In 1980 I was living in Dothan, Alabama, and taking a break from seminary. I found a job and put together a budget. It turned out that after paying my weekly expenses I had a weekly surplus of about $10. That’s not much of a safety net, so I worked overtime whenever I could. Every penny that was over my budget amount went into savings, which allowed me to eventually move to Louisville and finish seminary. It’s hard to anticipate how much money we need for the future, and I had no idea how much money I might need to help me get settled and to pay my expenses until I could find a job. But I learned this basic principle – life always costs more than you anticipate. I have never found anything to cost less than I anticipate. My hope was that my savings would get me through most of the first year, if necessary, or at least the first semester. It was all gone in several weeks, and my seminary years were full of great anxiety about having enough money to pay my bills and school expenses. During those years I would often comfort myself by thinking that a day will come when I won’t have to worry so much about money – I’m still waiting on that day!
Today we conclude our series of messages on spiritual gifts. This morning we come to the final gift – giving. Did you know giving is a spiritual gift?
Messages about giving generally cause one of several reactions – a rolling of the eyes, groaning, guilt, the desire to get up and leave, or fidgeting in your seat. Please don’t feel that way. You have probably noticed by now that I don’t say a lot about money. I don’t like to, to be honest. There are times that it is necessary, but I don’t like to be hounded about money and I don’t like to hound people about money. This church is blessed with good and faithful giving, and I appreciate that very much.
I have a list of things I want to say about giving this morning, some of which take only a sentence or two.
First, I don’t believe in guilt when it comes to giving. Some people feel guilty about their giving. Don’t feel guilty. Guilt is a destructive emotion, and does not lead to healthy attitudes. I would never use guilt as a way to try to get anyone to give (or do anything else for that matter).
Second, I have no idea what anyone in this church gives and I don’t want to know. I do not have access to the giving records and I don’t want access. The only way I would know what anyone gives is for someone to tell me, but please don’t tell me; I would rather not know. That is between you and God and isn’t any of my business. I was sitting in a minister’s meeting some years ago and the topic of conversation drifted to giving. One of the ministers said he went through the giving records of his congregation and confronted those he believed were not giving as much as they should. I couldn’t help asking him how’s that working out? His answer still amuses me – for some reason, it’s not really working out very well. People seem to dislike it. Talk about clueless.
Third, if you are able to tithe, the choice of tithing on your net or gross is up to you. If you can tithe on either – great! Not everyone is in the position of being able to tithe. Don’t feel guilty if you can’t tithe.
Fourth, giving encompasses more than just money. You may be in a season of life when you don’t have any money to give. Give of your time and your talents. And if you can give, money doesn’t replace your time and your talents.
Fifth, Scripture teaches us to be generous. The man in our Scripture reading this morning, interestingly, never thought about being generous with his wealth. His first thought was about himself – here’s what I can do for myself. Well, we need to take care of our families, but this man gave no evidence of thinking about how he could be generous with others. He certainly could have been! Not only was he not generous, he was wasteful. Instead of simply adding more barns for storage, he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones – why not just build more barns if you need the space? Tearing down barns and building bigger ones wasted a lot of resources that could have benefitted others. There is nothing wrong with enjoying the fruit of your labor. The problem with this guy was that he had so much fruit he could have been very generous, but there is no sign that he was. The human view is accumulation and protecting; the divine view is stewardship and generosity. He could have shared some of what he had, but he didn’t. He could have fed some hungry people, but he didn’t. Instead, he was wasteful in tearing down his barns to build bigger ones instead of just building a few more. Enjoy life, but don’t make the mantra of your life eat, drink, and be merry. Use what has been given, share what has been stored. God is always seeking to move us to the mindset of generosity.
When I was entering my last year of seminary I was worried about the expense of the final year. I was managing, but just barely, and one more year of school expense was very worrisome to me. My car was always breaking down and unexpected expenses kept popping up. I was serving part-time in a church and someone in the church, very generously, gave money and asked that it pay for my schooling. That was such a huge help to me.
I think about the generosity of this congregation and the community with the Van for Glenn fund. Isn’t it amazing? Over $33,000.00 has been raised, and in a relatively short period of time. People want to be generous, I believe. People want to give of their time and their money to make a difference to others.
Sixth, we begin our fall stewardship campaign next week. That means we will make pledge cards available. Not everyone feels comfortable with pledging. That’s okay. We encourage pledging because it helps us plan the next year’s budget. If you do pledge, that information is kept confidential, just like your weekly giving.
Seventh, God never measures a person by the size of their gift. In fact, Jesus praises the very small monetary gift of a widow. In Mark 12:41-44 we read – Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.” (Also found in Luke 21:1-4)
Eighth, the Bible does not say that the root of all evil is money. Over the years I’ve heard countless times that the Bible says that money is the root of all evil. What the Bible says is this – for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil (I Timothy 6:10). Money causes a lot of problems, as does the lack of money, but money does a lot of good as well. Some people are very gifted with the ability to make money, and the gift of making money allows them to be very generous.
Nine, avoid debt as much as possible. I know that is very difficult to do these days. Life is expensive, and sometimes there isn’t enough money to get us through the week or month, but be careful with debt. A pile of debt adds a lot of stress to life, and it adds tremendous stress to relationships. The primary cause of conflict in marriages is money, and most of that comes from the stress of debt. There are some good programs out there to help reduce debt, and if you struggle in this area I would encourage you to look into one.
Ten, the other side of debt is saving, which is hard to do these days, but some savings becomes essential.
Eleven, generosity is the way of Jesus. I was sitting in a meeting recently, and a friend told me about their recent trip to Nicaragua. He had traveled there to work with some churches about setting up a partnership. The churches he visited there were small – anywhere from 30 to 50 people, and they had very small buildings and very little resources. One of the churches, in spite of their limited resources, fed almost 200 children every day. For most of those children, it would be the only meal they would receive. Almost 200 children, every day. Another church, also of limited resources, was feeding almost double that amount, every day. As he neared the end of his trip he sat down with the leaders of these churches. Their topic of conversation was how the churches here, and there, could help one another. He assumed they would ask for money, but they didn’t. Their question was this – how can we help your churches discover what God wants them to do for their communities? Wow. Isn’t that powerful? They have next to nothing, but what they offered is a powerful vision of being called to serve our community.
What can we give to others, and to God?