This Generous Undertaking

hand heartIn the 8th chapter of II Corinthians Paul tells the story of a “generous undertaking.” In order to build the bonds of compassion and fellowship between followers of Christ, both Gentile and Jew, Paul has started a collection of money to support the church in Jerusalem as they face persecution and famine. While spreading the good news in Macedonia – a region that is just as impoverished as the folks in Jerusalem – Paul has been overwhelmed by the grace of these poor Macedonians, “for in a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme generosity have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part… they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means.” (v. 2) Paul had not asked for them to give – they begged for the “honor.”

Why would poor people give to help other poverty-stricken people they never met? Paul explains: “they gave themselves first to the Lord and , by the will of God, to us.” (v.5) Now, the Corinthians it seems had long ago told Paul they were all in for helping out. Paul has learned, however, that they have never gotten around to giving. The Corinthians are the opposite of poor. They are wealthy and blessed. Paul urges them to get on board and to “complete this generous undertaking among you.” (v. 6)

The “generous undertaking,” as it is manifest here at Holy Trinity, is summed up in our mission statement: Share God’s Love. That’s what Paul was trying to get Macedonian and Corinthian alike to do – share God’s love. That’s what our offering does today.

In the coming year, we have financial challenges that are part of our “generous undertaking.” Over the last few years our offering to the general fund of the congregation has been flat to slightly declining: $1,073K, to $1,021K, to $1,017K and last year to $976K. This not due to a precipitous drop in active membership. The economy has been booming. We have done more to share God’s love, but have had to do so every year with less financial support.

In 2019-20, we already know that we will need to invest more in just staying the same:

  • To continue the Internship program, expenses for that ministry will rise by about 30% as we anticipate welcoming an intern that is not already restricted to living in Central Iowa and so, we must provide housing.
  • Every year since I have been with you, we have balanced the budget and controlled shortfalls somewhat by deferring maintenance of the building. We can’t do that any longer.
  • We are telling employees that we can’t afford raises, and that they need to stop working on necessary projects, because we can’t pay them for the hours they work.
  • The staff has absorbed meal preparation and other duties and simply needs help.
  • Our assistance fund – where we share God’s love by lending a helping hand – is underfunded by 50%.

There are other examples, but I’ll stop there. Here’s the thing. If each family in this congregation gave 10% (a tithe) we would receive almost $6 million each year. With just half that amount, we would gather $3 million to do the work we are called to do. Even at 2.5% average, we would increase our giving by $500,000.

God has given us much; blessed us with abundance. God has also called us to do much with what we have received. Let’s join together for this generous undertaking that will fill our city with grace, mercy, love and hope.

In Christ,

Pastor Tim

 

copyright © 2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Take My Life…

giving handsThe old hymn sings. “Take my life that I may be, consecrated Lord, to thee…” This is the song of a disciple who has come to realize that to follow Jesus is to place your whole life, your whole being, into the hands of the Redeemer. It is, perhaps, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when he spoke of “Costly Discipleship” and “Costly Grace.” We give our lives to Christ because Christ has already done that for us.

Giving “my life” to Christ is a great spiritual image to propel us deeper into the life available in and through Christ alone. Yet, “my life” can sometimes be a little abstract. It can be a purely “spiritual” or “inward” notion that lacks concrete definition. The hymn goes on: “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold…” Now, that’s concrete. I can see my life as a gift from God. Seeing my money, my wealth as anything other than “mine” is hard. The truth is, it all comes from God and is all dedicated to God, if we dare to follow Christ with our lives.

Giving to the church is a touch subject for many – touchier than even sex and politics. This shouldn’t be the case because, first and foremost, giving to the church is a faithful response to what God has given us. Every breath, every heartbeat, our daily bread, and every paycheck is a sign of God’s gracious love. Certainly, we work hard, using the gifts and skills God has given. Yet, without God, none of it is possible. An offering is giving God something back.

Giving to the church is giving to God. When the impoverished Macedonian people scraped together a generous offering for the starving folks in Jerusalem, Paul wrote, “For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints–  and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us… (2 Corinthians 8:3-5)  

Giving to God’s work in the church blesses us. Scripture challenges us, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” (Malachi 3:10) This is not some strange “investment theology” where offerings are returned in a transaction. It is a witness to the spiritual truth that generous hearts grow full of love, while stingy ones whither.

 Giving to the church is a responsibility. To offer worship, pastoral care, learning ministries, and all the other things the congregation does for members, in the community, and the world, we need to spend about $1.5 million each year. That is about $1,875 per family. Thankfully, we don’t “bill” a fair share. We faithfully pray for God’s grace to be shown in the generosity of each member as they have been gifted and called.

Giving to God answers a call. Scripture teaches that at least the first ten percent of what we receive in all things is to be dedicated to God’s work through God’s people. If every household in the congregation tithed, we would receive $6.7 million a year – think of what a difference we could make.

Planning your gift helps you and the congregation. People who make commitments to give (which are always changeable and not promissory notes) become more generous and spiritually vital. The studies prove it. When the congregation knows what to expect, leaders can be faithful in planning for the future. None of us would take a job knowing only that we would be paid “what I can afford, when I can afford it.”

As we walk through our Let Your Light Shine generosity emphasis this year and considering how we will all give back to God our offerings in the coming year. I’m praying for all of us to open our hearts and hands, signing “Take my life, Lord.”

On behalf of the congregation, I’m asking you to make a plan to give generously in the coming year. Don’t let someone else give for you, join in the mission of the Body of Christ not just in thoughts and prayers, but in generosity as well.

The peace and love of Christ to you.

Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright 2019 © Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Ankeny, Iowa

Mardi Gras – Come, Celebrate!

mardi gras Mardi Gras, I am told, simply means “Fat Tuesday” in French. The celebration concludes on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, so it is a kind of last hurrah before the fasting and discipline of Lent.

This year, we are going to celebrate Mardi Gras on Sunday, March 3rd in worship and with a New Orleans style meal featuring pulled chicken, red beans & rice, and jambalaya. We’re inviting folks to bring a side dish or some version of the King Cake – a New Orleans tradition for Mardi Gras Dessert. We’ve posted recipes and a place to RSVP on our website.

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