Tom Jackson and Chris Johnson were both members of the same church. Tom and his family had joined the church when they moved into the neighborhood and began searching for a new church home. Tom and Serena had three kids who were in school at the time. The kids were busy in extracurricular activities at school that kept the family going several nights a week. Their schedules were jammed packed with “things to do,” but Tom and Serena had both been raised in Christian homes where going to church was never an option – it was as much a part of their lives as breathing and eating three meals a day. They remembered how important the church had been to both of them when they were young and they wanted their children to have the same memories.
Tom was a deacon at New Hope and Serena worked with the children’s ministry, visited the sick and shut-in, and attended the Women’s Bible study on Thursday nights. When they first got involved they found great joy in helping others. They were excited about being asked to serve and they were enthusiastic to volunteer even with their hectic schedules.
Along the way something changed for Tom. As time rocked along Tom began to be overburdened with the family’s hectic schedule and his responsibilities as a deacon. Tom seemed to lose his joy and as a result what before were viewed as opportunities to serve now was now seen as the drudgery of having to be a deacon. Whenever the pastor would call and ask Tom if he could visit someone who was going through a rough time Tom would do as he was asked, but there was no longer any sense of being used for God’s glory. He began to mumble under his breath about how some of the other men never did anything but show up for church. He would rush in to serve where he was asked and then rush out at the same pace.
Serena didn’t understand what was going on in Tom’s life, but she saw a definite change in his attitude. She would pray for Tom and try to talk with him about the change, but Tom was unresponsive. He just wanted to finish his term as a deacon so he could disappear into the background.
The change of heart that Tom experienced was noticeable to everyone at the church. It had been evident that Tom was gifted for ministry, but his gifts were nothing in comparison to his heart. Now that his heart wasn’t in it, it was evident that Tom was preoccupied and uneasy with his responsibilities at the church. Tom’s friendliness turned cold, his openness turned inward so that he was viewed as standoffish, and his passion for God turned passive. As a result many folks whom God led into Tom’s life were seen as burdens.
Tom’s trouble was the trouble with many of us today. Tom found himself in a new church. He got caught up in the excitement of new surroundings, new friends, and new ministries. In his excitement he dove in head first, never giving consideration to what God was leading him to do. Because Tom’s commitment was based on emotion his enthusiasm turned sour, opportunities became burdens, and eventually he faded into non-existence.
Now I want you to meet Tom’s friends, Chris and Leah. Chris and Leah were old friends of Tom and Serena. Their family sat on the same pew with Tom and Serena’s family each Sunday. They were in the same Bible study together and their children attended the same school. Chris was a quiet kind of guy who had never really had much interest in the things of God. He and Leah went to church, but if the truth were to be known if was more for the kids than anything else. Then one day he found himself in trouble. He had never been a good money manager, but he made a decent living and with Leah’s job they got by. Chris and Leah would discuss money matters quite frequently, about once every two weeks as a matter of fact. Whenever they would get paid they would talk about how they were going deeper and deeper in debt. They cut back on going out to eat, they sold one of their cars so that they could get rid of some of their debt, and they put their kids in public school to decrease their monthly expenditures. Even with all of the cuts they still found their credit card debt growing because of medical bills, the growing needs of their children who were now teenagers, and needs around the house that constantly confronted them.
One day their creditors came knocking. The bills came due. Chris and Leah had no savings to fall back on, they did not come from wealthy families who could bail them out, and they were being pressured to pay up now or pay the price. They sought advice and the outcome was that they filed for bankruptcy. During their bankruptcy proceedings they were encouraged to see a financial counselor. They were given a name and phone number and as they walked out of the courtroom Chris had never felt so humiliated or depressed in his life. Would they ever recover? Was their name and character forever marred?
Chris and Leah called the financial counselor and set up a meeting. The financial counselor was a middle-aged woman named Naomi who was friendly, understanding, and encouraging. She told them that they were not alone. She informed them that the average American has $12,000.00 on their credit cards and are swimming in debt. She laid out a plan for them to get back on their feet, turn their financial situation around, and regain their good name in the community.
At the next meeting Chris and Leah were surprised when Naomi gave them a sheet of paper with quotations from the Bible on it concerning money and financial management. Naomi encouraged them, through looking at God’s Word, to be responsible in paying what they owe. She told them that it is important for them to never make a financial commitment that they cannot pay. She said, “Just because you want something does not mean that you should purchase it. The first question to be asked is ‘Is it God’s will that we use the resources He has given us to purchase this item?’” She read with them from Romans 13 where Paul says,
7Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. 8Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:7-8 NIV)
Chris and Leah had never heard anyone talk like this before. What did Naomi mean when she said, “Is it God’s will that they use the resources He has given them?” What did God have to do with their money? Chris and Leah had always gone to church, but that was about it. They woke up on Sundays, drug themselves out of bed, got the kids around, and made their way to church. God, to Chris and Leah, was equivalent to going to church. He really didn’t have anything to do with “real” life and He certainly didn’t have anything to do with their money. At least that is what they thought.
Naomi went on to talk about saving money, even if it is only a few dollars a week, in order to develop discipline in managing their money. She told them that they should never look to “get rich schemes” to help them get ahead because quick money is often dirty money. Naomi read from Proverbs, 11 Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow. (Proverbs 13:11 NIV)
They made their way through the long list of quotations from the Bible that had to do with money and each time Naomi related it back to God. As their time together came to a close Naomi pulled up close to Chris and Leah. She said, “The most important commitment you need to make in becoming good financial managers has nothing to do with making commitments to your creditors or to your own personal savings plan, but it is to commit yourselves to Jesus Christ.” Naomi read from Matthew’s Gospel,
31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. (Matthew 6:31-33 NIV)
Naomi said, “There is nobody who knows more about your finances and how you should manage them than God. If you seek Him above all else then God will give you discernment concerning your finances, their use and management.” Naomi encouraged them to go home and think about what she had said. If they wanted to sign-up to learn more about God’s principles for financial management then they could come back the next week.
During the week Chris and Leah talked every day about what Naomi had said. They came to the conclusion that what they had been doing would never work. They felt an easiness with Naomi that was unexplainable. They trusted her. She was genuine. She wasn’t making any money off of them. She seemed to actually want to help them instead of take advantage of their situation. Chris and Leah decided to go back and learn more the next week.
The next week Naomi greeted them at her office. When they walked in Chris and Leah told Naomi that they wanted to make a commitment to learn more about managing their finances according to God’s principles. Naomi acted excited and said, “This will be the beginning of one of the greatest opportunities you will ever be given.” Naomi asked Chris and Leah if they were Christians. They said, “Sure, we were both raised in church and have always believed in God. We belong to New Hope Church.” Naomi said, “That is great. Are you tithing at your church?” Chris and Leah looked at each other and Chris said, “Ever since we joined the church we have just barely gotten by. We’ve never been able to give much money to the church. I put in a couple of dollars a week when we can if you call that tithing.” Naomi recognized that they didn’t understand the biblical concept of tithing so she opened her Bible and read from Malachi 3:10,
10Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. (Malachi 3:10 NIV)
Naomi explained that in the Old Testament God’s people brought the first 10% of all that God had given them to offer back to the Lord in gratitude for His gracious blessings. She encouraged Chris and Leah to pray about the things they had talked about and consider what God was leading them to do concerning tithing.
When Chris and Leah left Naomi’s office they talked all the way home. Naomi made it sound like once a person had committed him or herself to following Christ that tithing was the next step in getting their financial house in order. Chris and Leah just couldn’t see how they could give 10% of their money when they had bills to pay.
Chris said, “Listen Leah, we’ve made this commitment to make things right with God and not get back in the shape we were in so let’s don’t throw in the towel yet.” They decided to look at their income, their monthly bills, what they would be tithing, and their shortfall. After they looked at their shortfall they began to talk about the things they could do without, frivolous spending. Leah said, “Why do our kids need $130.00 shoes? Why do we need clothes with the latest name on them? I can plan our meals better so that we don’t binge buy and give in to the temptation to eat out so much.”
Chris and Leah committed to praying every day about what God was calling them to do with their finances. When they went back to see Naomi they took with them the notes they had made about their income, tithe amount, costs, and the places where they wanted to make adjustments.
Naomi was thrilled at their openness to what God was doing in their lives. She said, “Most people look at tithing as a burden, as having to give back 10% of their finances to God. When a person commits their life to Jesus and begins to understand His provision for their lives then they begin to see tithing as getting to keep 90% of all that God has so graciously given them.” What a difference our perspective makes!
Chris and Leah made a commitment to tithe because God led them to action. Because their decision was based upon what they knew God wanted them to do, rather than mere emotion, they were eager to serve.
I think that the Body of Christ at Britton Christian Church is being presented with a great opportunity today. God is giving us an opportunity to listen to His voice and respond to His leading with enthusiasm. Next Sunday, October 24, is the day that we will all have an opportunity to fill out our “Covenant Commitments” and lay them at the feet of our Savior. Before that opportunity arrives it is imperative that we take time to be still and listen to the voice of God leading us to action. Our temptation will be to do what we have always done.
Some of us will be tempted to do nothing. We have done nothing in the past, we don’t plan on doing anything at this time, and as a result we will not see any changes occur in our lives. Others of us will be tempted to fill out the form as we have in the past. Without praying about it, we will commit the same amount of time that we did back in June, we will commit to giving the same amount we always have, and this will result in stagnation and stunted growth in our walk with the Lord. Then there are those who will take advantage of this opportunity before us. We are praying about what God desires for us. We are listening, more than talking, to God. We are seeking with all of our hearts the areas of ministry where the Lord is leading us to get involved. We are asking, “Lord, how much of the material resources are You leading me to invest in Your Kingdom, Your eternal work?” We are hungry to know which of the skills God has given us, that He desires for us to offer back to Him, to be used in His service. What a great opportunity!
Paul wrote to the Corinthians about the opportunity before them and encouraged them by saying,
6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. 7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 12This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. 15Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
I really want to focus our time this morning looking at three principles to becoming godly stewards. Last week we examined the first four principles and they were; First, give yourself to the Lord. Secondly, the key to becoming a godly steward is obedience in the face of trying circumstances and overwhelming difficulties. The third key to becoming a godly steward of all that God has given is that all Christians should prayerfully strive to excel in the grace of giving. The fourth key to becoming a godly steward is to recognize that we give not because of what we can do for the church, but because of what God will do through us.
This week I want us to take a quick look at three additional keys to godly stewardship. The fifth key to becoming a godly steward of God’s good gifts is our attitude. Paul writes in verse 7, 7 “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
There is absolutely nothing like being around a person who volunteers their time with joy, offers their abilities with a smile, or gives of their material resources as if it were a privilege to give. They will brighten your day, encourage your faith, and leave you thinking, “There is something different about that guy.”
The opposite is true as well. When you run into someone in the church who is serving in some ministry, but they do so while complaining the whole time then it makes you want to quit and find some other ministry to work with. A person who complains about “having” to give to the church makes you wonder why they give at all.
I have heard for years how the church is always asking somebody to help or somebody to give and what a burden that is for some people. The truth is that if we understood how deep and wide God’s grace has been shed into our lives the church would never have to ask for volunteers or material resources – we would run asking, “What can I do? How can I help? Is there someone in need?” Because that is not the way it is in 99% of the churches we end up having church leaders step out in boldness and ask us to step up to the plate and help.
God loves a cheerful giver, a hilarious giver. The only way possible for you and me to be people who give from a heart overflowing with gratitude and joy is for us to have a deep understanding that everything in life is a gift from His graciousness hand.
The sixth key to becoming a godly steward is to trust that God is able to provide and produce within us a righteous life through or obedience. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said,
8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.” 10Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
“God is able…” That pretty much sums things up. We see things from our perspective and conclude that we must be able, but we begin from the wrong place and therefore end up with the wrong conclusions. In so many instances I find myself out of my league on a daily basis. God presents opportunities for me to minister to folks that their problems are overwhelming to me, but He would not bring them my way if He did not intend for me to get involved. I have to pray for His wisdom, wisdom I do not possess. I have to pray for His guidance when I don’t know whether to turn to the right or the left. I have to trust that He will enable me, through His Holy Spirit, to minister His grace and truth in my friend’s time of need. I can tell you that God is able. He is able to provide the time to do what He calls us to do. He is able to supply what we need to minister even when we don’t think we can. He can provide the resources for us to give when we can’t see any way possible for us to be faithful in the commitment He has led us to make. God is able.
The final key to becoming a godly steward is to realize that our generous giving will result in praise and thanksgiving being offered to God. Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said,
12This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. 13Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. 14And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you.
I remember throughout Junior High and High School being told by an endless string of coaches, “Men, remember who you are. There are always people watching you.” I didn’t understand those words then, but I sure do now. There are still people watching us every day. They know who you and I are, they know what we profess, and they are watching us. Believer and non-believer alike are watching us. This should not be seen as a burden, but rather it is a blessing that God would allow us to bear witness of His grace demonstrated through our daily lives..
Paul says, “Men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies our confession of the gospel of Christ, and for our generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else.” I want my relationship with the Lord to be a blessing to others. That is all I can truly do in this life that has any substance, that will last beyond my life. Jim Riley quoted a little girl a few weeks ago and said, “What we do for ourselves will die with us, what we do for others will live on.” I would also say that what we do for God will not only live on, but will be multiplied many times over.
We have a great opportunity next Sunday to respond to God’s grace showered upon each of our lives. The question is, “What will we do?” Will we respond in obedience, with joy? Will we respond by saying, “Lord, I know what You have done in my life and I wish I could make a commitment to offer back to You what You have given me, but I just can’t.” I am praying that we will respond in love, with joy, and great generosity.