Habits and Huge Gifts: Two Things That Don't Always Please God

Gospel According to Mark, Volume 5

In the closing verses of Mark 12, Jesus holds up an impoverished widow as a picture of the kind of giving that pleases the Lord - and what she gave was almost nothing! We learn that it is not the size of the gift but the size of the sacrifice that pleases God. And we see once again that what impresses Him is not any particular habit, but the heart behind the habit.

Todd WagnerApr 21, 2002Mark 12:38-44; Mark 12:38-40; Mark 12:40; Mark 12:41-44; Matthew 6:1-6

We've been making our way through this little story of this person who made some pretty radical claims. His name is Jesus. This Jesus had revealed himself to be an individual who was no mere man but, in fact, was one who was the fulfillment of all the Law and all the Prophets. He was the one who the nation of Israel had long looked for and anticipated. He was the one who was to be the light of the world, who would be the fulfillment of one of God's original promises, and that is that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him. That's kind of a radical claim.

Where we are in this little story of Christ, this good news about God interrupting the normal course of events in history, is the last week of his life. In the last week of his life you find a lot of events he does that are rather dramatic in their unfolding and that demand some sort of response from the people who demand somewhat of a response from Christ. They say to him, "Would you explain to us why you're doing what you're doing?"

It all started a couple of weeks ago when we looked at what was the first day of his last week, when he entered into what was called the temple area. He made a pretty radical statement through some acts of overturning some tables. They came to him, and they asked this question: "By what authority are you doing this?"

Christ said, "I'll tell you what. That's the wrong question to ask. Let me give you the right question to ask. 'By what authority was John the Baptist pointing to me?'" They couldn't answer him because they knew if they did, they'd be put in the corner where they had to acknowledge that John, who was from God, said Jesus was God and they'd have to submit to him, and they didn't want to do that.

Then Jesus told a story about how he was going to hold them accountable for not asking the right questions and responding to the truth that was revealed to give them the right answers. They weren't too fond of that, and so they tried to put him in a trap. They asked this question. They said, "Hey, should you pay the poll tax, this tribute to Caesar, when we are people who were given this place by God?" See, this conflict going on over there in the Middle East right now is not a new thing.

Jesus responded by telling them, "Here's your problem. I don't care if you render to Caesar what is Caesar's. The coin has his picture on it, you give it to him, but make sure you render what has God's image on it to God. You give everything that is Caesar's to Caesar, and you give everything that is God's to God. Do you want to know the right question to ask? 'Am I rendering to God what is God's?' Deal with that."

Some other men came up and said, "Hey, we have a question for you. You believe in the so-called resurrection. Spell this out for me: What happens if a bunch of guys marry the same woman, then they all die, and they're in heaven? Whose wife is whose?" Christ let them know that the reason they couldn't handle that situation is because they didn't know their Word. They didn't know the Bible. They didn't know the power of God.

Here comes another question. It's a week of questions and responses. They say to Jesus, "What is the most significant thing we need to be worried about? What's the one thing we have to do? There are 613 some-odd laws. They're overwhelming. You know the rabbis and teachers, since the time of Moses, have made all these other rules and regulations to interpret the laws. What are we supposed to do? What's the greatest one?"

You know the response of Christ. "You're to love him in a reckless, fully devoted, wildly abandoned way, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. If you do that, you can't avoid doing the second law, which is just like that and which flows from that, which is to love your neighbor as yourself."

Then he took them back to God's Word and said, "You just remember who the Messiah is supposed to be. He is not just a great man, a great leader like David. He is David's Lord and David's God." At this point in the last week of Christ, we're just a day or two away from him being arrested in the middle of the night, betrayed by Judas. He's going to lay some things out one last time. You're going to find out what he wants to make sure he communicates here with his last breath.

He says, "You beware of men who love their positions of power and authority, who are rich in appearance but devoid of a relationship with me. You beware of people who are rich in this world and have their confidence in it. You beware that you think the world is always going to continue in this way because it's not. God is intervening right now in the person of this carpenter from Nazareth, and he will intervene again with this carpenter who will come not as a lamb but as a lion." That's what's left before we move into the trials and betrayal of Christ.

He says, "You make sure you know the right questions, and you make sure you answer those questions appropriately." We're at a little place where they're done asking Christ questions because they figured out they can't argue with this guy. They can't pin him on the question of authority. They can't pin him on the question of submission. They can't pin him down on what's on the other side of the grave, and they cannot confuse him by bombarding him with big questions about the law. He even knows the Scriptures better than they do, so they walk away.

They are done with this Jesus, but he is not done with them. Now he's going to deal with these people who have been after him as a class, the leadership of the nation. There are lessons there for you and me. Those lessons, you might imagine from what you just saw, deal with this fact…Are we asking the right questions?

There were men who were dressing a certain way, who loved positions of honor, loved titles of praise, and loved places of comfort. None of those things were necessarily in and of themselves wrong, but what was wrong was the worldview that informed them and the belief that justified their behavior.

What was wrong with our couple in our script was not the rec room. It's interesting that script that was put together by that talented group of folks they titled, "Wreck Room." That room represented, not necessarily a problem in and of itself, but that their lives were a wreck. One of them knew it, and the other one was just starting to slowly clue in and was on the edge, even, of the discussion of it.

When somebody is coming in and grabbing you at your very heart of hearts and letting you know you have some basic ideas that have gotten off balance and you've become more committed to loving yourself with all of your heart, soul, strength, and mind, you have a real problem. The problem isn't your clothes, not your title, not the size of your house. The problem is you're not even asking the right questions. While you look devoted, you're really devoid.

Let me make it really clear again in case I don't make my way back. You can build rec rooms. You can have 60-inch rear-projected televisions and not be devoid, or you can have nothing and be devoid. The issue isn't rec rooms. The issue is your life. The issue isn't clothes. The issue isn't the length of your prayer. The issue is your life and what you do with this one who is the subject of the greatest question…Who is this Jesus and, ultimately, what was he doing on a cross?

Look at Mark, chapter 12, with me. They're done asking him questions, but he's not done with them. After they ran away, because they realized this was not the right guy to enter into a casual debate with, "…in His teaching He was saying: 'Beware of the scribes who like to walk around in long robes, and like respectful greetings in the market places, and chief seats in the synagogues, and places of honor at banquets, who devour widows' houses, and for appearance's sake offer long prayers; these will receive greater condemnation.'"

Now there's a mouthful right there I want to try and digest before we get to somebody who is a positive example who teaches us the same thing these men, through their negative example, teach us. Let me remind you one more time where we are. These are the guys who were stewarded the responsibility of leading out others; of helping them understand who God was, who they were, and how to live in a right relationship with him; and how to render to God what is God's. That's who these men were who Jesus is now referring to right there in those three or four verses.

What you're going to find out is that while these guys looked like they loved God, in fact they miss him on the very first words out of his mouth. Do you want to know what the essential part of having a relationship with God is? It's loving him with all of your heart, which we can see right here does not equal loving God with all of your habits. Loving God with all your heart does not equal loving him with all of your habits. These men had some habits that even today make us wonder at their devotion, when in fact God looked at them and was not impressed with their ways but said, "You aren't devoted; you're devoid."

I was talking with some friends this week. I had a chance to spend some time with some sweet young gals who are members of our congregation, a 17-year-old and a 15-year-old, whom I had a chance to become friends with this week. It was fun. We had a ball in my office for about an hour and a half talking about everything from Kurt Cobain, his worldview, and how that relates to a junior and a freshman here in Lake Highlands in Dallas, to some of the tougher questions of the faith.

We talked about one of the things that really bothered them, and that bothers all of us, which is this idea of hypocrites. I reminded them of a point that came screaming at us earlier in this little book of Mark that we're working our way through. That little point is simply that if you're offended by hypocrites, you ought to be really encouraged by Jesus Christ. If you are offended by hypocrites, then you have found your King, because there is nobody who was more put off by those who claimed one thing and did another than this fellow here.

I want to make a quick comment. If you had watched my life… As my wife pointed out to me not many days ago, "If I had a camera right now, you'd be out of the ministry." I said, "Well, then you'd be out of a home. All right?" One of my favorite comments (I heard a friend say it, and I've said it a couple of times in here…it's true) is, "If you knew about me what I know about me, you would not come, but if I knew about you what you know about you, we wouldn't have let you in."

Let me make this really clear, because I stand before you not as a perfect man. I stand before you as a guy who sometimes his wife says, "If I had a camera right now…" All hypocrisy is sin, but all sin is not hypocrisy. Let me say that one more time. All hypocrisy is sin. There's never a time when it's not. But all sin is not hypocrisy.

I was a sinner this week, but I was not a hypocrite because I was grieved at what I know that camera would have shown: that face, that tone, that impatience, that arrogance, that pride, that heart. There was nothing in me that was hypocritical. I agreed, though at the moment for the sake of the conversation I could not tell her that. Profession does not equal possession.

If you're here today and you go, "I'm so sick of people who take the name of Christ and look nothing like him." Well, just know this. Everybody who takes the name of Christ knows nothing of him. Know this also. It is a false understanding about hypocrisy that Christians claim to be perfect. No. In fact, people who know their Bible know that the Scriptures say, from beginning to end, if we say we are without sin we make God a liar and are ourselves deceived.

I was guilty of some things this week, but I was not guilty of hypocrisy because, by the grace of God, when I see, when I get downwind of myself, when I capture a time when I'm not letting every move I make and every word I speak be for him, when I cannot answer with authority, "Does the Lord have need of this? Yes." I grieve at that. I ask forgiveness of those who were in that circle, and I ask forgiveness of my God. I thank him, and I thank them for letting me see.

If you're a guest, if you're somebody trying to figure out who Christ is, you're in a room today with a group of people who don't claim to be perfect. We do claim to be devoted. We claim to be individuals who, if you can show us an area of our life that is out of line with God's Word or our Lord and Savior, we will ask your forgiveness, agree with you, repent, and do all we can to avail ourselves of the means of grace God has given us, that we might get back on the path God wants us on.

If our lives are a wreck, what we need is conviction, repentance, and grace. We eagerly extend that to one another. Part of what we're going to look at these next three weeks is how you lovingly broach those types of conversations. These were men who were hypocritical.

A lot is made in today's church about dress and about what people who stand where I stand now should wear, and what people who sit where you sit now should wear, what's appropriate and what is not. If somebody wanted to ask the question, "Does Jesus care about what you wear?" how might you answer that? I could take them right here to Mark 12:38, and I will tell you Christ does care what you wear. He cares what you wear, but there's a little bit of a something I have to put underneath that. The reason he cares what you wear is he knows what you wear often is an indication of where you are.

Now I want to really clarify it. Christ cares what you wear because what you wear, you wear for some reason. It's really why you're wearing what you wear that is the issue. Are you still with me? Does it matter what you wear? Yes, because you put on what you put on for a reason, and it's that reason that reveals your heart. These men wore something, and Christ condemned them for what they wore. But it wasn't their clothes, it was why they wore those clothes.

Wearing pretty clothes, in and of itself, isn't sinful, but valuing yourself because of it, commanding respect because of it, is sinful. Let me make a comment. We're heading into the summer, and I want to appeal to our beautiful body. Wearing clothes you can be more comfortable in in the summer and be cooler in in the summer is not a sin, but if you wear what you want to wear because you think you look good in it, it's going to command respect and attention, and you really don't care what it does to anybody else, what you wear is, therefore, a problem.

Be mindful when you dress. Are you dressing this way because you can, and it doesn't really matter? Or are you dressing that way because you're going to love others as you love yourself, and you want to make sure your clothes are not going to necessarily, especially when we gather like this, pull people off focus?

Just being very honest, I had a friend one time, and we were having a discussion about this. This was years ago, early in the 80s. She was asking, "What do you think about wearing this outfit?" I said, "Well, I'm probably not the best one to ask, but since you've asked, I think probably you ought to think twice about that." She discounted it by saying, "Oh, Todd, you'd lust after me if I wore a spacesuit."

I go, "Well, you have a point there. I'm not recommending you wear a spacesuit. I am, since you've asked me, and I don't think I'm out of bounds saying (ask some others), that's inviting what you probably don't want, as my sister, to invite." It's a tough thing because what offends somebody and what causes somebody to struggle, may not cause somebody else to struggle.

There is no dress code in your Watermark News. I'm asking you if you love Christ, guy or girl, to think through what you wear and how it serves those who you are with. All right? What you wear isn't the issue. Why you're wearing it is. If you're wearing it because you can and, "To heck with it," or because it exalts yourself or commands attention, I can take you to a place where Jesus says, "Let's talk about that heart."

There are people who think if you're standing where I am, there ought to be a robe and there ought to be stripes and signs of education and greatness. You know what? I don't have a problem with wearing a robe or with people who do want to wear marks of their faithfulness, if they're doing it for reasons that, before Christ, they say, "I'm doing this as a worship, not to command respect or to put myself in a position of authority, or not to give myself value I don't think I have without these stripes."

Bottom line, what has to inform all these things is, "Who am I to judge the servant of another?" What you're going to see right here is all servants will be judged by their Master in terms of things like this. Bottom line, Christ looks at our heart that informs our activity with our hands, our closet, our prayers, and everything else. All you're going to get right here is he's going to say, "Look. You have the habit of looking very religious. That's fine, but that doesn't mean because of your habits that you have a holy relationship with me."

You can come in here dressed like a Pentecostal and it be your habit to not wear makeup, to wear long dresses and burlap, and still be devoid of the Spirit. Don't confuse a habit with a heart, but you should know our habits always reveal our hearts. The hearts of these men were a problem. Remember what he said? "I'm going to teach you now by negative example. This is not what it means to love me." Let's notice it. "Just to look religious in your attire doesn't mean you love me. Just to look important in your position…"

These were guys who, when they would teach… The tradition of pastors sitting up on stage in their regal chairs looking out over the common worshipper can be traced all the way back to the rabbinical authority, where they would sit in positions of honor at gatherings like this of worship, and men would look at those devout religious leaders. "They loved being up there," is what Jesus is saying. He alone, who knows the hearts of men, can say.

Proverbs informs us, "All the ways of a man are clean in his sight, but the Lord judges the motive." We get in trouble when we assess motive. Now I can ask you as a friend, "Hey, let me ask you, why are you doing that? Why are you wearing what you're wearing? Why are you praying the way you're praying at the Raise the Mark meetings? Are you trying to impress us with your piousness, or is it where you're at?" I don't know, but I can ask.

Where Christ says we get in trouble is when we start to discern motive, but we are always to observe action and to feel the freedom to comment on it. God alone knows hearts. God says the hearts of these men were out of whack. They appeared great by their clothes, by their titles, and by their seats, and they appeared good with their long prayers.

Those long prayers impressed a lot of people. They made folks think they were intimate with heaven and were concerned about their fellow man because they went on and on and on in their times of prayer. "Surely they must love me because they're in prayer so long. They're interceding for the nation, interceding for us as a group of leaders." Jesus says, "No, they're not. Do you know why they're praying long? They are praying long because they love what it appears they are when they pray long."

Catch this. Just like robes and cool clothes and comfort are not in and of themselves wrong, long or short prayers are not in and of themselves meritorious or offensive to God. What God loves and longs for is a heart that is praying, short or long, because people are truly in a relationship with him. We can say these men's long prayers were out of whack because the Scripture tells us. God said, "You do it for one reason." It's right there in verse 40. "You do it to appear holy."

I want you to catch what God says about those who are pious in their activity, but who are devoid in their hearts. In verse 40, he says, "…these will receive greater condemnation." In other words, there is a special place for men like this. It's just not where they think it is. He says, "I have a real affinity with those who hate hypocrites." If you are offended by hypocrites, you ought to be really encouraged by Christ.

What Jesus is trying to let us know, as he is wrapping up his ministry, is he didn't get hung up on appearances. He doesn't judge as men judge. What he wants are people who are, in their hearts, touched by truth, touched by grace, touched by his love; who respond to that with whole hearts, pure and holy passions, magnificent obsessions; and who follow hard after him, believing he is the way, that he is life, and that apart from him there is no truth.

There are a couple of quotes I want to read to you that I thought were really good, that encouraged me this week. One guy said this: "Those who are revered by others mistake that as a license to prey on the weak and the vulnerable. They may know what the greatest commands are, but they do not fulfill them. They love recognition more than they love God, and they trample on those who are already crushed."

One man said, "Iniquity [which is just a big fancy word for sin], thus disguised with a show of piety, is double iniquity, so its doom will be doubly heavy." Let me explain to you. What I'm trying to do is show you what I mean by those who devour widow's houses and yet love their long prayers so they can appear to be holy. He says, "You folks, we're going to have an extra-long conversation."

People who hide behind religion, use it to oppress and exploit, and use their positions of power and influence to intimidate and to thumb down those who are already broken are individuals to whom Jesus says, "We're going to have a chat, and we're going to make things right." It ain't right in this world, people, but he will make it right.

I made a little note to myself: "Those who live without prayer and have done wrong to widows will live with less condemnation than those who did wrong and disguised it with prayer and piousness." God always is more offended… Judgment is awful enough in and of itself, but those people who have the truth and who use it to crush and exploit others, who stand where I stand and sit where you sit and yet have no outflow of grace in their lives, deserve a double doom because what we do we do in the face of light and not darkness.

Let me give you a positive example. Loving him with all your heart, whatever it means, we can see clearly from this little section it doesn't mean loving him with all of your habits. What's it mean to love him with all of your strength? Pick it back up with verse 41 with me. It says, "And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the multitude were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent."

In fact, we're going to find out it was two widow's mites, equal to one farthing. If you watch Walt Disney's Robin Hood, you'll see Friar Tuck hide one farthing from the wicked sheriff of Nottingham, and they even pluck that one last farthing from him. A farthing was less than one‑quarter of a cent, so a widow's mite is about one sixty-fourth of a cent. It's something you don't even pick up when you walk by it. It's nothing.

What's interesting (I love this) is look where Jesus chooses to people watch. Kind of an interesting place to watch people, isn't it? He sat down there across from these 13 different receptacles that were shaped in the form of a trumpet, 13 different places there in this temple area. People would go up to these temple areas, these 13 different little trumpets, and they would put their money in there.

He watched all these different folks, and this poor widow walked up. When he saw what she did, giving what is such meaningless amounts that you and I wouldn't even probably care to count it and would be offended it was there to bother us, "Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, 'Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.'""This is the greatest gift," is what he said.

Let me take you one quick place to Matthew. Then we're going to come back, and we're going to talk about this positive example and why this woman is so famous that her act of giving has become a synonym, an illustration, a metaphor, for what real devoted giving looks like in cultures and languages all over the world. If you speak of a widow's mite gift everybody, even people who are not biblical students, in most cultures will know what you're talking about because God decided to lift up this woman who had a farthing-worth of money to say, "This is the model."

Look back in Matthew with me. You're going to see where Christ is very consistent with his ministry. This comes from what we commonly know as the Sermon on the Mount. You're going to see truth here, beginning to end of this whole little section we just read. He starts and ends his ministry with this message. He brackets everything he says. This is the first public ministry of Christ we have, in Matthew.

It goes like this. "Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven. So when you give to the poor, do not sound a trumpet before you…" It doesn't mean, as we would commonly think it would mean, where there's a trumpet sounding, and then someone goes, "Watch what I'm about to do."

It means when you give, don't get all your money in coinage so you could throw it in these tin receptacles so everyone can hear it going in. Everybody looks at these 13 different receptacles, and everyone knew what Christ was talking about right then. It's both the actual act and the sound it makes and, therefore, much like a processional before a king walks in. That's not the point. That's the way hypocrites give.

" [They do it] so that they may be honored by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full [right then] . But when you give to the poor, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving will be in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you." Notice what we just got through with in Mark 12.

"When you pray, you are not to be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and on the street corners so that they may be seen by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full. But you, when you pray, go into your inner room, close your door and pray to your Father who is in secret, and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you."

Here we go, gang. This is such a big deal. When we say our purpose as a church is to call all people…ourselves, our unchurched, de-churched, dead-churched, unmoved friends…to full devotion, we are there today. Do you understand how significant this passage is? It doesn't mean our habits, unless they're informed by our hearts.

Then we have this issue of giving, which in two some-odd years, it's embarrassing how little we've taught on this. By the grace of God, we're at a place where we get to visit about it today. You guys know we don't pass a basket here, not because it's godless but because we want to give you every opportunity to give like Matthew 6 instructs you to give.

We're going to talk about what kind of giving that should be today, when you go back to those receptacles. We're going to show you what it means to love God with all of your strength the way Jesus showed us, by taking this one example in Scripture and lifting it up. Here we go. Let me give you three simple, simple principles from this.

First, the greatness of a gift is not determined by its size. I have no idea of anybody who has given a dime to this church. Personally, I just don't want to go there. There are a small number of folks who do, but I know I am capable of being impressed simply by size. I am not yet like I will be, and so that I might not in any way, or so I have less opportunity to be in some way, swayed by that information, I choose to keep it over there.

I ask the folks who keep it over there to do all they can to appropriately acknowledge and encourage those whom God has given the spiritual gift of giving by acknowledging that (not just the way the IRS wants us to, which we do very carefully) but that at appropriate times to celebrate with them the good work God has done in their hearts where they give with such joy, such faithfulness, that it can be noted.

I make it very clear that doesn't mean when all of a sudden some big number comes rolling in. That might mean when something very small comes in on a faithful, consistent basis. It might mean because you know about a specific situation and there is money coming from that individual anyway, you make sure and acknowledge that, the way we acknowledge the use of all gifts here. I don't think we're anywhere near doing that perfectly, but it is the attempt and the heart to do that where it's appropriate, with a note, with a phone call.

Maybe you were thinking out there, "I've never gotten a note or a phone call." Well, we may not know your situation enough to be able to write a note with any sense. We don't know that your small gift is a great sacrifice, or that your large gift is a great sacrifice. When it becomes a point of understanding for those with that ability, we want to encourage, but we are never writing notes just because of the size.

We know this implicitly. Any woman who has received a mink coat or a diamond ring from a scoundrel knows the greatness of a gift is not determined by its cost. Listen to me. Mistresses and prostitutes are impressed by gifts that cost much and by dollars instead of by presence and devotion. Wives are not.

Yesterday was my anniversary with my bride. I could have brought her home a mink coat. I couldn't have, but if I could have, I could have. If it was absent of caring for her, loving her, and valuing her throughout the year, she might have like the mink coat, but she would have resented the man.

There are certain wives who have gone ahead and said, "You know what, I'm never going to be a wife, so I may as well be a well-kept mistress." They accept the mink coats, and they accept the big gifts. They have, in effect, been bought. You have stopped being a wife when you have let your husband stop loving you and accept his great gifts because, "It's better than nothing. I may as well take his cash because I cannot get his care." You have determined what you are. Wives are not like mistresses and prostitutes. Wives want presence and devotion.

We know that the greatness of a gift is not determined by its size; it's determined by the heart from which it came. Any child whose absent, too busy, overworked father gives them a car knows this. They know that car is not an expression of their father's love. It's not a love offering. It's a guilt offering. Children, teenagers, are often like mistresses and prostitutes. They'll take the car and resent the dad.

When I was a kid, I was 8 or 9 years old, and I was riding my bike. I was on my way to Brownie's from the woods. We used to go around in the suburbs of St. Louis and into the woods and find Pepsi bottles when they were still worth 10 cents to turn them in. That was a Bub's Daddy in my day.

Bub's Daddy was a stick of gum about 16 inches long in sour apple, grape, and cherry. I loved Bub's Daddy. I would work it out in my mouth all the time, riding my bike from my house down to this little corner drugstore. I would get my bottles with my buddies. We'd spend the entire day looking for one Bub's Daddy in the form of a Pepsi bottle somewhere in the woods or somebody's alley or something. We'd find one, and we had gold.

One day I was riding to Brownie's, and I stopped by this thing I was not familiar with as a child, which I now know intimately well. It's called a garage sale. I stopped at this thing because I saw some stuff that I thought was cool. I looked around, and I saw all this stuff. Then I saw this plastic little fat Chef Boyardee guy holding a spear with a jalapeno, a hot dog, and something else on it. Underneath it said, "The world's greatest cook." It was marked 10 cents.

I looked at that, and as a little 8-year-old who loved his mom and was grateful for the meals she made for me, I thought, "All right, Mom." There's my Bub's Daddy right there staring me in the face. Mom or Bub's Daddy? Mom or Bub's Daddy? I went down to Brownie's. I cashed in my 10 cents. I rode back to that garage sale. I had put it on layaway.

I got my little plastic Chef Boyardee-looking fat great cook. I rode that thing home, and I have to tell you, to this day I have never given my mom a gift she loves more. It was a thrown-away Pepsi bottle that to this day you can go to 629 Gaslight Lane in St. Louis, Missouri, and see it proudly displayed on top of the refrigerator.

It was my widow's mite gift to my mom. She didn't go, "Where did you get this? Out of somebody's trash? Ten cents? Are you kidding me? Do you know what I do? Do you have any idea how much time I spent cleaning your diapers, picking up your mess? Do you know how many meals I've cooked? Ten cents? This is what you got me?" My mom made me a king that day. I could have given her all the money in the world, and it would not have meant more than that little deal because it represented…what? My heart. It was my whole heart to my mom.

We know, don't we, that the greatness of a gift has nothing to do with its size? Let me tell you two things positively. The greatness of a gift is determined by the size of the sacrifice. To an 8-year-old, a Bub's Daddy is the world. To some of us, our big gifts are very impressive to a world that would watch.

I have right here (I brought it up with me) a cover of Newsweek not too long ago. The largest foundation in the history of humankind has been formed by two very generous people, by any account, from Washington. Bill and Melinda have given $24 billion. There's Newsweek, and it tells you why they have given it.

I am grateful they have given $24 billion away in their foundations, but how many of us really think that has affected anything about the way that Bill and Melinda travel, budget, dress, sleep, or vacation? It would take, depending where the stock market is, about another $60 billion plus to where they would have to start to think about whether they run the air conditioner at 72 or 75 this month. I'm not here to make a statement about Bill and Melinda Gates. I'm here to say, "Does that not blow your mind, $24 billion?"

It doesn't necessarily blow God's. He says, "The cattle on a thousand hills are mine. I don't need to have some guy inform, pay for, and provide for my mission work in my church." That's not where the money is going; it's going to world health, which is a great cause. The point is that God is not panicked for the money. What God is looking for is a relationship with people who understand who he is, who will respond to that with great joy, who give gifts of great love, and who love him with all of their strength.

Big gifts are fine, but they often are given by those whose lifestyles are not affected by the large gift. In other words, their faith is not enlarged or strengthened or challenged by the gift they just gave. A lot of people who give large gifts don't end up with larger hearts. That's what I'm saying. That's the goal. God wants us to give gifts that do, in some way, express our devotion to him by the sacrifice we make.

I have notes here. I want to read them because I was careful with this. "Sometimes small gifts can accomplish big things in the giver's heart because they affect the next day's behavior, the next day's meals, the next day's calendar, the next day's choices." They represent, "God, this is not about me and my comfort. I'm not giving out of my abundance and my surplus." He addresses that in Mark 12. "I'm giving because I delight in giving, and I am willing to reorder my life for you, your kingdom, your cause, and your glory."

It's not about big gifts and small gifts. It's about, "Is he my King, and do I pleasure in worshipping him, in delighting and watching God come back and resupply what he has stewarded to me so I can give it to other people?" Am I just saying, "What's the minimum I can give?" and getting away with it so I can sleep better? Or am I stretching, thinking, praying, asking God to grow me that I might give with more joy to more fully express the fact that all I have is his and all I want is to honor him with all my strength?

It's tempting, is it not, to give nothing when you don't have much to give? That's tempting, isn't it? You single moms or you folks who are in a transition right now who are unemployed, it's tempting to think this week, "Well, I used to be able to give this, but now if I gave 5 bucks it would be painful. It would change the way I pack lunch for my kids next week if I gave $5 this week. Five bucks! That church has millions of dollars."

What's that $5? I want to tell you something. That $5 might be the most pleasing gift to God this church ever receives. There is never a time to not steward and to not give from your strength when it's small. There is never a time to be impressed and to expect people to blow a trumpet when you give a large amount (I mean, a big number) if it doesn't somehow enlarge your heart. Do you understand it's not about the amount here, it's about the heart? It's about who's responding to God, and who's walking with him.

Let me give you another one. The greatness of a gift is determined by the state of the heart. I want to throw this out really quickly and show you what I mean. This 5C Form stuff we get is not happening in a vacuum. This was one of the questions on our 5C Form: "In the past year, how would you evaluate your contribution to the body of Watermark through your finances?" That was one of the questions everybody who has been to a Discovery class and has completed membership is asked. They self-evaluate.

What we try and do in this (and we're reworking it; we know it's not perfect) is we try and start with what would be, in effect, our least-desirable answer and work to where we think a fully devoted follower should be. You self-assess. You're going to have conversations with people who are in your lives, not a phone call from me or an elder, but with shepherds and people who you share life with if you're a member.

We asked everybody. There are four different options. We think the worst possible option you could check is you do give but you give because you feel obligated to. Now the statistics I have, that I got a couple of weeks ago, are when 70 percent of our members had turned that in. To my great embarrassment and shame there were three members who had checked that first little box.

I say that because as a shepherd I just go, "Oh man, have we ever blown it, have we ever failed in communicating what kind of heart God wants to give." That is the lowest one you could check, in our opinion. There were three. That's less than one percent, but that is three too many. I want you to know I don't know who those names are. I am so grateful for their heart and their honesty. I'm telling you that might have been the bravest thing anybody checked.

Someone is going to go to them, love them, ask their forgiveness, and tell them, "That is not what matters. The kind of giving that matters, the kind of giving that is great, is a gift that comes from the heart that finds joy in worshipping God." You could give him a ton. I have no idea how much money those three people gave, but I think it saddens the Father that they felt like they had to.

Look at the second one: "I don't financially participate with this ministry." We think that's a little better than giving because they think they have to. There were 19 folks. I have no idea who they are. I have no plan to figure out who they are. Somebody will, and they'll love you, sit with you, talk to you, and let you know you're not on scholarship. They'll tell you, ultimately, "Hey look. Maybe you haven't given because you thought what you could give was a widow's mite."

We want to come alongside you and tell you if the reason you haven't given is because you don't think you have much to give, do you know you might have the most to give of anybody in our body? This is not about us meeting budget. This is about you pleasing your Savior. You have an opportunity to go to Starbuck's one less time, to eat out one less time, to get your hair cut a little less often, and to give whatever you can give…student, single mom, widow, unemployed, fixed-income person. You might have the greatest gift because it might enlarge your heart and please God in a way that you'd go down in history.

Then there are the other two. Thirty percent of our body said they give of their resources, and it's inconsistent, sporadic, and not a result of prayerful consideration. We want to tell you that this is such a huge way for you to express your love for God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. We hope you can make your way to that last one, that you give "…sacrificially, cheerfully, prayerfully, and consider giving an act of worship."

Notice what's not there: "Are you giving 10 percent?" We don't care if you give 10 percent. If you want to know from me a place to start, that might be something to consider, but I'm telling you, that's a bad way of thinking. You know the place to start? You start with a heart that is overwhelmed with who Christ is and what he's done for you. You ask him to show himself to be Lord and King in your life and trust him with your physical well-being. You give in a way that changes your tomorrow and your choices.

You don't have to prove that to me or anybody else. That is about your heart, but I want to let you know the good news is 64 percent of our body is in that last category right now. We purpose to this end, to allow everybody to have that peace. Let me ask you this. Is everybody who checked that last one necessarily correct? No. We might be deluded but, as we prayerfully asked God to speak to us this week, this year, that's where at least 64 percent of us thought we were.

Our goal is 100 percent. That doesn't mean 100 percent of us are going to get an "Attaboy!" but it means, at least right now as best as we can discern, that's what we feel like we ought to put down. The greatness of a gift is determined by the state of the heart. Here's what I want to say to you, and I close with this: Give what God wants.

Don't give destructively. Don't give out of guilt or compulsion or because you're somehow pressured. You give prayerfully. Give a gift that reflects your heart. The reason the widow was lifted up is because based on what she did, God said, "Let me tell you something…" Only a perfect sovereign Lord, who knows the hearts of men, can say this. Some of you might give everything you have, and you're doing it for a manipulative, wrong reason. You might be doing it in a very destructive, capricious way, thinking somehow now you obligate God.

Jesus said, "That woman is giving everything she has because she is in relationship with me, and in the spirit of love, she's giving all she has." It is possible somebody else gave all they had, and he wouldn't have said that. The point is that a sovereign God intervenes right here into history and says, "That woman right there shows you what it means to love me with all her heart. It's not the size of her gift; it's the condition of her heart." For this woman, she was trusting God with everything about the rest of her day and her tomorrow.

Don't give destructively. Don't give compulsively. Don't give because you are persuaded or pressured by any man. Give because it reflects your heart. I have great news for you. Our perfect God did just that. When he wanted to show you his heart, he gave it all. He loved you with all of his heart, soul, mind, and his strength, until his strength expired on a cross.

The greatness of a gift, if it's determined by the greatness of a sacrifice… You have no idea what love is until you look at that gift, nailed to that cross, which tells you how much God loves you. If you're here today and you don't understand that, you can't give correctly.

If you're here today and for the first time someone is telling you that, though you're separated from God by your sin, though you're a hypocrite, he wants to forgive you and bring truth where there is error, bring healing where there is hurt, bring hope where there is despair, and bring purity where there has been pious rebellion, I have great news. God loves you and offers you his Son, freely today, for you to ask him to deal with your error and to change your heart so your whole way of living is like the widow's and not like the wily. Let's pray.

Father, would you grow me? Would you grow me and my wife in the area of our hearts? I thank you, God, that we didn't find in the Scripture today something about size of rec rooms or makes of cars or frequency of trips to a store. What we found, right there, is a much higher calling. That is: "Where is your heart? Where is your heart?"

Father, while we might misjudge and misunderstand other people's hearts before you, you'll never misunderstand. We are fully aware that some people living in very nice houses today are right with you, while folks who maybe are scraping to get by are in absolute, outright rebellion, and vice versa. May we not mistake blessing with nice houses, and may we not mistake devotion with small ones. May we not mistake great gifts with their size, and may we not think a gift isn't worth giving if it's small.

What we want to do is be taught by your Scriptures, informed by your Spirit, and awed at your love, to where we begin to be individuals who say, "Oh, God, would you keep growing me and allowing me to give that much more, that my heart might grow to sacrifice that little bit more in response to your love, so you might grow me and show me more of your faithfulness, that I might be a part of more of your glory through that act of self-denial and that expression of love than I've ever been?"

Lord, protect your people. May no one today be moved to do anything destructively, compulsively, or unwisely, but I pray they would not sleep apart from hearing peace from you. In Christ's name, amen.

About 'Gospel According to Mark, Volume 5'

The most influential person in history is also the most misunderstood and misrepresented. Two thousand years after He walked the earth, Jesus of Nazareth is still a mystery to many people. Whether you admire Him, worship Him, despise him or simply don't know about him, it's difficult to deny that any other single person has had more influence on our world than Jesus has. But how do we come to understand a man who is so commonly misunderstood? Join Todd Wagner for a walk through the Gospel of Mark and look into the life of one man who changed the entire course of human history. See Jesus for who He truly is and learn how He can change the course of every individual life that understands, responds to and trusts in Him. <strong></strong> This volume covers Mark 10:35 through Mark 12:44.