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The Greed-House Effect

Zechariah 7:1-10

No sense beating around the bush.

Today I am going to preach about money. I don’t do that too often, but I am going to do it today. You see, we do have to have money to keep the marvelous ministry of this great church going and growing. We do have to have money to fuel our mission work in this city and around the world.

Now I have to admit that it is not easy to raise that money. Over my 30 years in the ministry I have tried all kinds of ways to encourage people to give to the work of the Lord. One year here I even had a reverse offering, where people took money out of the offering plate rather than putting it in. But no matter what I’ve tried, it’s always tough. Mind you, this church is wonderful. We have here the most incredible collection of people God has assembled in any church that I know. This church is acclaimed, rightly so, as one of the great churches in America today. But in spite of that, it’s still hard to secure the financial commitments needed to underwrite the work, the worship and the witness of this great church.

To be sure, we haven’t yet resorted to charging admission to our worship services. We haven’t yet had a raffle. We haven’t yet tried playing bingo. We haven’t even run “The Lord’s Lottery.” Did you see that in the paper? There’s a pastor who says that “The Lord’s Lottery” has put an end to his church’s stewardship worries. Here’s the way it works. Every Sunday the people in that church put their offering money in the envelope. All the envelopes are then placed in a big rotating drum. They give the drum a roll and reach in and draw out one envelope. The person whose envelope is chosen gets back twice the amount that person put in the envelope in the first place. The pastor says that “The Lord’s Lottery” has put his church’s offerings through the roof. Also, his church is growing because only church members can play. People are lining up trying to join that church. Well, at least we haven’t gotten to the point where we have to use “The Lord’s Lottery” here.

Yet, for some reason, it’s hard for us to give our financial resources to the work of Jesus Christ through the church. Too many of us are like the little girl who was getting some help from her teacher. The teacher asked the little girl, “If you have two apples and I ask for one, how many will you have left?” With no hesitation the little girl replied: “Two.” It was not a mistake in her math, it was a mistake in her attitude. She was saying, “What’s mine is mine and I’m going to keep it.” Hers was an attitude of greed and selfishness.

In our Scripture lesson today, the prophet Zechariah speaks to that kind of attitude. It seems that a group of people approached Zechariah anxious to know if they should continue certain rituals in an effort to please God. Zechariah replied that the way to please God was not to go through the motions of meaningless rituals, but to pour ourselves out through selfless giving. In other words, Zechariah was saying that we are to be God-centered in our lives, not self-centered. We are to focus outward, not inward. Zechariah understood that keeping and holding and hoarding what we have in life leads to what I would call “the greed-house effect.” You’ve heard the term “greenhouse effect” and you know that a greenhouse is designed to encourage growth and life. On the contrary, a “greed house” produces selfishness and death. Understand, please that it is not wrong to take care of our needs. It would be irresponsible for people not to care for themselves. That’s not the issue here. The problem is that too many of us become so self-centered, so preoccupied with our own needs that we fail to share what God has given us. That’s what Zechariah was driving at in this passage of Scripture. That kind of keeping and holding leads to “the greed-house effect.”

Let’s at least be honest enough to admit that selfishness and greed are a major problem today. We are living in a time when the more we get, the more we keep and the less we give. That reality is validated in study after study. Do you want proof? People today with incomes below $10,000 per year give three times more proportionately than those with incomes from $50-100,000 a year. Three times more. People with incomes below $50,000 give twice as much as people who are in between $100-200,000 per year. Just last week The Wall Street Journal had a feature article entitled “Why Don’t We Give More?” The basic message of the article was that in this period of unprecedented prosperity in this nation, the proportion of households making charitable contributions has dropped significantly. What’s more, those who do give have been giving proportionately less. Disposable income has jumped 26% in the last five years, and yet the article says people are giving significantly less each year. Why? Well, the reason most people cite is, as the article puts it, “they don’t have enough money, even if there is a Lexus in the driveway.” Bottom line? The more people have, the less they give. That’s the greed-house effect.

I want to suggest that the only way to overcome the greed-house effect in life is to follow the Bible’s directive to tithe. For those of you who are not yet tithers, I would like to invite you to consider it. It will revolutionize your life. That’s a promise.

In the first place, tithing creates proportionate giving.

The Word of God does not declare that we are to give a certain number of dollars each week. There is no suggestion that we are all required to give the same amount. That’s obviously true because we do not all have the same amount from which to give. No single dollar figure could be set which would be fair and just to all. And God is always fair and just. So God says that we are to give proportionately. That is, we are to give in accordance with how much we have been given. And what proportion is that? Well, the Scriptures are very precise. No room for error. We are to give the tithe, that is 10% of what we receive.

Now, you will never be in a better position to tithe than you are today. You see, tithing has very little to do with your finances. It has to do with your attitude. I hear people say: “After I pay my bills, I can’t afford to tithe.” Of course you can’t. Who could? That’s giving God our leftovers. But we are not to come to God with what’s left after we’ve done everything we want to do. No. We are to come to God first and we are to come with our best. Tithing has nothing to do with whether we can afford to do it. Rather, it’s a matter of whether we can afford not to do it. Tithing is an understanding that all we have is a gift from God and that we are just managers and caretakers of what’s been given to us. Tithing then is not a tax, it’s a trust.

Don Lewis was listening to an all-news radio station while driving to work. The announcer on the radio said that the tenth caller to the station would win $1000. This was a promotion to build the listening audience. A few minutes later he declared that they had a winner. It was a woman. The announcer asked her what she was going to do with the money. Without any hesitation she replied: “Of course, the first $100 goes to my church.” Don Lewis wrote: “My surprise at her answer was enough so that I can’t recall now how the balance of the $1000 would be spent. I was shocked by her statement about the tithe because of the self-confident, no deliberation, no reservation way in which she said: ‘Of course.’ That’s what had the greatest impact upon me.” There was no self-righteousness in her voice; just a simple matter-of-fact tone as if to say, ‘Isn’t that what everyone would do?’ You see, for that woman, it was a natural thing for her. Any money that flowed into her life, a portion of it would flow immediately on right into the Kingdom of God. No greed-house effect there.

But tithing also creates pleasurable giving.

Some people don’t draw a lot of joy out of their giving. Some give out of a sense of obligation. Some give begrudgingly. Some give out of guilt. There’s not much joy in that kind of giving. Tithing, on the other hand, is pleasurable giving.

I’ve never forgotten what I learned from Julius Frazier. He served for more than forty years as the custodian in the church I pastored in South Carolina. I asked him one day about his own church—a small African-American church in Columbia, South Carolina. He said: “Rev., we’ve got 150 people in my church and they’re all good people.” I asked: “Do they all come to church every Sunday?” He said: “Nope, they don’t. But they all pays every Sunday.” Well, that got my attention. I said: “Your preacher sure must put the fear of God into them to get them to do that.” Julius Frazier replied: “Oh, no Rev. Those people ain’t scared of God. You can’t scare people into givin.’ You got to glad ‘em into givin.’ Our folks give ‘cause they’re glad about God.” No greed-house effect there.

Dear friends, when you are glad about God in your life, then you know that the greatest joy you can have in this life is to be a blessing to God. And that’s exactly what we do when we tithe. We bless God. And that leads me with the final point I wish to leave with you today:

Best of all, tithing creates purposeful living.

My grandmother lived to be 96 years old. She was not a wealthy woman, far from it. She spent the last thirty years of her life as a widow, living on a pension and social security. But she always had enough money to live and she always had a robust and infectious joy. Why? I learned the secret one day when Trisha and I were visiting her in her apartment. She had been out of town for several weeks. While we were there the mailman knocked on the door bringing the mail which had accumulated while she was away. He came in, not with a bundle, not even with a box, but with one of those huge canvas mail sacks. My grandmother proceeded to dump all of those letters out into a huge pile in the middle of the floor. Then she said: “I can hardly wait to start opening all those letters and catch up on all the good things the Lord is doing with my money.” I said: “Maman (that’s what we called her), where is all this mail coming from?” She said: “I’ll show you.” She got out her checkbook and began pointing to the check stubs. She said: “You know, I don’t have a whole lot of money, but I give my full tithe to my church, and after that, I send a little here and a little there—wherever Christians are doing great things for the Lord. People are always so good about writing to let me know how their work is going.” I looked at those check stubs, page after page of them, and I noticed that down at the bottom of each check stub she had written the words: FOR CHRIST. Check stubs always speak louder than words. Suddenly, I understood her secret. I understood why her life had such joy and such purpose. It was because there was no greed-house effect in her life.

I have tried to follow that pattern in my own life. I love this church. I love this living, breathing, sinning, saving people of God with an undying passion. Yes, I love this church, and to be a blessing to this church thrills my soul and gives joy and purpose to my living. That’s why one of the happiest, most satisfying things I do each year is to bring my full tithe to this church so that this church can continue to keep growing and going in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I pray that the Lord will bless the gifts which all of us shall bring to His church this year, and I pray that He will bless this simple message which I offer in His name.

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