Scriptures: Psalms 116:12-14, Matthew 8:7-10, Mark 10:28-30, Matthew 4:18-20
One of my favorite classes in college (if there were such a thing) was psychology. Psychology defined is "the science of mind and behavior" according to Webster's Dictionary. That means psychology is the science of the soul. We have learned that we all have levels of "soulish" or mental needs innately built into each of us. We all have human needs. When one level is met, we move to the next level of psychological need and then the next level until we reach the top. Once at the top, we have what psychology calls a fulfilled life. The first level is food and water. Our total behavior is determined by the level of that need. After that need is met, we move to the next level, which is shelter, safety, and security. When that is met, we move to the next level which is companionship. We begin looking for friends and a mate. Adam had food and shelter and even God's presence, but even God said that it is not good that man should be alone. The fourth level is self-worth. We desire to be respected and needed. The top level is self-realization. At the top level of development, we realize who we are and what we are here to accomplish. We become a complete and happy person at that level. We have developed psychologically at that level.
The reason I mentioned that is because there are spiritual development levels in the kingdom of God as well. We are ending our series on Financial Liberation today. So, I thought we would talk about the development of the believer as he or she comes into God's Financial Liberation in their giving. We can have all the money in the world, but if we do not develop in giving, we do not have financial liberation. I want to begin at the very basic level of giving and then go to the highest fulfilling level. We should see our personal development in this area of our journey with Jesus.
1. Membership - We have interest in what is happening or being done at a church. Perhaps we like the teaching or the youth ministry or the praise and worship. We are interested. Many people join clubs such as the Country Club, the Elk's Club or maybe a hunting club because they have some interest in the activities. Church becomes something like that to people. I had a hunting club long years ago. Every year all the members would divvy up and pay for the property lease. If you didn't pay, you couldn't hunt. A few years ago, I was invited to join the AARP club. For you younger people who don't know about the AARP Club, it's a club that people fifty years old and older get to join. We have become senior citizens and in this club we get special deals on hotels and restaurants and insurance, etc. Every year we pay the dues and get the card to keep the deal working. It's that way with "membership" giving. If a person doesn't pay the country club dues, they cannot be a member of the country club. The deal doesn't work. At this level of giving, we give to keep our deal working. We give to keep our membership active. It's membership obligation giving. We say something like, "I go here. So, I should pay something."
Some denominations are entirely built upon this type of giving. They take the dues approach. They say that if you are going to come here, you got to pay. My uncle and aunt were very injured by this approach. They had become active in a church and then got their "dues" bill. Some churches go so far as to make it public as to who has paid their dues and who hasn't.
Although this is the level that we all begin, the Bible has nothing to say about this level of giving. The church is not a club and neither does the Bible teach that people are to be billed to be members. You can come here, be a member, and never give a penney. You will be loved and accepted and receive every ministry that Life Gate has to offer. Spiritual development in giving is not about dues.
2. Gratitude - This is where the Bible begins.
(NIV) Psalms 116:12 How can I repay the LORD for all his goodness to me?
Psalms 116:13 I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD.
Psalms 116:14 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all his people.
(TLB) Psalms 116:12 But now what can I offer the Lord for all he has done for me?
Psalms 116:13 I will bring him an offering of wine and praise his name for saving me.
Psalms 116:14 I will publicly bring him the sacrifice I vowed I would.
David said, "I toast (salute) the Lord for saving me." The believer's giving begins with a thanks for salvation. Vows and giving come from the gratitude that God saved us. Gratitude begins to come up in our spirit the second we realize what Jesus did for us, We want to give.
Our region has been going through a tremendous tragedy with the Noble crematory situation. The area has hurt along with those directly affected, but has also felt a special gratitude for the workers who were forced to deal with that horrible situation. All kinds of support have been given because we are grateful and want to do something. Much of the tragedy of 9/11 was that firemen and police officers were attempting to help people when they were killed. We are grateful to them. People become very vulnerable when their heart is moved this way. A lot of scams take place to get money at times when people are moved by gratitude. It's because we want to give from gratitude.
When man messed up, God could have turned his back, but he didn't. He did this wonderful thing that would clean up the mess we make. He sent his perfect son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins. The Bible says that Jesus came and died for our sins willingly. When they pounded him to the cross, he opened his hands willingly to allow the nails to penetrate and his life to be released. When we accept Jesus and the work he did for us, we receive the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. It's the same Spirit that Christ had and that raised him from the dead. When we accept Jesus, we become sons of God and begin conforming to the likeness of Jesus. We begin opening our hands to release our lives and release our resources. It's not membership. It's gratitude for his saving us. It's no longer, "Well, I go here so I ought to give something." It's no longer, "Well, I know they are watching. So, I will give something." When we begin to understand Christ on the cross, we open our hands willingly and gratefully.
This giving is intensely private. It is between me and Jesus. I can't allow what the pastor preached or didn't preach or said or didn't say to affect my gratitude for Jesus. When I hear stuff like that, I know the person is back at the membership giving level. It doesn't matter that I agree or disagree with the music or government or length of the services. It's about being grateful for Jesus. It's an intimate giving because I am grateful for what Jesus did for me.
3. Obedience - This level is when someone honestly and sincerely asks the Lord what he wants us to give. This is the "just say the word" type of believer.
Matthew 8:7 Jesus said to him, "I will go and heal him."
Matthew 8:8 The centurion replied, "Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed.
Jesus had an encounter with a Roman centurion who understood authority and how it worked. Authority was not to control and dominate, but to protect, bless, and bring healing to those under a person's authority. The Roman had a sick servant and told Jesus that if Jesus would "just say the word," his servant would be healed. The Bible says that Jesus took notice and was astonished at that man.
Matthew 8:10 When Jesus heard this, he was astonished and said to those following him, "I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith.
The King James' version says that Jesus "marveled" at that man. The man's servant was healed. It's the "just say the word" kind of faith.
I am a member of the body of Christ. I am a very grateful follower of Jesus. I thank God every day for all he has done for me and it shows up in my giving, but I don't want to be only a member and grateful. I want to be a "just say the word" follower. I want to be an obedient follower. Whatever Jesus says to do, I do it. So, I ask myself, "what does the word of the Lord say to give?" That is a way I give. "Lord, just say the word on what you want me to give, and I will do it."
We have had several defining times in the history of Life Gate. Most of those times have come about because of our making a decision to be a "just say the word" kind of church. It's caused people to be angry with us. It's caused people to leave us. We always hate that, but we made a decision. The decision is that if the Bible says it, then that's how we do it. Life Gate is built on that decision and God has blessed us because of that.
We, individually, must make that decision. Are you going to be a "just say the word" follower? If so, then it will affect your giving. What does his word say concerning giving? That settles how I give. I don't wrestle with it. I don't compromise on it. I do it cheerfully. I just do it because that's his word.
4. Sacrificial- It is not uncommon, over the course of a believer's life, for the Lord to ask a believer to take a huge step of faith and give sacrificially. When this happens, it is a frightening experience. It's sort of like walking a tight rope over Niagra Falls. When this happens, you say, "Oh my God. What am I doing? I hope this was really you Lord." Judy and I have done this. We completely emptied all our resources and gave them to the kingdom. That meant selling our house that we had built debt free and emptying my checking account and giving it all to the Lord. When it came time to pay my taxes that year, I didn't have enough money. I had to sell my guns and boat to pay my taxes. Some of you were here when we gave everything to the Lord. I can take you to the spot we were sitting when we did it. I can see it like it was yesterday. When this type giving is done for the right reasons and in obedience to God, you will learn some things about the Lord that are impossible to learn any other way. I learned that God is faithful. We watched God take care of us and resupply us with much more than we gave. The most important lesson we learned was that our supply was not in us or in man, but in God. After that experience, I was able to make decisions and not be moved by money or a person's wealth. I am able to make decisions according to God's word. I could not do that had I not learned that God will take care of me and my family when I obey him in every area.
Abraham was asked to sell out. God multiplied him. The disciples were asked to sell out. Do you remember the story about the rich young ruler? Jesus asked him to give sacrificially and he would not. Jesus said of him that it was more difficult for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a wealthy person to enter the kingdom of God. Peter responded to that. The response of Jesus is well worth reading.
Mark 10:28 Then Peter began to say unto him, Lo, we have left all, and have followed thee.
Mark 10:29 And Jesus answered and said, Verily I say unto you, There is no man that hath left house, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my sake, and the gospel's,
Mark 10:30 But he shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life.
We preachers often emphasize the part about the "hundredfold now in this time" and well we should. We are abundantly blessed when we give sacrificially. But Jesus said it also guaranteed that "in the world to come eternal life" was guaranteed. The fact is that if a person can do an "everything sacrificial giving," as Jesus asked the rich young ruler to do, we don't have to worry about their salvation. That person is linked with Jesus. His or her treasure is where his or her heart is located. Obviously, that is with Jesus. A person can't do this sacrificial thing unless he or she is a "sold out" believer. The rich young ruler could not. The disciples could and did. Financial liberation is not only about having money. Financial liberation is also about being able to give money.
5. Vision - This level giver is the follower who looks at life and the world in a different way than most people. This person realizes that the world is in trouble and no one knows how to fix it. These realize that the only fix is the transforming work of Jesus Christ one heart at a time. When seized by that vision, it absolutely changes the way resources, talents, and life is viewed. This is when we realize that we are here on this planet and given life to make a difference. We are here to do something important. We see the Lord's vision.
I spoke with Dr. Jason Cabler this week. Jason and Angie live in Nashville, but Life Gate is their church. They send their giving here and they give tithes, offerings, and alms. I asked Dr. Cabler if I could share a little of their story. He said I could. Dr. Cabler honestly believes that God wants him to be a very wealthy person. He said that he believes God wants him to be a "billionaire philanthropist" (supporter). He said he couldn't say that to everyone because they don't understand (I understand. You go Jason!). He sends his giving here because he sees the vision of Life Gate. He has a plan to be wealthy that will bless the kingdom of God and bless his home. So, I want to share this. I especially want our young people to listen to Dr. Cabler's plan which is working by the way.
(1) HAVE A PLAN - Start young with your plan. Start out making good decisions by leading a good moral life around good people. Get information and opinions from others. Learn from others' mistakes. Dr. Cabler said, "I never went along with the crowd. Usually the crowd is not right." Have all the information possible and make certain that it is right for you. Do something interesting to you. Go with your strengths (passion).
(2) WORK - "I never made any money until I got out and got a job. One of the worst days of my life was when I had graduated from school and everyone was calling me doctor, but I didn't have a job or money. I had to go to my dad and ask for money to go to a movie with my friends."
(3) USE MONEY INSTEAD OF IT USING YOU - "I went into major debt to get my practice, but got out of debt as soon as possible. I used the money of other people. I always put back what we could and now we are putting back 20%. I have a retirement fund and a fund for the children."
"The secret is a plan and properly handling the money we are allowed by God to handle." Dr. Cabler has a plan to have several practices and to raise up people that can do his job so he can retire between forty-five and fifty as a multimillionaire.
The reason I share that story is because Dr. Cabler and Angie live in Nashville, but send their giving here to Life Gate because they relate to the vision that Jesus can transform lives.
Tell me. Is there something, anything, that has the power to change lives for the better other than Jesus Christ? The purpose of the church is to be a vessel that presents the transforming gospel of Jesus Christ to a sick, sick world. It is the only hope. These days, I for one, want to give a greater and greater percent of my life - my time, my talent, my money - to the cause of Christ which is to save souls. It is the only hope our world has. Do you see that?
When we develop to this level in our lives and in our giving, we will not be satisfied until we find a church that has a vision to do just that. Our vision at Life Gate is summed up in that banner hanging on the wall. It says, "Life Gate church, reaching people and making them devoted followers of Jesus Christ." That means we will do anything it takes to reach people for Jesus. That is our ultimate goal. I give from every area of my life to that vision. That vision is why I live. That vision is my purpose in life. When I leave this realm and go to be with the Lord, I will have done something important.
Isn't that what giving must become? Yes, we all want to be a part and feel membership. Yes, we should be grateful. Yes, we should be obedient and allow the Lord to just say the word. Yes, we need to, at some point, sell out sacrificially. But isn't vision of reaching people the entire purpose of Jesus? If we are being conformed to his image, then isn't reaching people what life is all about? We are to go into all the world and make disciples, right (Mat 28:18-20)? He gave us his Spirit so we could do that one thing, right? It's not about goose bumps and frills. It's about reaching people for Jesus.
Matthew 4:18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen.
Matthew 4:19 "Come, follow me," Jesus said, "and I will make you fishers of men."
Matthew 4:20 At once they left their nets and followed him.
Isn't the reason we begin following him is to reach people? Isn't that the ultimate goal? I tell you often that I don't attempt to get you to give to our budget. I want us to give to our vision. Everything that Life Gate does is to reach people and make them devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
The woman with the alabaster box gave. She washed the feet of Jesus with her tears and wiped the feet of Jesus with her hair. Nothing was too good to give to Jesus. How do we feel about that? Can we give him this much, but not that much? Do we give when things are going well in our lives? Do we give when we are happy with the preacher? Or, do we give to the Lord and to the Lord's vision? Where are we in our giving development?
We are all traveling through this journey with Jesus. We will all develop to a certain point in the levels of giving. God will bless anything we give to his kingdom, but he desires that we enjoy Financial Liberation. Some of us are at the membership giving level. That's fine, but don't get stuck there. Some of us are at the gratitude level. That's better, but don't get stuck there. Some of us are at the obedience level. A few of us are at the sacrificial level. Please continue developing. My prayer is that we will all move into the vision level. There we give so that God can take what we give and somehow multiply it and use it to feed a sick, sick world the gospel of the kingdom. That gospel is the only answer. At stake is heaven and hell. Who knows how many people will receive Jesus because of our giving to his vision.