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Russ Dean: Thankfulness


I learned from my parents most of the stuff that is important in life. They in turn learned that from their parents.





That’s how it works when you’ve got good parents. Among lots of wisdom they taught me, if I heard it once, I heard it a thousand times as I was growing up:

“Tithe ten percent. Save ten percent. Spend the rest with joy and thanksgiving.”

My grandfather taught my mother. She taught me. I’ve tried to pass along this wisdom to my sons, and to my congregation. “Tithe ten percent. Save ten percent. Spend the rest with joy and thanksgiving.” … in that order. Tithe first. Save next. Whatever is left, you can spend with gratitude and joy.

As children, our parents provided each of us with a Church Bank and a Savings Bank. I can see mine now, a little red and white box with a slit for coins. It sat on the second shelf of one of the kitchen cabinets in that big parsonage next to First Baptist. When we’d get a little money from doing odd jobs or for Christmas or birthdays, the pittance of an allowance we received each week (!), my mother was faithful to break those dollars into the proper change. I don’t know how she always had enough loose one-dollar bills and coin change to break an exact ten percent for tithing and saving out of any and every gift, but she never failed!

Because I started so early, it wasn’t a big deal. “I got a dollar for my birthday!” I might say. Back in the days of my early birthdays, a George Washington went a lot farther than it does today! My mother would go to her desk and return with two quarters and five dimes. A dime went into my church bank – with a smile on my face. A dime into my savings bank – with the same enthusiasm. And eighty cents was mine to spend – any way I wanted to! I got to keep eighty whole cents. That was amazing!

The lesson was reinforced by reminder and by example. One of those examples in my early years was the whopping ten dollar bill that came enclosed in a letter from one of First Baptist’s leaders, a man I had come to greatly admire. Carl Leonard had remembered my birthday and sent along ten dollars – which actually came as a ten-dollar bill, a one-dollar bill, a dime, and a penny. His letter reminded me that tithing was important, but he wanted me to have a whole ten dollars, so he added the tithe for me. $11.11 – and I got to keep a whole ten dollars! Talk about education and example.

A dime of nearly every dollar I’ve ever made has gone into my “church bank.” I’ve never fretted over it at all. It’s just what we do. As my friend and mentor, the late Dr. William E. Hull used to say when he preached and taught about stewardship, the tithe is an appropriate measure. It’s easy to figure. As I child I learned to “move the decimal point.” It’s enough to feel – which is part of the point. It’s not enough to hurt. We still sent our boys to college, and I’m typing these words from a little coffee house in the mountains. Yes, we tithe, and we can still afford to take vacations – joy and thanksgiving!

For a good many years now, Amy and I have given more than 10% of our gross income. We mostly tithe to our church – because there are plenty of people to support the many, truly worthy charities in the world, but there are less and less of us to support the work of the Church. But as I’ve said from the pulpit many times, even if you’re not going to give 10% to the Church, you ought to give ten percent of your income away. It’s always the first check I write. It has never hurt me. 

Instead, the discipline has been an irreplaceable method of teaching me to be grateful for what I have, and an invitation to pay that forward in a simple but meaningful way.

Since we just past “Giving Tuesday” (November 30), I wanted to this along – because giving isn’t just for the special occasions. It’s part of a responsible financial way of life. My grandfather’s wisdom was a variation on the insight of John Wesley, though my grandfather likely did not even know who John Wesley was. The Father of Methodism is often quoted as saying: “Make all you can. (so you can) Save all you can. (so you can) Give all you can.” The added parentheses are mine, added because Wesley’s emphasis was not in getting rich. The wisdom wasn’t to make all you can. The wisdom – which will make you truly rich – is to make all you can in order to be responsible. And for those of us who’ve been so fortunate in life, a responsible financial ethic always begins with giving away as much as possible. 

“Tithe ten percent. Save ten percent. Spend the rest with joy and thanksgiving.”

Thank you, Grandaddy Phillips, Mama and Daddy, Carl Leonard, Bill Hull for teaching me that giving as much as you can is the real joy and thanksgiving!


(Dr. Russ Dean is a graduate of Clinton High School. He and his wife, Rev. Amy Jacks Dean, also a CHS graduate, are co-pastors of Park Road Baptist Church in Charlotte.)

Russ Dean