We are accountable to God for what we do with the time, talents and resources he has trusted to us. Stewardship is understanding that your life is not your own. Life is a gift from God and God calls us to steward everything about it and in it for his glory and the good of others.
- I will take the 3 Month Tithe Challenge.
- I will text “Tithe” to 925-275-5520.
- I will take Financial Peace University and get out of debt.
- I will move from giving nothing to giving something.
- I will move from occasional giving to consistently giving each month.
- I will begin tithing.
- I will give generously of my time and money.
Today, I want to talk about how to get rich. Aren’t you glad you decided to tune in today?
I want to contrast two different ways of getting rich – what might be called the way of conventional wisdom and the way of unconventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom is that money is just about math. The more you get, the richer you are. If you give some away, then you’re left with less, so you lose. It’s just a numbers deal.
Conventional wisdom says, “Make as much as you can and keep as much as you make, because the more you give, the less you have, and the less you give, the more you have.”
If you give nothing, then you have the maximum amount you can have. If you have ten dollars and you give one, ten minus one is nine. But if you have ten dollars and you give nothing, ten minus zero equals ten. Ten is more than nine. Are you with me so far? I know this is deep.
In other words, conventional wisdom is, “It’s just math. Keeping is the better strategy to get rich than giving. It’s just math. It’s just numbers.” But there’s another way. It’s the way of unconventional wisdom. And it’s counterintuitive. It’s talked about down through history from a lot of people, and never more clearly than from Jesus.
This is what Jesus said:
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.
You’ll notice this is not a command. Jesus isn’t saying here, “You ought to give.” You should, but that’s not what he’s saying here.
This is simply an observation about the way life works, about the way things are – that conventional wisdom is wrong.
And you can test this. There are moments when the heart is generous, and that’s when you know. When you start to look for it, you see this other way – unconventional wisdom – all throughout the Bible.
This is from the Old Testament, the book of Proverbs.
One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.
Once again, this is just a statement about the way things are. It could be empirically tested. When it comes to resources, finances, generosity, conventional wisdom is wrong. The old math will actually lead you astray.
People before Jesus saw this. Jesus saw it. People who followed Jesus saw this. Here’s one more passage. This is from the apostle Paul, but there are dozens of them in Scripture and elsewhere. Paul writes:
Remember this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
As it is written: “They have freely scattered their gifts to the poor; their righteousness endures forever.” [This is just the way things are.]
Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
Paul says, “I want you to think of generosity not in terms of having or losing, but sowing and reaping.” This puts it in another category altogether.
Think about Paul’s picture for a moment.
There has really, in the history of the human race, only been one major economic revolution.
We live in the Bay Area and pride ourselves on technology; there was the industrial revolution; but there’s only one revolution that really changed things. For who knows how long, human beings roamed from one place to another. They lived from one day to the next. They scavenged and foraged for food wherever they could find it.
Until one day, the greatest innovator in human history (we don’t even know their name) made a discovery and looked for some investors and told them, “I want you to give me whatever grains, whatever seeds you’ve found that you’ve been storing up so you could eat them. Instead of keeping them to eat, which is what we’ve always done, I’m going to put them in the ground. I know this sounds dumb. I get it. But I’ve discovered something about the nature of reality previously unknown to the human race that’s going to blow your mind. If you take your supply of seed and put it in the ground (I call this sowing), something happens. Some kind of power gets unleashed. I don’t understand it. I don’t get it. It’s like something up in the sky says to something down in the ground, ‘Hey, wake up! Come alive. Grow.’ And it does. I know it sounds crazy, but it works. Trust me. Run a little test.”
This is the very first start-up. It’s actually how start-ups got their name. You put a little seed in the ground and it starts up. Okay I just made that up. God says generosity is that way. Money is that way. Take some of what you have (he told Israel 10 percent) and sow it. Give it away. It sounds crazy. I know it does. But if you do, something happens. Some kind of power gets unleashed. It’s like something in the sky says to something on the earth, “Wake up. Come alive. Grow.” And it does. If you sow richly, you will reap richly. Give, and you will be given to.
Understand, this is not about a prosperity gospel. This is not a sneaky way to gain wealth. In fact, if you’re aiming at gaining wealth, you’ll go wrong every time. Paul says:
You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion…
You may be thinking, “Somebody ought to put this idea to the test to see if it can be empirically verified.”
Well it turns out, someone has.
I read a great book the last couple of weeks. It’s called The Paradox of Generosity. It’s written by a sociologist at Notre Dame named Christian Smith.
He’s doing an amazing work in our day. He’s done kind of the definitive research, the definitive study, to look at the impact of generosity on the lives of real people.
He surveyed over 2,000 people in a national survey, and then did in-depth interviews with a number of the people.
They used the best tools of social science to look at, “What does generosity do for people? Is conventional wisdom right? If you give it away, do you lose it? Or is unconventional wisdom right?”
I’ll give you this summary. This is what Smith writes:
Generosity is paradoxical. Those who give, receive back in turn. By spending ourselves for others’ well-being, we enhance our own standing. In letting go of some of what we own, we better secure our own lives. By giving ourselves away, we ourselves move toward flourishing. This is not only a philosophical or religious teaching; it is a sociological fact.
The generosity paradox can also be stated in the negative. By grasping onto what we currently have, we lose out on better goods that we might have gained. In holding onto what we possess, we diminish its long-term value to us. By always protecting ourselves against future uncertainties and misfortunes, we are affected in ways that make us more anxious about uncertainties and vulnerable to future misfortunes. In short, by failing to care for others, we do not properly take care of ourselves.
This is an amazing study. Again, it’s based on empirical research. Whatever you think about what the Bible or other spiritual traditions say about generosity, this is just based on empirical research.
Throughout the book, he contrasts two different ways of life: the generous heart – people who regularly, freely give a significant portion of their valued resources, their time and money, away to others, to help others.
Versus the ungenerous heart – people who do not regularly and freely give away their valued resources, their time and money, to others.
It turns out that in every dimension studied – in your happiness, in your physical health, in having a purpose for living, in the avoidance of depression, in personal growth – generous people are enriched in every way and ungenerous people are diminished in every way.
It turns out Jesus was right. Go figure. It turns out that ungenerosity actually costs more than generosity in every regard. To illustrate how this works, I’m going to look at maybe the most spectacularly ungenerous heart in the Bible. It belonged to a guy named Pharaoh.
This is what the writer of Scripture says in the book of Exodus:
Then a new king, to whom Joseph meant nothing came to power in Egypt. “Look,” he said to his people, “the Israelites have become far too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.” So they put slave masters over the Israelites to oppress them with forced labor, and the Israelites built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh.
Christian Smith found that one of the ways generosity leads to flourishing is that generosity tends to reduce what he calls maladaptive self-absorption.
It turns out that ungenerous people tend to fixate on themselves and only think about their own problems and obsess over their own self-worth. Pharaoh is kind of the poster boy for maladaptive self-absorption. All he can think about is himself, and it impoverishes his heart. – “I have to have more slaves so I can have more bricks so I can have more storage units so I can keep more grain so I can hoard more wealth.”
“How much do you have?”
“How much do you need?”
Pharaoh is the richest guy in Egypt, and Pharaoh is the most financially insecure guy in Egypt. He is miserable over what he might lose. It’s a miserable life. Smith also found ungenerous hearts pay a relational cost. Moses is sent to Pharaoh. Moses says:
This is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: ‘Let my people go, so that they may hold a festival to me in the wilderness.’
Here’s what Pharaoh doesn’t say. Pharaoh doesn’t say, “Moses, tell me more. How are your people doing? Are working conditions okay? Is everyone getting enough to eat? Are there opportunities for advancement for the people? Is morale high?”
Pharaoh knows if he’s generous with them, if he allows them time off, it means less bricks for him, so he’s not going to be generous. His goal is more bricks. He needs Israel to be more motivated. How do you motivate people? Well, Pharaoh has an idea.
That same day Pharaoh gave this order to the slave drivers and overseers in charge of the people: “You are no longer to supply the people with straw for making bricks; let them go and gather their own straw. But require them to make the same number of bricks as before; don’t reduce the quota. They are lazy; that is why they are crying out, ‘Let us go and sacrifice to our God.’ Make the work harder for the people…”
[Then Pharaoh says to the Israelites… people with more often say this to people who have less.]
“Lazy, that’s what you are––lazy! Now get to work. You will not be given any straw, yet you must produce your full quota of bricks.”
People with ungenerous hearts have a way of developing a distorted view of other people, and it leaves them all alone.
We’ll dig into this a little more in just a moment.
There’s a woman at Princeton named Susan Fiske. She’s done some fascinating research on how we look at the poor.
She’s done a lot of research around stereotyping, and she says in stereotyping people, we use two main dimensions.
Let’s say you see a stranger in an alley. You tend to rate them or evaluate them or judge them along two lines:
“Do they intend good or harm for me?” That’s warmth.
Then, “Are they able to carry their intention out or not?” That’s competence.
We tend to put people in one of four quadrants based on high or low warmth and high or low competence.
There are people we consider to be high in warmth, they’re good people, and high in competence, they’re strong. They’re able to do what they want to do. These are our heroes. We admire these people. I want to show you some people who belong in this category.
We live in the Bay Area so San Francisco baseball players like Buster Posey and Brandon Crawford would be in this quadrant. Are they not guys Jesus clearly loves? Anyway, we love those guys because they’re high in warmth, meaning they have good hearts. And they’re high in competence, they’re able to do what they want.
Then there are people we’d say are high in competence, but we kind of don’t like them. We don’t think a whole lot of them. I want you to see some people who fit in this category.
These are the New York Yankees. We tend to envy these people because they win things like the World Series, but we don’t like them.
Fiske says we admire them like greedy rich people. We might put in this category beautiful movie stars who are kind of selfish. High in competence but not very warm. We envy them.
Then there are some people our hearts move toward, we’d put them in a high warmth category, but they’re low in competence. We pity these people. Again, here are some people who fit in this category. I love these guys, but they’re kind of losers.
There’s one more quadrant. This is the interesting one. This is the only one where there’s nothing positive about this quadrant at all.
These are people who are low in warmth, we don’t like them, and they’re low in competence. They can’t do anything.
Again, a picture of people who go in that quadrant. Now, I know the Dodgers won the World Series last year, but it was 2020 so does anything really count in sports that year?
Susan Fiske says these people elicit contempt, which is true for Cub fans and Giant fans. Alright, true confession, I don’t hate the Dodgers. I do enjoy messing with my friends who are Dodger fans though.
Here’s what’s very interesting. In her research, she says that in our society, we put homeless people in this quadrant.
It’s so interesting. There’s a lot of stuff that can be done now in neuroscience by using brain scans. Neuroimaging shows that when people look at images of extreme poverty, of the poor, the same part of their brain is active as when they look at objects. In other words, at the brain level, at the level of our deeply embodied habits, we don’t think of them as people with the same hopes and feelings and dreams and hurts as us.
The number one emotional response to the poor in our day is contempt.
Babies don’t do that. We have to learn to look at the poor with contempt. And we do.
What’s really interesting is when Jesus came to earth, he was God incarnate. You don’t get higher in competence than that. You don’t get higher in warmth. But Jesus was homeless. Jesus said, “Birds have their nests, foxes have their holes, but the Son of Man [that is, Jesus] has no place to lay his head.”
I want to say this to you if you’re a follower of Jesus. Maybe you’re not. This is just for you if you follow Jesus.
Shane Claiborne put it like this: “You can’t worship a homeless man on Sunday and ignore one on Monday.”
Jesus said, “Whatever you do for the least of these, you do for me.” He said, “When you see one of these people, you’re looking at me.”
When I’m on the street and I see a homeless person, when I see someone who’s really poor, the same part of my brain ought to light up that would light up if I was looking at Jesus.
Generous hearts start to move toward this. Generous hearts begin to build bridges. Ungenerous hearts build walls. People who keep clutching and holding on to their money get a little poorer every year in every regard. Another cost is ungenerous people have a lower sense of meaning and purpose in their lives when they wake up every day.
Instead of being the oppressor of Israel, which Pharaoh was, he could have been the hero of Israel. He could have said, “I want you to go. I want you to worship your God. I’m giving you that freedom. I’ll be your benefactor. I’ll be your champion. I’ll believe in you. I’ll be your friend.”
He could have been the liberator of Israel. They would have cheered him and loved him.
Instead of doing that, he was building himself a pyramid.
Do you know what went inside a pyramid?
He was saying, “I’m going to build the world’s greatest building, and then when I die, I’ll move my dead carcass in there, and everybody will go, ‘Wow! How impressive is that?'” Ungenerous hearts end up living for wretched, miserable little egos, and they build giant monuments into which their dead carcass can be stored. Another cost of the ungenerous heart Christian Smith found was anxiety. Ungenerous people become increasingly anxious people.
It turns out that ungenerous people rationalize their ungenerosity by convincing themselves day after day, and year after year that the world is a place of scarcity, that the world is a place of “not enough-ness.” “I have to hang on to every single dollar I can, because my clutching is actually justified by what a wretched world this is.”
Here’s the thing. As long as money is the chief source of my security, money will be the chief source of my anxiety. It’s just that way.
That’s why we live in the most affluent age in human history in the middle of unbelievable financial anxiety. Smith puts it like this:
“Practicing generosity requires and reinforces the perception of living in a world of abundance and blessing.”
Jesus said one day, “Look at the birds of the air. They do not sow or reap or store in barns, and yet our heavenly Father feeds them every day.”
It turns out practicing generosity requires and reinforces the perception of living in a world of abundance and blessing, which itself also increases happiness and health.
*It turns out the universe we inhabit is located in a spiritual reality that favors generosity. *It turns out you were hardwired to give.
*And it turns out you reap what you sow.
Smith writes about the joy of people who’ve discovered this. Again, this is just empirical verification.
One of the generous people he studied is a guy named Ken Walker, a guy who’s generous with his money and generous with his time. He also gives blood. Now mostly you don’t think of getting stuck by a needle and giving away blood as a joyful thing.
This is basically what Ken said: “I’m extremely competitive. I started giving blood at work. I think they came in three or four times a year. I would give blood. I was also training hard and really fit. They would come and give instructions about the pint and that it should take four minutes to give a pint of blood and how everyone’s blood typically comes out with all that brown sludge, chocolate syrup color. Mine was eraser pink, and I’m just cranking out a pint in 2 minutes and 47 seconds.” He’s timing it. “They’re like, ‘What are you doing?’ I’m like, ‘I’m winning!'”
The guy is pouring out his blood, and he thinks he’s winning. Oddly enough, it turns out that having your body give blood and have to regenerate blood actually boosts the oxygen content of the blood in your body. It actually makes your blood transport more efficiently. It turns out even your body, even your blood, is somehow hardwired to give. What a weird world. It’s like give, and it will be given to you… even in your blood.
Someone ought to test that. How about you? If you’re new to Blue Oaks, there’s a thing we do to test God on this whole generosity deal. It’s called the tithe challenge. God says, “Test me in this. Just test me in this.”
So you can run your own little experiment. Hundreds of people have done this at Blue Oaks. That’s part of why I’m so unapologetic about this challenge.
The challenge is to tithe for ninety days.
You can sign up by texting the word Tithe to 925-275-5520.
Tithe for ninety days, and if God is not clearly blessing you, if what Paul describes… “You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion.”
If that’s not happening, we will gladly return that tithe money to you, no questions asked. Someone asked me a question about this. He said, “I tithe with my time so I don’t have to tithe with my money. Isn’t that good?”
Well, that idea is actually not in the Bible. In fact, it’s kind of interesting. Smith discovered that generous people tend to be generous with both their money and their time, and ungenerous people tend to be ungenerous with both their money and their time. The two tend very much to go together.
In fact, when God delivered Israel from slavery, he gave them both the practice of tithing (“I want you to regard the first 10 percent of your income as mine; it belongs to me”) and the practice of Sabbath. God said, “I want you to regard the first day of the week as mine, as belonging to me.”
Of course, that had very serious financial implications.
The people of Israel were not observing the Sabbath in Egypt. Pharaoh would never allow something like that, because that was one day a week of bricks for Pharaoh. It’s like God is saying, “Hey Israel, 90 percent of your income with my blessing is more than 100 percent without it. Hey Israel, 6 days of your week with my blessing is more time than 7 days. Test me on this.”
I don’t know about you, but I can be stingier with my time. I can sometimes hoard my time even more than I can my money. Well, we want to be a church that’s financially generous but also alive in serving and volunteering. So maybe part of growing in generosity for you will be, “God, how are you calling me to be generous with my time and my energy and my talents as well as with my money?”
Because give, and it will be given to you. That’s the universe in which we live. As you sow, you will reap. One day the greatest man who ever lived said:
Truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed, but if it dies, it produces many seeds. In the same way, anyone who holds on to their life will lose it, but if you let it go in reckless love, you will have it forever, real and eternal.
That’s just an observation about the way things are. Someone ought to test that.
Well, someone did. The writer of Scripture says that for the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross. For the joy that was set before him, Jesus poured out his blood like he thought he was winning, and they buried his dead body in the ground like you do a seed, like you do a kernel of wheat.
Then… I know it sounds crazy… something happened. Some kind of power got unleashed. Someone in the sky said to someone in the ground, “Wake up. Come alive.” And he did. It’s true. It’s all true. And it’s the reality in which we live. There are moments when the heart is generous, and then it knows. This is your moment, and this is your heart. Let me close with a word of prayer:
Heavenly Father, you know the truth about us, about me. I just have a “clutchy” little heart. God, I pray for our church, that you will help us to die to all the clutching and the fear and the anxiety and the self-obsession that kills us. God, would you help us die to all of that, just bury it all and come alive.
God, I want to live in that world where little birds are fed by a heavenly Father. I want to live in that reality and security and ease and freedom that Jesus knew. I want to have a heart, God, that aches and eyes that look with great love and hands that are wide open to people who have nothing, who are poor, who suffer. In our best selves, God, we all want that. Would you help us, God? We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.
Blue Oaks Church