Posts Tagged ‘financial stewardship’

On Philippians and finances

November 30, 2017

I wrote the following article for my church’s weekly email blast. 

Two weeks ago, I preached on Philippians 3:2-14, including Paul’s words in verse 8: “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” In the sermon I challenged us to consider ways that we’re not like Paul: While we have many opportunities to prove that everything is a “loss” compared to the “surpassing worth” of knowing Christ, too often we show that we treasure other things and other people more than him.

One obvious way we do this is by failing to tithe—that is, to give ten percent of our income to the Lord through the local church. This is a biblical standard for giving. As I said in my sermon,

If I fail to give ten percent of my income—a tithe—to the church, yet go to the movies when I want, and have all the data for my smartphone that I want, and have all the clothes that I want, and eat at Chick-fil-A as often as I want, how am I showing that money and possessions are a loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Christ?

Brothers and sisters, if this describes you, I’m inviting you to change. Even more, I believe the Lord Jesus himself is calling you to change.

While none of us would question the need for Christians to pray, to worship, to give time and energy to serve Jesus, and to read and meditate on God’s Word, too many of us have come to regard financial stewardship—giving money to church—as an optional extra feature of faithful Christian living.

We give, but only if and when we perceive we can afford to give.

Yet the clear message from scripture is this: we can never afford not to give! It’s as necessary for our souls as prayer!

Paul himself makes this point in Philippians 4:14-20. In this passage, he thanks the Philippians for their generous financial support of him while he’s in prison. (In the first century, prisoners literally had to pay for their own room and board!) But he wants to make clear that he doesn’t need the money. As he’s already told them, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content… In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (vv. 11b-13).

What Paul wants, he says, is not their money; he wants a “profit that accumulates in your account” (CEB). He’s no longer talking about money. He’s talking about a spiritual profit in their heavenly account—blessings that God will give them because they have been generous in their financial giving. However this “profit” manifests itself in their lives—whether on this side of heaven or the other—it’s far better than anything they can purchase with money.

Not only that: As they give generously, Paul promises that “my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (v. 19 ESV).

The same is true for each of us who believes in Jesus Christ. As we submit our bank accounts to the lordship of Christ, God is faithful to supply our every need and to bless us spiritually. I can testify from personal experience that this is true. And I know many of you can, too. We have learned from experience that God is faithful as we give faithfully to him.

And starting this Sunday, on Stewardship Commitment Sunday, I want the rest of you to learn this as well.

I want you to commit to tithing. If you believe you can’t do that, I want you to take a definite step in that direction. Can you commit to eight percent? Six percent? If you’re already tithing, prayerfully consider whether our Lord wants you to give more than a tithe.

Whatever your decision, I want every church member and regular attender to fill out the Estimate of Giving card that you received last month. We will also have extra copies printed out on Sunday.

Sermon 11-20-16: “Generosity, Part 6: Giving and Grace”

November 24, 2016

generosity-sermon-series-graphic

The following is the sermon I delivered on our church’s annual Stewardship Commitment Sunday. In it, I challenge the church to give a tithe, ten percent of our income. This is by far the most explicit appeal I’ve ever made for tithing. If we understand that the most important mission of our church is to save people from hell, and the money we give is used by God to support that mission, how can we not be generous? Besides, as I argue in this sermon, our money isn’t our own to do with as we please: it comes from God and belongs to God.

Sermon Text: Luke 16:1-14

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Yesterday, Joe Thomas Sr., a running back for South Carolina State University, set a new NCAA record for Division I football with his performance. He rushed—are you ready for this? He rushed for three… yards against Savannah State University, on his only carry of the day. It doesn’t seem like three yards should be such a big deal, much less a new college football record.

joe_thomas_sr

But it was. And when I read about it yesterday, his great accomplishment made me want to cry.

Why? Because Joe Thomas Sr. is 55 years old! Fifty-five! How could that not bring a tear to my eye! He gives me hope! It means I still have nine years to get ready and get in shape and get on the field!

Joe Sr. has been on the team for the past four years—at least on the practice squad. A part of that time included playing—or at least practicing—alongside his son, Joe Thomas Jr., who now plays for the Green Bay Packers. But Joe Sr. himself had never realized his dream of playing big-boy college football in an actual game—until yesterday. Which was literally his last opportunity. It was senior day, the last game of the season. And Joe Sr. is also, well, a senior, graduating soon with an engineering degree.

I read the article about him last week, which discussed how badly he wanted to play in a game—to earn his varsity letter, to make history as the oldest player. It seemed unlikely. His coaches didn’t think it would happen. This was his last chance. Time was running out. 

Time was running out… That’s a theme in today’s scripture.

Time is running out for the manager about whom Jesus tells this parable. This manager was the equivalent of a CFO who was hired by a wealthy man to keep his books, to run his businesses, to run his estate. This manager made all the financial decisions, and he apparently made some foolish or dishonest ones. His master finds out about his mismanagement and tells him he’s going to fire him—but first he asks him to bring in the books or ledgers—to give an account for how well or how poorly he’s managed his master’s estate. Read the rest of this entry »

Sermon 11-06-16: “Generosity, Part 4: Generosity and Ministry”

November 10, 2016

generosity-sermon-series-graphic

A few years ago, the newly crowned World Series MVP, Ben Zobrist, said that if you spend your life chasing championships, “there will always be a next thing.” In other words, we will never be satisfied. In today’s scripture, by contrast, Jesus challenges three would-be disciples to be satisfied… in him alone. And so he challenges us. Is Christ enough for us? Or do we want or need something else?

Sermon Text: Luke 9:49-10:2

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

Well, he was only off by one year—I’m referring to the screenwriter of Back to the Future II. As you may have heard, he nearly predicted the World Series victory of the Chicago Cubs. The movie, if you recall, showed it happening in 2015 instead of 2016, but still… Pretty close. Of course, it makes me feel old either way. Because I saw Back to the Future II in the theater when it came out, and like everyone else of my generation, 2015 seemed like a long, long way off! Where did the time go?

But great win for the Cubs. Great win for World Series Most Valuable Player Ben Zobrist, whose one-out, opposite-field double down the third base line in the tenth inning helped put the Cubs ahead for good.

Ben Zobrist, 2016 World Series MVP

Ben Zobrist, 2016 World Series MVP

Aside from being an outstanding utility infielder who’s now won not one but two world championships, Zobrist is also an outspoken Christian. In 2013, he gave his testimony at Lipscomb University. He said that up until he got to the Major Leagues, his life was “all about sports. Even though he was a Christian, baseball was number one in his life, not Christ. “The bottom line,” he said, “was I needed to repent of this great need that I had to achieve and succeed at this earthly level.” Because, he said, if your goal is winning championships, “there’s always going to be a next thing. I don’t want to be like that. I want to rest and be at peace. That peace only comes from Christ.”

Did you hear that? Apart from Christ, we will always have a next thing—something else, out there—some new goal, some new award, some new achievement, some new recognition, some new relationship—that keeps us striving, keeps us worrying, keeps us restless, keeps us doubting ourselves… unless or until we attain that thing that our heart desires. At which point, we’ll find it’s not enough. We’ll find that there’s still something else that we need. “We will always have a next thing,” Ben Zobrist said. And he’s exactly right. Read the rest of this entry »

Why did Ananias and Sapphira drop dead?

September 1, 2016

mockingbird_devotionalAny pastor who preaches annual stewardship sermons knows that the Bible doesn’t say what we want it to say when it comes to financial giving. We’ll take free grace over Law every day of the year except “Commitment Sunday.” I’m talking, of course, about the Old Testament law of the tithe. If only we could convince our parishioners that Christ has set them free from every law except that one!

No one believes me when I point to the generosity of Zacchaeus or greed of the Rich Young Ruler and say, “See… Ten percent may not be enough for us Christians!”

All that to say, I like this insight concerning Ananias and Sapphira (in Acts 5:1-11) from Jeremy Coleman in The Mockingbird Devotional:

What’s terrifying, then, is that Ananias and Saphhira don’t drop dead for deceiving or withholding truth from God, but for believing what is untrue of God. They believe they must give something; that in order to be acceptable before God and church, something is required. Ananias and Sapphira hold as truth their requirements and pretenses, and reject the truth of Christ’s freedom. Because they believe their lives are being tallied, God takes their lives, leaving them in the only thing Jesus needs for their resurrection: their death.[†]

While I would have modified that first sentence (“…Ananias and Saphhira don’t drop dead merely for deceiving or withholding truth from God, but also for believing what is untrue of God.”), I still like it.

Jeremy Coleman, “September 11” in The Mockingbird Devotional (Charlottesville, VA: Mockingbird, 2013), 311.

Sermon 11-08-15: “What Can We Learn from a Scoundrel?”

November 9, 2015

choosing_sides

The following is the third and final stewardship sermon of Hampton UMC’s 2015 stewardship campaign. In it, I find a few characteristics of the “shrewd manager” that we disciples of Jesus can emulate: his generosity, his resourcefulness with money, and the urgency with which he acts. Unlike him, our salvation and our future is secure. But what about those who haven’t yet received God’s gift of saving grace? People that we know are facing the crisis of their sins separating them from a holy God. God is calling us to help save them using, in part, the money he has given us. Given this urgent task, how can we not be generous?

Sermon Text: Luke 16:1-13

[To listen on the go, right-click here to download an MP3.]

I’ve always worked well with deadline pressure. When I was in college I was an editor for my college newspaper. It came out every Friday. Which meant that I had a weekly deadline every Wednesday night to get my section done. At least that was the official deadline. The truth is, the drop-dead, “it’s got to be done by this time or else” deadline was Thursday morning at 7:00. So you would find me, many late and lonely Wednesday nights at the newspaper, burning the midnight oil to get my section done by the deadline. And when I was an engineer I had deadlines for the projects I worked—which meant burning the midnight oil to meet deadlines. When I was a student at Emory, I had lots of deadlines for all the papers I had to turn in—which also meant burning the midnight oil to meet deadlines. And of course now, as a pastor, I have a weekly deadline.

Deadlines… That’s a funny word when you think about it. It suggests that once you cross this line, you will die.

Speaking of death, there’s a new watch from Sweden called the Tikker, which purports to keep track of our ultimate deadline. Seriously. This watch not only tells time, like all watches do, but it also tells you how much time you have to live. Of course it can only guess—based on information it gathers from a survey about your life, your health, your family history, your habits. So, for example, one question on the survey asks, “How many times a week do you go to Speedway Doughnuts?” “How often do you order the bacon and maple doughnut when you go to Speedway?” So these habits will deduct from the time you have left.

The inventor of the Tikker says that the purpose of the watch is not to depress anyone—or to be morbid. Quite the opposite. He calls the Tikker the “happiness watch” because “if we were more aware of our own expiration,” he said, “I’m sure we’d make better choices while we are alive.”

Hmm. There might be something to that! Read the rest of this entry »

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 14: Transformed by love

November 8, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare for our upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. I will be posting a devotional each day between now and then. Enjoy!

Scripture: Luke 19:1-10

Christmas season will soon be upon us. One of my favorite holiday traditions is re-watching my favorite Christmas movies and TV specials, including How the Grinch Stole Christmas!

Zacchaeus, in today’s scripture, is a real-life Grinch. He’s a tax collector, the most hated man in Palestine. Like the Grinch, he literally stole from other people—and because he had the army of the Roman Empire backing him up, the people he stole from were helpless to do anything about it.

grinch

Jesus, however, like the Whos in Who-ville, loves this Grinch and invites him share a meal with him.

Even more importantly, Jesus invites Zacchaeus into a saving relationship with God. And like the Grinch, Zacchaeus repents and gives back all that he’s stolen—and then some. “Today,” Jesus says of Zacchaeus, “salvation has come to this house.”

It’s easy to see that just as the Grinch’s life was transformed by the love of the Whos, so Zacchaeus’s life was transformed by the life-changing love of Jesus Christ. And one symptom of this change was Zacchaeus’s newfound generosity.

Has your life been transformed by the love of God through Christ? Has salvation come to your house?

If so, this is the best reason to be generous in our financial giving: because God has been generous with us. God didn’t spare his Son but gave him up in order to save us. “Though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).

If, like Zacchaeus in today’s scripture, you’re ready to receive God’s gift of salvation in Christ, begin by praying this prayer:

Almighty God, I confess to you that like Zacchaeus, I am a sinner in need of your forgiveness. I know that because of my sins I deserve nothing better than death and hell. But I also know that you loved me too much to leave me this way. I am sorry for my sins and with your help I am turning away from them now. I believe that your Son Jesus is Lord. I believe that through Jesus—through his death on the cross and through his resurrection from the dead—you are offering me forgiveness and eternal life. Enable me to receive that gift now. I promise, by your grace and power, to be a faithful follower of Jesus for the rest of my life—in this world and in the world to come. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

If you prayed this prayer, please let me or someone else know. I would love to help you as you begin this journey as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 13: Give all you can

November 7, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare for our upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. I will be posting a devotional each day between now and then. Enjoy!

Scripture: Leviticus 27:30-33

In the Old Testament, God’s people were required to give a tenth of their income to God’s work and to the poor. For Christians, the tithe remains the biblical standard for giving to church.

I’ve heard some Christians object to the tithe: “Yes, but tithing is from the Old Testament—it’s from the Law. We’re not under the Law anymore. We don’t want to be legalistic—like the Pharisees.”

In a way that’s true. We Christians certainly don’t believe that by tithing we are contributing one iota to what Christ accomplished for us on the cross: we are saved completely by God’s grace alone. As I said in an earlier devotional, even 80 percent of Warren Buffett’s billions wouldn’t do anything to move him closer to heaven.

And I agree we don’t want to be legalistic about the tithe. But that goes in both directions: ten percent of our income may not be enough! God might want us to give more than ten percent!

I like John Wesley’s three rules about money:

  1. Make all you can. (We Americans like this rule!)
  2. Save all you can. (By this he didn’t mean “save it for a rainy day” or invest it so you can enjoy a comfortable retirement. He actually meant “save it by not wasting it”—being thrifty.)
  3. So that you can give all you can.

From Wesley’s perspective, then, the point of making money and handling it wisely is to give as much of it away as possible for the sake of God’s kingdom.

If you don’t want to tithe, then I invite you to follow Wesley’s three rules. But I suspect it will help you be even more generous!

Are you afraid tithing or being a more generous giver? Why? Tell God about your fears and ask him to help you overcome them. 

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 12: Pray boldly!

November 6, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare for our upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. I will be posting a devotional each day between now and then. Enjoy!

Scripture: Luke 11:5-13

My wife, Lisa, has an older brother, Frank. When she was away at college at Auburn, Frank was away at college at Georgia Southern. Their dad would periodically send them money when they were at school—which they would use to buy food and other necessities. Since Frank considered beer a necessity, he always managed to spend more money than Lisa.

So a few times a year, Frank would call her: “Hey! Can you call Dad and ask for money? And then when he sends it to you, can you send it to me?” And she’s would say, “Why don’t you call Dad and ask for money yourself?” And Frank would explain that he’d already called a couple of times and asked for money. It wouldn’t look good if he called again! Since Lisa never asks for money, he would gladly give her some.

And because Lisa was a good little sister, she did this for him.

Unfortunately, too many of us approach our heavenly Father the way Frank approached his earthly father: We don’t want to ask God for too much or too often. In fact, I’ve heard even pious Christians say that they don’t want to ask God for anything; rather, they pray that they could learn to “accept God’s will.”

Obviously, this isn’t at all what Jesus teaches his disciples to do. He wants us to ask!

Speaking as a father, I’m happy to give my children what they ask for—as long as it’s good for them; as long as giving it to them won’t harm anyone else.

God our Father isn’t less of a father than us human fathers! God will do things in response to our prayers that he wouldn’t do if we don’t ask.

So let’s pray boldly, especially during this stewardship season: Let’s pray that God will enable our church to have all the money we need to accomplish all the ministry that God wants us to accomplish. Let’s pray that we can be more generous with our own money, believing that God will supply all our needs.

If you’re a parent, think about the joy you’ve experienced in giving your children what they ask for. Remind yourself: God is my Father. It brings him joy to give me what I ask for. 

Or if you’re not a parent, think of a time you received something from your parents that made you deeply happy. Remind yourself: My heavenly Father wants to make me happy in that same way.

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 11: Rejoice in the Lord always

November 5, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare for our upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. I will be posting a devotional each day between now and then. Enjoy!

When I answered the call into ministry eleven years ago, I can see now that I did so with an unspoken agreement with God. If I could put it in words, it would sound something like this:

“God, if I do this for you—give up a relatively successful engineering career, uproot my family, sell my house, go to seminary, make all kinds of sacrifices—I need you to ensure that everyone—including my district superintendent and bishop—will love me and praise me and think I’m God’s gift to preaching and pastoral ministry, that I’ll move up church ladder of success, that I’ll make plenty of money, and that I’ll become bishop before I’m 45!”

Maybe I’m exaggerating a little, but my point is this: I wanted success on my terms. I wanted things to go according to my plans.

A part of what it means to be disciple of Jesus, however, is giving up our plans. It means surrendering them to God.

This is exactly what Paul has done in today’s scripture. He’s in prison. He’s suffering. In fact, he says in chapter 1 that he’s not even sure if he’s going to survive or not. Things weren’t going according to his plans. Yet somehow, in the  midst of all this suffering, Paul has composed his most joyful letter by far: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.”

How is Paul able to be so happy? Because he knows that no matter what he’s going through, God is not only with him, God is working his plan through him. And God’s plans are always better than our own!

Paul’s words in verses 12 and 13 remind me of the John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer. Let’s make his prayer our own:

I am no longer my own, but thine.
Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt.
Put me to doing, put me to suffering.
Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee,
exalted for thee or brought low for thee.
Let me be full, let me be empty.
Let me have all things, let me have nothing.
I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal.
And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
thou art mine, and I am thine.
So be it.
And the covenant which I have made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.
Amen.

“Supplying Every Need,” Day 10: Rich in what matters most

November 4, 2015

cover_graphic3I recently created a 14-day devotional booklet for my church called “Supplying Every Need.” We’re using it to prepare for our upcoming Stewardship Commitment Sunday on November 8. I will be posting a devotional each day between now and then. Enjoy!

Scripture: Matthew 6:19-21

I’ve made two trips to Kenya, where I’ve taught church history, theology, and church doctrine to indigenous United Methodist pastors. This is part of our United Methodist Church that is growing rapidly. We can’t train or equip pastors there fast enough. We can’t start churches there fast enough.

The pastors there have almost nothing by our American standards. They work multiple jobs to support themselves. While they may take a small portion of the weekly offering—which isn’t much to begin with—they receive no salary. Most don’t even worship in a proper church building.

The point is, I’m literally a thousand times wealthier than any of the people I taught or ministered to. I only wish I were half as blessed as they are!

Some of you know what I mean. Like me, you’ve gone on a mission trip to an underdeveloped or Third World country. And while you’re there, you’ve seen faithful Christians living with so much less stuff than we have. And if you’re like me, you think, “How can these people have so little and yet still be so happy?”

The answer is this: They’re rich in the only way that matters for eternity. They’re rich in treasure in heaven.

We often think of “treasure in heaven” as something that we “cash in” on the other side of eternity—in heaven, after we die. In reality, this treasure is something we begin enjoying on this side. My Kenyan brothers and sisters—along with so many other Christians—are enjoying it now. I want to, as well!

In what ways does your life show that you value “treasure on earth” more than “treasure in heaven”? Pray that the Lord will help you make the changes you need to make to value treasure in heaven even more.