A well-worn dollar bill and a similarly distressed twenty dollar bill arrive at the Federal Reserve Bank to be retired. As they move along the conveyer belt to be burned, they strike up a conversation. The twenty reminisces about its travels all over the country. “I’ve had a pretty good life,” it proclaims. “Why I’ve been to Las Vegas and Atlantic City, performances on Broadway, the best restaurants in New York, even a cruise to the Caribbean.” “Wow!” exclaims the one dollar bill. “You’ve really had an exciting life!” “So tell me,” says the twenty, “where have you been throughout your lifetime?’ The one dollar bill replies, “Oh I’ve been to the Christian Church, the Methodist Church, the Baptist Church…” “Tell me,” the twenty dollar bill interrupts, “what’s a church?”
This is week six in our sermon series Building God’s Church, which is loosely based on Bob Russell’s book, When God Build’s a Church and today’s subject is stewardship. So why is money such a touchy topic in churches today anyway? Some people think the church is only out to get their money. “I’m not going to that church, all they ever do is ask for money. Sure they quote scripture and say it’s better to give than to receive. Seems to me they are all about receiving.” Have you ever heard that before? I have but just because someone doesn’t like the topic of the sermon or the call for outreach doesn’t mean we can stop addressing the topic. The Apostle Paul tells us in Acts 20:27, “For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.” Tithing is as much a part of being a Christian as baptism and communion. We witnessed the wonderful covenant of baptism earlier and participated in communion. We gave our offerings.
Did you know that most preachers don’t like to preach about money? Just as it is a sensitive issue today, so it was in Jesus’ time. That didn’t stop Jesus from talking about it though. Did you know that more than half of Jesus’ parables relate to stewardship? Brian Sluth, former president of the Christian Stewardship Association, said, “There are 2,350 passages in the Bible dealing with money and material possessions – more than on any other subject – but it’s the least talked about subject in the church.” One out of every six verses in Matthew, Mark, and Luke deals with money. I get the impression God wants us to deal with this issue regularly.
Throughout the Old Testament tithing is described as giving the very best of the first of everything in our lives – our thoughts, our hearts, our families, our possessions, our money – nothing is to be held back from God. The New Testament scriptures refer to giving it all to God. Not just the first 10 percent, all of it. Did you catch that part in our scripture this morning?
“And God can give you more blessings than you need. Then you will always have plenty of everything – enough to give to every good work.”
Don’t you just love God’s straight-forwardness? He sure doesn’t pull any punches. God gives so we can give. It’s that created in His image thing you know.
What else are you gonna do with it? Take it with you? Have you heard the one about the man who knew he was dying and instructed his wife to take all the money out of the bank and put it in a bag and tie it to a rafter in the attic right above his bed. He said that way, when the time came, he could grab it as he went up to heaven. He was going to prove to everyone that you could take it with you. Well, he passed away during his sleep that night and the first thing his wife did was to run up to the attic to see if the bag was gone. Needless to say, she wasn’t too surprised to see the bag still hanging where she put it. She went back downstairs to the rest of the family and shook her head and said, “I knew I should have put it in the basement.”
Of course we know we can’t take it with us, so the question is, what are we going to do with what God has given? My favorite author, Max Lucado, put it this way, “You don’t give for God’s sake. You give for your sake. The purpose of tithing is to teach you to always put God first in your lives. How does tithing teach? Consider the simple act of writing a check for the offering. First you enter the date. Already you are reminded that you are a time bound creature and every possession you have will rust or burn. Best to give it while you can.
Then you enter the name of the one to whom you are giving the money. If the bank would cash it, you’d write God. But they won’t so you write the name of the church or group that has earned your trust.
Next comes the amount. Ahh, the moment of truth. You’re more than a person with a checkbook. You’re David, placing a stone in the sling. You’re Peter, one foot on the boat, one foot on the lake. You’re a little boy in a big crowd. A picnic lunch is all the Teacher needs, but it’s all you have. What will you do? Sling the stone, Take the step, Give the meal?
Careful now, don’t move too quickly. You aren’t just entering an amount…you are making a confession. A confession that God owns it all anyway. And then the line in the lower left-hand corner on which you write what the check is for. Hard to know what to put. It’s for the light bills and literature. A little bit of outreach. A little bit of salary. Better yet, its partial payment for what the church has done to help you raise your family…keep your own priorities sorted out…tune you in to his ever-nearness. Or, perhaps, best yet, it’s for you. It’s a moment for you to clip yet another strand from the rope of earth so that when he returns you won’t be tied up.”
Our scripture this morning tells us that, God loves a cheerful giver. So how do we learn to give cheerfully? First of all, what are we giving? If you earn $400, how much of it belongs to God? Did you come up with 10% or $40? Well, you have the concept of tithing down. However, the correct answer is $400. God created everything and it all belongs to Him, including you and me. Let’s back up a little bit. The title of this message is Building God’s Church through stewardship. Stewardship - that is a word the church uses a lot. Do you know what a steward is? A steward is simply the manager of another person’s assets. I’m going to let that sink in for a second. Imagine the Fedex driver is a steward. He’s given a package with the purpose of delivering it. His only job is to make sure that that package arrives safely at its destination. Imagine that you have a very beautiful crystal vase to ship to a friend across the country. You’ve chosen to ship with Fedex because of their reputation. They’re a company you believe you can trust. You spend a great deal of time packaging the vase because it is extremely valuable and you arrange for a pick up. The Fedex man arrives at your home, you sign the paper work, he takes the package and rips it open, and says thanks for the vase, my wife will love it!
Sounds a bit ridiculous doesn’t it? He’d get fired for doing something like that. But that’s exactly what we do as Christians when we live as if our possessions and our financial resources are our own. We don’t own our things. We don’t own ourselves. And we have no entitlement to the assets we manage. It’s our job to find out what the owner (God) wants done and carry out His will. That is what stewardship is all about.
Listen again to this part of our scripture, “God is the one who gives seed to the farmer and bread for food. He will give you all the seed you need. And make it grow so there will be a great harvest from your goodness.”
How do we let go? How do we get to the place where we recognize that it all belongs to God? God knows the fallibilities of the human heart. Listen to these truths:
· The more you have the more you want
· The more you have the less you’re satisfied
· The more you have the more people will come after it
· The more you have the more you have to worry about
· The more you have the more you can hurt yourself by hanging on to it
· The more you have the more you have to lose
· The more you have the more you’ll leave behind
If money is the gauge of the heart, then the results of the following poll reveals that money is on the heart of most Americans. In exchange for 10 million dollars:
· 25% would abandon their family
· 25% would abandon their church
· 23% would become a prostitute for a week
· 16% would give up their American citizenship
· 16% would leave their spouse
· 13% would put their children up for adoption
What is even more revealing than what Americans would do for ten million dollars is that most would do something. 2/3 of those polled would agree to at lease one – some to several – of the options. Jesus had a word for that: greed. Jesus also had a definition for greed. He called it the practice of measuring life by possessions. Greed equates a person’s worth with a person’s purse. The consequence of such a philosophy is predictable. If you are the sum of what you own, then by all means own it all. No price is too high. No payment is too much. Greed is relative. Greed is not defined by what something costs; it is measured by what it costs you. And if anything costs you your faith or your family, the price is too high.
I know many of you recall the musical written many years ago called “Damn Yankees” It told the story of an aged baseball player who wanted to play baseball again as a young man and lead the NY Yankees to win the World Series. He sold his soul to the devil in exchange for his dream. Many make-believe stories like this one have been told throughout history about fame, wealth, success. But wait, are they really make-believe? Satan is described as the ‘father of lies.” He tells us that you are what you own, your reputation, your bank balance, your position, so you better grab all you can and hang on to it.
Jesus teaches us that we are what we owe. Romans 12:1-2 says, “I appeal to you by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God which is you spiritual worship.” Did you catch that? Worship is more than just your presence here. It’s more than just your song or the gift that you drop in the offering plate. It’s about presenting your entire being to God. Paul goes on to say, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
As Christians we are to think differently. We’re not supposed to be living by the same set of rules or standards. We’ve got to adopt a new way of thinking. It’s a way that’s foreign to the world and unnatural for us. In Luke 6:27-31, Jesus said, “But I say to you who are listening, love your enemies. Do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who are cruel to you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, offer him the other cheek. If someone takes your coat, do not stop him from taking your shirt. Give to everyone who asks you, and when someone takes something that is yours, don’t ask for it back. Do to others what you would want them to do to you.”
When we behave in this way it shocks people. This isn’t the way you expect normal people in this world to behave. As Christians, we are not normal people in this world. We are just passing through. Later along in that passage in Luke Jesus continues His lesson with these thoughts, “Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive and you will be forgiven; give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, it will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.”
There is a story about a rich man who goes to heaven and St. Peter walks with him to his heavenly home. He passes a huge mansion on the way and finds out it belongs to his gardener who was always such a giving person. As they walk on a little farther he sees a friend he grew up with who had become a missionary and served to help those in need. What a beautiful are.” The rich man looks and sees a little 6X8 shack, a few boards stacked up against each other. Well the man, indignantly says, “Why did I pass all those huge mansions of people I knew and I got stuck with this lousy shack?” St. Peter looked at him lovingly and replied, “Well, we did the best we could with what you sent us.”
Matthew 6:19-21 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rest destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven. Where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
There is a story about a rich man who was near death. He was grieved because he’d worked so hard for his money, and he wanted to be able to take it to heaven. An angel heard his concern and appeared to him. “Sorry, but you can’t take your wealth with you.” The man pled with the angel. Later the angel reappeared and told the wealthy man that he could take one suitcase with him. Overjoyed, the man found his largest valise and filled it with gold bars. When he finally died and showed up in heaven, St. Peter saw the suitcase and said, “Hold on, you can’t bring that in here.” The man explained to St. Peter that he had permission. Sure enough, the saint checked the record and verified the man’s story. “But,” St. Peter added, “I am supposed to check the contents before letting it through.” So St. Peter opened the suitcase to discover what was too precious to leave behind. He couldn’t believe his eyes. “You brought pavement?”
There is an eternal benefit for the Christian from being a generous and sacrificial giver to God’s kingdom work. We build our heavenly mansion from what we do here. That seems like a good deal to me. Work down here for a few years and live up there for all eternity, talk about a retirement plan.
I told Tim as I was writing this that this is a difficult congregation to give a stewardship message to. We are blessed to have a church full of givers. But even so there is always more we can learn. For example, did you know that a pound of feathers and a pound of rocks weigh the same? Did you know that 10% of $12,000 and 10% of $120,000 are both 10%? No matter how much or little you earn, 10% is still 10%. God’s way of giving is equal sacrifice, not equal amounts.
So if you give to the church, what is the money used for. Talk show host Dave Ramsey once spoke about how different America would be if all the Christians tithed. He said, “There would be no more welfare in North America. In ninety days there would be no existing church or hospital debts. In the next ninety days, the entire world could be evangelized. There would be prayer in schools, because Christians would buy all the schools!” The biggest use is for spreading the word of the gospel. Almost every program, almost every plan for communicating the gospel, costs money. How many times have good ideas been turned down and our vision limited because we’re worried about how much it costs! You see it’s not just the members of the church that deal with giving, it is the church as a whole. We too have to learn to let go and put the money given to God’s work to work to reach those who don’t know Him. The church’s goal is not to be open every Sunday, but to have a very real impact in the lives of our community. We are just beginning to experience the excitement of changing the lives of people we don’t know. Our local outreach has grown and we are feeling the joy of giving within our ranks. Did you know that you can’t out give God? Remember that scripture in Luke 6:36, “Give and it will be given to you, a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it will be put into your lap.” The real fun starts when you give sacrificially. Give out of your need not out of you abundance. Give the very best that you have.
This message does not only apply to our financial resources. It applies to our joy, our reason for the hope that we have, our time, every single part of our lives. The first thoughts of the day belong to God. Talk to Him before your feet ever hit the floor. Give Him you day from that very first minute and see if your day doesn’t go better. The first success of the day belongs to God. Thank Him for it. The first trial of the day belongs to God, ask Him for the help He has already offered.
Remember we are not our own. We have been bought with a price and that price was God’s only Son, Jesus the Christ.