Posts Tagged ‘putting God first in our finances’

1 Samuel 1:19-28
Samuel’s Birth and Dedication

It is at this point every year that we begin our budgeting process for coming year at my church. The new calendar and budget year are really not that far away. This year, 2017, is winding down. As of this morning, there are only 50 days left in 2017. Next year, 2018, is right around the corner – just over 7 weeks from now. It is now that we start thinking about the dollars and cents of ministry. It is time to prioritize what we can do and what we cannot. Sometimes, there are tough decisions to be made. To hire for a much needed position within the church or not to hire. To spend money on certain ministries or not to spend. To replace equipment or not to replace equipment. Tough choices sometimes. It all comes down to what we feel that God is leading our people to give on an annual basis.

When reading today’s passage, it made me think, being our church’s finance director and all, about “what if…” What if God’s people were sacrificial in their giving? What if we gave in the way that Hannah did? So many of us Christians nowadays do not think in this way. Often we are no different than the culture around us. Many of us see it as someone else’s responsibility to give sacrificially. So many of us are just like the culture in that we live off more than we make. The typical middle class American lives off their salary plus credit. In other words, we live off more than we make. The society seems to think who has the newest, most expensive toys wins the contest in the end. We as Christians are often no different. We think we have to have the newest car. We think we have to live in the neighborhood that’s just beyond our means. We think we have to have the latest electronics. We think we have to have the boat and the jet ski. We think we have to have an expensive vacation every year. But when you think about it from an eternal perspective, the old saying holds true, “You can’t take it with you” and “you never see a U-Haul behind a hearse.”

That is why it is one of my passions to teach God’s people about biblical financial principles. I have lived that life of chasing the rainbow and never being satisfied with what you have and always wanting more. I have lived the life of maxxed out credit cards. I have lived that life of too much month and too little paycheck. I have lived that life of creditors calling me to the point I dreaded hearing my phone ring. It took my wife and I a good long while to get free of our smothering of debts. We had to quit renting houses at the beach that cost almost $3k for the week. We had to quit blowing bonuses and tax refunds on additional stuff and start paying off debts with them and not acquiring new debt just because we paid off an old one. Even recently, we downsized our home and mortgage. We cut our mortgage payment by 1/3 by getting a smaller house. After living in our previous house for seven years we realized that we did not use half of that house so it was time to downsize. What if we had started living that way from the time we left our parents’ homes. What if we had lived frugally from the beginning of our adult lives.

One of the things that we learned early on in this process was to honor God with our finances. We could not tithe at first but we began to get our way there a percentage point at a time. We made honoring God first a part of who we are as people. The first check we write when I get paid is to honor God. We learned to live off the rest instead of living beyond our means. I want to teach our people the peace that comes from “living off the rest”. I want to teach people that honoring God with our finances changes our perspective about our things that we have to have. The freedom of heart that has come from putting God first in our finances has enabled us to appreciate why He commands us to tithe. As with all things, God gives peace to those who honor Him. We trust him with our finances. We as a result are able to give more than just our tithe now. We have opportunities to help others now that we would have had to forgo in years past. Being able to use our money to demonstrate God’s love to others has reminded us of why we work hard to keep our finances under control.
What if more of God’s people learned what we have learned? What if more people gave to the church more than the spare $20 bill that they might have in their wallet on Sundays? What if more people saw honoring God with their finances to the point they could be obedient in the tithe? What if people lived off less and gave more? What if just our people at our local church did that? What if that did happen? What if we as a people at our church became sacrificial givers? What if our church’s budget was 2.5 to 3 times bigger than it is now if all of our people tithed or just gave more sacrificially? Imagine the ministry that we could do through our church. Imagine the quality of the people we could hire to lead our ministries. Imagine how many more lives that we could touch with the gospel. Imagine how many more ways we could reach into the community and show them the love of Jesus Christ. Imagine if our people started thinking with an eternal perspective. Imagine each of us living off 90% or less of what we make. Imagine a people focused more on being generous. Imagine a people putting God first in their finances so that they could put forth the gospel first with their paychecks rather than the car sitting in the driveway. Imagine us being a sacrificially generous people. Just imagine that!

That’s the thing I thought of this morning as I read how Hannah, so deeply desiring to have a child, sacrificially gave her son up to the Lord. She gave til it hurt. What if we had that kind of heart of sacrificial giving? Let’s read 1 Samuel 1:19-28 now:

19 The entire family got up early the next morning and went to worship the Lord once more. Then they returned home to Ramah. When Elkanah slept with Hannah, the Lord remembered her plea, 20 and in due time she gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[a] for she said, “I asked the Lord for him.”

21 The next year Elkanah and his family went on their annual trip to offer a sacrifice to the Lord and to keep his vow. 22 But Hannah did not go. She told her husband, “Wait until the boy is weaned. Then I will take him to the Tabernacle and leave him there with the Lord permanently.[b]”

23 “Whatever you think is best,” Elkanah agreed. “Stay here for now, and may the Lord help you keep your promise.[c]” So she stayed home and nursed the boy until he was weaned.

24 When the child was weaned, Hannah took him to the Tabernacle in Shiloh. They brought along a three-year-old bull[d] for the sacrifice and a basket[e] of flour and some wine. 25 After sacrificing the bull, they brought the boy to Eli. 26 “Sir, do you remember me?” Hannah asked. “I am the very woman who stood here several years ago praying to the Lord. 27 I asked the Lord to give me this boy, and he has granted my request. 28 Now I am giving him to the Lord, and he will belong to the Lord his whole life.” And they[f] worshiped the Lord there.

In this passage, we see that to do what she promised (1 Samuel 1:11), Hannah gave up what she wanted the most – her son – and presented him to Eli to serve in the house of the Lord. In dedicating her only son to God, Hannah was dedicating her entire life and future to God. Because Samuel’s life was from God, Hannah was not really giving him up to God. Rather, she was returning him to God, who had given Samuel to Hannah in the first place. These verses illustrate the kinds of gifts we should give to God. Do you gifts cost you a little (Sunday mornings, a comfortable donation of time and/or money) or are they gifts of sacrifice? Are you presenting God with tokens or are you presenting him with your entire life?

Let us resolve to live off less and give more sacrificially? Let us resolve to arrange our finances such that we can give more to our church and assist in the spread of the gospel in our community, nation and world. Let us arrange our finances so that we think first of eternal things instead of temporary things. Let us arrange our finances so that we can think of others instead of ourselves. Let us arrange our finances so that we can be sacrificial givers instead of wishing we could give anything. Let us arrange our finances so that we can invest in the eternal destinations of the people in our community. Let us be able to participate in leading people to our doors where they can hear the gospel preached and react to it. Let us be sacrificial because eternity is at stake. Let us help assure the eternity with Jesus in heaven for more and more people because we were so concerned about it that we gave up our pursuit of new houses, new cars, new toys. What if we had a sacrificial mentality to spread the gospel? What if our finances reflected our concern for the salvation of the world rather than our next new toy?

Amen and Amen.

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Deuteronomy 16:9-12

The Festival of Harvest

In its research on the topic of tithing….wait! come back! Where is everybody going….OK. So, let’s start again. In its research on the topic of tithing, I recently read an article, “What Would Happen if The Church Tithed?” by Mike Holmes in the online version of Relevant Magazine. From his research for the article, he learned that tithers often make only 25% or less of the typical congregation. Christians give less, on average, now to their churches (on average 2.5% of their income) than churchgoers gave during the decade of the Great Depression (on average, 3.3% of their income). Holmes pushed the supposition of what could be done by the global church if every post-salvation maturing Christian tithed. He estimates that there would be another $165 Billion (that’s right, billion) annually in the coffers of churches. What could be done with that additional money, he asks. He says that:

 

  • $25 Billion could be directed at world hunger and it could be vanquished within five years.
  • $12 Billion could be directed at global illiteracy and could be a thing of the past in five years.
  • $15 Billion could be directed at solving clean water and sanitation issues globally
  • Only $1 Billion is all it would take to fully fund Christian missionaries the globe over.
  • And then the remaining billions could be invested locally by churches to impact their town, their nation, and their world for Christ.

 

Just imagine that world! Just think about the impact that your local church would have if everyone took seriously the point of putting God first in our finances. Just look at my church. At my church, last year, 485 giving units gave at least one donation during the year which generated our church’s funding for 2016. The average giving unit donation (I say average because the 485 includes a number of people only gave one time all year) for our church was $1,600 annually ($133.33 per month, or approximately $31 per week). If that was tithing it would mean that our church’s average annual income was only $16,000 per year. Further, the 485 giving units means that there is a whole segment of the average 700 attendees to our church that do not give at all.  Just say the statistics show us that the median income in the Lyman-Duncan-Wellford, SC area is approximately $50,000 per year. What if that represented who we are as a church. What if we tithed based on the statistics? Just say that there is always going to be that 10% of your attendees that do not give so that knocks us down to 630 potential givers each Sunday. That 630 represents family giving units so we must divide that number by 2.5 (to account for single people being less than two people but making up a giving unit and to account married with children which on  average is 4.5 people per giving unit). That leaves you with 252 giving units potentially on each Sunday. Then making on average $50,000 per year were giving each Sunday and were tithing on their gross income. That’s $96 per week per giving unit times 252 potential giving units which equals approximately $24,200 per week and that would equal $1,258,400 per year. $96 per week per giving unit would amount to an average giving per year per family of almost $5,000 per year. However, our average per giving unit is 30% of that and our annual budget is about 60% of the potential that I mentioned earlier. What a difference we could make in our community if we gave to our fullest potential. What a difference could make in spreading the gospel message. What if we did not have to choose between paying the light bill and lighting up the community and our world with the loving message of Jesus Christ. It boggles the mind when you think about it.

 

I am not writing this to condemn anyone or guilt anyone into giving more than they do, but rather to give and idea of what could be and how far and deep we could impact our world with the gospel message. As we see in Luke 8, there were those ladies in Jesus’ traveling entourage that helped finance Jesus’ earthly ministry from their own means. So, yes, there is a business side to the gospel message. It costs money to spread the gospel. That is just a fact. As Mike Holmes said in his article, what it all God’s people really grasped the idea of firstfruits. What if we all gave the best of our modern day “crops” to the Lord right off the top. That is what I thought of this morning as I read Deuteronomy 16:9-12. Let’s read it together now:

 

9 Count off seven weeks from the time you begin to put the sickle to the standing grain. 10 Then celebrate the Festival of Weeks to the Lord your God by giving a freewill offering in proportion to the blessings the Lord your God has given you. 11 And rejoice before the Lord your God at the place he will choose as a dwelling for his Name—you, your sons and daughters, your male and female servants, the Levites in your towns, and the foreigners, the fatherless and the widows living among you. 12 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt, and follow carefully these decrees.

 

The key phrases in this passage are (1) giving in proportion to the blessings given us and (2) remembering that we were once slaves. I think it is important that we remember how richly blessed we are by God each one of us. In the United States, we are blessed beyond measure. Travel abroad and see how some people have to live. You come away realizing just how mightily we are blessed. Things that we take for granted are luxuries in some parts of the world. There is an old saying that you can tell a hungry man about Jesus until you feed him. We are blessed to live in this country and we could have easily been born elsewhere, say, maybe, in a third world country, barely eeking out an existence. We did not earn being born in the United States. We were born here by the grace, the grace only, of God. With great wealth comes great responsibility. Even us middle class folks are part of the richest 2% of people in the world. We did nothing to come by our access to the things that we have in the United States. It is a gift from God that we were born here. Therefore, we should simply be thankful for that when it comes time to give to the churches that we go to. We should be living lives of thankfulness for just being born in this country. Just think if we all acted as if we were thankful to the Lord for this blessing alone rather than thinking that we somehow deserve it all. That might lead us to live lives of generosity. That might lead us to give God the top 10% or more of what we make. That might lead us to change the world through the uncommon love and generosity of Christians rather than being Christians who think like the world and think that whomever has the most toys at the end, wins.

 

The second thing we must remember when we think of being obediently generous to our church is to remember that like the Jews being slaves in Egypt, we too were once slaves to sin that condemned us to hell for eternity. We deserve hell but yet when we gave our life to Christ, He covered our sins and imputed His sinlessness to us. We do not by rights deserve this grace. But we serve a generous God. He gave us what we needed to be reconciled to Him through His Son, Jesus. He gave this grace to us. We did not and do not earn it. We can’t be good enough to make up for the taint of the sins in our lives. The first sin and all the others after it make us unholy and undeserving to be in the presence of the Lord in eternity. But God is so generous and loving toward us even though we don’t deserve it. He gave us our prize, the perfection of Jesus Christ that we are clothed in when we accept Him as our Savior. So, we should be living lives of complete adoration and thankfulness to our Lord. Our secured eternity should give us this essence of thanksgiving that transcends and permeates everything we do. We should give God our best no matter what it is. We must give Him our best, then, too, in our finances. He should get the best of that too. He should get our best “crops” not our leftovers. It is an act of thanksgiving. It is an act of obedience. It is an act of trust. Trusting God to do reach the world through each of our donations to our church.

 

Just think what an impact, the bride of Christ, the church, could have on a dead and dying world if we all understood the concept of giving God the best of the fruits of our labors. What if we quit trying to keep up with the Joneses and tried to keep up with the ways of God. What if God’s people gave because they saw it as an opportunity to participate in sending the gospel message out into the world. What if we saw it as being able to participate in life change. What if we saw it as an opportunity to contribute to reaching people and their coming to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.

 

What if…

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Numbers 8:5-26 (Part 2)

The Levites Dedicated

It was August 15, 2010, a Sunday. The second Sunday after Elena and I had moved back to South Carolina from our time in California. But before I talk about that day, a little background is in order.

I had been out there for 2 ½ years, Elena for one. During the time that we were in California together, we had become part of a wonderful church, Livermore Alive Community Church in Livermore, CA. It was at this church that I actually started to grow from a spiritual baby into something more than a spoon-fed, what-can-you-do-for-me baby. I grew into a spiritual toddler, so to speak, and maybe even a spiritual teenager while there. It was there that Elena accepted Jesus Christ as her Savior and Lord. While I had been a spiritual baby for a long time (since my salvation in December 2001), Elena grew up quickly. She devoured being a child of the One True King. It was there that we were nurtured by our pastor, Luke Brower, and his wife, Felisha. They were our mentors even though they were about 10 years younger than us. Luke and Felisha were classic California. Laid back. Low key. Satirically funny. Luke’s sermons were excellent but low key and cerebral almost. He made you think about Scripture in the deepest of ways. He preached through books of the Bible rather than being topically oriented. That was a change for me. My dad and most ministers I have been under preached topically. So, Luke’s sermons were deep into a book of a Bible. He was like this low-key, but awesomely interesting college professor. His sermons were like lectures but they were so captivating. Learning as well as being moved by his word pictures. Alas, though, after 2 ½ years getting the accounting function at my job cleaned up and operating smoothly, it was time to move the accounting function to South Carolina so that all accounting for Fujikura’s North America businesses would have their accounting done all in one centralized administrative center in the Greenville-Spartanburg, SC area. It was a bittersweet day when we had to move back to South Carolina. We had such an amazing time in that one year in Livermore that we did not want to leave it and the dear, dear friends that we had made there. But yet at the same time, we loved the fact that we would be back home close to our girls and our families.

 

So, we get back to South Carolina and move into the home that we still live in today. We move in on Friday, August 6, 2010. That next Sunday we were desperate to find our “Livermore Alive” in South Carolina. The first church we attended on Sunday, August 8, 2010, which shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, just was NOT it! We were used to modern worship and well-thought out sermons and a casual style. Although it was the kind of location we were used to. This church met in a meeting room of the local YMCA just down the road from our house. Livermore Alive met in a school gymnasium. So, it was similar in the whole set-up/breakdown mobile sound system with folding chairs kind of church. But man the music was like mountain gospel with banjos and such and the musicians had a talent level much below what we had grown accustomed to in California with Jesse Craig and Luke Brower and the amazingly talented musicians that were in Livermore Alive. And, oh my, the pastor’s sermon was a yawner and lacked Luke’s passionate delivery. Scratch that one off the list. We’ve got to find a church home. I need that. Elena needed that. We needed that.

 

By God’s design (we are still there 6 years later), we ended up at LifeSong Church in nearby Lyman, SC that next Sunday. LifeSong was an amazing church with an amazing founding pastor, Jeff Hickman, and amazing musicians. It just felt like home. However, the first Sunday there, if my wife had her way, we would not have come back. You ask why? Well, Elena was a new baby Christian at that time and had spent most of her life outside the church. Although she grew up Catholic, after about age 8, there family quit attending mass altogether. So, her first exposure to Protestant church was Livermore Alive when we were in California. Remember, I said Luke, our pastor there, was low-key. His sermons were like conversations at the dinner table. However, Elena though growing up in the South had not been exposed to Southern church, particularly Baptist church in the South. Jeff Hickman is as passionate a preacher as they come. He delivers the Word with skill and passion. He is an amazing speaker. On that first Sunday, though, LifeSong Church was at a crossroad. Continue with five, yes five, services every weekend or build a new building. The church was busting at the seams. So, the first Sunday, we were there, it was the beginning of a sermon series and a capital campaign called “Radical”. Combine passionate preacher and a sermon series called Radical, being radical in our giving and our service to Christ, you see what’s coming. On the way home, I asked Elena what she thought and whether she thought we should go back or keep searching. My wife, of laid back sermon delivery in California and no exposure to passionate Southern preachers, said, “All he talked about was money AND he YELLED at us!” The Holy Spirit guided my conversations with her to get us back there and we have been there ever since – a journey under the leadership of senior pastor Jeff Hickman that has led us closer still to the Lord and into leadership. Jeff pulls no punches when it comes to God’s Word and he will passionately lay the Word out there even if it makes you uncomfortable. No watered down gospel here. And I thank God for his leadership.

 

But, I still think of that first Sunday and my wife’s humorous statement. He talked about money and he yelled at us. Jeff is a passionate Southern preacher. Don’t think of some old guy with a suit on that is pudgy and has to loosen his tie and wipe his brow with a handkerchief kind of old school Southern. Think hip dude with jeans and a t-shirt (though seminary educated) kind of Southern preacher. His volume increases with his passion about a point he’s making. And that first Sunday was about being radical compared to this day and age of selfish desires to keep our money to ourselves and see how many toys we can get. He wanted us to be radical in being obedient to the Lord. He wanted us to think about what’s going to last – our toys or our investments in the eternity of our fellow man. He wanted us to be radical compared to our world where we simply think of ourselves and not of others. The Bible calls us to give sacrificially to the Lord and trust that the Lord will use it to reach more and more souls in the name of Jesus Christ. Being obedient to the Lord with our money is a radical thing in this time of me-me-me in which we live. So, yes, maybe in his delivery to a first timer exposure to passionate Southern preachers, he did yell at us. And, yes, he did talk about money. It was radical to Elena and challenging to me. The question was, are you being radical in your obedience to the Lord when it comes to giving of your time, your talent, and especially, your resources.

 

That first Sunday at LifeSong and exactly what these grain offerings and sin offerings and wave offerings were was what came to mind as I read through this passage once again this morning. Let’s read the full passage together and then let’s concentrate on vv. 8-9 for today after we have read through it:

 

5 The Lord said to Moses: 6 “Take the Levites from among all the Israelites and make them ceremonially clean. 7 To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then have them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes. And so they will purify themselves. 8 Have them take a young bull with its grain offering of the finest flour mixed with olive oil; then you are to take a second young bull for a sin offering.[a] 9 Bring the Levites to the front of the tent of meeting and assemble the whole Israelite community. 10 You are to bring the Levites before the Lord, and the Israelites are to lay their hands on them. 11 Aaron is to present the Levites before the Lord as a wave offering from the Israelites, so that they may be ready to do the work of the Lord.

 

12 “Then the Levites are to lay their hands on the heads of the bulls, using one for a sin offering to the Lord and the other for a burnt offering, to make atonement for the Levites. 13 Have the Levites stand in front of Aaron and his sons and then present them as a wave offering to the Lord. 14 In this way you are to set the Levites apart from the other Israelites, and the Levites will be mine.

 

15 “After you have purified the Levites and presented them as a wave offering, they are to come to do their work at the tent of meeting. 16 They are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to me. I have taken them as my own in place of the firstborn, the first male offspring from every Israelite woman. 17 Every firstborn male in Israel, whether human or animal, is mine. When I struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, I set them apart for myself. 18 And I have taken the Levites in place of all the firstborn sons in Israel. 19 From among all the Israelites, I have given the Levites as gifts to Aaron and his sons to do the work at the tent of meeting on behalf of the Israelites and to make atonement for them so that no plague will strike the Israelites when they go near the sanctuary.”

 

20 Moses, Aaron and the whole Israelite community did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses. 21 The Levites purified themselves and washed their clothes. Then Aaron presented them as a wave offering before the Lord and made atonement for them to purify them. 22 After that, the Levites came to do their work at the tent of meeting under the supervision of Aaron and his sons. They did with the Levites just as the Lord commanded Moses.

 

23 The Lord said to Moses, 24 “This applies to the Levites: Men twenty-five years old or more shall come to take part in the work at the tent of meeting, 25 but at the age of fifty, they must retire from their regular service and work no longer. 26 They may assist their brothers in performing their duties at the tent of meeting, but they themselves must not do the work. This, then, is how you are to assign the responsibilities of the Levites.”

 

Since we live in the time since the completion of the Old Testament sacrificial system (it was completed at the cross with the once and final sacrifice for all time in Jesus’ death on the cross), we may as modern men and women have a difficult time understanding the offerings that are noted in this passage. There is a grain offering, a sin offering, and a wave offering. It is hard for us to understand and some of it may even seem distasteful to us. For today, let us concentrate on the grain offering.

 

According to www.gotquestions.com, it says,

 

A grain offering is a type of sacrifice described in the Old Testament (Leviticus 2) that the Israelites offered to God. A grain offering would have most likely been one of wheat or barley, depending on what was available. While other sacrifices had very specific instructions from God as to how they were to be offered, the rules governing grain offerings had some flexibility.

 

A grain offering could be given to God either uncooked or cooked in an oven or pan (Leviticus 2:1; 4—5). The requirements for the grain offering were that it had to be finely ground and have oil and salt in it (Leviticus 2:1, 4, 13). It could not have any yeast (also called leaven) or honey in it (Leviticus 2:11). When a person brought a grain offering to the priests, a small portion of it was offered to God, with some frankincense, on the altar. The rest of the grain offering went to the priests (Leviticus 2:10). No specific amount of grain was required for an offering; people were free to give what they had.

 

It’s interesting to note that during the Israelites’ forty years of wilderness wandering grain would have been quite scarce. This made grain offerings more costly and precious for the people to offer to God. Giving a grain offering in those circumstances represented the Israelites’ complete dependence on God to provide for their needs each day. Jesus fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17), and we no longer have to do sacrifices as they did in the Old Testament. But, if the grain offering is similar to our offering of worship, it’s interesting to consider: how much does our worship today cost us?

 

That brings us back to that first Sunday at LifeSong Church those six years ago now. It was Radical Sunday. It was the beginning of a church of people being asked to look in their heart and make sacrifices of scarce resources. How much do we care about the Lord? Do we worship Him as long as it does not force us to make sacrifices? Do we really love the Lord enough to decide that it is better to make tithing and making offerings above the tithe a number one priority? Do we really trust the Lord with our finances? Do we trust that He will make provision for us when we are obedient in our giving? Are we willing to make that radical sacrifice? Are we bold enough to begin now to quit chasing after things in this life and invest in things of eternity?

 

As we begin closing in on time to start our budgeting process for budget year 2017 at LifeSong, it is a question that we must consider as this local body of the general body of Christ known as His church. On an annual basis, we average about 750 attendees on any given weekend. We have though only 450 or so giving units/families in our church. What if all of our attendees gave to the church? What if all of our attendees gave sacrificially (the tithe and more) to the church? We are known in our community as a church that does things for the community, that cares about the community? Imagine if we all, who claim LifeSong as their home, gave radically. What if we trusted the Lord enough to let go of more than the $20 bill that we happen to have in our wallets on Sundays? What if we all were radically sacrificial in our giving? Imagine what we could do in our community and our region. Imagine the love that we could share with those who do not know Christ as their Savior. Imagine the lives we could touch with the gospel in our community, in our nation, in our world. Imagine our pastors not having to struggle to make ends meet. Imagine them not having to worry about sending their kids to college. Imagine a church where meeting payroll and paying the bills each week was simply done and not sweated over. Imagine the things that we want to do to spread the gospel that we don’t do know. What a radical thought that is?

 

Can you and I be radical? Can we arrange our lives where we quit pursuing stuff so much and trusting the Lord with the first 10% or MORE of what we make and living off the rest? Can we be a people that does not try to theoretically create an argument for not giving the tithe just so we can justify trading cars every two or three years, so we can justify the buying the house that is above our means, so we can justify our jet skis and boats and summer vacations? Can we be that radical? Can we be like the Israelites in the wilderness of the Sinai desert where grain was like gold giving grain offerings to the Lord? Radical indeed. How much do we really trust the Lord? How much grain are we willing to part with? How obedient can we be? Radically obedient! Are you radical? Am I?

 

 

Amen and Amen.

Luke 12:22-34 — Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Charles Lea Center in Spartanburg, SC with a group from our church. It is a former school that has been converted into an activity center for mentally challenged people of all ages. We visited on a Saturday morning and at the end of the visit, we sang Christian songs with them. The passion with which these folks sang (not caring about whether they were in tune or who heard them) reminded me of this passage. These folks just had an unadulterated love of their Father in heaven. It was a simple faith that they were displaying. They just loved Jesus and that’s it. No high minded theological discussions just a simple love of Jesus.

It was not long after that visit that I had the opportunity to go on a mission trip to Haiti. While there, I got to visit a Tuesday night prayer meeting at the church that was the center of activity for our mission trip, Restoration Church. In this prayer meeting, people just came to the church to pray. There was no order of service. There was no preaching. People just came to the church on Tuesday nights to pray. There was no organized service. At that prayer service, as people came in and the church filled up with people, they were all praying out loud in French Creole, the language of Haiti. As the evening drew deeper into the night, the passion of their prayers became more intense until the air was filled with the passionate words of prayer. Just think of about 150 people all praying out loud, all with passionate pleas to the Father. I felt the Holy Spirit that night. I tasted the power literally of the Holy Spirit in mouth. It was the most awesome church service I had ever been to. I could not understand a word they were saying but I knew they were intimately reaching out to their Father in heaven. Never seen anything like it before or since. These people live in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, one of the poorest countries in the world, but these saved souls pour out their praise on their Savior more deeply and intensely than any American Christians would ever dream of doing.

These stories are the first thing I think of when I consider what Jesus says, “Seek the kingdom of God above all else, and He will give you everything you need.” Some translations say “seek the kingdom of God first, and all else will be added.” Seek the kingdom of God first. Everything else is secondary to that. We must make Jesus the King of our lives. He must be put first in every area of our lives. When we seek to honor God first as the clients at the Charles Lea Center do, as the worshipers at Restoration Church in Jacmel, Haiti do, everything else gets put into perspective.

Since I don’t have time to write a book this morning about all the areas of life where we should put God first, I am going to concentrate this blog on one thing. The one area that most of us give to the Lord last is our finances. We think we are the owners of the money we make rather than seeing that God gave us the talent to earn it. We often put God last in our finances. He is an afterthought. We do not put God first. God is a leftover God when it comes to our finances.

My passion about putting God first in our finances leads me to teach and write about it often. I don’t teach it without experience. I have lived life of trying to keep up with the Jones. Divorces and other events of life led me to a life of financial burden. My credit report was awful looking. It was not til I met Elena that I began to see that debt, debt, and more debt was not the answer. Getting out of debt was. Although she did not see the eternal perspective of what getting out of debt was at the time. She just taught me that it made sense to have a good credit score. God was working through her toward me. When she became saved and as I matured as a Christian myself, we began to raise God to the place He should be in our finances. First.

When we put God first in our finances, we honor God with the money we make. We give to Him first and live off the rest. We no longer buy in to the American dream rat race. When we honor Him in our finances, we honestly do not care about the latest, greatest cars or houses. As long as we have what we need to survive in the culture we live in, then everything else is just gravy. When you put God first in your finances, the debt, debt and more debt merry-go-round that most of us live on, you finally decide to get off it and start paying off debts, keeping assets longer, and work your way to being debt free some day. When you do not live off of 105% of what you make (as most Americans do), you are capable of now honoring God by giving when there is a need, seeing the importance of tithing because God commands us to give Him our firstfruits and not our leftovers. Imagine if all American Christians truly tithed their first ten percent of their income to their local churches. Average giving in American churches is $20 per person per Sunday. I dare say that if that were a tithe we Americans average making $200 per week, or $10,400 per year. True average American income is now $53,000 per year or a little over a $1,000 per week. Average giving should then be $100 per week per person. Thus it is obvious most that we are not putting God first in our finances. We put things ahead of God.

If we do not honor God with our finances, we miss opportunities to participate in Christ’s ministry in the world. When we do put God first there, we cannot help a friend in need, we have to pay for that car we cannot afford nor really need. When we do not put God first in our finances, we cannot go on a mission trip to help save victims of the sex trafficking trade in Asia escape that lifestyle with no hope, we have to pay for that jet ski. When we see the single mom struggling with medical bills and she is about to be kicked out of her home, we cannot help because we have to pay for all the money we spent on that cruise that we went on last summer. Can’t you see my friends, how much is enough? We miss the opportunities to serve the kingdom and teach people about agape love of Christ when we do not put God first in our finances. Instead this being the last area we bring under submission to Christ, it should be the first.

Trust God with your finances and all the things you NEED you will have. He will provide for you. Just let Him have your first fruits. Trust Him to provide for you. All else will be added unto.

Just as the clients at the Charles Lea Center and the worshipers at Resotration Church give God great praise with unbridled joy. God is everything to them. He is first in their praise. He is first in their life. May we take example from them and put God first in everything. God should not be a compartment to our lives. He is not a box that we pull out and play with and then put back up making sure that it does not touch the other boxes. He should be our lives. He should permeate every area. We should put Him first in every area of life including our finances. When we put Him first over every aspect of our lives, we will finally find peace and rest and most of all joy. Joy at trusting that God has our back just as the people in my illustrations do. That is joy. Joy is knowing that we are secure in God when we give all areas of life over to His Lordship.