Cultivating a Spirit of Generosity

Your church has probably just come through a “meet the budget” effort to gather pledges and encourage giving in the new fiscal year — so the church can meet its budget. Like the agricultural harvest, the fall season just seems to be the time to talk about ingathering.

Your “fall stewardship emphasis” may be little more than a single sermon on tithing, or perhaps a brief series on a biblical perspective on money. Seldom do such efforts inspire an outpouring of financial response. But face it, most pastors don’t like to talk about money and most congregants don’t want to hear about it from the pulpit.

In the annual ritual, few churches actually pledge the amount required for their budgets. Yet churches move forward, even with some trepidation and even if commitments fall short of the needs the budget declares. Church staff will study the history of actual receipts versus amounts pledged, calculate whether the addition of new members balances the deaths of old members and pray for all members to be generous.

But where are members to learn generosity? Who is teaching them generosity?

This Baptist News Global story  about a Baylor class that cultivates generosity says generosity begins with gratitude. The Apostle Paul said in Philippians 4:11 he has learned to be grateful in whatever circumstances he finds himself. Circumstances have changed often enough in my life — sometimes much to my surprise — that I’ve learned the truth and value of Paul’s attitude.

While it’s been used often enough to become a cliche, the truth remains that an attitude of gratitude is essential for a happy life and a generous spirit. In my work helping churches to foster such an attitude to encourage generosity among members, we never talk about the budget. We talk about gratitude and generosity as a reflection of that attitude. Budgets take care of themselves as a side effect of members learning the true joy of generosity.

I’m glad to talk with you about how we might work to plant such a seed in your congregation.

Under threat of rain

All signs pointed to rain.

With work on a four-day summer schedule I was looking forward to a good long bike ride on Friday. But the newspaper said rain. The weather channel said rain. The computer said rain. My bunions said rain.

My primary weather monitor is the modern miracle of glass. I looked out the window and saw no rain. I saw squirrels falling all over themselves scrambling for access to the bird feeder; and I saw rabbits nibbling at the herb garden, but I saw no rain.

I waited and debated. I pondered and wondered. Should I ride and risk a soaking, or stay home and kill two hours wishing I’d gone?

Then I remembered: hey, rain only affects a bike’s handling, braking, traction and visibility, so I thought even if it rains, what could be the harm? I’m not going to melt. So off I went.

I enjoyed a great ride and stayed mostly dry. By the time it rained a little on me, I was close to home and the rain felt refreshing.

Of course, I was glad I took the chance. I stayed within a radius fairly close to home and had my phone with me in a plastic bag in case of a hard storm. So rain posed little risk, actually.

Do you live under threat of rain? Are you waiting for the next step, wondering if you should go back to school, change jobs, ask that girl out, try something new? You’d like to and if you were honest, you’d realize you’re killing a lot of time waiting for the answer to fall from the sky like summer hail.

People around you are the weather report, warning you, urging you to buy bread and milk and be on the road only if absolutely necessary.

You’re afraid failure might soak you so instead of anticipating success or even working as hard as you should at whatever you’re doing now, you fall into weather report mode; listening to everyone else; paralyzed by opinion; rotting by option.

You can lose a lot of sunny summer days that way.

What’s the worst that could happen? Do you risk failure? Yes. But failure is just your first step to your next starting point. Don’t let the threat of rain keep you from trying.

Dangerous place

I attended a statewide meeting of Baptists several years ago felt like I needed to be watching ceiling tiles and checking out cracks in the floor. Speakers spouted lots of catastrophic imagery.

As the seasonal Christmas tune says, “The weather outside was frightful.” It was constant rain one day and blow-me-down wind the next. But those natural conditions were nothing compared to the forecast from inside the building.

A seminary president said an earthquake had occurred in the Southern Baptist Convention and a tsunami is on the way. A pastor said, “When God wants to do an impossible task, He takes an impossible man and crushes him.”

Then he said God wants us to be “broken before the Lord.”

Other speakers implied that unless we are crushed, broken, humbled, living in dangerous places, bruised and trampled we will not be in condition for God to use.

Yikes.

I got the sense that I need to be like Private Beetle Bailey after Sarge has beaten him into an unrecognizable pulp.

But I knew what everyone was talking about. Until we are willing to deconstruct the “self” we’ve so arduously built, we’re not very usable to God. We’ll get in the way because we have our own agendas and are subject to our own self-constructed limitations.

God does not want to break us for no good reason. He just wants to crack the shell to get to the nut. Or for you northerners, he wants to crack the ice to get to the fish.

We spend a lot of time painting, patching and primping the veneer to make ourselves presentable to God. But He’s most interested in what’s hiding beneath. If He needs to take a whack at that shell, He will.

It might be better for you to start the deconstruction ahead of time.

A Christmas Quiz for You

Here is a Christmas quiz, with questions gathered from several sources. You can use it any way you wish but it makes a great Sunday School class or other party function. Make 2-3 teams and have a competition, with the winners earning the last of the egg nog!

As you can see, these are only the questions. I DO have an answer sheet!

Christmas Quiz

From Matthew 2 (mostly 🙂 )

  1. How long had good King Wenceslaus been king of Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth?
  2. Who was king in Judea at the time of Jesus’ birth?
  3. How many Magi came to worship Baby Jesus?
  4. Which is the only book of the New Testament that mentions the Three Kings?
  5. What did Herod ask of the Magi?
  6. What country were the Magi from?
  7. What gifts did they bring to Jesus?
  8. What dream did Joseph have after the Magi left?
  9. What signaled Joseph that it was safe to return to Judea?
  10. When Herod realized he had been outwitted by the Magi, what was his reaction?
  11. When Mary, Joseph and Jesus returned from Egypt, they intended to come to Judea, but they learned one of Herod’s sons was ruling there. What was the son’s name?
  12. Why were Mary and Joseph afraid of him?

From Luke

  1. Who told Mary she was to bear a child?
  2. Who was Mary’s cousin who was also pregnant in her old age?
  3. What was the name of the son this cousin eventually bore?
  4. Who issued the decree that prompted Mary and Joseph to go to register?
  5. To what town did they travel?
  6. Why did Joseph and Mary travel to Bethlehem?
  7. In what kind of building was Jesus born?
  8. Where was Jesus laid?
  9. What animals surrounded the manger?
  10. How many angels spoke to the shepherds to tell them the “good news of great joy?”
  11. What did the angel of the Lord say to the shepherds that he also said to Mary?
  12. What did the little drummer boy ask of Mary?
  13. How old was Jesus when he received his name?
  14. Who was the righteous man in the temple who the Holy Spirit had revealed that he would live until he saw “the consolation of Israel”
  15. What name is given to the four-week period leading up to Christmas?

Christmas traditions questions

  1. What date is St Stephen’s Day?
  2. In Charles Dickens’ novel A Christmas Carol, who was Scrooge’s dead business partner?
  3. The song White Christmas was first performed in which 1942 film?
  4. London’s Trafalgar Square Christmas tree is traditionally given by which country?
  5. In the song The Twelve Days of Christmas, ‘…my true love brought to me nine…’ what?
  6. Name the original eight reindeer from the ‘Twas the night Before Christmas’ poem?
  7. Which Christmas carol includes the lyrics ‘…To save us all from Satan’s power, when we were gone astray?
  8. What color are the berries of the mistletoe plant?
  9. In the inspirational 1946 film, It’s a Wonderful Life, what’s the name of George Bailey’s guardian angel?
  10. In which modern country is St Nicholas’s birthplace and hometown?
  11. Who wrote How the Grinch Stole Christmas?
  12. From which country does the poinsettia plant originate?
  13. Who is officially credited as the author of Auld Lang Syne?
  14. How many points does a snowflake have?
  15. The carol “Silent Night” was written in which country?
  16. Where did “Good King Wenceslas” rule?
  17. Which Christmas plant has the Latin name “Hedera”?
  18. To which city does New York cop John McClane travel to on Christmas Eve in “Die Hard”?
  19. What fruit is used to make a Christingle?
  20. What Christmas food staple was first brought to Great Britain by William Strickland in 1526?
  21. Which European country was the first to issue a Christmas stamp?
  22. In which German city would you find the shrine of the Magi, said to house the bones of the Three Kings?
  23. Which Pope in AD 320 declared December 25th to be Christmas Day?
  24. Which Saint first performed a nativity play?
  25. What present did Harry Potter receive for his first Christmas at Hogwarts?
  26. On what date does Twelfth night occur?
  27. Who wrote the song “White Christmas?”
  28. Which US state was the last to declare Christmas a holiday?
  29. In Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” what is Scrooge’s first name?
  30. Name the three reindeer whose name begins with the letter ‘D’.
  31. With which seasonal product did J C Hall make his millions?
  32. Who composed “The Christmas Oratorio?”
  33. In which film did Judy Garland sing, “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”?
  34. In which fictional land is it always winter but never Christmas? –
  35. In “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas” why was The Grinch so mean?

Birthdays aren’t what they used to be

I had a birthday this week. Like comedian George Lopez would say, I was thrilled to have it because it means I’m not dead.

Friends and family called to indicate their memory is still sharp enough to have remembered my birthday. Some sang, some were brief, others wanted to catch up. Most of them asked if I felt another year older.

Truth is, I don’t feel another year older. I feel about like I did five or 10 years ago. In fact, because of diet, exercise and a good wife, I feel just like I thought five years ago that I’d feel at this point. And I may be naive, but I expect to feel the same 10 years from now. After that I may give the whole diet and exercise thing a rest.

But it strikes me that I’m actually doing and feeling much better than I would have guessed, were I to ask myself 25 years ago what I thought I’d feel like at this point in my life. Strange? Not really.

At age 62 I’m not playing pickup basketball like I 0nce did. My football playing consists of throwing passes to grandsons, who do all the running. But I can still hum it in a nice spiral.

I’ve traded running, which I never liked, for bike riding, which I love. I’m riding 64 miles tomorrow to commemorate my birthday — one mile per year with a couple extra thrown because the route is 64 miles and I don’t want to stop two miles from home.

I eat basically a paleo diet, with some allowances for chocolate covered raisins and more fruit than it likes because, hey, it’s fruit and has to be good for you. Paleo is ultra low carb, basically meat, veggies, fruit. I haven’t done soft drinks for years; don’t eat stuff like rice, bread and potatoes that turn to sugar in your body. I’m not on any medicine of any kind. Thank you mom and dad for good genetics.

Some 100 Facebook friends took the time to say “Happy Birthday” and that was nice. I got a new computer monitor to fight “text neck” from being hunched over trying to read my tiny laptop screen.

But the birthday, the demarcation of another year gone by, was really, just another day. I’m going to a birthday party Sunday for a grandson who has been excited about it for a month. My daughter blocks off her “birth month” for daily celebration.

“Just another day” can be a good thing when your days are good. And thanks be to God, my days are good.

I wish the same for you.