Until this summer, there was one menu item at all Panera Bread locations in Missouri that you could have on a “pay-what-you-can” scale. That promotion ended this summer, but Panera’s five Panera Cares locations across the U.S. continue on the same scale. There is a suggested retail price for all menu items, which most people pay, while others pay more and others pay less or none. Those five locations have become self-sustaining and bring in about 70% of what Panera’s other for-profit cafes bring in.

Here’s my thought: If a bread store can survive on human generosity, the Church, which also depends on generosity, should be thriving.

In Mark Driscoll’s latest book, A Call To Resurgence (which I highly recommend), he puts it this way:

Next time you are in a store, imagine that, instead of a cash register, there was a bucket and a sign that read, “Pay Whatever You Want, and If You Don’t Want to Pay Anything, That’s Fine Too.” How long do you think that store would remain in business?
That is the business model of the church. Unlike the government, which simply takes money from you, or an actual business, which will have you arrested if you do not pay for a good or service you receive, the church depends entirely on generosity.

What if the Church (as individuals and as a group) gave generously as we are called to do?

Malachi 3:8-9 is one text that is often used and abused by many preachers in order to shame and guilt their “God-robbing” congregations into dropping their change and emptying their savings into the local church. That is unfortunate though, because that chapter (and book in general) wasn’t written with that purpose in mind. Malachi was God’s final messenger to His people before 400 years of silence followed by the coming of the Messiah, Jesus. It was a loving, gentle rebuke that was meant to guide His people back to where they needed to be. Plus, as the context reveals, God is actually very generous…

“Bring all the tithes into the  storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,” says the Lord of Hosts, “If I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.” – Malachi 3:10

It’s the only time in Scripture that God says to test Him. He says the test will be worth it because of the blessing that will flow from it.

Blessing flows from generosity and obedience. That’s not just Malachi’s idea – it’s all throughout Scripture.

Many Christians are missing out on an entire dimension of their relationship with Christ because they’re not being faithful with the little God has already commanded. If that’s you, 2014 is your year. Give faithfully, proportionately, cheerfully, and consistently. You’ll be glad you did.