Saturday, November 20, 2010

Sowing Bountifully

6 Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed ; 9 as it is written, "HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR, HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER." 10 Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness ; 11 you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. 12 For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. 13 Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, 14 while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift !
2 Corinthians 9:6-15

In all my years in the ministry I have been blessed and amazed many, many times, over and over. I've baptized men, women, and children who were excited about their new life in Christ. I've watched lives turn around with new spiritual grounding. I've watched young people who I worked with as a youth pastor grow up to be productive citizens who give to their communities, neighborhoods, and a congregation. I've traveled to some of the poorest communities in the world to do development work and bring encouragement with people who became life-long friends. I've laughed and cried, and along the way I've made tremendous friends while growing abundantly in understanding what the essence of righteous living truly is:

Love justice. Show mercy. Walk humbly with your God

One of the unique ways I’ve been greatly blessed and amazed throughout the years has been by people who took, and take, pride in being abundantly financially generous. On some level I think these people are supernaturally gifted by God in ways most people aren't. That’s the only way I can explain why they are so open to giving their money to ministry or mission, when for so many others the subject of money and the church is pretty touchy, or even upsetting.

Let me tell you: I know about touchy and upsetting when it comes to money and the church. As an associate pastor at another congregation, after a long year of financial struggle (and all the turmoil that came with it) we were so far behind financially we faced the prospect of needing to raise a lot money inn the last month off the year to meet the basic needs of our General Fund. For whatever reason it was decided that I would work with the finance committee, which was normally the senior pastor’s job, to figure out how to do this. We came up with a plan, shared it with the congregation, put our names on the bottom of the letter, and made ourselves available for questions over coffee.

Let's just say that after a tough year, some of the conversation was lot hotter than the coffee.

But in the course of that campaign, carrying at the time what I thought was a tremendous burden, again and again I was blessed by people who simply came in and wrote the check. No begging or pleading or convincing... they just wrote the check. And in the end, we received what we needed, and eventually things got better.

Out of that experience thirteen years ago, as I’ve spent more and more time understanding how church finances work from the inside, I’ve learned that the people who give with energy and excitement, are the ones who truly carry a church body financially. Some of these folks are people of great means, but most aren’t. Some give large sums of money, but most give, by the world’s measure, modest amounts, that are in kingdom terms, highly sacrificial. But they all give for the same reason whispered to them at some point in their life, by the Lord.

They give because they know, giving is the root of all our greatest joy.

Do you know what I want for Christmas this year? Do you know what’s on my list for Santa Clause. An ITunes gift card to buy a couple Beatles songs, and world peace. And if I don’t get that ITunes gift card, it’s no big deal. Because the only thing I’m interested in on Christmas morning, when we celebrate Jesus’ birthday with sugared cereal that normally my wife refuses to buy, is seeing smiles on my sons faces. As I get older that’s been the biggest change in my list for Santa: I just want to be able to make the day one to remember for my kids. That’s better than any copy of Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

I know it to be true, and if you have kids or grandkids so do you: joy and fulfillment in life truly comes giving.

That's what this weekend's scripture is all about. It lays out the principles for "bountiful sowing".To sum up, 2 Corinthians 9:6-15, I'd say what Paul is getting at is this:

- Give cheerfully (v.7)
- Expect Righteousness To Multiply In Yourself and Others (v.8-10)
- Expect Your Life To Be Enriched (v.11)
- Expect An Overflowing Harvest (v.12)
- Give so God Will Be Glorified (V.13-15)

It's these common qualities, these attributes, in this attitude that I see people who give easily, with much expectation, hope, joy, and passion, give. They know in their heart the true value and impact a gift given to bring God glory

When they give they're not conflicted. They're not angry. They're not suspicious. They're not resentful. They're not fearful. They're life is just organized to, as John Wesley put it, "work all they can, so they can earn all they can, so they can save all they can, so they can give all they can". Giving has become vital to their own well-being, spiritually and mentally. They’ve become positively addicted to experiencing moments of true joy where God's love, though their resources, takes on hands and feet.

When you received your capital investment campaign packet about a month ago (or only a couple of weeks ago for some, no thanks to the bulk mail department of the US Postal service here in the 485- region), I know it caused some mourning and gnashing of teeth. A quarter-million dollars in addition to our ongoing obligations in a has in some corners inspired discussion more heated than the coffee. Don’t think this doesn’t get back to me. It always ultimately does. Either directly, or via the grapeline express.

But I have to be honest, what little grumbling I’ve heard has been far outweighed the stories of joy shared by those excited to give. They're excited about the ways they can bring God glory in this moment. They're impressed that our leadership isn't going to stand for the status quo, and dedicated to making this happen because they believe we aren't just another church in a world already filled with too many churches. They know what I know: that we possess a unique ministry, with a unique take on the gospel message, that people who are far, far away from God right now need to hear. A message we can offer because it has the weight of just not talking the talk, but, on a Sunday when we were giving away our offering, walking the walk.... and now they want to walk further.

First through their prayers, then through their wallet and checkbook, and ultimately through actions, they are making the commitment, sacrificially to send a message. A message about God. A message about Jesus. A message about their church. A message about what's really important in this life to them right now.

A message of joy, because they feel joyful that we have faith over fear. Love over anger. Belief over doubt. Hope over despair. Dancing instead of mourning.
I invite you to join them. To be one of them. To pledge this day standing squarely on the Word of God, by not just giving, but giving cheerfully, with the expectation that with your gift righteousness will multiply in yourself and others, and in the course of giving you will be enriched, the harvest will overflow, and ultimately God will be glorified.

Let me just share one last thought.

I really believe the changes we're making, and calculated risks we're taking, are God's will for this congregation. Not out of some sense of overly-inflated ego where I think everything I want is what God wants. On the contrary... to quote many others, there's two things I've learned as United Methodist pastor over the last twenty years: There is definitely a God, and I ain't Him.

I'm excited about the full vision for a church. Not just building repairs and renovation, but on our new focus and emphasis on discipleship, a new way of looking at where a church should be located, a new zeal to communicate the Gospel to new generations of believers so this place will ultimately not just survive as most church are doing now, but thrive, long after we’re dead and gone. I’m excited because this vision came out of months and months of prayer, listening, deliberation (sometimes more heated than the coffee), and confirmation from a core group of leaders, lay and clergy, who actually stretched this vision to be much bigger than I could imagine.

And I mean that…. I believe in this vision, because I alone couldn’t see it. I thought asking for a great sum of money for a satellite campus concept that people are having a hard time understanding was ambitious enough. Imagine my surprise when after touring our building the Joshua team wanted to add $100,000 for work here.

They could have ditched the satellite concept to just focus on us, but they didn't.
They could have said, "these things can wait" but they felt they couldn't.

They could have listened to a reluctant pastor who wondered what people would say, or mumble, or abandon with such a request.

But they didn’t. And so, the campaign goal grew. And the reason it grew was cause it was a child who lead us.

At the very last meeting of the Joshua Team, where this campaign was the last topic regarding our church’s future we needed to cover, one of the team members, before we made a final decision, gave me an envelope. It was from his 11 year old daughter, who the week previously, sat quietly in the room seemingly reading a book, while we heatedly discussed how big our vision should be. I opened up the envelope… this envelope, and inside of it was seventeen dollars, and this note:

You should have seen the smile on her Dad's face when he handed me this envelope. You should have seen the smile on the faces of all the Joshua Team members as I read this note aloud. And you should have seen the smile on that little girl's face when later that week I thanked her for her gift, and told her how I proud I was of her.

This campaign was sealed with a smile. And let me tell you what my friends with the spiritual gift of giving know. It’s only when you give cheerfully, with an expectation that your gift righteousness will multiply in yourself and others, with an expectation you will be enriched, the knowledge that the harvest will overflow, and that ultimately God will be glorified, it’s only then that you will know true joy.

This is s the message we want to take root in Abby's heart, and the hearts of all our children and grandchildren and great grandchildren. It’s a message we want to send to the community. It’s a message we want to send to our Lord and God

Giving to you is the root of our joy. Take this gift, sealed with our smile.