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At our church, we have an embarrassment of brilliant sunday-school teachers. The fact that names like Harold Teeter, John Tompson, John Coventry, Paula Long, Dixie Kingston, Larry Heitzman, Steve Harrison, Mike Fanning, and Sarah Jane Jones have little resonance beyond our demimonde is a sobering and dizzying reminder that all over the world, fifty-two times a year, the scriptures are being parsed, dissected, and opened to millions of folks. As I mentioned about sermons, this goes on below the cultural radar, but with incalculable effect on us.
One fellow who has gotten some acclaim recently is a gangly, plainspoken military guy named Steve Harrison. On Friday nights, he's playing bass in a barbecue-joint band, and on Sunday mornings, he's delivering lessons that delight and instruct, prod and surprise. Hands in pockets, mustached bald head impossibly perched on his stretched-out frame, his sense of comic timing is impeccable, and his rapport with the hundred and fifty or so people in the class is warm and effortless.
I've attempted to reflect his style here by transcribing every word, unedited. When necessary, I've included some extraverbal indications as well: [sv] is "sotto voce," a stage whisper; [hv] is high voice; an ellipsis indicates a pause of a beat or two; a single hyphen indicates a hesitation or stutter; an asterisk means that word or phrase is stressed.
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T his is uh ... this is uh, I guess for lack of a better name Stewardship Sunday; the Stewardship Committee have been sort of on an educational campaign that I think is culminating in every Sunday School class talking about this matter of giving.
Uh, and in this case we're talking about giving money; so uh, ... but you don't have to be nervous, I can see some of you hyperventilating, your wallets [laughter] your wallets are safe: I'm not after your wallet, I'm actually after your hearts, which is uh, which is really the crux of the lesson.
But I wanted to give a few disclaimers here at the start, and probably, uh, a good thing that I do this every once in a while *anyway*, because ... I have had some trepidation about this whole thing of giving. It's not something I've thought lightly about, in fact probably no other area of my - Christian - walk for almost 26 years now, have I given more thought to, ... uh, more practice to, more error to, ... than this whole business of uh, giving money.
And so it's something that's a really a part of my life message. And my views on it may in fact be at variance ... with, uh, some of yours, and it may be at variance with, uh, the, the good folk on the Stewardship Committee who provided me with a lesson plan this morning.
So uh, ... - so I have a certain amount of trepidation, and here's really the crux of the matter with this whole thing. I really like being a Baptist: I came to being a Baptist late in life. And the thing I like about it. The doctrine that I think really defines us ... uh as a denomination is priesthood of the believer. Above all else. M- and one of the things that means: means *you're* a priest; and one of the things that means is is that you have the right *as* a priest, a privilege in fact, to interpret Scripture for yourself. You don't need me to interpret, or Buckner or anybody else. One of the beauty parts of what we believe is, is th-that denomination doesn't det- determine it for you, the Southern Baptist Convention doesn't ... uh, interpret Scripture for you, *you* as a priest *always* get to decide; and so what you have to do is you have to measure ... what someone tells you, against your understanding of the word of God, and the enlightenment of the Holy Spirit.
And if I hit the mark, I a- wh- and I hope I do cause I've been prayin' about this like crazy, 'f I hit the mark then good, and if I don't hit the mark in your mind then ya just have to let it go. ... Uh and that's true *every* week, by the way, that's not just true on Stewardship Sunday; ... but when ya talk about money people get a little amped up, and ... uh ... I get a little amped up We're gonna -b- start off in Luke chapter 16, so if you wanna turn there first ... there's a *ton* of verses I coulda covered, and the Stewardship Committee gave me a ... really, more material than I could even cover ... eh in a, in a Sunday lesson just tons a stuff and I'm gonna borrow some of that and some of my own, ... and we'll see hopefully where the Lord takes us with this business of giving money.
Um, I had an experience, uh, a couple of years ago I went to Germany for three years, I - my family, we came to Trinity ... um, in 1988, and I was at the Air Force at that time, and we f- y'know I didn't really wanna go to Texas, I was comin' out of Korea, I didn't wanna go to Texas, I didn't wanna go to San Antonio, ... uh but God wanted us to come here, and we kind of fell in love with it, ya know how that goes? I'm an, I'm a Yankee, I mean I was born in New York for pete's sakes uh, ... all my kinfolk are in Vermont right now. So I'm not a born Texan but I got down here and I started likin' it. ... Uh ... it grew on me. And uh, in fact um, I was here maybe a year or two and I, I noticed that I had one of my radio buttons turned to a *country* station and I thought Oh boy. [laughter] What has happened to me? I think it's gettin' in me Well anyway we loved it here and we were happy here and we didn't wanna go anywhere and God in his providence, uh ... in association with Uncle Sam, ... decided that we should go to Germany for three years, and so we did, un - reluctantly, didn't go as a volunteer. Never thought we'd come back, ... uh, we had a three year hiatus in Germany and providentially God brought us back, but while we were in Germany, we kinda, it was a dry time, eh we were uh, y'know you get spoiled uh, listening to our pastor speak and uh, ... uh I know what it's like to not be, uh ... have that kind of teaching, ... uh at your fingertips. And we *lived* on *tapes*. I can tell you that. The tape ministry of this church sustained us for three years, because we were going to the chapel ... and the chapel was nice and the people were nice, [sv] but it wasn't quite Trinity.
And uh so what we did is we would go to a, there was a missionary couple, an American missionary couple opened their home, through a, ... through a, through a fellowship to military people, and they were just missionaries, and their home was their mission. They opened up their house, and GIs like me and their families would come, and fellowship, and we'd have a Friday night thing, and and we'd worship and ... there was teaching and all this good stuff; and I really enjoyed it. And every once in a while they'd ask me to talk on a Friday night. And I g- I got asked to talk on a Friday night, and I was bugged, I got all fired up because ... all these GIs that would come and enjoy this house were not supporting it financially. Or very few of them were. Uh, and they were s- it was supposed to be self-sustaining and nobody was *kickin' in*.
So I'd gotten all my ire up and I gave a- I'm gonna talk turkey about You guys ain't pullin' your weight! And I happened to know that these were GIs livin' in a dormitory, ... most of them single, ... with nothin' but disposable income. They may --uh, the military may not pay ya a lot but they feed ya and they clothe ya and shelter ya, so [hv] you've got a lot of overhead. These guys had *cash*, I *knew* they had cash. They had *tons* a cash! They had more cash than *I* did, for pete's sakes, I was livin' off post, ya know.
So I got up there and I gave what I thought was a *very* very compelling and *reasonable,* *measured* presentation from the Scriptures ... on their duty, ... on their [laughing] obligation in my view, [scattered laughter] uh, etc, etc I didn't do it mean, I wadn't nasty; uh I'd never done this before. I haven't done it since, [lower] I can tell ya that, too. [laughter] Anyway, I ah, ... I gotta tell ya, ... and - - - sometimes when I speak, even *I* think I make sense. And this was one of those days. [laughter] Ya know? This is one of those times, I can still remember it While I was speakin' I'm like Hey, this is pretty good! [laughter] This is, [snaps] ya know, [snaps], it's clickin' here, it's ... [mock-reverently] Yahweh is with me, it's happening! Right now! [laughter] And after that, what *I* considered to be an *eye-watering* presentation, on the various, ... uh, ... benefits and blessings of giving, and *all* this stuff, and I just ... I don't know how long I talked but for quite a while; and I can tell you ... that it did not increase the coffers ... of that house, [slowly] by a thin dime. And learned sump'm from that. I learned a lot from that, in fact.
Um ... and so here I am today, gonna talk about financial giving. And actually, uh, I'm, I'm only gonna talk about that [slowly] incidentally. ... And I say this with great reverence and respect; ... uh, and I hope you won't misunderstand it, but *I'm* not really worried about our church budget. And we're behind, by the way. I'm not worried about it. I don't think God's worried about it. I'm not worried about the fact that probably ... 80% of th- our congregation gives nothing. ... Not a- not a dollar. Gives zero ... uh to the, to the ministry of the church. ... Uh, it's a well established fact that 90% of the church budget is underwritten by a *very* small percentage of the congregation. That's not true of, just at Trinity; that's just true everywhere.
The vast majority of people come for some, for whatever it is that they come for, but they, they're not really involved at the level of giving *Now.* When you see a downtrend in the level of giving, which we're having, by the way; you're seeing a downtrend in giving, ... um, and ... you start looking at the math ... as a reasonable, caring, and compassionate person. You get ... a little concerned, you say "Look at all these people who aren't givin'. We need to get the *word* out to them, ... so that they'll get the, they'll *get it in gear.*"
Here's th- um ... here's the problem with that, though. Uh the problem is that, if, we pre-, it presumes that they're not giving because they just [smiling] don't know they're ... that's something [sv] nice to do. Uh, kinda like - my talkin' to those GIs. "Well I'm just gonna let 'em know and then once they *know*, nothin'll hold 'em back and then that little box'll be packed with funds!" Not true!
That the issue when it comes to stewardship ... and giving, and this is the thesis of the whole ... the s- thesis statement of my whole presentation this morning, is that giving, ... and stewardship, is [slowly] not a matter of finances, and it is not a matter of money, is not a matter of your *wallet*: it is a [sv] matter of your heart.
And that is what God is interested in. He is interested ... *not in our money.* He is interested in our *hearts*. Now it is incidental and *parenthetical* to that that when God *has* our hearts ... *unreservedly,* he will also have ... our finances. But we gotta be [hv] real careful that we don't get ... the cart, which is the *dough*, ... in front of the central issue of stewardship, which is *our hearts.*
Now. Jesus talked a lot about money. And that is a fact; in fact, he talked more about money ... than he talked about heaven *or hell, combined.* and you can go back, take your green highlighter from ... just start in first chapter of Matthew and highlight everything that deals with money, and every, and take a different color for heaven and hell and you'll find a lot more ... uh highlighter stuff on money he talked a lot about money, and you could draw a misconclusion from that, you could conclude ... that Jesus was very personally *interested* in money, and yet his life belies that *completely.* Does it not.
He never *solicited* a dime. I have no idea ... there are people that supported ... the ministry of Jesus. I don't know who they are directly; there are a few scriptural allusions to ... women who were supporting and I'm sure there were other people who were supporting of their substance, ... but I don't, there was no *campaign* to get them to give.
And it looks like they lived on a shoestring budget as near as I can tell. When Peter came to Jesus one time and he said, "You know they're hasslin' me cause they say you don't pay your ... temple tax. And Jesus k- , I'm paraphrasing here, Jesus said "Well ... uh, actually I'm the Son of God [sv] I think I'm exempt!" [laughter]
But Jesus said, "Let's not ... - - so they don't get their [hv]knickers in a twist," that's a paraphrase, too; [laughter] so they [hv]don't get their knickers in a bunch, ... you go fishin', Peter. Now this is the biz-, one of the bizarrest stories I think in all of scripture, because Jesus had no *coins* *on him*. And that's im- important to remember. He d'n have *any* money on him. And the money that they *had* was in charge of Judas who was a, basically an acknowledged thief! [scattered laughter] Uh by the way, Jesus *knew that.* Did he not, he knows all *about* us. Jesus is, ya know whenever they elected Judas as the treasurer, Jesus already *knew* he was a thief!
[lower] What kind of money management is *that*, by the way? [scattered laughter] Jesus would've never gotten the board, or on the CEO of any company *I* know of, with *that* kind of management practice, but I gotta tell you something, he didn't *care about that*! ... He cared about Judas's *heart*. ... That's what God's interested in. Primarily. ... Firstly, and most importantly.
So he sends Peter on a fishin' trip; ... Peter throws in a line, pulls out the first fish he catches, [hv] opens its mouth, and there's the money for him and the Lord's temple tax. Now, I - you know, I just think, my impression about that is that ... Jesus just didn't *have* a lot of money, that's my impression, ... that he never *worried* about it, that's my *other* impression, ... and that getting money, if it was necessary, was *not problematic*. [slight laughter] Right?
I believe that Jesus had financial *freedom*! ... And uh, ... and there are many people in this room that have financial freedom, and there, uh are I'm sure there are many people in this room or that will listen on the tape that *do not* have financial freedom; and when we think financial freedom it's we think about having a certain [slower] amount of money laid away I've got [bellowing ludicrously] a *certain amount,* ... the *magic number* ...
Ya know I remember one time gettin' a pitch from a guy that turned out to be an Amway thing, I ... took about 3 hours for that to [laughing] come out [laughter]. He started out and he was there, ya know ... "Steve, tell me about your dreams, I mean if you could go on a vacation anywhere where wouldja go," and I said Well I'd go to Tahiti. Ya know, ... "And if ya could own any kinda car what would it be," and I said Well I'd have me one of them *Jag-wars* with the 12-cylinder engine in it. The whole kit, y'know, we went on and on and after three hours I realized he was sellin' soap! [laughter] And he was a Christian brother and I, so I thought Well I'll confront him. Y'know?
His name was Steve too, I said "Steve, why ... you're *sellin' soap*! [scattered laughter] Why didn't you *tell* me you were sellin' soap? I'da saved ya three hours, *I* don't wanna sell soap. [laughter] He went back and he said to me, "Well Steve," he said "what about the dreams, what about Tahiti? What about that Jaguar and all that stuff?" And I said Well ... shoot, man, I'd ... I didn't know I's gonna have to work for it! [laughter] I know if I *work* hard enough I could get that stuff, I thought ... I was just *dreamin'*!
Well Jesus didn't worry about it, there's no m- there's no *dollar figure* ... that will provide you with financial security because financial security, I believe in a s*criptural sense*, which is the only sense that *really counts* in my book, [slowly] is the absence of worry about money. If you don't worry about money, you are financially free.
And you can have ... Bill Gates' money, and not be financially free. And some of the people that I know that have the most dough ... are the most worried about it: they're worried about keepin' about ... keepin' it, they're worried about the stock market [ludicrously] where's it goin', is it up, is it down, ... they're worried about can they trust the people they're trustin' with their money, ... and all that kinda s- ... Jesus had financial freedom, and he had to send Peter, Peter lookin' for fish to pay the temple tax.
It's very very easy; *now.* Let's go back to that huge percentage of people in the church that aren't givin' anything Well *how we gon' git them ta give?* ... How we gonna get them to give, and - a course I already believe that you're probably *not* gonna get them to give, but you could pro'ly leverage a *few* of them to start giving. But what you're liable to do is you're liable to go *below the line* here; ... to leverage them. Into motivations that I think the scriptures r- ... uh, ... r- really speak against. Because *motives count* in this business of giving.
You're liable a, to appeal to a sense of fear. Fear, guilt, and greed are the three thing- By the way: ... fear, guilt, and greed are very effective fundraising means. [scattered laughter] Whole denominations are supported on fear, guilt, and greed. [scattered laughter] I just happen to think that God is interested in something *else*. And that i- I *really* believe this, and I may be at variance with ya but *I* think ... that what - how God feels, if you're givin' because fear, guilt, and greed I think you should *keep* your money. ... Keep it! Spend it [laughing] on yourself, you don' get it! ... Keep it.
... It's real easy to appeal to this, though, when we get nervous. And so we start to say "Ya know? ... Uh, God will *protect* you if you *give*, ["better-watch-out" voice] but if you're not, ... [lv] Buddy, look out. ... Buddy [laughing] look out, you could be in some trouble out there, ... you won't have that divine ... uh, pict- uh b- it actually paints a picture of God as some k- sort of Mafia don, by the way. 'M I right? ... You better pay your per-tection money, ... and that [laughter] ... your ... protection money by the way, ... in case you didn't know is [thinly] ten percent; ... [laughter] You better pay your protection money, ... or y- ... I'm sorry but yer gonna get a visit from the b- nasty lookin' guy. [scattered laughter] ... You're gonna g- and you're gon' git *beat up.* Because [bellowing] God wants yer *money*! And if you wanna be safe, ... you better pay u- [scoldingly] well that paints a b- *terrible* picture ... of a loving Father.
Guilt's another one. [sv] "Don't you feel bet-" I tried that with those GIs, you know, "Come on, fellas, pull your weight." ... [groans] ... y' know [scattered laughter] ...
The most popular one, that's kinda bad spellin' there I was havin' to crouch ... it's written in the originial Greek, by the way but [laughter] it means "greed." ... The b- the, the motivation that *most churches* now are leveraging, not so much our denomination but other denominations, is *greed*. They're appealing *directly* to your avarice. And they're saying something like this: ... You have no idea how much money *God Himself* ... will *rain down on you* ... [sv] if you start giving to his program. ... There are some verses that [hv] you can stitch together, ... I think it's a l- it's, it's a little bit of a Frankenstein monster as a stitch job, ... but you can stitch and there's whole ministries, that where the preacher does nothing but [twangy accent] talk lak this. You wanna get *overflowing* God's a-money, rain down on your head, you gotta start givin' according to the scriptural plan, ... usually that's the ten percent, again a tithe, ... and then some, ... and uh, th- - ... I don't know if, uh ... I don't think that's really true I think that sometimes, uh, God blesses us financially for different reasons at different times.
But it's not *quid pro quo.* ... Because quid pro quo, *favor for favor done*, has *no connection* to grace, does it? ... If we're living under grace, and we say we are, ... then what kind of a God is it, that requires me to give him ... m- money, so I can get more? ... And by the way the preachers that preach this kind of thing are *very* well off, they *have* to be well off, because the church is obligated to make this guy rich so that he can be a living embodiment of their belief! [scattered laughter] ... Right? [man responds, "right."] OK.
Well, I happ'n da think these are *no* good motives. I 'p'n to think there's only two that work. ... That there are *only two* motives that really work. The first one, I b- I ... abbreviated ESI: I believe that to be "enlightened self-interest."-- And we're gonna go to those verses in a moment where Jesus says lay up treasures in heaven where moth and rust don't destroy.
I think that that's a *primer* motive; I don't think that's where God's gonna - leave ya. That's a *starter* motive to get ya goin'. The only other one that counts I believe is love.
So, you say, "Well Steve, *what about* tithing, what about this business of tithing? Am I *supposed* to tithe, do I have a *requirement* to tithe," tithing being ten percent, of your *gross* income by the way, ... [persnickety voice] not your net [scattered laughter] ... "Is that, am I duty bound to do - a mean uh you know cause ... because I could get scared, I - I - I'm not doin' that, or ... y'know, Or ... I could be feelin' real good, I, I could be [low righteous voice] doin' twice that, 'n feel ... extra spiritual. ... Am I duty-bound to do that?" Well, the New Testament says *almost nothing* about tithing; vir- almost nothi- like, ... zero point ... one about tithing.
Jesus *tacitly approves* of it, in the lives of Pharisees while he's *rebuking* them for not being filled with l- justice, mercy, ... and love. ... And he says, ... he says, "You guys, you do everything, ya tithe and ya pray 'n everyth- ya *shoulda* kept doin' that stuff but you shoulda done this. So he gives an endorsement of tithing; and *I* suspect frankly that Jesus *was a tither.* ... Why wouldn't he be? [sv] He was, after all, a good Jew! ... Right? Living under the law; he *was* living under the law, folk. ... But somehow or other we have a temptation sometimes, ... when we're *below budget* to reach down, and we just tell 'em we're gonna reach down and do a whole 'nother covenant, and we're gonna say that *you* under a *new* covenant ... have a t- have an *obligation* under God to tithe. Ten percent, and we're *pullin' that* out of the law. Then some folks'll say Well no, Steve, ... because tithing actually *predates* the law, which is true, goes all the way back to Genesis.
Now, the fact that Jesus tithed ... I think is true. Jesus *also* ... observed ritual Sabbath ... law. He - stretched it some but he observed it. He also did *not eat bacon*. ... Right? He was a good Jew. ... Uh, he was also circumcised, and *endorsed* little boys *being* circumcised. All, virtually all of those by the way *predate* the giving of Mosaic law. Sabbath observance, ritual animal sacrifice, and circumcision *all predate* the law, under Moses. *Which* of you in here is gonna have a church campaign tryin' to get those of us who're uncircumcised circumcised cause it's a spiritual obligation? [scattered laughter] ... I haven't seen a campaign like that, ... I don't think ever. [scattered laughter] I can't remember one.
Now, it's just, that, now, I believe I'm bein' scriptural here, I'm not meaning to be flippant. ... How is it that we can selectively go back and yank out an Old Testament ... law or principle and say that it is a *duty for you now*, under grace, ... and yet the *others* aren't duties? ... Ritual animal sacrifice? "Well, uh, n- we're in a new covenant now, we don't have to do that;" "Well, why do we gotta do the other one?" "I don' know."
When they had a, they had a big council ... when the, when g- God showed that he was gonna, include the Gentiles in this business of being Christians. And they got the Holy Spirit just like the Jewish folk did that believed. And they wound up havin' a big council because a *big hubbub* it's in Acts. Big hubbub "What are we gonna do ... uh, about gettin' these guys circumcised?" And a lot of these people were goin' to Greeks who'd become Christians sayin' ya *gotta get cut*! ... And they were like, *hoe,* man*! [scattered laughter] [chortling] Whoa! ... Boy that's ... I *gotta* get cut? Pure guilt ... y'know, get with the program, here, fella.
And they had a big council, one of the *first councils they ever had* in Jerusalem, about this matter. About what was our obligation under law. These guys got together and had 'em like a *three day business meeting*, which is a *frightening* prospect. [laughter] And what they came up with is they said, "Nope, ya don't gotta get circumcised, *we're* not gonna lay a yoke of burden on you we couldn't keep." ... Uh, what they came up with is they said don't eat meat from strangled animals, ... don't be sexually immoral, ... and don't eat blood. ... That's what they came up with.
[softer] Where was *tithing,* come *on* fellas! ... You know why they didn't talk about that? Because the church had no *overhead* in the first century. They had *no* overhead. ... They had no buildings, ... they had no electric bill. ... They had no staff, really, the apostles were supported but *Paul* took an exception to that, he wanted to support *himself*. ...
I'm not saying that what *we're* doing is *wrong*, I happen to be blessed; I'm happy to be a part of the infrastructure of this church. And *you're* enjoying it, you're sitting in a chair someone else paid for. And *I* think it's wonderful, this room. And I'm ha- happy to support it. ... But it cr- it does create ... an overhead which *sometimes* creates enough pressure, that we'll wanna dip below the love motivation line.
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