Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Journey Into Generosity

John Wesley, as in the brother of Charles Wesley the hymn writer and together the founders of what we today know as the Methodist church, grew up in poverty. Their father was a minister in the Church of England, serving in a poor parish, and they regularly struggled to make ends meet.

When John followed his father into the ministry, he found himself surprised not to be serving in a poor parish like his father, but instead teaching at Oxford university and he was eventually elected as fellow of Lincoln college. There he earned the princely sum of £30 a year - more than enough for a single person to live off and he enjoyed relative prosperity.

While at Oxford, an incident changed his perspective on money. He had just finished paying for some pictures for his room when one of the chambermaids came to his door. It was a cold winter day, and he noticed that she had nothing to protect her except a thin linen gown. He reached into his pocket to give her some money to buy a coat but found he had too little left. 

Perhaps as a result of this incident, Wesley began to limit his expenses so that he would have more money to give to the poor. He records that one year his income was 30 pounds and his living expenses 28 pounds, so he had 2 pounds to give away. The next year his income doubled, but he still managed to live on 28 pounds, so he had 32 pounds to give to the poor. In the third year, his income jumped to 90 pounds.
Instead of letting his expenses rise with his income, he kept them to 28 pounds and gave away 62 pounds. In the fourth year, he received 120 pounds. As before, his expenses were 28 pounds, so his giving rose to 92 pounds.

Wesley felt that the Christian should not merely tithe but give away all extra income once the family and creditors were taken care of. He believed that with increasing income, what should rise is not the Christian’s standard of living but the standard of giving.

Wesley’s generous giving was a direct response to his growing faith in the God who loves the world so much that He sends His Son to us so we can receive that love in ways we understand. As the great Billy Graham once said - ‘…Being a Christian ( is more than just an instantaneous conversion - it ) is a daily process whereby you grow to be more and more like Christ…’

This sense of wanting to know more, so as to make an informed decision about Jesus’ ministry, was exactly why Nicodemus came to see Jesus in the first place. Nicodemus had heard much about Him and he recognised God was at work in and through Him, but he wanted to know more for himself. It is something that many of us do over our lives as assess and reassess our priorities, and it’s a journey of discovery that Isabella begins today by virtue of her baptism… Her faith and trust in God will grow through the support and prayer of all of us, but especially her parents and Godparents, but also an experience of the love of God through each of us too.

God sending His Son to the world in love demands a response of love from each of us. That response cannot and must not be so heavenly minded to be of no earthly use as someone once said…

A man bought his wife a beautiful diamond ring for Christmas.  After hearing about this extravagant gift, a friend of his said, "I thought she wanted one of those plush four-wheel-drive vehicles."  "She did," he replied. "But where was I going to find a fake Range Rover?”

Our response to God’s love must be genuine and heartfelt - we cannot fake it.  God know’s where we are on that journey and our growth in love and trust of Him develops over time - transforming us as we go.  Let me give you a personal example of what I mean from one aspect of my own life.

When I went to church first as a child - I was given a single coin as ‘collection’ to put in the plate.  For many years that was the right thing to do. Like paying my Cubs subs each week.  Many of us get stuck here though.

In my late teens - allowance - £50 - gave £5 a month to the church. This was what I was encouraged to do but it was not my choice but I recognised it was good to do.

Many years as a student and then youth worker I didn’t get that balance right.

Now, we have a yardstick.  I have no problem telling you what we do. My stipend equates to around £1200 a month, so we give just short 10% of that back to God through His church, meaning we give £100 per month. That’s not all we give, because we are members of the National Trust and the Open Air Museum for example, so we give charitably monthly to them too.  For us, our giving is not exclusively done in the church, as I am sure yours isn’t, but God gets first call on our money in thankfulness for all that we receive from Him.

Jesus says to Nicodemus that he must be born again.  It’s a phrase which has had a bad reputation; it’s come to signify perhaps a certain type of Christian, a faith journey with a dramatic conversion moment, a particular sort of theology.

But new birth in Christ is just what happens when we commit to following, commit to changing our direction, to being guided by God and not our selves, committing to our journey continuing on His paths.

New birth is what is happening for Isabella as she is baptised and is on offer to each of us afresh today.  As food sustains the body and helps us grow, so does the love of God. Looking at a photo of a child aged 2 and then 20, you can see the same identity and likeness but they have matured, so it is with God’s love for us - it sustains and matures us - but helps us to grow into His likeness over the years.

God’s love for us is so great that God would have sent His Son if we were the only person left on earth.  Jesus said - God loved the world, loved Claire, Andy, Isabella, Euan, so much that he sent His Son so that we may have eternal life, transformed life, generous life in the now. As that love transforms all of our life, we willingly respond in love in turn. What we give in terms of how we use our time, how we use the talents and skills we have as well as how we use our our money is a measure of our love for God. 

Antiques roadshow illustration & hallmarks - shows authenticity, who lovingly crafted. It validates that what the vase looks like is authentic and can be identified and valued.

How we give is not about extravagance and show, but about how we live and love.  It must be heartfelt and generous visibly showing love of God at work in our lives.

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