Friday, November 07, 2008

extravagant generosity

Those of us who live in Charlotte are enjoying the incredible beauty of the leaves that fill the trees here in Charlotte. The last few days must represent the peak season. This is also the season of peak activity in the church: a fall festival was held for children, a sixth grade confirmation retreat, the chancel choir is anticipating the music of Advent and Christmas, we have hosted the overflow women's shelter for Salvation Army, Bible studies of all types (Disciple, Beth Moore, Interfaith, Introduction To Christianity), two weeks of the Haiti Mission have just concluded...Not to mention preparations for charge conference. I could go on and on.

We are preparing for the Sunday Services, and the theme will be Extravagant Generosity. This is the first of our stewardship Sundays. I blogged recently about our uncertain economic climate, and I want to focus here on how our church is responding, and how you might help. For those in other churches, it might plant the seed of a good idea in your mind, or you might have a suggestion about something we are missing! I will keep it straightforward and simple.

1. The church plans for the future on the basis of "estimates of giving." In the past we have planned in a wise, prudent and yet faithful manner, and we will do so in the future.

2. We received "estimates of giving" last fall from approximately 514 individuals and families. We hope to exceed this goal in the coming weeks. We believe we are touching more people through the ministries of our church and we want to "broaden our base"!

3. We are aware that, because of recent economic events (locally and nationally), not everyone will be able to pledge. For those who struggle with this spiritually, four persons have stepped forward to listen and give counsel, and in strict confidence. These are members of our church who have skills in financial planning and professional employment search but also backgrounds in listening and Christian caregiving. Their role would simply be to listen and try to be helpful. We also have a group that meets every Monday morning at 11:00 to help persons seeking employment. It is an open group and welcomes newcomers. If either of these opportunities strikes a chord with you, let me know.

4. We are aware that not everyone will be able to participate with an estimate of giving. We also believe that some persons who have never done so before may recognize the crucial importance of doing so this year, and may pledge for the first time. We are the body of Christ, and in this way we lift up and support one another.

5. We sense that needs in our community will be greater than ever in the coming year, and two critical needs will be in the areas of housing and hunger. Our church is already involved in cutting-edge ministry with the homeless, and hundreds of our members volunteer in this area. A group of pastor/leaders in our community, including Bill Jeffries, are developing a community response to hunger through Loaves and Fishes, and this will be one of our initiatives from Thanksgiving to Christmas. In addition, our local missions budget includes over 33 local agencies and ministries, most of which are responding to increasing demands upon their own resources. The investment of time and money by PUMC in these efforts cannot be overestimated.

6. My own personal prayer is that a few persons in our church will sense a burden to give a large and sacrificial gift to our 2009 mission, in the awareness that this is an extenuating circumstance. I am fully aware that this is an uncertain time. I also know that the resources exist among our members to keep our momentum alive. This is not the time to constrict our budget. What if 5, or 10, or 25 persons made the decision to give the largest financial pledge they have ever given to a church? What a way to lift up the light of Christ in a dark time!

7. I will be preaching in the Sunday services on the parable of the talents (Matthew 25. 14-30). Please keep me in your prayers as I prepare this message. I am aware that I do not want to motivate persons through guilt or by tricking them, or by coming up with some way to say all of this that is clever or trendy. I want to clearly communicate whatever God wants us to hear. I want to trust that God will provide the resources that are needed. I want to proclaim the extravagant generosity of God, through Jesus Christ.

Now, if you have read this far I believe that you care about all of this too. So I ask you to pray. Read the gospel (Matthew 25. 14-30). Attend worship on Sunday. Reflect on what God is asking you to give in 2009 to the mission of PUMC. If you are a member of PUMC, you can pledge with a card that was mailed to you, or use one that will be inserted in the worship bulletin. You can make a confidential pledge on-line at our church's website. See the link to the right, under "churches". And if you cannot pledge, trust that God will honor the gifts of your prayers, your presence and your service! Every person is important.

If you are reading this and you a member of another congregation, pray for your pastor and understand that she or he is probably sorting out all of this: how to faithfully lead the church in this vital area, while remaining sensitive to what people are going through.

Have a blessed weekend, and, again, enjoy the beautiful creation that God has sketched out for all of us. This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice, and be glad in it!


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