Learning to Be Generous Givers

  • Learning to Be Generous Givers
  • 2 Corinthians 8:1-15
  • Lyndol Loyd
  • January 22, 2017
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1-22-17 sermon from LakeRidge UMC on Vimeo.

January 22, 2017

 

LEARNING TO BE GENEROUS GIVERS

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Lyndol Loyd

 

Id like to ask a favor of everyone this morning. We are going to be talking about money and stewardship this morning. I realize this can be a tense subject for some people and I dont want there to be any tension this morning. Would you please do one thing for me? Would  you please remove your billfold or wallet from your pocket or from your purse and would you hold it in your hands for me?

 

Thanks. I appreciate you doing that. Now would you please hand your billfold or wallet to the person next to you and let him or her hold it for you for a moment? Even if you dont happen to know that person, if you would just trust him or her to hold it that would be great. 

 

Now that you are holding someone elses money, reach in and give like you have always wanted to give……. No, not really. Im just kidding. You can hand the wallets and billfolds back to their rightful owners. See, now there is no tension at all. Right?

 

A man named Bob McKuen tells the story of taking his young son to McDonald’s and ordering him an order of large French fries.  You know how good McDonald’s French fries smell. 

 

As he was watching his son eat them, he instinctively reached over and grabbed one to eat.  His son slapped his hand and said, “Dad, you can’t have one.  Those aren’t your fries.” 

 

McKuen said three thoughts immediately went through his mind. 

 

1.    “I realized my child has forgotten that I’m the source of his fries.  I’m the one who brought him to McDonalds.  I’m the one who walked up to the counter.  I paid for the fries with my own money.  He doesn’t realize that without me he would have no fries.  I am the source of fries.” 

 

2.    He said the second thing he thought was, “My son has forgotten that I control the fries.  I could take them away from him instantly and say, `All right, that’s it!  No more fries for you.’  On the other hand, if I wanted to, I could buy him a truck load of fries.  I could bury him in fries if I wanted to because I have the means to do that.

 

3.    He said, number three, “I realized I don’t really need his fries. I could buy my own.  I could just as easily walk back up to the counter and buy myself some more fries.  What I really want is for my son to learn to be unselfish.”

 

Those are the three of the same reasons God wants us to learn to be generous. Did you know generosity is the most talked about value in the entire Bible?

 

      The word faith, or its variations, is used 246 times in the Bible.

      The word hope, which is another important word in our Christian life, is used 185 times.

      The word love, which is obviously an important word to those of us who are believers, is used 733 times.

      The word give or giving is used 2,285 times in the Bible.

 

The Bible talks more about giving more than any of those other issues.  Why?  Because giving is the expression of faith, hope, and love.    

 

The issue of stewardship within the church might happen to be our topic for this morning, but it certainly isnt a new topic for the church. The church has been wrestling with this issue since its earliest beginnings.

 

Take for instance the Corinthian church. The Corinthian Christians were an interesting group of people. They gave their poor founding pastor, Paul, more trouble than all of his other churches put together.

 

It seemed like no sooner did Paul get one problem straightened out with them than three more appeared.

 

Of the Corinthian church, author Eugene Peterson says, For any person that would operate under the rather naïve assumption that joining the Christian church is a good way to meet all the best people and cultivate smooth social relations, a reading of Pauls Corinthian correspondence is the prescribed cure.

 

Although they caused trouble for each other and to Paul, the Corinthians are an incredible blessing to us because the events which took place in their life together triggered some of Pauls most profound and vigorous writings recorded for us in scripture, especially concerning giving.

 

Some of what Paul wrote to them was hard to hear and even harder to take. Paul was forced to defend his leadership of the church. Paul wanted to see them arrive at the potential which God had placed within them and it wasnt going to happen without his encouragement.

 

Hear these words from Paul to the Corinthians as paraphrased in the Message found in 2 Corinthians 8:1-15:

 

Now friends, I want to report on the surprising and generous ways in which God is working in Macedonia province. Fierce troubles came down on the people of those churches, pushing them to the very limit. The trial exposed their true colors: They were incredibly happy, though desperately poor.  The pressure triggered something totally unexpected: an outpouring of pure and generous gifts. I was there and saw it for myself. They gave offerings of whatever they could far more than they could afford! pleading for the privilege of helping out in relief of poor Christians.

          This was totally spontaneous, entirely their own idea, and caught us completely off guard. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God and to us.  The other giving simply flowed out of the purposes of God working in their lives. Thats what prompted us to ask Titus to bring the relief offering to your attention, so that what was so well begun could be finished up. You do so well in so many things you trust God, youre articulate, your insightful, your passionate, you love us now, do your best in this, too.

          Im not trying to order you around against your will. But by bringing in the Macedonians enthusiasm as a stimulus to your love, I am hoping to bring the best out of you. You are familiar with the generosity of our Master, Jesus Christ. Rich as he was, he gave it all away for us in one stroke he became poor and we became rich.

          So heres what I think: The best thing you can do right now is to finish what you started last year and not let those good intentions grow stale. Your hearts been in the right place all along. Youve got what it takes to finish it up, so go to it. Once the commitment is clear, you do what you can, not what you cant. The heart regulates the hands. This isnt so others can take it easy while you sweat it out. No, youre shoulder to shoulder with them all the way, your surplus matching their deficit, their surplus matching your deficit. In the end you come out even. As it is written,

                   Nothing left over to the one with the most,

                   Nothing lacking to the one with the least.

 

Here Paul paints this vivid picture for the Corinthians of what the Macedonian Church had been living out when it came to the issue of giving.

 

Conventional wisdom would have said it wasnt a particularly good time to be giving if you were one of the Macedonians. The stock market was down. Their own situation was tough. This wasnt a good time to be worrying about the needs of other people. This was a time to be focused on personal survival.

 

And yet, they were giving liberally and joyfully.  How can we begin to account for a group of people acting that way?  What could cause a group of people to act in ways that seems so contrary to our human nature?

 

The only answer I can come up with is the grace of God.

 

If there was anything that characterized this picture that Paul paints of the Macedonian church it is the incredible joy they found in sacrificial giving.

 

Would you agree that we live in a culture that’s pretty materialistic?  That’s an understatement.  The idea is, “I’ve got to have it all, I’ve got to want it all, spend it all, get it all.” Just think back a couple of months to the endless catalogues, mailers, emails and text messages that you received from companies wanting to sell something to you to make your Christmas merry and bright.

 

You start to look through them and all of a sudden you think, “How did I ever live without this? I think we are going to need this at our house.

 

Would you agree that in that kind of culture it’s difficult to keep your values right?  It’s hard sometimes when you see everybody else getting more and more. 

 

But what’s the antidote?  How do I keep from becoming so materialistic? There’s only one antidote to materialism.  Give.  It’s the only antidote to materialism. 

 

The essence of materialism is get.  So every time I give, I am breaking the grip of materialism on my life. It is a counter cultural move. 

 

It says, “No, I do not buy into the myth that life consists in what you accumulate.  I don’t buy into the notion that your net worth and self-worth are the same thing.” You chip away at that way of thinking every time you give. 

 

But did you know that even savers can be materialistic?

 

You’ve heard about people who would never spend anything.  They live in a little tiny shack but they have two million piled up in some bank account that they were hoarding away.  That’s materialism too. It’s the same thing. 

 

The only antidote to materialism is to give.  And every time I give, I break the grip of materialism.

 

Jesus, himself, told us in Matthew 6:24 “You cannot serve both God and money.” In other words, I’m going to have to choose what’s number one in my life. 

 

For the most part, there is little sacrifice or joy in our giving. But Paul is teaching the Corinthians and us that people who give generously, out of love for Christ and his church, will end up growing and maturing in faith.

 

In Pauls mind, there was only one rationale for how this could have happened in the Macedonian church. What explains it was that they had first given themselves unreservedly to God. (v. 5)

 

Before we can ever develop into people who are good givers and generous of Spirit we have to first give ourselves unreservedly to Jesus Christ.

 

There is an old story about a missionary that was witnessing to the chief of a primitive tribe. The chief tried to impress the missionary by offering him gifts of horses, blankets and jewelry.

 

But the missionary said, No. My God does not want the chiefs horses, blankets or jewelry. My God wants the chief himself.

 

To which the chief responded, You have a very wise God, because when he gets the Chief, he also gets the horses, blankets and jewelry.

 

To start off this scripture passage, Paul gives the Corinthians a snap shot of the ministry of the church in order to affirm them. This morning I would like to do the same for us as a church. I would like to think that there are several areas related to our faith in which we excel and abound as a church. On the back of your bulletin this morning is a snap shot of 2016 here at LakeRidge. Look at it and you can see that the numbers listed there tell a story of how God moved in different ways over the course of this past year which was a time of great change and transition for all of us.

 

One of the most exciting things to me is that our average weekly worship attendance was 947. That represents an 8% increase for the year and a 16% increase since July.  We need to celebrate the fact that more people are worshipping with us here at LakeRidge. God is so good.

 

Heres what is really interesting to me as I study this passage Paul wrote to the church at Corinth. Paul gives the church a snap shot of what their ministry looks like and he affirms the Corinthians for all that was right about their Christian living and then he encourages them to excel at yet one more thing giving.

 

I think Paul would speak to us in much the same way this morning. He would applaud so much of what we do as a church and he would challenge us to be known as people who excel at one more thing giving. That might be surprising to some of you. Please let me explain.

 

Being the new guy has required me to be a student of how LakeRidge has historically done things. One of the messages that I received clearly from some of you during the time that Ive been here is that you felt like December 2015 was too much about money in the midst of the transition and not enough about Christmas, even as the church achieved the astounding goal of raising over $900,000 to take care of some capital improvements that needed to be made to our facilities and which we now enjoy.

 

In response, I swung the pendulum back in the opposite direction and didnt really say much, if anything, to you about money in the context of worship. During November and December, I wrote about year-end giving in our church newsletter and in individual letters that went out with giving statements and then through our email distribution list I shared a video with you talking about end of year giving at LakeRidge.

 

In each of those instances, I shared with you that historically 27% of LakeRidges giving for the year comes in during November and December, with approximately 10% of the years giving happening on Christmas Eve.

 

After the dust settled on 2016 here at LakeRidge, our ministry expenses came in significantly under budget, but so did our offerings which resulted in a roughly $182,000 shortfall overall. I dont share this with you to sound the alarm or to somehow guilt the congregation into giving, because that isnt what we are about and guilt never produces any kind of real or lasting results in people. That isnt what we are about here.

 

My perspective coming into LakeRidge from the outside, is that over a period of many years our church became conditioned to giving when asked from the pulpit. The ask would be vocally made in the context of worship and the church would respond. I swung the pendulum in the opposite direction in an effort to be responsive to feedback I had been given. And now in reality we probably need for the pendulum to rest somewhere in the center.

 

I share all of this with you because for those of us who call LakeRidge our church home, this is important information to know and understand.  Quite honestly I think 2016 is in many ways an anomaly. It would be fair to say that there has never been a year of greater change for our church than 2016.

 

However, heres something Id like to ask you to consider. What if, going forward, rather than waiting for or expecting me to ask we all simply give generously just like the Macedonians did as they gave themselves unreservedly to Christ and then to one another? 

 

Inserted in your bulletin this morning is a step chart. On one side you can see a giving ladder that illustrates the number of families who give to Christ through the ministry of LakeRidge broken down step by step.

 

I want to encourage you to find where your family fits on the ladder. Then I want to encourage you to flip the ladder over and on the backside is a chart which allows you to move down the left side to locate your monthly income then you can trace across the chart to what you currently give. So for example if you make $3,000 per month and give $120 per month you can see that you give 4% of your income.  If you make $5,000 per month and you give $400 per month you can see that is 8% of your income.

 

LakeRidge has never asked people to make a pledge of what you intend to give for the year. Im not going to ask that of you now. However, I do want to ask you to prayerfully consider what it would look like if you were to go up one step on the giving ladder in 2017. Imagine if we were to do so collectively as a church. It would have significant impact.

 

My hope this morning is that you never look at another French fry the same way again. May we live as those who always honor the source of all we have.