October 13, 2019
When I was a boy, every summer at Prospect Baptist Church, we held the Baker reunion. The Baker reunion was held in conjunction with my great-grandfather’s birthday. Warren Baker lived to be 100, so we had a lot of birthday gatherings.
We gathered under the oak trees, which were adjacent to the cemetery. The men of the church constructed a fence that stretched horizontally through the trees. On the day of the reunion, women threw old quilts and blankets over the fence.
After church, people began bringing food out of their trucks and cars. Out came some of the finest cooking South Alabama could offer. Chicken and dumplings, fried chicken, fried okra, and fried squash. If it could be fried, it seemed like it showed up somewhere on the quilted fence.
There were homemade biscuits, peas, butterbeans, pineapple casseroles, homemade macaroni and cheese, and fresh-cut tomatoes.
I’m sorry. Am I making you hungry? I haven’t even gotten to the deserts: pecan pie, banana pudding, chocolate cake, and several different kinds of homemade ice cream.
Do you want to know the best part? Mom and Dad just let me run free as squirrel through those oak trees and among all those relatives, most of whom I couldn’t call by name. I took full advantage of my freedom by filling my plate with everything I wanted and nothing I didn’t.
That’s where I decided it was a good thing to eat dessert along with my meal. I didn’t have to wait until I’d eaten all my vegetables. It was great!
I never went to a family reunion where we ran out of food. There was always enough. And I never went to a family reunion where everyone brought desserts, or everyone brought fried chicken, or everyone brought butterbeans. That would have been terrible.
How did it happen every year that we had enough and that we had enough of the right things, even though there was no real effort to tell people what to bring?
Every year there was just a simple announcement that went out telling people to bring their favorite dish and to bring enough for their family and one more.
When people arrived at the reunion, they came with their food. If you were not a good cook, you could bring ice, some paper products, loaf bread, a watermelon, or some ice tea. Everybody could contribute. Everybody could bring something.
People came willingly. Everyone came hungry, and no one left hungry. People enjoyed their time together. Those few hours gave us a feeling of belonging and knowing that we were all a part of one big family.
In Exodus 35 and 36, Moses tells us about the exciting days when Israel came together to build the tabernacle. They took up an offering, and people brought what they had.
It was the kind of offering where everyone could give something.
What distinguished those who gave from those who didn’t was willingness.
If you were willing, you gave. If you were not willing, you didn’t give.
Isn’t that still true? Everybody has something to give. It’s more about our willingness than it is about how much. We all have something to offer. Some people are just more willing than others.
When they were building the tabernacle, some brought gold jewelry. If you didn’t have gold jewelry, you couldn’t bring gold jewelry, but you could bring something else.
Some brought yarn or fine linen. Others brought goat hair, dyed ram skins, or leather. If you didn’t have those things, you couldn’t bring them, but you could bring something else.
Some people had silver and bronze, and they brought that as an offering to the Lord. Some had acacia wood, and they brought that for the project. You couldn’t give those things if you didn’t have them, but those who had them gave them willingly.
Chapter 36:29 is a summary of the attitude of the people toward the tabernacle project.
“All the Israelite men and women who were willing brought to the Lord freewill offerings for all the work the Lord through Moses had commanded them to do.” Ex. 36:29
Giving what we have to God begins with believing that God has commanded us to engage and band together to accomplish a specific goal.
In this case, it was the building of a tabernacle. If the Israelites didn’t believe that God had commanded them to build the tabernacle, they would not have freely given their resources to build it. For them, this was an act of worship and obedience.
Anytime we set out to do anything of any consequence within the church, God must be at the center of it. How do we know that God is at the center of it?
1. Has God spoken to the leader? In this case, Moses was very clear. He said to the people, “This is what the Lord has commanded.”
I would be foolish for stepping up and leading our church in a building campaign for any other reason other than believing that this is God’s project and that the timing for this project is now.
But I know that we are Baptists and most Baptists don’t spend millions of dollars on anything because the pastor said it should be done.
As Baptists, we each feel compelled to discern and hear God’s voice for ourselves.
The second way we know that God is at the center of things in our church is by asking,
2.) Has God spoken to you? By “you,” I mean, “Has God spoken collectively to the church?”
We have moved through a process of discernment, prayer, team building, listening to each other, and the stories that emerged from our Future Story each contained the same message, which was to construct an addition to our facility.
When we see the renderings early next year and vote on this project, we can vote with confidence that God has ordained it.
3) The next question becomes, “What will you bring to the table?”
When the Israelites built the tabernacle, people brought what they had: gold jewelry, bronze, linen, fine yarn, and leather. These things were the currencies of their day.
The most important thing the text says is that each person brought their offering willingly.
What does it take to become a willing giver to God’s commanded projects?
1. Are you going to participate at all in the project for the sake of the kingdom? Then you should be a willing giver.
People that decide to participate in family reunions take a food dish for two reasons.
1) They are going to benefit from what others are bringing.
2) They want to bless others with what they take and offer.
It’s a great trade when you think about pot luck meals. You make one dish, and you then get to choose food from dozens and dozens of dishes that you would never have had time to cook.
Secondly, you get to share and bless others with a dish that is one of your specialties. Others get to experience the joy of your good cooking and hospitality.
No one says, “Well, I brought something to last year’s reunion, so I’m not cooking this year.”
If you want to get the most joy out of going to the table, then you willingly bring something to it. You do so because you love the Lord. Do it because God is the one who gave you all that you have. Give what you are able and willing to give.
We don’t ever get to a point where God says, “You don’t have to give any more money, time, knowledge, praise, encouragement, or skill, because you came to the table last year or the year before.”
Sometimes, on specific projects, we are able to say, “We’ve reached our goal.”
For example, when the tabernacle was built, the scripture says that a time came when Moses told the people not to make any more offerings for the sanctuary. They had reached their goal. They had more than enough to do all the work.
There are plenty of times in our lives when we have benefited from projects because other people gave until the goal was reached.
Where would you be if it were not for those people?
I’ll make a deal with you. We will stand up and tell you that your money, time, or skills are no longer needed on projects if you will willingly bring what you have until they are no longer needed as your faithful worship to God.
Others are going to be blessed as you continue to give. As you give, you are going to be a blessing to others.
When you pick up an empty plate from a family reunion, there’s great pleasure in knowing your relatives enjoyed your food. It’s the same feeling at a church-wide meal. We are blessed when we give.
We get a similar feeling when we give our gifts and they are used in God’s work, and people’s lives are blessed and changed.
Collectively, we can lay out a spread of ministry that none of us could create on our own.
However, if we come to the table, but don’t offer God anything, how can we say that we are committed to the concept of ministry, the church family, or the concept of community, are even to God.
Jesus says that “You can’t worship two gods at once. Loving one god, you’ll end up hating the other. Adoration of one feeds contempt for the other. You can’t worship God and Money both” (Matthew 6:24 NIV).
Jesus makes it clear that if we worship him, we must worship him with our resources. If we don’t, then our resources become an idol.
It says in Exodus, “From what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering…” (Exodus 35:5) NIV.
We cannot worship God with what we don’t have.
God will not ask you to give what you do not have. However, God will ask us to evaluate what we have and become good stewards of our resources. Many of us could be better stewards of what comes in.
Many of us say we don’t have anything to give, and it’s not because we don’t have enough coming in. It’s because we have too much going out.
God will ask us to get rid of unreasonable debt and begin to wisely budget so that we can participate with greater willingness in kingdom endeavors. In doing so, this becomes a form of worship.
Right now, think of the most important person you can think of in the world. What if we were asked to honor that person by preparing a meal for that individual?
What if you or someone you hired, prepared the best meal possible for that person, but before you carried that meal and served it him or her, you decided to keep it and serve it to your family.
It wasn’t because all of you were starving; it was just because that meal smelled so good. It was all of your favorite things to eat.
However, you didn’t forget this important person. After supper, you wrapped up the leftovers in some tinfoil, hoping this person wouldn’t mind eating the leftovers. Without shame, you proceeded to carry this meal to the most important person in the world. That person opened it up, and there it was. Some of it was chewed on. It was even sanitary. How embarrassing would that be?
That’s how it is when we are given opportunities to serve God through our giving. Instead of bringing our best to the Lord, the firstfruits of what we make, we bring Him our leftovers.
We spend, spend, spend, and if we have anything left over, we might give it the Lord.
We all must decide whether to be obedient and release a portion of what we have to God regularly, not just for a particular project, as an ongoing discipline of faith.
If all of us do that and sacrifice equally, our building project, and all of our church projects will be successful.
Everyone brought something to those family reunions. Each year, there was plenty of food because everyone brought something. There was great joy, great fellowship, great community, and lots of love.
The scripture says that those that were willing brought a gift to the tabernacle.
This morning, do you have gifts that you are holding on to because you’ve been unwilling to give them?
As an act of obedience and worship, would you commitment those gifts to God this morning? Ahead of the building project that is coming, will you commit now to bring what you have? You can’t bring what you don’t have. Will you bring to the table what you have?
Will you give sacrificially?
As you give, others will be blessed. You will be blessed. God’s kingdom will grow.