Scriptures: 2 Corinthians 9:6-8; 2 Kings 17
My counselor has finally forced me to face the fact that I am a failure in my ministry. Permit me to list my evangelical demerits.
1. I have never been to the Holy Land. I mean, not even as a visitor, let alone as a tour guide. I wince whenever I see a "Go to the Holy Land!" ad in a religious magazine. My wife has even stopped buying kosher wieners because they make me feel convicted. It's terrible.
2. Every program I've started has failed. Our "Evangelism Explosion" didn't explode: it gave an embarrassed "pop" and rolled over and died. Finis. Kaput. I attended a "Church Growth Seminar", and while I was gone, six families left the church. No explanation -- they just up and disappeared.
3. The refugee family we tried to sponsor refused to come. The last I heard, they were seeking asylum in a Chinese restaurant in St. Louis.
4. Whenever I try "Dial-a-Prayer", I get a wrong number, and it's usually a funeral home or a chicken carry-out place. I tried "Dial-a- Meditation" the other day, and the tape broke after the first sentence, which was: "So things aren't going well today?" It's frightening.
5. Board meetings. You should attend them -- because nobody else does. And I get the wildest excuses: "The dog was sick," or "I had to change the light bulb in the garage," or "My wife needed both cars." I always mimeograph agendas but nobody is there to use them. My wife uses them for grocery lists.
6. Our church teams never win any games. Baseball, basketball, volleyball, shuffleboard -- you name it and we've lost it. The town Little League champs challenged us and won.
I am thinking of sharing all of this with our denominational leaders but they are never around when I phone, and all their letters to me are addressed to "Occupant". I have been told that failure could be the back door to success, but the door seems to be locked and I can't find a key. Any suggestions?
-- Christianity Today
I have a bit of apprehension today as I preach. I will never forget the first “giving” sermon that I preached here at First Wesleyan. I was publicly rejoicing over the giving of our people and toward the end of the message remarked that it was good to preach on this subject without having our backs to the wall financially. The idea that we had no “screaming needs”. Those of you who were here that day will remember that shortly after that the smoke began to come out of the ceiling of the building and we actually evacuated the building that morning. Bottom line: we went in the hole about $2500 dollars that morning.
I believe that it is important to preach about the scriptural principle of tithing because it is a part of God’s Word and although it reaches into your pocket book and creates discomfort in our lives by times and this very preaching is subject to much misinterpretation, at it’s heart, it is a spiritual issue. A person’s giving is affected by much more than the state of a their finances. I believe that the spiritual issues that bind people are the greater concern.
q Some fail to give or “fall short” because they worry about having enough left to live on. Can I trust God to meet my needs? This is the spiritual issue.
q Others because they want to have the freedom to consume their excess and they want all they can get. The spiritual issue here is greed.
q Still others just refuse to obey God in this area. It’s a smoke and mirrors thing with them so there are plenty of issues ranging from things like: “I don’t feel that they are spending money wisely.” or “I don’t like this or that so I will hold back my tithe or give it to missions.” At the heart of this is rebellion. This is a spiritual issue.
The scripture from 2 Kings expresses my greatest concern today.
"Do not forget the covenant I have made with you, and do not worship other gods. Rather, worship the LORD your God; it is he who will deliver you from the hand of all your enemies.” They would not listen, however, but persisted in their former practices. Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did." (2 Kings 17:38-41, NIV)
We don’t consider ourselves to be quite as pagan as the picture that we have read here today but in essence this is present in the lives of certain people who attend church regularly in our day.
. Even while these people were worshiping the LORD, they were serving their idols. To this day their children and grandchildren continue to do as their fathers did."
While we come together into a house of worship professing to love God supremely, our actions tell God a different story. And what is worse is that our half-heartedness places our children and our grandchildren that mush farther away from God. You see, our failure to live out an accurate representation of our faith, tell sour children that it’s really not that important. And we wonder why our children begin to stray.
Perhaps even worse is the confusing by times when we look at our lives and wonder if we are giving our best to God or . . . .
1. Giving Our Best To Baal
We have no idea what we are giving and the price we are paying.
Look at the scripture again in 2 Kings:
"But they would not listen and were as stiff-necked as their fathers, who did not trust in the LORD their God. They rejected his decrees and the covenant he had made with their fathers and the warnings he had given them. They followed worthless idols and themselves became worthless. They imitated the nations around them although the LORD had ordered them, “Do not do as they do,” and they did the things the LORD had forbidden them to do. They forsook all the commands of the LORD their God and made for themselves two idols cast in the shape of calves, and an Asherah pole. They bowed down to all the starry hosts, and they worshiped Baal. They sacrificed their sons and daughters in the fire. They practiced divination and sorcery and sold themselves to do evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger." (2 Kings 17:14-17, NIV)
Again we look at phrases like this and dismiss them because we don’t see this possibility in our own lives. Are we like the children of Israel by times? We would never intentionally “sacrifice our sons and daughters” – I mean we would never end their lives but perhaps in one way or another we are giving our best to the Baals and in effect sacrificing the most important things in our lives to gods that we don’t even realize that we worship.
We think we are getting a better deal when we run away from God as though He would take things away from us that we are not ready to surrender. I know of many people today who pray that God would take away the things that they ran toward.
q Vices – there are many people who are bound today by the liberating choices that they made yesterday. They thought that they were exercising their freedom and that religion held bondage but they have run headlong into something that they cannot find the willpower to escape from. There are many in the pews today who would beg others to stay away from things that have ruined their lives and relationships.
q Relationships – there are those who have discovered that advice that they had been given about relationships was accurate and they should have listened. Now there are consequences that they will deal with for the rest of their lives. It all could have been avoided if they had only chosen to live their lives by scriptural principles and priorities. These would have helped them to recognize the danger signals and to run toward God rather than away from Him.
q Materialism – What an exhilarating pursuit at first – to win the rat race and to acquire. It’s intoxicating until you discover that each new acquisition gives you only a temporary fix and there’s always something newer and better and bigger and louder and shinier that brings that sense of longing back and lures you forward. And then you get to the place in life where you realize that you have been possessed by your possessions and you ar ea slave to them and the false sense of acceptance and the fickle friends that they have brought. Or one day in the midst of all your distractions, you lose your health, or your home or your marriage or your faith. You’d give all you have gained to find what you have lost but it’s too late. You can only hoped that you have learned something that will keep you from repeating your mistakes.
Have you ever stopped to wonder how you are spending your life? I mean, are you giving yourself to the greatest causes and purposes. It amazes me to think of how easily and even thoughtlessly we give away the things that we can never regain. The most important things in our lives are those that we sacrifice for other things that really don’t matter. We are giving our best to the Baals.
We give the best years of our lives in career building. What a fragile investment this is.
Businessmen say lives 'empty':
A study of 4,126 male business executives reveals widespread dissatisfaction with the corporate experience. Forty-eight percent of all middle managers said that despite years spent striving to achieve their professional goals, their lives seemed "empty and meaningless." 68% of senior executives said that they had neglected their family lives to pursue professional goals, and half said they would spend less time working and more time with their wives and children if they could start over again. The question that men are asking today is: "What am I doing all this for?" Before, the payoff was security and long-term employment. But corporations don't return loyalty as they used to, and men today are saying they don't see the investment as being worth it. So says Jan Halper of the Palo Alto Consulting Center who conducted the survey.
-- San Francisco Chronicle, 1989
How many people today have discovered that the institutions that have paid them well easily cast them aside with little or nothing for their heart and soul. Often we painfully discover that the corporate gods eat their peasants without a thought. They suck the very best from people and leave them high and dry. These gods are fed by profit margins and our personal value is negligible when their insatiable appetites are curbed by fiscal realities.
Like the kings of Israel, without knowing it we sacrifice the most important things for the most detestable things.
We give our emotional best during the work day, returning home frazzled and impatient. If our children or spouses paid us perhaps they might get the best offering. But we sacrifice our attitudes, exhaust our patience and spend our most energetic and creative moments on those who care very little about us by comparison to our loved ones and families
And do we really have a choice?
No. Not really. You see if we want to become more successful then there is a price to pay.
And then there’s God, at the back of the line. I’m not being critical, I understand that the demands are great upon people today and it seems so very hard to go counter culture. If you want to get by well then you’ve got to play the game.
Perhaps our difficulty is not the pace of life or the busyness but the values that we hold.? Do we care too much about the homes that we live in and the cars that we drive and the TV’s that we watch and the clothes that we wear and the social status that we seek and the . . .
I remember an old hymn that said,
Give of your best to the Master;
Give of the strength of your youth.
Throw your soul’s fresh, glowing ardor
Into the battle for truth.
Jesus has set the example,
Dauntless was He, young and brave.
Give Him your loyal devotion;
Give Him the best that you have.
Give of the rest to the Master
After you’ve squandered your youth
We give the very best that we have to offer to the least benevolent gods. And withhold our best from the most benevolent God. The system of this world will take everything that you have while you think you are on the receiving end and it will suck you dry and spit you out. You are the sacrifice daily laid upon the altars of success and acquisition and affluence and influence. While you think that you are receiving, you are dying and your relationships are dying and perhaps the most important, your spiritual vitality is disappearing and you don’t have a clue as to why. That’s because it’s like a parasite within that saps our strength and lives off of our life blood.
And then when it comes to God . . . we try to figure out the way to “keep him happy” with what is left over. He’s in that same category as family, spouse . . .
After the Baals have ravaged us we bring the broken pieces and present them as our best offerings. Too many times, too many Christians define spirituality as nothing more than an effort to . . .
2. Getting Back To Broke
Living in spiritual overdraft and hoping to break even. We become spiritual minimalists. There is little worship and much compliance in our relationship to God but it falls short of transformational power and blessing that God would like to give His people.
Why do we do it? We do it to appease God. While He invites and challenges us to be a “God-pleaser” rather than “man-pleasers”, we respectfully decline this offer. Most of us don’t hunger for the expression of his pleasure, we just want to make sure that He doesn’t punish us. We appease Him.
The Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary says that this means to placate or to “buy off”.
Our English word "religion" comes from the Latin "religion meaning: taboo, or restraint. It bespeaks of a system of faith and worship, with all of it’s "do’s, and don't’s," exercised by the will of man to gain favor with his God.
The Greek word is "threskeiall meaning: outward ceremonial observance. And it is interesting to note that it traces back to the base of "throeo" which means: to wail. I have known some very religious people, they could really wail, moan, groan; and others, quite mistakenly thought them very spiritual because of it, judging only by the outward appearance of a ceremonial wail.
Thayer's Lexicon, gives the meaning of the word as: "primarily, fear of the gods," a religious worship, especially external-- that which consists in ceremonies. So again we have the thought of appeasing the gods, out of a fear of their supposed power to do us harm, and so we do service to them.
The Amplified Translation rightly defines the word-- "External religious worship (religion as it is expressed in outward acts)...." (James 1:27). And in its footnote, it gives a quotation from the Commentary of Jamieson, Fausset and Brown, that "Religion in its rise interests us about ourselves; in its progress, about our fellow-creatures; in its highest stage, about the honor of God."
Thus they are saying that in its lowest form, man's religion is very self-centered.
Then it may progress into many good works for others-- deeds that make the doer feel very religious, pious, and, I dare say, quite self-righteous.
While in its highest stage religion it is concerned about God-- but in particular how we stand with our God. So the interests of self are very involved in man's religious worship ceremonies-toward God, perhaps, but with self in mind, as to what will I get out of this? More of God's blessing? I hope so! Thus man will follow Him so long as He multiplies the loaves and fishes, but if the blessings give way to the inworking of the cross, many are ready to draw back.
This idea assumes that God is our enemy rather than the ”Lover of Our Souls”.
Remember the scenes from the old movies? The wild beating of the pagan drums and the smoking volcano in the background. One scantily clad lady, half drugged and unaware and the whole body of people ascends the mountain to the rim of the crater. There they cast her into the pit so that they will not incur the wrath of the volcano god.
It’s the idea that the best that we can ever hope for is that God would spare us that somehow we would escape His wrath.
We gain our points slowly and lose them all at once.
I don’t want to have you fear him this morning. I want you to know Him and to love Him. That after all is the greatest commandment
3. Going Beyond To Blessing
not under compulsion. Magnanimous.
" Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work." (2 Corinthians 9:6-8, NIV)
I am not sure how many people fully understand that what you give to the church you give to God. Of course any church would be happy to have abundance out of which to resource their leaders and run programs that are “excellent”. Without these resources choices are made that to a degree limit a church.
We have decided to discontinue printing the nice bulletins that we have used over the past year. They cost around $2000 that the board believes is better spent in other areas. I believe that they are acting responsibly here but at the same time I believe that what we can do otherwise is not the kind of thing that portrays our church according to it’s reality or it’s potential.
We have many dependable, consistent givers who start at 10% of their income and give from there. We have others who have never been able to bring themselves to make that commitment. Sometimes the issues here are trust – can I depend on God to meet my needs if I give to the degree that I know He would want me to give? Perhaps the issues are greed. I am determined that I am going to supply for myself the lifestyle that I want and after I care for my lifestyle I’ll give God something however small it may be, just to appease Him.
Did you ever wonder what we might do if people, everyone who calls themselves Christian would obey Him totally in the area of finances? I wonder how much we might receive in an average Sunday offering if that happened? Let me stop here just to say a couple of things:
q If you have not accepted Christ, giving is no substitute. There are no points to be made by giving money and withholding your heart. The appeal that I make to you today is that you would receive God’s greatest gift, the gift of salvation and that you would experience that fully and then as you experience His goodness that your heart would be freed to express your gratitude and love in liberal giving.
q If you are visiting, please do not feel obligated today to give to our church. Find the church that deserves your support, go there and give yourself to it and it’s ministries without reserve. Support it in all ways. We will be blessed if our church is your choice but I want you to know as well that if you come to First Wesleyan Church, I will preach to you a gospel that will require something of you. I promise you that I will ask God to make you uncomfortable in the areas of your disobedience and move you forward into the blessings of obedience.
q If you are already a tither, I am not asking you to do one thing more – I so much appreciate all that you give and have given over the years. I know that the love that has brought you to this point in your relationship with Him will prompt you by times to do more, to give more . . .
I’d like to show you what we would be capable of over the next few weeks in a way that might not cost you anything.
"On every Lord's Day each of you should put aside something from what you have earned during the week and use it for this offering. (1 Cor. 16:2 TLB emphasis mine)
You don't give for God's sake. You give for your sake. "The purpose of tithing is to teach you to always put God first in your lives." (Deut. 14:23 TLB)
How does tithing teach you? Consider the simple act of writing a check for the offering. First you enter the date. Already you are reminded that you are a time-bound creature and every possession you have will rust or burn. Best to give it while you can.
Then you enter the name of the one to whom you are giving the money. If the bank would cash it you'd write God. But they won't so you write the name of the church or group that has earned your trust.
Next come the amount. Ahhh, the moment of truth. You're more than a person with a checkbook. You're David placing a stone in the sling. You're Peter, one foot on the boat, one foot on the lake. You're a little boy in a big crowd. A picnic lunch is all the Teacher needs, but it's all you have.
What will you do?
Sling the stone?
Take the step?
Give the meal?
Careful now, don't move too quickly. You aren't just entering an amount . . . you are making a confession. A confession that God owns it all anyway. And then the line in the lower left hand corner on which you write what the check is for. Hard to know what to put. It's for light bills and literature. A little bit of outreach. A little bit of salary.
Better yet it's partial payment for what the church has done to help you raise your family . . . keep your own priorities sorted out . . . tune you in to His ever-nearness.
Or perhaps, best yet, it's for you. For though the gift is to God the benefit is for you. It's a moment for you to clip yet another strand from the rope of earth so that when He returns you won't be tied up.
From "When God Whispers Your Name", Max Lucado
Paul knew what it-was to be RELIGIOUS, he also came to know what it meant to count all of that realm as DUNG, that he might come into an intimate knowledge of Jesus Christ-- TO WIN CHRIST. Win-- the Greek word "kerdaino" meaning: gain, with the sense of acquiring Christ's favor and blessing. Our English word "gain" comes from the Old High German word "weidenen" meaning: to pasture.
Furthermore, it signifies a pasture without fences. There is a going on-- to enter into Christ, to plunge into the depths-- a union with Him where there are no barriers or limitations. RELIGION does not lead you into this expansive realm in Christ, but rather fences you in with its many creeds and doctrines which become an end in themselves.
 The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 (electronic ed.). Grand Rapids: Zondervan.