Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Generosity Principle

This is our last week of money month and for the past four weeks we have been parked in the generosity spot.  Each year we take the month of April to explore the theology of money, giving and generosity.  Not only within the church but in our lives in general.  This idea is that if we have a particular time to address these concepts they won’t get missed and they won’t come across scolding or begging as so often happens when money is addressed in church during crisis times.   
And while some folks feel that the topic of money should be avoided in church the bible doesn’t shy away from the topic and neither did Jesus.  As a matter of fact Jesus tells us in Matthew 6:21  Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.

And while most of us know the words we often get them mixed up and quote it as where your heart is there your treasure will be.  But Jesus knew how people function and while our money will often follow our hearts, you only need to look at where a person is investing today to know where there priorities are today. 

And there are reasons why money needs to be addressed at the local level.  We don’t like to admit it but the church needs the giving of someone to exist.  Some churches exist because of denominational subsidies, but somebody somewhere is giving so that can happen.  Other churches depend on their endowment funds, but that means that someone gave in the past so they could exist today.  And while Cornerstone was dependent on outside giving early in our life as a church today we exist because of the generosity of people who make Cornerstone their church home. There is no outside source of income for Cornerstone, no magic pot that we can dip into.   The practical side is that in order for Cornerstone to exist there are bills that need to be paid.  Mortgage payments, utilities, salaries etc. And as the church changes those change and often expand.  So while we were meeting in the Lion’s Den in Bedford we didn’t have to pay a mortgage but many of you wouldn’t have been reached from that venue.  And while Denn was the only pastor on staff the salary line in the budget was less, but pastoring a church of 50 and pastoring a church of 300 requires more time and effort than one person can provide.  This is the last Sunday in April which means that today we will end with an opportunity for each person who makes Cornerstone their church home the opportunity to fill in the estimate of giving card at the end of the service and we use those figures to go ahead with our budget for the new church year.  In a very real way each person who responds, or doesn’t respond is telling us what type of church they want Cornerstone to be.   

But it’s not just about the practical side, it is about the discipleship side as well. Throughout the bible money is used as a spiritual barometer, because ultimately it says something about our relationship with God because it pulls back the curtains to reveal what it is that is the most important thing in our lives. 

And in that case giving isn’t about the church’s need to receive as much as it is about the believer’s need to give, because our treatment of money is often a reflection of the importance we place on our relationship with God.  What sacrifices are made to support his work?  And what in life do we value higher than Him?  And maybe you don’t think that’s a fair question but each of us will spend what we have somewhere. 
And here is the truth of the matter, told by the master of the truth himself, Luke 16:13  Jesus said “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

Last week we looked very briefly at portion of the scripture that was read for us this morning 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 just kind of mentioned it as a part of my last point and I mentioned at the time that we would be coming back this week to unpack that chapter.  And here we are.
 On Easter Sunday I spoke about the generosity of Easter and we looked at what God gave and what we received as a result of the resurrection.  The next Sunday was our 20th Anniversary and I spoke about the birth of a Generous Church, how Cornerstone was birthed out of the Generosity of others, our district, our denomination, local churches and individuals who believed in our vision.  It was in that message that we first visited the generosity of the Corinthian Church and how they set an example for the church in Macedonia.  And I spoke about your generosity that has allowed CWC to exist and reach people and impact lives not only in our community but around the world.
Last week I spoke about Generosity in the Book and flitted a bit between the Old and New Testaments as we learned that Generosity Isn’t Just Giving, you can give and not be generous.  Generosity isn’t an Amount it is a Principle, If generosity was simply an amount then generosity would look the same for me as it does for Bill Gates.  And then finally we discovered that Generosity Always Comes with a Blessing.  And some people bristle at the thought that there might be a reward connected to our generosity, but the bible speaks of it over and over again.
So let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier and Paul begins with these words, 2 Corinthians 9:6  Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.  So the first thing we learn here is that Nobody Loses by Being Generous.  The challenge for most of us when it comes to giving is the question; “If I give that amount how will I  __________?”  And you can fill in the blank.  If I give the panhandler on the corner my change, who will I afford my coffee later?  If I sponsor a child through compassion how will I afford to upgrade my internet?  If I tithe my income how will I survive on what I have left?  And while the blanks would have been filled in differently 2000 years ago the questions were the same. 
When we were in the midst of the capital campaign to build our building we had a family leave, actually had a couple of families leave but that is story for a different time.  When I asked this one particular family what the problem was I was told that we were being irresponsible and that there might be people who would lose their homes or wouldn’t be able to feed their children if they were that generous. 
But that was never the intent and I truly believe that if we are simply obedient to what God is asking us to give that we can never out give God.  The secret is not in the amount the secret is in the obedience.   
To answer the objections that were probably on the hearts if not the lips of those early Christians Paul uses the analogy of the farmer and the seed.  In that culture most people would know how things were grown and so Paul compares our giving to seeds.  Plant a few seeds get a small crop, plant generously and reap a generous crop.
But you have to believe.  If you don’t believe that the crop is in the seed you will never plant it. 
If you don’t believe that God will reward your generosity then you will never be generous.
But trust me when I tell you  nobody is a loser by being generous It was Anne Frank who wrote in her diaries while hiding from the Nazis "No one has ever become poor by giving."  And Christian Bovée wrote "Examples are few of men ruined by giving."
The next thing we discover is found in 2 Corinthians 9:7  You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”

Generosity is a Journey Not a Destination

When the staff was at the Gathering back in January there were dozens of breakout sessions, far too many for everyone to get to all of them or even to all of the ones that we wanted to get to.  One I did get to, and not just because they were offering a free breakfast, was the Generous Church seminar.  And one of the concepts they introduced me to was what they called the “Ladder of Generosity”.  Which I though was incredibly original until I got home and googled the term and found all kinds of Ladders of Generosity online.  The ladder we are using today was created by Jason but the concept originated with The Generous Church.  But all of the models begin with the same premise and that is that Generosity is a ladder not an elevator. 

A few weeks ago I preached on Zacchaeus the tax collector who as soon as he made the commitment to follow Jesus gave half of what he had away to the poor.  And we like to think that we automatically become generous givers with our conversion.  But if you are anything like me, one of the last things to get converted is your wallet.

So most of us start here on the ladder, on the bottom rung.  We begin as Non-Givers because that is really our natural state.  In most cases even as children we need to be taught to share.  Or as one wit said “When it comes to giving, most people will stop at nothing.”  But that isn’t the way it should be.  If nobody gave what a dreary and selfish world it would be.  Sometimes somebody will tell me “Well you know Pastor, charity begins at home”, and I think “wow, it doesn’t get out much does it.”

But nobody should stay there it’s not healthy to the soul to never give.   We are told that the reason the Dead Sea is the Dead Sea because it continually receives and never gives.

And so the next rung is here and we’ve entitled it “Selfish Giving” this is when you give to be recognized.  You gotta put something in the plate.  Jesus told a story about two men, one was a tax collector who called out to God in repentance seeking grace, the other man was a Pharisee, that was like a Jewish priest of sorts and he stood on the street corner and prayed out loud, for all to hear, Luke 18:12  I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income. Seriously?  But you know when the plate was passed when I was a new believer, and confession time, when the plate is passed and I’m visiting in another church, there’s a little voice inside that’s saying “what will people think if I don’t put something in the plate?”  That is selfish giving.  But it is a start. 

The next rung is Emotional Giving, or guilt induced giving.  This is when you benefit emotionally from the gift, you feel good because you give or it eases your guilt to give, you know when you are walking down the mall having spent a bundle on your families Christmas gifts and you see someone ringing a bell next to a Salvation Army kettle and you dig in your pocket for change.  Or you are coming out of the store and the hockey, cheer, ringette teams are there asking for donations. 

Sometime it even happens in church, we have an artist here and receive an offering for them and you either feel like you ought to, after all they sang for you or you really enjoyed it so you give for that reason. 

The next type of giving is what we have called Charity on our ladder.  And this is when we give to do good things.  There are all kinds of organizations who benefit from this type of giving.  Christmas Daddies every year raises all kinds of money from people who want to do good.  And that’s awesome.  We can never overestimate the amount of good that is done through charity.  And the giver benefits as well because they feel good about what they did. 

Stephen King, the author, was addressing University graduates at their commencement in 2001 and he was speaking about generosity and he told them this:  Giving isn't about the receiver or the gift but the giver. It's for the giver. One doesn't open one's wallet to improve the world, although it's nice when that happens; one does it to improve one's self. I give because it's the only concrete way I have of saying that I'm glad to be alive and that I can earn my daily bread doing what I love.”   Again, this type of giving does a pile of good, but it’s still just part way up the ladder.  At that commencement King told about a local homeless shelter in their town and he committed that day to give $20,000.00 to the shelter and challenged others to match it.  A gesture that was surely appreciated by the shelter, but it was just charity to King who is worth close to a half a billion dollars and made in excess of $17,000,000.00 last year. 

Stephen King wasn’t always a giver, he told the graduates that day, “I got a painful but extremely valuable look at life's simple backstage truths, We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we're just as broke.”  The day he was talking about was the day he was run over while out for a walk and almost died in a ditch.   Hopefully that’s not what it takes for most of us to become givers.

The next rung on the ladder is Safe Giving  Here you give because you know that Christians ought to give and you are afraid of what will happen if you don’t give. Sometimes you’ll even bargain with God.  God if you promise that this won’t hurt me financially I’ll give.  Or we figure out what we can give without it really affecting our quality of life and that’s what we give. 

We see an example of this in an Old Testament story found involving Abraham’s Grand-Son Jacob, it’s found in Genesis 28:20-22  Then Jacob made this vow: “If God will indeed be with me and protect me on this journey, and if he will provide me with food and clothing,  and if I return safely to my father’s home, then the LORD will certainly be my God.  And this memorial pillar I have set up will become a place for worshiping God, and I will present to God a tenth of everything he gives me.”  God if you will keep me healthy so I can work, and if I can still keep my standard of living, and not have to drive a smaller car or downsize my house.  And if at the end of the year I don’t have to pay too many taxes, I will give to you.
But if you are a Christ follower you don’t have to bargain with him, he’s already told us in Matthew 6:31-33  “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’  These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs.  Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.

The next rung on the ladder is Percentage Giving.   Sometimes in the church you will hear people speak of the “Tithe” and tithe simply means 10% .  For some that is the pinnacle of giving.  And they see it as a level that the super spiritual give at.  Or the level of giving for people who are really well off.  And I’ve heard people tell me, “Well Pastor when I make X amount that’s when I’ll tithe.”  But that is always a moving target and it’s always slightly more than they are making now. 

Others tell us that tithing is an Old Testament concept and that as Christians we aren’t under law but under grace so Christians aren’t required to tithe.  My response to that is what about stealing?  That’s an Old Testament requirement as well, so are we exempt from that?  Would it be alright if I stole your car? And they assure me that Thou Shalt not steal still applies today.  While the question is asked in Malachi 3:8  “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.”   And it would be awesome if everyone who considers themselves a Christian tithed.   I read recently that the combined income of everyone in the US who considered themselves a committed Christian and attended church at least twice a month is approximately 2.5 Trillion dollars.  That means that on their own that group could be admitted to the G-7.  And you think of the impact those believers could have on the world if they tithed.

And the temptation would be to say “well then every Christian should tithe and things would be cool.”  But it’s not about the percentage, you can give God 10% of your money and none of your heart. 

Which leads us to Romans 12:1  And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him.

This rung is Sacrificial Giving This is where you ask God, “From all that you have given me and entrusted me with, how much will you allow me to give back?”  Being at this rung on the ladder doesn’t make you a super Christian, from this position you don’t have a higher view of yourself but instead you have a higher view of God. It’s when you get to this position that you understand that what you have was given to you for a purpose and you use it for that purpose.  And that is why Jesus promised in  Matthew 25:29 To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance.

And that brings us to the top rung that is simply called Kingdom Giving.  This is when our mind set is very simply a kingdom mindset.  Everything we earn and everything we are is God’s.  John Wesley grew up in abject poverty, his father was an Anglican preacher in an extremely poor parish, at one point Wesley watched as his father was taken to debtor’s prison. But it wasn’t like that for Wesley, because of his prolific writing and speaking he became very wealthy.   History tells us that in a time when a single man could live comfortably on 30 pounds a year Wesley was earning 1400 pounds a year.   But he had made a commitment to live on 28 pounds a year and he gave the rest away, he wasn’t afraid to make money but he didn’t want to keep money.  Wesley became known for his saying, “What should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living, but his standard of giving.” And in his later years he wrote, "[When I die] if I leave behind me ten and all mankind [may] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber."

So am I saying that we should all give like Wesley?  I most certainly am, and that is that you will be obedient to what God is asking you to give, because anything less is being disobedient. 

Let’s go back to our scripture 2 Corinthians 9:8  And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

But take heart because the last thing we need to understand is Generous Giving isn’t Giving It’s Giving Back.  You will only become generous when you realize that all you have comes from God.   Let me pray for you.

No comments: