GET YOUR FEAR IN GEAR
The Fear of Generosity
December 7, 2002
I want to talk to you about a fear that many of you would say, at first glance, is not about you. In fact, if I told you what this fear is, most people would say, “Ed, that’s not where I live. You’ve got the wrong person. You’re wasting time going there with me, because the fear you are talking about is out there. Other people might have it, but I don’t deal with it.”
I’m going to show you, today, a fear that I think is one of the most towering fears that we deal with. I think many of you will agree that you do deal with it. I know it’s something I have dealt with. So, here it goes. I’m going to say it to you right now. I’m going to tell you what the fear is. I’m going to label it, identify it, and call it what it is. Most of the people hearing my voice right now fear generosity.
“Generosity? Ed, I don’t fear generosity. I’m a guy who gives. I’ve given clothes to the clothing drive and non-perishable items to the food drive. I pick up the tab occasionally at restaurant and even throw a couple of dollar bills in the offering plate when it comes by. I mean, I give.”
I know you give. We all give. I’m not talking about giving. I’m talking about generosity. My parents told me, a while back, that one of the first words I ever learned was the word “mine.” They said I was crawling around my crib saying, “Mine. Mine. Mine!” It was probably one of your first words, too. It’s as though we never get over that word. Decades later, we are still crawling around our cribs, our homes, saying, “Mine!” We are just humming the “mine mantra.”
Are you a generous person? The Bible says 2 Corinthians 8, “But just as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us — see that you also excel in this grace of giving.”
To excel at something means to go above and beyond something. God wants us to excel, to go above and beyond giving. When we go above and beyond giving, that equals generosity. We will see over and above, over and beyond giving is all about where God wants us to live.
The question then that begs to be answered goes something like this. “How should I be generous? Where should I be generous? What should I be generous with? Tell me about that.”
Right up front, the Bible says that we are to be generous with our time. Time generosity is talked about throughout scripture. We have a certain amount of time. We are to be generous with our time. We are to be generous in our time with God. God says we should read his word regularly, talk to him in prayer regularly, and allocate time to keep that appointment with God, daily. There is no way we will know how to live or how to do life if we are not talking to the one who is the author of life and time.
The Bible also says, as we talked about in this last series, that we are to spend time with our spouse. That’s right. If you are married, the marriage is the primary relationship in the family unit. It’s not the parent/child thing. It’s the spouse thing. We are to spend time on a regular weekly date night. We are to spend time connecting. We are to spend time in intimacy with one another.
We are also to spend time with our children. Children are a gift from God. We are to spend quality and quantity time with them.
We are to spend time, scripture says, in worship.
Hebrews 10:25 says, and I am paraphrasing here, “Don’t diss God or turn your back on the church. Do not forsake the gathering together of believers in corporate worship.”
So, we are to spend time regularly, at least weekly, come together, rub shoulders with others, and express our love and gratitude to God. Time and generosity go together. We are to give over and above concerning time to God, to our spouse, to our children and to the church.
We are also to be about talent generosity. I know this might shock a lot of you, but scripture says over and over again that we are unique, that we are made in the image of God, and that we have unique talents and characteristics about us. In other words, I have gifts that you don’t have and you have gifts that I don’t have. That’s a good thing. We use those gifts in a number of ways. We use the gifts in the marketplace. God has given us the gift of work. Do you realize that God gave man the ability to work before sin ever entered the equation of life? We are using our talents to work.
We also should use our talents, our gifts, within the context of a biblically functioning community, the church. We have a lot of talented people. In fact, I am blown away by the talent at Fellowship Church. If you look at Fellowship Church, you will see a lot of people who are very generous with their time, and very generous with their talent. Wouldn’t you agree? Drive up here. Have the incredible parking crew. They are greeting you. Those men and women out there brave the elements. I know you are always kind to them — the parkers. [Ed speaks this next line sarcastically] You never say a cross word to the parking crew.
Then, we have the ushers. The ushers do a fantastic job. We have the greeters. We have the extravagant hospitality people who are just serving. They are giving and are generous with their time and talents. You have everybody who works in the children’s or preschool area who teaches our children in an age-appropriate fashion. You have our youth workers — people who volunteer their time and talent on Monday and Wednesday night. We have discipleship training here on the weekends. You have people who give their time and talent in mission trips and mission endeavors. There is the sports ministry and our small groups’ ministry. I could go on and on. But, I will stop. You know that it’s pretty obvious that we have a lot of people, thousands of you, who give your time and talent to make Fellowship what it is. God works through you to do the stuff.
Just as important, just as strategic as time and talent generosity are, is the true test of generosity — the treasure test. I’ll say it again. Just as important as time and talent generosity are, is the true test — the treasure test.
Here is what Jesus said. It’s the litmus test. He says in Luke 12:34, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
“Wait a minute! Is he going where I think he is going? Is he going to talk about money and my stuff?” Yes, I am. If you have a problem with me talking about money, don’t email me, please. Don’t waste your time emailing me. Instead, why don’t you “knee mail” God? Why don’t you hit your knees and say, “God, I have got a question for you. Why, God, when you sent your son, Jesus Christ, to live on this earth, were 16 out of his 38 parables all about money and possessions? Why, God is one out of every ten verses in the New Testament about money? Why is giving the second greatest theme in the Bible? Why, God?”
If that is your deal, then you have a problem with God. You don’t have a problem with me. Shame on me, as a pastor. I need to talk about it more. If you ever go to a church and they don’t talk about money, they are not biblical. Secondly, they are not reaching anybody. Let’s just take a big deep breath and relax, because we are going to talk about the treasure test. Most of us here know about giving. We give, but we are not generous. Let’s just call it what it is. Most of us here don’t understand what generosity is all about. We just don’t get it. I was here for a long time. So, let’s get it.
What is generosity all about? I’ve jotted down some statements about generosity from the scripture in my Bible. I’m going to go through the statements and then I will comment about them. We are going to find out what generosity is all about.
But, before I do that, I want to do something funny. Most of you watch David Letterman or you have heard about David Letterman’s top ten lists. I kind of did something fun this week that I just remembered. I put together Ed Young’s top eight list. This is called “You know you fear generosity when…” I’ll give you these before we get into this whole generosity thing.
You know you fear generosity when you say this:
“I tithe with my time. I just tithe with my time. I don’t tithe with my finances, just my time.”
“Well, let me first talk to my CPA.” I love CPAs and I love financial planners but it’s about God. When God tells you to be generous, then you go to your CPA or your financial planner and say, “Make it happen for me.”
“When the deal comes through, then I’ll give.” That’s pretty convicting.
When you say, “I can’t afford it.” You can’t afford not to be generous we are going to find out.
When you say, “I’ve already maxed out my charitable giving.”
When you say, “Two years ago, I really gave. I reared back. I did.”
When you say, “I am generous.” I’ve discovered that if you think you are generous, then you are not. I took an informal poll over the last several weeks and I went up to people who I know are generous people here at Fellowship Church. I said, “I want to thank you for your generosity.” The generous people always said this, “I can’t give enough. I’m not doing enough, Ed.” But, people who struggle with fearing generosity will say, “Oh, thank you, thank you very much.”
When you say, “Boy, my friend needs to hear this message.” Then you know you fear generosity.
Let’s go back to what generosity is all about. That was kind of fun. We got everybody laughing. Nervous laughter is okay.
Let’s talk about what generosity is all about.
Number one — generosity is all about God. That should not surprise you. It’s all about God. It comes from God. The moment we bow the knee to God, the moment we meet Jesus Christ personally, he places the person of the Holy Spirit inside of our lives. The Holy Spirit then works from the interior to the exterior to make us generous people. The Bible says that once we know Christ personally, we are partakers of his divine nature.
When I bow the knee to Christ and he comes inside of my life, I have the nature of Christ inside of my being. Thus, when I give, I am agreeing with my nature. I am being generous like God is generous. When I don’t give, when I withhold, when I am selfish, I am going against the grain of who I am. I’m going against God’s nature. I’m living contrary to who God wants me to be. Giving is all about understanding the grace of God, because the grace of God is generosity on steroids. We have a sin problem. What did God do? God, in his unfathomable love and by his grace, sent the second person of the Godhead to die on the cross for our iniquities. We don’t deserve it.
I talked to a guy a while back, a young man, at the zenith of his life. I talked to him about the grace of God and this guy didn’t get it. He thought, “Well, surely I can work here, do this, struggle here and clean my life up there. Then I can get to a point where I deserve it.”
I said, “Friend, no. No one deserves it.”
God did it because of his unfathomable love, his unmerited favor. He is just so generous to us. Once we are ambushed by the grace of God, once we realize that everything we have and who we are is all about God, then it just flows through us and we are generous because we are agreeing with him. We are agreeing with our nature.
I had a meeting with a friend of mine, who is a very generous person. I asked him about his generosity. I asked, “How did you come to point of being as generous as you are?”
He said, “Ed, I learned a while back that it ain’t about me. It’s about him. It’s all from him. When I am a river, and not a reservoir, I have a loose grasp on the things of this earth.”
That’s what God wants. Generosity is all about God.
Here is another statement. Generosity is all about lifestyle. It should transcend everything we say, do, touch, feel and act.
1 Corinthians 16:2 says, “On the first day of the week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.”
I don’t know about you, but I need a regular reminder that Jesus is running the show in my life. That’s just me talking. I need a regular reminder that Jesus is the CEO. He’s calling the shots. Because, if I don’t have a regular weekly reminder through worship and through something tangible, like giving, then I think that I run the show. I think that Ed is calling the shots. I think that Ed is the man. You are the same way. That’s why the Bible says, time and time again, that it’s all about treasure. Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is. It’s the treasure test. God knew that we would have such a problem with money. He knew, that when we had stuff and made money, that we would think it is ours. That’s why he said time and time again that we are to give some of it away — regularly, weekly, strategically, and intentionally. It reminds us that everything we have is God’s, that we don’t have stuff. We are just managers. We are just stewards of it. He’s the owner of it.
I like this. The verse says, “in keeping with his income.” That’s the “more-more, more-less principle.” The Bible says the more I make, the more I should give. Yet, most of us live differently. Most of us go by this mentality: the more we make, the less we give. Let’s say, years and years ago, you made a certain amount of money. Let’s say you made $25,000 a year and you were involved in the minimum worship requirement. Let’s say you were tithing, which means 10%, and you were giving $2500 a year from your $25,000 a year to the local church. Now, let’s say you invented something, or you are a real estate tycoon. Let’s say now you are making $250,000 a year. Then you are getting ready to write the check and you go, “$25,000!” and you choke on the check. Now, why were you faithful at $25,000 and not at $250,000? You choked down. It’s the more-less principle. Most of us live by that way. Just face it. Just be honest with yourself. Don’t lie. That’s where we live.
We need to say, “God, no matter what … no matter what I make, no matter what I have, I am going to be generous. I’m going to at least hit the baseline, at least the minimum worship requirement.”
Generosity is all about lifestyle. I like what Ecclesiastes 11:4 says. “If you wait for perfect conditions, you will never get anything done.” Isn’t that the truth?
People say, “Well, Ed, when I make this deal, then I’m going to step up and be generous. When the windfall hits, then I am going to be a player. When I make that amount of money… then…”
No, you are not. I talk to pastors across the country and we just die laughing at the “when and then” folk. I have never met a “when and then” person who has come through. Never.
“When, then I will. When, then I will.”
Generosity starts where you are. I don’t care if you are making ten dollars a day or a billion dollars a day. It starts where you are. Generosity, excelling and giving over, above and beyond is about God. It’s about lifestyle.
Generosity is also about cost. What did David say in the Old Testament? You know, the David that killed Goliath? David was a billionaire. A lot of people don’t know this. He was worth over a billion dollars. Do you know what David said?
He said, “I’m not going to give God anything that doesn’t cost me something.”
Again, we give, but usually it doesn’t cost us something. To truly be generous, to go over, above, and beyond, you have got to give something that will cost you something. That’s why, years ago, I began to apply something in my life that has helped me on this. I regularly give things that matter to me away. I don’t mean junk. I don’t mean an old worn out cell phone, some shirt or pair of shoes that are sorry. It’s got to be something that I like, something that matters to me. When I began to do that regularly, it began to help me get the read on greed. It began to give me the ability to loosely hold on to things, and God has done some amazing things in my life through that principle. I would challenge you to think about doing the same thing yourself. Generosity is all about cost.
I love 2 Corinthians 9:6. It just slams us all. “Remember this; whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly.”
How many of you have ever listened to the radio station called The Ticket? I don’t listen to The Ticket very much. However, a year or two ago, I was listening to one of the morning programs and I heard Dunham and Miller call someone a “spare.”
They said, “This guy’s a spare.”
I thought, “A spare. What’s a spare? I bowl a little bit, but they are calling a person a spare? Is this person a bowling pin? What’s that about?” I jumped on my laptop and went on their website. They had this thing called a “Tictionary,” where they used all these different terms and defined them. Here is how they defined the word “spare.” The “spare” was a person who did not achieve greatness — a person who did not achieve greatness.
God does not want you to be a spare. He does not want me to be a spiritual spare. But, if we “sow sparingly,” then we will never achieve our greatness. We will never be blessed the way God wants us to be blessed.
Let me put it another way. I love espresso. That’s my favorite kind of coffee — those little tiny cups, just a sip and it’s gone. Usually, in the mornings, I will have a cup of espresso and a bagel. The bad thing about it is that, in about twenty seconds, the espresso is gone and I have only taken about two bites out of the bagel. So, the rest of the time, I am eating a bagel — dry, by myself. It’s kind of bad. A lot of us are espresso givers. We come to God and say, “God, here is my espresso offering. Here’s my espresso cup. Here you go God. Would you fill it up for me?”
“Oh, that’s good. I got espresso blessing. Oh, wow! Look at me! Espresso!”
A lot of you here are carrying around little espresso cups. God says, “Don’t do that.” If you keep reading in Corinthians you will see that it says, “Those who sow generously will reap generously.”
We should say, “God, I want a vente, triple shot cappuccino, with whipped cream and chocolate syrup. And go ahead and throw in five dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. I want to sow that to you, because I know, back to me, will come a vente, triple shot cappuccino with whipped cream and chocolate syrup and five dozen Krispy Kremes.”
I want to be that kind of person, don’t you? But, I can’t be that kind of person if I am just sowing little espresso-type gifts, little offerings. Do you wonder why you are barely being blessed? Do you wonder why you are in financial turmoil? Do you wonder why you have a negative attitude? Do you wonder why you are whining and complaining? It goes back to the litmus test. It goes back to the treasure test. God knew that we would struggle with this stuff. It’s amazing to watch the body language of people, especially guys, when you talk about money. Guys, let’s face it; we think we are in control of money. Some of the guys are looking around right now and asking, “Where are the exits?”
Generosity is about God. It’s about lifestyle. It’s about cost. It’s also about attitude. How’s your ‘tude’, man? How’s your ‘tude’, woman? If you show me someone who is selfish, I’ll show you someone who is negative. If you show me someone who is generous, I’ll show you someone who is visionary, who has got a positive attitude. How’s your ‘tude’?
2 Corinthians 9:7 says, “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.”
You know I like to imitate people. I love to imitate the way people laugh. A friend of mine, who is a pastor, laughs like this. (Imitates the laugh) My uncle laughs like this. (Imitates the laugh) I have another friend who played football at the University of South Carolina and he laughs like this. (Imitates the laugh) He will never open his mouth. I have a very, very close friend who goes to this church and he laughs like this. (Imitates the laugh)
God loves a cheerful giver, so when the offering plate is passed, I want to hear this, (laughter imitations). I want to hear that when the offering plate is passed because the word cheerful in the Greek is pronounced “hilarious.” We get the word hilarious from the Greek word for cheerful. So, if you are negative, mean and a miser, then God doesn’t want your money. He doesn’t need it. Keep it. Keep the stuff. God loves a cheerful giver, a hilarious giver.
The Bible also says we should give proportionately, as I talked about. Also, we should give purposely. Let me talk about those two things for a second — proportionately and purposely. We should give, as a minimum worship requirement, our first fruits, the first ten percent, to the house of worship. That’s the baseline. That’s the theme of the Old Testament and the theme of the New Testament.
Think about the Old Testament, for example. They were giving their first fruits, the best of their crops, the best of their animals, and the best of their gold and silver — the best. Then, in the New Testament, we have God stepping through time in history giving his first fruits — his only Son, Jesus Christ. I ask you, where did God direct his offering? He directed it to the church. Jesus died on the cross and rose again for the church. The church is the bride of Christ and God has blessed it by his first fruit offerings. Think of the billions of people who have bowed the knee to Christ.
Are you giving your best? Are you going above and beyond? The Bible says you should. If you are not, then you are being disobedient to God. That’s as plain as I know how to say it.
Generosity is about attitude. It’s also about maturity. Generosity is about maturity. How many of you have teenagers? Teenagers are a trip, aren’t they? I love teenagers, but teenagers are pretty self-centered, pretty selfish, just being a teenager. Here’s what else is really unique about teenagers — teenagers think they know more than they do. But, teenagers, you don’t know what you think you know. Your parents know a lot more than you know. Just realize that. I know as a teenager, you think you know more than you do.
Spiritual teenagers think they know more than they know. Spiritual teenagers think they are really mature, but they have to realize that they are teenagers. People who say, “Yeah, I’m really mature,” are not. You think you are, but you are not. Mature people, though, are people who are unselfish. Spiritually mature people are unselfish. They understand what the Bible says. They understand that it’s not about themselves. It’s about others. It’s about praying for others. It’s about encouraging others. It’s about sharing with others. It’s about the others. Yet, people who are spiritual teenagers think it’s all about them. They think that it’s about their needs, getting fed themselves, their little deal and their little click. But, that’s not it.
Fellowship Church has some mature people here. We have got a hunk of mature believers. In fact, I would say a third of Fellowship Church is made up of a people who are mature. I’m not talking about chronologically. I’m talking about spiritually mature. I’m talking about deep believers. Why do I know that? I know that because of the other aspects of Fellowship Church. We’ve got a third who are mature. Then, we have a third who would be considered baby/teenager Christians. We have got a lot of baby/teenager Christians. We also have a lot of people going to hell who attend Fellowship Church. So, listen to me now. We have got three groups of people. They are pretty balanced. We’ve got a third going to hell, a third who are babies and teenage Christians and we have a third who are mature. Guess what? That’s the kind of church we should have. The church should be balanced. If you ever walk into a church and people say, “This church is packed with mature Christians.” Get out, because it’s not biblical.
If the church is really mature, then it will have each of those groups. The mature third will invite a bunch of people headed for hell. They will invite those people, because the mature ones know that it’s not about them. It’s about others. So, the mature people will invite people who are going to hell to the church and you will have a lot of hell bound people going to church. Then, they will become baby Christians. The great thing about Fellowship Church is this. We have got people who were going to hell who are now going to heaven. Now, the people who are going to heaven have been born again and they are babies in Christ. They are in spiritual diapers. They are still eating Gerber. That’s fine. Some have left that stage and they are children, spiritually. Some are teenagers. Some are mature.
Do you know what? When God wants to birth a bunch of baby believers, what does he do? He looks for the warmest incubator, the best hospital he can find. I praise God that he has picked Fellowship Church to do that. Don’t you? I thank God for that.
So, remember, a balanced church has a lot of people going to hell, a lot of babies and teenagers, and a lot of mature folk. But, do you know what? The mature people are the ones who make it happen for the rest of us. Mature people are the ones who give. I’ve talked to a lot of mature people here and a lot of us are kind of going, “I think it’s time for some of these babies and teenagers to step up and start giving, because we are tired of paying the way for everybody else.” Do you know what I am saying? So, just take a look around. Do you see these incredible facilities here? Someone, before you, gave generously. A lot of you would not be on your way to heaven right now had they not given, because we would not have this place, this land, and this facility here. We wouldn’t have the lights, the singers, or the speakers. We wouldn’t have the people working in the preschool or the nursery. We wouldn’t have anyone helping with the parking, the extravagant hospitality and the missions. So, I ask you, “What are you going to do for the next wave?” That’s just a thought to consider.
2 Corinthians 8:7 says, “See that you also excel in this grace of giving.” I have a friend of mine who is a pastor. He told me a while back, “Sometimes when I get to know people of wealth, I’ll come alongside them, look at them and say, ‘You know what? I sure am glad I’m not in your shoes.’ It always takes the wealthy people back and they will go, ’what? Pastor, are you telling me that you’re glad you’re not in my shoes? I’m a multimillionaire!’”
He tells them, “No, seriously. I’m glad I’m not in your shoes, because I bet you lie awake at night thinking about ways you can leverage money for God’s local church.”
There are some people here who are wealthy. That’s a direct word to you. What are you thinking about — just you, what can make you happy? Or, do you realize that your stuff is God’s stuff, and that you are going to be a river and not a reservoir? Are you going to damn God’s stuff up, or are you going to let it flow and move out?
Generosity — it’s also about now. We need to start now. Some of you are saying, “How do I start now? I understand what generosity is all about. It’s about God. It’s about lifestyle. It’s about cost. It’s about attitude. It’s about maturity. It’s about now. How do I do it?”
I’ve told you one thing — to give something away regularly that cost you something. A lot of us just don’t do that. We say, “Well, if it doesn’t benefit me and doesn’t help my tax situation, then I can’t really give it.” I’m telling you to just give something away.
Here’s something else. This is going to be very, very bold. I’m going to challenge believers here. If you are a Christian, I am going to ask you to go for “the ask.” Do something very bold and put your cards on the table. Meet with a trusted, spiritually mature person. Maybe you don’t even know this person right now. Pray that God will bring this person into your life and he will. Then just say to them, “Okay, here are my time cards. Am I being generous with my time? Just tell me. Okay. Here are my talent cards. God’s given me this talent and this gifted ability. Am I being generous with my talent? Tell me.”
The third thing will freak a lot of you out. It will cause you to get weak-kneed. A lot of you don’t have the guts to do this. Show them what you have financially. Say, “Okay, here’s what I have. Here’s what I make. Here’s what I am worth. Am I being generous? Am I giving the minimum worship requirement? Or am I playing games? Am I hypocritical about acting like I’m generous? Am I just giving?”
Just get someone to check you out there. You will not believe what will happen. I’ve done that. I still do. It has been liberating. It’s been so refreshing, because I know about the accountability. I know what is going to happen. I know that iron sharpens iron, and by giving and being held accountable for it that I’m going to be blessed like I cannot believe or fathom. The same blessings are out there for every person hearing my voice.
Let me end this talk with some good news and some bad news. Here’s the good news. You are going to love this. You know we are in a building campaign called “Get in the Game.” We built, on faith now, this beautiful Children’s Building. We built the Chapel, the Bookstore, and the Lake. We’ve changed the front of the church and the lobby. It’s been awesome. Now, the good news is this. We have the money to pay off our debt. Is that awesome? That’s incredible.
Here’s the bad news. The money is in your wallet and in your purse. No, really. You know I’m just playing with you, but that’s true. It’s not really bad news. It’s not. It’s good news, because that means you’ve got the potential to do what you need to do with it. So, how about it? Understand what generosity is all about. Apply it. Go for “the ask,” and you will conquer the fear of generosity.
Father, thank you for this word. I pray, God, that all of us, myself included, would get a hold of this and continue to take it to the next level. God, you have so many awesome things for us, individually and collectively. I pray that we discover them and grasp them only by your power and your grace. I pray, God, for that person who is saying right now, “Man, I don’t struggle with this.” I pray that you will just penetrate, convict and move as only you can. I pray that we receive the fact that you have been so generous with us. So, Father, we love you and thank you for this time. In Jesus’ name, amen.