I’ve been enjoying our four week church-wide journey as we’ve been focusing on the theme of being a Heart Healthy churh. So many of you have been sharing personal examples of where you have experienced sacrificial giving thanks to someone who was generous on your behalf.
I’d like to share a personal story as well. My dad loved to go deer hunting in the mountains of central Pennsylvania. He even bought a little hunting cabin in that area of the state when I was still in school.
It was an annual ritual to head up to the mountains on the Sunday after Thanksgiving so that we would be ready for the opening morning of the new deer season. I always enjoyed going up to the mountains. But what I didn’t like was getting up at 4 on that early Monday morning which was always bitterly cold.
It didn’t matter how many layers of clothing and coats I wore. I knew that in less than two hours, I would be freezing there at my deer hunting post. But this one year was the worst!
We had been walking a long time on the frosty ground, wading across small creeks, and going against the chilly mountain wind. When I finally made it to my spot to watch for deer, I noticed that my feet were already really cold, bitterly cold. I was probably wearing three pairs of insulated socks so I knew there was a problem.
When I found dad, I told him that my feet were freezing. He could see that my one of my boots had a hole in it. I took it off and discovered that my socks were soaking wet from walking through the little streams of water during the cold morning hours.
My dad then switched boots with me. He gave me his good ones and he wore my pair with holes in them. I knew that dad was cold too, but he sacrificed so that I would be warm.
This story always brings a smile to my face because that’s who dad was. He was always thinking of others first. To help me remember dad and this hunting story from my child hood, I have kept those hunting boots that he gave to me that day.
These boots are a symbol for me of God’s sacrifice for all of us.
These kinds of examples help us to see that giving is in our nature. It’s a God given quality from our birth.
Probably the most well known verse in the bible is a verse about giving. John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
The whole mission of Jesus was that he gave himself totally for the sake of the world. He died on a cross to offer salvation and redemption to the world. Jesus was always giving. As the embodiment of God, Jesus was showing us that God is a giving God. And as the perfect human being, Jesus was showing that we too have been created in God’s image to be a people who are giving and generous.
Giving is part of the character of God. Bishop Schnase puts it this way in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Living:
We give because we are made in the image of God, whose essential nature is giving. We are created with God’s nature imprinted on our souls; we are hard-wired to be social, compassionate, connected, loving, and generous.
The entire teaching of the 2 Corinthians passage leading to verse 24 is about giving. Paul concludes that giving is proof or evidence of our love of God. God doesn’t force us to be generous. When we truly accept the generous gift of God’s love, our only possible response is to live and to give generously.
Rev. George Cooper, the Council on Development Director of our West Ohio Conference shared this story of extravagant generosity with me a while back. When he was a pastor in the East Ohio conference, he and his wife would eat lunch out after church on Sundays. They chose a restaurant that was a little out of the way, but it was quiet and they had good food.
The person who waited on them was really nice, so George and his wife left a really nice tip of $10 for a $14 meal. When George and his wife returned to the same restaurant the next Sunday, this same waiter gave them a coupon for a free meal.
When George asked why, the waiter said, “Well, you gave me such a nice tip the last time that my manager wanted to do something nice for you and that’s why I’m giving you this free lunch coupon.”
So this time, George and his wife gave the waiter a $20 tip.
Next Sunday, they return to the restaurant and the waiter offers them another free meal coupon. And George said, “You don’t have to keep doing this. We just appreciate your service so much.” And the waiter said, “But my manager wants to keep being nice to you with these free lunch coupons.”
Here’s the point that George was making in telling this story. Extravagant generosity is contagious. When you share generously with others, it has a ripple effect. Generosity becomes a lifestyle, a way of life.
Austin Gutwein was a 9 year old boy in Arizona when he saw a World Vision video about a little girl in Zambia, Africa (Maggie) who had only one living relative, a great-grandmother, because of the AIDS epidemic. Austin could not forget what he saw, and that he had to do something for kids who are orphans. That year on World Aids Day he shot over 2000 free throws on his school basketball court. He raised $3000!
Austin is now 18 years old and the project he began “Hoops for Hope” is participated in by youth all over the U.S and the world. The last I checked, two and a half million dollars has been raised to help children in poverty.
Austin, in his wisdom, has said that the world is filled with people who are “Maggies” in their own way. Some are lonely, some are struggling to find God, some are sick or hungry, some just need a friend.
He continues: “God wants to use us to make a difference to real people who are in real need right now.”
Austin reminds us that our commitments really are meant to come from the heart.
We’re going to conclude our four-week “Heart Healthy” sermon series today by thinking about an important commitment that we can make to Christ and his church for 2019. During these past four weeks, we have been giving all of our focus to thinking about what it means to have a heart-healthy faith and a heart-healthy church.
On the first Sunday, we thought a lot about how God has blessed us with so many awesome heart-healthy ministries through our church. Stephanie Gyasi shared a testimony that morning about how our warm hospitality ministries led her to join the church and how the baptism of her daughter, Laikyn has made them feel part of the family.
On the second Sunday, we focused on the importance of having heart-healthy relationships in the church. John Dowler offered his testimony about how the many relationships in our church has been a blessing in the Dowler family over several generations.
On that same Sunday, we watched a video narrated by his grandfather about the cornerstone dedication of our church building 61 years ago, back in April of 1957. A part of the prayer in that ceremony says, “O God, baptize us afresh in the life-giving Spirit of Jesus.”
We have been invited to pray that prayer everyday at 4:57 to not only remind us of that prayer said by the people who were at that dedication service, but to help us have a heart-healthy faith in all of our relationships today.
Last Sunday, we talked a lot about the importance of being a church that is filled with hope. We shared several ways that our church is living into a hope-filled future. Steve Sloan offered his testimony and said how he can sense that our church has a strong heart beat through the many ways that people in our congregation are serving, giving, and blessing others in the name of Christ.
This has led us to this final Sunday of our Heart-Healthy series where it’s now time for us to offer our generous hearts to God by making commitments for this coming year.
Many of us will be receiving 2019 Estimate of Giving cards in the mail this week. If you don’t receive one of these cards and you would like one, just contact our church office and we will make sure you get this mailing. This mailing will include the 2019 Estimate of Giving card to help fund our ministries and operations of the church in the coming year.
The mailing will also include a cover letter from me about this Heart-Healthy series and the 4/57 prayer card that I mentioned a little bit ago. The mailing will also have a giving statement for this current year.
Look for this in the mail this week.
Here’s the important thing for us to remember this week as we begin to make our commitments. These cards are more than accounting reports. The card represents the commitment from our heart to continue to help our church be have heart-healthy ministries, heart-healthy relationships, and heart-healthy hopes.
During this week, we are invited to prayerfully complete this card and return it to the church. You can send it back in the mail or you can bring it next Sunday and place it in the offering plate during the offering.
I want you to know our Leadership Board members have already prayerfully completed their cards and they are praying for all of us as we do the same this week.
When you get your Estimate of Giving card in the mail this week, I want you to carefully read my cover letter that will accompany the commitment card. I meant to write that our Leadership Board is serving as our “pace-setters.” Instead, I said that they are serving as our “pace-makers.”
Some typos are just meant to be. They are like our pace-makers as we will be joining them in offering our hearts to God as we make our commitments this week.
When you add up the financial commitments of our Leadership Board for the coming year, it totals $63,000! They have gotten us off to a great start as we seek to be a heart-healthy church in our ministries, our relationships, our hopes, and in our commitments.
I would like to invite our Leadership Board pacemakers to stand so we can thank them for leading the way.
(Leadership Board Stands)
As we prepare to make our 2019 church commitments, I’m reminded of a story told by famous radio personality, Garrison Keillor. A letter was sent from a church to those members who were not present on Pledge Dedication Sunday and therefore did not fill out their pledge cards.
Here is what the letter stated:
“Dear Ann and Joe: We missed you last Sunday which was Pledge Sunday. Since you were not present to fill out your pledge card and to make it easy for you, we have completed a pledge card for you. Thank you for being so generous. Signed, Your Finance Committee”
Giving generously is part of who we are as people who are created in God’s image. We give because Christ has given so generously to us. Thank you, God for remind us that giving really is a matter of the heart.
Heart Healthy: Our Hopes
Small Group Questions
II Corinthians 8:16-24 & John 3:16-21
October 14, 2018
In his sermon, Pastor Robert shared the story of how when he was a teenager, his father sacrificed his own comfort, by giving his hunting boots to him when he noticed that the boots he was wearing had a hole in them.
Share a time when someone made a sacrifice on your behalf during a time you needed some help.
In John 3:16 we hear the good news of how much God loves us. In II Corinthians 8:24, we read that our generous giving is evidence of our gratitude for all that God has done for us through Jesus Christ.
What helps you to remember all that God has sacrificed on your behalf? In what ways do you show gratitude for what God has done in your life?
Pastor Robert shared a story of a Christian who wanted to show his gratitude to a waiter at a restaurant by offering a generous tip. Each time he did this, the restaurant manager gave him a gift certificate as a way of thanking him for supporting his staff. This showed the customer who was giving the large tips that being generous is contagious.
Share a time when you noticed a ripple effect from an act of extravagant generosity.
During this week, our congregation will be receiving a mailing containing a 2019 Estimate of Giving form in how we will each financially support Christ and his church. Being a “heart-healthy” church means that we are grateful for our church’s many ministries, the people who have enriched our lives, and the positive vision that our church has to continue to be a growing and thriving church.
Before making your 2019 financial commitment this week, offer this prayer:
O God, you made us in your image and loved us enough to give us the best of what you have, your only Son, Jesus Christ. Grant that we who have received so much from you might reflect that love and devotion, living proof of the hope that is in us so that all may know your glory. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.
In addition to this prayer, remember to pray our church-wide daily prayer everyday at 4:28 pm to remind us of the April 28, 1957 (4-28) date when this prayer was shared at our current building’s cornerstone dedication ceremony:
O God, baptize us afresh in the life-giving spirit of Jesus. Amen.