TRA 9th June, 2002
Using Limited Resources Well
Occasionally a member, usually an aged pensioner of this church will say to me: "I don't see the point of giving my offering. It is so small and insignificant. What can $5 or $10 a week do in a church where our budget is $125 million a year, and where some donors give us gifts of hundreds of thousands, and even millions and I remember on one occasion, twelve million dollars? What good can my small weekly gift do?" I reply kindly.
For one thing, your giving to God does good to you. Even if all our work were totally funded, I would still encourage people to give. We each need to learn to give and not just receive. We each need to learn to give, as we should, for then we unlock the promises of God, which bless us far more than we can ever expect.
But more than that. Your regular gift, week by week, in proportion to your income, actually provides for all of our church ministry of worship, evangelism, Christian education and missionary support. In the 1970's when I was first appointed I said I would raise much money for all of our ministries of mercy and deeds of compassion to the poor and hurting. I said I would not use money given in offerings for this work. I would seek to raise it from the non-church going community. In order to have integrity in this, I said I would never use donations for caring work for the church ministries. They would be paid out of the gifts of our members. I would never ask for money to house the homeless and feed the hungry and use that for evangelism and missionary work or worship service. Neither would I use offerings for community service and social welfare.
Church members would need to pay for the worship services they attend, for their own pastoral staff and for missionary outreach and the like. Hence the offerings of our church members pay for many of our ministry staff, and the weekly costs of ministering as a church. But not all. Our offerings do not pay our occupancy costs for our buildings, for the overheads of our pastoral staff office, and for many other expenses. Fortunately, some of our donors are Christians and appreciate our television and radio ministry. Such donors provide over half a million dollars a year to supplement the offerings of all of our members from all congregations. My salary is not paid from our offerings, but from donors outside of our church membership. So your offerings are necessary for our worship services and other church programs.
But there is another important ministry your offering completes every week. A portion of every offering, every week, as decided by the Mission Council, goes to help the wider work of the church, our missionary support in more than thirty countries, our support of theological education, outback ministries, and specialised ministries in universities and the like. Without your help this work would not be done. Every ten dollars or fifty dollars a week reaches far beyond our congregations. Yet people are often of the view that their little resources will achieve little. The problems of people, the demands of the needy, the opportunities of evangelism are all so great that small donations seem inadequate. So their pessimism leads to paralysis. Because they cannot do everything they cease to do even the something they can do. What a tragedy! Even small resources, offered to Jesus, can be multiplied in His work.
On several occasions Jesus faced a massive crowd of hungry people who needed food. His disciples, overwhelmed by their need, offered the same excuses we hear today from politicians. But Jesus held a different attitude. We know well the account of Jesus feeding five thousand Jewish men plus women and children who left home one morning and gathered around Him until late in the afternoon on the East coast of Lake Galilee. There was another occasion when four thousand gentile men together with their families followed Jesus for three days in the far north beyond Galilee, a desolate area not like the grassy hills of the other story, with a different supply of food at the beginning and a different amount collected afterwards in different kinds of baskets. Some of the principles of using limited resources well to care for people in great need are demonstrated on both occasions. His attitude was different. He approached their need in a different manner. He had a commitment based on care. Jesus took inadequate resources provided by His disciples and multiplied them to meet human need. Jesus shows us how to use limited resources well.
1. THE NEEDS OF PEOPLE CAN OVERWHELM US.
Matthew tells us that Jesus was weary and needed rest. Matt 15:29-31 "Jesus left there and went along the Sea of Galilee. Then He went up on a mountainside and sat down. Great crowds came to Him, bringing the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others, and laid them at His feet; and He healed them." Thousands of Gentiles from the area of the ten Greek cities of the Decapolis converged upon them. The disciples were overwhelmed. There were miracles of healing among "the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute and many others."
As a result, the God of Israel, the Father to Whom Jesus prayed, was praised by these non-Jews. 31"The people were amazed when they saw the mute speaking, the crippled made well, the lame walking and the blind seeing. And they praised the God of Israel." We who follow Jesus so often respond to human need, not with His attitudes, but with the attitudes of His disciples.
MOST PEOPLE SEE ONLY THE SIZE OF THE NEED.
They see the problem. But Jesus sees the people. 32 "Jesus called His disciples to Him and said, "I have compassion for these people; they have already been with me three days and have nothing to eat. I do not want to send them away hungry, or they may collapse on the way." Jesus saw the people, not just the problem. He had compassion for them. There were too many people. No one had any food. Every one was hungry. The hour was late. The locale was desolate. The disciples were pessimistic. 33"His disciples answered, "Where could we get enough bread in this remote place to feed such a crowd?" So many in our country are pessimistic about feeding the hungry of the world or the poor in our own country: the problem is too big, time has run out, and we can't make a difference! The disciples wished the people would go away. Many today hope the problem will go away. Defeated themselves, they don't want to see it. They turn their backs on the needy. They blame the poor indicating they cause their own needs. Street kids are dismissed, told to go home. The hungry are dismissed and told to get a job. The AIDS victims are dismissed because of their behaviour. None of these statements help in any way. They are just a means of hoping the problem will go away.
MOST PEOPLE UNDERESTIMATE THEIR RESOURCES.
Their defeated attitude paralyses their use of existing resources. 34 "How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked. "Seven," they replied, "and a few small fish." Jesus believed they could handle the problem with right attitudes, belief and commitment. But they felt their resources would not make any difference.
MOST PEOPLE WANT MONEY TO SOLVE EVERY NEED.
Most people think social problems can be solved by money. Every time I speak with a politician about social needs the politician starts talking about money! They do not even think of other answers. Money alone does not meet human need. It may keep people dependent. These disciples had the wrong attitudes and their beliefs were overwhelmed by the vastness of human need. Jesus taught the disciples how changed attitudes, beliefs and commitment could meet the greatest of human need.
2. THE NEEDS OF PEOPLE CAN BE OVERCOME BY US.
If we proceed with the attitudes, beliefs and commitment of Jesus we can make a difference. His approach was effective because it utilises what we have in our hands.
WE START BY CARING FOR PEOPLE. Nothing happens until we really care. "I have compassion for these people," said Jesus. We each can start by caring for people hungry and homeless, who do not worship and enjoy Christian love. Lack of care makes for a cold winter!
WE USE WHAT IS AT HAND. Never overlook the resources you already have. The disciples despaired when they replied to the question:34 "How many loaves do you have?" Jesus asked. "Seven," they replied, "and a few small fish." So little! But use what you have. Go ahead in faith. Your resources will be multiplied.
WE BREAK THE NEED INTO MANAGEABLE BITS. Jesus shows good management sense is needed to answer big needs. Thousands of hungry people have enormous needs, but small groups can be managed. 35"He told the crowd to sit down on the ground." Mark adds: "So the people sat down in rows, in groups of one hundred and groups of fifty." 6:39 Churches cannot feed 20,000 street kids every day, but when we care, use the resources at hand, and meet small groups of kids one at a time, we can feed them all.
WE START IN FAITH. Jesus knew that meeting needs has an element of risk in it. It requires faith. 36 "Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, and when he had given thanks, he broke them and gave them to the disciples, and they in turn to the people. They all ate and were satisfied." What would have happened if Jesus had looked up to heaven, given thanks, and still had only seven barley loaves and a few fish? That was the risk!
WE CONSERVE WHAT REMAINS. Jesus does not accept waste or environmental mess! "Afterward the disciples picked up seven basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over. The number of those who ate was four thousand, besides women and children." Just a conserving of remnants and a gathering of what was left over, could be the start of helping others elsewhere. Together our gifts can make the difference when given thoughtfully.
So many are overwhelmed by the size of the need. They wish the needs would go away. They underestimate their own resources. They think more money is needed. Yet people of faith show the needs of people can be met. They care for people. They use what is already at hand. They use limited resources well!
Break the need into manageably proportions. Start in faith. Conserve what remains. Good stewardship is the story of how God takes the limited resources offered in faith and multiplies them. Your tithes and offerings may seem small, but given in faith, great things happen through them. Nothing will ever happen while people withhold their giving. But when people - even people with limited resources - use well what they have in their hands: generously, regularly, prayerfully, then great things happen through God's multiplying grace!
In 1989, a handful of us stood in a windswept paddock in Plumpton, Western Sydney. From a gift of some land we would build five two-storey houses for very poor families through volunteer labour. It was a mammoth task for a few people of faith. We built the five, then two others. On behalf of Habitat for Humanity I presented seven Bibles and seven sets of house keys to seven families who could never own their own home. Their interest free repayments since have helped build another twenty houses. Twenty-seven extremely poor families now own their own homes, knowing they are helping others, because a few learned to use their resources well. If people give what they have in their hands the Lord will multiply it! Offering to God your limited resources can produce great results.
Faith builds houses. Faith feeds the hungry. Faith sustains ministry. What is the difference between people who are overwhelmed and those who overcome? It is your attitude, your beliefs and your commitment. Why not change your attitudes? Trust your beliefs? Commit yourself to the way of Jesus? Do it now!
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