“Everything Comes from You”: The Forgotten Secret of Christian Giving
I Chronicles 29:14
September 28, 2003
When Dusty Baker became the manager of the Chicago Cubs last November, he was asked about the team’s long history of post-season futility. Upon being told that the Cubs had not won a playoff series in 94 years (now 95 years, but that streak is about to end later this week), he asked a question that Cubs fans have been asking for decades, “Why not us?”
Why not us?
Why not now?
Why not here?
If not us, then who?
If not now, then when?
If not here, then where?
Yesterday the Cubs swept a doubleheader from the Pittsburgh Pirates to win the National League Central Division title, guaranteeing their first postseason appearance since 1999. As I write these words, the first game of their divisional playoff series against Atlanta is less than 12 hours away, and most of Chicago is alternating between joy and despair, the latter being a learned reflex after decades of disappointment. The team’s reputation as “lovable losers” recalls Harry Caray’s observation on being reminded that the Cubs haven’t won a World Series since 1908: “Any team can have a bad century.” Certainly the Cubs have had a bad century, and the White Sox haven’t been much better, which is why Dusty Baker’s question is so appropriate for today: Why not us?
I suppose it’s also appropriate for someone reading my words to wonder what all this baseball talk has to do with this sermon, or with the words of David in 1 Chronicles 29:14, to which we now turn our attention: “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.” My answer comes in two parts. First, if you’re from Chicago, you tend to go many years waiting to cheer the hometown team in the playoffs, and since I don’t know when the opportunity will come again, I have to do it now. Second, this is a special day in the life of our congregation because it marks the climax of the Legacy Campaign. All this month I’ve been preaching about stewardship in an attempt to put the issue of giving in the larger context of the life of faith. This is my final sermon in the series, which means that moment of commitment is upon us. It always comes down to that eventually. Sooner or later, we all have to make up our minds where we stand, what we believe, and how much we will commit. And it’s precisely at this point that the words of Dusty Baker become relevant:
Why not us?
Why not now?
Why not here?
If not us, then who?
If not here, then when?
If not now, then where?
David’s Final Dream
These moments of commitment don’t happen every day. They were relatively rare, even in Bible times. Our story today tells of one such moment. In order to get the big picture, we need to go back almost 3,000 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 ever 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 1 Chronicles 28:2-3.
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.
The King Led the Way
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, beginning with verse 14:
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. We are aliens and strangers in your sight, as were all our forefathers. Our days on earth are like a shadow, without hope. 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. 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 (1 Chronicles 29:14-17).
These verses contain a truth we need to carefully consider. 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.
That leads me to a crucial point for us to consider: Generous giving is not difficult when we understand that everything we have comes from God.
Everything is a Gift
This 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 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, John Ritter or Johnny Cash, we all die sooner or later.
The Bible warns us over and over about the seductive power of money. First 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.
It All Turns to Dust
In a few moments, we will come forward to make our commitments to the Legacy Campaign. Before we do that, consider one final point. The people of David’s day sacrificed to build a temple that was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians. If you go to the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, the only things left from the great temple that Solomon built are some enormous foundation stones visible near the bottom of the Western Wall. Everything else Solomon built disappeared almost 2,500 years ago. Think of all that gold and silver, and all the love and sacrifice it represented—gone forever. It is an instructive lesson, if we are willing to receive it. Today at Calvary we are doing major renovations that, compared to Solomon’s temple, are modest indeed. But what is true of Solomon’s temple is true of our renovations as well. The portico we are expanding will someday fall to the ground. The gym and the new offices will one day be replaced. The new nursery won’t be new forever. And the air conditioning will eventually break down—probably in the middle of the summer. All that we are building will one day crumble to the dust. Everything built by man must disappear. Nothing lasts forever.
Then why build at all? If we seek immortality through bricks and mortar, we have deceived ourselves. This renovation program was never about the building, and it was never about the money. That was always secondary to providing ways for us to minister more effectively to the people God sends us. Buildings are ministry tools to allow us to help people meet Jesus and grow in him. All that remains of Solomon’s temple (besides those massive foundation stones) is the record of the love and sacrifice of the people who built it 3,000 years ago. That record will stand for eternity. The same is true for us. God records our faith and our love and our sacrifice. What we build will not last, but God will remember forever what we have done and why we have done it. And so we give gladly and freely to see the church move forward by faith.
That kind of giving isn’t difficult when you understand that everything you have is a gift from God. Sometimes it takes a harrowing event to make us realize the frailty of life. Author Stephen King spoke at the Vassar College commencement on May 20, 2001. He is a millionaire many times over. But money cannot solve every problem. He told how two years earlier he had been lying in a ditch by a country road, seriously injured after being hit by a van as he walked beside the road. “I had a MasterCard in my wallet, but when you’re lying in the ditch with broken glass in your hair, no one accepts MasterCard.” On that day and in the following months, he got a painful but important insight into many of life’s simple truths: “We came in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we’re just as broke.” He drew this sobering conclusion:
“Warren Buffet? Going to go out broke. Bill Gates? Going to go out broke. Tom Hanks? Going out broke … Steve King? Broke. You guys? Broke. Not a crying dime. And how long in between? How long have you got to be in the chips? ‘I’m aware of the time passin’ by, they say in the end it’s the blink of an eye.’ That’s how long. Just the blink of an eye.”
Then he added these words that sound like he had been reading the words of King David:
“I want you to consider making your lives one long gift to others, and why not? All you have is on loan anyway. All you want to get at the getting place, from the Maserati you may dream about to the retirement fund some broker will try to sell you on, none of that is real. All that lasts is what you pass on. The rest is smoke and mirrors.”
The late Bishop Edwin Hughes once delivered a rousing sermon on “God’s Ownership” that put a rich parishioner’s nose out-of-joint. The wealthy man took the Bishop off for lunch, and then walked him through his elaborate gardens, woodlands, and farm. “Now are you going to tell me,” he demanded when the tour was completed, “that all this land does not belong to me?” Bishop Hughes smiled and replied, “Ask me that same question a hundred years from now.”
Throughout this sermon series I’ve been trying to impress on you this one fact: Giving is not about money, it’s never about money. It’s certainly not about what numbers you write on your commitment card. And it’s not about building new classrooms. It’s about your heart and your faith and about your relationship to God. It’s about our commitment to the work of God in Oak Park and all the surrounding communities. It’s our commitment to be part of what God is doing in the world today. If we have trouble with our giving, it’s probably because we’ve never figured out that everything comes from God. We don’t own a thing. It’s all loaned to us and someday God will take it all back.
When we give generously, we’re saying, “Lord, it’s all yours anyway.”
When we give generously, we’re investing in the Kingdom that cannot be shaken.
When we give generously, we are declaring, “There’s a lot more where that came from.”
When we given generously, we’re laying up treasures in heaven.
Maxey Jarman was an internationally known Christian businessman. During his heyday, he gave away millions. He built churches around the world and gave generously to all kinds of Christian causes. Then, he experienced financial reverses. He lost his company and most of his personal fortune. During the darkest days of his financial crunch, a friend asked if he regretted the millions he had given away over the years. Jarman answered, “Not at all. I only lost what I kept for myself.” In God’s economy, what we keep, we lose; what we give to God is ours forever.
I return to the words of Dusty Baker: “Why not us?” Good question. Why not us? Why not here? Why not now? What you do in this stewardship campaign is between you and the Lord. I won’t know a thing about what anyone gives except what Marlene and I do. But I’ve told you already how God has led us. And we have no regrets. We’ve decided to live on Level 3 faith and already God has moved in a remarkable way. Now I pray that hundreds of you will join us in demonstrating to the world that our God is faithful to meet our needs. The whole community sees the construction going on. This is our chance to declare our faith in the living God who gives us all we have. I pray that each of us will do our part today. May our faith be made visible by the commitments we make. May David’s prayer be our own. “O Lord, we have given generously and with joy because all that we have comes from you. Amen.”