Handcuffed to Obligation

          Two days ago we celebrated Valentine’s Day.  Seeing so many couples here today, the guys must have remembered the date.  On Feb 14th, we are reminded of the love that we have for one another every day of the year.  And it is usually shared with chocolates, flowers, cards, dates, etc. 

          Valentine’s day is similar to birthdays and anniversaries, where we show our appreciation to others through generosity.  We buy gifts and take loved ones to special places in honor of their presence and blessing in our lives.  These activities aren’t done because they HAVE to happen, but rather because we WANT to give and do something special for them. 

          Can you imagine what a relationship would be like if you received a bill from the other person on their birthdays and the holidays?  In order to continue being a spouse, family member, or friend, you are required to purchase a gift for them on these dates.  I don’t know, maybe it already feels like that sometimes, huh?)  If you default on a bill, the relationship will be terminated.  What kind of relationship would that be?  It certainly wouldn’t be life-giving and adventurous!

          The body of Christ is no different from other relationships.  The Holy Spirit lives among us, inspiring and motivating people to share love to God and others.  But we tend to treat our relationship with God much differently.  Giving to God’s ministry is often seen as paying a bill.  We will give enough of our time, talent, and finances to cover basic needs.

Charles Lane, author of the book “Ask, Thank, Tell” writes,

“In too many congregations in our land, the goal of asking people to give to the church is to get enough money to pay the church’s bills for the coming year.  When people are asked to give to the congregation, they are told of budget crunches, rising costs, and the need to dig a little deeper.  At the end of the year, if all the bills are paid, someone will likely say, ‘Stewardship was good last year’...The Bible talks a lot about stewardship, and it talks very little about the need for an institution to get its bills paid.  Rather, when the Bible talks about stewardship it almost always talks about the intimate connection between how a person handles financial matters and that person’s relationship with God.  In the Bible, all stewardship, including financial stewardship, is an intensely spiritual matter.  It lies close to the heart of a disciple’s relationship with Jesus.” 

          When Jesus called the disciples, they dropped everything and followed him.  The first thing in their minds wasn’t, “how much training will I need?” or “how much is this gonna cost me?”  They followed for relationship with Jesus no matter the time or cost.  Relationship with Jesus became their #1 priority in life.  If we are giving as much as we can, finding volunteers, nurturing a welcoming and faithful atmosphere, and budget will NEVER be a problem.

          A lot of people in this community have shared their stories about the storm of ’78.  All that snow and lack of power for days.  Neighbors gathered in homes to conserve heat and share food.  When someone knocked at the door, they were automatically invited in.  Nobody cared what kind of job the person had, or how big of a house they owned, or even what their name was.  Giving was offered out of neighborly love, not by a budget.

          I have often heard, “Show us a need, and the money will come.”  There is no question that this faith community is generous, but I believe in this statement, obligation is confused with generosity.  A need had to be created before the giving took place.  The obligation question is “How much do you need for this ministry?”  The generous question is “How much can I give to this ministry?”  Like the example of the storm, generosity asks how can I help you without first meeting certain criteria.

Generosity is giving for the sake of giving.  Simply covering a need is a perception of scarcity and it is an example of doing or giving as little as necessary.  There is a fear and distrust that we don’t want to give TOO much of our resources, time, or talents.  Imagine if we lived out our marriages or family relationships in that way.  Never give more than what the other NEEDS unless they can justify it.  Imagine if God limited his giving to only what we needed.  That would be a relationship on life-support!

          Lane also writes, “If a person correctly understands that everything, all 100%, belongs to God, then that person’s faith influences how they make use of all that God has entrusted to them.  No longer is the question, ‘How does God want me to use God’s 5 [or 10] percent?’  Now the question is, ‘How does God want me to use everything?’  No longer is the question, ‘How much of my money should I give to God?’  Now the question is, ‘How much of God’s money do I dare keep for myself (P.28-29)?”

          I’m going to fill you in on a little secret.  Stewardship isn’t just something for church.  We do it everyday!  If we are giving of ourselves just enough to get by, we will reap a minimal harvest.  On the other hand, fulfilling lives and blossoming ministries are found where people invest not by need, but out of a passion for sharing beyond themselves.  When asked how much I need for a ministry, I’ll say, “The need is more than you can afford, so how much can you give?”

          Love, is a living example of abundant generosity.   Jesus gave completely of himself out of love for you and me.  He didn’t ask whether you deserved his love or not.  He gave it to everyone abundantly, even to those who don’t want it.  Stewardship is managing and serving others with hearts of abundance.  Jesus doesn’t want to see us living on life-support.  He wants us giving with JOYFUL hearts as we nurture our relationship with him.  Amen.