Worship That God AcceptsErwin W. Lutzer | January 11, 2009
Selected highlights from this sermon
When fleeing Egypt, the Israelites were instructed by God to take along part of the land’s wealth. However, God’s ultimate intention was for the Israelites to give Him those same riches.While many of us struggle with stinginess, pain, and debt, the people of Israel were a good example as they invested and gave to God in worship.
How then should we give? As a community of believers, we should willingly desire to give God what He is prompting us to give.
This is the first in a series of four messages titled Investing for Eternity. The minute you mention the word money we immediately begin a rundown in our own minds of where we stand on the economic ladder. And given the fact that we are in an economic slowdown, and the projection is that things might get worse before they get better, people today are filled with fear. As a matter of fact, I read that 10,000 heart attacks probably happened in the last 12 months that can be traceable to the economic situation. Even the rich are scared, and so as a result of that, money is on our minds a great deal, a great deal more than it usually is and it occupies a great deal of our time and our energy and our thoughts because money has tremendous power. It has power for good and power for evil.
This series of messages is intended for us to back off and see what God has to say about money, but of course, what I say here in the pulpit is only a small little window into the picture, and that’s why as you’ll notice, we have opportunities for you to learn more. But we want you to begin to grapple with this whole business of finances, and to think about money very seriously.
I want to begin this series by giving you some encouragement. Don’t turn to the passage but just remember it in your mind – Genesis 26. The Bible says that there was a famine in the land and Isaac was living in the land at that time, and the word of the Lord came to Isaac saying, “Do not go down into Egypt.” That’s usually what happened when there was a famine in the land. His father, Abraham, went down into Egypt, and it is there that he was able to get Hagar, who later on became his mistress, and furthermore, it is there that he lost Lot’s heart, because later on, Lot had a love for money because he had seen the wealth of Egypt. So God said, “Isaac, don’t go down into Egypt. There is a famine in the land, but stay in this land and I will take care of you.” And right from the get-go I want to tell you that there may be a famine in the land, but stay in the land and God will take care of you. God has not forgotten his people in the midst of some economic loss, when all of us have seen our retirement funds shrivel and we’ve seen the future being quite bleak, and for some of you maybe this past week your job was terminated. God is going to be with us through all of this.
Now the moment you mention the word money to people in a church, immediately you have a reaction. Some people react and say, “Oh, there he goes again. He’s talking about money.” Usually these are people who had a bad experience in a church where all that the church talked about was money. I can say truthfully I believe that that’s not at all true of Moody Church. What a terrible thing it is if you give simply because we need to keep the lights on, and simply because we have salaries that need to be paid. That’s not why you give. Giving is the kingdom of God. Giving is extending the kingdom around the world. Giving is teams that go to Mexico and missionaries who go to Romania, and orphanages in other lands that we support, and all kinds of things that your money has done that we don’t even have time to tell you about. That’s what it is. It’s advancing the Gospel here amid the families of Chicago, the children of Chicago, and to be a light. That’s what it’s all about. Giving is never about all that we want is your money. I want you to relax, because if you are here today thinking that all that we want is your money, you’re going to find out how wrong you really are. That’s not what this is about.
Secondly, there are those who are stingy. I know that the word is frugal (laughter) but I’m using the word stingy. I want to just call it what it is. Now, if you are stingy, you know you’re going to really react because the very mention of it sends something through your soul. Do you remember that old story that comes from East Texas, where there was this little church, and there was a woman sitting there in her finery, really decked out? She had “bling,” and the deacon passed the offering plate past her and she didn’t give anything, so he just passed it by her again, and she still didn’t give anything. Then he passed it by a third time. You can imagine how she was looking and staring at him when that happened. So he leaned over and whispered to her, “Either put something in or take something out because it’s for the heathen anyway.” (laughter) Oh friend, God wants to change you, so that at the very sound and talk of the word money you think in terms of what you can do rather than all the things that you are determined not to do. So it isn’t about that.
And then, there are those who, the minute you mention the word money think of debt. I think the credit card has done a lot of harm. There are all kinds of things we’d never buy. Could you imagine going out to a restaurant and spending $80 for you and your friends to have a meal, and you are actually taking eighty bucks out – twenty – forty bucks? You would never do that, but you put it on a credit card. Like the bumper sticker says, “Live within your means even if you need to borrow in order to do it.” The average American couple lives at least ten percent beyond their means, and this is a very difficult time to learn that debt is a curse. In fact, Dirt Devil and death are related, and that’s why here at the Moody Church following this series what we’d like to do is (we’re working on it and we’re in touch with some people who are going to teach it) we want to give specific instruction to individuals regarding finances to help you get out of debt, to help you think in terms of budget, to help you to think in terms of how you can have a plan so that things will not be where they are a year from now. We want to help you as individuals do that because we understand the overwhelming bondage of debt. But what we’re going to talk about are things such as what is the best investment, and the best investment is the highest rate of return, and the greatest amount of security. When you have those, you’ve got a good investment, and that’s why we’ve titled this series Investing for Eternity.
Now in order to see how God does things, and to give us at least a little introduction to the way in which God sees wealth, I want you to take your Bibles and turn to the book of Exodus, and we’re going to begin at Chapter 35 where God gives some instructions to Moses because God wants to build a tabernacle. The tabernacle was a tent, and this tent would house the Holy of Holies, and this is where God was going to appear and be localized for the people to worship. And the principles that God laid out for how it was to be built, how he foresees the use of wealth, are all here and they are all applicable to us today. So I want us to read the text and to understand that first of all, God says, “When you are doing something, let it be a community project.”
Let’s begin in verse 4. “Moses said to all the congregation of the people of Israel, ‘This is the thing that the Lord has commanded. Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution: gold, silver and bronze; blue and purple and scarlet yarns and fine twined linen; goats’ hair, tanned rams’ skins, and goatskins; acacia wood, oil for the light, spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense, and onyx stones and stones for the setting, for the ephod and for the breast-piece.’” Notice that God says this to all of Israel. The invitation went to all the congregation of Israel. Why does God do it that way? Why didn’t he just have angels build this tent? Why didn’t he just create the tent? Well, God says first of all, “What unifies people is either a common enemy or a common project,” and so God says, “I want you to be together so that you can share one another’s gifts and one another’s abilities and also,” the Lord says, “to spread the blessing when the tent has been built.” He wants everybody involved.
That’s why it’s so important to teach children the good use of money, to teach them to give to the Lord, to teach them to think strategically about money and to have a plan. It is so that in the end all can rejoice together - our Sunday school and our young people. When we have a project as we did with the CLC (the Christian Life Center), all were able to rejoice together because all participated.
I know that we are going through an economic hard time. I’m well aware of that. Christian ministries are suffering financially because of it, but you know, God is going to bring us through it, and he’s going to bring us through it together, and in the end all of us will rejoice together and we will look back and see the faithfulness of God because his challenge to us is that this is a community challenge. It includes all those of you who are in the balcony, and those of you who are on the lower floor, and also those of you who are watching by way of the Internet, or listening by way of radio. We need to help one another, and God says to all the Israelites, “I have a message for you. It is a community project.”
Secondly, it is a volunteer project. You’ll notice that the Lord says in verse 5 (we have to read it again), “Take from among you a contribution to the Lord. Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring to the Lord.” You don’t have to do this. Now notice that it says in verse 21, “And they came, everyone whose heart stirred him, and everyone whose spirit moved him, and brought the Lord’s contribution,” and what about verse 22? “All who were of a willing heart brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and armlets, all sorts of gold objects, every man dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord.” They were willingly doing this.
So that’s why I’ve asked you to relax. If you say to yourself, “Well, I’m not going to give because I don’t want to,” guess what. You don’t have to give. You know I’ve met people who are very angry. They are angry at God. They are angry at their employer. They are angry at their church. They have a lot of deep-seated anger and they will say to themselves, “You’ll never get a dime from me.” So, you can say that you heard it here. I say it with a smile. Keep your dime, and also let me tell you that you have the privilege of being miserable. Did you know that? You know among all of our rights as Americans, the right to free assembly, the right to freedom of speech, the right to freedom of religion, there should also be the freedom to be miserable. It should be a constitutional right. If you are not willing, if your heart doesn’t move you, if you don’t have a burden for the children of Chicago, and you don’t see the need for having strong families, and the work that we have in effect all over the world through our missionaries, if that doesn’t stir you, guess what. You don’t have to be involved. So it was a volunteer project.
Let me say also it was a focused project. What do I mean by that? Now here’s the thing. This will transform your attitude toward giving. I promise you that if you catch this principle you’ll never give in the same way again.
Who did they give their gifts to? “Well, of course, they gave them to Moses,” you say. The Bible says they brought them to Moses. Yes, of course they brought them to Moses because Moses was kind of the leader of the whole project that was going to happen, but really that’s not the person for whom the gifts were intended obviously. They were focused in bringing their gifts to the Lord.
Now your Bibles are open. Watch this because we have to see it in the text over and over again. It says in verse 5, “Whoever is of a generous heart, let him bring the Lord’s contribution.” Verse 21 says, “Whoever’s spirit moved him brought the Lord’s contribution to be used in the tent of meeting.” Verse 22 says, “All who were of a willing heart brought brooches (and so forth)” and you’ll notice it says at the end of the verse, “dedicating an offering of gold to the Lord.” When you give you do not give to a project. You do not give to a person. You give to the Lord. It’ll change the way in which you view your giving. It really will.
Andrew Fuller was a man in England who began the Baptist organization there in another century, and someone came to him and said, “You know, since it is you, Andrew Fuller, and you are trying to raise money for this project, I shall give you five pounds,” and he took five pounds and gave it to the preacher. And Fuller said, “Since you think it is connected with me I shall return the five pounds. You keep it.” Fuller said, “This offering is exclusively for the Lord.” The man said, “Why if it is for the Lord, then I shall give ten.”
Let me tell you why this is so critical. If you give to a church it is so easy to find fault with what the church does with money. I’ve never been in a church where I have always agreed necessarily with the way in which money is spent, at least in some small matters. You may say, “Well, I’m not sure that we needed this,” or “I’m not sure that we needed that.” We here at the Moody Church have the highest standard of integrity with a finance committee that meticulously follows the instructions on your giving envelope, and we do before God the very best that we can because we know that we are not dealing with your money. We are dealing really with God’s money. But at the same time, it’s easy to criticize. It’s easy to find fault, and the first thing that people do when they live this way is to say, “Well I don’t like the way the church did this or that and so I’m not going to give.” The answer, my friend, is you give to God. This is for the Lord. The leadership of churches and organizations will answer to God for the way in which the money is spent, but this is your gift to God. It’ll change the way in which you bring your offering. That offering is for the Lord. It frees you. So it was a focused project.
It was also a generous project. Now this is a passage that preachers like to refer to, and it’s one that we all love to read. I mean you already know it if you have been a Christian for more than two years. You know this passage beginning in Exodus 36:3. It’s speaking about the workmen because God wasn’t just interested in their contributions. He was interested in their work and there were a number of people who built the tabernacle, and God gave them the wisdom to know how to do that. But you’ll notice it says in verse 3, “And they received from Moses all the contributions that the people of Israel had brought for doing the work of the sanctuary. They still kept bringing him freewill offerings every morning, so that all the craftsmen who were doing every sort of task on the sanctuary came, each from the task that he was doing, and said to Moses, ‘The people bring much more than enough for doing the work that the Lord has commanded us to do.’ So Moses gave command, and word was proclaimed throughout the camp. ‘Let no man or woman do anything for the contribution for the sanctuary.’ So the people were restrained from bringing, for the material they had was sufficient to do all the work, and more.”
Now, I’ve been a pastor for 35 years, first of all in a small Baptist church, north of here, and then Moody Church, going on toward 30 years. Just once, Lord, before I die, may I have to say to the congregation, “Enough already. We’ve got more money than we can use.” I think I’d probably have to live as long as my dad did before I could say that. It’s a marvelous passage.
Do you know what was happening? They had a revival. I remember in western Canada in 1970 when God was able to work mightily in the lives of churches, and people said, “We are walking knee deep in love,” and 20 churches were all participating in what God was doing. They had enough money for anything that they undertook because God opened people’s hearts and they began to give.
You know, there’s a wonderful passage and I hope I can get by with saying this (I’ll find out afterwards), but in chapter 38:8 (and you have to see this in the text) it is speaking about the man whom God gifted to build the tabernacle, he and his associates, and it says, “He made the basin and its stand of bronze from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.” Now you need to understand that historically they did not have glass and mirrors as we do today, and so what happened is that they took pieces of brass and they polished them and polished them until you could see your image in them, and this is what the women used for mirrors.
Now I say this with a smile on my face. If you have a situation in which women are willing to give up their mirrors (laughter) you know you’ve got a God thing on your hands. I mean God was all over this. It is amazing what people can do when God opens their hearts.
It was a very generous project. It was also a glorious project. You’ll notice in chapter 40 that the tent is finished. The tabernacle has been built and it says in verse 34-38, “Then the cloud covered the tent of meeting, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tent of meeting because the cloud settled on it, and the glory of the Lord filled the tabernacle. Throughout all their journeys, whenever the cloud was taken up from over the tabernacle, the people of Israel would set out. But if the cloud was not taken up, then they did not set out till the day that it was taken up. For the cloud of the Lord was on the tabernacle by day, and fire was in it by night, in the sight of all the house of Israel throughout all their journeys.” God was saying, “I approve. I accept what you have done, and because of your contribution I will guide you with my cloud - the Shekinah (the cloud of glory that descended on the tabernacle),” and I know that the whole congregation rejoiced.
You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, what does this teach us about contributions and about money? There are a couple of very important lessons. Number one, when God asks us to do something, he enables us to do it. Have you ever asked yourself this question? We should ask ourselves these questions when we read the Bible, but how is it that slaves in a desert can come up with all this gold and silver and brass and bronze and linens and all the rest? Where in the world did they come from? Let me tell you. When God called Moses (in Exodus 3) do you know what he said to Moses? He said, “My people are going to go into Egypt. They are going to be there for 400 years and I’m going to bring them out and they are going to have great possessions.” Now, you look at that and you say, “Wait a minute. How is that going to happen? They go to Egypt, they live there as slaves, they get whipped, they get beaten, they are asked to make all these bricks in the hot sun, and where in the world is this promise going to be fulfilled?” Well, after the plagues the Bible says that the Israelites (quote) “plundered the Egyptians.” The Egyptians willingly gave them all these things for a couple of reasons. First of all, the Egyptians were very happy to see them leave, but number two, God obviously did a miracle, and in a sense Israel was also being paid for all the times they weren’t paid in past generations for all of the work that they did. But it was a miracle of God. There’s no doubt about it.
You can just imagine what happened in different homes. A woman was about to leave because she was an Israelite, and she said, “You know, I really do admire that gold pitcher,” and the Egyptian lady said, “Oh, you want that gold pitcher? Go ahead and take it. Oh, you admire those onyx stones. Put the stones in the pitcher and take both of them. Oh, you need clothes for your children. Here are two jackets. Take these two jackets. Oh, you like the linen over here that I have. I’ll give you some linen.” And on and on it went, and therefore the Egyptians willingly gave to the Israelites all these things.
Now we need to think about this. When this was happening to the Israelites what were they thinking? I know what they were thinking. They were human beings like we are. I know exactly what I’d be thinking. I’d be thinking, “This is really my lucky day.” That’s what I’d be thinking. Wouldn’t you be thinking that? And you know it’s not wrong to have money. It’s not wrong to get a windfall. Suddenly you get the money and it’s not wrong because money is important.
I saw the movie Fiddler on the Roof more than 30 years ago. When the young guy said money is a curse didn’t Tevi say something like, “It is no disgrace to be poor, but on the other hand, it is no great honor either.”
They probably would have been really happy to take all the gold the Egyptians would have given them. That’s what they were thinking, but do you know what God was thinking? God was thinking tabernacle. They had no idea that they were going to build a tabernacle, but that’s what God was thinking, and when we have a windfall in our life, we’re thinking, “Oh, it’s my lucky day. Praise God! I got that bonus.” Do you know what God is thinking? God is thinking kingdom. God is thinking ministry. We’re thinking how lucky we are. God has something else in mind.
You know, I thank God for rich people. Sometimes people are critical of the rich and they say, “Oh, they’ve got all this money,” and oftentimes there’s resentment, and oftentimes it’s our own jealousy toward those that we consider rich, but I’ll tell you something. I’ve met some rich people in my life and I thank God that they see that their wealth is not for the strength of their own right, but their wealth is for ministry, and because God has so blessed them financially, they are able to bless ministries with huge gifts that are necessary.
When it comes to greed, greed is an equal opportunity sin. It is found in the poor as well as in the rich, but do you know what God is thinking when he thinks of our money? He’s thinking kingdom, and we’re thinking, “Oh, isn’t that great? I have all of these investments.”
I have met people who have said, “Wouldn’t it have been wonderful if I had just given my money to something permanent, to something eternal, because I’ve lost so much anyway because of the stock market situation?” It would have been better to give it away. You see, God is teaching us. We’re going to learn together as we think about the future and as we think that the economic situation is so uncertain. God is teaching us, and when God asks us to do something, he enables. He didn’t ask them to give something they didn’t have. He said, “I gave it to you, and now you can use it,” and the Bible says that it is God who gives you the ability to beget wealth. And God says, “All this silver, all this gold, all this linen, all the acacia wood is mine. I’ve given it to you but I’m thinking kingdom, and I’m thinking ministry.”
Number two (a very important lesson), the more willingly we give, the more willingly we worship. Don’t miss this. Don’t miss it. It says in Deuteronomy 16:16 and 17 (and I’ll paraphrase it for you) that God says that the young men are to come before him and each is to bring an offering, and then he says this, “Let no man come before the Lord empty- handed. Let him give according to the way in which God has blessed him.”
You say, “Well, that’s different because we’re in the New Testament.” In the New Testament the Apostle Paul said in the book of Philippians, “I’m glad that you are giving toward my need but the overwhelming reason why you give is not my need,” but he says, “Your offering is a sweet savor before the Lord. It is an offering for the Lord,” and that’s why we are genuinely speaking the truth when we say that giving is more necessary for you than it is for ministry. Somehow the ministry will muddle through, but it is what it does for you as an act of worship, where you say, “God, this is my gift.”
Oftentimes before the offering is taken here at the Moody Church you’ll hear me say, “Now we continue in worship as we give our tithes and our offerings,” and you think that it’s just a segue, or that it’s just a way to transition. No, no, no, I mean it when I say it. We say, “This is my offering.”
Now you think of all of the people who come to church empty-handed. Over the holidays I had an opportunity to speak to another pastor and in his church, unlike ours, the pastoral staff is able to know what the people give. Here at the Moody Church giving is totally confidential. It is known only to the person who fills out a form as to what your contributions were and sends it to you. But they discovered that about a third of their membership (we’re talking about members here and not attenders) didn’t give anything, so they sent them a letter and they thanked them for being a member and so forth, but then they asked this question. They said, “Does this represent your financial goals for the year?” That’s a good question. Does it represent your financial goals? And these people come before the Lord Sunday after Sunday and they bring nothing to the Lord. Nothing!
There was a biography written about Duke Wellington, and the writer of the biography said that he came across an account book by the Duke that indicated all of his expenditures, and he said that that account book told him more about the Duke than all of his speeches and letters.
My friend, today, it is really true that our account book – our bankbook – tells more about us than all of the songs that we sing, and all of the letters and the pronouncements that we make, and so the Bible says very clearly that giving is worship.
Now I need to stress that when I speak about giving, as I did today, it is so important to realize that when you invest for the Lord it is indeed eternal, and the dividends we’ll explain in another message. But there are some of you here who have never received God’s free gift. You see, the reason that we give is because we have been given to. God has given us a gift in Jesus Christ, and we have the opportunity of the gift of eternal life, and because of that gift we give, and that’s why I conclude today’s message with these words.
If you have never received the gift of eternal life through Jesus Christ; if you’ve never believed on him and received that gift, then I can tell you it is much better that you not give because you might think that in giving you can somehow give your way into God’s favor, and you can’t. Jesus Christ came to die on the cross for us. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.” God gives eternal life to those who believe, and once we’ve received that eternal life then what we want to do is to say, “Lord, all of the money that I have is yours. I know I can’t spend it all. I can’t give it all away because I’ve got bills to pay, and mortgages and I need to be able to live, but I do have a question, Lord. What will you have me to do? And then you begin to live differently and you enter into the genuine joy of giving to the Lord. That’s where it’s at.
Well, let us pray.
Our Father, we want to thank you so much for this account, the story of the faithfulness of your people, and we ask, Lord, at the beginning of this series that you might help us to understand that it’s not about money. It’s about us. It’s about our hearts. It is a fact that we are your offering. We stand in the offering basket and we say, “Lord, here I am. Show me your will, and show me what I must do.”
And now, Father, we ask for those who perhaps have never received the free gift of eternal life that you will help them to understand that that is the fundamental issue, and everything else flows from it. We thank you that because God gave, and we have received, that we can be generous. Teach us, Lord, to trust you, and to believe you, and thank you for all the good things you are teaching us as we go through this time of economic uncertainty. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.