Dear Gulf Coast Leaders,Lessons-at-a-Glance

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Generosity

December 2011

I’m going to diverge from the texts and talk with you about giving.

Tis the season of giving is it not? A myriad of Santas stand at the entrances to our grocery stores imploring us to give to the poor. We are in a time of year when we remember that God gave us a great gift, his only Son. We remember this time of year that the Magi gave gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. This time of year, we consider tax-deductible year-end gifts that our accountants promise will move us into a lower tax bracket. Is this not the season for giving?

This time of year we also retell Dickens incredible story A Christmas Carol, written in 1843 about cold-hearted, tight-fisted, greedy Ebenezer Scrooge. Scrooge despises all the things that give people joy and happiness. He is a miserly character, who does not give, financially or emotionally, consequently he is a lonely and isolated character. He is convinced that life will be fuller by keeping for himself, rather than giving. 3 ghosts come and visit him to show him his past, present and future. He is haunted by the vision that he will die alone, unloved and unliked. He discovers that giving is an essential part of finding joy in life.

Today I’m going to talk about 6 ways to discover joy in life through giving. By giving:

  1. Joyfully
  2. Regularly
  3. Proportionally
  4. Generously
  5. Compassionately, and
  6. Posthumously

1. Give Joyfully.

It’s counterintuitive, but as much fun as it is to receive, the Bible teaches that giving is what actually brings more joy.

It is more blessed to give than to receive.

Acts 20:35

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’

Luke 6:38

Giving brings joy. Think back to a time when you gave a gift, and were excited to give it. When you give, when you bring joy into someone else’s life, it brings joy into your life. And when you give to someone in need, you are actually fulfilling one of your own basic needs: to give.

When our synod group was in Africa, we watched the Lutherans there dance as they brought their offerings up. These are folks who make less than $1/day, and yet they celebrated the opportunity to give.

In fact, giving may be a sign of spiritual maturity. It’s one of the nine fruits of the spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22. Where you give, shows where your heart is. Here’s what Jesus said:

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Luke 12:34

In other words, if you want to know what is truly important in someone’s life, look at their checkbook. Don’t bother with what they say is important. Their true values are reflected in their wallets. Your wallet reveals what you truly worship. Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

This also means that if you want to change your heart, change your giving. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. Giving is a way to change what you truly worship in life.

So give joyfully. Give cheerfully. Not out of law, but out of gospel. Not because you have to, but because of what God has given you, because of the joy in your heart, and because you want to see that joy increase.

Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion,

for God loves a cheerful giver.

2 Corinthians 9:7

2. Give regularly.

On the first day of each week, you should each put aside a portion of the money you have earned.

1 Corinthians 16:2a

Give regularly. Make a habit out of giving. Plan your giving. Don’t give accidentally. Give intentionally. Budget your giving.

When I was a kid my parents gave me an allowance of $10. They brought home a roll of quarters, that we would spread out on the kitchen table. The first 10%, four quarters went to the church, in an envelope. The second 10% went to the savings account. Then I had to count out enough to pay for school lunches. And if there was any left over, I got on my bike and ran up to Pat’s drugstore and bought candy bars. In other words, they were teaching me money management, and they were teaching priorities. First priority is giving. 10%. Second priority savings, 10%. Third priority food. And so on.

Think about your giving for 2012. Don’t give to God your leftovers. Give of your first fruits.

“Honor the LORD with your possessions, and with the

firstfruits of all your increase;”

Proverbs 3:9

Giving doesn’t happen by accident. If you wait to the bottom of the barrel, you won’t have anything left to give, and then you will miss out on the opportunity to find the joy that comes with giving.

3. Give proportionally.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, ‘If God will be with me, and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God, and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house; and of all that you give me I will surely give one-tenth to you.’

Genesis 28:20-22

All tithes from the land, whether the seed from the ground or the

fruit from the tree,

are the Lord’s; they are holy to the Lord.

All tithes of herd and flock, every tenth one that passes under the shepherd’s staff, shall be holy to the Lord.

Leviticus 27:30, 32

Think about all that you have. How many of you have no food in your house right now? How many of you are hungry because you can’t afford to buy food? How many have dirt floors? We are fortunate in this country! We have a lot for which to be thankful!

When we visited the Central African Republic, we discovered the country has basically no paved roads. No electrical grid. No running water except in a very few places. It’s almost impossible for the average American to conceive. Did you know that only 8% of the people in the world own cars? If you own a car, you are one of the richest people in the world. In America we have more cars than we have licensed drivers.

Knowing what it’s like out there in the world, I feel so fortunate, I feel like giving is absolutely essential in my life. I feel that 10% is the bare minimum of what I should be giving. It’s the starting place. The Bible talks about tithes and offerings. Your tithes are the first fruits, that 10% off the very top. Your offerings are your gifts after that first ten percent.

Think about your giving for 2012. What are you going to give? Because in the Old Testament the law said the tithe was the minimum standard. In the New Testament the gospel frees us to give not out of the law, but out of our joy, out of our love. It is for this reason that Susan and I decided to up our giving this year, in spite of the economy, even though our income will not go up. The world’s needs are great, and our need to give is even greater.

When Jesus went to Jericho, he went right up to the wealthiest person in town. It just so happened he was up in a tree. The people grumbled that Jesus went over to this schmuck. But in the end Zaccheus gave not 10%, but 50%, and he agreed to repay everyone he had cheated four times. The gospel changes us. It turns us inside out. When we encounter Jesus our lives are transformed from taking to giving.

Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’

Luke 19:8

It doesn’t matter how much you give. It matters what percentage you give. Do you know that in America the more money people have, the less they give as a percentage of income. The amounts may be large, but they are often a tiny percentage of what they have or what they make.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything-all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:43-44

Jesus once saw people putting large amounts in the Temple offering and he was not impressed, because he looked at it proportionally. Then he saw a widow put in two coins, and he commented that she gave everything she had, 100%. Give proportionally.

4. Give generously, without expecting anything in return. Give and forgive with abandon. All of life. If you expect something in return, you live life in want. Give freely. Give so that when they get up to speak at your funeral, it’s the first thing out of their mouths: S/he was so generous.

I am humbled by Mary’s word to the angel:

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Luke 1:38

She lives life with a kind of surrender of her life to God. Wouldn’t it be phenomenal to have a church of people who prayed genuinely, “Let it be done to me according to your Word.” What could stop a church like that?

Jesus says to give even to your enemies:

But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

Luke 6:35

“But do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is well pleased.”

Hebrews 13:16

Give generously and beware of greed. Jesus talks about wealth and greed more than just about anything else. He understands, and warns us that materialism is one of the greatest dangers to your faith and spirituality.

And he said to them, ‘Take care!

Be on your guard against all kinds of greed;

for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.’

Luke 12:15

When you get ready to give a little voice in your head will say, “Stop! You may need this! The economy is bad! You don’t have enough? What if you don’t have enough?! That fear of not having enough is pervasive. It’s natural. It’s self-preservation. It’s okay. It’s normal. So remind yourself. I have enough. I have more than enough. I have more than most people in the world. Remind yourself of Jesus’ words in the sermon on the mount: “Consider the lilies of the field, they neither toil nor spin, yet Solomon in all his glory was never arrayed as one of these. Consider the birds of the air, they neither plant nor sow nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly father takes care of them.” If God so clothes the grass of the field and the birds of the air will God not also take care of you, O ye of little faith?

And when you get ready to give, a little voice will say, “Stop! That cause, that organization is not worthy of your gift.” Then say to yourself, “Yes, but I need to give.” Be smart about your giving. But don’t let your natural selfishness keep you from giving.

And when you get ready to give to your church, a little voice will say, “Stop! That church is so disorganized, they’ll squander the gift. Then say to yourself:

  • My church is making a difference in people’s lives.
  • My church is making a difference in this community.
  • My church is making a difference in the world.

And when your congregation gets ready to give, a little voice will say, “That ELCA, what have they done for me lately? That Bishop Mike Rinehart, what has he done for me lately?” And you say to the voice:

  • My church is sending missionaries.
  • My church is fighting hunger, poverty, disease.
  • My church is not religious entertainment. My church cares for the world In Jesus’ name.
  • You think about that woman whose child is in excruciating pain. She has no hospital, no medication.
  • My church cares for that woman. My church is providing spring boxes so she can have fresh drinking water.
  • My church is helping end malaria.
  • My church is lifting up and training pastors.
  • My church is helping congregations find find pastors like Mike Button.
  • My church is starting new congregations.
  • My church is providing campus ministers at our universities.

Giving generously. When fear tries to find excuses to not give, overcome fear with love.

5. Give compassionately.

And the crowds asked [John the Baptist], ‘What then should we do?’ In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

Luke 3:10-14

When John the Baptist is asked, “Okay, now we’re baptized, what does this mean? What should we do?” He responds: “SHARE!”

Remember the book, All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten? Share! John breaks it down. Here’s his five-point plan:

  1. If you have two coats, share one with someone who has none. Duh.
  2. Same with food. Friends, this is at the heart of Judeo-Christian ethic.
  3. Tax collectors: Don’t’ collect more than you’re supposed to.
  4. Don’t cheat people.
  5. Be satisfied with your wages.

This is how John the Baptist, the chief figure of Advent, understands repentance. Notice something. It’s economic. It may be that generosity is a metric for spiritual maturity. The law requires us to give. It set’s a bare minimum. The gospel empowers us to give. It encourages to reach beyond minimums.

Give with compassion in your heart. Jesus says,

Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.

Luke 6:30

Jesus says, to give to everyone who begs of you. Some of us have been taught otherwise. Folks at Faith Lutheran Church in Bellaire have been keeping care bags in their cars for when they bump into those folks on the corner asking for help. The bag has granola bars, bottled water and so forth in them.

Jesus says to even to your enemies. Paul too.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ No, ‘if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.‘ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Romans 12:19-21

This is the Christian way. Give compassionately.

6. Give posthumously. Posthumously means after you die. If giving in life gave you joy, then give in your death too.

We all have stuff. We all have wealth. Some have more than others but we all have it. And we can’t take it with us. There are no U-Haul’s behind hearses. I’ve got good news and bad news for you:

The bad news is: You can’t take it with you.

The good news is: You won’t be needing it.

What will happen to all your stuff when you die? For most of us, it will pass to our children. The first time an estate gift is mentioned in the Bible is Genesis 15:

Abraham is distraught because he has no children born to him and his wife to whom he can leave his estate.

Genesis 15:2

But I tithed in life, so I want to tithe in death too, so I have it written into my will that one tenth of my estate when I die will go to the church. In my case, half of that tithe to my congregation and half to the synod. I do this because I believe in the church. I love the church, and I love to give. I want to be consistent in life and in death.

Conclusion

The message of the gospel begins with God giving: God so loved the world that he gave… his only Son…

Jesus taught the joy of giving yourself to God and neighbor in love — to be freed from the materialism that enslaves us.

After Jesus and Zaccheus finished up together, after Zaccheus decided to give 50% away and repay everyone he had cheated, Jesus says a remarkable thing:

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house…’

Luke 19:9a

Jesus ties generosity and salvation. He’s not saying that we’re saved by giving. He’s saying that generosity is a sign of the fulfillment of the kingdom of God. John is saying that it’s a sign of repentance. Paul is saying that it is a fruit of a deeply spiritual life.

Give.

  1. Give posthumously
  2. Compassionately
  3. Generously
  4. Proportionally
  5. Regularly

But most of all, give joyfully, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

Be at peace with God and with one another,Michael Rinehart, Bishop