Boundless Part 5: The Blessings of a Generous Life

Boundless Part 5:  The Blessings of a Generous Life
2 Corinthians 9:6-8; Acts 20:35

November 12, 2017
Pastor Morris Brown

I love the story of the small town that had three churches on the city square - one was Baptist, one was Presbyterian and one was Methodist.  One year the town was invaded by a colony of squirrels that decided to make their homes in the attics of the three churches.  Each of the churches had tried to get rid of the squirrels.

They set traps. They hired exterminators. The tried the advice of “old wives” tales. But, nothing worked! So, one day the pastors of the churches had lunch together to talk about the problem. The Baptist preacher said, “Last Sunday we tried something new to get rid of the squirrels. We put sprinklers in the attic of the church. Then, we turned on the water with the hope that we could drown the squirrels out. But, it didn’t work.”  

Well, the Presbyterian minister said, “Last Sunday we tried something new, too!  We closed off all the attic vents at our church and turned up the heat way up. We hoped the extreme heat would burn the squirrels out. But, that didn’t work either!”  

Hearing this, the Methodist pastor smiled and said, “Well, boys, I am happy to report that we got rid of the squirrels in the Methodist church.”  

“You’ve got to be kidding!” the other two pastors cried, “How’d you do it?”  

“Well,” the Methodist pastor said, “Last Sunday was Commitment Sunday. So, during the service the ushers went up in the attic and gave the squirrels a pledge card.  And we haven’t seen them since!”  

Well, today is Commitment Sunday here at Christ Church. And I can’t tell you how thrilled I am to see that so many of you came to church this morning – with your pledge cards - ready to turn in!  

As you know, over the past few weeks we’ve been sharing a worship series called Boundless, and in this series we’ve been talking about the fact that God has given us our church. We believe God is calling us to be a community of faith that is “embracing people, our community and the world with the boundless love of God.”  

In order to fully take the next step in fulfilling that vision we’re raising 6 million dollars - which will resource our budget for the next two years, quadruple our giving to missions, retire the debt on our fellowship center and complete some much needed enhancements to our facilities.  So, how are we going to do that?Well, to do it we’ve said we have to be people who are living generously.  To live generously we’ve said we have to have an attitude of abundance rather than an attitude of scarcity.  We have to apply some biblical techniques that can help us get our financial house in order. We have to learn to manage our time and energy so we can put our God-given talents and gifts to work. And we have to understand the reasons why investing in Christ Church is a terrific investment.  

Today, as we near the end of this series, I want to switch gears. I want us to reflect on some blessings our faith says we all receive when we begin to live a generous life.  So, what are the blessings of living generously?  

1) Our faith says there’s an emotional blessing to living generously. 

In other words, people who live generously tend to be happier, more balanced, emotionally healthy people.  In this morning’s passage from Acts, the writer is talking to the early Christians about generosity.  And quoting Jesus, he says, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”  

The Greek word for “blessed” is the word “marikos.” And “marikos” literally means, “a state of balance, wholeness, happiness.”  What the author says is people who live generously tend to experience more happiness, wholeness, and emotional balance in their lives.  And that’s true!   

For example, this past July Science Daily ran an article entitled, “Generous People Live Happier Lives.”  The article cited a study that was done by neuroeconomists at The University of Zurich.  Participants were wired to monitors that recorded their brain waves. Then, they were told they’d receive a sum of money. Half the participants were asked to commit to generously spend the money they received on someone they knew, while the other half were asked to commit to spend the money they received only on themselves. When the brain waves of the people in the study were measured, the researchers made some very interesting discoveries.

They discovered that the area of the brain associated with happiness was highly stimulated in the people who committed to being generous. While the area of the brain associated with happiness in those who were asked to spend their money on themselves showed very little change. Here’s what the researchers concluded: “Generosity triggers a change in our brains that makes us happier, even if we are only a little generous. While we are less happy when we act solely out of self-interest.”  

In 2 Corinthians, Paul says, “God loves a cheerful giver.”  But, the reverse is also true.  I think Paul would also say, “Generosity makes a giver cheerful!”

2) Our faith says there is a physical blessing that comes with living a generous life.  

In other words, living generously not only makes us feel happier, it can improve our health.  

2 Corinthians 9:11 says, “When you give generously you will be enriched in every way!”  That includes physical enrichment! 

University of Michigan sponsored a study designed to determine the affects of generosity on people’s physical health.  At the beginning of the study 846 people age 65 and older were tested and placed in two groups based on their giving patterns.  Group 1 was made up of people who scored “high” in the area of generosity.  Group 2 was made up of people who scored “low” in the area of generosity.  Each group was then tracked for the next five years.  At the end of the study, researchers discovered that the people in the group of “givers” had fewer serious health issues and a lower death rate than the people in the group identified as “non-givers.” The study concluded that there seems to be a strong tie between generosity and good health.  In fact, living generously can save our lives.  

The study reminds me of the two men who were ship-wrecked on a desert island.  One man frantically ran around crying,  “We have no food and no water!  We’re going to die!” But the other man leaned calmly against a palm tree like he didn’t have a care in the world.  The man who was panicking finally ran up to the him and said, “How can you be so calm!  We’re stranded on a desert island with no food or water!  We’re going to die!”  

“Oh, we’re not gonna die,” the man replied.  “I make $100,000 a week.”  

“How is that going to save us?” the panicked man cried.  

“Well,” the other man said, “Every Sunday I give 10% of the $100,000 I make to my church.”  

“So?” the panicked man said. 

“So,” the other man responded, “my pastor will be here any minute!”  

Silly story, important point!  Living generously can be life giving!

3) Our faith says there’s a social blessing to living generously.  

In other words, when we live generously it enables us to make a positive difference in the world.  It enables us to contribute our time, energy and resources to entities that are making a difference in the lives of others, making the world a better place.

I recently read that 91% of the time and money given to charities through the private sector in our country comes not from wealthy people, but working class folks.  When those folks were asked why they gave, do you know what the number one reason they gave was?  “We give want to help make a difference in the world!”

The apostle Paul knew this.  In this morning’s scripture, one of the reasons Paul was writing this letter to the Christians at the church in Corinth was that the people at the church in Jerusalem we really struggling because of a famine.  Now Paul knew it would be impossible for the Corinthians to physically go to Jerusalem to help. But, he also knew that they wanted to help. So, Paul suggested that they collect money that he could use to buy provisions and take to the Christians in Jerusalem when he went there.  And in order to encourage them to give generously he used an agricultural metaphor.  He said, “If you sow sparingly, you’ll reap sparingly. But, if you sow generously, you will reap generously.”  

Paul is not saying, “If you give generously you’ll get rich!”  What he is saying is, “the more generously you live, the bigger difference it will make in helping change the lives of others. So, give as generously as you can.”  So, what does this mean to us?  

Well, I think all of us truly want to help make a difference in the lives of others, in the life of our hurting world.  But, the fact of the matter is not all of us can go on mission trips or work with children, or go teach or play in the band.  But, all of us can financially support our church at some level based on our stage and station of life.

And when we do we are participating with others in our church in funding missions and ministries that really are helping hurting people, that make a difference in the world. Living generously enables all of us to have a role in changing the world with love!

4) Our faith says there’s a spiritual benefit to living a generous life.  

Living generously allows us to more deeply experience God’s care. Paul says, “if you contribute generously, God will give you everything you need and more”!  In other words, when you live generously you’ll experience God’s care.

A few years ago, a friend of mine who’s a busy professional tried an interesting experiment.  She decided to significantly increase her giving to her community of faith and give an hour out of her busy schedule to tutor at a local middle school.  Now, when she made this decision, she told me she was pretty nervous. 

She said, “I didn’t know if I could afford to give away my money and my time, and still maintain a career that provided for my living expenses. But, I decided to give it a try. Every Wednesday I showed up at the school to tutor.  And every payday the first check I wrote was to support the mission of my church.”  

“So, how’d it work out?” I asked.  

“Well,” she said, “I’ve been pretty amazed. Even though I took on the tutoring, I’ve had plenty of time to do the things I need to do at work. And the kid I’ve worked with has blessed me in so many ways.  And even though I’ve give more money away than ever, I found I still have enough to meet my needs.  But more than that I’ve learned a spiritual lesson.”

“What’s that?”  I asked.  

“Well,” she said, “In a very practical way I’ve learned God really will take care of me.  As a result, my trust in God’s love and care for me has really grown.”  

Now, my friend was worried her story was too ordinary since nothing spectacular happened as a result of her decision to live a more generous life. She didn’t get rich. She didn’t win the lottery.  Nobody left her a million bucks.  And she still has a busy life.  But, the ordinariness is what is great about her experience!  Because the truth is, living generously is not a path to getting rich!  It’s a path to discovering the truth that God will richly take care of all our needs, and more.

In just a few minutes we are going to have the opportunity to come to the altar and make our investment in Christ Church for the next two years through Boundless. As we do, we’re going to be helping our community of faith take the next step in fulfilling our God-given vision to do something incredibly important. We’re going to be helping our church “embrace people, the community and the world with the BOUNDLESS LOVE OF GOD!”  

The good news, however, is that as we do that whatever our level of giving we’re going to experience some incredible blessings. Some of us will experience some emotional blessings. By living more generously we’ll discover we’re happier people.  Some of us will experience a physical blessing.  Living more generously will make us healthier people.  Some of us will experience a social blessing.  By living more generously we’ll discover we really are making a positive difference in the world. And some of us will experience some spiritual blessings.  By living more generously we’ll discover that we have a deeper experience of God’s presence and loving care in our lives.  

So, whatever the level of your gift today – thank you for investing in Christ Church through our Boundless initiative!  For it really is going to make an incredible difference in the life of our church and God’s world.