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Fulfill Your Ministry
2 TIMOTHY 3:14-4:5
Dr. Leonard Sweet, a seminary professor, tells of his first stewardship campaign. He had been appointed to a missionary church in a small college community. The first year had been a nervous one for the young, not dry-behind-the-ears Ph. D. pastor. His congregation was an odd coupling of rural folk and academic types. But there was significant enough progress to project a campaign to double the budget for the second year.
Dr. Sweet was excited about the campaign, and designed a catchy slogan to put on T-shirts for the campaign callers. It seemed the perfect plan.
On Sunday morning, the chairperson of the campaign did an outstanding job of presenting the need. As soon as he finished, the pastor jumped up and presented him with a surprise gift, the T-shirt that would give the campaign focus and force. The color of the chairperson's face when he opened the gift should have alerted Dr. Sweet, but the pastor went ahead and held up the T-shirt for the congregation to see. Then it dawned on Dr. Sweet what he had inadvertently designed. The T-shirt proudly read: I Upped MY pledge. Up YOURS.
At first, there was a trickle of laughter, then a torrent of laughter. He lost the service. When he tried to preach, at unpredictable moments convulsions of laughter drowned him out. But, he won the war. From that moment the upstart preacher and hotshot Ph.D. became human. He was fully accepted as their pastor. Whenever he was introduced to someone in the community, he was asked, "Are you the up-yours preacher?"
From today's Scripture text, I have a slogan. It's safe, and relevant. Paul, or whoever wrote 2 Timothy, encouraged Timothy, "Fulfill your ministry." Timothy, carry out your ministry. Endure your suffering; be persistent. Use the Scriptures to keep yourself from false teachings and myths. Speaking of false teachings, I received a letter this week. Emblazoned on the envelope was "Pastor, warn your flock. To vote for Bill Clinton is to sin against God." The religious right political wing is providing glittering examples of what Paul meant by false teachings. Use the Scriptures, he wrote to Timothy, to keep yourself oriented and grounded. Be faithful. Complete your ministry. Fulfill your ministry.
Each of you has a ministry. God has called each of you to a unique, special ministry in your workplace, in your home, through your church. You are a disciple of Jesus Christ. You are not just anybody, you are a special disciple of Jesus Christ.
One of the important ministries to which each of us is called is the ministry of stewardship, the ministry of taking care of and managing the planet and its resources; the ministry of managing the resources God has given you so that God's work may be accomplished. In particular, today I challenge you to fulfill your ministry, carry out your ministry of stewardship, by tithing.
The biblical tithe is giving 10% back to God. Out of gratitude to God, Jacob vowed to give God 10% of all he possessed. I have often been asked by those considering tithing, does tithing mean 10% of my income before or after taxes? 10% of gross or 10% of net? I don't answer the question, because it is an individual decision. I am not concerned with legalism. Our United Methodist understanding of the gospel is not legalistic. We are not under law, but under grace. As Christians seeking to grow in discipleship, our response to Christ is love, not duty; gratitude, not "oughts". Legalism asks: what is my duty? Love asks: what is the need? Legalism asks: how little can I give and still get by? Love asks: how much can I give?
I ask you to consider tithing. Ellie and I tithe. Last year, our tithe was 10.2% of our gross income ( 20.7% of our net income). As a major step in fulfilling your ministry of stewardship, will you seriously consider tithing? Why tithe?
1) Tithing is what a steward does. If your income last week was $500, how much of the $500 belongs to God? No, not 10%! 10% of $500 does not belong to God. All of it belongs to God! God is the owner, not you. You and I possess nothing. A steward understands that we own nothing. God is the owner. The earth is the Lord's. We are tenants. We come and go. We are not long on this earth, and whatever we accumulate, whatever we think is ours, will not go with us when we leave this earth. We own nothing. God puts us on this earth to take care of it. We humans are the managers of the planet. It's hard to understand why God doesn't fire us. Could you imagine the owner of a company putting up with managers who manage the way we manage the earth?
God blesses you with all you have, and lets you use it for awhile. God blesses you with intelligence, education, opportunities to get ahead, to do something with your life. For what purpose? So you can accumulate things that moths eat, rust deteriorates, and thieves break in and steal, like Jesus said? No, God blesses you so you can do his work. God is the owner; we are the stewards, the caretakers.
Now, God does let us use 90% for our own needs. Such a deal! 90% for your needs, 10% for God, is the tithe. Tithing is one way you fulfill your ministry of stewardship.
2) Tithing is fair and equitable. The rich receive no more glory for their big gifts, than the widow who gives her mite. In fact, those who tithe their little are better stewards than the rich who may give more, but do not tithe. Tithing breaks down all class and status distinctions. Children can tithe. Youth can tithe. Tithing is for everybody. Tithing is fair. When interest is low as it is these days, some feel guilty because their income is down. But, tithing is fair. Tithing is not an arbitrary assessment. Tithing is 10% of your income, whatever that income may be.
3) Tithing puts God first. It is easy to say, but difficult to know how to love God. It is easy to say, but difficult to put God first. How do you put God first in decision making, values, time? Tithing is a practical, easy to understand method of putting God first. If God is first in your spending, God is more likely to be first in your life. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there is your heart." It's true. If you want to know where your heart is, where your priorities are, where your values are, look at your tax return. Look at your checkbook. We all spend our money on our real values. Talk is cheap. The checkbook speaks louder than all our words. Tithing puts God first.
4) Tithing grows faith. It takes faith and commitment to give the tithe. Tithing teaches us to put our faith in God, not the economy. Tithing teaches us to trust in God's resources, not our own. Tithing teaches us to trust God, not our own abilities and ingenuity. Tithing is an act of trust.
It was Wednesday afternoon. I was a sophomore in college, 18 years old, recently appointed as pastor of two rural Methodist churches. I had asked the Sunday School teachers to go with me to a Teacher Training class in another town. In order to encourage them, I offered to drive out from college, pick three of them up, and take them to the Training.
This particular Wednesday afternoon, I had enough money to put gas in the car, or eat Thursday and Friday before I went home on Saturday; but, I didn't have enough money to both eat and take the teachers to the Training class. What to do? I debated with myself: I could call in sick. I could call and honestly say I didn't have enough money for gas. Or, I could go and trust God to provide food on Thursday and Friday. Did I have enough faith to do my ministry as God had called me, and as I had promised the teachers?
I went. I took my money and bought gas for the round trip, and the trip home on Saturday. I picked up the three teachers, we went to the class, and I dropped them off at their homes one-by-one. The last teacher to get out of the car--a woman with five children and very limited means--handed me a dollar "for gas", she said. Of the three teachers, she was the least able to afford that dollar. But, because of her experience, she could appreciate my financial limitations. It never dawned on the other teachers who had more than enough for themselves that their preacher, working his way through college, might not have enough money for both gas and food.
God provided. The lesson I learned that evening was that God provides. When God has all of you there is to have, God will take care of you. A dollar was worth a great deal more in those days, and that dollar stretched into meals for two days. I learned a lesson in faith and trust that, forty years later, is still valid.
Tithing is an ongoing act of trust. Tithing puts God first. Tithing grows faith.
5) Tithing deepens joy. Some say, give until it hurts; no, give until it feels wonderful. There is great joy being faithful. There is great joy knowing you are doing your part. There is great joy working in partnership with God. There is great joy and satisfaction placing your tithe on the offering plate. There is great joy knowing you are fulfilling your stewardship ministry.
I encourage you to tithe! Tithing is what a steward does. Tithing is fair and equitable. Tithing puts God first. Tithing grows faith. Tithing deepens joy. Begin now. Take a leap of faith. Jump to 10% right now. Reflect your decision to tithe on the pledge card you will present next Sunday, but don't wait until January 1 to start because by then you will have thought of a beautiful excuse. Begin tithing with your next income check. Fulfill your ministry.
© 1992 Douglas I. Norris