By Dietrich Gruen, with Mark Finley
When you hear the word “stewardship” or “giving campaign” uttered from the pulpit or other church leaders, what feeling or reaction in you does that prompt? Do you slink lower in your seat, avoid eye contact, hold tight your wallet, and brace for the pitch?
Relax. We at High Point believe that stewardship is about our whole lives, not simply our finances. My career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (1974-85) and Middleton Outreach Ministry (1997-2008), involved significant fund raising. But I’ve since come to understand generosity and stewardship in a whole new way, which I (with elder Mark Finley) present here as part of High Point’s Generosity Campaign.
If you are eager to know where year-end gifts to High Point are going, you can find that information here. For more information specifically on the Global Missions portion of the High Point Church year-end gift, you can see the end of this blog post.
But before we get into any of that, we need to explore why to give at all—and lay a proper foundation for giving.
Why? or What for?
The heart of the matter
You’ve heard it said: It’s not the size of the dog in the fight that matters, but the size of the fight in the dog. Well, the same can be said of authentic generosity: It’s not the size of the gift from the giver that matters; it’s the size of the heart behind the gift. I believe that cultivating generosity of the heart is more to the point of what God wants for us. Generosity is something God wants for us, not just something he wants from us.
Here’s how that might happen for you, even this month, as you listen to appeals for year-end gifts—not only from HPC folk, but also from other charitable and missional causes.
Traditional stewardship campaigns aim to get your finances in order and ask for a big gift in the end. Not so at High Point. The Ground Zero of our generosity campaign is the simple acknowledgement that generosity is at the heart of God. We love because he first loved us (1 John 4:19). We give at all, even a “widow’s mite” (Luke 21:1-4), because God in Christ gave his all, sparing no expense—all that we might be made rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). Given God’s abundant grace poured into our lives, how ludicrous of us to restrict stewardship to finances. It’s not about the amount of a gift, but the heart attitude of the giver.
No leftovers for God
God wants firstfruits and gifts without blemish (Exodus 2:16,19: Leviticus 22:21; Ephesians 5:27; 1 Peter 1:19)—that is, only the best and no leftovers for God. Leftovers may be fine for family the week after Thanksgiving, but if invited to a Christmas potluck, you don’t bring month-old stinky food left over from Turkey Day, do you? Why then do we give God our leftovers? Do we regard him less?
In the Torah, God lays out an elaborate system of giving that involves offering him the choicest of everything. No weak or sickly sheep, no runt of the litter, no week-old food, no used gifts—just the first and finest of whatever the people had to offer. I have often wondered why. Why give God our best stuff? What is that to him, especially when such choice items mean so much to us?
Hmmm, that’s it, isn’t it? While God has no need for such gifts, evidently we need be giving such—as a tangible way to express that God is Numero Uno in our lives. A gift that requires sacrifice will not just reveal but actually produce in us the heart change God is looking for. We are then giving of our essence (who we are) and not just of our excess (the surplus after we look after our own needs first).
Toss the spoon, grab the ladle
The Reimagine Group has pointed out that a “spoon is for feeding yourself, but a ladle is for serving others.” So let’s think of giving in those terms: A “spoon” mindset is all about self-service and what’s in it for me? A “ladle” mindset is all about serving others. Translating this metaphor into practice may mean writing a check, but it could also mean inviting someone to church, then going to get them to and from the service. With ladle in hand, we put off selfish desires and put on the mind of Christ, the mindset that is always serving others first.
Overcoming darkness and despair
The darkness and despair we see in the world can be overwhelming. The bad news of seeing a hurricane or flood-damaged community, the sadness of seeing homeless refugees flee a war zone—even we can give in to despair, thinking that no good will come of this, or that nothing can be done. That need not be the case. If we pool our gifts to make a collective impact on a few mission projects, this will not only make a difference in the world, but also remembers and reflects the heart of God.
Guilt trips versus Holy Spirit conviction
While we may “guilt trip” people into writing bigger checks, the Holy Spirit is about a different task: to move hearts and inspire generosity. A guilt trip differs from spiritual conviction, in that guilt burdens people, encouraging us to “just do better” or “just do more.” Conviction, on the other hand, is the by-product of the Holy Spirit at work sanctifying us, prodding us to depend on God in becoming more like Christ. Conviction, coupled with repentance, leads to joy. Authentic generosity—the kind that honors God—is born of conviction, not guilt. As we grow in our understanding of how much grace God showers on us, we also grow in our desire, by conviction and repentance, to generously show grace to others.
Re-gifting—an idea that began with God, not Seinfeld
God’s blessings are to be re-gifted. The term “re-gifting,” as you Seinfeld fans know, comes from an episode on recycled gifts. In that TV episode one character is incredulous when her gift is re-gifted and another character is angered at receiving a gift that was not from the heart. The Apostle Paul & Pastor Nic make similar points: What do you have that you have not received? (Paul, in 1 Corinthians 4:7). As stewards we own nothing (God owns it all), but are responsible for managing everything (Nic, on more than one occasion). If all our resources come from God, then any gift we give is actually a re-gifting of what we have already been given. If it is not our stuff to begin with, there’s no need to be stingy with it. Unfortunately, a good many of us view our good fortune or blessed state as a product of our own hard work, true grit, and wise choices. Such thinking only blinds us to God’s generosity.
The world craves stories of authentic generosity
But if we treat what we have been given—whether relational smarts, street creds, financial capital, physical resources, or intellectual prowess—as from God and meant for others’ benefit, then our light will ever shine before a watching world. People yearn to see authentic generosity among us, as evidenced by their appetite for epic stories of generosity we watch this time of year:
- In Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, we see Scrooge transformed from a miser to a philanthropist, with a generous heart for Tiny Tim, leaving us with warm glow and “God bless us, everyone.”
- The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is another beloved Christmas story featuring an “enlarged” heart that transforms of another misery small character, one which generates hope in us all.
Blessed to be blessing
God has blessed some with the means to bless others richly, but has blessed all with the opportunity and privilege to bless others in some way. Every day—whether in food pantry drives or red kettle drives or your fellow workers or classmates in need—we have opportunities to give within our comfort zone. But every once in a while, an opportunity comes along to help those outside our normal demographic. When we fill shoeboxes of gifts with the love of Christ through Samaritan’s Purse around the world, we involve our kids, because this cultivates in them a heart of generosity. Likewise, a year-end gift to HPC gives us all an opportunity to grow generosity in our hearts, all while being of benefit several worthy causes.
Global Missions Opportunities in the Year-End Gift
$ 10,000 to HPC missionaries for a Christmas bonus.
A distribution to career missionaries as a love gift for their service. The amount per missionary is based on a formula that takes into account several factors such as family size, country of residence, and other variables. You may see where they each work on the map of the missions bulletin board in the church lobby.
$ 5,000 to Samaritan’s Purse for Hurricane Relief efforts.
A contribution to help hurricane relief efforts that Samaritan’s Purse is providing in Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean. In the Caribbean, a major focus of the relief work is Puerto Rico.
$ 5,000 to Open Doors for Rohingya refugee relief in Bangladesh.
This gift will contribute to a new $40,000 Open Doors program (called the “Light Foundation” in Bangladesh) to bring supplies of food and clothing to 400 Muslim background believers (MBB) and other refugees in Rohingya refugee camps in the Cox’s Bazaar region of Bangladesh. The Rohingya refugees are fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh to escape persecution and death in Myanmar. See this related story from an earlier blog post. Open Doors is working to spread basic relief and the good news of God’s love among ALL refugees in the camps.
$ 3,000 to Healing Waters for water filtration systems.
A gift of gratitude to the organization HPC partner Hands of Hope has worked with to provide clean water filtering system for the residents of El Almirante in the Dominican Republic this past year (at right). Healing Waters International is a Christian organization that installs water filtration systems in Third World countries, especially in Latin America and the Caribbean. In addition to installing filtration systems, Healing Waters works with local, in-country organizations, particularly local churches, to ensure projects will be sustainable over time. They seek to end our global water crisis with holistic clean water solutions. By “holistic” they mean: We spread God’s love in at-risk communities around the world, empowering people not just to survive, but to thrive – physically, socially and spiritually.”
$ 2,000 for a women’s missionary retreat in Amman, Jordan.
This gift is to support a four-day spiritual refreshment retreat for women serving in Jordan, Lebanon and other Middle East countries. HPC sponsored missionary Laura Eller is planning the retreat to be held in a Baptist retreat center in Amman Jordan. Eller tells us that the purpose of the retreat is “to encourage and bless women, to listen to them and serve them. The goal would be that as a result of the retreat, they would feel that their “tanks have been filled” as they return to the battlefield…. We have seen lives completely changed, women have stayed on the field because of the opportunity to debrief/receive counseling, etc., we have seen marriages saved and women grow in their walk with the Lord.” Similar conferences in Spain have drawn 50 women. The event we are sponsoring in Jordan is new and reestablishes a toehold across the Mediterranean after several years’ hiatus.