A sermon delivered by Joel Snider, Pastor, First Baptist Church, Rome, Ga., on November 13, 2011.
2 Deuteronomy 15:7-10
Lord of all love, we ask that you would compensate for our failures today. If there are any to whom we cannot speak a word of blessing, be to that person a constant presence and an abiding light. Do not let the hardness of our hearts be the reason that they find no joy in the world today. Give to them all the good things that you have promised to your children, all the things that you would offer from your hand. If there are any today that we cannot forgive, bless them with gracious hearts so that your forgiving work might go on even without us. Don’t let us be the barrier to the healing power of reconciliation in this world. O God, if our hearts are too cold and our wills are too stubborn to obey, then let others take the lead in overcoming our spiritual challenges. May our enemy demonstrate enough grace to pull our hearts towards kindness. May the person we have judged as unchristian offer reconciliation to us until our cold hearts hear your command. If we are fearful in these things, put in our path the opportunity to be generous and to give freely. We know your work does not wait for us nor depend on us. We pray that you would do what is necessary for your will to succeed in the world. Grant us eyes to see it and grant us wills to join with it as we do. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
When you give of yourself, to a faith community and to others, that’s one of the places where you get to discover the image of God that is within you. The essence of God is always to be giving. God is a giver. God is a giver of life; God is a giver of health; God is a giver of forgiveness; God is a giver of mercy and compassion; God is a giver of energy to transform the world to be a just and peaceful place. I think that there is a spiritual phenomenon that goes on when you give generously. The by-product is joy and happiness, but the deepest thing that is going on is that you’re expressing the image of God within you. I think that people feel connected with God in a way that’s as powerful as having a mystical experience during prayer or while gazing at the sunset.
—Douglas LeBlanc in Tithing – Test Me In This
It is so easy to take the Bible and make it say whatever we want it to say. It is so easy to look through and find a verse or two that back up our opinion and say what we want it to say even though there might be a number of other verses that might say something else.
If you cannot find a passage in the Bible to back up what you want to say, then you don’t know the Bible well enough. We all know we can do it. The trick is to try to understand what it is that God wants to say to us throughout the Bible, as the old preacher would say “cover to cover.” From Genesis to Revelation, what is the wholeness of the message on any one subject?
If we take the ark of the biblical message, that umbrella that covers the whole of what all the writers would say was inspired by the Holy Spirit, there are two unavoidable and two undeniable things that the Bible would say as it relates to our money. The first one is this: If we intend to follow Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ intends to meddle in our money. We have all heard the joke, “You have gone from preaching to meddling.” Let me tell you Jesus skipped the preaching and went straight to meddling. If you open up the Gospels, on almost any page, we can be slapped in the face about something that Jesus would say to us about money or our earthly goods. Jesus is doing a great job of meddling. We have all heard the passage, “You cannot serve two masters. You will love the one and hate the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
Then there is the verse, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.” We might be able to get around that one because we will say, I am not Warren Buffet, Bill Gates or one of the Walton clan. I don’t have that much money. We all know we are avoiding the message. We all know what it is saying and how it applies to us. The reason why Jesus meddles so much in our money appears to be the No. 1 barrier why we don’t follow God more closely. It comes across as the No. 1 spiritual problem. Jesus talks many more times about money, and our relationship to our money, than he does about prayer.
The second thing is this: If we take the whole message of scripture, how we use our money, how we think about it, and how we view it, this has a direct impact on the quality of our lives. I am not saying it has a direct impact on our standard of living. The quality of life I am talking about is in things like relationships, happiness, and joy. How we use our money has a direct impact on the quality of our lives. This is stated so many different places in scripture that we would not have enough time to list them all.
Let me give you some negative examples on how this works in our lives. If you are married or have been married, there is a good chance that a large number of the arguments that have taken place in your home are/were about money. If you have children, a lot of times the argument is about what they expect to be able to do and the argument is over money. If your parents have passed away and you have dealt with an estate situation, a lot of times because of the way different people look at the money, we find ourselves at odds with siblings and family members. Those of the negative examples, but the scriptures remind us that there is an opportunity for the way that we look at our money to have a good impact on the quality of our lives. It might be something as simple as the statement in Acts that it is more blessed to give than to receive. How we look at money has an impact on the quality of our lives. If we are more blessed, have we learned that giving is a more satisfying experience than getting?
It could be like the subtle passage in Deuteronomy. If you stop paying attention to the reading of this passage before the end, you will miss it. At the beginning, it sounds like an admonition that everybody should be charitable and give to the poor, but if you listen to the end, it says, “and if you do this, God will bless you in every way.” This is a common message in the Book of Deuteronomy. If we obey God and do what God asks us to do, God will bless us. To have the right attitude and actions with our money results in a better quality of life because God blesses us. Our problem comes in because we have misunderstood the word bless. We think it is some kind of magical formula, and if we use our money right, the Holy Spirit will give us some really hot stock tips that are guaranteed to pay off and all of our investments will prosper. That is not what it says. It says you will be blessed, not blessed with money.
Have you ever had a relationship made whole? If you have, you know it is one of the greatest things that can ever happen in your life. It is a blessing. Perhaps there have been moments where faith has sustained us. Was there ever anything that was more of a blessing in our lives? What about the peace of mind and the peace of heart that comes from having things right with God? What would we pay to get that? It cannot be bought, but it can be gained through having the right attitude about our money. Our quality of life is impacted directly by the way we view our money. The reason Jesus meddles in our money is because he wants us to be blessed. He wants us to have the good things. He wants us to be closer to God. Knowing how we look at it is going to have an affect on our lives, he wants it to be the good affect. So Jesus just takes off and meddles.
This is not magic. It is a work of the spirit. If we understand God’s generous way and work that way, the number of things that the spirit works in our lives can hardly be counted.
Think about faith and generosity. I cannot break the confidences and tell you the names of people who have told me stories, but people tell me stories a lot about how they could not afford to do something that they thought God wanted them to do but they did it. They said, “You know what? It was such a strengthening to my faith, and not only did I see the faith demonstrated in that act, but it overflowed into the rest of my life. There were other places I needed to trust in God. Because I had seen what God did in that aspect, I was able to trust God in this one and faith sustained me.”
Ten years or so ago, we had our Touching Tomorrow campaign which was a major renovation project that we undertook. Some people who stepped out and gave in faith during that campaign have come back to me years later and said, I have never missed what I gave up to do that, but I can tell you that my faith is different because of it. If you ask them, Would you rather have the increased faith or would you give it up so you could have the money back, nobody would ever make the trade.
When we are generous and step out and give in faith, God blesses us with faith that sustains us. It is also true that if God is a giving God and we follow the path of generosity, we are never more like God than when we are generous. If the image of God that God has put in us is coming to the surface, how can we not feel closer to God? People tell me they have this experience. They have never felt closer to God than when they finally understood what it meant to give. Certainly, the giving helps us to feel closer to others.
I heard a great story about a group of 150 tourists who were in Israel. There was a rabbi in charge of the group. Everybody in the group was given a dollar to give to the poor somewhere along the way. Some people were so scared of the experience that they collected the money back up, gave it to the rabbi, and said, “Here, you give our dollar for us.” They knew if they had to look into the eyes of somebody and they had to give, something would be called out of them beyond that dollar. Something would be called out of them to connect to the person whose life they are changing with their act of generosity. Generosity is like this. Somehow it pulls us together. That is why some of our lives are so empty is because we are so separated from everybody.
We could give example after example of how giving opens us up to the actions that God wants in our lives that push us along a path that comes to more faith, more kindness, and more love. All of these things are the great blessings that we often hunger for all the time. We pray, God bless me. God bless my family. God bless this day. What we are really asking is, Somehow could I feel these kinds of things? Could I feel that my faith sustains me? Could I feel that I am connected to the people that I care about? Could I feel that, in some way, my life is reflecting Christ better than it has because I feel not altogether happy about that? If all of these things happen, what is the quality of life that we experience in that moment?
Every year, studies show that people who are generous are happier, feel more connected to people around them, and have greater life satisfaction. All of these things is a work of the spirit that produces those things that we always wanted, but we think it is a bunch of hokum. But it is true. How we look at our money has an impact on our quality of life. If we use it the wrong way, we have all experienced examples in our own lives where it was very upsetting, very defeating, and very depressing, but when we use it God’s way, the impact is for good.
Over the past three Sundays, we have talked about reasons to give.
(1) Give for God’s sake. Because we love God, we give gifts to God like we give to anyone else.
(2) Give for the world’s sake. There are ministries that we perform as a congregation that require us to support them. We have listened for weeks to people who have come and talked about how many tens of thousands of meals have been served and how many patients have been seen and all the different things that have been done because of your contributions.
(3) Give for our sake. This enables us to have the kind of relationship with God and experience the blessing from God that we always wanted.
It works. If that is the only reason we give, it never pays off quite the way we want it to. But when we give because it is God’s way, when we obey because it is what Jesus, in his meddling ways, tells us to do, the impact happens. Life changes, and the only way we know to describe it is we are blessed.
A few weeks ago, the Stewardship Committee sent out commitment cards. It is an opportunity to mark an indication of where on the journey of generosity you want to be. I wish I were smart enough to say I saw this ahead of time, but I didn’t. As much as Jesus talks about money, he never asked for a donation to his ministry. There are different instances where we know they had a treasury, different instances where people are talked about as contributors, but Jesus never said, Do this and give to my ministry. I think the Stewardship Committee is on really strong ground this year in that the commitment cards ask for no amount because it is about each of our hearts. Where are we on this journey toward generosity?
Would you complete one of those cards if you have not? Would you be willing to take the dare to see if Jesus’ meddling ways blesses your life? If you won’t, I don’t know that I can help you.
Joel Snider is a coach for the Center for Healthy Churches.