Welcome to Mt. Olive's Online Newsletter! This site serves to herald the activities and day-to-day happenings at Mt. Olive, as well as provide resources for continued learning and community awareness. Links on the right point to various groups that operate at Mt. Olive as well as points of interest and additional resources. The space below contains articles and information from the newsletter. A up-to-date church calendar is always at the bottom of the page. Thanks for visiting and please let us know what you think!

For more information on Mt. Olive Evangelical Lutheran Church please visit our website.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Newsletter Updates

The newsletter is coming along quite nicely and I appreciate all the feedback. If you'd like to help participate or be a regular contributor, please contact me. I would like to offer some informal training on Monday nights at 7:00 for anyone who wants to learn more about assisting with the newsletter and/or Power Point in church.

Groups and Organizations
I'd like to see each of Mt. Olive's various groups have a representative who is able to contribute to the newsletter. It's no more difficult than sending an email. I can also help set up separate pages for each group. For an example see what the preschool has done. If your group already has it's own website, let me know the address and I will add it here.

I've added some new links and am always looking for more. If I'm missing something let me know.

Monday, December 3, 2007

2007 Gingerbread House Party Pictures

Gospel Gang News - December 2007

Our annual Thanksgiving Feast was once again a wonderful foretaste of the actual day of Thanksgiving. We were truly blessed with generous donations of food, prepared and served by willing hands.

With the Christmas season soon upon us, the children will be learning about Advent during their class time as well as during our opening.

Gospel Gang is for all children Pre-K (4 year olds) through grade 5. Gospel Gang is fully staffed by 8-10 volunteers each week. If you would like to join our staff, please call Bonnie Hazelwood @ 724-847-0876.

We will finish out the month of December with Jesus' Birthday Celebration and gift exchange on Dec. 19. Each child should bring a wrapped $1.00 gift suitable for either a boy or girl to put under the tree.

Gospel Gang will resume on January 2nd, 2008.

Friday, November 30, 2007

"The Golden Compass" --Not for Children

The Golden Compass Brings Nietzsche to Narnia: The Philosophical Underpinnings of His Dark Materials By Marc. T. Newman Ph.D --Taken from "Movie Ministry Weekly Newsletter"

Do not be deceived by the beautiful covers on this book series. Underlying much of the author's fiction is Friedrich Nietzsche's -- a German philosopher whose work was influential with the Third Reich. Parents, it is important to take the time to read the rest of this post.

The Golden Compass Brings Nietzsche to Narnia: The Philosophical Underpinnings of His Dark Materials
by Marc T. Newman, Ph.D.

When parents look at the beautiful covers adorning the gift-boxed sets of Philip Pullman’s fantasy series, His Dark Materials, they might be forgiven for believing that these books follow in the tradition of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings or C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. In fact, the publishers are counting on it. The display tables have arrived just in time for Christmas and the release of the screen adaptation of the first volume: The Golden Compass.

What Pullman’s promoters desperately hope is that parents will not get beyond the colorful covers, which appear to depict nothing more than an action/fantasy series filled with talking animals, exciting battles, and a child protagonist. What they desperately fear is that parents will discover the dark and sinister philosophy that unfolds within the pages of Pullman’s work – a philosophy that condones the killing of children to advance knowledge; disparages virtue and glorifies cunning; and which poses the idea that the solution to humanity’s problems is the killing of God. In short, the philosophy that underlies much of Pullman’s fiction is Friedrich Nietzsche’s – a German philosopher whose work was influential with the Third Reich.

Nietzsche’s major philosophical ideas include the Will to Power, the Superman, and the myth of the Eternal Return. While the third idea is hinted at in the last book in the series, it is the first two ideas that fill the pages of His Dark Materials. It is important for pastors and parents to understand these concepts so that they can be prepared to talk about their impact. Briefly, then, I will sketch these ideas, then show how they appear in The Golden Compass and throughout His Dark Materials, and finally demonstrate how these books – aimed at children -- attempt to inculcate Nietzsche’s worldview.

Nietzsche’s View of the Way the World Works

The Will to Power

The main theme running throughout the writings of Nietzsche, gaining full force in his work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, is that life is a demonstration of a will to power. Nietzsche rejected external authority, arguing that since all morality is subjective – a mere expression of the will of others – there is no reason why any one morality should be preferred. What marks humanity, Nietzsche argued, is a desire to assert one’s own will, or, in other words, to do that which is right in one’s own eyes.

Dana Villa, the Packey J. Dee Professor of Political Science at Notre Dame, explains that Nietzsche’s belief in the lack of absolute values – a lack of an objectively “true world” – leads to the destruction of “shared appearances” (291). As a result, to the extent that there are any values in the world, they ultimately find their grounding only in the perspective of the person doing the valuing, and in no other. Nietzsche advocated absolute moral autonomy. To illustrate, Nietzsche, in The Antichrist, defines “the good” as:

All that enhances the feeling of power, the Will to Power, and power itself in man…Not contentment, but more power; not peace at any price, but war; not virtue, but efficiency…The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our humanity. And they ought even to be helped to perish. (128)

Nietzsche scholar George Allen Morgan identifies four key “sins” – lust, thirst for mastery, self-seeking, and cruelty – that, under Nietzsche, are revalued as “goods:” lust is the good which draws toward the future; thirst for mastery drives the powerful to exercise their power over lower people; self-seeking is the source of discriminating taste and causes refinement; and cruelty leads to a lusty vitality (180-181). The masterful types will exert their will to power over lower types, and the extent of their mastery will be measured in their ability to do so. Morgan declares for Nietzsche that “True advance is measured by the mass of humanity sacrificed to ‘the growth of a single stronger species of man’”(81). Ultimately, this planned evolution is designed to breed the superman.

The Superman

In order for Nietzsche’s ultimate expression of the will to power to arise – the superman – it is first necessary to kill God. In Thus Spoke Zarathustra, Nietzsche portrays the murder of God at the hands of The Ugliest Man, who chokes God to death on His own pity.

Theologian Norbert Schiffers explains Nietzsche’s position:

With his own instinct for the good, man is strong enough to be ashamed of his belief in the God who alone is good. Even before The Will to Power Nietzsche makes his man with the instinct for the good, his Zarathustra, say that to his eyes and ears God goes against his taste. It is in the power of this instinct and with this taste that Nietzsche says in full awareness: the God of metaphysics, the God of the Moralists, the God, too, of a Christian philosophy – they are dead. (71)

The superman is the embodiment of the will to power and makes up an aristocratic class that rules over Nietzsche’s other two types of people: the higher men and the herd classes (Fowler 157). According to University of Warwick philosopher Keith Ansell-Pearson, such a person, freed from any cultural or theological moral restraints, “is master of a free will, and which gives him mastery over himself, over nature, over less fortunate creatures who have not succeeded in achieving sovereignty” (278-279).

With the “repressive” moral power of the dead god removed, the superman is free to express and develop his will to power. The superman stands atop the hierarchy of humanity. To those not yet among his peers, even to those of the “higher men” he would be a being fearful to behold. “Since man must become ‘better and worse,’ a superman will possess the ‘evil’ urges to maximum intensity; his kindness would be terrible; the best of us would call him a devil” (Morgan 175). It is Nietzsche’s supermen – filled with will to power – that seek the death of God in His Dark Materials.

Bringing Nietzsche to Narnia

His Dark Materials are fantasy novels aimed at the youth market. They tell the story of Lyra and Will, two twelve-year-old children who are major actors in a titanic struggle between God and humanity. The first book, The Golden Compass, seems to deliberately borrow from C.S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia. In both books, the action begins when a little girl hides in a wardrobe. Both books contain magic and talking animals. When we are introduced to Lyra, she is living at Oxford University – where Lewis went to school and, later, taught Medieval Literature while composing the bulk of his books. It is also the university from which Pullman received his bachelor’s degree. Lucy, in The Lion The Witch, and the Wardrobe, rides on the back of Aslan, the Great Lion. Lyra, in The Golden Compass, rides on the back of Iorek, a great armored bear.

But when it comes to morality and redemption, the worlds created by Lewis and Pullman could not be farther apart. Lewis’ world is infused with Christian imagery. Within The Chronicles of Narnia a reader would encounter everything from Creation and Fall, to the death, burial and resurrection of Aslan (the Christ figure), to discipleship, and even The Second Coming and the End of the World. The central idea of Narnia is that there the children can learn to know and love Aslan, so that later, when they have grown up, they might more easily recognize Him (as Jesus) here.

In His Dark Materials, Pullman has crafted a world in which the most natural thing would be to desire the death of God. Pullman stated, in an interview with The Sydney Morning Herald, that “My books are about killing God.” Like Nietzsche, Pullman needs God to be dead in order to liberate humanity from what Pullman deems a repressive, absolutist morality so that people will be free to be themselves – by which he means to follow their human nature, to be what nature intended them to be without supernatural interference or restraint.

The human embodiment of this oppression is The Church. Pullman cleverly constructs his ecclesiastical universe so that Catholicism and Protestantism can be derided together. He accomplishes this by having John Calvin, in this alternative universe, elected Pope (GC 30). Calvin moves the papacy to Geneva, and then the office is dissolved upon his death, though the institutional structures – such as the Magisterium and the General Oblation Board – are maintained.

The Church is filled with power-hungy zealots. Its leaders are greedy abusers of the poor. As an institution, it is to be feared. The archbishop is described as a “hateful old snob” (GC 84). The Church operates the General Oblation Board which lures children from the streets, and then spirits them away to a place where they become the subjects of an frightening blend of medical and theological experimentation in which their externalized souls are separated from their bodies. Pullman’s world is populated by Christians who are inquisitors and witch burners. When the reader reaches the third book, The Amber Spyglass, Pullman introduces a priest, Semyon Borisovitch, who is described as fat, with dirty fingernails, a soiled cassock, and a long, unkempt beard. He is a drunk, his place reeks of tobacco. Pullman stops just shy of revealing Semyon as a pedophile when twelve-year-old Will comes knocking at his door: “The priest kept leaning forward to look closely at him, and felt his hands to see whether he was cold, and stroked his knee” (AS 98). Later, after plying the boy with vodka, the priest hugs Will “tightly” while apparently praying for him. The scene is written to appear creepy, and to build mistrust. And if there is any lingering doubt, Pullman has Mary, an attractive character, tell the children that “The Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing mistake, that’s all” (AS 441). If these are God’s representatives, then God must be a fraud, unworthy of our allegiance.

Will to Power and the Supermen

The Nietzschean heroes of His Dark Materials who are tasked with toppling God include Lyra and Will, and by the end of the series, even Lyra’s parent, Mrs. Coulter and Lord Asriel shed what at first appears to be “bad guy” status to become the first martyrs in the battle to destroy the Kingdom of Heaven to replace it with the Republic of Heaven. Other heroes include Iorek Byrnison – an armored bear whose kingdom has been usurped, and Serafina Pekkala, the queen of a clan of witches. As Pullman draws out each character, it is clear what he finds compelling about them: their rejection of God and the absolute morality God represents, and their will to power. Here is a brief sketch:

Lyra, as her name suggests, is a notorious liar – and she benefits by it. Ma Costas, a gyptian boat wife, tells Lyra that it is a compliment in their culture to be considered effectively deceptive (GC 112). Lyra maneuvers through the adult world, getting what she wants by manipulation, pretense, and cunning. She occasionally speaks frankly about killing her enemies, or making others do the killing for her (SK 163). She is an apple that has not fallen far from the tree.

Will does not appear until the second book in the series: The Subtle Knife. He is aptly named. Will gets what he wants by determination or force. Will kills people, and threatens to kill Lyra if she gets in his way (SK 61). To get the titular knife, Will must fight the current possessor for it. To the victor goes the spoils or, in other words, might makes right. Learning to use the knife to cut a hole between worlds is Will’s epiphany. Lyra describes the scene as seeing an authority descend upon Will – but that it is Will’s authority; he is creating it. In a confrontation with angels (who turn out to be weaker than humans), Will says, “If I’m stronger, you have to obey me. Besides, I have the knife. So I can command you: help me find Lyra” (AS 11).

Mrs. Coulter, Lyra’s mother, does not ascend to superman status (though she is very close), but from her introduction in The Golden Compass she fits into Nietzsche’s “higher man” category. She runs the General Oblation Board for the Church, uses her charm to snatch children, mercilessly experiments on them, uses sex as a weapon, brutally tortures prisoners, and treats others in the Church as inferiors. She is admired by Lyra for her style, grace, power and passion. Readers are encouraged to applaud Mrs. Coulter’s defection from the Church, and are expected to overlook her many atrocities (Mrs, Coulter never repents of them) once her love for Lyra is revealed.

Lord Asriel, Lyra’s father, is described as an explorer, easily angered and passionate, with “a hatred of priors and monks and nuns” (GC123). He is a man who is not to be defied. He murders Lyra’s friend, Roger, to pull energy from him as part of a successful experiment to build a bridge to another world. Despite that, his raw power excites in Lyra grudging admiration. By the final book, Lord Asriel has assembled a large army that he intends to lead into battle to defeat God – an army favorably compared to the one commanded by Lucifer when there was a war in heaven, eons past. One character notes Lord Asriel’s limitless ambition, “He dares to do what other men and women don’t even dare to think” (SK 47). Loved and feared, Lord Asriel is a Superman.

Iorek and Serafina represent states of nature. Each wants to be left alone to live life as nature intended. The Church has polluted bear culture; the new king of the bears wants to be baptized as a Christian, and wishes to model his kingdom after the humans. Iorek rejects this move with disgust, ultimately fighting and defeating the weaker bear king. Serafina chronicles centuries of abuse by the Church. She explains that Christianity has always suppressed nature and has been against every good feeling. She declares that if a war breaks out, the witches only need to align themselves against the Church and they will be on the right side.

These are Role Models?

All of these characters embody, to varying degrees, Nietzsche’s idea of Will to Power. They reject any morality as having authority over them. They are people of command. Whether the issue is sexual license, lying, torture, or killing – they all feel justified in doing as they will to obtain their desired results. They serve themselves, and they revel in power. These are the role models that Pullman has served up to impressionable children looking for vacation reading. They don’t even know it yet, but once Pullman hooks them with the sanitized version represented by the screen adaptation of The Golden Compass – a move that will likely lull many parents into complacency about the books – then he will have the freedom to use his fantasy series to pour into their hearts Nietzsche’s terrible lessons.

There is, however, a potential silver lining. Christians can explain that the desire to transcend our own humanity is not, in itself, evil. Nietzsche tried to accomplish that transcendence from below – a weak creature willing itself to power. God, however, can provide it from above. God promises to everyone who comes to Him in faith not some bland sameness, as if we were nothing more than members of the herd, but real true individuality. As Bernhard Welte points out, the Lord has promised to inscribe His name on our foreheads (Rev. 22:4). Welte explains the significance of that promise for believers:

That means that God’s name, that is, the superhuman and divine radiance is inscribed on the human forehead as, therefore, the radiance of man himself. It indicates the authentic superhumanity of man. It does not arise from the self-intensification of the finite will, but much more as a pure gift from above, in the setting of the City of which it is written that it descends from heaven, from God, and therefore cannot be constructed from below. (57)

Friday, November 23, 2007

The Hammer of God ----- a Novel by Bo Giertz

This is a book Doreen borrowed from Vicar Jon. The book deals with struggles that we all have understanding our sinful natures. This short excerpt is an excellent illustration of how only God's Grace can save us. This is an good evangelism tool for people we encounter who rely on works righteousness or who confuse law and Gospel. -----Special thanks to Samantha Hietsch for typing this excerpt.

To begin with, this struggle against sin is pure joy to the awakened soul. It is as when a home owner begins to clear the land around his new house. The stones fly and the spade digs happily. But when a person is at work on the field of his heart, he gradually makes the dismaying discovery that there are more stones the deeper he gets. He keeps discovering new sins right along, and they become more difficult to move the more deeply they are entrenched in his inner life. One might possibly break with drinking and profanity and desecration of the Sabbath in a single evening, But pride, that desire to talke about oneself, or to find fault with others are likely to remain still after many months of penitential struggle.
Then one day, when a man is battling sin and is trying to clear the stones from the heart’s field, sweating at the task yet hoping finally to get rid of the last ones so that he may really see the garden grow, his spade strikes solid rock. He digs and scrapes on every side; he tries again and again to budge the rock. Then the terrible realization draws; it is stony ground through and though. When he has hauled away load after load of stones and dumped them outside the fence, he still has not succeeded in making a garden that can begin to bear fruit for God. He has laid bare a ledge of granite, which never can support a living, fruit-bearing tree,
This is the rock foundation we know as the sinful corruption of our human nature, the sinful depravity that remains even after a man has separated himself from all his conscious sins. It is this stony ground that explains why a man is just as great a sinner before God after he has offered God the best he is able to give of obedience and commitment.
Standing on this rock foundation of sinful corruption, a man has three possible choices. He may depart from God in unbelief as Judas did. That road leads to death. He can make a show of clearing away the stones, as the Pharisees did. The stones that are visible to men may then be put away. One becomes temperate, honest, industrious. One may take a bit of this soil of the self-righteousness and plant therein such flowers as will be a sweet fragrance to one’s own nostril’s, such as kindness, helpfulness, support of missions, zealous activity for kingdom causes, witnessing, and preaching, or perhaps an extreme abstinence in respect to food and drink. And then one walks among these flowers and considers that the work is completed. But in the sight of God the rock foundation remains, and on Judgment Day the flowers have long since withered.
The most dangerous of all temptations is to tamper with the yardstick. God has sent His Holy Spirit to convince the world of sin. The Spirit dwells in the Word. Did not Jesus say to the words He spoke that they are spirit? He who strays from the Word will never be convicted of sin; in any case, he will never know the terrifying depths of sin. He never gets down to the rock foundation. It is with him as with the farmer in the legend, who was to build a bridge. He took a tapeline into the woods to measure with. But when he measured the longest poles they were nevertheless too short. Then he cut off a part of the measuring line and declared that the poles would be tall enough. Even the holiest and strictest adherents of the cult of absolute obedience are careless in the same way when they believe that they can stand in the test before God even for a moment by virtue of their works of the law. They have shortened the measure. They use a tapeline that is like a rubber band. It is called one’s feelings, one’s conscience, or one’s own perception of God’s will. These can all be stretched or pressed together, consciously or unconsciously, so that they fit most anything. There are two signs of falsifying the measure that are inescapably sure. One is that a person considers himself, his deeds and his life good enough to find acceptance with God; the other is that he calls that right which the Word of God calls wrong.
Only he who acknowledges God’s Word without objecting to it or seeking to reduce it, and who accepts it wholly as God’s Word, gets down to the rock foundation of the heart and discovers the law of sin that swells in his members. Only such a one understands that he needs not only repentance, but salvation. But when he understands that, if he is to be saved at all, he must be saved by grace, that is a work of God. It was to that place he wanted to lead the soul, when he laid bare the rock foundation.
At his point the speaker made a sudden shift in his line of thought and began to speak about something altogether different.
Outside Jerusalem, there is a hill of yellow, naked stone. Ugly and hard as a dead man’s skull. Long ago men bored a socket in this rocky hill and planted a cross there, and on that cross they hanged the only One of our race who was righteous and had perfectly fulfilled the law. God permitted this to happen because, although He had tolerated sin in former ages, He wanted once and for all to show that He was righteous and that sin is followed by condemnation and punishment, and the He will not countenance any tampering with His standards of holiness. But so wonderful is God that he let all the curse and penalty of sin fall upon the innocent One, who freely gave himself in death for us. He was made a curse for our sakes. Thus He redeemed us from the condemnation of the law. He was made sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God. He bore our sins in His own body on the tree, and by His stripes we are healed.
That is why the rocky hill of Golgotha is the most holy place in the world. The way of obedience leads to the foot of that cross. There one stands, a poor wretch, like Peter on that first Good Friday, full of shame and despair, looking upon his crucified Savior, whom he had been unable to follow. There it becomes apparent that the Lord’s best disciples are unworthy of Him. They are all betrayers and deniers, sharing in the guilt of His death. But there, at the cross, it also becomes clear that the Lord himself makes atonement for their sins. Where the way of obedience ends at Golgotha with judgment upon us, every one who believes may nevertheless stand on this Rock of Atonement. There are way of grace begins, the new and holy way through the veil, the way that is sanctified by His blood.
The stony soil of our hearts, the rock foundation of our corrupt human nature, needs not, therefore, be the basis for judgment upon us. It can be sprinkled with the blood of Jesus, just as the hill of Golgotha was when drops of blood fell upon it and it was transformed from a place of execution to the Rock of Atonement. God marks the evil heart with the sign of the cross and makes a man righteous in Christ. The whole sinful rock of man’s natural heart is lifted and made to rest on the Rock of Atonement. It still remains flinty rock. Man, as he is in himself, remains a sinner. But the guilt is atoned for, the curse is lifted, and he can come confidently as a child into the presence of God and, thankful for the wonder of redemption, begin to live to the Savior’s glory. Then the fruits of faith begin to appear. A fertile soil now covers the rocky base. It is the good soil of faith, which is watered by grace. Gradually something begins to grow that would never grow there before. Thus the backsliding Peter, when he had experienced the great grace, the grace which the penitent thief received on Calvary, could become both an apostolic leader and a martyr witness to the faith. Yes, he then witnessed no longer concerning his faith, but concerning the Savior, and could finally make the supreme sacrifice of his own life with confidence, the sacrifice he was unable to make as long as he lived by his own resolutions and his own righteousness.
The rector made a momentary pause. Then he began a new line of thought. It was apparent that he was improvising.
The stone foundation of the heart and the Rock of Atonement of Golgotha are the two mountains on which a man’s destiny is determined. If he remains on the stone foundation of his natural fallen state, he is lost. Only one way leads from that stony foundation to the Rock of Atonement, a firm stone bridge built once and for all. It is the Word. Just as only the divine Word can convict man of sin and lat bare the soul to its rocky case, so nothing but the Word can reveal the truth about the Redeemer. The external Word is as inescapably necessary for the gospel as it is for the law. No one who is awakened in earnest would ever be able to believe in the forgiveness of his sins, if God has not built a bridge leading to the Rock of Atonement. The supports on which it rests are baptism, the Lord’s Supper and absolution; the archers are wrought by the holy Word with it’s message of redemption. On that bridge a sinner can pass from the stony ground the condemns to the Rock of Salvation. But should a single one of the arches be allowed to fall, then is man condemned to remain eternally under the law’s condemnation, either as a despairing sinner or as a self-righteous Pharisee.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Ceiling tile in Greeting Area

On Saturday Nov. 17th we installed new ceiling tile in the old Greeting Area. I want to thank Steve Dort, Rich Winkle, Gary Householder, Scott & Tom Rodenbeck and Spencer Hunter for all their help.

I also want to thank Spencer Hunter for all is help and dedication he has given Mt Olive over the past 7-8 years as Head Trustee. We could have not done it with out you. Thanks.

Bryan Leslie

Thursday, November 1, 2007

From the Pastor...November 2007

Whenever the subject of "money" or "giving to the church" comes up in a text, a pastor is faced with something of a no win situation. Inevitably someone is going to make the claim "all that they do in that church is talk about money." If you have ever made that claim, I would challenge you to prove it. In fact, I'd be happy to share a copy of all my sermons over the past twelve months. Relatively few of them deal specifically with the subject of money, although the subject of stewardship covers a wide range of topics. Sermons on money are few and far between. On the other hand, any pastor who purposely avoids preaching a text because it might offend some is, in my opinion, negligent.

That being said, nobody wants to give the impression that "all we do is talk about money." But I will defend a preachers right, and obligation, to speak on money. Because Jesus himself talked about money. In fact, he talked about it a lot. It is estimated that a full 1/6 of his sayings have to do with money and possessions. St. Paul also talked about money quite a bit. I might add, some of the responsibility for the pastor and leadership having to talk about money lies with the people of the church. If people took giving seriously and did the right thing, we wouldn't have to talk about it even the amount that we do. But the fact of the matter is, a whole lot of Christians don't take these matters seriously at all.

If you are one those who take filling their church envelope seriously, enjoy what I am about to say and treat it as a little bit of encouragement and affirmation for a job well done. If you are one of those who doesn't, I only ask you to open your heart and take an honest look at yourself, as St. Paul asks us to do.

In 2 Corinthians 8:1 ff., St. Paul refers to an interesting historical situation in progress. He's writing to the Christians at Corinth, down in the southern part of Greece. He himself is up in Macedonia, in the northern part of Greece. There is a collection going on in Christian churches throughout the Mediterranean region, for needy Christians in Jerusalem. Apparently, the Jewish Christians there were in the midst of some of the hardest economic times ever. It was a time of poverty and famine there. They were hungry. The Corinthian Christians whom Paul addresses hadn't been doing such a good job with their giving. Their mission pledge to the District was, let's just say, falling short. And so Paul seizes the opportunity to give the Christians down south a lesson on "giving" to the Church and its causes. What he does is--he holds forth the Macedonian Christians in the North as an example to those in the south, in Corinth.

What does he say? "And now, brethren, we want you to know about the grace God has given the Macedonian Christians." The generosity which he's about to point out is a result of the grace of God at work in people's lives. And so: Christian generosity takes place within the context of things GOD has done, his grace, his undeserved kindness, in Christ Jesus.

Next he says, "We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian Christians, for out of their most severe trial, their overflowing joy and extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity." In other words, their generosity didn't originate in affluence. In fact, quite the opposite! It originated in poverty! They were in the midst of rough times. Rome had impoverished the region, robbing it of its resources, mainly minerals and timber. The Romans had raped their land, creating economic depression. And yet, they gave. Generously.

On top of this they were suffering persecution at the hands of unbelievers. They were also being economically deprived, edged out of the job market, because of their faith. And yet, they gave. Generously.

Somehow, their poverty helped them to be more generous. Ironic, isn't it? Perhaps they had come to find out what is really important in life. Maybe they had found out how quickly all this material stuff we surround ourselves with can be taken away. But here's the point: Generosity isn't a matter of having a lot. It's a matter of what you do with what you have! Remember Tevye in "Fiddler on the Roof." He sings "IF I were a rich man," and talks about all the things he'd do, someday, if he had money. Lots of Christians like that. "IF I win the lottery, Pastor, THEN I'll give." God's Word says that we learn to be good stewards by being faithful, even when we have only a little.

Pastor Norman Lucas writes in an article of four levels of giving.
First level--Those who give nothing. "My money is mine, I'll give when and if I choose."

Second level--belongs to the person who gives when he FEELS like giving. He gives a token sum. He gives out of excess, as a token.

NEITHER of these two levels, says Lucas, is Christian. Heathens, unbelievers, atheists do as well, and sometimes better at these levels.

It's not until we reach the THIRD level that we reach Christian stewardship. THIRD LEVEL giving is regular, systematic, and proportionate.

What is the bottom line? Skip ahead to verse 9: "For you know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for our sake he became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich." And this, dear friends, is the basis, and the motivation, for Christian generosity. Since Christ did that for you, says Paul, to free you from sin and death, how can you not do your best for him?

I've never worried, in my preaching, about being popular. I believe the call of Christ is to be faithful, faithful to his Word. I also believe their is great blessing to be had in listening to God's Word. "Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it." In other words, there is great blessing and joy to be had in being a generous, giving Christian.