Sunday, November 24, 2013

What Do You Value and Love the Most? (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? 26 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.

What does God want us to do with our money? That’s what we’re going to talk about today.  Now, I’ll make a deal with you: I’m only going to preach about money one Sunday a year, unless you indicate that you need to hear about it more often.  Okay?  If you’re visiting with us, I promise you we don’t do this every week!

There’s a direct link between our hearts and our wallets. I have a pastor friend, who, after inviting the congregation to grow in their generosity, was approached by several members who said, “Pastor, you let us worry about things like money, and you just focus on the spiritual stuff, okay?”  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”  Friends, the money is just as much a part of that spiritual stuff as worship and Sunday School and prayer groups and Bible studies.

So, my encouragement for you to be generous comes from my pastoral desire that you grow closer to God.  Simply stated, if you’re a disciple, you need to give as generously as your means allow.

And hear this part: I realize not everyone here has the same means.  I do understand that times are tough for a lot of folks, with unemployment and underemployment and wages that have been frozen for years and social security checks that don’t go as far as they used to.  So, hear me carefully, I know that times are hard for many people.  God knows that, too, and God understands.  Your church knows that, and your church understands.

You may be struggling right now because of a 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.

If that’s where you are today, today’s message is that this church community is here for you, and will walk with you through your difficulty.  No one’s place or acceptance in this church is tied to their ability to give.  I want this church to be here to be a blessing for everyone, especially those who are going through a hard time, so if there’s anything we can do for you, please let me know.

For those of us with means, we are called to give as generously as our means allow, ensuring that this church is here for all who face life’s difficulties for generations to come.

Today’s Scripture is a sermon from Jesus that 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.  Jesus’ sermon reaches its conclusion when he says, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too.”

What you do with your money shows what’s going on in your heart, and Jesus is interested in your heart!  He’s interested in what’s going on in terms of your commitments and priorities, your relationships, your time, your talents, and yes, your treasure.  “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be too” – we understand that our wallets and our hearts are inseparable; they are like peas and carrots.  Looking for your heart?  First find your wallet; your heart will be in the same place.

Ashley and I had been together for about three years when our errands took us 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.  If you’ve got grandkids, the money really flies out to them!  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.

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 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.

When we give generously, our hearts are changed.  When we are generous—to God and to our families, friends, neighbors and others who are in need—our hearts are filled with joy and enlarged by the very act of giving.  Think of The Grinch Who Stole Christmas.  When he learned how to give, his heart grew how many sizes?  There’s that link between our hearts and our wallets again!

For our hearts to grow closer to God, we are called to put our treasure in God’s hands.  How much of our treasure?  The Bible teaches us to tithe - to give 10% of our income to God through our local church.  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 seeds of blessing.  Sometimes people ask, “Am I supposed to give 10% gross or 10% net?” and my response is it depends how big a blessing you want - a gross-sized blessing, or a net-sized blessing!  We cheerfully give everything we can, because God blesses generous giving.

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.

Here’s what sometimes happens. I need a volunteer (who will play the part of God!)  God has given me these ten apples, representing my income.  God says, “Nine of these are yours; do what you want with them.  But the first one belongs to me, as a sign of your gratitude, and so I can continue what I need to do in the world.” So, here you go, God.  This one is yours. (give one apple to God)

Now, you know how this works.  You need to save for retirement.  You need to pay the mortgage.  And the car payment. And the household bills.  You need something to eat.  You need clothes.  Maybe you take a vacation, have a hobby – whatever, God said to do what you want with it.

Oh, and I forgot, Christmas is coming and God will understand, it’s his kid’s birthday, and it’s sort of like giving, at least to my friends and family. (take God’s apple back, and take a few bites)

ACC basketball season is coming, and that TV is on sale this week at Best Buy, and I can’t afford to take it from these other apples, so, I’m sure God will understand, just this one time. (more bites)

And the car we’ve got, it’s a good car, I mean, it’s fine, and I know it’s almost paid for, but I just saw this ad, and for another $150 a month I can get THAT car, and you know, I’m a child of the king, and God wants to me ride in style, so everyone will glorify God because I have a nice car . . . (more bites)

Little by little, there’s not much left, and we say, “Here Lord, this is your part.  Here Lord.  I give this to you.” (Give the core to God.)

How can we make sure we’re giving God what best, not just what’s left?  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 month, God gets paid first. 

So, 10% goes to God, and we split that between the two churches who provide our income, 10% is invested in our savings where we can’t get to it easily, and then we make our lifestyle decisions and our spending priorities out of that 80% that’s left, 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 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.  But that 10% we’ve given to God, it still lives on, in the adults, youth, and children whose lives have been changed through the church.  That’s how Jesus Math works - what we kept for ourselves is gone, but what we gave away is still going.

Friends, our means may all be different, but we are each called to be generous according to our means.  Yes, I think we need to plan and budget carefully and make the resources we have go as far as they will go, but being thrifty is no excuse for being cheap.  We make spending decisions in our house precisely so we can afford to be generous.

I’ll speak from my experience here; God blesses generosity.  Every time we've made an intentional choice toward generosity, it was the right choice!  We’ve never missed the money we’ve given away.  And here’s the really interesting thing: the more we give, the more we seem to still have in our pockets.  Everything we’ve ever given, God has replenished and then some.  Our personal financial situation is better because we give generously.  We’re at a point in our lives where we can’t afford NOT to tithe – I wouldn’t even consider it.  I cringe to think how difficult our situation might be if we didn’t tithe!  Try it out for yourself and respond to God’s call to be a generous person; otherwise, you’re missing out on some big blessings!

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.  Think about what percentage of your income 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%.  It may take some time to reach that goal of 10%, and that’s okay. As we grow in giving, we grow closer to God.  God will bless the step you take in faith.

Today, I invite you to take one step in your journey of generosity.  There’s a basket of cards that say, “Everything I have is a gift from God, and I am grateful.  Where my treasure is, there my heart will be too. Placing more of my treasure in God’s hands will help me grow closer to God.

And so, in gratitude for what God has done in my life, trusting that God will provide abundantly for me and my family, I step out in faith and believe that God is calling me to give                % of my income to God in 2014 through Morehead United Methodist Church.”

I invite you to come forward, pick up one these cards and spend the next several moments in silent prayer, discernment, and commitment.   You may feel led to fill that out right now, or you may need to take it home and have some time to mull it over.  The important thing is for you and God to spend some time together figuring out the percentage of your income you feel God calling you to give in 2014.  This really is a spiritual issue, not a financial one, and so I’m asking you and God to go ahead and clear on that percentage before you run the numbers.

And remember, this is a good faith estimate.  It’s just between you and God.  We don’t have dues at this church; we’re not going to send you a bill.  If your circumstances change and you have to juggle your finances, God certainly understands that.  So does your church.  We’re going to love you and accept you no matter what.

But if you have an opportunity to be generous, I encourage you to take it.  Generosity is good for the soul.  It’s said that you make a living by what you get; but you make a life by what you give.

Jesus said that he came so that we would have life, not a living.  Not just any life, either; an abundant one.

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