Offerings on the Altar
I remember that at the other denomination, where I used to be a member, most of the church members had a good financial condition, but when it came time to give their offerings, all you would see them bringing up was R$5 (about US$2.50). There was usually a clinking of coins falling into the treasury and no one questioned it, no pastor ever explained it.
Some, who were more generous, brought their mission offerings in envelopes, which we had to fill out with our name, address and value, just like the tithe envelopes. Shortly before I left, they invented a new strategy to "encourage" contributions: they sent out monthly statements by mail, informing the person of how much they gave as their tithe, how much they gave for missions... When I saw that, I thought it was so ridiculous that I stopped writing my name on the envelopes.
This experience caused me to have two impacts when I came to the Universal Church. First, I was overjoyed to see that there wasn't a space to put my name on the envelope, no one supervised who was giving their offerings or withholding their tithe, nor how much anyone was giving, it was between the person and God. However, I was somewhat startled by the ease with which people gave offerings that I considered high. People happily got up to give R$5, R$10, R$20, R$50! And what about when the pastor called out the value of the offerings, so that everyone wouldn't go up all at once? The offering that was given by the rich in the other church, was now one of the lowest, which people with poor financial conditions insisted on placing on the altar. What was happening? Why were these people so happy to give their offerings?
I never criticized the fact that the pastors of the Universal Church ask for offerings, not even when I was part of the other denomination. My mother was a member of the Universal Church and I remember saying this to several classmates that questioned: "I see where my mother’s offerings to the Universal Church go. They are always building churches and it must not be cheap to build and maintain a church. Not to mention the radio and TV programs, and other things. But I have no clue where the offerings I give to my church end up!" (The new temple of my former church took about twenty years to be completed.)
My heart raced when it came time to give my offering, because I no longer felt as good and comfortable during that moment. It was easy –and cheap– to pose as a Super Christian at the other church. Here, at the Universal Church, hypocrisy screamed out my name whenever I felt like I didn’t want to give up the larger bills I had in my wallet. It was as if my mask had come off. I was the only one there who could see my nakedness, but it struck me hard. It wasn’t the pastor asking for an offering that struck me, it, was the fact that I had to admit that I didn’t want to give that offering. And I did not want to give it because I wanted to spend it on myself, because I was more important.
It makes a great difference to learn that the value of your offering goes way beyond its monetary value. Jesus taught us this when He saw the poor widow giving her offering. There were only two coins, but it was all of her income, it represented more than just money, it represented her trust in God and her regard for Him. Its worthless to give a high value only to show off, like the hypocrites did during Jesus’ time, nor give a small amount to portray your humbleness, like many hypocrites do nowadays. God sees beyond the value of what you bring to Altar, He sees what is in your heart.
Now I understand what the Bishop means when he says that the offering shows God what is within the offering giver. My offering represented me. It was leftovers. I gave what I didn't need, almost like scraps, because I did not understand. From the moment when God actually became the first in my life and I learned to trust, my attitude about giving offerings changed, and I saw the results in my life, in absolutely every aspect.
Learning about the true meaning of an offering made me more generous in other areas too. I don’t think twice about helping someone when I can, even if I have to work hard to do so. I don’t find it difficult to buy a book to donate, to donate clothes, food, my time...
You can strive to make the necessary changes and show the Kingdom of God in this world. You detach yourself from yourself and from the confidence you have in your own resources and learn to truly trust in God.
When your life is on the Altar and you are the actual offering, your priorities become reversed. Your navel is no longer the center of your universe. You learn about yourself, and to love God above all things.
But an offering is not just monetary. Everything you do is an offering. When you learn to dedicate your life in favor of this greater Cause, you start living on another level.