Charity. Generosity. Stewardship.

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Today’s quote is from Francis Quarles, an English poet who was born May 8, 1592 and died September 8, 1644: “Proportion thy charity to the strength of thy estate, lest God proportion thy estate to the weakness of thy charity. Let the lips of the poor be the trumpet of thy gift, lest in seeking applause thou lose thy reward. Nothing is more pleasing to God than an open hand and a closed mouth.”

These are powerful statements, each of which is corroborated by the following equally powerful Scripture passages:

Luke 6:38: Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you … For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.”

1 Cor. 13:3: Paul wrote, “If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.”

Luke 21:2: Jesus looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the offering box, and he saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. And he said, “Truly, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”

Luke 18:9-14: The Pharisee boasted about his tithe but the tax collector dared not to lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” Jesus said, “Those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

2 Cor. 9:7, 11: “God loves a cheerful giver … You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way.”

God bless your generosity through charitable giving, demonstrating your faithful stewardship of the blessings he has entrusted to your care!

Trusting God’s Promise

Church 1This article is intended specifically for Terry’s and my fellow members at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas. It’s also directed toward every person, young or old, lay or clergy, faced with the decision of how much is enough to give back to God. That’s not always a simple decision.

A couple months ago it became obvious that the total weekly offerings at Zion were falling about 20% short of the amount required to meet budgeted expenses. On several separate occasions I expressed to Terry my concern about this matter. A few weeks later we decided to do something.

Our decision was to increase the amount of our weekly offering by 25%. Frankly, this was not an easy decision. Last year we had pledged a sizable amount for Zion’s three year Capital Stewardship Campaign. Already stretching our finances to meet that challenging pledge, the thought of adding an additional 25% to our weekly offering caused me to furrow my brow.

Then I read again the words of Malachi 3:8-10: God said to the people of Israel: “You are robbing me.” The people asked: “How are we robbing you?” God answered: “In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Put me to the test and see if I will not open the windows of heaven and pour out upon you a blessing so great that you will not be able to take it in.”

Really not anticipating any specific blessings over and above the spiritual ones we’ve been receiving bountifully throughout the 50 years of our lives together, imagine our surprise when two totally unexpected checks arrived in the mail within weeks of our decision to increase our weekly tithe and offering! The sum of those checks was over five times more than the total amount by which our offerings were increased for an entire year!

This past Sunday afternoon I shared this story with the crowd of folks who had gathered for our congregational voters’ meeting for the purpose of adopting our budget for the coming fiscal year. It was not an easy meeting. I expressed to the crowd my wonderment whether those two checks would have arrived even if we had not made the decision to increase our weekly offerings. I quickly added that although that may certainly have been the case, I would always be convinced that they came in fulfillment of God’s promise in Malachi 3.

My encouragement to each of you, dear friends in Christ, is to put the Lord to the test, as he has challenged us to do. The bountiful blessings you receive may not be the same as ours. They may be even greater! Regardless of the type or amount of your blessings, I pray and predict that you will experience special joy in the process of anticipating the fulfillment of God’s promise!

A Little Girl Named Katelyn

Offering PlateThis past weekend Terry and I joined the celebration of the 60th anniversary of Pilgrim Lutheran School in Houston. In 1966 I taught the fourth grade there for four months, filling in for a young mother on maternity leave. My classroom duties began three days after our wedding and ended days before we moved to Springfield, Ill., to attend Concordia Theological Seminary.

After speaking at the banquet Saturday night, we attended Sunday morning Bible class, ably led by Rev. Wayne Graumann. With wife Kathy at his side, Wayne now serves as Pilgrim’s interim pastor after retiring from Salem Lutheran Church in Tomball, Tex. He was preceded by my good friend Bill (and Carol) Diekelman, who served at Pilgrim for six months prior.

During the Sunday service I noticed across the aisle a little girl who was crying while the offering was being gathered. Looking more closely, I detected a coin in her little clenched hand. About that time she looked toward the back of the sanctuary at the ushers who were making their way from front to back. I deduced that she was deeply upset about missing the offering plate.

Her mother was saying something to her that was impossible for me to hear. But I surmised that Mom had suggested her daughter could still deposit her offering since the ushers would pass by again on their way back to the front of the sanctuary to place the offering plates on the altar. Unaware of the dilemma, the ushers walked right past her pew, which catalyzed additional tears.

After briefly pondering if and how it would be appropriate to help, I quickly got out of my seat, walked across the aisle, knelt beside the little girl and asked her mother if her daughter was crying because she missed the offering. Mom’s answer was in the affirmative. So I asked the mother if it would be okay for her daughter to go with me to the altar to put her offering in the plate. She readily agreed. So did the little girl, whose sadness suddenly turned to satisfaction.

Hand in hand a little girl and a man she had never met walked down the center aisle and up the chancel steps. When we stood at the altar, which was much too tall for her to reach, I asked if I could pick her up so she could reach the plate. She nodded in agreement. I picked her up, she completed her mission, and we walked back together to her appreciative mother. On the way I noticed no small number of smiling worshipers who had witnessed what had transpired.

Although I didn’t know it at the time, I learned from her mother after the service that the little girl’s name is Katelyn. She is four years old. When I saw the coin she placed in the plate I was reminded of the biblical story of the widow who gave all she had. And I was thankful that I did not let my initial concern about possibly making a scene or interfering in a parental matter prevent me from taking what turned out to be a most rewarding risk.

Living Generously

Girl JumpingThat’s the focus of the current sermon and Bible class series at Zion Lutheran Church in Walburg, Texas, the congregation to which Terry and I belong. Senior Pastor John Davenport and new Associate Pastor Kevin Hintze are ably leading the congregation in a sensitive yet direct exploration of the relationship between people, possessions and the God to whom they belong.

Some of us discovered that relationship long ago, thanks to parents, grandparents, pastors, teachers or other significant people in our lives who taught us that though in many ways we are richly blessed, those blessings do not really belong to us. They are not possessions we own but treasures entrusted to our care by the generous and gracious hand of God.

Occasionally, even those of us who know that truth need a gentle reminder. It’s so easy to forget, especially when times are good and financial resources are plentiful.

But when times are tough and adversity strikes, the things in life that we value so highly quickly become less important, replaced by the significant realities that truly matter. That includes faith, family, forgiveness, health, home and heaven.

Jesus said: “Do not be anxious … Your heavenly Father knows what you need. But seek first the kingdom of God … and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:31, 33)

And St. Paul wrote: “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 to be generous in every way …” (2 Cor. 9:10-11)

With that promise on your mind and in your heart, live generously!

The World’s Wealthiest

Credit:  Sufi Nawaz

Credit: Sufi Nawaz

The January 21, 2014 Austin American Statesman published an article by Matthew Schofield citing a report issued by the British-based anti-poverty charity Oxfam. It stated that the richest 85 people in the world own half the world’s wealth.

The report’s observation was that “the world’s poorest 3.55 billion people must live on what the richest 85 possess.” It also reported that “the wealth of the one percent of the richest people in the world amounts to $110 trillion.” That number looks like this: $110,000,000,000,000.

In addition, a March 3, 2014 report by Forbes Magazine identified the world’s richest people, stating that there are 1,645 billionaires in the world, “with an aggregate net worth of $6.4 trillion.” You know what that number looks like. There are 172 women billionaires, up from 138 last year.

A net worth of $31 billion was needed to make the top 20, up from $23 billion last year. The U.S. had the most billionaires with 492, followed by China with 152 and Russia with 111.

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, 58, topped the list with an estimated net worth of $76 billion. As of May 16, 2013, Gates had donated $28 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, established “Globally, to enhance healthcare and reduce extreme poverty, and in America, to expand educational opportunities and access to information technology.”

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, 29, “was the biggest gainer in 2013, with his fortune jumping $15.2 billion to $28.5 billion.” Reports are that Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, were the most generous American philanthropists in 2013. They contributed 18 million Facebook shares worth $990 million to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, which its Web site says exists to “build and energize a community of philanthropists who strengthen the common good.”

If you or I had anywhere near that level of wealth, we might choose charitable recipients quite different from those noted above. There are many charitable endeavors with both temporal and eternal impact. They are worthy of our generous support!

Six truths come to mind from these two reports:
1.  Many people in the world live in abject poverty. A few possess unimaginable wealth.
2.  Everything we have comes from God and really belongs to him, not to us. (1 Cor. 10:6)
3.  We brought nothing into this world and we will take nothing out of it. (1 Tim. 6:7)
4.  We are simply managers of whatever God entrusts to our care. (Matt. 25:14-30)
5.  Jesus tells us to feed the hungry and to clothe the naked. (Matt. 25:31-46)
6.  He also says, “To whom much is given, of him much is required.” (Luke 12:48)

Some of the world’s wealthiest understand these truths. Others probably have no clue. The same could be said of most of us whose wealth is measured not in trillions but in other treasures from our heavenly Father’s bountiful hand. Some of us understand our privilege and responsibility. Others don’t. May God help us to increase the numbers of those who do!