Now Is The Time: The Power of Generosity

Good Morning.  My name is Phil Human and I’m one of the pastors here at Journey Church.  Glad to be with you today.  I’d like to start today by complimenting and thanking all of you who donated supplies to various organizations in town that were collecting goods to deliver to various places that have been hit hard by the floods.  Thank you to the many from Journey who volunteered at these places as well – like at the Gretna Baptist Church or the Fire Station.  Thanks to people like Jeremy Riesselmen who organized an effort to bring a couple of semi-trucks loaded with goods to Boyd County Nebraska – near Spencer.  So many good people doing so many good things.

Thanks as well for those of you who are planning to go to Fremont to help cleanup efforts in town.  It feels good to do good.  It feels right to be generous in times like this – with our resources and time to help people in need.

Today we are talking, fittingly I believe, about the power of generosity.  And let me start by taking some time to read to you some reports from ancient Rome about Christians.  When Christianity began – it took root in the Roman world and grew and spread quickly.  And one of the reasons it did so was because Christians became the kind of people who displayed eye-popping generosity.

Check out these words from the Epistle to Diognetus – written perhaps as early as 120ad.  Seemingly out of no where – Christianity sprung up and began to grow.  And people were asking – Who are these people?  And a man named Diognetus was curious – and so this is the letter written to him by an unknown Christian friend who tried to explain what makes followers of Jesus so unique.

This fascinating letter is one of the first attempts to describe what makes Christians unique and so different…  And I have to be careful not to spend too much time here because this is one of the most fascinating letters I’ve read – it’s really an interesting study

They live in their own countries, but they do so as those who are just passing through.  As citizens they participate in everything with others, yet they endure everything as if they were foreigners. Every foreign land is like their homeland to them, and every land of their birth is like a land of strangers.

Christians were unique because Christianity has no borders and is not a national religion.  Every believer has dual citizenship.  They were proud citizens of their homeland, but their first allegiance was to the Kingdom of Heaven.  This terrified rulers and is one of the reasons Christians are martyred at astonishing rates throughout history.  they cannot be ruled by any earthly leader.

This by the way also announces the end of racism.  When the Kingdom of Heaven grows then racism withers.  Why?  Because who was Jim standing with in Togo – who are those Haitian children?  Our brothers and sisters.

They marry, like everyone else, and they have children, but they do not destroy their offspring.

High regard for marriage and the rights of unborn children.  In much of the world unwanted children were left to die – born and left in a field somewhere to die of exposure.  Followers of Jesus have always cared for those who cannot stand for themselves.

They share a common table, but not a common bed.

They saved sex for marriage – they had a high regard for marriage and viewed sexuality as something that was good – and something that needed to be subjected to God’s will.

But at the same time – anybody was welcome to become part of them –  to eat meals with them.  They shared their food with people in need.  They were conservative in regards to sexuality and marriage and yet liberal in terms of helping people who needed help – regardless of what country they came from.

They are poor, yet make many rich. They lack everything, yet they overflow in everything.

They are dishonored, and yet in their very dishonor they are glorified; they are spoken ill of and yet are justified; they are reviled but bless; they are insulted and repay the insult with honor;

They do good, yet are punished as evildoers; when punished, they rejoice as if raised from the dead. They are assailed by the Jews as barbarians; they are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to give any reason for their hatred.

If the Roman Empire was marked by such decadence – How did Christianity spread like wild-fire in this pagan world?   Because it offered what nothing else could.

It brought respect and dignity to all human beings into a society that had little concern for the poor and the marginalized.   It gave significance to each person.

And people grateful to God for His generosity to them, began to display eye-popping generosity to all people in need.

Here’s another example – this time about 100 years later.  In about 250ad there was throughout the world a terrible plague – called the plague of Cyrian – where reports are that in some cities more than half the population died if disease.

At the same time, however, Christianity is growing like crazy.  Why?

Eusebius gives us an idea…  when he writes this about the Christians living in Alexandria Egypt during this plague – and on top of the plague – a famine.

“The zeal and piety of the Christians were obvious to all the heathen.  In this awful adversity they alone gave practical proof of their sympathy and humanity. 

All day long some of them tended to the dying and to their burial, countless numbers with no one to care for them. 

Others gathered together from all parts of the city a multitude of those withered from the famine and distributed bread to them all, so that their deeds were on everyone’s lips and they glorified the God of the Christians.  Such actions convinced them that the Christians alone were pious and truly reverent to God.”

Christianity has always been marked by selfless sacrificial eye-popping generosity.

Let’s bring this into our century here – allow me to read an opinion article from Nicholas Kristof – who wrote a NY Times editorial in March of 2015…  it’s longer but worth it.

“Today, among urban Americans and Europeans, “evangelical Christian” is sometimes a synonym for “rube.” In liberal circles, evangelicals constitute one of the few groups that it’s safe to mock openly.

“Yet the liberal caricature of evangelicals is incomplete and unfair. I have little in common, politically or theologically, with evangelicals or, while I’m at it, conservative Roman Catholics. But I’ve been truly awed by those I’ve seen in so many remote places, combating illiteracy and warlords, famine and disease, humbly struggling to do the Lord’s work as they see it, and it is offensive to see good people derided.

On a recent trip to Angola, the country with the highest child mortality rate in the world, I came across a rural hospital run by Dr. Stephen Foster, 65, a white-haired missionary surgeon who has lived there for 37 years — much of that in a period when the Angolan regime was Marxist and hostile to Christians.

“We were granted visas,” he said, “by the very people who would tell us publicly, ‘your churches are going to disappear in 20 years,’ but privately, ‘you are the only ones we know willing to serve in the midst of the fire.’ ”

It’s also true that there are plenty of secular doctors doing heroic work for Doctors Without Borders or Partners in Health. But I must say that a disproportionate share of the aid workers I’ve met in the wildest places over the years, long after anyone sensible had evacuated, have been evangelicals, nuns or priests.

Likewise, religious Americans donate more of their incomes to charity, and volunteer more hours, than the nonreligious, according to polls. In the United States and abroad, the safety net of soup kitchens, food pantries and women’s shelters depends heavily on religious donations and volunteers.

Here’s someone who is quite honest- not a follower of Jesus.  And what is he saying?  Every hellhole in the world he’s visited – the Christians are already there caring for the poor and sick.

A distinguishing characteristic of followers of Jesus is their eye-popping generosity and care for people.  And it’s been like that for centuries.  And will be that way for centuries more.

I could bring it even closer to home.  When I stood in Mali Africa next to the only follower of Jesus in Adamabougou.  When he stood up and grabbed the mic and said to the entire village.  I’m the only Christian in this town.  You all have made fun of me for my faith.  Yet I’ve told you time and again that Christ followers are good people.  And now – these Christians have come all the way from America – these Christians don’t even know you and they are building you a hospital.  Because they love you.  I told you that Christians are loving people.  I told you.  And then he dropped the mic and sat down.

And then he said – please come quickly.  I’m so lonely.  I want more Christians in this town.  And now – last I heard there was a church in Adamougou with more than 200 people in it.

Why?  Because for 2,000 years followers of Jesus have displayed eye-popping generosity that causes an unbelieving world to stop and ask – why are these Christians so ridiculously generous and loving?  In this case – Why are these people in Gretna Nebraska building us a medical center?  They do not know us.  Something must have happened in their life to cause them to be such loving and generous people.

Let me go back now – let’s look at the Bible and look at 2Corinthians chapter 9.  2 Corinthians is the second letter that was written to the churches that met in Corinth Greece.

And here’s the situation.  Paul is trying to raise money for famine relief.  There is a famine in Israel and many people are in need.  He is raising money to bring relief to fellow believers in Israel.

And Paul writes…

I really don’t need to write to you about this ministry of giving for the believers in Jerusalem. 2 For I know how eager you are to help, and I have been boasting to the churches in Macedonia that you in Greece were ready to send an offering a year ago. In fact, it was your enthusiasm that stirred up many of the Macedonian believers to begin giving.

Generosity begets generosity.  Who was it who stirred you to become more generous kind of person.  I have three people in my life who taught me the joy of generosity.

I remember the first year at my college my roommate and I both worked at Domino’s Pizza.  And at the end of the night we’d come back and Rob would count out his tips and then he’d put ten percent of whatever he had into a corner of his desk.  What are you doing Rob?  I’m setting ten percent of my money aside to give it away.  “Oh, that’s interesting.  What are you, dumb?  We’re poor college kids.  I just watched you set aside a dollar and 15 cents.

But he was establishing a principle.  He taught me the power of a decision.  He decided – whatever the amount – big or small – that ten percent of his money would go to charity.  He was the first to challenge me to think about how I relate to money as a follower of Jesus.

The second person was Bob Thune. I served with a pastor named Bob Thune who said during a sermon one time, “I am doing you a favor when I tell you to give ten percent of your money away to charity.  You should write me a thank you note.”  And I remember my brain falling out of my head, thinking, the audacity of that statement!  Who is this guy?  Well, he was a guy God used to challenge me again about the spiritual importance of generosity.

Lastly – years later I met Jim Warren – who God used to spur me to rethink about generosity once again.  Jim lives such a generous kind of life.  To live a generous life – not just with my charity toward God but in how I live my life with people.  And I’m thankful for Jim modeling for me what generosity looks like on a day to day basis.

Generosity breads generosity.  Here, the Macedonians were challenged by the generosity of the Greeks – who gave generously in order to bring relief to Jewish brothers two thousand miles away.

Paul goes on to write to the Corinthians…

6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.

Now a quick word – Paul is not saying that the best way to get rich is to give money away.  You plant a seed but you harvest a crop.  And you might give money away and what you reap from that might be that you worry less about money – you see God providing for you.  The crop might be joy from seeing lives changed…

7 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.” 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say,

“They share freely and give generously to the poor.

    Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”

10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.

11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God. 

Let’s stop here and look at these two things that result from radical generosity.

First – needs are met.  Secondly, Glory will be given to God.

Now it’s now secret that we are getting ready to build a church building here at Journey.   We are asking that every church family be part of this adventure.  And we are asking that every church family be as generous as they can be to Journey Church over the next two years in order to build this building.

And two weeks from today we will ask every family to submit a number.  What – if God should allow – can you give to make this project a reality?  Two weeks to let us know.

And what will result?  The same two things.  The needs of people will be met.  How so?  Well, a church facility will bring a permanent home to Journey Church for generations to come.  And we are a church that cares a great deal about meeting needs of people – both locally and around the globe.

We care about people’s physical health.  We started medical centers in Mali and, as Jim mentioned, getting ready to work in Togo – providing health for our physical we bodies.  In Haiti, we feed the children food.  Every day.  Every meal.  50 kids.  Food.  Locally – hundreds of you have served at heartland Hope.  Providing food and help to people in need.  Furthermore, we’ve given thousands of dollars to people who are in need – we’ve paid thousands of dollars in bills and support to people who have let us know of their needs.

A building will ensure that we have a place for this kind of church in this kind of town for generations to come.  Well, why can’t we just stay in the school?  Because the school has told us we cannot stay in the school forever.  Both Dr. Riley and the new school superintendent, Dr. Beran, have said – they love that we’re here.  And they love to see that we’re not planning to stay here forever.

We are going to build a building and within that building will meet a church that cares- not only for physical health, but secondly – for mental health.  And it’s a great honor to partner with wonderful Christian counselors like Cunningham Counselors and Spence Counseling – and Jim tells me one of the buildings they are planning to build in this Togolese Hospital is a building for mental health as well.

Now, of course, the most important aspect of health is spiritual health, right?  And really, the most important thing we are accomplishing is ensuring that there will be a place in Gretna where the good news of Jesus is being taught and preached and lived out.  Where people who are ready to take a step toward God will discover Journey.  And through Journey will discover the real Jesus.  And when people discover the real Jesus they cannot help but fall for him.

We have a lot of thoughts about building a facility that blesses the town.  And we do want that.  We want it highly used and to bless our community.  But more than anything else, we want people to hear the good news.

Jesus loves us more than we ever imagined. We can surrender our kingdom and enter a kingdom where God promises to tend to our every need.

There are people right now as I speak who have no idea that shortly, God will stir something in their heart – maybe through you – to reconsider whether or not there is a God.  And if there is a God, what kind of God he might be.

And here’s the deal.  Ultimately – what kind of God is he?  He is a generous God.  He freely gave up all things in order to be able to give us all things.

So here’s the deal – there are some of you who have never been challenged to imagine you can be the kind of person who gives a significant portion of what you earn away to charity.  And you are mulling it over right now.  Maybe your budget is tight – so tight you don’t think you could possibly regularly give money away.

Perhaps the goal is to simply start.  Somewhere.  Regularly giving your money away to a charity you think is worthy.  If it’s not Journey, fine.  Go with people you trust.  But ultimately, Jody and I personally found out that Bob was right.  He was doing us a favor by telling us to give a portion of our income away.  We have found God to be faithful in providing what we need.

Romans 8:31

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 

On April 7th -two weeks from today – we’d like you to be prepared to come to church with a number that you will write down – what you are trusting God to provide to be given away over the next two years.

Jody and I are writing the biggest number we’ve ever written on such a pledge.  But only because that’s what it will take to get this building out of the dirt and into the community.  Will you do that same?  I’m only asking because that’s what it will take.

This is a defining moment for Journey Church.  An exciting time that will require a lot of prayer.  And, frankly, it will take eye-popping generosity – a wave of modest, sacrificial giving for two years –  Trusting that God will use our gifts to create a place where the physical, mental, spiritual needs of people will be met.

Where people will be treated respectfully and with dignity – and where Jesus will be glorified and worshipped for generations to come.  Now is the time to make this happen.  If it takes two years to raise the money, and a year to build it, we will have been in the school for 13 years.  Praise God for providing it.  But that’s long enough.  And now is the time for change.