GROWING GENEROSITY
 
A reading for the week of Aug. 15, 2022

The Dash

“After walking through a cemetery, a man said, ‘Have you noticed how much meaning a dash can have? Born 1921—Died 1981.

What a way to summarize a life—with a dash!’ That will eventually describe the years of everymperson’s life—a dash. We cannot stop our movement toward the final destination, but we can choose what we do with our dash. We can spend it on significant matters or on meaningless trivia.

Thus a congregation’s ministry of stewardship is a matter of ultimate importance—far more significant than fund-raising.

“Shrouds have no pockets. We do not see Brinks trucks in funeral processions. Hearses do not pull U-Haul trailers. But

stewardship lets us take it with us. ‘Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal’ (Matt. 6:20).
 
Through prudent stewardship, we can enter the abundant life of joy and meaning.
 
Through stewardship, we can protect ourselves from being possessed by our possessions, thinking they are permanent and that they buy permanent security.
 
Through stewardship, we can grow spiritually.
 
Through stewardship, we create a meaningful dash.” [The Vital Congregation, Herb Miller]

 

A reading for the week of Aug. 7, 2022

Holding onto the Best

“Some two hundred years ago, the French educator Alexis de Tocquesville came to America to study our

newly independent republic. In Democracy in America he pointed to elements of colonial life that still describe

Americans today: ‘I have seen the freest and best educated of men in circumstances the happiest to be found in

the world. Yet it seemed to me that a cloud habitually hung on their brow and they seemed serious and almost

sad in their pleasures. They never stop thinking of the good things they have not got. They clutch everything

and hold nothing fast.’

“We have grown more knowledgeable and secure over the last two hundred years, but…The forces that

hammer at us have turned us into a nation of seekers. Part of our search has been prompted by a sense that

much of our lives is empty, confusing, monotonous, unrewarding. We search for meaning and inspiration, for a

workable formula that can lead us to a joyful, contented, satisfying existence.” [Give to Live, Douglas M. Lawson]

The answer is so obvious that we can fail to see it. Real meaning in life does not come from getting things but from giving something.

 

A reading for the week of July 18, 2022

The Security Myth

Helen Keller said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature. Nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” [John C. Maxwell, The Confidence That Convinces, Audio Tape]

Many people who withhold their wholehearted support from God’s work are victims of that “superstition of security” to which Helen Keller referred. They somehow failed to learn that no amount of money makes us totally secure from the painful
experiences that life flings against our

windshields without the slightest warning.

What happens when we try to create our own security blankets by avoiding the risk of being generous? Our selfishness costs more than money. It robs us of a spiritual relationship with God.

Self-giving does not bring us total security. Nothing does that. Being alive puts us at risk in a thousand ways. But generously giving our money to God’s purposes gives us a sense of meaning and purpose as we work with other people in God’s great causes. That is a far greater reward than anything we can obtain by striving for the myth of security.

A reading for the week of July 11, 2022

The Joy of Obedient Worship

“Free us for joyful obedience.” You may recognize that phrase as part of the congregational prayer that we pray just before we celebrate communion. That prayer describes why you and I exist: joyful obedience. You and I exist to worship. The more we realize that, the more we approach the experience of pure joy.

Tithing and giving has less to do with money than with freedom. Tithing is not

about percentages. Tithing and giving are about being part of what is holy, eternal, and the truly “good life.”

I could never go back to where I was before I began tithing and retain the joy I have found in obedience and giving. I like being free. I give to be free. I give to stay free. Through tithing, I receive more than I give—the joy of obedient worship in giving. [Scott Robertson, Lubbock, Texas]

A reading for the week of July 4, 2022

The Full Life

“The key of the selfish, unregenerate person is get. The key word of the dedicated Christian should be give. The Prodigal Son set off a series of negative events destined for failure when he said to his father, ‘Give me the portion of goods that falleth to me’ (Luke 15:12).”

“Our Lord’s command was, ‘Give, and it shall be given unto you; good measure, pressed 

down, and shaken together, and running over…’ (Luke 6:38). Yet it was more than a command. It was an invitation to glorious and abundant living. If a person gets his attitude toward money straight, it will help straighten out almost every other area of his life.” [Select Stewardship Sermons, Billy Graham]
A reading for the week of June 27, 2022
The Money Nerve
 
“Edgar Lee Masters, in The New Spoon River, entitled one of his poems ”The Money Nerve.“ While this nerve is not described in any book on human anatomy, we all know what the poet means by the term.
 
The money nerve is located in a very sensitive spot, near the pocketbook, and is easily affected by anything that has to do with our cash or possessions. For example, politicians can discuss all kinds of topics without arousing public interest, but when they talk about raising taxes, they’ve hit the money nerve.
 
Dentists aren’t our favorite persons when they drill on our teeth, but the hardest shock they give us is when they hand us the bill. They’ve hit the money nerve.
 
“But perhaps we are most sensitive about money when we are in church. We all know the church must have money in order to function. Buildings must be built and paid for. Public utilities furnish light and heat to churches only if their bills are remitted promptly. Congregations need Bibles, hymnals, educational materials, and other supplies in order to carry on their programs.
 
Janitors, secretaries, and clergy must receive a living wage if they are to continue to serve. And if the church is to fulfill its task of taking the gospel to all nations, there must be money for missionaries and for struggling churches in other lands. All this is clear to every Christian. Yet no subject causes more trouble in the church than money.” [How to Talk to Christians About Money, W.A. Poovey]
 
 
Why is that? We can talk about love, family values, social injustice, even about sin. Nobody flinches. Start talking about the church budget, and irritated controversy becomes a possibility. How come?
 
Could it be that shifting the subject to money and building a church budget moves us beyond general principles into a discussion of personal discipleship? Is it really talking about money in the church that causes people to feel uneasy? Or is the money nerve located close to something besides our pocketbooks?
 
Jesus says to each of us, “Follow me” (Mark 1:17). We said we wanted to follow, and we pat ourselves on the back for making such a good decision. Then Jesus asks how much money we will give. Suddenly, the personal discipleship question that was general in nature becomes a personal discipleship question that calls for a specific sacrifice.
 
Yes, the money nerve is located close to the pocketbook, but it is also located close to the backbone of our discipleship commitment. Money asks for a “follower-ship” decision that we may or may not be ready to make.
 
How is it with you? Are you comfortable or uncomfortable with discussions of money in the church? What do you think that reaction means in the deep places of your soul?
A reading for the week of June 20, 2022

What Does the Bible Say 

about Giving?

A friend of mine, Gilbert Davis, tells about a “defining moment” he had in seminary. One day an elderly gentleman he had never met stopped Gilbert in the hallway. “Young man, are you studying to be a minister?” the man asked.

When Gilbert replied that he was, the stranger asked if he might talk with him a few minutes. Although unsure of what he was getting into, Gilbert consented. (Several weeks later, he learned that Arthur A. Everetts owned what at that time was the largest jewelry store west of the Mississippi.) After leading Gilbert into an empty classroom, Everetts asked him whether he preached tithing in his student church. Before Gilbert could reply, Everetts gave him a forceful set of arguments for the value of tithing, especially for a young minister who ever hoped to amount to anything for Jesus Christ. At the end of that several-minute sermon, Everetts issued an altar call. Would Gilbert begin giving 10 percent of his income to God’s work?

Finally getting a chance to speak, Gilbert drew himself up to his full theological stature at that youthful age and said, “But, sir, we are Christians now. We are New Testament people, not Old Testament. We are not under the Law; we are under Grace.”

The old man replied with a question: “Young man, can you show me a verse in the New

Testament that says less commitment is expected of a Christian under Grace than of a Jew under the Law? If you can, I will gladly subscribe to your position.”

Since Jesus spoke so often about the power of money to distract us from God, why do the four gospel writers report Jesus saying so little about tithing? He did not need to. Jesus spoke primarily to Jewish people who for a thousand years had assumed that they should give 10 percent of their incomes to God.

However, in the one New Testament verse where Jesus mentions the tithe, he affirms its value. Upbraiding the Pharisees because they think they are “super-spiritual,” Jesus calls them hypocrites. They carefully gave God 10 percent of everything—even their garden produce like dill, mint, and cumin. Yet, they failed to give their neighbors love, justice, and mercy. “These you ought to have practiced,” Jesus says, “without neglecting the others” (Mathew 23:23), referring to the tithe.

The Christian faith is an attitude of the heart, not just a keeping of regulations. We give our money as an act of worship. We give our money as a way of seeking God’s spiritual kingdom first, not because a rule requires us to give it. Yet, if Jesus assumes that giving 10 percent of your income is important, does it not seem wise for each of us to consider its value in strengthening our spiritual connection with God?

A reading for the week of June 13, 2022

Why Is Money So Dangerous?

John Wesley said, “I fear, wherever riches have increased, (exceeding few are the exceptions) the essence of religion, the mind that was in Christ, has decreased in the same proportion. Therefore do I not see how it is possible, in the nature of things, for any revival of true religion to continue long. For religion must necessarily produce
both industry and frugality; and these
cannot but produce riches. But as riches

increase, so will pride, anger, and love of the world in all its branches.” [Selections from the Writings of John Wesley, Herbert Welch, ed.]

Ironic, isn’t it? The more God blesses us financially, the more difficult our decision to keep putting first in our lives the God who blesses us. What kinds of choices are you making with your money?
A reading for the week of June 6, 2022

When It Is God Versus “Stuff,” Who Wins?

“We live in a culture…that is preoccupied with money. We respect people who have it and write whole television series about how they make it and spend it. While church members hear one sermon a week on average, they are exposed to about sixteen hundred commercials every day, on billboards and bus seats, in newspapers and magazines, on matchbooks and clothes with designer and product logos, on radio and television, each offering advice on how to spend their money. What is the church’s responsibility for guiding them through this

cacophony of opportunities?” [Behind the Stained Glass Windows, John and Sylvia Ronsvalle]

People who object to any mention of money in the church forget that Jesus talked about it frequently. He said that commitment to “stuff” undermines our spiritual health and challenges his lordship. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?’” (Matthew 12:24-26).

On the playing field of your personality, who wins—God or stuff?

A reading for the week of May 30, 2022
Money Is Everything!
“Money plays a major role in our personalities…

“The way money exerts these enormous influences in our lives is determined less by how much of it we have than by the philosophy we have adopted regarding money.

“That personal philosophy determines how we think and behave regarding money, and tends to fall into one of four general patterns:

1. Some people insist that money is not important. ‘Money does not buy happiness,’ they often say.

2. Other people insist that money is the most important thing in life. ‘Money is not the key to happiness,’ they say, ‘but if you have enough of it, you can have a key made!’
 
3. Still other people say that life is like two lanes of traffic. ‘Money is important in the material lane but not in the spiritual lane,’ they seem to say. ‘To connect with God, you

move to the spiritual lane—you pray. To be in touch with the real world, you move to the material lane—you run in the rat race, trying to make a buck.’

4. Jesus held a fourth view. Jesus said that money is everything—not in the usual sense of that term but in the spiritual sense. Jesus did not divide reality into two parts—the material and the spiritual. He said that the way we think and behave with regard to money impacts us both physically and spiritually. Its use and misuse affect our relationship with God and the quality of our life. ‘For Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,’ Jesus said (Luke 12:34), illustrating his point with a story about a rich man who tried to achieve a quality life by building more barns to hold his wealth. The punch line says, ‘So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God’ (Luke 12:21).“ [Money Is/Isn’t Everything, Herb Miller]

Which of those four views describes your philosophy of money?

A reading for the week of May 23, 2022

Which God Shall

We Elect?

Loren Mead says he often asks this question in many church audiences across America: “Are you rich?”

“The usual audience response is denial. ‘Raise your hand if you are rich.’ Most hands stay down, and only slowly and reluctantly, one by one they go up. Some refuse to participate.

“Objectively the question should be easy to answer. I have never asked the question in any audience in which every person present is not rich. Some are absurdly rich in comparison to 99 percent of those in the world. And others, just by 

being Americans, are probably better off than 95 percent of the world’s population…

“You see, wealth…is the natural condition of all North Americans…

“Why do we work so hard to hide the fact that we are rich? Why hide it even from ourselves? Why does our wealth embarrass us?”

“Somewhere deep inside us is a place that cannot come to terms with what it means to be what we are. This is a spiritual question, and it is the one spiritual question all Americans share. It may be the one that most threatens us.” [Financial Meltdown in the Mainline. Loren B. Mead]

In the deep places of our souls, we know that Jesus was right when he said, “No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth” (Matthew 6:24). In each of our lives, two candidates are running for election as president. Each day of each week, each of us must decide which god to elect.

The weekly offering in our worship service helps us to make the right choice.

A reading for the week of May 16, 2022

Many Americans live with two opposite feelings. On one hand, they want to experience meaning and purpose in their lives. On the other hand, they often feel that they are running on empty.

In his classic novel, “Les Miserables,” Victor Hugo tells us how to eliminate that second feeling. The bishop befriends Jean Valjean and gives him lodging. Valjean repays that kindness by stealing the bishop’s valuable candlesticks. After the bishop reports the theft, the police magistrate questions Valjean in the bishop’s

 

presence. As the interrogation progresses, Valjean seems headed for jail. At that point, the bishop unexpectedly retracts his charges and offers a plausible reason for why the candlesticks are missing.

Jean Valjean is amazed. When he and the bishop are alone, he says, “Why did you do that? You know I am guilty.”

The bishop replies, “Life is for giving.”
 
Why do churches receive an offering in their worship services? Some people say, “Because the church needs

the money.” That is only part of the answer. Even if a wealthy benefactor fully underwrote our congregation’s expenses, we would still need to provide people with the opportunity to give an offering in our worship services.

Weekly giving teaches us—and reminds us because we keep forgetting—that life without unselfish giving is life without meaning and purpose.

Victor Hugo is right. Life is for giving.