6And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. Hebrews 11:6
This is the third week of our “Sharing the Gifts” stewardship focus for this year. I am convinced that God has been moving among us during the past three weeks and probing the depths of our hearts concerning our commitment to Him. That really is the core issue of our stewardship of all that God has entrusted to us. Far too often churches and pastors, when talking about matters that pertain to stewardship, focus on the church budget, but the budget is a peripheral issue. Most budget difficulties that are faced by churches are only symptomatic of deeper issues that are going on in the hearts and souls of God’s people.
If the people’s hearts are right, if we have surrendered to God and His will above all else, then preachers and teachers will never be tempted to prod us, manipulate us, or plead with us to give of our material resources. We will give with a thankful heart knowing that God has called us to sacrifice for the sake of the Kingdom. Why do we see so little of this happening today? There can only be one answer to the question and that is that we have a heart problem. Our hearts are not right with God, we take for granted His good gifts given to us, and therefore we are unwilling to give freely and generously to His work going on around us.
What is happening in the hearts of individuals spills over into the collective heart of churches. Let me explain this way. On an athletic team you have many individuals who are working together to achieve a common goal – winning a championship. If, on that team, some of the players are unwilling to give it their all, unwilling to surrender their own personal comfort for the betterment of the team, then you have a team that will achieve only a substandard level of performance. How can the team maximize their abilities and improve their skills if half of the players possess a half-hearted commitment? It is impossible. The half-hearted players will not keep the committed players from giving 110% during practice, but they will effect the overall performance of the team.
As it goes with teams so it goes with the church. Those who have surrendered their souls to God’s will, those who find great joy in giving their all in every area of their lives to God, will continue to do so no matter what comes their way. But the overall impact that the local church will have on their community will be greatly hindered.
The heart of the matter is “Will the church, all of the people who are part of the church, decide in their hearts that God is calling them to surrender every aspect of their lives, including their checkbooks to God’s purposes above their own? Are the people convinced that God will meet all of their needs when they are faithful to His call on their lives?” This is the real issue. If the answer is “Yes” then the church will decide to trust God for things that only God can do and they will see Him move in ways that only He can move. If the answer is “No,” then the church will only see happen in their midst things that they can do on their own — which amounts to almost nothing.
Throughout the Bible we can see that God calls His people to join Him in doing things that only He can do. You will never find one instance where God says, “Do what you can. Give it your best shot. Don’t make it too hard on yourself.” This is the way that most of us view life, but it is not God’s way my friend. God’s way of doing things is to give us assignments that are too big for us. Tasks that could never be done by our own strength or will.
You may be wondering, “Why would God give me something to do that He knew I could never do? What kind of God is that?” Oh, you are a sharp group of folks and you ask such good questions. The Bible tells us over and over again that God is love. The Bible also teaches us that every action towards us flows from the foundation of His love for us. If this is true then why would God give us challenges that we could never do on our own?
If we stop with the understanding that God gives us tasks that we could never do then we do not have the whole equation my friend. Whenever God gives us these God-sized assignments He always concludes the assignment with a promise – “I will be with you.” God has promised us that if we will accept His assignment that He will be with us every step of the way as we watch Him work and accomplish what we could never accomplish on our own.
There is a two-fold purpose for God doing this: First, God desires to receive glory and honor from His people. He will not share His glory with any other. We may make idols out of athletes, preachers, politicians, and others, but God detests that practice and He will not share His glory. God said, 8 “I am the LORD; that is my name! I will not give my glory to another or my praise to idols. (Isaiah 42:8)
If God gave you and me assignments that we could accomplish on our own then we would be confused as to who deserves the glory. When God gives us God-sized assignments and we see His purposes accomplished in our lives and His world then we know beyond a shadow of a doubt who did it. The glory belongs to the Lord!
A few years ago there was a church in Canada who sensed that God was giving them a God-sized assignment and they followed His leadership. Their experience changed their lives forever. Henry Blackaby, the writer of Experiencing God, the Bible study that many of us have gone through, was the pastor of the church at the time and he tells the story for us.
One year the people on our finance committee said, ‘Pastor, you have been taught us to walk by faith in every area of the life of our church except in the budget.” Henry asked them to explain. They said, ‘Well, when we set the budget, we set the budget on the basis of what we believe we can do. It does not reflect that we expect God to do anything.’ Henry said, “Hmmm. Then how do you feel we ought to set the budget?’ They said, “First, we ought to determine all that God wants to do through us. Second, we need to put down what that will cost. Then we need to divide the budget goal into three categories (1) what we plan to do through our tithes. (2) what others have promised to do, (3) what we must depend on God to do.’
As a church we prayed and decided God wanted us to use this approach to budgeting. We did not try to dream our own dreams for God. we had to be absolutely sure God was leading us to do the things we put in the budget. Then we listed what that would cost. We listed what we thought our people would give and what others (denominational board, partnership churches, and individuals) had said they would give. The difference between what we could reasonably expect to receive and the total was what we would ask God to provide. The big question was: What was our operating budget? Well, by faith we adopted the grand total as our operating budget. At this point we reached a crisis of belief. Did we really believe that the God who led us to do these things also would provide the resources to bring them to pass? Anytime God leads you to do something that has God-sized dimensions, you will face a crisis of belief. When you face a crisis of belief, what you do next reveals what you really believe about God.
The budget of our church normally would have been $74,000.00 The budget we set was $164,000. We pledged to pray daily that God would meet our needs. Any money that came in that we did not anticipate we credited to God. At the end of that year we had received $172,000. God taught our church a lesson in faith that radically changed us all. (Henry Blackaby, Experiencing God, pg. 108)
When the people sensed God was calling them to act on their faith they followed knowing that they could never do what God was leading them to do. Their faith caused them to act on their beliefs. When God provided they knew who had supplied everything they needed to do what they needed to do. They knew the glory belonged to the Lord!
The second purpose for God giving us tasks that we could never accomplish is to grow our love and faithfulness towards Him. When we watch God act, and we see Him act over and over again in faithfulness, our love becomes stronger with each act of God’s faithfulness. God is a jealous God. He will not share your heart with any other. As we watch Him act our love becomes stronger and our heart more set on loving Him with singleness of mind, heart, and soul.
God has instructed us not to love any other gods. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments He said,
5You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, 6but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:5-6)
God is a jealous God. He is a faithful “Husband” who expects His bride, the Church, to be faithful to Him and not to embrace any other love with her affection. God wants all of us my friend. I don’t blame Him. When Connie and I entered in to a covenant relationship, when we exchanged vows as husband and wife, we pledged our love to one another. My love is exclusive. I love no other person like I love Connie. She has captured my heart and I have pledged to love her for the rest of my life with an undivided heart.
There is something that has happened during the sixteen years that Connie and I have been married. I have watched my love for Connie grow as I have witnessed her faithfulness and her steady-as-a-rock love for me. Her love for me has caused my love for her to grow and grow. I know that it is safe to trust Connie with all of my heart because she loves me so much.
As we watch God move in mighty ways over and over again our love for God grows and becomes more solid. When God invites us to join Him in doing God-sized things and we see Him prove Himself faithful over and over again, then it causes us to trust Him more each time we see Him act.
The fact of the matter is that God is faithful, His love for us is strong, and He desires that we serve Him with singleness of heart, mind, and soul. The only variable yet to be decided is “Will we trust God to do what He says He will do?”
When we talk about God’s faithfulness from a general standpoint everybody nods their head and now and then I can even get an “Amen.” When I shift gears and begin to speak of the specific area of God’s faithfulness in our finances and His call to trust Him with at least 10% of our finances then the church goes deathly quiet. The reason for this is that it doesn’t take any commitment to say, “Amen’ and nod our head, but it does a commitment to lay our tithe on the altar knowing that we have bills to pay and obligations to meet.
We need to understand that we can’t compartmentalize our commitment to the Lord. I can’t give of my time and talents and then justify not offering back to God a tithe, or ten percent of all of the finances that He has brought into my possession. I can’t say to God, “Well, when I get my finances in order then I will begin to faithful in giving ten percent.” If we are going to honor God and say that we trust Him then we must trust Him with every area of our life.
I have heard some people say, “Well, tithing is Old Testament principle so I don’t have to tithe since we are a New Testament people.” Let me take a moment to answer your point. Let me back up since there are probably many people here this morning who like me did not grow up in the church and do not know what “Tithing” is all about. In the Old Testament God commanded His people to give a tenth of all He had given to them. The tithe was a faith building commandment of God. The people of Israel had as many needs as we have today. They had bills to pay, children to send to college, and chariot payments to make at the beginning of each month, but God told them to bring the tithe into His storehouse and trust Him to meet their needs. This commandment is stated along with the promise of God to provide for the people in Malachi 3:10-12,
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. 11I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,” says the LORD Almighty. 12″Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the LORD Almighty. (Malachi 3:10-12)
Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse! For many people today this is a God-sized assignment. We do have bills to pay. We have obligations to meet. I dare say that none of those things has anything to do with whether or not we choose to be faithful to God in offering our tithe back to the One who gave us our financial earning power in the first place. You may think that it insane, but let me illustrate.
Last year was the most prosperous year in our nation’s history according to many financial experts in our land. Folks were racking in the dough hand over fist. The average income level of Americans rose significantly and yet there were more bankruptcies filed in America last year than in any other time in our nation’s history. Let me assure it that American’s debt is not associated to tithing in any way. The average American gives less than 3% of their income to God’s work.
God knows our financial obligations. He knows that our kids need to go to college and get an education. He knows about all of our financial needs and yet He thunders from the Throne room – Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse. Our faithfulness to God with our financial resources, our tithes, is a step of faith.
For those who say that tithing is an Old Testament principle I would say that you are right. There is a new principle laid down in the New Testament by Jesus and it is the principle of “all.” In Matthew 19 Jesus instructed the rich young ruler to go and sell everything he owned and give the money to the poor. Those who normally say that tithing is an Old Testament principle are looking for loophole. We are commanded by God to bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, any money we give over a tithe in an offering to God.
I am convinced that tithing is the beginning and not the end of our financial stewardship journey with God. Connie and I seek to give more than a tithe every year because we have seen how God is so faithful and how we can never out give Him no matter how much we give. When we began tithing it was scary for me since I had never done it before, but now it is a delight because I have seen Him work in such marvelous ways.
I want to offer a challenge to some of you whom the Lord has been speaking to your heart about your commitment. You are afraid to tithe because you are afraid that you won’t be able to pay your bills. I know the feeling because I have been there before, but now I know that God is faithful and He will never forsake us. I want to challenge to accept God’s assignment of tithing for one year. Make a commitment to tithe, to be obedient to God for one year. If at the end of the year God has not been faithful to you then I will refund every cent you have given. I know you are thinking, “You don’t have that kind of money. If I wanted my money back you couldn’t pay me.” You are right. I know that I could pay you back, but I have contacted a couple of friends of mine this past week and shared with them what I was going to do today. I asked them if they would put their checkbook on the line and immediately they said, “Yes!” These two people believe in tithing so much that they were willing to back me up. Will you take the challenge? If so let me know so that I can prayer for you throughout this year. I will assure you that at the end of the year you will look back and praise God for His faithfulness.
What we are talking about is a God-sized crisis of belief. Do you know what a crisis of belief is? It is that point at which you know that God is calling you to do something that you can’t do – but you know in your heart that He is calling. When you stand at that crossroads you are faced with a decision – What will you do? Will you believe God or will you go back to where you were comfortable?
I want to encourage you believe God. You and I are not the first to face a crisis of belief. Throughout God’s Word faithful men and women were faced with God-sized challenges and God showed Himself faithful. Let me give you a couple of examples. Remember, every time God gives us something to do that we can’t do on our own He promises us, “I will be with you.”
God gave Moses a God-sized challenge. Can you imagine standing up to the most powerful man in the world and saying, “God said, ‘Let My people go.” Can you imagine leading two million people out of bondage to a land they had never been to before? That is the task that God gave to Moses, but God said, “I will be with you.”
7Then the LORD told him, “You can be sure I have seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard their cries for deliverance from their harsh slave drivers. Yes, I am aware of their suffering. 8So I have come to rescue them from the Egyptians and lead them out of Egypt into their own good and spacious land. It is a land flowing with milk and honey-the land where the Canaanites, Hittites, Amorites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites live. 9The cries of the people of Israel have reached me, and I have seen how the Egyptians have oppressed them with heavy tasks. 10Now go, for I am sending you to Pharaoh. You will lead my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.” 11″But who am I to appear before Pharaoh?” Moses asked God. “How can you expect me to lead the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12Then God told him, “I will be with you. And this will serve as proof that I have sent you: When you have brought the Israelites out of Egypt, you will return here to worship God at this very mountain.” (Exodus 3:7-12)
There could only be one thing worse in my mind than being Moses and having such an assignment laid before me and that would be to follow Moses in leadership of the children of Israel. God told Joshua, “You are the man! Lead the people to the Promised Land.” Not only was he charged with leading the people, but God told Joshua to have his priest carry the Ark of the Covenant into the Jordan River and He would dry it up so that they could pass through on dry ground. Then God said, “I will be with you.” Take a look.
7And the LORD said to Joshua, “Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. 8Tell the priests who carry the ark of the covenant: ‘When you reach the edge of the Jordan’s waters, go and stand in the river.'” 9Joshua said to the Israelites, “Come here and listen to the words of the LORD your God. 10This is how you will know that the living God is among you and that he will certainly drive out before you the Canaanites, Hittites, Hivites, Perizzites, Girgashites, Amorites and Jebusites. 11See, the ark of the covenant of the Lord of all the earth will go into the Jordan ahead of you. 12Now then, choose twelve men from the tribes of Israel, one from each tribe. 13And as soon as the priests who carry the ark of the LORD-the Lord of all the earth-set foot in the Jordan, its waters flowing downstream will be cut off and stand up in a heap.” 14So when the people broke camp to cross the Jordan, the priests carrying the ark of the covenant went ahead of them. 15Now the Jordan is at flood stage all during harvest. Yet as soon as the priests who carried the ark reached the Jordan and their feet touched the water’s edge, 16the water from upstream stopped flowing. It piled up in a heap a great distance away, at a town called Adam in the vicinity of Zarethan, while the water flowing down to the Sea of the Arabah (the Salt Sea) was completely cut off. So the people crossed over opposite Jericho. 17The priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan, while all Israel passed by until the whole nation had completed the crossing on dry ground.
There came a time when the Children of Israel were taken into captivity and scattered like refugees from Kosovo. God spoke to them and said, “I am going to bring you home.” Right! Can you imagine someone saying that to the Kosovo refugees? God said, “I will be with you.”
1 But now, this is what the LORD says- he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. 2 When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. 3 For I am the LORD, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior; I give Egypt for your ransom, Cush and Seba in your stead. 4 Since you are precious and honored in my sight, and because I love you, I will give men in exchange for you, and people in exchange for your life. 5 Do not be afraid, for I am with you; I will bring your children from the east and gather you from the west. 6 I will say to the north, ‘Give them up!’ and to the south, ‘Do not hold them back.’ Bring my sons from afar and my daughters from the ends of the earth- 7 everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.” (Isaiah 43:1-7)
When Jesus got ready to leave His rag tag group of disciples He gave them God-sized assignment – evangelize the world! What a task, but Jesus said, “I am with you.” Take a look.
18Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
You will not find one instance where God called His people to do things that they were able to do on their own. Moses could have never split the Red Sea and led two million people to the other side on dry ground. Gideon could have never led an army of 300 to defeat 135,000 Midianites on his own military ability. Abraham and Sarah had no hopes of adding a nursery to their house when they were creeping up on 100 years of age if they relied on their own ability. A rag tag bunch of fishermen, tax collectors, and nobodies could never have reached the world with the Good News of Jesus based upon their own skill. All of these, plus a thousand others who trusted God, saw God move in mighty ways because they trusted God to do what He had promised.
I have shared with you in the past that if the two hundred families who call Britton Christian Church home would only tithe based on the income of those at the poverty level then we would have more than enough money to do all that God has called us to do. For nine years I have been teaching God’s Word and encouraging you to plunge deep into the pool of faith trusting God with every aspect of your life. Often my teaching from God’s Word has fallen on deaf on ears, but I will keep preaching and teaching because I know what I am saying is true. I have tested the Lord to see if He will be true to His promise concerning tithing and I stand before you amazed at His faithfulness. Won’t you take the challenge and trust God with your finances? You can be scared and still jump in the pool of faith. God will catch you like a loving Father who catches his child jumping off of the diving board for the very first time. You are safe in your Father’s arms. Dive in!