In the United Methodist Hymnal there is a section that is used when members are received into the Local congregation. It asks "As members of This congregation will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your Prayers, your Presence, your Gifts, and your Service? You don't have to be a member to do this.
1 Peter 4:10 tells us... Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God's grace in its various forms.
In our skit this morning, Jolene was filling out a Spiritual Gifts survey. She showed excitement and anticipation to find out how and where she might serve her church and community. Keep in mind that you don't HAVE to complete a survey to decide how and where you might want to serve, but if you are unsure, we can help you figure it out.
As a matter of fact, I have made several changes throughout my work here at OUMC. Most of you know that music is probably the most important part of Worship and serving to me, but I have also spent time helping to decorate our Sanctuary throughout the year. While my daughter was still in school, I helped with the Children's choir and plays. I have served on, the Finance team, Church Council and Parish Board Council. Attending Lay Servant classes has afforded me the opportunities to bring messages not only to OUMC, but also to Bellflower UMC, and West Anaheim UMC.
In all of these blessings bestowed upon me, God is right there each step of the way. He is strengthening my prayer time and abilities. He makes adjustments to keep me on the right path.
I am a very active participant in many different areas that I would never have done before... teaching Sunday School, Youth, Public speaking of any kind. Each new adventure I embark upon is a wonderful growth to my Spiritual Journey.
I mention this because Stewardship is not just about the Financial aspect of church. Matthew 10:8 is about Jesus sending out the apostles... let me read starting with verse 5.. Jesus sent out the twelve apostles with these instructions: "Don't go to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the people of Israel — God's lost sheep. Go and announce to them that the Kingdom of Heaven is near. Heal the sick, raise the dead, cure those with leprosy, and cast out demons. Give as freely as you have received.
OUMC is Alive and very active and we need YOU and your help. God is most definitely "at work" here. I encourage and challenge you to pray and see where you can faithfully participate in our ministries with your Prayers, Presence, Gifts and Service.
Our Scripture Lesson today is:
2nd Corinthians 9:6-7: Remember this — a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heard how much to give. And don't give reluctantly or in response to pressure. "For God loves a person who gives cheerfully."
Next week will be Consecration Sunday. I know how we feel about Consecration Sunday and things like it. I don't know why we feel uncomfortable about this, because giving what God has blessed us with is an act of Christian discipleship and an act of seeing Jesus as Lord. It really is an act of worship. Stewardship campaigns seem to give a person the impression that the church is going to try to talk them into giving more. "My giving is between me and God and I resent that yearly thing during harvest season when the leaves are falling — it's a Hallmark moment."
I don't see anywhere in scripture where we are called to campaign at all. All we are called to do is live out our faith consistently in every area including finances. What I hope to do this morning is simply open up the scriptures and look at what giving is from a Biblical perspective.
If we give the way the Lord teaches us, it's like the Capital One Card commercial. It protects us from the pestilence and the problems and the heartaches that can come into our lives if we hold back from God. Left to our own devices, materialism has a way of eating us up or life doesn't turn out the way we want, and we don't maximize what we make to the best degree because we don't have God's blessing upon it. How do we have the divine protection of God? We do this by giving according to the scripture, and we will look at our text today which will instruct us in giving according to the scripture. We will look at the right perspective for giving, how much to give, the procedure for giving, and the focus for giving.
What attitude should we have towards giving? Paul uses the story about the sower. To give is really to sow. We tend to see giving as losing. How many times have you given in the offering plate or thought about giving a certain amount, and your mind starts playing tricks on you—"That could be a car payment." "That could be this week's grocery bill." "That could have been what I needed to pay for these tires that blew or these engine problems that I'm having." "That could have been my insurance payment." You feel that because you gave the money in the offering, you lost it, that it's not coming back to you at all. This is how we tend to see giving—as something that's lost.
Yet scripture is very clear—giving is sowing. We all know the farming terms. What happens when you sow? You reap. If you take a whole ear of corn and strip all the kernels off it, put each of them into the ground, what happens? From one ear of corn, how many rows of corn can you plant? Each of those kernels will grow a stalk, and how many ears of corn are on each stalk? This concept of sowing is amazing. It is not something that is lost and gone forever. It actually multiplies.
This is what God says about giving. Giving is like sowing seed or planting a zucchini plant. If you have one plant, you have enough zucchini to last a lifetime. One tomato plant can grow an amazing number of tomatoes. That's like giving. Every time you give, you need to remember that you are sowing seeds and a harvest is coming. This whole concept of sowing and reaping is built into the very fabric of life. Unless people and things give, we will all die. Think of a hanging plant in a pot without holes. If you keep giving it water without holes to drain the water away, the plant becomes waterlogged and will rot. Any plant that is not producing is dying.
The same thing is true with people. The happiest people are not the takers but the givers. The happiest class in our society is the middle class, not the upper class. Why? Because they tend to be the people who both give and receive.
If giving is sowing, how much do we give? Is the Biblical standard ten percent? The answer to that is yes and no. It is the Old Testament standard, but we live in New Testament times. What does the New Testament say about giving? The New Testament doesn't mention a percentage. The reason is that they felt ten percent was too limiting. People wanted to give more than ten percent, and they gave what God placed upon their heart.
The New Testament gives us four guides to giving: We are to give freely, we are to give generously, we are to give regularly, and we are to give cheerfully.
I like how God does this. To give cheerfully is extremely helpful. On a practical level, it helps me gauge where my faith is at. How much can I give and still be grinning? Then it pushes you and causes you to consider if you can be happy giving more. Perhaps you are too entangled in the things of this world and God is trying to untangle the lusts of materialism. Can you trust him at a level to give a little bit more? This standard meets me where I am and what I can give at this point in my life. It also challenges me to go one step farther and to trust God for this. God does this in every area of our lives. Little by little, God works on one area at a time.
This is what God does with our finances. If we give one percent, God challenges us to try one more. If we give two-and-one-half percent, God challenges us to try three. If you already tithe, try eleven percent. Test God and try it. Stretch yourself and let yourself grow in this.
What's the procedure for giving? I know there are people who don't pledge for various reasons. God did not tell the priests to have faith that the money would come in. He challenged everyone to give ten percent and the priests knew exactly what percentage the congregation would be giving. How did they then demonstrate faith? The priests were also challenged to tithe and were put on the same level as everyone else. All of us are called to collectively demonstrate faith by looking within ourselves, deciding before God what we are going to give, writing it down and giving it. For all of us, it takes faith to do this.
In verse 7 it says, "Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give." The act of giving comes after the decision. We are to decide first, and then we are to give. It is not haphazard or circumstantial. It is not dependent upon whether I am in church or even what I have in my checking account this week. It is based on a prior commitment that I have made after a serious time of prayer and reflection. That sounds like pledging to me.
A practical way of living out the deliberate act of giving is to write it down. Why is it helpful for us? Number one, is that we forget. Number two, is that we are weak. If things are running behind and it looks like you don't have enough money and your hand starts to quiver when you are writing your check, if you have decided ahead of time how much to give, you will give it and act in faith. There is something about writing down your pledge that is more decisive and concrete. It is a real act of commitment and of faith.
How many of you have ever said, "I am going to read the Bible straight through in one year?" How many of you have ever said, "I am going to have a devotional life every day?" Did you do it? Did you accomplish it?
How many of you have promised in your mind that you were going to pay cash for a car? You promised that you were going to put the price of a car payment into the bank each month, but it never happened. Then all of a sudden you need a car and you go get a loan with interest, and mysteriously, you can make the payments, not to yourself, but to someone else who is making money off you. All of a sudden you have the money that you didn't have before. Why? Because you are receiving a written note from someone who is holding you accountable.
Giving is voluntary. I know and you know that you don't have to pledge. We aren't going to have a couple of big guys standing up here waiting for you to fill out your card. This all has to do with your sowing and reaping. It is between you and God and if you give to God generously, he already says in this scripture that you will reap generously.
It really is like salvation. When you think about salvation, God never forced you to receive salvation. He never did, and he never will. He gently prods you and calls you to himself. He has already provided the gift of salvation, but all of us at some time have to give ourselves to him and his leadership. It is for our benefit that we do it, but we ultimately have to decide voluntarily to do this. It is like giving. God will bless you, but you have to do this because you want to and because your heart is right about it. If you don't want to pledge, your heart is not right. I am not going to force you and God isn't going to force you. God loves you anyway.
The motivation for giving is because we are thankful for what God has done in our lives. If you are wondering whether you have things to be thankful for, consider this:
Anthony "Tony" Campolo is an American sociologist, pastor, author, public speaker and former spiritual advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton.
He tells of being invited to speak at a ladies meeting. There were 300 women there. Before he spoke the president of the organization read a letter from a missionary. It was a very moving letter.
In the letter the missionary expressed a need for $4,000 to take care of an emergency that had cropped up. So the president of the organization said, "We need to pray that God will provide the resources to meet the need of this missionary. Brother Campolo will you please pray for us?" Tony Campolo, who is very outspoken said, "No." Startled, she said, "I beg your pardon."
He said, "No, I won't pray for that." He said, "I believe that God has already provided the resources & that all we need to do is give. Tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to step up to this table & give every bit of cash I have in my pocket. And if all of you will do the same thing, I think God has already provided the resources."
The president of the organization chuckled a little bit & said, "Well, I guess we get the point. He is trying to teach us that we all need to give sacrificially." Tony said, "No, that is not what I am trying to teach you. I'm trying to teach you that God has already provided for this missionary. All we need to do is give it. Here, I'm going to put down all of my money I have with me. He wrote, "I only had $15 in my pocket so I wasn't too worried about that." So he put down his $15 & then looked at the president of the organization. Reluctantly, she opened her purse & took out all of her money, which was about $40, & put it on the table. One by one the rest of the ladies filed by & put their money on the table, too. When the money was counted they had collected more than $4,000."
Tony Campolo said, "Now, here's the lesson. God always supplies for our needs, & he supplied for this missionary, too. The only problem was we were keeping it for ourselves. Now let's pray & thank God for His provision."
What is Christian giving? It is simply a challenge for us to look at what's in our wallet and then set aside, according to God's leading by prayer, a percentage for him because you are thankful for his blessing and you want to provide that blessing for others so that they may know this God.
What will God do in response? Look at verses 10 and 11: "Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion. Through us, your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God."