Sermon based on 2 Chronicles 16:9.

 

You’re the commander-in-chief going into battle.  You have assembled 580,000 brave soldiers, equipped with great offensive and defensive artillery.  Do you feel secure?  Depends. I haven’t told you about your opponent.  As big as you are, your enemy is twice as big.  A million strong.  Not only are they equipped with artillery, they have massive tanks at their disposal.  Now how do you feel?  Confident?  King Asa was.  Listen to his pre-battle prayer, “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you.”

 

What a beautiful demonstration of a heart that fully relies on God.  That’s just one example that the Chronicler records for us about this relatively unknown king.  Listen to a smattering of other descriptions (2 Chronicles 14&15): 

  • Asa did what was good and right in the eyes of the LORD. 
  • He cut down the Asherah poles, which were shrines to a false god. 
  • He took courage when he heard the prophet’s word. 
  • He commanded his people to seek the LORD and they entered into a covenant to do it with all their heart and soul.
  • Asa deposed his own grandmother because she made a repulsive Asherah pole.
  • Here’s a great summary:  Asa’s heart was fully committed to the LORD (2 Chronicles 15:17). 

 

Today, we are celebrating “Commitment Sunday.”  What does that mean to you?  You’re right, there is a financial component to that.  Wanting to be good stewards as well as wanting congregational “buy-in”, the I-Care Ministry Vision Team recommended that we not proceed with connecting these buildings until we had commitments in place to eliminate the debt for this building. In theory, I agree with that. Sometimes pictures like these (show powerpoint of Wendi, Dave, Jeff) let you know that on a daily basis we’re committed to the project.  All kidding aside.  Commitment is more than seeing the need or cheerleading a cause.  Commitment is more than writing multiple zeros on a check.  Commitment starts here.  Commitment is a heart thing.  Go back to Asa.  Asa’s heart was fully committed to the LORD.

 

Twenty years later Asa faced a similar situation.  Unfortunately, this time, instead of heading into battle with a heart aligned with the LORD, he sought human allies.  Politically, it was a great move.  Spiritually, it was crushing defeat. When the man of God called him on the carpet for his lack of trust, Asa didn’t want to hear it.  Asa’s heart was no longer fully committed to the LORD. 

 

Brothers and sisters, the same battle that Asa fought is going on as I speak.  There is a battle going on in your heart just like there was in Asa’s.  God has no greater desire than to have your whole heart! He doesn’t want to be a part of your life.  He wants to be your life.  He wants your complete devotion.  He wants the affection of your heart.  Love the Lord your God with all your heart (Mark 12:30).  What does our EKG show? 

 

One of the most accurate EKG readers is our relationship with money.  Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be.”  Sometimes I chuckle, perhaps nervously, how God reminds us of that.  A few weeks back I was sitting in my home office mapping out our tuition support plan for our kids all the way through college.  When I was comfortable with the bottom line of that Excel spreadsheet, I walked into the other room to re-read this little book. [1]   “There is one particular battlefront that is nearly always overlooked.  It’s a place where the forces of evil are enjoying victory after victory over God’s children… to the detriment of God’s Kingdom work.  This battlefront is the funding of Christian ministry.” A little later it point blankly says, “If you are a pastor, I want to challenge you to love your people enough to teach theme the biblical truth about giving.  If you’re heart’s desire is to see your people become wholly devoted followers of Christ, then you can’t ignore this issue.”

 

It’s no surprise that pastors feel like they drew the short straw when we preach on stewardship or giving.  The church at large already has a bad enough reputation about being all about money.  But I feel a little bit more compelled today.  Why?  The easy answer is that it’s part of the whole counsel of God.  Jesus talked about money more than he talked about heaven and hell combined.  If we’re going to be biblical preachers, the topic’s going to come up.  That’s the general answer why I feel compelled to broach the subject.  But there are some more specific reasons I’d like to talk about.

 

First of all, God’s ministry can be affected.  Picture a battle again.  What’s the best way to win?  Having the best sharpshooters and jetfighter pilots is great, but tactics can only take you so far.  Ultimately, victory comes when you get behind enemy lines and you destroy the ability to supply the troops engaged in battle.  No fuel.  No ammo.  No medical supplies.  No victory.  Cutting off resources is a tried and true strategy.  What is Satan’s strategy to try and prevent Christ’s kingdom from advancing across the globe?  He hasn’t told me his battle plan, but I think it’s safe to say it’s similar - cut off the supplies.   If the devil and his forces can use weapons like materialism, apathy, greed, distrust, misappropriation of funds – if he can use such weapons to thwart Christians from supporting God’s work,  isn’t it a minor victory in undermining the advancement of the gospel?

 

For exampIe, right now we owe $3 million on this building. I am grateful that we fiscally stretched ourselves to build.  That decision was made before I ever served here.  Let me say thank you to all of you pre-2008 members who made that almost unanimous decision. The blessings that God has poured out on ministry the past six years in this facility and through your offerings are amazing.  But when I see reports that we’ve shelled out nearly $800,000 in interest payments during that same time frame, I can’t help but pause. I am grateful that we have been able to provide jobs for some loan officers.  But I also wonder, how could we shift those dollars for ministry?  When a recent demographic study of cited “Marriage Enrichment Opportunities” and “Parent Training Programs” being a 20% greater need here than the national average, I wonder how just a fraction of that $800,000 could be used to meet those needs.  Or when that same study reveals “Church-sponsored Day school” and “Day Care services” as community needs, I think of the expanded education aspect of our I-Care ministry plans.  When I see 10 students from our congregation attending Martin Luther College to become full-time workers for the church and I hear reports about the increasing debt load of our graduates, I think about how we could better support them in their gospel-driven aspirations.  When we’re trying to join with other congregations to support Christian education in Zambia and a new book costs $8, I wonder about the far-reaching effects we could have around the world.

 

You get the point.  Don’t misunderstand.  Last week we celebrated “Christ the King.”  It’s absolutely true that he is ruling all things for the benefit of his Church.  It’s absolutely true that God provides.  Thursday was a celebration of that.  God doesn’t need our money.  But in his wisdom, he often uses our money – or should I say he often uses his money that he loans us – to carry out his work.   But it’s not just his work getting done that God is concerned about.  Remember what God’s battling for?  Your heart.

 

Commitment Sundays, firstfruit offerings and Christian estate planning are not marketing strategies to get people to part with their hard-earned money.  It’s simply making us aware of the connection between our money, our stuff and our heart.  Like Asa, maybe we don’t want to hear that.  Maybe our hearts were committed to God but now they’re being pulled in different directions.  Repeatedly, Jesus shows how the two – our stuff and our hearts - are tied together.  In all sincerity, Commitment Sunday is not about the dollar.  It’s about aligning our hearts and investing in what God is doing in our lives and around the world.  In the end, I don’t care if we reach the $1 million dollar goal today.  I don’t care if we have $3 million commitments through June 2018.  I pray that your heart is devoted to God.  If that wholly-devoted hearts leads us to support the I-Care Ministry Plan – awesome.  If that wholly-devoted heart doesn’t quite have enough dollars – still awesome.

 

But thankfully, it’s not just me that wants your heart.  So does God. “For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him” (2 Chronicles 16:9).” Isn’t that a cool verse!  More than you plotted your way around the mall on Black Friday, God seeks your heart.  He doesn’t just give a passing glance down the aisle.  He looks up and down and left and right to find hearts that he wants to strengthen.  Hearts that he wants to fortify in their commitment to him.  Why does God want that so much?

 

Let me ask, if you were or are married or are praying to be married, do you want your spouse to love you back?  Of course!  We’re Christ’s bride.  He married us.  Guys, I know we get weirded out by that picture.  Being in a white-sequenced dress is not something this body would look good in.  But please  appreciate the picture.  The essence of marriage is commitment.  Couples exchange rings as a symbol of the lifelong commitment they promise each other.  Think for a moment how committed Christ is to you. In less than a month, we’re going to celebrate Christmas.  God taking on flesh.  It’s not like he could change his mind once he smelled the swaddling blanket and it smelled like cattle feed.  Coming to earth showed he was all in.  There was no turning back.  Or when Jesus made the 90 mile trek to Jerusalem, where he knew he was going to die.  What did Jesus do?  “Sorry, guys, you go on ahead of me.”  No.  He set his face to Jerusalem.  He was committed.  And it isn’t that he was just committed to do his job.  He was committed to people.  The Bible says he had to go to enemy country and share the living water of the gospel with that outcast Samaritan woman.  The Bible says Jesus had to that little scoundrel Zacchaeus’ house because he had to bring that cheating tax-collector the good news of salvation.  Do you know what happened when these people saw Jesus’ love and commitment to them?  They couldn’t help but love and be committed to him.

 

That’s what I-Care is all about.  Hearts that are committed to the Lord.  That’s what a healthier congregation, that’s what a healthier member is.  It’s not saying, “Yes, I-Care because we need accessible offices, fellowship space and preschool rooms.”  It’s, “Yes, I-Care because I love.  I love the Lord with all my heart.”  And I love because I’m loved.  My heart is fully committed to the LORD because he has won the battle for my heart.  And so we pray:  “Lord, there is no one like you to help the powerless against the mighty. Help us, Lord our God, for we rely on you.”  AMEN.

 

[1] Rick Dunham, If God Will Provide, Why Do We Have To Ask For Money?