Posted tagged ‘giving’

Noisy Contributions

April 2, 2019

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                 April 2, 2019

                                     

     Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few pence.”     (Mark 12:41-42)

My friend, Ed Stucky, gave a message on Sunday about “offerings”. I always learn some “behind the scenes” stories of the Scriptures when Ed speaks, and this was no different.

When the crowds came to the temple the people would place their coin offerings in metallic containers (probably made of silver, gold, or bronze). The larger the offering the louder the noise of the coins hitting the metal. The louder the noise the more attention the giver would receive. The noise indicated the size of the contribution, and the wealthy status of the contributor.

It reminds me of the Society Page in our city newspaper’s Sunday edition. There are pictures of men in tuxedoes and women in evening gowns holding glasses of wine, with the headline “Benefit Raises $250,000 for Family Crisis Center!”

Not that raising money for a cause is a bad thing, but in Jesus’ time the rich wanted to be seen for the size of their gifts more than the generosity of their hearts. They liked to make a lot of noise!

And then there is a widow who places two small coins in! They are lost in the noise of the crowd, and she slips away unnoticed, invisible, and now poorer than poor. Jesus seems to be the only one that notices her. After all, the temple needs a lot of noisemakers to keep things going, not the slight sound of unimportant pence that make no impact! 

Jesus is impressed by what the widow has given and chosen not to keep, rather than what the rich have chosen to keep rather than give! It’s a counter-cultural thought that escapes the notice of everyone else.

It also signals a principle that gets overlooked or completely ignored. That is, it is usually the noisemakers in our culture that are visible and those who hardly are able to make a sound who become the invisible.

In saying that, it’s easy to place the focus on groups and categories of people who don’t have two coins to their name, but each of us also have people in our lives that easily become invisible. It’s easier to focus on categories of the voiceless rather than the man we see everyday sitting alone at Starbucks or the middle school student who has become invisible to her classmates.

Who makes the most noise these days? What noise SHOULD my life make?

Perhaps the forgotten prayer that needs to be whispered again is “Lord, may the noise that my life offers always be an echo of your spirit speaking to me and through me!”

Self-Centered Generosity

December 30, 2017

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                             December 30, 2017

                                     

The year 2018 will be a telling experience that will show just how generous middle-class Americans are. New tax laws will reduce the benefits “kinda”… for many of moderate-income to give to charitable organizations.

One of the changes in the new tax laws includes a doubling of the standard deduction. That means an individual filer can deduct $12,000 and a married couple $24,000 without itemizing their deductions. Estimates are that less than 10% of taxpayers will continue to itemize their deductions. Thus, the incentive to give to charity will go to how genuine a person’s generosity really is!

Except for this year! Charitable organizations are seeing an increase in giving as the year ends for givers to take advantage of itemizing deductions. In other words, some people are being charitable in 2017 who will think twice about giving next year. It smacks of self-centered generosity. “What do I get out of this?”

To be honest, churches have been scrambling for years to make ends meet. In 2016 the typical church attender gave about 2.5% of their income to their church. During the Great Depression of 1929 the percentage was estimated at 3.3%! Generosity has not exactly run roughshod through the pews as things are. Now most ministries are expecting a decrease in giving to budgets that are already looking pretty threadbare!

So 2018 will be a year of indicators! Are Americans, especially followers of Jesus, generous or only generous when it helps their tax burden?

It’s not like there won’t be people in need next year. In Colorado Springs there are not enough available beds to take care of the growing homeless situation. The various shelters are looking for options to increase capacity, but more capacity requires more money to fund the ministries to the poor…and where will these funds come from?

The optimistic faith-based view of the coming situation is that the nation will see the heart of Jesus in the incredible outpouring of financial support from his followers; that Christians will take seriously Jesus’ directive to care for the poor, the widows, and the orphans. That’s a view that could indicate a spiritual renewal in our midst!

The pessimistic view is that the tax law changes will show just how greedy and self-centered we really are!

The Red Kettle Bellringer

December 22, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                     December 22, 2016

                                 

The ringing could be heard all over the parking lot of the grocery store. The seventy year old man waving the bell back and forth smiled at everyone who passed by regardless of whether they put something in his kettle or not. Most didn’t, but he engaged them with a greeting anyway.

A young woman with her four year old daughter approached on his right hoping to sneak by unnoticed. The bellringer turned as she was right beside him and shouted a greeting. “Merry Christmas to you and yours!” The greeting made her step back startled for a moment. “Would your little girl like a candy cane?”

The four year old looked up with delight and a smile from ear to ear. “I’m sure she would,” replied the mom. “I’m sorry, but I don’t have anything to put into the donation bucket.”

“That’s quite all right, ma’am! Perhaps you’ll be able to pass on the glad tidings to someone in another way…a kind word to a neighbor, a visit to someone in the hospital, or even saying a prayer for someone else in need. There always seems to be something that we can do to help this world be a bit more decent to be a part of.”

“Thank you! I’ll keep those things in mind.”

“Mr. Bellringer,“ came the soft voice of the young child. “Do you get to keep the money that you collect?”

“Lord, no, darling!” he chuckled. “This money goes to help some folk who don’t have food to eat or a bed to lay their head in. I’m just the man who has the privilege to ring the bell and hand out candy canes.” He turned to the left to wish another customer entering the store a merry Christmas. Another woman exiting walked by the red kettle and tucked a folded five dollar bill into the slit on top of the kettle. “Thank you, ma’am!”

“So, Mr. Bellringer-“

“Call me Mr. Sam, darling!”

“Mr. Sam, what do you get for standing here and ringing the bell?”

“Well, my dear, I get…to do it!”

“Get to do it?”

“Yes, I get to do it. I get to see the looks of generosity that come upon the faces of people who make decisions to give up something of their own to help someone they will probably never see.”

The mom spoke up. “But don’t you get a bit miffed at all the folk who pretend not to see you as they pass by?”

“No, ma’am! That’s their choice, and you know something?”

“What?”

“I used to be just like that. Kind of a hardened man who didn’t really care about anyone or anything else. I can’t really say how I got to that point but it happened.”

“So…something must have changed.”

“Yes, ma’am! It did, and it was about this time of the year…ten years ago, in fact!” He paused for a moment to greet a young boy and his parents and hand the child one of his candy canes. “My wife, Ellie, came down sick…and I mean really sick! So sick that I carried her out to the car and started to drive her to the hospital. She was in severe pain, moaning and groaning, and all of a sudden as we drove she just passed out.”

“Oh my!”

“As you can tell, I was scared to death and I pulled over to the side of the road, put my flashers on, and tried to revive her. I was frantic! Thank the Good Lord that no more than thirty seconds later a pick-up truck pulled up behind me on the side of the road and a man and his wife got out to see what was going on. I jumped out of the car and screamed about my wife being unresponsive. The woman was a nurse who worked in the ER of the very hospital I was heading to, and she performed CPR on Ellie right there, got her breathing again, and jumped in the car with me as we drove to the hospital. She called ahead and they were waiting for us when we arrived five minutes later.”

The little girl looked up at Mr. Sam and with great concern asked, “Was she okay?”

“Darling, there was something wrong with her heart, but they were able to fix it and she ended up being okay. But you know something, if that couple hadn’t stopped to help it would have been a different story. That day changed me! I guess you could say that the Good Lord got my attention about how selfish I had been. If that had been someone else pulled off the side of the road and I was passing by I wouldn’t have thought twice about them, but just kept on going. But Ellie probably wouldn’t still be alive today if those two people hadn’t helped. Like I said, that day changed me!”

“And that’s why you ring the bell?” asked the mom. “That’s why you greet people with a merry Christmas and hand out candy canes.”

“It’s a simply way that doesn’t take any advanced education, if you know what I mean. The only requirements are being able to ring a bell and be friendly with people. And you know something, ma’am? I enjoy it!”

At that moment a woman was leaving the store and she came by the red kettle. “Here you go, Sam! Tell Ellie I said hello!” She dropped some money into the collection.

“You betcha’, Helen! You working today?”

“Heading there now! Will you stop by and say hello?”

“Absolutely! Maybe I’ll bring you a candy cane!”

“Save those for the kids, Sam!” She walked on across the parking lot.

“Is that one of your neighbors?”

“In  a way!”

The little girl spoke up again. “Mr. Sam, are you going home after you get done ringing your bell?”

“No, I’m heading to the hospital.”

“Is your wife there?”

“No, I go by the pediatric ward…that’s where the sick children stay…and I pass out candy canes and tell them stories to make their day a little brighter.”

“That’s really nice, Mr. Sam,” said the mom. “Is Helen one of the nurses there?”

“Yes, she’s a nurse in the pediatric ward now.”

“How did you meet? Did you meet her when you started volunteering there?”

“No, I knew her before that. She used to be a nurse in the ER.”

The young mom paused and then began, “Is that…is she…?”

“Yes! She’s the one who saved Ellie’s life.” And he gave a wink to the mom and her daughter. “I hope you have a very merry Christmas!” The little girl took two steps to Mr. Sam and hugged him with all her might.

“Merry Christmas, Mr. Sam!”

My Secret Santa

December 13, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                         December 13, 2016

                                           

About a week ago Mission Medical Clinic of Colorado Springs received a boxed gift in the mail from an anonymous sender. Inside was a check for $10,000 and three $50 gift cards. The clinic offers a variety of medical services for people who have limited financial resources. The $10,000 will go a long ways in helping meet needs that never seem to lessen.

The first thought of the mission’s director was that it was a scam, so she called a local TV station about it. Further investigation revealed that it was genuine…and the praises began! Another local charity also received an anonymous check.

Even though the Christmas story revolves around expectancy it brings us the unexpected. Kids squeal and giggle over the expectation of the coming of Santa Claus, but stories of secret Santa’s take our breath away and leave us open-mouthed.

I will always remember my secret Santa! He or she sent me a gift shortly before Christmas in 1984…thirty-two years ago! Carol and I were the parents of two toddlers, and I was in my first months of pastoring my first church, the First Baptist Church of Mason, Michigan. Our financial resources were minimal. Most of the toys that the kids received for Christmas that year had been bought at the yard sales of the previous summer. We didn’t have much, but we had just enough! Carol learned how to use macaroni in numerous ways, and our home was often scented with the fragrance of digested pinto beans.

And then a $50 cashier’s check arrived in the mail from “Secret Santa.” A note attached to it said, “Take this check down to Jack Davis and buy yourself a new suit!” Jack Davis was the owner of Davis’s Men’s Wear, located on the corner of Ash and Jefferson, across from the Ingham County Courthouse in downtown Mason. Although I’ve had my suspicions, to this day I do not know who the Secret Santa was. All I know is that it lifted my spirits. That was back in the day when suits were the expected Sunday attire for pastors, and my suit selection was limited. My Secret Santa saw a young pastor with a wife and two kids who needed a little help. We had so many other needs to take care of that a new suit was not even on the list.

I thought of that story recently after receiving a check in the mail from my denomination’s retirement and benefits board. It was a “thank you” check sent to all of the retired ministers and missionaries of the American Baptist Churches, expressing appreciation for our years of ministry and service. I hadn’t thought about being a recipient of it, but rather as a giver to it, and yet here, once again, was an unexpected check!

This time, however, Carol and I have enough resources to be able to pay it forward to someone else, or some other organization. Not necessarily a check for $10,000, but rather the givers of an unexpected gift in a season of expectancy.

Giving Choices

August 8, 2016

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                               August 8, 2016

                                        

For years, and years, and years I would write a personal check each Sunday morning, put it in an offering envelope, and place it in the offering plate at church as it passed me by. I believed then, and I still do, that the pastor of a church should model giving.

And then I retired at the end of December!

Now what?

Carol and I now had some choices to make.

The past few months have caused me to rethink how we give, to whom do we give, and why we give. Perhaps our reasons for financially supporting a person or organization include some elements that might be trends…or, perhaps not!

One of the factors we now weigh revolves around “relationship.” We now support four different individuals or families in various ministries and missions because we know them. One of them is related to us, another was a part of the youth group years ago back in Michigan, another is a young lady who I coached in basketball, and the fourth are personal friends of mine who are married to one another. Relationship is pivotal because it tells us whether this is “a mission on a whim”, or there has been consistency in the life journey of the person. We’ve also given one-time gifts on a number of occasions for someone who is going on a short-term mission trip. I’ve noticed that we are much more open to giving when we personally know the person. The relationship helps us sense that we are a part of the ministry.

The second factor could be called “purpose.” What is the purpose of the ministry? What does the mission focus on? If we aren’t sensing purpose in the mission then a budget deficit is no longer a reason for us to contribute to it. Purpose is huge.

For us purpose trumps results! We can be swayed by a happy bottom line, but the first Baptist missionary in Burma, Adoniram Judson, didn’t baptize his first convert until he had been there six years. His purpose, however, never changed. He was charged with sharing the gospel with the people of Burma. In today’s terms, his annual reports the first five years would not have looked very good.

We must believe in the purpose of the ministry for us to support the ministry.

The third factor would be “integrity”– the integrity of the ministry. Integrity includes elements like financial responsibility, trust, commitment to the future of the mission. A ministry or mission is different than a bank. I deposit money into my bank and trust that it will keep my funds safe, and even give me a few cents interest on it each month. A ministry with integrity understands that I give my gift to it to be used for the advancement of the Kingdom of God. Any church has “savers” and “spenders.” Put another way, any church has those with very conservative spending habits and those who, like Adoniram Judson, believe “that the future is as bright as the promises of God.” There are settlers and there are pioneers. In this time of our lives Carol and I want our financial gifts to be used for a significant purpose. We shy away from “settling.”

Sometimes a ministry, especially the ministry of a church, communicates more about the utility costs than it does the mission. That, I believe, affects the view of the ministry’s integrity. Over the past twenty years or so there have been enough examples of missions and ministries mishandling funds or being dishonest about its finances. We need to see integrity in the organization.

Finally, there needs to be “a tug on our hearts” for the ministry of the person or the organization. Do we sense that God is leading us to be a part of this? Quite frankly, there are a number of things he is not leading us to partner with. We aren’t THE answer, just a small part of the solution. Each person or ministry we now contribute to has tugged on our hearts.

Where we are right now in our life journey may be where most people are in regards to their decisions to support causes and concerns. It is a new place for us that has caused us to do a lot of praying and thinking. Our money is not our own, and never was. We’re simply called to be wise stewards of it in the support of God’s Kingdom!

Norma’s Shoes

December 7, 2015

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                   December 7, 2015

                                                     

   

Norma Koch was a person of faith…perhaps courageous faith might be the better description. She believed in a Jesus that was not weak and, therefore, she was not to approach her walk with him in a weak way!

A couple of years ago the social worker at Audubon School, down the street from our church, called to say that there was a boy at the school who needed a new pair of shoes. The young lad had a pair of shoes that were literally held together with duct tape. The tape was wrapped around and around each of the shoes to keep them from falling apart. Our church bought him a new pair. A young kid’s feet were singing hallelujah!

That child’s need struck deep within Norma’s heart. The senior living complex she resided in would play Bingo once or twice a week and there were actually “cash winnings!” A quarter here, fifty cents there! Norma began collecting her winnings in a jar with a mission. The mission was to collect the change until there was enough to buy a new pair of shoes for the next child in need.

This past July she turned the money in, and it was deposited into out church’s benevolence fund until the need arose to use it.

And then Norma passed away! Ninety years old…ready to meet the Jesus she followed face-to-face, ready to be done with the aches and pains that had accompanied her for so long. She passed…and entered!

About six weeks after her passing Audubon School called again. A first grade girl was in dire need of a new pair of shoes. Norma’s shoes got bought. A little girl is now wearing “Dora the Explorer” shoes…all sparkly and new on her feet.

Though she is dancing in glory Norma Koch continues to have an impact in this life.

Receiving The Gift

December 23, 2014

 

“ For God so loved the world that he gave…”

We know what the rest of the verse says. It talks to Jesus and his mission and purpose.

But the mission had to be ignited with God’s attitude of giving. He gave and gave and gave.

What if the Holy God who created us didn’t want to give? What if he was content to sit on his throne and exclusively receive? Most of the false gods that people have worshiped through the ages are like that. Sacrifices were offered to appease the gods. People were terrified about the possibility of making the gods angry.

The One and Only true God, however, could not help himself. He gave. He gave his Son. And he continues to give. His”grace is sufficient for you.” (2 Corinthians 12:9) His peace “transcends all understanding.” (Philippians 4:7) 

    “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23)

God was not a one-time giver. His gifts are on-going and life-changing.

So what do we do in return? What can we give God? Romans 12:1-2 summarizes it.

    “Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God- this is your spiritual act of worship.” (Romans 12:1) 

Give God this day, and then give him the next day…and then the next. Worshiping him involves that capturing and giving of each day, each moment, to be used for the glory of God.

Have a blessed Christmas!

The Blessing of Pecan Pie

December 10, 2014

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                                December 10, 2014

                                          

A wonderful lady in our church named Wilma, just a shy short of being eighty, blessed me in a delicious way last Sunday. Wilma had baked a pecan pie and decided that I should have it.

Now you need to understand that pecan pie is my favorite! Capped off with a scoop of Blue Bell Natural Vanilla Bean ice cream, it is a slice of pie heaven…if there is pie in heaven!

That night the “young guys” group that I lead were descending upon our house, so the food choice was settled. Pecan pie and ice cream for everyone!

I wasn’t expecting to receive a freshly baked pie that day, but some of the greatest blessings of God come at unexpected times. The even better news is that I still have two slices left after Sunday night, and Carol doesn’t care for pecan pie (What is wrong with her?), so I’m set for another couple of nights of lip smacking delight.

I don’t know if Wilma thought I was starting to look a little lean in the mid-section or what. I didn’t ask her for an explanation as to how I was the winner. Paul said that Jesus had once made the statement that “It was more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) I’m willing, however, to be the receiver to allow someone else to experience the gift of giving.

Wilma is a woman of God who has had a life of mountains and valleys, but God gave her the gift of baking. Her cinnamon rolls are craved. If she bakes anything to bring to a church fellowship function the baked goods are snatched up in a way that only hungry Baptists can achieve.

A simple pecan pie.

An unexpected blessing.

It makes me ponder how often I’ve been the giver of an unexpected blessing. My selfish nature says I’m always willing to have something surprise me, but how often do I look to give a surprise blessing?

Christmas has that underneath message of giving. It’s more than bartering for the best deal. It’s going a little further in helping someone else.

And…listen! It doesn’t have to be a pecan pie!

If you want to bake a cake or make some cookies, I’m open for them as well!

Just kidding…kinda!

Misunderstood Generosity

December 1, 2014

 

When Jerry opened the Christmas present that was from his mom and dad he was a little confused and perturbed.

He had graduated from college the previous May and had been fortunate to find a teaching position at a middle school in a rural school district about an hour away from the town he grew up in. It didn’t pay much, but he loved it. He loved seeing young minds suddenly understanding the mathematical methods that he taught.

He was thankful that he was able to be home with family for Christmas. His brother Silas, and twin sisters, Abby and Gail, were there also. Jerry was the youngest, but the only one who still lived in-state.

The box he had opened could have fit in his pocket. He reached into it and pulled out a key chain. He admitted later on that his first thought was “That’s all! A key chain!”

His siblings then each opened a present, and Jerry sat and battled with the conflicted feelings of anger and gratitude. Then his father said, “Oh Jerry! We forgot. You probably would like some keys to put on your key chain. Here’s one to get you started.”

His father reached into his pocket and pulled out a shiny key and handed it to Jerry. It had an “H” letter on the end of it. “H” for Honda.

“Merry Christmas! It’s parked in the garage.”

Jerry was speechless. He walked out into the garage to see a brand new Honda Civic. The box with the key chain had only been the beginning part of the story.

How often do we become confused by the generosity of God because we only have the first part of the story?

Zechariah was confused by God’s promise that he was to have a son. In Luke 1:7 we read that he and Elizabeth “…had no children, because Elizabeth was barren; and they were both well along in years.”

Zechariah was on priestly duty in the temple to burn incense when an angel of the Lord appeared to him and told him that Elizabeth was going to have a son and he was to be named John. Zechariah questions this proclamation and is literally rendered speechless.

Zechariah didn’t see the whole picture. Sometimes God’s greatest gifts to our lives aren’t understood until later. Zechariah sees a wife who is past childbearing years. God gives a child who will go before his Son and proclaim the coming of the Messiah.

David’s brothers saw a boy who should have stayed home and been watching the sheep. God gave a courageous leader who would slay a giant.

Sometimes we only see a key chain and God is about to give a key. God is generous in the present and also in the future.

 

The Grinch at Starbucks

December 26, 2013

WORDS FROM W.W.                                                   December 25, 2013

The elderly gentleman arrived at the entry door of Starbucks just ahead of a forty-something man with a serious look on his face and a cell phone attached to his ear. The senior opened the door and invited the other visitor to enter ahead of him. He did and gave his doorman a half-nod.

This was the second visit to the store that morning for the wiser of the two. The second cup of coffee was free for him, so he had taken a morning drive as he sipped on the first cup and then stopped back on his way home. His wife knew his routine, and knew how long it took him to drink twenty-four ounces of the dark roast.

The forty-something hadn’t changed out of his flannel pants, presumably the ones he had worn to bed the night before. He stepped up to the counter and gave no reply to the barista who greeted him.

Harry, the elderly gent, took his time moving from the entrance to his place in line behind the man. He stood there with his coffee cup in hand patiently waiting. The man in the flannel pants in front of him began giving his order…”Latte with skim milk…three shot mocha cappuccino…vanilla latte skim extra shot…americano…medium roast coffee…caramel macciato…three sausage breakfast sandwiches…and a pumpkin spice latte skim.”

     “What size on those drinks, sir?”

      The customer looked perturbed to even have the question be asked. “All talls!”

       “Yes, sir! That will be $31.55.”

       “$31.55! Good Lord! Are you sure about that?”

      The young woman with the patience of Job printed out a copy of the bill. “Yes, sir! Here’s the breakdown on each purchase.”

      The agitated mid-life crisis grabbed it and scanned the figures.

“Cash or credit, sir?”

      “Credit!” bellowed her challenger. The wallet was whipped out of his back pocket to show his disgust. He peered into the pockets of the fake leather, hesitated, and then searched again more frantically.

       “Is there a problem, sir?”

       “I’m missing my credit card,” replied the embarrassed adversary. “I must have pulled it out of my wallet at home and…”

       “Allow me to take care of it, my friend.” The voice of the elderly gentleman was friendly and understanding. “Amanda, would you put this gentleman’s purchases on my bill?”

       “I can’t let you do that. I don’t even know you,” said the man.

“No, but Amanda here does, and she knows that I’m going to get a refill on the dark roast before I even order, and leave me a little room for cream. Isn’t that right, Amanda?”

      “That’s right, Wally.”

      “Sir, I don’t know if…”

      “Let me ask you something, friend. I take it that you aren’t going to drink all of those lattes and drinks, and eat all of those breakfast sandwiches yourself. And I’m guessing that since you are wearing those flannel pants that you are returning home to a place where a few other people close to you are waiting to get caffeinated. This is just my opinion, but I would say it would be better for you to accept my gift here than to disappoint a houseful of people there.”

       The man glanced back and forth for a few moments pondering his dilemma, and then said, “Okay!”

       “Each one of us has found ourselves in awkward situations such as this. It is at those times that I pray that God would put someone behind me to pick me up from my mistake and let me know it will be okay. Perhaps some day soon you’ll be that person

next in line.”

        The man nodded with a look of partial appreciation and he slowly moved down a few feet to the counter where his drinks and food would appear. A few minutes later, with drink carrier and bag in hand, he stepped towards the door to depart. As he opened the door he hesitated and then looked back at his Starbucks savior.

“Wally…thank you!”

         Wally’s wrinkled face broke into a warm smile. He raised his coffee cup to the man and nodded “You’re welcome.”