Rev. Dr. Jeff Powell
II Corinthians 9: 6-15, I Timothy 6: 17-19
Today I want to look at "Living Generously." How do we do that? Today's message is a little different. You will notice that there is an outline in your bulletin. I want you all to take out a pen or pencil now and fill in the blank areas in the outline as we go along. This is a teaching sermon. I am indebted to Pastor Rick Warren from the United States for this outline and message. I met Rick in 1990 when his congregation, Saddleback Church, met in a High School gymnasium. Since then he wrote "The Purpose Driven Life" that you may have heard about or read. I have been impressed with his biblical insights and practices. He started by giving a tithe (10%) to the Lord, through the ministry of the church. With the success of his book he now gives a "Reverse Tithe" to the church. He gives 90% to the Lord and keeps 10% for the needs of his family.
Let's see what Rick has to say and then I will give personal words to you on how we can apply these teaching at the American Church in Paris. Let's read out loud together Acts 20:35 from the Good News version of the Bible, as it is printed on the top of your outline.: "remembering the Lord Jesus himself said, "There is more happiness in giving than receiving." Do you really believe that? "There is more happiness in giving than receiving." Happiness is based on living generously. Let me give you some key words out of the Bible. The word believe or believing or believer is used 272 times. Would you write that down please. 272 Pray, praying or prayer is used 371 times. The word love, loves, lover, loving is used 714 times and give and giving is used 2,162 times. So my question is, where does the Bible put the most emphasis? That's kind of obvious—on giving. The Bible is a book about giving. It's not something that's tacked onto the Christian life; it is the essence of Christian living.
Jesus was the ultimate giver. The Bible says, "Give and it will be given to you, for with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." Give and it will be given. We've all heard that. My question is, All right, what will I get back?
Seven things that I will get back, very briefly. I'm going to go through them. I won't talk a whole lot about them. Then, Seven Benefits to Becoming a Generous Person.
Number 1: Giving makes me more like God. God is a giver. The Bible says, "For God so loved the world that he (what?) gave His only Son." Everything you have is a gift from God. You can give without loving, but you cannot love without giving. To be like God, you've got to become a giver. When you fall in love you want to give to your beloved. If you're going to be like God and God is a giver, then you're going to learn to become a giver.
Number 2: Giving draws me closer to God. The Bible says, "where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Now, where is your heart this morning? Wherever your treasure is. It can be in a home, business, your clothes, your family, your career, your children. Where your treasure is, there is your heart. When I give to God it moves me a little bit closer to God. Because that's where your treasure is. God is more interested in making disciples that in raising money.
Number 3: Giving is a victory over materialism. There is a lie that you see on television or the internet or reading magazines that says, "Happiness can be purchased." If I can only get a certain thing, then I will be happy. And we get more and more and more. You know, if that were true then the people with the most would be the most happy. But that's not true, is it? You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give. And every time I give it breaks the grip of materialism that I've got to have more. It's the only antidote for materialism. The Bible says, "Command those who are rich (that's all of use living in developed countries) not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who really provides us with everything for our enjoyment." You see, it's not wrong to enjoy nice things. The Bible says that God gives us everything for our enjoyment. But God doesn't give it so that we can spend it upon ourselves. God says, "Command them to be generous and willing to share, in this way...they may take hold of the life that is truly life." You make a life by giving. I like what John Taylor says in his book "Enough is Enough" Every Christian family ought to adopt as its slogan every time it sees an advertisement of television or on a billboard on the street, "Who are you joking?" As a family we ought to stand up and shout that out in unison, "Who are you joking?" If you just buy this toothpaste you'll be sexy. If you just get this deodorant, you'll be successful. If you just buy this product life will be easy.
Who are you joking? Giving is an antidote to materialism. It teaches us to give away. Look at Deuteronomy 14:23. The purpose of tithing is to teach you always put God first in your lives. "Set aside a tithe ( a 10th of all)... so that you may honor the Lord your God." Tithing is a values clarification exercise indicating what is number 1 in your life.
Number 4: Giving strengthens my faith. God uses money to test our faith. God uses material things to strengthen our faith. God says in Malachi, test me , try me, prove me. In Malachi 3:10 God says, "I dare you to see if I won't bless you more." Do you want to prove there is a God. The Bible says there is one way to prove there is a God through giving. Not the theological or philosophical arguments for the existence of God or Aquinas's moral reproof, or Kant. There is only one argument for God in the Bible. The Bible says, you give and see if God won't bless you back. God says, "I dare you, test me on this." You give and see if God won't bless you back. God says, "I dare you, test me in this. See if I don't throw open the floodgates of heaven so you won't be able to bear it." Giving strengthens my faith. See, there are many promises in the Bible and there are many more promises regarding giving, than any other promises. With every promise there is a premise. God says, "you give and I'll give to you." We say, "You give to me and then I'll give." We often say, "You bless me, then I'll give." God says, no, you give first, you prime the pump. You give first because that requires faith. Giving tests my faith and strengthens it. Look at Proverbs 3: 5-6. "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. Honor the Lord by giving Him the first part of all your income and he will fill your barns to overflowing." That's a promise of God.
Number 5: Giving is an investment for eternity. You have heard it said that you can't take it with you. I don't think anyone here has seen a funeral hearse pulling a trailer full of goods. You can't take it with you, but you can send it on ahead. And you send it on ahead by investing it in the people who are going there. Every time you give, it's an eternal investment. Jesus said, "store up treasures in heaven." How do you do that? Paul tells us in I Timothy 6:18-19, "Be generous and ready to share with others, in this way they will store up for themselves a treasure which will be a solid foundation for the future. That's the only safe investment for eternity." That's a protected investment that gets a great return. God says every time I give it's an investment into the future.
Number 6: Giving blesses me in return. I always get more out of it than I give. Proverbs 22:9 says, "Generous people will (what?) themselves be blessed. A righteous person will be remembered (how long?) forever." Some years ago Stephen Covey wrote a classic book entitled 'The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People." It's an excellent book that I still recommend. Habit #2 is titled "Begin With the End in Mind." He asks this question, for what do you want to be remembered? And let me ask you, when you die, for what do you want to be remembered? Calvin Coolidge a former US president known for his few words said, "No man is ever honored for what he received in life. He's only honored for what he gave." We aren't honored for what we get out of life. Lots of people amass a big fortune. We're honored for what we give. Today is Mother's Day in the USA. Mothers, when you die will your children say, my mother was a generous mother? If she had it she gave it. She was a generous mom. Fathers, when you die will your children say my father was a generous man with his time , with his money, with his energy? My father was a generous man. The Bible says we are blessed in return when we are generous with others. Look at this next verse. "be generous and you will be prosperous. Help others and you will be helped." Have you learned this secret? Have you learned the secret that whatever you give out in this life will come back? If you give out criticism- what will you get back? Criticism. If you give out gossip—What will you get back about yourself? Gossip. If you give out encouragement you'll get back encouragement. It is a law of life that what we sow we reap. What we reap is what we sow. And the more we give away: the more we get back in blessings of some kind. It makes good sense.
Giving: It makes us like God. It draws us closer to God. It's an antidote to materialism. It helps us focus our priorities and put first things first. It blesses us in return. And it is an investment for eternity.
Number 7: Giving makes me happy. It is the source of joy. Remember the opening text. Jesus says there is more happiness in giving than receiving. God has taught me to be a giver. It is my nature to be selfish. I don't know about you, but it's my nature to be selfish. God is teaching me to be a giver—you know why? Because it feels so good to give. It feels good. And people who don't know that are people who have never done it. Have you ever heard of anyone who said, "Give till it hurts?" Nobody gives till it hurts. They give because it feels good. Because it is a source of joy. God wants us to enjoy being a generous person. The happiest people in life are givers. Our quote "For Reflection" in our bulletin this morning is from Sir John Templeton, chairman of the Templeton Funds , and founder of the Templeton Prize , which is larger than the Noble Prize. He says, "I have observed 100,000 families over my years in investment counseling. I always saw greater prosperity and happiness among those families who tithed than those who didn't."
There are only two types of people in life. There are the takers and there are the givers. And the happy people are generous with their lives. Jesus said, lose your life to find it - give it away. The word miserable comes from the root miser. The more I hold onto what I've got , the more miserable I become. The people who are generous in their lifestyle are happy. The late Karl Menninger of the Menninger Clinic in Minnesota said, "Giving is a good criterion of mental health Generous people are rarely mentally ill." Isn't that interesting. Look at I Corinthians 29:9 "The people rejoiced because they had given freely, wholeheartedly to the Lord and they also rejoiced greatly."
Do you know why we have a happy church? Because this is a giving church. People at ACP give their skills, time, and energy to the ministries of this church. But, I believe that there is room to grow in our financial commitment to the church. There is more joy to be had. Since financial giving is so important to the Christian I want to give some tips on how to get the most out of giving. Which is subtitled in you outline, "How to Enjoy an Offering." I Chronicles 29 is the story on how everyone gave to build the temple in Jerusalem. So this gives us a model. God wants you and your attitude more than an amount of money. Here are five ways to get the most out of giving.
Number 1: Give willingly. Look at verse I Chron. 29:5 David said, "I've given all these things, now who is willing to consecrate himself to the Lord." Over in verse 17 we hear, "I know my God ,that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity and all these things I have given willingly and with honest intent and I've seen the joy your people have given to you." David is saying that giving is a matter of willingness and not wealth. It's an attitude and not an amount. Look at your outline at II Corinthians 8:12. "For if the willingness is there, your gift is acceptable according to what you have and not according to what you don't have." Not equal gift but equal sacrifice. It's the willingness that makes the difference. Look at the next verse. "Each one of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion." God does not believe in pressure giving. Give thoughtfully.
Number 2: Give generously. Look at verse 2, "... with all my resources I provided for the temple and I didn't hold anything back." I provided for the temple. Verse three states, "I gave over and above." Verse 14 states, "Who am I and my people that we are to give so generously?" Look at II Corinthians 8:3-4 , " They gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in the service to the saints." These people are begging God to take an offering. Please take an offering.
Number 3: Give joyfully. God is concerned about your attitude. II Cor. 9:7 says , "God loves a cheerful giver." It would be easy to avoid speaking on giving but when I saw how the Bible speaks about giving more than prayer or belief. It is important to speak out. It says they were joyful givers. The offering was not the low point of the service. It was the high point. In summary, we have considered a willing giver, a generous giver and a joyful giver.
Number 4: Give thankfully. Lord, we give you thanks. How can I repay the Lord for his goodness to me? Everything comes from you and we have only given you what comes from your hand. It is a privilege to have material blessings. With privilege comes responsibility. "How can I repay the Lord for all his goodness to me?" Giving is an opportunity to give back to God. You do that every time you give a gift.
Number 5: Give Expectantly. You can't out give God. Look at II Cor. 9:6 'Remember this, whoever sows sparingly will always reap sparingly; and whoever sows generously will reap generously." This is just a principle of farming. The amount of seed the farmer scatters determines the harvest. That's the biblical principle. So the question becomes, how big a harvest do I want? How big a harvest do you want? Giving is not a debt that I owe but it is a seed that I sow. It is not an obligation, but an opportunity to build our faith. When I sit down to do my budget and set aside my tithe when I know it could be used to pay for other things , it is a test of my faith. So I give expectantly. What's the starting point? Let's look at the last verse II Corinthians 8:5. "They first gave themselves to the Lord." God doesn't need money. God wants what it represents. You. All your time, energy, efforts and money. I'm yours. It all belongs to you, God. That's what it's all about.
You may be wondering, "How does this teaching apply to me today?" Christian stewardship is a lot more than funding a church budget. It's more than that, but not less than that. When church members are generous givers church budgets seem to take care of themselves. One of my jobs as a visiting pastor is to come from outside this congregation and offer my insights, experiences and skills in service to Christ's ministry here. To be perfectly candid with you, there is a big challenge that this congregation is facing today.
There is a big gap between the present giving level of ACP members and the budget needs for 2015. The wedding ministry has been subsidizing the ministry here for some years and we have become complacent in our giving . Now that the number of wedding blessings have dropped drastically for a number of reasons, we need to step-up our personal giving. That presents us with the opportunity to grow in our personal, financial stewardship. As an old preacher that I know used to say, "I have good news and bad news for you today. The good news is that there is enough money in this room right now to fund the church budget this year. The bad news is that the money is still in your wallets and purses."
Now, as a spiritual discipline, I encourage people to tithe their household incomes and to give a generous portion of their tithe, their 10%, une dime en Francais -- to give it to their local congregation. Now if I asked everyone here to begin tithing, giving 10% today to ACP, I think that many of you would find that hard to swallow. Someone once asked, "How do you eat an elephant?" The answer is "one bite at a time." So what would a bite-sized challenge be for us today? I challenge you to increase your giving to the American Church in Paris by just 1% of your household income.
I did a little research on my computer and found out that the median household income for a family in Paris is 36,085 Euros. Half the people make less than that amount and half the people make more. Now at ACP I think that there are a good number of people who probably make more so that is a plus. Jean-Michel, our accountant, gave me only numbers, no names, showing that there are 252 donors of record, 252 giving units or households who receive donation reporting for their taxes. Now there a lot more people who contribute to the offering, but are not givers of record. I am speaking to everyone now, however you give. The median donation to ACP is only 353 Euros in a year. Equal number of persons give above and below that number. If we take the 36,085 Euros median income, the donation of 353 Euros a year is less than 1% of household income. That is not a tithe: it is only 1/10 of a tithe. I believe we can do better than that. If we gave everyone the median income for Paris of 36,000 Euros, a 1% increase in giving in 2015 by the 252 households would produce 90,720 Euros and cover our projected deficit for 2015 with some left over. If everyone here joins the givers of record and increases their contribution to ACP by 1% of income we will have real surplus to fund the Lord's work here. What I am asking is for everyone to step up 1% in giving. If you are giving 1% of income then move to 2% , or if you are giving 6% then move to 7% or if you are already giving 10% to increase that to 11%. The ultimate goal should be to grow towards a tithe and beyond. That is an increase of giving that amounts to about one euro a day, less than a cup of expresso coffee. A 360 Euros increase this year. Most people here can do that.
There is definitely room for growth in our financial giving to ACP. So I invite you to take the challenge "1% more for Christ in 2015".
Let us pray.