July 7, 2019
Crescent Hill Presbyterian Church
Stewart G. Bridgman
Giving Back to God
Scripture: Malachi 3:1-12; I Timothy 6:17-19
Jack Marcum asked me to preach on stewardship. I am obedient.
Billy Graham taught me to begin a sermon with a joke! Here’s one for the older generation. In the West Bengal area of India the people worship and idol named Kahli. This is true. They have determined that Kahli likes watermelon. So the worshippers parade in each morning carrying a watermelon singing: “Here’s another melon Kahli baby!”
I am preaching about giving back to God. Malachi warns the religious leaders about giving bad or deformed offerings, or you might say giving bad watermelons. People are not giving as commanded or as they were taught.
I was taught as a young child by my parents to give offerings to God. I always had money to put in the offering plate. My parents were good teachers, and I learned from their experience.
Malachi asks: “Will anyone rob God?” We rob God when we do not tithe with our offerings. As Christians, we are to be examples to others on giving just as my parents were good examples to me.
My mother’s mother died when she was about ten years old. Her father remarried for the third time after loosing his first two wives to death. Her stepmother did not like her and threw her out. In her old age suffering from Alzheimer’s disease, Mom tried again and again to get out of bed so she could go close the barn door. I suspect she left the barn door open, and being thrown out was her punishment.
This was in St. John, New Brunswick, Canada, where my mother was born in 1896. I am not sure, but some how when she was sent a way she ended up with the Bullock family at Brown’s Flats. One night, Daddy Bullock saw my Mom on her knees by the side of her bed praying. He thought, “I must do all I can to help that girl.” He put her through high school. Afterwards, my mother went to Providence, Rhode Island, to study nursing. Emily and Celia, her two her half sisters lived there. When she graduated, she was made head nurse of the pediatric unit of the hospital. However, she felt God’s call to go to China as a missionary. She went to Bible school in Toronto and then met my father on the slow boat to China. They were married a few months later in Beijing the end of December 1920.
When there were seven of us children at the height of the Great Depression, my mother took money that she could save to send a young Mr. Wu to Shantung Seminary. I saw Pastor Wu and his wife the last time in 2001. He had had an amazing ministry throughout the Cultural Revolution.
Again, during the Great Depression, when Daddy Bullock died, he left Canadian Oil stock to my mother. At that time, it was not worth the paper it was printed on. Still, over the years, my mother kept those stock certificates safely hidden away. Over the years that stock appreciated in value. During the 1940’s dividends paid for music lessons for all of us kids.
On a trip back to Canada, my parents visited the Canadian Oil Company headquarters, and asked about the stock. They said half the people in the building came out to see the people who had kept their stock certificates throughout the Great Depression. Few people had done so.
In the late 1950’s my mother sold the right to buy more stock and that paid enough for my father to buy a new car.
In the early 1960’s when my father retired, they wanted to buy a retirement house. My parents had never owned a house. In China or in pastorates in the USA, housing had always been provided. My father had never earned enough to make savings toward a house. All available money was used to help put the seven of us children through college.
My mother cashed in half of the Canadian Oil stock to help pay for a house in Black Mountain, NC. This is where they retired. The day the transfer was made from Canadian dollars to American dollars, the exchange rate was such that the Canadian dollar was worth more than the American dollar. Their money was multiplied. A few years later, they decided to cash in the last of the Canadian Oil stock to completely pay for their retirement house. Again the exchange rate was to their advantage. They more than paid off the house.
All the years of their life together, my mother and father tithed of all they had. It was hard to do with the expenses of seven children and the demands of the high cost of living throughout the years. Still they were faithful, and you can see how God blessed them in a miraculous way.
This is a first hand illustration of Malachi 3:10. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of host; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.”
My mother’s faithfulness in prayer, generosity, and tithing was not for her a way of testing God, but was a way of faithfulness. Larry Ann and I tithed all the years of our marriage, and I still do. God has also been generous to us.
When I had finished my first year of college, I worked delivering ice to homes in Montreat, NC. Few homes had refrigerators then. Ice was used to cool foods placed in iceboxes. It was hard work, but I thrived.
One night at a worship service in Anderson Auditorium, Billy Graham was preaching. For those of you who have ever heard Bill Graham preach, he had a compelling way of presenting the Gospel message. Anderson Auditorium was packed. The only place I could find a place to sit was towards the back high on a window sill. I could see well, but it was not so comfortable.
It came time for the offering. Dr. Graham was again very compelling in his invitation. I checked my pockets to see what I had. I only had a silver dollar. It was special to me because I thought it was a silver dollar from my mother’s birth year. I was in a quandary about what to do. I put the special silver dollar, all I had, in the offering! I later realized that the silver dollar was not so special. It was an 1898 silver dollar instead of an 1896 silver dollar, the year of my mother’s birth.
Years later I used this experience with the silver dollar in a sermon on stewardship in a church I pastored in southern Virginia. The next Sunday, a pretty little girl came up to me after worship and handed me a little box. In it was an 1896 silver dollar!!
One of the heresies the church is now preaching is what is known as the “prosperity gospel.” That means if you believe you will be very rich. The Bible does not teach us that faith makes us rich. Psalm 23 begins: “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” Living in true faith allows God to provide for our basic needs.
If you have not had the experience of tithing to our church, I urge you as a matter of faith to give it a try. Don’t do it to test God! Do it because you trust God.
We come now in our service for the very reason we give back to God. In our communion we celebrate the gift of Jesus Christ for us and for our salvation. The bread we break is Christ’s body broken for us. The cup is Christ’s blood shed for us. Christ gave all for us. Giving a tithe is only a small part of what God has given us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.