November 25, 2018
Norwalk First United Methodist Church
Enough: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity
Christ the King Sunday
Enough: Defined by Generosity
1 Timothy 6:17-19 & Proverbs 11:24-25
When I meet with families to plan a funeral service for a loved one, I always ask, “Tell me something about your loved one that you want other people to know? What were his or her defining characteristics?”
Someday, for all of us, someone will sit with our family or friends and ask those same questions. What will their answers be? How will we want people to remember us? How will we be defined?
Several years ago, I officiated at two funeral services in the same week. One was a man, the other a woman. The man had very little experience with church; maybe some in his childhood years, but for all intent and purpose was considered one of the unchurched. The woman, on the other hand was a saint of the church, faithful to God and proud to witness to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.
The woman was defined by her generosity. If you came into her house and admired something she had, you went home with it. Giving was her defining characteristic. The man was defined much differently. One of his family members said that he was hard-pressed to give up his George Washingtons. These two people, both very good and loving people, were remembered and defined by two very different characteristics.
I don’t know about you, but I certainly hope that I will be remembered for my generosity. My hope for all Christians is that people would say of us, “He was defined by generosity” or “She lived what Jesus taught: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive’” My hope is that we would learn the truth of Winston Churchill’s famous words: “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
You see, at some point in our lives, we have to make a choice of loving money or of loving God. As you evaluate your own generosity, you have to beware of the danger signs of loving money. First, are you more concerned with making money than with honesty or giving a quality effort? Second, do you feel like you never have enough money? Third, do you tend to flaunt your money by wearing, driving, or living in what money buys? Fourth, do you resent giving money? And lastly, do you sin to get more money, for example, cheating on your income tax or the business expense account, or taking things from work? Your choices define your generosity.
Paul tells Timothy in our scripture today to tell the people not to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, because they can be gone tomorrow, but instead, to fix their hope on God, who gives us everything we need to enjoy this earthly and eternal life. How do you want to be defined? Would you pray with me?
Today is the last message in this series on “Enough – Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity” based on the book by the same name by Adam Hamilton. In his book, Hamilton says this, “God created us with the willingness to give – to God and to others. This design is part of our makeup; we actually have the need to be generous. Yet there are two voices that “war” against our God-given impulse toward generosity, tempting us to keep or hoard what we have.”
The first voice is the voice of fear, which tells us, If I give, there may not be enough left over for me. We are afraid to be generous because we are afraid of what might happen to us. What if we don’t have enough to fill the gas tank or buy groceries or pay the bills? Fear, along with a misplaced idea about the true source of our security, keeps us from being generous and leads us to hoard what we have. Yet the truth is that hoarding offers us no real security in this world. Paul instructs Timothy to tell the people 18 …to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.
The second voice is the voice of self-gratification, which tells us, If I give, I won’t have enough money to buy the stuff I need to make me happy. Our culture tells us that our lives consist in the abundance of our possessions and pleasurable experiences. So we find ourselves thinking, If I give, there won’t be enough left for me.
So how do we defeat these voices of fear and self-gratification? We can begin to defeat them when we give our lives to Christ, invite him to be Lord, and allow the Holy Spirit to begin changing us from the inside out. It is only then that our fears begin to dissipate and our aim in life shifts from seeking personal pleasure to pleasing God and caring for others. Although we still may wrestle with the voices from time to time, we are able to silence them more readily and effectively the more we grow in Christ. And the more we grow in Christ, realizing that our lives belong to him, the more generous we become. Generosity is a fruit of spiritual growth.
Hamilton says this: “As the Holy spirit continues to work in our lives, we begin to think less about ourselves and more about others. We begin to see the needs of others and wonder, If I don’t do something who will? As this change takes place within us, we experience real joy. We discover that we find more joy in doing things for other people and for God than we ever did in doing things for ourselves.”
The Bible gives us reasons to give to God and others. In Acts 20:35, Paul addressed the elders of the Ephesus church with this: 35 In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” In other words, we find more joy in doing things for other people and for God than we ever did in doing things for ourselves.
In Psalm 24:1, King David praises God that life is a gift, and everything belongs to God. The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it. Everything we have is a gift from God. You didn’t bring any of it with you when you came into this world, and you won’t take any of it with you when you leave. In his wonderful book, When the Game Is Over, It all Goes Back in the Box, John Ortberg says that at the end of our lives, everything goes back in the box – a box about six-and-a-half-feet long by two-feet wide, to be exact. You see, we don’t really own anything. God owns it all.
From the early days of the Old Testament, God’s people observed the practice of giving some portion of the best of what they had to God. A gift offered to God was called the first fruits or the tithe, and it equaled one-tenth of one’s flocks or crops or income. Abraham was the first to give a tithe or tenth. The law in Leviticus 27 says this: Thus all the tithe of the land, of the seed of the land or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord’s; it is holy to the Lord.
But as Christians who live under the new covenant, we are not bound by the Law of Moses; we look to it as a guide. Yet most Christians agree that the tithe is a good guideline for our lives, and one that is pleasing to God. Though tithing can be a struggle, it is possible at virtually every income level. If you cannot tithe right away, take a step in that direction. Years ago, I didn’t start out tithing but figured what percentage of my net income I was giving to God. Then each year, I just increased it by 1% until I reached the 10% level. Perhaps you can give 2 percent or 5 percent or 7 percent. God understands where you are, and God will help you make the adjustments necessary for you to become more and more generous. I don’t miss what I give to the church, because I still have 90% of my income on which to live.
But here is what we have to remember. Tithing is a floor, not a ceiling. God calls us to grow beyond the tithe. We should strive to set aside an additional percentage of our income as offerings for other things that are important to us, such as mission projects, schools, church building funds, and other nonprofit organizations.
Folks, from the earliest biblical times, the primary way people worshipped God was by building an altar and offering the fruit of one’s labors upon it to God. They would burn the sacrifice of an animal or grain as a way of expressing their gratitude, devotion and desire to honor God. The scent of the offering was said to be pleasing to God. It wasn’t that God loved the smell of burnt meat and grain. Rather, God saw that people were giving a gift that expressed love, faith, and the desire to please and honor God; and this moved God’s heart. When given in this spirit, our offerings bless the Lord.
Without a doubt, God responds to our giving. In Luke 6:38, Jesus says this: 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.” I can say without question, that God has continued to richly bless me with what I have given him. If God can trust you and me in our generosity to him and others, then he will give you and me even more to do his kingdom work right here on earth.
Many times, and I think you know this to be true from your own experiences, our generosity usually does more for us than for those to whom we are giving it. Through our generosity, our hearts our changed. When we are generous – to God and to our families, friends, neighbors, and others who are in need – our hearts are filled with joy. They are enlarged by the very act of giving. This always reminds me of the Grinch, who, giving back to the dwellers of Whoville, enlarged his heart almost to the point of bursting.
Hamilton says this: “In the beginning, we may be hesitantly generous. We may be reluctant. But something happens to us in the midst of our giving, and we find ourselves becoming more generous. In this respect, generosity is similar to love and gratitude. Sometimes we may not feel love, but when we choose to act in loving ways, loving feelings begin to flow. Sometimes we may not feel like giving thanks, but the best way to cultivate a heart of gratitude is to give thanks in all circumstances.” Likewise, when we give generously, we become more generous.
Generosity changes us, filling us with joy and filling our lives with blessings. When we are generous with what we have, we find that unexpected blessings flow back into our lives, catching us by surprise. Somewhere along the way, as we see our acts of generosity helping others and perhaps even changing the world, we say in wonder and amazement, “Wow, look what happened,” and we find ourselves blessed. What’s more, as our generosity blesses others, they are changed, too.
Malachi 3:10 says this: 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.
Many Christians have it wrong. They say that if you give, then God will give more back to you. But that is not how it works. We do not give to God so that we can get something in return. But when we give to God and to others, the blessings seem to come back to us. Of course, there is no guarantee that if you tithe you will never lose your job or never have other bad things happen to you. Nevertheless, when we give generously, the unmistakable blessings of God flow into our lives.
So the question comes back to us once again. When the pastor sits down with your family to plan your funeral service, how do you want to be defined? What will be your most defining characteristic? Did you have a love for money or did you have a love for God? Will they say of you, he or she was a generous person? Will they say of you, my loved one discovered the joy of God through simplicity and generosity? Will they say, my loved one had enough.