Happy New Year.
Naya Saal Mubark Ho.
Have you made your resolutions for the New Year?—Lose weight? Stop procrastinating? Quit smoking? Be positive? Did I come close to any of the promises you have made?
I want to challenge you to make another resolution this year. Believe me, it is not too late. The challenge I propose is that you resolve to "Count your blessings, see what God has done"—it's the chorus of one of my favorite old hymns, based on a scripture passage from Malachi (3:6-12). (It's the last book in the Old Testament.)
The exercise of "counting blessings," if done each day, will make you realize how much we owe to God and how important it is to give to God what belongs to God. Everything is given to us by God's grace and mercy.
How well I remember growing up in India and tithing as a child. For us, tithing was not an option; it was a given fact. When we received our monthly pocket money—one or two rupees—we had to take the tithe (yes, one-tenth) and set it aside for our offering and for giving to beggars, who are visible everywhere in India.
From our perspective, it was not our money, it was God's money. No one questioned the authenticity and relevance of tithing. No one refused to give, and no one complained. It was something that came to us as second nature. We understood that all we have comes from God and it is our duty to give God the share that belonged to God. We believed in the promise that God opened the windows of heaven for us and poured down over- flowing blessings, just as we read in the book of Malachi.
The subject of tithing brings to mind another personal experience, a most delightful and challenging one. A few years ago, I was in Togo, Africa, worshiping in a church on Sunday morning. In that service, the most joyous and uplifting part was the offering time. As a band was playing music, the people were smiling and singing and dancing as they came up to put their offerings in a basket placed in front of the altar. In their culture, they told me, you do not pass the plate for the offering, because God does not beg for your money. Instead, you give joyously and generously to God what is God's in the first place.
How I wish we could learn from the Africans the joy of giving and to understand what it means to give—and how to give it.
This year, the UCC is launching a vision plan to meet a challenge of raising an additional $140 million in offerings given to our local churches by 2007, the UCC's 50th anniversary. Together, if we keep our resolution of counting blessings, our new resolve will be instrumental in making the UCC's vision plan a living reality.
So keep on counting...
Olivia Masih White is executive minister of the UCC's Wider Church Ministries and a member of the UCC's five-person Collegium of Officers.