ďAltar Your GiftsĒ
(Malachi 3:10, Luke 6:36-38)
Rev. Billy D Strayhorn
††††† Years ago I read a story told about Abe Lincoln and his boys. The boys were both crying and a neighbor asked Abe what the problem was. And Abe answered, "The same problem that is wrong with the whole world. I have three walnuts, and each of my boys wants two." That sort of hits the nail on the head doesn't it? And it kind of makes us all want to squirm. We all want more than we've got. We all want the larger share. No sooner do we get something than we find someone who has one bigger or better or with a few more extras. And we want that, too.
††††† Why are we like that? What is it about Money that makes us act that way? Well, thatís some of what weíre going to explore today because what we think about money shapes everything we understand about Stewardship?
††††† Iíll be up front so thereís no mistake. This is what someone called ďThe Sermon on the AmountĒ This is the sermon about our Gifts. I know that the idea of gifts entails a whole lot more than just money. But I believe if we understand the Biblical concept of giving, all the other gifts will naturally follow and fall into place.
††††† For the last few weeks weíve been talking about Altaring Our Lives and Altaring Our World. Weíve talked about how everything we are and do should emanate from our relationship with God through Christ. Weíve talked about Godís call to give ourselves completely as an offering to God and placing that offering on Godís Altar. Weíve also talked about how when we do that we are actual living our lives from that Altar. In the presence of the Altar God we are empowered through Prayers and Presence to Serve and Witness. And we empower the Churchís ministry, the community of faithís ministry through the Gifts we bring and place on the Altar every Sunday.
††††† When we offer an ďElevation PrayerĒ before the Altar of God at our time of Tithes and Offerings, thatís not some small thing that weíve decided to do because it looks holy. In silence, through what we have placed in the plates, the People of God offer themselves once again as a ďThank OfferingĒ to the God of our Salvation. It is a high holy moment.
††††† I heard a Stewardship Coach who said, rather irreverently, that our silent prayer really says, ďLord, no matter what we say or do, THIS is what we think of You.Ē
††††† I laughed but then I had a very sobering thought that in one sense he was actually right. Our giving IS an expression of our faith. Itís an expression of what we believe about money and possessions. Itís an expression of the priorities in our lives. Itís an expression of the depth of our faith and trust in the God we profess is the Lord of our lives.
††††† At the Worship Committee meeting this past week, we discussed why weíve rearranged the order of Worship and placed the offering at the end of the service. There are a couple of reasons. First, we are Protestants and the Word of God both the reading and the proclamation of the Word are the central focus of our Worship. From our point of view, everything else in worship and in life comes in response to the Word.
††††† Second, and maybe most importantly, it is a theological statement to the world and to ourselves. You see, this is a moment in our worship when we physically and symbolically live out what Jesus taught, ďThe first shall be last and the last shall be first.Ē This is when we place what the world says should be the most important thing to you on the Altar of God. The world says money and wealth should be the most important thing in the world to you. The world says money should be First in your life. Jesus says in the Kingdom of God it is last. By bringing our tithes and offerings at the end of the Worship service we are putting money in its proper place. And we are saying that Jesus, the living Word of God is, was and always will be First.
††††† A.† Well letís get into the meat of the matter. Letís talk about Giving. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, less than 500 verses on faith, but more than 2,000 verses on money and possessions. There are a lot of hot topics in the Bible but Money and Giving are probably the hottest topic of all.
††††† Jesus talked a lot about money. Sixteen of the thirty-eight parables were concerned with how to handle money and possessions. In the Gospels, an amazing one out of ten verses (288 in all) deal directly with the subject of money. (1)
††††† Since Jesus and the Bible talk so much about money, it has to be an important matter. Money, possessions and giving are important issues in the Kingdom of God. How we use our money, what we do with it, how we spend it, what we spend it on and who we give it to, reflects our true feelings about our faith and about God. Letís look at a couple of short passages and at some of the basic Biblical Teachings about giving and money.††††††
 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.
Luke 6:36-38 (NRSV)
 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.
 "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;
 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
††††† B. † In my understanding there are basically three kinds of giving. Thereís Grudge Giving, Duty Giving and Thanks Giving. †††††††† Grudge Giving is that giving that takes place out of a sense of guilt.You know what talking about: Watch:
††††† Grudge Giving is the most negative form of giving there is. Oh, sure, the Church receives the money. People give. But it builds resentment and resentment keeps us from growing spiritually and truly experiencing the depth of Godís love.
††††† Then thereís Duty Giving. This is the Have To sort of giving. Itís not filled with resentment but itís not filled with life and joy either. Itís that giving that comes out of a sense of obligation, a sense of duty. This is the kind of giving that says, ďWell, Iím a member, so I ought to at least give something.Ē And thatís all that gets given, something.
††††† Then thereís Thanks Giving. This is the giving that comes from a grateful heart. This is the giving that is given out of the joy of salvation. This is the giving that is full of life and gives life because it the gift is given cheerfully. This is the gift that has truly been Altared, in the sense that we are talking about Altaring Our Lives and the World because Thanks Giving is given in the attitude of gratitude and the attitude of love for the one who has offered us forgiveness.
††††† C. TITHING: The Biblical witness for giving is the tithe or ten percent. From the very beginning thatís all God has ever asked for, a thank offering. Everything we have comes from God and is really Godís to begin with, and all God asks is that we return a portion as a means of giving thanks. God said that portion should be ten percent or a tithe. That tithe should be from the first fruits not the leftovers.
††††† Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of the largest UM church in America, COR, in Kansas City described it in a very graphic way, which Iíve borrowed. Suppose all of our income is represented by 10 apples.
††††† God tells us that nine of these apples are ours to with as we please. But one is reserved for God as a way of saying thanks to God for all the blessings of life and our salvation.
††††† According to July 2009 Department of Labor report, the average American family spends about 34% of our income on housing; 18% on transportation costs; 12% on food; 11% on Insurance, pension & Social Security; 13% on Personal Care, Clothing and Health Care; and 12% on Education and Entertainment.
††††† If we give our Tithes and offerings as the firstfruits, if we make that the first check we write, then thereís really no problem. But problem comes when we wait. Because you know, we see that new gadget that we really, really want. So, where do we get that money, Oh, yeah, weíve got this little bit sitting over here. Surely God wouldnít mind if I take just a little to buy this really cool toy. Once wonít matter. But it doesnít stop at once.
††††† We see something else, and then something else. And pretty soon, all we have is leftovers. Some people donít think it matters which portion they give to God; the first fruits or the leftovers, but it does. You see if you give God the leftovers, thatís like eating that apple and giving God the core. And the apple core isnít very appealing is it?
††††† In 2 Chronicles 31, it tells us that during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, when Hezekiah was king of Judah, an order went out for the offering. In verse 5 it is recorded. ďAs soon as the order went out, the Israelites generously gave the firstfruits of their grain, new wine, oil and honey and all that the fields produced. They brought a great amount, a tithe of everything.Ē
††††† God wants us to give but God doesnít want the leftovers. You wouldnít give them to your children or your spouse would you? God doesnít want them either. God wants a tithe of our first fruits.
††††† D. PROPORTIONAL GIVING: Tithing is the Biblical standard. Tithing is also an act of faith; faith and trust that God will supply what we need if we get to the point where there was too much month for our money. Tithing is a matter of faith.
††††† For some of you, this may be the first time youíve ever heard about tithing and what the biblical perspective on giving is or how much God expects us to return for the work of Godís Church. You may be sitting there scared to death or angry or even trying to figure out how you can tithe when you hadnít ever thought about how much you should give to the Church.
††††† I understand and God understands. Mary and I didnít always tithe. So, let me suggest something else to you. Itís called ďProportional Giving.Ē Itís not an alternative to the tithe. Itís a personal spiritual challenge and discipline to grow yourself into the tithe.
††††† If you find the tithe, ten percent, too staggering a place to start, then find that percentage with which you CAN start. If itís five percent, then commit and start giving 5%. But donít leave it there. God promise to be faithful if you will trust God. Keep trusting God and in a month of two, bump your giving †up a percentage or two. Keep trusting God and keep challenging yourself to bump it up at least every two months until you have moved yourself up to the Biblical standard, the tithe.
††††† A.† Some people think of tithing and offerings as a goodness tax. Or as an obligation. But I see it as a way of Living. Our tithes and offerings enable us to fulfill the dreams of this Church. I believe a Church budget isn't so much a financial statement of what we need. I believe that a Church Budget is a ministry dream sheet. Within those figures lie dreams and ideas for ministry that we as a congregation have; the concern for others; our desire to be faithful to Christ and our calling to reach out and go out into the world to make disciples. All of those are reflected in every line item the budget.
††††† A budget is a hard thing to develop. It's hard to put a dollar figure upon the work of salvation. It's hard to put a dollar value on a changed life or a renewed life. What price are we willing to pay to for our children to grow up knowing and loving Christ and the Church. It's hard to put a dollar value on Christian values and Christian education, but we try. All of that is reflected in that ominous little piece of paper known as the budget.
††††† But the budget is nothing more than a piece of paper giving wings to your ideas and dreams.† Your tithes and offerings are what give flight to those wings.
††††† I know it's hard to give. There are so many other things that cry for our attention. But Christ
challenges us in our giving. He doesn't want anything less than our all. He doesn't want us to hold anything or any part of ourselves back. When we don't hold back, we're blessed beyond compare.
††††† We are blessed with a new sense of self worth and a new sense of purpose when we give. And when we give unselfishly because of our love for God, then even the smallest gift becomes a giant blessing.
†††† We donít have to give to God to prove to God that God is first. God IS first, thatís the created order. However, we might have to give in order to prove to OURSELVES that God is first.
†††† We need to give because that is the way we are created. We need to share our gifts because thatís part of our spiritual DNA, if there is such a thing. God doesnít need our gifts, but we NEED to give. We need to give in order to fulfill Godís purpose for and in our lives.
†††† The world tells us to be like Abe Lincolnís boys. But weíre called to a different way of a living and thinking. Someone put it this way, ďWe must love, we must live, we must give. For to live is to love, and to love is to give, and to give is to live.Ē
††††† As your Pastor, all I ask is that you prayerfully consider what God is calling you to give. This isnít between you and I. Itís not even between you and the budget. Itís between you God. In 2 Corinthians 9:7 the Apostle Paul writes: ďEach of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.Ē
††††† All any of us can ask is that you prayerfully consider what God wants you to give for the work and ministry of this Church. Let me close by reading from the passages I read earlier. Luke 6:38†
††††† ďGive, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1.††† Howard L. Dayton, Jr.† Leadership-Vol. 2, #2.
Other References Consulted