Sunday, April 19, 2015

The Generosity of the Book

This is week two or three of Money Month at Cornerstone, depending on how you count.  Two weeks ago we at least gave a nod to the fact that this is the month that we deal with Money at Cornerstone when I preached on A Generous Easter, and then last week was our 20th Anniversary and I preached on The Birth of a Generous Church and talked about the Generosity that allowed this church to exist, the generous support that we received 20 years ago when we started our church, support from our denomination, our district and from individuals around the district and how that birthed a church that has displayed generosity for the past 20 years. 

Now if you have no clue what I’m talking about when I say “Money Month” it’s just the way we do things at Cornerstone.  Instead of having the pastor preach on money when things are tight, and then it comes off as desperation, we take the month of April each year to teach the theology of giving, how we make our money and how we use our money.   Why April?  Because it’s the end of the church year and we prepare out new budget in May for the new Church year.

And next week at the end of the service step up cards will be distributed that look like this only smaller, and we will hand out cards that look like this, only much smaller and we will allow the folks who call Cornerstone home to respond and provide an estimate of what they believe they will be able to give in the upcoming year.  In affect you get to have a say in the budget and say “This is the type of church I would like to have this year.”
I think I handle the mechanics of it well; we try not to embarrass anyone or put anyone on the spot. If you don’t want to participate that is fine, although we encourage everyone to take part.   And we don’t come knocking on your door if you aren’t able to give what you thought you’d be able to, we hope you will after all we have based our budget on those figures.  And we provide you with updates throughout the year about where we are in relation to what was committed and where you are personally in relation to your commitment. 
But that is then and this is now. 

So let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier.  1 Timothy was a letter written by Paul to a young preacher named Timothy.  Unlike letters like 1 and 2 Corinthians or Romans, this letter wasn’t written to a church congregation to be read aloud to the group.  Instead it was written to an individual, we are reading someone else’s mail here.  This would be like you reading a letter that HC Wilson had sent to me regarding my ministry.

And in the last part of this particular letter Paul addresses the topic of money. And he includes warnings and instructions about how money is earned and how it is spent. And part of that instructions is one of the most misquoted scriptures in the New Testament.  It’s one of those quotes that creep up from time to time like “Cleanliness is next to Godliness.”  Which isn’t in the bible at all but was a part of a sermon preached by John Wesley in 1791 when he said “Slovenliness is no part of religion. Cleanliness is indeed next to Godliness." 

But how often have you heard someone say “Money is the root of all evil.”?  And then they will usually attribute the words to Jesus.  But the quote isn’t “Money is the root of all evil”, It is “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”  And it wasn’t Jesus who said it, it was Paul who wrote it.  The reference is actually 1 Timothy 6:10 “For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.”
One thing that I discovered years ago is that Paul never addressed things in his letters that weren’t an issue.   Letters were expensive to produce and hard to deliver so they really weren’t the place to discuss topics that weren’t of interest. 
Sometimes we get the idea that talking about money and generosity is somehow of less worth than other topics that could be broached from the pulpit, if we had a pulpit from which to broach topics.  But finances and money are addressed throughout the Bible, and when people give generously they are commended and when they withheld the blessings they have been given they were criticized. 
This morning I want to take some time to look at Generosity throughout the Book.
It really begins at the beginning of the book because creation was the greatest gift ever given to us by God.  Genesis 1:31 Then God looked over all he had made, and he saw that it was very good! And evening passed and morning came, marking the sixth day. And if we keep reading we discover in the next chapter, Genesis 2:8-9 Then the LORD God planted a garden in Eden in the east, and there he placed the man he had made. The LORD God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit. In the middle of the garden he placed the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  So if you had been reading the creation account, God creates this incredible earth, with all that is in it and then he creates humans and gives humanity all he had created, and the first couple turn their back on the gift when they rebelled against God and his perfect will. 
And the story continues and in the story we discover, Generosity Isn’t Just Giving
And we don’t have to go very far into the story of Adam and Eve to see generosity displayed.  It involved their two oldest sons, Cain and Abel, and let’s not go down the road of who did they marry.  We don’t know, it would only be speculation.  But most folks know the story of Cain and Abel, even if they don’t know that it came from the Bible they can tell you that Cain killed his younger brother. 
And ever for sibling rivalry that is kind of extreme.  The story is told that a Sunday School class was looking at the Ten Commandments and they had just finished “Honour your parents” and the teacher asked the class if there was a commandment that was specific to their brothers and sisters?  One little boy put up his hand and answered “Thou shalt not kill?”  But apparently Cain wasn’t in that class.
And the relationship between siblings is one of the most complicated and intense relationships that there is.  In most cases there is no relationship that will last longer than the relationship you have with your siblings. They usually outlive your parents and they were around long before your spouse.  But they can come with an incredible amount of baggage.  But that is a sermon for another day. 
And we don’t know what Cain and Abel’s relationship had been like when they were younger but let’s pick up the story in Genesis 4:1-5 Now Adam had sexual relations with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When she gave birth to Cain, she said, “With the LORD’s help, I have produced a man!” Later she gave birth to his brother and named him Abel. When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain cultivated the ground. When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The LORD accepted Abel and his gift, but he did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.   In the book of Hebrews it says that Abel’s gift was more acceptable to God, but what made it more acceptable. 
Now personally I would prefer a lamb burger over a salad, but that is just me.  The answer is found in the original account when we are told in Genesis 4:3-4 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the LORD. Abel also brought a gift—the best of the firstborn lambs from his flock.  Did you catch it, Cain brought some, Abel brought the best. 
Sometimes when we give to God we are tempted to ask “How little can I get by with?”  That’s what Cain did, he looked around and said “I ought to give some of my crop to God.”  When I first became a believer that was kind of where I was at. I was in College and didn’t have a lot, and there was always somewhere to spend what I had.  And so when I gave to God it more of a tip than anything.  A few dollars here and a few dollars there.   But somewhere along the line I discovered that generosity was a lot more about what I kept rather than what I gave.  And when it doesn’t cost us anything are we really being generous?
I have a friend who would say at dinner, have some more I’m just going to throw it out.  It was Sir Henry Taylor who wrote He who gives what he would as readily throw away, gives without generosity; for the essence of generosity is in self-sacrifice.”

Abel didn’t give what he didn’t want or what he was going to throw away, what he gave cost him something.  When he gave God the best of his flock, he no longer had the best of his flock himself.
Last week we looked at the birth of a generous church and how the giving of the Corinthian church was an example for the Macedonian church, listen to what Paul tells us about the church in Macedonia, 2 Corinthians 8:2-4 They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.   They weren’t just giving, they were being generous.  Their abundant joy overflowed with great generosity, they gave not only what they could afford but far more, and they did it of their own free will. 
Because you know as well as I do that you can give without being generous.  When I’m coming out of the store and the cheerleaders, hockey players, girl guides, boy scouts, fill in the blank have their table or booth set up and I dig in my pocket for change because too many people know who I am for me not to give, but I’m not being generous. 
Which leads us to the next point:  Generosity isn’t an Amount it is a Principle It would be so easy if there was a set amount.  Like on PBS, where you can be a silver contributor if you give so much or a gold contributor if you give more than the silver, or a Platinum giver or diamond giver.  So we could give out a form that says “Give this much and you will be generous.”  But that’s not the way it works.
Back in the Old Testament the people of Israel worshipped in a tent, they called it a tabernacle, but it was just a tent, a really big, really ornate tent, but still a tent.  And King David, the same  David who took on Goliath the giant and wrote the 23rd Psalm, had a dream of building a permanent home where the people could worship God.  That dream eventually became  a reality when David’s son Solomon built the temple.  But listen to David’s commitment:  1 Chronicles 29:3-5 “And now, because of my devotion to the Temple of my God, I am giving all of my own private treasures of gold and silver to help in the construction. This is in addition to the building materials I have already collected for his holy Temple. I am donating more than 112 tons of gold from Ophir and 262 tons of refined silver to be used for overlaying the walls of the buildings and for the other gold and silver work to be done by the craftsmen. Now then, who will follow my example and give offerings to the LORD today?”
And other’s followed David’s example, but they didn’t give what David gave.  Listen as the story continues  1 Chronicles 29:6 Then the family leaders, the leaders of the tribes of Israel, the generals and captains of the army, and the king’s administrative officers all gave willingly.   And if we kept reading we would read how much they gave. And they truly had captured the principle of not equal giving but equal sacrifice. 
There is a great story told in two of the gospels, this is Luke’s account.  Luke 21:1-4 While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”   The rich people were simply giving out of obligation, but the widow was giving out of generosity.   They both gave, that wasn’t the issue, it was how they gave.  
The youth group used to do a major food drive on Halloween night called Harvest for the Hungry and through the years they literally collected a ton of food.  But I always marvelled at some of the stuff that came in and you know that people where just cleaning out their kitchen cupboards.  What we do now is our monthly collection of soup and milk for the food bank, and it is intentional giving that cost something.  Not a lot, but people have to go to the store and buy soup or milk and bring it to the church. 
Do you remember the story where Jesus feed the five thousand?  Thousands of folks had come out to hear Jesus preach and at the end of the day he asks his disciples how they could feed the crowd.  Nobody seems to have a good answer until Andrew arrives with an unlikely solution John 6:8-9 Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?”    Now we would have to assume that in a crowd that size the boy wasn’t the only person with food, but he was the one who offered it.  And it was all he had.  And you really can’t fault the others, they were hungry and when they looked at the crowd they knew that what they had wouldn’t make a difference.  But the boy didn’t see the crowd, he just knew that Jesus was looking for food and he had food to offer. 
And you know what happened, from that one boy’s generosity Jesus fed the crowd and had leftovers besides.  Barclay suggests a different type of miracle when he writes William Barclay stated “It may be that this is a miracle in which the presence of Jesus turned a crowd of selfish men and women into a fellowship of sharers.”  But that wasn’t how the gospel writers saw it, they saw Jesus doing the impossible with the improbable. 
I wonder what God can do with our generosity?  Last week at our anniversary service I spoke about what has been done through your generosity and our partnerships with Ronald McDonald House, World Hope, Samaritan Purse, Compassion and Global Partners.  Imagine the people who could be touched, the lives that could be changed and the futures that could be impacted through the generosity of God’s people.  Because he can still do the impossible with the improbable. 
Generosity Always Comes with a Blessing   And most of us don’t have a problem with that.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus tells people over and over again that if they do certain things they will be blessed.   But even if we accept that God wants to bless us we get a little nebulous about what those blessings might be and we get a little squirmy if we keep reading in Psalm 112 and stumble onto verse three that says this about those who fear God and delight in obeying his commands, Psalm 112:3 They themselves will be wealthy, and their good deeds will last forever.  Most of us really aren’t comfortable with that statement any more than we are with scriptures like Proverbs 10:22 The blessing of the LORD makes a person rich, and he adds no sorrow with it. We don’t want to equate God’s blessing with money but apparently Solomon didn’t have that problem.

But apparently the Bible didn’t have a problem with equating God’s blessing at least in some way with material blessings.  In Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “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! Put me to the test!” If you bring all the tithes then God will open the windows of heaven for you and will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have all the room to take it in. 
And Jesus tells us in Luke 11:28 Jesus replied, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.” Did you catch that?  We aren’t just blessed; we are more blessed when we are obedient to the word of God.
Now understand that we aren’t obedient so we will be blessed, but when we are obedient we are blessed.  We don’t give so we will be blessed, but when we give God’s word tells us that we will be blessed.  And again, let me reiterate, being blessed is about your life, not your cheque book.  It is about God’s presence in your life
And according to the bible, God’s word, when we are faithful and give with pure motives some of those blessings are financial.  You may want to ignore it or try to rationalize it as spiritual blessings but that isn’t and wasn’t the context that those verses were written in.   Listen to what Paul told the church in Corinth 2 Corinthians 9:10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.   We are going to unpack that a little more next week but you see the principle here, that when you demonstrate your faithfulness with what God has given you then he gives you more so that you can be even more generous. 

Or as Jesus said Matthew 25:29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away. 

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