Monday, May 7, 2012

Not More Than ONE Master

8Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings!  9You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you!  10Bring 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.  11I will rebuke the locust for you, so that it will not destroy the produce of your soil; and your vine in the field shall not be barren, says the LORD of hosts.                                    Malachi 3:8 - 11 (NRSV)
“No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.       Matthew 6:24 (NRSV)
I was tempted to preach a sermon about total-life discipleship this morning and deftly weave-into the message precepts and principles of money.  That would have been my “comfort zone”. 
I repented!  God never called me to preach in a comfort zone, or to provide one for the church family.  God’s Word has also convinced me that although we human beings have a tendency to say “my this” or “my that” – it is all His, not mine. 
While stewardship extends to every area of life…time, health, family, I am specifically talking about money this morning.  This sermon is about money; specifically, the money in your pocket.  My meaning is clear…we may say, “my money, my real estate, my family, my time, my, my, my” But, it is not your money or time, it is His! 
The Lord IS the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills – and, oh yes, He also owns the hills and the air over them!
This will be a Biblical message in the tradition of Jesus.  Jesus said more about a person’s possessions (and what he does with them) than He did about heaven, hell, love or the second coming. 
This is also a straight-forward message – these are urgent times!  I could attempt to make us all feel good by reciting the statistics of how much we gave to missions last year.  I could try to make us feel guilty that we aren’t building new buildings like some other churches do.  But, “feel good” or “guilt-trips” aren’t what is called-for by God’s Word.
So-called “feel good” messages are like putting a band-aide on a cancerous tumor.  If a doctor tells you things are well, that you should go home and you’ll do just fine, when in reality you have only a few weeks to live, he is not a doctor – he’s the enemy.  It is the same with a preacher who won’t give you the Word of God without candy-coating. 
A guilt-trip preacher might get you to part with a few bucks, but you don’t get near the heart of God with guilt-giving.  If we give out of guilt it only takes a little time until the guilt subsides; then we slip back into our old ways.  Once the guilt emotion wears off, we rediscover our real heart’s desire – self!  Guilt doesn’t last.
What DOES last is the Word of God.  And so, this morning I want to share with you the BASICS OF CHRISTIAN STEWARDSHIP from the “Owner’s Manual”…God’s Word
When you start with basics you must start with…


The question is, “What is Christian Stewardship?”  The answer is simple – it is the “whole tithe” (as we read in Malachi).
* Mathematically the tithe is 10% of your income.  The first time we encounter the word “tithe” in the Bible is Genesis 14:20, where Abraham paid a tithe to a priest named Melchizedek. 
* Positionally it is not just A tenth; it is the First Tenth!  When most of us are introduced to the idea of giving a tithe we mentally picture all our other financial commitments, and then try to “fit” tithing into the program. 
That is not what God has told us to do.  All the way through Scripture we encounter the principle of “firstfruits”.  God’s people are not to bring leftovers to worship. 
Abel’s brother, Cain imagined his choice of offering was just as good as what God had required.  He was wrong; it got him in big trouble.  God requires “firstfruits” – in other words, He requires the best you have.  In Malachi’s day the people brought sick and disfigured animals for sacrifice, keeping the best for themselves.
The first tenth…the tithe…is not only the first you get; it is to be the best you have!
* Definitely…the tithe is the Lord’s! 
All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the fruit from the tree, are the LORD’S; they are holy to the LORD. Leviticus 27:30 (NRSV)
We may be tempted to say, “That’s Old Testament law; we’re under grace!”  That is true, but Jesus also said rather clearly that He came to fulfill the law, not do-away with it. 
The early church took that seriously.  You can see (in Acts and Philippians) that the first century believers not only gave a tithe – that was their base; gifts and offerings were given above the tithe.  Giving was a sacrificial completing of the law.
You may also say, “OK, tithing is Biblical, but I just can’t afford that much right now.”  I have heard those words many times.  Often that means the person has obligated their income to the point that he is way over his head, to the point that the concept of tithing brings fear.  You fear that the charge cards won’t get paid!  Folks, that fear is an indication that things you buy or want are more important than obedience to God; that is a dangerous game to play.
Common sense says you must pay your bills; otherwise you’ll get hauled into court.  Spiritual sense overrules the objection here.  Given a choice, I’d rather be hauled into any court in the land and be publicly humiliated, have all my worldly possessions taken away, and be put in prison for life-without-parole, than to stand one second before God’s court in heaven, having withheld what belongs to the Lord! 
The first basic of Christian stewardship is definition; it is the first tenth that is holy to the Lord.


* Where should I give my tithe?
“Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse…  Malachi 3:10a
The storehouse is the church; more accurately – your church!  Someone once called the paying of our tithes “an act of worship AT God’s house of worship.”  The place where you have chosen to worship is the place you are to worship with your tithe.
Whenever God’s Word is specific (such as “thou shalt not steal”) we are to be obediently quiet.  There is no question that the Bible tells us to bring our tithe where we worship.  It is my personal belief that when and what you give ABOVE the tithe is discretionary.  You give those gifts where the Spirit impresses you the greatest need exists.  But the tithe belongs where you worship.
Sometimes I am asked for counsel by folks on the Internet.  One person considers me a “temporary pastor” for their family.  They live in another state and are looking for a church home.  They wanted to know what to do with their tithe until they found a church…should they send it to me?  I told the person to give the tithe where they worshipped each week.
A lady in a church I once served told me that it was a joy to bring her tithe to the worship service.  She counted it a privilege to offer to God her tithe and other offerings.  She also told me that the greatest joy she experienced was putting away several dollars each month, in addition to her tithe, so that she could be “in” on meeting needs for the poor children in her neighborhood.  Folks, that woman bought more new shoes and blue jeans for kids that weren’t hers, than anyone I’ve ever met.  These were her gifts above the tithe.
However, for the ongoing mission and work of the church, God’s people who make up that church body are to faithfully BRING their tithes to worship each Lord’s Day.
On the first day of every week, each of you is to put aside and save whatever extra you earn, so that collections need not be taken when I come.              1 Corinthians 16:2 (NRSV)
Definition – the first10%, Direction – my church, and…


* What will my tithe do?  It meets the needs which God chooses.  Notice that it meets spiritual needs:
22Set apart a tithe of all the yield of your seed that is brought in yearly from the field.  23In the presence of the LORD your God, in the place that he will choose as a dwelling for his name, you shall eat the tithe of your grain, your wine, and your oil, as well as the firstlings of your herd and flock, so that you may learn to fear the LORD your God always. Deuteronomy 14:22 - 23 (NRSV)
One of the chief needs we all have is to learn to worship.  A man came to his pastor with a check for $10,000.  He said, “Preacher, this is my tithe for the next two years; I want to pay it up in advance.”  The pastor wouldn’t take the check.  He told the man, “You bring it as you receive from the Lord.”
Giving is connected to our regular need of worship.  You wouldn’t pray one good long prayer at the beginning of the year; or eat one good meal.  Your spiritual needs are met in ways you can’t describe when you bring your offering regularly.  On the first day of the week you bring yourself, and your offering.
Our giving also meets temporal needs:
28Every third year you shall bring out the full tithe of your produce for that year, and store it within your towns; 29the Levites, because they have no allotment or inheritance with you, as well as the resident aliens, the orphans, and the widows in your towns, may come and eat their fill so that the LORD your God may bless you in all the work that you undertake.                        Deuteronomy 14:28 - 29 (NRSV)
God’s people should never have to beg or go hungry.  That is God’s promise, but it is based upon the fidelity of believers in the local church to bring their tithes for the meat in the storehouse.
The formula for revival has always been humble prayer, mixed with earnest obedience!  When God’s praying people are God’s obedient giving people, the world sees the demonstration of God’s power and love in action. 
* Needs are met.
* Miracles take place.
* Society is deeply affected.
Now, there are three basics –
     Definition:  Christian stewardship is the tithe,
     Destination:  given in the local church,
     Disbursed:  to meet the needs God has ordained;
     Of course “stewardship” is a word that encompasses all of life, not just things related to money.  We must be careful to remember that all we possess (our time, health, family, etc), are all gifts from God; they should be well-taken-care-of as acts of ultimate stewardship.  There is another caution, however.  We must also beware of:


* What if I reject this?  Simple answer; you are robbing God!
8Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings!        Malachi 3:8 (NRSV)
That is very plain language.  And even though it is disturbing information, this is a fact that demands very plain details
Many people are listed on the rolls of many churches.  But, they not only neglect to worship with their presence, they choose to spend God’s tithes on themselves.  That is not obedient, and it is not at all smart!  It is self-destructive. 
Worship and giving are activities you need in your life; they are designed to bless you and strengthen you.  Putting aside your need for both harms you.
Consider the principle of “The Widow’s Mite”.  If you remember Jesus and his disciples were sitting near the treasury of the temple.  People were coming and going; most were giving some kind of offering. 
An extremely poor widow walked-in and dropped in two coins…mites – pennies, if you will.  A “mite” was about 1/64 of a day’s wages.  In today’s economy it equals about 71/2 minutes of paycheck.  So, if you work for $10 an hour, it would be about $1.25.             Here’s the story from Doctor Luke:
2He also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.  3He said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; Luke 21:2 - 3 (NRSV)
Now Jesus said her gift was greater than any other – even the rich folks who gave large sums.  The reason Jesus assessed the gift that way was that it was all the poor woman had.  The woman was down to less than the cost of a cheeseburger!  She gave out of her need…sacrificially. 
Two important facts here: 
1.           The woman was at worship – she was there with an open heart, and…
2.           She was going to give, even if it meant not eating that day.
Jesus pointed-out this poor woman in order to help us understand that giving to God is never hidden from the eyes of God.  He has promised that giving will bless us, and He is as good as His promises.
But, the reverse is also true in the principle; those who withhold that which belongs to God (worship and tithes) bring reproach on themselves – and the damage is considerable. 
You may recall the rich young ruler.  Jesus told him to “let go” of his riches…it would lead to treasure in heaven.  The young man went away sad, supposing he had more than heaven had to offer.  Jesus’ told his disciples that the young rich man was in peril of holding on to the weight that would keep him out of heaven.
If God will praise a widow for giving her last buck-and-a-quarter, he will certainly condemn anyone who steals what is rightfully His.  Would a man rob God?


* What if I have not been faithful with the tithe?  Is God gonna get me?  Yes – or No, it depends on you…
7Ever since the days of your ancestors you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, “How shall we return?”
10Bring 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. Malachi 3:7, 10 (NRSV)
The promise of judgment for disobedience is real; but so is the promise of mercy and blessing.
*    If you have been holding-out on giving God your best in stewardship, you can repent…that means return to God, begin anew.  You can start right now giving Him your best.  When you return to God, He returns to you.  It is done in faith…you take a step towards God, believing He will accept you; and His Word promises He will. 
*    That is how the Christian life is begun; an act of faith as you pray for forgiveness…God accepts this genuine repentance and accepts you as a child of His. 
*    That is also how the Christian life continues, we act in faith every day, worshipping and giving.  It is God’s way.
What is your decision?  Have you been faithful with God’s tithe?  If so, wonderful…continue to grow in the faith as you give tithes and offerings above the tithe.  Already there?  Teach others the joy you have experienced.
Have you not been faithful?  Begin now, and grow.  Return to God’s way, and His ways will bless you.
Have you not ever begun the walk with God?  You can start.  Remember, when it was time for God to give, He didn’t send some old, broken-down, left-over angel for which he had no further use.  God sent his firstfruits – His best – His one and only begotten Son…for you!
The tithe is God’s standard of Christian giving because what you have in your possession represents all you are.  It represents your labor, your work, and your worth.  You can choose to give God the leftovers, your least, what you can spare…but it will never be any better than that. 
The steps can be very definite this morning.  We have reserved taking the offering until now…you can begin to trust God by giving your tithe, even if you have never done that before. 
You can also trust Him by joining hands with this church family – become part of what is going on here to serve Him in worship and witness.
The firstfruits of what God requires is YOU.  Let the church say, Amen!

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