This Sunday we begin a 4 week series at the Ithaca Vineyard entitled, “In God We Trust.”  Each day this week leading up to the series, we’ll spend a little time looking at the topic of money.

Once every three years, we do a full message series on the topic of stewardship @ the Vineyard.  In addition to that series, we will generally talk about a money-related topic, 3 to 4 times per year.

I am at a point, where I am totally comfortable talking to people about money.  I’ll talk more about that later. But, I wanted to begin this series of posts, by looking back to when we started this church 11 years ago.

“Hey, we don’t pass a plate, so if you’d like to give, you can place your offering in the box in the back.”  Although I haven’t said those words in years, either James or I used to say them every Sunday.  Well, there was that one Sunday where James slipped up & said, “We don’t receive offerings here at the Vineyard,” but in general that is what we did.

At the same time, I was really afraid to talk about money.  I knew I had to talk about it sometimes, so I would put it in one Sunday each year…of course, occasionally I’d skip a year.  And every time I would talk about it, I would make a huge apology, I’d rather not do this, but, it is in the bible…so please bear with me for the next 35 minutes.

The reason we did this stuff, was because we believed that people didn’t like to talk about money. James & Liz & I had all seen churches handle money in the way that would best be described as “icky.”  Pressure, manipulation, guilt…We’d seen it, we hated it & we decided that we’d never do stuff like that here.

The only problem was, 5 years into the life of our church, we found that we had fallen into a ditch on the other side of the road.  Let me tell you a couple of stories.

First story; it’s a Sunday morning after our service, and I overhear a conversation between two women.  It went like this:

First woman: “Hey, how do you give money to this church?  They never seem to take an offering?”

Her friend who had invited her to the Vineyard: “I don’t know.  I couldn’t figure it out, so I’ve just started mailing in my offerings.”

Think about that for a minute.  Here are two people who wanted to give.  Who actually believed that as followers of Jesus it was their responsibility to give to their church…and we had made it difficult for them to do that.

Second story.  I’m at a conference with James and a guy in our church who worked in campus ministry here at Cornell.  He was telling me that one of his mentors had told him he believed that tithing was not for today.  That basically what you should do is spend your money on what you need, and then out of that decide how much you can give to God.

I flipped.  I went into why I believe you should tithe.  I spent part of the discussion (or rant), talking about if we are part of the church, then we have a responsibility to support the outreach of that church…That we give to God first…not out of our leftovers.

But I found myself talking even more about how tithing benefits me.  How by obeying God in the area of stewardship, it had made a huge impact in my life.  I shared stories of others in our church who had seen the impact of being good stewards and of tithing in their lives.

And as I was thinking about this later, I realized that by not sharing these types of stories with our church…by avoiding this subject as much as I had been, I was doing a disservice to our people.

At around the same time, I’d started reading a book by Randy Alcorn entitled, Money, Possessions & Eternity. (Quick side note, if I was coming up with a list of books that every follower of Jesus should read, this would be in the top 10).

So, between this book, and the two stories I just told you,  I realized that we were sending a message to our church.  The message we were sending was that how you handle your money has nothing to do with your relationship with Jesus.  Every week we reinforced this idea that Stewardship and Discipleship were unrelated.

As you might guess, that wasn’t the best of feelings.  So I talked it over with our leaders, and we all agreed that we needed to do a few things.

First, we needed to apologize for how we had dealt with the topic of money.  In trying to avoid some of the things we didn’t like, we had gone too far in the other direction.

Secondly, we started passing a plate…we’ll actually start with fancy blue felt bags, but those didn’t work all that well, so now we pass big plastic buckets…We incorporate the offering into worship, and by making that when people hand in their connection cards (a post for another day), we make sure everyone has something to put in so they don’t have to feel awkward.

And finally, we decided that we would change how we talk about money.  Which is regularly, and unapologetically.  Now, I think we still do a good job of not bringing in the icky stuff that makes many of us cringe.  In fact, I’ve had a number of people tell me that their first week @ the Vineyard was a time we were talking about money, and part of the reason they stuck around was because of how we’ve handled the subject.

Okay, so why do we spend 4 weeks talking about the topic of money?  Basically for the same reason, Jesus talked so much about it…for a lot of people, it is this part of their lives that keep them from experiencing all that God has for them…I really want you to be able to find freedom in this area.

Let me encourage you to set aside the next four Sundays and plan to join us as we dig into the topics of money, possessions, and trusting God.  Let’s trust God to do some great stuff in this area!