Part 1 of our 4 part sermon series – What We Believe
Our newest sermon series focuses on our Methodist beliefs. I’ve found that we become part of a church for so long, that sometimes we forget what it is we truly believe. As Methodists, there are certain things we believe that make us distinctive and this sermon series will explore some of those beliefs. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments section.
I made a HUGE mistake.
When I was 13 years old, I decided rather suddenly that I was too old for toys. If you look in our house today, you’ll notice I got over that notion. But at the time, I decided it was time to GROW UP! Only little boys played with toys. It was time for me to MOVE ON! Up until that point, I had a wonderful collection of die-cast metal toys imported from Japan. Ever since I was five years old or so, I had been watching these Japanese cartoons made for kids – the early precursors of today’s popular anime. My favorites were Raideen and Getter Robo G. They eventually translated these into English and called them the Shogun Warriors but I still prefer the original Japanese versions. I also watched a series called Dai-Apolon which I loved and each of these series had these amazing die-cast metal toys that you could only get at Japanese specialty stores. For birthdays and Christmases I would ask for different ones and I had a pretty cool collection. They could shoot things from their arms, transform into other robots, and had many moveable parts. But like I said, at the age of 13 I decided I was too old for toys and so I threw them away. They were all in a really big shoebox and I took it out to the trash can outside and plopped them inside. My sister Karen rushed out after me and said, “Don’t throw them away! Give them to me!” And stubbornly I said, “No! They’re mine and I can do with them what I want!” My sister appealed to my mom and surprisingly she backed me up. She said to Karen, “Craig can do what he wants with them, they are his toys.” I wish she had stopped me. But it did teach me a very valuable lesson that perhaps I wouldn’t have learned had I not had that very costly lesson. I say costly because each one of those toys can be found on eBay for about $100 to $300 dollars a piece. A piece. I loved them so much, I’ve gone back and tried to rebuild my collection. But I wouldn’t have had to had I simply not been so proud, so arrogant, or so selfish.
But it’s so easy for us to get wrapped up in “me me me” so much so that we lose sight of what’s right.
But when we let God lead us, when we do as he instructs, we are able to let go of our selfish impulses and do what needs to be done. In our reading this morning, we see that so clearly. If you’ll please go to Acts 4 beginning with verse 32, we’ll read together from there. Acts 4:32-35. This happens soon after Peter and John are brought before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. They’re being brought to task for healing a man but really because the Jewish leaders are wondering if these two are heretics or some kind of threat to the order of things. So Peter and John are asked by the council on whose authority did they heal this man. And they answer that it was done in the name of Christ. The council didn’t know what to do. These Christ followers kept growing in number and convicting these two disciples of his would only make the problem worse, especially since they had just healed this man. Feeling trapped, they tried to threaten them but it didn’t work because Peter and John were so convicted by what they knew to be right that they couldn’t be swayed. Eventually the council had to let them go. When they returned, everyone saw it for the miracle that it was. There was no way the Sanhedrin were going to let Peter and John go, but they did and they gave praise to God. These followers were so filled with the Holy Spirit they were moved to action and that’s where we begin reading.
32 All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. 33 With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34 that there were no needy persons among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35 and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.
Could you give up everything for the church?
Your car. Your house. Your wedding ring. Would you really be willing to give up everything to see people’s lives changed by the church of God? But that’s what these people did! They were so radically on fire for God that they gave and gave and gave all that they could to see to the needs of others. And God blessed them so much that nobody, NOBODY among them was needy. They were not needy for money. They were not needy for food or clothes or shelter. They were not needy for love. How many of us would give so completely if we knew we could have that sense of security? But we struggle with that. We struggle to give more of ourselves. We struggle to give to God’s church and partially that’s because we don’t trust God. We don’t trust God. We don’t trust that what we give will be used for God’s kingdom. We don’t trust that others will use the money that we earned in a way that would honor our work. We don’t trust our pastor or we don’t trust our leadership or we don’t trust the conference or we don’t trust the church, but we have a trust problem. And maybe you might think your concerns are valid, but that’s only because you’re trying to justify your trust problem.
See the thing is that none of it belongs to you anyway.
It was all God’s to begin with and in the end it will all belong to God again. “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world and all who live in it; for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” We are just caretakers and wouldn’t it be great if at the end of the day, God could be proud of how we used his resources? It’s like the parable about the bags of gold, when the Master gives the servants different amounts of gold and the first two use it and end up getting it all back plus 100%. But the third guy buries it out of fear and never does anything with it. When the Master returns, the third guy says, “See? I didn’t lose it.” And the Master dismisses him because he wasted what he was given. He may not have lost anything, but he didn’t gain anything either.
What we fail to realize is that giving is not about getting. It’s about living.
Giving is not about getting, it’s about living. Having an attitude of giving, having a mindset of generosity, is what brings us closer to God and to realize God’s vision for our lives, which is way better than the visions we create for ourselves. We worry too much about what people do with the money we’ve given, but to God what matters is if we invest with the right heart and the right mindset. What matters to God is that we invest with the intention of doing good. Because acting the way God wants us to act brings us closer to living the life God wants us to live. Acting the way God wants us to act brings us closer to living the life God wants us to live, and when that happens we gain a sense of peace and understanding and joy that we simply cannot get any other way. We have to stop worrying about what someone will do with our money or with our things or with our property because it doesn’t belong to us anyway.
When there is a window of opportunity to invest in God’s Kingdom don’t bury it in the ground.
Don’t waste the opportunity but instead seize upon it with an attitude of giving, a mindset of generosity. We don’t tithe because we think our money will be wasted by the pastor or by the church, without realizing that what’s being wasted is a chance for us to let go of putting so much worth in worldly possessions and instead put more of it in God. Our churches don’t like to give apportionments because we don’t trust the conferences to spend the money wisely, but instead what we are doing is unwisely putting restrictions on our giving when we certainly wouldn’t want God to put restrictions on his love. I have to admit, I’m a big believer in our connectional system. Unlike other denominations, our two small churches are linked to every other UMC out there. Together we contribute to education in Africa, we contribute to funding relief efforts all over the world, we contribute to revitalizing other churches, and we contribute to the development of pastors like yours truly. Part of our apportionments that the conference asks us to pay goes toward the Ministerial Education Fund and without this fund, it would have been difficult if not close to impossible for our family to afford to send me to seminary. It is because of faithful people in our churches all over the country and around the world, that people like me get the opportunity to be here today. It is through the paying of apportionments that we can do many of the life-changing things we do as a United Methodist Church. Yet our conference is the lowest paying conference in the entire country at only 58.2%. We mistakenly believe that we have the right or even the obligation to make sure the money we give is being spent the way we want to spend it instead of realizing that giving in itself is a spiritual discipline that draws us closer to God. When we so tightly guard where the money is being distributed we become servants to money instead of to God. Does that mean no one should monitor spending or make wise stewardship decisions? Of course not! But any of you could end up serving on the conference financial committee or join in the work of the annual conference and many people do. But don’t let that be an excuse for not giving.
With First Church about to close, people are worried what will happen to the building.
Mostly they worry because the building technically belongs to the conference and they are afraid that somehow we’ll be robbed of getting back some of the money that was put into that building by all of you and by your parents and by your grandparents. They worry that the conference will decide to sell the property and use the money in other ways. But right now I want to challenge you not to worry. Whether or not we get a single dime from the sale of that building is of no consequence to us. It’s not. It’s not. Because I have seen churches and been in churches and worshipped with church leaders that started out with far less than we already have and are thriving and filled to capacity and have more money than they know what to do with. Wouldn’t THAT be a nice problem to have? Craig Groeschel’s church, Lifechurch.tv, started with a group of people in a garage. They were so tiny that the kids had Sunday School lessons in the closet and Craig likes to joke that the kids came out of the closet every week and they were just fine with that. Today, Lifechurch.tv has more than 12,000 attendees every Sunday with untold numbers of people on campuses all over the country and people watching from their homes on the Internet everywhere. And they started in a garage, with a closet and an overhead projector. So if we never see a dime from the sale of that building, it’s okay. Because that will not be the reason why this church will grow or die. It will be because of us.
Look, God wants us to be organ donors for the church.
God wants us to be organ donors for the church. That’s the kind of mindset he wants from us. If we can’t use something like an organ or chairs or tables or hymnals or even a church building, we need to be willing to give it up. Let it go to use in another part of God’s kingdom and let’s do it happily. Part of the great gift of having a connectional system is that we can give where there is need more easily and quickly than most other groups. Let us be like the early church we heard about in our reading this morning and give where there is need until no one is needy any more. Let go of our worries about where the money will go and who will get it. If we get it, great. If not, let us trust that it is going where it is needed the most and pray for that to be the case. If I were to talk to 13-year old me today, I’d tell me to just give the toys to my sister. To let them go to good use somewhere else if I wasn’t using it anymore. And I’d tell myself to let go of the control I so desperately wanted and instead do what’s right. Because in the end isn’t it better that something you loved continue to bring happiness and joy and receive new life? And if we could be a part of that, how incredible would that be? In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.