Refuge // Generous Church

In the New Testament we don’t see Christians implementing a mandatory tithe, just like we don’t see them sacrificing goats to cover sins.  What we do see is Christians being generous, not out of a command or obligation, but cheerfully according to their ability, and almost always the recipients of that giving is to the poor.

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Tonight we’re talking about generosity.  You may have noticed; I didn’t do a lot of promoting of the sermon topic for this evening.   I was worried if I put it on Facebook, we’d have all of 8 people here tonight.

I also heard from a couple of friends who were going to be checking out Refuge this evening, and I’m like, great, their first visit, and they get a money sermon, way to feed the stereotypes.  I was tempted to scratch the topic all-together … but I feel compelled that this is the message God wanted for us tonight.

So don’t run out the back door yet.  (a) it’s a small room, and I’ll see you, and I’ll chase you down.  (b) I think this might be a little different than most messages you’ve heard on generosity and church giving.


In our family, we don’t do birthday parties every year for our kids … they get a party for their 5th birthday, 10th birthday and sweet 16.  A week ago Friday, we celebrated our youngest daughter Emery’s 5th birthday …

We had already done the big party a few weeks earlier at Zoomers with her friends, but still wanted to do something special for her actual birthday, so we told her she could pick anywhere she wanted to eat for dinner, and then we’d take her to build-a-bear.

She picked Olive Garden for dinner.  Does anyone remember when that place actually served Italian Food?  Now you go there and they have the “Italiano Burger”.  “Fried Lasagna Bites”.  And somehow, I end up ordering… “Pepperoni Fettuccine Alfredo”, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Not good.

So we get done with the meal, and they now have those little check-out things at the table, which I do love, and honestly, came up with that idea 15 years ago, but never trademarked it, nor had the brain power to have any idea how to pull it off.  And I’m go into the thing, and I swipe my card … and there it is … WOULD YOU LIKE TO MAKE A DONATION TO CHARITY?

Oh man, what do I do?  I don’t want to be a jerk, but I don’t know about this charity.  I don’t know how they handle their finances.  How dare they spring that on me at such a vulnerable time as this?  Don’t they know I give to my church?  Isn’t my tip enough charity? The guilt!

So after this little crisis, we head over to build-a-bear.  We take the what seems like 3-business-days to finally decide on which bear to build (which happened to be a unicorn and not a bear at all).  Emery does the whole, stuffing the bear, picking out an outfit, putting a heart in it, giving it a name, registering its birth certificate, and we finally get to check-out, I swipe my card …

Yep.  There it is.  Would you like to make a donation to the Build-A-Bear Foundation?  Arrgghhh.

It seems like everywhere we go now to shop; we’re being asked if we’d like to make a donation.  In fact, I learned this week, that these “checkout charities” raised over $400M in 2015.

I’m sure some of the causes are great, and I’m sure some of them are a total waste of money.

Does it seem like everywhere you turn; someone is asking for a donation.  This past week was the WAY-FM pledge drive; And we LOVE WAY-FM. I personally think you should help support that station.  I love their ministry, but after the 3rd Mega-Match of the day by Wally, me and the kids are left w/no-other choice but to turn the channel and see what BOB-FM is playing.

And now you’re at Church, and I’m talking about giving and generosity.   How thrilled you must be.


Well, let me just jump in, with THE GO-TO generosity scripture …

(Mal 3:8–10) // Last Book in OT // God speaking

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings.  You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.  Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the LORD Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.

This passage seems to be a favorite of many preachers, especially when the giving is low.  Or around SWFL, especially when the snow birds are in town.  If you’ve spent any time in a church, you’ve no doubt heard this passage read and preached from the pulpit.  Likely out of context.  Probably on numerous occasions.

Why is this scripture so popular to use?

It’s an easy scripture to pull out, and really make people feel guilty.  “If you don’t tithe, you are robbing/cheating God.  Look, it says it, right there.” 

It’s an easy scripture to teach the false prosperity gospel that says the quality of your life, including your financial situation, is about how “good” you are.

Look, God says it right there, test me … give money to your church, and see if I don’t pour out financial blessings so great upon you, you won’t be able to spend it all fast enough.”  It’s like a Christian Stock Investment.  Pay the tithe, and God will give you more money in return.  Refuse to tithe, and God punishes you.

But this Prosperity Gospel rips at the heart of the Gospel of Grace Tom spoke of.  It makes it all about us, and what we do.  “Well, God … I gave you my 10% … I did all the work … you’re happy with me now right?  You love me now right?  Bring on those blessings.

Or the opposite, “I failed … I had a rough month, it was the mortgage, or tithing.  I picked the mortgage … what a horrible person I am.  Bring on your curses God.”

But we’re a Church that is going to be passionate for knowing what the Bible actually says, so let’s take a step back, and ask the question … Is tithing biblical?

Well, we just read a passage that talks about tithing, so … Yes, tithing is biblical.  But I’m not sure it’s Christian.

Under the old law, the Nation of Israel gave tithes to both support the Levites (priest), and another tithe for religious festivals, and another tithe every 3rd year to help support widows and orphans, which comes up to 23.3% of their income/year.

So maybe what we should be doing is all giving 23.3% of our income each year to the church.  I’ve heard it taught this way before, but hang on …

Remember this was a theocracy, and the old covenant.    The tithe then was much like our modern day tax system.  It was an obligation to support their nation.

But with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus … all ceremonial codes that belonged to the Jews were nailed to the cross and buried. And so now, there are no temples, no special priesthood, and no tithe, standing between us and God.  We have direct access to the Father, because of Jesus.  Period.  The end.

In the New Testament, and early Church History writings, we don’t see Christians implementing a mandatory tithe, just like we don’t see them sacrificing goats to cover sins. But what I do see in scripture is Christians being very generous, not out of a command or obligation, but cheerfully according to their ability.

And almost always that I can tell the recipients of that giving where the poor. (Orphans/Widows/Prisoners/Outcasts)

In fact, one of the greatest testimonies to outsiders of the early Church, has to do with how generous they were to the poor and needy.


Now, Jesus did speak a lot about money.  The bible has twice as many verses about money, then it does faith and prayer combined.  Jesus talked more about money than Heaven and Hell. 15% of all of Jesus words were around money and/or possessions.

And so if we’re going to be a church that is building our culture, modeled after Jesus, then it would probably be wise for us to occasionally talk about money as well.

Mt 6:19-24

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven … 

21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

.24 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.

Those words are just as applicable today as they were 2000 years ago.  Yet, we still buy into the lie that if we could only get that new car, new house, new iPhone … then I’ll serve God, then I’ll be content.

Karen got a new car a couple of weeks ago … and I told her, you know what’s funny.  We’re all always so excited to get that new car, it’s so shiny, smells so nice; life is good!  5-6 years later; it’s a piece of junk, it’s so dull, it smells bad, and we need something new and better.  Then I’ll be content.

A friend posted this on Facebook this week …

If you can sit quietly after difficult news; if, in financial downturns you remain perfectly calm; if you can see your neighbors travel to fantastic places without a twinge of jealousy; if you could happily eat whatever is put on your plate; if you can always find contentment just where you are ……… you are probably a dog.

But God’s Word is always calling us to find contentment.

Hebrews 13:5 // Don’t love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said, “I will never fail you. I will never abandon you.”

Philippians 4:12–13 // I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything. I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. 

Jesus teaches us in Luke 12:15 // “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.” 

1 Tim 6:10 // For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.

 Or as the great theologian Biggie Smalls says …

Mo Money, Mo Problems.

Some Christians have that idea, that money is evil, and believe that we should all live in poverty.  But it’s not money that’s evil, it’s the love of money.  (amoral)

Jesus doesn’t call us to seek a life of poverty, or say that following him should mean we can’t enjoy the material things that this world has to offer.  God’s heart is to care for and protect the poor, but that is out of compassion, not because he loves poor people more than rich people.

But God does call us to trust him, in all things, and often our money is the toughest one to let go of.

Martin Luther, whom we talked about last week, said:

There are three conversions a person needs to experience: the conversion of the head, the conversion of the heart, and the conversion of the wallet.

 That conversion of the wallet is a tough one for many of us.  That’s why Jesus talked about money so much.  He wants our heart, and when we constantly desire money, or the things money can buy, we’re giving our affection, to something other than Jesus.

And so sidebar // If you’ve never done a Dave Ramsey course, or Crown Ministry, and any number of other courses on money management … please, please do so.  One of the best decisions for your family you can make. (and if you’ve done one, maybe God is calling you to step up and lead a financial study for Refuge???)

So we’re no longer under the law of tithing, we live under grace. And let me be clear, if you never tithe in your life, God won’t love you any less.  And if you give away everything you own, God won’t love you any more.  Jesus has already done everything that could ever need to be done to earn God’s approval.

But once we come to terms with this free gift of grace, our hearts desires begin to turn to wanting to build our relationship with God, and find pleases our loving Father.

But what is it that pleases God in regards to our money?   Let’s go back to His Word:

(2 Co 9:7–12).

7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

9 As the Scriptures say,

    “They share freely and give generously to the poor.

      Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.

11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—

the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.

Boom. I feel like we could just stop right there … If only you could only be so lucky.

We’ve been saying for the last several weeks that we are attempting to explain our culture here at Refuge, so that you can make a decision as to whether or not, this is a church you’d like to be a part of.  Well, one of the big questions I’ve gotten is; Why don’t you guys take up an offering/collection like other churches?

It comes right from this scripture, vs 7 …

7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure.

And so I’ve loved each time I’ve gotten the question because that’s a cheerful giver.  I didn’t pressure them.  They tracked me down, to ask how can we give and get involved financially with this church.

I’ve been in sales for nearly 20 years (phone).  I’m actually pretty good at it.  And so I could stand up here, and I could persuade you, and badger, and pressure you, into giving more, and I think.

I do it like I’ve heard some churches have done … They take up an offering.  The preacher comes back up again.  “It’s not enough.  Dig deeper people.  Don’t you love Jesus.  Don’t you trust Jesus. And they pass the bag again, and again, until the people submit.

But that is clearly against what this scripture says … don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure.

For the record, we do want and need your support.  We’re just not going to pressure you into giving it. This is a family, not a business or religious institution.

Our rent here is $7k/month.  We have an electric bill, internet, and some other maintenance expenses.  We need money for children’s ministry, for the youth group, but for the most part, we’ve kept our budget pretty low.

  • We don’t have any paid pastors
  • We buy John Wayne TP (rough, tough, doesn’t take crap from anyone)

But we also have a lot of great things we want to do to serve SWFL, and it does take money to do many of those things.

  • We have dreams of helping families with the cost of adopting babies/helping pregnant single mommas.
  • We have dreams of making a difference in the poor & blighted communities SWFL.
  • I have a dream of having a church van, to pick up kids or addicts who can’t drive themselves to this place.
  • Maybe you have dream on how we can make a difference … and we want to come along side you financially in making those dreams a reality.

Our goal, when we started this Church was for 50% of all giving to be used outside our church walls. To give you some perspective, most churches spend 90% internally and 10% externally.  And brag about that.  So we realize this is a lofty goal.  But I think it’s worth shooting for.

And we will be completely transparent in our finances, and so beginning in the coming months, we will be posting our monthly financial statements to the website.

But we will show our giving received from each individual (kidding), total giving, breakdown of operating expenses, and our support and generosity as a church (if the money is available) to other organization, individuals and needs in this community.

And listen, I don’t think all your giving and generosity needs to be to your church.  Granted, with our pooled resources we can often do more together, than we can individually, so there is power in numbers.  But if God has given you a passion for helping an individual or a family, or Way-FM, or a missionary in Haiti.  Go for it.  That’s the goal..  To spread the gospel.  To love the least of these

So then the logical question, (rule followers like Karen) is, “OK, I know it’s supposed to be a heart thing, but really, what am I supposed to give?  I want to get involved financially with my church, but I have no idea how much?”   

And as I’m always going to give you God’s Word … so let’s go back there …

(1 Co 16:1–2) NIV

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do.  On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made.

  • First day of each week // regular, consistent
  • Each one of you // members of the CHURCH
  • Set aside a sum in keeping with your income // So while we are no longer under the law of a tithe as was the Nation of Israel, shooting for a percentage of giving, and doing it on a regular basis, does seem to be something taught in the early church.
    • High Income vs Low Income … not for me to decide
  • Saving it up // There’s some planning and thought behind your giving. You don’t just show up here and drop some money in the safe.  You don’t just give it to the build-a-bear foundation … but you’ve given it some serious thought and searched your heart and made the decision on how much/to whom.

In 2 Cor. 8 Paul kind of brags on a Church that is giving generously, and tells the Church in Corinth (and thus us) to follow in their example …

(2 Co 8:1–7)

1 And now, brothers and sisters, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people…

(Ac 2:42–45)

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. (sacrificial)

And we could continue to go through scripture to see how generosity …

Maybe that’s your homework this week … church, community, kingdom

Let my close by saying … God … He’s pretty big and powerful.  And so the reality is, He doesn’t NEED us to accomplish his will or purpose … but he ALLOWS us to partner with him.

This past Monday, our kids had a half day at school, which in our family means a NO day at school.  So we all just stayed home, and continued our Sunday Sabbath right on into Monday.

I had a few projects I wanted to get done around the house, one of which was putting together a couple of cabinets I had ordered on Amazon for the garage … which looked really nice on the website, but when this big cabinet shows up in a flat small box, I knew I was in trouble.  Thousands of pieces.  And I hate putting stuff together (Dentist/Hugs) … Puts me in a really cranky mood.

But it needed to be done, so I go out in the HOT garage and start working … and about two hours in, Emery my now 5-year old, comes out, and says DADDY, CAN I HELP?

Did I really need her help?  Not really.

Was she going to be in the way, more than help?  Yep.

But she came out with a sincere heart because she wanted spend time with her dad.

I’m not a perfect father and yet I still enjoyed having her outside with me, spending time together, completing the work at hand.  I gave her some really simple tasks to do, and we had some father/daughter bounding time.

How awesome it is, that God, the most perfect dad ever, desires us to work right along side him.  He gives us simple tasks that he knows we can accomplish … just so we can spend time together.  Just so we can have some father/son or daughter bonding time.

Written by Brian Culbertson

Sinner turned Saint because of Jesus.


  1. Wow, Brian, way to bring it home at the end! Keep it up!

    Janelle I. Wissler, RHIA, CCS, CMT, CCDS, 2530 Hawks Preserve Drive, Fort Myers, Florida, 33905, 239-694-4341[X]. ________________________________

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