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Why I Give

September 11, 2017
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By Kyle Elam, FirstChurch member and Chair of the FirstChurch Finance Committee

I grew up in a small town in West Texas as the youngest of four children. My family attended church semi-regularly, my parents lining us up in a pew and sitting as bookends to keep us in check. My mother had a ritual of pulling out her checkbook, writing a check, folding the check in half and handing it to me. I would hold it tight, my hands sweating, until the offering and then proudly place it in the plate.

During college and through my early adulthood, I rarely attended church. It was not until I moved to Dallas after spending six years in California that I looked for a church. I was living in a loft in downtown Dallas and FirstChurch became my neighborhood church. I attended about half of the Sundays in my first year, always bringing my checkbook, writing a check for $25, folding the check in half and placing it in the offering plate.

Being the finance geek that I am, I reviewed the year-end summary of my expenditures, and was surprised that my giving to the church hadn’t made the top ten expense categories – taxes (yes, I tracked the taxes from my paycheck), mortgage, HOA dues, dining out, cable, internet, cell phone… My giving to FirstChurch was not even greater than my cell phone bill. Befuddled, I began to examine my priorities, realizing that I was only going through the motions of being a Christian.

The next year, I performed the same Sunday ritual, but would make up for the weeks I missed the following week by giving $50. Despite my best intentions, my bar tab from a night out with friends was still more than my giving. So, I increased my giving again. This process continued for a couple of years. Then something changed…

I was married, we had our first child and we had moved to North Dallas for the good school districts. I was stressed at work and stressed at home. Exhausted one Friday night, my wife and I were watching TV (gone were the days of big bar tabs), when I looked at her and said, “I am going to go for a bike ride tomorrow morning.” With that, I stood up and prepared my bike – filling the tires and rummaging for my helmet and water bottle. I was out the door by 6:30 the next morning. It was spring – probably April. The sun was just rising in the east and the bike path ran east/west, the sun washing directly across my face.

I was in the zone and replenishing my spirit when a woman running the opposite direction flagged me down. “I am sorry to bother you,” she said, “but there is a young man sitting on a park bench down the trail and he looks out of place. Would you mind checking to see if he is OK? I would have done it but I did not feel comfortable as a woman by myself.” I promised I would check on him and continued my ride. I must admit, I was a little annoyed because I was attempting to diffuse my own stress, not take on someone else’s problems. But I had made a promise.

I found the young man – probably in his late teens or early twenties – sitting on a park bench with his head down. I brought my bike to a stop, but he did not look up. “Hey,” I said, his head jerking up, his eyes blurry. “Are you ok?” He nodded and put his head back down… Well, I had fulfilled my promise. I told myself that I would continue on my ride and if he was still there on my way home, I would check on him again.

I rode away, but my ride was ruined. I wrestled with what to do. I knew my wife would have sat next to the man on the bench and asked for his life story, but I was not that person. As I returned to the spot, there he sat. I hesitated and then kept riding towards my house. I made all sorts of excuses for my inaction, but decided that if I saw the police officer that patrols our neighborhood, I would alert him. As I turned onto my street at the end of my ride, I saw the patrol car coming down the road. The officer waved from behind the windshield and I waved back. No, I did not alert him. I went home.

That evening, my wife and I were having dinner with close friends when I told this story. I asked them what I should have done. After some discussion, my friend’s wife said, “Kyle, it doesn’t matter what we would have done, but clearly you feel like you did not do enough.” And there it was. POW! She was right.

It was overcast and raining on our drive to church the next morning. As we arrived in downtown, just a few blocks from here, a car lost control and slammed into a curb. A young couple with their infant got out of the car and scrambled across the street to get shelter from the rain. I looked at my wife and said, “I am not making the same mistake again.” We circled back to the young couple and asked how we could help. They told us they had some friends a couple of blocks away who could help them get home and climbed into our car. “God Bless You,” the young man had said as we dropped them off. OK, I thought, my Karma is back to neutral.

We arrived at church, checked our daughter into daycare and settled into our usual pew. Andy’s scripture lesson that day was about the Good Samaritan. I melted into the pew. My wife looked at me, reached over and held my hand. I listened as Andy recounted his own experience with a young troubled male. Andy had been eating at a fast food restaurant with his child and found a note on his windshield from a young teenager. The note read, “I am just a human. Nothing more, nothing less.” Andy explained that ever since that day, he has been searching for that teenager to tell him that he is special and that he is loved by God.

So, there it is – the weekend that made me an intentional Christian. It would not have happened had I not attended church all those previous Sundays to begin the process of opening my heart and my mind to God and his impact in my life.

That is what we are doing HERE at FirstChurch. We are changing lives. Look to your right. Look to your left. These are the people whose lives are being changed. You can reach out and touch them. And these people are going out into the community and changing other people’s lives by living Christian principles in this secular world. By helping that teenager on the park bench, by helping children learn to read at JJ Rhoads, by distributing food to low income neighbors at Crossroads, by providing after school programs and summer camps for low income children at Project Transformation… All of this and so much more starts right here. We are changing lives by changing ourselves and then going out into the community to help others.

Here is what I am asking of you. If you do not give to FirstChurch, start where I started. $25 per week. Take out that checkbook, write a check, fold it in half and place it into the plate. If you are like me and you are giving but not tithing, I ask you to seriously consider increasing your pledge to move you closer to tithing (10%). My wife and I will double our pledge this year. If you split your charitable giving between FirstChurch and another non-profit, I encourage you to prayerfully consider the value of those gifts. When you give to FirstChurch you are changing the lives of people both within these walls and beyond. Best of all, if you currently give generously and sacrificially by tithing, please to continue to do so, because you are making an enormous difference in the lives around you.

Finally, I want to thank all of you. Your presence and participation in this church is changing not only my life, but everyone around you. Thank you for all the ways you give of your heart and time and finances, and I look forward to continuing our faith journey together.

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