What’s in the Well Comes Up in the Bucket: Tom Melzoni
Hey, Grace. In just a minute, you are going to get an incredible message from an incredible person. Tom Melzoni is going to be speaking for us this weekend, and I want to give you just a little bit of background about who he is because he’s got a really unique set of skills and background. First of all, he’s an incredibly educated man. He has a master’s degree from Southern Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, and he has a PhD from Columbia University. On top of that, Tom has pastored numerous churches, but the one I want to highlight, he was the executive pastor for W.A. Criswell at the First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas. At the time he was there, it was the largest church in America. On top of that, Tom is someone that churches all across America call on a regular basis to come in and do consulting, help them grow, help them raise funds and to speak.
In fact, Tom has raised, personally — check this out — over a billion dollars to help the local church. He has his own foundation called The Melzoni Foundation. On top of that, people seek him out regularly to come and talk about church consulting, growth and how to raise funds for their church so that they can continue to grow.
I think we are going to be blessed and honored this weekend as he comes to speak, but here’s the coolest nugget about Tom. Tom and his wife consider us, Grace Community Church, their home church. And I thought it would be so cool to have Tom come and speak to us, a man with such a rich and varied experience and background. I think we’re going to learn a lot. I think we’re going to hear a lot. I think we’re going to get challenged. And I think God’s going to speak to us. So, Grace, would you give Tom Melzoni a huge round of applause? Let’s welcome him to the stage.
Hello, Grace. It’s just great to say that to my family. Isn’t that wonderful? I come to the Saturday night services because I go by this saying that if God wanted me to get up before sunrise, He’d make it rise later. I’ve had a joy meeting some of you as I’ve walked around because I just love to meet my family. I even had some folks from Marine City, Ohio here that I actually work with their church. They actually showed up, so that’s pretty incredible. I did sort of grow up in Marine City. I was born in Kentucky, so Chip and I have — I’m just a chip off the old block. Right?
I moved here and began the search for my own spiritual home. For me, that was very unusual because I’ve always been sort of a pastor or on staff, so [inaudible]. I never really had the option of choosing a church. So, I made my pro and con list. You know? Those things that you try to do. I really had not even gotten real intense about it. I went to — what do they call that thing? First Friday? And some of you, you were doing the children’s thing. I walked over there and I said, “Wow! I love that idea.”
So, I walked up to the booth and I said, “Where is your church located?” Well, after they told me, I still didn’t know. So, I came back to the downtown Christmas Eve service and I wept. It was just a moving, extraordinary experience for me to be there with thousands of others from our community, just worshipping the Lord. And I actually sent an offering before I ever showed up because that was such a moving experience for me. And then I came. That very week, I went to a gathering where I live here in Lakewood Ranch. I walked into the home of the Steinbachs, and where do they attend? Here. They’re Saturday nighters also. We are the blessed group on Saturday night.
So, they were just so “intentional neighbors,” just being who they are in saying welcome. And then I came a little more, and wow, Chip’s a great teacher, isn’t he? I mean, I don’t know of anyone in the world, really, who is a better Bible teacher than our pastor. I mean, wow. Whoa. I mean, he knows so much it makes me mad, he’s so good. It’s just awesome.
But that six o’clock Saturday night service was bothering me because I needed to get out of town sometimes to speak on Sunday at other churches. So, I finally had coffee with Tom. I said, “Tom, you know, I really would love if we could ever have a Saturday five o’clock service.”
He said, “We’re starting that in two weeks.”
You know, there’s a point where if God doesn’t stop knocking me upside the head — so, this is my family now. I’m just thrilled. Just thrilled. And what an awesome opportunity we have. I mean, we, as a people, in my opinion, have one of the great opportunities of the world to make an impact in people’s lives. It’s just about who we are, being intentional neighbors, being on mission to share the joy and hope and hallelujah of what God has placed inside us, and just being willing to be generous and sharing that with others. We have a great opportunity. We have a big task. You know? We need more space. It’s unreal how many people come here. I mean, they just keep coming in. Last night, this morning, there’s another one. And we’ve got to have more space, but that’s going to require what? Yeah. It’s going to require us to be generous. It’s going to require us to be generous. It’s going to require us to be radical.
If you’re an old-timer, it’s “sacrificial,” but for you new folks, it’s “radical” in giving. But that’s fun. That’s fun to just be able to invest in who we are.
You know, I had to buy a new home when I came here. I am so thrilled for the faith that the banks had in me. At 65 years old, they gave me a 30-year mortgage. I said, “Well, if the banks can have faith, I can have faith in my church.”
You know? Just being able to invest. It’s going to require generosity. That’s a great word. I want you to watch this video.
Generosity. We need to challenge our churches to be generous. If we don’t, I believe, as leaders, we’re missing out, and our people are missing out. There’s something awesome that God wants to do through your life and through your church that unless you’re generous, you’ll never, ever see happen.
You don’t just give so other people can find life in Christ. You give so you can find your own life. When you give your life away, Jesus says that’s how you find it.
As a church planter, just about one year into our church plant, the temptation for me, as a leader, is to guard all of the resources we have so that we can become self-sustaining even quicker. But I have found that as we are generous with the gifts of God’s people, the DNA of our community as a church is growing into a sense of generosity that I never thought was possible.
Because we have an incredibly generous God who has lavished His love, His grace and His gifts on us. So, when people are generous, they enter into that part of God’s story and it changes them.
There are a number of phrases that we use that are just absolutely wonderful phrases. Phrases like “cleanliness is next to godliness.” I love that phrase. Another phrase: “What’s in the well comes up in the bucket.” Or “every tub sets on its own bottom.” Wait a minute. My big mama, that’s my grandma, taught me that one. Don’t laugh. I’m from southeast Kentucky, actually. Born in the hills. I was born so far back in the mountains you went toward town to hunt. And my grandmother, she was a wise lady. She would say that. You know, every tub sits on its own bottom. Or maybe giving is what God wants for you, not from you. Our need to give is greater than God’s need to receive. Our need to give is greater than Grace’s need to receive.
Generosity is the new evangelism. We would call it “intentional neighbor.” Now, all of those phrases are extraordinary phrases. And I do promise you that as a young preacher, I would really get into “every tub sits on its own bottom,” and “what’s in the well comes up in the bucket” because my grandmother had taught me those and I assumed they were in the Bible. One person challenged me one day and said, “Where is that in Scripture?”
I said, “I don’t know, but I’ll call my grandma.”
I called my grandma and she said, “Well, if it’s not in there, it ought to be.”
Well, we call those phrases “almost Bible” because they really are good phrases. They have deep and wonderful meanings. They just didn’t make the cut. So, they’re “almost Bible.” Well, there’s another phrase. Where your heart is, there your treasure will be. But Jesus said it another way. See? That’s almost Bible. Jesus said it another way. What did Jesus say? Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. That’s different, isn’t it?
Now, see, I would’ve thought that I needed my heart first. That where my heart is, my treasure’s going to be. But Jesus was saying something very, very different. Where your treasure is. Now, in the preceding verses, He really was talking about a currency which was beyond bitcoin. It was a heavenly currency of laying up treasure in heaven through the trifecta. Time, talent and treasure of just being who we are and living out a life of generosity. Giving from a heart of joy and thanksgiving. Doing those things which we know to do is right and helpful, therefore we’re laying up treasure in heaven. And where our treasure is, our heart will be.
Who taught you to give and how did they do it? Who taught you to be generous and how did they do it? I know, as a child, my dad, who was a minster, would set out four offering envelopes. Each Sunday morning, we’d get up and we’d go into the breakfast table. Those offering envelopes would be there. My dad would say, “I’ve deposited at least a tenth of our income into these envelopes,” and we would pray over those envelopes each and every Sunday.
Well, the first week that I received an allowance in my life, and I walked into that breakfast, my envelope was empty. And my dad said, “Junior, it’s your turn.”
Hmm. He was teaching me. Now, I can’t tell you I did that with joy. I felt like I was in the Old Testament. I had to do it. You know? It’s obligatory. But those roots were being places into my life. As I grew in giving, the joy came. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be. As I just kept on doing those things which were just taught of me — and yes, required — the joy came. It was a thrill. It was a hallelujah. Can you imagine being in, say, the first church? You know, the Old Testament had temples, but we had this thing in Acts occur called the birthday of the Church. That happened on Pentecost. The Church became new. It was brand new. The concepts were new. The thoughts were new. The cross had occurred. Redemption had taken place. And there was an offering.
Well, Acts 4 really gives us an account of what was taking place. You see, in the Old Testament, as Chip taught us last week, they tithed. Alright? Are you with me? Chip taught us the traditional Old Testament understanding of tithing as being a tenth. There were at least two other tithes in the Old Testament. When I was a pastor, I would teach these. There was the tenth, and then there was what some call the Levitical tithe, which was a tenth just for ministry, and another tenth for the right to worship, called the festival tithe. So, it was for the right to even come in here and worship. A tenth for ongoing ministry, a tenth for festivals, and then another 3% for the poor. Twenty-three percent. Then there was the jubilate tithe. It was meant for every six years you didn’t have to give a thing. Yay! I’m in on that one. Isn’t that good? But every seventh year, you had to sell everything you had and give it all, even your clothes. Everything you had.
Now, when I was a pastor, I would teach those three, and I would say, “Which do you prefer?” They would say, “None of the above.” All of those Old Testament tithes had a thread that was weaving through them, whichever one you practiced. And whenever a tithe was given in the Old Testament, there was a common thread. It was a thread of redemption because giving in the Old Testament was done as an act of redemption. Chip taught us last week about the firstfruit. The firstfruit was given not even knowing that there would be a second fruit. That was faith. I mean, we get our paychecks now and, of course, it’s mostly direct deposited. So, we look at the account. But, you know, we try to figure it out.
They gave their first not knowing there’d be anything else. Whoa. We call that faith. Giving is an act of faith. It is the one tangible expression of faith that we, as God’s people, have to offer. It’s a way of saying thank you. It may be the only tangible expression of thank you. But here they were in this new thing and it wasn’t their parent’s offering plate. You see, the cross had occurred and the cross was an act of redemption. Are you getting the thread? Remember the thread that wove its way through those tithes. It was an act of redemption.
So, the cross occurred. The ultimate act of redemption. For God so loved the world He...
Oh, yeah. Let’s go deeper. For God so loved the world He tithed. It was an act of redemption. Whoa. Isn’t that awesome? So, now, we’re trying to figure out giving in the New Testament. Those verses are pretty astonishing where it said they sold their possessions and shared as they had need. They even sold their land. They went so specific there in Acts 4 where it mentioned one gentlemen, and they called him a Levite. They said, “He sold his property.” Now, understand that may not sound hard, but it was their birthright. I mean, their property was their birthright. And they no longer, because of the cross, had the obligation of giving. Now they did so with joy and thanksgiving and hilarity. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we got out of our cars on Sunday morning — or Saturday night — and we ran into this place, saying, “I can’t wait for the offering?”
Wouldn’t that be exciting? It ought to be the most joyful, glorious time in our experience here because we’re saying, “Thank You, God, for what You’ve done in my life. Thank You, God, for redemption.”
Now, some of us give online. That’s how I do it. But when the offering plate is passed, I still say, “Thank You, God, for the redemption in my life.” See, the New Testament style of giving was not in burden, but in joy. God loves what kind of giver? What kind of giver? Hilarious, it says. That’s more than cheerful. It’s given with hilarity. Whoa.
I have a client that I work with. When they receive the offering, balloons drop. Whether we would do that physically or not, that’d be a little hard in this smaller building, but we ought to do that in our lives. But you look back at those persons when this offering changed. They had to be sold out to sell out. They had to be sold out to sell out.
For Grace, are we sold out? Beyond the phrases, beyond the statements, beyond the groups, beyond the plug, beyond Chip, the real question we ask of ourselves, “Are we sold out?” See, they had to be sold out to sell out. It starts there. The giving was the result of what was in the well. What’s in the well does come up in the bucket.
I told Chip, “Chip, if you don’t teach us to give, shame on you.” He turned a little white. Most pastors I talk with about preaching on giving. And I understand. It’s not your favorite topic to hear, is it? But I said, “If you don’t teach us to give, shame on you. If we don’t give at the end of your teaching, shame on us.”
And then I said a big one. “If at the end of your teaching we don’t give to Grace, shame on Grace.” Now, think about that. See, my message to you this morning is to become generous. Where you choose to give is your choice. I want you to hear that. The Christian lifestyle is about generosity. The sermon’s not about getting more money in our coffers. Are there needs? Absolutely. But the Christian biblical principle is give. I happen to think Grace is worthy of my gift. It’s my spiritual home. It’s where I want to invest. In the Old Testament perspective, it’s the storehouse. But the principle is are you generous? Are you generous? And this year is going to require of all of us setting some giving goals. Now, someone told me once that it’s better to shoot at something and miss it than to shoot at nothing and hit it. Right?
So, as you think about this year, what’s your giving goal? And as part of that giving goal, what portion will you invest into the ministry at Grace? What piece of property will you sell? What’s your place in this church in Acts, now called Grace? What will you do? What will you do to be an intentional neighbor in sharing of generosity there? How did I get to be part of Grace? Intentional neighbors led me here. Isn’t that wonderful? We’re living out our mission. It’s a place worth investing.
I worked with a church a number of years ago. They asked me to help them with their new building. So, I went in and I did some analysis. I said to them, “I think you can probably raise about $18,000,000.” They said, “That’s awesome, but we need $31,000,000.”
Well, I’ve never, ever in my life gone to a church that really had the capacity to do all they wanted to do because it’s a God-size vision. If it’s God-size, we can’t afford it. Amen? Isn’t that good? I like it when my pastor says we can’t afford this. Well, then that must be of God. Because if I can afford it, I can’t see God working. Remember God’s economy is beyond bitcoin. So, we started out on the journey with this wonderful church. In the midst of our time with them, a young lady walked in and gave to the pastor this letter. It reads like this:
“Dear Pastor Russell, you know of the challenges in my own life.”
She had been born with some birth defects.
“I earn a meager living, and I give faithfully of His tithe week after week. I’m serving in the prayer team at our dear church. I’ve been praying, ‘God, what can You do through me? I really want to see our expanded space to be able to reach more people.’ One morning, the thought hit me. I went to my safe deposit box and I pulled out the most prized possession of my life. It’s a brooch my grandmother gave me. I had it appraised. It appraised at $1,800. I want to give it to help build our building.”
Pause with me. From a human economy, what is $1,800 to $31,000,000? That was their need. $31,000,000. What is $1,800 from a human economy to $31,000,000? Not much. But see, God’s economy’s different. Isn’t that good? God’s economy is different. The pastor called me and said, “Tom, what do we do?”
I said, “She prayed. When someone prays and this is an answer to prayer, we receive it with joy and thanksgiving. Let’s pray that God will use it for even greater things.”
We asked her permission and we read that letter to all five services. Does that relate? Numerous persons who had already made very, very generous gifts came up to Pastor Russell and said, “She gave out of something she could not afford. We want our gift to be equal to hers.”
Four hundred and twenty-eight families purchased that brooch. He sold it to all of them. On their day of announcement, they stood and, with joy and thanksgiving, they announced $31,128,000 had been raised to the glory of God.”
God’s economy. Oh, but the story goes deeper. Symbolically, 428 families wrapped that brooch on Christmas Eve, took it to her home and sang Christmas carols. They had an appraisal on it of $13,000,000. See, this thing of God and giving, it’s real. It’s real. It’s about faith. It’s about testing and trusting God. So, Grace, join with me. Join with me in setting a giving goal. One that’s beyond you. One that’s God-honoring. And one that we’ll all stand and say, “Glory, glory, glory. Hasn’t God done unusual things in this place?”
Let us pray.
There’s probably something you need to tell God right now. Lord, we love You. Thank You for the joy of giving. Thank You for the opportunity that it can grow my faith. Thank You, Lord, for putting stuff in my well, and may it come up in the bucket. Amen and amen. Thank You, Grace. Hasn’t it been a wonderful morning? I just love being here.