EKG: Ministry Flows from the Heart

November 3, 2019

Norwalk First United Methodist Church

Extravagant Generosity: The Heart of Giving

All Saints Sunday

EKG: Ministry Flows from the Heart

1 Timothy 6:17-19

            I’m excited as we begin this message series on extravagant generosity. God is a generous deity and we are created in his image. God is a giving God and we should be also. Giving helps us become what God wants us to be. Bishop Robert Schnase says this in his devotional guide, “Practicing Extravagant Generosity”: “Giving is not merely about the church’s need for money but about the Christian’s need to grow in generosity. Generosity is a fruit of the Spirit, a sign of our spiritual growth. God uses our giving to change the world for God’s purposes, and God uses our giving to reconfigure our interior lives and to change us!”

         Generosity transforms our spirit. It is the opposite of selfishness, self-centeredness, greed, and self-absorption. Generosity focuses on the spiritual qualities of the giver as derived from God. We all know people with generous spirits whose generosity extends beyond that of just money. They are people who are generous with their time, their souls, their teaching, and their love. Generosity begets generosity.

         The Bible says this in Luke 6:38: Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” In other words, giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity breeds more generosity.

         As we look at the heart of giving in this message series, I know you will come to view the gift of generosity God has given you through his Holy Spirit to be a part of his kingdom work. Would you pray with me?

PRAYER

         As we begin the journey toward extravagant generosity together, let’s start with a check-up. Find your heartbeat (demonstrate how to find pulse). Did everyone find a pulse? I hope so, because it tells us about our physical condition. But if we checked our spiritual pulse, what would we find?

         Over the next few weeks, we will find some ways to check our spiritual health. Today we will consider how Paul begins to address that subject of spiritual health. I want you to listen to our scripture passage once again, but this time from the Message Bible. Tell those rich in this world’s wealth to quit being so full of themselves and so obsessed with money, which is here today and gone tomorrow. Tell them to go after God, who piles on all the riches we could ever manage—to do good, to be rich in helping others, to be extravagantly generous. If they do that, they’ll build a treasury that will last, gaining life that is truly life.

         While the idea of richness has many meanings, the truth is that we in the United States are materially blessed when compared with the rest of the world’s population. If all of the money in the world was redistributed so everyone had the same amount, the current estimate is that everyone would have $11,000. For half of the world’s people, that would equal more that twelve years of income.

         Here is how the whole world compares in richness. I want you to image that the whole world had only 100 people. In that world that compares to today, 70 would be non-Christian. Half of the entire world’s wealth would be in the hands of only six people. Seventy people would be unable to read. Fifty would suffer from malnutrition and eighty would live in sub-standard housing with no plumbing or electricity. And finally, one person would have a college education. So, are we rich?

         Some of our lifestyle choices might not leave much margin, but the fact is, by most standards, we are extremely well off. It often seems that the more we have, the more we worry about keeping what we have and about getting more.

         Have you ever heard someone say, “I don’t want anybody to know how much I make?” That is because the person wants others to think he is richer than he is, or that she is poorer than she is. If you ask a person who makes $20,000 a year, what would be a good paying job, she would probably say making at least $30,000. If you ask a person making $50,000 a year, he would say $75,000, and on and on it would go. The truth is, if you make $25,000 a year, you are making more money than 90% of the people in the world. If you make $50,000, you are making more than 95% of the people in the world. But when that is the focus of our thoughts, expressing faith in God is more of a challenge.

         Paul’s remedy is to put our faith in God. He suggests that we do good things, that we should be rich in good deeds, and that we be generous and willing to share. Then Paul says that there is a difference between just living in our culture and living a Christian life – what Paul calls “truly life.” Let’s look at our scripture a little more closely. Verse 17: Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches. First, God wants us to choose humility over being haughty.

         Paul is talking about people who are conceited, who think they are better than others, who are in love with themselves, who don’t understand that every good gift and every perfect gift comes from God. One pastor explained it this way: “We are tempted to believe that we deserve whatever we have and to think that people who have less than we are not as smart, not as hardworking, or not as talented as we are.”

         But folks, sometimes, accidents of life get in the way. There are many East African farmers who have made wise investments and their hard work has improved their lot, but because of poor government and their initial poverty, these people are still among the very poor, having to raise a large family while earning only $3 to $4 per day. So you see, every good thing we have really is a gift from God and it is only by his grace that we have anything at all.

         In Deuteronomy 8:14-18, God warned his people about getting fired up with pride when they were prosperous.

         Make sure that when you eat and are satisfied, build pleasant houses and settle in, see your herds and flocks flourish and more and more money come in, watch your standard of living going up and up—make sure you don’t become so full of yourself and your things that you forget God, your God, the God who delivered you from Egyptian slavery; the God who led you through that huge and fearsome wilderness, those desolate, arid badlands crawling with fiery snakes and scorpions; the God who gave you water gushing from hard rock; the God who gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never heard of, in order to give you a taste of the hard life, to test you so that you would be prepared to live well in the days ahead of you.

         If you start thinking to yourselves, “I did all this. And all by myself. I’m rich. It’s all mine!”—well, think again. Remember that God, your God, gave you the strength to produce all this wealth so as to confirm the covenant that he promised to your ancestors—as it is today.

         C. S. Lewis said that pride is the only disease that the more you have, the sicker people around you get. After all, pride was the original sin. Adam and Eve thought they should know good and evil like God.

         Don Shula, the legendary former coach of the Miami Dolphins, is usually known as a very humble man, but one time, his pride got the best of him. He and his wife went to a small town in Maine to avoid being noticed on their vacation. They went to see a movie on a rainy, messy night. When they walked into the theater, the people began to applaud. Don whispered to his wife, “I guess there’s no place we can go where people won’t recognize me.”

         Don sat down, shook hands with the man on his row and said, “I’m surprised you know who I am.” The man replied, “I’m supposed to know who you are? We’re just glad you came in because the manager wasn’t going to start the movie unless there were 10 people here.” We can all get lifted up with pride, but Paul says, choose humility over being conceited and haughty.

         Second, trust God more than your gold. Paul says “fix [your] hope…on God, [not the uncertainty of riches], [but on God] who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. It is foolish for us to put our trust in money, because Paul tells us that riches are uncertain. Jesus put it this way in Matthew 6:24: “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.

         The problem with serving money is that it is a heartless master. Money will always demand more of you, and make you desire more of it. Ted Turner once said, “I don’t want to own all the ranches, just the ranches that are next to mine.” Do you see the trap? Money is a heartless master that never says, “Enough!”

         John Gill, in his “Exposition of the Entire Bible, translated 1 Timothy 6:17 like this: Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. He says that almost every word in this verse gives us another great reason to trust God. God is living. He is the Almighty God. He gives to us. He gives to us richly. He gives us richly all things to enjoy. Richness is not about money, it is about a relationship with God and a love for one another.

         First, Paul says, choose humility over being haughty. Second, he says, trust God more than your gold. And third, Paul says, choose generosity over greed. Verse 18: Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share.

         Even though we may not feel rich, God has blessed almost all of us with abundance and he doesn’t want us to be greedy about it. Proverbs 11:24-25 in the New Living Translation says this: 24 Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. 25 The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.

         Jesus Christ is our model for generosity. In 2 Corinthians 8:9, Paul spoke to the church about giving and said: “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich.”

         God wants us to be generous, because he is generous. He wants us to generously give of our time, our talents, our tithes, our offerings, and our witness. In short, God wants us to give our lives and our love to other people, every way we can. They will be blessed and so will we. Sometimes even a small gift can make a giant difference in someone’s life.

         Choose humility over being haughty. Trust your God more than your gold. Choose generosity over greed. So, what’s your EKG? What is your spiritual pulse now? Because ministry and generosity flow from the heart.

         In his daily devotional Practicing Extravagant Generosity: Daily Readings on the Grace of Giving, Bishop Robert Schnase recalls one spring when he saw various birds preparing to build their nest. He writes,

         The notion of building nests is often used as a metaphor to describe people successfully providing for their own comforts. If someone arrives at a career position of some ease and security, friends say, “You’ve built quite a nest for yourself here!” . . . The word nest often connotes shelter, coziness, homelike, comfortable.

         In actual fact, the nests which birds build are not for the birds who build them, but for their young, for the next generation, for the future of the species. The hours of carrying straw, sticks, and mud; the days of defensive watchfulness; and the weeks of endless feeding are all for the benefit of the new ones, the young, the future.

         Now consider “nests” we build in our churches. The buildings, programs, ministries, job descriptions, and services we build—are they for our own comfort and coziness? Or are they to further the faith and provide for future generations? Does our giving serve us and our needs or serve God by serving the mission of the church to reach new people? Vibrant, fruitful congregations focus as much energy, prayer, and planning on those who are outside the congregation as they do on those who are already active in the congregation. (pp. 14–15)

         God’s ministry truly is a ministry that flows from the heart. It is a good foundation for the future. It helps us to take hold of the life that is truly life.

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