I was asked to speak at my church this past weekend on the topic of giving and stewardship. There was a lot of postive response and several people asked that I post it here at Life with Grace. I hope you will enjoy it and pass it along!
From Matthew 6
“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
I want to begin with one of the most popular verses for Stewardship seasons.
Ready, here it is, we all know it—-
“For where your treasure is there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6: 21
Am I right? Isn’t this often a beginning point for cajoling us out of more of our time, talent and treasure every year? (Followed of course by the “Lord loves a cheerful giver.”) We sigh, thinking about what we can “afford”, while we pat down on everything we have, taking inventory on our ability to “give” and still provide for ourselves. The really cynical among us think it’s only about the money. I really struggle with this too. I know I felt pretty convicted a few weeks ago when our preacher, Tom, challenged us about how we prioritize our giving… and I have to admit, I often fall into the category of putting charitable giving last in the budget instead of first… But even in the midst of this internal rebellion we hear this verse and nod our heads. We feel that little pang of needing to “prove” our hearts are “right” by giving something. “I’ve got to give my treasure to the church so everyone knows that’s where my heart is!” Right?
Well, let’s back up for a moment to the verses proceeding. Jesus is telling us not to invest in a material life that can be lost. He says:
“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”(Matt 6:19-21)
So this is like an investment right? I just invest in the right ministries, just like I invest in all the right mutual funds— and “Boom” I’ve got my big fat bank account in the sky… Right? Wrong?
We imagine that our heart follows our treasure. Wherever we invest our treasure our heart will follow dutifully behind. But the truth is while we may be going through the motions, and even acting “as if” we were in a giving spirit, this is really just either obligation or works, or both. We have it backwards, our heart does not follow our treasure… but rather it is our treasure that follows wherever our heart leads.
So how do we lead our hearts to invest in the places that will store up for us that treasure in heaven that Jesus speaks of? The answer comes from the previous three sections of Today’s Gospel. It is what Angela Thomas author of A Beautiful Offering refers to as The Secret Life. In this Gospel lesson we find the answers to the three most significant questions we face as Christians wondering where and how to commit our time, talent and treasure.
Now the 1st we all want to know is— Where’s the Beef?!
Most of you are old enough to remember when Wendy’s sparked this phrase craze with the commercial of the old lady staring at a miniscule beef patty on an oversized bun. Still considered one of the catchier commercials in TV history you can actually find it on YouTube to get a little blast from the 80’s past. Well, we all know Wendy’s is where we go to get more beef! And of course we all deserve more, right? Bigger is better! More is better! More and FASTER is even better still! Why deny ourselves? From fast food to fast cars our Wii-fi- French-fry culture screams “get more now!” “Indulgence is satisfaction!”
Denial and delay of gratification are words we give lip service to but rarely practice. I know I’m guilty. I am constantly loosing the battle of the bulge against my refusal to deny myself one more piece of chocolate. If we did practice self-denial then so many Americans wouldn’t be in mounds of credit card debt. We have two generations and counting of Americans who know nothing about what it means to actually save in order to get something big— Da-da-da-da, CHARGE IT! In our church calendar life we play with “self-denial” during the Lenten season. We go a whole 40 days with out something… and spend the whole time scrunching up our faces, complaining about it to everyone. All the while we don’t really have hold of the meat we really need to sink our teeth into for real rewards. Jesus tells us the best quality beef comes from the quietest sacrifices.
“But when you fast put oil on your head and wash your face so it will not be obvious to men you are fasting, but only to your Father in heaven, who is unseen, and your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matt 6: 16-18)
Have you ever fasted in secret? Have you ever given up something and never told a soul? Just bore the sacrifice and let the fast transform you and draw you closer to God? What in our lives do we really sacrifice in order to serve God? Are we really fasting? Or are we simply “giving” from our riches as Jesus points out in the “widow’s mite”? Jesus says; “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word from the mouth of God.” This is the real feast! What of our time, talent and treasure are we giving up, “fasting” and trusting in God’s hands? That is where we’ll find the “beef!”
Let’s move on to our second Big Question- which is: Have you been to “My Space” lately?
We all know the My Space phenomenon. Now Face Book might be a little more popular, but the whole notion of both is the same. Here is my little corner of the ambiguous cyber-world. It’s my space made perfectly to reflect who I am and connect me with literally the entire planet. Connection is so important to our human nature. We crave it and are lost without it. But Jesus tells us about the real “My Space” — it is the space that is carved out for him. Physically it is the corner in our homes that we designate for our prayer and devotional time. Figuratively it is the quiet time we set aside to connect to him each day.
“But when you pray, go to your room, close the door and pray to your father who is unseen. Then your father who sees what is done in secret, will reward you” (Matt 6: 5-6)
These moments with the Lord are not supposed to be out there for the entire world to see, but in quiet solitude. This is the private place to confess our sins, air our grievances, give praises, make petitions, wrestle with God, ask questions, gain wisdom, learn of our gifts, hear where God calls us to serve, discover what He wants us to do with our time, talent and treasure, and come to truly know him in “my space.” Jesus prescribes for us, just what that space should look like— A secret place. When we make space for Jesus we find rich rewards will follow for the here and now, and for our treasure in heaven. If you have not already done it, go and carve out your own secret “My Space” with Jesus.
Now let’s get to the final really Big question, perfect for our culture and the stewardship season-What’s in your wallet? We all know Capital One’s advertising campaign ending with that famous phrase. The whole idea of holding a Capital One card in your wallet means you have one thing we all really want… power… power to be wielded, power that will get rewards. But Jesus has a much different view of our “wallets,” what we ought to do with them and how the Lord rewards what we do with what’s in them.
Imagine ourselves each carrying our own “Spiritual Wallets.” What is in your wallet? The time God has given you, the talents he has gifted you, and the treasure he has blessed you with. Just like we are supposed to be good stewards of our financial wallets, we are also supposed to be good stewards of our “Spiritual Wallets” because these wallets are full of POWER… the power to serve God and build His kingdom. So what’s in your wallet? How does Jesus want you to use it?
“So when you give… do not announce it with trumpets…. But when you give… do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.” (Matt 6:1-4)
Have you ever given in secret? This is the pinnacle of The Secret Life, giving without getting anything in return. Completely anonymous. No pat on the back, no “thank you,” no trumpets or celebration, simply performing an act of service, giving away a bit of money or using some of our talent in a way that Glorifies God, and draws not a drop of attention to ourselves. How often do we do this? I urge you if you do not practice it already, start giving in secret, and you will truly be building up treasure in heaven, the only treasure that really endures.
Ok- Let’s not forget where we started, remember that your treasure follows where your heart leads… so let Jesus lead you heart. A heart led by Jesus is a heart in connection to him through a Secret Life. Obviously we live in community so not all of our giving can or will be done in secret. Instead, it is in the discipline of pursuing this secret life where we find God nudging us on how to give both in secret and out in the open. It is also our connection to the Lord in the secret life that shows us how to give out in the open gracefully for the reward of filling His glory, not the reward of filling our own glory, or “obligations.”
If we want to truly give for Jesus we have to get with Jesus. One of the most profound ways to get with Jesus is to build a secret life with him. So I pray you pursue a secret life with the Lord and see where he leads you to lend your time, talent and treasure. Your “Spiritual Wallet” will follow where your heart leads, Let Jesus lead your heart through a secret life… and not just for this stewardship season, but for every day the Lord gives you. From this Secret Life you will lay down a beautiful offering.
You know I have heard it said that Christians make up the most talented group of people in the world. There are a lot of Christians out there…
You figure the average person has about 12 hours of productive time in one day. I’m not too good at math, and I know our days are numbered, but that’s still a lot of time..
A recent statistic showed the average household income for Loudoun County, where I live, was around $80,000/ year. We are blessed with a lot of treasure…
Add that all up and look around at us, The Body of Christ…
And think of the POWER and the beautiful offering of all our “Spiritual Wallets” combined!
When you fast, fast in secret, and your father who sees in secret will reward you….
When you pray, pray in secret, and your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you…
and when you give, give in secret and your father who sees what is done in secret will reward you…
And in this way…
Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also…
May you bless God, and be blessed in a secret life!