BODY FOR GOD
February 17, 2002
How many of you have gone out to eat at a particular restaurant in the last week? Lift your hands. We love to go out to eat. I read in the paper the other day that Dallas has more restaurants per capita than almost any other major city in the USA. A couple of days ago, I invited a staff member, Tracy Barnes, to one of my favorite restaurants around town and here is what happened.
(Video of Ed and Tracy walking the check at Carrabba’s Italian Restaurant)
Ed: Now, Tracy, I want to ask you a question. What would happen if everybody walked the check in Carrabba’s?
Tracy: I don’t think they would be in business for very long.
Ed: No, they wouldn’t. I have always said here at Fellowship Church that the church is like a restaurant. We are the ultimate eating establishment. We are serving the ultimate food, because Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” So, we want to give a great presentation, a creative and compelling presentation of the bread of life.
Yet, a lot of people who come to Fellowship are walking the check, just to be frank. That’s the way God has designed it. He has given us the body of Christ, the local church, and he wants us to be able to finance it and fuel it to feed as many people as possible. Hasn’t it been exciting to hear these incredible testimonies about what God is doing here at Fellowship Church? Unbelievable!
Today, I have asked Tracy Barnes, one of the pastors here at Fellowship Church, to talk to us a little bit about one of your favorite subjects, giving. A lot of people don’t know that much about giving and they think, “Why talk about giving? What’s the deal?
Yet, if you read the Bible, Jesus talked more about giving than he talked about heaven, hell or prayer. It is one of the major themes throughout Scripture. So, Tracy actually heads up this stewardship ministry at our church. Tracy, I want to just lob some questions at you, and let’s go back and forth about what the Bible says concerning this eating establishment, the church, and how he wants us to pick up the tab.
Tracy: Let’s go for it.
Ed: How does he do it? I mean, what’s the word, the linchpin of the whole deal, concerning God’s eating establishment?
Tracy: Ed, the key to God’s way of providing for the church is through something called the tithe. That is a little bit confusing to a lot of people, because for some people the idea of tithing means, “If I give something, whatever that is, that’s tithing.”
No, the word “tithe” actually means 10 percent. You find in Leviticus 27:30, “A tithe of everything belongs to the Lord. It is holy to the Lord.”
In other words, this thing called tithe belongs to God. It’s set apart for God’s purposes. But what is it? The actual word itself just means 10 percent. In God’s scheme of things, it means the first 10 percent. In fact, the easiest way to demonstrate it, to help people understand this principle, is this. I have a dollar bill in one hand and a dime in my other hand. What the tithe is, is this. It is the first dime out of every dollar of income. God says, “That dime belongs to me. It is mine. It is holy unto me. It is set apart for my purposes.”
Let me take it a little bit further, because you find another verse that might help us as well in Proverbs 3:9, where God says, “Honor the Lord with your wealth and with the first fruits of your crops.”
Now there are two things that God is saying here that are very important for us to see. He says that, first, we are to honor God with our wealth. Our wealth is simply our stuff, whatever we own, our possessions, that which we already have. Then he says we are also to honor him with the first fruits of all of our crops, or our increase.
What is really interesting is this. God says to honor him with your wealth and then honor him with the first fruits. Notice he says, first, your wealth. Why the pronoun “your?” Because it’s ours. We are to honor God with that which we have. We are to give to him there. But then he says, “Honor me with the first fruits of your crops, or your increase.” In other words, the first fruits, that represents the top portion, the chief, the first, the tithe. The reason it doesn’t say “your” first fruits is because it’s not mine. It’s not yours. It’s God’s. God says, “Honor me with the first fruits. That is my first fruits.”
Ed: A lot of people, Tracy, think that their stuff is their stuff. Yet, the Bible says that we don’t have any stuff. It’s God’s stuff.
Tracy: Ultimately, all of it is God’s and God entrusts it to us. But God says, and this is what is really important for us to grasp, that first 10 percent of all income and all gain that comes into our household, “That,” God says, “is mine. It is holy unto me. Give it to me.”
When we give it to God, what we are saying to God is, God, number one, I recognize that you are over all of my life. You are the one in charge. And you are in charge of my finances and I can trust you to provide.
Ed: I had something hilarious happen. I was lifting weights at this place where I work out, and there were a couple of high school guys there, who are involved at Fellowship Church and who work out with me. We always joke back and forth to each other.
This one guy walked up to me and said, “Ed, what are you talking about this weekend?”
I said, “Jake, I am talking about giving. I’m talking about tithing.”
He kind of looked at me funny. He said, “You are going to talk about tithing? Ed, I want to ask you a personal question. Do you mind?”
I said, “No.”
He said, “Do they make you tithe? You are a pastor. Do they force you to tithe? Do you have to tithe?”
I thought that was a great question. You know what? I do have to tithe.
Tracy: You bet.
Ed: No, the Board of Directors does not make me tithe. But I do have to tithe. Lisa and I give at least 10 percent to Fellowship Church. Sometimes it surprises people that we tithe and that our entire staff gives at least 10 percent.
They say, “Wait a minute. You are employees of the church and you tithe?”
We have to. I want to take Malachi, Chapter 3, and just give you several reasons why I tithe. This is me.
Right up front, one of the reasons I tithe is that I want to be honest with God. I want to be transparent before him. Verse 8 says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, ‘How do we rob you?’ In tithes and offerings.”
This was referring to the Israelites, because they were not giving their best to God. They were giving the leftovers, weak dying animals, not the first of their livestock, but the ones that were diseased. So God says, “You are robbing me.”
Another reason I tithe is because I want to be obedient to God. I want to do what God says. I talked about the fact that all of us matter to God, and we need to live within the guidelines and guardrails of Scripture. So, I want to be obedient to God. In verse 10, it says, “Bring the whole tithe.” We are going to talk about that word “bring” in a second. “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse that there may be food in my house.”
People ask me all the time, “Ed, how can I grow spiritually? How can I get involved?”
There are several ways to grow spiritually right up front. First of all, you have got to join a local church. The Bible is big about being hooked into the local church. Also, if you have not been baptized, you need to be baptized after you become a Christian. You need to have that time daily where you read the Bible. Also, and here we go, you need to start giving.
Tracy: Come on.
Ed: If you really want to start growing and developing, you need to start giving. You start giving 10 percent to your local church and, I am going to tell you something, you will soar. But it’s a pipe dream to say, “Oh, yes, I can grow deep spiritually. I can really mature without giving.” I can’t really grow if I am walking the check. So I want to be obedient to God.
I also want to play on God’s team. That’s the third reason why I give. Here is the cool thing, Tracy, about giving. Because I give, I have a part in everything that happens at Fellowship Church. Right now, hundreds of children are being taught in Children’s Church. I have a part in that. When they are doing drama over there, I have a part in that. When one of our athletic teams happen to be playing a game and doing a Bible study after the game, I have a part in that. When Rob or Vanessa or Liane or Eric are singing, I have a part in that. I can’t sing, but, because I give, I have a part in that.
In a couple of months, we are going to move into an awesome building called the Creative Communication Center. It is going to have all these cool children’s rooms. It’s going to have a Chapel. When I walk in there, I will be able to say that I have a part in this, because I have given to make it happen. Yet, sadly, a lot of people who are walking the tab are going to walk in there and their children will grow deeper in Christ. Maybe they will marry in the Chapel. Or, maybe their sons and daughters will get married there. But down deep they will know they missed it. They walked the tab. Yet, they are feeding, they are eating and living off people like you, me, and others who give. So, this is kind of a wake up call.
Let me tell you this other story too. This is classic. Our twin daughters who are 7 play in a little basketball league. I was watching them play and one of our twins did something I have never seen before in my entire athletic career. One of my twin’s teammates took a shot and one of our twins blocked the shot of her own teammate. Have you ever seen that before? I have never seen that in all the basketball I have played in my life. She just rejected it, slapped the stuff back.
All the fans are going, “Hey, Ed, what are you teaching your daughter: to block her own teammate’s shot?”
When that happened, though, it was weird. It was like God spoke to me and said, “Ed, that’s what wrong with some of the church.” A lot of you are so generous. A lot of you are shooting shots and shooting three pointers. You are giving. You are tithing. Yet, some of us here, who are walking the check, you are blocking the shots.
Our Trustees and our CFO told me this past week, and you won’t believe these numbers, that it takes $1.5 million a month just to make Fellowship go. That’s just to make Fellowship go. And we don’t have the money for the next 12 months. It’s going to cost about $19 or $20 million just to fund Fellowship. You are talking about a faith venture. It makes me laugh, Tracy, sometimes when I hear people say, “Yes, Fellowship Church is kind of a rich church.”
I say, “Rich?” If we are rich, where are the rich people? Mark Cuban, are you here? I mean, we are not a rich church. I hope he is here.
This whole building over here, I think people think, “Well, that’s paid for.”
That’s not paid for. If we tithe as a church, we wouldn’t have to do any kind of building programs at all. We would probably take in and receive in offerings about $60 million if we just tithe.
Tracy: If everybody here was faithful to bring that tithe in.
Ed: The great thing is the blessings. I mean, we can’t force people to give for the blessings involved. Anyway, let me change.
The fourth reason why I tithe is because I want to claim the promises of God. I want to be blessed by God, because here is what the Bible says. Let me go back to Verse 10, “Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse (that’s the local church), that there may be food in my house. Test me in this.”
Tracy: That’s right.
Ed: That’s the only time in Scripture where God says, “Test me.”
“Test me in this, says the Lord Almighty, and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
Okay, Tracy, here is the next question I want to lob to you. Where does the tithe go? Okay, do I take 10 percent and say I will give a certain amount to the Christian school, another amount to a missionary, and another amount to my church, let’s say Fellowship Church, and it makes up 10 percent? Or, tell me about that.
Tracy: Notice it says that we are to bring the tithe. The word “bring” is interesting. The tithe, remember, it doesn’t belong to us. It’s God’s. We don’t give it. We are actually just coming and bringing it, because it belongs to God. We are bringing that which belongs to God. Where do we bring it? God says to bring it into the storehouse.
Back in the Old Testament days, the storehouse was the temple. That’s where they gathered. When they brought in their tithes, they were an agricultural economy, so they were bringing of their produce of the land and of their livestock to provide for the Levitical priesthood to carry on all the priestly duties to carry on the functions of the temple. Today, you and I, in the New Covenant, in Jesus Christ, we don’t have a Temple. The House of God is now the church. We are, the Bible says, the household of God. So, when we bring our tithe, we bring it to the household of God, which is the local church. Anything that we want to give above and beyond that 10 percent, that’s called an offering. That’s coming out of our wealth, our stuff. We can give wherever we choose to give. God gives us that freedom. But that first dime out of every dollar of income, that belongs to God and that is brought into the local church, because the church is God’s deal.
There is a really great Scripture in Ephesians 3, where God says that in his manifold wisdom, all of what he is doing, everything that God is doing, he is doing through the church. And he is displaying it for all the world to see, and not just the world that we live in but even the heavens. Everything is looking at this thing, this living organism called the church, in which God is making known his wisdom in Christ. That is where we bring the tithe. We bring it to the local church to carry on the ministries here.
Ed: A couple of days ago, some friends of ours delivered a homemade cheesecake to our house. Now, you know, I watch my diet. But this was definitely a cheat day. This cheesecake was unreal. It was a special kind of cheesecake and it had on top of the cheesecake this icing with raspberries. How about this? I think the Bible would support this. The tithe is like the cheesecake. But the offering is like the icing and raspberries
Tracy: On the top.
Ed: It is. Lisa and I give at least 10 percent here at Fellowship Church but, over and above that, we give to a building program, as well as to other ministries and Christian schools and things like that. But again, we are talking about the local church. What is so funny, Tracy, is this. If the Jews under the law would give 10 percent and Christians under grace will not give 10 percent? That’s a disgrace. We are dissing grace. We should at least give 10 percent. If, for example, someone at Fellowship Church, who makes $20,000 a year, would tithe $2,000, that’s a great gift. However, if someone else, who makes $300,000 a year, gives $30,000, that’s also a good gift. Or someone else makes half a million dollars and they give $50,000, that’s a good gift too. The cool thing about God’s economy, Tracy, is that it doesn’t matter what you make.
Tracy: No, it doesn’t matter at all. It just matters that you are faithful with that which God gives you. Because the tithe really is just you being faithful with what belongs to God. And an offering is just you and I being faithful with what we already have. That tithe is very important.
Ed: You were a pastor in the Northeast for years and now God has brought you down here to be on staff. I think you would definitely back me up on this. Isn’t it a fact that, as pastors, we are commanded to teach the church about giving? I mean, the Scriptures command us to do so. Because one day, we are going to be held accountable concerning how we taught Fellowship Church. During the first four or five years here at Fellowship Church, I was scared to talk about money. “I don’t want to get people turned off, you know. I’ll just kind of float it in.”
Now, I just rear back and talk about it, because Christ talked about it so much. And I don’t want to rob you of a blessing. If you want to see God work quickly, and this is the great thing about giving, you start giving. Tracy and I can give you stories, personally, over and over about the blessings of God.
Tracy: Absolutely. Notice it says, God says, bring that whole tithe, which means all of the sources of income. For instance, in my household, I get paid twice a month. What I do when I get paid is I take 10 percent of my gross salary, write out a check and put it in that little pink envelope. And then we bring it into the service that weekend. Any other sources of income or gain that come into our house, immediately the first 10 percent goes to the church. And God says, if we will do that, he will bless us. And he then invites us, this is so cool, he invites us to test Him. He says, “Test me; prove me in this. Go ahead. Try it. See if it won’t work, that I’ll not open the floodgates of heaven.”
That expression, Ed, the floodgates of heaven, is so cool. It’s only used twice in the entire Bible, here in Malachi 3, and then again in Genesis 7. In Genesis God told Noah to build the ark, put his family in the ark, and then the Bible says that God opened the floodgates of heaven and it began to rain. When it rained, the creeks began to fill up and they overflowed. The rivers filled up, and they overflowed. The lakes filled up, and they overflowed. Then eventually the oceans filled up. Then the entire earth was covered with the floodgates of heaven. The same idea that God is saying, “When you are willing to do it my way, when you will try me in this, I will open up the floodgates of heaven. I will pour out such blessing.”
I can tell you from personal experience. In fact, sometimes I don’t even tell people all of what goes on. It’s not that it’s embarrassing; it’s because it’s so cool. I watch God bless our family time and time again in many different ways. I don’t tell God how to bless me. That’s God’s deal.
Ed: That’s right.
Tracy: God can bless me in a variety of different ways but, every time it happens, I know that that is my Father and he is just simply being true to his word. God cannot lie. When God says something, he means it. He means what he says and he says what he means. When he tells us to put him to the test, he means that.
Ed: How many people in here remember “The Wild Wild West?” Remember that show? It’s going to date me a little bit. Remember that commercial years after “Wild Wild West” that Robert Conrad did for Eveready Battery, I think? He had that battery on his shoulder.
He says, “Okay, go ahead. Knock it off. Knock it off.”
He was saying, “Test me, I’m a man.” God is saying that with the tithe, isn’t he?
Tracy: That’s right.
Ed: He’s saying, “Just test me. Come on, big boy, big girl, test me. I’m going to come through for you.”
Tracy: You know, what is interesting too,
Ed: No one will laugh, because everybody is too young to remember it.
Tracy: They don’t remember it. Never saw it.
Ed: It was Eveready, right?
Tracy: But you know what? God is telling all of us, “Go ahead and knock it off.” Here is the cool thing. Not only will he open the floodgates of heaven, but, a little bit further on in the next verse, he says, “I will prevent pests from devouring your crops.”
You and I are not farmers today. We are not raising plants. But I will tell you what it means for us. God will stop all those little things that just keep sapping all of our financial resources. It’s like many of us have got bags of money, little money bags, but it always has holes in it. It just keeps falling out all over the place. Seems like every time we get started, and we are getting a foot on the ground, the refrigerator breaks down, or the car has to go into the shop, the dog has to go to the vet and on and on.
God says, “I’ll stop all that.” That’s a promise of God and you know what? I’ve seen that, and you have seen that in your life, time and time again. When we as the church really get a handle on this thing called the tithe and begin to give it, God says this is what I will do.
Every time I talk about the tithe, I can almost read people’s minds. They are saying to me, “Oh, I can’t afford to do that.”
Ed: You can’t afford not to.
Tracy: I can’t afford not to. I’ve seen God bless over the years in so many ways that, if I were to stop, I would cut off the blessing flow. That line coming into my household would suddenly stop and I don’t want that to happen.
Ed: Tracy, talk to me again about that, because I talked to someone after last night’s 6:30 service. This guy is a very generous person with Fellowship Church. God has blessed him financially, because he is such a great giver. I know it. He is a young guy. Others, though, are blessed relationally. Others may be blessed by overcoming an addictive pattern. So you can’t just say the blessings are going to be financial. God is going to take care of you and he is going to pour out blessings in many different areas.
Tracy: That’s right. You cannot out-give God. There is a great scripture in Proverbs 11:24, which says, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.”
Again, we don’t dictate to God how he blesses, but God says, “When you do this, I’ll do this.” In other words, when you and I give, God will give back.
In fact, Jesus said in Luke 6:38, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words, when you and I give to God, God says, “I’m going to give it back to you, but I am not going to give it back to you in the same way you gave it. I’m going to give it back in even greater abundance.” In other words, as you give, God is going to give back. He’s going to begin to bless you, and this is a spiritual law.
For instance, if I take my Bible and drop it, it hits the ground every time. Why? Because there is a law called gravity that pulls it immediately to the ground. The same thing is true in the area of giving. There is a spiritual dynamic or spiritual law that says when I freely give, when I give out of what God has given to me, God says he will give it back. He will give it back, and he will not give it back the same. He will give back even more. This is the thing that absolutely amazes me. It even applies to God. Watch this. God gave the greatest gift that could ever be given.
Tracy: There will never be another gift greater than the one he gave, and that is the gift of his son. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son.” When we put our faith and our trust in him, not only are our sins forgiven, but we are brought into a right relationship with God. And we are assured of eternal life when we leave this planet. How did that happen? God gave his Son. God gave.
What does the Bible say? “Give and it will be given back to you, but in greater measure.” Well, God gave the gift of his Son. What did God get back? All of a sudden, the light comes on. He got back millions of sons and daughters. He gave one Son and got back millions. It even works with God. This is a real law, a real dynamic. I know there are some here today that understand it and have entered into it and know it. The only way the rest of you are ever going to experience this is when you start giving and you start right now.
Otherwise, you will never enter into the blessings that God has. You will never know and experience what I like to call these Holy Ghost stories that God brings into your life, these stories where you can say, “Let me just share with you what God did in my life.” This really captures the hearts of people, particularly those who are outside the church, because now they are watching something that is very real. They are seeing a real God work in a real way in your life.
Ed: There is nothing like seeing the life change, Tracy, of people who are being fed here at Fellowship, just like the ones we saw earlier in the service. That’s just the tip of the iceberg concerning all of the emails, letters and cards that we receive about the great things that God is doing. One of the cool things about Fellowship Church is that once a year we are audited by the number one accounting firm in the country that deals with churches and 501C3 non-profit organizations. We pass the audit in the top percentile of all of them. I am thrilled about that. Our Board and our financial office do a great job. We try to make it easy for you to give. For example, you can give by electronic transfer. You can even give over the Internet, which is pretty cool. We have these nice little pink envelopes that, if you want to, you can write a check and put that in the offering plate. How else? You can give stock.
Tracy: You can give stock. There are many ways. What I encourage everybody to do is start giving. Start now. Start where you are. You see the income come in. You take the first 10 percent and you say, “God, that belongs to you. That’s not mine. I’m going to bring that to my local church. I’m bringing that to Fellowship Church, and I am bringing it, God, knowing that you are going to bless, because you tell me to prove you in this.” This is one of the quickest ways to see God work in your life. You will see God work immediately.
Ed: You will. The church is a restaurant, Tracy. It’s an eating establishment. We serve the food in a creative and compelling way, the bread of life. If you have been fed, you are commanded to pick up the tab. Because when you pick the tab up, you will help people, but more than that, God will bless you and you will grow deep on His food, on His diet, His way.