Sunday, October 28, 2012

Treasures of the Heart (Luke 12:15-34)

15 Then Jesus said to them, “ Watch out! Guard yourself against all kinds of greed. After all, one’s life isn’t determined by one’s possessions, even when someone is very wealthy. ” 16 Then he told them a parable: “ A certain rich man’s land produced a bountiful crop. 17 He said to himself, What will I do? I have no place to store my harvest! 18 Then he thought, Here’s what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones. That’s where I’ll store all my grain and goods. 19 I’ll say to myself, You have stored up plenty of goods, enough for several years. Take it easy! Eat, drink, and enjoy yourself. 20 But God said to him, ‘Fool, tonight you will die. Now who will get the things you have prepared for yourself?’ 21 This is the way it will be for those who hoard things for themselves and aren’t rich toward God. ”
22 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “ Therefore, I say to you, don’t worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 23 There is more to life than food and more to the body than clothing. 24 Consider the ravens: they neither plant nor harvest, they have no silo or barn, yet God feeds them. You are worth so much more than birds! 25 Who among you by worrying can add a single moment to your life? f26 If you can’t do such a small thing, why worry about the rest? 27 Notice how the lilies grow. They don’t wear themselves out with work, and they don’t spin cloth. But I say to you that even Solomon in all his splendor wasn’t dressed like one of these. 28 If God dresses grass in the field so beautifully, even though it’s alive today and tomorrow it’s thrown into the furnace, how much more will God do for you, you people of weak faith! 29 Don’t chase after what you will eat and what you will drink. Stop worrying. 30 All the nations of the world long for these things. Your Father knows that you need them. 31 Instead, desire his kingdom and these things will be given to you as well.
32 “Don’t be afraid, little flock, because your Father delights in giving you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to those in need. Make for yourselves wallets that don’t wear out—a treasure in heaven that never runs out. No thief comes near there, and no moth destroys. 34 Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.

“The church is only interested in my money.”  Have you ever heard someone say something like that?  Well, today is Commitment Sunday, so here we go.  May we pray.

When it comes to money, most congregations go through the same motions every year, with an embarrassed preacher half-heartedly mumbling an invitation for the congregation to open their wallets, who are squirming until it’s all over and they can get home before kickoff.  What a missed opportunity.  Jesus knew that money - how we use it and how we relate to it - was a leading indicator of what was going on in our hearts and where our priorities really were.

So no, the church isn’t only interested in your money.  We’re also interested in your time, and your talents, and your temperament.  We’re interested in your relationships, in your attitudes and actions, in your commitments and in your priorities.  In short, we’re interested in your heart, your whole life, even, because that’s what Jesus is interested in.

Maybe you’re sitting there thinking, “Wow, my church expects a lot from me.”  And you’d be right.  In fact, say that out loud: “My church expects a lot from me.”  Yes, your church expects a lot from you because God expects a lot from you - but here’s the really important part, so listen carefully - those expectations are within the context of your personal abilities and circumstances.  I know that circumstances are not easy for a lot of people right now.  Your church knows that.  God knows that.  You may be struggling right now because of a job or medical or family situation, you may be buried under debt and getting the Visa bill from hell every month - you may have circumstances in your life preventing you from living with the joy and generosity you earnestly desire and God intends.

If that’s where you are today, today’s message is that this church community is there for you, and will walk with you through your difficulty; that’s what the body of Christ does.

For the rest of us, God has clear expectations about what we do with money, and those expectations are for our own good as followers of Jesus Christ.

Things you never thought you'd hear a preacher say.
You see, the church doesn’t need your money.  Never thought you’d hear a preacher say that, now did you?  Members of the finance committee are having a heart attack right about now!  But, I stand by it: the church doesn’t need your money.  God doesn’t need your money.  If that’s true, why should any of us give?  Because, we are followers of Jesus, the One whose infinite grace led him to generously give himself for the sake of the world, and as his disciples, as those who are striving to become Christlike, we are called to the same kind of generosity.  That’s why we give.  The church doesn’t need your money; as disciples, we need to be generous.

Today’s Scripture is one of 25 places throughout the four Gospels where Jesus is clearly talking about money.  This particular sermon of his includes warnings against being anxious or greedy, about hoarding for ourselves and being stingy with what we give to God.  Instead, he tells us to seek first God’s kingdom, and then everything we need will be taken care of.

In essence, this sermon from Jesus asks us to decide who is Lord of our lives: Almighty God, or Almighty Dollar.  Jesus’ sermon reaches its conclusion in the last verse we’ve read, when he says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”

A few weeks ago, Ashley and I stopped by the drive-thru ATM.  I was trying to be as quick as possible, because there were a few cars in line behind us.  I had several transactions to make, and while I was punching in numbers, I just handed Ashley my wallet, receipts, and cash.  As we drove down the street, she said, “Wow, I’ve never had your wallet before,” to which I replied, “Sweetie, you’ve had my wallet for three years, now.”

Any parent knows when you have kids, that’s where the money goes.  Whoever or whatever you love, that’s where you’re going to spend your money.  It would just make sense, then, that if we love God, we’d give our money to God.

Jesus' teaching on money is the
opposite of conventional wisdom.
Conventional wisdom sounds like this: “If we can just get people’s hearts right, then the money will follow.”  But, that’s not it at all.  Jesus teaches the opposite of conventional wisdom.  Jesus says that if you put your money someplace, your heart is going to go with it.  Your practice shapes your heart.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.

You’ve heard the saying, “Put your money where your mouth is.”  The message from Jesus goes one further: Put your money where you want your heart to be.  Where do you want your heart to be?  Put your money there.  Where your treasure is, there your heart will be, too. As goes your wallet, so goes your heart.  If you want your heart to grow closer to God, put more of your treasure in God’s hands.

How much of our treasure?  Over and over again, the Bible teaches us to tithe - to give 10% of our income to God through our local church.  Those who do will confirm that God blesses us abundantly when we tithe.

2 Corinthians 9:6-7 tells us, “the one who sows a small number of seeds will also reap a small crop, and the one who sows a generous amount of seeds will also reap a generous crop.  7 Everyone should give whatever they have decided in their heart. They shouldn’t give with hesitation or because of pressure. God loves a cheerful giver.”

What we give are like seeds of blessing.  Sometimes people ask, “Am I supposed to give 10% gross or 10% net?” and my response is always the same: it depends how big a blessing you want - a gross-sized blessing, or a net-sized blessing!  We cheerfully give everything we can, because we know that God blesses generous giving.

And really, God is the one who gave it to us in the first place.  Our relationships, our health, our resources, our skills, our talents, our ability to make a living and earn an income in the first place - all of that is free gift from God.  God simply asks us to give a portion of that back to God, as a way of expressing our gratitude.  Makes it easy to give generously and cheerfully!

Further, the Bible teaches us to give God our first-fruits (Proverbs 3:9).  We intentionally set aside God’s portion first, before we spend anything else.  We give God what’s best, not just what’s left.

How have you divided your income?
The way we do this in our house is to follow the 10-10-80 rule.  The first 10% of our income goes to God through the church, the second 10% goes into savings, and then we live off the remaining 80%.  We do it right off the top; we don’t even think about the first 10% as our money; that’s God’s money!  That’s one of the reasons we give electronically - not only is it convenient, but every week, God gets paid first.  I’m not asking you to commit to anything we don’t do ourselves.  We have experienced abundant blessing in our lives as a result of generous giving, and we invite you to do the same, because we want you to experience that level of blessing, as well.

In Jesus Math, notice what's gone and what's still going.
And there’s something more.  I call it “Jesus Math.”  Here’s how it works.  That 80% that we’ve kept to live off of - most of that is gone.  It’s gone to pay for a lot of stuff we don’t have any more: cars and clothes that have worn out, gadgets and gizmos we’ve broken or lost, golf balls I’ve shanked into the woods, haircuts that are less and less necessary, movies we can’t remember.  But that 10% we’ve given to God, it still lives on, in the adults, youth, and children whose lives have been changed because the church shared the love of God with them.  That’s how Jesus Math works - the part we kept for ourselves is now gone, but the part we gave away is still going.

Now, you may be looking at that figure of 10%, and thinking, “I’d like to, but pastor, there’s no way I can do that.”  Growing in generosity is sorta like training for a marathon; you don’t wake up one morning and say, “I’m going to run 26.2 miles today.”  The way to do that is to train, stretching yourself over time until finally you reach that goal and are ready to run the marathon.

When it comes to giving, moving toward tithing takes the same sort of intentional planning and determination.  So wherever you are, take a step that is reachable.  Here’s how to start.  Ask yourself, “What percentage of my income is God calling me to give?”  If you’re not thinking about giving in terms of a percentage of your income, start thinking about it.  Think about what you give now, and challenge yourself to give 1% more next year, and 1% more the year after that, until you reach that goal of 10%.  If you’re already giving 10%, consider how you will remember your church in your estate planning.  Wherever you are, take the next step in faith.  Generosity is good for the soul; as we grow in giving, we grow closer to God.  God will bless the step you take in faith.

Here’s another cool thing about Jesus Math: the person who makes $10 a week and gives $1 has given the same amount as a person who makes $1000 a week and gives $100.  The means of these two people are very different, but their generosity is equal, their gift is the same, and God is equally pleased with both.

This week, you will receive a mailing asking you to prayerfully consider your financial commitment to the church in 2013.  Read it.  Go to God in prayer, considering God’s goodness and faithfulness and the blessings in your life.  Honestly ask yourself, “What percentage of my income is God calling me to give?”  Fill out your card and bring it to worship next week, where will all put our commitments together, and dedicate them to God.

For today, I invite you to respond by writing three things in your bulletin and spending some time in prayer and reflection over them:
1.   Thank God for God’s goodness, God’s faithfulness, and the blessings in your life.
2.   In response, ask yourself, “What percentage of my income is God calling me to give?”
3.   What changes in my lifestyle need to occur to grow in my generosity?

Maybe you’re going to wait another year before you buy that new car, maybe you’re going to eat out one time less each week, maybe you’re going to scale back on how much you spend on that family vacation, maybe you’re going to cut down your cable package, or spend a little less at Christmas, maybe you’ve got some personal debts to tackle.  As our musicians play, spend the next few minutes in prayer over these three things, at your seat or at the altar rail, and seek God’s guidance for how you are to respond.

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.  The church doesn’t need your money; that’s not it, at all.  The more of your treasure you give to God, the more of your heart you’re going to give as well.  Whoever is Lord of our pocket is certainly going to be Lord of our life.  May we grow in generosity; may we grow closer to God.

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