Letters to the Editor (Leonard Cohen, Cashless Giving, Prayer, Sinning Against Others)

It has been a few weeks since I last shared a collection of letters to the editor. But I’m making up for lost time today by posting quite a few. I hope you enjoy them!

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Comments on Seems So Long Ago, Nancy

I read your recent flashback article, “Seems So Long Ago, Nancy” with keen interest. Not because I know this song; in fact, I am not very familiar with much of Cohen’s music. I read with interest though because I was familiar with the story you told, because it was as though you were telling my own story.

My father always kept a frame in his room that held three individual portraits. I knew his, of course, and the one of his youngest sister, the aunt I knew. The third photo, the one in the middle, was a face with only a name, a name that was rarely spoken. She wasn’t a person though, at least not in the sense that I ever had any idea of who she was, of what kind of person she was.

All I knew about her was that she had taken her own life, early in the year she was to be married, the same year my father and his other sister were also to have their weddings. The other two weddings proceeded. My aunt didn’t leave behind a child, but she left behind a fiancé. He was invited to the family’s Christmas gathering that year, but understandably, his relationship with the family broke off over the following year.

Like you, I grew up wishing I knew more about my aunt. And as in your family, the mental health issues that plagued my aunt, also affected others, including myself. My interest in her grew, when I struggled through my own depression and thoughts of suicide. What was she like? Would we have gotten along well? Did we have similar struggles? I never felt like I could ask my father or my grandparents any questions about her. The shame and hurt was too deep for them, I guessed. It was almost as if she only existed in that one photo.

You have learned far more about your aunt than I have been able to learn about mine. Maybe one day I will muster enough courage to ask my father about her. While your aunt has been memorialized in a song written by Leonard Cohen, I chose to memorialize my aunt by using a variation of her name as one of my daughters’ middle names. It seemed morbid to some people I discussed it with, but I felt like it was a way to acknowledge her life, to acknowledge that she did exist and was a part of the family I was born into. For me, it was a way to say she was a person who should not merely be defined by the way she died, nor should her memory be completely swallowed up by it. It was personal too. I had struggled hard with depression, before and after I became a Christian. At times, the idea of suicide made me feel like death was the only way to escape the dark thoughts that plagued me. Her story could have been mine. And what if it had been? Would I have been defined by how I died? Would those who knew me find it too hard to talk about me, to keep my memory alive? Would it be to them as though I had not lived? Or, have times changed? Has stigma surrounding mental health issues lifted enough so that it is possible to talk about these issues more freely? Is it possible for those who struggle to get help more easily than it was when our aunts lived?

I know truly that, ‘but for the grace of God, there go I.’ I have been blessed to have Christian friends who have walked with me through the dark times, I am part of a church that applies biblical truth to all areas of life and is a place where those who are hurting can find love and support, and I have been free from depression for many years.

Thank you for telling Nancy’s (and your) story and thank you for letting me tell you mine.
—Heather, St. Catharines

Comments on Taking Up a Collection in a Cashless World

I enjoyed your blog on “Taking Up a Collection in a Cashless World”. I have thought and prayed about electronic transfer of funds to my church vs. writing a check. I could even set up an automatic donation to my church, much like how I pay my gas bill and mortgage, but I have chosen not to for several reasons.

(1) I want my children to see me giving, so that they would grow up seeing that giving back to God is a priority for me. If I’m doing it electronically, they won’t see it.

(2) I want giving back to God to be something I think about and pray about on a regular basis. Paying electronically could be done with thought and prayer, but for me, the physical act of writing a check and putting it in the plate weekly makes me more mindful of God and His financial goodness to me.

(3) I want giving back to God to be part of my Sunday worship. I suppose I could do an electronic transfer as part of my Sunday worship, but for me, playing with electronics during the service would be distracting from worship.

Maybe it’s a generational thing and those young people used to living without cash or credit cards can be worshipful and thoughtful in their giving without dropping something in an offering plate, but I think I’ll keep writing checks or giving cash.
—April S, Wixom, MI

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I’ve heard pastors exalt the virtues of the paper check in the offering plate as an “act of faith” and worship, and have always been unconvinced. A younger Gen X, I realized recently that I hadn’t used cash for anything in the last six months, and that the offering plate at church is the only check we write. But I believe the automatic debit requires just as much faith – after all, setting up a recurring tithe, if considered carefully, means that one must believe not only that God has provided for our needs now, but that He will also provide next month and every month thereafter. I view it as an opportunity to put the exhortations about worry in Matthew 6 and Phillipians 4 into practice.
—Matt R, Wilmington, DE

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The world may be doing most transactions out of your site via electronic transfer, but the same world is also replacing in-person meetings with Skype, and replacing reading printed material with video entertainment. Just because the world is going that way doesn’t mean the church should follow. We are a different culture with different priorities.

I work in the electronic banking industry and rarely use cash or checks. The exception is church. Giving is an act of worship and should be part of worship. When I switched to an internet-only bank, I kept a local credit union account to use for check writing (to church). Even without that, it’s very easy to pull cash out of an ATM.

If people are only giving to church electronically, it’s not because they CAN’T give in cash/check: it’s because they don’t understand that giving is PART of worship. Our churches should be educating our members about all parts of worship, not enabling them to skip parts of worship via e-transfer or a collections box in the foyer.
—David M, Coupeville, WA

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My church still passes the baskets, announcing that we may give in the basket, or electronically, or even by text. (By text requires a one-time setup.) Also, guests are told they do not need to feel obligated to give. To me this feels like our church allows everyone to give according to their hearts. As for myself, my giving is 99.44% scheduled electronic. While this might appear to be mindless and devoid of worship, for me it is entirely the opposite. I now look forward to the early morning payday email from church, as it reminds me to once again thank God for His blessings. This is also the closest I can get to having my offering come off the top of my paycheck. It no longer feels like another bill-type obligation the way it did when I gave by check.
—Lee B, Burnsville, MN

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I was thinking of this myself awhile ago, and if nothing else it may be important to reaffirm the deliberate nature of worship through corporate giving. Not only is the whole church giving thanks, but they are doing by making a deliberate sacrifice together at that time.

An automated transfer may not weigh as heavily on the mind of a believer; while some brothers may still feel each withdrawal as it occurs, others may need to discipline themselves to mentally rededicate those resources week over week.

It’s also interesting that that seems to be a general pattern throughout Scripture: regular, periodic giving, instead of single bulk transactions. Partially because that’s how we usually make money – in small chunks, not giant windfalls – but perhaps also partially because that continual reminder keeps us humble, thankful, and giving throughout our walk.
—Nathan A, Bellevue, WA

Comments on Have I Sinned Against You?

Tim thanks for sharing this. It’s clear and precise in getting to the issue. In the past I have been counseled as a ministry leader that I should listen to people’s offenses or annoyances without question or challenge. It seemed to only embolden this behavior. I invested a lot of energy trying to converse with people like your example with little progress or resolution. We’d solve one complaint for it to be replaced by two more. I could never apologize enough. It was so disorienting with words like “we’re so angry, hurt, offended or disappointed.” It was at a hopeless point that it came to me I can’t control or own other people’s offenses, only my own actions and attitudes, so I was to invite them into the Biblical process much like you wrote. If they weren’t willing to enter into conflict Biblically then that’s beyond the scope my control and I was to extend grace and step away. It didn’t solve much immediately, in fact it often made people more angry. What I have discovered is after some years these folks occasionally came back and reconciled on their own. Enough to remind me how great Christ’s work in all of us is. Thanks Tim for writing this, its a good a Biblical strategy for dealing with something often confusing.
—Mark W, Littleton, CO

Comments on 18 Prayers to Pray for Unbelievers

That article was very encouraging. It is timely, we as a family are struggling in ministering Christ to unbelievers. One of our struggles is how to pray for them. You have put all of them at one place prayers both for the unbelievers and us. Praise God!
—Martin L, Mumbai, India

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Really? Your proof texts are not pertinent. They are about the work of God, to be sure, but we’re not instructed to so pray, nor given much in the way of examples in sacred Writ. Instead, the prayers of Christ (c.f. John 17:9), the OT’s prophets, kings, & priests (Psalms), the NT’s apostles in Acts (see ch. 4!) and the epistles don’t give us much in the way of this pious practice. Just saying. Blessings!
—Hugh M, Santa Rosa, CA

First of all, this is an honest question, not an attempt to trap you or make you look foolish in some way. Here’s my question. It is my understanding that you hold to a Reformed or Calvinist understanding of salvation. If I am correct about this, then it seems somewhat puzzling that you would encourage people to pray for the salvation of unbelievers. If God has elected those who will be saved from eternity past, and if He is totally sovereign in this choice, then what is accomplished by my praying for an unbeliever? If they are elect, then God has already determined to save them, and my prayer accomplishes nothing. If they are not elect, and if God is sovereign, then my prayers would seem to be of no use. Or are you suggesting that someone who is NOT elect from eternity past could become elect as a result of my or your prayers? Am I missing something?

—Carl F, South Plainfield, NJ

Tim: I believe both of these leaters deal with the same issue: How we can believe in the sovereignty of God and in the duty of man to pray. Rather than address it head-on, I will direct those with a genuine interest in answers to a wonderful book on the subject: J.I. Packer’s Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God.