Friday, 23 May 2008

Giving to God

1 Chronicles 29:1-20

Over the next few weeks we will talk, giving.

Why?

1. We haven’t spoken about giving seriously for three years: and giving is part of Christian discipleship – true when times are easy or hard
2. We face significant financial challenges as a parish. On the negative side, this year St Peter’s has a deficit budget of about £10k, and St Mary’s of £16k. Unless our income across the parish increases by about 60%, then come September 2010 we may find ourselves with one paid clergy and some office assistance. On the positive side, if we can increase our giving to the general fund by 60%, then we could be in a position to employ a second paid member of the clergy or a business manager for SM and a parish community link worker, and maybe even a young person for a year.
Today, we are looking at 1 Chronicles 29:1-20.

King David wanted to build a temple for God. However God had told him that he was not to do it, but that his son would. So David does all he can so that when Solomon comes to the throne, the building can start. He starts to build up the treasure chest. He gives of his own personal resources for the building of the temple, and he asks the people to do the same.

And there are three lessons about giving I’d like to draw from this passage


1. DAVID RECOGNISES THAT THIS WORK IS FOR GOD
He was building a temple, in which worship would be offered.

He was not building a palace or a barracks or an administrative centre or a soup kitchen or a university or a circus.

From a political point of view, it would have made much more sense for David to invest his money in those things.

But David chose to give his money to something that was completely God centred.

I don’t think that we have ever been able to say as clearly as we can today that when we give to the church we give because we believe that God matters

In the past, people could give to the church because it was the church which offered entertainment, music, community, pastoral care, counselling, historic continuity and the only real means of channelling money to people in need.

Today, that is not true.
If you wish to give for pastoral care or counselling, you can give to Macmillan nurses, hospital visitors Alzheimer’s carers group etc.
If you wish to give for community, you can give to one of the countless community groups.
If you wish to give to preserve historic buildings, the key stake holder these days is English Heritage. If St Mary’s ceased to be a place of worship, it would not crumble. It is of too great a historic significance. It would be taken over as a community resource.
If you wish to listen to great music, you can give to some of the many choirs here in Bury

Today, there is only one reason for giving to the work of the church: and that is because God matters to you.

Every £ that is put in the collection plate, or that is paid through standing order, is an act of rebellion.

You are saying: ‘Society does not think that God is important. I disagree. In fact, I am giving to the church because I believe that God matters; because I believe that the worship of God matters; the message that God has given to us in his Son Jesus, matters; and because the community of the people of God matters’.

I often say of my job that if God does not exist then I really am wasting my life: I could do far more for people and earn quite a bit more, by becoming a politician or social worker or teacher or whatever. And if God does not exist then money given to the church is wasted money. It would have been far better to give it to other good causes.

I was reading on the Telegraph website, comments on an article which stated that bishops earn less than experienced teachers, and vicars earn less than newly qualified teachers.

Someone had written: “One would hope that teachers are paid better than clergymen. Teachers prepare children to be productive adults and clergymen do, um, what is they do? OH! Obey some non-existent sky-god”

I am not asking you to give to the church because we look after a historic building, or provide pastoral care and a good community organisation. We do, but other people also do that.

I am asking you to give to the church because you believe that God matters, because you believe at the very centre of this universe, of this world, of history and of society is God.

And for that reason, the money that we give to the church is very special.
We say, and I echo David’s words in verse 1, “The task is great because this organisation, this body of people called the church, is not here for people but for the Lord God.”


2. DAVID ASKS THE PEOPLE TO FIRST CONSECRATE THEMSELVES TO GOD (V5)
It makes sense. If giving to the building of a temple in the Old Testament is quite simply because of God; giving in the New Testament to the work of the church, the people of God, is also because of God.

And so we will only give significantly to the church if we have committed ourselves to God.

It is a biblical principal.

1. We consecrate ourselves, ‘offer’ ourselves to God.
In 1 Corinthians 8:5, Paul writes of the Macedonian Christians, “Having given themselves first of all to the Lord, they gave themselves by the will of God also to us”

The person who consecrates him or herself to God recognises that they owe everything they are and everything that they have to God. They recognise that all their possessions come from God and belong to God.

David’s prayer in vv10-19 is the prayer of a man who has bowed before God.

“Yours is the Kingdom” (v11)
“Wealth and Honour come from you” (v12)

A young politician went to see Lloyd George to ask for high office. He said, “I am a self-made man”. Lloyd George replied, “Young man, you have just relieved the Almighty of an awesome responsibility”

David could have been like that. He could have claimed: “I am self-made. I was a shepherd, but I took my chances. I showed courage. I was single minded. I worked hard. I made wise decisions. I surrounded myself with good advisors. And now look at my kingdom and my wealth”.

David did not make that mistake.

“Who am I” he says (in verse 14), “and who are my people that we should be able to give so generously as this? We are foreigners and strangers on earth. Our days are like a shadow”

When we consecrate ourselves to God, we recognise that everything we are and everything we have: gifts, personality, contacts, opportunities come from him. And we give ourselves back to him.

2. We consecrate our money and the stuff that it gets us, to God.

It is hard to surrender our money and stuff to God.
We live in a society which tells us the more we have, the more we are; the better we have, the better we are.

Please don’t get me wrong: Wealth is not wrong in itself, and we thank God when he blesses people materially. Jesus was supported in his ministry by some wealthy women.

The problem comes when we think that this [hold up money] is mine. The problem comes when we have not surrendered it to God.

Having offered ourselves to God, we need to offer our money to God. We say with David, “It all comes from you and it all belongs to you. Help me to be thankful, but also help me to use it as you would use it, for your purposes”.

When that happens, there are two practical consequences:

1. We regularly, weekly, monthly, yearly, put aside a sum of money for God, for the work of the church. The biblical principal is a tithe, a tenth of what we get. It was an Old Testament principal that was endorsed by Jesus. For instance, look at Luke 11:42.

For the Christian, the tithe is a guideline. For many of us the tithe should be the beginning of what we give, particularly as our income grows. For a person on an annual income of £12000, £1200 a year is significant. For people on £50000 a year, £5000 a year is not quite so significant. We still have £45000 left.

Please don’t be legalistic about this. It doesn’t matter if at the moment we can’t afford to tithe, although I would hope we can make it our target. It doesn’t matter how we calculate our tithe. The important thing is that we have surrendered our money to God, and that we do put aside a significant sum of money regularly for the work of the people of God – the church.

2. Our relationship with God controls all our spending.

Again, there are no laws here. It is about obedience to him, and doing what seems to be sensible, right and loving.

Before, we might have said to ourselves: “I like that painting. I can afford it, so I will buy it.”
Now, we might say, “I like that painting. I can afford it. But actually I have three paintings already. It costs £600 and I think it is right to give £300 away instead.”

So David urges the people to first consecrate themselves to God, and then to think about their giving

3. DAVID AND THE PEOPLE ARE ENCOURAGED BECAUSE THE LEADERS SET AN EXAMPLE

Verse 9: We have numerous examples of the giving of others to inspire and challenge us

John Laing, founder of the building company, was well known for his generosity. When he died, he left a will of £340

Bishop of Stepney – told us that he would be giving 20%; I guess you could call that twithing:

Ever since university, both Alison and myself have tithed. I guess it is a habit we have got into. We’ve budgeted for it. It is not a strict tithe because it does not include other benefits that we receive, such as free housing. Each month, we give a sum of money to the church through standing order, plus a further sum to some friends working with Wycliffe bible translators in Senegal.

Yes, it has been tight, especially when because of children and the work we have chosen that Alison will not earn. There have been times when we haven’t been able to afford something, although very rare. But it has also meant that we have been so aware of the faithfulness of God. When we have really needed something we have been able to afford it. And I trust that our children are not going to be scarred for life.

And there are many people here who give sacrificially. In 2007 at SP, £22000 was donated by 20 people/families. It means that 20 people are giving over £1000 pa each to the church.

It isn’t just about generosity in terms of financial giving. So many Christian leaders are willing to work for a tiny salary in comparison to what ‘the world’ is offering. I was talking with a minister who is willing to work full time for £13k. At the moment, it is the only income she and her family have. Many people offer their services unpaid – whether in an official role or simply as a volunteer.

So I would ask you to follow the example of those who lead, and to use it as a benchmark for our own giving.

So three reasons for giving
1. It is about God
2. It is about first giving ourselves and all we have to God
3. Be encouraged by your leaders

It is part of my own experience, and I have heard it repeated over and over again, that when we dedicate ourselves and particularly our money to God, and when we start tithing, we are taking God seriously. We’ve actually shown that we mean business with God. And we discover that when we take God seriously, God begins to take us seriously.

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