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A Life Full Of Surprises

Malachi 3:8-12

Did you hear the story about the man who suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized? The doctor warned the man’s wife that under no circumstances was he to receive any sudden shocks or disturbances—that would set off another attack and he would die. Well, the next day, the wife received word that the man’s wealthy uncle had died leaving him a million dollars, but it was necessary for him to sign some papers immediately in order to get the money. The problem confronting his wife then was how to tell him the news without giving him such a shock that he would have another heart attack and die. She decided that her preacher would be the best one to convey this news to the sick man. So the preacher went into the room, chatted with the patient for a moment, and then said: “Tell me, Jim, what would you do if someone gave you a million dollars?” He replied immediately: “Why, Preacher, the first thing that I’d do would be to give one-tenth of it, or $100,000, to the church.” Whereupon the preacher had a heart attack and dropped dead on the spot!

Now after that, I don’t want you to get the impression that it is such a shocking experience to find a tither—it is not. But then it is not really a common experience either. And that concerns me. I’m not concerned that the church will not get along, for remember that Jesus said that not even the gates of hell would stand against His church. Nothing will ever stop the church, not even the indifference of her people. The church will get along. No, I am concerned because there are so many people who are missing out on one of life’s greatest joys—they are missing out on the thrill, the excitement, the joy of tithing.

For the life of me I cannot understand why this is so. I mean, there are more than 100 places in the Bible where we are directed to tithe. The Bible says: “You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.” The Bible says:”Bring the full tithe into my house, says the Lord of hosts.” Paul says: “On the first day every week, let everyone put the tithe aside and store it up for the work of the church.” Jesus Himself sums it all up with a five-word commandment. Speaking of the tithe, He says: “This you ought to do.” Now the message cannot be expressed any more clearly than that. Yet there are many of us who do not hear it—or if we do hear it, we choose to ignore it. And that concerns me, because if we are not tithing, then we are missing out on a life which is absolutely full of some wonderful surprises.

Here’s the first surprise: When you tithe you are surprised at how much the church wants to carry on its ministry in the name of Jesus Christ.

In Bible days, the tithe was one-tenth of one’s total income from all sources. But in this day of the graduated income tax, the tithe might well be interpreted as being one-tenth of one’s net income after taxes. Now how you regard the tithe is a matter between you and God. You see, for the Christian, the tithe is not some burdensome legalism. Rather the tithe points to a gloriously uplifting principle—the principle of proportionate giving—that is, giving to God in proportion to the way He has blessed you. Understand, please, that our salvation does not hinge upon whether or not we tithe. We are saved by grace.

But the tithe gives us the opportunity to say to God: “Lord, because you have blessed me, I want to be a blessing to your work in the world.” And you would be surprised at how much money the Church would have to do Christ’s work in the world, if people responded with proportionate giving.

Let me be specific. I put a pencil to it the other day. I took the Department of Labor statistics on the median income for families who live in the city of Orlando, figured in the tithe,and multiplied that by the number of pledging families in our congregation. Do you realize that if that median income figure is accurate for this congregation and if our people were to tithe just their net income, then this congregation would have two and one-half million dollars per year for carrying out the work of Christ? That’s an astonishing figure—and it is even more astonishing when you think of what could be accomplished by this Church if we were to do what God has instructed us to do.

Jesus once said that His Church would do greater works than He has done. And this is true. Jesus taught a relatively small number of people—the Church has taught many more. Jesus lifted people out of despair and hopelessness—but the church across the centuries has done much more of that than Jesus was able to do in three short years. Greater works than Christ we have done simply because the power of Christ dwells within us. And because the power of Christ dwells within us there is no limit to what may yet be done.

Clarence Cranford tells the true story of a thief who broke into a church. He was in the process of stealing the offering money when he was surprised by the preacher. He pointed a gun at the preacher and ordered him to stand still. This preacher said: “What are you going to do with that money?” The thief said: “Shut up!” But that’s almost impossible for a preacher to do. So this preacher said: “All right, since you won’t tell me what you’re going to do with the money, I’ll tell you what we were going to do with it.” He then proceeded to describe how those funds were going to be used in healing broken bodies and broken minds and broken spirits, and broken hearts. When he had finished, the thief hurled down the money and fled out into the night. The point is that when people know what is going to be done with the money in the name of Jesus Christ, they respond.

That’s why I want us to know that the Presbyterian Church is now operating 55 homes for the elderly with more a-building, and that nearly 40% of the residents in those homes cannot pay for the services rendered there. I want us to know that the Presbyterian Church is giving new life to hundreds of troubled or unwanted or handicapped or disadvantaged children in more than 20 children’s homes throughout the south. I want us to know that we are operating and maintaining 33 Presbyterian schools and colleges and that we have Presbyterian ministers on 200 other college and university campuses. I want us to be aware of the fact that Presbyterian hospitals minister to the needs of more than one million people every year. I want us to know that we have more than 300 missionaries in 20 countries around this globe, and that after several years of decline, this number is now increasing simply because of increased commitment from members like ours. Of course, I haven’t even referred to the almost unbelievable ministry of this great congregation. Oh yes, it would be a surprising, astounding thing to see what the church could do if people tithed as the Lord has asked.

Now here’s a second surprise: When you tithe you are surprised to discover that you become stronger, healthier, and a better manager of your own life.

Psychologists have proven—and I think the weight of the evidence is incontestable—the habits of stinginess, selfishness and greed are rooted in childhood. When a child is not given the opportunity to develop the natural instinct of sharing, learning to give and to receive, then that life is bent—it’s damaged. Don’t you ever wonder why it is that a child will stand almost endlessly and pitch a ball with you—throw it over, throw it back, throw it over, throw it back—why does this fascinate a child? It’s because a child is naturally fascinated with the whole concept of giving and receiving, of challenge and response. People who grow up without developing this natural desire find themselves encased in a selfishness which is not only mentally unhealthy, but also physically debilitating. That’s why psychologists tell us that if you can break the habit of selfishness, if you can persuade a person to give of that which has been given to him or her, then that person will become mentally and physically stronger and healthier. I would go on to say that that person also becomes better able to cope with whatever circumstances life may present.

Now let me say at this point that you must never listen to anyone who says to you that if you tithe, the Lord will give you more money. Don’t buy that argument! In the first place, that’s the wrong reason for tithing, and in the second place chances are it won’t happen. But what I am saying to you is this: if you tithe, God will bless you with an inner power strong enough to enable you to cope with anything life sets before you. I was talking to one of our tithers not long ago. He said that since he started titing several years ago, he and his wife had had the best years of their lives. They had not been years free of strain or illness or even tragedy—and they were no richer now than when they started. And he said that once they put their personal affairs in order with the Lord, then it was easier to put the rest of their lives in order. And out of this had come a tremendous strength and joy. Their lives had been transformed.

But let’s be practical here. You are probably saying to yourself: “That’s all well and good, preacher, but I don’t think I can handle that 10% commitment right now.” Well, let me show you where to begin. I challenge you to start this year at 5% or 6% and then commit yourself to increase this to 1% each year until you reach the tithe. You can handle that. And besides, if you will let me know that this is what you are doing then I will enter into a prayer covenant with you and we’ll work on this thing together. There are a number of people in my previous congregation who are doing just that—boosting their giving by 1% each year until they reach the tithe. And I love you enough that I want you to have some of the joy and power and strength they are experiencing in their lives as a result of that. So come on, join with me in this thing—I don’t want you to miss out on all the surprises.

There are two seas in Palestine. One is fresh and fish are in it. The River Jordan makes the sea by carrying sparkling water into it from the hills. Splashes of green adorn its banks. Trees spread their branches over it and sink their roots down deep to drink its life-giving water. Children play along its shores and people build their homes there. Every kind of life is happier because it is there.

But the River Jordan flows south into another sea. Here there is no splash of fish, no fluttering of leaves on trees, no singing birds, no laughing children. The air hangs heavy above the water and neither man nor beast nor fowl will drink of it.

What makes the difference in these two seas? The River Jordan? No, it carries the same water into both. The soil in which they lie or the countryside roundabout? No, they are virtually the same. Here is the difference. The first sea, the Sea of Galilee, receives but does not keep the water of the Jordan. For every drop that flows into it another drop flows out. The other sea is selfish—every drop it gets, it keeps. The Sea of Galilee gives and lives. The other sea gives nothing. It is called…the Dead Sea.

There are two kinds of seas in Palestine.
There are two kinds of people in the world.
Which kind are you?

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