For the past 8 weeks we have explored small tastes of what it means to live the good life. And we have looked at spiritual practices that help develop those characteristics in our lives.
This week we wrap up our series, A Taste of the Good Life, with the characteristic of Peace and the practice of Generosity.
For millennia individuals, families, organizations, governments - even churches - have been longing for, striving for peace.
And yet, peace seems ever elusive. In spite of centuries of human effort, in spite of hindsight into history, in spite of having more information, technology, and resources than at any time in history, we are still chronically anxious and the world is most often not a very peaceful place. It is broken. And frankly, the world has no answer.
Individuals are not at peace – with God, with one another, or even with themselves.
Interestingly, peace was not particularly abundant during Jesus’ earthly life either.
Yet, scripture clearly shows that Jesus cares deeply about peace, paid a great price to secure it, and is the only avenue to it.
When Isaiah foretold the coming of Jesus, he referred to him as the “Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)
The angels announced Jesus’ birth to the shepherds, by declaring “peace on earth.” (Luke 2:14)
Jesus himself proclaimed “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
And when he was promising the coming of the Holy Spirit, Jesus said “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” (John 14:27)
And a little later he said to his disciples, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
You see, well before he was born, as he was born, as he lived, and as he prepared to die, Jesus was all about peace – about His peace, not the world’s peace.
So what exactly is this thing – this elusive thing – this peace that we all yearn for.
When it comes to personal peace, the dictionary defines the word “Peace” as:
Freedom of the mind from annoyance, distraction, anxiety, obsession.
Notice that this definition seems to depend on the absence of things, and revolves around feelings:
In simple terms, No Trouble.
Frankly, peace should be easy to find in the absence things we would categorize as “Trouble”.
And yet, Jesus tells us that “in this world you will have trouble.”
Trouble because God’s original plan for perfect, peaceful communion with Him was broken. And in that brokenness, God calls us to be peacemakers.
To be an instrument of God’s peace, we have to actually know his peace and generously share it with others.
This peace, God’s peace, is not dependent on the absence of trouble, is not embedded in feelings. Rather it rests on a solid foundation of knowing and experiencing God’s presence, even in the midst of trouble!
True peace is different from the world’s peace because:
God’s peace does not move
Even if you move; even if the world around you moves; even if you are far from it – it is always there.
God’s peace does not change
It is constant. It is always the same.
God’s peace does not waiver
It is not swayed by circumstances. It endures and prevails in spite of circumstances.
Jesus plainly tells us that the only place to find true peace is in a relationship with Him.
The key to getting to that peace is:
A life fully surrendered to Jesus,
Which restores relationship with God,
And ushers in the abiding presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
This is the peace that the Apostle Paul experienced and encouraged the church at Philippi to live out.
Take your bibles, or take one of the bibles in the seat in front of you, and let’s look at Philippians Chapter 4. That is page 1140 in the house bibles. If you are at Fishers and need a bible, please raise your hand and our ushers will bring one to you.
A little context while you turn there.
Paul is writing from prison – not a particularly peaceful situation.
Paul has great affection for the church at Philippi and is thanking them because they have learned well and have been very generous to him.
But there is some disagreement going on between church leaders, creating a lack of unity. So Paul is also encouraging them to minister peacefully together.
Let’s start in verse 6.
6Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Jesus is the first link to having God’s peace.
8Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
Practicing what you have learned is the next connection to God’s peace.
12I 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. 13I can do all this through him who gives me strength.
Paul has learned to be content, at peace, in the midst of every circumstance because of his relationship with and dependence on Jesus.
Most people stop after verse 13 and miss the important note in verse 14.
14Yet it was good of you to share in my troubles.
Paul is thanking them for being an “instrument of peace” to him.
For putting into practice one of the things he had taught them – generosity.
They were the poster child for what Paul tried to teach another church at Corinth, when he said:
“But just as you excel in everything – in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us – see that you also excel in the grace of giving.”
(2 Corinthians 8:7)
Paul draws a strong correlation between the Philippian believers’ excellence in generosity and the peace of God they could experience.
So why don’t more of us live more generously and experience peace on a regular basis?
Well, worry and stress are the most prevalent detractors to peace, especially personal peace.
And according to the American Psychological Association, money issues have now surpassed job issues, becoming the most common cause of stress among Americans.
Nearly three out of four adults (72%) said they felt money-related stress.
And as we saw in the drama earlier, studies regularly show that financial spans all income levels.
Source: CNN Money; Cheatsheet.com; American Psychological Association, Annual Stress in America Report (2/4/2015)
A Wells Fargo study revealed that 44% of Americans believe personal finances are the most challenging thing to discuss with other people – ranking above death, politics, and even religion.
Source: Yahoo Finance
A Payoff.com study found that 23% of Americans (36% of Millennials) experience a debilitating degree of stress surrounding their finances. Their financial stress results in pathological effects most commonly associated with PTSD. This condition is called Acute Financial Stress (AFS).
Source: Yahoo Finance
And according to a poll released by The Associated Press just this month, Two-thirds of Americans would have difficulty coming up with the money to cover a $1,000 emergency.
Source: AP May 19, 2016
Given those stats, is it any wonder folks aren’t at peace and hesitate to be generous?
Yet biblical generosity might just be the best kryptonite to financial stress, and an essential stepping stone to experiencing true peace.
A key aspect of peacemaking and generosity is that they both shift the focus from ourselves to others.
They almost always involve putting someone else first.
Scripture calls us to put others above ourselves and cautions us not to build up treasures for ourselves on earth.
But it doesn’t preclude building treasures on earth for others.
Your woes will fade, your peace will increase when you focus on serving others. And your generosity might be the very thing God uses to bring the treasure of His peace to someone else.
So in really simple terms:
To experience the good life, to know peace, live generously.
But what exactly is this generosity that we are talking about?
To be clear, Paul was talking about financial generosity, and so are we.
Again, per the dictionary:
Liberal in giving or sharing; unselfish.
Large; abundant; ample.
So by definition, Generous denotes unselfish, ample giving. How To Be Generous
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Latin: generōsus, of noble birth.
Remember Paul referring to noble things?
By origin, there is something noble about being generous.
Readiness or liberality in giving.
So by further definition, Generosity involves preparation and forethought to be “ready” to give.
To present voluntarily and without expecting compensation.
So by definition, Giving denotes voluntarily contributing or sharing without expecting something in return.How To Give
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Normally about here you might expect to continue down the path to more churchy terms like “Tithe”, “Offering”, “first fruits”, and so on.
Those are important, and we have certainly taught on them previously. So let’s just leave them alone for now.
Because, frankly, we can spend too much time in the church debating what is appropriate or what is required or what is the minimum regarding giving to the church.
In my role I get asked that question every so often.
And I can clearly articulate our position that generosity begins by giving 10% of your material resources to Kingdom purposes, especially to the local church. And that if you are not yet able to do that, begin a journey toward that starting point.
But I have come to the conclusion that is absolutely the wrong question, or at least it is asked in the wrong order.
What is more important to grasp first is that God owns it all and that the number he cares about is 100%.
When it comes to our money and our stuff, we need to surrender it all to God, looking to change the world in Jesus name with all our treasure, not just what we donate.
Well, I guess that wasn’t exactly leaving it alone, now was it?
I’m sorry; I’m not sorry; I don’t know.
Let’s get back to our definition.
For our time together, let’s work with the following:
Generosity means acknowledging that God owns it all, and living in a way that you intentionally prepare and unselfishly prioritize your resources to advance God’s kingdom purposes.
I sort of view this generosity in two categories – institutional generosity and personal generosity.
In the first, you contribute to and through an organization, and sometimes are also involved in the activities of that organization. Like giving to and serving at Grace Church, for instance.
Institutional giving is often pre-determined, pre-planned, maybe even systematic.
In the second, you act generously without an institutional intermediary.
Personal generosity is often spontaneous, but is more likely to happen if you have planned and prepared to be spontaneous.
Let me tell you one way this plays out in our home.
Jamey – “Shake the System” Birthday Parties
Grace’s call to grow generosity “One At a Time”
Decided - 1% of income for spontaneous, responsive generosity.
Organic and in person, if appropriate.
Most personally impactful increase in giving we have ever experienced.
Whether institutional or personal, when it comes to generosity, a few things are true.
First, Generosity is both risky and rewarding.
It is risky because if you try it, you will like it.
It is risky, because if you engage in spontaneous, in the trenches, full contact, personal generosity, you never know what the reaction or outcome will be.
And it is rewarding because it may the closest you come to both being Jesus to someone and seeing Jesus in them.
I don’t’ think I have ever met a truly generous person who wasn't joyful or who regretted being generous.
Take a look at some real life examples.
PLAY VIDEO OF GENEROSITY STORIES
Those stories remind me of a couple of personal experiences.
Our van traveled many places we never went.
Pay it forward at McDonalds. Cost me $38.12!
So be warned, generosity is both risky and rewarding.
Second, Giving does not necessarily make you generous.
Amy Carmichael – “You can always give without loving, but you can never love without giving.”
Similarly, my paraphrase is:
You can give without being generous, but you cannot be generous without giving.
In fact, you can give without having a relationship with God, but you can't have full relationship with God without giving.
Just be aware that giving does not necessarily make you generous.
Third, Our work ethic should be driven more by our desire to give than by our desire to get or to have.
This is where my dad would have said, “Son, you just stopped preaching and went to meddling!”
But since he has gone on to be with the Lord, and since I am not up here very often, I’m going to keep going.
REPEAT - Our work ethic should be driven more by our desire to give than by our desire to get or to have.
Now work is actually ordained by God – it is a good thing.
But, we often need to be reminded that he actually enables and facilitates our work.
“You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth.” (Deuteronomy 8:18)
And scripture tells us to work hard in order to give.
“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)
We need to prayerfully prioritize our giving with as much intentionality as we plan for our wants and our need for security.
Because those wants and the need for security are often the very source of the financial stress that precludes peace from our lives.
Henry Drummond sums up this caution about our work ethic and our priorities when he says:
“The most obvious lesson in Christ’s teaching is that there is no happiness in getting or having anything, but only in giving.”
Our work ethic should be driven more by our desire to give than by our desire to get or to have.
Lastly, Generosity is really about life transformation.
Yes, this is about money and resources, but please hear me that those are necessary steps to the real goal – a transformed life that leads to peace.
Generosity brings as much change in the life of the one who gives as in the one who receives.
Generosity is evidence of fully surrendering your resources to God, leading to a deeper relationship with him.
God desperately wants complete relationship with you – relationship that opens the door to his peace.
Jesus willingly paid the price to restore our broken relationships with him.
And God went even further by promising to meet all our needs.
“And my God will meet all your needs according to His glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19
You see, through Christ, God promises to meet our needs so that we are then free to meet His wants.
God’s greatest and most important want is true, fully-surrendered, and fully-trusting relationship with each of us.
And frankly, as we can see from Paul’s teaching:
True relationship with God does not happen until you fully surrender and trust God with your money; until you become generous.
At its core, Generosity is really about life transformation.
You want the peace in your life that only God can provide?
You want to be an instrument of that peace in an un-peaceful world?
You want the good life we have been tasting?
Then take God at his word;
Fully surrender all your resources;
Pursue generosity with all you have and all you are;
Try it. You won’t regret it!