Sermon delivered December 10 by Jim Hoffer

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Doing it God's Way

Malachi 3:10-12

(RealAudio Version available)

I'm going to be speaking on stewardship this morning and that's always a subject that sometimes makes people uncomfortable and I want to make you feel really comfortable this morning.  I want you to focus on the positive.  Focus on the blessings that God can provide as our Scripture reading so eloquently said.  When we do it God's way, we're always blessed, even if in the case of Abel he lost his life over it, but I'm sure that he'll have a wonderful eternal reward.  Aren't you?  It all had to do with offerings.  In this case, either the lamb or the produce.  You know the story well. 

A number of years ago when I was pastoring I was doing some routine pastoral visitation and I walked into a particular home and there in the living room was something that I had never seen there before.  It was way back when for the very first time those very large screen TVs came out.  Now that's been awhile.  Back when they first came out they were extremely expensive.  I'm guessing around $3000 or something.  I didn't say anything and I kept my composure.  I didn't want to let on like I was upset or anything but inwardly I felt very upset because as a member of the executive committee and the finance committee of our local church school I knew that this family owed the school about $4000 in back tuition.  And here they had gone out and bought this TV for probably 3000 or something. 

That picture doesn't compute, does it?  As it so often happens, sometimes when people are kind of slipping away from the church they reinvest their resources in boats or TVs or whatever.  Anyway, that's kind of a negative thing and I don't want to dwell too much on that. 

The positive thing is that God has promised a blessing.  I will pour out a blessing so great that you will not have room to take it in.  I deliberately left out verse nine that has the curses, because I want us to focus on the blessings this morning.

Do you know the story of sister Betsy?  Back in the very earliest days of our domination, even before it was officially organized, there was a need in the church to provide for the church workers.  The pastors and so on, because they would go and preach here, there and everywhere and the congregation would just take up a little offering for them and that was it.  There was no systematic way of supporting God's work. 

So they began to put together a plan.  How would you like this plan for you today?  Let each brother from 18 to 60 years of age lay by him in store on the first day of each week from 5 to 25 cents.  I could handle that couldn't you?  Each sister from 18 to 60 years of age, lay by her in store on the first day of each week from 2 to 10 cents.  Also let each brother and sister lay by him and her in store on the first day of each week from 1 to 5 cents on each and every hundred dollars of property they possess.  Well this was done by a commitee and was the best they could do at the time, but they called it systematic benevolence and it became known in some circles as sister Betsy and with slight modification it was adopted and then finally later on, not too many years later they came up to the actual regular tithing principle after studying intently the holy Scriptures and they went to that. 

Some basic principles just quickly here.  One of them is simply, trust in God.  God can handle it.  He can handle us.  He can provide for us if we're faithful to him.  That's a very important thing to remember.  Vera and I have always tithed.  We learned tithing from our parents, from our church school. It was never an issue.  All through our lives to this very day, we've always been faithful in our tithing.  Even when it was hard.  I have no idea how we ever did it, putting 4 children through church school, Academy and College.  It's absolutely unbelievable what God can do, but somehow we did it. 

Now I want to show you something interesting.  This was in the Review a couple of months ago.  I want to focus on one thing in particular from this article.  This is probably the very latest figure on per capita giving, per year, per Adventist member in the North American division.  $811.  Now that sounds a little low because it takes into consideration that there are baptized children.  There are also unfaithful members who are on the books. 

But I want to show you something interesting.  We're going to look at McDonald Road and I thought you'd appreciate this.  I got with our treasurer and I said, how much tithe has McDonald Road given?  Where do we fall within that statistic.  So our tithe last year, 2010, was a million and a half dollars, which broken down by membership, 1054, comes out to 1,479.  McDonald Road members are really, really faithful.  Praise the Lord.  You are almost double the national average, and that in an area, at least in Hamilton County, where the median income is $39,000.  So that is a very good sign that God's people are faithful. 

But perhaps, there is someone here who doesn't quite follow the tithing plan and you need a little word of encouragement.  The second principle of stewardship is honesty.  I had something happen to me when I was a missionary in Brazil.  I did a lot of traveling.  I was the stewardship secretary for the whole state of Santa Catarina where we were living.  In my travels, of course, I had to stop for gas and so on, so I stopped at this truck stop one day.  I filled my car and went into the office to pay and he took my money and he said, now, how much do you want me to write down on the receipt.  I said, what?!  Yeah, how much do you want me to write down on the receipt?  I said to myself, I don't get it.  He said, well, we can put more on here then you can turn it in to your place of employment and get reimbursed and you'll have a little profit there.  Oh my goodness.  I couldn't believe what this man was saying.  Evidently this was a common thing that was done because he handled lots of truck drivers.  These truck drivers would go out.  They would fill their trucks with diesel and they would take their receipts back and get reimbursed on their travel report and they were ripping off their employers.  I thought, what a world we live in.  I'm sure there's lots of that kind of thing going on everywhere we go, even in America here. 

The third basic principle of stewardship is ownership.  That God owns everything.  We don't own anything.  Our houses, our cars, our lands, whatever.  It all belongs to God.  All the animals of the forest are mine and I own the cattle on 1000 hills.  I know every bird on the mountains and all the animals of the field are mine.  If I were hungry I would not tell you, for all the world is mine, and everything in it.  God owns it all and God, let me tell you, can be trusted. 

I have some stories to tell you.  For example, here's one.  God provides for us in ways that we haven't even thought of.  This suit that I'm wearing this morning, for example.  Several years ago we were living in St. Joseph Michigan and pastoring the Benton Harbor and Coloma churches near Andrews.  We got a call from our neighbor across the street and she said, Jim and Vera, we're going to be having a yard sale and my husband has several suits that look like they might fit you.  He's not wearing suits anymore.  He's been a limousine driver for the Whirlpool Corporation in Benton Harbor for years and now they've gone casual and he doesn't have to wear a suit anymore.  So why don't you come over and look at these suits.  I bought five suits, nearly new, that fit me without one iota of alteration.  Five suits for $75.  $15 for this suit and I've already worn it now for about 15 or 16 years.  Fortunately now I don't wear suits that often now that I'm retired but that is amazing.  God is truly amazing. 

The fourth principle is called truth in tithing.  Some people probably don't understand this principle, but the treasurer has several little boxes that she puts the money in.  If you don't designate which box it goes in, it's not going to go where you thought it was going to go.  For example if you just put some money loose in the plate and think it's tithe, it's not going to be tithe, because it hasn't been designated for tithe.  It hasn't been put in an envelope.  I'm going to show you the boxes.  Here they are.  Here's the little boxes that the treasurer has and she wants you to put on there, tithe, church budget, or whatever and either cash or check, whatever is fine.  Some people like me give electronically over the Internet.  It's the best system that has ever been devised and believe me the Adventist church has prospered way beyond our imagination because of faithful stewardship by its members.

Have you ever heard the story of the bills.  This is interesting.  The story is told that the hundred and the 50 and the 20 and so on got together one day and started asking each other where they had been.  The hundred dollar bill said, oh, I've been to country clubs.  I've been to ritzy hotels.  I've taken European vacations.  The $50 bill said, well, I've been to Disney World.  I've been to some really nice restaurants.  Professional ballgames.  The 20 said, well I've been to the gas station, pizza places, bowling alley.  The $10 bill said, I've been to the grocery store, and the pharmacy and such.  The five dollar bill said, well, I've been to the ice cream stand and fast food restaurants and even the two dollar bill said, well, I've been to racetracks.  And the one dollar bill, all the other bills gathered around him and said, where have you been?  And the poor little one dollar bill hung his head and he said, church, church, church.  Poor little one dollar bill.  Some people are giving the same dollar bill they gave 100 years ago and still think it's worth a dollar, but it's not. 

But we have to be honest.  Sometimes bad things happen, even to tithers.  There are people here, I'm sure, who were affected by the tornado last April.  We had just moved in a few weeks before and fortunately our house wasn't touched but there was some serious damage.  It missed us fortunately, we didn't even lose power that night but it was a terrible thing. 

Regardless of facing loss and disaster, and we have also been there at different times in our life also, beside the challenge of putting kids through school and raising a family, but God has always come through and sometimes even in adversity God is the closest to us.  We feel a closeness to God because of adversity.  More often than we do for prosperity, because sometimes when we get prosperous we relax and life is great and everything seems fine. 

I want to tell you one more story.  It happened to us.  I'm going to have to give you a little geography lesson this morning.  We were missionaries in the country of Uruguay, the first place we went to back in 1970.  You can see Uruguay on the map, it's way way down on the Atlantic side of South America.  Almost down to Argentina. 

In 1973 we were coming back home for our furlough to the U.S., but we were also in the process of moving up to southern Brazil, about 600 miles up the coast to a little town called Florianopolis.  I was going to be the departmental secretary for the Santa Catarina mission.  So before we left for furlough we packed up all our things and stored them at the division office in Montevideo.  Then we flew up.  We routed our tickets so that we could stop and see the new place that we were going to be living.  Something about it.  How it looked and so on and meet the president there and the other workers in the new place.  On the way home we stopped in Bolivia for a short visit with some friends and got to do some sight-seeing.  Then we headed home to the U.S.  We made a few other stops also.  We took our furlough at this time and during our time there we studied Portuguese which was a new language for us. 

When we came back, we returned to São Paulo and there is the union office for the South Brazilian union.  We ordered ourselves a new Volkswagen station wagon, known down there as the Valienti.  Up here it was called the model 411.  Then we flew to Florianopolis to begin working and to wait to hear about our new car.  It was from an Adventist dealer there in São Paulo.  We waited and waited and waited.  Days passed and nothing was happening.  We couldn't figure out why.  We found out later why because God had a plan. 

In the meantime we had received a settlement check from the division office for our furlough and some other expenses.  It was several thousand dollars.  We knew it was coming and it was just exactly what we needed to buy our new car.  So I cashed the check, put the money in the drawer, locked the drawer and we waited.  No call from São Paulo.  I called him back.  I said, what's up with our car.  They said, well, we don't know.  It hasn't arrived yet for some reason. 

A couple days later I got to thinking, oh my, I haven't paid tithe on that money.  Oh dear, now what do I do?  If I pay tithe on that money I won't have enough for the car.  What am I going to do?  What are we going to do?  I wrestled with that.  Told Vera what was happening.  We wrestled with that for a couple days.  Finally I could stand it no longer.  I reached in that drawer and I took out the 10% for the Lord and I walked over to the treasurer's office and turned in that tithe.  I had no idea how the Lord was going to get us out of that one. 

Went home for lunch.  We had lunch always at our own place because it was just across the way in the mission compound.  We prayed about it.  That very afternoon a letter was placed on my desk that had been mailed from Montevideo several days earlier, probably a week or a week and a half.  It was from the new mission president of the Uruguay mission.  His name was Charles Griffin.  He had previously lived in Brazil.  Had a Brazilian car.  Drove it to Montevideo expecting to transfer it to that new country of residence and discovered that the taxes were so high, the import duty was so high, that he could not keep the car. 

He wrote us a letter.  He said Jim and Vera, we have this car.  We're going to need to sell it.  Would you be interested?  Well guess what?  It was the exact same car that we wanted, and it only had about 7500 miles on it.  He said, would you be interested?  Well guess what?  Yes we would, because what he wanted was the amount of money that we had left. 

Since we still had unused tickets, airline tickets for that part of the journey because of the round-trip arrangement that the division made, we flew down to Montevideo.  We bought the car.  We visited friends and family.  We stuffed our car with as many household goods as we possibly could.  Even on the roof rack.  When we got to the border you should've seen the border inspectors there.  We got through.  They looked in and saw the 4 children in there.  We drove all the way back to Florianopolis.  A journey of about 1000 miles.

So here's a summary.  Before leaving Montevideo, we had packed up all of our household goods.  We were basically camping out in our apartment in Florianopolis with four kids and borrowed furniture, dishes and stuff.  The division had purchased us round-trip tickets, never imagining that we might need them later.  The car that we had ordered from the dealer in São Paulo was delayed just long enough.  By the way, we called and canceled the order.  The letter from Uruguay arrived just hours from the time that I turned in the tithe.  The car that was offered to us was the exact car that we had hoped for, hardly used, and the asking price was equal to what we had left, and the money that we saved on the purchase was three times the amount of the tithe.  Imagine that. 

As we contemplate God's miracle, every day is a miracle with every one of his faithful children.  Your miracles may be different from mine and we may not always recognize them but they are there nevertheless.

Hymn of Praise: #590, Trust and Obey
Scripture: Malachi 3:10-12
Hymn of Response: Duet by Jim & Vera Hoffer

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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Steve Foster 12/26/11