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There is an old saying that “politics makes strange bedfellows.” I would like to suggest today that unbelief also makes strange bedfellows. Take the case of the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Under normal circumstances, they fought like cats and dogs. However, because they both were threatened by the ministry of Jesus, they set aside their differences and united against Him. They even sent some of their leaders to try to put Jesus on the spot. They asked Him: “Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar?” The question put Jesus into a dangerous dilemma. If He declared that taxes should be paid, the people would have turned against Jesus because they despised Caesar. And if He said that taxes should not be paid, the Romans would have arrested Him for preaching insurrection.
Jesus’ response to the question was both very clever and very profound. He said: “Bring me a coin.” Then He said: “Whose likeness is on this coin?” They said: “Caesar’s.” Then Jesus said to them: “Render, therefore, to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s.” Needless to say, the Pharisees and Sadducees went away baffled and frustrated.
Frankly, I have always been fascinated with Jesus’ response to that question. In essence, He was saying: “What does your money say?” Of course, we have an expression that says, “Money talks.” I have a friend who says: “Yes, money talks, and all it ever says to me is goodbye!” Seriously though, what would be the message if Jesus were to take a one-dollar bill and ask us: “What does your money say?” Well, I have arranged for each one of you to be given a brand new one-dollar bill. I want us to look at it together for it contains some messages I believe Jesus wants us to hear.
First of all, we see on the one-dollar bill the picture of George Washington.
How appropriate it is to have his picture on our money. We don’t know as much about him as we might wish because after his death many of his papers and records were destroyed. However, we do know that he was not a man of extraordinary or profound ability. Rather, he was a very ordinary man who used every skill and talent he possessed to the ultimate degree. And we know that he was a man of tremendous faith in God. We have some of the prayers that he wrote, and they are both beautiful and powerful. He attended worship services immediately before and after his inauguration ceremony, and he prayed during much of the inaugural itself. He was the one who added to the President’s Oath of Office the words: “So help me, God.” He not only held his hand on the Bible, but he bent forward and kissed it after the oath. He regularly contributed very large sums of money to the work of the church. He insisted on having chaplains for all his troops, and he engaged in prayer and fasting before all his battles and before all his significant decisions. On one occasion a clergyman stood to praise George Washington for his service to his country, and Washington responded: “I am simply trying to do what God wants me to do.”
That is what stewardship is. Stewardship is knowing that everything you are, and everything you have, is from God, and therefore, you try to do with it what God wants you to do. We Presbyterians understand that. When we become part of the Presbyterian Church, we pledge ourselves to use what we are and what we have to the glory of God and to the blessing of others, as well as to the service of ourselves. That is the way Presbyterians have always viewed their stewardship. Although, having said that, I must tell you honestly that there are nearly 500 members of this church who expect to receive all the ministries and blessings of the church, but who give absolutely nothing of their treasure to the service of God through this congregation. That is a shame, because money talks, and one of the things the dollar bill tells us with its picture of George Washington is that the real secret to greatness in life is to use what we have to the honor and glory of God and His work in the world. That is what George Washington did.
Now turn your bill over. On the other side, on the right, you find an eagle enclosed within a circle.
Of course, the eagle is the emblem of our nation, the United States. The circle, according to the designer of the one-dollar bill, represents the never-ending creative power of God. The message is that everything and everyone in this great nation exists as a result of the creative power of God. That encircled eagle serves to remind us that we do not own anything. We are not the proprietors of this earth. This is our Father’s world—not ours. We are the guests of God here.
When the fabulously wealthy commodore Vanderbilt died, two men were reading about it on a street corner in New York City. One man said: “How much did he leave?” The other responded immediately: “All of it!” And that is always true. We do not bring anything when we come and we do not take anything when we go, because “the earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.” One of the things that the dollar bill says to us by putting our country within the circle of God’s creative power is that everything that is belongs to God. And as His stewards, we are only handling His loose change for a while.
Now opposite the circle, on the left side, you see within another circle an unfinished pyramid, and over the pyramid, an eye.
The unfinished pyramid indicates that this nation is still being built. The eye indicates that it is being built under God’s watchful care, and careful watch. In other words, God expects us to build, and He has great expectations about what we build. Here is yet another message about our stewardship. We are to be engaged in building not only a nation, but also the Kingdom of God. The dollar bill reminds us that God is watching us to see that we do it right.
Interesting, isn’t it, that this reminder is in our pockets, but still there are people who wear more money on their wrists or around their necks or on their fingers than they give to the work of the church in a year. I have buried some people who spent more money on their caskets than they gave to the service of the Christ in all of their lifetimes. I wonder what God thinks when He sees that kind of thing. No, I do not wonder. I know.
The fact is that there are only two kinds of givers in the church—people who give as they can, and people who give as they are called. The people who give as they can frequently do not make a pledge. They will sign a pledge to pay off their house or their car, but they will not make a pledge to the church even though that is the only pledge which is not binding. Of course, when they do make a pledge, they make it for one or five or ten, or maybe even twenty dollars a week—they put it down, but it has no relationship to the tithe. Then they send it in as if it were the dues to some kind of club. That is not being faithful to God. It reminds me of the farmer who was being questioned by his minister. The minister said: “Lem, if you had ten cows, would you give one of them to God?” Lem said: “Yes I would.” The minister said: “Well, Lem, if you had ten horses would you give one of them to God?” Lem said: “Sure, preacher.” The minister said: “And if you had ten pigs, would you give one of them to God?” Lem said: You know I would.” The minister said: “Well, Lem, if you had ten chickens, would you give one to God?” Lem said: “Wait a minute, preacher; you know I have ten chickens!” You see, there are a lot of people who are willing to talk about what ought to be done and about what others ought to do, but they draw back when it comes to what they give in terms of what God has given to them.
But then, thank God, there are people who give as they are called. They give the tithe, at least 1/10 of what they receive, and they even seek to increase that percentage as they go along. It may interest you to know that in our congregation of 4,000, we have just 268 families or individuals who tithe. One gives $39,000 per year. One gives $24,000 per year. Nine give more than $15,000 per year. Eight give more than $10,000 per year. Seventy give more than $5,000 per year. One hundred seventy-nine give between $2,000 and $5,000. Twelve hundred give less than $2,000. Now those 268 tithers represent just twelve percent of our givers, but the nearly 1.4 million dollars those tithers give represents about 54% of our budget. My friends, that is the power and the glory of the tithe. Much of the ministry of this church is made possible by the few who give proportionately, who give the tithe, as the Bible commands us to do. As they receive from God, so they give to God. Think what would happen if all of us did that!
In my first church, there was an older retired man who took seriously the Biblical admonition to tithe. When he received his check each month, he would bring his tithe to the church that very day, no matter what the weather was like. I said to him once: “Why don’t you wait and bring it on Sunday or just drop it in the mail?” He said: “Young fellow, I am a lot closer to the end of my life than you are to yours, and I don’t want to die with God’s money in my pocket.” He took his stewardship seriously and he gave proportionately. Remember, please, that that dollar bill you have in your hand says that God sees what we do with our money. He surely does.
Now notice that under the pyramid are some Latin words, “Novus ordo seclorum,” which mean “a new order for the ages.”
Our money is to be used in bringing about a new order for humankind, in bringing about something which will transform society, in bringing about that which the world has never seen before. That is precisely what we are doing here in this church. We are engaged in building a ministry in the name of Jesus Christ which is winning people and changing our city and impacting our world. I wish I had the time and the ability to describe it all. But look, for example, at these church buildings. In an average month, some 20,500 people come to these buildings for worship or spiritual growth or recreation or counseling or a host of other activities. It takes a lot of money just to maintain a set of buildings used by thousands of people every week, but it is worth it because God in Jesus Christ is touching the lives of those people. Or look at our mission giving. We spend nearly one and half million dollars a year meeting human need and doing the work of Christ in the world. Next year we want to do more, from building homes for the less fortunate here in Orlando to building a church in Zaire—that and even more. That is what we are doing. We are building a new order for the ages in the name of Jesus Christ. We are committed to making this church a center for the things of Christ in this city and in our world. Yes, “novus ordo seclorum”—”a new order for the ages.”
Then, of course, right in the center of the dollar bill are the most obvious words of all, “In God we trust.”
Those sacred words, emblazoned across our money remind us that no matter how much we give to God and to the building of His Kingdom, we cannot repay our debt to Him, and, therefore, we must trust in His grace. We cannot pay for the world. If we put all of our resources together, we could not buy a sunset. We could never raise enough money to pay for the freedom we enjoy in this nation. No one of us here could rebuild these church buildings if they were to be destroyed tomorrow. We cannot write a check to cover the cost of the more than 100 years of history that have made this church what it is. You could not hire all the people who teach in our Sunday School and all the people who sing in our choirs, and all the people who work with our youth. How could we ever compensate Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob; Peter, Paul, or John; Calvin, Luther, or Knox? Which one of us could stand at the foot of the cross and offer up anything at all to Jesus and then say: “Okay, now we are even”? My beloved, you and I are living off the grace of God. 100%! Even our money tells us that. “In God we trust.”
Jesus said to the Pharisees and Sadducees: “Look at your money. What does it say?” Just as the money spoke for Him then, so the money we handle every day of our lives speaks clearly to us of how we are to love the things of Christ and how we are to be His disciples.
Two men made a stewardship call on a man who was a member of their church. The man answered the door and said: “I am not going to give anything because religion is becoming too expensive a proposition.” With that, one of the men making the call said: “Listen, after my wife and I married we decided to have a baby—we had a son—and having a baby is an expensive proposition. Then, of course, there were all the food, clothes, toys, and medical bills. Raising a child is an expensive proposition. Then I wanted my boy to have a dog, but a dog is an expensive proposition. Then there was a bicycle and they sure are not cheap. When he graduated from high school, we gave him a ten-year-old car, but still it was an expensive proposition. Then he went off to college—now that is really an expensive proposition. It was halfway through his junior year, when I received a call from the president of his college telling me that my son, my expensive proposition, had been killed in a freak campus accident.” He paused for a moment, looked at the man who was unwilling to give because religion is an expensive proposition, and then he said: “You know, ever since the night my son died, he has not cost me one red cent.”
You know, there are some things in life that cost a lot. They cost all that we are and all that we have. But think of the cost of being without them. Think of the cost of being without the Kingdom and without the King.