14 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 11


Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights. - James 1:17, NIV

The Bishop hits right at the heart of the matter with today's devotional: whose "stuff" is it? - God's or ours.

If we believe that everything is God's, then we operate from the perspective that we are caretakers of the earth, the resources in our pocket, and the resources at our fingertips. In this scenario, we give back to God what was already God's to begin with.

If we believe that everything is ours, then we operate from the perspective that we can use whatever we want, whenever we want, for whatever we want. In this scenario, we give to God as we feel like it, but expect that God should be grateful for our giving.

Schnase says, "The wisdom revealed in Scripture and tradition for more than three thousand years is that those who practice from the perspective of a steward find greater happiness" (36).

Questions for Reflection:
1) Which of these two views do you hold?
2) How does this belief shape your actions? Your giving?

13 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 10

What Happens to God's Love?

If you see some brother or sister in need and have the means to do something about it but turn a cold shoulder and do nothing, what happens to God's love? It disappears. And you made it disappear. My dear children, let's not just talk about love; let's practice real love. This is the only way we'll know we're living truly, living in God's reality. - 1 John 3:17-19, The Message

I've read the story that Schnase references in today's devotional before and it touched me when I read it then, just as it did today. As a pastor of a church that receives visits from people seeking assistance, I know what the pastor in the story is going through when trying to determine what to do for those who come in. I, too, have devised policies and procedures for dealing with them and I must admit that some of the policies and/or procedures have made God's love disappear.

The words of the janitor always give me pause when considering what to do with those who come to the church asking for assistance: "I give them a little money and say, God bless you, because I figure that they are some mother's son, some father's child, and so I give them something. What they do with the money - well, they have to answer to God about that. I have to answer to God about what I do with mine" (34).

We will all answer for what we do with our money in this life. When we release our finances into God's hands, there is the potential that it will be wasted by those who receive it, but there is the potential that it will bless untold numbers of people because you gave it away. Either way, you are only responsible for what you do with your money, not for what those who receive it do with it.

Questions for Reflection:
1) Have you ever witnessed an extraordinary and unexpected act of generosity?
2) How has another person's generosity influenced your own practice of giving?
3) Who is learning from your examples of generosity?

12 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 9

Whitewater World!

Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we're in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed - that exhilarating finish in and with God - he could put up with anything along the way... - Hebrews 12:2, The Message

If I was writing today's devotional, I would have chosen "Remar o Morir!" because that seems to capture the spirit of the devotional more succinctly, but they didn't ask me, so I'll deal with what we've got.

Our lives are moving at break-neck speeds and unless we take measures to control that speed, we may get out of control and be at the mercy of other forces in the world. The rafters needed to learn that staying in control on the water meant paddling even when the current was pushing them along in the calm times.

Schnase says, "If we want to navigate with purpose and to control our direction rather than becoming a victim to forces beyond our control, we have to keep paddling....We can't stop learning, growing, changing, adapting, and giving our best" (31). I don't know about you, but I want to "navigate with purpose" throughout my life, therefore I have made choices to always be a learning leader. I attend conferences, I read books, I listen to talks by teachers/pastors/leaders I trust and want to learn from - all in an effort to keep "learning, growing, changing, adapting, and giving [my] best" every day.

Questions for Reflection:
1) What are the pressures and currents of your whitewater world?
2) How do you learn, adapt, grow, and change spiritually so that the currents don't overwhelm and destroy you?

11 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 8

As If For the Very First Time

...I do want you to experience the blessing that issues from generosity. - Philippians 4:15, The Message

I have never read Cold Mountain so I was unfamiliar with the fiddle player character that the Bishop mentioned in today's devotional, but I am very familiar with the concept he highlighted through this minor character: using the ordinary skills of life for extraordinary purposes.

The fiddle player walks away from his encounter with the young girl looking at his instrument with fresh eyes and fresh appreciation for the power of music in the life of individuals. How many of us have gifts in our hands that go unappreciated each day? How many of us use our gifts to their full potential every day?

Schnase says, "Imagine the difference [the fiddler] made in the lives of people and the meaning that was added to his own life. That ordinary fiddle and the simple gift of music, when used for higher purposes, became sacred....His ordinary talent became beautiful, a source of joy and meaning" (28).

Our ordinary talents become sacred when we dedicate them to God's purposes. Our ordinary giving becomes sacred when we dedicate that giving to God's purposes and ministry in this world.

Questions for Reflection:
1) When was a time you felt God transformed your life because you gave?
2) What ways will you improve your generosity?

10 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 7

The Grace of Giving

But just as you excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us - see that you also excel in this grace of giving. - 2 Corinthians 8:7, NIV

There is grace in giving. There is freedom in releasing "stuff" from our hands as we seek to do the work God has called us to accomplish. There is grace.

Schnase says, "Churches that cultivate giving speak of joy, devotion, honoring God, and the steady growth of spirit that leads to greater generosity....Pledge campaigns [in those churches] are not about money, dollars, and budgets but about mission, spiritual growth, and relationship to God" (22-23).

I want University UMC to be a church like that. A church that spends more time and energy devoted to how we can be the hands and feet of Christ and less time worried about paying the bills. (I am pretty sure I just made the Finance people mad!) I want our church to be a church of action - putting legs on our faith so that the message of Christ is not just heard at UUMC, but shown and seen.

Questions for Reflection:
1) How do you feel about how your congregation teaches about money?
2) What conversations that relate faith and money are most helpful to you?

09 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 6

Pocket Change

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. - Galatians 5:22-23

Schnase shares an example of how a small gift of pocket change can add up to a big impact when combined with the gifts of others. What a wonderful example of how giving to the church (at whatever level God has equipped you) can be multiplied and strengthened thanks to the gifts and generosity of the other members of the congregation!

The work of God does not require big donations to get started, it only needs faithful people to faithfully give what has been placed in their hands. It can start with pocket change.

Schnase says, "To practice Extravagant Generosity requires self-control, patience, kindness, faith, and love of God and neighbor....Giving changes the giver, the recipient, and the congregation" (21).

Questions for Reflection:
1) How does your church change lives in your community? On the other side of the world?
2) What will you do to change someone's life this week?

08 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 5

Muscle Memory

Therefore, show...the proof of your love and the reason for our pride in you, so that the churches can see it. - 2 Corinthians 8:24, NIV

The practice of tithing (giving one-tenth of your income to God's work in the local church) is not a habit learned overnight. It took Debbie and I two or three years to fully fund our tithe. We knew we wanted to tithe, but we had to step up to it since we started so far away from the 10% mark. Once we got there, we've never looked back and we always look for ways to give more.

Schnase says, "As those who consistently practice the tithe know, proportional giving (giving a set percentage of income) and tithing force people to look at their earning, saving, and spending through God's eyes. It reminds them that their ultimate worth is derived from the assurance that they are children of God, created by God, and infinitely loved by God" (19).

So let's start building some muscle memory for giving - it's the best workout you can get!

Questions for Reflection:
1) Read 2 Corinthians 8. Paul concludes by saying that our giving is proof of our love for God. Can we possibly desire God to shape our souls without giving?
2) If you practice proportional giving or tithing, does this practice affect your other spending habits?
3) If you do not practice proportional giving or tithing, what are the obstacles to a greater generosity toward God?

07 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 4

Partnering With God

They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that is really life. - 1 Timothy 6:18-19

Every day we have the opportunity to partner with God in generous ways. We have the ability to share the resources God has blessed us with so that others can know God's mercy, grace and healing. We can also keep that to ourselves, thus cutting others off from the blessings of God.

In today's devotional reading, Carolyn says, "If God gives you the capacity and the passion to do something, why in God's name wouldn't you do it?" (16) And that is my question to you today...if you are passionate about something and God has given you the financial capacity to help make that passion become a reality, why not go for it?

We partner with God to be generous because God has been generous with us. He is the one who allows us to be generous and we are most like God when we live out our generosity. Schnase says, "Generosity is not a spiritual attribute someone acquires apart from the practice of giving" (17). Therefore we will never be generous if we never give anything away to others. No matter how hard you try, you will never become generous by sitting in your living room meditating on the concept of generosity - you have to get off your couch and go give something away! That's the only way it works. And it does work!

Questions for Reflection:
1) Have you ever given over and above your normal tithe or pattern of giving? If so, what was the experience like?
2) Do you find that the more you give, the more likely you are to give? Why or why not?

06 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 3

Sorry this didn't get posted yesterday...

Seeds With Wings
A sower went out to sow his seed... - Luke 8:5

As soon as I started reading today I remembered the afternoons I spent outside my grandfather's house in Illinois watching the "helicopter seeds" fall from the trees. I would pick them up by the "wing" and toss them in the air to watch them spin back to the ground. It was great fun.

In light of the concept of generosity, these "seeds with wings" inspire me to figure out where the seeds I am planting are going to sprout. Schnase says, "So much of our impact, even when we live immensely fruitful lives, affects those closest to us....We naturally have the greatest impact upon those closest at hand, our families, spouses, children, grandchildren" (14).

It is vital for us to plant seeds of generosity within our span of care on a daily basis, but it is also important for us to give our seeds "wings" so that they can be carried by the movement of the Spirit to places we may never travel and to help people we may never meet. Do your seeds have "wings"?

Questions for Reflection:
1) Think of two or three of the most influential people in forming your own soul and character other than your relatives. What made them effective? What can you learn from their generosity and the legacy they have left for others?
2) Where in the world beyond your own church and home are the signs of your congregation's ministry? Of your own?

05 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 2

Building Nests

And the things you have prepared, whose will they be? Luke 12:20

Today, Bishop Schnase hit on a note that I have been keyed into for quite a while when it comes to leading the church - building for the future AND caring for the present.

He utilizes the image of nest building and asks the question: "Who are they for?" If nests are built for the comfort and coziness of the ones who are building them, then certain actions will be taken and other actions will be avoided. If nests are built for the comfort and protection of future generations, then certain actions will be taken and other actions will be avoided. So which is it?

Schnase argues (and I wholeheartedly agree) that nests are built for future generations - the ones who are to come. He writes, "Vibrant, fruitful congregations focus as much energy, prayer, and planning on those who are outside the congregation as they do on those who are already active in the congregation" (11).

I truly believe that the "church of today" must continually be motivated to care for the "church of tomorrow". If we don't, then the "church of tomorrow" will fail to materialize and those who are left will wonder what in the world happened.

That being said, I also believe that we must take care of those who have already committed themselves to our church. However, most churches become myopic in their thinking at this point and cease to reach out, evangelize, and invite. I believe they do so at their own peril.

Being the church must be a "both/and" proposition, not an "either/or" situation. We must both reach out to those outside our walls and care for those who are already here. Failing to do so will doom the church to irrelevance and an untimely death.

Questions for Reflection:
1) What motivates you to support the ministries of your congregation?
1) How does your focus of generosity and level of giving support the mission of reaching other people with the grace of God you have received?

04 October 2010

Extravagant Generosity - Day 1

I'll save the apologies and just get right to the posting....

University UMC begins our four-week journey to explore the concept of Extravagant Generosity today and I will be posting some reflections on each days' devotional both here and on our Facebook page. Enjoy!

From Stewardship to Generosity
Giving, not getting, is the way. Generosity begets generosity. - Luke 6:38, The Message

Bishop Schnase reflects on meeting someone who changed his job title because of his book and how that caused him to think about the difference between "stewardship" and "generosity". Growing up in the church, I have heard both terms for a long time, but I associate stewardship with "raising the budget" or "building a building". For me, generosity is associated with people who go above and beyond the call of duty in giving, serving, leading, etc. within the church. For me, generosity is a greater reflection of the love of God than is stewardship.

Schnase says, "Generosity is an aspect of character. It is an attractive quality which I aspire to and desire to see cultivated in my children" (8). I can think of no greater legacy to leave my children than one of generosity. I can think of no greater way to live my life than one of generosity. I know we are not all able to be generous all the time, but what if we built practices into our lives that enabled us to be generous more often than not? What if we truly believed that "generosity begets generosity"?

Questions for Reflection:
1) What has been your experience with the term "stewardship"? With "generosity"? What's the difference between them?
2) Which most helpfully inspires your giving as you seek to grow in the image of God and in service to Christ?