My M&M message, part two

Yesterday, I posted part one of my M&M message. Here’s part two. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, click here, and at least read the intro I did there. Go ahead; we’ll still be here when you get back.

Okay, at this point, if you’re still reading, I’m going to assume you know what’s going on here. So, without further adieu, here’s part deux of my M&M message:

In Malachi 3.7, we read the challenge to return to God, and it ends with a question from the people: How can we return to God?

Great question. The magazine Christian Century describes how one guy tried to answer that question: when his church closed and the building was sold and became a pizza joint, the pizza place kept some of the old pews, and used them. One night, this guy walks into the restaurant, and goes over to one of the pews. He picks it up, and says, This is my pew – and he walks out with it.

There’s a guy who wanted to return to church by returning church to him. But that’s not what God says through Malachi. In response to the question: How should we return, listen to how God responds in Malachi 3.8.

The question of returning to God is quickly described as one of robbing God. How’s that, God? they ask. And God answers in Malachi 3.8b-12.

The situation of the people in Malachi’s day is such that things aren’t looking good; the economy is bad; returning from exile isn’t all they thought it would be. So, when the people are looking in their wallets, most weeks they’re thinking: I don’t FEEL like giving today; things are just too difficult.

But, God is calling them to live life, not based on feelings, but faith. And so, God says to them: Trust me – in fact, go a step further: TEST Me – by giving what I’ve asked you to give, the tithe.

What’s the tithe? Well, tithe just means “tenth.” And in the OT, in Leviticus 27.30-33, and Deuteronomy 14.22-29, the Israelites are commanded to bring a tenth to God. For them, as people who lived off the land, this involved a tenth of their crops and herds, brought before God. (Imagine how big the offering plates must have been….)

But the purpose of the tithe was an act of worship. Their tithe was to be used as a meal in the temple, one that the Levites could share, since the Levites who worked in the temple didn’t have land or income.

But there’s another essential element to the tithe. We see it in Deuteronomy 14.28-29.

The tithe was worship; but it was also provision for those in need. And so, when God says in Malachi that when the people don’t bring their tithe, they are robbing God – what God is really saying, I think, is that when we refuse to help people in need, we are turning our back not just on those in need, but God.

And so, when God says in Malachi, Test me and see if I don’t provide, He’s not saying: Give so your life can be more comfortable. This is where so many preachers and teachers get it wrong. God isn’t saying: Give, and I’ll give you more. Give so that you might be comfortable, or happy, or secure.

God is saying: Trust me. When you provide for those in need – when you sacrifice so that others, who have less, can be blessed – you can trust Me to take care of you.

In other words, what God is saying is: Live by Faith. GIVE by faith. And every time God’s people give generously, they are saying: God, we trust you to provide for others, and for us.

That’s great. But we don’t give cows or corn; so what does Malachi mean for followers of Jesus?

Well, as with everything we read in the OT, we need to turn to the New Testament to help us understand what it means for us today. Look at what it says in 2 Corinthians 8.1-7.

Paul is clearly using the Macedonians as an example. First, they give themselves to the Lord, and then to the needs of people. They are so fully trusting in God that they insist on giving, even when have so little – because they understand that a life that belongs to Jesus holds nothing back.

So, it’s interesting that when Paul talks about giving, he doesn’t require tithing. In fact, there’s only one time that I know of where tithing is mentioned in the NT as an example. It’s in Luke 11.42 (parallel: Mt 23.23), when Jesus says to the religious leaders: You tithe down to the smallest plant, and that’s good – but you neglect the weightier matters: justice and love of God. Jesus says: tithing is good, but it’s not just about what you give; it’s gotta start in the heart.

And so, the challenge in the NT for us, the followers of Jesus, is to let our giving reflect our desire for God’s justice and love to reach ALL people. And when that’s our goal, why we EVER consider nickel-and-diming God? How can we, the people of God, be anything BUT generous, when our God has been so graciously generous with us?

I read recently that we as Americans spend 11 billion dollars on bottled water, every year. Even more amazing: that’s about the amount it would take to bring clean water to all the people of the world who need it.

If that’s true of water/water, what about Living Water? If $10 billion would get everyone clean water, it’s estimated that only $1 billion is needed to provide for those who are taking the gospel to every area of the globe. And when you put that alongside the reality that we, as Christians, are giving, on average 2.5% of our income to God’s work – then, you don’t have to be Warren Buffet, to realize: the opportunity to bring water, and living water, to the world, is in my pocket, and yours.

The question of Malachi is still valid – where each one of us who follows Jesus, needs to ask ourselves: Am I robbing God? The money God would use to spread his love, and meet needs from Mt Washington to the Middle East to most forgotten of this world – the money God would use is in your hands, and mine.

So, I believe that the NT does not lay down a legalistic amount we have to give; instead, it offers this simple invitation: Give, as has been given to you. And when we truly experience the grace of Jesus, we recognize that everything we are, and everything we have, is an opportunity to bless others.

And for some of us, 10% is a simple, clear plan and path for giving. But, as my friend Ben says, if that seems unattainable to you, or too Old Testament for you, then pray: God, what would generous giving look like for me?

Then, listen. And plan your giving – because you won’t consistently give as an act of faith unless you plan it.

And most of all: Trust. Live and Give by faith. Because, you see, money is ultimately not just about money. What you do with your Money is ultimately one of the most important ways you answer THE most important question: Who do I really trust?

Gratitude & Generosity

After my message on Sunday (which, if you missed it, you can hear it here), I had a couple from our church tell me about a sermon they heard years ago at another church. It was on giving. The speaker was direct and focused. And more than ten years later, my friend said it was one of the few sermons he can still remember.

Why? Is it because there is something intensely personal, yet also intensely necessary, about giving? Don’t we all recognize that what we do with what we have is often the clearest intention of what we believe?

In what is most certainly the best-loved verse in the Bible, we are told that God “so loved the world that he gave His only Son….” God loves; He gives. And He gives what matters most — He gives of His very self.

If you are on the journey with God, then you are growing to look more like Him. And as you grow, I believe, like my friends who heard a sermon on giving that they couldn’t shake, you learn that giving is at the very heart of Christianity.

What would it look like if, among the world (the very world for whom God sent His Son), we as Christians weren’t known first as: judgmental, standoffish, or political — what if Christians all around the world were known first for our love? Well, how does that happen? It happens when we give. For loving and giving are inseparable.

On Sunday, I made the statement that a growing Christian and a generous Christian are the same thing. I really believe that. For if we have been changed by Christ, how can that not flow through us?

Christian Smith is a sociologist at Notre Dame University. He has been studying giving and generosity among Americans for five years or more. And he has found these remarkable facts:

  • only 3% of Americans give away 10% of their income (what we in the church-world call “the tithe”)
  • an overwhelming majority of folks (around 86%) give away less than 2%
  • and nearly 45% of Americans give away no money at all!

Perhaps even more striking about these numbers is this reality: Smith has found that those who are generous in their giving tend to have more purposeful and fulfilling lives. So, while Americans tend to think that fulfillment comes by what we get, it actually comes by what we give. In other words, that phrase that goes back to Jesus — “It is more blessed to give than receive” — is right. Imagine that!

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let’s truly live thankful lives. Let’s be deeply grateful for the grace and mercy of Jesus that changes us. Let’s be truly thankful for all that we are and all that we have. And then let’s make sure that our gratitude overflows into generosity.