This is third of three Peace Lutheran Stewardship sermons
Pastor Rolf Svanoe delivers a sermon that reminds us of giving the first fruits from God, for all that comes to us is what God has given to us. By giving the first fruits we are reminded that we are stewards of what God has given to us. The sermon gives great illustrations to applications of today's people.
Sermon by Stewardship Lesson # 3:
Give in Proportion to What God has Given You
Text: Proverbs 3:5-10
Author: Rev. Rolf Svanoe
I hope you all had a good Thanksgiving, a time to give thanks to God for the blessings of home and family. Perhaps you gathered at a table and stuffed yourself full of turkey. I know I had to let my belt out a notch. And, I see that everyone survived Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving and the traditional start to the Christmas shopping season. As I drove to work Friday morning, I wished I had a bumper sticker for my car that said, "I survived 41st and Louise." The traffic was horrendous, everyone out trying to find that illusive holiday deal. The news had reports of shoppers lining up at Best Buy as early as Wednesday afternoon. Spending Thanksgiving standing in line out in the cold for forty hours is not my idea of a good time. I suppose getting up early on Friday to go shopping with friends or family could become a fun holiday tradition. I know the storeowners really depend on this day to help put them in the black. That's why it's called "Black" Friday. The stores go from being in the red to being in the black.
With all this excessive spending around the holidays, perhaps it is good we are spending some time talking about money, and what the Bible says about it. Jesus warned about money and its seductive power over us. Jesus understood human nature and how the love of money can easily become more important to us than the love of God. Money and debt can become terrible masters that promise life, but only enslave us.
It is an interesting exercise to look through any checkbook and see where the money goes. In significant ways it reveals our priorities, the things we value and are important to us. Who are the gods in our life? At what altars do we worship? Our bank statements give us a window into our souls.
When money is spoken of, the Bible is quite clear where to begin. The first principle is that God owns everything. "The earth is the Lord's and everything in it" (Psalm 24:1). We may think we own something. It's our name on the title to that car, house or land. But in a real sense, we are only here for a little while and the things we "own" will someday belong to someone else. If you've lost a parent and had to divide up possessions and settle an estate, you know how true that is. We are stewards, managers for a little while of things that belong ultimately to God. That includes our possessions, our homes, our children, and even our bodies.
Friday I was at the hospital neo-natal ICU, visiting parents who had given birth to twins. Childbirth is a profound spiritual experience, for we realize what an awesome gift each human being is. What did we do to make that child? -- join an egg and a sperm together. God is the one who ultimately creates. Childbirth is an experience reminding us again that life is a gift from God, and we are here just a short while to care for what God has given us.
When Christians refer to money, we often think about how much we should give to God. The underlying assumption is that if we give part of our income to God, then the rest is ours to spend however we want. But if we begin with the principle that God owns everything, then the question is not "How much should we give to God?" The real issue is how we manage everything God has given us. "How much of what God has given me am I going to keep for my own needs?" We need to examine the spiritual implications of how we spend all our money, not just what we give to God.
Have you heard of Rev. Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping? Rev. Billy has a unique message. He tells Americans they are consuming themselves to death. He has taken two words -- shop and apocalypse -- and joined them together to form a new word -- shopocalypse. Clever, huh? "Shopocalypse" means that our culture is too materialistic, that we spend too much money and we buy the wrong things that won't give us life. Our credit card debt is killing us. We ignore the needs of the poor, and the impact of our consumption on the environment. Rev. Billy communicates that serious message in a hilarious way. He has taken his message to the streets and malls across the nation, even exorcising the demons out of the cash registers at a Victoria's Secret store. Do a Google or YouTube search for Rev Billy when you get home. He has an unorthodox way of conveying an orthodox message -- "Slowing down your consumption is a spiritual act." That message has been made into a documentary released this weekend in select cities around the country. It's called, "What Would Jesus Buy?" The movie examines our buying habits and the profound local and even global implications of our spending. Rev. Billy isn't a real minister; he's an actor turned activist, who is seriously funny. He makes us laugh at the same time we take a deeper look at our attitudes toward money. And, his message is every bit in harmony with the prophets of the Old Testament.
Our attitudes toward money really go to the core of who we are. Someone has said that the hardest conversion we all face is the conversion of our pocketbooks. Whether or not we are savers or spenders, the self is really at the center of our financial decisions. That's why Jesus spent so much time talking about money. There is a spiritual battle going on. In the book of Revelation the "mark of the beast" was all about buying and selling. Having the "666" on your forehead was a symbol for participating in the economy, earning and spending your money. And the question is, "Who will we follow -- God or the beast?" Will our spending habits reflect our faith in God, or our faith in the beast? In a real sense our checkbook is the battleground for a spiritual war taking place. So when you give a portion of your money away to the Church you win a spiritual victory. When you give to God instead of spending it all on yourself, you win a spiritual victory. When you limit your spending so you have something to give to the poor, you win a spiritual victory.
In the Bible at harvest time, farmers took the first and best of their fields and flocks to the temple. They gave a first fruits gift to God. Not many of us are farmers today. We do not harvest crops or raise cattle. Most of us receive our harvest in the form of a paycheck. And, when we receive that paycheck, we are faced with some decisions. As people of faith we see that paycheck as a blessing from God. But, how are we going to manage it? Where will we spend it? How much will we give away? Our reading from Proverbs encouraged those ancient farmers to give God the first fruits. "Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce." In other words don't wait to the end of the month to see how much you have left. Don't give God the leftovers- give God your substance, your first fruits. That was followed by a promise, "then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine." We don't have barns and vats for God to fill, but God has amazing ways to give to us when we are faithful. You could say to me, "Pastor, I can't afford to give," and I would say to you, "Maybe you can't afford not to give." Can you afford to miss God's blessing in your life? I'm not talking about getting into heaven, or whether or not God loves you. That's a given. I'm talking about missing God's blessing by our failure to give. When God's people wandered in the wilderness God provided for them -- they had morning manna and their shoes didn't wear out. When 5000 people were hungry, Jesus fed them with five loaves of bread and two fish. God can do miraculous things to meet our need when we trust him. That's why Proverbs tells us to "trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight." The author of the Message Bible puts it this way, "Trust God from the bottom of your heart; don't try to figure out everything on your own." You can't figure it out -- you can only trust in God's promise to provide.
Everything belongs to God, and God has been so good to us. We have so much to be thankful for. When I look at the abundance around us, I know that God is a first fruits giver. Please read this verse from 1 Corinthians with me. "But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who have died." God has given his first and his best in Jesus Christ. God is a first fruits giver to you. So let's trust God and give back first fruits to Him as a sign of our love and gratefulness. Let's take a look at our checkbooks and examine our priorities. Let's pray about and ask the Spirit to guide us in our spending decisions. Let's win those spiritual battles and participate in God's coming kingdom.
Rev. Rolf Svanoe is the Associate Pastor at Peace Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD.
Image credit: © Ignacio García Losa (ignaciogarcialosa.com) via Flickr. Used by permission.