WHERE YOUR HEART IS PART 3
by Pastor Mike Fortune
February 7, 2009
Introduction Video: Nick Vujicic in Colombia Prison
Tithing our talents means...
- Admitting we're powerless [Luke 19:1-4; Lamentations 3:21-23 NLT; Luke 21:1-4]
- Sharing our passions [Luke 19:5-7; Acts 17:6; Romans 14:7-9]
- Living prioritized lives [Luke 19:8-10; Matthew 6:33; James 1:2-4; 22]
Nick Vujicic [Vooey-Cheech] is 25 years old. He was born December 4th, 1982 in Melbourne, Australia without arms or legs and given no medical reason for his condition. Faced with countless challenges and obstacles, God has given him the strength to surmount what others might call impossible. He has not only completed separate Bachelors degrees in Accounting and Financial Planning, he's also become completely independent and can take care of all his personal needs—everything from brushing his teeth and combing his hair to dressing up and taking care of his personal hygiene, including shaving. He gets around the house by jumping and outside the house an electric wheelchair assists him. For recreation, Nick enjoys swimming, fishing and playing soccer.
But what's occupying most of his time in recent years though, is telling people in schools, churches, prisons, orphanages, hospitals, stadiums and in face-to-face encounters that God has a plan and a purpose for their lives. And he's shared that with thousands of people from all over the world. Even to some of the most hard core prisoners in Colombia as our video clip revealed.
And because God gave Nick talents that not even Nick or his parents knew about, and because God filled Nick with power, passion, and God's priorities, we can be sure that God will do that with us as well. If like Nick we tithe our talents. Because we all have some. Even if you think you don't, you do. And that is what we're gonna talk about today in part three of our sermon series Where Your Heart Is. Part one was all about the heart transplant God wants to give us. So we will be open to the demands of grace in our lives. Part two was about tithing our time. So we might consider shifting the mission of the church from our rapidly shrinking leisure time to the 80 hours of our ordinary core time comprising most of our ordinary lives each week.
If you missed either of those, I encourage you to go to the church website and click on sermons on the left side of the page. It will take you to a page where you can read, watch, or listen to the entire series. It's important for all of us at Toledo First to do so. Because as a church family, it's becoming increasingly clear to me that we must become more proactive in taking a holistic approach to the stewardship of our time, talents, and treasure. Not just because people like Kendra are getting older [just joking], but because giving trends are changing and because in actual fact, none of our time, talents, and treasure is ours. It's all Gods. And has been long before the economy tanked.
Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus
But before we go any further, let's open our Bibles to another familiar but challenging story that Jesus told. This one is recorded in the Gospel of Luke chapter 19:1-10. And it says, "1Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. 5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.' " 8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount." 9Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost."
Ezra 2:9 and Nehemiah 7:14 mentions a guy named Zakkai. Which is a name that means "pure." The Greek version of that Hebrew word is Zacchaeus. And while it's kind of a weird name today, it wasn't uncommon then. I hope I didn't just offend someone here today named Zacchaeus!!! How ironic would that be? The Bible actually does say, like the children's song, that he was a wee little man [Luke 19:3]. Or at least little enough to climb a tree to see over the crowd surrounding Jesus. But it also says he was "Chief among the publicans."
His job according to extra-biblical sources like the historian Josephus, was to collect two kinds of tax. The first was called a poll tax [tributum capiti]. Which was something the Israelites paid to Rome for the privilege of being an occupied country subservient to Rome's rulers and governors. The other tax was a land tax [tributum agri]. Which the Jews found just as offensive. Since they already knew that God, not Rome, owned all the land in the earth [Psalm 24:1].
Although nobody liked paying taxes, and still don't, historians say the high priest Joazar persuaded them to pay it anyway. Specifically in response to the census ordered by the Roman governor Quirinus around 6AD. But after he did, a radical leader named Judas the Galiliean rose up in revolt against the taxation [Josephus, Antiquities xviii.1.1]. Acts 5:37 confirms that this Judas the Galilean, not the Judas who betrayed Jesus before hanging himself, a different Judas led a band of people in revolt but was killed doing so and all his followers scattered.
After that, Rome made no further attempts to tax the Jews directly. Instead they divided the land into areas and auctioned off the job of collecting taxes in an area to the highest bidder. Which meant that only wealthy men were able to bid high enough at the auction to acquire the position. And once they did so, they were required to pay a stipulated sum into the royal Roman treasury irrespective of how much was actually collected. Which meant the Chief Publicans needed lots of people working for them to collect the taxes to pay Rome lots of money. Plus, they wanted to make money. So they collected more than they needed. And Zacchaeus was one of these chiefs. And because he was, he was hated and avoided as much as possible.
Luke 19:1 implies his jurisdiction included Jericho's walls, which you Bible scholars will remember came tumbling down in the Old Testament book of Joshua in chapter 6, but were later rebuilt and it was an important city in the Judean frontier again. All the traffic crossing the Jordan River coming from the east crossed in one of three places between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea and the ford 5 miles east of Jericho where Zacchaeus worked was one of them. So for every axle of every cart that crossed that River and came through those walls, Zacchaeus and Rome literally profited. Again and again and again.
We are powerless
Verses 3-4 say "He wanted to see who Jesus was, but..." being a wee little man, just joking... "being a short man he could not, because of the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way." Which leads us to point number one: Tithing our talent means admitting we're powerless. That we can't do it on our own. Whatever we're talking about, we're powerless. Just fill in the blank. Whether we're talking about alcohol, lust, lying, gossiping, smoking, whatever. Apart from Christ, we can do nothing [John 15:5]. We're powerless to halt our habits and change our behavior. That's why God has to do it! And the good news is He brags about doing so all the time.
Our job is to abide in Christ
Philippians 1:6 says, "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it in you." So if He's the one bragging about doing the work, why don't we let Him? Is it because we still don't know what our job is? So I've said it before and I'll say it again: Our job is to fall out of bed in the morning and abide in Christ. Thanking him throughout the day for a new day. And asking him to help us live it with whatever talents He's given us. That's it. That's our job. And that's a job a wee little man or woman can do. If the story of Zacchaeus teaches us nothing else, point number one is enough.
Zacchaeus wasn't a very pure man. Serving Rome then himself not man. But at least he recognized his powerlessness. Some of us us haven't even taken step one yet! But if we did, it would be so worth it because when we climb that obstacle and take those wobby steps to Christ, we see Jesus! He meets and greets us every time. If we would do our job, and fall out of bed in the morning, and spend intentional time with Jesus, we would see new piles of God's grace and power waiting for us each morning. Lamentations 3:21-23 NLT says it this way: "21Yet I still dare to hope when I remember this: 2The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. 23Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning." At the beginning of every day, we need to start it by realizing we're powerless. Why? So we will stop striving and start yielding. One is impossible. The other can be done. By any of us. Proverbs 18:10 says,"The name of the Lord is strong tower. The righteous run into it and are safe" [Proverbs 18:10]. And 2 Corinthians 12:10-12 says in our weakness, we become strong.
Offer to Jesus what we can do
Tithing our talents begins by accepting what we can't do. And instead, sincerely offering to Jesus what we can do. Once upon a time, there was a little old widow who better understood this than anyone else. Luke 21:1-4 tells her story. I shared this with the kids at chapel yesterday and I want to share it with you as well. Jesus said in Luke 21:1-4, "1While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. 2Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. 3 "I tell you the truth," Jesus said, "this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. 4For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has."
Daniel Whitehead has dramatically illustrated this story in a picture he shared with me that I'm gonna share with you. Most of you know Daniel, Kim Wilkins' 16 year old son, draws pictures of things I'm talking about and then scans them and emails them to me so I can share them with you. He doesn't realize it yet, but he's tithing his talents by doing so. God has given him an ability to draw pictures. Just like he gave that ability to Harry Anderson and most recently Nathan Green.
Jesus said of that old woman, "She out of her poverty put in all she had to live on." And all she had to live on was two copper coins. Two pennies. And she gave them away. Growing up, I've always heard this story attached to a point about tithing our money and how if we do God will miraculously provide for our needs. And I believe that. And have seen God do that in my own life. Which we'll talk about next time. But what if that's not the point of this little anecdote?
What if the point of this story is not to prove the power of giving but the powerlessness of keeping? What if the point of this story is to teach us to hold everything loosely? Because none of it is ours and none of it is enough to change anything even if it were? Give the two pennies. Keep the two pennies. Either way, she's basically powerless. It's not enough to live on very long so why not trust Jesus and try following Him? What have we got to lose? What if the point of this story is to encourage us to stop striving and start yielding? To become willing to be powerless?
Pursue your passions
Even if you don't believe me about Luke 21, I hope you do believe me about point number one: Tithing our talents begins by admitting we're powerless. And continues by pursuing our passions. Which is point number two. Luke 19:5-7 says, "5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly. 7All the people saw this and began to mutter, 'He has gone to be the guest of a sinner.'"
Please note: powerlessness is not helplessness. Powerlessness is not doing nothing. For Zacchaeus, it meant climbing a tree. For you, it means falling out of bed. And admitting your need of a savior. Asking him into your life. Believing the truth about yourself. Confessing your need of him every moment of every day. Which is something dignified wealthy men just didn't do. But Zacchaeus did. He was willing to be thought of as odd rather than miss an opportunity to see Jesus.
And then you know what he did next? He accepted Jesus' invitation to abide at his house. Yes I said that correctly. This is the only recorded occasion in Scripture where Jesus invites Himself to someone's home. Did you notice that Zacchaeus didn't invite Jesus to his house but that Jesus invited himself? Now, Zacchaeus still had to say yes or no. But in the same way that Jesus knew Zacchaeus' name apparently without anybody telling him, He also knew that Zacchaeus would say yes. I mean it's kinda hard not to think he'd say yes when there's a wealthy guy with his robes hiked up to knees hanging out of a tree. Kind of makes his interest obvious don't you think?
But nonetheless, I see Zacchaeus pursuing his passions here. Yeah, he had all kinds of passions. Some good. Like admitting his powerlessness. Some bad. Like stealing money from people. But Jesus knows that about Him. And calls him by name anyway. And literally in the Greek wants to abide in his house. Isn't that awesome? Jesus is passionate about abiding in your house. The question is: Will we let Him? Acts 17:6 implies the disciples finally did. And because they did, with just a handful of men, they turned the world upside down leading the citizens of Thessalonica to say "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here."
So what are you passionate about? What are you good at? What do you like to do? Nick Vujicic didn't even know motivational speaking would be one of his. But it is. So if you don't know yet, that's okay. You'll figure it out. God will help you. But spiritual gifts are revealed only after we pursue our passions to help others see Jesus. Urmi Basu opened a shelter for the children of prostitutes called New Light. Later she established through her non-profit organization of the same name a home for teen girls who would otherwise be forced to follow the grim trades of their mothers. Now Urmi wants to stop teen boys from becoming pimps or drug dealers by building a bakery and vocational training center and we're going to help her help them!!! I believe she's pursuing a Godly passion there. Which is why I hope you all sign up for Valentines for India this week so the room is packed and we can raise $5k to help her help those children.
Seth Godin in his startling little book Tribes tells of other people who have pursued their passions. Nathan Winograd is an animal rights activist who has saved the lives of millions of dogs and cats with his tenacious opposition to their slaughter by animal shelters. Tasmin Little is a noted violinist leading a worldwide quest to introduce classical music to children. Microloans as a tool to fight poverty were recognized more than thirty years ago, but it wasn't until people like Yasmina Zaidman at the Acumen Fund came along that the idea became mainstream.
Why? Because people pursued their passions. But some of you are still thinking, "Yeah, Mike, that's great and all. But I really don't have any talents to tithe." Wrong! Nick Vujicic thought that for a long time. But you know what? He grew in grace. Admitted his powerlessness. Then started pursuing his passions. And found out that he's got all kinds of talents. And so do you. Card playing talents. What a fun social thing to do with people that don't know Jesus. Music playing talents. What a fun social thing to share with people far from God. Drawing talents. Financial planning talents. Did you know we have 2 trained finance counselors waiting to help you save money at the grocery store, get out of debt, on a budget, and plan for the future? I see manly talents too. Like working on cars or shooting a life saver on a string at 50 yards with all your buddies at the NRA shooting range. You should do that more often with them. And invite them to your house afterward for lunch or something.
Sometimes I think we get too bogged down with the three lists of spiritual gifts in the Bible. They can be found in Romans 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Corinthians 12. We act as if those are the only spiritual gifts God uses. Wrong! Those are just the tip of the iceberg. God's got a bazillion other gifts He puts in us that we don't even know about or choose to think about in that way because they're not listed in those three places. But spiritual gifts are just another name for talents or passions that God has put in you. Whatever it is. Puzzles. Origami. Quilting. Running. Playing video games. The last two were suggested yesterday at chapel by students at our church school. How could running and playing video games be spiritual gifts? You can run for non-profit organizations or causes. Like local Sylvania resident Todd Crandell does for Racing for Recovery. You could invite all the kids in your apartment complex to the church for all night Wii Sports tournamnet. Romans 14:7-9 says it this way, " 7For none of us lives to himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. 8If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. 9For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living."
So what aren't you yielding to God? What's stopping you from pursuing what you're passionate about with others far from God? Why aren't you tithing your talents? The thing stopping Zacchaeus, like that rich young ruler we read about a couple weeks ago, was money. So Luke 19:8-10 says, "8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."
Live a prioritized life
Where restoration was voluntary, the law of Moses required simply the addition to the principal of one fifth of the amount taken. You can read Leviticus 6:5 and Numbers 5:7 for more info on that. A fourfold restoration was one of the extreme penalties for deliberate robbery followed by loss of the goods. You can read Exodus 22:1 or 2 Samuel 12:6 for more on that. So the amount Zacchaeus promised to restore wasn't based on emotion or some exaggerated pledge drive. His willing voluntary restoration was proof that the demands of grace were growing in his heart. And that he was willing to now live a prioritized life. Which is point number three.
Tithing our talents means admitting we're powerless. Point number one. Sharing our passions. Point number two. And living prioritized lives. Point number three. Matthew 6:33 states, "33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well." Kinda makes me think if we're to seek Him first, that there are second and third most important things we're supposed to seek in that order. This is why I don't think the demands of grace include living a balanced lifestyle. I used to think it did. But I don't anymore. And that's a huge relief to me because I struggle with balance in my life. Do any of you suffer from that malady as well?
But the more I read about Jesus' life, the more convinced I'm becoming that what Jesus wants is for us to live a prioritized life. Putting Him and His kingdom first. Then our families and children. And then our jobs and country or whatever else. Because Jesus didn't live a balanced life. He was about His father's business since the day he turned 12 years old. And ever since, he was confounding those older than him. Healing people till late in the evening. Praying all night. Then waking up early in the morning before the first watch to do more ministry. You call that balanced? I don't. But do I call that prioritized? Absolutely. And I think God wants us to live a prioritized kind of life. One in which His kingdom comes first not money or the accumulation of it. One in which our families see us begin our days by abiding with Christ. Not rushing out the door with a bottled water and a granola bar. One in which people around us notice the honesty and humility in which we conduct ourselves in the marketplace.
Is that simple to say? Yes. Is it easy to do? No way! But Philippians 4:13 says with God anything is possible. Right? Nick Vujicic is proof that it's possible for all of us to tithe our talents. James 1:2-4,22 says it this way, " 2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 22Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says."
So to help you tithe your talents, while the praise team sings a few verses from our closing song #330, I don't want you singing it with them, instead I'd like you to take the next few minutes, before we go to fellowship lunch, and write down some stuff you like to do. Some stuff you're passionate about. I want you to write down on the top half of the paper some of the things that occupy your time. What have you been up to? What do enjoy doing? What are you passionate about? What would you like to do more? What do you collect? What would you spend money to go see if you had it? They can be social things with groups or individual things or society things you want to change. Anything you like. Please don't spend a lot of time thinking about it. I want them off the top of your heads. Just all the obvious stuff. Please write it down please.
Then, underneath all that, on the bottom of the paper, I want you to write down the new priorites you hear God's grace demanding of you today. The stuff holding you back. The stuff you wouldn't do if anybody paid you to do it. Stuff like being willing to give away your money. Praying out loud. Or speaking in front of people. Or voting Democrat. Whatever it is. Please be honest about this too. Because God has placed talents in you that you may not like, but that with his help, could be where you could become strong. Isn't that what 2 Corinthians 12:10-12 says? That in our weaknesses, we become strong? So don't be afraid to list those weaknesses. So if you could, please put a few of those down too.
And when you're done please put them in the plates at the door on your way out. I'd like to read them and group them together to see if we have people here that don't know there are other people here that have similar passions. This is not a spiritual gifts inventory. Limited to the few things listed in three places in the Bible. This is an unspiritual gifts inventory. That includes everything you like and are already passionate about. But also some of the things you don't like and wouldn't voluntarily try unless God Himself gave you the power and convicted you of its priority. Which could happen. Moses is a good example. So if the praise team could come sing our closing song now while you guys sit there and jot these things down, it would be much appreciated. Please print or write legibly and put your real first and last name on the paper with your telephone number. And may God bless you for tithing your talents.