A Plan for Being Generous by Pastor Leah Rosso

Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Luke 6:43-45

There’s a lot of fruit mentioned in our Scriptures this morning. In Deuteronomy the people bring their fruits fruits to God in worship. In the New Testament, Jesus tells us that a good tree produces good fruit. And with a little imagination, we can imagine what it was like for the Israelites who grew grapes and grain; who tended livestock; that their first fruits were ones of joy and relief. Like most farmers, they understood that their livelihood was tied to the earth and to the whims of weather, and so being able to finally see their crop would be a natural time of gratitude and relief— a brilliant time to worship and give their first fruits to God.

Today most of us live quite a bit further from the earth than that. We may have zucchini in abundance in our backyards if we did enough weeding this summer, but if your tomatoes looked like mine this year, which is to say miserable, I am just out a few bucks buying tomatoes. Most of us work and get a paycheck that seems at least one step removed— we can’t eat what we’re producing; instead we trade hours of work for the numbers in our bank account to go up. And so at some point we have to ask ourselves, what do those numbers mean to us?

In the Prepare/Enrich materials (1) that I use with couples who are getting married, I always recommend that they look at the Financial section. We all know that Finances are one of the biggest stressors in relationships, especially in marital relationships, and knowing how we view money can help us know why we’re disagreeing about how to spend it. I thought you all might want to participate in the quiz a bit this morning, so here goes:

One way we can relate to money, is that money equals status. You’ll know this is you if you agree to the following statements:
1) Look up to people who have been very financially successful.
2) In making a purchase, I consider what others will think of my choice.
3) Having high quality things reflects well on me.
4) It is important for me to maintain a lifestyle similar to or better than my peers.

A second way to relate to money, is that money equals security. You’ll know this is you if you agree to the following statements:
1) Having some money in savings is very important to me.
2) I would rather have extra money in the bank than some new purchase.
3) I prefer safe investing with a moderate return versus high risk investing with potentially high returns.
4) I feel more secure when I know we have enough money for our bills.

A third way people relate to money is that money equals enjoyment.
1) I really enjoy shopping and buying new things.
2) People who have more money have more fun.
3) I really enjoy spending money on myself and on others.
4) Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure helps.

And the fourth way people relate to money, is that money equals control:
1) He or she who controls the purse strings calls the shots.
2) I would be uncomfortable putting all my money into a joint account.
3) One of the important benefits of money is the ability to influence others.
4) I think we each should control the money we earn.

As you all can imagine, our relationship with money; how we understand its role in our lives and what it can get us, greatly influences what we choose to buy and how we choose to spend it. And it will also influence what jobs we choose to pursue, how important it is to us to make more money, and what we will do with the money that we earn.

When I met Michelle she had already taken Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace class and was managing her money well, but she told me about how she’d gotten herself in trouble. She was a person whose relationship to money had to do with enjoyment. So she had no qualms about spending her money. She would go into a store for something she felt she needed, and come out with new bedding, new shoes, and a gift for someone she loved. At first she thought it was unfortunate that she didn’t make more money, but as she began to explore her relationship with money, she realized that having more really wasn’t the problem. She knew, once she had some separation from buying the items, that they weren’t enhancing her quality of life, and so she began to practice what she called her 90 day policy. If she found something she really wanted, she would make an agreement with herself that if she still wanted it in 90 days, she would put it in her budget. But of course, what she found, is that usually just a week or two later, well before the 90 days, she most often had forgotten it altogether. She realized she could “earn” a lot of money just by not spending it in the first place! She practiced tithing, which she never thought she’d be able to do, and then found she enjoyed the things she did buy all that much more because she anticipated them. She no longer had a problem budgeting for what she needed and for much of what she wanted.

This, my dear friends, was long before amazon and the two day delivery. When you stop to think about it, Jeff Besos is the wealthiest man alive today because he figured out a way to tap into three of the four ways people have a relationship with money. With two day delivery those of us who see money as status can have everything needed to keep up and surpass the Jones’s before we ever see our credit card bill. With shopping at our fingertips, those of us who see money as enjoyment don’t even have to leave the comfort of our homes to buy things for ourselves and others. With the ability to share reviews, those of us who see money as control are able to influence what other people buy and keep tabs on what we’ve been spending our money on.

But guess what? Jeff Besos doesn’t need any more of our money. And in fact, that’s exactly why God encouraged the Israelite people to give of their first fruits instead of their last. Because by giving God our first fruits, it puts us in right alignment to have a healthy relationship with money in our lives.

When we give right off the top of every paycheck, before looking at what we need, we do two things for ourselves. We become the generous people that we all want to be— after all I’ve rarely met anyone who doesn’t want to be generous— and it reminds our brains that we have enough.

Remember last week when we talked about the scarcity mentality— that when we convince ourselves we don’t have enough, we cripple our ability to make wise decisions? When we give to God our first fruits— when we give a percentage of our income right off the top— we are telling our brains that we’re okay; that there is enough; and it actually makes us smarter and wiser in how we spend the other 90%.

I think about this every time I drop off a load of toys and clothes and who knows what else to Wacosa or Good Will. Some of it has been well worn and used and I can feel good about passing it on. But I always think as I’m dropping off items that were forgotten before they were fully used, what if I’d given away the money that was used to buy these things? What good could it be doing in the world— feeding the hungry, sheltering a homeless youth, empowering a Mom who has been abused to start a new healthy life— instead of taking my time and energy and gas money to get it to Wacosa to give it away? Todd and I are committed to our tithe; but there always seems to be more we could be giving away to make this world a more generous place for our children and for all children.

Which of course brings us to our why. As people of faith, why do we give our first fruits to God? Not only because it makes us healthier in our relationship with money and with one another; not only because it makes us emotionally happier; we give to God first because when we do so, we remember who we are and we remember who God is. As it says in Deuteronomy, when you bring your first fruits to God, say to the priest,

“A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labor on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.”

To keep in right relationship with God, we keep telling this story— that there were times our ancestors had nowhere to turn, and God provided. There were times when our ancestors were sunk by the powers that be in this world, and God brought us out to a land flowing with good things. There were times when my ancestors had nowhere to turn, and it was because of the generosity of God through neighbors and family and strangers in this world, that we did not starve and that I am here today. I did not pull myself up by my own bootstraps; in fact, God has had a hand in giving me a healthy body to be able to do work; a healthy mind with which to make a living; relationships that have produced good fruit; people who have cared for me and mentored me and helped me to be the person I am, and I owe it all to God. And for that, I give thanks. When we think of all that God has done for us, then a tithe, or 10% doesn’t seem like much.

But it takes planning to be generous. If you aren’t currently giving, then 10% might seem impossible, so start with something that’s just outside of your comfort zone. Planning to be a tree that bears good fruit takes intentional efforts and an intentional plan towards growth. So start today with something that’s just beyond your comfort zone, and see what God can do in your life when you put God first.

Once in awhile someone says to me that we shouldn’t talk about money in church. In Deuteronomy we see that one way God describes worship is giving our first fruits to God. There’s nothing else in this passage. That is worship. Worship equals generosity towards God.

So what is most important to you about all of this? How will you choose to become devoted to generosity and grow deeper in your faith because of your decision to give?

Resources Consulted/Cited:
1) Prepare/Enrich Materials for Pre-Marital Counseling
2) workingpreacher.org
3) Interpretation Bible Commentary. Deuteronomy