(Philippians 3:4b-14) – J G White
11 am, Sun, April 7, 2019 – UBC Digby
You’ve heard the old story of the preacher who declared, one Sunday, “I’ve got good news for you and bad news for you”? “The good news is that we have enough money to repair the steeple! The bad news is that it is still in your pockets.”
The tenth chapter in Dennis Bicker’s book, The Healthy Small Church, is titled ‘Financial Health.’ So he’s talking about churches being healthy in terms of finances, not about individuals. Though the two go hand-in-hand; any church is a congregation of people.
Speaking of this tenth chapter, you have probably heard Churches teach, for the past hundred years, God wants us to give a tithe. At least a tithe: ten percent of your income into the offering place. The first ten percent. Just like the firstfruits of the produce of the Israelites of old, living in the promised land. You may have heard the pastor announce the Sunday morning offering with Proverbs 3:9 Honor the Lord with your substance and with the first fruits of all your produce.
Or you have had the occasional sermon preached to you from Malachi chapter 3. 8 Will anyone rob God? Yet you are robbing me! But you say, “How are we robbing you?” In your tithes and offerings! 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me—the whole nation of you! 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.
We have some good New Testament words that balance our offering attitudes. 2 Corinthians 9:7 is famous. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
The tithe guideline of 10% – as the baseline – is not actually what most people choose. We choose some other part of our resources. For congregation members to be generous, and even sacrificial, givers, a number of things have to fall into place.
We each have to plan. Plan what we will give. Not thinking about it, or not changing what we do, are also ways we plan by not planning.
Each person or family has their own ability to give. This is very significant. It can be easy to assume that certain people in our pews have a lot to give, to guess that some are generous givers, and suppose that certain folk have very little to share. Many assumptions can be wrong.
I think of my former church family, with an elderly retired pastor and his wife in it – who went to our Pastoral Counsellor for advice, because they were considering bankruptcy. And they went to the Pastoral Counsellor we had at that church because they knew he had gone bankrupt.
In another former church, I had a wonderful couple who had moved back to his home village after the first twenty years of their marriage living in her native New Jersey. At about age 50 they moved to Nova Scotia, and built a wonderful house on some of the family land. They were great musicians, and contributed so much to the three little churches I pastored. They were sometimes apologetic about how little they could give financially. I think they were house poor. The husband at times was holding down three jobs – all over the county. The wife did not manage to find much work. They were burdened, I think, heavily burdened, with the mortgage of their big dream home.
Most of us have made poor moves when it comes to money. And we have paid for it, literally! This also happens at the community level. A church, as a whole, can be unwise when it comes to finances. But financial health can still be a goal. Our God wants us to be wise and well when it comes to our resources.
We also hear the divine calling to be a church family that welcomes, equally welcomes, people who are financial secure and those who have no money to spare, and others who need financial assistance.
What members do give also depends upon the people wanting to give financially and support what is going on. Dennis Bickers counsels us: people give to a church with a mission, a church on mission. Many other experienced people give us the same advice. The security blanket of some funds stored away for a rainy day can be false security. It is against our Nova Scotian culture not to conserve and save up for the future, or not to value historic buildings so much, or to start a building project before we have all the money. But might our Saviour try to guide us away from endowment funds, from fundraising, or from keeping people happy just to keep them giving?
Are our main activities focused upon Christ? Is Jesus valued, and valued greatly? I love that phrase in Philippians 3:8. Evangelist Paul says: I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. The surpassing value of knowing Jesus. All Paul’s former religious obedience and achievements no longer counted. Knowing Jesus was now the most valuable thing.
The way of Jesus for His people is, of course, to serve. To make a difference. To bless and transform. So, when believers know this is going on, they are more likely to be supportive. When people can join in and make a difference, the fellowship is working.
Every little ministry counts. Like A Little Box of Change. Do you have one? We are filling these up to help children across the globe. Speaking of change, do you ever read what’s on our Canadian coins? D. G. Regina. What’s that? A Latin phrase. Dei Gratia Regina: by the Grace of God, Queen. The word grace and the word God are on all our coins! So, remember, whenever you spend any money, that by the grace of God you have money to spend, and spend wisely!
Maybe you have a Toonie Can for Team Rima, and are filling it up to help get some refugees to a safe country: to Canada. Perhaps you go to Tideview Terrace once a month to be with some residents there for their service, and keep them included in the Church of Jesus. Speaking of that – the Church could save a few dollars every week if a couple of you volunteered to deliver the Sunday bulletin to some shut-ins who are getting it mailed to them (hint hint).
What do we do that is of value? Of value because it is part of Jesus’ Way for us to follow? I plan to talk with our Deacons tomorrow about what we can do next. What do the people of our community need that we, a church, are positioned to help provide. Our Master has good for us to do in our neighbourhood.
God is a God of abundance! God our Provider, we sometimes say and pray. Other times, what we think we need, financially, isn’t what God wills for us.
Frederick Buechner claimed that Jesus’ math was atrocious. Jesus said that Heaven gets a bigger kick out of one sinner who repents than out of ninety-nine saints who don’t need to. He said that God pays as much for one hour’s work as for one day’s. He said that the more you give away, the more you have. (Listening to Your Life, 1992, p. 301)
Do we believe this craziness? The financial health of our Church depends upon it. Upon the math of Jesus, the economy of God, the generosity of the Spirit.
So I’ve got good news for you, and bad news. The bad news is this: we, the church, have way too much stuff that is going to waste: wasted on ourselves. The good news is that God has plans to help us give everything we have. Our world needs us.