Gratitude & Generosity

After my message on Sunday (which, if you missed it, you can hear it here), I had a couple from our church tell me about a sermon they heard years ago at another church. It was on giving. The speaker was direct and focused. And more than ten years later, my friend said it was one of the few sermons he can still remember.

Why? Is it because there is something intensely personal, yet also intensely necessary, about giving? Don’t we all recognize that what we do with what we have is often the clearest intention of what we believe?

In what is most certainly the best-loved verse in the Bible, we are told that God “so loved the world that he gave His only Son….” God loves; He gives. And He gives what matters most — He gives of His very self.

If you are on the journey with God, then you are growing to look more like Him. And as you grow, I believe, like my friends who heard a sermon on giving that they couldn’t shake, you learn that giving is at the very heart of Christianity.

What would it look like if, among the world (the very world for whom God sent His Son), we as Christians weren’t known first as: judgmental, standoffish, or political — what if Christians all around the world were known first for our love? Well, how does that happen? It happens when we give. For loving and giving are inseparable.

On Sunday, I made the statement that a growing Christian and a generous Christian are the same thing. I really believe that. For if we have been changed by Christ, how can that not flow through us?

Christian Smith is a sociologist at Notre Dame University. He has been studying giving and generosity among Americans for five years or more. And he has found these remarkable facts:

  • only 3% of Americans give away 10% of their income (what we in the church-world call “the tithe”)
  • an overwhelming majority of folks (around 86%) give away less than 2%
  • and nearly 45% of Americans give away no money at all!

Perhaps even more striking about these numbers is this reality: Smith has found that those who are generous in their giving tend to have more purposeful and fulfilling lives. So, while Americans tend to think that fulfillment comes by what we get, it actually comes by what we give. In other words, that phrase that goes back to Jesus — “It is more blessed to give than receive” — is right. Imagine that!

As we celebrate Thanksgiving this week, let’s truly live thankful lives. Let’s be deeply grateful for the grace and mercy of Jesus that changes us. Let’s be truly thankful for all that we are and all that we have. And then let’s make sure that our gratitude overflows into generosity.

Why Church?

Why? It’s a question we start asking when we are toddlers. It’s a question parents of toddlers struggle to answer. But do we ever stop asking “Why?” And do we ever really feel like we have a perfect answer to that question?

I think it’s very important to ask the question. For without “why,” we lose track of purpose. And direction. And meaning.

This Sunday, and next, at the church where I serve, we are going to wrestle with the “Why” question. We will ask the question a number of ways, but all the questions will boil down to this one: “Why church?”

I have my thoughts (of course), but I’ll share them at Fern Creek Christian. So, let me give some space to answers I have received from some of my friends. I asked some of them, “Why church?” – and here’s some of what I heard:

“To me, church isn’t something I may or may not participate in each week. We (followers of Christ) ARE the church. We are the living representation of Jesus on earth. To me, meeting as a group of believers is vital to fill this role. Not only am I filled and renewed spiritually each week when I meet with other believers, but I am challenged every week to become more like Christ in some way. I am reminded every week that it is not about me. It is about Christ and the sacrifice He made for me. I am reminded every week that my primary job on this earth is to glorify Him and to show others His love. Without these reminders, without discussion with other believers, without support and the love of others, I cannot fulfill this role. I need all the help and support I can get!  To me, church is a part of who I am.” (Nicole)

“It is doing community together; it is living life side by side with our ups and downs and all the messy stuff that goes along with it. You can be real, and not be judged. He speaks to me daily, but when at church I feel the Holy Spirit’s presence more, because folks are living and loving like Jesus.” (Yvonne)

“For me, it’s a quiet time for me to put the earthly world with all its problems to the side.  To come and praise Him, hear His message and to be reminded of what’s really important and to learn how to apply God’s word to my everyday life. It’s a support and a place to bring needs. (It) is a reminder that ‘all is not lost’ in the world.” (Stephanie)

Or, as Rob put it, “Why church?” can also be summarized with one word: “Family.” For in Christ, that’s what we are.

So, how about you? How do you answer the question: Why church?

Resources on Introverts (& Extroverts)

Yesterday I blogged about introverts and extroverts. For the 12 of you that read my blog (hey, that number was good enough for Jesus), here are some resources I find helpful on the introvert/extrovert conversation:

Happy reading! And if you’re an introvert, I expect you will enjoy reading these by yourself….

Introverted Kingdom

This Sunday, I am finishing a series of messages at my church I have called “Inverted Kingdom.” It is based in Luke 6, and has been a conversation around the ways Jesus turns conventional wisdom on its head. But then I got to thinking: it takes only a slight word change to go from Inverted Kingdom to Introverted Kingdom. What would that sermon series be like?

Well, I guess it depends. Are you an extrovert? An introvert? Or perhaps an extrovert who misunderstands introverts? Perhaps you’ve heard the joke that asks: How much does an introvert weigh? The answer: not enough to break the ice.

That joke makes me laugh — even though it’s not accurate, and even though I’m an introvert. The truth is, lots of folks misunderstand introverts. They are not necessarily shy, or awkward, or quiet. Introverts can be quite talkative, charming, and engaging — because introversion isn’t a matter of how I project myself, but how I renew myself. While extroverts are renewed by being with others, introverts are often renewed by being alone. This doesn’t mean we introverts don’t like (or love) people; it simply means we are wired differently than our non-stop, where’s-the-next-party extroverted friends.

About ten years ago, a Christian college did a survey and asked students: Was Jesus an extrovert or an introvert? The result: 97% pegged Jesus as an extrovert. (So, maybe I should do a series called Extroverted Kingdom….) It’s likely that the students almost unanimously identified Jesus as an extrovert because that is what our society values. We believe leaders should be strong, outgoing, boundless balls of energy who know how to work a crowd. But is that accurate?

What about the times Jesus withdrew for quiet and prayer? What about the times he avoided crowds? What about the fact that he focused his energies on 12 guys, and really focused his ministry on 3 guys?

In the end, who knows whether Jesus was an E or an I? Perhaps he was the perfect combination of both. But either way, whether a person is a high E, high I, or somewhere mixed in the middle — there is no “wrong” personality. Just as we have learned that left-handed people don’t have to become “right,” so introverts don’t have to become extroverts. It’s not a matter of right and wrong, but a matter of how you are wired.

Having said that, we all can be challenged to grow, no matter where we fall on the E/I spectrum. As an introvert, I’m not a big fan of parties; but sometimes I need to go to them anyway. As an extrovert, my wife never met a party she didn’t like; but sometimes she needs to stay home.

At the end of the day, we are all different; whether E, or I, or whatever other letter we want to attach to ourselves. And while we acknowledge our differences, we are not the sum total of our differences.

This is one of the reasons I love the Church; it is a place where people with all kinds of differences and distinctions come, and find unity in the One who becomes our ultimate identity. For all the labels that may be attached to me, none of them are really who I am. In Christ, I belong to him. And to his people. And his Spirit brings us together, with a unity that supersedes all our differences.

So, I won’t be doing the Introverted Kingdom series any time soon. For there is only one kingdom — and it’s a kingdom for all of us who find our identity in Jesus, introvert and extrovert alike.