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Fools Quest

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 “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. 4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. 5 Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God,

the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.” 6 Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. 8 “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.” [1] Isaiah 55:1-13 (NIV)

 

The scripture today speaks of 3 things:

·         An issue of personal satisfaction (1,2a)

·         An invitation to see the Lord as a means of satisfaction and fullness (2b – 7)

·         An indication that the answers that we seek are found in a new way of thinking. (8-13)

For this entire month we have seen people at our altars in response to sermons on stewardship.

I received an e-mail from one of our newer men.  The opening sentence was:

“After yesterdays service, I suggest that you NEVER stop preaching about "money".

Why is this?  The reason is that stewardship, giving to God is not about money.  It is about your spiritual relationship to God.

I didn’t want to do this sermon series.  I believed that God wanted it done however and so I acquiesced and tried to tie some sentences and thoughts together relative to giving.  I didn’t want to give an altar call following the second sermon.  I believed that this was what God wanted and so I did, never thinking that anyone would respond.  I was so shocked to see people step out in response.  And then it was as though He reached up and pulled the chain to turn the lights on for me.  People come forward because when we talk about finances we talk about the Lordship of Christ in an area where people fight God and tenaciously hold on to their meager supply.  It’s not a money issue.  People respond because they become aware of the need for a fuller relationship with God.

"Stewardship of possessions is the effect of God's saving grace upon one's self and his property.  When God gets a man with a car He gets a car to be used in His service.  Some seem to think of stewardship as a whip or as legal action to drive people to give to the expenses of the church.  No doubt too often the attempt has been made to wring generous offerings from selfish souls.  Christian stewardship most certainly is not church legislation nor a scheme to deprive men of their cash.  It is the natural consequence of an experience with God -- the natural reaction of the human heart that has been touched by the divine spirit.

   -- Milo Kauffman, The Challenge of Christian Stewardship,

1.   An issue of personal satisfaction

What do we really need to see from a stewardship campaign?  Obviously we would like to see people respond to the financial needs of the church.  Rarely do churches face spending problems.  It is most always giving problems.  If everyone who earns a wage gave according to God’s pattern we would never have to talk about money in the church and there would be more than we would need. People who are most impacted by sermons like these are those who are already doing their part and more.  I have several Challenge cards back and many of them are people who are already carrying their load, trying to find ways to do more.

Personally I would like to see people do what they know God wants them to do financially.  A person knows whether or not their giving is on line with God’s will for them.

The real need is obedience as an expression of love to God.  It is not a monetary response but a love response.  Great churches become greater churches when greater numbers of people respond in obedience to His will.  God can use a ready army but He cannot use a resistant army, a motley collection of self-styled spiritualists who have no idea what it is to follow their commander-in-chief, the Lord of Hosts. 

Giving is a personal need.  Spiritual ground is gained when we break our ties with the material world by learning to let go of our treasure.  Giving away a portion of our resources to God breaks the bondage of things and it helps us to focus on eternal things in the here and now. 

The truth is that we will never find satisfaction in the pursuit of what is only temporary.  Every commodity that your funds can secure will wear out or rust out much faster than you will.  The glory quickly fades from things.  Things don’t stay new for very long.

Elaine and I had the opportunity while in Moncton to move to a newer, larger home.  It was more house than we ever thought we would own.  I was attracted to it because it was “maintenance free”.  That was a joke.  But you know what I mean, vinyl siding, new windows and doors.  It was a beautiful home.  I would drive away from it each day and say a “thank-you” to God for this blessing.  I didn’t want to lose a sense of thankfulness for what I considered to be a great blessing.  But I couldn’t hang on to that perspective.  Things broke.  The basement flooded.  It was more expensive to heat than we imagined.  The taxes were burdensome.  It wasn’t long before I realized that this was just one more thing that I was enslaved to.  I was in many ways trapped by the home that I lived in and all the time that my awareness of this fact was growing the “glory” of the home was fading.  The nature of my “thankfulness” was changing as well.  I was realizing that God had allowed me to possess in order to see that I really didn’t want what I thought I wanted.  I also learned that “glory” doesn’t stick to wood or metal or mortar or any other thing that can be fashioned by the hands of men.  But we give so much time and effort and waste so much “wanting” energy in the process of our living.

2.    An invitation to seek the Lord as a means of satisfaction and fullness

I really believe that in order to honor God in our giving lives and in turn to find satisfaction in this life we must seek Him first.  You don’t give to God so that you can know more of Him.  You seek to know Him fully and this makes a different person in every way.  It makes you a different giver, a different servant.  It allows God to funnel whatever resource He chooses to funnel through your hands.  It places your entire existence at His disposal.  Nothing satisfies like that.

The off shoot of a deepening relationship with God is a greater commitment to Him.  As far as I am concerned everything in the Christian walk, every discipline, every act of devotion, every service are nothing more than an expression of this relationship.  I would say then that an inactive Christian is a misnomer.  Strangers to God have little practical concern for the things of God.  There comes a time in a person’s life to take God at His word and trust Him fully or stop all this talk about living by faith.  If we choose to live by our own resourcefulness, we may make a wonderful way of life for ourselves but it will be far short of God’s provision for us.

I am modifying my sermon this morning, the last day of October, 2004.  Yesterday I wrote the following:

“When a person holds back on God they cap their spiritual experience.  I just don’t believe that a person experiences all there is to know of God until they have given Him all that they know of themselves.”

Now there is certainly truth in this statement but it may be a bit backward.  It may be spiritual hindsight.  The kind of truth that you are able to accept when you’ve crossed the stewardship line and gained the spiritual ground.

But it would be hollow victory if I led you to believe that there is something better that happens to a person when they give.  If we were to increase the weekly tithes and offerings in the plate and a person expected that somehow that this would produce a greater awareness or understanding of God then it would be disappointing to say the least.

We don’t give to get, we spend to get and that breeds disappointment.  Isaiah says: 

“Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy?”

When you give away you relinquish claim in every way.  You don’t look for acclaim or reward if it is truly given away.  Otherwise it is spent not given.  It is money that purchases something that you are looking for as a normal expectation in a transaction.

Perhaps it would be like suggesting that there would be ground gained for God’s kingdom here on earth if we could get non-Christians to act like Christians.  Many Christians would be satisfied if others would just act like they were Christians.  Just because a person acts like a Christian doesn’t mean that they are Christian.

If I speak in the tonguesa of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames,b but have not love, I gain nothing. [2] 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)

I am thankful for the by laws relative to smoking.  Now if you smoke, please don’t feel that I am getting at some spiritual issue.  I know of wonderful folks who struggle with this habit and they feel terrible about it.  The purpose here is not to increase guilt – just to illustrate that we can sometimes make secondary issues a primary pursuit.

Smoking by laws are merely protection and damage control.  I may not have to inhale second hand smoke (secondary issue) but there are still people out there killing themselves and diminishing their quality of life because of this habit.  This is the primary issue.  The damage is till being done.  Can you solve this problem through legislation?  Nope!  A person has to solve it for themselves.  Telling people where thy can or can’t smoke is not the victory.

And meanwhile back at the stewardship ranch.  As I tweaked my message today I realized that I might suggest that giving was a spiritual thing in and of itself.  I don’t want anyone in this place to think that there is anything spiritual in the funds that you give.  No one earns points with God by what they give.

Stewardship is indeed a spiritual matter – not the money but the heart of it.  A person who does not honor God in their giving is a person who has never fully experienced God.  You don’t give to God in order to get.  You give to God as an act of worship and thankfulness, a natural response in the life of a person who already fully knows God’s riches and His mercy.  I think that the main ground to be gained, and God is teaching us this truth, is that if people will seek the Lord as Isaiah wrote, “while He may be found” then their relationship will find it’s way into the offering plate

3.   An indication that the answers that we seek are found in a new way of thinking

God leads us patiently and gently to higher levels of thinking.  Isaiah tells us that His ways and His thoughts are higher than ours.

Steven Covey tells the story of his young daughter’s birthday party.  He returned home to find his daughter sitting in the middle of the floor crying and his wife was exasperated.  She was clutching the toys that her friends had brought her, unwilling to share with the children who had brought them.  Everyone was upset.  He first made a simple request asking her to share with the other children.  She quickly and flatly refused.  Next he tried to reason with her.  He told her that if she shared her toys with her friends when they were at her home, they would share their toys with her when she was at their homes.  Again she refused.  By now he was becoming embarrassed and he resorted to bribery.  He offered her a “special” surprise if she would just share . . . a piece of gum.  She loudly told him that she didn’t want gum.  The fourth strategy was to threat.  Now all the time I was reading this I am thinking that it sounds like a stewardship campaign.  He told his daughter that she would be in real trouble if she refused to share.  Again she refused. Finally he forcibly took the toys from his daughter and distributed them to her friends.

Covey writes:

“Perhaps my daughter needed the experience of possessing the things before she could give them.  (In fact, unless I possess something can I ever really give it?)”

I think God delights in leading us to higher levels of thinking – ways that are more like His own way of thinking.  I do not want to misrepresent God in anything that I say relative to “giving”.  It is so easy to do this.

I don’t believe that God returns dollar for dollar.  I don’t believe that there will never be trying experiences in a persons’ life who has surrendered themselves to God.  Some of God’s greatest givers are people who have experienced some of life’s most difficult struggles. 

I don’t believe that we live “happily ever after” in fairy tale mode when we give ourselves and our money to God.  Sometimes I believe that our faith is the only thing that keeps us going through adversity that may come to us because of our faith.  The more obvious a profession of faith we make the greater the likelihood of opposition.  This opposition will come through people, perhaps even Christian people.  But it will be generated by our spiritual enemy in one way or another and directed toward our hearts to make us falter and give up.  Don’t ever allow the devil to use you to bring discouragement to another brother or sister in Christ.

Living as Children of Light

 

17 So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. 18 They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. 19 Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more. 20 You, however, did not come to know Christ that way. 21 Surely you heard of him and were taught in him in accordance with the truth that is in Jesus. 22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness. 25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. 26 “In your anger do not sin”a: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 and do not give the devil a foothold. 28 He who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with his own hands, that he may have something to share with those in need. 29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. [3] Ephesians 4:17-32 (NIV)

It amazes me to hear of things that one person says to another.  I hear stories of people being verbally assaulted in the house of God every once in a while.  Church bullies who intimidate others.  There is no cause so great as to justify the mistreatment of another person.  If you find yourself face to face with someone like this don’t accept it.  Challenge their attitude in light of their profession.  Tell them that you expect something more from a person who takes the name of Christ and calls themselves a Christian.

Our greatest need at First Wesleyan Church is not dollars and cents.  It is to see a people committed to God together, submitting to His will in every area of their lives.  This will be an empowered church rather than an impoverished church.

What God wants first from First is that we would love Him First and foremost.  We’ll never have a giving problem when we have solved our loving problem.  A giving problem is a loving problem.  We will fail if we see our need to be financial. 

You will never make enough money to convince yourself that 10% of it should go to God.  You’ll never give 10% of your lottery winnings to God until you learn that God wants you to trust Him with the little that you have. The money that you give to chance can be multiplied much more in God’s hands than it ever will be with Atlantic Loto.  Really when we take our chances with anything other than God the odds are slim at best.  No one who trusts God loses.

“See, I lay in Zion a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”a [4]

A number of years ago, when our son Christopher was in High School, he met a young Christian girl named Tammy.  Tammy came from a Christian home and served God faithfully.  Christopher chose not to live for God even though ours was a God honoring home.  He was into drugs and was very much a party person.

After graduating from school, Tammy went to work in a Day Care Center, making minimum wage.  She was buying a small car for transportation back and forth to work.  She and Christopher remained friends and she was regular guest in our home.  One weekend at supper, Christopher was teasing her.

"Tell Mom how much money you have left from your paycheck this week to spend."

"I have 67 cents left.", she said.

She put her money from her paycheck in little envelopes when she got paid.  The first envelope was for her tithe.  The next for a portion of her car payment.  Another for her room and board, etc..

Christopher asked, "What happens when you need gas for the car?"

"I'll park my car and get a drive or walk." was her reply.

"What about your lunch?"

"I'll make it at home.", she replied.

She had an answer for all of his questions.  He just couldn't understand her tithing and giving money to the church.  Finally she said to Christopher, "God comes first and that's why I tithe.  He will look after the rest of my needs.  You need to learn to trust God."

You probably know the rest of the story.  She led our son to the Lord.  They were married and they now serve Him in ministry at the Marysville Baptist church.  Bot tithe and both trust Him for their daily bread.  If Tammy were here today she would tell you of the many, many ways that God has proven himself faithful in their lives.

There are many here today who will never know God's faithfulness in your own lives simply because you are unwilling to honor Him and trust Him by giving first rather than last.

--Marie Price


----

[1] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Zondervan: Grand Rapids

a Or languages

b Some early manuscripts body that I may boast

[2] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Zondervan: Grand Rapids

a Psalm 4:4

[3] The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984. Zondervan: Grand Rapids

a Isaiah 8:14; 28:16

[4]The Holy Bible : New International Version. 1996, c1984 . Zondervan: Grand Rapids

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