Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations
2 Corinthians 9:11; Exodus 35:5; John 3:16
2 Corinthians 9:11
11 You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous in every way. Such generosity produces thanksgiving to God through us.
5 Collect gift offerings for the Lord from all of you. Whoever freely wants to give should bring the Lord’s gift offerings: gold, silver, and copper;
16 God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.
For the last four weeks we have talked about the four of the five practices of a fruitful congregation. I have preached on the practice and then we have discussed them in small groups. We have talked about Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development and Risk-taking Mission and Service. Today we talk about Extravagant Generocity. This sermon will be a book end to the Five Practices Series and also the next couple of weeks as I teach about the Nuts and Bolts of Finances when it comes to Church’s finances, personal finances, and stewardship. Then on Nov. 11th we will have a special time in worship when we ask people to fill out an estimate of giving card. I will get into that later on next week.
I know what some of you are thinking. Our current economic situation has been the focal point of this election cycle. It has been during the Presidential campaigns but also our gubernatorial campaigns and even down to the park bond which is up for a vote here in Indian Trail. Everyone is talking about the economy because it is still in horrible shape. There are some people who are doing well but unemployment is still high, people are under their house mortgages, college is more expensive than ever and the tree that money grew on was cut down, ground up and made into toothpicks. We as a church are still struggling financially. I will get into more of that next week but we are still in debt to the conference to the tune of $34,000.
I prayed hard about how to handle this practice of extravagant generosity and how we could move into a stewardship campaign. I know that everyone in here is struggling with money, in some form or fashion. Maybe you are struggling with gas prices or the rising cost of food. Maybe you are struggling with huge amounts of debt or your job is not going well as you would like. Everyone is worried about the economy and whether we are headed for an even bigger disaster then what we have already lived through. I am right there with you. I’m nervous, scared, worried, and confused. Is this the right time to talk about money in church? Is this the right time to talk about giving and stewardship? No, it is NOT the right time, it is the PERFECT TIME!
It is the perfect time because this crisis is making us reprioritize our spending habits and our personal finances. It is the perfect time to realize that God needs to come first in all aspects of our lives including our finances. This is the perfect time to stare at the dead presidents on our bills and say to them, “you no longer have power over me. I don’t work for you any more. You are working for me and my God!” This is the perfect time to talk about money because money holds such power in our lives but that can change. There is nothing wrong with money but we have a tendency to worship it too much. We like to place it at the forefront of our lives and think that our life has to revolve around it. Yet when we do that we are placing money where God is suppose to be. Now is the perfect time to put God back where he belongs.
A pastor was waist deep in a river as he welcomed people into the sacrament of baptism. Bill was the next one to be baptized. He was 57 years old and for the first time in his life he had a relationship with God. He was excited about his new faith and eagerly headed towards the river to be baptized. When his shoes hit the water another parishioner called out to him. “Bill, do you want me to hold your wallet so it doesn’t get messed up?” Bill turned around and said, “Nope, I’m going to have my sins washed away and my wallet needs that too!”
Did you know that 7% of the Bible talks about money? There are over 2,300 verses that tell us to be generous and good stewards of our resources. One out of every seven verses in the Gospel of Luke is about money. 11 out of the 39 parables of Jesus are about money. Jesus talks about money more than he does about heaven and hell combined. The Kingdom of God is the only thing he talks about more than money. Like I said, this is an uncomfortable topic to preach and for many of us to hear because it is something that we hold so personal and intimate. Plus there is a ton of emotions tied up with our personal financial situation. It is impolite to ask someone how much they make a year or to ask how much they give to the church. Those are topics that no one wants to discuss and there are some people, maybe even some of you, who are even offended when such things are talked about. But according to the Bible, according to the life of Jesus, this is a topic we should be discussing, a topic I should be preaching on, and we should be making a priority in our lives.
John Wesley, the founder of our denomination, had a saying about money, “Earn all you can, save all you can, give all you can.” He is right. God wants us to make money. He wants us to be fruitful and to use the gifts and talents he has given us to earn a living, take care of our families, and to be generous with. There is a common misquotation of the Bible that gives the wrong impression on what God thinks about money. Many people think of 1 Timothy 6:10 says, “for money is a root of all kinds of evil.” That is not true. What it actually says, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” Money is really neutral. By itself it isn’t evil or good. It is how we use it that determines whether or not it is evil or good. God doesn’t hate money. God hates it when we love money more than we love God. All of these 2,300 verses tell us how to have a right relationship with God and money. God knows that money is important to life, he just doesn’t want us to forget that God is the most important.
That is what the Exodus text tells us today; “Collect gift offerings for the Lord from all of you. Whoever freely wants to give should bring the Lord’s gift offerings: gold, silver, and copper.” When we freely give to God, we are placing God above everything else. When we offer up our gold, silver, copper, our money, we are saying to God; You are the most important thing in my life, more than these things. We are saying to the world; God is the most important thing in my life, more than these things.
I am not a financial genius and I don’t understand a lot about our current financial trouble. I don’t even own a house and have never had to get a mortgage. But I do know the reason we have gotten in to so much credit trouble and why we are in such bad financial shape. We are spending money we don’t have and it revolves around our lack of contentment. We look at our lives and we struggle to be content. The things God tells us we should be content with we aren’t and the things that God tells us we should be discontent with we are content with. God tells us that if he will take care of the lilies of the field and the birds of the air he will take care of us. We should be content with life’s little things. Yet we are discontent with what we have. We think we need to the newest and the most updated thing. We think our cars are getting old when they hit year three. We are discontent with 10 TV channels and think we need all 1000 channels of cable or satellite can provide. Yet we are content with our two minute prayer lives, the amount of the Bible we know and understand, and the time we spend in the presence of God each day. We are content in our pursuit of justice and mercy and we are content to watch the suffering of the world happen because that is just how life works.
John Ortberg is a Presbyterian minister in California and you may have done a study on one of his many books. He says there are four keys to contentment in life. He says if you focus on these four things, you will start to see more contentment in your life. First he says you need to remind yourself that it could be worse. Just say that phrase when you look around at your life. When you are attempting to fix that leaky rain gutter on your house, say “it could be worse.” When your walk to your car and in the parking lot you notice a newer model with better features and then you look at your car, say “it could be worse.” When you are sitting at the dinner table and you look over at your spouse, say…okay maybe you should just think that one. But when we think about how worse it could be we start to see how good we actually have it.
The second thing you need to ask yourself is how long with this make me happy. You all remember toys you wanted for Christmas. You were so excited about the gift and on Christmas morning you were thrilled to get it. Then when New Years rolled around you were already bored with it. Some things may look really good but will they make you happy for the long haul. This can be said for anything we have in our lives, from hunting equipment to shoes, from cars to clothes, from toys to our TVs.
The third key is to develop a grateful heart. A consumer society is focused on telling you that what you have is not good enough. You cannot be happy with the original iPhone, which came out last June, you have to have the 3G model now and then 5G a year from now. It is easy to get caught up in that trap and so we have to retrain our minds to look at the things we actually have and what we like about them.
A husband had a huge fight with his wife and he ran out of the house to take a walk to calm down. On that walk he started to yell at God, “God why did you create her like that. She gets on my nerves so much when she does that.” As he vented to God all of a sudden he stopped and he started to change his tune. “God I cannot stand this but then I look at who I am now and I realize it is because of her. I love the way she makes my favorite meal when I have had a hard week or the fact she knows I need to be alone sometimes. I love it when she looks at me and tells me she loves me without saying a word or when I wake up to find out that we are holding hands.” By the time he got back to the house he wasn’t mad at her anymore and realized how much he still loves her. Instead of being consumed by dislike he was transformed into having a grateful heart.
The last thing Ortberg tells us is to focus on where your soul finds satisfaction. The Bible starts off by telling us we are made in God’s image and because of that we are hard wired for God. There is something in each of us that desires a connection with the One who created us. Many of us search for something else to fill that connection. We look for it in other relationships or in the pursuit of wealth and things. Yet both of these Bible verses I read today tell us what we truly need to pursue and where our satisfaction can be found. 1 Timothy 6:11 says, “But you, child of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.” The Hebrews text says, “Keep your lives free form the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’ So we say with confidence, ‘The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?”
Out of a solid idea and feeling of contentment grows generosity. Once we start to train our minds and our hearts to realize that all of what we have is from God, whether it is the roof over our heads, our loved ones, or even the air in our lungs, we start to want to say thank you. When we say thank you by placing God first that is what we call generosity, the spiritual practice of giving.
True generosity is when we give not out of need but out of the desire to simply give. There is something in us, in each and every one of us, which calls us to be generous. We feel this at Christmas, when we purchase gifts for our loved ones. We are so excited about the gift we are giving we cannot wait for that person to open it. That is generosity. Winston Church said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” What we give away is how we are defined by life. If you pass away while I am here, I will stand behind this pulpit and talk about your life. I will do my best to sum up your entire life and do you know where I will get that information…not from you, but from your friends and family. It is when I am sitting down with them after you have passed away that stories come out, trends in your personality and nature are discussed, and what people thought about you is discovered. That leads me to a question you need to be thinking about, how do you want to be remembered? Do you want to be the first part of Churchill’s quote, known for making a living or the second, known for making a life? To do that means that we have to live into the inner pull to be generous and to say thank you to God who has given us so much.
Excuse the rudeness of this analogy but it fits perfectly. When we look at our lives and we see how God has blessed us, we need to give back in gratitude. If we don’t we get constipated. We are taking everything in but we aren’t giving out. I’m going to stop there with the analogy because it could go south very quickly. I think you are getting my point. If we are taking in all of God’s gifts and blessings but we are not giving back, we start to hurt and be in pain. This will be because we are wondering where our worth is? Our society tells us our worth is described by what we own, but God tells us our worth is defined by what we give. Christ is defined by what he gave, his life. Once again, how will you be defined?
When have a generous spirit we align ourselves with God’s purpose. We are created in God’s image and God is a generous God. We find that in the John 3:16 text. “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life.” God loved the world so much that he was willing to part with this only son and send him through hell and back for our sake. If this is God’s generosity, a tithe doesn’t look that bad. But we will get to some of that next week.
Generosity changes you, it changes everything about you. Generosity also changes the community, the church, the people in your life. It does this by placing God where God needs to be. A generous person realizes that true security is not found in a 401K, a savings account, or a large house with all the toys. True security is found in knowing that we are serving a God who loves us and wants us to be with him for eternity. A generous person realizes that joy is found not in giving to yourself but in giving to God.
As we end this sermon series and move into the next there is a question I want you to think about. What percentage of my income is God calling me to give? Talk about it around the dinner table. Be looking at your current financial situation and where you will be in 2013. The only way you will be able to answer this question is through prayer and preparation. But we will get to that next week as we discuss some financial nuts and bolts. Until then, may you realize how truly blessed you are and a generous God wants and has given you everything.
And all God’s people said…Amen.