The Presents of Absence

(Acts 1:3-91; 1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11) J G White

Ascension Sunday, May 28, 2017, UBC Digby

Is Jesus with us… or not?  Present, or absent?

That’s not really a simple yes or no question.

Next month, here in Digby, there is a tribute to the king… but I don’t mean Jesus.  I mean Elvis Presley, and the Thane Dunn show.  The King of Rock and Roll is arguably as big a phenomena now as before he died in 1977.  The show must go on.  Is the music of Elvis, and performances, better now, since he’s dead, than it would be if he was still alive, at age 82?  There’s no way to know.

What about the King of kings, Jesus the Christ?  Is he with us, or not.  Today we mark the Ascension of Jesus – His going up to the heavens forty days after His rising from death.  Even Jesus has left the building! Yet we keep saying He is here, He lives in us, in our hearts.  We keep on with: “What a friend we have in Jesus.”  He said, “Lo, I am with you always…”  

John tells us that Jesus also promised, “I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Advocate will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.”  John 16:7

One way that is God is present leaves, so another will arrive and stay.  It so happens to be ten days later that the Holy Spirit appears in a big way, the Day of Pentecost. That’s for next Sunday.

Today, we are in this gap, when Jesus is gone.  When we wait.

Do you tend to find Jesus in your life as the presence of God, or an absence? Many of us have ups and downs, both.  Of course, Jesus being alive but gone is different from my grandmother being alive but gone. She died in 1979.  I don’t ever doubt that Nana was a real person on earth, or that she does not go on living elsewhere, by God’s grace.  Jesus, on the other hand, can be doubted.  

The absence of God is an ongoing experience of so many people.  Those first disciples, waiting and wondering, for ten days after Jesus leaves them for good – how did they feel?

Like the closeness we feel to a dead beloved one… so is our closeness with Jesus who left us.  When someone is absent from our lives, they often loom large.  We are so aware, so affected by those who left, when they are gone.  We sometimes want to know their influence continues, almost like a guardian angel near us, watching over us, giving us signals. And absence makes the heart grow fonder.

So too with Jesus at a distance.  There is still a spiritual connection, a connection of the heart.  The Holy Spirit is a living reminder of that other, human part of God.  A ‘oneness’ continues – even grows, with Christ.

What is the advantage of the Ascension?  There are many.  There are gifts God gives by taking Jesus away… for two thousand years, now.  The ‘presents’ of the absence of Jesus are many:  

God does not get located on earth just in one place – in one person. Not just in one culture, ethnicity, language. Stained glass in Isle de la Madeleine Church…

Jesus’ ‘teaching’ is available to all, and forever.

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.” John 16:12-13  

The guiding hand is now global, not local.  

There can be a commonality of human experience with God. It is no longer we who met Him in the flesh and those who did not meet Him.  All, around the world, can meet Christ, without Him being in the flesh.  

The pain of loss draws us deeper into ourselves and our God.  There will be suffering, after all, because of following Christ. 1 Peter 4:12 Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that is taking place among you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.  

The need and longing for the Divine and for a Saviour is fertile soil for the soul to grow.  I keep being drawn to these kinds of Bible phrases:

“Come,” my heart says, “seek his face!”  Your face, LORD, do I seek. Psalm 27:8

As a deer longs for flowing streams, so my soul longs for you, O God.  Psalm 42:1

Jesus said… “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” John 6:35

We seek and find real soul food when we are hungry for God.

The unanswered questions, the doubts and fears, the uncertainty of faith draw us onward, draw us together, draw us into the Holy One.  

Conversation and sharing about the lack of ‘God’ is a point of contact with others.  It is seldom going to be our job as evangelists to start with “I’ve got Jesus, and you don’t.”  Where God seems missing is an important starting point with an atheist, with a person who has given up on Church, with a person deeply suffering or traumatized.  Or with a happy believer.  “Where was God?  Where is God?”  The perennial question we ask.  The Holy One draws us together with this.  And meets us there.

So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does. (1 Peter 5:9-11 Msg)

Ready to Give an Answer

(Acts 17:22-31; 1 Peter 3:13-22) J G White
Sunday, May 21, 2017, UBC Digby

Visitors Friday evening… A United Church minister who preached a sermon series on the stained glass images in her churches.  

Noah’s Ark in stained glass.
Peter uses that Genesis story as a link to Christian baptism and salvation, those Gospel ideas.
1 Peter 3 Elements of the Gospel here…
Christ suffered for sins; righteous for unrighteous
To bring you to God
Put to death in flesh, made alive in spirit
Proclaimed to spirits in prison
Noah’s ark – saved through water
Baptism saves you – an appeal to God –
through the resurrection of Jesus Christ
Christ now in heaven

This is all typical salvation language.  We think of our work here, and the work we support around the globe, being about salvation.  

Soucy ministry… As Latin America Team Leaders Bruno and Kathleen work with CBM’s Field Staff and church partners in Bolivia, Brazil, El Salvador, Cuba and Nicaragua. They also support CBM’s work and relationships in Argentina and Costa Rica.

Caring for the needs of the spiritually poor and the physically poor.

Example…  Reflections on Brokenness

Broken foot, broken systems, broken people, and broken communities – this is where we live. Our work, through CBM partnerships takes us into places where a person like me can break their foot just walking in the streets of Cochabamba. A city where a Canadian, supported by Canadian churches and individuals can access a good hospital and pay for well trained doctors and get back on her feet within a month! While we are so thankful, we are also very aware that for many of our Bolivian friends and others living where CBM works, life is not quite so simple.

For people living in the margins, whose daily work barely meets the basic cost of food and housing and access to quality health care is nonexistent, options are limited and people who need health care are discriminated against due to their poverty. One friend refuses to seek further treatment for her cancer because of the shame she feels when her doctor “treats her like a dog” whenever she is unable to pay. Many adults suffering from the effects of Chagas’ disease do not seek treatment that while free, is often located in communities distant from their rural homes. Leaving their subsistence farms and families to seek treatment that usually spans one year, is just not practical. Life for these people is neither fair nor just.

We also see examples of churches with an inward focus, of church leaders who are poorly trained to lead others to be present and active in their communities, all of which can prevent Christian communities from being God’s agents of change.

A good and wise friend shared recently, “God’s rule will prevail ultimately over egos, lies, power plays, cruelty and corruption. Our task is to nurture good hearts so that we can bear fruit though our relationships and commitments.”  

Nurturing hearts and relationships… part and parcel of our Good News methods too. And the old-fashioned ways are not adequate.  That old-time religion may be good enough for some, but not for me, and not for our mission locally.  

It was fifty years ago that the poetic author and pastor, Frederick Buechner, penned these thoughts.

“I shall go to my grave,” a friend of mine once wrote me, “feeling that Christian thought is a dead language — one that feeds many living ones to be sure, one that still sets these vibrating with echoes and undertones, but which I would no more use overtly than I would speak Latin.”  I suppose he is right, more right than wrong anyway.  If the language that clothes Christianity is not dead, it is at least, for many, dying; and what is really surprising, I suppose, is that it has lasted as long as it has.  

Take any English word, even the most commonplace, and try repeating it twenty times in a row — umbrella, let us say, umbrella, umbrella, umbrella — and by the time we have finished, umbrella will not be a word any more.  It will be a noise only, an absurdity, stripped of all meaning.  And when we take even the greatest and most meaningful words that the Christian faith has and repeat them over and over again for some two thousand years, much the same thing happens.  There was a time when such words as faith, sin, redemption and atonement had great depth of meaning, great reality; but through centuries of handling and mishandling they have tended to become such empty banalities that just the mention of them is apt to turn people’s minds off like a switch… (The Magnificent Defeat, 1966) But I keep on using them, said Buechner.

And we know from scripture itself the wide variety of words and images used to get at these mysteries we call God and the Gospel.

Another way to give answer to the hope inside us is found in Acts 17.  The summary of Paul’s sermon to the philosophers of Athens. Elements of the Good News here:
Spiritual practices: altar
God is creator
God transcends human life, is independent of us
God is life-giver, sustainer
People search/grope and find God
God not far from any of us
In Him we live and move and have our being
(Epimenides, 6th C BCE)
‘We too are his offspring’ (Aratus of Soli, 3rd C BCE)
God commands repentance
God has fixed a time of judgment
God’s judgement is right
God’s judge is appointed, raised from dead

A very different kind of sermon, as Paul begins to share the Gospel.  It is very much in the language and thoughts of his audience in Athens.  Their culture, not Paul’s Judaism.  

So, in our day, our ministry is cross cultural.  Right here in Digby.  For a churchy person like me to reach others.  For a retiree to reach a 20 something with the Gospel.  We must speak into their lives and ‘language.’

Jeff Carter ministry…

Reaching the very different culture of youth in Europe.  

Example…

Much of Jeff’s expenses relate to the travel required to promote and facilitate the workshops involved in training youth and children’s program leaders. Jeff spends a great deal of time mentoring leaders in the youth departments of the partner organizations that make up the EBF so they in turn can support emerging leaders in their own countries.  He is also involved in teaching at the IBTSC but I would say it is a smaller portion of his time for sure. – Barb Keys

HORIZONS is the training program offered by the European Baptist Federation Youth and Children Committee to youth leaders from around the world in numerous languages. HORIZONS is offered by a joint partnership of the European Baptist Federation with Canadian Baptists Ministries as part of our mandate to equip, encourage and empower youth and children’s workers to bring the message of the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the next generation.

So our friend, Jeff Carter, is “Equipping the saints for the work of the ministry.”  Making youth leaders ready to give account for the hope that is in them.  Jeff tells this:

Over a year ago I had the privilege of teaching a young man in my pastoral training course at the University of Bucharest in Romania. Dragos (Andrei) Hogas is the youth pastor at the Filadelfia Baptist Church.

He shared with me the challenges of his youth work, and we spent long discussions talking about possibilities.  Eventually, he took the Horizons (Romanian) course and had since become a mentor for the program. I had the privilege of helping him organize a Horizons LIVE leadership retreat for the youth leaders of Bucharest and to preach in his church.  Now he has organized a Horizons LIVE event to happen in Torino, Italy this June, where his brother is the pastor of a Romanian church there.  

Some of the exciting things that have transpired over the past year are that Andrei has been able to overcome the challenges and his group is growing!  I have had the privilege of meeting them myself!  Also one of his youth leaders will come to the Acadia/EBF Youth Leaders Institute that I’m privileged to organize and teach in May in Czechia.  One life touched, and you never know where it will lead!  Praise God for His blessings!

It is a big piece of work to take Good News into youth culture today, in Europe… and in Nova Scotia.  

11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.  Ephesians 4:11-13

Christian mission is more than just ‘salvation’ language.  Jesus’ help is to the whole person, and the whole society.  

As we approach local people in our mission field, we look keenly to see their concerns.  So we view the entry points to the seniors of Digby town and municipality.  We grow to understand the cultural issues for children, youth, and their parents these days.  
We can ask what are people concerned with…
Truth? Belonging? Survival?
Mortality? Goodness – being good?
The Environment?
The First Peoples on the land?
Health and healthcare?
Forgiveness & inner healing?

The Gospel of Jesus touches all these, and more.

You are especially gifted and prepared to give an answer to the hope that in is you.  Your voice is a good one for certain people you meet up with.  Not everyone, but some.  With more practice and preparation we can be even clearer and more compassionate in sharing the Spirit in whom we live and move and have our being.

She Matters 3

(Joel 2:25-29; Romans 16:1-7) J G White

Sunday, May 14, 2017, UBC Digby

One evening last week, I happened to change my plans, spur of the moment, and go with Sharon to a community meeting not far from here, to discuss the challenges of patriarchy and misogyny in our society.  Patriarchy – the rule of males as the head of, well everything: families, societies, churches, governments, educators.  Misogyny – hatred and prejudice against women because they are women.  The meeting, of eight people, was a profound time of sharing: sharing experience and wisdom and hopes.

Today happens to be a day to celebrate women, in a variety of ways.  Motherhood is in the forefront, and every human has had a mother.  Personally, today, it just so happens that Sharon White is graduating from university, with a degree in Christian ministry – for women and men in ministry.  And, with Baptists across Canada this year, we here speak out and we act to help women become leaders, in the faith, and in their communities.  

Hundred of years before the days of Jesus, the prophet Joel proclaimed the word of God: I will repay you for the years that the swarming locust has eaten…  (Joel 2:25)  

There is repayment in God’s Kindom for women who have been put down, oppressed, abused, disadvantaged.  God’s word through Joel goes on to say:  I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophecy…  Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit. (2:28a, 29)

Popular awareness of women’s issues was highlighted in recent years by Malala Yousafzai, of Pakistan, activist for education, beginning at age 11. Murder attempt on her life at age 15. Nobel Peace Prize laureate at age 17.  Now, at 19, made an honourary Canadian citizen.  

In our own way, we Christians, Baptist Christians, have a mission for the sake of women’s education and leadership.  Today, we focus upon our Canadian Baptist Ministries She Matters campaign:

In the first year, She Matters 1 improved access to education for girls. She Matters Too equipped women with vocational skills, business training and grants, to help her earn family income. Now it is her turn to lead!  She Matters 3 will provide enhanced learning and leadership opportunities to empower women who inspire, encourage and help others to develop their God-given potential.  

Funds and awareness in this year’s campaign will support important initiatives, including – Offering theological education scholarships to female church leaders in the Middle East and North Africa, a region in turmoil and in need of Christian witness.

We now know well, in our corner of the world, that women are called into ‘Christian ministry,’ so called.  By God’s will and grace, they go to divinity colleges, they become pastors and professors and chaplains.  Sharon White, along with other women, was just commissioned by our own Div School on Friday, and the students will graduate from Acadia this very afternoon! (That is why Sharon and I will leave this service early – to get to Wolfville on time!)

And we of Digby County are also coming ahead in terms of our understanding of Arabic speaking peoples, and all those of the Middle East.  The deeply rooted and damaging stereotypes of Ahab the A-rab, with a harem of women, or of Ahmed the [dead] terrorist, are being overcome – though it is slow progress.  

When we ponder women going to a Divinity College, do we think of those who speak Arabic, who are Christians praying to Allah, and even Baptize believers by immersion as we do?  If you read the colour leaflet in last week’s bulletin, you saw a photo of Samar, a theology student at the Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Lebanon.  Let that sink in again – the Arab, Baptist, theological school, in Lebanon.  Women are being trained for ministry there.

 We are part of this team across the world, and we can give to help their education. This is what She Matters 3 is about.  

It is also for – Empowering women in Rwanda by providing training on gender issues, women and children’s rights and entrepreneurship.  We have global field staff posted in nations such as this, to partner with churches and organizations there, to see that the work gets done. So, in Rwanda, Africa, we Canadian Baptists have Janice Mills, as well as Darrell and Laura Lee Bustin.  

One bit of work Janice and Laura Lee do together is to host short term mission teams.  For instance, back in January they hosted a group of eleven women from across Canada who travelled to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.  Among other things, they spent time with women there who had experienced serious trauma.  Through their loving presence, words of encouragement, and small acts of kindness, they showed these women that they truly matter.  She Matters!  (Tidings, May 2017, p.3)

You will notice that this Baptist mission campaign also is about – Supporting national female pastors so they are able to serve among the Chinese diaspora.  You know what a diaspora is, eh?  An ethnic group living away from their homeland.  You may well know that we Canadian Baptists have John and Ruth Chan as global field staff working with chinese young people – especially students – who are not in China.  Do you know where the Chans are serving?  In Germany.  Working with the ‘Chinese diaspora’ there.

In an update, John tells this story:

“Pastor Chan, I will be flying back to China tomorrow. Thank you and Mrs. Chan for helping me and caring for me while in Germany. I will have fond memories of the time spent here in Hannover. May God bless you two!”

The message is from a M.D. graduate. She arrived in Hannover two years before to pursue her M.D. degree. Amazingly, she graduated in only a little over two years. During her time here, she only attended Bible study meetings sporadically. But she attended every week after she finished her thesis. Not only did she attend Bible study meetings, she went to Chinese library operated by FMCD [Friends for the Mission among Chinese in Germany] to read books. She spent all her time reading different books and writing down notes fearing that she will miss some detail. She said that she was very grateful that she could spend her first Christmas (two years ago) in German at our home with a group of other new students. It made her feel welcomed into a big family.

She attended a Christmas celebration in our big family just before returning to China. When she received the goodbye gift from us, a 365-day devotions book, she was elated and said, “It is just what I need because the book includes background information on each Bible passage. It will help me to understand the Bible. I will use it every day!” We pray that the Word of God and the Love of Christ will be with her as she returns to China.  (Ministry Update Chans in Hanover, Q4 2016)

John and Ruth Chan are now about to finish their ministry there and take on new responsibilities.  It may be the Chans as well as others who will help support female pastors to Chinese people living in various other nations.

And this She Matters 3 campaign also supports – Other CBM programs which seek to educate, equip, and empower some of the world’s most marginalized women and girls.

Our quest for justice across the globe will shift our thinking about the women and girls of our own lives and neighbourhoods.  We will clear our eyes and know the better attitudes and actions we can take with our own mothers, sisters and daughters.  And with men.  Sometimes the chauvinistic ways of men can best be addressed by other men.  

The personal greetings at the end of the big letter we call Romans, included women: I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church in Cenchreae. 2 …she has been the benefactor of many people, including me.

3 Greet Priscilla and Aquila, my co-workers in Christ Jesus. 4 They risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.
6 Greet Mary, who worked very hard for you.
7 Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.

Let us consider the women (and men) for whom we are grateful – and why.  Make your own list today.  
Mom Joan, who bore me, and raised me to be whatever I wanted to be.
Nanna Daisy, who encouraged Faith in me.
Gramma Dorothy, who showed me I am special.
Friend Ruth, who allowed me to be a kindred spirit.
Gardener Marilyn, who exemplified enthusiasm.
Deacon Tracy, who challenged my ideas of leadership.
Wife Sharon, who shows me the deep path of love and inner healing.

Make your own list today.  For they have cared for us, nurtured our faith, challenged our assumptions, inspired our lives.  Let us strive for the freedom and good life of others, both near and far away.  She matters.  Let us act on the lessons we have learned, the love we have been filled with, the Spirit we’ve been given.  

For it is the Holy Spirit who will be poured out on all people; our sons and daughters shall have a word from God on their lips.  Even on males and females who do not get paid for anything, the Spirit will fall.  

Such is the grace of God!

Glad & Generous Hearts

(Malachi 3:6-10; Acts 2:42-47) J G White

Sunday, May 7, 2017, UBC Digby

That scene from the book of Acts is such a classic, ideal moment at the birth of the Christian Church.

Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous/sincere hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.

They loved one another.  It was obvious.  

All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.

And they also discovered they had a mission to their whole world.  We are here today – as Christians – because of them.  They were generous, in every way.  

Today, I want to talk about generosity.  And I want to talk a bit about finances: how we plan and give money.

Ever notice all the words that are in the word “stewardship”?  First, there’s “stew,”  which is what a congregation will get into after a sermon on tithing.

Then there’s “war,” which is what can take place in a church budget planning meeting.

“Ship” is the third syllable.  Like the Titanic, if there’s a hole in church giving, it can sink pretty fast.

Finally the word “hip,” a reminder that total stewardship is about the whole body, not only about the wallet at your waist.  (Paul M. Miller, The World’s Greatest Collection of Church Jokes, 2003)

The scene recorded so briefly in Acts 2 gives a beautiful, ideal picture of that first fellowship of Jesus’ Way, in Jerusalem.  How congregations in towns and villages developed through the first hundred years naturally followed some pattern of the Jews, with their synagogues and so forth.  Their financial giving was to be the first from everyone, not the last bit left at the end.  You may know about the Old Testament patterns of animal and grain sacrifices – the firstfruits of all your produce, bring to the LORD God.  Make an offering and come before Him.  Their giving was not in the form of money, of coins, but of their crops and animals.  The very best and the very first was given away.

There were a variety of uses of the offerings made, including the famous Tithe, which means ten percent.  The Priests and the Levites were maintained by the offerings of food.  At times, the tithe was eaten by the givers, and those who were poor were provided for in a great feast before God.  There was even a tithe of the tithe.  Ten percent of the ten percent given to the Levites would be given to Aaron and the Priests.  

Out of all this evolved the giving of the people in a congregation.  The passing of offering plates at every regular worship service is rooted back there.   

Now, I don’t know how you as an individual give.  And so it should be; I should not know.  And you don’t know what Sharon and I do.  But I will say something about how we give.  We have a set of offering envelopes. One for every Sunday of the year – 53 in 2017. Plus a few extra occasions.  How many do we use?  Twelve.  I give once a month – usually the first Sunday of the month.  So, today, our envelope is in the plate with our givings for May.

This, naturally, takes some planning.  Especially if Church is thought of as the first expense to pay in your life, not one of the latter or optional things to spend on.  

So, if individuals give to the local church, the local church also gives to the wider ministry of God going on.  This I think of as a tithe of the tithe.  Ten percent given away, out of the ten percent we all give.  Or, whatever percentages they happen to be.  If you don’t know what your percentage is, check it out!

Now, church, do we know what our percentage is that we give away for ministry?  How much have we, Digby Baptist, planned to give away in 2017?, to the usual things:  the Sharing Way, our local Food Bank, our denomination – Canadian Baptists of Atlantic Canada, our institutions of learning: Acadia Divinity College and Crandall University, our global field staff: the Carters in Europe and the Soucys in Latin America, our local Baptist Association?

For some years it seems we would set goals for all these, $600 here, $400 there, $50 to something else.  But we did not include revenue for this, just expenditures.  This, to me, does not make sense.  This whole – let people designate their givings for what things they want to support – is a poor idea, to me.  I want to be a member of a Church – not to mention the pastor of one – that budgets for revenue and expenditures for these organizations that are not us, that are bigger than us.  

So, what were our giving goals for the Carters and the Soucys for 2017?  What did we decide to give to Crandall and Acadia this year?  What percentage of our budget shall we dedicate to Almighty God by giving it away for relief and development around the world?

Zero. Nill. Nothing. No goals. Nothing in print. Ze-ro.

I recommend that we all consider this seriously before we meet for our semi-annual meeting on June 21st.  That might be a good occasion to set some money giving goals for Digby Baptist Church, over and above our budget.

Beautiful things can come out of making these others out there some of our top priorities.  A church budget that gives the first of the offerings away, trains the individuals to do the same.  Offering the firstfruits as worship to God.  

If one family or person actually tithes to the church, what should be a percentage goal of the whole church to give away?  5%?  7%?  Oh, my, even 10%?  

Hence the Old Testament text I chose for today.  In the rich chapter we call Malachi 3, we heard these words of God: (Malachi 3:8-9)

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.”

Sometimes hearts that are not glad and generous need to be warned in order to be warmed.  And there are plenty of modern prophets warning about churches that snuggle in and keep safe and decide they cannot afford to give away much of anything.  I won’t quote these church leaders except to give my synopsis.  It means death.  Death for the local church.

I like life. I see life.  I know your passions and power to make a difference all over the place.  You are the kind of people who can testify to how your sacrifices in the past have made a difference in the world.  

But if we start to act like a congregation that does not know how to give away, people will just join Digby Care 25, or the Masonic Lodge, or whatever, to find ways of making a difference nearby and far away.  

To give money away is commanded and inspired by our Master for so many reasons.  Giving the first away in the name of Christ:

  • Makes a difference far beyond us.
  • Connects us to our priorities: sacrifice, live for other.
  • Widens our vision of what God is doing.
  • Trains us to be free of the love of money.
  • Helps us let go of our desires to control.
  • Makes possible things we can’t do alone as a Church
  • Inspires our ministry by seeing what others do.

In the end, God is glorified.  And our hearts become glad; our hearts grow generous and sincere.  

Once upon a time, a local Church in Corinth, Greece, heard about the needs of their brothers and sisters in the little Church in the big city of Rome.  They could send money to help those believers, far away.  Their mentor, Paul, wrote to them at length about this, and at one point said:  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)

God is in the business of changing lives, saving souls, developing character, transforming hearts.  Making cheerful givers out of us.  Growing glad and generous hearts within us.

It is from the outflow of our goodness to the world that the world will see our good works and give glory to God.  Some modern church leaders are always suggesting that the best way to reach people and see them come to Christ and into His Church is for us simply to do good things, to bless our world.  In that very first ever Church, in Acts chapter 2, we are told: And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.  The Church people did good.  The Spirit of God added more and more people to them.  As one commentator on this scripture said, they did not “devote: themselves to evangelism, but to teaching and fellowship, to worship and to acts of caring. (Walter Brueggeman et al, Texts for Preaching – Year A, 1995)

Locally, as a congregation, it is our part to do more together than we can alone, as individuals.  It is our part to celebrate one another and worship God when we do good ministry.  It is our part be in the bigger, wider team, across our province and around the whole globe.  

A Canadian Baptist Ministries motto of a few years ago was Think Globally; Act Locally.  May the first of our money, the first of our prayers, the first of our actions, be given away, off the top.  We have been saved to do good.  God pours love into our hearts that we may be glad and generous.  Let it be so.  Amen.