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Smile When You Say That!

April 10, 2018

          Major Jackson could have been a poster child for the marines. He did not have an ounce of body fat and his head was shaved clean. He was as tough as nails, a leader of men and somebody you would want on your side in a fight. The major was also a sincere and dedicated Christian who approached his life from that perspective.

           One time I used this marine as my dorm dad at a junior high week of camp.  We had no discipline problems that week!  On Friday we felt the mission giving was low so we issued a challenge: we told the kids that for every dollar they gave that morning to missions, the major would do a push-up and if he could not do them all in a minute, he would personally match the amount given.  Would you believe that after a whole week of camp after already giving to missions for four days and after nine opportunities to spend their money on pop and candy at the camp store, the 65 kids there still managed to raise $175!  Now for me, 175 pushups would be impossible to do in a day much less in a minute but to everyone’s amazement and cheers the major ended up doing 190 in one minute!  And, to top it all off, out of his generosity, he still matched the amount received.

          That was a lot of fun and I have a video of him doing those push-ups which I enjoy watching.  I suppose if we did something “fun” like that at church we could raise a similar amount of money (however don’t expect any pushups out of me!). But is that really a good motivation to give?

          There is a little church I know that uses the offering to control what happens.  When they no longer like the preacher, which happens every two or three years, the people simply stop giving.  Most of the people just keep the money for themselves but some would give their “tithe” to other causes.  The local church camp manager told me once he could always tell when that church was having problems because there would be an increase of money given to the camp from people in that church. 

          The people would still come to church every Sunday, sing about the love of Jesus, listen to the sermons, and even tell the preacher they liked what he said but the offering plates would remain empty.  The board would always pretend to support the preacher and dig into the church’s meager savings to pay his salary but before long it too would dry up.  The preacher, who, under his contract, was not allowed to work elsewhere, would then be forced to leave or starve.  There are many sad things about that story not the least of which is their misunderstanding of why they give. Why do we give to Sterling Park Christian Church?

          I remember visiting an older gentleman in the hospital years ago.  Jim loved to talk and his favorite subject was church.  As he talked he said he wanted to get out soon because he could not make any money to give to the church while he was in the hospital..  I told him not to worry about that because we were doing ok at church - all the bills were paid and no major expenses were on the horizon.

          “You don’t understand,” he said.  “I don’t give to pay your salary or to pay the gas and electric bill or to buy the curriculum or to keep the place looking nice.  I give my offering to the Lord.”

          You may have gathered by now that today’s sermon is about giving. Most preachers don’t like to preach about money and most congregations don’t want to hear a sermon about money either – unless the message is about how to get more. I usually try to preach about giving at least once a year not because I have to but because the Bible talks so much about it. And let me be clear: Sterling Park Christian Church is doing ok financially. Most of you give generously and the money received is wisely and properly distributed. God has blessed us so much. Just look in the bulletin and see how much we collected for our special 30 pieces of silver offering last week! That is amazing – instead of me telling you about giving, you are teaching me.

          Now, let me be honest: I am far from being any kind of financial wizard and have a hard enough time just budgeting my own money let alone trying to pretend I know what’s best for your investments.  But that‘s ok because I am not talking about budgets or expenses of the church or even how to handle your money.  Instead, the purpose of this sermon is to remind us of our attitude toward giving.

          And that attitude is simple and straight from our text this morning: God loves a cheerful giver.  So when the offering plate is passed there should be no grumbling, no hesitation, and no reluctance to part with our hard earned cash.  I have a friend who makes a lot of money and to be honest, for the longest time I thought that was worldly and unspiritual.  Actually that was more of a self-righteous justification from a poor preacher living hand to mouth trying to eke out a career at the tender mercies of a congregation than an honest conviction.  But one day he told me why he wanted to make so much money: “The more money I make,” he said “the more I can give away.”

          So instead of this sermon stepping on toes trying to get you to give more, I want to approach our text for what it is: a joyous message of hope. In other words, we should be able to smile when the offering plate is passed! We can smile because the passing of the plate means we have an opportunity to share and to make a difference in God’s kingdom. Passing the plate means we can show how much we love God. Smile when you say that.

          2 Corinthians 9 is the second of two full chapters where Paul discusses the offering.  This is the longest continual discourse in the Bible about money.  Look at the text: 

          2 Corinthians 9:1-6: 1 There is no need for me to write to you about this service to the saints. 2 For I know your eagerness to help, and I have been boasting about it to the Macedonians, telling them that since last year you in Achaia were ready to give; and your enthusiasm has stirred most of them to action. 3 But I am sending the brothers in order that our boasting about you in this matter should not prove hollow, but that you may be ready, as I said you would be. 4 For if any Macedonians come with me and find you unprepared, we--not to say anything about you--would be ashamed of having been so confident. 5 So I thought it necessary to urge the brothers to visit you in advance and finish the arrangements for the generous gift you had promised. Then it will be ready as a generous gift, not as one grudgingly given.

          6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

          Paul had reminded the Corinthian’s back in chapter 8 that they had promised to give to a special offering or “service to the saints” over a year ago.  Specifically the offering was to go to the church in Jerusalem to help the brothers and sisters there who were having financial difficulties.  But at the time Paul wrote 2 Corinthians, they had not yet sent the money so Paul uses this letter to remind them of their promise.

          You see, no one had twisted their arms for a donation and no one had told them they had to give so much.  They had willingly decided to help and it was their choice regarding how much they would send.  Paul had been bragging about the Corinthians to others telling them how generous they were and he did not want them or himself embarrassed if they reneged on their promise.  The brothers sent to Corinth were not bill collectors but friends who were authorized to receive and disburse their gifts.  Above all however, Paul did not want the Corinthians to think they were being forced to give.  Rather, it was to be a joyous time to collect what had been their choice to give.

          As he wrote this and as the Corinthians read it they surely must have remembered the story of Ananias and Sapphira.  Although the incident occurred some 20 years before, it was probably still fresh on their minds.  The story is recorded for us in Acts 5.  The couple sold a piece of land and gave the money to the church claiming that what they gave was the total amount they received for the land.  Ananias and Sapphira got in trouble not because they gave too little but because they lied about how much they gave.  Peter told them the money was at “their disposal.”  In other words, if you want to give only a $1 a week, fine just don’t act like you’re tithing or giving all you can - unless you only make $10 or less a week.

          We play those games all the time at church and it’s a wonder that God hasn’t struck us dead like he did Ananias and Sapphira.  The problem starts when we act as if we are obligated to tithe.  However, tithing is not commanded in the New Testament. Let me repeat that: tithing is not commanded in the New Testament. It is an Old Testament law that we are not bound to today. 

          And that’s a good thing because when we say we are tithing today we aren’t really following the law anyway.  Leviticus 27:30 explains what we are to tithe: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.”  A tithe is 10% of everything we have - our savings account (and interest), our homes we live in, all our clothes, our food, our cars and so on. 

          Too often when we talk about tithing today we are not even talking 10% of our gross income (our money before taxes) but 10% of our net (after taxes).  We pretend we are tithers when in reality we only give 10% of our leftovers.  Contrast that with many of the Corinthians who gave their tithe (or 10% of all they owned) to their synagogue and then gave an extra offering to the church and you see how guilty we are of cheating God.

          But all is not lost because, as I said, tithing is not required.  Now, 10% of your paycheck (before taxes) is a good measuring stick or starting point to your giving (and I encourage that) but the New Testament gives us freedom to decide how much we will actually give.  Tithing is like a curfew.  When I was young my parents set a curfew for me and I was expected to be home by that time.  They set a curfew not because they did not trust me but to protect me and teach me responsibility.  Now that I am an adult I can stay out as long as I want but I know I must go home at a reasonable hour or I will not be able to function the next day.

          The law of the tithe was given to teach people about giving and what was expected from them.  Now, as Christians, it is assumed that we are more mature and so we are allowed to make the choice of how much we give. The only instruction Paul gives about our giving is in verse 6 of 2 Corinthians 9: 6 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.

          Paul’s grammar here suggests that this is a quote but no one can find the source.  It is either lost to history or maybe Paul made it up himself.  Now it is very similar to what Jesus said in Luke 6:38 - 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."  And what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 9:6 is also very similar to what he wrote in Galatians 6:7 -  7 Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. 

          The point of all that is this: the more we give the more we will be blest; the less we give the fewer blessings we can expect.  It’s our choice. It is not a command and it is not part of our salvation. Rather it is what we get to do. And when we do, we can smile when we say that.

          So, if we are not required to tithe anymore, why should we give at all? I see at least two motivations in the New Testament to give followed by an overriding principle that should be our reason to give:

          First, we give to take care of our own needs.  Acts 4:34 and 35 says, 34 There were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need.  We have needs at Sterling Park Christian Church - bills that need to be paid, repairs that must be done, and programs that we need to do.  As I said earlier, we are doing ok here because you all understand that and give generously. There is no need for me to step on toes or berate you or make you feel guilty – God has met our needs and we are blest. All that needs to be said about our needs is to encourage you to continue your generous giving.

          Back in 2 Corinthians 8 we were told that the poor churches in Macedonia actually begged Paul for more opportunities to give and take care of other people‘s needs.  Can you imagine what could be accomplished in Sterling if we had that attitude?  Not only would our church expenses be taken care of but the needy in our church and community could have their needs met. So as we give to take care of our needs maybe we need to start looking around and ask ourselves, what more can we do here? That’s the challenge: smile when you say that.

          The second reason for giving in the New Testament is to help others who do not live in our community.  I mentioned that the offering Paul was looking for from the Corinthians had actually been pledged earlier. We can find the story of that pledge in Acts 11:29 and 30 where it says, 29 The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. 30 This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul. The church is more than just the local body of believers.  We have an obligation to help those around the world.  That’s why we support missionaries.

          The missions and missionaries we support are on the bulletin board in the fellowship hall and their latest newsletter or information is posted. Sometimes we can think that we are just a little church with only a few people and we don’t make that much of a difference. However that would be wrong thinking. Just look at our mission board, read about the work being done and see that it is being done around the world and realize – those missions are making a difference and we are a part of it through our giving.

          But giving to meet our needs or the needs of others really does not matter if we think we have to give.  Listen, we don’t have to give. That may sound like a strange thing for a preacher to say while preaching on stewardship and money. But we don’t have to give - we get to give.  Christian giving goes beyond an obligation or duty because giving is a physical expression of our love.  We can talk all we want about being a loving church or about loving one another or loving God but the only way to show that is through our giving.  What Paul is suggesting in these verses is that our willingness to give shows how much we really love God.

          It might be good for us to know what our expenses are at church.  It is good to be accountable and good stewards of the money received.  But we don’t give because we approve of the items in the budget or like the preacher.  There would be no point to bring out charts and graphs showing the breakdown of your offering dollar because we do not give to pay salaries, cut down trees, fix up the building or pay for the programs we offer.  We give because we love God and are committed to serving Him.

          Psalm 50:10 reminds us that God owns the cattle on a thousand hills.  If that is so, He doesn’t need our money.  And the truth is, if this is God’s church, the church will function without your check and it will continue without your dollars. Because if this is God’s church, he will see that our bills are paid and our expenses met.

          So giving is really a spiritual issue.  How much are you really committed to the Lord?  When giving is less than the need, when bills are left unpaid, when our missionaries go without, when we begin to hoard our money our actions speak louder than words.  And sometimes our actions speak in contrast to our words. 

          So here is the challenge. I don’t know what any of you give and I don’t want to know. But think about what you give and ask yourself, “Am I giving enough?” “Can I give a little more?” “What more can we do at Sterling Park if I gave just a dollar or two more?”

          What kind of commitment are you making to this church?  Smile when you say that!

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