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Extravagant Generosity

Extravagant Generosity – Heart Giving

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What is it that gives wealth purpose? Could it be recognizing where it could do the most good?

It is suggested that God gives us seeds from which to develop the wealth of our talents and special gifts. Are we using our gifts and talents to do the most good? Immigrants have been in the news for many years, recently from politicians referring to them as though they are human weeds to be removed from the garden we know as the United States. These are people to whom God has also given beautiful seeds. How is it that we can even think that God gave all the good seeds to people who were born to parents of US citizenship? While in Philadelphia this weekend, the Pope encouraged recent immigrants to the U.S. to not be discouraged by the challenges they face. “I ask you not to forget that like those who came before you, you bring many gifts to this great nation.”

Janet and I had the privilege of the visiting the Tenement Museum in New York on Saturday. There were some great stories about immigrants that had every right to be discouraged by their treatment, yet lived through it to become US citizens who really appreciated their citizenship. (Please consider adding this to your “to-do list” when you get a chance to visit NYC.) Whether immigrants or not, there are so many people here in Columbus that have no one to remind them that God gave them beautiful seeds too. If we only see weeds we may miss an opportunity to help someone find their own wealth. Mike Slaughter encourages us to remember that God releases “heaven’s resources” through us. Said another way, he is encouraging us not to go to church but to be the church.

– Roger Blocher

Extravagant Generosity – Be Faithful, Save, and Give

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“Gain all you can, save all you can, and give all you can.”
(John Wesley, The Use of Money, 1744)

This John Wesley quote seems to be the basis on which this next chapter of Shiny Gods was built. (Note – John Wesley qualifies his statement by excluding earnings that come at the expense of our health, either spiritual or physical.) Wesley makes the point that any business that we might conduct should be consistent with a life dedicated to God. This also picks up on the comment in the prior chapter that we should look at our jobs as gifts from God. In this chapter it is suggested that the gift of a job is really the gift of a “seed”.

These seeds are counting on being watered by our talents and fed by our efforts before they will pay us back. The context of this Wesley quote and the focus of earning or gaining from work, as described by Mike Slaughter, does point to money. Money is usually one of the first things to be mentioned in a conversation about “making a living”. But, if we want our life’s work to honor God, shouldn’t it involve much more than money? If we extend the analogy of the seed to describe what God gives us to build a life around, then what would constitute a good harvest and good crops? Might the harvest include helping the people we work with, while helping the organizations we work for?

The second part of the Wesley quote encourages saving for the needs of our future. It is interesting to think about this, at the same time that the Pope is making his first visit to the United States. I expect the Pope to encourage us to think about the needs of the poor both now and into our future. (I confess, I am more interested in the Pope’s speech to the congress than the debates of the current presidential candidates.) At the same time, I can also confess that I have never really thought about saving for the poor. Saving has been something to do to avoid becoming poor myself, or to avoid becoming someone else’s burden. Maybe I have kept saving and giving farther apart than they should be.

The 3rd and final part of this quote is to “give all you can”. I think this is potentially a very challenging standard. It has been my experience that giving ‘all that I can’ is great fun … when I am buying gifts for my wife and family. (It is a lot harder to pause and look for Jesus in the face of the poor people around us, let alone the poor on the other side of the world, when weighing our options.) I expect I will still continue practicing the act of giving on my family. I do expect they will help me see that I have many more sisters and brothers than I may have recognized and that I am part of a much bigger family. It is exciting to imagine the many more ways there are to experience the joy of giving.

– Roger Blocher

Extravagant Generosity – Money, Work, and Debt

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Money, work and debt are three topics that can frequently be found together in a single discussion.

Ideally, for a happy discussion money is sufficient, work is good, and debt is just a part of our history. When any or all of these elements are at odds with our dreams or control our dreams, they can stand between us and God.

Lying close behind our personal idols can be the “burdens of financial worry.”   Mike Slaughter is focusing on ‘controllable’ debt (as opposed to debt resulting from tragedy or misfortune). We have a choice as far as how we react to these worries. These worries can rise up and consume us or they can help direct us toward a stronger relationship with God. Debt can be the result of living beyond our means. It can be real or imagined. ‘Real debt’ can come from bigger TVs, bigger houses and nicer cars and ‘imagined’ debt can be the result of a personal commitment to a bigger lifestyle. As debt grows beyond our means we are giving control to other people and other things and missing a chance to give control back to God.

It is suggested by the author that our culture seems to have some strange associations with WORK.

There are so many people in the United States that desperately want a job, while there are many of us with jobs, that seem focused on getting past Wednesdays and on to Fridays as quickly as we can. In this next lesson it is proposed that from God’s perspective, “work is a gift”. What we should be directing our efforts toward is not ‘income’, but ‘outcome’. On the way to our jobs we might want to think about realizing the potential that God created in each of us. On the way home we could consider that God sees us as empowered to be part of God’s plan, benefitting us through feelings of fulfillment and benefitting others from the services we all provide during a work day and the way we provide them.

– Roger Blocher

Extravagant Generosity – Love the poor and serve the needy

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Beyond the thoughts that Mike Slaughter is offering us in his daily devotional and the study notes we will soon be discussing in small groups we are challenged by the ideas that Pastors Curnell, Gene and Matt offer to us in their sermons. I was also challenged this week by a quote I saw posted on Facebook. Facebook is not the first place I think of to look for challenges to my spiritual growth, and Stephen Colbert is not the first person I would think to discuss Christianity with, but a quote of his caught my eye. Here is the quote attributed to Mr. Colbert:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

I have since read more about Mr. Colbert and have found a new and inspiring faith-based dimension that I had not picked up from my limited observations of him on TV.

In the introduction to the daily devotional we are promoting as part of our church-wide study, it is stated that the goal of this study is “for all of us to ask hard questions of ourselves and be open to the possibility that God will lead us in new directions in our lives.”

In Mr. Colbert’s quote he has beaten me to the punch. In this quote there is a challenge to my personal beliefs (and actions), an implied challenge to our Christian churches and an expanded challenge to our country. We have the poor and needy, if not in Worthington and Dublin, then certainly in the Hilltop and elsewhere in our city. We read about the poor and needy in countries to the south of us wanting to work, if not live, in the United States. The news is full of stories about refugees fleeing to Europe (and dying in the process).

Where do the poor fit into the list of things we seem to value most, day to day? What does God expect of us? What do we expect of ourselves.

– Roger Blocher

Extravagant Generosity – A Journey of Hope

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Rev. Mike Slaughter, author of our Extravagant Generosity study materials, proposes that we can have a single spiritual birth, followed by “multiple conversions.” Pastor Matt, during a recent sermon, talked about God’s love for us. This is a love that existed from the very instant our life started within our mother’s womb. God continually tries to show us this love, sometimes we are paying attention and other times we aren’t. Either way, we always have the ultimate gift to reflect on as proof of God’s love, the gift of his only son, Jesus.

As we prepare to start our new study, we need to consider how we define and demonstrate our love for God. Mike Slaughter suggests we can show it with an “intentional commitment to self-sacrifice for the well-being of others.” A conversion can occur when we begin to see ourselves as producers of God’s blessings in the lives of others, as opposed to being just beneficiaries of the blessings we continue to receive from God. Might there be another conversion when we no longer see ourselves as sacrificing, but rather giving back to God out of pure love and with pure joy?

Have you known a love, possibly for a spouse, child, or friend that has you freely offering your time, talents and financial gifts without hesitation, without regret, and without a sense of sacrifice? Might these acts have occurred even without any real decision at all, because it came so naturally to you… you just wanted to help and keep helping. Hopefully this time of church-wide study can offer us new ways to consider the great potential of our love for others and for our church.

– Roger Blocher