Who Owns Your Life?
What Shall a Man Give?
Mark 8:34-38
 
It is always something of a struggle for me to know what to preach after Easter.  What is the best response to what happened at the cross?  What do we do in regard to the empty tomb? 
 
With that in mind, my subject today and for the next two Sundays is money. And to be honest, I don’t know that there is a better response to the cross than what we give to God in light of what He gave for us.
 
Now contrary to popular belief, most preachers don’t enjoy talking about money. I probably shy away from the subject to a fault.  No matter how hard you try, someone is almost certain to misunderstand what you are saying. What I say and what you hear is not the same thing. Sometimes that doesn’t matter. When you talk about money, it matters a great deal.
 
Most of us are of two minds about money. We’re delighted to talk about other people’s money—how they make it, how they spend it, how they waste it—but we’re not comfortable talking about our money—how we make it, how we spend it, how much we give to worthy causes. That’s private and personal, between us, God, and our accountant. No one else needs to know about those things.
 
So it’s not easy to discuss these matters openly, but I’m going to wade into the waters and do it anyway.
 
We need to talk about money because God has a lot to say about it. In fact, the Bible has more to say about money than it does about heaven or hell. It talks more about money than it does about prayer.
At least a third of the 46 parables the Lord told involve money.
 
That doesn’t mean that money is more important than other subjects.  It simply tells us that God is concerned about you and your money.
 
Very frankly, I am preaching this sermon and the two that will follow because of our current financial situation. Rather than bore you with numbers, the easiest thing I can say is that for an extended time, our situation has been quite difficult.
 
To address that in the last budget cycle, we trimmed in excess of $30,000 from our budget.  We’ve not given any cost of living increases in several years to our staff.  We’ve trimmed and eliminated and avoided unnecessary spending, and yet at the same time, giving has continued to decline. 
 
I think it important to keep a balanced perspective. God has been very good to us and we praise his name.  We continue to reach people for Christ and be involved in multiple mission projects.  We are blessed to have visitors coming regularly and many of them join the church. 
 
But we must continually be reminded that ministry costs money. Helping people costs money. Leading our children to Christ costs money. Counseling troubled families costs money. Having a choir costs money. Everything we do to help people costs money.
For the last several weeks, our financial secretary, Donna has been unable to work.  As a result of that, I’ve been taking care of much of the financial responsibilities.  I probably have more of an in-depth understanding of our giving and spending than anyone else in the church. 
 
You do need to know I have not been recording the donation records.  I’ve got enough to be mad about without knowing that.  But I can tell you this:  there are a lot of people who are merely token givers instead of storehouse tithers.  You may ask, “How do you know that if you’re not looking at the records?”
 
Well, to begin with, I know Baptists.  And across the board, including big churches and small, rural and city, any classification or size, it’s just true of Baptists that about 20% give 80% of the money, 305 give the other 20% and 50% give nothing. 
 
IN our case, I look at the total amount given and the number of people coming and I do simple arithmetic.  If our average Sunday morning crowd were living on a bare minimum social security wage and tithing, our offerings would be more than they are now.  Some of you, if you are tithing, we need to take up an offering and help you pay your bills!
 
And sadly, many times, those who give the least gripe the most!  I can promise you this:  If I were not a tither, I sure wouldn’t run around complaining about stuff at the church.  I would be too embarrassed to hold a position in the church, or voice my opinion about the decisions or vote in a business meeting!
 
And yet far too often, the ones that give the least are the ones who complain the loudest!  I remember several years ago w had a gentlemen upset with some decisions at the church and ultimately left.  I asked the financial secretary about the kind of impact the loss would have on our budget. 
 
I wanted to be prepared for the financial downturn his leaving would generate.  After all, he was a prominent member, actively involved.  When I asked, she laughed and told me not to worry about it. Come to find out, he gave very little compared to his income and position.
 
Maybe you heard about the guy in the church who complained because he found three brand-new brooms in a closet at the church.  That was far too extravagant and wasteful and he raised a stink about it. 
 
The pastor couldn’t understand why he was so upset until he talked to the financial secretary who said, You’d be mad to if you found all the money you’ve given in a year tied up in one broom closet!”
 
I believe if I didn’t financially support my church as God requires, I’d just keep my mouth shut!
 
Listen:  I want you to know that money is not the problem—it never is. The problem is inside the human heart. I’m reminded of the story of the man who was about to be baptized. Just as he started walking into the water, he grabbed for his wallet and said, “Here, take this. I don’t want it to get wet.” How true it is. Our money is always the last thing to get baptized. We keep it dry as long as we can.
 
The real issue is not the crisis of money; it’s the crisis of ownership. We don’t understand who owns our life. That’s why we don’t give more than we do.
 
And that is where we discover this vital connection between the cross and our possessions.  This morning I want to take you back 2000 years to a place called Caesarea Philippi.  It was a Roman city built in the Golan Heights northeast of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus and his disciples had gone there to retreat from the growing opposition in Israel.
 
It is a critical moment for Jesus. All Israel is buzzing with word of this man from Galilee. Who is he? By what power does he perform his miracles? What is he really after? After a wave of early popularity, the nation is now divided. True, he has a wide following among the common people. It is also true that among the rich and powerful, opinion is slowly crystallizing against him.
 
In the distance, the drums of angry opposition are beginning to beat. Before too many months, their sound will become a deafening roar.
 
It was time to choose sides. The disciples were hand-picked men. Jesus had personally trained them. They knew him better than anyone else on earth. They had seen him work miracles, watched him heal the sick, and marveled as he confounded the Pharisees. But had they grasped the meaning of it all?
 
Jesus had to know the answer. It is here at Caesarea Philippi that Jesus asks the question, “Who do people say I am?” (Mark 8:27). And it is here that Peter gives his confession, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:16).
But the conversation does not end there, for Jesus is looking for more than a confession; He is also seeking a commitment. “Now that you know who I am, are you willing to commit your life to me?” This is how Jesus puts the issue before the disciples:
 
Mark 8:34-37
 
If those words fail to move you, it may be because we have all heard them too many times. Let’s paraphrase them in order to bring out their deeper meaning in contemporary terms:
 
“Now that you know who I am, are you ready to take up your cross and follow me? Before you answer, let me warn you that to follow me will seem, in the eyes of the world, as if you are wasting your life. The people of the world will never understand what you are doing. It will seem to them that by following me, you are throwing your life away.
 
”You always have another option. You can try to save your life by following your own desires. Lots of people do that. They live as if their careers were all that mattered. But the people who live only for this life in the end will find that they wasted it on things that don’t really matter. They tried to save it by living for themselves, but in the end they will lose it. They have wasted their lives on trivial pursuits.
 
After all, what good will it do if you become the richest man in the world, or climb to the top of the corporate ladder, or rise to the highest salary level in your company, or win the applause of the world? What good will all that do if, in the end you find out it was all wasted?
 
What will a big bank account do for you then? Will you be able to trade it for another life? No, you won’t. But if you want to live that way, go ahead. Millions of people do. In the end they will be sorry, but by then it will be too late to do anything about it.
 
So what will it be, the way of the cross or the way of the world? You’ve got to invest your life somewhere. What’s the best deal you can make?”
 
Now in light of price God paid for your soul on the cross and with Easter fresh on our mind, I want to make this very personal with four crucial questions for you to consider:
 
1. Who owns your life?
 
As long as you think you own your life, you’ll be stingy with your resources because you think it all depends on you. Whenever you discover that God owns everything, giving will be no problem.
 
 
2. What’s the best deal you can make?
 
You’ve got to invest your life somewhere. Jesus said,
 
“What will it profit you to gain the whole world and lose your life?” All of us must sooner or later make our own choice.
 
3. What’s your definition of success?
 
Some of you will remember Erma Bombeck. She was a humorist from years gone by.  She said one time, “Don’t confuse fame with success. Madonna is one, and Helen Keller is the other.”
That’s a good comparison, because Helen Keller was a Christian who understood that her life was a gift from God. For a Christian, there can be only one definition of success: Success is knowing and doing God’s will for your life. Nothing else really matters.
 
4. What is your cross?
 
Jesus said, “Take up your cross and follow me.” In the Bible, the cross represents three things: It’s a sign of suffering, a sign of rejection by the world, and a sign of obedience to God.
 
What is “your” cross? Your cross is accepting God’s will for your life and doing it cheerfully. Your cross will always include suffering, always lead to rejection by the world, and always involve obedience to God.
 
And I want to ask one final question. What does this have to do with giving? The answer is everything. How much did Jesus give when he died on the cross? He gave it all. He held nothing back. He offered his very best to God.
 
The words of the invitation hymn come to mind: “Jesus paid it all, all to him I owe.” What vast truth is contained in those two lines.
 
Jesus paid it all—He paid for your sins and purchased your salvation. He paid it all because you couldn’t pay anything. Your debt was so big that Jesus paid it and God canceled it.
 
All to him I owe—You owe him everything in gratitude for what he did for you.
 
Let me say it very simply: If you ever discover who owns your life, giving will be no problem to you. Giving is hard only when you think you own it all. When you realize that he owns it all, and that he paid it all, the little bit you give is the very least you can do.
 
One of the most amazing ‘rags to riches’ stories I’ve ever heard is the life of R.G. LeTourneau, as told in his biography “Mover of Mountains and Men”.  Many people see Letourneau as one of the most influential people of the past hundred years. 
 
LeTourneau began his career in obscurity in Stockton, California, where his first job was transporting earth to level out farmland.  His frustrations with moving dirt drove him to find a better, more efficient way.  In 1922 he constructed the first all-welded scraper that was lighter, stronger and less expensive than any other machines.
 
As the father of the modern earthmoving industry, he was responsible for 299 inventions.  These inventions included the bulldozer, scrapers of all sorts, dredgers, portable cranes, rollers, dump wagons, bridge spans, logging equipment, mobile sea platforms for oil exploration, the electric wheel and many others. 
 
He introduced into the earthmoving and material handling industry the rubber tire, which today is almost universally accepted.  R. G. LeTourneau became the greatest obstacle-mover in history, building huge earth-moving machines. During World War II he produced 70% of all the army's earth-moving machinery.
 
But what set him apart from many other successful business men was his faith in God.  He was raised in a Christian home, was a faithful member of Christian Missionary Alliance churches, served as the president of Gideons International, and was a special friend of Billy Graham.  In fact, in the early days of Graham’s ministry, he designed a portable dome building intended for Graham crusades. He spoke of God as the Chairman of his Board.
 
His life's verse was Matthew 6:33: "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you."
 
As a multi-millionaire, LeTourneau gave 90% of his profit to God's work and kept only 10% for himself. He also founded a university named in his honor in Longview, TX that is thriving to this day.
 
LeTourneau said that the money came in faster than he could give it away.  He was convinced that he could not out-give God.  "I shovel it out,” he would say, “and God shovels it back, but God has a bigger shovel."
 
Indeed He does!  It’s really true; you can’t out give God.  And if you need evidence, I would take you to the cross. 
 
Romans 5:8 tells us that God was demonstrating His own love for us when Christ died for our sins.  I read John 3:16 and it tells us that God loved the world so much, that He gave. . .
 
And when we learn to take God at His word and trust Him and rely on Him, we are demonstrating, proving to those who observe what kind of God our God is. 
And in that regard, in response to what God has done to prove His love for us, I could never give enough to say thanks to God for what He’s given me. 
 
The poet said:
 
When I look up at that cross
Where God's great Steward suffered loss,
Yes, loss of life and blood for me,
A trifling thing it seems to me
To pay the tithe, dear Lord, to Thee.
 
Time and talent, wealth or store,
Full well I know I owe Thee more.
A million times I owe Thee more.
 
But that is just the reason why
I lift my heart to God on high
And pledge thee by this portion small,
My life, my love, my all in all.
 
This holy token at Thy cross
I know there money seems but dross.
But in my heart, Lord, Thou dost see
How it has pledged my all to Thee.
That I a spirit true may be.
 
Have you ever discovered the joy of obedience to God? Have you ever learned how much fun giving can be when you understand that it’s not your money but God’s that you put in the offering plate? Or are you still trying desperately to hoard your money and save your life?
 
It was the martyred missionary Jim Elliott who said, “He is no fool who gives up that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”
If you live for your money, what difference will it make ten seconds after you die? If you put your life in the service of the kingdom of God, ten thousand years from now you’ll still be happy with your decision.
 
The bottom line: God owns your life. All that you have comes directly from him. God owns it all and Jesus paid it all. The little bit that you give represents the least you can do in gratitude for all the Lord has done for you.
 
Let’s pray.
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