When’s the last time you’ve felt excited about giving an offering at church — I mean really excited? If you’ve been reading this column for the past month, you might remember that when I was in Nigeria, I wrote about how excited the Nigerians got about "offering time!" with the dancing and music accompanying the bringing of their gifts, spending at least an hour of their service giving their monetary offerings.
This month, we started a series at Abiding Grace on "God’s Secrets About Money." We’ll talk about his "Secret to Helping Our Neighbors,’’ his "Secret for Contentment,’’ and his "Secret for Living Within Our Means." But today, we start with "God’s Secret for Giving to Him Our Best.’’
And, I know, no one likes to talk about money. It’s impolite, right? No, the truth is God talks about it plenty and if we don’t, you know you’ll be getting all sorts of money advice from the ads and the salespeople. So let’s think about how we give to God.
We take our lesson from King David in 1 Chronicles 29. He had been blessed, had all sorts of money, lived in a great palace, but he was troubled that the church was still a tent — the Tabernacle. So, he decided to build a glorious temple for God. That’s when God said, "No." God told David that it was his son, Solomon, who would build the temple.
Now think about that for a second. How would you have reacted? David wasn’t getting his way.
How did David react? He got on board and gave generously — even though he didn’t get his way! Think about what that says. He wasn’t doing this for his glory — but for God’s. That’s the first secret of our giving.
But there are many more. Open your Bibles and read 1 Chronicles 19 and look at the list of things David gave, literally tons of gold and silver, and not just from the nation’s treasury — from his own personal treasury. This was his disaster hedge fund. This was the money a king kept for himself in case his country’s economy collapsed because of war or drought or plague, or in case of political coup. David was giving to God his security, his hope, his best. He trusted.
And then he asked his people to do the same. He asks who is willing to consecrate himself, read literally to "fill his hand," to give to God his all. And the people do. And they all rejoiced.
Is that how you give to God through your church? Do you feel like dancing down the aisles to put in your offering?
If you were at church and I asked you point blank in front of everyone what percentage of your income you give to the church, how would you feel? (Don’t worry, I promise not to do that if you come).
But think about it: What would happen? Would your heart start to race? Would you start feeling guilty? Embarrassed? There’s something about money in our culture that causes us to clam up, isn’t there? How uncomfortable would it be to be caught off-guard like that?
But truthfully, sometimes we need that; sometimes it is the only way to uncover the truth. It’s like the cockroaches in Nigeria. If I turned my light on while I was still in bed and shone it where I was going to step, I didn’t have to worry too much about them. They would scurry to their hiding places, and I didn’t really even see them because my eyes were still adjusting. If I had wanted to catch them, though, I would have had to surprise them.
Greed is like that. It’s a sin that scatters and scurries. Yes, you can give whatever you want, but you should be aware your sinful nature wants to give anything but the best, and has a way of convincing you that you’re not really being greedy — as long as you can find someone who’s more greedy — you feel OK.
So, it just might take a pop quiz on giving, an unannounced comparison, for you and me to see our hearts without the makeup on. Be honest: Do those cockroaches of greed make a home in our hearts and chew away the peace that only God can give? Truth be told, they do.
So, do you know what Jesus did? When he saw those pests in our lives, do you know what he decided? He decided to give us his best. But here’s what we can’t forget: Jesus had everything. He is the Son of God, owner of every engagement ring, creator of every ounce of gold, and possessor of the earth and all that is in it.
But Jesus chose to become poor. He came down from heaven to this planet of financial struggles by choice. He was raised in a tiny town by a teenage mom and a blue-collar stepdad.
When he turned 30, he crashed on friends’ couches because he didn’t have a place of his own. He walked from town to town as he preached; there was no limo for God’s Son.
Jesus once had everything, but he chose to have nothing. Jesus was once worshiped by everyone, but he chose to hear shouts of "Crucify him!"
Why in the world would anyone do that? If Jesus could give and do whatever he wanted, why would he choose that? In heaven, what did he lack?
You. That was it. That was all he didn’t have … you, scummy old, weak, frail, failing you. Jesus could have stayed in his lavish home, but then you could never have joined him.
You see, sin makes us poor. Greed and materialism rob us of holiness and the ability to earn heaven. We were too broke to get into paradise. So Jesus got up off his glorious throne and he became poor. He did that so that you could be rich in grace and forgiveness and peace. That’s the kind of Savior you have.
And remember, that is the secret — the power for each of us to truly give to God our best.
The Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington.