The Good News: What’s Right

(Malachi 3:1-4; Philippians 1:3-11) – J G White
11 am, Advent 2, Sun, Dec 9, 2018 – UBC Digby

Love came down at Christmas,
love all lovely, love divine;
love was born at Christmas–
star and angels gave the sign.
Christina Rossetti, 1883

What kind of Good News, Gospel, do we have?  Paul, of the Bible, wrote to his friends in one town, and spoke of sharing in the Gospel, the work of the Gospel.  (Phil 1:3) Did you detect his tone of voice in the words of this letter?
I thank my God every time I remember you…
The One who began a good work in you will complete it…
It is right for me to think this way about you…
How I long for all of you with the compassion of X

Yes, the Good News of Christianity is a message of love – God is love, God loves us, God loves all, God does not want anyone to be wrecked.  Not one person.

We are to be ambassadors of Jesus Christ – right where we live.  As we serve in this way, remember this part of the Message we have to give out:
You are in God’s image – you are of God.
You are loved, so loved, so lovable.
You are valued, so valuable, you are gold!
You are becoming, becoming so amazing (not just forgiven).

Last week we explored the bad news: what’s wrong. This week: what’s right.
Jesus and the Gospel – is not just problem solving.

Some Christian teaching says that to be human is to be totally depraved.  I think other Christian teachings are better. There is evil and wrong in us, yes.  Yet there is beauty and good in who we are. A human, even an unsaved human, is a wonderful thing.

At a funeral last week I heard some verses of scripture well read that are very familiar to me.  From 2 Corinthians 4. I could have yawned through them, in my comfortable pew. But at that moment, and not of my choosing, they hit me right in the heart.  They moved me deeply.

16 So we do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day. 17 For this slight momentary affliction is preparing us for an eternal weight of glory beyond all measure

C S Lewis wrote a whole long essay about this, this ‘weight of glory’ that we each shall bear.  This beautiful holiness of the human being – often hidden down deep inside us, that will yet be revealed.  It is what we have in common with what we call God.

The Christian story – from scripture – is unique.  The Creator comes into creation; God gets born as a human individual. A baby was born in Bethlehem, with the same kind of fingernails, the same kind of gallbladder, the same kinds of distractions in his brain that we all have.  Our story to tell is of a Supreme Being who actually becomes one of us. That tells the world something about how worthwhile we are.

The Good News also tells us we have purpose. We are saved for good works. (Eph 2:10) Jesus did great things, we shall do greater things. (Jn 14:12) The One who began a good work in you will bring it to completion, says Philippians 1.

Another word picture in the Bible is of the refiner’s fire.  How a metalworker fires up the furnace, and out comes the pure gold.  So it is for humans – there is pure gold in us to be refined.  We heard this today from Malachi 3 .  No, we are not nothing, into which God needs to put something good; at heart we are created good and beautiful.   

How do you show others that they can come out like gold?  That they are precious? That they are loved!  Do you believe this about yourself? Can you say, like Job did, (Job 23:10)
But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold?

The season of Advent and Christmas is a season for storytelling.  So here is a story. Another old- fashioned story by the Rev. William E. Barton.  His tales are about a wise old pastor, Safed the Sage, and his life experiences, long ago.
This story is called ‘The Pens.’

I have a friend who is a maker of Gold Pens. And he said unto me, What doest thou know about Pens?  
And I said, I live hard by a Pen, though not in one; for I am a Writer.
And he said, Come with me, and I will show thee how a Pen is made.

So we entered the Factory, and came into a room where there was a Crucible.  And a man took Fine Gold and weighed it and cast it into the Crucible; and Copper he took also.  And out of the Crucible came forth an Ingot.

And another man took the Ingot and weighed it, and rolled it into a Sheet.  And another man took the Sheet and weighed it, and cut it into Strips. And another man took the Strips and weighed them, and out of every one of them cut he Pens an hundred and forty and four.

And another man took the Pens and curved the sides thereof.  And another man cut out of every several Pen an Hole that was shaped like an heart.  And another man cut in every Pen a Slit.

And every man counted the Pens that were given him, insomuch that if one Pen had been lost, or so much as a grain of gold missing, it would then have been known who had taken it.  

Then did certain damsels take the Pens, and they burnished them and polished them, so that every Pen received of the labor of an hundred men and two score maidens.

And the garments that they wore are burned once in the space of three months, and from the ashes they save more than enough gold to buy new garments.  And when they wash their hands the water runneth into a great Vat and settleth, so that in every month they take from the bottom of the Vat gold to the value of three hundred shekels.

Now I had watched the making of one Pen from the time it came forth in the Ingot till it was completed.  And my friend took that Pen, and caused it to be set in an holder, and gave it to me. And he said, Keep it, for it is thine.
And I bowed low and thanked him.
And he filled the holder with ink.

And I spake unto him, and said, Behold, thou hast showed me a wonderful thing, and I have learned much.  But I will show thee a thing yet more wonderful. For I am filling this Pen not with ink only, but with memory and creative power.  I will cause this Pen to tell the story of its own creation, so that men who live a thousand miles away shall see what I have seen this day.

And he said, Thine is the more wonderful art: for the making of the Pen is not so wonderful as the use thereof.

So I took the Pen, and I wrote this parable therewith.  And I remembered the gold that did not become Pens, but became dust of gold in the garments, and that flowed down the pipe into the Vat.  And I prayed to my God, and said, O my God, who willith not that any of the children of men should perish, if the washings of men’s hands yield not filth only but gold to the value of three hundred shekels in a month, what canst thou do with the souls of men, in the day when hearts are tried as gold is tried in the furnace?

And I know not the answer to my prayer, but my hope is in God.  

(William E. Barton, Safed and Keturah, 1921, pp. 82-84)

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.