The Elephant in the Church! - Refusing to Ignore the Obvious!
When it comes to money have the right perspective.
Five Smooth Stones Update/Pulse Christian
Bill Cosby tells a funny story about a wealthy man’s funeral arrangements. After this man dies his family goes about fulfilling his desires for his funeral. They order the right flowers, contact the minister and select the proper hymns.
The day of his burial arrives. His body is eased into a casket and then the casket is placed inside his prized, shiny, chrome trimmed Cadillac. He will be buried inside his favorite car. As the funeral procession slowly moves down the street, some children watch from the curb. Seeing the shiny Cadillac ansd impressive casket inside the car one little boy shouts, “Wow, a Cadillac Casket! Man, that’s livin!”[i]
That’s funny! I mean, you’re dead! Is there really a difference between a gold plated casket and a pine box? Except for cost? A Cadillac casket is not my example of real living! I’m curious. What’s real living for you? Real living to me Greg would be living off the coast of Chile. A place called San Alfonso Del Mar where I could swim in the world’s largest swimming pool. This Guinness World Record pool is “…more than 1,000 yards long, covers 20 acres, has a 115 foot deep end and holds 66 million gallons of water.”[ii] This pool is so big you can ride a boat! Real living to me would be to own a Coke Freestyle Beverage Machine. This machine creates endless beverage combinations – raspberry coke, orange diet coke, vanilla root beer, grape sprite! Now I don’t mean to imply that real living has to always be self indulgent. Real living to me would be to support and love children at risk - orphans living in Grand Goave, Haiti, Zimbabwe, Africa or even Columbus, Ohio. Here’s the first of several challenges for you today. I challenge you to personally answer this question TODAY! What’s real living to me?” Do you know the person next to you? Lean over and ask them, “What do you think real living is to me?” Ask this in your small group! Why do I want you to do this? Because your answer will reveal your heart! Now I wonder. How would the Apostle Paul answer this question? What is real living? Turn to 1st Timothy. Do you need a Bible? 1st Timothy is one of Paul’s 13 letters in the New Testament. 1st Timothy is a pastoral or personal letter.[iii] The other two are 2 Timothy and Titus. Philemon could be added here but Philemon is more of a postcard than a letter. Let’s cut to the chase. Why does Paul write this letter? Turn to 1st Timothy 3:14. (Leadership Insert - read 14a) Why do we write letters or send emails in the first place? You can’t be physically present or you don’t want to be physically present. Paul is in Macedonia. Timothy is in Ephesus. (Read vs. 15) Notice what Paul did here. Paul is giving instructions to Timothy. Dr. James Smith reminds us, Paul’s “ultimate purpose for this letter is to provide the church a leadership manual.”[iv]
OK! I can’t take it anymore, I must ask you a question. Does anyone see a Mini Cooper in this auditorium besides me? Whew? I am so glad! “Horton Hears a Who” is funny, but Greg sees a car that’s not here would not be funny. I’m glad I’m not the only one! I think Mini Cooper’s are so cool. Plus, they’re small. They fit through the door. I know Cassie Rush thinks her Mini Cooper is really cool. I promise you folks. We are not giving this car away. That would make Cassie really sad. The truth is I borrowed this Mini Copper because I couldn’t borrow an elephant. Who’s ever heard of the phrase, “elephant in the room?” The "Elephant in the room" is an expression for an obvious truth that’s being ignored or unaddressed. The expression also applies to an obvious problem or risk no one wants to take. This phrase is based on the concept that an elephant even in this FLC room is so huge it would be impossible to overlook, unless you pretend it’s just not there. Wallpaper doesn’t even help! And to pretend it’s not there means you have chosen to avoid dealing with a looming issue or a big problem.[v]
The Apostle Paul is instructing Timothy. There’s an elephant in the church at Ephesus. The elephant is a false teacher or teachers. Now trust me, that is another sermon for another time. But the way my mind works if there’s an elephant in the church in Ephesus, is there an elephant in the church at Westerville?
Find verse 17 in 1st Timothy 6. (Read 17-19) The elephant in this church is that we think the commands of God are optional. Some commands of God I will obey. But others I just don’t. Especially the command to give; to tithe. Go back to verse 18. Paul is saying to Timothy what has been said to Paul. Be generous. Be generous with your time. Be generous with your home. Be generous with your gifts. Be generous with your money. This is not God’s suggestion. God commands us to live a generous lifestyle. He commands us to tithe his money to him for his purposes. But most Christ followers just don’t because we think his commands are mere suggestions. We even create excuses. “Greg, I know why!” It’s the economy. The economy stinks right now”. True. But that’s not the reason. In 1968 people gave 3.1% of their income to God. In 1985 that figured dropped to 2.5%. That figure dropped again in 2008 to 2.4%.[vi] It’s not the economy. “Greg, I’ll give when my finances get better. When I get more, I’ll give more!” The Bible tells us the opposite often happens. If we have more we’ll often give less.
The truth is, when it comes to money we have to have the right perspective. Go back to verse 6 in 1st Timothy 6. (Read 6&7) Doesn’t that sound like Job? “Naked I came from my mother’s womb and naked I’ll leave!” I am not going to leave this world with any physical possession. I may be buried in a shiny, new Cadillac, but I’m certainly NOT taking it with me. Can I ask you? Are you content? I find it difficult to be content. The reason is one word, “MORE!” I often want more. I’m encouraged to get more. But it’s possible to be content. You can be content when you accept this perspective about money. Everything belongs to God. It’s not yours in the first place. We manage what God has given us.
I’m grateful for a friend, Mark Boyer, who put a book into my hand called, “The Genius of Generosity.” The tag line reads. “Lessons from a secret pact between two friends.” The two friends are Chip Ingram and John Saville. Years ago Chip Ingram was a minister at a little church in rural Texas where John Saville worshipped God. One day John asked Chip to drive to downtown Dallas for lunch. Chip was to meet him at his accounting firm. They met for lunch and this is where John revealed to Chip their Secret Pact. This pact was three fold. John said. #1: I have a desire to help poor and hurting people. #2: You are in contact with poor and hurting people daily. #3: I want you to be my eyes and ears and help them as God leads you.
The John gave Chip a brown check book that contained $5000. Chip asked, “Do you mean you want me to figure out who to help and then help them the way you would…?” YES! So that’s what Chip did. Everyday he’d put John’s checkbook in his back pocket. One day he gave John’s money to a young girl dealing with an unplanned pregnancy. Another day he gave to a family who simply didn’t have the funds to pay their bills.
Then he would meet John again for lunch. He’d tell him about the teenager he helped, the unemployed families assisted, the unpaid medical bills paid. And John would say, “Praise the Lord. Let’s do it again!” And he’d give Chip more money to place in the checkbook. Chip said he learned three lessons through John’s generosity. I’m only going to give you one! Chip said, “Rarely a day went by that he didn’t think about John Saville.” He was giving people money that belonged to John. Maybe you’ve figured it out. This is stewardship. This is the genius of generosity![vii] Our money doesn’t belong to us. It belongs to God. We give away what rightfully belongs to him. Generosity will totally change your perspective. You will find yourself constantly thinking about God! And that brings contentment.
I’ve left something undone. I did not answer the question, “What’s real living to the Apostle Paul? Go back to verse 19. Real living is being Jesus sufficient. Real living is walking in obedience to the commands of God. The “so what” of giving is that it belongs to God. Here’s the now what! Next week – be generous - bring sporting goods for the Gift Shop. Footballs, soccer balls, baseballs, golf balls. Look at this advertisement. Giving is an adventure. We get to spend what rightfully belongs to God and when we do people’s lives are changed.
[i] Knute Larson, Holman New Testament Commentary, I Timothy, 239
[iii] NIV Bible Commentary, NT, 889
[iv] James E. Smith, The New Testament Books Made Simple, 110
[vi] Christianity Today, February 2011, When Tithe doesn’t mean tenth
[vii] Chip Ingram, The Genius of Generosity, 10-14