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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.

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