent." But Kelli wrote the check anyway. Concerned later that she may have overdrawn her account, she checked her balance and discovered that a child support payment had posted the same day, putting her in the black sufficiently to make it to the next paycheck. "I know that God does not always work this way, but right now I needed a thing like this."
Pastor Groeschel sees the tithe as an act of worship and trust. "Go on and test Him," he says, "and see if you will not be drawn to God in an awesome way."
For More info, visit www.LifeChurch.tv.
Copyright © 2007 by the author or Christianity Today/Today's Christian magazine.
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