|Freedom! | Free To Give|
|November 15, 2008|
Part 2 of 3 | November 16, 2008
Welcome to the second week of our series called Freedom! In this series, we’re talking about money. I’ve heard so many preachers who dance around this issue. They’re afraid to take it head on. They preach like they’re wimps, not like they’re men who are empowered by God.
That’s not how we operate here. The Word of God has some incredibly clear truth about money that we need to understand and apply in our lives. God is not ashamed to talk about money, so we’re not ashamed to talk about it, either. I’m going to preach what the Bible says about your checkbook, with no apologies and no fear.
In John 8, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32, NIV)
That’s why we’re not afraid to preach God’s truth about money here at Amelia. Because we believe that the truth of God has the power to set us free. Most of us don’t feel free when it comes to our finances. Instead of freedom, money issues make a lot of us feel like we’re in slavery. But God can change that through the truth of his Word. And that’s what we’re going to ask him to do today. Let’s pray.
Last week, God showed us how we can be free from debt. This week, he tells us that we can be free to give. That’s right. We’re talking about giving. If I seem like I’ve got a little extra swagger today, a little extra attitude, I do. Because I know that God has given me a Word that can change your life. It’s a Word that can set you free. So let’s go.
We’re going to spend some time in a book of the Bible that you may have never even heard of before. Even if you read your Bible a lot, I bet you don’t read this book very often. It’s the Old Testament book of Haggai.
This book contains the Word that God spoke through a prophet named Haggai. God gave Haggai a Word about money that rocked the Old Testament Israelites. And it rocked me this week as I studied it. And if you’re ready, it’s going to rock you. For those about to rock, we salute you.
Haggai chapter 1, pick it up in verse 2. “This is what the LORD Almighty says: “These people say, ‘The time has not yet come for the LORD’s house to be built.’” (Haggai 1:2, NIV)
The people of God were enslaved by the Babylonians during the 6th century BC. But God had brought his people out of their captivity, and some of them had returned to their homeland. During the siege of the Israelites, God’s temple had been destroyed. Now that some of the Israelites had returned home, they had committed to rebuild the temple…just not yet. The Israelites said, “Yeah, we’re going to rebuild God’s house. But it’s not time yet.”
Look at what the Bible says next. “Then the word of the LORD came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” (Haggai 1:3-4, NIV)
The Israelites had returned to their homeland, but they kept saying, “It’s not time to build the temple. It’s just not time to build God’s house yet.” But God knew what was really going on in their hearts. It wasn’t time to build God’s house because they were spending all their time focusing on themselves. Building their own houses took priority over building God’s house. They gave themselves the best part of their money and time and energy. God got whatever was leftover after that.
Listen to what Haggai says next. “Now this is what the LORD Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but have harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” (Haggai 1:5-6, NIV)
The Israelites were working hard to rebuild their lives. All their resources, every cent they had, went toward rebuilding their homes and their lives. But they didn’t set aside anything to rebuild God’s house. His needs were secondary to their needs.
God told his people, “Give careful thought to your ways.” In fact, he says that to his people five times in the little book of Haggai. Give careful thought to your ways. In other words, you’d better think about what you’re doing. Think about what’s going on in your life right now.
You’re working your tail off, but what are you getting in return for it? You plant a lot, but harvest a little. You earn money, but then it seems like you put it in a purse with holes in it. Your money is gone and you’re not even sure how it happened.
For some of you, I just described your financial life, didn’t I? For so many of us, things just aren’t working in our finances. We’re drowning in debt. We can’t ever get ahead. We dread to hear the phone ring because it’s probably a collection agency. We fight with our spouse about money all the time. Our stress level is off the chart.
That was happening to God’s people in the Old Testament and it’s still happening to God’s people today. Just like he told his people in Old Testament Israel, God is telling his people today, “Give careful thought to your ways. Give this some serious thought. What’s going on in your life? If things are a mess, think about why they’re a mess.”
For most of us, all this stuff is happening because we haven’t put God first in our finances. The Israelites hadn’t put God first. They were too busy worrying about their own needs to rebuild God’s temple. And because of that, God withheld his blessing from them. They worked hard, but kept falling further and further behind.
We need to understand that God still does the very same thing today. When we are selfish, God withholds his blessing.
The Bible tells us that by keeping more, you wind up with less. I know that doesn’t make sense. But this is Jesus economics. When we refuse to be generous and keep more for ourselves, we wind up with less.
That’s because the more we keep, the more our greed intensifies. And pretty soon, even though we’re keeping everything for ourselves, it’s not enough. The little selfish seed we planted in our heart grows into all out greed. And when we don’t have enough, we go into debt so that we can have more. And that starts a vicious downward cycle, until one day we wake up and we’re absolutely drowning in debt, all because of our own greed.
This Biblical truth has such a practical application. When you keep more, you wind up with less. God withholds his blessing from our lives. Our own greed takes over. And it’s not long until we find ourselves in slavery instead of financial freedom.
If you want to be financially free, you have to give. I know this doesn’t make sense to our culture. No econ professor is going to give you this advice: “The way to financial freedom is to give your money away.”
It sounds crazy…until you factor in the blessings of God. God rewards generosity. God punishes selfishness and greed. In his economic plan, when you keep more, you really will wind up with less.
Look at what he told the Israelites to do in Haggai. “This is what the LORD Almighty says: "Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build the house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored," says the LORD.” (Haggai 1:7-8, NIV)
God revealed the selfishness and greed in their hearts. Now, God is setting out a course correction for his people. Instead of keeping everything for themselves, it was time for them to put him first. He told them to go to the mountains and bring down the timber to rebuild his temple.
We have to understand that this was not going to be an easy venture. And it wasn’t going to be cheap, either. This was going to require the Israelites to give a lot of time, a lot of work, and yeah…a lot of money. God was calling for some big time sacrifices from his people. But sacrifice has always been and will always be part of following the Lord.
The Israelites found themselves under a financial curse from the Lord because they weren’t giving sacrificially to him. And a lot of us find ourselves in the very same boat.
When it comes to the American worldview, it’s hard to find a more foreign concept than the concept of sacrifice. We are trained and conditioned from the day we’re born to avoid sacrifice. But as God’s people, the calling on our lives is different.
Sacrifice is part of a Christ-follower’s DNA. It’s who we are. So does the word “sacrifice” accurately describe your life? If you’re not sure, let me give you some clues.
If you give more money to your cable or satellite provider than you do to God, that’s not sacrifice. Like Josh said in our interview last week, if General Motors is getting your tithe, that’s not sacrifice. If you just can’t give to God because you gave at the mall, that’s not sacrifice. If your kids are going to have a lavish, extravagant Christmas while God gets shafted, that’s not sacrifice.
The Bible says in Proverbs 3, “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops…” (Proverbs 3:9, NIV)
Notice that this isn’t worded as a suggestion. This is a command. Honor the Lord with your wealth. And catch this…with the FIRSTFRUITS of all your crops. Remember this was written in an agricultural context. Crops meant wealth, and God commanded his people to give him the firstfruits of their crops. In other words, God wants our first and our best.
If my cable or satellite company is getting more of my money than God is, I’m obviously not giving him my first and my best. And, according to the Bible, that goes deeper than just being selfish. It’s more than just not being sacrificial. If my television gets more money than my God, it is selfish. It is not sacrificial. And it is sinful. It’s a direct violation of a Biblical command, which means that it is a sin. If you’ve got a problem with that, take it up with God. He’s the one who wrote the book. I’m just reporting the facts.
For a lot of us, we’ve got some cuts to make. Some deep cuts. A lot of us have stretched ourselves so thin that we can’t give generously to God. That means something has to go. Some sacrifices have to be made. Strip down to basic cable. I promise that you’ll survive. We don’t even have standard cable at my house, and we’re still alive. Get rid of the internet. Sell a car. If you think that sounds crazy, then that means that we’re on the right track. Following Jesus means doing some crazy stuff. Anybody who thinks that being a disciple of Christ is safe and easy, you couldn’t be more wrong. It involves a crazy level of sacrifice.
Jesus himself said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” (Matthew 6:19-21, 24, NIV)
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. In other words, don’t tell me that God is the first priority in your life when he is not the first priority in your finances. Don’t give lip service to following Jesus when your checkbook says something very different. For some of us, Jesus is calling us out…big time.
He said that we can’t serve both God and money. If we’re going choose selfishness over sacrifice, then Jesus isn’t truly our Lord. We can’t call him our Lord until our giving reflects that.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that this is easy. If it was easy, it wouldn’t be called a sacrifice. This is incredibly tough stuff, but I want to show you something as we go back to the book of Haggai.
God commanded his people to stop their selfishness and make some serious sacrifices to get his temple rebuilt. Check this out.
The Bible says that, “The people obeyed the voice of the LORD their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the LORD their God had sent him. And the people feared the LORD.” (Haggai 1:12b, NIV)
The people obeyed God’s command to turn from selfishness to sacrifice. Look at what God says in the very next verse.
“Then Haggai, the LORD's messenger, gave this message of the LORD to the people: "I am with you," declares the LORD.” (Haggai 1:13, NIV)
God knows how tough it is to put him first in our finances. That’s why he promises that we’re not alone in this deal. If we faithfully commit to make sacrifices, if we give God the first and best of our income, it will not be easy. It might even be scary at times. But the Lord has promised if we will obey him in this, he will be with us.
We all know that the economic news in our country has not been good lately. And a lot of the signs that we’re seeing tell us that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. People are absolutely freaking out about the economic status of our country. And I don’t mean to minimize it. We are in uncertain times.
But the economic climate doesn’t change even one syllable of God’s Word. Keep in mind that God’s command to the Israelites in Haggai was given in much worse economic times than where we are today. But even though times were bad, he still commanded his people to sacrifice, to give him the first and best of their money.
Giving generously to God in our current economy is a really scary thought. But listen to God’s promise through the prophet Haggai again. “I will be with you.”
God is bigger than a sluggish economy. God is God over bear and bull markets. God supersedes any recession.
A lot of you already know that because you’re giving generously. I’ve read of so many churches in our country who are freezing staff salaries. They are slashing budgets by 30, 40, even 50% or more. The economic downturn has hit them very hard.
But I want to tell you that God has been so good to us at Amelia. Our giving is strong. It has never wavered. In fact, our leaders are putting the finishing touches on a 2009 budget that is bigger than this year’s. And that’s all because we have people here who give sacrificially. They trust God with their money, regardless of how good or bad the economy is.
And as your pastor, I can’t even begin to tell you how proud I am of our generosity. The faithfulness of our people just blows my mind. I thank God for every person here who sacrifices and gives God their very best. I’m sure there have been times when your generosity was scary, but God has been faithful to you, hasn’t he? God rewards obedience. Yes, sacrificial giving is scary…but God has promised that if we obey, he’s in this thing with us. And if God is with us, then there’s really nothing to fear. He can take better care of you than the stock market or the government or your 401k ever could.
Now, let’s go back to Haggai one more time. These verses blew my mind this week.
“The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” declares the LORD Almighty. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the LORD Almighty. “And in this place I will grant peace,” declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:8-9, NIV)
Think about what we just read. God said that our silver and our gold are his. Our money already belongs to God. So really, we’re not even talking about giving to God. We’re talking about returning the money to God that is already his.
In a very real sense, I can’t refer to anything as mine. Everything I have actually belongs to God. He’s just allowing me to manage it for a while. So when I don’t make sacrifices and give God’s money back to him, it’s not just selfishness. It’s stealing. I’m robbing God of what is already his. And when I do that, I shouldn’t be surprised if I find myself in financial chaos.
But now, check this out. Read these verses again. “The silver is mine and the gold is mine,” declares the LORD Almighty. “The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,” says the LORD Almighty. “And in this place I will grant peace,” declares the LORD Almighty.” (Haggai 2:8-9, NIV)
Our silver and gold already belong to God. And when we faithfully give back to him, he gives us a gift…peace.
I know we’re talking some heavy, scary stuff today. For some of you, the thought of giving sacrificially to God is enough to flat freak you out. But here is how God can set you free. If you will trust him and give generously, he will give you peace. That doesn’t mean it will be easy. That doesn’t mean you won’t have to adjust your lifestyle. You absolutely will. But when you make the sacrifices to give generously to God, he gives you a peace that I’ll bet is sorely lacking in your finances right now.
So what are we going to do? Here’s the challenge that God has laid on my heart. We are right on the cusp of the Christmas season. It might be the most wonderful time of the year. But in our culture, it can easily become the most selfish, materialistic time of the year.
Here’s the challenge that God is giving us. In a time of year that is so often characterized by greed, he is calling us to be generous. God is challenging all of us to step up and give a generous gift to his church. A gift that is beyond our normal giving. What amount are we talking about? I have no idea. That’s for you and God to decide together. But if it doesn’t hurt, if it isn’t a sacrifice, then it’s not enough.
This is going to look different from person to person. If you aren’t following the Biblical command to tithe, which means to give 10% of your income back to God, then step up to that challenge. Tithe for a week, two weeks, one month. Test God and see what happens.
Others of us are regular tithers. God is challenging us to bring a gift above and beyond our tithe. How much? Again, I don’t know.
What I do know that God is calling us to bring a special gift, above and beyond our normal giving, during this Christmas season. If there was ever a time of year when giving generously to God seems crazy, this is it. And that’s exactly why God is issuing the challenge to us. Do something crazy. Ask God what he wants you to give, and then give it. And see what he does in your life after you obey him.
If you’re new to Amelia, you may be wondering if you’ve just dropped in on another greedy church with a money-grubbing preacher. No have you not. We don’t talk about money all the time at Amelia. Ask anybody here and they’ll tell you that. But when we do talk about it, we do it with no shame and no fear because it’s God’s Word doing the talking. God has called his people to make sacrifices. To live on less so that they can give more.
Some of us have been selfish for far too long. We haven’t been giving God what’s rightfully his. And it’s time to make some serious changes. God is calling on every one of us to step up and bring a generous gift to him, above and beyond our normal giving.
And let’s not forget who is calling us to do this. God, who is the ultimate giver. God gave us a lavish, extravagant gift when he gave us his Son. Jesus gave everything he had. He gave up his life for ours. The God who is calling you to give has already given you everything he has. What are you going to give back to him?
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