Pastor Fern spoke to us at our Sunday Gathering on Sunday 19th November.  He continued our series on What Makes a Successful Church? Here are his notes. If you have any questions or comments then please email him at pastor@encounterchurch.org.uk

We have looked at the need for:

  1. Enabling people to encounter Jesus
  2. Teaching and supporting people to commit fully to Jesus
  3. Serving each other and our community
  4. Dealing with Intimidation

Today’s talk could also be called “Extravagant Generosity”. Let’s look at what this means…..

  • A successful Church will also be a generous Church – not just generous but generous to a fault
  • What does that mean?
  • Oxord English Dictionary says “The person who is generous to a fault is one who carries generosity so far that it almost amounts to a flaw or weakness”
  • You won’t find that definition in the Bible
  • What you find in the Bible is that out of a total of 1189 chapters 125 (10%) of them are given over to the condemnation of those who see suffering and injustice and do nothing – in other words apathy or disinterest in the suffering of others
  • 5000 (of 31173 – 16%) verses in the Bible concern the need for us to take care of those who are poor, oppressed, or vulnerable – more than on any other topic – poverty alone has almost 400 verses devoted to it
  • Deuteronomy 15 tells us that poverty is not necessary – God has given us enough for everyone – poverty arises when there is injustice or when those who have do not share
  • It seems to me that if God says something once we need to listen, if he says it twice we should really take notice, but if he says it 5000 times it must be central to his heart for us and we ignore it at our peril
  • Reminder of our foundation passage – Isaiah 58: 1-12 – the basis on which Encounter was established
    “Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed?
    We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’ “I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? “No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. “Then your salvation will come like the dawn, and your wounds will quickly heal. Your godliness will lead you forward, and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
    Then when you call, the Lord will answer. ‘Yes, I am here,’ he will quickly reply. “Remove the heavy yoke of oppression. Stop pointing your finger and spreading vicious rumours! Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon. The Lord will guide you continually, giving you water when you are dry and restoring your strength.
    You will be like a well-watered garden, like an ever-flowing spring. Some of you will rebuild the deserted ruins of your cities. Then you will be known as a rebuilder of walls and a restorer of homes”.
  • This is a warning passage – a reminder from God that it easy to go through the motions – be religious – even spiritual – but miss the point
  • What is the point? We have a responsibility to those who are in need, vulnerable and oppressed
  • What is that responsibility – two elements
    • Social – Fight for Justice, Feed the Hungry, Lighten Burdens, Shelter the Homeless, Take care of Personal Needs (Clothing etc.)
    • Spiritual – some of you – will rebuild from the deserted ruins of your cities
  • Implication is that here we are transforming the circumstances that people live in – their relationships, attitudes, social structures, from the ruins of their lives – by the way we live
  • Vs 2 especially spoke to me: “They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn all about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God”
  • I have heard Christians over the years justify leaving a Church because they are not “getting fed”, others will often criticise the “lack of good Bible teaching” in their Church
  • Whenever I hear that now my response is that I fully support good Bible teaching and it is good that you want more – but tell me what do you plan to do with what you learn?
  • Our Churches are stuffed full of people who sit under some great Bible teaching week after week but whose lives are untouched by it from Monday to Saturday
  • Also note: Nothing here about judging or preaching at them, nothing about whether we think they deserve help or not, nothing about whether their situation was self-inflicted
  • Just a compassionate response to the needs that are in front of us
  • William Booth had a great saying – don’t preach to a hungry man – first you must give him a meal
  • So that is where Encounter started out – with a desire to rebuild the ruins of our city by demonstrating the love of God in practical ways – by living out of a generous spirit
  • Vs 11: By becoming a generous Church we see the favour of God on us and on what we do for our community – we will be blessed to be a blessing
  • A successful Church is a generous Church – generous to a fault – ridiculously generous, extravagantly generous
  • But I want to unpick this generosity a bit more and try to understand how Jesus would have applied this to our situation
  • Firstly, for me there is a strong link between generosity, forgiveness and compassion
  • Read Matthew 18:21-35 – the story of the unforgiving servant – interesting that Jesus uses money to tell this story
  • We read that the Master was filled with compassion for him, wrote off the debt
  • The servant showed no compassion with his debtors, failed to forgive and demanded the law take its course
  • The link Jesus makes is his enormous debt was paid off and should have made him compassionate and forgiving to others
  • When we really appreciate how much we have been forgiven by God it should draw out of us a depth of compassion for others that comes straight from the heart of the Father
  • I call this a generous spirit – because it becomes part of who we are – how we function – it is our instinct – implanted by the Holy Spirit – our lifestyle, attitudes and actions are all rooted in generosity
  • We are generous – to a fault – because we realise how generous God is with us
  • How does this generosity play out in everyday life?

 

1. We need a right attitude to money and possessions

  • Matthew 19:16-23 –
    Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” “Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” the man asked. And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. Honour your father and mother. Love your neighbour as yourself.” “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?” Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. I’ll say it again—it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!”
  • We should be worried by these words – by the standards of the world economy the UK is the top 5% of wealthiest countries in the world
  • If you have an annual income of £10,000 you are among the richest 12.5% globally – your income is 9 times the global average
  • If you gave away 10% you would still be in the top 13.8 % and have income of 8 times the global average
  • If your income is closer to the UK average of around £30,000 you are in richest 2% and your income is 29 times the average
  • If you gave away 10% you would still be in the top 2.6 % and have income of 26 times the global average
  • Of course there is a context but here are some UK figures
  • If you have savings of more than £100 you are better off than 25% of UK households
  • If you have savings of more than £50,000 you are in the top 25% in the UK
  • If you have more than £3500 in accessible savings, you have more than the average for the UK (£3134)
  • Jesus warning should be ringing in our ears
  • It doesn’t matter whether Jesus wanted him to give away his money or not – the key was whether he was willing
  • Would he do it if God asked him to – and in the story he can’t
  • At the root of this is also faith – in the ability of God to do what he says in the Bible – provide for our daily needs
  • Do we believe it or not?
  • A recent survey found that people find it hard to be generous out of fear – fear of the future and whether they will have enough left to live on
  • This is a clear issue of trust in God and his promises – either we trust him or we don’t – simple – or not!
  • We live in a country where 25% of households have no buffer and the average safety margin is around 3 months living costs
  • Why do we think we need so much more than those living around us?
  • Especially when we have a God who has promised to take care of all our needs
  • As Jesus says in this story the more we have the harder it seems to be able to give it away
  • We rely on our savings to see us through retirement – we fear giving away too much cash in case we need it in future
  • But in my experience the harder we try to do this for ourselves the more difficult it seems to become and we can quickly become obsessed by how much we have

 

2. We need to anchor our lives and our future on God’s promises

  • Luke 21:1-4
    “While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
  • We can try to argue and debate our way out of this one but it is so clear – God expects us to take him at his word and give generously – it is not the amount we give that matters but how much we have withheld and why we are holding on to it
  • God will not call all of us to empty our bank accounts or our pension funds but he will require us to be willing to do that if he asks – sooner or later he will challenge you about whether your faith is in your own ability to provide or in his
  • When we talk about whole life worship it means laying everything on the altar for his use – much of it he gives straight back for us to steward on his behalf – but he can’t do that if it is not placed there with everything else in the first place
  • But this is not just about money – it is about all we have and are

 

3. We need to give up ownership of all our stuff – personally and as a Church

  • Acts 2 shows us three things the Church did:
    • The shared everything they had
    • The sold possessions and gave the money to those in need
    • They worshipped together
    • They praised God
    • They shared their meals with great joy and generosity
  • It was a community founded on generosity – sharing, giving
  • We have an insular culture in the UK – we live in nuclear family units
  • Many other countries have a more communal approach to living and we find this example from Acts difficult if we are honest
  • We like our own space – we don’t want to share it – or at least we need to control how we share it
  • But God says – what you have, I have given you – not just for you but for the benefit of others – remember Isaiah 58 – you will be like a well-watered garden
  • We are meant to be sharing it – all of it with those God brings into our world
  • What we see in Acts is that when they started to live in this way the enjoyed the goodwill (or respect) of the people and – God added daily to their number
  • A major contributor to the growth of the Church across the world was their generosity – not their good preaching, not their Bible knowledge or even evangelistic crusades – but their generous spirit
  • Now I know we live in different times and not everyone in the NT Church lived in that way but when we start to look for ways of avoiding what God might be saying to us we take ourselves back to Isaiah 58
  • We become those who profess faith in God – but make sure we have our own backup plan just in case – remember no-one can serve two masters!
  • Similar arguments abound about tithing – is it Old Testament or still required? Once we get into arguing that we are really saying we are looking for a way out
  • Listen if you want my view then it is this – if 10% was required under the OT law the question is how much more should we be giving not less?

 

 4. I want to finish by giving you something practical that contextualises this for us

  • God will not call all of us to empty the bank or to go and live in community or to sell our houses and possessions and give the money away – but he needs to know that if he did we would be willing
  • Anything else is unbelief
  • But he does require all of us to regard what we have as his and not ours and therefore available for him to use – even if we have worked hard to get it
  • Something we all have in exactly the same measure is time – it is God’s – he gives it to us
  • We all have unique gifts and abilities – they are God’s – he gave them to us
  • We all have possessions – stuff – clothes – they are God’s – he has created the circumstances that enable us to prosper
  • If you are allowing things to become more important than people you are very close to idolatry
  • Whatever you have, house, money, car, possessions – they need to be on the altar – given over to God
  • But most of all – we need to be on that altar as well – given over to lives of generous service – our time committed to Him
  • He will not ask the same of all of us – but I believe he does ask something from all of usI believe that as a Church, God has a special call on us to restore our community – to rebuild families and community as we read in Isaiah 58
  • Isaiah 58 says that some of us will have a special calling in that area to be the ones who rebuild from the ruins – but it also says that all of us are to feed the hungry, free the oppressed, house the homeless and look after the vulnerable
  • I believe that here in Winchcombe, WAM Youth (wamyouth.org.uk) may well be those with the special calling to be rebuilders – but the Church needs to be part of this – restoring, supporting, sharing – with joy and generosity
  • (At this point Fern shared some statisitics and WAM information)
  • A BBC article says that vulnerable children have to reach crisis to get help. You can read this article here http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-41988239
  • Families in this area desperately need support, we can give it – it may mean giving up some of our space here or changing how we do things
  • It may be noisy and chaotic compared to what we are used to
  • We may be those called to be grandparents to parents struggling with no family around them – to support and encourage
  • We may be called to give sacrificially to fund a residential project for vulnerable young people
  • We may need to be there for those who have no family – to be their family
  • You may not have a front facing role – yours may be the most important of all – you are the prayer support
  • Whatever it is, there will be a contribution for us all to make
  • There are individuals and families in this town as we sit here now going through their own private hell
  • There are children who have seen and experienced things at home that no-one should have to see
  • Their home is not the safe, encouraging place it should be
  • An extravagantly generous Church will not be put off by the cost but will ask what have we got (personally and as a Church) that we can give to make this happen
  • We have a great set of buildings and facilities here and it is easy to fall into the trap of protecting them at the cost of showing love and generosity to people
  • We need to remember that we have those buildings because of the extravagant generosity of one woman 150 years ago
  • God knew then exactly what he wanted to do with these facilities and I believe his call to us now is to see them used to fulfil his calling on us t be an Isaiah 58 community that blesses the community through extravagant acts of generosity and sharing
  • In Matthew 25:35 we have the story of Final Judgement. Jesus spells out clearly in this passage what he will look for. His concern will be how we have treated the poor, vulnerable, oppressed people in our community –
    “I was hungry and you gave me no meal. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was homeless and you gave me no bed. I was shivering and you gave me no clothes. Sick and in prison, and you never visited. I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me”.
  • I do not believe that our concern should be primarily about how nice the Church looks, but how many hungry people have been fed here, how many vulnerable young people looked after and nurtured, how many families put back together
  • God is looking for his people in this place to become extravagantly generous in this community, sharing what we have with joy, blessing the community with what God has given us, including our buildings and facilities
  • The perhaps not only will we be that well-watered garden from Isaiah 58, but also we may start to see others added to our number daily

Fernley Hext

Lead Pastor, Encounter Church Winchcombe