21 November 2010
Pastor Mark Nieting
When pastors teach about stewardship there are always a few in the seats who will whisper, “It’s another “God needs your money” sermon!” There are a lot of things wrong with that statement: If God REALLY needed my money He would simply take it and there would be a wet spot in the pulpit! God doesn’t NEED anything. God HAS everything. He made it and it ALL belongs to Him.
Over the last few weeks we’ve focused on financial problems, on pride and greed that cause us to live beyond our means; on having a budget; about simplifying our lives. We all know what comes next: the pastor tries to whip up more money for the church budget, right? Wrong. Put the church’s bills aside; we’re going to focus on OUR NEED TO GIVE, as opposed to the Church’s need to GET. We’re going to focus on GENEROSITY……and our innate need to BE generous.
Suppose an ultra-rich gazillionairre died and left Hope a few million dollars that we could use each year for our budget. Would that be a reason to stop giving? (The proper answer here is NO!) By the same token, if our treasurer got on his knees and begged us for $15,000 to break even this week, that would NOT be a reason for you to start giving. You and I have a NEED to give. It’s how God wired us up from the very beginning. We have a built in need to be generous.
As I’ve said before, the Bible is filled with teaching about giving. Open to 2 Corinthians 8-9 and let’s pray before we dive in. (Opening prayer)
Paul is encouraging the Christians in Greece to give to the Church in Jerusalem, which is struggling under persecution and drought. To help the “mother church” Paul is asking all the other churches to take a special offering. He’s already asked the churches in NORTHERN Greece (Macedonia) and now he’s writing to the church in Corinth. Let’s read from 8:1: Now brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity! What do we learn here? People in extreme poverty and people going through hard times (like many people are now) can still be generous!
Let’s read on: V 3: I testify that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability! 4 Entirely on their own they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5 And they did not do so as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will. They asked PAUL if they could be part of the SOLUTION, not part of the problem. For them, giving was a privilege, just as faith was a privilege. Again, God doesn’t want our money, He wants our hearts. What we DO with our money is a clear indicator of what’s going on in our hearts.
Paul had urged Titus to take this offering in Corinth and in v 7 he says, “Just as you excel in everything- in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and your love for us, see that you also excel in the grace of giving!” 8 I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.” Giving is just as much a part of being a Christian as is worship, prayer, Bible reading, and everything else. Giving cannot be separated from the Christian faith!
What Jesus did for us can never be paid back. We can’t even try because it can’t be done. But we CAN say thank you. We do it by living Christ-like lives; by sharing with others; and by being good stewards of EVERYTHING God has given us. Before I go on, let’s be clear about one thing: God doesn’t need my money………but I need to give! Say it with me. Say it again.
By now some of you are getting excited and some of you are getting nervous. You’ve seen the bulletin insert and I’m sure there are questions rolling around; questions that St. Paul will answer for us in Chapter 9.
The first question, and I know it sounds crass but trust me, it’s real for a lot of people, is this: what’s in this giving thing for me? What’s in it for me? Maybe YOU didn’t ask this one but Paul answers it anyway with the principle of “sowing and reaping.” Let’s read 9:6: Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. I overseed my lawn every fall, and you know what? The more grass seed I scatter, the more grass comes up! It’s that simple. This is God’s promise: the more we give, the more we will receive! It’s the same principle God states in Malachi 3 when He literally “double-dog dares” us to give the full tithe by stating that when we DO, we will be blessed to overflowing!
Time out for a quick disclaimer: there’s a lot of preaching and teaching in some churches that says this: God wants you to be rich (or healthy) but it won’t happen unless you first send some “seed money” to a specific ministry (usually theirs) and then….if you do it all right, God will pour out the blessings. It’s called Prosperity Theology or “Name it and Claim it” and it’s been warned about ever since Paul warned Timothy about it (1 Timothy 6). God isn’t a giant ponzi scheme or chain letter for earthly wealth……God is about BLESSINGS, blessings that come from being a part of God’s family, and God is THE giver of givers!
Here’s another question: I’m tired of being “hit up” for money every time I turn around. It’s telemarketers, special events, police, firefighters….and now church!
What do I do? Ever ask that question? Paul answers that in 9:7 “Each should give what he decided in his heart to give….not reluctantly or under compulsion. For God loves a cheerful giver.” This may be the best news you’ve heard all week: someone calls, interrupts your dinner and asks for a contribution, you can honestly say, “God doesn’t want me to give to your cause! The Bible says so!”
God cares more about your attitude than about your money! In the bank of heaven, hearts matter more than cash. Five dollars given sacrificially and generously matters far more to God than Five Thousand dollars begrudgingly given by someone who has plenty and doesn’t really want to give it up! It’s the “widow’s mite” 101. It’s about hearts. It’s about love. It’s about our gratitude to God for the incredible gift of salvation through Jesus Christ!
In 7b Paul writes “God loves a cheerful giver.” It’s a lousy translation. The Greek word used here is “hilarious!” God loves a HILARIOUS giver! One who gives out of PURE JOY!!!! Is that you? It hasn’t always been me! And when we give for the right reason, it’s FUN. That’s why I am never ashamed to ask you to give: it’s fun!
Another question: What if I give and I go broke because of it? Maybe I need to hold on to some of my money, just in case, right?? Paul answers this in v 8: God is able to make all grace abound in you, so that in all things, at all times, having all you NEED (there’s that word: NEED), you will abound in every good work!” It’s the 23rd Psalm “cup-runneth over” principle: God blesses us SO we can bless others and WHEN we bless others we ourselves are blessed.
That question leads to a bigger question: how much should I give? The answer is clear: God expects us to give a tithe. 10% of what make. Make $5000 a month? Drop a zero; give $500 and use all the rest! Make $15 babysitting? Give $1.50! 10% is the Biblical standard that goes back to the time of Abraham. Abraham KNEW how much God had blessed him and he showed his gratitude by giving 10% of everything he had and God blessed him even more. A tithe isn’t what we do to earn God’s approval….it’s our way of saying THANK YOU to God.
For 2000 years Christians have understood that the tithe is the base level of our giving, and if you’re not there yet, that should be your goal. If you’re already there, you know what a blessing it is to be able to give “hilariously,” and you’re already looking for ways to give MORE!
Which leads to the final question for today, one that is running through a lot of minds right now: what if I HONESTLY cannot afford to tithe? “Pastor, I’ve been through my budget, cut out all the junk, and either because of bad choices in the past or bad circumstances I cannot tithe. What do I do?”
There are 3 keys to dealing with this; to being able to lift up your head and your heart and know that you are working within God’s will on giving. We’ll call it the “3 keys to worshipful giving,” and they go like this:
#1: PLAN to give regularly. Paul tells God’s people that every time they get paid to set aside a regular amount and save it for their offering. Don’t just “show up” in church and dig through your wallet…..oh, that’s a $20, need that later, here’s some ones for my offering…..make regular giving a priority. That’s why we are getting the opportunity to fill in an estimate of giving this morning, as a tool to help each of us develop a PLAN for regular giving. Please take those out now.
#2: The second key is Proportionality. God (in Deuteronomy) tells His people to give in proportion to what God has given us. If God has given you NOTHING, how much should you give? Nothing! If God has given you a LOT, God expects you to give a LOT. See how FAIR this is? It’s percentage giving.
Now, you may be honestly saying you cannot give 10%. Then what percentage CAN you give? Look at the chart on the back of the card. Can you give 3%? 4%? 5%? 7%?….then start there. Make that your base level of giving and then, trusting that God will bless you, make a commitment to increase it from year to year and move toward tithing. That’s what Pam and I did in the past and we know God has blessed that commitment….and blessed us. We didn’t start at a tithe, but ultimately God has led us there and more.
#3: Make giving a PRIORITY. Proverbs says honor the Lord with your wealth. Paul makes it a priority. Jesus calls it “first fruits.” I call it giving in FAITH. If we wait to see what we have left over before we give, that’s not faith! That’s not trusting God! That’s not a response out of joy….that’s giving God leftovers. It’s when, out of thanks to God and in God to provide everything we NEED that we give to God first that He receives our gifts like the gifts of Abel….not Cain.
Here’s how I want to end this 3 week teaching. Turn the Challenge of Faith “card” to the front. During the offering fill in the top part: name, address, all that. I know you might need to go home and pray through the rest of this as a family. I know you might need to do some budget math. Here’s the challenge. There are 3 “check lines” on the top. The first line asks for your commitment to raise your regular giving from what it is now, especially if you are not giving the full tithe. Estimate what percentage you give now and ask God to help you raise it as you work towards the goal of tithing. Do this knowing you want to give REGULARLY, PROPORTIONATELY and as a PRIORITY, set a goal and ask God to bless it.
The second line is an even greater challenge. It’s not for everyone. It’s a pledge to give God a full tithe, 10%, for 4 months, just to feel the joy! These are God’s words in Malachi 3: “Bring in the full tithe…. test me and see if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it!” This is God’s challenge, I’m just passing it on to you. You’ll only know God is as good as His Promise if you make that commitment.
Now the 3rd line: sign up for Simply Giving. “Computerized giving” isn’t in Scripture….but it really helps us to keep our giving a priority, to keep our giving regular, and it certainly removes an area of temptation to use “God’s Gifts” for ourselves when we know that our offerings are already committed to God!
The bottom portion of the card completes your commitment in writing. And if you are not already a supporter of Envision Hope, I encourage you to do so.
Let’s close……..with a prayer…….and return these cards either today, on Thanksgiving, or next Sunday…..but please return them! Amen.