Malachi: Sacrificial generosity

Preached on: Sunday 7th November 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-11-07 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Malachi 3:6-12
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Let us take a moment to pray before we think about God’s word. Let us pray.
Holy Spirit, come among us please, and reveal to us the heart of our Heavenly Father.
Holy Spirit, come among us and lead us in the ways of Jesus.
Holy Spirit, come, we pray, with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.

I was just on the news yesterday, I was reading that Greta Thunberg has said already that COP26 is a failure and it makes me wonder ‘I wonder what makes her say that I?’ I wonder maybe, what has been the biggest blocker? So, that maybe hasn’t been the success people might have hoped for. So, why don’t you turn to your neighbor once again and for 30 seconds share what you think has been the biggest blocker towards COP26 maybe the success we hoped for. 30 seconds. Over to you.

Well, I’m gonna jump in there again. Obviously, you could probably talk about this for hours so feel free again get a cuppa after the service or chat outside, at least it’s not raining today, you can have a blether there if you wish or you can let me know on the way out the door what you came up with but a straw poll –  anyone blame the politicians? Yeah, some politicians there, and there are probably many other reasons you might give but politicians is probably going to be one of the top ones. It’s easy to blame them especially when we see all the shenanigans in the news this last week with politicians but I wonder if what holds politicians back is fear, fear of what voters will think, that if we go too far, too fast, voters will show their disapproval by ousting the current government from government and so, you can’t go too far too fast in case it risks the taxpayer and their vote and costs the taxpayer too much. Because, if we’re honest, even on the individual level, we can often be profit before people, we can be self before collective survival, and when it comes to money, when it comes to the money in our pocket and the balance in our bank, and the stuff in our lives, we get very possessive.

And, you know, the same was true in Malachi’s day. Earlier in the book of Malachi God challenged, through the prophet, the quality of the people’s giving but now He comes to challenge the quantity of their giving. He said earlier “Return to me and I will return to you. But you ask “How are we to return?” The people don’t even know, they’ve wandered away from God “Will a mere mortal rob God?” the Lord says “Yet you rob me but you ask ‘How are we robbing you?’ In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse, your whole nation because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse.” And maybe we’re wondering ‘Well, what’s the issue here God? Are you a money-grabbing God? Are you just a killjoy? Are you wanting just to stifle the people and deprive them of good things? What’s going on here?’ And maybe that confirms your perspective of church, as you hear of us asking for you to give money towards the Guild projects are you maybe thinking ‘Well, the church is always after money, and look there God is, all of us after money.’ So, why is God calling His people to give? Why? What’s going on underneath the surface?

Well, first of all, we might be thinking also ‘What is the tithe?’ And so, just in case you don’t know, the tithe was the first 10 percent of the produce, the crops, the income that individuals had and they would give that first 10 percent, to give that first 10 percent away, give it to the workings of the temple, to serve God’s purposes, and give it to care for the poor and needy in the community and, actually, if you add up the tithes and offerings both the regular and the occasional, it’s estimated that potentially the people gave away 25 percent of their income, and that’s quite, quite a startling amount isn’t it! And yet, the people have this attitude that while I’m not going to give the whole time I’m just going to give a bit of it and maybe they’re thinking ‘Well, it’s my stuff, it’s my money, I should get to determine what I do with it.’ and or maybe they’re thinking ‘Well, I don’t have enough God, I don’t have enough and You know once I have enough I’ll give a wee bit more, so just give us a break!’ They are holding back some of their tithes and God thinks that’s a problem. Clearly, He thinks they’re robbing Him somehow. So, what’s that about? How can God be claiming they are robbing Him when it’s their stuff?

Well, the problem is, the scriptures teach that it’s not their stuff. In the Psalms we read ‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.’ Their stuff is actually God’s. Everything that we have is the Lord’s, it belongs to Him the scriptures teach and so, we are not in the position of ownership, we are in the position of stewardship, what we have in our lives is given in sacred trust from God to steward, not own. We are called to be stewards but maybe you can resonate with the people, maybe you can resonate with that the feelings that they have because how often would we much rather God talked about anything else or asked anything else of us. Come to church – I’m right there with you God. Come to church two three times a day – no problem. Read your bible and pray for an hour – now that might be a struggle at times – but sure, okay, I’ll take that on board for a little while at least. Ask me to serve, ask me to do anything else, but talk to me about my money, that’s off-limits God, I’d rather You didn’t. And I know this is difficult to hear because, actually, in comparison to a lot of places, you are a very generous congregation, very generous, and you’re giving today in the shoe boxes and The Guild and things, but there are helpful points when we need to hear from God’s word, a message about giving, to take stock, to evaluate what is our practice, How are we living? What’s our relationship to our money? Do we see ourselves as stewards or have we fallen into that false understanding of ownership?

Now, maybe you’re wondering also ‘Well, is Scott saying we should tithe?’ I won’t ask a straw poll on that one, if you think we should or if you think I’m thinking that, because, actually there is no New Testament teaching about tithing. No New Testament teaching, it’s all in the Old Testament, and so maybe you’re thinking ‘Well we’re safe, we don’t need to tithe, we’re good!’ and then I would share the counter argument that well, tithing was there before the law was given so, it wasn’t just part of the Old Testament covenant and that many Christians over the centuries and years and many faithful and some of the most godly Christians have tithed. But let’s, for a second instead, turn to the New Testament and see the example of the early church who (not that one either) who, they are recorded as ‘They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.’ The church, when it was at the peak, we might say, of its health and understanding of the ways of Jesus, they were generous, sacrificially generous and probably gave much more than a simple tithe. They weren’t Christians who said ‘What is the minimum I can give? What’s enough to keep God happy?’ They were Christians who were sacrificially generous, who responded to the marvelous grace they had received through Jesus dying on the cross for them, with such generosity that astounded people and this carried on over the centuries. You can look up in various articles and commentaries about Aristides of Athens says ‘If the brethren have among them a man in need and they  have not abundant resources, they fast for a day or two so as to provide the needy man with the necessary food.’ Or later in 190 AD Lucian, who was not a Christian by the way, commented ‘The earnestness with which people of this religion help one another and their needs is incredible. They spare themselves nothing for this end.’

Do we walk in that way, in that legacy or are we bare minimum Christians?

So, as you think about what you give to The Guild today, as you maybe go home and mull over this message, maybe take some time to look at your giving. Think ‘Am I relating to my stuff as a steward or an owner? Am I a bare minimum Christian or am I a Christian of sacrificial generosity?’ Because God calls His people to be stewards and to give generously.

But He calls them also to give, for another reason. We know from our passage this morning that the Lord says they’re under a curse because they’re robbing Him. Now, if that sounds strange to you, if that sounds like a spell to you, then please go back to an earlier sermon where I talked about the discipline of God, just a week or two ago, because this isn’t a spell, this is God disciplining the nation because they have wandered from Him, the whole nation is wandering from Him and so, the whole nation is being disciplined by God and, most likely, is that they are experiencing drought a drought to wake up the nation to its senses. But God doesn’t want to be that parent that disciplines His child forever. Have you been maybe a volunteer in a group or maybe a parent or an aunt, an uncle, a grandad, whatever it may be, and you have a child that just keeps pushing the buttons and you don’t want to be that parent that just has to keep being firm and hard and disciplining? You don’t want to be in that place, you want to get to that place where they heed what you’re doing so that you can just bless them, enjoy them, and it moves into that different season, in that different way of life. God doesn’t want to stay in that place of discipline. He wants to call them back and to bless them and we know that because of what He says next. He says ‘Test me in this and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. Then all the nations will call you blessed for yours will be a delightful land.’

In the verses, the words here, ‘throw open the floodgates of heaven’ God’s simply meaning rain, not anything miraculous other than rain. That is what they need, that is what’s being held back and God’s discipline to them and He says if they will come back He wants to bless them, He wants to open the floodgates and they will, He will do so with such blessings, such generosity that it will become known in the nations around them of how good God has been to them. And so, so we when we look at these verses we start to think ‘Well, if that was the case for them, if they were if they give and they’re going to get this material blessing, do these verses apply to us as well, Scott.’ because maybe you’ve heard on the radio or maybe you’ve read in a book or maybe you’ve seen online teaching that says if you give your 10 percent hen God will financially bless you, if you give to God then you can expect financial blessing and provision as well. Is that true teaching? Is that true teaching? Well again, as I’ve said through Malachi, the context is key in every passage, really the context is key and I came across this really helpful quote to remind us of the wider context of the scriptures. Peter Adams says ‘Poverty and riches have a variety of meanings in the Old Testament. Poverty might be a sign of the righteous person being persecuted or of a righteous person having their trust in God tested. Similarly, riches were not always a sign of obedience, rich people were often opposed to God and oppressed others.’ Context is important and to basically make a theology simply based on Malachi is to ignore the rest of the scriptures, the rest of the experience of New Testament believers, who are very faithful to God and yet are so poor. Even the early church and we often forget that many of the natural or physical parts of the Old Testament covenant, which the covenant, which the people operated under, it pointed forward to a spiritual reality in the new covenant, So for example, there was the curtain in the temple and it reminded the people of the division between God and humanity, that curtain that would be taken away through Jesus and that wide open invitation to anyone to come close to God through faith in Him, but the curtain wasn’t the thing, the curtain was just a symbol, a reminder. Or we could take the sacrifices, the sacrifices reminding us that we do need forgiveness, that we have a problem with sin and that it had to there, had to be a greater, more perfect sacrifice because the sacrifice of animals cannot clear the conscience. And so, Jesus comes as that perfect sacrifice.

Or take the land, as we’re talking about the land in these verses, the land was that place of God’s kingdom and it was the place of home for the people, a place of security and blessing but, in the new covenant, the kingdom of God is wherever God reigns in a person’s life and so, it is in your life, in my life and the home that the land was is now in the New Testament, the new heaven and the new earth that will come when Jesus returns, the physical and material, the natural, in the Old Testament was pointing towards the spiritual in the New Testament, under Jesus. And the same is true in this passage. I don’t think we should interpret it as ‘if you give 10 percent then you will get material blessing.’

For example, let’s turn to the New Testament where Jesus is engaging with the rich young ruler. Remember that story. A young man comes to Jesus and he knows something’s missing in his life and he doesn’t have assurance of eternal life and so, he says to Jesus ‘What else must I do?’ and Jesus says to him ‘Go and sell everything you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven.’ There’s no promise here of, give it all away and God will give you all back, there’s this promise of treasure in heaven, but when we read these verses there’s also the issue that we often think of heaven sort of as we did it with the children this morning, having been up there and that heaven is only future, that heaven is only we’re storing up riches in the future, but we know that Jesus often talked about the kingdom of heaven, that the kingdom of heaven is breaking in, so that there is this present, immediate aspect to the kingdom of heaven as well. So, this young man is invited to know treasure and heaven treasure in the kingdom of heaven now, not just future, there is that future time but there is also a present time and, for that rich young man it might have looked like greater freedom that he wasn’t tied to his wealth, it might look like greater contentment or peace or joy, but also, as he gave, he would bring aspects of the kingdom into the lives of other people, he would bring hope and joy for them, he would bring compassion and justice for them, he would lift people out of poverty that they might have life.

The kingdom is not just future, it is now, which is why what we heard in The Guild projects is so incredible and so just encouraging and inspiring, because they are investing now, and through their actions now we are seeing the kingdom break in and change people’s lives.

And so, there is this call of God, for people to give so as to change the world around them. In Malachi’s day, if they gave, the world would change, their world would change and that God would bring rain but, in New Testament and in our lives, by our giving, we change the world around us. Let me give you another quote from history – there was the Emperor Julian, Roman Emperor Julian and he was actually an opponent to Christianity. He didn’t like Christians, he persecuted them and in light of the generosity of the church he said ‘I would be shameful when the impious Galileans’, that is Christians, ‘feed our own people along with their own, that ours should be seen to lack the help we owe them’ and then he went on to order the creation of hospices. The generosity of God’s people sparked the conscience of their opponent to them bring about good for a wider society. And again, if we look at the example of the New Testament church in the book of Acts just after that same verse that I quoted earlier ‘They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need and the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.’ Yes, they taught the scriptures, Yes, they worship God. Yes, they met in fellowship but part of their life was sacrificial generosity and all of it combined to see the Lord adding to their number daily. The world changed in part because of their giving.

But maybe you’re wondering ‘Well, is God just again after our money? Is God just wanting us to obey? Is God just wanting us to be faithful stewards?’ because maybe that, maybe that just doesn’t speak to your heart, maybe it just sounds like here’s more of a list of things to do and obey.

And actually, there’s a third reason that God causes people to give and it’s at the very beginning of our chapter where in verses 6 and 7 the Lord said ‘I the lord do not change. Return to me and I will return to you.’ Return to me return to me return to me, in other words, repent, change your ways, come back to me. The Lord’s heart is for His people. He longs for them. He loves them. As we looked at in the very first verses of Malachi, He has this unending love for them, a love that is faithful and constant and true, this love that is generous and forgiving, this love that, Yes disciplines them for good, but He longs to bless them and lead them into life and all its fullness. This is the love of God and it hasn’t changed. He says this love has not changed, His heart is for them and He longs for them to respond in kind. He longs for them to love Him as He loves them because He’s constantly working to restore, maintain and deepen this relationship with His people.

And the same is true in the life of Jesus. You know, just before Jesus said what He did to the rich young ruler the text says ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him.’ What was in that look? What did it communicate? What did it anticipate?

I suspect that Jesus anticipates this young guy is going to say ‘No, it’s too much.’ because Jesus knows where this young man’s heart is and yet, in love, He still speaks the truth and in love He still gives that invitation knowing it will be rejected, but calling Him, yearning for Him to break free of that love of money, that love of wealth, and return to his Lord to, return to knowing Jesus, following Jesus, walking with Jesus. That is the heart of God here and in Malachi. It’s the heart of God that is for you brothers and sisters and for me, for our hearts to be the Lord’s, to be given to the Lord. That is God’s desire and the yearning that is there within Him. It’s the crux of the issue throughout Malachi really, that are we are people who will give our hearts to the Lord because He has given Himself to us.

Are we truly His people to the depths of our being? Do we love the Lord to the very core of who we are? Because to the very core of God, He loves you, His heart is for you and He longs for your heart to be for Him and that will be seen in every area of your life, where you could be spending your money because as the other verse on the screen before said ’Where your treasure is, there is your heart’ and what you spend your money on will show you where your treasure is as well.

So, let’s take the example of global warming and of the climate crisis that we have in COP 26. It’s actually more costly to live a more ecological life. Have you noticed that? Have you tried to swap away from plastics? It’s not easy and it’s no cheap. But are you willing to pay the price, are you willing to pay the price of that change to be a steward not only of your money but of this creation that God has entrusted to us? Is your heart enough for the Lord that you care for what He cares for?

Or the giving of our church. What we do is in the name of the Lord and for the Lord and it can’t happen without resource. Is your heart enough for the Lord that you invest in His purposes that you give generously to The Guild projects or to the Shoebox Appeal or whatever? It may be are you a Christian who’s a bare minimum Christian. ‘Oh God, this is the spare change I’ve got in my pocket this week? or do you take a more disciplined, ordered, proactive approach because God has you? Give your devotion to God rather than to your finances and to your wealth and so you set up a standing order and you give regularly rather than just what have I got this week.

The crux of the issue is that God calls His people to give because He wants our hearts to be right with Him and in relation to their stuff because when His people give, and give rightly, and have a right relationship to their money, then they’re not possessed by their possessions and they overflow with generosity. When they return to the Lord with all their hearts, we see our role as stewards and our possessions as gifts to share. When we love the Lord to the depths of our being, we will be a people who faithfully give and, through our giving, change the world that little bit. I pray it may be so. Amen.

We close our service as we sing together our final hymn ‘I want to walk with Jesus Christ’ This call, this yearning to be faithful followers of Jesus, to walk in His footsteps, to receive His teaching, to obey His ways. And so we close our service with our final hymn.

Living generously

Preached on: Sunday 26th September 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking hereCAP Sunday Presentation 2021 Slides.
Bible references: Luke 14: 1,7-15
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Good morning. I’m very croaky. I have not sung for probably about two years now that’s not true is it we all sing at home online but you can tell the difference from singing normally to this croaky voice that’s coming out so I do apologize a little bit this morning I do have some water so that’s great!You know a couple of years ago I was in a cafe with a friend, it was just before Christmas and I was absolutely delighted with myself because in about September I’d seen the perfect present for her so I bought this present and I wrapped it up and I’d sat on it until Christmas. Okay, and just as we were about to leave the cafe I put my hand in my bag and went don’t open it until Christmas and I could see this look of horror, pure horror on my friend’s face because clearly she did not have anything for me because she went um ‘I’ve forgotten yours can I pop it in before Christmas?’ and she was mortified for the simple reason that she had nothing to give in return.

We often have this desire to reciprocate, to be generous to the people who are generous towards us, and sometimes, if you’re anything like me, they’re generous towards us and you have to give them something that matches backwards, you know, even if you don’t like them – sorry, that’s just me all right – or sometimes our generosity comes with definite limits. Okay, so where I come from, you invite someone around twice and if they say no the second time well you don’t invite them again, do you. Because, frankly, inviting someone twice is enough you know, it’s not out of nastiness, it’s just that’s the way our culture is, but if we are only ever inviting people back who invite us to reciprocate. what does that mean for the people who have fallen on hard times or who find themselves isolated from us as friends or family.

Christians Against Poverty, or CAP for short, partners with churches like this and it is to help them serve and provide life-changing support to those who otherwise might be overlooked.

As Scott said, my name is Melanie Kilburn and I have the privilege of working with CAP to help people in my community in the west side of Edinburgh. Today I want to look at Jesus’s approach to generosity, His instructions on how to host a feast. I’m going to read to you a little bit of the passage that we’ve already heard from Luke 14 12-14 we had the scene set in the earlier verses. Jesus is dining at the house of an important Pharisee. The guy has invited all his friends and they know the pecking order, okay. They’ve jostled for the places to get to the best bits of the at the table. The Pharisees culture was to invite the important people, those who could reciprocate and maybe help them on the social ladder, but Jesus tears this idea apart and He turns it round, and He embarrassingly tells the Pharisee, in front of all his friends, how he should have organized the party, then Jesus said to his host when you give a luncheon or dinner do not invite your friends, your brothers, your sisters, your relatives or your rich neighbors, if you do they may invite you back and so you will be repaid, but when you give a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind and you will be blessed although they cannot repay you. You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.

When Jesus is talking about a dinner here he’s talking about more than a physical meal, it’s code for the Kingdom of God. He’s making His point about with the way that God’s kingdom work,s the way that God’s love works. There’s a human way of loving which is reciprocal and then there’s a God way of loving which is relentlessly generous, relentlessly generous. God’s love to us, it’s relentless, He’s making a point that this is the way the kingdom works.

This is the love that we see in Jesus, that’s the love he’s talking about here. So, if God’s if God is relentlessly generous in His love to us how should we respond?

So, obviously, we can and we should love Him back but what we’re compelled to do from Jesus’s teaching is love others, to join Him in a life of generosity, especially to those who find themselves struggling, isolated, overlooked. It’s what flows out of the heart of the Gospel.

Now, I’m sure that you’ve experienced some isolation, loneliness, struggles in the events of the last two years, I certainly have, the hard truth is that for those in poverty this isolation was often an everyday experience even before the pandemic but without the Zoom quizzes and the family catch-ups. A recent survey of those who – sorry, this is a real statistic here and the statistic means people okay, so I’m sorry if I get upset about this but I love them – a recent survey says that those who have been helped by CAP found that before they were helped 75 percent had experienced loneliness or social isolation due to their circumstances.

As part of my role, I visit people in their homes and I meet people who say I don’t see my family in case they ask me how I am and I can’t hide that something’s wrong and I would be so embarrassed if they found out that I was in debt.

What I love about CAP is it enables me and my church to provide these people with life-changing practical support but it also gives us an opportunity to invite them into our community. You have this opportunity too and now I’m going to embarrass my friends, I’m going to introduce you to Fiona but also to Maureen and Stephen. Do you want to come and stand in the middle here so everybody up there can see it, come on let’s embarrass you, so Stephen and Maureen and Fiona, there you go, you’re gonna wave now because they can’t see, there’s more people up there. Okay, Stephen and Fiona and Maureen are debt coaches and they work at the Forth Valley Debt Center and we are celebrating today that you are now part of the Forth Valley Debt Center, Okay, so you can all go and sit down now.

I hadn’t told them that I was going to make them do that so there you go just so you know their faces. These are the guys that you’re going to be working with as you move forward.

I’m going to show you a client video now, and I’m going to let Simon from that video tell you his story.

My now deceased wife used to look after the finances, she was the one that was good with the money, where I wasn’t, and I’d built quite a lot of severe debt, unmanageable debt, so I was living in fear of eviction. I’d been served with an eviction notice from my landlords. I didn’t see a way forward it didn’t see a way out of it. So, I decided or I just tried to end it all.

it was actually my landlords who’d mentioned Christians against poverty they fast-tracked me and my debt coach Jim arrived in my doorstep nobody had crossed the threshold I’d been living there I think I’ve been there nearly two years so the biggest difference that Christians against poverty’s process made for me was that it was house visits by the July of 2016 I got that wonderful telephone call from headquarters that CAP where they said Mr. Moss you are now debt free and played the harmonicas and that’s one of the great sounds I’ve ever heard

I then went on a CAP event where I came to faith this lady put her hands on this on my shoulder and prayed for me just felt an overwhelming sense of calm and peace and love and warmth that I’ve never experienced before and I just knew I just knew that

what it was and committed my life to Jesus there and then

on a Sunday I can’t wait to get up for service I just love the church family that I’ve got we’re brothers and sisters in Christ but we’re closer than blood

and we support each other we live our lives for each other we’re there for each other and I praise God and thank God for that day that I now know he watched over me when I tried to end it all and he said no mate you’re not going yet you’ve got lots to do

i just felt such an overwhelming sense of wanting to give something back it’s turned my life around 180 degrees completely structuralist to you know having a real purpose in life now

both of my sons in conversations saw the difference that coming to faith had made to me Daz came up first he’s in minor crime so he’d been in and out of prison anyway he came to the service sat at the back listened intently we happened to be having that evening some baptisms in Newcastle so he chose to come along and get baptized and I’ve never felt so proud in all my life it was the proudest moment sorry

obviously it was a tragic situation for us for the family but the blessings for me personally is that he’s found Jesus and he’s taken being taken to glory um with his maker and he’s sat up there and he’s looking down on us and I’m sure he’s proud of what his dad’s doing life can still be tough but I know that I’ve always got my church family around me to support me and I know that I’ve always got Jesus as my best friend and as it says my superhero

I’ll tell you, back to the beginning of the video and I don’t know if you caught this, he said for two years no one but his landlord had crossed the threshold of his house. two years.
It’s just not right that someone has to live in that isolation and it’s not right that as the rest of the world gets back to normality many of those with unmanageable debt like Simon they’re going to remain locked in that prison of isolation and despair

Simon’s story is heart rending and if this resonates with you and your story don’t delay I want you to phone our free phone number to get help if you have unmanageable debt and our free phone number is 0-800-328-06

you can go on the CAP website and the number is there there’s even a button if you actually go to CAP Scotland and you can click and someone will call you back please if this is you don’t delay deal with your debts today

so just to explain what happens when cats when someone reaches out to cat for help what we don’t do is pay people’s debts for them okay what happens is um they have a home visit by a debt coach someone like Fiona or Maureen or steven or me and we are backed up by an army of expert debt advisors back in our CAP Bradford head office these teams they work with our clients to identify the best route out of debt and that might be debt repayment or some form of insolvency we negotiate they negotiate with the creditors on their behalf and they journey with them have for however long it takes for them to become debt free now when we say the term debt free these guys smile okay they smile inside because it’s our favorite term debt free it’s amazing so for Fiona and Stephen and Maureen their jobs are to come alongside the clients on their journey they help the client gather the information that’s needed and they help them understand the advice that comes from head office and the thing is that they need help with this they need help because they don’t visit the clients on their own they need chaperones they need befrienders they need people to help with administration and publicity they need help with social events and alpha courses they need help and that’s where you can come in okay on your

do we still call things pews are these pews okay so on your pews okay you have a form that you can take away and have a look at you could fill it in this morning filling this form in this morning isn’t signing your life away honestly they’re not like that I am but they’re not okay so please if you’re just interested in hearing more about our project then fill this in and give it to Fiona Stephen or Maureen or me the other thing is if you want to hear more about the charity we have some books of John Kirkby who is our founder it’s his um autobiography and they’re free okay you don’t have to pay anything for these and there’s also some stories of clients in a book called um joy stories of joy stories of hope I can’t even remember what the book’s called they go how embarrassing is that

each year over 2 000 people experience the freedom of becoming debt free are you going to smile debt-free and hundreds or more are helped to find employment through our job clubs or learn to live on you know navigate the life of living on the knife edge of poverty um on a low income through our life skills and our CAP money course many of you yourselves may have done the cat money course everything CAP does is about giving the church a hands-on way of loving people and connecting with people that we might not normally come into contact with

for Simon has as he experienced the love and generosity of Jesus through CAP and the local church he saw his life turn 180 degrees and that old generosity actually started to overflow from him into the people around him he went from being isolated to being a source of community and hope to his family and everybody around him doing exactly what Jesus told us to do in Luke 14 is the power of generosity in action because of one person and one church cared enough to reach out and not it was not just Simon was impacted his whole family and many other people besides were changed we actually have no idea of the impact that our generosity can have

CAP is about ordinary people like you and me in all kinds of churches making that choice and I wonder today what does that choice look like for you

perhaps you know someone like Simon and you could reach out to today or perhaps you’re sitting there thinking that there’s no one around you in this community that this could be affecting but I tell you from my experience there is unmanageable debt in every community every community

perhaps you have been inspired by the vision of CAP and at the heart of this movement of Christians against poverty we have over 30 000 people who give a regular monthly gift okay we call them life changes because they because their generosity is changing people’s lives without them none of what I’ve just shared would be possible their generosity often um inspired by their faith is what drives this whole thing forward and I am going to bluntly ask you today could you do that could you join them would you join them five pounds a month on a regular giving

it’ll help people like Simon get practical help come into a community rebuild their lives and have the opportunity of discovering the life-changing love of Jesus there are two ways you could give now you could give by going to visit forward slash respond and many of you will already be giving to CAP but this is to CAP head office okay we have this army of people I’ve talked about down there and that’s like a juggernaut that we have to keep going in the background and many of you will already give to that but what we’re going to ask you to do this morning is this other form we’re going to ask you rather than giving to CAP head office of course you can do that we would like you to support your local debt center the fourth valley debt center on a regular basis five pounds a month to that doesn’t sound much to you maybe you can please you can give more if you want to but if everybody gave just that amount it would add up to a huge amount so that these guys can get on with the work of loving people

Scott’s going to talk to Fiona in a few minutes and she’s going to tell you how practically you can become directly involved our work is sustained through prayer so you could join our prayer team or you could become a befriender or a chaperone as I’ve said there’s lots and lots of ways of becoming involved

we are all invited to God’s table and His culture isn’t that He just asks a couple of times with a couple of invitations and then He stops because that’s enough He doesn’t do that He perseveres He pursues us and He pursues us forever we are invited to be at His table forever

He calls us to live generously to those who can’t repay us just like He does towards us and He asks us to use our tables to extend that same eternal invitation to the others around us

So, thank you for listening.

Contentment and Generosity

Preached on: Sunday 7th March 2021
The sermon text is given below or can be download by clicking on the “PDF” button above. Additionally, you can download the PowerPoint PDF by clicking here 21-03-07 Message PPT slides multi pages.
Bible references: Philippians 4:1-23
Location: Brightons Parish Church

Before we think about God’s wordCome Holy Spirit, help us to hear the voice of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit, lead us in the way of Jesus.
Come Holy Spirit with power and deep conviction, for we ask it in Jesus name, Amen

When you think about Christianity, what does it give you? Is Christianity, or as we’ve called it in this series ‘the way of Jesus’, is the way of Jesus simply about good morals? Is it simply about being religious and doing religious activities? Does the way of Jesus simply give you more things to do, more rules to follow, more boxes to tick?

When I talk with young people who may have very little experience of Christianity I try to help them see beyond these narrow misconceptions.

As I prepared for today I came across a testimony which someone shared in light of being diagnosed with a serious illness. This individual said “The options open to me medically are minimal and at best do not promise renewed energy nor longevity. The other option is to turn this over to God in faith. This we have been directed to do by God after much prayer and spiritual surrender. What the future holds we do not know, but we know God holds it. These past few days have rolled over as like an avalanche leaving in their wake some central certainties which make up my thanksgiving prayer list. Out of the dark night of the soul has come the sunlight of God’s love. I am thankful for God who is real and personal, for a Christ who is present in power, and for the Holy Spirit who is by our side in every struggle. My gratitude overflows for a faith that is unwavering in the face of seemingly unsurmountable obstacles and for the personal practice of prayer that brings all God’s promises to bear in any situation. My thanksgiving list is made this year not from what I have but from who has me, a God who’s able to do exceedingly, abundantly above all I ask or think.”

What does Christianity give you?

Would your list have included contentment as this individual spoke of? Would it be, would there be peace and hope? Would it include a love which helps you to live well such that you’re not focused on yourself?

The individual who wrote those words was an older minister and he wrote them to his congregation. Here was a man who had a deep and mature faith. Someone who had learnt the way of Jesus and how I envy such a mature faith!

In our passage today, Paul follows on from the previous section where he said in verse 9 “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me or seen in me, put it into practice.” Once more Paul calls them to grow in their faith, to grow in the way of Jesus, to grow in maturity. Towards that end he says they are to put into practice what they have seen in him whether before or now, and so he speaks of the maturity they are currently showing and how they might still grow in further maturity. We might summarize these two points as learning contentment and learning generosity.

Paul says, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”

Here is a man, as I’ve said in previous weeks, who is imprisoned, potentially facing execution and surrounded by hostile opponents, and yet Paul can still say that he is not in need and that he is content. In Paul’s example I see an elder brother who is much farther down the road than I, and he beckons, he calls me, he calls us all, to know more of the way of Jesus, to grow and mature, so that we can share this contentment no matter the storm or circumstance. But let’s notice that Paul said he had to learn it as well, it wasn’t automatic for him but it can be learnt.

Key to it all is to find our strength through Jesus, through relationship with Jesus. In this way Paul is challenging the attitudes of his day for the stoic philosophers of the first century also prized contentment and saw it as a mark of being a truly wise person which they esteemed, yet they said you could find such contentment within yourself. Theirs was a contentment through self-sufficiency, but Paul points to another way, to contentment found through dependence on Jesus. We might say a ‘Christ sufficiency’.

I wonder friends, do you yearn like me for greater contentment? When people look at your , do they see someone who exudes a deep contentment even in the trials of life? Could it be that we’re seeking contentment in the wrong ways or places? Are we relying on ourselves? I wonder are you tired of that way of life? Would you not rather find an alternative which brings joy and radiates a measure of hope, even in the darkest of times? I know I would do.

Paul says this is available by finding our strength through Jesus, through relationship with Jesus.

The word ‘strength’ in the Greek is ‘endunamo’ which comes from the word ‘dunamis’ meaning power. One commentator paraphrases Paul as saying ‘I can do all this through Jesus who gifts me with dynamite’ which I love. This got me thinking though, and I searched elsewhere in the scriptures in the new testament for where Paul talks about power in his other letters and I noticed these three things:

that with power we can know peace by receiving the love of God,
with power we can know purity by receiving self-control,
with power we can know perseverance and faith by receiving an endurance and patience amidst trials

Friends, where do you need contentment? Is it in the difficulties of life? Is it in the temptations of life? Is it in the frustrations and the bitterness that well up within us in the day to day of life?

Because God would want to help you learn contentment, to mature in faith by finding, in Jesus, the strength, the dynamite, the power to know a peace or a purity or a perseverance which is beyond your mere human ability and self-sufficiency.

Now hear me right please, we could say much more about contentment. It’s not wrong, for example, to pray for circumstances to change. Paul does. It’s not wrong for difficulties to weary us. Paul speaks of those hardships,

and also please, do not simply hear this as a challenge. Hear this as an invitation. An invitation to another way of life, to life in all its fullness. So, will you respond in faith today and seek to mature by learning contentment through Jesus?

Paul goes on, and he commends the Philippians for their generosity, something which many others had not shown.

ow it seems like Paul is a little cagey here; on the one hand he seems to say ‘thank-you, it was very much appreciated’, and then on the other he seems to say ‘well it wasn’t really needed and I wasn’t really looking for it.’

The reason for this is that Paul doesn’t want to appear like the contemporary charlatans of his day who would build a gathering of followers and then gain financial support from them. Paul doesn’t want to come across as being motivated by financial gain. Nevertheless he commends the Philippians, he commends them for their generosity, their sharing to meet the needs of others. Presumably, this they also learnt from Paul who from his writings was one who encouraged the churches to care for one another and to care for others.

I wonder friends, do we have a mature faith that shows itself in generosity? Do we realize that, as followers of Jesus, we are called into something greater than ourselves? Do we realize that the way of Jesus, which does bring freedom and contentment, is also the way of sacrifice? Because, as we receive His power, to know his love, we’re called to show that love and sacrifice to others. As we receive His power to be pure through self-control, we’re called to deny ourselves that others might benefit.

Brothers and Sisters, as I said earlier in our service, we face a difficult time ahead for the Braes Churches, not just in the next few months, but in the years to come. Whatever lies ahead, will our response be marked by generosity and contentment? Do we understand ourselves to be part of something bigger and that the way of Jesus is not, and has never been, about buildings? Are we willing to follow Jesus in the way of sacrifice and of denying self? What would that look like amongst us across the Braes?

Yet, let’s not leave this for application in a few months time, What about now, today?

Well, this coming week the Tuesday Evening Event online will feature input from Tearfund and they are asking churches to partner with them in their Lent Appeal, and for every one pound you give it will be doubled by outside funding. Will you get involved? Will you choose to sacrifice and be marked by generosity?

Friends, today we conclude Philippians. There have been many important lessons, many pointers to what it means to live as followers of Jesus and grow in maturity, to walk in the way of Jesus. I pray that we will be such a people, a people who respond, who say yes to God’s invitation, such that we too might be worthy of the Gospel and all to the glory of God may it be so, Amen