Messiah Lutheran Church :: What thought do you give to your offerings

What thought do you give to your offerings

Dear friends in Christ,

            Little children love to put money in the offering plate.  It is fun to watch. I see big smiles on their faces.  My daughter in Colorado was having some women from her church to their home to do a project for the Lord.  An offering was being taken.  My granddaughter saw the offering plate and went to her bedroom.  There was a rustling of her piggy bank. In a couple of minutes she had some coins and shared them with the Lord.    

            So what changes when they get to middle school when their attitudes change?  What happens to teenagers when they have a job and actually have an income and still think that they can ride the coattails of Mom and Dad’s offering?  Is it because they understand what money can get them?  If they give it to the Lord then they don’t have as much to spend on themselves. 

            My wife taught our kids to be stewards of God’s money.  I wasn’t so good at that.  Judy would ask me if I could run to the store when the kids were young.  I would often take the kids along.  They piled into the car.  We’d get what we needed and then went to the checkout counter. I would see a Kit Kat bar.  It divides up well.  There are four little chocolate wafers, one for Kris, one for Ben, one for Courtney and one for me.  One of the kids would generally say, “Mom’s not going to like this. She is going to know.”  “Hey, if she says something just tell her that it is hot outside.”  “But Dad, it’s December!” 

            What they soon found out was that they could afford a Kit Kat bar on their own and didn’t have to split it.  The older children get to be, the harder it is to teach them to be good stewards. 

            As Christian parents this too is one of the many things we need to be doing – teaching our children to be generous to the LORD.  Yet that’s a lesson we all need to learn.  We continue our summer sermon series, Precious Savior, Accept our Service by asking this question, “How Much Thought Do You Give to Your Offerings?”  1)  Remember they are holy to the Lord; 2) Remember they are given freely. 

            Like last week we revisit Jewish history that many Christians aren’t as aware of – the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.  They were contemporaries.  After Judah was vanquished by Babylon and the citizens of Judah held captive in Babylon for seventy years, Persia conquered Babylon.  The King of Persia decreed that the Jews in Babylon could return to Judah and Jerusalem.  A remnant returned under Zerubbabel in 539 BC.   

            Eighty years later (458 BC), while Artaxerxes was the Persian king, Ezra led some Jews back to Jerusalem.   

            Ezra was a scribe and a very good and devoted spiritual leader. He was living in Babylon and it was reported that the Jews in Jerusalem and the temple in Jerusalem needed some necessary spiritual reform and renewal.  He gathered people in Babylon for the 900 mile journey.  As he was gathering people to return to the land of their forefathers, he saw that not many Levites volunteered to return to Jerusalem.  Remember they were the tribe of Jews that were supposed to take care of the Jewish worship life.  The priests were Levites. They were to take care of the temple. He had to recruit.  Perhaps that says a lot about the Jewish spiritual state of affairs. God called on Ezra to lead and to model. 

            Ezra recruited Levites to return.  Before they left they fasted and prayed. They prayed for God’s protection.  They were taking some precious cargo back to Jerusalem from the Jews in Babylon- lots of precious metal.  “I weighed out to them 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and two fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold.”  They could have used a Brink’s Armored Truck.  They were traveling nine hundred miles through dangerous territory, dotted with all kinds of bandits and unscrupulous kings.

            According to very trusted Bible scholars, a talent was sixty pounds.  There were 650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and two fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold.”  You can do the math.  They were carrying Fort Knox for the LORD’s temple.    

            Ezra spoke to the Levites that he had recruited and said, “You as well as these articles are consecrated to the Lord. The silver and gold are a freewill offering to the Lord, the God of your fathers.”  When I translated these verses, I translated, “You (the Levites) and these articles are holy to the LORD.”  The Levites and the offerings would be used for special work holy to the Lord.    

            Hey, doesn’t that say something to you?  In a few moments we will be passing around an offering plate (BTW they are offering plates, not collection plates). But let me ask this question, what do you think about when you drop an offering envelope into the offering place?  Do you think that your offering will supply air conditioning for the future?  Or this should make the preacher happy for a while?  Or the garbage will be picked up again or this will help so that we won’t be foreclosed?   Or maybe you really don’t give it any thought.  Let’s talk some more.     

            Lots of people are baffled by the fact that God put the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil in the middle of the Garden of Eden?  After all, if it hadn’t been there we wouldn’t be in the mess that we are in today.  Yet Luther said the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil was God’s altar. What he meant by that was that with the tree’s presence God was giving Adam and Eve an opportunity to honor him and worship him.  By staying away from the tree, they could show how much they loved and respected God. 

            Remember that God doesn’t need our money.  He has it all anyway.  If God wanted gold all he needed to do was to create a million Fort Knox’s filled to capacity.  All he would need to do is say, “Let there be.” An offering plate passed in front of you is an opportunity to honor the one who created, redeemed and sanctified you.  It is an opportunity to honor God and not just an obligation that we have to supply the resources to pay the bills.  We are saying we value him and revere him with an offering.  The offering plate is also God’s altar.         

            It is also an opportunity to say who and what has value to us.  Godfrey Davis, who wrote a biography about the Duke of Willington who defeated Napoleon at Waterloo, once said, "I found an old account ledger that showed how the Duke spent his money. It was a far better clue to what he thought was really important than the reading of his letters or speeches."

            How we handle money reveals much about the depth of our love for Christ. Jesus often talked about money. Someone said that one-sixth of the gospels, including one out of every three parables, touches on stewardship. Jesus wasn't a fundraiser. He dealt with money matters because money matters.  How you use it shows what is important to you.  

            Because offerings are set aside for the Lord, those offerings need to be handled with special care.  When Ezra gathered the people together who were going to journey from Babylon to Jerusalem, they weighed out the considerable offerings that were gathered.  When they arrived at Jerusalem and took them to the temple, they measured them again to make sure that everything was on the up and up.  They wanted everyone to know that what was given to the Lord in Babylon was given to the Lord in Jerusalem. 

An easy and effective way the Devil has stirred up controversy and consternation in God’s church is to tempt people within the church to steal and misuse funds.  Newspapers love those kinds of stories.  Damage of every sort can be done.  They give skeptics reason to think that all the church is really about is treasure and not the treasure of heaven – Jesus Christ.

            The apostle Paul was gathering offerings from European and Asian congregations to help the church in Jerusalem that was suffering from some trial.  Considerable offerings were given.  As he took the offerings to Jerusalem, he took people along from churches so that no accusations could be leveled.  Titus was chosen to go along with Paul.  “What is more, he was chosen by the churches to accompany us as we carry the offering, which we administer in order to honor the Lord himself and to show our eagerness to help.We want to avoid any criticism of the way we administer this liberal gift.  For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men. 

That’s why we take cautions here at Messiah too.  That’s why our financial people make reports.  We have at least two people who count the offerings.  We give you statements telling what you have given.  These are precious love offerings given by God’s people.  We need to take every precaution we can so no accusations might be leveled.     

            Your offerings are given freely. The Scriptures say, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”  When we give, we do so freely.   When the exiles who had been in Babylon knew that an offering was being taken by Ezra to repair and upgrade the temple in Jerusalem, they gave freely.  As I said before “650 talents of silver, silver articles weighing 100 talents, 100 talents of gold, 20 bowls of gold valued at 1,000 darics, and two fine articles of polished bronze, as precious as gold.”  If that much gold and silver were heisted today, there would be Breaking News on CNN and every other network.  It was given freely and generously for the temple is Jerusalem.   

            In my ministry I have had people come from other churches and synagogues to ours.  They said that to join their former churches, they had to submit a W-2 form and set up a bank draft by which they had to set up at least 10% to be drawn from their paychecks.  That’s hardly freewill.  With that kind of legalism, it is hard to think of giving cheerfully. 

            If you need some major appliance for your home, you will probably check out different Best Buy, Sears, HH Gregg and all kinds of other places to get the best price.  Even after doing that to write a check out for a thousand dollars or more is not a pleasant experience even though you get an appliance for the money. 

            If we find it difficult to write a check in return for something we will receive then how will we ever give cheerfully and generously when we won’t be taking won’t be picking up a new freezer of microwave on the way out of church?  

            Let’s let the apostle explain how God’s people give cheerfully and generously.  Paul suffered so much for Jesus.  In II Corinthians 11 he said, “I…have been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked.”

Paul, why in the world did you keep serving Jesus while suffering for him at the same time? 

He answered that question in another place, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”  Maybe he suffered in this life for Jesus and sacrificed for Jesus, yet he knew he stood forgiven before God in heaven because Christ was merciful to him.  He knew that one day he would stand before God’s throne in heaven to live forever because Christ suffered for him. 

            Why the cheery and generous attitude when the offering plate comes around.  Give it this thought too, “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.”  That’s the reason we have; that’s the reason we need. 

 

 

Amen  

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