Sunday, September 11, 2016
Speaker: Lead Pastor Justin Douglas
Scriptures: Psalm 24:1, James 1:17, Deuteronomy 14:22-23, Leviticus 27:30, Luke 11:42, Luke 12:29-33, Luke 12:34, II Corinthians 9:7
"Too many people spend money they earned to buy things they don't want to impress people that they don't like." This is something Will Rogers said. Epictetus said this: "Wealth consists not in having great possessions but in having few wants." Ralph Waldo Emerson said this: "Money often costs too much." One of my favorite quotes, Jonathan Swift said this: "A wise person should have money in their head but not in their heart."
Today as we continue our Time Treasure Talent series, we're talking about treasure. And as we talk about treasure, I think it's important to note that much has been talked about when we talk about money and when we talk about the separation of, I guess even as Swift puts it, money in our head and money in our heart and this concept of greed that can so quickly seep into the way we hold our money. Because this is a series all about stewardship and all about how we use our money wisely and how it grows the kingdom in the way in which we use it.
Before we get started, I want to share a story about my own personal life. I grew up going to multiple different churches. My family, we were kind of figuring it out while I was growing up. Figuring out what denomination fit us the best, what church fit us the best, and one of my church experiences happened while I was in middle school. We were in a very Pentecostal church, it was a Pentecostal church revival, and by the way, before I go any further in the story, I just want to say I love and celebrate the Pentecostal church. This was not a very good experience within the Pentecostal church, though.
The pastor passed the plate around the audience and then passed it again later on after a little more preaching, passed it again, and then again, passed it again. So usually, potentially the plate being passed twice wasn't like a phenomenon or anything. It wasn't anything crazy, but now it had been passed three times. And then, then the pastor said I feel like there are some people here that God is calling to put your jewelry into the offering plate, that God is calling you to give it all, give everything to Him, and to even give that.
And so they passed the plates again. And I remember sitting there as a young middle-schooler watching this take place and thinking, 'Wow. I'm watching grown adults drop their jewelry into an offering plate. I'll never forget the darkness that I sensed in that moment. It was...it was a dark place. It was not a place in my mind that reflected the Kingdom of God. I saw a man from the pulpit, best as I could tell as a middle-schooler, manipulating people.
So today as we continue this Time Treasure Talent series, last Sunday we talked about time and we talked about how our life is short. James says, what are you? You're a mist that appears for a moment and then you're gone. And so today as we discuss treasure, we should discuss it with the concept of time also attached to that. We have treasure, but we have a limited amount of time. And so these are all interconnected...our time, our treasure, our talent. But as we come into this, I know this topic can be messy. For many of us, we enter into this conversation when we talk about money, when we think about money with much baggage, and I want you to know up front, I'm skeptical. I'm part of that group that has baggage when it comes to this.
At The Bridge, one of our core values is giving compassionately, and we do believe in this value strongly, but we also see value in applying it in a non-pressure way. We don't see any value at all to apply this value in a high-pressure way as maybe you've experienced in church in the past, or if you've been like me, maybe you've seen that in your upbringing. And most research even says that a lot of reasons that people don't attend church is because they say the church just wants my money.
Well, at The Bridge, we have giving boxes. You can hit the giving boxes on the way in, you can hit the giving boxes on the way out, you can hit the giving boxes during, but there's no pressure. No one's keeping a tally like, oh, so-and-so hasn't stopped over by the giving box yet. We don't pass plates for that exact reason. We don't want people to feel that in order to attend The Bridge, they must give something. We believe giving is the antidote to greed, and so we believe giving is incredibly important for you personally, but it's not important if it's a decision that you're manipulated into. It's important if it's a decision that your heart becomes aware of your need to give. And we would even say that giving extends beyond The Bridge. Certainly if your heart is connected to The Bridge, we would love for you to support what we're doing, but there's so much good happening out there, and there are so many things that God has connected your heart to that are beyond The Bridge, and so how are you giving? Because again, giving is the antidote to greed.
So before we get started though, we're going to go through a few points. I'm going to read a few scriptures as we talk about this topic of treasure/money today.
So the very first concept we have to get is this: God owns it all.
This is so fundamental to our posture of generosity. If we believe that we are owners, then we forget who is seated above us. God owns it all. We serve God. A servant going to his master and claiming ownership of what is the master's seems incredibly ridiculous. So we must remember that God owns it all. And then the second principle that flows out of that, James tells us this:
So the next principle is that God gives it all.
God owns it all, and God gives it all. So another equally hard principle for us to grasp, especially in American culture. We didn't earn it, God gave it. Just like salvation. Some people bask in their good works, but we didn't earn our salvation, God gave it as a free gift from God. It is the same with our treasure. Certainly we worked hard, yes, but who gave us the ability to work hard? Now certainly your decisions have consequences. If you decide not to work hard, yeah, that could result in you being destitute, but ultimately God is the one who blesses. God is the one who gives gifts. And so when we think of God providing for us, we see this in a multi-faceted way. God provides for you a relationship when you're in a really difficult season. So we have to see our time, our treasure, our talent all as flowing from God's goodness and God's grace.
And so this leads us to kind of point 3, which is really just a question, because I'm asked this a lot:
I'm not sure how many of you have heard of this word tithing before, but tithing literally means one tenth, and there's much debate over this concept of tithing throughout scholarship today. Let's read a few passages from the Old Testament about tithing.
So many pastors will get up and say God commands you give away 10% of your income, yet we don't see tithing explicitly mentioned in the New Testament. Jesus doesn't mention it as a commandment; therefore, is it valid for us to, I guess, and further God desires right now in this moment a tenth of our income.
Interestingly, a deeper study into the Old Testament seems to show that there were actually three different tithes: A tithe of the produce of the land to support the Levites, a tithe of the produce of the land to support religious festivals in Jerusalem, and a tithe of the produce of the land every third year for Levites, orphans, widows, and strangers. And so you have really 23.3% yearly tax/tithe, whatever you want to call it, of the annual income. So even if you go by the Old Testament principle, if you really take it, 10% isn't what was happening there. It was more accurately probably something like 23.3%. So 20% two years and then every third year they were giving 30%.
So what about us? What does this mean for us today, because these numbers and this rigid, I guess, kind of law-driven giving, I don't think is helpful, and so what does Jesus say about the topic of money? So when He is confronted with Pharisees who tithe...I mean, they tithe everything. They have this great ability to show everyone that they're giving God the money God has asked for, they're giving the tenth...here's what Jesus says to them, those who are tithing:
So Jesus says, you've given a tenth. You've been faithful in giving a tenth of your income, but you've neglected justice and you've neglected the love of God. He immediately talks about a heart issue being the heart of the issue. They gave faithfully but they neglected justice and the love of God. See, Jesus moves us forward into getting to the heart of the matter. Jesus often said, "You've heard it said, but I tell you..." Especially the Sermon on the Mount, He constantly said, "You've heard it said, but I tell you." So here's a few of those.
"You've heard it said, 'Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.' But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all." So Jesus gets to the heart and says hey, just don't even swear, like let your yes be yes and your no be no.
Here's another one. "You've heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth,' but I tell you do not resist an evil person." So like this concept of revenge and violence, he's saying no. No, no, no.
Here's another one in that same kind of vein. "You've heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you."
Jesus moves the conversation forward, and the proof is that when we look at the followers of Jesus, they were incredibly generous. They didn't just give 10% and like feel like oh, there it is. No, their hearts were connected to what they were passionate about to what they'd seen the Kingdom of God valuing. And so in Acts, we see people selling their houses to give to the poor, we see people investing in the Kingdom of God instead of the kingdom of this world, and this is what marked a follower of Christ: extreme generosity, a love for advancing good. This is what should mark us today.
A friend and I were debating tithing, and it was a really great like kind of theological debate because I enjoy those. And he said to me, it got really personal, he said, "Ten percent is a good starting point for me because it helps me keep my heart in check.' And I actually really thought, that's really helpful. See, 10% isn't the problem. The problem is: where is our heart? For him, he said, you know what? I'm less confident that the Bible is telling me to give 10%, but I know that 10% is something that helps me keep my heart in check.
Because the truth is...he knew, and you know, and I know that we always want more. There's always an upgrade, there's always a new thing that we desire. We live in a world that convinces us we need more, more, more. But what's the starting point for giving compassionately, and how do we get there?
"...for where your treasure is," we're talking about treasure here today, "for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Giving is a heart issue.
This is point #4. Giving is a heart issue. Your heart can seek riches or your heart can seek the Kingdom of God. But it seems consistent throughout the Bible that your heart cannot seek both. At some point, these worlds collide. Even more so, where your treasure is, there your heart is. I have this book that I will sometimes read the kids, it's Aesop's Fables, these short little stories with a moral at the end, and here's one of those fables. It's called The Dog and the Shadow.
"It happened that a dog had got a piece of meat and was carrying it home in his mouth to eat it in peace. Now on his way home, he had to cross a plank lying across a running brook. As he crossed, he looked down and saw his own shadow reflected in the water beneath. Thinking it was another dog with another piece of meat, he made up his mind to have that also, so he made a snap at the shadow in the water. But as he opened his mouth, the piece of meat fell out, dropped into the water, and was never seen again. Beware, lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow."
Let me read one more time the final sentence that kind of closes out this teaching. "Beware, lest you lose the substance by grasping at the shadow." You know, in a Christian context, you might say, "Beware, lest you lose the Kingdom by grasping at the shadow of riches."
So what do we do, where do we start, where do we go from here? A few quick things to note.
We give from the heart. We think of even songs we sing like Break My Heart for What Breaks Yours. We need to examine our hearts. The heart of the matter is a matter of the heart.
We give without guilt. We have no interest in placing guilt on you or for you to give from a place of guilt. Giving from guilt may change your behavior, but it doesn't change your heart. And God's not after our money; God's after our heart. We see this consistently in Jesus that Jesus would much rather have our heart. And what we know to be true, and what at the deepest core of your being you know to be true, money is one of the greatest competitors of your heart. We see money as one of the leading causes of divorce in our country. There's a reason. Your heart is tied to this individual, and money can get in there and greed and a desire for that can begin to trump a desire for that relationship, and it's no different than our relationship with Christ. And so when we think about this, we need to get to a place where we give without guilt. We give from a place of desire to give. That's the healthy way to give. And then even deeper, we give cheerfully.
And this can all be seen in II Corinthians 9:7, so you can check that out.
But we give cheerfully. And what a joy it is to give when we give cheerfully. We celebrate that God owns it all. We celebrate that God is blessing us, but not just blessing us. See, all the way back when God began to bless mankind, it was always blessing them to be a blessing to others. So we are called even as God blesses us to bless others. So we get to celebrate that our hearts remain connected to God and not being swayed by the shadows of riches. Giving actually becomes fun, not a burden. We begin to think about 'What can I do to give?'
I think of this actually...Jesse Carey from Relevant Magazine, I got to go to Florida this summer. Last year, he did a Nickelback challenge for charity: water where he listened to(http://www.charitywater.org/) Nickelback for seven straight days to raise money, and I think he raised something like $17,000. And then this year, he watched Nicolas Cage movies for 24 hours, and I actually got to go be there for a couple of the movies while I was in Florida in Orlando for our conference at the same time. And he raised over $30,000! And I think of that, between these two campaigns, he raised close to $50,000. And it wasn't a burden for people to give, they were excited to give. They were engaged. It was fun! There was this cheerfulness to it. They were able to give cheerfully.
And so when we think about this, is this how we're giving? How are we giving? Because I think Jesse just said, hey, you know what? I'm going to give up two of my birthdays, I'm going to do these crazy fun campaigns, get a bunch of people involved, and from that, charity: water will be able to build like something like three or four or five wells. And you're like, wow! Villages that didn't have water now have water because people gave cheerfully. When we give from the heart, it isn't a burden, it is actually incredibly life-giving.
So at The Bridge, we encourage you to give from the heart. We desire that all of our stories would be marked by the example of compassionate giving. But not just here in this space, because it isn't just about here, it's about our hearts being transformed and our world being transformed because of our hearts being transformed. So whatever touch points you have, not just this place on a Sunday morning and mid-week, but even all the other touch points you have: your family, your friends, your workplace, all of these opportunities that God gives you to be a compassionate giver, as our hearts are transformed, we begin to see those opportunities and be aware that they exist, and our whole lives begin to reflect the generosity of Jesus, so may we take a step toward generosity as we manage our treasure. Let's pray.
Good and gracious God, You own it all and You give it all, and we are so thankful that You are good. That You are good, that You would bless us in the way You've blessed us. Change our hearts where they need to be changed, draw us closer to You. Where we need to shed bad thinking about this topic, remind us that we've heard it said this way, but You tell us something different. You're drawing us into the new, and may we be mindful of that newness.
May You place in us a desire to give from the heart, to not give with guilt, but to give cheerfully and to grow our compassion, a desire for us to grow our compassion. A desire for us to maybe even get a standard of living raise, but instead say, this year that's going to be a standard of giving raise because we see so many needs around us and we want to, we desire to give. And so place that heart in us and allow us the opportunity to give in that way.
Lord, I pray for those at The Bridge who are struggling financially. I know there are those stories here, and Lord I pray that Your goodness, Your mercy, Your grace, would be on them, Lord. Be with them in this time. Draw them close to You to trust You even more in this season, and Lord, provide for them their needs. And show us as a community how we can provide for them as well.
Lord, continue to allow us as a community to reach the community You've placed us in, Hummelstown, and beyond, Lord. We have a budget that we desire to meet, but not just to meet a budget, we want to be able to do ministry in this place. Every dollar counts because every dollar is spreading the Kingdom in this community. And so, Lord, give us for what You're doing here at The Bridge, and may we engage in meaningful ways. Lord, the heart of the matter is a matter of the heart, and so Lord we pray that You would capture our hearts and that we would be forever changed. In the name of Jesus, amen.