GIVING OF MY RESOURCES
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
April 30, 2017
TEXT: II Corinthians 8:1-12
A church bus driver was visiting a poor neighborhood to pick up children for Sunday School. He saw this poor little boy in ragged clothes and asked him if he would like to go to church Sunday. If so, he would come by and pick him up on the bus. The boy was excited and said yes. The driver asked if his parents were home so he could talk to them and the boy said they weren't home very much but he thought would be alright.
Sunday, the church bus pulled up and honked the horn, out came the little boy dressed in the same ragged clothes. The bus driver was kind and made him feel welcome, took him to church and introduced him to his new Sunday School teacher who was kind like the bus driver. He heard about Jesus that morning in Sunday School and thought the bus driver and his teacher must be like this Jesus because no one ever treated him this way.
His teacher took him into big church and had him sit with her. He was amazed at all the kind people, the beautiful carpet and the nice clothes people wore. They sang about Jesus, the preacher talked about how Jesus loved them so much and even went to the cross to die for us. And then they did something he did not understand at first. Men and women gathered up front and got a shiny plate and then started passed that plate up and down the rows. It passed him and he watched his new teacher put money in the plate and pass it by him. He asked her what that was for, she said it was for Jesus. His heart sank, he'd heard about Jesus, sang about Jesus and saw Jesus in his new friends, but he had nothing to give Jesus. As the man took the plate from him and moved to the next row, he got an idea. He got up and went to the man with the plate and asked him if he could have the plate. With caution the man handed it to him. The boy put the plate on the floor and stepped in it and said, "Mister, I don't have any money; but if Jesus did all that the preacher said He did, for me, then I want to give my life to Him."1
For this young man - the amazing grace of Jesus made a huge difference in his life. Thinking about Jesus dying on the cross for his sins - rising to new life to give us the victory, moved him to give everything - his very life - as an offering. His heart was filled with love and was motivated to give, because of all that God had given him. If your life is radically changed by the love of Christ - then you have reason to give.
As Ray Pritchard puts it - "If God has not done anything for you, don't give Him a dime. Don't give Him anything. If you feel that God has done nothing for you, then there is no reason to give at all. But if you have met the Lord and through faith have received new life in Christ, then you have a reason to give. We give because we have received grace from the Lord."2
Truly we love because He first loved us. And we give because He first gave to us.
Today is week 19 in our BELIEVE series. All throughout this series we have been looking at the common core beliefs of our faith and how that affects what we do and how we live our life. Back in October - during week 9 of our series - we affirmed that we believe that everything we are and everything we have belongs to God! All throughout the Bible we learn that God created everything and gave us life. God gave us everything we have - our life, our families, our relationships, our bodies, our talents - everything! He owns our money, our time, our house. And God calls us to be caretakers - to manage what God has given us. And that is what the Bible calls Stewardship.
Stewardship is first and foremost a belief - a belief about who God is and what our place is in the world. God has incredible love for us and He was the first to give - in giving us life AND in giving us the gift of eternal life through His Son Jesus Christ, dying on the cross for our sins. Because we believe in all God has given us - we respond by giving ourselves - giving generously to the help fulfill God's purposes in the world.
But sometimes that giving is hard. Times get tough -there seems to be more days in the month than enough money. We get worried or even selfish with our money. Or maybe we
have good intentions - we start out wanting to be generous givers, but we just don't follow through - other things take precedence. We fill ourselves with our own needs and wants first rather than thinking first about God and His purposes. Trusting in ourselves always leaves us empty and unfulfilled - because God is calling to trust in Him and put Him first. And He wants us to grow in our giving.
This was the situation for the Corinthian church. False teachers and divisions in the church had caused them to get their eyes off of Jesus. They were not putting God first and they were not growing in giving to others. They needed a reminder - an inspiration - an example to help them know how to live out their faith. And yes - I think we are like that Corinthian church. We need to hear that same call to put God first and to give generously.
In our Scripture reading for today, we will find that the Macedonians were that inspiration to the Corinthians - and they are to us as well!
Turn in your Bibles to II Corinthians 8. II Corinthians is in the New Testament - kind of towards the middle of the New Testament - right before Galatians.
As you are finding the passage, let me give you a little background to our text. The Church in Jerusalem was the mother church of all the early Christian churches that were formed by the apostles.
If you look at this map - you will see where Jerusalem is. It is in the heart of Israel. The gospel went forth from Jerusalem, into Samaria and into all parts of the world. Through people like the Apostle Paul, churches were started all over Asia Minor and into Macedonia and Achaia.
But the Jerusalem church was poor - there was a famine there - and they were facing persecution. It was the great desire of the Apostle Paul that the Gentile churches like those in Macedonia and Achaia remember and help the church in Jerusalem with an offering. And it was also Paul's desire that all the Christians would grow spiritually by practicing generosity. So, Paul writes to the church in Corinth to remind them to give generously - and follow the example of the Christians in Macedonia. Now what is really interesting, is that Macedonia is 500 miles Northwest of Jerusalem but they were just as poor if not more so than Jerusalem. They were struggling. But Corinth was a cosmopolitan city - known for wealth and luxury - and yes, even immorality. The Christians there needed a reminder to live for Christ and not themselves. So, let's hear how Paul addresses them. Let's read together II Corinthians 8:1-12
8 Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. 2 They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
3 For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. 4 They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem 5 They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.
6 So we have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place, to return to you and encourage you to finish this ministry of giving.7 Since you excel in so many ways-in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us -I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving.
8 I am not commanding you to do this. But I am testing how genuine your love is by comparing it with the eagerness of the other churches.
9 You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich.
10 Here is my advice: It would be good for you to finish what you started a year ago. Last year you were the first who wanted to give, and you were the first to begin doing it. 11 Now you should finish what you started. Let the eagerness you showed in the beginning be matched now by your giving. Give in proportion to what you have. 12 Whatever you give is acceptable if you give it eagerly. And give according to what you have, not what you don't have.
These Macedonians were an amazing group of believers. Even though they were very poor - they were known as very generous givers. They were going through many trials and struggles and yet they were eager to give and were filled with abundant joy. Not only did they give what was appropriate - they actually begged to give more. And they saw giving as a privilege. They didn't give out of guilt or because they were commanded to do it. They gave out of their own free will - and I think they gave out of their love.
Why did they give so much? Verse 5 tells us: they first gave of themselves to the Lord. They sought Jesus first! They loved Jesus more than they loved money. In fact - they seemed to know that giving has nothing to do with how much money you have - but has everything to do with how surrendered your heart is to the Lord. You see, as Pastor Ray Pritchard describes it: "They gave because their heart was fully committed to Christ. This is quite different from the way most of us tend to look at things." We look at our financial struggles and we as Americans are trained to "think of giving as something we do when we have some 'extra money'. That is, we tend to give from our surplus. And when we have a deficit, we don't give at all."3 Or we give AFTER we have all our needs and desires met - we give our left-overs, if there are any. But not the Macedonians. They gave from their deficit - and they even asked to give above and beyond what people thought was reasonable. They gave with overflowing joy - because they knew how much God loved them and they wanted to give their hearts FIRST to God. In seeking and trusting God FIRST, they were able to give with great joy to serve and help others. Their first priority in spending was in supporting God's work. They had given their hearts completely to God and knew that they could trust God to provide for them.
I think the Macedonians were able to give so generously was because they knew how much God had given them in Jesus. They knew, as it says in verse 9, the "generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though He was rich, for our sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty, He could make us rich." Because their heart was so grateful and so full of love for Jesus - they wanted to follow His example of giving - and share His love with others.
You see, I agree with a commentary I read this week, called Giving in Grace that said, "Stewardship is an affair of the heart before it is an affair of the wallet".4 Stewardship is all about how much of your heart is surrendered to God - how much you trust Him and how obedient you are to follow His example of giving. And really, what we do with our money is a test of the reality of our faith, our commitment and our experience with grace.
Martin Luther once said that we need three conversions: of the heart, when we know God loves us, of the mind, as we learn to think as Christian people, and of the purse. He went on to share - if faith has not touched our purse or wallets - then it is likely that it has not adequately penetrated either the heart or the mind.5
For the Macedonians - their hearts had been penetrated by the love and grace of Jesus - and they overflowed with joy in their giving.
Have you ever known anyone like that? Someone who loved Jesus so much that they just had to give - and that made them overflow with joy? I knew a woman like that in our very first church. Her name was Dorothy Gillespie and she had a vibrant faith and a smile that sparkled the love of Jesus. She would often tell me that she wished we could start a group in the church called "The Tithers Group". She said that people who are true tithers and give even beyond the tithe have such an abundance of joy in their giving. It would be great to get together to share their stories and celebrate the work of God in their midst.
Well, I discovered there are so many people who are like Dorothy - from all walks of life and all parts of the country. This past week I asked people on Facebook and through email to give me a testimony of tithing and faithful giving. While I didn't get as many as I had hoped - I did get quite a few - in fact I got so many that I decided to type their stories up and give them to you as a hand-out for you to read as a great inspiration and uplift. Just as the Corinthians needed to hear about their fellow Christians in Macedonia - I believe you all needed to hear from Christians here in our church and across the nation and the joy they know if giving first to the Lord. You can pick up this hand-out as you leave today. I've asked _____________ to pass them out at the back of the church, and I will be passing them out here in the front as I greet you when you leave.
Let me just share a couple of the testimonies as I close today. Listen for the joy in these testimonies - and the deep love and obedience to Christ.
First, from our own Jeannette Barragan. She says: God is our source. He is always Faithful. I have learned this through the years. Even broke, He always took care of me. He looks at our heart and not our bank account. To me, it's about us being obedient to Him and He is faithful to us.
And from Hope Nelson: God is so faithful! I have discovered that I cannot out-give Him, time and time again He continues to reward my obedience.
A pastor friend of mine from seminary, named Doug says this: Because of God's overflowing love and grace and gifts in my life - I can't help but give to others.
From a friend from the Great Banquet named Greg Brown: Since we have been tithing, I have felt a greater sense of peace regarding our finances. The main reason I had for not tithing was that "I cannot afford to - I have this mortgage to pay off or these monthly obligations that I must pay" But God knows what we need and He provides it! Trusting in God with our finances leads to increased trust in Him in other areas of our lives. Worries about what will happen tomorrow are eliminated if we focus on Him and His unlimited power to give us hope and a future. Tithing is an important step in developing that trust."
Oh - there are many more wonderful stories in this hand-out. Stories of people in our congregation who have tithed since childhood and others who didn't start tithing until way into adulthood. Some stories talk of incredible miracles of God providing at just the moment they needed it - and others speak of a continual, steady knowledge of God providing all along the way.
What is in common in all the stories is the great love these Christians have in their heart for Jesus - and the trust and dependence they have in God as they give generously and faithfully to God. And time and time again God is faithful and provides blessings upon blessings.
How is your heart today? Is it overflowing with grace and gratitude for what God has done for you? And does your giving reflect that?
PRAYER & INVITATION
2Pritchard, Ray. "They Gave Themselves First to the Lord" Why Giving Begins with the Heart, Not the Pocketbook". www.keepbelieving.com/sermon
4Giving in Grace. II Corinthians Sermon Notes. Author Unknown.
What difference has tithing made in your life?
What makes you want to be faithful in your giving?
Willa Jewsbury (from a stewardship message from May 24, 2015)
I listened to a sermon from California the other day and he was preaching on finances. One of the things he mentioned was the lie that all the church wants is money. We never send out bills or invoices. We don't charge for services or exact a pew fee to sit in your favorite place.
The trust is that:
Churches are all about ministry.
Churches are all about worship.
Churches are all about changing lives.
Another lie is that the more things we have the happier we will be.
The truth is that all we have belongs to God and we are just the managers while we are here on earth. That minister has always paid cash for everything except his mortgage. His plan is simple.
It is called the 1/1/8 plan. For every 10 dollars, you have you give 1 dollar to God and His church. You give 1 dollar to savings. And you live on the 8 dollars left.
If you read the rest of chapter 2 in Acts, you find the believers were together and sold their possessions and goods and distributed the proceeds to all, as any had need. It says they ate their food with glad and generous hearts.
How generous will you be today?
Deb Scharff: I will testify. We made tithing a priority nearly 10 years ago. Since then, while we still live on a tight budget, we have always had enough. I can recount several times when small, random checks would arrive from some old utility company or medical bill that would help cover a current need. The most recent and huge praise we can tell you about is the financial aid package we received from a college I'm told doesn't always fill the gap families have. The aid we received is over two times what we tithe annually and is enough for our son to attend his school of choice.
Pastor Mary Runge: I give as a way to increase my faith that God will continue to provide.
We didn't tithe when we were younger because our income was so small that we could barely afford the utilities and payment on the house. It is a blessing now to be able to tithe and know that we are helping support the church and its ministry.
Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch:
As we began our ministry, we made a decision to write our first check each week to the church. We gave God the first 10% and lived on the other 90%. While we didn't always have everything we wanted - and while we did have some financial struggles - we always made it! God was always there and provided for our needs. There have even been times when an unexpected refund check or a gift from someone was given just at the time we really needed it. We always have trusted that God would provide. We find great joy in tithing to the church and giving gifts to other ministries - giving God the glory in the way we use our money.
When my husband and I first heard about tithing, we wondered how in the world we could ever do that. Our income was very limited. We just couldn't see how we could, but we decided that obedience was the most important thing in our new walk with God. We read in His word "Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than them? 27 And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." - Matthew 6: 25-33
So, we decided to put God to the test. The first check we wrote every paycheck was our tithe, then our bills, determining to owe no man anything. Most often, this left no money for groceries, gas or really much of anything else. We determined to only take our needs to the Throne, never to any other person. We never went hungry, or had any needs God did not meet. I remember once, reaching the point where we had no food in the house. Not even enough for 1 meal. We could go without a meal or two, but we had children who wouldn't understand. So, we went to the living room to pray, asking God to fulfill His promise to take care of our needs. We had done our part in being obedient in tithing our income. As we got up from our knees, I looked out the window and saw our church family walking up the sidewalk with bags and bags of groceries. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!
God is our source. He is always Faithful. I have learned this through the years. Even broke, He always took care of me. He looks at our heart and not our bank account. To me, it's about us being obedient to Him and He is faithful to us.
I realize that everything is God's anyway. The lovely thing about tithing is that in our obedience, God multiplies so that both church and home are taken care of. The verse that comes to mind is, "never have I seen the righteous forsaken nor his children begging bread." Psalm 37:25.
Alanna Nalley: Tithing is like winning the lottery. They more you play (give) the more your win.
Writing about tithing is easy because I've done it all my life. What is hard is making it brief. As children, we never received an allowance so had no money. When I was about 10 I went with my family to an evening meeting about finances, and I asked my parents if I could make a pledge of 5 cents a week. I got a box of envelopes, and each week my parents gave me a nickel to put in it. When I entered the 8th grade the school was too far from so we had to eat lunch in the school cafeteria and my father gave me a dollar each week for lunch money. I was very frugal so often spent very little for lunch, but always gave 10 cents a week to the church. Through the years of college education and early married life I had little money but always tithed. When we became missionaries, our salary was $3,000 a year, but living in the interior of Africa there were no stores and our income sufficed for our basic needs. When working in Africa was no longer possible and we came to Galesburg to practice medicine, we found that our income was greatly increased. By careful living we had more upon retirement than we had ever dreamed of, making it possible to give more than a tithe to the church as well as gifts to other causes. Living simply has always been our way of life and has contributed to our financial happiness.
Pastor Jackie Summers:
Faithful giving to our local church and the greater church are part of our response to God's love for us. We try to give willingly, gratefully and with a generous heart. To not give seems so self-centered and goes against what I believe.
Being reminded that it isn't mine to begin with. It's all His and He only asks for a small portion back of the first that I receive. Knowing that the more I trust Him with, the more He will trust me with.
God is so faithful! I have discovered that I cannot out-give Him, time and time again He continues to reward my obedience.
Pastor Doug Pfeiffer:
Because of God's overflowing love and grace and gifts in my life - I can't help but give to others, in kind (not in return).
God has blessed our family many times over and it doesn't stop. I have had the opportunity to share with several others the blessings we have received because we give back. I tell them to start small if that's all they can do and wait for the blessings. God is so Good!!
There have been times when I wasn't sure how much money I had or where I was going to get the money I needed for a car, home, or living expenses. I didn't panic because God has always taken care of me. I also didn't stop tithing. God comes first. I can't explain the mystery of God but he continued to supply what I needed and even more. I'm very blessed!
Ever since I received Jesus as my Lord and Savior I began believing in the importance of stewardship giving in my life. I tithe my income to the Lord's work and also my time, my spiritual gifts and talents. In return Christ has given me wonderful Christian friendships, the privilege to play Christian music with wonderful musicians and singers. Most of all, I have the hope to hear the Lord say to me "well done my good and faithful servant . . ."
I remember when I started tithing faithfully. I was not in a good place financially. I was doing my bills it either I could tithe OR (not and) pay and PARTIAL payment my Ameren bill. I chose to tithe. I can remember it like it was yesterday. I was in small hall writing my check and talking with God. I said, ok God, I know You are faithful and I trust You for my daily bread. Well, before my Ameren bill was due, I got a check in the mail from Ameren: a refund from them that I was not expecting that paid my whole bill which was MORE than what I had tithed, PLUS (I think it was) an extra $30.
Since we have been tithing, I have felt a greater sense of peace regarding our finances. The main reason I had for not tithing was that "I cannot afford to- I have this mortgage to pay off or these monthly obligations that I must pay" But God knows what we need and He provides it! Trusting in God with our finances leads to increased trust in Him in other areas of our lives. Worries about what will happen tomorrow are eliminated if we focus on Him and His unlimited power to give us hope and a future. Tithing is an important step in developing that Trust.
How we come about being first fruits tithers. In 1989, we started tithing on our net income. There is obedience in that of course and God blessed us in doing that. In 1992, we decided to start really trusting God and tithing 10% on our gross or first fruits income. All was well until I figured our income taxes for the previous year and we owed $685 for Federal taxes. That was a lot of money to us at that time but we were at peace with it because we knew God would help us find a way and He gave us the confidence to have no worries about it. Here's what happened. Our Oklahoma taxes were a refund of $115 so I decided to file that first and wait until April 15 to file the Federal and diligently save the OK refund and regular amounts each paycheck. Well of course it didn't work out that way. The first thing that happened was a friend called me two weeks later, on a Sunday morning, asking if I had seen my name in the paper in the unclaimed property section? I looked and there it was. I started the process of finding out what that was and it turned out to be a $285 unclaimed insurance payment from 1986. Wow! That was great seed money to our savings plan. Now we had less to save each week. As we neared April 15th I added up what we had saved and was just $5 shy of the total needed. Then the following Saturday in our mail there was a letter from our family doctor's office we used two years before. Guess what it was? A check for an overpayment of a copayment - for $5. We have been obedient first fruits tithers ever since. And there are lots of stories I could tell you about what that has really meant for Denise and me and the example we wanted to set for Diana and Matt - but there are way too many. Just knowing that by being generous is helping people in ways we will never fully know is such a joy.
These are answers to the questions about stewardship and tithing that Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch posed on Facebook - and email - on April 26, 2017. These were used, in part, for her sermon: "Believe - Giving God My Resources".