The life-giving power of generosity

This article is from Paul David (PD) Kurts, regional pastor of GCI’s Mid-Atlantic Region. PD also serves in the North Carolina Air National Guard.

Emma Lee and PD Kurts
Emma Lee and PD Kurts

Some years ago I was watching a television program on the National Geographic channel, which depicted a pygmy tribesman trying to catch a monkey (you know, the other white meat) to feed his family. I sat in amazement watching the simple trap he set. He dug a hole in the ground about a foot deep but only a few inches wide. Then he dropped a bunch of peanuts into the hole and walked away.

Sure enough, an hour or so later, a monkey came out of nowhere and inquisitively approached the hole. What happened next astounded me. The monkey reached into the hole, which his hand would barely fit into, grabbed a handful of peanuts and tried to pull his hand out. No matter how hard he tried he couldn’t get his hand out because he refused to unlock his fist and let go of the peanuts.

The poor little monkey went into a frenzy, jumping around, screaming and hoping he would somehow get his hand out of the hole without losing his prize. This pitiful scene played out for about 20 minutes until the pygmy returned, only to casually stroll over to the monkey and bonk him on the head with a wooden club. Bon Appetit!

The lesson was clear—greed kills. Jesus said this: “Whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25 ESV). In our attempts at being non-human, we tend to hold tightly to money, time, possessions, you name it. I say non-human because to be truly human is to be generous with all that we are and all that we have. The Father, Son and Spirit, who embody generosity and whose image we bear, created us with that same generosity. It is there in us, it is who we are, but the problem is we don’t always know it, don’t always believe it, and so we don’t always practice it.

ushers
Used with permission

One of the greatest lessons I’m still learning in life is that I can’t out-give God. I’ve tried proving him wrong on this, believe me, only to be proven wrong over and over and over! Not only is the Father continually generous toward the Son and the Son toward the Spirit and the Spirit toward the Father (you get the point), but our Triune God is always generous toward us with all that he is and all that he has. Paul said it this way, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:3 ESV).

So the question is this: who needs to experience your generosity today in a deeper way, or even for the first time? Perhaps a child? A mate? An estranged friend? I believe the saying of our Lord is true: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). We can’t help but experience blessing when we exercise generosity.

Holy Spirit awaken our souls to the life-giving power of generosity, and while you’re at it, please remind us to let go of the peanuts! Amen.

From Greg: Live and preach generosity

Dear pastors and ministry leaders:

Greg and Susan Williams
Greg and Susan Williams

My father was an apple grower. One of his personal pleasures was loading up the pickup truck at the end of the harvest season to take apples to the widows and elderly around the area. He gained great joy from distributing free apples and was reluctant to stop. It’s a sad irony that he sustained a debilitating injury by falling from a ladder while picking apples to take to the shut-ins. He spent the last six years of his life in a nursing home as a paraplegic. One of his regrets was his inability to keep providing apples and service to others.

Daddy - Color
Greg’s father

My father was a great mentor as he taught my brothers and me much about generosity and generous living. I strive to be the same good mentor for my three sons. Have you stopped to consider who are the examples and mentors in your life? What are some of the practices of faith and giving you recall from childhood? What is the most meaningful gift you have ever received, and what did it teach you about generosity? How has generosity impacted you and shaped your life? (These are great questions for personal reflection, and also to ask in conversations with donors who support your church.)

According to Jesus, he “came to give life—life in all its fullness” (John 10:10 NCV). It is out of this abundance “in Christ” that we live and share with others. Often in our preaching about “stewardship” we talk about personal responsibility in how we manage our time, talent and treasure. Personally I think that stewardship teaching needs to be expanded to address living out of the fullness of our abundant life in Jesus. My challenge to us all is that we would live generously and preach generosity.

Jesus knows where our heart is by what we treasure (Matthew 6:21), and what we treasure extends beyond our money—we also treasure our time, talents, and relationships. Generosity, then, involves every facet and phase of our lives. According to Christian Smith (of Notre Dame University), generosity is measured in the following ways:

  • Financial Giving
  • Volunteering
  • Relational generosity which involves nurturing social networks by engaging with people (and I include in this making key introductions)
  • Neighborly generosity—showing care, extending hospitality, assisting with chores, etc.
  • Self-evaluated generosity: Do you see yourself as generous?
156 giving - web - color
Used with permission

As you preach, I urge you to keep in mind that generosity is an underlying theme that fits in almost every sermon (see an example in the sermon summary in this issue from Ted Johnston). Please don’t limit your preaching and teaching to an annual stewardship/giving sermon. As you prepare sermons in the weeks ahead, make it a practice to ask yourself “How and where does the theme of generous living show up in this Bible passage?” Then ask “How will I weave generous living into my sermon delivery?”

John Wesley boiled fiscal responsibility down to three rules that in our vernacular can be stated this way: Earn all you can. Save all you can. Give all you can. Sounds simple, right? Simple, yes, but not easy, especially in today’s culture of consumerism. Wesley’s earn-save-give philosophy of money management will give everyone in your congregation (children, teens and adults of all ages) a new way to think about money for the rest of their lives.

There are many resources available to help your members, and to help you in your personal finances. Some have used teaching tools from Dave Ramsey. Others have had multi-generational small groups where older members talk about living on fixed incomes, middle-age members talk about preparation for retirement, and younger couples talk about their dream to purchase their first house. Talking about a Christian’s view of financial management, coupled with the focus on generous living at all stages of a person’s life, makes for dynamic small group meetings (this could be a very practical way of jump-starting a multi-generational small group and then come to discover that you are actually practicing generous living).

May we continually look to and rely on our generous God who gives us everything. And may we respond to him with generous use of our time, treasure and talent. In other words, may we live generous lives.

In his service,
Greg Williams, director Church Administration and Development

PS: In this letter and scattered throughout this issue of Equipper, we reproduced some cartoons on the topic of stewardship and money. Sometimes some humor is the “sugar” that “helps the medicine go down.” Please understand that all these are offered “tongue in cheek.”

Cultivating generosity

This month’s Equipper (see the five articles linked below) focuses on our calling to follow the Spirit in cultivating generosity in our personal lives and within our congregations. Enjoy! -Ted Johnston, editor

From Greg: Live and preach generosity
Greg Williams discusses our calling as church leaders to practice and teach the spiritual discipline of generosity.

Used with permission
Used with permission

Nurturing a culture of generosity
Randy Bloom shows how pastors and ministry leaders can develop a culture of generosity within their congregations.

The life-giving power of generosity
Paul David Kurts writes about how we can live out our calling to be generous, like God is generous.  

Sermon summary: Generous God, generous life
Ted Johnston offers a sermon that explores the teachings of Jesus (recorded in Luke) involving living a generous life that participates in God’s own generosity.

Kid’s Korner: What do kids need from church?
Susi Albrecht and Nancy Akers explore how small churches, with a generous spirit, can capitalize on their small size to maximize ministry to children.

Sermon Summary: Generous God, generous life

This sermon summary is from Ted Johnston, Equipper editor. It addresses the theme of this issue of Equipper—cultivating generosity.

Introduction

Ted and Donna Johnston
Ted and Donna Johnston

One of my favorite songs in the late 80s was Don’t Worry Be Happy in which Bobby McFerrin sings, “In every life we have some trouble… but when you worry you make it double. Don’t worry, be happy” (to watch a music video and sing along, click here).

Wouldn’t you like to have life free of worry, care, anxiety… just happy? Jesus seems to get at this issue as he talks with a group of his disciples. Hear the word of the Lord:

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn; yet God feeds them. And how much more valuable you are than birds! Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life? Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Fathers knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.

Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will never fail, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:22-34)

The occasion of these words is a conversation Jesus had with a member of a large crowd: Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me (Luke 12:13). Notice Jesus’ reply: Who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you? (Luke 12:14). Then Jesus seems to address the whole crowd: Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15). Jesus knows the human heart and a core part of fallen nature: greed. To illustrate, Jesus (in Luke 12: 16-21) tells a parable of a rich farmer who harvested a bumper crop—way more than he could store in his barns—so he decided to tear down his barns and build bigger ones, and sit back and enjoy life—living off what he had stored up.

God’ reply was this; You fool—this very night you’ll loose your life. Then what will all you have stored profit you? (Luke 12:20). Then Jesus concludes with this lesson: This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God (Luke 12:21).

widowmite
Used with permission

Then Jesus pulls his inner circle of disciples aside and says this:

Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. Life is more than food, and the body more than clothes. (Luke 12:22-23)

I think Jesus’ point is that greed and worry often go together, no matter how much one has… Do you agree? Greed and the worry that goes with it is terrible bondage. [Give a personal illustration here.]

Jesus invites his followers to rid themselves of greed and stop worrying about their lives. Is this “pie in the sky” thinking? No—it’s reality—a new, liberating freedom grounded on two great truths:

Truth #1: God is generous

In Luke 12:24, 27 Jesus invites us to consider both the ravens and the lilies. Consider what? God’s concern and provision for birds (food) and flowers (clothing). The lesson here? God is both able and generous.
And why? Because the birds and flowers deserve it? Earn it?
No, it’s all of GRACE! God’s unearned/undeserved generosity.

How does this grace apply to you? Hear the words of Jesus:

How much more valuable you are than birds! (Luke 12:24b)

If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith. (Luke 12:28)

Knowing and relying on God’s superabundant generosity—his grace—comes by FAITH. In this we see the truth of the GOSPEL—the GOOD NEWS that God loves us completely and provides for us fully and abundantly because he loves us and because of what Jesus has done for us.

With these words, Jesus is confronting us with two competing realities:

  • That all we have in this world is temporary and seemingly insufficient and we need more of it.
  • That God cares for us and has all we need and will provide it for us.

Paul invites us to embrace the second reality—the ultimate reality—when he writes this:

We have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.(Romans 5:1-2)

We tend toward greed and worry in this life because we are not secure in our standing. But the reality is that by grace, we stand with God—by grace he receives us, unconditionally as his children. And in grace he says to us: “I care for you—don’t worry, I’ll take care of you.”

So truth #1 is that God is generous. Do you believe that? Really?

Truth #2: Through faith in God we are free to live a generous life

Worry (anxious care) that flows out of greed is a problem for two reasons:

  • It’s a big waste of time and energy.

Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life? (Luke 12:25)

  • Worry fills up your life, keeping you from God’s best.

Do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. (Luke 12:29-32)

The kingdom involves the concept of a reign. And Jesus’ question is this: What reigns in your life? In Romans 5, Paul presents two possibilities: The reign of Adam in death, and the reign of Christ (the second Adam) in life.

We entered Adam’s reign at birth, and have spent our lives there scurrying around trying to make a “dead man walking” look good. When the way of Adam holds sway in your life, you live out of a “scarcity mentality”—where there is never enough, and we scrape and claw to get more and to hold onto it. And we worry.

But by God’s grace, we can enter Jesus’ reign—Jesus’ kingdom—and when we do, we share in his life and the superabundance of his grace and generosity. We can, that is, if we live according to the reality that Jesus truly is Lord of all.

So let me ask: Is Jesus your Lord? If so, you are now the recipient of his kingdom on earth, now reigning. And you are invited now to share his reign, through grace, with all its benefits.

And one of the biggest benefits, according to Jesus, is freedom from worry—freedom from a scarcity mentality where our vision and passion are limited by what we perceive through our physical senses.

Here’s the deal: Jesus’ reign in our life, both frees us from… and then frees us to…

  • What does it free us from? [worry, fear, striving]
  • What does it free us to? Notice what Jesus mentions:

Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Luke 12:33-34)

This is ultimate freedom—to rule over our possessions rather than being ruled by them. One of the word’s greatest slave masters is materialism. People are in slavery to consumer debt, to more automobiles, to bigger homes, more toys. Why? Because they find their significance and purpose in the acquisition of things.

But, if my significance and purpose (my identity) are in Christ—if I am reigning in life with him through the superabundant provision of his grace, then I am truly free: Free to be generous with all I possess. And in this generosity is ultimate happiness. We should change Bobby McFerrin’s lyrics: “Don’t worry, be generous!” Or, as coach John Wooden was fond of saying, “Happiness begins where selfishness ends.”

In Jesus, I know the Triune God of grace who has all resources and is generous to me personally in the granting of those resources. As I focus on that God and his generosity, you know what I can do? I can be a free, open, generous conduit of God’s provision for others:

  • I am free to sell what I don’t need and give it away.
  • I can use wisdom to make appropriate provision for my family’s future, but I don’t have to hoard resources, worrying about future scarcity. Why? I reign in life with Christ.

God has given me the kingdom. And so I’m free to stop worrying, to stop competing with the Joneses—free to stop hoarding and start giving—generously, freely, lavishly. We serve a generous God and now, by his grace, we are set free to live a generous life.

Generous God—generous life!  Amen.

Kid’s Korner: What do kids need from a church?

by Susi Albrecht and Nancy Akers

Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives. (Proverbs 22:6)
Teach children how they should live, and they will remember it all their lives. (Proverbs 22:6)

It’s an ongoing, often passionate debate: What do kids need from a church?

Some say parents should seek out mega-churches so their kids can attend large, well-funded programs. Some say it’s better for children to be folded into smaller churches, benefiting from friendships that span generations by necessity. Good arguments can be made for both sides.

Thankfully, God is capable of working with and through churches of all sizes. Arguing over which is better is futile. As we read in 1 Corinthians 12:12-27, unity and diversity in the body of Christ go hand-in-hand. Our focus must lie on cultivating cooperation, sharing ideas and resources, and mutual respect.

The reality is this: 60% of US Protestant congregations have fewer than 100 attendees, and the average church in the US has 75 worshipers on Sunday morning (according to a Hartford Institute for Religion Research study). Small churches are the reality within GCI. But rather than being discouraged, let’s do two things:

First, let’s share the Gospel with our communities—a ministry endeavor that sometimes leads to growth in the size of a congregation. Second, let’s capitalize on the benefits small churches present to children. With thoughtful intentionality, children can be woven into the fabric of a congregation. Not only will they learn about God’s love for them, but they will learn to love others in return. They will experience the joys of answered prayers and the sorrow of pain and loss. Older children can help mentor the smaller kids at children’s church. As multiple generations worship together as a single unit, kids naturally learn to honor, respect and serve the elderly.

While smaller churches cannot offer the many bells and whistles and cool programs of larger churches, they can provide the reality of a frail and broken body engaging in the loving work of Jesus. Children can and should participate in the many aspects of church. It will make them feel loved, welcomed and needed. Here are some additional ideas for how a congregation can involve the children:

  • Be aware of activities and schedules of the children. Inform the congregation when school starts, don’t assume they know. Children are often nervous and stressed before a new school year, and special attention and care during that time will provide comfort and reassurance. Plan a special service when children come before the congregation to be prayed for as the new school year begins. Encourage grandparents to bring their grandchildren and families, and reach out to neighbors’ children. Ask the children and their families to invite neighborhood and school friends.
  • Solicit prayers from the children for specific issues. When Susi’s son Noah was about seven years old, he received a call one evening from the pastor of their congregation, asking Noah to pray for his sermon on Sunday. The pastor shared with him that he was struggling with the topic and needed prayer. Wow, did that short call leave an impression!
  • Allow children to participate by serving. Ask them to be greeters, hand out bulletins, collect the offering, help serve communion, read Scripture, sing on the praise team, and other duties.
  • Prepare a sermon activity sheet for children. In small congregations, separate children’s church on a regular basis may not be possible. If children remain in the room during the sermon, a pastor can prepare a simple activity sheet based on his/her sermon. Those sheets can include pictures to color that are related to the sermon (make sure crayons are available), fill in the blanks, scriptures written out with room to draw. Be creative and the children will know that the pastor considered them while preparing the sermon. One of the resources we find useful in this area is Forbid Them Not – Involving Children in Sunday Worship. It’s based on the Revised Common Lectionary and offers many pages of activities for children.
  • Take up a noisy offering. At a previously announced Sunday, take up a special offering benefiting children in the community or the world (involve the kids in the decision process). Encourage the congregation to include change for the offering and have the kids collect it in metal bowls—hence a noisy offering. You can be sure it will be joyful giving! Important: before deciding on such offerings, make sure you organize the coin processing ahead of time. Coin sorting machines charge 10%, which might be worth it. Or organize willing volunteers for a coin rolling party after church.

    kids worshiping
    Nancy’s grands, Susi’s kids, and other children worshiping God along with the congregation.
  • Choose some worship songs children are familiar with. One of the GCI congregation Susi and Nancy attended encouraged (but never forced) little children to come forward during the praise time to give them more room to move, dance and jump (see the picture above). A basket filled with small instruments such as tambourines, small drums, cymbals and maracas allows them to joyfully participate in worship, especially those who are not able to read yet.

As always, we invite you to share your ideas and suggestions (you may do so using the comments feature below). We enjoy hearing from you!

Nurturing a culture of generosity

This article is from CAD team member Randy Bloom. Randy serves as the Regional Pastor of the Eastern Region of GCI-USA.

Randy Bloom
Randy and Debbie Bloom with their daughter and grandson

This we know: Our God is generous! We know this because we see all that, by grace, the Father has generously done for us and shares with us in Christ, by the Spirit (Ephesians 3:1-8; 2 Corinthians 8:9). It’s reasonable, then, to consider generosity as one of the hallmark characteristics of a Christian. Generosity is one of our core values.

All we have (including our finances) belongs to God, yet he freely shares what is his with us so that we can live abundantly (John 10:10 NKJV)—a life that includes sharing in Jesus’ mission. We understand that grace and generosity go together. Generosity flows from grace and is motivated by love. First comes God’s love for us and for others; then (in grateful response) comes our love for God and others. It is through the generosity of people sharing in God’s generosity that the church is able to function as co-workers with Christ.

I’m sure most of our readers would agree with these thoughts, yet we often fall prey to the dualistic thinking that permeates our world. As it pertains to money, there is a false dichotomy between “money matters” and “spiritual matters.” For many, money resides in a place separate from the needs of Jesus’ mission as conducted by the church. This dualistic thinking is more than false perceptions about the church and money—it goes deeper, with money being viewed as something physical that is completely separate from the spiritual. From this false perspective, money is seen as “ours.” Yet the truth is that all things (including money) are God’s–they exist for his purposes and glory. Moreover, all things (physical and spiritual) are intimately united in Christ, and that includes money, mission and our everyday lives.

wifi
Used with permission

As pastoral leaders it’s important we understand this, and help our members rethink and renew their viewpoints concerning money (and their relationship with it). We need to help them realize that generosity (in all aspects of life, finances included), is integral to discipleship. We don’t do this teaching merely to meet budgetary needs. We do it to help people more fully experience the generous love and life that is theirs in Christ. Our goal is to help them participate more fully in Jesus’ mission to the world. How can we achieve that goal? By working to create within our congregations a culture of generosity. Here are three steps in that direction:

  1. Nurture hope and expectation in your members by finding and sharing a compelling vision from Jesus that includes actionable plans for participating in his mission in your context. Many pastors have learned the reality that money follows vision. This isn’t a crude marketing ploy—it’s a way to help God’s people participate in the generosity (including the generous mission) of the triune God.
  2. Preach the gospel—but not a gospel that is severed from what God has to say concerning the wise and generous use of money. To do that, you’ll need to overcome fears related to preaching about giving—especially as it pertains to the missional needs of the church. Abuses related to money in our denomination are behind us—it’s a new day, and we serve our members well by including in our worship services and discipleship classes regular teaching about money and its uses in fulfilling our calling as the people of God.
  3. Share real-life examples (including your own). Tell stories about lives changed by Christ as people have begun to share more fully in God’s generosity to the benefit of others (including the church).

Recommended resources

To learn more about money and generosity from a Christ-centered, biblical perspective, we recommend these resources: