APC 15th November 2020 United Appeal Sunday –
‘The Grace of Giving’
Welcome and Introduction
Good morning everyone and welcome to our Sunday morning worship. Today I want to focus our attention on what we call our ‘United Appeal’. This is our denomination’s way of raising financial support for hundreds of outreach activities within our Presbyterian church in Ireland and across the world. Just to let you know in advance this morning’s service doesn’t have a kids address as such but there is a video of the clubs half way through and a song from last years cancelled Holiday Club at the end. Your kids might really enjoy watching these and seeing who they can recognise. In a moment I want to play a little video clip to help you understand the breadth of the activities supported by the United Appeal. But before I do, let’s take a moment and let’s commit our time together to God. Let’s pray…
Living God, we praise you for your love shown to us in Jesus- your love that goes on seeking us out, caring, guiding, protecting, forgiving, despite our inconsistent love for you.
Teach us to respond by loving you and loving others.
Living God forgive us when our faith is so weak. When at times we care so little about you, so little about others and so much about ourselves. Forgive us when we have turned the Christian faith into something we receive rather than something we share.
Teach us to respond by loving you and loving others.
Living God help us to live more truly as your people. Give us a due sense of our responsibility towards others – the poor, the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the oppressed, the lonely, the weak, the sorrowful, those who have never heard the good news about Jesus.
Teach us to respond by loving you and loving others.
Help us to recognise our responsibility towards you and the world you have given us, so that in everything we say and think and do, we may live for your glory and work for your Kingdom.
Help us now through this time of worship to understand more of the work supported by United Appeal and show us what part we can play in keeping this outreach going.
Lord, teach us to respond by loving you and loving others, in the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen
Join me as we say the Lord’s Prayer thoughtfully and sincerely together…
Our Father, which art in heaven, Hallowed be Thy name,
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, On earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day, our daily bread, And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive those who trespass against us,
And lead us not into temptation, But deliver us from evil,
For Thine is the Kingdom, the power and the glory,
For ever and ever, AMEN.
VIDEO UNITED APPEAL
Reflection (1) United Appeal - The Grace of Giving
As you can see from the video there are so many outreach and training projects supported by United Appeal each year. The annual budget for this is around 3 million. To reach this goal every congregation is given a target of honour depending on their size. Our target here in Arklow is Euros 2200. As a church we have always made a principle of meeting this target every year. To help us to do that we are asking all of us to be as generous as we can to our United Appeal Fund. Any shortfall will be made up from our Congregational Funds. Technically you can give to this Appeal at any point in the year but we normally set aside one Sunday each year to bring the work of this Appeal to our attention. That’s what we are doing today.
For us the work of United Appeal is particularly close to our hearts because it is through this central fund that we have had the privilege of having Philip and Susan and Amy with us here in Arklow over 20 years. What a blessing they have been to us and to so many in our community.
In a few minutes I want to share a video that was made a couple of years ago to promote the work of United Appeal. You’ll recognise a few familiar faces and a few familiar places! But first, I want to share a few thoughts from scripture about a similar appeal made many years ago, which demonstrates why we should be generous towards the work of God.
We find these ‘principles of giving’ embedded in part of the letter that St Paul wrote to a Christian church situated in the affluent city of Corinth. To help you understand these principles let me give you a little background to the context of Paul’s letter.
During his missionary travels Paul found that because of severe persecution the Christians in Jerusalem were facing extreme poverty. Naturally he wanted to help. So he coordinated a collection from other churches. Sensibly he started with the more wealthy churches like Corinth. So Paul wrote to the Corinthian congregation and asked them to set up a weekly collection. He promised that sometime later he would give letters of recommendation to a few of the Corinthian congregation who would then carry their gift safely to the church in Jerusalem.
That’s why in Chapter 16 of the First letter to the Corinthians Paul writes, “Now about the collection of God’s people. Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income, saving it up so that when I come no collections will have to be made. Then, when I arrive, I will give letters of introduction to the men you approve and send them with your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable for me to go also, they will accompany me.”
It seems that initially the Corinthian church had responded positively to Paul’s ‘Jerusalem Appeal’ by making an early donation and by promising to give more in future. But 11 months later, when it’s coming close to the time for Paul to visit Corinth and finalise the distribution of the collection, it appears that the Corinthians fund-raising is flagging. That’s why Paul writes in 2 Cor 8: 10, “Here is my advice about what is best in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.”
As well as reminding them of their earlier promise, Paul also tries to motivate the wealthy congregation in Corinth to give generously by telling them of the generosity of the much poorer Macedonian churches in areas of Northern Greece like Philippi and Thessalonica. That’s why, in his letter to the Corinthians he writes,
“Brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and extreme poverty has welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God’s will.”
Church history records that many Christians in these areas were fined, made redundant or had property dispossessed because of their faith. Despite this persecution and their resultant poverty, the Christians in these Macedonian churches had made a joyful and sacrificial response to Paul’s Jerusalem Appeal. It seems that because they knew what it was like to suffer, their hearts were stirred to help their Jerusalem brothers and sisters even though they could barely afford to do so. Paul uses this example of the sacrificial giving of the Macedonian church to motivate the Corinthian church to fulfil what they had pledged to give to the Jerusalem Fund.
In effect, what Paul is saying here to the wealthy church in Corinth is,
“Come on now. You promised to give generously over the course of a year to the Jerusalem Appeal Fund. You started well, but you’re letting things slip! Take a leaf out of your brothers and sisters up North! They can hardly afford to put bread on their tables yet they have given beyond their means to the fund. If God has motivated them to be so generous, then surely you can meet your target!”
You know there are many lessons here for us in the unfolding story described in this small section of Paul’s letter.
The first is this-
You see, ultimately Paul didn’t want the Corinthians to be motivated by the fear of being outdone by another congregation. He didn’t want them just to give because they felt they have to. Rather, Paul wants their giving to be the natural response of a loving heart which truly understands and appreciates the goodness of God. And so he writes, “I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others. For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you, through His poverty, may become rich.”
In a nutshell what Paul is saying to the Corinthians is,
“Think about all that God has given you! Even though Jesus is the King of Heaven, even though all the riches of
heaven and earth have been His before time began, He decided to give that all up. He did that so that He could take
on your humanity completely. He did that ultimately so that He could go to the cross and die for your sins. That way
God could forgive you and you could be brought back into a loving and intimate relationship with Him- a relationship
that will last forever.iHim If God has been this generous to you, how can you not put your hand in your pocket for your
poor brothers and sisters in Jerusalem?!”
The lesson for us is this- If we want to become people who are more and more generous then we need to spend more time thinking about the cross! That’s where we see God’s love and generosity most clearly displayed! That’s where our hearts will be warmed and melted and our hands opened to share with the needs of others. As you prayerfully consider our United Appeal and your general support for our church finances this year this year, let me encourage you to take time every day over the next 3 weeks to pray to God and to think about the Lord Jesus. I honestly believe that if we gaze at our Saviour long enough, then God will open our hearts and fill them with a Spirit of true Christian generosity.
The second lesson we can learn from this correspondence is-
2 Christian generosity is sacrificial, enthusiastic and truly spiritual:
I don’t know if you’ve ever heard the story about the conversation between a pig and a cow in the local supermarket. Each was trying to prove that their breed was the most generous. The cow pointed to all the milk on the shelves and said, “Look at all the milk we provide every day for people. There’s no way you pigs can beat that!” With a twinkle in his eye and admittedly a hint of sadness, the pig pointed to a shelf full of bacon. “Take a look at that” he replied. “Your milk only represents a contribution. What I give equates to a real sacrifice!”
In setting before the Corinthians the example of the Macedonian Christians and the example of Jesus, Paul was reminding them and us that true Christian generosity is sacrificial.
Let me ask you as I’ve asked myself, “Does our giving to God simply represent a small contribution of what we earn or is it sacrificial? Do we give according to our means, or beyond our means?”
True Christian generosity is by nature sacrificial.
But as well as being sacrificial, Paul’s says that it is to be enthusiastic. Paul says the Macedonians literally begged him to take what little money they had and give it to the Christians in Jerusalem. The gospel writers tell us that Jesus willingly endured death on the cross, despite knowing that the full anger of God the Father would be poured out on Him there for our sins.
Let me ask you as I’ve asked myself, “When we give our time or our money to the service of others do we do so grudgingly or simply out of a sense of duty, or do we do it out of love because we know that is how God has treated us?” True Christian generosity is by nature willing and enthusiastic.
In addition to being sacrificial and enthusiastic, in setting before the Corinthians the example of the Macedonian Christians and the example of Jesus, Paul was reminding them and us that real Christian generosity is also truly spiritual. Paul says the Macedonians gave themselves first to the Lord and then to the apostles’ Appeal.
Both of these statements remind us of a very important principle. Christian giving is not an act of charity. It is an act of worship to Holy God. True Christian giving flows out as our response to God because of his goodness to us in all that He gives us every day. True Christian giving flows out as our response to the generosity of God in sending His only Son to be our Saviour.
That’s why Christian giving is an act of worship. That’s why the offering is part of our Sunday services every week. That’s why we have collections for different things throughout the course of the Year. So when we give, in essence we don’t just give to provide a building to allow us to have services, to pay the gas bill, to enable outreach, to sustain a minister or to provide for those in need. First and foremost we give to say ‘thank you’ to God for all that He does and has done for us. True Christian giving is an act of worship.
The question for each of us is “What does our giving say about our love for God?”
We are so thankful to God for the generosity of people to the United Appeal because through this fund we have been privileged to have Philip and Susan and Amy here as part of our church family for over 20 years... The work that they have done among young people has been exceptional and has given our church a great standing in the community as a place where people can experience the love of God. More importantly it has blessed thousands of children young people and adults through the years and enabled them to understand that God loves them. So it was fantastic when recently they were chosen to showcase the work of United Appeal through this little video. Sit back and enjoy and see who you can spot…
United Appeal Video (Philip and Nathan and the Clubs)
So far, from St Paul’s advice to the wealthy Corinthians we have learned that our Christian giving is a natural response to the grace and generosity of God to us. As such our giving, should be a joyful, sacrificial and enthusiastic act of worship.
But when it comes down to it practically, what might that look like for each of us? I think for most of us, deciding how to balance the books and still be generous to God is not easy. God expects us to care properly for ourselves, our families and our homes. That means we have many things to buy and many bills to pay. Add to that our responsibilities for government taxes and National Insurance, the odd night out, funding our favourite hobby or facilitating a holiday and for many of us it can be a struggle just to make end’s meat. So how can we enjoy our lives and still be generous towards God without feeling guilty?
Thankfully in his letter to the Corinthians St Paul gives us some good principles by which to help us decide how we should respond to God’s gracious goodness to us.
So he writes, “Here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one doesn’t have.”
Here Paul reminds us that our Christian giving should be proportionate to our disposable income.
3 Christian Giving should be proportionate
But what sort of portion of our household income should we be aiming for? Well, in his letter, St. Paul steers clear of stipulating an exact figure. However, when we place Paul’s letter alongside the rest of the scripture some guiding principles begin to emerge.
In Matthew’s gospel in his rebuke of the religious leaders it seems clear that Jesus endorses the Old Testament practice of Tithing. In Chapter 23, verse 23 He says, “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices- mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law- justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former.”
So it seems that the Old Testament principle of giving a tenth of one’s disposable income (that is our income after tax) seems to be a good initial guide as to how much we should aim to give.
However, this should not be the only consideration when we are giving. That’s because a person who is on a low wage and who gives 10% of their income will be giving sacrificially. If you give 3,000 Euros and only have 27,000 Euros left to pay your yearly bills with 4 children then you may well be struggling just to make ends-meat! If that’s your situation then I don’t believe God expects you to give a tenth if you really can’t afford it. So a tenth is simply a guideline to aim for.
Having said that, people who have a much larger disposable income- say 60,000 Euros a year after tax, would be giving 6,000 Euros a year to God if they tithed. This would leave them with 54,000 Euros left to live on which is twice what the person on a low income has left. Therefore the person with a much larger disposable income may well need to think about giving more than 10% of their income to God and His work if their giving is in any way to be considered a sacrificial, generous, self-giving act of worship.
So, whilst not wanting to be dogmatic about this or to make it a rule, I would say that the bible encourages us to give as close to a tenth of our disposable income to the work of God as we can afford. If that amount is easy for us to afford, then we should seriously and prayerfully consider being even more generous. If we live within our means and barely have anything left to spare, then God doesn’t expect us to give a tenth if we really can’t afford it. Ultimately, what we give is between us and the Lord, but in light of how generous He has been towards us we should all aim to be generous towards His work in our world. In light of His mercy and grace, He will not put demands upon us that make life impossible.
4 Generous Giving will be blessed by God:
Like a wise coach sending his team out for the second half, Paul concludes his advice to the Corinthians by giving them a positive vision of the victory that will accompany their obedience. He writes “Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each person should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for the Lord loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. As it is written: He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; His righteousness endures forever. Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us our generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”
Here Paul motivates the Corinthians by reminding them of the law of harvest… We reap what we sow. If we are generous in what we give to others God will reward that generosity with spiritual blessing. If we are generous in what we give to others God will also be able to trust us in various ways with more because we have proved our faithfulness.
How exactly God will bless us when we are generous we cannot be certain. Just because we give more doesn’t mean that God will necessarily make us more wealthy, or heal us of chronic illness. But one thing is certain- to neglect generous giving to God’s work is not only to rob God of what is rightly His but also to rob ourselves of God’s blessing. When the OT prophet Malachi rebuked the neglect of God’s people in these matters he also brought this promise from the Lord, “Bring this whole tithe into the storehouse…test me in this says the Lord Almighty and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”
I want to encourage you this morning to give generously to the work of the United Appeal and to our General Congregational Funds. Covid 19 has been particularly hard on the weekly income of many churches because of our inability to meet each Sunday and the inability to rent out premises to community groups and societies. We have been no exception to this. So let me encourage you to reflect on the biblical principles we have been considering today and to prayerfully plan your giving to our church and to God’s work in this world. Because if you do, God will fling open the windows of heaven and pour out his blessing upon us. How exactly that will happen I can’t tell you. But what I can assure you is that if we are obedient to God in this, He will bless us and above all, glory and thanksgiving will be brought to his name by the people who have been touched by our Christian generosity.
Let us pray….
God we want to thank you for the concept of the United Appeal and how it brings us together as Presbyterian congregations throughout the world. We want to ask your blessing upon every person and every project that is supported through this Central Fund. God we pray that despite the difficulties caused by Covid 19 that you would encourage your people to be generous and that through their kindness all the targets of honour might be met to enable all of this work to continue. We thank you especially for Philip and Susan and Amy. Thank you for their faithfulness to you, to our church family and to this community. Thank you for their hard work and for sustaining them through happy times and difficult times. We pray that very soon the clubs and the coffee Doc will be able to resume and that this year’s Holiday Club will be able to go ahead.
We pray that you will bless Susan in her work in the Montessori school and that you will help Amy in all her studies at University. We pray that you will sustain Philip in these days of waiting and continue to show us how we might encourage and support them in every way.
We pray that you will continue to sustain and provide for us as a church community and that very soon we will be able to meet and serve you together again.
Lord help us to keep outwardly focused in all that we do and to remember that your love and the good news about Jesus is for sharing. All these things we pray in His precious name, Amen.
It’s been a joy and privilege to share with you again today. Thanks again for logging on. I do hope if you haven’t already done so this year that you will consider supporting our United Appeal. You can make an online donation to the church bank account using the details on the church website. Just mark it as for United Appeal. Alternatively you can contact our church treasurer Aleida and arrange to pay in a method which is more suitable for you.
Do tune in again this Wednesday when we will be reflecting further on what it means for us to pray, “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.”
A big thank you again to everyone who supported the Babushka shoe box appeal and to Erika for volunteering to take the parcels to Dublin for collection.
Don’t forget the Team Hope Shoe Boxes for children are to be done online this year.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in December but please do continue to pray that if we return to Level 3 that the restrictions on church services might be lifted so that we can enjoy our Christmas season as a worshipping community.
In a moment I will lead you in a Benediction after which I will invite you as always, to say the grace together…But before I do please stay tuned in after that as a few of our younger Holiday club members play us out with a song that was recorded for the 2019 holiday club that was cancelled because of Covid. The song is called, “Made for this..”
As you have come to worship, so go now to serve, showing the truth in your lives of what you have declared with your lips, in the name of Christ. And…
May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all now and for evermore, Amen.”
HBC SONG “Made for this”
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.