Level Three Faith and How to Get There
September 14, 2003
Every time a church enters a stewardship campaign, there is danger and there is also opportunity. The main danger is that the church will talk so much about money that people will begin to equate the whole of Christianity with money and will therefore begin to equate spirituality with how much or how little they give. The story Jesus told about the widow’s mites (Mark 12:41-44) should forever convince us that a person’s relationship with God has nothing to do with the amount of money given. As we discussed in last week’s sermon, giving isn’t about money even though that’s how giving is measured. Christian giving always begins in the heart, which only God sees. Even if we were to publish the top 100 givers to Calvary Memorial Church, that list would not necessarily have anything to do with the 100 godliest people in this congregation. We’re not able to make that determination because while we can total up your giving and give you a receipt at the end of the year, we can’t accurately measure things like faith, hope and love, which are the heart of biblical faith.
Only 25 Cents Left
But every stewardship campaign also presents a great opportunity to the congregation. And it’s not just about raising enough money to meet a goal. Remember, money is always secondary to the affairs of the heart. That’s what really matters to the Lord. This week I received a wonderful e-mail from someone in the congregation. Here is part of what the person wrote:
Just wanted to say that this new series reminds me of the 100-day experiment that Calvary did in the summer of 1993 or 1994. You challenged us to give God our tithe; to step out in FAITH and give and see what He would do. Well, I remember writing you about the result. I was in graduate school and working part-time and I decided to commit to the Lord 10% of whatever my paycheck was and He met my needs completely. At one point I had 25 cents in my checking account with all my bills paid! It was a great lesson in increasing my faith in Him; to believe Him at His word and let Him take care of me. So thanks for the reminder and continued encouragement that giving is about FAITH!
That’s a heart-warming story, and it is precisely on point. Giving is not about money, giving is about faith. And that’s where a stewardship campaign can become an opportunity for enormous spiritual growth for the whole congregation. By definition, faith is only put to the test when we are pulled out of our comfort zone. If something is easy to do, you don’t need much faith to do it. Or to put it another way, if you know you can do it by yourself, what do you need God for? The whole point of living by faith is that we are continually put in situations where if God doesn’t come through for us, we’re sunk.
You can say it another way: The life of faith is inherently a life of risk. Living by faith means tithing even when you are down to 25 cents in your checking account. Some people might say, well, it’s reckless to put yourself in that position. But that’s only true if there is no God. If God exists, then trusting him down to your last quarter makes perfect sense. And the marvelous thing about it is that when you go through that experience, two things happen: First, you realize that only God could have brought you through, and second, you now have a testimony of God’s faithfulness to share with the world. If we are going to live by faith, it means trusting God even when that pulls us out of our comfort zone.
Noah and Abraham
There is yet another way to say this. Living by faith is not a theory, it’s a radical way of life that moves us to do things we wouldn’t otherwise do. For instance, Hebrews 11 tells us that by faith Noah built an ark. That by itself is a stupendous fact, but it is made more amazing when you consider that Noah built an ark when it had apparently never rained before, and he built it when everyone outside his family rejected his message, and he built it simply because God told him to. That’s what faith does.
Or consider Abraham. He left Ur of the Chaldees when he was middle-aged and prosperous, left his career and his security, and set out at the Lord’s command. The Bible says very explicitly that he did not know where he was going (Hebrews 11:8). He didn’t have access to Yahoo Maps and he couldn’t call AAA for a trip planner and he couldn’t go to a service station and buy one of those large atlases that we buy when we’re traveling across America. That’s true faith. He set out for the Promised Land without having a clue where the Promised Land was. He didn’t know how long it would take to get there, and he wouldn’t even know he was there until God said, “This is it.” When he arrived, there was no one ready to meet him, and there were no “Welcome Abraham” signs. He had to live in tents as a nomad for the rest of his life. When he died, his son Isaac lived in tents. When Isaac died, his son Jacob lived in tents. Why would people do something like that? Why give up prosperity and security for uncertainty and insecurity? Listen to the explanation from the Word of God:
All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them (Hebrews 11:13-16).
This text tells us three important facts about why these people did what they did:
1) They understood that they would never be fully at home in the world. They saw themselves as “strangers” and “aliens.” They were like “resident aliens” in the world, living here but having their citizenship in heaven. Therefore, they were not dismayed when the promises weren’t fulfilled in their lifetime.
2) They openly confessed their faith in God. The text says they “admitted” they were strangers and aliens. I think this means that Noah told everyone why he was building the ark, even though he knew they would think he was nuts. And I think Abraham told everyone who asked why he was leaving Ur of the Chaldees for parts unknown. Living by faith means telling others who ask, “This is why I’m doing what I’m doing,” even though you know they will not understand. It means speaking up for God at work, in your classroom, in your neighborhood, and at your family reunion even though you know some people will laugh at you.
3) They never stopped looking forward to heaven. Abraham could have gone back to Ur, but he never did. The old life had no appeal for him. Noah could have stopped building the ark, but he didn’t. It was the same for David and the same for Daniel and the same for the people of faith throughout the Bible. They always went forward, never backward. They understood that when God calls a man, he calls him to a great adventure. He calls him to go forth into the unknown, to face hardship and difficulty, to venture forth in his name, and to do it with no guarantees about tomorrow.
This week we were reminded again of the story of Todd Beamer and the heroes of Flight 93 who on September 11, 2001, decided to fight back against terror even if they died in the process. When the time drew near to take action, these were Todd Beamer’s final recorded words: “God help me. Jesus help me. Are you ready? Let’s roll.” Then he dropped the phone and the men moved down the aisle to confront the hijackers. The operator heard some screams and then the line went dead. Ten minutes later the plane crashed into a field not far from Pittsburgh. Though everyone on board died, the hijackers’ dream of assaulting Washington, D.C. had been foiled. Todd Beamer was a Christian, and for him the choice was clear. Those who knew him said they weren’t surprised because that’s the sort of man he was. We all come again and again to moments when we have to decide whether or not to get personally involved. We have to decide whether or not we’ll move out of our comfort zone. Many times the outcome will not be certain. In those moments we must say, “God help me. Jesus help me. Are you ready? Let’s roll.” And down the aisle we go, ready to do what needs to be done, leaving everything else in the hands of God.
How does God regard those who dare to risk it all for him? Verse 16 tells us two things:
1) He is not ashamed to be called their God. That’s a stunning statement. I don’t know of another verse like it in the Bible. We have heard of “The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.” What about “The God of Ray Pritchard?” What about “The God of _______________?” (Put your own name in the blank.)
2) He has prepared a city for them.
He says to the world, “Take a look at him. That’s my boy. Take a look at her. She’s my daughter.” And then he says to his children when they trust him, “Don’t worry about your future. I’m saving a place for you in heaven.”
Two Weeks from Today
You may wonder what this has to do with stewardship. The answer is, it depends. If you think stewardship is only about money, then it has nothing to do with Hebrews 11. But if you understand that stewardship is about faith first and foremost, then it has everything to do with what we’ve been talking about.
Two weeks from now we’re asking everyone in the congregation to make a faith commitment to the Legacy Campaign. We’re asking you to think and pray about what you can give between now and Thanksgiving 2005 in order to pay for the renovations now underway. I’m happy to report that the leaders of the congregation have already committed to give $300,000 toward the $1.6 million we need to raise.
That $300,000 total includes a commitment that my wife Marlene and I made to the campaign last month. I can’t speak for anyone else in leadership about how they made their decision but I can tell you the process we went through. We both thought and prayed about it for a long time, each of us individually. We didn’t talk about it very much, we just knew the moment of commitment would come for us, and we each sought the Lord’s guidance. As I thought about it, I realized that there are really three levels of giving that represent three levels of faith:
Level 1 represents what you know you can give. It’s an amount you come to by looking at your budget, considering your obligations, and then coming to a certain conclusion. That number represents an amount you know you can give. You may even have the money already saved up. The amount will vary from person to person, but the principle is always the same: It’s what you know you can safely give.
Level 2 represents what you would like to give. That’s a larger and more challenging number. It’s the amount you would give if you had more money.
Level 3 is something else entirely. It’s the level of faith that lies beyond what you can see with your eyes. It’s the amount that your faith tells you that you ought to give. It’s not some astronomical number that you make up by adding four or five zeroes to your basic number. That’s not faith—that’s irresponsibility. True faith operates beyond the realm of the known but it’s not a trip to Fantasyland. Level 3 faith says, “This is what I believe God would have me give.” Here’s a sign you are there: When the number you come up with makes you uncomfortable because you can’t completely account for it in your own strength and wisdom. It’s a “God-number” that causes you to say, “Lord, this is impossible without you.”
“As God Provides”
So Marlene and I prayed about it. When the time came, we talked about a number. Hers was larger than mine. I gulped a bit when I heard it, and then I started thinking, “That number is basically equal to three times what we normally give to the church in one year.” When I pointed that out to her, we both were a bit shaken. So we looked up what we gave to the church last year, and talked it over a bit. At one point we both realized, this is impossible without the Lord. Like all families, we have our share of bills, especially college bills. On top of our regular bills, right now we’ve got money going in three directions every month to pay for college education for our boys. The thought of continuing to give to the church at our current level plus giving an amount equal to three years of giving on top of that by Thanksgiving 2005 is daunting. I can’t tell you how we’re doing to do it or where the money will come from, but that’s what we have decided to do. When we signed our commitment card last month, in the space where it asked how we plan to give the money, Marlene wrote down, “As God provides,” because that’s the literal truth.
In the days since we did that, I can tell you two things that have happened and one thing that has not happened:
1) We have continued to feel stretched way out of our comfort zone.
2) We have found a freedom that we have not known before.
We are excited and nervous at the same time. I think that means we’re right where God wants us to be. We believe this is right for us, it’s Level 3 for us, and we’re both wondering what God will do. I say that because the one thing that hasn’t happened is going to the mailbox and receiving a check from some rich uncle I never knew I had who died and left me $80 million. I’m okay with that if it happens, but I’m not waiting on it or expecting it. As the days go by, we’re praying and working and planning. Like Noah, we’re laying the foundation for the ark. Like Abraham, we’re setting out for parts unknown. And while we don’t think the journey will be easy, we fully expect God will get us there somehow, some way. And we’re eager to see how God provides.
I know that for some people, all this talk about “Level 3 faith” reminds them of a bad dream. They feel that if they dare to trust God in a big way, something bad is bound to happen to them as if God is out to get them somehow. My answer is, it all depends on the God you serve. Good theology can help us greatly at this point. The Bible says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8). But you’ll never know until you taste by faith and see for yourself.
Level 3 faith is nervous and scary and exciting. It’s where we all need to be two weeks from today. And remember, it’s not about money. It’s about faith in the living God who challenges us to trust him and then pulls us way out of our comfort zone. He calls us to follow him on a great adventure of faith. You may ask what you should do in light of this sermon. Here is my challenge: Ask God to take you to Level 3 faith. Ask God to take you out of your comfort zone and into the realm of freedom. Then do whatever God tells you to do. It’s really as simple as that.
Last week I mentioned that Christian giving is only for the converted—that is, it is only for those who have been born-again through faith in Jesus Christ. If you do not know the Lord, if you do not have a personal relationship with Jesus, please do not fill out a commitment card. You need Jesus. Come to him by faith. Trust him. Turn to him with all your heart. Don’t even think about giving money. Come to Christ and he will change your life. That’s your greatest need.
And for all the rest of us, we need to move to Level 3 faith. The danger in these days is that we’ll think it’s all about money, and if that’s what we think, we’ll miss what God has for us. But there is also a golden opportunity for us to trust God and learn to live on Level 3 faith. May God bring us to the place where we trust him more than ever before. Amen.