The 53rd Sunday
1 Chronicles 28-29
November 17, 1996
This morning I am interrupting my series in 1 Thessalonians to preach two sermons on the subject of Christian giving. If you’re here as a visitor, please understand that we don’t always talk about money on Sunday morning. In fact, we rarely talk about money, but from time to time the subject comes up.
I do realize there is always a danger people will misunderstand my motive. Surveys tell us that the number one complaint that unchurched people make about the church is that we’re just after their money. That’s not true, of course, but it is a widespread perception. For that reason many people suggest that we simply avoid the subject altogether. Even some church member would rather not hear a sermon about giving.
A Checkbook and a Calendar
But money is very important. We all know that. This week I read about a pastor who began his sermon by placing a checkbook and a calendar on the pulpit. He called them the two most important spiritual barometers. It makes sense if you think about it. You tell me how you spend you money and how you spend your time, and I’ll tell what you ultimate priorities are. You can talk all you want, but your checkbook and your Daytimer don’t lie.
Many people don’t realize that Jesus talked a lot about money. In fact, 70% of his parables deal with money. He talked more about money than about heaven or hell. It was a major subject of his public ministry. Jesus offered all sorts of advice on how to make money, how to spend it, and most of all, how to invest it wisely. In perhaps his most important comment on the subject, he warned that you cannot serve God and money at the same time. Either God is God or money is God, but you can’t have two gods at the same time. You will love one and hate the other (see Matthew 6:24 for more details).
Don’t ever think that money is not a spiritual topic. There’s nothing more spiritual than how you spend your money!
In fact, I would say it this way: Your money = Your life. Let’s suppose you are planning to give a Christmas gift that costs you $150. When you give the gift, you’re also giving the $150 it cost you to buy the gift. But you’re also giving the time it took to earn the money to buy the gift in the first place. Since every bit of money you earn takes a slice out of your life, your money really does equal your life in a very profound sense.
For that reason, if for no other, we ought to consider money a very spiritual topic.
I. The Challenge: 1995 Had 53 Sundays
Having said that, I confess that there is a particular reason to bring up the subject right now. Our budget year ends in 6 weeks—at the end of December. In case you don’t know, our 1996 Budget largest ever. For the 1st time ever our budget went over $1 million. That’s a tremendous step of faith by this congregation.
And I’m happy to tell you that giving has been very good this year —up $32,000 over 1995. For that, I thank God and I thank you for your generosity. However, even with our increased giving we are still $40,000 below budget through the middle of November.
A Little Bit Over the Line
Let me stop and give a bit of personal background. I have been your pastor for over 7 years now. When I came in 1989 certain people pulled me aside and made a number of statements about this church, some of which proved to be true and some not so true. But one statement that has seemed to be entirely true is that this church loves to live on the edge financially. We enjoy pushing the limit and many even going “over the line” by a foot or so and then pulling back at the last second.
It’s interesting to know that for many years we have always finished each year in the red. That means that our expenses always exceeded our income by a little bit. Traditionally we run a deficit in the first 8 months, then push hard to make it up in the last three months. We usually don’t quite make it, but we come close enough to roll it over into the next year.
When I came I discovered that we had used a particular financial tool to keep solvent during the low times. We had a $50,000 line of credit with the bank. That meant that whenever giving lagged (during the summer, for instance), we would simply call the bank and they would transfer $15-20,000 into our account. Then we pay our bills and struggle to pay the bank back later.
Kicking the Credit Drug
That’s okay as long as you use it sparingly. However, we had gotten into the habit of using the line of credit as our means of getting out of trouble. Credit in general is not bad, but it can become addictive, just like alcohol or drugs.
Some of you know this from your own personal experience. There is nothing wrong with owning credit cards, but these days it’s so easy to get a new card and they offer such high lines of credit that before you know it, you end up with $15,000 in credit card debt.
Credit cards can easily make you think you have more money than you do. And when you start thinking that way, you’re hooked on the credit drug whether you know it or not. (By the way, many of you need to take your credit cards, cut them up, and throw them away. For some people that’s the only way to kick the habit.)
In 1992 we decided to get off the credit drug. We paid off our line of credit and publicly resolved not to borrow any more money. In the last four years we have kept that vow. We haven’t borrowed a cent from anyone for any reason whatsoever. We went cold turkey, and we made it!
1995 Was An Amazing Year
But that’s not the whole story. Even after 1992 each year we finished with a deficit—1992, 1993, 1994. Until last year!!!
For the first time since I’ve been here, and actually for the first time in who knows how long, three wonderful things happened:
Our giving exceeded our spending
We met our budget
We exceed our budget by $18,000
So the leaders of the church celebrated that notable accomplishment by raising the budget for the first time in 3 years. We raised it $60,000—from $966,000 to $1,026,000. That’s why our giving can be above last year’s rate and still $40,000 below budget.
One question remains: Why did we go over budget in 1995? Many reasons might be mentioned. I believe God honored our commitment to financial prudence and I also believe our new people began to give generously.
An “Extra” Sunday Last Year
However, there is another factor to consider. Last month our David Morris, our deacon of finance and facilities, suggested a new and hitherto unheard of explanation. He said there were 53 Sundays in 1995!
That Baffled me. I didn’t know there could be 53 of any day in a given year. Actually, I had never considered the matter one way or the other. But apparently there were indeed 53 Sundays last year. Now our weekly offerings average between $15-20,000. Since we went over budget by $18,000, perhaps that “extra” Sunday made the difference.
I asked my new associate pastor, Davis Duggins, to research the matter. He trooped off to the Oak Park Public Library and came back with a four-page, single-spaced, typewritten report!
Eskimo Pies and Frosted Light Bulbs
Let me summarize what he discovered:
In the 20th century 17 years with 53 Sundays. 1905 …1911 …1916 … 1922 … 1928 … 1933 … 1939 … 1944 … 1950 … 1956 …
1961 … 1967 … 1972 … 1978 … 1984 … 1989 … 1995. The next one occurs in the year 2000. Well, that was interesting. I have lived through 8 53-Sunday years and never knew it.
Davis then listed some significant events that took place on those years. Here are just a few highlights:
1905 = First transcontinental automobile race
1911 = Boy Scouts organized
1916 = First shipment of hybrid corn seed
1922 = The Eskimo Pie is patented
1928 = The frosted light bulb patented
1993 = First drive-in theater opens
1995 = Michael Jordan returns to basketball
There is much, much more but that gives you a brief sample. It’s a amazing list that suggests many things, including the fact that my associate pastor clearly has too much time on his hands!
What Does It Really Mean?
What does all this mean? And why bring it up on a Sunday morning? Several points should be noted:
1. There are only six weeks left in the year and we need to finish well
2. Our budget represents money spent for the cause of Christ
3. We have enormous opportunities before us to expand our
outreach, especially in the areas of children, youth, families,
music and worship, missions, and outreach.
4. How we finish this year affects how we begin next year when we will face an even greater challenge.
5. In the last three years over 300+ new people have started
attending our church.
6. We need our new people to rise up and meet the challenge
of sacrificial giving.
7. What happens in the next six weeks will tell a great deal regarding what this church is all about.
II. The Illustration: Building the Temple
With all that as background, we turn to our text—1 Chronicles 28-29. In order to understand it properly, we need to go back almost 3000 years, back across the centuries to another time and place, back before the time of Christ, back before the great prophets, back to the days when a man named David ruled from his throne in Jerusalem.
David is an old man about to die. But God has given him a great vision. It is the dream of building a magnificent temple for the worship of Almighty God. It will be the grandest building every constructed. His fondest dream to is honor his God by building that palatial structure.
But God has other plans. We pick up the story in verses 2-3:
King David rose to his feet and said: ‘‘Listen to me, my brothers and my people. I had it in my heart to build a house as a place of rest for the ark of the covenant of the LORD, for the footstool of our God, and I made plans to build it. But God said to me, ‘You are not to build a house for my Name, because you are a warrior and have shed blood.’
David had the dream but because his hands were dripping with blood, God would not allow him to build the temple. It must be built by a man of peace. God chose Solomon instead. So in verses 9-10 David charges Solomon to seek the Lord with his whole heart:
‘‘And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the LORD searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek him, he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you forever. Consider now, for the LORD has chosen you to build a temple as a sanctuary. Be strong and do the work.”
David then gives detailed plans for the temple to Solomon. It’s as if David is the architect and Solomon the general contractor. He specifies how the portico should be built, how to use the gold and silver, and the details concerning the golden cherubim above the Mercy Seat.
Then in 1 Chronicle 29:1 we come to the key issue on David’s heart:
Then King David said to the whole assembly: ‘‘My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great, because this palatial structure is not for man but for the LORD God.
In essence he says there are two problems:
1. Solomon is too young
2. The task is too great
Without God’s help the project is impossible.
But how will such a grand building be paid for? Where will the money come from? It is fascinating and instructive to read the next few verses in this chapter. David offers his own resources for building the temple: gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, precious stones, marble. Having set a good example, he then challenges the leaders to follow his lead. Verse 6 tells what happened next:
Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly.
This is leadership at its best. First the king gives, then all the other leaders follow, from the greatest to the least.
Look at the response of the people in verse 9:
The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the LORD. David the king also rejoiced greatly.
Notice two points in this verse. First, they gave “freely.” That means there was no pressure. Second, they gave “wholeheartedly.” That means there was no limit. The same two signs may be found today whenever God’s Spirit is moving. People will give freely and won’t have to be pressured, enticed or intimidated. And they will give without limit to the work of the Lord.
The next few verses record a psalm of praise composed by David on the spot. In verse 12 he reveals the secret of generous giving: “Wealth and honor come from you; you are the ruler of all things.” He then explains that truth in more detail in the following verses:
But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from you, and we have given you only what comes from your hand. 15 We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. 16 O LORD our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for building you a temple for your Holy Name, it comes from your hand, and all of it belongs to you. 17 I know, my God, that you test the heart and are pleased with integrity. All these things have I given willingly and with honest intent. And now I have seen with joy how willingly your people who are here have given to you.
Note the underlined sentences because they contain the most important point. David says the people gave generously because they understood that everything they had came from God. In a sense, they were only giving back to God what he had given them in the first place. That’s why the people were able to give “willingly” and with so much joy.
Two Crucial Points For Our Consideration:
1. Great things are accomplished when everyone gives generously toward a common goal.
Note again that the giving started at the top. This illustrates a principle Dr. Lee Roberson often mentioned: Everything rises or falls on leadership. Once David gave, the leaders followed, then the people followed their leaders. That same principle still holds true today.
2. Generous giving is not difficult when we understand that everything we have comes from God.
This fundamental truth explains the amazing response of the people in David’s day. But it also stands as the basic truth that animates all Christian giving. All that we are and all that we have comes from God. Everything is a gift. Nothing is earned, everything is given.
Your life is a gift
Your health is a gift
Your career is a gift
Your intelligence is a gift
Your strength is a gift
Your personality is a gift
Your children are a gift
Your friendships are a gift
Your possessions are a gift
Your accomplishments are a gift
Your wealth is a gift
You own nothing. Everything you have is on loan from God. He gives it to you for a little while and says, “Take care of it.” We hold on tight because we think it all belongs to us. Sooner or later we’ll understand that it doesn’t belong to us … and it never did.
We are like little children holding so tightly to a few borrowed marbles. We grip them in our palm because we’re afraid of losing them. But sooner or later God himself begins to pry the marbles out of our hand. One by one he pulls our fingers off the things we think we are ours. We may fight back, but he is stronger and he always wins. In the end he takes back that which belongs to him in the first place.
Life is the ultimate gift, but none of us lives forever. Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief. Man, woman, boy, girl, white or black, young or old, unknown Christian or Roman Catholic cardinal, we all die sooner or later.
He Is No Fool
The Bible warns us over and over about the seductive power of money. 1 Timothy 6:10 reminds us that “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” The love of money corrupts us in so many ways. It makes us selfish, greedy, and envious. It causes us to forget our friends, trample on our co-workers, neglect our children, and ignore our wives. It seduces us with the promise of happiness, but then delivers nothing at all.
That’s why the best thing you can do with your money is to give it away by investing in those things that will last for eternity. In the words of Jim Elliott, “He is no fool who gives that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
You can’t take it with you, but you can give it away while you’re still here so that after you are gone, your money will still be doing good for others.
In the Old Testament David and his people built a magnificent temple. Today we are building a church for the glory of God. Great things can be accomplished when all of us together and each one of us individually gives generously for the common good.
That kind of giving isn’t difficult when you understand that everything you have is a gift from God.
III. The Application: We Need a 53rd Sunday This Year
Let me make a simple application of this message. We need a 53rd Sunday this year. I offer three reasons for that statement:
1. So we can finish the year in the black
2. So we can start 1997 in a good position.
3. So that we can reach more people for Christ
I wish I had time to tell about the vast opportunities that are just over the horizon for us. There are people we could reach if we only had the financial resources. There are families we could save and marriages we could restore if we only had the money. There are missionaries we could support and brand-new ministries we could create but right now we simply don’t have the financial firepower to make it happen.
How to Have a 53rd Sunday in 1996
Here’s my proposal. There are 6 Sundays left in 1996. We really need 7 Sundays to match last year. I can’t change the calendar and create a 53rd Sunday. But I can ask you to give that extra Sunday during the next six weeks.
Here’s how to do it. First, compute your weekly giving. Most people don’t give every week to the church, although some do. Most folks give twice a month or once a month. How often you give is not important for our purposes.
If you give $400/month, that equals $100/ week.
If you give $1000/2 months, that equals $125/week.
If you give $50/ month, that equals $12.50/ week.
I’m asking you to commit to giving an extra week’s offering between now and the end of the year. For some this will be very doable. You may not even miss the money at all. For others this will be a great step of faith. For all of us, this is a new chance to trust God.
Let’s trust God together for a 53rd Sunday in 1996!
David said, “The task is great,” and I say to you, “The task is great.” He said, “This palatial structure is not for man but for the Lord God.” I say to you, “This church we are building together is not for us but for the glory of God.”
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Have you started counting your blessing yet? If not, I hope you’ll begin this week, and I hope you’ll include the church in your list of blessings.
Thanksgiving is coming … Open your mouth in praise to God.
Thanksgiving is coming … Open your heart and become a generous giver.
If we all do our part, we’ll come to the end of the year and sing the Doxology together, beginning with these words … “Praise God, from Whom all blessings flow.”