This is the third of four installments in the series entitled “Practical Christianity 101,” the purpose of which is to consider the application, the “how-to,” of practicing our faith. To make the teachings of this series available to everyone, especially those who are unable to be in our worship service every Sunday, manuscripts of each week’s message will be posted on the church’s website, http://www.fumcpecos.org, and social media outlets. Those include our Tweeter feed, @fumcpecos, our Facebook page, http://www.facebook.com/fumcpecos, and my personal blogpost, http://www.jamesbcarroll.com. It is my prayer that each of these messages will inform, enlighten, and challenge you in the daily practices of your faith.
Practical Christianity 101: Give Yourself Away
The World Today
We all have encountered individuals whose collective diatribes sound something like this: “Are you talking to me? You’re asking me to do what? What’s in it for me? Why do you expect me to care? Do you love me? What are you buying for me today? You’re taking me where? What do you expect me to do in that God-forsaken place? Why are you talking about me? Why are you looking at me like that? What are you expecting me to do? What’s in it for me? Me! Me! Me! Me! Me!
Do you know anybody like this? The term for such a mindset is narcissism, defined as “an excessive interest in oneself, extreme selfishness, and self-centeredness.” In the 1960’s, the Baby Boomers were viewed as representative of the mindset and donned “The Me Generation” in a cover story in Time Magazine. Some would argue that each successive generation has been worse, to the point that the cover story for the May 20, 2013 edition of the same magazine was “Millennials – The Me, Me, Me Generation.” Such a mindset is not unique to a particular people group or generation for it now permeates a society known for accumulating things at a phenomenal rate. Consider the fact that, in America today, there are more televisions than households and more than one cell phone in use for every man, woman, and child. We accumulate things and riches, keeping them for ourselves, keeping them away from others.
What a stark dichotomy between the righteousness of today’s lesson, “They share freely and give generously to those in need. . .” (Psalm 112:9a) and the reality of the generations of today. How can you and I start to bridge the gap? What does the psalmist challenge us to begin doing today? The answer is simple – to give yourself away!
The Word Revealed
Some hair-splitting is necessary as we consider that the psalmist was describing two distinct actions by the righteous, “They share freely – and – (they) give generously to those in need.” Whether we are talking about sharing or giving, we must understand that the psalmist is not talking about a practice that is occasional or impulsive, but rather is constant, systematic, frequent, and customary.
We are to share freely. Such is not an isolated understanding. Paul quotes this passage in his second letter to the Church in Corinth (2 Corinthians 9:9) where he explains that such sharing is more than doing so with one another; it involves sharing in the life and ministry of the body of believers, the Church.
We, too, are challenged by the words of the psalmist and Paul to participate in the life of the Church through our giving. However, scripture reminds us that what is more important than the amount of our giving is the attitude with which we give. In the Living Generously video series we watched several months ago, Re (pronounced Ray) the gardener shared with his employer, Mr. Donovan, the importance of a proper attitude and perspective. He explained that we should not think of our financial resources as our own, but as a trust from God for which we are expected to be faithful stewards of that with which He has entrusted us.
Looking at 2 Corinthians 9 and Paul’s discussion on giving, there should be a ring of familiarity to its words. It is in verse 7 of that Chapter that can be found the oft-cited passage, “God loves a cheerful giver”(2 Corinthians 9:7c, NIV). A reading of the entire verse affords a greater context to that passage: “You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully”(2 Corinthians 9:7, NLT). We are to give – not as an obligation – but in recognition of, in response to, who God is and what He has done for you.
Think back on the last time that you dined at a sit-down restaurant at which your every need was cared for by an attentive waitress. At the conclusion of the meal, you expressed your gratitude for her and what she did for you with a tip of 15, 18, maybe even as much as 20% of the cost of the meal. Your generous gift to her was an expression of gratitude. How much more gratitude is God due for the gift of His only Son who willingly suffered death on a cross for the forgiveness of your sins. The giving of your financial resources in support of the life and ministry of the Church is far more than just reaching in your wallet or writing a check. It is an act of worship in which you acknowledge who God is and what He has done for you, and giving back to Him a portion of that which is His, that which He has entrusted to your faithfulness and stewardship.
We are heirs of a magnificent facility with amazing potential for ministry to our community. It has been passed down by generations of faithful Christians who – through their giving, their toil, their tears, and their prayers – made this structure available for continuous ministry in our community. The inheritance of such is our privilege; it is also our responsibility to carry on where they left off, to support this church, its everyday expenses and ministry opportunities with our generous, cheerful giving – to give yourself away!
We are to give generously to those in need. Not only are we to engage in giving ourselves away with the financial resources with which God has entrusted us, we must also do so with the gifts and abilities He has given us in service to others. There are several ways available to each and every one of us right now:
1) among the list of weekly activities of our church, there are numerous opportunities to serve others in the everyday life of our church;
2) individuals seen standing at the curb at our local WalMart, with handwritten sign in hand asking for help, represent an opportunity to reach out to one less fortunate than ourselves. Their needs can be easily addressed by purchasing food or gas for them (while never giving them cash) or directing them to the offices of West Texas Opportunities, a local social service agency that exists to help such individuals in ways we can’t imagine;
3) many of our youth, and several adults, have given up a week of their summer vacation to experience being the hands and feet of Jesus in distant communities on our annual Mission Trip. It’s not too late to be a part of this year’s trip or plan to join us next year; and
4) our church’s partnership with the local Salvation Army affords opportunities to meet the needs of the needy in our community. However, such a partnership is only lip-service if you and I don’t get involved personally in hands-on ministry opportunities. Where and when you ask? Such programs as their Free School Supplies program, an anticipated Food Drive to be held this Fall in conjunction with our School District, and the annual Bellringing Campaign are but a few ways you can be involved.
It is the responsibility of all of us to support the life and ministry of our church in its outreach to our community, sharing good deeds which will be remembered forever by the beneficiaries and by God – doing all these things, to give yourself away!
The How-to? The Looks like? This brings us to the consideration of the how-to, the what-does-it-look-like of today’s message. How do we go about sharing freely? What does it look like to give generously to the needs of others?
In the regular giving of our financial resources, the all-important first step is to start somewhere. While the biblical standard is the tithe, 10% of your financial resources, try giving 5% on a weekly basis. At regular intervals, monthly or quarterly, increase the amount of your giving by 1% until you have become accustomed to the giving of the tithe. If you are inclined to forget your checkbook or forget to bring cash, our church offers an electronic giving option. I would be glad to give you directions as to how you can set it up online or a form you can fill out for us to process.
In giving generously to the needs of others, the all-important step is simply getting involved, offering our talents in service to the church and others, and asking what we can do as you strive to give yourself away!
Applying the Word to the World
The Good News of today’s passage is the recognition that Jesus gave Himself away – through His birth, His life, His death – even to the point of suffering death upon the Cross for you and me! All He ask of you is, in recognition of who He is and what He has done for you, to give yourself away through your gifts and your service for the betterment of this, His church, and others. Set aside the selfishness, the self-centeredness of the Me, Me, Me Generation and take action to support the life and ministry of this – your church, His church – through your generous, cheerful giving AND claiming responsibility to be the hands and feet of Jesus in service to our community and the world in which we live; all of this as you do nothing less than Give Yourself Away!