IN THE ZONE
Walking the Check
November 20-21, 2004
[An oval carpet is in the middle of the stage. In the middle of the oval are the words “In The Zone,” and the graphics for the series surround those words. In effect, there is a zone in the middle of the carpet. Ed Young comes on stage along with Tracy Barnes, Fellowship Church’s Pastor of Assimilation]
ED: This is Tracy Barnes. He’s one of the pastors here at Fellowship Church. Tracy, awhile back we went to a restaurant, and amazingly some cameras followed us into this establishment. Here’s what happened.
[A video is played on the side screens of Ed and Tracy dining at Carrabba’s Italian restaurant, enjoying the food and then walking the check (leaving without paying).]
ED: The church is a restaurant. We serve the ultimate food in a creative, compelling way. Yet so many people, Tracy, are walking the check. Are you believing that?
TRACY: Yeah, walking the check.
ED: They’re walking the check. Now some might be wondering why you’re up here. Tracy, tell me a little bit about your life. Of course, I know about your life, but maybe some of these here don’t understand your pilgrimage. Now as you hear this guy talk, I think you’ll get the meaning of why he’s on the stage right now.
TRACY: Well, you know, before we got to Fellowship Church, my wife, Debbie, and I were in Pennsylvania for 18 years. Went up in 1979 where I pastored for 18 years. And then around 1997 we got a real sense it was time to move back to Texas, which is where we’re from. Debbie and I both grew up in the Irving area. So we moved back to Texas. No job. I resigned my position, came back, and got a house in Coppell. Isn’t that amazing? No job! But God takes care of things.
We came to Fellowship Church and immediately become a part of everything that was happening here. And plugged in, began to volunteer, began to serve. I told me wife, I said, “You know, after 18 years I’m really tired and I want to just pull back a bit and just take some time off.” So that’s what I did. I got a job, began to work. In fact, it was one of the best decisions I could have ever made because it reconnected me…well, it reconnected me with all of you. I got to find out what real people did and worked for several years and was actively involved here at Fellowship Church.
Then we reached the place where I knew it was time for me to get back into full-time ministry. So I put my resume together, contacted Preston Mitchell, said, “Hey, Preston, I need somebody as a reference from my church. Would you be that for me?” Preston said, “Sure.” And then began to circulate and just began to get back out into the church world again. Preston called me up several weeks later and said, “Hey, how’s the search going?” I said, “Well, it takes time, you know, to get yourself back into this church world again.”
He said, “Well, let me ask you. Have you ever considered coming on staff here at Fellowship Church?” Well, the truth is I hadn’t. But I hung up the phone and after about five seconds I considered and said yes. And that was five years ago and the rest is history.
ED: That’s great. Tracy is a blessing just to get to know him. And he and his wife, Debbie, and their four kids are true blessings from God.
During this series, I’ve introduced something revolutionary called the God cam. [The view on the side screens goes to a camera shot of Ed from above the stage. Ed is standing “in the zone” on the carpet.] That’s the perspective that God has on our lives.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: He wants us to live in the zone. I’ve been talking about that. And Tracy, people have a hard time understanding that, because they think so often that God is the cosmic kill joy. Yet our great God wants all of us to live in the sweet spot of His success. He wants us to be in zone, doesn’t He?
TRACY: You know, it amazes me whenever I talk to people who really don’t understand that God is for us, not against us. In fact, the Bible tells us that, “If God be for us, who can possibly be against us?” In fact, it goes on to say that “God, who did not spare His own Son,” referring of course to Jesus Christ, “willing gave up Jesus so that we might have life, how will He not,” that is God, “giving us freely all things in Christ Jesus?”
God desires to bless us. God wants to bless us. But when we use the word “bless,” what are we talking about?
ED: Well, to bless or to be blessed is to be on the receiving end of the tangible and intangible favor of God. That’s what it means.
ED: God wants us to be zoned in. Yet, far too many people are zoned out. Yet we’re wired to be right here in the sweet spot of His success. And I want to draw a little bit, just to kind of bring us up to speed. [Over the next several minutes, Ed draws a diagram on a Plexiglas board with glow in the dark markers to illustrate the idea of living in the zone.]
This is the zone. God wants us to live here. To live here, we have to understand several things: God is The Blessor. Everything comes from Him. Our God is a loving God, a God who’s generous. And because of that, we are blessed. Due to the fact that we’re blessed, we can do what?
TRACY: Become a blessing.
ED: We can become a blessing.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: So God’s The Blessor. When I recognize that, I’m blessed. And because I’m blessed, I can be a blessing. Well, how do I reflect the favor of God in a tangible and intangible way? By two things. Number one, by…
ED: By receiving. And then…
ED: Reflecting. I can’t reflect something I haven’t received.
TRACY: That’s exactly right.
ED: And I make this grace reception. So I’m reflecting, again, in a tangible and intangible way the favor of God.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: I’m a blessing.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: But a lot of people live in The Land of Ing. People who live in The Land of Ing are zoned out, not zoned in.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: They’re simply into own-ing,
TRACY: You got it.
TRACY: The whole thing.
ED: Ca-ching, ca-ching! The Ings erroneously think that they control it all, that they own it all. So in The Land of Ing, everybody’s into own-ing their gifts, their abilities, their talents. “I did it, I made it. I’m the man. I’m the girl.” Conversely, those in the zone realize that they are simply, what? Managers.
TRACY: You got it.
ED: So it is the difference between managing…
TRACY: And owning.
ED: And owning.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: And that is a huge concept. God wants us to be zoned in. He wants us to move from owning to the blessed place. So literally, Tracy, God wants to put His bless…
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: I like this.
TRACY: …on our Ing.
ED: On our Ing. And bring us into the zone. And today in this, what, third installment of this series called “In The Zone,” we’re going to talk about how to live in the sweet spot of God’s success. And this has to do with something tangible. There’s a dualism going on out there these days. And this dualism says… How would you define it?
TRACY: Well, you know, in the world today, and particularly in the church world, there’s a split. Some people say, “Well you know what, you got the spiritual on the one hand and you got the secular on the other hand. God is concerned about the spiritual, but all the secular things over here—the stuff, our material stuff and all of that—God’s not really interested in that. Just the spiritual.”
Nothing could be further from the truth! God’s made it all. Both that which is seen, that which is unseen—the material and the immaterial. It is all a part of God’s creation. In fact, when God created everything He said, “It is all good.”
ED: And what you’re saying is, you’re saying that matter matters.
TRACY: Absolutely. And you and I as Christ followers, we’ve got to understand how it is that we as managers of what God has entrusted to us, how do we reflect The Blessor? How do we acknowledge The Blessor? As you got into last week, one of the most important things that you and I can begin to do is to learn how to do something called the tithe, bringing the tithe.
Now sometimes people bristle at this. They go, “Ahh, you’re talking about money again?!” You know why we’re talking about money?
ED: Tracy, I’m going to write tithe. T-I-T-H-E. Tithe.
ED: And what does that mean?
Tracy : It means one-tenth.
TRACY: Or, ten percent. That’s all it means. There’s nothing religious about it. It is just a numerical term meaning one-tenth or ten percent. And as we’ve seen, God says, “The first ten percent of all of your income or gain,” He says, “that belongs to Me.”
ED: What a minute, dude? You mean I came to Fellowship Church and that we’re here about giving?
TRACY: No. We’re not talking about giving. We’re talking about bringing.
ED: Yeah, we’re not talking about giving.
TRACY: Because I don’t give what is not mine, I bring back what is God’s. And when I bring the tithe into the local church, what I’m doing is, I’m bringing that which belongs to God, the first ten percent of all my income or gain.
ED: Tracy, some might say, “Oh man, the church is only interested in my money.” You know what? The last time I did this statistic—this is pretty cool—we did some research. There’s been like 740 some-odd weekends in the history of Fellowship Church. And I’m the founding pastor, so I’ve been involved in most of those. I’ve only done—this is pitiful—24 messages on money in 740 weekends. That’s pitiful.
Let me tell you why it is pitiful. Jesus talked about money more than He talked about heaven, hell, faith, or belief. One out of every eight verses in the New Testament has to do with material possessions.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: Thirty percent of His parables were all about bling-bling, ca-ching, ca-ching—stuff that we have. God is not anti-stuff. We need to accept that and go, “Man, this is cool.”
So today, we’re simply talking about bringing. And throughout this series, we’re going to talk about money management. You realize the Bible has a lot to say about saving money. We’re going to talk about saving money. The Bible has a lot to say too, Tracy, about debt.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: And then, also, we’re going to get into materialism. But people in Dallas, we don’t really struggle with materialism, so should we talk about that? [Laughter]
TRACY: I don’t think so.
ED: But that’s a good topic, though. Where does it begin and where does it end? When am I becoming materialistic? When are you becoming materialistic? That is a great thing to talk about.
So this series—you get to look at it in its entirety—we’re going to talk about managing the tangible blessings that God has given us. But going back to what Tracy said, today we’re talking about the tithe, the ten percent we bring back.
TRACY: That’s right. You know I can not stress enough how very, very important this is. Because of all the practices that you and I could be involved in, this one right here is one of the keys to staying right here [in the zone]. Let me tell you why. When you think about what you and I do every day of the week, we spend a lot of time doing what? We spend a lot of time trying to earn a paycheck, right? That paycheck is a reflection of who we are, because we’ve given a lot of our time, a lot of our energy, in order to get it.
Now when you and I recognize that the first ten percent of that paycheck belongs to God, wow, that’s getting into a piece of me now. That’s getting near and dear to my heart. And that’s one of the reasons why God began to teach so long ago how to do this, because it was a tangible way of acknowledging that God is first in our lives.
Because, let’s be real honest, words are cheap. Anybody can walk around and say, “Well, I trust God. God’s first in my life. God’s the one. He’s the man.” But you know what? You tell me God’s first in your life? Open your checkbook up and we’ll see. Because now we’re getting down to where the rubber meets the road. Now we’re getting into the stuff of us.
And this is not something negative. This is something greatly positive. Because, as we’re going to see today, when we understand this thing called the tithe, when we learn to be faithful and disciplined by bringing it in, being obedient to what God says; it moves us out of The Land of Ing and moves us into the blessed place, into the zone. That which God is giving us now becomes a blessing. And then out of that, God wants us to be a blessing to others. But we got to get this thing called the tithe down first. It’s very, very important.
Now, you and I, we’ve been doing this for years and years and years. This isn’t something we started yesterday.
ED: Yeah, and what we’re sharing with you is a lifestyle. Because whenever I share, for example, what the Bible says about marriage, about spouse selection, about dealing with fear, stress, anxiety, whatever; I know, because it is God’s word, it is going to help you. It helps me, the teacher, and I know it helps you as you receive that.
The same is true whenever we talk about money or money management, especially the tithe. So this is all about helping. So if you’re a part of Fellowship Church and if this is your church, we’re going to challenge you to bring the tithe here. We can’t force you to do it. We’re just simply telling you what God says. If you’re a part of another church somewhere else, maybe you’re going to check this out on television or the internet or one of our radio broadcasts, I would encourage you—if you’re listening or watching—to tithe to your local church.
If you’re showing up here just to check out Fellowship and you’re involved in another church somewhere else, that’s cool. Make sure to bring the tithe to that local church. The tithe, though, throughout the Bible, throughout the Old Testament and the New Testament, should be delivered to the local church.
And some people say, “Well, you know, I’ll give maybe five percent to a missionary. I’ll give two percent to a Christian school or university. And the rest I’ll give to my church.” That’s not the tithe. It’s important to support missionaries. It’s important to support Christian institutions, and Fellowship Church does so. That, though, should be over and above the ten percent that we bring into the local church, because the local church is that which is the most near and dear to the heart of God.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: Because, Tracy, if you want to draw a church right quick and just think about the implications of that. That is the heartbeat of God. Well, when my three daughters get married, I’m not going to go to a missionary or to a Christian university for their wedding. I’m going to, where? The local church.
TRACY: That’s right. The local church.
ED: When loved ones pass away, we go to the local church.
ED: When we have a need, it’s the local church. So that’s very, very critical that we get that. And Fellowship Church has been blessed of God in so many ways.
TRACY: Oh, yeah.
ED: And here’s what so cool about this deal. God is going to bless His church, we know that. Well, how does God bless His church? In many different ways. Think of the talent that God has brought here to Fellowship. I marvel at the talent, musically, and just the talent we have; the people who work in our children’s ministry, student ministry, missions ministry. Yet, God is going to bless people within the church financially to finance the church.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: That’s just a fact. So, He’s going to put wealth in a lot of people’s hands as a test. He wants us, though, to use it as a tool to further the greatest thing out there—the local body of Christ.
TRACY: You know, it’s interesting. You said, “He’s going to put wealth in our hands.” This is always kind of a scary thing to some people, “Oh, would God do that?” Let me tell you something, you go back into the Old Testament; you go back into the Book of Deuteronomy (you might make a note of this and read this later in Deuteronomy 8), but God was preparing the nation of Israel to enter into The Promised Land, the land that He said would be full of milk and honey, a land of plenty. And He told them, “There’s going to come a day when you will come into that land.” And God said, “When you do, you’re going to be in a land that satisfies. You’re going to be in a land where I’m going to increase your silver and gold, a land where you will build fine houses.” This was God’s words. “A land,” He said, “where everything you have will multiply.” But God says, “When you get to that place, there’s a danger.”
Check it out on the side screens. Here’s what He said. [Deuteronomy 8:17-18] “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the LORD your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant.”
You and I must never lose sight of the fact that it is God who made us who we are. It is God who has given us the abilities that we have. It is God who has blessed us wherever we are, whatever station of life we’re in. And one of the easiest and simplest ways to constantly remind ourselves is this thing called the tithe.
ED: So what you’re saying, Tracy, is living in The Land of Ing, we get so focused on the Ings that we miss the blessings, we miss the fact that God owns it all; thus, we think we’ve done it. Yet, that heaps guilt and pressure and stress on our lives, because we’re trying to protect it, to horde it, to take care of it, and it is not ours.
TRACY: “It’s all mine. It’s resting on my shoulders.” No, it’s not. No, it’s not. You see, you and I have been given of God all that we have, whether it is our stuff, our abilities, or whatever. And God wants us to recognize that He is The Blessor. And so when we bring that tithe, it is a tangible reminder of who God is.
For instance, I’m employed by Fellowship Church, so I’m paid twice a month. Well, twice a month when I’m paid, I take ten percent of my gross amount, the gross amount of what I make. Now what I do is I write a check for that ten percent, round it up to the nearest 100, and put it in pink envelope. Now, I’m old school. I do it the old-fashioned way. I put it in that little pink envelope. And I come in, but when I come in with that pink envelope, I do it every time, I pray over that envelope.
I say, “God, this money inside this envelop represents the tithe and it represents all of what You’re doing in my life and in my family’s life, that You have provided for us, that You are our God, that You are the source of everything we have. Thank You, God. Thank You, God. Thank You, God. And I pray that this tithe would be multiplied a thousand times over into the ministry of this church.”
And so twice a month that’s what I’m doing as I bring in the tithe in. And it is a very, very tangible and visible reminder that Tracy is who he is, not because of what I’ve done or how clever I am or how smart I am, but rather who God is working through Tracy’s life. That’s why that tithe is so important, because God doesn’t need our money.
ED: No, He doesn’t. I remember I was working out in a gym recently and there were a couple of guys there who are in our student ministry. They’re like 17 or 18 years old. And one of them walked up to me and, “Ed, how ya doing?” “Fine,” I said. And he goes, “What are you talking about this weekend?” And I said, “You know what I’m talking about? I’m talking about bringing the tithe.” He goes, “Really, man? That’s pretty cool. Hey, do you mind if I ask you a personal question?” I said, “Yeah, go ahead.” He says, “You’re, like, Senior Pastor. That’s your title.” I said, “Yeah.” “…of Fellowship Church.” I said, “Yeah, that’s right.” He said, “Does the church, like, make you tithe?”
ED: I said, “No, no, they don’t make me tithe.” I said, “I have to tithe, though, because I came to a point a long time ago where I realized that God owns it all. That’s my act of worship. I’m tangibly saying and showing myself, and God, and others that He is number one.”
Tracy and I are walking, living, breathing examples of the fact that you cannot out give God. Lisa and I have been on this giving pilgrimage for 22 years over and above our tithe. But also, we’ve faithfully brought in the tithe to the local church. I can tell you some great stories about giving. When Lisa and I first got married, I was making maybe $21,000 – $22,000 dollars. We had two cars. And Lee Beth came along. We felt led to give one of our cars to the church I was a part of. We just gave the car. We had one car for several years.
I gave my retirement one year to that church. I’ve given my retirement here to Fellowship Church several times. I’ve given another car away several years ago. You cannot out give God. I’m not telling you to start giving away cars and emptying your retirement. I’m not saying that. That is kind of bone-chilling giving. God led me to do it and I did it.
I am telling you, though, to bring the tithe, because God showed me something really, really rich in this whole area one time. I don’t want to get into the whole story, but I had the opportunity to spend a night on a yacht with this very affluent guy. I’ve never been on a yacht before. And when I looked at his boat I was just flabbergasted because it was pretty much like a floating mansion, you know?
We spent some time together and I talked to this guy. And after I talked to this owner of this yacht for a while, I realized that his life was totally fouled up and messed up. In the world’s eyes this guy was definitely prosperous, worth hundreds of millions of dollars I’m sure. We began to talk about his relationships. He told me his marriage was all messed up. He told me his kids hated him. And he talked about all this stuff. The guy was so lonely and so empty. I heard hour after hour after hour of all of this stuff going on in his life. And it just broke me up.
And finally before I left, I said, “Bob, I want to tell you something.” I said, “You know, you have all this stuff. You’re very prosperous in the world’s eyes. But I have more wealth than you.” He said, “What?” I said, “Yeah, I’ve got more wealth than you, Bob. You know why?” He says, “No.” I said, “I have Christ in my life.” And I said, “Bob, I would not trade that for all your money.” I said, “You’re never, ever going to live in that sweet spot of God’s success until you turn it over to Jesus.”
I’ll never forget, I was standing on the dock in Isle Moroto, Florida, and I watched this yacht take off on the horizon line. I just watched it and I said to myself, “There goes one of the loneliest guys I’ve ever met in my life.” The wealthy have one advantage over the poor. You know what it is? They know that money doesn’t satisfy.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: Will somebody help me preach?
TRACY: That’s right.
TRACY: Yeah, it’s true. You know what? This guy illustrates something very, very important for all of us to see. In Joshua 1:8, here’s what God says. He says, “Do no let this book of law…” Now what’s He referring to? Well, He’s talking about the Bible. He said, “Do no let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night…” In other words, let it get a hold of you. Let it become a part of your life. Let it guide your life, shape your life. “Do it my way,” God says. [the verse continues] “…So that,” He said, “you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Catch that? Both prosperous and successful.
ED: That’s good.
TRACY: There are a lot of people living in the world today that have a lot of Ing. In fact, some of you look at some of the folks that have some of those Ings and go, “Man, I’d like to have a few of those Ings!” But you know what? They maybe prosperous, but they are not successful…just like this gentleman.
ED: And you know, Tracy, talking about him—Bob has, you know, millions and millions of Ings, but here’s what I would argue. In fact, I know this is true. We, because we’re in the zone, enjoy our stuff more than he does.
TRACY: Oh, I’m sure of it. Just as you described him.
ED: Because we know that God owns it all, that we’re simply managers. And that’s why. So that’s, again, why I want everybody to get to that. I don’t care if you make $10,000 a year or $100 million a year.
TRACY: Doesn’t matter.
ED: Living in the zone is understanding the blessings of God as being on the receiving end of the tangible and intangible favor of God. And it is becoming that channel, that river; not the reservoir, not living in The Land of Ing.
TRACY: See, that’s why God says in Proverbs, “Honor me,” God says, “Honor me with your wealth.” Now notice it says “Your wealth.” In other words, “Your stuff.” By the way, that’s what we call an offering. Everything that’s above and beyond the tithe. Proverbs 3:9 says, “Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops.” The firstfruits. That word “firstfruits” really refers to the tithe, the top portion, because that belongs to God.
When you think of the word “tithe,” you’re thinking of the first ten percent of all income or gain. Now, the reason why I use the word “gain” is because I have other money, so to speak, that comes into my household other than my salary. And I recognize that all of that is from God.
For instance, Debbie and I a couple of years ago went out to dinner with her mother and dad and her two sisters and their husbands. It was interesting—about the time dinner was about to come to a close, I noticed that Debbie’s dad was about to bust a gut. He was just all excited. He was just getting more and more excited. And as soon as we had finished the meal, he produced three white envelopes.
Now let me stop for a second and segue from this. Debbie’s mom and dad, they’re now closing in on 80. They are not what many would call wealthy. They are comfortable. They are people of their generation. They’ve saved their money all their lives. They’re living in the same house they’ve always lived in, driving the same car they’ve always driven. They don’t have any debts and haven’t had any debts since who knows when. They’re in a very comfortable way.
Well, we get to the end of the dinner and he hands each of his daughters three white envelopes. Well, Debbie opened up her envelope and inside that envelop is a check for $10,000 dollars!
ED: Ohhh, I like those kind of envelopes.
TRACY: You know what? We got excited. And as Debbie and I were driving home that night, what was the first thing we did? We said, “God, thank you, because you are The Blessor. You are the source of all that we have.” By the way, we’ve seen God do that again and again in our lives.
But what else did we do? Well, that was gain that came into our household and we said, “God, we’re going to honor you with it. We recognize that the top portion, the first ten percent of that, belongs to you.” So that next weekend, we brought into Fellowship Church a check for $1,000 dollars. Because it was a tangible and practical way to acknowledge that, “God, you are our source.”
Hear me. This is so important. When you understand the practice of the tithe, bringing the tithe, it is the best way to begin to acknowledge that God is your source. I don’t look to the economy. I don’t look to my employer, Fellowship Church. I don’t look to my neighbor. I don’t look to this person. I don’t worry about any of that. Who is my provider? God is my provider, which is why God says, “Honor me with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your increase.” And then He says [Proverbs 3:10 paraphrased], “I will fill your barns. Your barns will be full. I will take care of you. Don’t worry about it.”
Ed and I and many others who’ve also been involved in this wonderful practice called tithing can tell you and testify that that is a fact. God will provide.
ED: For God not to bless, Tracy, is for God to go against His nature.
ED: However, our motivation to bring the tithe and on top of that to give the offering cannot be to be blessed. It cannot be for stuff. But the byproduct of living in the zone and bringing the tithe is blessings. Of course, there’s going to be financial blessings, relational, occupational. You can’t limit God and say it is just going to be financial or just going to be relational. It can be a myriad of ways. And that’s the exciting thing about living in the zone because it is the quickest way to see God work I’ve ever seen. And it’s such a fun thing. Because I discovered too in my life that I don’t have something or I can’t really enjoy something unless I can give that something away.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: And that’s why I try to practice regularly in my life giving stuff away. Not only bringing the tithe to Fellowship Church but also just giving stuff away.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: Stuff that I like.
TRACY: That’s right. You know what I learned years ago? I learned that if you cannot give something you have away, you don’t on it. It owns you. And I don’t want to be owned by anything but God. I don’t want anything to rule over my life, but God. And so I’m not married to my stuff because I know that God will provide and take care of me.
As you’ve testified and as I will testify, you know, I look at my life over the last—Debbie and I have been married 27 years—and I look over the course of our 27-year marriage, ups and downs, bumps along the way, all kinds of stuff; that’s normal. But I look back over the course of our life and I am utterly amazed at what God has done. In fact, I look at where I am today. If you added it all up on paper and then added up what we’ve made, it doesn’t all add up. There’s no way you could do that. In fact, what amazes me, what Debbie and I are bringing in terms of our tithe today and giving away, we’re bringing and giving away more than we made when we first got started, far more than what we were making. But you know what? You will never out bless The Blessor.
TRACY: You can’t do it.
ED: That brings up something else. A lot of people here, I know, are in debt. And I’m going to talk about that creature from the cash lagoon.
TRACY: Yeah. (Laughing) Nab the creature.
ED: Yeah, who can pull all of us down if we’re not disciplined and controlled the way God wants us to be.
Let’s say I’m in debt. What would you say to me about bringing the tithe?
TRACY: You know that question comes up regularly. People say, “But you know, gosh, you’re talking ten percent and I’m up to my eyeballs in debt. I mean my eyes are jiggling I got so much debt.”
Well, you know, you’ve got two options here. You got Plan A and you got Plan B. Plan A is your plan, typically, this is what most people do. “Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to start tithing as soon as I get out of debt.” How long is that going to be? That could be a while.
Or Plan B: “God, I’m going to do it your way knowing that you’ll provide, because I’m now ready to do things your way. I’m ready to manage my stuff the way you want me to manage it.”
Trust me, God can get you out of debt far quicker. I’ve seen it again and again and again when people are willing to do it God’s way. But this is scary to some people, because many have never really stepped over the line and said, “I am going to trust God.” They’ll say it with their words. But I’ll say it again, words are cheap; actions say a whole lot more.
And when you and I are willing to trust God at this point of bringing the tithe into the local church, something very, very remarkable begins to happen. But you and I’ve got to get to that place where we’re willing to trust God.
ED: Yes, like I talked about last time, there’s the power in the first ten percent. Because we bring that first 10 percent into the storehouse, the 90 percent is going to be blessed. The Bible says if we rob God of the tithe, if we keep what is God’s, our finances will be cursed. So I discovered that I had a choice to make: blessed or cursed? Let me think for a second which one…I’ll take blessed!
TRACY: I’m choosing blessed.
ED: Yeah, yeah.
TRACY: Yeah, you know what, it’s interesting. I was thinking back. You remember that passage you shared last week in Genesis where you have the two brothers.
ED: Cain and Abel.
TRACY: You’ve got Cain and Abel. That is one of the most fascinating scriptures. This is at the very beginning of time now, folks, very beginning of time. And it says that they brought offerings to God. And when God looked at Abel’s offering, it says that God had favor for it. But when he looked at Cain’s offering, He did not have favor. And you ask yourself, “Well now, what’s the difference?”
Well, remember Abel was a sheep herder or rancher, so he’s going to bring out of that which is his livelihood. Well, he brings an animal. Whereas his brother, Cain, was a gardener. He was a man of the ground. And so he brought that which he produced. That is the crops.
But it is interesting when you read in Genesis 4. What you discover is this: When they brought their offerings to God, it says that Abel brought the firstborn. In other words, the top portion. But his brother, it says, brought, in the course of time, some of his crops. In other words not the first, but some down the line. And God looked with favor on one and not with favor on another. This dynamic of the tithe is a powerful, powerful thing.
It is not something that we look at and go, “Oh, I don’t want to do this.” No, no, no, no. You’re going to miss out. It is one of the most practical ways to begin to move into the zone, to get in the sweet spot of God, where you are acknowledging that God is your source. And the Bible says that when you and I do that, when you and I are willing to do what God says, God will pour out blessings. He really will. In fact, God says in Malachi 3:10, “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.”
You know, I like that expression, “floodgates of heaven,” because it is only used twice in the Bible. You find it in that Malachi passage that I just quoted to you and then you also find it in Genesis 7. Now some of you may, but some of you may not, know what was going on in Genesis 7. Well, that is the time when there was a guy by the name of Noah who built an ark. Well, why was Noah building the ark? Well, it was getting ready to rain.
And in Chapter 7 of Genesis it says that God opened the flood gates of heaven. And when you open the floodgates of heaven, that’s a lot of rain!
Well, you know, that’s the image that God’s drawing from when He says, “If you’re willing to trust me at this point, I will open the floodgates of heaven and pour out such blessing there will not be room enough to contain it.”
ED: Well, here’s what I always think, Tracy. Let’s say, for example, I was in The Land of Ing. If I looked at your life—and I know you very, very well—if I looked at your circumstances, I would think, “Man, how can he even talk about blessings? How can he even talk about bringing the tithe? I mean, I know what he deals with and what he goes through on a daily basis.” And a lot of people out here don’t know what you go through.
How can you sit there and say that you’re blessed and that you receive and reflect the favor of God? Tell us about your life and what you’re dealing with. This is powerful, man.
TRACY: People that know us know what some of our situation is. As I’ve shared with you, Debbie and I have four children. We have two sons and two daughters. But what Ed is referring to is our two sons, Roger and Phillip. Roger’s now 25. Phillip is 21. They have what is known as Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Today at 25 and 21, they are both in wheelchairs. They both breathe with ventilators. They are fed through feeding tubes. They can do nothing for themselves. Everything that is done for them has to be done by somebody else. Their care is 24/7.
If they want their head scratched, somebody’s got to scratch it. If they want a leg moved, somebody’s got to move it. Like this morning, in fact. I was thinking about it this morning at 4:00 when I walked into Roger’s room, because I heard him call to me saying that he needed his head moved and his arm moved. Because they can’t move. They can’t do anything. Their major muscles are gone.
Now, I will not tell you that my life is easy. My wife, if she were here, would not tell you that our life is easy. It is not. There are times when it is very, very hard because of the nature of what we find ourselves in. But, hear me. We know that God has always provided for us. And one thing that we know—when the Bible says that God’s grace is sufficient, we know that firsthand, because we’ve seen it again and again and again in our lives.
As we’ve watched God work time and time again, even at moments when we didn’t think we could go another step, we couldn’t go another hour, because of the care level. Everything that Roger and Phillip need has to be done by somebody else. And so as a result, for instance, Debbie and I cannot travel. We have not been away together in years. We can’t do it. If we travel, one of us goes, but one of us always has to be at home because Roger and Phillip’s situation is really a life-and-death situation. If something messes up, they’re in trouble really, really quick. So we’ve always got to be there with the attendants that are there, some of the nurses that we have that come.
It is a difficult life in one sense. But in another sense, we are blessed beyond measure and we know it. And we know it because God has always been faithful in our lives.
The reason I share this with you is that some people think, “Well, in other words, what you’re saying is that if we do things God’s way then everything is going to be perfect and we’ll never have any hardship or difficulty.” No, of course not. That’s a pipe dream. We live in a world where sin has made a mess of things. And even though when we come into a relationship with God through Christ, it doesn’t mean that now we’re immune to all of that. We can get touched by it from time to time. But in the midst of it, even then, God is always able to provide and take care of us. God is The Blessor.
ED: You see, Tracy (and Debbie) and his family have taught me so much. Because in the midst of what many people would say is a tragic situation, God has used them to be even a greater blessing, a more awesome example of living in the zone.
So Tracy, man, thanks so much for coming up here. And I just want so badly, and I know that you do too, for people to understand the fact that the church is the best restaurant out there.
TRACY: That’s right.
ED: And instead of walking the check, we need to generously bring the stuff into the storehouse, because we’re serving the ultimate food, which is the bread of life. These are exciting days at Fellowship Church, too, you know.
TRACY: Oh yeah.
ED: We’re expanding Fellowship Church to Uptown starting in January. We’re doing a satellite campus down there. We’re thrilled about that. We’re also branching out to Plano. We’re doing a campus there. We were in New York a couple of days ago, you and me, and we were even talking about some stuff there in Times Square, believe it or not. We’ve been in conversations recently with some leaders and pastors in South Florida. So Fellowship Church has been so blessed by God.
TRACY: Oh yes, absolutely.
ED: And I’m just thankful to be a part of it.
TRACY: You know, I get up every morning and just pinch myself saying, “God, I can’t believe I get to be a part of this.” Because I know enough about church history to know that there are men and women who have gone on before all of us who would have given anything to see just a fraction of what we’ve had the privilege of seeing. The thousands upon thousands of life changes that we’ve experienced here at Fellowship Church—men, women, boys, and girls. And we’re beginning to launch a whole new chapter at Fellowship Church with the satellite locations. And I am really, really excited.
And what excites me even more is when the entire body at Fellowship Church begins to understand that when we bring the tithe into the local church, as the Bible says, God says, “Bring it into the storehouse that there may be food in my house.” In other words, that there might be the financial wherewithal to provide for the ministries of the church. We’re given the opportunity now to begin to launch in new directions to touch even more lives than we thought possible. And I’m telling you, it is exciting.
ED: Also, you know, Christmas Eve we’re invading the American Airlines Center. Do you know that? I hope you knew that. I went to see the Mavericks play Friday and when I walked into the American Airlines Center, it really scared me. I got freaked out a little bit.
ED: We’re doing two services there. So please invite your friends and family. It’s a service for the entire family from knee high to tree high—3:00 PM and 6:00 PM. We’ll have wonderful music, all different types of things. And we’ll do a Christmas message. It will be a great time just to worship the Lord and the birth of our Savior. It’s going to be really, really, really cool.
You know, what we’ve been saying is the fact that our stuff, Tracy, is not our stuff. It is God’s stuff. So I’m going to ask you to do something for me, just for a second. Take out your wallet, or maybe you have a money clip or a purse. Just take it out and hold it for a second.
TRACY: Yeah, just go ahead and take it out and hold it.
ED: I’ll give you a couple of moments to do that.
TRACY: They’re doing it, Ed.
ED: Yeah, they’re doing it.
TRACY: Come on.
ED: Now give it to the person on your right. If you just hand that over.
TRACY: Hand it over to the person on your right.
ED: Because now we’re going to receive the offering!
TRACY: Now we’re ready to pick it up.
ED: Now we’re going to bring.
ED: No, I’m joking!
TRACY: This is going to be generous.
ED: I had to do that. I could not resist that.
TRACY: That was good!
ED: Wouldn’t that be funny, though, really if we could have each other’s wallets? That would be hilarious. That would be funny.
Anyway, though, I’m going to ask Tracy just to close us down with prayer and we’re going to continue during this time of worship. And it is time to bring the tithes. And you bring them only as God leads, you know, only as He leads. But again, Tracy, we appreciate you and our prayers are with you. And thank you for being such a blessing to us.