By Jerry Wallack, Pastor, Olney Seventh-day Adventist Church, Olney, Maryland

Summary: God does not take our offerings by force, nor has He pre-programmed us to be giving robots.

Introduction

Money--offerings, pledges, annual campaigns. It’s all about money. Money is all that the church seems interested in. Comments such as this leave many questions begging for answers. And the traditional response is, The church is a non-profit institution that is heavily dependent on donations. No bottom line, no mission. But is that all there is to the church? Donations, bottom line, and missions? Could there be a much larger purpose that compels the church to seek offerings from members? I believe there is.

True giving provides for a deeper experience than does the habitual dropping of a dollar in the offering plate. True giving has everything to do with attitude; it is shrouded in an individual’s personal relationship with God. Jesus said it clearly Your heart will be where your treasure is (Matt 6:21). We pastors love to quote God’s promise of liberality, ?Bring to the storehouse [THE CHURCH!] a full tenth of what you earn.? Test me in this,’ says the LORD All-Powerful; ?I will open the windows of heaven for you and pour out all the blessings you need (Mal 3:10, emphasis mine). Do you hear what God is saying? He says In all things, trust Me. In money, trust Me. He says If our relationship is to be a meaningful one, then it must be based on trust. Come, give our partnership a try. Come, trust Me.

Freedom-choice

How do you calculate the amount of your offerings? John asked his friends Bill and Ron.

Simple, answered Bill. I draw a circle on the ground about eight inches in diameter. Then I hurl all my cash high into space, and I give to God all He directs to fall inside the circle.

How stingy, Ron rebutted. I draw a circle 15 feet in diameter. Then I stand in the middle and gently toss my dollar bills into the air. God has all that falls outside the circle.

Well, John piously boasted, I simply fling my currency as high as I can, providing God the opportunity to grab all He wants. What falls to the ground, I figure God doesn’t need--so it’s all mine.

John’s theology, although not scriptural, comes closest to God’s way. Our Father allows all of our income to fall from Heaven. And He does not take our offerings by force, nor has He pre-programmed us to be giving robots.

Our God simply says, I only desire your offerings if you give them freely and joyfully because of our relationship--Father and child. He gives me the sanctified freedom to respond to His love giving by returning to Him the only gift that is truly mine to give--my heart. And from my heart will abundantly flow God’s tithe and my treasured offerings.

It is a freedom-choice. Take out the freedom to choose to give, and it is no longer a love-gift, it is no longer a response of a relationship based on love.

What size is your circle of giving? That depends, doesn’t it! It depends on if we are talking about when we give to God? Or when we receive from God.

Self-centered humans seek micro-circles when giving. But when receiving--macro-circles are much preferred! Our Father longs for us to enjoy infinite circles to receive all He sends to us. Grace and peace be yours in abundance through the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. His divine power has given us everything we need for life AND godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness (II Pet 1:2, 3, emphasis mine).

God and circles

Circles. God loves circles! All sizes of circles. He created circles--designed with circles. He incorporated circles in His design for this universe. God loves circle-rainbows of promise too. Tradition tells us that anchoring God’s rainbow is an elusive pot of gold. Of course! All the gold and silver is His! God, you see, does not need our gold. However, what the Lord sees at the end of His rainbow are His children who, worth more than gold, even the purest gold (Ps 19:10), are bound to Him by the circle of His rainbow promise. What a relationship! More valuable than gold!

God loves the finite circles of micro-matter. Quarks circling neutrons, circling protons, circling atoms. The substance of His created children! We matter to our Father!

God loves the infinite circles of macro-space. Moons circling planets, circling suns, circling stars, circling solar systems, circling galaxies, circling quasars, circling--oh yes!--perfectly circling the very throne of God! Our God is an awesome God! Yes, God loves circles--endless circles of infinite perfection. His creation is a limitless universe of the circles of His love! And we are included in the inner circle as His cherished children. The circle God loves most is the circle of His love-hugs with which He longs to embrace His children. That’s why He emptied the entire treasury of heaven in the gift of Jesus for us!

Grace killers

An elderly gentleman had fallen behind in his tithing. After a renewing encounter with God, he placed the following note in the offering plate. For value received, I (his name) promise to pay $____. Yes, I’ve been receiving the blessings of God ever y day of my life! He has blessed me with ever y blessing! I promise to pay $ _____ to the church treasury.

For value received is the joyous principle of Christian stewardship. There is no greater motivator to giving than the value received through our personal relationship with God!

In his book, The Grace Awakening, Charles Swindoll refers to grace killers. Manipulating guilt is an age old grace killer. We all have heard the traditional approaches to increase giving: You’ll be lost in Hell if you are not a faithful giver; Riches beyond measure are awaiting your liberality in supporting this ministry; Give to the church or to the IRS; Our church is headed for bankruptcy unless you double your offerings. Grace killers ad nauseam!

A love-relationship, however, joyfully responds to the endless benefits received from Heaven’s entire treasury. God’s greatest gift--the largest of His circles-- is the joy of unforced, free-gift giving as He modeled through His present of Jesus to us. What will be the measure of our love-relationship-response? It cannot be anything less than the gift of our heart--and a liberal offering in jubilant gratitude for His lavish love. The result? A relationship-response that grows and continues to nurture our personal trust in Heaven’s grace-gifts! And, as a blessed by-product, we will be witness to the church’s financial resources being multiplied to share the good news of salvation with others inviting them into God’s circle of love.

Suggested conclusion

Responsively read the passage, Right Living, Right Giving (portions of 2 Cor 8 and 9, selected and paraphrased from Eugene H Peterson’s The Message)

Now, friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in our church.

This was totally spontaneous, entirely our own idea.

What explains it was that you had first given yourselves unreservedly to God.

Our giving simply flows out of the purposes of God working in our lives.

You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ.

Rich as He was, He gave it all up for us. He became poor and we became rich.

Your heart is in the right place all along.

We will do what we can! Not what we can’t!

The heart regulates the hands.

We’re shoulder to shoulder with each other —one’s surplus matching another’s deficit.

Now, if I said any more about this offering I’d be repeating myself.

We’re on board and ready to go!

I want you to have all the time you need to make this offering in your own way. I don’t want anything forced or hurried at the last minute.

We remember: A stingy planter gets a stingy crop; a lavish planter gets a lavish crop.

Good! I want each of you to take plenty of time to think it over, and make up your own mind what you will give. That will protect you against sob stories and arm-twisting.

God loves it when the giver delights in the giving!

God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything.

As one Psalmist puts it, ?We throw caution to the winds, giving in reckless abandon. Our right-living, right-giving ways never run out, never wear out!?

This most generous God who gives seed to the farmer that becomes bread for your meals is more than extravagant with you. He gives you something you can then give away, which grows into full-formed lives, robust in God, wealthy in every way, so that you can be generous in every way.

Carrying out this work involves far more than helping meet the bare needs. It also produces abundant and bountiful thanksgiving to God. It is to prod us to live at our very best, showing our gratitude to God by being openly obedient to the plain meaning of the Message of Christ.

Thank God for this gift, His gift! No language can praise it enough!

And now—moved by the extravagance of God in our lives—we show our gratitude and praise through our generous offering.

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January–March, 2000

Grace