Financial Health

(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.

Most Thankful For…

(Exodus 20:1-20; Philippians 3:4b-14) J G White
Sunday, Oct 8, 2017, UBC Digby

We express our gratitude for many things.  Tomorrow’s holiday is about the harvest: thanks for food.  But many other blessings come to our minds…

We continue our readings through the little letter to the Philippians, today. Paul sounds here like he is most thankful for Jesus.  More thankful for Him than for all the benefits of his life already. In Philippians 3, he testifies that Jesus Christ is better than the best things in his life.  

This is not a testimony that goes: I was terrible, Jesus found me, fixed me, and I’m so much better now.  No, Paul speaks of the great spiritual accomplishments of his life… and the best thing is not counting them at all.

Paul exclaims: there is no counting up goodness and badness anymore. No counting up good achievements.  No checking off the Ten Commandments.  No counting up failures and disasters.

So, all are on a level playing field.

The great sinners / the failures / the unfortunate ones.  All this Jesus stuff tells us, again and again: the door is simply open for the soul to be set free.  Call it forgiveness, call it freedom from being a slave or being exiled, call it making peace with God, call it fairness and justice – these are all Biblical pictures of Salvation.  For the sinner, for the failure, for the unfairly oppressed and hurt person.  

We are on a level playing field with the great saints. The best believers.  The serious servants.  The holiest hard-shelled Baptists!  😉  The purest of the pure.

And we are on a level playing field with the good irreligious folks.  The many people who do well, who do good, who are well-adjusted and fine, and seem to have no need of some ‘saviour’ or ‘god’ as a crutch in their lives.

This is the great relief of grace, God’s amazing grace. How well we do, what we accomplish, is not what matters, at the end of the day.  How imperfect we are does not ruin our chances.  

But we keep comparing. I’d give the example of speaking well of the dead at a funeral.  We do this, we feel the need to do this.  Yesterday here, we had the service for our own M______ P____, who was, of course, praised and appreciated yesterday. This, of course, is not the whole story.  Friends and cousins spoke of her in very personal ways; yet could she be too private and secretive?  After the service, a couple of very close friends of hers spoke to me at some length – was M______ a deeply sad person, as they wondered?  With others, I’ve spoken at times – though not much – about the problem of hoarding.  And though a friend and social-work colleague spoke at the service of her career in glowing terms, did everyone she worked with find her excellent?  No, of course not.  

So, part of our personal, inner work at a memorial service, even when we call it a Celebration of Life, is to forgive.  To let go of someone when she or he has died we will have to forgive that person too, for our own sakes, for our own freedom.  It is not for us to create a ledger of good and bad, and decide on how much to esteem a person at the end of his or her life.  Though, we do!  Thanks be to God that this is not how things run in the economy of grace.

For Paul, Christ is greater in his life than any good things Paul had accomplished or become.  His good things are not to be added up.  That’s not what they are for.

Yet, I realize there is the challenge of the scriptures that do speak of us being judged by what we have done, or said, in this life…  These keep having a strong influence on our minds and hearts. They sometimes overshadow grace.

Solomon’s collection: A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart.  Prov 21:2

Jesus: I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37

John’s vision: And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, as recorded in the books.  Revelation 20:12

I guess I don’t have a clear answer for this, really.  At the moment, one thing I’d say is this: perhaps the most important things we’ll be judged by are the things we did to receive and accept the amazing grace of God.  Not the things we did to earn our way into heaven.  The effort we put into relying upon the perfection of Jesus.

In our evangelical tradition our emphasis is upon the grace that saves us.  Our work is to put our faith, our confidence, in this Gospel.  

In my research this week I came across a classic sermon that would not be thought of as coming from the evangelical tradition.  But the message is the same.  Grace.  On his 60th birthday, in 1946, theologian and philosopher, Paul Tillich, preached a sermon called ‘You Are Accepted.’  Canadian theologian Douglas John Hall summarizes it…

The progression of ideas in the sermon runs as follows: (1) You are unacceptable (sin). (2) You are accepted, though unacceptable (grace). (3) Accept the reality that you are accepted, though unacceptable (faith). (Hall, The Cross in our Context, 2003, p. 1-8)

It’s not about becoming acceptable to God.  It is about receiving the gift of being accepted.  To accept the fact that the Ground of Being [God] accepts you, is faith, the work of having faith.  

Some of us would be familiar with George Beverly Shea’s song “The Wonder of it All.”
There’s the wonder of springtime and harvest,
The sky, the stars, the sun;
But the wonder of wonders that thrills my soul
Is a wonder that has only begun.

O, the wonder of it all! The wonder of it all!
Just to think that God loves me.  (X2)

So, someone like the apostle Paul, from his imprisonment, after a tiring missionary career, joyfully writes to the Philippian believers: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (3:13-14)

Grace is needed always.  So Paul presses on.

We are all saved by pure grace, no exceptions. We must never live in such a way that grace is not needed hour by hour. – Richard Rohr, July 18, 2016

This is what Baptist philosopher, Dallas Willard, always claimed.  A Christian uses grace like a jet plane uses fuel, from takeoff until landing.  

Christ is the best.  Better than our best.  Better than our worst.  Paul counted on Him.  So do I.  You may also.  

To be most thankful for Christ… Seems to be the apostle Paul’s way.  Could it somehow be ours?