Monday, February 7, 2011

Now That's What I Call an Offering!

On four Sundays in January I preached a series of sermons entitled Money Matters. We talked about God’s ownership of all things, the wisdom of living within our means, the importance of the tithe, and God’s promise to meet a giver’s needs. Though I preach on money issues once or twice a year, I haven’t attempted a series on money in eight years. And let’s face it: the church already has a bad enough rep in the world for being just one more money-grubbing organization. So I didn’t know what to expect. Would attendance hold up or would folks decide to miss church for that overdue visit to grandma or take that winter vacation to some warmer climate (where nobody is talking about money)? Well, much to my delight, attendance was excellent. And the sermons stirred conversations among people everywhere from Sunday School classes to gatherings of friends in other venues, not to mention record interest in our spring sessions of Financial Peace University. God was obviously up to something.

And I’m glad He was. Over thirty years of experience have taught me that when Christ takes lordship over our finances, He begins to take more and more ground in our hearts. Financial obedience nurtures a deeper dependence on and trust in God; it deepens gratitude; it reshuffles one’s priorities; it strikes a blow against the materialistic-consumer spirit that so dominates American culture and our own hearts; and it moves us from being takers to becoming givers. Giving God and His kingdom priority in your finances can be one of the most spiritually liberating things you ever do.

Anyway, we finished the series on January 30, but as a conclusion and a challenge to apply these truths to our lives, we declared Sunday, February 6, as Prove-the-Tithe Day. Well, our folks proved the tithe, all right. Our normal first Sunday offering is usually in the neighborhood of $50,000, but yesterday our people gave over $81,000. Somebody was proving the tithe—several somebodies. And while it was a praise-stirring, gratifying thing to see this offering, that’s not the best thing I experienced about Prove-the-Tithe Day.

That experience occurred between our first worship service and Sunday School. I went down to the preschool area to retrieve a protein bar I asked my wife to bring for me (since I forgot to bring it myself). In the hallway, I crossed paths with Chris and Misty, a young couple in our church family who have a couple of kids, Kennedy and Bo. Kennedy is six-years-old, and Chris showed me her offering envelope. Chris often helps take up the offering in the worship, so Kennedy is pretty well acquainted with offering envelopes, and she had filled out her own for this Sunday. It was really something. It’s an envelope identical to the one in the picture above. The one in the picture is blank, but Kennedy’s was not. In the “budget offering” box she wrote her name, “Kennedy.” In the other giving boxes, she wrote, “daddy” and “mommy.” In the name and address lines she put: “I love Jesus” and “I love God.”

That really struck a chord with me. And my first thought was, “Kennedy gets it. She really gets it.” Offerings are not so much the heart of the matter as they are a matter of the heart. And Kennedy’s heart was in the right place. She had no money to give (she’s only six); yet she gave something far better and something more fundamental. She offered herself. If God doesn’t own our hearts, then are financial gifts are little more than dues to be paid or some sort of spiritual taxation. When God owns our hearts, our financial gifts become a pleasing sacrifice to Him. The best and first offering we make is ourselves: “Lord, here I am. Lord, I give myself to you. Lord, I’m yours.” It sounds sort of like Paul’s word to the Romans, “I urge you, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies to God as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” I remember reading about the offering time in a worship service at another church. A young man in the congregation, new to Christ and the church, knew nothing about such things and had no money in his pockets at the time. So when the offering plate passed by him, he did a most unusual thing: he set it on the floor and stepped right into it. Like Kennedy, that young man intuitively grasped the deeper dimensions of our tithes and offerings to God: "My offering is me." Because when God has me, he has my time, my talents, my treasure—He has it all.

When Kennedy put her pencil to her offering envelope, I doubt she understood the theological import of what she did. I'm not sure one of our money-counters would have known what to do with that envelope either, except maybe to smile and consider it kind of a cute, childlike thing to do. But God saw the import of it, and so did I. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the envelopes our money-counters tallied up on our Prove-the-Tithe Day were marked with four-figure gifts—good and needed gifts to be sure. But this I know: no gift on Sunday was any more precious to God than Kennedy’s gift of herself.

I guess it's not just from the mouths of babes we can learn a thing or two; we can learn a little something from their pencils too.



  2. Спасибо. Через переводчик, но коснулось моего сердца.