Glen Rose 5-P:
The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations #4
What comes to mind when I say the word “Extravagant?”
Is it a Rolls Royce, Bugati or Bentley?
Maybe it’s gold, diamonds and emeralds.
Maybe it’s caviar and fine food and wine.
What about a Yacht and your own private island.
All of those are pretty extravagant? Right?
Now what do you think of when you hear the word “Generosity?”
Someone offering us a gift or going the second mile or reaching out and making a difference in someone else’s life. All of those are examples of Generosity.
Today we’re going to explore the 4th of 5 Practices of Fruitful Congregations which is Extravagant Generosity. And while Generosity deals somewhat with money, I think it’s more about the state of our heart and soul and our relationship with God. It extends our faith from our Head to our Hearts and into our Hands. Like Passionate Worship it begins in the Heart but is expressed in the work of our Hands.
The passage I’ve chosen for today, speaks about the Generous Heart. 2 Corinthians 9:6-11 (NRSV)
 The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
 Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.
 And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.
 As it is written, “He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”
 He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness.
 You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us;”
A. “It has been my experience that verse 11 is true. You WILL be enriched in every way for your generosity and that generosity will produce thanksgiving.” God blesses those who bless others. God our honors our obedience. And God blesses us for our obedience.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not talking about a prosperity theology. You know the kind that incorrectly interprets this passage to mean the more money you give, the money you will get, “Send me your $10 and God will bless you with $100.” That’s a bunch of baloney. That’s giving to God to get more. That’s not prosperity theology, that’s greed. That’s using God like some kind of spiritual ATM.
That’s the mistake a lot of people make. But God isn’t some heavenly loan officer or credit manager. God offers forgiveness and reconciliation not low or no interest loans based on how good we’ve been or how much we give to the church. God offers a life changing relationship in which our Hearts are set free to rejoice in God’s work of blessing others in ways we’ve never expected.
The Grace of God liberates our Hearts to enable us to live on less so we can bless others more.
B. The movie The Blind Side is a perfect example. The remarkable true story of Michael Oher, a homeless African-American youngster from a broken home, taken in by the Touhys, a well-to-do white family who help him fulfill his potential. At the same time, Michael Oher’s presence in the Touhys’ lives leads them to some insightful self-discoveries of their own. And one of the things they discover is just how much they are blessed by Michael for having been a blessing to him.
Leigh Anne shows Michael around his new room in the family mansion…
Leigh Anne: “So over here you have a desk, chest of drawers, you have a nightstand, a light, an alarm. Oh, and Sean says all pro athletes use futons if they can’t find a bed big enough, so I got you one of those. Of course the frame was heinous. I was not about to let that in my house, but I got you something nicer.”
Michael: “It’s mine?”
Leigh Anne: “Yes, sir. What?”
Michael: “Never had one before.”
Leigh Anne: “What, a room to yourself?”
Michael: “A bed,” as he smiles appreciatively at her.
Leigh Anne (quietly, trying to hide her emotions): “Well, you have one now,” and quickly exits and enters another room down the hall to be by herself. Michael follows and listens at the door for a moment.
I love that movie. And it always makes me wonder who was blessed more, Michael or the Touhys?” Their generosity toward was truly extravagant. There aren’t many people who would take in someone like Michael for a night, let alone make him part of their family. Yet they opened their hearts and their home to Michael and it blessed them all. Their wasn’t just Generosity, theirs was truly an act of Extravagant Generosity.
II. EXTRAVAGANT GENEROSITY:
A. Sometimes it’s easier for me to think in stories and examples to illustrate what I’m talking about that it is to describe what I’m talking about.
I know a church who went through a huge building campaign. They had voted to relocate a number of years before but when they saw the estimates of the cost of the building, it staggered them and they decided they couldn’t do it. By the time that the idea of relocation came up again, the original property just wasn’t suitable. They sold the old property and bought a new piece of property right on the main drag. They brought in an architect, drew plans and began a campaign. There was a lot of fear and apprehension about how much or how little they thought they could raise.
Their goal was to raise $350,000. They raised $460,000 instead. Dedication and commitment Sunday was exciting. People were absolutely ecstatic over their efforts and how everyone jumped in and did their part; how the whole church sacrificed to make the dream happen so they could build phase one.
The very next Sunday, the preacher stood up in the pulpit and challenged them to build a second church. They all looked at him like he had two heads. And not just a second church but a parsonage, too. Actually the challenge was to build a church, a parsonage, a pond, provide garden tools, a Bible and a bicycle for a pastor and his family in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The price $2,200. The pastor put in the first $100.
By the end of the first service he had $750. By the end of the second service he had $1,875. By Tuesday morning they had $2,450. By the end of the week they had over $3,000.
They heard the challenge to think about the needs of other Christian communities while building their own Christian community. That’s Extravagant Generosity which enabled another community of faith, in another country to be a blessing for the people around them.
B. Then there is this church which responded to the dreamss of a sister church here in Texas and the needs of a start up Church in Nigeria. We asked for $1,500 and received over $2,200. That’s Extravagant Generosity.
All the money has been sent but getting it there, sometimes, is a long process. We’re waiting to hear how the well is progressing.
C. Why do we react like that? I think it’s because instinctively we know that we have been blessed to be a blessing. And it feels good to be able to bless others in the same way that we have been blessed..
Bishop Schnase says: “The practice of generosity describes the Christian’s un-selfish willingness to give in order to make a positive difference for the purposes of Christ and the work of the Church.
Extravagant Generosity describes practices of sharing and giving that exceed all expectations and extend to unexpected measures. It describes lavish sharing, sacrifice, and giving in service to God and our neighbor.
Vibrant, fruitful, growing congregations thrive because of the extraordinary sharing, willing sacrifice, and joyous giving of their members out of love for God and neighbor. Such churches teach and practice giving that focuses on the abundance of God’s grace and that emphasizes the Christians need to give rather than on the church’s need for money.
In the spirit and manner of Christ, congregations that practice Extravagant Generosity explicitly talk about the place of money, in the Christian’s walk of faith. They view giving as a gift from God and are driven to be generous by a high sense of mission and a keen desire to please God by making a positive difference in the world.”
I think the Bishop was looking over our shoulders or peeking into our stewardship work because that’s what I have experienced here. That’s what I’ve experienced in most congregations. Or maybe that’s just my expectation and that’s what I see. You know all of life is interpreted through what YOU see. It’s kind of like the old story about a barber in the community.
One day a man walked in to get a haircut and began asking about the people in the community.
The barber asked the man, “Well, what kind of people were in the last community you lived in?” This guy went into a little rant about how the community he left was filled with all kinds of gossips, liars and hypocrites who were judgmental and cliquish. People were only looking out for themselves and only interested in what they could get not what they could contribute.
The barber said, “Well, that’s how you’ll find people here, too.”
About twenty minutes later another newcomer came in for a haircut and he too had just moved into town. He also asked about the community. The barber answered him the same way. “What kind of people were in the last community you lived in?” This man began to describe a community that careda bout each other, went out of the way to help anybody who needed it. He described them as warm and caring, nonjudgmental and open to new people and new ideas.”
The barber said, “Well, that’s how you’ll find people here, too.”
The point is, that we view the world through our own lenses. We pretty much determine what our lives will be like by how we react to life. But the great gift of faith is, it changes our focus. Through Christ we no longer look at the world through our own eyes but through His. Because of that, I pretty much always expect the best of people.
III. EXTRAVAGANT GOD:
A. The reason I’m that way is a matter of the Heart. And I believe a matter of God’s Heart. You see, in Christ the true of nature of God’s Heart and God’s love for all of us was revealed. And what was revealed is that our God is an Extravagant God.
You see, the dictionary meaning of the word Extravgance is: 1. excessive or unnecessary expenditure or outlay of money. 2. unrestrained or fantastic excess, as of actions or opinions.
Our God is Extravagant. His love is excessive. His mercy and Grace are unnecessary. God made the ultimate unnecessary expenditure of all in giving His Son for our sakes. Jesus made the most unnecessary expenditure of giving His life so we could experience forgiveness. Both God and Jesus gave in unrestrained fantastic excess.
God’s love for us is Extravagant. It goes way beyond anything that anyone else would have or could have done for us. I could go through a whole litany of things we have done wrong. But God looks at each and every one of those moments of disobedience and sin as an opportunity for redemption and reconciliation. As an opportunity for us to experience the Extravagant Love and Grace of God.
I think the most incredible example of this is recent years is in the movie Les Miserables. If you haven’t read it, it is one of the classics. It is considered to be the greatest novel of the 19th century by many. Victor Hugo captured both the inward and outward struggle between the nature of Grace and Law. And he did through a character study woven around the history of France.
The main character Jean Valjean was sentenced to prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Paroled 19 years later, he seeks a handout from Bishop Myriel and then thanks him by stealing his silver. But Jean Valjean isn’t a very good thief and gets caught the very next day. WATCH
That is how Extravagant God’s Grace is. Caught red handed, caught with the goods in our hands, God offers us Mercy, Forgiveness, Reconciliation and a chance at a new life. A life like that of Christ. A life that expresses the Extravagant Generosity of God in and through our lives.
God’s Extravagant Generosity in Christ becomes our way of life.
Six members of the Finance Committee of a small congregation faced the challenge of paying for an unexpected air conditioning repair bill of $465. The church had already exceeded its maintenance budget for the year, and account balances were dangerously low. The members of the committee included a retired salesman, a banker, a teacher, a housewife, a small business owner, and an insurance agent. For more than forty-five minutes they discussed options. Should they borrow the money, postpone a utility payment, make an additional appeal for money on Sunday? Should they reallocate budgeted resources from other ministries? They considered other money raising options, such as a rummage sale, a bake sale, a dinner. They even thought about going to one of their wealthiest members and ask for a special donation, even though the member was inactive and hadn’t shown much inclination to help in the past. As the meeting went on, frustrations grew. Good solutions eluded them.
Finally, the teacher just shook her head at the impasse they had come to. Smiling, she suggested they simply stop talking and thinking so much and pause for silent prayer to see if God would provide another way. The others went along. After a few moments of silence, she looked around the room at her friends and fellow church members, and she said, “We all realize that any one of us could write a check for the full $465 and it would not make any major difference in our lifestyle, comfort, or financial security.” With that she pulled out her checkbook and wrote a check for $465 to the church. Then she said, “Anyone who wants to join me can add their check, too, and we’ll earmark the surplus for children ministry.” Three others followed her lead, and two wrote checks for $200 and $100 respectively. The result of her inspiring and generous leadership? The air conditioner repair bill was paid, and the children’s ministry had an unexpected $1695 to launch a new initiative to teach the faith to the next generation!
There’s no limit to what the church can accomplish and what God can do for the purposes of Christ and the Kingdom when we are keenly aware that everything we have; that all of our assets, resources, and talents belong to God. And the Good News is God entrusts them to us in order to bring God glory and do the work of Christ in the world. And when we trust God, when we trust the trust God has placed in us, then the fear of scarcity that most churches operate out of, that obsessive focus on needs, problems, and shortages disappears.
Instead we joyously give. We celebrate what we CAN do and what God can do with what we give. And therein lies the blessing.
Extravagant Generosity means graciously and responsibly placing ourselves and our resources in service to God because of the Extravagant Generosity of God’s Grace and Forgiveness which we have experienced.
This is the Word of the Lord for this day.
1. Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Robert Schnase, Abingdon Press
2. Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, Bishop Robert Schnase, Abingdon Press