Friday, March 14, 2014

A generous life. . .

One of the problems with stewardship programs and efforts is that they often devolve into using sinful motivation for godly purpose or in guilt that becomes the source of virtue.  We forget that we live in Christ a generous life shaped by the lavish and unbelievably generous nature of God.  Stewardship has become an evil word because it asks us to give what we believe is ours to something that we do not want to support -- even though the cause may be good.  Pastors don't want to talk about it and people in the pews don't want to hear about it.  So that is how it generally goes -- at least until some church financial crisis forces us to do what we find distasteful.

Yet the very nature of our lives in Christ is generosity from God and the very mark of God's life in us is this self same generosity.  We do not talk like this but we should.  God's Spirit has opened our hearts and minds up to know and appreciate His generosity.  That is true enough but it does not go far enough.  For unless our appreciation and knowledge of His generosity teaches us to be generous, we are not the people God has redeemed us to be.

I have heard folks say that deep down people want to be generous -- they just need to be taught how.  For my part, that is baloney.  We are not by nature generous but selfish, stingy, fearful, and prone to covetousness and jealousy.  To be anything else requires God to kill off this dead heart and make us new hearts born of His generous and giving Spirit.  Generosity must be taught just as we teach the faith to our children and witness it to those not yet of the Kingdom.  It does not come naturally to us  but is part of our new nature, constantly under attack and threat by the forces of evil against God and His gracious purpose.

The old liturgy had us stand and sing as the offertory:
Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me,
Cast me not away from Thy presence; and take not Thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free spirit. 

I see the wisdom of these words sung before the offering plate is passed.  Having just heard the Gospel and its exposition and application in the sermon, we are bidden to be made new and the first opportunity for this newness to show up is in the generosity of the offering plate.

The old nature does not believe the generosity of God.  Instead we believe God is a stingy ogre, withholding His grace from us, deserving and worthy folks, who are here to figure out how to manipulate how to get God to give us what He does not wish to give.  It ends up sort of like the exchange between the unwilling parent and the teenager who comes asking for some cash to blow at the mall.  That is natural.  The understanding of God as generous and giving even to the unworthy and undeserving only happens because God makes us new and bestows His Spirit upon us.

Generosity is not something we need to be convinced to do but to believe.  Faith apprehends this generosity of God's grace and mercy in Christ and the Spirit finishes His new creation work by teaching us to be generous as God is generous.  Giving is not a problem of money but of faith.  To speak of faith is to speak of God's generosity.  To speak of God's generosity is to learn to be generous.  Like the lungs and the breath in them, one goes with the other.

We need to talk more about the generosity of God.  One of our biggest impediments to understanding this generosity seems to be our prayer lives.  We pray as if God were stingy and mean.  We attempt to manipulate the conversation of prayer to convince God we are either worthy or our need deserving in order to get Him to do for us what He does not want to do.  But God wants to be generous and indeed He is.

I heard it once said that to the sinner God is like the drunken sailor at the bar who keeps buying drinks for everyone there.  That is how unmistakable and shocking His grace is.  We see no logic in it and, of course, there is none.  It rains on the just and the unjust, says Scripture.  But God is generous beyond all reasonableness.  This is where stewardshiip begins.  God gives grace not to the worthy or the deserving but to sinners who are His enemies.  His generosity is lavish, scandalous, and impossible to understand.  We meet it on the plane of faith and the Spirit teaches us not only to know it but to delight in it.  Delighting in it, we trust it and it works in us the miracle of a new heart, generous, like the heart of God.

It seems to me that we have it all wrong in the idea that Christians must teach the world to be just, advocate for the poor and needy, and insist upon fairness.  Such a bar is way too low for a people who have encountered something way past equity and justice.  No, nothing less than generosity will be the fruit of God, His new life in us, and His Spirit at work in us.  This is where stewardship begins and ends.


Anonymous said...

What do you have that you have not been given?

Anonymous said...

The sin of Unionism bears it's fruit. The leaven of the sadducees puffs up the whole loaf. And yet the Lord may still bring it all back to himself. We've seen him do it even when we were disbelieving. Confound us Lord with your good favor and the gift of your steadfast Word.