LIFE’S TOO SHORT…
To Be Selfish
October 12, 2003
There’s a familiar story about monkey trappers in the Far East. They had a rather clever way of catching the monkeys. What they would do is they would take a pumpkin gourd and they would carve a small hole in it and then carve out the inside. They would then take a piece of fruit, like a banana, slip it down inside the gourd, then stake the gourd to the ground and wait. Monkeys, being the curious creatures that they are, would soon descend from the jungle, find the gourd, see the hole, slide their hand into the gourd, discover the banana and grab it, and then pull back. But when they pulled back, they discovered that they could not get their closed fist back through that opening. The only way they could get their hand free was to let go of the banana and slide the hand out the same way it went in. But, unwilling to let go of the banana, they held on tenaciously and would scream and jump and soon the trappers would come. The irony of this story is, all those monkeys had to do was open their hands up and freedom was theirs. But because they were unwilling to do so, and they held on with a closed fist, they lost their freedom forever.
Now, with that story in mind, I want you to look with me on the side screens at a Bible verse in Proverbs. Let me read it to you. Proverbs 11:24 reads, “One man gives freely yet gains even more. Another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” Now, I am going to read that a second time and when I do, I want you this time to look at this, see the two men that are depicted in this verse, and look at the characteristics of these two men. Are you ready? Let’s read it again. “One man gives freely yet gains even more. Another withholds unduly but comes to poverty.” Do you see it? One man is open-handed. The other man is closed-fisted. One man is a giver. The other is a grasper. One man has his eyes on those around him. The other man is looking just at himself.
May I say to you today that life is way to short to be selfish. You know when I was a young boy, I would come in before dinner and my mother would always say, “Tracy, go to the bathroom and wash your hands before dinner.” I would go into the bathroom and close the door. A few minutes later I would come back out and every time Mom would say, “Tracy, hold out your hands.” Now, the reason she would have me hold out my hands is because she knew from history’s sake that I had done this before. I would often go into the bathroom, but I wouldn’t turn the water on. I’d just kind of stall around in there for a while and then out I would come. She was checking my hands to see if in fact I had washed them.
You know what? Let’s do something for a minute. Would you hold out your hands just for a second? [Tracy speaks to a lady in the front row] You didn’t wash your hands? I’m just kidding. Just kidding. Look at your hands. Let me ask you something this morning. Are you indeed an open-handed person or are you closed-fisted? Open-handed? Closed-fisted? Which are you?
This morning, we want to look at this in detail. In fact, we need to begin with a hand exam. We need to look at our hands and determine if we are in fact an open-handed individual or if we are closed-fisted. Now, to do that, we are going to look at our hands.
CHARACTERISTICS OF OPEN-HANDED
Let’s begin with that open-handed person and let’s look at some tell tale marks about what it means to be open-handed. Let’s go back to that Bible verse. Do you remember what it says? It says, “One man gives freely.” Stop right there. That gives you the very first tell tale mark of an open-handed person. And that is generosity. Open-handed people give freely. They are generous. They are generous with their time and they are willing to give of themselves to whatever. They are generous with their words. What I mean by that is kind words. They lavish those upon others. They are generous with their possessions. They are generous with their finances. And where is this generosity directed? Well, it’s directed at their family. It’s directed toward their friends. And it’s even directed toward their church. They are generous people. They have an open hand. When God gives to them, they give back. It rolls right through them. They are open-handed. They give freely.
Well, that generosity leads to the second tell tale mark of an open-handed person and you see it again in the verse. “One man gives freely, yet gains even more.” In other words, they have an abundance. That’s the second tell tale mark. Generosity leads to abundance. You know, you and I would naturally think that when we are giving things away on a regular ongoing basis that sooner or later we are going to run out. We are going to exhaust whatever supply we have. But that’s not how it works. The Bible says that when you and I are willing to give, it continues to increase coming back into us. In fact, those who are open-handed have discovered a powerful dynamic in the Bible. That is that they will never ever be able to out-give God.
Jesus put it clearly when he said, “Give and it will be given to you.” The same thing is here when it says, “This man gives freely, yet (even in his giving) gains even more.” It continues to come back to him so that he always has abundance; he always has what he needs because he is giving it away. But in the midst of giving, it’s rolling right back to him. And here’s the deal. When you are generous, a result of that generosity is that it unleashes that powerful dynamic in the Bible.
Once you begin to be generous, you will soon discover the third tell tale mark is confidence. That is, you are confident about your life. You have a very positive outlook. Why? Because you have a long established track record with God. You’ve learned to be a generous human being. You’ve learned to give and in the matter of your giving, what’s happening is that you’ve seen more come back in, you continue to give more, and more rolls in. After a while, you begin to realize, “God, this really is real. This really does work. I really can trust you. I really can be confident about tomorrow and the day after and the day after because you will always provide for me.” An open-handed person does not have his eyes upon himself and is not looking to himself as his sole supplier. He is looking to the God who has all and is providing for him because he is open-handed. He is generous and his generosity leads to abundance and that abundance gives way to confidence—a very confident outlook on life.
CHARACTERISTICS OF A CLOSED-FISTED PERSON
Alright, well let’s turn this on the other side. What about the closed-fisted person? What are the tell tale marks of that individual? Well, let’s go back to the Bible again. You remember it says, “Another man (here’s the other guy) withholds unduly.” Stop right there. What is the first tell tale mark? It’s stinginess. Stinginess. A closed-fisted person is cheap; a penny pincher; a hoarder. Their philosophy in life is, “Get all you can, can all you get, sit on the can, poison the rest.”
They say, “Nobody’s touching my stuff. It’s my stuff and I’m not letting go.”
They are cheap. They are penny pinchers. They are that way toward their family. They are that way toward their friends. They are that way even toward their church. They are cheap with what they have. They are cheap with their time. They are cheap with their words. They are cheap with their finances. It is the characteristic of their life because they have got this idea that, “If I can just hoard everything, if I can just get more and more and hang on to that and what I’ve got, I’m going to be okay. It’s going to be alright. Tomorrow’s going to be a better day.”
But watch this. When you and I close our fist, when we are characterized by being stingy, the second tell tale mark is lack.
Look at what the Bible says in this verse, “This man withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.” In other words, there is a constant lack in his life. He’s the kind of individual that every time he takes a step forward, he takes two steps back. Then he takes another step forward, but he takes two more steps back. Then he takes another step forward, but he takes two steps back. And after a while, it begins to dawn on him, “Whoa, time out! I’m not getting anywhere. In fact, I keep going backwards. The tighter my hands get, the more I hoard things, the more I jam it into my little can, it doesn’t get better. It gets worse. I see lack in my life more and more.”
This is kind of how it is. Some of you can understand this. You get to a place where you think, “Wow, I finally got enough! This is good. We’ve got our financial house in order. All this is great.” And then the refrigerator breaks. And then you remember, “Now, I’ve got to pay this bill.” So, you pay that bill. Okay. Then the dog has to go to the vet. Then another one of your children has to go to the doctor for the third time this month. And over and over and over it goes. It’s like a siphon just pulling things out left and right and it never stops.
It’s gotten very quiet in here. Is this hitting home? Are you starting to realize that as you look at it and do a hand exam for yourself, “You know what? Truth is, I have lived a life of hoarding. I’ve really thought that the best philosophy in life is to get a hold of everything I can and really hang on to it tightly. But you know what? I’ve seen the lack in my life. It’s like I never really get anywhere.”
Well, here’s the deal. If you are willing to be stingy with that which God has given you, in time, you do see this lack, and that lack leads to the tell tale mark, that third one— anxiety. Anxiety. You are worried. You are fearful about tomorrow. “Are we going to have enough? Are we going to be able to pay this bill? Are we going to be able to do this? Can we go here? Can we do that? Oh, no. Oh, no.”
And every night when you lay your head down, you lay it down with a sense of dread for tomorrow, because you never know. But you know, those who are closed-fisted, the problem is that they have got their eyes upon themselves and they are trusting in themselves alone. And if that’s you, you’ve got every right to be worried. Because you and I as human beings, we don’t even know what the next five minutes is going to bring. So think about it.
WHAT ARE YOU?
Are you an open-handed person? Are you a person characterized by generosity that leads to abundance that leads to confidence?
Or are you in fact closed-fisted—one who is stingy, stingy with your stuff and, as a result, you keep seeing a constant lack in your life that leads to anxiousness and a fearfulness about tomorrow?
Well, if you are an open-handed individual today, let me say to you “Keep doing what you are doing. You haven’t seen anything yet. It’s just going to keep getting better and better. Keep on keeping on.”
But if in fact, you are a closed-fisted individual, you need to have a hand exchange. You need to move closed-fisted hands into open-handed ones. But how do we do that?
MOVE FROM STINGY TO GENEROUS
Well, do you remember the first characteristic of that which is closed-fisted, stinginess? Well, we need to move stinginess over to generosity. But how do we do that? Well, let me show you something.
Look what the Bible says. Second Corinthians 8:7 reads, “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.”
In other words, you and I need to learn to become excellent givers. We need to move our stingy practices over into generous ones. We need to learn how to do it and the only way to learn it is to do it. By the way, learning generosity, learning to be an excellent giver, is not about how much money you have.
I meet people who tell me, “You know, I really don’t have that much. But you know, when the day comes, when I get more, I’m going to learn to be generous.”
Listen: if you are a poor tightwad and you come into some money, you’re just going to be a rich tightwad. I mean, that’s just a fact. It’s a mindset that needs to change, that moves into your heart.
If you are a Christ-follower this morning, meaning that you have come into a relationship with Jesus Christ and received him into your life, do you understand that the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, has come to live within you? Now you have the very heart of God living in you, and do you know what God’s heart is? God’s heart is to give. God so loved the world that he gave, that’s right, he gave his only begotten Son. Giving and loving go hand in hand. They work together, and if indeed you are a Christ-follower, the very heart you now have is a heart of giving. And when you refuse to do that, you are putting on the brakes of who you are. No wonder you are feeling the frustration in your life, because you are acting contrary to the real person that you are in Christ.
But if you are here today and you are not a Christ-follower, in other words, you have not come to that place where you have received Christ into your life; I must say to you that indeed your heart is not one of giving. In reality you heart is about getting, because the entire focus is around you. And the only way that’s going to change is when you come to the place where you understand and realize that God created you. And he created you in order to have a relationship with himself. By virtue of God the Son, Jesus Christ, your sin that has alienated or separated you from God, has been paid for in full with his life on the cross and through his resurrection. It is now possible that you can not only know forgiveness, but that you can have a new life in Christ because the moment you receive him into your life, the Bible says, you become a new creation, or a new person. You now have that heart of giving which puts you in a unique position to begin to unleash all these wonderful dynamics.
But guys, we’ve got to start with giving. We’ve got to start learning how to be generous. For instance, here’s a great place to begin. Some of you need to start taking your family out to dinner. You may be asking, “What?” I know people who say, “Oh, Tracy, I can’t do that. We can’t afford that.” You know what? There are times when you can’t afford not to do it. You need to learn how to give to your family and to bless them. And when you are at the restaurant, don’t sit there in such panic going, “Oh, man, please don’t order the most expensive thing on the menu! Oh, what’s this bill going to be when it gets here?!” Don’t worry about the bill. It’ll take care of itself. You want to keep this idea of generosity going? At the end of the meal, you be certain that you tip that waiter or waitress—generously.
You know, I was with a group of pastors a number of years ago, and I was appalled at what happened. When we got to the end of our lunch, they took out some gospel tracts, these little booklets that tell you how to have a relationship with Christ. They had a quarter taped to it and they put it down. I looked at that and I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me! That’s what you’re leaving?” But you see, they didn’t understand generosity. Part of me wanted to say, “Why don’t you tape a twenty dollar bill on there? That might get somebody’s attention.”
You’re not going to learn to be generous until you learn to be an excellent giver. Excel, the Bible says, in the grace of giving, with your family, with your friends. The next time you are out with your friends, don’t be slow pay artist. You know at the end of the meal where everybody goes [Tracy begins to act in slow motion like he is reaching for his wallet], “I’m reaching for the wallet. I’m trying to find the credit card, oh, Fred’s already got it out there. That’s good. Fred’s paying today.” That’s not being generous. You know, what’s fun is when you are out with friends, and at the end of the meal, there’s a dog fight to see who is going to pay for the meal. Those are individuals who understand what it means to be generous and to bless one another. You’re not going to learn how to be generous until you do it.
FROM LACK TO ABUNDANCE
You and I have got to excel in giving, be excellent givers, and when we do, here’s the cool thing, we move lack to abundance. In other words, we are not experiencing lack anymore, but we are experiencing abundance because now we’ve set into motion these powerful dynamics.
Look at the scriptures. The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 9”6, “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.”
What this is saying is very simple. Your reaping is in direct proportion to your sowing. In other words, if you are a cheap penny pincher and that’s what you sow, guess what you get back? The same thing. But if you are a generous giver, a generous sower so to speak, you will reap back generously.
And I tell you, sometimes I wish I could just slide in beside people. I wish I could just tell you just how real this is. This really does work. This is not just words in a book. This is a dynamic that comes into play and when you begin to trust God, and take this seriously, and begin to be excellent givers, you will see this dynamic working in your life.
You know, my wife and I have been married a little over twenty-six years. This dynamic has been a part of our lives. We’ve learned over the years to get better and better; but we’ve seen God work in our lives. In fact, the other day I was sitting down kind of going back historically over our married life looking at all of the things that God has done. And there were just too many of them to even begin talking about them. In fact, even if I were to tell you some of the stories, and some of them I’m not at liberty to tell you, you wouldn’t even believe me.
In fact, just recently, my daughter got married. Well, prior to the wedding, we knew that the young man she was dating that this was kind of leaning toward, “Well, you know what? They could get engaged.” And that marriage was on the horizon. We were excited about that, but we also knew that weddings can be kind of well, they can be rather what? Costly. Right. But you know what? It’s our little girl, so it doesn’t matter. But the interesting thing is that several months prior to their getting engaged, a gift from a very unlikely source rolled in that covered not only the cost of that wedding, but it allowed us to also bless many others in the process of that wedding as well. Who did that? My Father did that. I can’t out give him.
Some of you are looking at me going, “Oh, yeah, Tracy, but he likes you better. You’re a pastor. You work for the church. You’ve got an inside track with God.”
Guys, it doesn’t work that way. You know how it works? It works when you and I as men and women take seriously the Word of God and learn to be excellent givers. And as we do, we put into play this dynamic that those who sow generously will reap generously.
People ask me, “Do you give in order to get?” No. I don’t give to get. I give because that’s the heart of God in me. But I also know that God is going to give back. He tells me so in his Word. And I also know and have learned over many years, I can never ever out give him. And when you learn to be generous givers; when you learn to open your hands up; when you stop living closed-fisted, but open them up, and excel in giving, you will see lack move to abundance. And as you do that, then you will anxiety move to confidence.
FROM ANXIETY TO CONFIDENCE
Let me show you something. This is great. Look at what Jesus said in Matthew’s Gospel. He said in Matthew 6:25, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear…” In other words, Jesus is saying to us, “Quit worrying about the day to day necessities. Your Father knows you have need of those things. So don’t worry about them.” Then he went on to say in Matthew 6:33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given you as well.”
In other words, if you and I will seek the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness, Jesus promises that all the things that we need of life, they will be there. God will provide. It’s going to be alright.
Well, what does it mean to seek the kingdom of God? Well, all that means is this. Put God in his proper place in your life. That expression “kingdom of God” means the reign or the rule of God. It means that you and I get to the place where we recognize, “I’m not in charge. God is. God rules over my life. He is for me, not against me. He loves me with a love that I can’t even begin to understand and I submit my life to his rule, his reign, in my life.”
Then as I do so, I seek his righteousness, or more literally, his right way of doing things. What is God’s right way of doing things? Right here—this book we call the Bible. When you and I begin to learn what it is that God expects of us, when we begin to learn these dynamic principles of life that God gives us he will take care of us. We don’t just learn what God wants just for the sake of knowing these principles. In other words, we’re not just walking around with a lot of head knowledge so we can impress our buddies, “Let me tell you what I’ve learned…” No. Put it into practice. When we actually begin to obey the Word of God, when we put him in his proper place, when we begin to live life his right way, he will take care of all the rest.
You know what? This is probably a good time to do this. There are lots of things that God tells us to do here in his Word, lots of basic principles. But there is one that I have found in here that if you will put this into play in your life, if you will practice this, this is where the rubber meets the road. What is it? Well, it’s this little matter called “the tithe.”
What is the tithe? Well, check out the side screens again. Leviticus 27:30 says, “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the Lord.” But what does the word “tithe” mean? It means one tenth. That’s all it means—10%. And God was saying to the nation of Israel in Leviticus, “One-tenth of everything you produce, whether it is from your trees, from the grain of the ground, or even the animals that are not mentioned here,” God says, “The first ten per cent of any income or gain belongs to me.”
Now they were living in an agricultural economy, so obviously it was coming from the fruit of the trees, or the grain from the ground, or the animals that they raised. Well, you and I are not living in an agricultural economy in that way. What God is saying to us is the first ten per cent of all income or gain, God says, “That belongs to me. You bring that to me.”
Now, God doesn’t need our money. He has all of it already. But when you and I learn to bring the first dime out of every dollar of income we make, in other words, when we bring that tithe into Fellowship Church, what we are doing is, we are acknowledging in a very practical and a very tangible way, “God, I put you in your proper place in my life. I trust you.” And as we bring it, obviously, we are going to provide for the ministries here at Fellowship Church. But one of the most practical ways to put God first is this matter of the tithe.
For instance, every month I am paid twice a month here at Fellowship Church. And every month when that check goes into my account, I write out another check. That check is ten per cent of the gross amount of whatever it is I am making. Now, I round it up to the nearest dollar and I will bring that check in that weekend. And as I do, and it’s just something I like to do, I’ll pray over that check. I say, “God, this check is my tithe. This represents ten per cent of the income coming in my household this month at least at this time. It also represents the fact that you have always been faithful to provide for me and my family, and I acknowledge that and I acknowledge that you are God. You are the ruler over my life and as I bring it in, God, I just pray you would multiply this amount a thousand times over into the ministry of Fellowship Church.” It’s a lot of fun.
I can hear some of you going, “Whoa, whoa, whoa, time out. I can’t afford to do that.” Guys, listen to me. I can’t afford not to. Not because God is going to come down and beat me up. No. It’s because I’m going to miss out on all the blessings. God says, If you will do that, if you will tithe, I will pour out such blessing in your life, there will not be room enough to contain it.” And oh my, you are never going to know this until you do it.
Not too long ago I had a gentleman come up to me and say, “You know, when we first started coming to Fellowship Church, we heard this matter of the tithe and I reacted negatively to it. I thought, ‘No way!’ I would just stiffen every time I would hear it.” One day he said, “You know what, God, it’s in your word. You teach it in the Bible. Maybe we ought to give this a shot.” So he and his wife decided to do just that. He looked at me and he said, “You know what, Tracy? We have never looked back. I can’t even begin to tell you what God has done.”
I said, “You don’t have to. I already know. I mean, I’d love to hear your stories, but I already know. Because where it is with you, it’s the same with any and all who take God’s word seriously, who put God in his proper place.” Here is one of the most tangible ways to do that. And when we do, oh my… But being closed-fisted means I am always stingy, I am always hoarding, I’m always hanging on, and as a result, even though I think I’m going to have it, I never have enough. There is lack always in my life and it leads to an anxious way of living. I go to bed at night worrying about tomorrow.
Now let me ask you. Which do you want? Which do you want? It’s really up to you. It’s up to you. It’s up to me. It’s up to all of us. What kind of hands do you want? It’s all about the hands. Do you want to live closed-fisted? That’s your call. But that’s not really a way to live.
God says if you and I will open our hands and learn to be excellent givers, he will always cause more to come back. We will live a life of confidence because we will have a very positive outlook on life. Guys, life is way to short to live selfishly, to live closed-fisted. Let’s open our hands. That’s the better road.