Things change, they don’t always stay the same. And today you are part of change. For sixteen years April has been “Stewardship Emphasize” month at Cornerstone, or as many like to call it “Money Month.”
And you may have noticed that this isn’t April, it’s March and yet here Denn is getting ready to talk about money. And maybe you are wondering “why?” Or maybe you’re thinking “That’s just not right.” But take a deep breath and relax, it’s just an experiment.
For years I’ve always regretted making April “Money Month” because Easter usually falls in April, which for some is good news because it means there is one less Sunday for Denn to talk about money. The downside is that when we have folks visiting on Easter it’s really difficult to invite them back for the family discussion we are having about finances.
And so, last year after mulling over possible solution I had a brainwave, move Money Month to March. Sometimes I even surprise myself with my brilliance. As my cousin used to say about me when we were fishing, “Strong like ox, smart like fridge.”
In case you are wondering what “Money Month” is, back in 2001 as a small church we were struggling with our finances and came to the conclusion that we were doing what a lot of churches do
Each year the church board would carefully craft a budget without really knowing what our income would be. I mean we kind of knew what the previous year was, so we’d increase it by a few percentage points to show we had faith and away we’d go.
Imagine, trying to do a personal or family budget without knowing what your income would be.
Some of you are sitting there trying to figure out what a budget is.
And so, every year it seemed that we would get to a point where reality would set in and we would realize that we weren’t able to meet our budget. And the solution was always the same, it would be suggested that we put the offering information in the bulletin, so people would know the dire straits we were in, and that Denn needed to preach on money.
And that never worked. So, in 2002 we decided to try something different. Each year I would spend a month teaching on the theology of stewardship, what we have, how we got it, what we do with it after we get it and how God and the church figure into that.
So now, people know that this is just part of our calendar. You know that I’m not preaching on money because we are in financial problems, I’m not trying to guilt you into giving more, well maybe there’s a little of that, but mainly, I’m simply teaching biblical principles about our finances.
And then, at the end of the month we have what we call step-up Sunday and that’s when we offer the Cornerstone family the opportunity to estimate what their giving will be in the upcoming year.
And if you are part of the Cornerstone family we hope that you take part, because that’s what we base our budget on. On Step-up Sunday you get to determine what you would like your church to look like in the upcoming year. Because our budget for operation and staffing is based on what the Cornerstone family commits to give.
And we take it seriously. The first time we did this we discovered that we couldn’t afford a full-time pastor. Which came as a shock to the full-time pastor, and I became a part time pastor.
This year our theme is “Giving to the Giver” or Giving back to Jesus.
The scripture that was read for us earlier contains probably one of the best-known passages in the bible.
John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.”
So let’ start with the fact that Jesus Gives Us Himself
To understand this verse there are a couple of things we need to get our head around. And the first is we need to be able to understand: Who sent whom?
You see, the trinity is really hard to understand. This isn’t a case of God the father saying, “Here am I, send Jesus.”
Jesus is God. This wasn’t an arbitrary decision, God the Father and God the Holy Spirit weren’t huddled over in a corner, casting furtive glances at God the Son while plotting his demise.
Sometimes people will ask me if I can explain the Trinity, the answer I usually give them is “No.” But that’s fine, there are all kinds of things I can’t explain.
I can explain how the solar system on the roof of our house makes hot water, but I can’t explain how the solar system on the roof of the church makes electricity.
I can’t explain E=mc2, I can’t explain where the white goes when the snow melts, I can’t explain women and I can’t explain the Trinity.
But even though I can’t explain those things the solar system on the roof still produces energy, E still equals mc2, the white disappears when the snow melts and the Trinity exists.
Augustine wrote a book called “On the Trinity” and he couldn’t explain the Trinity. In 1953 in their book “A Handbook of Christian Truth”, Harold Lindsell and Charles Woodbridge wrote “The mind of man cannot fully understand the mystery of the Trinity. He who has tried to understand the mystery fully will lose his mind; but he who would deny the Trinity will lose his soul.”
So when we are told that God sent his Son, realize that God sent God.
Jesus told his followers in Matthew 20:27-28 “and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” The Son of Man came to give his life, he wasn’t forced to come, it wasn’t the decision of a committee.
Later in John 17:19 Jesus said “And I give myself as a holy sacrifice for them so they can be made holy by your truth.” Jesus came willingly, and Jesus gave willingly.
But why did he give himself? Let’s go back to our scripture, John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
Jesus Gives Us Eternal Life
Eternity is almost as hard to explain as the trinity. Eternity is forever and forever is really hard to get your head around because it’s . . . forever and sometimes we can’t even conceive of forever, what would we do. . .forever?
It’s because our realization of time is defined by our experience.
Einstein is reported to have explained relativity this way “Put your hand on a hot stove for a minute, and it seems like an hour. Sit with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute. That’s relativity.”
And forever there isn’t going to be the same as forever here.
The eternity that Jesus promise us is an eternity with God as opposed to the other side of the coin, which is an eternity without God. The Bible is clear, we will all live forever, the difference will be the address.
Again, Jesus reiterates the promise to those who follow him in John 10:28-30 Jesus said “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” There’s that mystery again.
And sometimes people see Christianity as the ultimate “Delayed Gratification” scenario. You know, you give up the pleasures of this life for the pleasures of the next life.
But Jesus doesn’t just promise to give us eternal life, his promise for the here and now is found in John 10:10 The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.
Jesus Gives Us Abundant Life
This is a little more down to earth, so to speak. Jesus didn’t just come so we would have a better life . . . sometime, he came so we would have a better life now. So we would have rich and satisfying life.
Some of you would be more familiar with Jesus words this way, John 10:10 NKJV Jesus said “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” In his Daily Study Bible, William Barclay tells us that “The Greek phrase used for having it more abundantly means to have a superabundance of a thing.” Not just a little bit more but lots more, more to the point of running over.
More love, more faith, more grace, more life then before we met Jesus.
How does that happen? The abundant life he gives is a product of some of the other things Jesus gives us.
As I got into this message I realized that it really needed more than a message. So today are just some highlights of those promises but we are going to come back in a couple of months to look at the “Promises of Jesus.”
Matthew 11:28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.
Jesus Gives Us Rest
Life 2000 years ago in Israel for most people was a day to day existence. If you didn’t grow it, catch it or prepare it today, you wouldn’t eat it tomorrow. Add that to the constant strain of being an occupied country where you could be called upon at any time to do the will of the empire and you begin to understand what Jesus was saying when he spoke of those who were weary and carried heavy burdens.
But he wasn’t just talking about physical rest, because physically, life stayed the same for those who embraced his teaching, they still had to farm, and they still had to fish, and they still had to raise their families.
But here Jesus is speaking of a spiritual rest. The Jewish religion had evolved into a religion of minutia. There were rules and regulations for every facet of life. And each of those rules was broken down and defined by the Rabbis and Pharisees.
So, it wasn’t enough to rest on the Sabbath there was a plethora of rules telling you what rest wasn’t. There were rules telling you how far you could travel on the Sabbath, how much you could carry, and it went on and on.
The Jews were told exactly how they needed to wash their hands, what clothes they could wear or not wear, what they could say and not say.
And their eternity depended on them doing everything just right. I saw a guy wearing this T-shirt while we were on vacation. (Running, you just need the right motivation). Well, their motivation was to go to heaven. But they were exhausted getting there, and the journey was no fun.
And it was to those people that Jesus offered grace and forgiveness and the rest that came with those things.
And the promise is still there which is why Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
And one of the benefits that this rest brings is spelled out by Jesus in John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
Jesus Gives us Peace
Who remembers “Herman” from the weekend comics? We loved Herman in our house and Christmas usually included a Herman collection.
One of the panels I remember was a reporter asking people to define peace. And people were saying things like “No war” and “an absence of Conflict”. When the reporter asked Herman how he would define peace he replied, “A small round green vegetable.”
But that wasn’t what Jesus was talking about, not the vegetable or the absence of war.
He was speaking of an internal peace, a peace of mind and heart.
Understand that while the words that Jesus spoke and the promises that he made are for us today, that originally Jesus was speaking to people who lived in a world where there was no guarantee of tomorrow.
They lived the reality of James 4:14 How do you know what your life will be like tomorrow? Your life is like the morning fog—it’s here a little while, then it’s gone.
The lived a life of subsistence compounded by the fact they were an occupied country and they went to sleep each night wondering what tomorrow would hold or if there would even be a tomorrow.
2000 years ago there was no peace in the hearts of the people of Israel, every day was a struggle, and into that struggle comes Jesus telling them, Luke 12:22-26 Then, turning to his disciples, Jesus said, “That is why I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food to eat or enough clothes to wear. For life is more than food, and your body more than clothing. Look at the ravens. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for God feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than any birds! Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things?
What was he offering them? He was offering them peace, peace of heart and mind. And two thousand years later as we chase the brass ring on the Merry Go Round of Life, Jesus still asks us Luke 12:25-26 Can all your worries add a single moment to your life? And if worry can’t accomplish a little thing like that, what’s the use of worrying over bigger things? And he still tells us Matthew 6:34 “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”
And so two thousand years later Jesus wants you to know. John 14:27 “I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.”
So here are a few things I’ve discovered through the years when it comes to giving.
The first and the biggest is that It’s not mine to keep. So, as we go into money month, if your attitude is “God wants what’s mine”, it’s going to be a tough month, but it becomes easier when we realize that God simply wants a little bit back of what he has given you.
Romans 11:36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
Jesus Gives Us Everything
Over and over again we are reminded in the scriptures that all we have and all that we are comes from God.
Jesus’ brother James tell us in James 1:16-18 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow. He chose to give birth to us by giving us his true word. And we, out of all creation, became his prized possession.
From our first breath, all that we have is a gift, and so we aren’t giving so much as we are returning.
The second thing I’ve discovered is, it’s easier off the top than off the bottom. Which is why the bible often talks about us offering up our first fruit.
Here’s what I mean. If I give at the first of the pay, it’s done, the temptation isn’t there to spend what isn’t mine to spend. That probably wouldn’t be a struggle for you but it is for some people. Begin by giving to God.
And the third thing is make it a part of the budget, there’s that annoying word again. The reality is that those who fail to plan, plan to fail and if you don’t have a plan for your giving then it probably won’t happen. And when it goes in the budget then it becomes a priority.
I understand that isn’t not just a nice idea to give to God’s church. There were weeks when the church was small that not only was my tithe dependent on my pay, but my pay was dependent on my tithe.
And Cornerstone exists only because those of you who make it your church home give.
Because of Angela and my commitment to tithing we’ve decided to make it easy on our estate. Our wills stipulate that before the estate is divided up that 10% of what we leave behind will go to the church we are worshipping in at that time. They probably won’t be naming a new wing after us.
And let’s end with two quotes by Billy Graham, just because. First “God has given us two hands–one to receive with and the other to give with. We are not cisterns made for hoarding; we are channels made for sharing.” And secondly, “If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area of his life.”
If we go back to the Gospels we read these words Luke 22:19 He (Jesus) took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this to remember me.”
Which brings us to the realization Jesus Gave us Communion. What we are inviting you to take part in today didn’t come from Denn or the Wesleyan Church it came from Jesus.