What’s in it for Me?

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“What’s in it for me?”
Sunday, September 20, 2015
17th Sunday after Pentecost

[Second in series: “Gifts Make a Difference”]

Exodus 16:11-18, NIV 

Last week we began this series: Gifts Make a Difference.  The idea is to talk about the various ways we offer our gifts to God through the ministries of the church.  It’s part of the membership vows we make to support the local church with our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.  Our focus last week was on how your financial gifts enable us to offer programming and ministry to children and youth, both inside our church and as outreach.  Today we are going to look at the ways your tithes and offerings provide ministry opportunities for you as members of this church and for those we seek to reach outside of these walls…“WHY” we give.

By now you should have received a copy of our “Missional Budget” for 2016.  This booklet was an insert in the bulletin for the past two weeks.  Our intent is to help everyone understand the need for your regular giving to support the ministries we believe God is calling us to do – The WHY.

The message from the Book of Exodus that we heard earlier assures us that God gives us all we need.  If you remember the whole story, you might also remember that God cautions us not to try to take more than we need.  Moses warned the Israelites not to try to keep extra for the next day and some of the people did not listen…Their leftovers ended up stinking and covered with maggots. (Exodus 16:20)  God wanted the people to trust him and rely on him for their needs; he did not want them to rely on their own ingenuity in devising plans to hoard God’s gifts.  I think it is also interesting to look at how God instructed the people regarding their need.  An “omer” = one-tenth of an “ephah”; these are ancient Hebrew measurements and the standards would be recognized in context.  However, the significance is the ratio – one-tenth; God is providing at the same rate that he is asking in the “tithe” – one-tenth.  I cannot imagine that this is a coincidence!

But, rather than drone on about the virtues of tithing ten percent of your income to the church, I’d rather talk about why we give anything at all.  For some insight into that question, I want to borrow a story you may be familiar with.  I’m guessing that every parent has had an experience that goes something like this:

You take the kids to McDonald’s because that’s where they want to go.  The kids get Happy Meals, mom and dad order something more adult and you all sit down to eat…That’s when it happens.  You notice that one of the kids has one of those freakishly long fries; the kind that tempt you to reach over and “save” your child from it.  So you take it and just as you are ready to enjoy it you notice a very angry scowl on your child’s face.  Already knowing the answer, you ask, “What’s the matter?”   Your child points to their French fries and says, “These are mine, you go get your own.”

OK, we all know how this story goes.  You try to keep a straight face while using this as a teaching moment about being selfish.  But isn’t it amazing how the kids watched me buy the whole meal – everybody’s meal – but no sooner than I hand them their food, they immediately forget where it came from and who it all really belongs to.  With the power contained in my wallet I could bury them in French fries.  It’s interesting that they don’t grasp that yet.  Well, I think we tend to be this way with God, don’t we?

It’s hard to give up our hard-earned money because we see it as OURS.  But who was the one who gave it to us in the first place?  Who does it all really belong to?  When we shift our understanding of wealth and realize that we don’t own any of it and that God owns it all, then it changes everything we do with money.  If that’s hard to believe, think of it this way:  If someone walked up to you and handed you $1000 and said you could keep it as long as you gave $100 of it to the poor, who here would have a problem with that?  No, I think we could do that all day long.  But if they gave us the $1000 and waited for a couple of weeks before asking for that 10% back for the poor, that’d be a different story.  We might have different plans for that money, or maybe we already spent it.  It had too much time to get comfortable in our wallet and we forgot who it all really belongs to.

You see, “WHY” we give is more important than how much we give.  We give to God because what we have really belongs to God in the first place.  We are called to care for the resources God gives us, not hoard or abuse them.  We are called to give back what we’ve been given to be used for God’s kingdom.  We also need to understand that God does not need our money.  Think about that for a second…Could God really “need” our money?  The creator of heaven and earth, the one who snapped his fingers and an entire galaxy appeared needs our money; our little sheets of green paper…Ridiculous, right?  It’s like the French fry story – I could bury my kids in fries if I wanted to; God could bury us in green paper.

So why does he ask us to give?  Giving to God is not a “must”.   It’s not a law chiseled on a stone tablet.  When God asks us to give it’s not an order…it’s an opportunity.   He’s opening the door for us and through that door lies the path to redemption.  We have always had the freedom to choose to either walk through the door or not.  When we do, we experience spiritual growth that molds us to resemble Christ.  When we don’t…we don’t.

Think about it like this…When a river flows into a body of water and has no place to flow out, the water grows stagnant.  It’s the same with us – When blessings flow into our lives and have no place to go, nothing flows out and we grow stagnant and stale; selfish.  God has given us the opportunity to let blessings flow out from us through our giving to the mission and ministries of the church.  This is how ministry happens so that you can enjoy worship, fellowship, and study together.  This is what makes it possible for us offer the 4th Monday Meal and do projects for Restore Hope.  Your giving pays for all the materials and resources we need to spread the Good News of the Gospel outside of these walls.  I think church people have been asking the question, “What’s in it for me?” and have forgotten what they’ve already received…the grace, mercy, and forgiveness of God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross.  “What’s in it for me?” is the completely wrong question to ask when we are preparing to give to God’s kingdom work.  Being the church in the world has nothing to do with what we get out of it.  Being the church is all about helping others find their way to the salvation offered by Jesus.  We already got ours!

In Paul’s 2nd Letter to the Corinthians he praises the church in Macedonia for their giving:

In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity.  For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.  Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. (2 Corinthians 8:3-4, NIV)

In spite of their own hardships, these people took joy in giving all they were able to give so that the church could grow and reach new people.  When we grasp the “why” of giving back to God, it changes our perspective on the “how much.”  In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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