The Powerball Plan

Jesus sat down next to a collection box in the Temple. He watched as people placed their money inside. He praises a poor widow’s donation, and still this story was never about money.

The Powerball Plan ~ January 27, 2019 ~ Mark 12:41-44

We are in the gospel of Mark this morning, the 12 chapter, the 41 verse.

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.
Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
(Mark 12:41-44)

You know, I’m a bit of a news junkie, so I pay attention to what’s going on in the world, and socialism seems to be all the rage today. And I can understand why on some level, because socialism promises all kinds of free stuff. Free healthcare. Free education. Free food. Free housing. The reality is, it’s not free. Somebody has to pay for it. There’s no such thing as free. And I suppose it’s worked so well in other places, the union of Soviet Socialist Republics, or the National Socialist German Workers’ Party, or the Democratic Republic of Korea. Or – this is in the news today – the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, which is imploding before our very eyes.

You know, in the 1980s as England was leaning toward this socialist bend, the Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher was famous for saying, “The problem with socialism is eventually you run out of other people’s money.” Guys, I want to try an experiment. Grab your wallets out of your back pockets, hold them up for me. We’re going to try an experiment. Now, what I want you to do is hand it to the person in the other pew and let them decide how much you’re going to put in the offering plate today! No, you can’t hand it to your wife…

The funny thing is, that’s what socialism is- somebody else deciding what you should do with your money.

Jesus clearly teaches you don’t measure a person by how well they spend other people’s money; rather by what they do with their own. Jesus does talk about money quite a bit. Here in Mark chapter 10, 11, and 12 he tells the parable of the rich man, he tells the story about clearing the Temple because the money changers were cheating the people who came to buy an animal for sacrifice. He talks about paying taxes to Caesar. And then at the end of chapter 12, our reading, Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money.

Sat down near the collection box. Anybody else here been to the Picture Show movie theater out in Berlin, CT, down the Berlin Turnpike? It’s awesome. It’s got the recliners, big wide, you don’t have to fight over the drink cup, you know, get there before your neighbor so you can put your drink cup in the thing. It’s just so awesome and comfortable. Now, I will admit: at times I can be a bit grumpy, or whiny, when it comes to technology. Just ask Lauren, she’ll tell you. Because I’m at the age where I’m kind of at the cusp. I’m not young enough to be well-versed in all this newfangled stuff, I just know enough to be dangerous. But I will admit that it is awesome to be able to go on your smartphone and reserve your seat at the movie theater, so that it’s there for you. You could show up two minutes before the movie starts or five minutes after if you don’t want to watch the previews, and you walk in and boom. Your seat is reserved for you. And you can do it on your phone, you can even purchase your tickets on your phone, so when you get there, I don’t even have to stand in line, I can just walk over to this kiosk and I punch in the little code it gave me, and out come my tickets. And I walk in and my seat is ready for me and waiting. That’s awesome. Now, every time we go, I choose the absolute middle seat in the front row behind the front section, in front of that little runway there, so nobody’s in front of me. I don’t have to worry about heads, I don’t have to worry about hats. I’m right there in the middle. Why do I choose the middle seat? It’s the best view! I want to see the film, that’s my goal. That’s why I chose that seat.

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. What was His goal? Why did He sit there? What do you think He wanted to see? What did He see?

Well, first of all I want to point out that there is a difference between this giving that we’re talking about this morning, and the giving to Caesar that he talks about earlier in verse 13. Caesar is Rome, and Rome is the government of first century Judea, and if you don’t pay your taxes, you go to prison, much like today. This is voluntary. Secondly, it says, many rich people put in large amounts. Really? Is large not a relative term? I mean, next Sunday, if you come to watch the Superbowl, I’ll be here eating some snacks. If I was going to eat some cheese balls, I might bring my cheese balls. Now, would you say if I ate all of those, that would be a large amount of cheese balls? No? (Not for Carlos!) THIS is a large amount of cheese balls, right? All of a sudden, this doesn’t look so large anymore. We’re talking cheese balls, here! So, large is kind of a relative term, isn’t it?

You know, on December 28 last year, Jennifer and Eric Medlock of Arlington, TX welcomed a son, Ali James. 14 pounds, 13 ounces, 21.5 inches long. Every woman in here who’s had a baby is going, “Oh my Lord!” That’s a big baby, isn’t it? That’s large! Unless Delano is holding him. He’s not so big anymore! Large is relative.

Now, this woman that showed up, she only put in two coins. We’ll say two bucks. That’s all she had. Other people put in large amounts. Her two bucks pales in comparison to this stack of Benjamins! But does it? Because this person had this with them. So, was this a large amount? This was all she had. So, large is a relative term. This was very large for that woman. That’s all she had. This was easy, because I get to take this home with me.

Giving to God, believe it or not, is not about money. God doesn’t need your money. He’s God, right? God wants something, He just needs to talk. He said, “Let there be light!” and the universe came into being. He does not need our money. Giving to God is not about money. It’s about the heart.

You guys like trail mix? I like trail mix too. I love this, because this is so American. Americans love to do this: we take every health food we can find and we completely ruin it. Yogurt. When yogurt first came out, yogurt was supposed to be healthy for you, right? Now you go to the grocery store and you can get these flip things, right? Where you can flip in Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups, and you flip in Milky Ways and you mix it all up. By the time you get done eating that yogurt, you might as well have had a 3 Musketeers, that’s how healthy it is. We’ve done the same thing with salads, right? Salads are healthy for you! Not after you get back from the salad bar! You got six ounces of croutons, you’ve got a pound of bacon bits, you’ve got a gallon of thousand island dressing! If you go to a fast food restaurant and look at the calorie count on the menu, you’ll actually find out often times, you’re better off having the burger. The salad has a higher calorie count. Americans love to do that. It’s the same thing with trail mix. Trail mix was originally meant for people who were hiking, or people who were running, to give them a quick protein snack. No, not after we’re done with it. You’ve got chocolate, and butter toffee peanuts, and M&Ms, and healthy trail mix all of a sudden becomes dessert! Everybody loves trail mix now. I’ve never been on a trail in my life, and I love trail mix!

And don’t you hate those people who go in and just eat the M&Ms. And after you pick out all the M&Ms, you go, “But honey! There’s a pound of trail mix left for you! I only took a few things!” “Yeah, you took all the M&Ms!” Why is he talking so much about trail mix? When God instituted the Passover in Exodus 12, what did He require? It says in verse 3:

Announce to the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each family must choose a lamb or a young goat for a sacrifice, one animal for each household. If a family is too small to eat a whole animal, let them share with another family in the neighborhood. Divide the animal according to the size of each family and how much they can eat.

Here’s the kicker:

The animal you select must be a one-year-old male, either a sheep or a goat, with no defects.
(Exodus 12:3-5)

God had just freed the Israelites from 400 years of slavery. Do you think they should show some appreciation? How? By giving Him some picked over trail mix? “Here God, I’ve got a pound of trail mix for you. I picked out all the M&Ms.” But no. He asks for their best. The best of what they have. A lamb with no defects, the most valuable animal that they had in their group. The question I, and every Christian should ask themselves, when it comes to God, am I giving my best? Amount doesn’t matter. It makes no difference. Am I giving my best?

See, I feel too many people are on the Powerball Plan. Lord, as soon as I hit Powerball, I’m going to do this for the church, I’m going to do that for the church, I’m going to make sure all the youth programs are funded and the kids go to camp, and we’re going to pay for the breakfast on Saturday morning for the Sparrow Ministry, and we’re just going to all these amazing things, Lord, as soon as I hit the lottery. See, when I say that, what I’m saying is I’ll give to God when it’s easy. When it doesn’t hurt. When I won’t even notice. That’s what I’m saying when I stick with the Powerball Plan. But the widow here proves that it’s not about the amount. God set the Israelites free from the bondage of slavery. Jesus set us free from the bondage of sin and eternal damnation. Should we show Him some appreciation? How? By giving Him our best.

And I’m not just talking about money. God says through the apostle Paul in Romans 12 (you’ll hear me say this a thousand times):

And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice – the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.
(Romans 12:1)

Give your bodies, all you are, give your best to Him. When we give our best – even at our jobs, whatever they may be – when you are the best employee you can possibly be, even if you don’t like your job, when you are the best employee you can possibly be, you are honoring God. When you are the best husband or the best wife, you are honoring God. When you are the best mother or father, sister or brother, son or daughter, you are honoring God. When you’re giving your best at church, you are honoring God. How do we give our best at church? We give our best in service. We teach Sunday school. We volunteer at Sparrow. We sew clothes and freedom bags for our girls in Haiti. We support our sister church down in Camp Perrin. We cook breakfast for our Sunday school kids. We volunteer to help with youth programs or volunteer in the nursery, we take one Sunday a month. We give our best in service. We give our best in song. When we’re singing these songs up here, we’re lifting up our songs, our voices to the Lord, we’re giving Him our best. Even if you don’t know how to sing very well (and some of you don’t), that’s okay. Give Him your best. It is the sweetest sound to Him, that you’re giving your best to Him. Give Him your best in prayer. Talk to Him on a regular basis, not just on Sunday mornings. Give Him your best in prayer. Listen to the sermon, not because Pastor Adam is engaging or not, but because the Holy Spirit might have something for you to hear this morning, not just me that’s speaking. If God can talk through Balaam’s donkey, He can use me! It’s possible! So, giving our best to God is listening for something He might want to say to you on Sunday mornings. And we give our best in our offering. That one makes everyone uncomfortable. I don’t know why that is. Serving the Lord, giving your best in service, giving your best in song, giving your best in prayer, giving your best in listening – I was with you there, Pastor, but now you’re just talking crazy!

It’s weird, isn’t it? Pastors can talk about heaven and hell, sin and righteousness, and angels and demons, but if we start talking about money, lalalala! I wonder why that is. I don’t know. Maybe that hits close to home, because Jesus says in Matthew 6, in the Sermon on the Mount:

“Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.”
(Matthew 6:21)

In other words, what’s really important – if you want to know what’s really important to me, or to anyone, all you need is this – this is my actual bank statement. Because on here is what I am saying really matters to me. What I spend my money on is what really matters to me. On here, you will find a deduction for a mortgage. Living in a house is important to me, so that’s on here. On here you will find a deduction for a vehicle. I want to drive a car, so that’s important to me. It’s 13 years old now and has 100,000 miles, but nonetheless, just a few more payments and it’s mine. On here you will find deductions for several trips to Chick-Fil-A (probably more than there should be), but I like to eat! Surprise, surprise. Obviously, that’s important to me. Is showing God some appreciation for all He has done for me important to me? I mean, don’t listen to what I say. Talk is cheap. Check my bank statement. Are there any deductions to South Congregational Church? Is that important to me? If you want to know, just take a look at my bank statement.

It’s not about the amount. It really isn’t. This woman dropped in two bucks, basically. It’s not about the amount, it’s about the heart.

I heard a great story this week. A mom told me that her teenager got his first job, and he was so excited, he was getting his first paycheck. You remember what that was like, right? You’re going to get your first paycheck. And it’s in your first paycheck that you get introduced to Mr. and Mrs. FICA, and Mr. and Mrs. State Tax and Federal Tax. And you learn the difference between gross and net. So, by the time everything was deducted (he had only done a couple days of training, so it wasn’t a lot of money), he took home $30. He was so happy. $30, my first job! He gets home, he’s telling his brother, his brother says, “You know what you should do? You should download one of those apps like Venmo or Paypal.” And he goes, “Oh, yeah, I got my own account now!” He downloads the app, then he says, “Oh, by the way, you owe me $10 that I loaned you last week.” So, he Paypals him $10. Now he’s got $20. Then he says to his parents – $30 was his take home – he took out $3, set it aside, and said, “That’s for church.” 10%. His first paycheck, he’s already down to $20. He gives three to the church. Down to $17.

Now, are we not going to be able to pay the light bill because we don’t have this kid’s $3? No! That’s not why he gave it. He gave it because he put his treasure where his heart is. It was important to him to show God he appreciates what God has done for him.

You know, it’s interesting. There is no where in the Bible, anywhere, where God watches people singing. He doesn’t watch people praying. But He did sit down near the collection box and watch as the crowds dropped in their money. What if I moved our collection box and then I’ll sit right here? How would that work? It would make people uncomfortable, don’t you think?

You know, in the early congregational church, the plates didn’t go out to the congregation. There was a table up front, and there was a deacon who sat behind the table. And when the time came for the offering, you brought your offering forward, and he sat there. He knew exactly who didn’t come forward, and exactly what you gave. We don’t do that anymore.

Interesting. But the funny thing is, just because I’m not watching you, or a deacon’s not watching you, or a deacon’s not watching me, Jesus is omnipresent. Jesus is everywhere. He sees all. So, Jesus is watching me when I go through the drive-thru and get my medium dark roast, black, and my bacon egg and cheese croissant and hash browns. That’s about $6, $7. Or, maybe I’m feeling it bigtime and I go to Starbucks and I get a venti with goat’s milk and cream cheese and pine nuts and whatever else they put in these things (and real coffee), and I get one of those sous vide egg cups (I don’t even know what that means), and a lemon raspberry scone. That’s about $10.

Jesus is watching me when I have enough to go to McD’s, get my Big Mac, large fry, chocolate shake three times a month. Or He’s watching me when I eat my way through a Tour of Italy at Olive Garden. I like to eat. Jesus is also watching me when I’m online ordering Christmas presents and birthday presents on Amazon, using my smartphone that I seem to have money for. Jesus is watching me when I streamed Kurt Russell’s new Christmas movie, The Christmas Chronicles (which was awesome) on Netflix, which I seem to have money for. He’s also watching me when I don’t use the Pushpay app on my phone, or when I walk right by the offering box. That’s not about money. That’s about the heart. This woman didn’t have money, just $2.

You see, you have never seen my bank statement, and you never will. But God sees my bank statement. He knows where He is on my priority list, and He knows where my heart truly is. Do you think God gives credit for the Powerball Plan? “But Lord, when I hit the big one, if you just let me hit the big one, I’m going to do so much good, I really do want to help, that’s why I want to raise taxes on the rich! Because I really want to help! You know my heart!” Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe He does know my heart.

You don’t measure a person by how well they spend other people’s money – you do it by what they do with their own. Have I offered my best to the one who saved me from eternal damnation? Whether it’s a little or a lot, it doesn’t matter. Whether this church has a little or a lot is irrelevant. Have I offered God my best? If I was honest with myself, the truth is, I already know the answer to that question. And so does He.

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple. He watched as people put in their money. He celebrated a poor widow’s meager donation and still, this was never about money. It was about the heart.  Would you stand and pray with me?