Theme: David’s call to the leaders of Israel led to an amazing outpouring of sacrificial giving. Between the giving of the vision and the giving of the gift, is the personal response of every leader to the call of God on their lives.
1 Chronicles 29:1-20
Well it’s good to be together this morning to worship God and to have an opportunity together to celebrate God’s goodness and to hear together from His Word and to respond. We have been looking for a number of weeks at this issue of stewardship, of what it means that God has entrusted resources to us, time, talents, treasure and what it means to use that for God’s purposes.
And so, the first thing we looked at is that we don’t use our resources. We are not stewards for a goal of building a building. In fact, our faithfulness is not even directed towards ministry. The ultimate goal of our ministry, the ultimate goal of giving ourselves wholly to God is a moment that’s outside of history where a bride blameless, forgiven, made up of people from every tribe and nation is presented to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ; that that’s the ultimate goal. That is what this is all about.
We also talked about the fact that being faithful with what God has entrusted to us means that we have to be willing to take risks. To take what God has given and then to try to just keep it intact and use it or not use it, but to just try to keep if safe for God somehow is not a way to faithfulness. Jesus spoke right to that situation and said, ‘no you are supposed to take it, you are supposed to risk it and use it for my purposes in the world and watch it increase.’
And then we took it to look specifically at giving and we found out that God doesn’t like grumpy givers; that God wants us to enjoy the fact that He is a giver. It’s part of His character that he delights to give to His people and He says, “Draw close to me, share this joy. I love a cheerful giver.”
And now this week, we are going to see that by stepping in to this issue of stewardship, we are going to see that there has to be a connection between a vision and a gift. We are going to look at that and we look at that from something that happened in the Old Testament, because this issue of being faithful with what God has given us is something that goes to the very start of the Old Testament, because in humanity being created, God entrusts to us incredible resources in this earth and he tells us to be faithful with that, to be stewards of it. And so we are going to look at a spot in the Old Testament where Israel, the nation, was given a challenge and how they responded to that challenge and we are going to reflect on that as we look at ourselves.
So we are a part of a long history of people struggling to be faithful to God as stewards. But we are also part of a history in this church. This church has struggled with what it means to be faithful to God at this location across a number of years and I would like to invite Neil Pohlhaus and Bruce Stuart to come up and share with us. Bruce is one of the members who has been here just about from the start of this and he is going to share with us.
Neil Pohlhaus: Good morning, I am Neil Pohlhaus. I am Co-chair of the Share the Vision campaign and with me here this morning, especially for this group, we have with us probably the closest thing to a rock star that you are going to find at Central Church. We are going to take an opportunity this morning to share a little bit from Bruce’s experience, to put in to context, you may have heard me mention this before that when this church started here on this site, it consisted of about one third of the land that it has today and an old brown wood frame house that sat out here behind us and that’s about the time that Bruce first came to Central. So that’s going to be my first question to you Bruce, exactly when did you come to Central the first time and why did you come to Central the first time?
Bruce Stuart: Wow, I don’t know if this old heart can stand all of this jubilation. I feel ten years younger just being in here. Man, what wonderful faces. Well the story is that I came to Central in 1950. Now I did not come because I was seeking the Lord. I came strictly out of jealousy. My wife had started to come here in 1949. A lady in our neighborhood brought her and she kept coming home on Sunday and she would say, “I want you to go to church with me” and I would say, “No way. Sunday morning is my time to shoot clay pigeons and nothing is going to bother that.” Well, Sunday after Sunday she would come home and tell me about this handsome preacher that was preaching these wonderful sermons and she was really becoming enamored with this guy. So enough was enough and I finally decided that I was going to come and find out about Central Church. Well I came and I met Murray Smoot and as I said earlier he was good looking, but he wasn’t all that handsome. But in any event, that was my beginning here. Murray, a man named Sherman Dance and my wonderful wife proceeded to lead me to the Lord. So I came to know the Lord here at Central. I have been here ever since. I am so grateful to God that he brought me here and I would think that I would stay here the rest of my life. That’s the story.
Neil: If you could Bruce, tell us a little bit about those days from moving from that old brown manse, that wood framed house to that first sanctuary, which for those of you who are here, the first sanctuary that was built here is now the loft. That was the church’s sanctuary in 1953.
Bruce: Well the old brown manse, the front door stood out just about where you go up the ramp out in the concourse there and Dottie and Murray Smoot came here to start a church. The Presbytery sent them and they opened their doors in that old manse to all kinds of people to come, and people came, but you have to understand that Dottie Smoot on Sunday morning had to clean every bedroom and she had several kids, every bedroom had to be cleaned. The kitchen had to be straight. The basement just perfect and the big living room and dining room, which is where the services were held had to be all ready for all these people to come. We held Sunday School classes in every bedroom, in the kitchen and in the basement and poor Dottie, this soon got pretty old for her. In any event, what we did was we decided that it was time to build a sanctuary, which we built. We went to the Presbytery and they supported us. We went to the bank and they supported us and we went to the people and they supported us and the Lord truly blessed us. We built that building probably not with nearly as much money as we needed, but we didn’t have the money to finish it all nice inside, so the congregation worked hard together and we painted the inside. We had a man that worked at the Sparrows Point Bethlehem shipyard and he, I don’t know whether he stole them, but he brought all of the equipment out of ships to put in the kitchen. We had stoves and sinks and cabinets and we all installed them. Then we had a man named Aubrey Lovell who taught us to lay tile and we tiled the whole place and we painted the whole place and we built the stage over there. It was a wonderful time of working together and you know those relationships that began then, still exist today. We still remember how wonderful it was to work together and we became great friends and that was a wonderful time for me. I grew in the Lord because people were good to me and they needed me and they used me. It was a wonderful time.
Neil: That sanctuary was built in 1953 and if you go out here in the concourse and look back you will see the cornerstone to this sanctuary. It was built four years later in 1957. What was it that drove you all to basically build a sanctuary that was four times bigger than the one over there only four years later?
Bruce: Well we were filling up the old one and Murray Smoot was doing a wonderful job of preaching. The youth program was really doing well and do you know what the youth program did for Central? It brought parents. It brought lots of parents and that’s how we grew and we had a great ministry there and I told earlier about I don’t think you folks will remember a man named Donald Gray Barnhouse, who was a great theologian. But Murray Smoot invited him to come and preach here and he came and do you know that in what you know as the Loft, we had almost 500 people. They were on the floor. They were on the stage. I don’t think they hung from the rafters, but they were in the balcony, but they came to listen to that man preach and that’s the kind of thing that began to happen at Central and so we needed more space and Murray Smoot was the one that really pushed for this building. We didn’t have a lot of rich members, but we even had members in order to get the money who took second mortgages on their homes to build this building. It was a wonderful time because it was a tough time, but the Lord carried us through it and he blessed us and we got what we needed and Murray kept saying, “it has to be this big” and we would say “why?” For the future and now look, the future is here and it’s not big enough.
Neil: That is amazing. We are seeing here in the future. It’s amazing that a group of people in 1957 had the vision and the courage to build this sanctuary the size it is so that we can be here today. From that time on there were many projects. There was the connecting building that put the old sanctuary to the new sanctuary that had some offices. There was phase two as we know it out there, which there was another building that was taken down, called the Power and Light Building that had to go for phase one Beyond these Walls and then there was the whole property over here to the north side that was bigger than the original property. Share some of your thoughts about the decisions and experiences as you all decided to move ahead in those things?
Bruce: Well we built the connecting link, which you walk down the hallway now and go to the parlor and the chapel, but that was the connecting link between the two buildings. We ran a fundraising program ourselves and as I have said many times, this is my personal opinion, but it did not go nearly as well as our fundraising program for phase one and how well this one is going. We did it ourselves. We should have had professionals in to do the job for us. But we got the money together. The Lord spoke to our people and we put it together and we built that Power and Light building and we built the connecting link.
Bruce: But then, not long after that there was a man that lived next door names Liston Weidefell and he had a fairly large family and they lived there and we knew all the kids. They were Catholic and they didn’t come here, but they were very friendly to Central and he was a funeral director and he wanted to build a funeral parlor here on that property. Well when he went to Baltimore County to get the permit to do it, the neighbors rose up and violently opposed what he wanted to do. He tried and he tried and he tried and still couldn’t win out. So finally he came to Central and said, would you guys like to buy my property? And some of us said, “Oh man. Are you crazy? We can’t afford that kind of money to buy that.” And others said, “Whoa, wait a minute. Just think of the opportunity that the Lord is presenting to us now.” We prayed about it. We spent hours in prayer about it and finally decided that we would buy it. We bought it for about $365,000 something like that, I am not sure of that figure and then we had this big old mansion there where we had Sunday School classes and the young people had sleepovers and I mean they had sleepovers. They were something else. They almost tore the place to pieces, but then we decided to sell the front portion and we sold it to the L.H. Cranston people and with that money we were able to pay off the mortgage so that we were again debt free. There were a lot of benefits from that. When we sold the building they agreed by contract to give us the use of the parking lot after hours and on weekends and then we also had the forever right of way of this driveway that you come in now, so it was a great thing for us to buy that. We built a garage and a pavilion on it, which has been torn down. The old barn has been torn down, but we really put it to great use and now if you didn’t have that parking back there, we could not have built phase one because the county wouldn’t let us without that parking. So it was a wonderful thing that the Lord led us to and we had some great leaders in that time and they really did a good job. One thing that I would like to say, that Murray Smoot very often said, it was not wrong for a church to have reasonable debt. He said, that if a church doesn’t have debt, it’s not going anywhere, it’s standing still. And we have lived by that for a long long time and probably are going to do it again.
Neil: Yes, we haven’t stood still and its amazing to put in perspective, $350,000 to buy that piece of property was probably more than three times the annual budget of the church at the time. It was in the early 60s, so that was a huge amount for them to step up to and to take. If they hadn’t done that, then what’s here now wouldn’t even be in place because we wouldn’t have had the parking to support it. As you have seen phase one “Beyond these Walls” go up and now we are looking ahead to this next phase, to “Share the Vision”, share with us some of your thoughts about what you have seen and what you expect to see through what we are doing now?
Bruce: Well I have always been a fairly conservative person and when we first talked about phase one, I said we would never make it, but we did and the money came in. I always said that it would kill our regular giving. It did not. In fact, it improved it afterwards. This time I am not so skeptical. This time I am very very excited about what’s going to happen back here. When we have a new worship center. We are calling it a building for most everything, but its going to be a worship center. It’s going to be very worshipful. We are going to make the architect make it that way and I am very excited about what’s going to come. We have had a wonderful ministry here through Murray Smoot, through Ron Scates, through this man, but the one thing that has always shone so clear is that each one of these people are preaching totally centered around Jesus Christ and that is what has made this successful.
Neil: Amen. Thank you Bruce.
Bruce: I’d just like to say one thing. God’s love is reflected through his people and you are his people and that’s what makes Central such a wonderful place to worship, to love, to be loved and to grow. Amen.
We have done this because we need to know our history. I think one of the things that we need to know as people who come in to this fellowship is that if God draws you to this fellowship, he is drawing you in to a history, a group that has had a character and a certain way of approaching faith and approaching life and you come in to that stream and that stream is not just the 50 years here, but it’s 150 years that this church has existed. It’s longer than that that there have been faithful people going all the way back to Jesus as Christians and then it goes back even farther than that in the history of Israel and people trying to respond faithfully to God all the way back to the dawn of what we have as a written record. You are a part of that and we need to hear some of that. And we are going to hear a little bit more as I make a few more comments as we look in to this Scripture together. I want us to look for a moment at 1st Chronicles, chapter 29. There are 20 verses there, but I am going to only look at the first 10 and then I will use some of the other verses later in the service. King David is at the end of his reign and he’s trying to get things established so that his son Solomon will have all the resources necessary to build a temple to the Lord:
“Then King David said to the whole assembly: “My son Solomon, the one whom God has chosen, is young and inexperienced. The task is great because this palatial structure is not for man, but for the Lord God. With all my resources I have provided for the temple of my God”
and then he goes to talk about it being gold and silver and every other kind of thing in large quantities.
Verse 3: “Besides, in my devotion to the temple of my God I now give my personal treasures of gold and silver for the temple of my God, over and above everything I have provided for this Holy temple.”
And then he goes and talks about how much these gifts are.
Now at the end of verse 5 he says: “Now who is willing to consecrate himself today to the Lord? Then the leaders of families, the officers of the tribes of Israel, the commanders of thousands and commanders of hundreds, and the officials in charge of the king’s work gave willingly. They gave toward the work on the temple of God, 5,000 talents and 10,000 darics of gold, 10,000 talents of silver, 18,000 talents of bronze and 100,000 talents of iron. Any who had precious stones gave them to the treasury of the temple of Lord in the custody of Jehiel the Gershonite. The people rejoiced at the willing response of their leaders, for they had given freely and wholeheartedly to the Lord. David the King also rejoiced greatly.”
Here is this massive challenge that David gives to the whole country and when you offer a challenge like that to people, here to a whole nation, when you offer a challenge like that, you’ve got to ask the question, are the motives pure for this sort of step? And so David begins in verse one in saying yes the motives are pure because this is a focus on God and not a focus on people. This structure is for the Lord God. If you looked at Egypt, there were all kinds of monuments there to people, huge tombs that involved untold sacrifice even death of slaves to build these buildings that were just monuments and mausoleums. In Israel you don’t find many large monuments as tombs. Instead the focus there in David’s mind, this is built for the Lord God. In fact in verse 17, which comes in his prayer and I haven’t read that, David says, “Lord you see the intent of my heart and know how willingly and honestly I give this.” David had a clarity of motive in calling people to that sacrifice.
Now I think it’s a fair question for us to ask ourselves as leaders, do we have clear and pure motives too? As we plan for a new ministry is this really to set the stage for something new that God wants to do among more people so that we can love, encourage and equip them in Christ and send them out to serve. Is this part of God’s vision or is God actually saying to a bunch of leaders who are too big for their britches and are running ahead and saying, “hold on. This isn’t what I want right now.” That’s an honest question. It’s worth asking. And we have had to ask ourselves that, because to not, to hold back could be faithful caution, but to hold back could also be disobedient fear. We’ve got to weigh those things each in our own lives. I wish there was some kind of way of us having 100% assurance about something like that and so I thought creatively about it and I figured that one of the ways we could really know that we were on track is if we had an angel visitation. It’s happened. But then when I thought about it, first of all it would have to happen at minimum at three services, okay? Or 800 individual times, because to be honest I am not going to trust an angel visitation that goes to Andy Gathman, okay. I am going to need more than that. Short of that sort of sign from God we have to wrestle with our motives and struggle with what it means to have integrity and we have had that struggle and it’s a struggle that everyone here is called to do in your own life. So the issue of motive is important.
When we go in to this passage, in verses 3 to 6: 2 and 3 to begin with and then 5 and 6. In verses 2 and 3 David talks about his own commitment. In the first verse in verse 2 he talks about his commitment over the resources that he has control of by being King and he says “I am now committing these huge resources to this” and then in verse 3 he talks about his own resources, “my personal treasures.” Now this was the war chest that kings had that they stored special personal belongings that would keep them if there were some kind of coup or some kind of political unrest or a war, they could grab those belongings and riches and they would have some money to carry them over through tough times and David is saying, “I am taking this future, my security and I am putting that up as part of my sacrifice.”
And then in verses 5 and 6 he tells his leaders to consecrate themselves to this and to give a gift. And so then people come and the leaders of the people come and give a gift. They give 190 tons of gold alone. They give 375 tons of silver. Now, remember this is a national event. Now I tried to calculate that out off of last weeks newspaper about what they would be worth on today’s market and I gave up after 25 billion dollars. Enormous sacrifice.
And so what we see here is that David has a vision and then there is this incredible sacrifice, but what we don’t see in this passage is the decisions that every single individual in a family had to make in order to give the gift. Because some of them had to give away heirlooms that had been in their families, because that’s where a lot of your riches were, they were pieces of jewelry and things that were handed down generation to generation. Some had to wrestle with giving away their dowry. These were deep sacrifices and what we don’t see is the kind of decisions individuals and families had to make in order to give so abundantly. Those sorts of decisions are being made now in our fellowship and I am going to take just a few minutes to tell a few stories about things that are happening right now. I don’t know the amounts and I am not going to give enough detail so we know what people are involved, but it will give you an idea of the kind of struggle, the kind of faith that you are being called to as you enter in to the life of this congregation and are a part of its present and part of its future.
In one case, there’s a couple that would prefer to be known as the slow learners. They have struggled with this issue of stewardship, of giving faithfully to God across their whole marriage and so they went for years and raising the kids and were trying to push towards a tithe towards 10% of their income and they finally made that after a period of years and then they started to push above that, and then they started to realize that when special opportunities for ministry happened, that God was calling them to even share of their accumulated wealth. And so they worked on this and now they are at a point in their lives that came in the last campaign to a point where they really feel in sync with this and have a joy in this and what they say to share is “May God keep us from being such slow learners.” May other people learn this lesson faster than they did. So the issue there is priority. Giving God the priority. It was a struggle for that family to establish that priority.
Another couple shared about how prayer has been part of their decision-making process. They heard about the need and they prayed about it. Then they prayed individually about it. Then they prayed together about it. I mean this a great model. Then they discussed it. Then they re-discussed it. Then they decided. Then they re-decided and then they finally made a decision to go from giving 11%, which is what they normally give to move it up to 14% and then they went to another meeting and came out of that meeting and said, “no let’s double it. Let’s go up to 18%.” Double the increase. They did this because they were praying and struggling with not with “how can I give of my excess.” They were trying to learn how to share in what God was calling them to do and prayer was a huge part of that decision.
Another family has a pattern in their life, they have a ministry of giving and they have a pattern in their life that at certain times when there is a strong call, that they will give you know as God leads and God has led them in the past to give 10% not of their income, but of their total worth, and that includes their equity and savings and things like that. And that’s a big struggle because there is so many things that impact that kind of decision in your life. It’s not a light thing and so people struggle with that and they talked it over with other members of the family and things like that. Well the issue is, is one of the light bulbs that went off for the family was that they are giving the same percentage this time as they did the last time we had a campaign and even though they are giving the same percentage, they are giving four times as much a gift because God has increased their lives faster than they could give it away. You can’t outgive God.
At the same time there is another family who gave sacrificially in the past and they wrote that they give 15% to the normal budget of the church. They are on a restricted income and they are praying for us, they’re fully behind it, but they can’t give more. In both cases, radically different cases, they are both faithful, they are both praying, they are both making God the priority and they are both giving in proportion to what they have, because the call is to give in proportion to what you have and not to worry about what you don’t have.
There is some serious stuff going on in the lives of people right now and the reason that I am sharing this with you is not for you to make a comparison and feel bad, but for you to realize that this is the kind of legacy we are called to because of what people did in David’s time, because of what people did in Jesus’ time, in Paul’s time, for what people did in the Reformation, for what people did when they planted this church, for what people did ten years ago, and what people are doing now. This is our legacy as disciples of Jesus Christ.
There is one more example of giving and I got a dollar figure on this one. This is the only one I got a dollar figure on. Last night we had parents’ night out. The youth of this church had a fundraiser to be part of this vision and so 41 youths came, 9 very very courageous adults came. There was 77 children between the ages of 2 months and 10 years of age. They raised $594.00 for that. Okay? They had a blast doing it and here’s the best part. One mom said it was so nice to be able to try on shoes at Marshall’s without having kids there, okay? That makes it worthwhile.
Between the vision and the gift is a struggle, is a personal struggle and I am sharing that with you so that you can be called to do that struggle on whatever level God enables you to be part of what God is calling us to be. Now, when David presented this there was an enormous response on the part of the leaders and the people, it says in verse 9 that the people praised God and rejoiced because of the response of the leaders. Well, we have a story too and I would like to invite Denise and Neil to come forward and share a little bit about that and then I will close us with a prayer.
Neil: When I was asked if I would lead the campaign that was over a year and a half ago. At first I really struggled with that decision, whether or not I should. But just as we have heard about this morning, my thoughts went back to the last campaign and to all those times before that that Bruce talked about earlier and the legacy and example that was laid before and I had confidence that the Lord could do what he is asking us to do. And what he is asking us to do remember that the important thing to remember is not to build buildings or raise money. The important thing that he is doing is giving us an opportunity to join with him in calling others to himself. There is probably 400 people in this room this morning and 50 years ago that generation had a vision to see this place filled with people, some of who have been here for a long time, but more importantly many of whom are hearing about Jesus Christ for the first time, they are finding forgiveness, they are finding love, they are finding community, they are finding relationship and their lives are being changed because of the love that they encounter here. That’s what it’s about. Now, I forged ahead and thought, “okay Lord here we go.” Then I went to the session and to the building committee and they told me, “you know what Neil, if we are going to do this right and we are going to step up to this and we are going to do it now, and we are going to be faithful, it’s going to be $5.2 million dollars between the building of the building and the missions component,” which is 10% of what we raise to go the outside of this church, to the mission field and I got to tell you that I was a little concerned at that point and I had volunteered for this unlike John who didn’t have a choice in this, and then out of that we determined, and the session prayed and determined that we would try to raise $4.2 million dollars through this campaign. If we raise more than that, that will be even more reason to praise God, but $4.2 million dollars, our last campaign in total when we first had a figure was $1.9, so it seems so huge and so big and so I was concerned.
As John mentioned over the last several weeks, we have had meetings that are called advanced commitment gatherings with the leaders of this church and when I say the leaders of this church I am talking about deacons and elders, both current and past, and other folks who are in key ministries who support the ministries of this church, just like David went to the leaders and asked them and all during the week I was wondering, Lord what are you going to do and what are you going to do through your people in through your leadership? And then I got the call from Denise who had gotten a total on Thursday and I got to tell you that my knees buckled. I was overwhelmed by what God was doing. And to make it more interesting by 11:00 o’clock last night, we came up with a final total, which caused me even more to sort of just be overwhelmed, but also to appreciate God in the way that he works. You see we have raised through the leaders of this church $2.15 million dollars in commitments to this. And just to give you an appreciation for how special that number is, our consultant told us that if we hope to raise $4.2 million our advance commitment should be 50% of what we want to raise and God at 11:00 o’clock on Saturday night hits exactly $2.15 million, so the praise and the honor go to him.
Denise: I don’t have anything else to say. Praise God. All I did want to add is that you know God gave us $2.15 and we are so thankful to him, but you know he didn’t give us $3.5 and he didn’t give us $4.2, what he gave us was a fabulous inspiring, awesome example of the nature of this church and he gave us a message I will do it. I will do it. I have shown you that I am faithful, but you know we now have the opportunity to get behind that and to go through the same very prayerful experience and if we all do that and we all do that together, I am trusting he will do it. Thank you.
Well to close this part and to move forward in our worship service, I want to close the sermon part by just praying David’s prayer. I have changed a few of the words to fit our situation now, but right now we are going to pray a prayer that is over 3,000 years old. And what you are going to see is that the heart and the calling is the same. We are part of a very big story.
Let’s pray. Praise to you O Lord God our father. Yours O Lord is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendor, for everything in heaven and earth is yours. Yours O Lord is the kingdom, you are exalted as head over all. Wealth and honor come from you. You are the ruler of all things. But who are we that we should be able to give as generously as this. Everything comes from you and we have given you only what comes from your hand. Lord our God, as for all this abundance that we have provided for your use, it comes from you hand and all that belongs to you. I know my God that you test the hearts and are pleased with integrity. All these things we have given willingly and with honest intent. Lord keep this desire to please you in the hearts of your people forever and keep our hearts loyal to you. Praise the Lord our God. Amen.