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God's Plan
November 17, 1996

MATTHEW 25:14-30

One of my favorite places is Santa Cruz. One afternoon, a couple of months ago, the sun was shining brightly. It was an unusual day for Santa Cruz, shorts and T-shirt weather, warm and relaxing. A rock just off the shore was covered with seals. They were barking and playing. It looked to me like they were playing! The waves were just right for surfing. I counted 42 surfers all in the same area. Such fun. By the time we moved to California, I was too old and sensible to surf. I did enjoy body surfing with my church youth. Taking them to Monte Toyon Camp, and spending the afternoons on the beach was my and their idea of church camp! We played on the beach, body surfed, built sand castles, played volleyball, and ate!

Anyway, back to Santa Cruz. On this perfect day, with 42 people surfing, I saw no accidents. There were close encounters, but it looked like they were dancing with one another. Flying through the surf, turning circles, avoiding one another, dancing-- joy, freedom. What a life! What a thrill it must be the first time you stand up and stay up! The onlookers were enjoying the event. They were pointing, cheering and laughing.

Then, I discovered, surfing like everything else, has rules! Freedom is possible because there are rules. Joy, flying through the water, dancing on the waves, is possible because there is common courtesy and practice of the rules. The rules are carved into a redwood sign.

First surfer on wave has right-of-way

Paddle around wave not through it (so you don't get hit by an oncoming surfer)

Hang on to your board

Help other surfers

But, as I watched, I realized there is more to surfing than rules. The rules are basic, like the Ten Commandments. Have your realized that you don't break the Ten Commandments, you break yourself on the Ten Commandments? When you disregard the rules of surfing, you break yourself by running into someone, or by being run into because you are in the wrong place.

But, surfing is also an art. It is an art to learn, practice, sense, and eventually know when to paddle into the coming wave, and when to turn the surfboard and stand up. Then, it is a balancing act as you soar on the crest of the wave.

Life is like that. God has rules, but even more so, God has a plan. Some folks keep breaking themselves on the rules. But, some folks keep the rules, like the Ten Commandments, but have not learned how to live. They haven't learned or mastered the art of soaring. They go through life floundering, unable to stand on the board, not knowing how or when to ride the crest of the wave. Some Christians follow the rules, but aren't living God's plan. They flounder, stumble, and fall. Their finances are a mess. Or, their marriage is unstable. Or, they are not experiencing the joy, the fun of doing God's work.

God has a plan. God is constantly at work creating and redeeming, loving and reaching. This is a needy, struggling world. People need direction and focus. Families are in trouble. Marriages are crumbling. Substance abuse is on the increase. Violence is prevalent. People are breaking themselves on the rules! But, God is not idle. God has a plan to save this world, to save and rescue every person, every family. God has a plan for everyone to soar through life, riding the crest of the wave.

Listen to God's plan. God came to the world in the person of Jesus to model, to demonstrate, to teach the plan, and to embody the plan. The reaction? They killed him, but they didn't stop him. God raised Jesus from the dead, and now calls Jesus' followers to be his hands, feet, mouth and heart, powered by the Holy Spirit. God calls us to be the body of Christ on this earth today to be part of the solution, to model and to work, to love and rescue.

To do God's work, to do the modeling and rescuing, God gives each of us spiritual gifts to discover, develop and use; spiritual gifts like teaching, leading, hospitality, healing, discernment, administration, prayer. And, God gives his people resources to financially support God's work. God's plan is the tithe, 10%. God is very generous, and let's us keep 90%of our income for ourselves and the government, and 10% to do God's work.

The Bible is full of promises, like Proverbs 3:9, Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. When you trust God with your finances, and are faithful in your giving, God will bless what you keep for yourself so that there is enough to meet your needs. You can't outgive God, because God has a bigger shovel. As you share, God replenishes your supply. Like love, the more you love, the more you have. Soaring through life, riding the crest, dancing on the water, experiencing the thrill, the joy of being alive in Christ is God's plan.

To state it negatively, when you hold back on the tithe, the joy is missing. When God is not in charge of your finances, you may flounder, stumble and fall. I've heard people say, "How can God expect me to tithe? I barely have enough now to make ends meet." Perhaps the reason such people have difficulty with their finances is that they have not put God in charge. The point of Jesus' parable which was read this morning is that we all have been entrusted with resources, and when we do not use what we have been given, we lose it. Use it or lose it is the point of the parable. The servant who buried his money did not manage well. He was too cautious, too conservative, too careful. He was afraid to risk. He was afraid to trust, like people who don't dare trust God's plan and tithe. Because the servant hid the money, rather than invest it, he lost it. Like muscles, use them or lose them. Proverbs 11:24, Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. Use your resources faithfully, get your priorities straight, or they are in a mess. Let God control your finances, or they will control you.

A pastor received a letter from a member. Listen to a few excerpts.

Dear Pastor, During the past two years and especially during the past few weeks, the Lord has been telling us to step out on faith and tithe. We had so many questions, such as: How can we afford to give ten percent when our finances are in such a mess and we don't have the money to give? Well, we recently realized that our finances are in the state they are in because we haven't given that area over to the Lord. It has been difficult giving up that control. Last Sunday, we gave our first tithing check. Surprisingly, God spoke to us that day through one of our daily readings. "Trust involves letting go and knowing that God will catch you."

Well, pastor, on the following Wednesday the Lord showed us that by obeying him and trusting him, he will prove himself faithful to us. My wife received a surprise pay raise at work, which was retroactive to February of last year. She not only received a larger paycheck that day, she received an additional check which included the retroactive pay raise. This definitely is God's message that he is pleased with our obedience and, finally, God has control of our finances.

Tithing is not about money. Tithing is about trust.

Next Sunday, we present our Estimates of Giving for 1997 which allows your Administrative Council to make a budget. But, this morning I am not talking about giving money to the church. Did you hear about the pastor who announced if his congregation reached a fund-raising goal, he would permit them to place a clock on the pulpit. If they exceeded the goal by $1,000, he would let them plug the clock in. If they exceeded the goal by $2,000, he agreed to look at it! Notice, however, he didn't promise to do anything about it!

But, this morning I am not talking about giving money to the church. I'm talking about your relationship with God. I'm talking about you and the Lord. Is there joy in your life? Is there faith? Is there trust? Are you trusting God with your decisions? Are you trusting God with your life? Are you trusting God with your finances? Are you trusting and living God's plan? Are you soaring or floundering, riding the crest or swallowing salt water? Are you on top of your finances or drowning, flying in the sun with salt water spraying your face or are you still struggling to stand up?

Perhaps some of you are considering God's plan of the tithe, and wonder how to start. Just do it. Make the decision and do it. Don't wait until you are wealthy. Don't wait until you have extra money. Don't wait until you feel like it. Step out on faith, straighten out your priorities, change your behavior, and your heart, your feelings will follow. And, get ready to enjoy the thrill ride of your life!

© 1996 Douglas I. Norris