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Archive for Generosity

Recently I’ve been teaching on generosity as a part of our annual stewardship promotion and budget adoption campaign. Through the years I’ve enjoyed teaching on stewardship, and according to my record keeping I could comfortably present on this topic more than I do. I’ve hit all the major passages on stewardship, and a few obscure ones too. But the one thing that I’m convinced of is this: the most important principle in understanding stewardship is that God is the owner of everything. If we can grasp that, much of what follows falls in place.

I believe the Bible teaches that God is owner of all things. Every blessing we have has come from Him. We can’t take credit for anything or claim that we possess anything because we have earned it or deserve it. It’s all God’s and all that we have is from God. God is owner and we are stewards.

Stewards? What does that mean? A steward is a person who manages the owner’s possessions in a way that is consistent with the owner’s wishes. A steward doesn’t manage based on what he or she sees fit, a steward manages in a manner that is consistent with the goals and desires of the owner.

Last Sunday I illustrated this principle by placing 10 apples on the communion table. The 10 apples represented the blessings of God in our lives. If you’re like me, you grew up hearing about stewardship in terms of tithing (the practice of giving God 10% of your household income through the local church). God gives us 10 apples and wants 1 in return. That’s simple math that any elementary student can understand.

The problem with teaching stewardship that way is that it seems to suggest that if we give God His “one” apple, we have 9 remaining that we can use however we choose. That’s simply not how it works. They’re ALL God’s apples. You can give one or none, but they’re all His. Furthermore, people like you and me are accountable to the owner for how we use all 10 of them, not just whether or not we have given one to Him on Sunday.

James 1:17 says that every good and perfect gift we have has come from God. He has entrusted those gifts to us, and we’re accountable to Him for how we use each of them. If we can wrap our minds around that, we’re on the way to good stewardship and free to be generous.

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Here’s an article that was in today’s Des Moines Register. It shares five practical ways that parents can teach their children about charitable giving and volunteerism. While the article doesn’t target or specify giving to churches, the principles are still helpful. You can find the article here.

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Breaking Jars

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Sandwiched between stories of malice and betrayal we find the account of Mary of Bethany who was noted in the Gospel of Mark by her extravagant gift to Jesus Christ. The first 9 verses of chapter 14 describe the episode this way:   1 It was now two days before the Passover celebration and the Festival of Unleavened Bread. The leading priests and the teachers of religious law were still looking for an opportunity to capture Jesus secretly and put him to death. 2 “But not during the Passover,” they agreed, “or there will be a riot.” 3 Meanwhile, Jesus was in Bethany at the home of Simon, a man who had leprosy. During supper, a woman came in with a beautiful jar of expensive perfume. She broke the seal and poured the perfume over his head. 4 Some of those at the table were indignant. “Why was this expensive perfume wasted?” they asked. 5 “She could have sold it for a small fortune and given the money to the poor!” And they scolded her harshly. 6 But Jesus replied, “Leave her alone. Why berate her for doing such a good thing to me? 7 You will always have the poor among you, and you can help them whenever you want to. But I will not be here with you much longer. 8 She has done what she could and has anointed my body for burial ahead of time. 9 I assure you, wherever the Good News is preached throughout the world, this woman’s deed will be talked about in her memory.”

Here are five observations from the story about sacrificial giving that I have found to be helpful.
1.  Sacrificial giving is our response to the grace of God that we have received (14:1-3).
When someone makes a sacrificial gift, our first question is “how much?”
Nard came from the root of a Hymilean plant that was imported from India. Only the wealthy possessed it. The story states that it was valued at the equivalent of a year’s income.
But the question the Bible makes much of is “why?” What motivated her extravagance? No one prompted her to do it. Jesus himself didn’t request it. It was 100% self initiated because of her thankful spirit for what Jesus had done for her and her family.
2. Sacrificial giving is without measure (14:3b).
In Bible times the customary practice of anointing was measured. Just a few drops. Or, as the old commercial used to say, “a little dab will do ya.” But Mary broke the jar and emptied its contents on Jesus. Her gesture was limitless and boundless. When you break a jar, there’s no turning back.
3. When you make sacrificial commitments to Christ you can expect critics (14:4-5).
When you start breaking jars containing expensive stuff, someone is going to become critical and even judgmental. Do you find it interesting that it was the disciples who were the most outspoken against this act? Instead of celebrating her deed, they called it a “waste.”
4.  Jesus calls our sacrificial gifts “beautiful” (14:6-7).
What the disciples called waste, Jesus called beautiful (NIV). Don’t worry about what the crowd says about your sacrifices. Jesus is pleased and calls your sacrifices beautiful things!
5. Your beautiful sacrifices will make a difference in ways you may not expect or realize (14:8-9).
Jesus told Mary that her act would prepare his body for burial. Furthermore, he said her gift would be memorialized throughout human history. I can’t imagine that Mary could forsee the fact that after 2,000 years she would be studied and discussed. With that in mind, consider these questions:
* What will be your lasting legacy in the Kingdom of God?
* How will you be remembered?
* What will people say about your contributions after you’re gone from this life?
There are many who aspire to change the world and make it a more beautiful place. But that doesn’t happen without risk and sacrifice. It doesn’t come clinging to comfort zones and measure our commitments. It happens when you start breaking jars.
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Why Give?

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During the month of November I’ve been speaking on the subject of giving. That may seem unnatural, given the state of our nation’s economy. Prices are rising as well as unemployment statistics. Giving to not for profit organizations is significantly down from 2009, yet members of our nation’s faith communities continue to be faithful in their regular tithes and offerings.

I found an incredible passage that really spoke to me about the kind of attitude we should have toward giving. 1 Chronicles 29 is set in history at the end of King David’s life. Like many who are in their twilight years, he was concerned about the legacy he would leave behind. The legacy he desired to leave was the construction of a permanent Temple for the worship of God. Though God has relayed to David through the prophet Nathan that he was not the one to build the Temple, David stayed the course and put together the blueprints for the project and raised the funds to insure its success. Like any good fund raiser, David began by sharing his own commitment:  over 100 tons of gold and 262 tons of silver, plus other important building materials. He would leave everything he had for the project. Imagine the surprise of his family when they discovered there would be nothing bequeathed to them!

As David offered his prayer to God, he simultaneously offered some wonderful advice for how the listeners then and the readers now will find beneficial.

1.  Acknowledge God’s ownership of all things (1 Chronicles 29:10-11).

David began by stating something critically important to our understanding of giving:  it all belongs to God. I think the biggest myth around today concerning giving is the myth that as long as a person gives to God, say 10% for example, they can do as they wish with the remainder. That is simply not true. It’s all God’s.

2.  Every blessing we have comes from God (1 Chronicles 29:12-13).

Think of every blessing in your life. Is there a single one we can take credit for? One of the first Bible verses I memorized was James 1:17, which says that “every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights with whom there is no variableness or shadow of turning.” God not only owns all things, but also gets the credit for every good gift we enjoy.

3.  When we give we are responding to God as the owner of all things and the giver of all blessings (1 Chronicles 29:14-16).

Here’s a thought you may not have thought of before, but even the very gifts we offer to God is God’s. We can’t even claim credit for our own generosity.

4.  When your heart is in tune with God, you will give (1 Chronicles 29:17-20).

Not only will you give, but according to David you will give joyfully and willingly. Not only that, your giving will inspire others to give.

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Uncommon: 4

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The early church was uncommon. It possessed attributes unlike any other community or organization known in their time. Their unity and value system was uncommon and they shared an uncommon story. As a result, they enjoyed the uncommon grace of God. As the text continues, we find another marker of this emerging movement: they had an uncommon sense of generosity.

“There were no needy people among them, because those who owned land or houses would sell them and bring the money to the apostles to give to those in need. For instance, there was Joseph, the one the apostles nicknamed Barnabas (which means ‘Son of Encouragement’). He was from the tribe of Levi and came from the island of Cyprus. He sold a field he owned and brought the money to the apostles” (Acts 4:34-37, NLT).

We are somewhat caught off guard to read the claim that the church was so generous that it had eliminated all economic need within their group. Because they valued one another over their material possessions, they gave generously, even if it meant parting with a house or a field. I think it’s important to note that they gave with no strings attached. They sold stuff and gave the proceeds to the apostles and allowed them to distribute the funds according to their own discretion. Amazing!

When you think about it, the people of God throughout history have been known for their generosity. Think about your community. What are the names of the hospitals? Here in the 515 we have four hospital systems, three of which are named after the religious affiliations that started them. Think about the colleges and universities in America. Many of those private schools were started by the people of God who held a conviction that education was a priority. Think about the orphanages or the agencies that work tirelessly to serve those in need. Again, the people of God were on the cutting edge of meeting human needs and solving real problems in society. Uncommon!

Generosity not only meets physical needs. It also meets a spiritual need: encouragement. Barnabas is strategically introduced to the reader in this context, and his personal generosity is associated with encouragement. In other words, your generosity serves to encourage others and validates the claims of our faith and the calling of our Lord.


Generous Churches

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Excellent 90 second video on generosity and giving in the church.

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