With Open Hearts
What you have is what you give away. Clench your fist, try to hold on, and it will be taken away from you. When you hold your breath, you lose it. You make a friend by giving your friendship. You receive love by giving love. When you give joy, you receive joy. When you give money, you will save it. What you have is what you give away. In our lesson today, Jesus said, Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Send your money to heaven, and you will invest it! Try to keep it for yourself, you will lose it. Try to hoard it, money will become your god, because that is where your heart will be, and your heart will become stingy, narrow, puny and small.
The opposite of a narrow, stingy heart is an open heart. We are an OPEN church. With open minds, we are tolerant and accepting of new ideas. With open arms, we welcome everyone, even those who are different. With open mouths, we tell the stories and proclaim God's saving love. With open hands, we pass on what we have received. With open hearts, we give generously.
Jesus taught another very important principle in this passage, vs. 21, For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The Good News translation is even clearer, For your heart will always be where your riches are. Talk is cheap. What really tells who you are and what is important to you is your checkbook and your savings account. The heart of a person--the center of your life, the priorities of your life, your relationship with God--is revealed in how you spend your money. What you value in life is what you spend your money on.
Now, most of us here this morning are serious about our discipleship. We are serious about our relationship with God. We want to do what God asks. We want to be faithful stewards, faithful managers, faithful share croppers. We want to take care of what God has given to us, and contribute God's portion to do God's work. Yet we know we have needs. We want to take care of our families. We want to save for the future. We plan for our retirement. We set aside funds to supplement health insurance and medicare when we are ill. We do not want to be a financial hardship on our families when we are old. How do we balance what we need and what we want to do for God? How do we store up for ourselves treasures in heaven? How do we entrust our hearts to God, and not in riches? How do we get our values and priorities straight?
The Bible has a very practical method. Our Christian faith is not only theoretical, it is very practical. There is a very practical method by which we get our priorities straight. There is a very practical method by which we store our treasures in heaven. There is a very practical method by which we trust in Christ, not in our riches. There is a very practical method by which we relieve our guilt, when we worry if we are doing what God wants us to do. This morning I commend to you the biblical tithe.
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, with open hearts our response to Christ is love, not duty; gratitude, not "ought". 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 and still have enough for my needs? What is important is not a legalistic formula, what is important is that you think in terms of percentage, not amount. What percentage are you giving to God?
I ask you this morning to consider tithing. Ellie and I tithe 10%, plus love offerings. As a practical way in fulfilling your ministry of stewardship, as a practical way of being a faithful share cropper, as a practical way of entrusting your heart to Christ, as a practical way of opening your heart, will you consider tithing? I recommend tithing for five reasons.
1) Tithing is what a steward, a share cropper, a manager of God's earth, 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 own nothing. The earth is the Lord's. We are tenants. We are share croppers. 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? 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 what a disciple of Jesus Christ does.
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 everyone. Tithing is fair. When interest earnings are low as they are these days, or when interest is high, tithing is fair. Tithing is not an arbitrary assessment. It is based on actual earnings. Tithing is 10% of your income, whatever that income may be.
Tithing answers the question, how much do I keep for my needs, and how much do I give to God? Tithing relieves guilt. A comment heard often from tithers is their surprise at how their needs are met. I doubt if there is a magical correlation! Not that what we keep for ourselves magically stretches, but what does seem to happen is that tithers manage what they keep for themselves more efficiently and effectively. Effective managers for God become effective managers of what is kept for their needs. Tithing is fair and equitable.
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 in your spending. If God is first in your spending, God is more likely to be first in your life. Jesus said, For your heart will always be where your riches are. 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 spend our money on our real values. Talk is cheap. The checkbook speaks louder than all our words. Tithing puts God first. Giving God 10% is a practical method of entrusting your heart to Christ.
4) Tithing grows faith. It takes faith and commitment to give the tithe. Tithing teaches us to put our faith in God, not in the economy. Tithing teaches us to trust in God's resources, not in our own. Tithing teaches us to trust God, not our own abilities and ingenuity. Tithing is an act of trust.
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 share cropper's covenant, your stewardship ministry. A tither knows the joy, and wishes non-tithers could know the joy of being faithful, the joy of an open heart.
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. With an open heart, 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 your next income check. Try it, you'll like it!
ã 1993 Douglas I. Norris