I have been reading the book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations by United Methodsist Bishop Robert Schnase in preparation for a 5 week sermon series that we will be doing at our church.
This weekend we will be talking about “Extravagant Generosity.” Unfortunately, the topic of generosity has become a topic that many church members wish we wouldn’t talk about, and many pastors try to avoid. However, the Bible is full of references to generosity, and we need to be faithful to addressing this subject. We are sensitive to the economic struggle that many are facing right now, and a message about generosity is not intended to bring guilt; it is intended to instruct us and inspire us. What many have discovered is that when we begin to practice generosity in our lives by giving of our time, talents and resources, we actually feel better about ourselves and discover that – as the old cliché says – “we can’t outgive God! Here is an interesting and inspiring passage from the book:
“The practice of Extravagant Generosity changes churches. Churches that nurture proportional giving and tithing among their members thrive. They accomplish great things for Christ, offer robust and confident ministry, and have the resources to carry out ever new and helpful missions. They escape the debilitating effects of conflict and anxiety that are the fruit of a scarcity mentality. They prosper for the purposes of Christ and make a difference in the lives of people.
Every sanctuary and chapel in which we have worshipped, every church organ that has lifted our spirits, every pew where we have sat, every communion rail where we have knelt, every hymnal from which we have sung, every praise band that has touched our hearts, every church classroom where we have gathered with friends, every church kitchen that has prepared our meals, every church van that has taken us to camp, every church camp cabin where we have slept – all are the fruit of someone’s Extravagant Generosity. We have been the recipient of grace upon grace. We are the heirs, the beneficiaries of those who came before us who were touched by the generosity of Christ enough to give graciously so that we could experience the truth of Christ for ourselves. We owe the same to generations to come, We have worshipped in sanctuaries that we did not build, and so to us falls the privilege of building sanctuaries where we shall never worship.
Generosity is a fruit of the spirit, a worthy spiritual aspiration. Generosity is the opposite of selfishness, self-centerdness and self-absorption. To practice Extravagant Generosity requires, self-control, patience, kindness, faith and love of God and neighbor. These build us up: equip us for life and for ministry; and foster perspectives and attitudes that are sustaining, enriching and meaningful. Giving changes both the giver and the church” (116)
John Wesley taught that we shaould earn all we can, save all we can, and give all we can. This is timeless and practical advice for us. Unforunately, as Schnase points out, we live in a different day in time: we are tempted by the consumeristic values of our culture. As Dave Ramsay says, "we buy things we don't even need with money we don't even have to impress people we don't even know."
I am curious as to how the discipline of generosity has benefited others especially during these challengin economic times.