We don’t know a lot about them as a church. We don’t know how they worshipped; we don’t know what songs they sang, which translation of the bible they preferred, and we don’t know what the preacher was like.
What we do know is how they gave.
This is week one of our Stewardship Emphasis Month at Cornerstone, or as it’s referred to by many, Money Month.
And our theme this year is “Overflow”.
For those of you who have become a part of our church family in the past twelve months, here is a bit of an update. Up until 2002, Cornerstone operated like most other churches when it came to our financial planning.
In the Wesleyan Church, our church year goes from May 1 to April 30. There are reasons for that, but they really aren’t relevant to our message.
But for the first seven years of our existence, in late April, we would look at our previous year’s budget and adjust it for the upcoming year.
We might increase it by a few percentage points to show that we had faith, but there was no actual science to the process. We knew what we had to spend on some items and what we’d like to spend on other items, and that was the budget.
At the annual general meeting, the budget would be presented and, in most cases, would be passed. And then the new church year would begin.
Inevitably, at some point through the year, we’d realize that we were behind and we weren’t making the budget. And at that point, it would be determined that the pastor would need to do something.
Maybe the budget and weekly offering needed to be put in the bulletin or put up on PowerPoint so people could see where we were at. And the pastor, that would be me, would preach about giving in an effort to motivate or guilt people into giving.
And people knew, they knew that if Denn was preaching on money, it was a reaction, and you could feel people tense up. They would cross their legs, fold their arms, and try to hold unto their wallets. All at the same time.
In 2002, we knew that things needed to change and our DS at the time, HC Wilson directed me to a resource called Consecration Sunday. And the lessons I learned in that book have shaped how we’ve done finances for the past 21 years.
So, how did it change what we were doing? Well, it’s actually a two-part approach.
I now preach on Stewardship or Giving or Money. However, you want to think about it each March. It is during that time that I teach the theology of stewardship. What we have, and how we use it. And it’s not because we are in a financial jam, or giving is down, or we aren’t meeting our budget. It’s because it’s March.
And it’s not a topic that can be ignored. The Old Testament doesn’t ignore it. The New Testament doesn’t ignore it. Moses spoke about our finances, as did King David, King Solomon, the Apostle Paul as well as Jesus.
The second part of our approach happens on the last Sunday of the series. In this case, that will be on March 26th. At the end of that service, we will distribute a card called “an estimate of giving card,” and it is exactly what it says it is, an estimate of giving card.
And we ask that those who call Cornerstone their church home to prayerfully consider what they will give in the next year. If you are wondering if you are part of our church family, if Cornerstone is the church that you go to when you go to church, you are part of our church family. And if Cornerstone is the church you don’t go to when you don’t go to church, then you are a part of our church family.
It is not a pledge card, and it’s not a commitment card. It is an estimate of giving card. And we end our service that day by having you bring your completed card and laying it on the communion table as your act of sacrifice.
And I think that after twenty-one years we do it well. We don’t put anyone on the spot or embarrass anyone.
If you don’t wish to participate, that’s fine. If you’re worried that people are watching what you do, they probably aren’t, but you are more than welcome to bring your blank card up and lay it on the table.
And it is from what you estimate that you will be able to give in that church year that we develop our church budget.
And when we build our budget, we don’t go over that, and if, through the year, something comes up that isn’t in the budget, it’s a big deal before it’s approved.
So, let’s go back to the scripture that we started with. Paul is writing to the church in Corinth, and one of the things he is writing about is one of his favourite projects, and that is the support of the church in Jerusalem.
This is a theme that we see throughout the New Testament. It’s first mentioned in the book of Acts and then Paul writes about it in 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians and Romans.
And it would seem that it wasn’t a one-and-done thing but spanned several years.
There have been a couple of suggestions for why the collection had to be received.
Some scholars speculate that it had to do with a famine that happened in the area between AD 45–63. Historically this has been referred to as “The Great Famine.”
Another view is that the believers in Jerusalem were in a precarious situation because of the persecution that we read about in Acts 8:1 Saul was one of the witnesses, and he agreed completely with the killing of Stephen. A great wave of persecution began that day, sweeping over the church in Jerusalem; and all the believers except the apostles were scattered through the regions of Judea and Samaria.
More than likely, it goes back to the fact that Jerusalem was the mother church. It was here that the church was birthed, and all the other churches in the New Testament could trace their lineage back to that one church. As a matter of fact, every church today can trace its lineage back to the Jerusalem church.
On the Atlantic District, you will sometimes hear Woodstock Wesleyan referred to as the mother church of the district. It was there that the Reformed Baptist church was born in 1888.
Now eventually, the Reformed Baptist would merge with the Wesleyan Methodist Church, but we point to Woodstock, NB, as our first church.
Sometimes people will ask me where the Guptills originated from. There are Guptills all over the world. There is even a Facebook Page called “What’s a Guptill.” There are Guptills right across Canada and the US, as well as in Australia and New Zealand. But nobody really knows where we came from. All we know for sure is that in 1670 a man by the name of Thomas Gubtail appeared in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. But nobody knows for sure where he came from, although there is speculation that he came from Wales. But there are no Gubtails there now and no historical proof that there were any there then.
But that was what was called a tangent.
Paul explains the mother church concept when he writes in Romans 15:26–27 For you see, the believers in Macedonia and Achaia have eagerly taken up an offering for the poor among the believers in Jerusalem. They were glad to do this because they feel they owe a real debt to them. Since the Gentiles received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem, they feel the least they can do in return is to help them financially.
And we can draw a line from Cornerstone Wesleyan Church back to the first church in Jerusalem. We have received the spiritual blessings of the Good News from the believers in Jerusalem.
So, for whatever reason, this became a passion of Paul’s and the churches that seemed to champion the cause more than any other were the churches in what was then referred to as Macedonia.
Let’s go back to our scripture from earlier, where we discover 2 Corinthians 8:1–2 Now I want you to know, dear brothers and sisters, what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity.
So, let’s start with Who They Were
If we pull up one of our friendly maps, Macedonia was located in what we now think of as Northern Greece and, for you history nerds, was actually the birthplace of Alexander the Great.
And scholars tell us that this description probably included the churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea.
What do we know about the churches?
So, we know they weren’t well off. Our scripture tells us, They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor.
Some churches, like the Corinthian church, seemed to be secure financially that was not the case for these congregations. The church in Berea is only mentioned in the book of Acts, but we actually have letters that were written to the other two churches. They are the books of Philippians and 1 and 2 Thessalonians.
And we discover that both churches were dealing with persecution because of their stand against the social mores of the day, and that resulted in the believers being persecuted and struggling financially because of the persecution.
One commentator wrote that it would not be unfair to say that these churches were “dirt poor.”
Let’s go back to our scripture, 2 Corinthians 8:3–5 For I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do.
The second thing we discover is What they Gave. Even though they were tested by many troubles and were very poor, they were also filled with abundant generosity, which resulted in how they gave.
Paul notes three things about their giving. 1) They gave what they could afford. 2) They gave far more than they could afford 3) They gave of their own free will.
I could challenge you to do those three things and stop now. But I’m not going to.
Often times when preachers preach about money, we want to emphasize the financial blessings of giving. And we say things like, you can never outgive God.
And we quote folks like R. G. LeTourneau, who said, “I shovel [money] out, and God shovels it back…but God has a bigger shovel!”
But we need to understand that The Overflow Isn’t Always Financial. There is no evidence to show that the Macedonian churches went from being poor churches to rich churches or even just moderately well-to-do churches. Whenever we read about them, we read about their poverty.
There’s a very familiar Jesus story in Luke 21:1–4 While Jesus was in the Temple, he watched the rich people dropping their gifts in the collection box. Then a poor widow came by and dropped in two small coins. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “this poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.”
There is no indication that the widow’s station in life changed. Jesus didn’t say as “poor as she was,” indicating that she received a financial blessing. Instead, he said, “poor as she is.”
And we all know good Godly, generous people who always seem to be struggling financially. Sometimes through poor planning, and sometimes, it’s just the way it is.
Now that’s not to say there are no blessings.
Missiologist Donald McGavran coined the catchphrase “redemption and lift” to describe the transformative power of the gospel on people’s lives, especially their socioeconomic condition.
It’s explained in Influence magazine this way, “A person renewed by the gospel increasingly acts in a self-controlled and selfless manner rather than in a self-serving one, and this produces positive change in their material circumstances.”
Sociologist Rodney Stark expanded on this by providing statistical evidence for redemption and lift in his 2013 Book, America’s Blessings: How Religion Benefits Everyone, Including Atheists.
Stark discovered that compared to less religious and nonreligious people, people of faith:
- engage in less criminal behaviour and more pro-social behaviour;
- experience higher marital happiness and lower divorce rates while producing more and better-behaved children;
- report more and better sex with their spouse and less cheating;
- experience better mental health and probably better physical health too;
- give more generously in terms of money and time.
- and are better educated, more successful and less credulous.
So, not all of the overflow that God provides come with a dollar sign.
However, we can’t ignore the fact that Sometimes the Overflow is Financial!
We can’t ignore scriptures like
Malachi 3:10 Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!
Or Jesus’ words in Luke 6:38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
And when Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 9:7–9 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
And I could go on and on with the words of Jesus, Paul, David, Solomon and others.
Sometimes those financial blessings arrive through the redemption and lift principle. You’d be amazed at how much money we spend on bad habits.
And how when God has transformed you and you become a better employee or employer how that will affect your future and, ultimately, the bottom line.
And there are times that God just provides, sometimes through what we receive and sometimes through what we don’t have to spend.
When I was in university, one of my friends was from Louisiana, and because of that, he was unable to work in Canada. And Mike had come to college on faith, believing that God would provide. And Mike would pray, “God, you know what I need. I have no soap or shampoo, no toothbrush or toothpaste, and it would be nice to have 20 bucks to go on a date.” And it seemed that inevitably he got a package in the mail with soap, shampoo, a toothbrush and toothpaste and 20 bucks to go on a date.
So I thought, that’s kind of cool. So, I prayed, “God, you know what I need. I have no soap or shampoo, no toothbrush or toothpaste, and it would be nice to have 20 bucks to go on a date.”
And I was offered a job. God provides.
And there are times when God provides generously to us, and through poor planning or poor choices, it doesn’t seem to have an impact. If you don’t have a family budget, you need one.
It All Begins with the Gift. We often try to negotiate with God. I used to do that. God, if you bless me financially, then I will do this or do that.
I’ve been in the ministry for over 40 years, and I’ve lost count of the times people have told me how they were going to bless the church or a particular ministry when their ship came in or when they won the lottery.
But as someone once said, “It’s not what you’d do with millions if riches e’r be your lot, but what you’re doing in the present with the buck and a quarter you’ve got.”
And I’ve also discovered that if their ship came in or if they won the lottery, they were just as tight as they had been before.
If the Christians in the Macedonian churches had waited for financial blessings, then they would never have given, and the believers in Jerusalem would have continued to suffer.
Let’s go back to Jesus’ words when he said, Luke 6:38 Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.”
He didn’t say that you will receive if you think about giving. He said you’d receive after you gave.
Paul didn’t write that “God loves a person who cheerfully thinks about giving.” Instead he wrote, “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.”
And the blessing that the Macedonians received was knowing that they had made a difference in the lives of people they would never meet. The Macedonians’ pockets were empty, but their hearts were full.
In a real way, that is what happens when you give toward our project in Sierra Leone, you are changing the lives of people you will never meet. But, that project wouldn’t have happened if there hadn’t been a Cornerstone that is here because of your giving as well. There have been, souls saved, marriages changed, and lives touched through Cornerstone over the past 28 years, and that could only happen because there was a Cornerstone that was here to see that happen.
We often say that Step-up Cornerstone is the opportunity for each one of us to say, this is the church that I want Cornerstone to be.
And we all need to realize that we have already been blessed and are living out of the overflow.
I read a story recently about Charles Spurgeon, the pastor of The Metropolitan Tabernacle in London, England, in the late 1800s.
Spurgeon tells of receiving a wealthy man’s invitation to come to preach at his rural church to help the members raise funds to pay off a debt. The man also told Spurgeon that he was free to use his country house, his townhouse or his seaside home. Spurgeon wrote back, “Sell one of the places and pay the debt yourself.”