Giving & Stewardship

"Hearts" Studies

 

Financial Stewardship Studies by Dr. George McFarland

 

  • THANKFUL HEARTS, Read Ezra 3:1-13
  • OPEN HEARTS, Exodus 35:1-35
  • ABUNDANT HEARTS, II Chronicles 31:4-12
  • OBEDIENT HEARTS, John 15:1-11
 

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1. THANKFUL HEARTS

Read Ezra 3

“And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.” Ezra 3:11

 As Christians, various circumstances bring us joy, perhaps the greatest being God’s work among us, assuring us of his presence.  We should all have joyful and thankful hearts for our “fathers in the faith” who, over almost 200 years, sacrificed for the now-historic sanctuary at 17th and Spruce Streets in the mid-19th century.  In God’s remarkable providence, he again provided room to expand into the 1710 Building, the only property adjacent to the church. One generation shall commend your works to another.

In Ezra’s and Nehemiah’s time. God’s people rebuilt the temple to God’s glory. While in exile, Isaiah told the people to “Enlarge the place of your tent…” (Isaiah 54:2,3). Even before their return, God planned to grow his spiritual kingdom through a temple. Many left captivity in Babylon to rebuild where, since Abraham, God uniquely placed his name. While God’s focus is his spiritual kingdom, he uses bricks and mortar to grow that kingdom.

A variety of people worked on the temple under Cyrus and Ezra (Ezra 3:8-10). Cyrus called for a diversity of age groups, of skill levels, of talents and gifts, as well as for truly sacrificial giving of “gold and silver”, the best of all their resources.

But, Ezra records, the people gave themselves to God before these financial offerings. Only then were they willing to worship and follow God alone (Ezra 3:1-3). This powerful moment of consecration demonstrates how giving arose from thankful hearts, with utter joy, not from a budget.

So we too are building a “temple”, with bricks and mortar, yes, but also with members of the Body of Christ (Ephesians 2:19-21). We are a “dwelling place for God by the Spirit” which will last for eternity. To “enlarge the place of your tent” involves more than physical space. It is a call for an in-gathering of people, newly transformed by the gospel. It is a call for followers of Jesus to deepen their faith, a call to make great strides in Christian growth.

Would that our “needs” be met with joy and thanksgiving! Would that many people step forward with the same enthusiasm as in Ezra’s day. Would that people learn the joy of sacrificing time, energy and, especially, financial resources. As we glorify  God more fully, seek to know him better, and worship him more deeply, his Spirit will energize us for this task, thankful for the privilege of giving.

How better to “pay off ” the debt of thanks we owe our forefathers, than by giving ourselves and our “silver and gold” to expand God’s temple in this generation, that we may see his power in the next generation. “Posterity shall serve him; it shall be told … to a people yet unborn, that he has done it.  Psalm 22:30-31

The Capital Campaign is both a “repayment” in thanks to the past and a sacrificial investment in children’s children. So full of faith, believing that God supplies, we move ahead with joyful and willing hearts. May God act in generations to come as he has acted in the past. May we share his purposes for this building and take his message from its walls to dark corners of our neighborhood, of Greater Philadelphia and of the world.

QUESTIONS:

Read Isaiah 54:2,3. In what way was the rebuilding of the temple a fulfillment of what Isaiah was announcing? In what way was he announcing a far greater event? As you look about Tenth, in what ways is the “enlarging of the tent” already occurring? How does this motivate you to see that accomplished in our day? For what can you give thanks for since coming to Tenth Church? In what ways is God using you in the growth of his kingdom?

PRAYER:

Father, we give thanks for your many mercies and kindnesses to Tenth Church over these many years. Give us grace to be grateful for these physical and spiritual blessings and strengthen us to honor you through out desire to serve you and the growth of your kingdom in our city. May we be strengthened in faith and hope to believe and trust you for what you desire to accomplish in our midst. This I ask in Jesus’ name, and for his glory. Amen

 

2. OPEN HEARTS

Read Exodus 35:4 to the end

“And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the LORD's contribution to be used for the tent of meeting.” Exodus 35:21

No, ladies, we are not looking for women to spin goats’ hair. And I doubt that you have a stack of acacia wood lumber in your back yard. But God is calling us all. In our culture, giving is largely calculated in ‘gold and silver’. The Lord starts there, asking the people of Israel for a contribution of gold and silver from a generous heart.

They had to go away and pray about that, as we all do. They took some time. Eventually they returned, bringing their contributions, “everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him”. So what happened inbetween. As you read this, you probably do not feel a stirring in your heart. You probably do not feel your spirit move you toward giving generously.

To begin with, we hardly know what generosity is. One might list it as one of the fruit of the Spirit. In 1 Timothy 6:18, Timothy is told to command the rich “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.” Missionaries often make the point that almost everyone in the pews at Tenth is among the ‘rich’ of this world.

Try this for an interesting exercise. Go into the garage and sit there a while. Wait on the Lord in Christian meditation, while looking around. Keep an open and listening heart. If your heart seems closed and the voice of God is not heard, ask for an open heart. It would be surprising then, if you do not look around with twinges of regret. “Why did we buy this or that? We have used them only once or twice. What did they cost?” God is beginning to speak into a heart open and willing to hear.

That’s what the Israelites were doing. They had recently built the Golden Calf. It had ‘cost’ much of the gold they should have contributed to God (Exodus 32:2-4). It must have weighed heavily on their hearts. It had also ‘cost’ them the lives of 3000 of their friends, brothers and sons (Exodus 32:27-29).  It had ‘cost’ them, as well, the presence of God with them in the same way as before. His “angel” would go with them, but he would not. We can presume that this means that the Father would not go, but the Son, who would eventually propitiated his wrath, would go instead (Exodus 32:34 and 33:3).

Their generosity took root and sprouted through that experience of counting the ‘costs’. It was a sobering exercise. So they gave heed to the lesson and come with their abundance. The heart opens to hear, opens to examine one’s own life before God led first to generosity and then to the willingness, even eagerness.

These were formally called ‘freewill offerings’ arising from the heart stirred and the spirit moved. Just how willing were they?

The craftsmen finally said they had enough, even too much. “So the people were restrained from bringing…” Exodus 36:7

Would that we end up with too much from the overflow of willing hearts.

QUESTIONS:

Read Psalm 95:7-9 and Hebrews 3:8-15  What is the difference between a ‘hardened’ heart and an ‘open’ heart?  If you have done this exercise, what did your garage tell you?  How would you know if you were giving as abundantly as they did despite the different cultures?

PRAYER:

Father, we thank you that you do not give up on your children, that your steadfast love truly endures forever. We know that sometimes you allow the natural consequences resulting from our choices be your hand to direct us to follow your ways more closely. Give us open hearts to hear you clearly.  Give us generous heart to contribute freely.  And give us willing hearts that we may find joy in doing so.  Through it, may you be glorified.  In the name of Christ Jesus our Lord and King.  Amen.

 

3. ABUNDANT HEARTS

Read II Chronicles 31:4-12

“Since they began to bring the contributions into the house of the LORD, we have eaten and had enough and have plenty left, for the LORD has blessed his people, so that we have this large amount left” II Chronicles 31:10

At age 12, I vividly remember hearing R.G. LeTourneau give his testimony. Mr. LeTourneau was best known as the creator of large pieces of earth moving equipment and later founded LeTourneau College in Texas.  He was also known for supporting missionary work in South America. The most memorable thing he said was that, toward the end of his life, he was giving 90% of his income, giving abundantly from his resources.

In II Chronciles 31, God’s people gave so much that there was an excess. It happened during a significant revival in Judah when Hezekiah was king. Previous chapters record the utter degeneration of God’s chosen people, copying those around them. If they worshiped the God of their fathers at all, he was one among many, and because he was invisible, easily ignored. The people failed to support biblical worship, so much so that God’s priests were short of food. There was no true godliness to be found.

By his Spirit, God chose King Hezekiah to convict the people of sin. Returning to God, they also returned to holy public worship, celebrating Passover. They were surely reminded that idols were as nothing compared to the true God who had delivered them through the Red Sea. At God’s instruction v. 20, Hezekiah sent orders that temple services should be resumed. 

The first verse notes the depth of repentance.  First, they despised their own wayward behavior.  Then, they destroyed all the idols.  Some no doubt were idols they themselves had made, proud, of their craftsmanship and artistry. Yet, they were so convicted that they would not return home until “all” had been removed.

How did all this happen? It required a response and resources from the people. 

The people gave cheerfully.  All sorts of things were brought to the Temple.  Today we speak of this as “tithes in kind.”  They brought first fruits of grain, wine, oil, honey, cattle, and sheep (vv. 5-6). When God moves and changes our hearts, we feel his love for us and desire to give for his purposes. Earlier, these gifts were hoarded; now they bring them readily to make amends for their neglect. So, temple services resumed and God’s people could again worship as instructed in the Law.

The people gave abundantly. To restore religious activity was a major effort. Note the number of men listed in verses 12-19 who distributed the resources throughout the cities of Judah. And yet, after distributing supplies to the priests and their families, there was a large amount left over. God’s people, moved by his Spirit, are always eager to express their love for God and for his provision for them.  So they give out of love. I remember Dr. Boice once commenting that if God’s people were to give 4% of their income, the needs of the church would be more than met. 

Can we trust God to fulfill his promise:  that he will “throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will [not] have room enough for it”? Malachi 3:10-12 NIV  (See note below.)

QUESTIONS:

Compare the state of Judah in chapters 30 and 31and identify the degeneration of the people verses the regeneration of God’s people. What accounts for this significant change in Judah’s life as a people? For what reasons do we, too, seek to keep our resources for ourselves?               

PRAYER:

Father, forgive us for seeking things for ourselves. We give thanks for your Son who “though he was rich, became poor for us” by offering himself at the cross. Help us to grow to love and to give to your work; grow us in faith that you will supply our needs and help us to give cheerfully and even abundantly to the work of your kingdom.

Honor the LORD with your wealth 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. Proverbs 3:9-10

 

4. OBEDIENT HEARTS

Read John 15:1-11 and Malachi 3:6-12 and Hebrews 7:1-9

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth. John 14:15-17

Good Reformed people struggle with balancing law and grace. Many summarize it by saying we obey the law in thanksgiving to God and love for our Savior, not out of oppression by a priestly class or duty. Obedience arises from an eagerness to draw closer to God.

How much do we love Jesus? Examine how carefully we keep his commandments.

As we conclude these devotionals, we ask ourselves if there will be a lasting effect. The Capital Campaign Case Statement ends with the hope that “this season of increased giving [may] grow our dependence on God in all things.” In our money-crazy culture, this is true, above all, concerning money.

Scripture often speaks of people ‘testing’ God in the bad sense, as we speak of our children ‘trying our patience’.

There is, however, one way God wants us to ‘test’ him, even commands us to test him. “Put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing.” God, in Malachi, is speaking of material blessings, the fruitfulness of their land and protection for their vineyards. Often we should read such passages in a spiritual sense, but not here.

How many people put $20 in the offering plate if they have enough in their wallets to go out to eat after the service? Are you willing to test God in the good sense?

A tithe was ten percent of all income. Yes, 10%. You read it right. One of every ten lambs, one of every ten goats, one of every ten bushels of wheat, one tenth of the herbs in pots on the window sill. Christ chastised the Pharisees who worried about their herb pots, but forgot justice and love for God. Luke 11:42. Then he says that they ought to be careful about justice and love, but “without neglecting the others.”

So bring in your herbs, but take care of justice, too. It is a commandment of Christ to worry about tithing the herb pots! “If you love me, keep my commandments.”

The church today has drifted so far from this standard that we see it as impossible. That is why Jesus says we will need the Helper, the Holy Spirit of truth, in order to do it.

Note the word ‘truth’. It is hard to tell ourselves the truth about our giving. And we must be humble, knowing we are incapable of this. We must start slowly, testing God as we go. Just $20 in the offering plate? How about half of one percent, carefully budgeted after each paycheck? In Leviticus, the tithe was called ‘first fruits’, the first check to be written, not the last “if there is enough left over.”

The Spirit gives us power to keep God’s laws, as Old Testament saints could not. Malachi says to bring all the tithes in. Keep track of how God blesses. Make a life-long commitment to grow in love and in keeping his commandments. He will open the windows of heaven on you. It’s a promise!

QUESTIONS:

What does God mean in Malachi where he says, ‘You are robbing me’? Do you know how much you give? As a percent of your income, how much is it?

What about giving out of unexpected windfalls? Conversely, can you trust God with vital unexpected expenses? Or, in order to give joyfully, should you have a small kitty to help with some portion of such expenses?  Do you negotiate with hospitals and such before putting those expenses on credit cards? 

Do you let your credit card run from month to month? What is the interest rate? How much do you pay in interest each month? A tithe?

PRAYER:

Lord, we know you have no creditors. You are in no one’s debt, even though it is a sinful human tendency to act as if you owe us something. Forgive us for thinking that way. Help us to come with thanks for all the ways in which we are in your debt. Even our sorrows are blessed by you. May we be thankful through them. Give us a thankful heart that we may then move toward having an obedient heart. In Christ whose obedience took him to the cross. Amen.

But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. Luke 11:42

“For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need. I will rebuke the devourer for you, so that it will not destroy the fruits of your soil, and your vine in the field shall not fail to bear, says the LORD of hosts. Then all nations will call you blessed, for you will be a land of delight, says the LORD of hosts. (Malachi 3:6-12 ESV)