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For Practical Minded People
November 13, 1977

St. Paul's United Methodist Church


His parents wanted to develop some character in their son, train him in Christian stewardship, so on one Sunday as they made their way into the sanctuary, they gave him a nickel and a silver dollar with the instructions to put one in the offering plate. After the service, they asked the boy, “Which did you give? And he said, “Well, I put in the nickel.| “Why did you put in the nickel?” He said, “The preacher said that the Lord loves a cheerful giver, and I knew I'd be more cheerful if I put in the nickel.” I think the boy missed the point some somewhere along there, although I suppose he was very practical minded. 

This sermon today, like television serials, begins with a recap of last Sunday. We're talking about Christian stewardship, about the lifestyle of Christian stewardship. Money, and our possessions, is a trust from God. We have been entrusted with it, we have been blessed with it, to take care of it. Our money, our possessions are not for us to own, not for us to hoard, but to take care of for God while we're on this earth— take care of it tenderly, take care of it skillfully so that it multiplies and grows, invest it properly, so that God's work may be sustained and underwritten. We have been entrusted to take care. And when we do not have that kind of attitude, when money is misused, it creates havoc in our lives, creates havoc in an individual life and in the lives of families. Statistics tell us the number one problem in marriages that end in divorce is money—financial management.

Jesus was concerned about this and said much about money, about our possessions. On one occasion, he said, “No one can serve two masters. For either you will hate the one and love the other or you will hold to the one and despise the other You cannot serve God and money.” Priorities must be set straight in our lives to find fulfillment, joy, happiness and success. And these priorities include money. Paul said in our lesson this morning that we are to give gladly. 

The ancient practice that comes to us out of the Old Testament to help us in this matter of money, to help us in stewardship, to help us take care of God's money is the tithe. A time honored method is the tithe: 10% is given to the church and to related causes. 10% of our income is given back to God. This keeps us straight. This keeps our priorities straight. It keeps us in the stewardship stance. 

Tithing is for very practical minded people, very businesslike. 10% is easy to figure. Children can figure it out. Children and youth are encouraged to begin tithing very early. Start tithing the allowance or when money is earned. Start saving 10% for giving to the church and related causes. Give as Paul urged in the lesson, not out of a sense of duty, not out of regret, but out of gratitude. Paul was writing to the church at Corinth because he was raising money for the Jerusalem Church. The Jerusalem Church was in sore financial distress. They were hungry. There was famine at that time. Paul was raising money among all the other churches to take back for relief work in Jerusalem. And the church surprisingly but on the other hand, it's not surprising that church that gave the most money was the poorest of them all: the Macedonian Church. The wealthiest church was the Corinthian Church and to them he wrote these strong words. He told the Corinthian Church about the Macedonian Church. This is what he said in chapter eight. “They have been severely tested by the troubles they went through, but their joy was so great that they were extremely generous in their giving, even though they are very poor.” Gratitude is the motivation by which we practice stewardship, gratitude to God for all that we have. We gladly return a portion to God not out of sense of duty, not out of regret, but gladly, as the Good News translation says, “Remember that the person who plants few seeds will have a small crop, the one who plants many seeds will have a large crop. Each one should give then as he or she has decided not with regret, or out of a sense of duty, for God loves the one who gives gladly.” And then a promise is given. Paul goes on to say, “God is able to give you more than you need, so that you will always have all you need for yourselves.”The promise is that when we're faithful in our stewardship, God gives us all that we need. God blesses our money, so it stretches. God helps us with wiser, more careful financial planning, which is a weakness for many of us. Getting our priorities straight, keeping money in its proper perspective is not a matter of raising money for the church, but it's a matter of our relationship to God. Tithing keeps us in His will. 

Now, how does this happen? How do we practice stewardship? Sermons about money make some people very uncomfortable. They say all we’re always talking about money. We're always taking up offerings. Talking about money in sermons is for the primary purpose of making a total commitment to God, of encouraging and developing our total wholehearted commitment to God. That is our goal. A total wholehearted commitment to God, which brings joy, peace, satisfaction, meaning and significance into our lives includes our money and our possessions. So we talk about money primarily because of your relationship with God, and not because the church needs money. So for practical minded people, how can this come about if the subject of money makes us uncomfortable? Well, let's look and see what the source of the discomfort is. If you are practical, and you just can't see 10%, how about a plan, a long range plan with a goal of 10% in the future? Set as a goal that in a certain number of years, you will become a tither and the tithe will include gifts to the church, the United Fund and other charitable good causes. Then, take some intermediary steps.

You have received in the mail a chart which tells you easily what percent of your weekly income you are giving. Take the chart and look at where you now are. For example, if your income is $15,000 a year, $300 a week, follow that line across and you see all the variations of giving and what percent they amount to. Say that you're giving $6 a week. $6 a week of a weekly income of 300 is 2%. Now the plan is this: How about challenging yourself and make a plan that next year you'll give 3% and raise your giving to $9. The following year go up to 4% which will be $12. Make a plan so that year by year you increase 1% until you reach the goal of a tither. That's a plan for very practical minded people. 

I'd like to tell you a true story about a young couple. I know this couple personally, a Methodist couple just like us. They heard about this plan and they were challenged. They decided that each year they would increase 1%. When they got into the plan, they got so excited, they felt so good about what they were doing they began to jump ahead. They reached 10% far ahead of schedule, and things began to happen in their lives. They felt God moving in their lives as God had not moved before, because they were now opening their entire life to do God, including their money. Kurt was an engineer. He became dissatisfied with his job as an engineer and felt that God was calling him to something else. In an act of faith, he quit his job, moved to San Diego with his wife who did not work outside the home and his four daughters—little girls—and went back to school. He went to medical school of all things, took a heavy program, worked part time and kept up the tithe through this whole experience. Today, he is on the research staff at Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco and is engaged in exciting research. A few years ago, the San Francisco Examiner had a full spread on him, on his invention that made a big improvement in some medical procedure. He found a whole new life. He found the faith to follow God where God was leading him. And it all began because they took stewardship seriously and made a plan.

Will you try? I'm not just talking about raising money for the church. I’m talking about your relationship with Christ, and for practical minded people, how to get our priorities straight. We've tried to do this in our lives. I have a minister friend who says that every minister every year needs to stand up in front of the congregation and tell what he or she gives, as an act of faith, and because there are no secrets. I've never done that because I always felt uncomfortable, that I was being pretentious and braggy. But he said it's my obligation. So I will share personally with you where we are in this plan. We figured out that last year, our giving to St. Paul's alone was $30 a week, at the time we added in the Organ Fund. So this year, we decided a few weeks ago that we would raise to $40 a week. It was an act of faith because we didn't see how it was going to work out. But right after we made that decision, things worked out in a business way. All of a sudden, it's all there. 

I’m trying to say that for practical minded people, this system works. And as you work through this plan, you will find joy, peace and satisfaction, that you're doing what you ought to do and that you're being who you ought to be, that you're being faithful to God who is our father and we are His children.

© 1977 Douglas I. Norris