Text: 2 Corinthians 9:7 “Let each man give according as he has determined in his heart; not grudgingly, or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver.”
When the Stewardship Committee asked me to preach a stewardship sermon today, I immediately remembered that one of my favorite stories from Disciples’ history involved an amazing financial commitment.
In 1913, a wealthy Disciple named Robert A. Long put a compelling challenge before the denomination. He offered to give a million dollars provided that other men in the denomination would match it with an additional $5.3 million. Back in 1913, those were staggering numbers. In fact, they were the largest dollar amounts ever attempted by an American denomination. Disciples men accepted the challenge and a campaign called the Men and Millions Movement was under way.
Those early Disciples realized that good stewardship involved more than money. Using the motto, “We seek not yours but you,” the Men and Millions movement publicized a threefold aim:
– To enlist 1,000 young people for full time ministry at home and abroad;
– To raise $6.3 million for missions;
– And to encourage each congregation to conduct an “every member canvass.”
Well, the campaign turned out to be one of the most successful stewardship efforts ever achieved by any denomination. The financial commitments totaled $7.1 million and over 8,000 young men and women signed pledge cards declaring their intention to attend college and to consider entering some form of Christian ministry. (Journey in Faith, by McAllister & Tucker, p. 335-36)
The Men and Millions Movement was a striking example of solid cooperation among Disciples at every level of church life. It was a great example of the kind of stewardship that can be generated when folks catch a vision for God. Proverbs 29:18 says, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
We seldom have the opportunity to spend our money on a worthy vision like that. Most of the time we spend it on things that simply do not last.
When I called Peggy Brown to ask about Glen’s illness, she told me about the difficulty of moving from their big home into their retirement apartment. She talked about how much stuff she had to get rid of. She said she has STUFF in the attic and STUFF in the basement and STUFF all over the house. She’s going to give what she can to family members and then get rid of the rest.
Don’t you have a house full of stuff like that? Remember when that stuff seemed like the most important thing in the world to spend your money on?
That red and white1957 Chevy hardtop that my brother was so proud of was totaled in a wreck two years later. That Pentium laptop that I bought for my son was stolen. That 1984 Volvo that smelled like new when I got it, smelled like mildew when I finally got rid of it.
I would be embarrassed to tell you the times I have spent money foolishly. Most of the time, we spend our money on things that really aren’t that important. That’s because most of the time we spend it on our own appetites.
My mother-in-law sent me this parody of the 23rd Psalm on e-mail. I think it describes our true attitudes.
The Twenty-Third Pound
My appetite is my shepherd
I always want.
It maketh me to sit down and stuff myself
It leadeth me in paths of Burger King for a whopper
It destroyeth my shape,
Yea, though I knoweth I gaineth,
I will not stop eating,
For the food tasteth so good.
The ice cream and cookies,
They comfort me
When the table is spread before me,
It exciteth me,
For I knoweth that soon I shall dig in,
As I filleth my plate continuously,
My clothes runneth smaller,
Surely bulges and weight shall follow
Me all the days of my life,
And I will be fat forever.
We spend our money foolishly on our appetites instead of spending it wisely on the Kingdom of God.
After 20 years in ministry, I worked in the Chamber of Commerce business for seven years. There I discovered that the churches are not the only ones who have to raise funds. Every business in town gets hit for donations to the Heart Walk, the Little League Teams, the Little Miss Know-It-All Pageant, the Senior Citizens Club, the Boys and Girls Club, the Red Cross, the American Cancer Society, Boy Scouts, the charity golf tournaments, and the Chamber of Commerce.
I found myself amazed at what I learned about fund-raising outside of the church. There is a whole science of fund-raising. For the first time, I attended seminars about “Non-dues revenues,” and I bought books written by professional fund-raisers and “development experts.” Everybody is in the business of raising money – from UNICEF to Habitat for Humanity to the United Way to the Lions Club.
I watched as key leaders in town signed up to join boards of a wide variety of organizations. And it was always understood that the primary responsibility of board members is to raise funds for the organization. The president of the hospital willingly signed on to chair the Heart Walk Committee. The real estate agent eagerly canvassed the community to buy bricks in the “Walk of Pride.” The financial advisor persuaded all his friends to become “Platinum Level Donors” for the Boy Scouts.
That’s when I realized that the church could stand to learn a thing or two from the professional fund-raisers. I read their books with great interest and compared them with the stewardship messages I have given in the churches.
I realized that the church has mostly promoted stewardship based on an “ought to.” “Everybody ought to give to the church.” It’s true, you ought to. But Paul says in our text for today, “Do not give reluctantly or under compulsion.” He knew that “cheerful giving” comes from a different motivation.
A SUBSCRIBER SAYS: “Dear Dick, your material for last Sunday was excellent. I had to ‘play around’ with some of it in order to fit the culture of our parish. Nevertheless the feedback after Mass was very positive especially with Jesus’ quote on whether he would find people of Faith on his return. So well done and thank God for your help.”
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In the business world it is not a matter of “ought to” but of mission. The bank president doesn’t support the Salvation Army because he ought to. But he might if he believes in their mission.
These leaders raise money for organizations because they believe in what the organizations are doing, and they are not ashamed to ask for money for a worthy cause. When they give their money, they become concerned about what happens to the organization. As they become more invested in the organization, they are more inclined to urge their friends to invest as well.
That’s what real stewardship is about – investing in something you believe in.
Jesus used the same approach when he said, “Don’t lay up treasures for yourselves on the earth, where moth and rust consume, and where thieves break through and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consume, and where thieves don’t break through and steal; for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Jesus advises us to invest in the right places. And he was saying that your heart will be where your treasure is. And the corollary is also true: where your heart is your treasure will be. If you believe in it, you will support it.
Jesus is telling us to invest our treasure in the Kingdom of God, not because he is interested in our treasure, but our heart. He wants our heart invested in the right place. If our heart is there, our treasure will be.
God loves a cheerful giver. He wants us to give because of the deep satisfaction that it will bring to us, because we will find deep joy in participating in what God is doing.When we give we become a partner in the exciting adventure of faith.
While serving as pastor of a church in Arkansas, the church sent me on a mission trip to Brazil. One day an elderly man came to me with a paper sack, loaded with pennys. He said, “Bro. Mickey, maybe this will get you back from Brazil.” I really appreciated his gift because a lot of folks were giving so that I could go, but not many were giving so that I could come back.
He was not physically able to go himself and tramp around the Amazon basin. He would never be able to go and preach to a stadium of Brazilians. But when I went, he was standing beside me. Because of his gift, he had a partnership in every word I preached.
We give to the church because we want to participate in everything the church does. When missionaries go to the Africa, we have a partnership with them. When Youth are led to Christ, we share in that. When children grow up loving God, we are helping them to have that experience. We give because it brings us a deep satisfaction to give. We give because we are committed to these endeavors.
The America’s Cup is the most prestigious sailing trophy in the world. It’s called the America’s Cup because for 138 years, it was won by teams from the United States. Then in 1983, the Australians stunned the world by winning the cup.
Dennis Conner was captain of the American yacht that lost that year. But four years later, he and his crew aboard the Stars & Stripes brought the America’s cup back to the U.S. To do that Conner had to overcome incredible odds, including the perception that he was the man who had lost the America’s Cup in the first place.
At the core of Conner’s achievement was what he calls “the commitment to the commitment,” the dedication to his goal that allowed him to focus all his energies on building the kind of boat and assembling the kind of crew that could win. “Once you make the commitment…,” Conner says, “you become focused on one act. There is a new Main Event in center ring, and all the other ‘acts’ in your life have to take place somewhere else.
To what are you committed? What’s the Main Event in your life? You spend your money on the things you are committed to. God wants you to make a commitment to the Kingdom of God through this church. It’s a worthy investment. God wants your heart here, and when your heart is here, your treasure will be here also.
Back in 1913, the Men and Millions Movement achieved something great for God because they tempered stewardship with mission. They said it this way: “We seek not yours, but you.” When God has you, he will have that which is yours.
Scripture quotations from the World English Bible.