Summary: Unlike the world, which assumes that we must make a profit and we get what we pay for, God’s bookkeeping says that giving is receiving, and you get more than you pay for. You get grace paid for by the blood of Jesus.
In the last several months I have learned more about bookkeeping than I ever wanted to know. Because the church is converting from bookkeeping by hand to an accounting software, and because our financial leadership does not yet have access to all of that, I began to record transactions on the computer. The more I got into it, the more I learned about accounting. In fact, I have learned, through that process, more than I ever wanted to know.
I have learned, for example, that there are different methods of accounting. There is something called the cash method and there is something else called the accrual method. Now the cash method I think I can understand. It’s something like the system I used when I was a teenager and earned my first money. I was paid the princely sum of 55 cents an hour as a drugstore delivery boy. I had a box with holes in the top and with little cans underneath those holes. Each hole was labeled with something I was going to spend my money on. So when I got paid, I would drop into each of these holes the amount I was going to spend on that item. If I worked twenty hours and earned about $10.00 after taxes, into the hole marked “tithe” I would drop $1.00 (hint, hint), and then into the hole marked “hobbies” (I had to feed my stamp collecting habit), I would drop another $1.00, and into the hole for clothes went maybe $2.00, and something over here for insurance, since I was learning to drive, and so on. That’s cash accounting. Put it in the coffee can and spend it. Pretty simple.
But now they talk about the accrual method. The accrual method is about keeping track of expenses when they are obligated, not when they are paid out. In other words, if I have already agreed to buy a new jacket and have put the charge on my credit card, I’d better add that in now and not wait until the bill comes, because if I spend the money elsewhere, then when the bill comes there will be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. That’s the accrual method. Or better said, the “cruel” method of bookkeeping.
Oh, I have learned something about how to keep books! I’ve come a long way from when the chairman of our Stewardship Committee asked me about our chart of accounts and our general ledger, and my answer was, “Huh?” Have you heard about the fellow who responded indignantly when his bank said he was overdrawn. “Overdrawn? How can I be overdrawn? I still have eight blank checks in my checkbook!” I’ve come a very long way, learning bookkeeping methods.
But something else I’m learning. I’m learning that God’s bookkeeping method is different. The way God keeps accounts is not the same as the way we keep accounts. A whole lot of us have not yet learned God’s bookkeeping method.
For example, we think that the books have to balance and show a profit. We want to know that what we receive is more than what we pay out. Unless you are a member of Congress, where deficit spending doesn’t matter, because they just call up Mr. Bush and ask him to print more money! Oh, not that Mr. Bush; I mean THIS Mr. Bush! Unless you are just reckless and spend without worrying about tomorrow, you want your bookkeeping to show you that what you receive is more than what you pay out. You want a profit.
We even have a little saying about this. We say that “if your outgo exceeds your income, then your upkeep will be your downfall.” A simple mathematical reality. You have to gain more than you spend.
Nothing new about that. That’s what people said back in Malachi’s day. Malachi the prophet went out among the people, and they were saying, “It is vain to serve God. What do we profit by keeping his command ...?” Isn’t that our bookkeeping method? What do we profit by serving God? We think it is vain, empty, profitless. My little coffee cans have nothing in them because I serve God. I want something to show for all my hard work for the Lord. We want to know that what we receive is more than what we pay out.
But let me clue you in to God’s bookkeeping method. With God, the more you give, the more you receive. With God, the books don’t balance. The books are tipped way over to one side. The profit-loss statement is all out of line. Because with God, the more you give, the more you receive – not in coffee cans, not in bank accounts, not in the balance sheets. But you do receive something else much more valuable. You receive spiritual satisfaction. You receive a sense of well-being. You receive a joy that noone can ever value with dollars.