Generosity – League of Ordinary People

At Gateway Church in Austin we are going through a 3 part series to help with character development. Inspired by Uprising: A Revolution for the Soul by Erwin McManus, we are tackling the following three topics:

John Burke shared the following message:

Today we’re gonna talk about Generosity. Truth is we all want to be generous people—or at least thought of as generous people. But how does that character trait grow in a person? God doesn’t force generosity, because generosity can’t be forced, it has to come from the heart.

God’s attitude toward this whole topic of generosity is this:

Each person should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work…You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”  – 2 Corinthians 9:7-11

God desires that people so open their hearts to God and His grace that they begin to experience a growing sense of security in every area of life—so that like this verse says you feel Rich in every way—not just monetarily, but in every way–you feel like you have MORE than Enough!

  • More than enough money so that giving is not under compulsion.
  • More than enough time, so that giving your attention or assistance doesn’t come with reluctance.
  • More than enough love, so that showing love and concern for others just flows out of your heart.

God wants us to feel truly rich—having more than enough!  But generosity is less about what we have or don’t have, it’s about the condition of our heart.

I’m speaking specifically to Christ-followers today, those of you who have put your trust in Christ because you believe He laid down his life for you out of love for you, forgave all your sins, adopted you as His own, and made you eternally secure with Him. So if that’s you pay close attention.  Generosity is probably the most important character trait for you to grow in in our culture. Here’s why:

Greed is a deceitful, enslaving Idol. Our culture taught us from childhood, “Greed is good.” But scripture teaches us:

When Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory…Don’t be greedy, for a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world.” – Colossians 3:4-6

Money and stuff are not evil. How many of you have heard that the Bible says “Money is the root of all evil?” It doesn’t actually say that. It says money is a gift from God to enjoy and use for good.

For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil…Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.  Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous….” – 1 Timothy 6:10, 17-18 

God blesses with wealth so we can enjoy it AND be richly generous. We must come to realize that there is power, a spiritual force that is seductive and wants to possess us. It lies to you saying:

  • More money will make you happy (really—are all wealthy people happy?)
  • More money will give you peace (then why are anti-anxiety meds #1 best selling among wealthiest?)
  • More money will make you secure (you know what J.D. Rockefeller, one of wealthiest in world said when asked as he was dying “How much is enough J.D.?” He said, “Just one dollar more.”)

There is a spiritual reality to money that we need to accept and address – it can possess us or we can possess it.  So Jesus warned us:

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”  – Matthew 6:24

If you don’t believe Jesus’ words, just stop and think about why you often feel a battle inside over giving generously.  Why do we become anxious or afraid when money comes up? Why is there often a fear or anger or insecurity or guilt—like we’re being threatened, like our source of life or happiness is at stake? It’s just paper—just stuff, or is it?

Jesus says it’s a rival god—not money—the love and trust of money over God.  The reason it’s a horrible god is that it distorts reality and enslaves us to fear, discontentment, anxiety, worry, and debt. It promises freedom but delivers spiritual bondage. Money and stuff can’t love you, buy you love, make you a happy, or content.  Some of you are thinking, “I’d just like the chance to learn that lesson the hard way!”  But you’re already wealthy and it hasn’t made you content!

  • If you own a car, then you are among the world’s upper class.
  • If you make more than $1,800/year, you have more purchasing power than 90% of humanity.
  • If you own a home or have the means to, you are wealthier than 95% of the rest of humanity.
  • If you make more than $47,000/year—you’re already richer than 99% of the world.

So why don’t we feel rich? Why instead are we enslaved to constant worry about money? Why do we never have enough and always feel like we need more? We can’t grow in generosity because we are filled with fear, yet we spend more than we have on stuff we don’t need. We’re enslaved to debt so “I owe, I owe, so off to work I go.” We are slaves to the Mastercard.  Do you see what a spiritual sickness this is? We believe the lie that says “I’ll become more generous if I can just make more”—Survey says? Not True.

U.S. Bureau of Labor says:

  • The poorest Americans gave 4.3% of their 10,000/year income.
  • Those making $50,000-$150,000 gave less than 3%.
  • The wealthiest who are making over $150,000 gave even less 2%.

If you won’t grow in generosity with a little, you’ll become less generous with a lot.  This is a spiritual disease. We’re the richest people ever, yet we’re not happy, content, secure, satisfied, or growing in generosity.

So what’s the answer?  Not the lie that you just need more—that feeds the monster of greed. Gratitude is the start—just being thankful for what you have and not mad about what you don’t have. Gratitude to God will help you to stretch in generosity and put your trust in God. You’ll be amazed at how you grow to feel as rich as you already are! So the first reason to grow in generosity is to be free of this seductive, enslaving disease.

The second reason to grow in generosity is this: Generosity will benefit you.  Now again, if you don’t believe Jesus—all this stuff will seem crazy. But just consider how important this is if Jesus is telling the truth about God’s eternal economy—which by last calculations will last a lot longer than your short stay on earth.

But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:20-21

Jesus is saying “You can hoard it all away here on earth, but it all goes away in the end.  Or you can store up FOR YOURSELVES (not for God) treasure that lasts for yourself. You don’t give because God needs it, He doesn’t need anything. It’s for yourself—God will do his deal with you or without you. The benefit is when you get to be an investor and participant in God’s business.

How you invest your money, your time, your life is a test to determine who God can trust.

Jesus said it this way:

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.  So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?  And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No one can serve two masters…You cannot serve both God and money.” – Luke 16:10-13 

Jesus is saying what should be obvious, but we get spiritually blinded. What you have right now, you cannot keep. It won’t last. It’s not yours to take with you. That’s why we never see U-Haul trucks behind a hearse do we.

Jesus says there are TRUE riches that DO last! How we use what doesn’t last determines what God trusts us with that Does Last.  If you say, “I love and follow Jesus” then you need to consider: “Do I believe Jesus is telling the truth?”

It doesn’t matter how much or how little you have. Generosity is not about the amount but about faithfulness. The more generous you become, the more it benefits you.

Jesus was watching people put money in the offering and said:

Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents. Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.” – Mark 12:41-43

The widow put in a HUGE % and the others put in a small %.  God looks at the heart. It’s all a test of the heart.  It doesn’t matter if your Cubicle girl or homeless man or multimillionaire: What % do you invest in God’s business versus what % do you invest in yourself?

About now, I expect some of you are feeling guilty, threatened, maybe angry because you fear that God wants to harm you, that He’s going to ruin your ability to be happy. So what are you supposed to do – just give everything away and be dependent and impoverished? I’m actually not worried that you’re going to over-react and do that, but these extreme lies about God’s character keep us from trusting Him. Consider this: God gave you everything you currently have, and wants you to enjoy it, and invest it in His business that He wants you to participate in AND He even wants to give you more. When someone is tightfisted with what they have, you can’t give them more, you have to be open-handed to receive more.  Now—I’m not saying you give to get.  I’m saying:

God blesses faithful generosity. But what is generosity? If the average person gives 2% of their income and you give 3%, are you generous? Hugh McClellan and his wife decided to make a giving goal—the more their income grew, the greater % they’d give away. Today they give away 70% of the millions/year they make, yet they say people giving 10% of their $50,000/year income are more sacrificially generous than they are.  So who defines generous? Well, it’s not about amount, and it’s not about comparison, it’s between you and God. God knows how easily we end up worshipping money and stuff, so He set a test to see who we obey—God or Greed. Here’s the test:

“Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.”  – Proverbs 3:9

Give first, not last. God says, if you say you love me and follow me, then don’t honor your mortgage company, cable company, Starbucks, all these other things first, then your savings account and then, if there are any leftovers, give something to honor God. That’s putting self and that insatiable need for MORE first and God last. He says, here’s the test: every paycheck will you decide God is first in my life? If so, then honor God first, then save, and then live on the rest. That’s the wisest way to live.  Give-Save-Live in that order. Honor God first, honor yourself by saving something, and learn to live on the rest with gratitude. This is entirely possible! It’s a heart issue not an amount issue. You have to fight the spiritual disease that can’t say “No” to anything in order to say “Yes” to God.

He tests our hearts by setting a standard of generosity that He uses to change the world. God tells Moses:

“One-tenth of the produce of the land, whether grain from the fields or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord and must be set apart to him as holy.” – Leviticus 27:30 

So he says that it all belongs to God ultimately, but I want you to take the first 10% of everything that comes in and give it back to me. He says, “This part’s mine—it’s how I want my churches, my temples, my business run—people choosing to love me more than money—to trust God more than all the fears and insecurities screaming to put them first.”

Now, here’s what many “seasoned” Christians sometimes say: “That’s the old testament law. We’re under grace so we don’t have live under law.” That’s true—God sets you free to be like Jesus, who motivated by Grace didn’t hold back anything—out of love gave it all. Jesus said to self-righteous religious people:

“You are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith. You should tithe, yes, but do not neglect the more important things.” – Matthew 23:23

You should tithe, Jesus says, but not to prove your better than others but out of a heart that’s growing to love and trust God more so we can care for others and be even more generous.

That’s why God says, “Not only am I testing you, but I invite you to test me.” God wants you to Test His goodness toward you.  To those who knew God asks for the first 10%, but just said “No thanks.” God says:

“’Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!’ But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’ ‘You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!’” – Malachi 3:8-10

God invites you to test him to see if you don’t feel more blessed, happy, secure, and truly rich. Unfortunately, most Christians hear lies that say, “I can’t afford that. There’s no way I could do that. I have to get out of debt first.” But have you ever considered that your 90% with God’s blessing is going to go way farther than your 100% without God’s involvement?

Maybe you can’t tithe because you won’t tithe. Willingness is all God needs to make a way. This is not God Lotto. You don’t obey God to get rich. It’s a relationship. You trust God, and then you’ll see how much He cares. You will discover that He’s trustworthy.

Say I was a successful Entrepreneur who had to go away for several years. I found three guys, Larry, Mo, and Curly and said this—I will give each of you one of my businesses to run. It will make way more than you need, all I ask is that you send the first 10% to my wife Kathy. You can do whatever you want with the other 90%–make it grow, enjoy it, invest it—whatever. Just provide for my wife first. So a time passes and I check in with Kathy to find out if my 3 Stooges are being faithful. She says Larry sends 20% every month first thing. I think, “Wow—I only asked him to send 10%, He has a good generous heart–he knows what I value.” What about Mo? “Mo has faithfully sent 10% every month.” Excellent—he’s trustworthy. Curly? “He sent a small amount the first couple of months, but nothing since.” What would I do? I’d take the business from him and give it to the 20% guy.

This isn’t just an analogy. Jesus says the church IS his bride that He loves.

A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. – Ephesians 5:31-32  

The church is the Bride of Christ. He loves every local church because the Church is his children doing his business of changing lives. He doesn’t want his local church barely scraping by, always in need. He wants his Church thriving and pushing out doing more and more of His business. So last reason to stretch your Generosity toward whatever church you’re in.

Your Generosity Changes Lives.  When you give to the local church you’re a part of, God uses it to change lives! We’ve seen 1000s of people find faith over the years and 1000s of people get free of the worst kinds of addictions and marriages brought back from the brink of divorce. Consider this: if God has used this church in your life, someone paid it forward for you. That’s how God’s economy works. Someone generously gave so that this church could be here for you and as more hearts grow in generosity, He will keep changing more lives.

Again, I’m speaking today to those who say, “I love and follow Jesus.” I hope you’ll decide to tithe for your sake. I give a talk like this about once a year, and many just stay stuck. I want to challenge you to not stay stuck but to move toward tithing. The 1% challenge is a way to help you stretch to become a more generous person, and make a huge impact in the lives of people through our church.  The idea is simple: Whatever % of your income you currently give each month, challenge yourself to give 1% more. If you currently give 5% of your income, start giving 6%.  If you give 10%, stretch to 11%.  If you give 0%, start giving 1% or more of your income. Just start moving forward, stretching your generosity and make a huge difference!

Here’s what I don’t want: I don’t want you to give out of guilt or pressure. I want you to just decide what you will do, and go home and make a plan and do it. If you choose to do nothing—guess what? You’re still welcome to come and receive everything we can offer for free, and we hope you will because that’s the heart of God.

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