Committed to Financial Giving

2 Corinthians 8:1-9

The old story is told about a man and his family who went to church.  In the car on the way home after worship, the man began to complain.  “The music was too loud. The sermon was too long. The building was too hot. The people were unfriendly.” It seemed he complained about almost everything.  Then his observant young son said, “Dad, it wasn’t a bad show for just a dollar.”

We are in the middle of our seven-week series “Committed to Christ.”  Each week we are considering practices that help us to grow in our faith and our walk with Christ.  We began by reflecting on our own personal commitments to Jesus Christ. We have explored the practices of prayer and Bible reading.  Today we are considering the practice of financial giving.

When Methodist founder John Wesley visited his congregations, he often examined his assistants regarding their faith and spiritual practice. One of the questions he asked them was about how their Christian faith affected their pockets.  For Wesley, financial giving was an important way to assess one’s spiritual health.

Let’s acknowledge that this is a sensitive topic for many.  Talking about financial giving makes some churchgoers nervous.  The nervousness might come from a desire to keep control of that part of our lives. We think it’s OK for God to have control of our prayer life or Bible reading, but talking about this topic feels like I’m meddling in your personal affairs.  It’s been said that to understand a person’s true values and priorities you need only look at their calendar and checkbook.  The way we invest our time and financial resources reveals a lot about our commitments in life.

Some might not appreciate reflecting on financial giving as a spiritual practice because they are embarrassed by their debt load or because they don’t want other people in church to know their present financial situation.

For others, the discomfort may come because we tend to operate out of an attitude of scarcity rather than from God’s abundance.  Christian preacher, author and speaker Tony Campolo was once asked to speak at a conference for 300 people.  Just before he was to speak, the leader of the event read a letter from a missionary asking for $4,000 immediately to meet an emergency need.  The leader asked Dr. Campolo to lead a prayer for God to provide the resources to meet this need.  Campolo, who is known for being very outspoken, responded, “No, I won’t pray for that.  I believe that God has already provided all the resources to meet this missionary’s need and all we need to do is give.”  He continued, “Tell you what I’m going to do.  I’m going to put all the money I have with me on this table, and if you’ll do the same, we’ll see what God can do.”  He placed $15 on the table; the leader put down $40.  One by one, everyone else in attendance came forward and placed their money on the table.  When it was all done, they had raised far more than the $4,000 requested.  Tony Campolo said, “Now, here’s the lesson. God always supplies for our needs, and God supplied for this missionary, too. The only problem was we were keeping it for ourselves. Now let’s pray and thank God for God’s provision.”

The psalmist put it this way in Psalm 24:1:  “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it.” In other words, all that we have and all that we are comes from God and belongs to God.  Our God is a generous and abundant giver, think of all that God has given us: the beauty of creation; a church community to offer us love and to encourage us to grow and serve; friends and family; warm home, abundant food, labeled clothing, comfortable transportation; ability we have to worship, work, enjoy recreation; life, the very breath we are taking now is a gift from God.

As if all that were not enough, God has given us the gift of relationship and eternal life through our Savior, Jesus Christ.  God is a wonderful, gracious, abundant giver!  Thanks be to God!

We often think that our giving is about meeting the budget and so we want to know that the 2018 budget for St. Andrew’s includes about $824,000 and that the 2019 budget which is under development will probably be a similar figure. Or we think that our giving is about responding to a need, but giving is actually a spiritual practice, inspired by our relationship with God and modeled after the giving nature of God our Creator.  Giving is an opportunity to express our faith in and connection with God in response to all that God gives us.

For some, financial giving is the most difficult of the six holy habits we’ll explore, and you’re not alone. When Christian theologian and Methodism founder, John Wesley, was a college student at Oxford, a custodian knocked on his door one cold night as he studied. Wesley answered and talked briefly. As the man was leaving, Wesley noticed that he had on a thin jacket and remarked, “You ought to put on a heavier coat.” The custodian responded, “This is the only coat I have, and I thank God for this coat.”

When Wesley realized the man did not have enough money to buy warm clothes, he asked if he had enough to buy food. The custodian’s reply was essentially the same: “I have had nothing today but water to drink, but I thank God for the water.”

Wesley was getting uncomfortable with the conversation and said something about it being time for the man to get home and crawl into a warm bed. And the custodian responded, “I thank God I have a dry floor to sleep on tonight.”

Deeply moved by the man’s simple faith in God, Wesley asked, “You thank God when you have nothing to wear, nothing to eat, and no warm bed upon which to lie. What else do you thank God for?”

The custodian replied, “I thank God that he has given me the gift of life, a heart to love him, and a deep desire to serve him. What more could a man ever want?”

John Wesley was so moved by the custodian’s words that he wrote in his journal that night, “I shall never forget that man. He convinced me that there’s something in religion to which I am a stranger.”

That encounter led Wesley to develop his philosophy and teaching about money. He would later write and preach: “Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can.” And he did just that. Wesley gave everything away. Upon his death, there was almost no estate. He lived modestly so that he could give all he had toward building new churches, buying religious books for class meetings, and supporting ministries to widows, orphans, and prisoners.

Methodists since Wesley’s day have practiced the discipline of sacrificial giving and together have built countless hospitals to heal the sick, schools and universities to educate children and young adults, created ministries and missions to reach the widows, orphans, those who are poor economically and in spirit; all for the glory of God and to increase God’s kingdom. Thanks be to God!

In our scripture today, Paul reported to the Corinthian Christians about the generosity of the churches in Macedonia.  The Macedonian Christians were suffering persecution and extreme poverty.  Yet, despite their own lack of physical resources to meet their basic needs, they gave in response to God’s grace in their lives.  Paul even wrote that they begged for the opportunity to give and then gave “as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability,” and it brought them great joy.  Now when was the last time you heard someone say it was a joy to give to the church or a charity, rather than talking about the need or the tax deduction or complaining because they thought the church talked about money too much?  The Macedonians knew the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich,” and in response, gave beyond their means simply for the joy and blessing of giving to God.  They did not give because they hoped that one day someone would pay them back; they gave in response to what God had already accomplished in them through Christ.

That same joy comes to us from the knowledge of the grace of God that has brought us through life and to this moment when we celebrate what a joy it is to give.  When we really understand and embrace the grace God gives us, like the Macedonians, we long to give back to God, trusting that God will continue to provide, as God has always done.  Thanks be to God!

A single mom who attends a church in Ontario learned that kind of joy through her church’s three-month tithe challenge.  A tithe is defined in scripture as giving a tenth of one’s income.  She had been teaching her teenage daughters about the importance of giving sacrificially and was open enough to tell them that she was not yet tithing but working toward it.  One Sunday, when her pastor issued a challenge for parishioners to try tithing for three months, her daughters asked, “Are you going to do it, Mom?”  She knew God was calling her to set an example for her children, but she also knew it would be very tough.  The year before, while she was ill and unable to work for six months, she had accumulated debt to stay afloat.  The challenge was also being offered before Christmas, but she decided to take it, praying, “OK, Lord, here goes.  I know you will take care of us.”

A couple of days later, she says, the first sign of God’s blessing came in the form of a phone call from her bank about the renewal of her mortgage in January.  They also asked if she wanted to renew her life insurance and sick benefits again.  Confused by what they meant, she asked, “What are the sick benefits for?”

The banker answered, “That is the coverage for your mortgage if you are sick for more than 60 days and unable to work.”  The mother explained her experience from the previous year and that she hadn’t realized she had this kind of insurance.  She contacted the company, and even though she missed the deadline for filing a claim, she filled it out and submitted the paperwork, praying that God would open the heart of the person who read the application.  Three weeks later, she received a letter stating that the insurance company paid her claim and had deposited the money into her bank account.  She and her daughters gave thanks to God for this blessing.

Other blessings kept coming in – having her car repaired and the service charge waived by the mechanic; getting an increase in child support payments without having to ask for it; working with a financial adviser to pay off her debts at half the rate and reduce the rate on her mortgage.

After the three months of taking the tithing challenge, she decided to continue tithing.  Her faith had grown by trusting God and discovering that God is faithful and knows even the smallest details of her life.  She says, “The biggest blessing of all is that both my girls talk about their need to put some of their earnings back to God’s work without any prompting from me.”

Thanks be to God!

For many years before we were married, Becky and I each tithed, and now as a couple, we have continued the practice and also give offerings beyond the tithe.  So we are not asking you to consider a spiritual practice that we are not already doing ourselves.  We give to God with joy and gratitude because we have experienced God’s abundant grace thought the hope of Christ’s resurrection and we are so grateful for all God’s continued blessings in our lives.  Thanks be to God!

Part of the reason that we decided on this series is because we believe in you as individuals and a congregation. We sense a spiritual desire and longing to go deeper and because of that we are encouraging all of you to take that next step in your commitment to enhance your spiritual journey through prayer, Bible reading, financial giving, witness, service and worship.  We have known the blessing of taking the next step and we hope that you will take the challenge and make the commitment for which you will not be disappointed.

In your Messenger you will find a commitment card, I will read through that and explain what is on the back and then we will pray and you will have a few moments to fill out your card and return it in today’s offering.

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