by Pastor Mike Stine
In 1972 the Miami Dolphins became the only football team to go undefeated in a season. Every year, there is are several football teams with hopes and aspirations of duplicating this feat but 33 years later, it has not been done.
Besides their legacy of being the only undefeated team in NFL history, the Miami Dolphins have a new legacy in recent years. They have been known as a warm weather team.
Year in and year out, the Miami Dolphins jump out to a good start on the season. They work their way to a good record and look to be on their way to the playoffs when November rolls around. Unfortunately, by the middle of November into December, the team starts losing games. Maybe it is because they are accustomed to warm weather and can’t go into places that are cold and win games. Maybe it is simply a mental thing that they cannot overcome. Whatever the case, down the stretch, when it is really needed the most, the team cannot win games that they need.
The plague of the Miami Dolphins is a sad one for their fans, as I am one of. However, as much as I love it, football is only a game. What saddens me far more is when I see what I will call “Dolphin syndrome” occur in mature Christians.
I’ve encountered far too many Christians, some of whom I’ve known most of my life, become stricken with “Dolphin syndrome.” These Christians have lived exemplary lives and have been a powerful testimony to others about them. They have served on church commissions and taught Sunday school.
However, at some point, people believe that they have done their religious duty and that they can sit back and rest on their laurels. Too many Christians have given up on their commitments and have stopped running the race as they should. Instead of striving for an excellent life with excellent service, Christians have become quite content with mediocrity. In the end, these Christians do not attain all that God had for them and at the end of their life they look back at wasted years and wonder what went wrong when things started out so well.
There has never been a time when commitment is more important to the church. This is true not only for mature Christians but believers in every stage of their lives. Likewise, there has never been a time when we have so many options in which to invest ourselves. During the week there are a hundreds of things vying for our attention: work, family, school, meetings, church, TV, sports, friends, and 101 other recreational activities. The weekend doesn’t get any better either.
Even if we weed out things that are unproductive in our lives, there are so many good things that we may invest ourselves in. Serving on the school board or helping in a scouting program is not a bad thing. However, even these things, when they take away from our service to God can be bad. A missionary to Cambodia told me once that the greatest challenge he faced in his work was deciding what was best for his time. In the country he was serving in, there were an infinite number of things he could do to help others out and in turn have a chance to share the gospel. However, he had to use discretion in determining what would be the most fruitful for his commitment.
The Israelites faced a situation where they had to choose where their priorities lay and to who or what they would be committed. As the Israelites crossed over into the land God had promised their ancestor Abraham, they had a flourishing land with which they could do absolutely anything they wanted. After years of wandering in the desert and having to move whenever the Lord told them to move, they were free to settle where they wanted, build cities, and do as they pleased. Joshua had one final challenge for them however.
In Joshua 24:11-24 the Lord says, 11 “When you crossed the Jordan River and came to Jericho, the men of Jericho fought against you. There were also many others who fought you, including the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. But I gave you victory over them. 12 And I sent hornets ahead of you to drive out the two kings of the Amorites. It was not your swords or bows that brought you victory. 13 I gave you land you had not worked for, and I gave you cities you did not build—the cities in which you are now living. I gave you vineyards and olive groves for food, though you did not plant them.
14 “So honor the Lord and serve him wholeheartedly. Put away forever the idols your ancestors worshiped when they lived beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord alone. 15 But if you are unwilling to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”
16 The people replied, “We would never forsake the Lord and worship other gods. 17 For the Lord our God is the one who rescued us and our ancestors from slavery in the land of Egypt. He performed mighty miracles before our very eyes. As we traveled through the wilderness among our enemies, he preserved us. 18 It was the Lord who drove out the Amorites and the other nations living here in the land. So we, too, will serve the Lord, for he alone is our God.”
19 Then Joshua said to the people, “You are not able to serve the Lord, for he is a holy and jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and sins. 20 If you forsake the Lord and serve other gods, he will turn against you and destroy you, even though he has been so good to you.”
21 But the people answered Joshua, saying, “No, we are determined to serve the Lord!”
22 “You are accountable for this decision,” Joshua said. “You have chosen to serve the Lord.”
“Yes,” they replied, “we are accountable.”
23 “All right then,” Joshua said, “destroy the idols among you, and turn your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
24 The people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God. We will obey him alone.” (New Living Translation)
On that day, the Israelites made a commitment to serve the Lord. This is a commitment all those who call themselves Christians have made. It is a commitment that we don’t live up to often enough. The Israelites did not live up to the commitment they made either and went through several cycles of backsliding and repentance. I ask today for commitment from each person here that the habit of backsliding may be defeated.
There are only three things that we can give in our service of the Lord. They are our time, our talents, and our treasure. (Those are all T’s so you can remember them easily!) These are the only things we can offer God. Truthfully, they are not even ours to offer, they are only ours to offer back. The Lord owns all that is and we can give Him nothing that isn’t already His. Each of our talents were given to us by God. And finally, he has numbered our days so that not even our time belongs to us.
However, we rob God of these things all the time when we declare that we are too busy or do not have the money to support the church. Likewise, we are unwilling to use for His service the talents the Lord has given us.
1000 years after the people of Joshua’s time declared that they would serve the Lord, God through the prophet Malachi, declares that the people were not serving him and instead were robbing Him. The Lord calls for repentance from the Israelites and I believe that the call for repentance needs to be proclaimed in the church today as well. Listen to Malachi 3:6-18 and ask yourself if the words do not ring true of the church today.
“I am the Lord, and I do not change. That is why you descendants of Jacob are not already completely destroyed. 7 Ever since the days of your ancestors, you have scorned my laws and failed to obey them. Now return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.
“But you ask, ‘How can we return when we have never gone away?’
8 “Should people cheat God? Yet you have cheated me!
“But you ask, ‘What do you mean? When did we ever cheat you?’
“You have cheated me of the tithes and offerings due to me. 9 You are under a curse, for your whole nation has been cheating me. 10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Let me prove it to you! 11 Your crops will be abundant, for I will guard them from insects and disease.* Your grapes will not shrivel before they are ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all nations will call you blessed, for your land will be such a delight,” says the Lord Almighty.
13 “You have said terrible things about me,” says the Lord.
“But you say, ‘What do you mean? How have we spoken against you?’
14 “You have said, ‘What’s the use of serving God? What have we gained by obeying his commands or by trying to show the Lord Almighty that we are sorry for our sins? 15 From now on we will say, “Blessed are the arrogant.” For those who do evil get rich, and those who dare God to punish them go free of harm.’ ”
The Lord’s Promise of Mercy
16 Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. 17 “They will be my people,” says the Lord Almighty. “On the day when I act, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient and dutiful child. 18 Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.” (New Living Translation)
This passage speaks directly of tithes and offerings, so I will refer to them for just a moment and then return to the two other T’s, talents and time. God proclaims that the people are cheating Him by not giving to him what they ought. Earlier in the book of Malachi, God proclaims that the people are bringing crippled and mutilated animals for sacrifice. What the people were bringing to God were things for which they had no use. A sacrifice that does not cost us anything is not a sacrifice at all. Let me repeat this again, a sacrifice that does not cost us anything is not a sacrifice at all.
There are numerous Christians who dutifully give a 10% tithe and it doesn’t affect their lifestyle. While this is an offering to the Lord, do not mistake this for sacrifice. Sacrifice means giving something up.
Some stats on tithing from http://www.barna.org from 1999 say that 16% of born again Christians gave no money to their church during the year. People who actually tithe 10% or more of their income are well in the minority. They comprise only 8% of Christians. Also disheartening is that smaller churches (those under 100 members – also the size of the majority of churches) receive the least money per member. The average donation per adult in 1999 in small churches was only $488.
To put this in perspective, this average is less than ten dollars a week ($9.38 to be exact) and is less than a meal for two at a fast food restaurant. If every church member skipped one meal at a fast food restaurant per week and instead gave that money to the church, offering amounts would double!
Just for reference, the average tithe I’ve read from another source is 2.6%. (I can’t remember exactly where though unfortunately) If Barna’s figures are to be taken and an average income of $35,000 nationwide is assumed, the average tithe would be only 1.4%
Now the purpose of this is not to shame anyone or point fingers. I don’t know anyone’s financial situation and I’m not about to start watching how much people give or call employers to ask how much anyone makes. But if you are short changing God, you’re missing out on tremendous blessing.
The statement God makes in Malachi 3:10 are not just empty words. They are a promise. God says “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in!” God says to test Him and see if he will not stay true to His word. Do you believe God would lie? Will He not bless you imaginably if you only give Him what he asks of you?
All of that said, there are other ways we can give to God that do not require money. We can give of our time and our talents. These may be even more important things than money. For those who are retired, you may be on a fixed income and may not be able to give financially as much as you would like. This is when “Dolphin syndrome” begins to set in. You may feel as if you have done your duty or that you do not have as much to contribute as you once did.
However, those who are no longer working full time often have more free time that they can use for the Lord’s work. Even if this is not so, those who are older have a lifetime of wisdom and talents that they have acquired. These must be shared with younger generations because if they are not, how will they be passed on?
In eastern cultures, the elderly are highly respected for their wisdom. In the west, this is not so. Some of this is because we have not been taught to respect our elders and younger generations appear to be more rebellious than older ones. However, this is also because many of the older generations have not given the younger ones a reason to respect them.
Part of the tragedy that goes along with “Dolphin syndrome” is that the when people reach a point that they no longer show the commitment to God that they once did, they fail to pass on their wisdom and use their lifetime of acquired talents. This needs to stop and the older generations need to be a better example for the younger ones.
So what are ways that one can share their time, talents, and treasure for the service of the Lord? Treasure should be obvious – give to the work of the Lord. If you give as the Lord would have you to give, you’ll be blessed. If you are unsure of how much you should give or are financially able to give, ask the Lord to make it clear to you.
There are many ways you can use your time. You can visit the sick and shut in. You can work at the local food bank. You can help the Salvation Army. Make friends with your neighbors and invite them to church. Help at church functions.
Attend church regularly. Many people do not consider this to be serving and do not understand how faithful attendance encourages the pastor and even other members of the church. In my experience, only about 50-75% of church members are in attendance any given week. How much of a difference would it make if every Christian made it a priority to attend church as often as they were physically able? What could be more encouraging for a pastor than to see that 100% of the congregation felt it was a priority to come to church every week?
Another very important way to spend your time is to pray. This can be done by the least of us, and should be. It doesn’t require any travel, so even those who can’t get out or can’t drive are capable of doing it. And just like church attendance, I can’t stress the significance enough. God answers prayer. Everyone should know this and I hope that everyone believes it. Therefore, why shouldn’t we be constantly asking God to help our church reach the lost? There are people a stone’s throw away from us who are going to hell because they have not been reached with the gospel. Some of them do not wish to hear. Some need softened hearts. This is why we pray. God can and does change hearts and if we ask Him to do so, He will respond.
We need to pray for our community and ask God to make us effective in reaching it. Obviously, the list of things to pray for doesn’t end here. We need to pray for the leaders of our country. Our church needs to be remembered in prayer daily. Likewise, we need to remember the sick and those who are shut in. The list goes on and on.
So how do we use our talents for the Lord? First off, we should know where our talents lie and how we can best use them. There are several websites that offer spiritual gift tests now. I would encourage everyone to find out where their gifts lie. Some people have gifts of service and can help when there is a plumbing problem, a broken window, or even just mowing the lawn.
There are others who have teaching abilities. There are some here who hold a lot of biblical knowledge and are unwilling to share that with others. This is a shame and should not be so. Teaching doesn’t have to be in front of a group of people either – it can be one on one with another person.
Other people have the ability to work well with children while others can work well with those in nursing homes. There are people with musical abilities that can serve God through music. Other people are gifted at evangelizing and talking to others about Christ.
The church as a whole is the body of Christ. Each individual church is also a body and each member has their own gifts. As a body, the each church should have everything it needs to function. I do not believe that God puts together crippled churches. If a church is crippled and unable to function as it should, it is because there are members of the church who are unwilling to use the gifts God gave them.
The end of the passage I read from Malachi 3:6-18 says, “Then those who feared the Lord spoke with each other, and the Lord listened to what they said. In his presence, a scroll of remembrance was written to record the names of those who feared him and loved to think about him. 17 “They will be my people,” says the Lord Almighty. “On the day when I act, they will be my own special treasure. I will spare them as a father spares an obedient and dutiful child. 18 Then you will again see the difference between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.”
Today, I am asking each person here where they are at in their commitment to the Lord. Are you vibrant, strong, and using your time, talents, and treasure the way the Lord would have you? Or have you been lacking in your commitment? Have you been giving sacrificially to the Lord? Have you been using your time wisely and your talents for the service of the Lord?
Or have you become a victim of Dolphin syndrome? For whatever reason, you aren’t as committed as you once were and are in danger of finishing a once vibrant and service filled life less than spectacularly.
I’m asking everyone right now to pray and ask God where they stand in their service to Him. Am I stealing from God in the way I use my time, my talents, or my treasure? Or am I giving sacrificially in my service to God? Is there a particular need in this church that needs to be filled that possibly I could fill, or help fill?
If we are faithful in giving to the Lord through our time, talent, and treasures, He will be faithful in blessing us so that we may be even better able to serve Him.