This month we are talking about how we can experience a blessed life and grow in the rhythms of generosity and blessing and we come back each week to the words of Jesus who said, it is more blessed to GIVE than to RECEIVE. Last week we talked about a system of giving called the tithe that helps us make sure that money has not taken hold of our hearts. The truth is that the only way to grow in our giving and our generosity is to find ways to give more, so today we are going to look at three different ways we can give and how each of them can help us give more and therefore experience more of God’s blessing.
My sophomore year of college, a friend and I were headed to CT from MSU and our train stopped in NYC where we spent the day. We didn’t have any plans, we just visited stores like Macy’s, FAO Schwarz toy store, and Tiffanys. It was December and it was a grey, cold, and windy day. As you might imagine, we saw many homeless people on the streets but there was one woman who caught my attention. She was huddled between two buildings trying to get out of the wind and I would have said she was old, because she had grey hair (might not say that now). The reason I remember her so clearly is that she had on a maroon windbreaker exactly like one I had. I got just a split-second glimpse of her, but I have never forgotten her imagine.
For days I kept thinking about that woman. Every time I stepped outside into the cold, I thought about that woman wearing only a windbreaker. I told myself there wasn’t much I could have done. I was a poor college student, without any money, spending only a few hours in the city. There was nothing I could do for her, but I couldn’t get her image out of my mind. I was thinking of her one day when I went to get my coat out of the closet and saw several other winter coats. Then it hit me, I could have done something for her. I could have given her my coat. I had more coats at home. I could have gotten a new coat at Christmas. There was something I could have done, I could have given spontaneously.
In Luke 10, Jesus tells a story about a man who was on his way home when he was beaten, robbed, and left along the side of the road. A priest came along and saw the man, but he passed him by without helping. A religious leader came down the road and saw the man, but he also passed him by. They each saw the man in need but thought, I don’t have time to help. There really isn’t anything I can do, I’m just a poor college student on my way home, I can’t do anything. But then a Samaritan came along and saw the man. He stopped. He bandaged the man’s wounds, carried him to an inn, and paid for his care until he could return. He gave spontaneously.
Spontaneous Giving is one way we can grow in our giving. Spontaneous giving is meeting a need when we see it. It is giving when we think about it. It’s acting on the idea of giving when the idea comes into our mind. Spontaneous giving looks like taking off our coat when we see someone in need whether we have another one at home or not. Spontaneous giving looks like paying the bill for someone behind us in line at the store, or passing on the gift card given to us to someone we know really needs it.
Spontaneous giving doesn’t always have to involve money – sometimes it is serving or helping when we see the need. Baxter Caldwell, an active member of the UMC in Altoona, was delivering turkeys at Thanksgiving when he got to one man’s house who asked him, “what am I supposed to do with it?” Baxter said, “you put it in a roaster and cook it.” The man said, “I don’t have a roaster, and I don’t have an oven that works.” Baxter asked what he cooked on and he said, an electric skillet. So Baxter went with the man into the kitchen, asked for a knife and deboned the turkey so the man could cook it in his electric skillet.
Spontaneous giving is something we can all do, but we have to be looking for the opportunities and then act quickly. Opportunities to give and serve are literally all around us and if we ask God to open our eyes so we can see these needs – God will give us generous eyes to see these needs, but once we see them we have to act quickly because it is too easy to talk ourselves out of giving.
A few years after I that trip to NYC, two friends and I were in downtown Lansing. As we passed an alley, we saw a man digging through a dumpster and eating what he found left in a McDonald’s bag. We all saw it, but only one of us stopped – and no, it wasn’t me. It was my friend who stopped and said, “we have to do something.” We pooled our money and invited the man to lunch.
While I had seen the need, I wasn’t quick to act, and if we aren’t quick to act we will find all kinds of excuses to keep on walking. We don’t really know the situation, or how to help. We don’t have the time now, we will help the next time, or we will send a check to the food bank later. I don’t know what it’s like for you, but I do know what it is like for me, I can too easily justify not helping. Giving spontaneously is something we learn to do but the only way to learn is to step up and act when we see a need and give when we feel compelled to give.
While spontaneous giving is one way to give and one way we can grow in our generosity and experience of God’s blessing, we can not leave all of our giving up to spontaneous needs, God also calls us to Strategic Giving. Tithing is strategic giving. It’s sitting down and looking at our budget and our resources, and then planning what we need to return to God. One of the greatest stories of planned giving is found in the gospel of Matthew and is a familiar story we often hear at this time of year.
The Magi were strategic givers. They saw a new star in the sky and knew that it meant a new king was born in the nation of Israel. They wanted to welcome this new king and honor him, so they purchased gifts fit for a king – gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They purchased the gifts before they left home to make sure they had them to give to the king once they found him. They planned their journey, researched where the king of Israel might possibly be born, and then made all the strategic plans for the journey taking the gifts with them. In many ways the first gifts we see given to Jesus were strategic and planned gifts that teach us the value of strategic and planned giving.
If we don’t make plans to give to God – we won’t give to God. As the old saying goes, those who fail to plan – plan to fail. Those who fail to make a plan to give – in the end won’t have anything to give. This is one reason why God calls us to give our first fruits. If we plan to give to God first, then we will always have something to give and always have what we need left over.
Tithing is certainly one way we can give strategically, but there are other times and places where strategic and planned giving is important for us to consider. Most economists say that over the next 3-4 decades we are going to see the greatest transfer of wealth in human history take place as one generation passes on their wealth to the next generation. Planned and strategic giving is vital when we think about how to share our assets at the end of life. While most of us might just think of passing our wealth on to our families – what about supporting the work of God both here and around the world?
Some of the endowments and gifts given to us by people in the past are blessing us today. Alan Blakeslee left us a percentage of his estate and that money has helped us make sound and lighting upgrades in the sanctuary. It has helped us upgrade electrical work throughout the church and has freed up resources to expand our ministry. Planned giving now can also support missions in the future as our mission team seeks to establish an endowment fund to always keep missions going here at Faith Church.
Planned giving is important because it forces us to give in ways that are intentional, ongoing, and proportional, but spontaneous and strategic giving really only prepares us for the third kind of giving God calls for, and that is Sacrificial Giving. While we often picture sacrificial giving as emptying out our bank accounts or selling all we have to give to the church or to the poor, let me share a story of sacrificial giving that touched my heart.
Edna was a faithful member of my congregation in Altoona and there had recently been a death in her family so I decided to stop by to see how she was doing. She lived between the church and my home, so I stopped around noon on my way home for lunch. Edna was happy to see me and invited me into her small kitchen where she was making lunch – a single can of soup. That was it. She didn’t have anything else out to eat, and may not have had anything else in her house to eat, and yet she insisted that I stay and have lunch with her. I tried to leave but she persisted and got out two bowls and shared her soup with me. Edna didn’t have much in life. She didn’t have much in her home, and she didn’t have much to eat that day and yet she shared it with me. I ate with humility and began to understand what sacrificial giving looked like.
Jesus shows us what sacrificial giving looks like. Mark 12:41-47. It’s interesting to note that Jesus is watching what people put into the temple treasury. God sees what we give, he not only sees the gift but he sees the attitude of our heart as we give. I just want to point that out as food for thought. What Jesus sees here is that while many people were giving big gifts – this woman gave the most because she gave sacrificially. She gave all she had to live on.
I’m not sure we can ever get to a place of sacrificial giving until we have learned how to give spontaneously and strategically, but one way to practice and grow in sacrificial giving is to simply give more than what we think we can give. If we think we can give only $1, then maybe we need to give $2. Think we can give only $10, give $20. At the other end, if we think we can give only $1,000 maybe we need to give $2,000 and see what happens – see how God can still meet our needs and maybe bless us in ways we never imagined.
Giving sacrificially is important because it teaches us not to trust in ourselves or the things of this world, but to trust in God alone. It also helps us become more like Jesus because Jesus is the one who gave himself sacrificially. While we see the sacrifice of Jesus when he gave his life on the cross, long before that day God gave himself sacrificially in Jesus’ birth. When God came to us in the person of Jesus, the Bible says, God emptied himself. God gave up all the authority of heaven to come into this world as a man, and then once here, God chose to come not as the wealthy but the poor, not as the most popular but the most lowly and humble. Sacrificial giving marks the beginning and end of Jesus’ life, it marks his entire life, which means that to follow Jesus we need to find ways to sacrifice and to give more than we think we can.
We grow in giving when we open our eyes and hearts to give spontaneously, when we sit down and plan ways to give strategically, and when we step up in faith to give sacrificially. We grow in giving by simply giving and when we give we are blessed and experience the blessed life.
A Generous Eye – Seeing How to Give More
Think back to a time you gave spontaneously.
- How did it make you feel?
- What did you learn from the experience?
- Who was blessed?
Think back to a time when you could have given spontaneously but didn’t.
- Why didn’t you give?
- What did you learn from that experience?
Ask God to show you the needs of those around you and how you can give today to help meet their needs – then give.
How has strategic and planned giving made a difference in your life?
Where can you plan to give today so you don’t plan to fail in giving tomorrow?
When have you given more than you thought you could?
- In what area did you give?
- Time? Money? Service?
- What did you learn?
Read Mark 12:41-44. If Jesus watched you give your offering today, what would he say?
What is God asking you to sacrifice in order to be truly generous? What one step can you take to move yourself toward sacrificial giving?