Tag Archives: stewardship

What the Bible teaches about how much you should give (or How to beat donor fatigue in a world that asks a lot)

17 May

Image result for cure for donor fatigue

Donor fatigue is real. Do you feel it?  Are you tired of all the people and organizations asking you to support them?  Last week I introduced the issue of donor fatigue by saying that in our culture, where money is tight for so many, it can be hard to be generous.  When all of the asking piles up, it feels frustrating and exhausting.  But since Jesus calls us to be generous people, how do we avoid donor fatigue?

This past Sunday we looked at the final section of 1st Timothy, chapter 6, verses 17-21, and there Paul talks about generosity.  In verse 18 he gives four important commands:

  1. Do good
  2. Be rich in good deeds
  3. Be generous
  4. Be willing to share

In other words, be like Amazon.  Amazon specializes in distribution.  I’ve been astounded at how fast Amazon can get purchases to me.  If you have an Amazon Prime subscription, you get your products in two days.  And shipping is free!  We need to see ourselves as distributors of God’s resources.

Those of you who are rich financially, Paul says, should be known not because you have a lot of money, you should be known for your generosity.  There is nothing wrong with having a lot of money.  Paul never says money or having money or making money is wrong.  Back up a few weeks and we saw that it is the love of money that is the problem.  But money itself is neutral.

No doubt, Paul is saying that those who have a lot of money, those who are rich, need to be exceedingly careful because they can become arrogant.  So those of you who have money, see yourselves as distributors.  God has given you the ability to make money, or maybe you were born into money, so you can be a distributor!

When our hearts are so full of the joy of the Lord, when we know that God is faithful to keep his promises, we can see ourselves as distributors of God’s resources.  That is what honors God.

Paul’s teaching about generosity is something he would refer to in other letters as well.  Probably the best place to read a full treatment of what Paul had to say about generosity is found in 2 Corinthians 8-9. I would encourage you to make a note of that and read it this week.

He is especially focused in 2 Cor. 9:6-15.  In verse 10-11 he says, “You will be made rich… so that you can be generous!”  We are distributors of God’s resources.

You can sum up Paul’s teaching of giving in four words:  consistent (1 Cor. 16:1-4), joyful (2 Cor. 9:6-15), sacrificial (2 Cor. 8:1-15), generosity (2 Cor 9:6-15; 1 Tim. 6:17-21).

You know what word is not in any of these passages?  Tithing.  Do you know what tithing is?  It is when you give 10% of your income to the Lord.  This word is in the Old Testament frequently.  In fact, Israel was commanded by God to give three different tithes.   Two of them were annual, and one was every third year, amounting to about 23% of their income given to the Lord every year.  But the purpose of those tithes included caring for the Levites and other causes that were very similar to our taxation system.

But what about Jesus and the apostles?  There is some debate about this.  I have read authors who make a case that tithing should be binding on all Christians.  I am not convinced with their argument.  If Paul believed that Christians should tithe, he had ample opportunity in 2 Corinthians 8-9 or 1 Timothy 6:17-21 to say that.  He doesn’t.  In fact, if tithing was so important for the church, it really is strange that Paul didn’t mention it.  My conclusion is that tithing is not binding on Christians.

It is not wrong to give 10%, but quite frankly for some of you, 10% is not nearly enough.  You could give a lot more.  And maybe you should.  For others of you, it is OK if you give less.  The question that we need to answer is “How much money should I give to the Lord?”  And a second question as a follow-up, “To whom should I give that money?”

Let’s try to answer the first question: How much should I give?  The principle is this:  Give with consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.

I have heard people say “I can’t give,” or “I can’t increase my giving.”  But let me ask: when we think that we can’t give, are we really saying: “I can’t give because I have to support my lifestyle first, and there is nothing left.”?

That’s why back in 1 Timothy 6, Paul has something important to remind the people of in verse 19: “Lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age.” Doesn’t that sound a lot like Jesus talking about storing up treasure in heaven?

How do we invest in heaven?

Paul goes on to say that we “Take hold of life that is truly life.”  What is the life that is truly life?  We talked about this last week when Paul said something very similar: “Take hold of eternal life.”

It is a life of trust in God.  We think, and our culture certainly tries to convince us, that the good life is life that money can provide. But what about God’s life? Living God’s life?  Being filled with the Holy Spirit, transformed, with the fruit of the Spirit flowing out of us?  That is truly life, living eternal life now. So how we do take hold of that now?  It is a life of consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.  But what does it look like?

We need examples of people who live out consistent joyful sacrificial generosity.  One is a guy named R. G. Letourneau.  He was famous for creating a company that built earth-moving machines.  He was a committed disciple of Jesus, and as his business and wealth grew, he decided to practice a reverse tithe.  For him, the answer to the question “How much should I give God?” was 90%.  His story is in the book The Treasure Principle, which I encourage you to read for more examples of generous people.  Those people show us that it is possible to live a life of consistent joyful sacrificial generosity.

Letourneau is a wonderful example of the phrase “God loves a cheerful giver!”  There is a massive joy in radical sacrificial generosity.

I have been so impressed with how Faith Church has practiced consistent joyful sacrificial generosity. We had a fundraising breakfast a few weeks ago.  It benefited one of our Faith Church families that has had significant medical concerns.  It was amazing.  Delicious food, great conversations, and it brought in thousands of dollars to show love to that family.  That was some joyful generosity!

So I am not going to answer the question “How much should I give?” with a dollar amount or a percentage.  Instead, when you try to answer the question “How much should I give?” I encourage you to take that question to the Lord in prayer.  I ask you to present your income and your expenses to the Lord in prayer.  See what he would have you do.  And in prayer to the Lord, ask him this: “Lord, how can a I move more in the direction of consistent, joyful sacrificial generosity?”

One last thought on that joyful part of giving.  So often giving a regular weekly offering, or giving a monthly contribution can seem compulsory.  Do you ever feel like that?  Do you ever daydream about how you could use that charitable donation for new gadgets or entertainment?  If so, join the club.  How then, can our charitable giving be joyful?  When you see the value of what you are giving towards, it fills you with joy.  It is the mission of God’s Kingdom, especially through your local church.  When you know you are depending on God by giving generously, it fills you with joy!

The second question is “Who should I give to?”  When you are bombarded with requests, this is a hard one to answer.  I wish it were as easy as “give 10% to the church, and then give generously on top of that as God blesses you.”  But the New Testament teaching is consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.  But who do you give to?  Let’s take a look at a few practical options.

Our church family has decided that we would like to operate using a budget.  Every year at our congregational meeting we vote on that budget, and throughout the year that budget guides our spending.  We plan a budget that asks each family to give about 6.3%, based on average local incomes. When we vote on the budget, we are making a commitment together as a church family that we will give enough to fully fund that budget.

There are plenty of other ways to give, as I mentioned at the beginning of the sermon.  Give to missionaries, to local social services, or those working in international justice and relief.  But donor fatigue is real.  None of us can give to every cause that asks us, and frankly none of us can give to all those we want to give to, let alone all those that ask.

So remember the cheerful part.  It is so easy to feel guilty about giving, like we are not giving enough, like we are disappointing people or God.  But instead I encourage you to be joyful and cheerful about giving what you can.  Of you money, your time, and of your abilities.  How can you cheerfully, joyfully, avoid donor fatigue?  Tend your heart.  God is most of all concerned about your heart!

Take a look at closing comments Paul gives in verses 20-21: “Timothy!  Pay close attention to what I have said in this letter.”  Paul was a mentor to Timothy.  That principle of mentorship is very important.  As we think about finances, do you have a spiritual budget coach?  I urge you to be humble and ask for help if money is struggle for you.  We often view money as deeply personal, as if no one should know how much we make or how we spend it.  Instead, I urge you to open the doors to that area of your life.  Invite financial accountability.

This is a sermon that I struggled with preaching.  How should a preacher preach about money?  I don’t want people to walk away from the sermon just hearing “Joel’s asking for us to give more money to the church.”  Please hear my heart in this.  I know money is a struggle.  I know the feeling of getting a letter from the bank saying that you overdrew your account.  I’ve been there, many times.  It’s embarrassing and humiliating, especially when they charge you fees.  But I urge you to trust in God to provide as you give, using the principle of consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.

For some of you, I urge you to consider how you can re-evaluate your spending.  What can you do to live more simply so you can pay off debt?  Perhaps one of the most spiritual, sacrificial things you can do is reduce your expenses so you can pay off debt faster, and thus put yourself in a position to be more generous faster.

Remember that behind it all is our heart’s desire.  The principle is consistent, joyful, sacrificial generosity.  Obviously, Paul is saying to Timothy that people should give of their finances to the work of the Lord.

But they should be generous is other ways too.  In good deeds.  Generosity is a lifestyle.  It is not just about how much money you give to the church.  Are you a generous person with your money, with your talents, with your time, with your abilities?

You don’t have to be a millionaire to be generous.  All of us can be consistent, joyful, sacrificial generous people, with the three Ts: our time, our talent, our treasure.  So I urge you to place all that before God, and say “Here I am, Lord, all of me.”

Do you feel you’re being asked to give too much, too often?

12 May

How many of you are living paycheck to paycheck?

What do I mean by “paycheck to paycheck”?  What I mean is that you need that paycheck to keep coming in order to pay your bills.  If you don’t get that paycheck, you won’t be able to pay bills, buy groceries, etc.  Does that describe your family?  If so, your answer is “Yes” to that question.

But if you have enough savings where you can live for at least a month or more without any income, without working, without unemployment, then you would answer “no” that you are not living paycheck to paycheck.

My intent is not to shame anyone.  I know in our society there is a goal, a dream, that we should build up savings accounts and become financially independent.  But the reality is that for many of us finances can be such a struggle.

Those of you who are younger families, life is expensive with all the sports, and lots of bills, school loans, groceries, health insurance, car loans, rent or mortgages, and credit cards.

If you are an older family you might have a fixed income, lots of health bills, and life might be expensive for you too.

The reality is that we live in an amazingly prosperous society, but most people don’t feel prosperous.  Instead, for most of us, finances stress us out.  Do finances stress you out?  My hand is raised for that one.  I hate money.  I work hard to earn it, and it seems like it is gone just as fast as it comes in.

You know what that means?  When money feels tight, it is hard to be generous.

Not to mention how many people and organizations are asking for money: the sports booster club, the fire company, the fraternal order of police, the politicians, the non-profits like the Boy Scouts and local social services organizations.

And then there is the church asking you to give to mission trips, fundraisers, missionaries, the weekly regular offering, and more.

Let’s just admit it.  We churches ask a lot.  Last week at Faith Church it struck me that on one weekend we asked our church family to bring donations for the youth group Chicken BBQ, then to purchase Chicken BBQ, then to give a regular offering on Sunday morning, then to give over and above offering to the Capital campaign, and then at the end of the worship service, we asked yet again, when took up our monthly special offering for missionaries.

Frankly, as I read this, it’s embarrassing.  Essentially, last weekend we asked the family of Faith Church to give to five different needs. I’m tired of fundraising.  Are you?

We live in a day and age where so much is asked of us.  We are tired of all the requests.  We wish we could give more, and we feel guilty that we can’t.  Have you felt like that?  It is called donor fatigue, and it is real.  Has donor fatigue crept into your heart and mind?

This Sunday we finish our study through 1st Timothy, looking at what Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:17-21.  He has some important words to say to those of us experiencing donor fatigue.  We invite you to join us at Faith Church this Sunday May 14, 2017 as we are going to talk about how we should view generosity in a world where finances are a struggle and many of us have a bad case of donor fatigue.

Unraveling Jesus’ most confusing parable (the Shrewd Steward…and how it matters) – Luke 16:1-15

18 Jan

Would Jesus teach his disciples to do something evil?  Specifically, did he say “Use your money to buy friends?”  It seems so, as I mentioned last week.  Yet, we know Jesus, and it’s pretty clear that he wouldn’t teach his disciples to do something so wrong.  So it is surprising when we read this in Luke 16:9: “Use your worldly wealth to gain friends.”  And that comes after he has told a parable that seems to make a hero out of a wasteful, dishonest, sneaky guy, telling his disciples to be like that guy.  What is going on here?  We have to do a little digging.  That means we need to try to discover the background of this story.  We’ll try to unravel what some have called the most confusing and problematic of Jesus’ parables.

Scholar Kenneth Bailey tells us that “the most probable cultural setting for the parable is that of a landed estate with a steward who had authority to carry out the business of the estate. The debtors were most likely renters who had agreed to pay a fixed amount of produce for the yearly rent.  The steward was a salaried official who managed the accounts. The master was a man of noble character respected in the community who cared enough about his own wealth to fire a wasteful steward.”

Now that we know the setting, let’s take a look at the story itself:

The rich landowner has been hearing bad reports about his steward, so he calls him in and tells him this.

The steward is silent. No response. How much does the master know? The steward manger figures silence is best.

Then the master fires the steward on the spot saying: “You cannot be steward any longer. Hand over the books.” What is amazingly missing here is that there is no argument, no backtalk, nothing from the steward. He still remains silent. He knows he is caught. There is nothing to say.

Scholars tell us, though, that while his legal authority as his master’s agent is canceled, at the same time his dismissal is in progress. He still has some time to cook the books because word of his dismissal has not gotten around to the renters.

As he is on his way getting the books, he converses to himself, and he concocts a plan. He knows he is guilty, he knows his master knows he is guilty, but he also realizes something very important that is lost on us culturally. Or maybe not, if you think about it: the steward realizes that his master is NOT throwing him in jail.

That’s huge. He is fired. But the master is not bringing up charges against him, and the steward knows that master could do so if he wanted. The master is gracious though. The master doesn’t even scold the unjust steward! The master is merciful in his firing.

The crowd listening to Jesus that day, says Bailey, would have intuitively picked up on some things that were culturally significant about the master. First, the master expected obedience and he acts in judgment on the disobedient servant. That was normal. Second, and this is what is astounding in the parable, the master is incredibly gracious and merciful to the servant, though the servant was dishonest.

So the steward starts thinking to himself, what should he do? Digging (manual labor) or begging are both socially unacceptable for an educated man in authority like he was, and culturally we would expect him to reject both options out of hand. Surprisingly he actually considers digging, but feels he is not strong enough.

There’s more here, Bailey tells us, than the steward trying to line up his next meal. The people in the crowd that day would have realized that the steward is in a terrible cultural predicament. To be fired for wasting his master’s property would be shameful, it would give him an awful public image in the community.

Here’s where Bailey’s observations get really interesting. He says “The steward’s plan is to risk everything on the quality of mercy he has already experienced from his master. If he fails, the steward will certainly go to jail. If he succeeds, he will be a hero in the community….and the key to his plan is that no one in the community yet knows that he has been fired. They will find out soon enough, so he has to act quickly.”

In verse 5 we see that the word of his firing has not spread because this steward still has authority to summon the debtors to come see him. If they knew the steward had been fired, they would not have come. They would say “You’ve been fired, buddy; I’m not doing business with you anymore. You have no authority.”

But they do come in. And take notice of the word “quickly” in verse 6. The steward wants this process to move along fast. He knows he has only a short amount of time before his master or the renters find out what is going on. He knows that he has already been fired, he has already lost his authority, and what he is doing is wrong. But the renters have no idea.

The steward is really taking pains to lead them on in verse 5 when he asks the renter, “How much do you owe MY master?” Since the steward has been fired, the master is no longer HIS master. The steward is being dishonest to the renters.

Also, because of the cultural significance of community, the relationship between the master and his renters would have been a very close one. If those renters suspected that the steward was doing something illegal, they would never have risked getting in bad blood with the master landowner. So the result is that the renters believed what was going on here was an arrangement that the master was fully aware and approving of.

One more cultural point about this: the bills are not due, that is clear. The reductions are coming out of the blue, before the bills are due. Bailey notes that a steward like this would have been in the fields regularly, seeing the conditions which could have included lack of rain, insects, or hot sun, which would adversely affect production. So he could easily tell the debtors that he talked with the owner and got their bills reduced. He is like a factory foreman that arranges a Christmas bonus for his workers, and gets praised.

Bailey summarizes the cultural situation by saying: “the steward openly asserts that he still has authority. The debtors assume that the reductions are authorized; otherwise they would not cooperate. The steward quietly lets the debtors know that he has arranged for the reductions. With these assumptions all the cultural elements fall easily into place.”

The debtors each get huge reductions. With the bills adjusted, he now delivers the books to his master as requested in verse 2.

Do you know what the master is thinking when he reads these adjusted numbers? Is he angry? It seems he would be. He just lost loads of income on these contracts. How do you think your boss would react if he lost 50% on one contract and 20% on another? But amazingly, this master is not angry.

He is thinking “Well played, steward, well played.”

You know why? Bailey tells us that we need to think about the community. Again, this is why community and the social ramifications are so important to understanding this story.  Imagine the reaction in the community that by this time has already started as the word of what just happened spreads. One renter just got 50% off, and the other 20% off. We’re talking huge amounts. Their personal profits this year are going to be 50% and 20% more. Imagine getting that kind of raise! You would be on the phone to your wife in a flash.

And remember that it was almost certain that the steward led the renters to believe he had authority from the master to dole out these raises. The renters would be applauding this landowner like you would not believe. Their wives would be ecstatic. Their kids would be rejoicing. Christmas was going to be awesome this year. These are peasants who were struggling all the time to make ends meet, and they just got what might have been the best financial news of their lives. The whole community would be in party mode, and they all would be thinking their master’s generosity was wonderful.

Let’s imagine the two main options the master has at this point:

First, he could stop the party and say “This was all an unfortunate mistake,” explain that the steward was actually fired, that he had no authority to make the reductions, and revert the bills back to their full amounts. But you and I know exactly how the community would respond if he did that.

There was an episode of The Office where that very thing happened. The boss, Michael, led the whole office to believe that they were getting $1000 bonuses. The place erupted. People got on the phone. Told their wives. Started planning vacations. Made purchases. Michael was the hero. But it was all a lie. He lets some time go by and tells them he was just teaching Dwight how to give an influential speech, and once they get over their disbelief, their loathing of him runs deep.

In other words, the master would be stupid to choose this option.

Second, he could accept the losses, and receive the praise that is being given to him. He has already shown his generosity in how he treated the wasteful steward, by not jailing him, and so he chooses this option, and says to the steward “you were shrewd.”

Do you see what happened? The steward risked everything on the master’s generous reputation, and his risk paid off!

To the Eastern listener and reader, Bailey tells us, the steward is a hero. This is a David vs. Goliath kind of story. We love that.  What would have been strange to the Eastern listener, to the people in the crowd that day, was that Jesus calls the steward dishonest. In verse 8 he also contrasts the actions of the steward with the people of light, thus equating the steward’s actions with darkness!  We Westerners are surprised at Jesus for putting a dishonest man in the role of hero. But Easterners are surprised at Jesus for calling him dishonest at all!

Bailey says this is very much like one of Jesus’ “How much more” parables. In this case it could be said that his teaching in this parable is “if this dishonest steward solved his problem by relying on the mercy of his master to solve his crisis, how much more will God help you in your crisis when you trust his mercy.”

Before we get too far in the meaning of the parable, though, there is a word in verse 8 we really need to look closely at: shrewd.

We tend to look at shrewd with a negative bent. But this word could be understood more positively, using the word wisdom. So we could understand Jesus as teaching that the steward is praised for his wisdom, Bailey tells us. The steward is sensitive to the hopelessness of his own situation. He is aware of the one source of his salvation, namely, the generosity of his master.  He is praised for his wisdom in knowing where his salvation lay, not for his dishonesty.

This brings us to the second half of verse 8 and the verses following.

In verse 8b Jesus uses shrewd again. If we take the meaning of the parable, that of praising the steward for knowing where his salvation lay, then Jesus is saying that we, the people who he calls the people of the light, should be so shrewd, so wise.  Jesus is saying that we should use our earthly means wisely for eternal purposes. We’ve heard him talk like this before. Store up treasure in heaven.

In verse 10 his comments about being trusted with money, about being dishonest, are reflected in the steward who was dishonest and untrustworthy to start off with, but in the end does something quite wise with his master’s wealth.

So we need to see ourselves as stewards of God’s possessions. Of course Jesus is not condoning wastefulness and dishonesty. Instead he is condoning the wisdom of the steward and the mercy of God.

That causes us to think, then, as we review what Jesus taught in verses 11-13: How am I doing as God’s steward? Am I trustworthy in handling the true riches of God? Which master am I serving? God or Mammon? Mammon is a word that means worldly wealth. Do our lives give evidence that we are serving or pursuing worldly wealth?  Instead, we should see God as the owner of all wealth, and use it to serve his interests.

While Jesus focuses on money throughout this entire section, there is more than just money in view here. Jesus is not just talking about writing a check, putting money in the basket at worship services.

It takes more than just money to make friends.  Our generosity to people can really help, of course. It might open a door. But we also know that we cannot buy friendships. We must give of ourselves. Making friends takes an investment of our lives.

I’ve long admired the lead singer of the rock band U2, Bono, for using his star power for good. He talks about it openly. He knows he has influence and he wants to use it for God’s Kingdom.

We might not have the money and influence of a world-renowned rock star, but we do all have gifts and abilities, money and influence in our families, in our neighborhoods, in or schools. So let us spend our lives using our influence to promote God’s Kingdom, to make disciples. If we do that, just as the renters and their families would have been praising the master for his mercy, more people in our lives will be praising God for his mercy to them.