Give It 5

Malachi 3:8-10

As we were discussing the “Know It” message, Peggy pointed out that children can be told and told and told, but they never really learn until they try something. That is how you really know something. You can say the oven is hot, but nothing teaches as well as experience, actually touching the oven.

Today’s passage is a lesson in learning too, but in a positive way. Yet, we will not trust, it seems.

What is God’s accusation? How do people rob God? What is the result? What is the solution?

This passage was printed on the giving envelopes at our previous church. I remember being a child of about ten to twelve and seeing the passage. I read it over and over again, and I believed it completely.

There have been a few lapses in my life, a few months early in our marriage when, as the person in charge of our finances, I did not tithe. But for the most part, for the past 35 + years I have tithed. Contrary to what prosperity gospel believers preach, I have never been a millionaire. I have never really been wealthy at all. But God has certainly opened the floodgates of heaven in my life and poured out abundant blessings. I just haven’t always been aware of them.

No matter what has happened, what jobs, what circumstances, even unemployment, we have always been blessed by having what we need when we need it.

People try to rob God by getting out of the obligation God has set up. God requires a tithe – ten percent. But that number intimidates and frightens so many. They try to work it down by citing other passages. 2 Corinthians 9 says we should give whatever we determine in our hearts, just give gladly. Some of us give, but the gladness is missing. We are robbing God of that communal experience, that exchange of gratitude and blessings, of joy and gift and love.

I believe and adhere to ten percent. You may determine a different number. What is essential, however, is that you are faithful in your giving, that your gift is sacrificial, and that your gift is done in gladness. Then you will be blessed.

But the only way to learn that lesson is to actually do it. I can preach it, but until you step out in faith and give faithfully, sacrificially and gladly, you will never really know that God indeed will keep His promise. The floodgates of heaven will be opened to pour out blessings.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What do you consider your tithe to be? Can you give it faithfully and gladly?

Give It 4

John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement, preached a sermon in 1760 entitled "The Use of Money." In it he says:

For, let the world be as corrupt as it will, is gold or silver to blame? "The love of money," we know, "is the root of all evil;" but not the thing itself. The fault does not lie in the money, but in them that use it. It may be used ill: and what may not? But it may likewise be used well: It is full as applicable to the best, as to the worst uses. It is of unspeakable service to all civilized nations, in all the common affairs of life: It is a most compendious instrument of transacting all manner of business, and (if we use it according to Christian wisdom) of doing all manner of good. ... In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked: It gives to the traveller and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. We maybe a defence for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain; it may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death!

As a summary of this sermon, Wesley says "Having, First, gained all you can, and, Secondly saved all you can, Then give all you can."

That sounds so simple and obvious!

Earn what you can (work industriously), save where you can (live simply) and give all you can (generously). Wouldn't life be easier if we followed this simple rule? (No credit cards in John Wesley's time!)

It is said that Wesley took in incredibly large sums of money through donations, books, preaching fees, etc. In one year, he made an equivalent of $1.4 million dollars. So he certainly knew about earning all he could.

In today's reading we see the famous widow and her measly mite. She has nothing to gain and no one probably lived more plainly than she did. Yet she gives all she can. In fact, she gives all she has.

What an amazing example of generosity! She may not have had the largest gift, but it was the most important one in Jesus' eyes. It was the only one, in fact, that counted to him. She gave from her poverty and it meant something.

So what about Wesley and his millions. How did he stack up? He tithed 98% of his earnings that year. Gave it all away for the very things he listed above.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What is one thing you could do to live more simply so you could give more generously?

Give It 3

1 Kings 17:10-14

I preached on this story once before, and I remarked that you can tell Elijah is a prophet – a member of the clergy, of sorts – because when he meets a person in need, the first thing he asks for is food. Unfortunately, many members of the clergy are so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t always see the needs of others because they can only see themselves.

But Elijah is not really being selfish. He is challenging the woman to have faith, to act in faith.

What does Elijah request first? How does she respond? What does he next want her to do? Why does Elijah challenge her so? What confidence does he have?

The rest of the story plays out in the rest of the chapter and demonstrates the
promise of God. The woman and her son do not starve to death, and the flour and oil do not run out. Elijah had the confidence in God, and knew God would provide for their needs.

Similarly, people can look at churches and church leaders as money-grubbing institutions. “All they want is my money.” They can view the encouragement to give more as an expression of greed and selfishness.

In fact, however, it is usually just a challenge, a challenge to live out your faith. I believe we are called by God – commanded by God – to give a certain amount of our money, time and talent (see Leviticus 27:30). When I encourage people to step out in faith, I am not asking them to give more than they should, but to increase their giving to where it should be.

The widow of Zarephath took a tremendous leap of faith, giving up the oil and flour she had to share it with a total stranger. In response, God made certain she did not want. She had what she needed.

The same is true of each of us. When we are willing to step out in faith, to give to God our tithe – a daring amount! – God will respond by providing for our every need.

With the widow it was a small bit of flour and a few drops of oil. With us it may be $100 a week, or $200, or something else entirely. It is not the specific sacrifice; it is the attitude, the willingness to give – and therefore trust – in God.

What is the flour and oil in your life, those things you do not want to risk or lose?

Give It 2

2 Corinthians 9:6-8

Years ago one of our pastors went to Africa for a few weeks. When he returned one of the stories he shared from the pulpit was the offering made at a small church. He talked about how each family eagerly awaited their opportunity to bring the offering forward, of how they danced as they brought their gifts.

According to Paul what determines the amount of our own harvest? What amount should each person give? How does this promote a better attitude toward giving? What is God’s response?

The atmosphere described at the African church was one of celebration, of joy. Those in attendance wanted to give. It brought them happiness to know they could give.

The same attitude is sought in today’s passage. No amounts of dollars and cents, no percentages, no measurements are given. Instead, each should give what they have determined in their heart to give. What feels right to you?

Sounds like an easy out for most people – “I have determined that a penny is okay.” But before stating that each should determine their own amount, we are encouraged that if we give a little we will receive a little. And this goes beyond the financial rewards that many pastors preach about. If you give a very small amount of money when in fact you could afford more, then that sensation of doing what is right and good is diminished. If you are sacrificing to give to God, whatever the amount is, you will be rewarded greatly with a tremendous awareness that you have done God’s will.

It returns to the attitude. Determine what amount you want to give, but focus less on the exact amount and more on the feeling you have about giving. Is it going to require a financial effort or change in attitude on your part to give the amount you have determined? Or is this a gift you can easily afford, that requires no thought or effort at all?

Then, if you feel you are giving the right amount, add more effort by giving with a glad spirit and not grudgingly. Give with a smile.

And how will God respond? He will be certain you have all that you need and that you will receive abundant grace from Him.

DAILY CHALLENGE: Is your attitude when giving cheerful? If not, what can you do make it cheerful?

Give It 1

Hebrews 13:15-16

You can click above for your listening pleasure!

This week, we're looking at the fourth characteristic of a healthy Christian - giving.

We are always being told to give sacrificially, but what does that mean? What defines a sacrifice? I found this definition in the Encycolpedia of Religion:

(Latin, 'that which is made sacred'). The offering of something, animate or inanimate, in a ritual procedure which establishes, or mobilizes, a relationship of mutuality between the one who sacrifices (whether individual or group) and the recipient - who may be human but more often is of another order, e.g. God or spirit.

In other words, giving up something to create or energize a relationship between ourselves and God.

Now, it is important to distinguish between creating a relationship with God and paying "dues" to a church. For some, giving our offerings becomes like paying admission. Something that lets us in -- something that buys God off.

But that's not what the definition of a sacrifice is. Giving sacrificially, giving to strengthen our bonds with God, makes our gift sacred or holy.

So what is a sacrifice of praise? Shouldn't it be easy to praise? What does this mean?

The key is in the second half of today's reading. When we offer a sacrifice of praise--when our offering truly becomes something sacred and holy that thanks God for what we have been given--God is pleased. When we do good for others and share what we have, these acts also become sacred and holy things, pleasing God.

What we end up with is giving pleases God. It's not about underwriting any institution or making a show for the community or making yourself feel better. It's as simple (and mind boggling) as pleasing God.

DAILY CHALLENGE: What can you do today to please God? Can you do good, confess his name, or give to others?