DECLARATIONS OF THE HEART
by Pastor Martha-Jean Fitch
May 19, 2019
TEXT: John 3:16-17, II Cor. 8:4TEXT: John 3:16-17, II Cor. 8:4TEXT: John 3:16-17, II Cor. 8:4
Years ago, a famous golfer was invited by the king of Saudi Arabia to play in a golf tournament. He accepted the invitation, and the king flew his private jet over to the United States to pick up the pro. They played golf for several days and enjoyed a good time. As the golfer was getting on the plane to return to the United States, the king stopped him and said, “I want to give you a gift for coming all this way and making this time so special. Anything you want. What could I give you?”
Ever the gentleman, the golfer replied, “Oh, please; don’t get me anything. You’ve been a gracious host. I’ve had a wonderful time. I couldn’t ask for anything more.”
The king was adamant. He said, “No, I insist on giving you something so you will always remember your journey to our country.”
When the golfer realized that the king was determined, he said, “Okay, fine. I collect golf clubs. Why don’t you give me a golf club?”
He boarded the plane, and on his flight back home, he couldn’t help wondering what kind of golf club the king might give him. He imagined that it might be a solid gold putter with his name engraved on it. Or maybe it would be a sand wedge studded with diamonds and jewels. After all, this would be a gift from the oil-rich king of Saudi Arabia.
When the golfer got home, he watched the mail and the delivery services every day, to see if his golf club had come yet. Finally, several weeks later, he received a certified letter from the king of Saudi Arabia. “Well, that’s strange. Where’s my golf club?”, he wondered. He opened the envelope, and to his surprise, inside he discovered a deed to a five-hundred-acre golf club in America, complete with a pool and a clubhouse and several 18-hole golf courses.1
Now that is what I would call extravagant generosity!
But the most extravagant gift that was ever given was a gift from a King that declared great love for each and every one of us: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son – that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16)
Two words that describe God truly are Loving and Giving. God loves each and everyone of us so dearly and has given us so many blessings. Because God loves, God gives. That’s His nature -His character. He is the giver of all good gifts. And the greatest of all gifts is His one and only Son, Jesus Christ. He is the declaration of God’s heart – His message to a hurting and dying world: “I have loved you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3) and “I am sending my only Son to you, so that you can live! For that is what love is: God giving His Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven.” (I John 4:10) The way God shows love to the world – through giving.
And we give out of our response to what God has done for us. In fact, we give because of how God created us to be. Bishop Robert Schnase, the author of our Stewardship Devotional has said:
“Giving reflects the nature of God. We give because we are made in the image of God, whose essential nature is giving. We are created with God’s nature imprinted on our souls; we are hardwired to be social, compassionate, connected, loving and generous. God’s extravagant generosity is part of our essential nature as well. But we are anxious and fearful, influenced by a culture that makes us believe we never have enough. God sent Jesus Christ to bring us back to ourselves and back to God. As we “have in us the mind of Christ Jesus” we become free. Growing in the grace of giving is part of the Christian journey of faith, a response Christian disciples offer, to God’s call to make a difference in the world.”2
God created us to be loving and giving – just as He is. But sin has come into our lives and we are so tempted to be self-centered and selfish. We get stressed about having “enough” – enough time, enough money. And we are tempted to believe that we can only give after we have accumulated enough for ourselves. We tend to say, “I will seek my needs first – rather than putting God’s needs first”. We end up giving our leftovers to God rather than giving to Him first.
But we are to be God-centered, not self-centered. He created us to share our lives with others – and to realize that we already have more than enough. We are created to live a life of contentment and joy – and to offer ourselves to be a blessing to others. It is through our giving we are most like God – and we become who God created us to be. It is in our giving that we declare our love for God – and that He has first place in our hearts.
And so, a question comes to us: “Is it possible to love God without giving?” I really don’t think so. I think if we are truly loving God with all our heart and soul and mind and strength – we must be giving. In order to love, we must give something away. Our giving is proof or evidence of our love for God – an outward sign of what is happening in our hearts!
Our Scripture today, found in II Corinthians 8, is all about giving.
The Apostle Paul had been chosen to go around to all the churches and ask them to contribute some money for the relief of the saints in Jerusalem. The Christians who lived in Jerusalem were very hungry and there wasn’t enough food to go around. They were experiencing the toughest persecution for their beliefs of any Christian in the Roman world. They needed help from the Christians who lived in other towns.
The Corinthians had agreed to give – BUT they had yet to follow-through. So, Paul was sending Titus, as you see in verse 6, to encourage the Corinthians to finish what they promised – and to excel in their giving.
Paul wanted the Corinthians to follow the example of their brothers and sisters in Macedonia who were very rich in generosity. Macedonia was a very poor area and they were suffering persecution. The Apostle Paul didn’t initially ask the Macedonians to give an offering because of the trouble and suffering they were going through. BUT when the Macedonians heard of the collection, they begged Paul again and again for the “privilege” of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem.
Let’s look at how they gave. Beginning at verse 2 we see that they gave with joy in their hearts. Yes, they were poor – and had many troubles, but because of their great love for God, they gave with a cheerful heart – and that overflowed in rich generosity. They didn’t give grudgingly. And they didn’t hold back, worried that there wouldn’t be enough for themselves. No, they gave out of dedication to Christ, out of love for fellow believers and the joy of helping those in need.
Next, in verse 3, we see that their giving was spontaneous and on their own. They did not give because they were being pressured – or give just out of duty. No – they gave in their own free will as much as they were able – and even beyond their ability. It was motivated by the love for God within them.
In verse 4 we see that the Macedonians gave earnestly. They begged for the opportunity to give. And they didn’t make excuses. They could have said, “I don’t know those people over there in Jerusalem. Why should I give to them?” Or they might have said, “I’m too poor – if I give, I won’t have enough for myself”. They didn’t make any excuse - rather they saw giving as a “privilege” and urgently pleaded to be able to give. You know, it is easy for us to make those excuses. Frequently, when it comes to giving, we say we will give “what we can afford”. That often means we donate whatever we can spare without cramping our lifestyle. We fit God into the budget after much of the other stuff is afforded. But these Christians saw things differently; they gave more than they were obligated to give. Verse 4 implies they not only “gave beyond their ability” but also delighted in the opportunity to give to the saints.
And then in verse 5, notice that their giving was a declaration of their commitment to God. “They first gave themselves to the Lord and to us…just as God wanted them to do.” They put God first in the way they gave of their money and their time and their energy. They did this in response to the great love that God had shown them. As it says in verse 9: “You know the generous grace of our lord Jesus Christ. Though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that by His poverty He could make your rich.” I think that the Macedonians were so grateful for the extravagant gift of God’s grace – that they gave extravagantly! Their giving showed their love and devotion to Christ.
And Paul wants the Christians in Corinth – and all of us – to follow the example of the Macedonians. To excel in giving. And to show the proof of our love for God through our giving. Paul tells the Corinthians in verse 24: “So show them the proof of your love and the reason we are so proud of you, in such a way that the churches can see it.” The way we live and give of our time and talents and treasures gives evidence of who is the Lord of our lives. If we declare Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then the way we handle our money and our possessions, will reflect Christ and His Lordship over our lives.
As we contemplate our pledge card, our declaration from our hearts of how we will give…we also consider the dreams and goals for ministry our church has for the coming year. We as a congregation have a mission to grow Spirit-filled and committed disciples of Christ. Last week you were asked to share what some of your visions and hopes were for our church family for the coming year. And I compiled a list together of some of the most common words that were used throughout the cards. And you can see there are lots of words, a lot of them having to do with youth and with growing God’s church – and doing “more” to grow in faith and in number and in ministry. Today at our celebration dinner right after our worship service, those cards will be scattered on the various tables so that you can read them. And there will also be some blank ones, so that you can add more dreams and hopes that you have for our church.
Our visions and hopes are inspirations of the heart … our innermost dreams for doing the will of God and joining God in His kingdom work. These dreams will only become a reality if everyone in the church works together to make it possible. We need each and everyone’s gift of time and talent and money to make our church grow and fulfill our mission to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
This week, most of you received an estimate of giving card, either in worship last week or in the mail. I hope that you have brought those with you this morning and have had a chance to pray about what God is calling you to do next year with your giving. Truly it is the annual commitment you make to God for your giving to the church that will make our visions and hopes possible.
Today, during our time of offering, you are invited to place your commitment card in the offering plate as it is passed. If you forgot to bring your card – there are blank ones here on the table at the front of the church. You can certainly pick one up after church and fill it out.
You know I like to think of our commitment card as giving a love note to God. We come thanking God for the wonderful gifts He has given us – especially in giving us the gift of Jesus. We express our intent to put God first in our lives and honor Him with our wealth. (Proverbs 3:9) You know, every time you make a pledge to God through the church and every time you put your tithe in the offering plate, you are reconfirming your confession of faith. Every Sunday, as you drop your offering in the offering plate, you are renewing the commitment you once made to God – and offering evidence that you trust God for the future and want to be faithful in giving so others can experience God’s love through the ministries of our church.
May all our giving be a declaration of our hearts.
God, we love you so much and want to give You our hearts and our commitment to live for You. We thank you for Your amazing work through First Christian Church for over more than 147 years! Bless us again, Lord, with generosity and commitment as, trusting in you, we give our pledges for the coming year. Continue to walk with us, grant us great vision and help each of us to do our part to make today’s dreams become tomorrow’s reality.
1Story of the golfer was first heard on a sermon on YouTube: “Declarations of the Your Heart: Extravagant Generosity is an Expression of Your Heart” from Norwalk First United Methodist Church. https: youtu.be/i5m6HHwlnxw. I looked at Snopes and discovered it is a story by Joel Osteen – and is a legend. “Golf Club Gift”, by David Mikkelson – www.snopes.com/fact-check/exclusive-club/
2Robert Schnase, Practicing Extravagant Generosity, Abingdon Press, 2011, page 56.