September 20, 2015

Invest Here

Have you ever seen this or a commercial like it?  By a quick show of hands from folks who have seen this commercial before: how many of you watched it the first time and felt your hand slowly reaching for your wallet?  Even if you haven’t seen this exact one yet, you’ve probably seen at least one like it.  Maybe you’ve seen an ad for a charitable organization that bills itself as meeting the needs of starving children living in absolute poverty in some Third World country.  It had lots of pictures of kids both smiling and looking miserable.  Maybe some had a deformity of some kind which only served to make them look even more pathetic.  They seem to go on and on forever when you watch them.  In the days before DVRs if you didn’t start reaching for your wallet by the halfway point you were probably reaching for the remote to make the guilt barrage stop.

I don’t know about you, but a lot of times when I see a commercial like this I get a little upset.  I know they’re just trying to mess with my emotions to get me to support their cause and I don’t like it.  I often get very suspicious of exactly who they are and what they are doing.  If I give money to them is it really going to go to do the things they say it is?  Or is it going to line the pocket of some executive?  In the SPCA commercial with Sarah McLachlan they accidently got themselves in some trouble.  In one of the early versions it looked like a generic commercial for the SPCA.  A lot of people called the number at the end and gave a whole bunch of money.  But then, when they followed up later with their local SPCA to see how they were doing and to see what their money had accomplished the local chapter didn’t know what they were talking about.  The number on the screen actually when to I believe the SPCA in New York City.  They appreciated the money, but the folks giving weren’t happy that they had been led to believe they were supporting a local charity when it was really one far away and couldn’t make any local difference.  Did you notice how this version included the distinction “BC”?  That’s British Columbia.  If you called the number that shows up at the end of this commercial you would be giving money to the SPCA of British Columbia.

More to the point, though, why do they make ads like this and why are the really slick ones so effective?  The answer to both of those is really simple: we are naturally drawn to support people and causes in which we have an emotional investment.  Often commercials like this are wrapped in an informal logical fallacy called an appeal to emotion.  This might be a commercial with lots of pictures of starving children—something that very naturally raises up strong emotions in us—followed by a call to give money to some organization.  The ad hasn’t offered any reasons to give, they’ve just played on our emotions hoping to get us to give without thinking about it.  What more, we don’t know that the organization will do anything meaningful to help those starving children.  As long as it throws a couple of bucks their way it passes legal scrutiny and that’s all they really care about.  It’s frankly despicable to do that…but it works really well because we are emotional beings and we live in a culture that gives a very high place to acting on the basis of emotions.   And what these advertisers know is that if they can get ahold of your emotions they are much more likely to get ahold of your wallet.

Now, while blatant appeals to emotion can often be deceptive and manipulative and otherwise unsavory, honestly offering compelling reasons why something should be supported that happen to evoke emotions in someone is fine because again, we are much more likely to support something when we are emotionally invested in it.  Perhaps to put that another way: we are much more likely to support something when we love it.  And the deeper our emotional investment, the stronger our support will be.  This is why parents often keep financially supporting their kids in a lifestyle with which they do not agree or perhaps otherwise try and justify it.  It’s why people will support this or that political candidate in spite of a number of unsavory things that person has done or said (this happens on both sides of the aisle, by the way).  It’s why people loan money to family members who by no means deserve their trust and probably aren’t going to pay it back.

The more we love something, the more all-in we’ll go to support it.  But, as I’ve just illustrated, while this can be a negative thing if we are emotionally invested in the wrong things or for the wrong reasons or in the wrong ways, it can also be a very positive thing.  It can allow us to get outside of ourselves, to focus our attention somewhere else which is always a healthy thing to do.  It can lead us to make huge sacrifices for worthy causes that allow a great deal more good to be done in the world than if we avoid such emotional entanglements.  It can allow us to join with other people with whom we might not normally have anything in common and build strong relationships that bring more peace and joy to our lives and our communities.  If we get emotionally invested in the right things in the right ways and for the right reasons there are very few limits to the possibilities before us.

Now, hang on to that idea and we’ll come back to it in just a minute.  This morning we are in the second part of our annual look at our mission here at Central. Simply put, Central is a place where people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ.  That’s just who we are.  It’s who God made us to be at this particular time and in this particular place.  Each year we come back to this idea because it provides us the foundation on which we stand.  It gives us the reason why we do the things we do.  Yes, as a church our big, overarching goal is to spread the Gospel into our community and world, but creating a place where people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ is how God has designed us to do that.  Other churches are gifted for other things and we should celebrate that.  Some are really created for international missions.  Some exist for the purpose of engaging their communities with the Gospel on a number of important social issues.  Some excel at putting on big, elaborate events that can serve as door-openers to the Gospel.  I know of a church whose sole purpose is to create a church that unchurched people love to attend.  For us, we’re here to create a unique, Gospel-community where people can connect deeply not just with us (although we want that), but with God…with us; with Jesus…with us; with the Gospel…with us.

Creating this place is who God made us to be and it’s also where we’re going.  But in order to make it happen, with the Spirit’s help, the folks who are already deeply connected to this community need to love the church.  Because if we don’t obviously love our church…nobody else is going to either.  But if we do, if we really love our church—not just some idea about the church or some image of the church from the past—but if we really love our church—this body of people—as God made us to be…well…there’s nothing that’ll stop everybody else from loving it too.

Well, kind of like with marriage, love is great to talk about, but if we don’t do some basic things, it’s not going to work very well or get us very far.  So last week we talked about the first part of loving the church we need to make sure we are practicing well.  And that is to show that love by showing up and I don’t mean just once in a while or simply when it’s convenient.  I mean to be here as often as is humanly possible—even sacrificing other good things in favor of this better thing—so that we might gather together as a body for fellowship, Bible study, prayer, corporate worship, and service.  That’s just part of what it looks like to love your church.

If you love the church you’ll be at church.  But more broadly than that you’ll support the church.  You’ll talk well about the church when you’re not here.  You’ll think of things the church needs and tackle them before most other folks even notice they need to be done.  You’ll work hard to make the ministries of the church work.  Those are all great things, but I want to focus our attention for the rest of our time together this morning on another kind of support for the church.  This kind of support is a basic as far as our love for the church goes much like coming to church is.  Without this kind of support a great deal of the things the church does and that both we and our community appreciate so much wouldn’t happen.  This kind of support in the past is what helped to make Central into the place you know and love today.  And if you want to continue that gift forward to the next generation—which may be your kids, or it may very well be a group of folks that nobody here even knows yet—it’s a kind of support you need to make sure you are practicing in abundance.   The kind of love-driven support for your church I’m talking about right now is financial support.  And I want to talk about financially supporting the church this morning with you in three different ways.

The first one’s going to take just a minute and then we’ll breeze through the other two.  Are you ready?  The first part of financially supporting the church is that this is a basic part of church membership just like being here is.  Let me unpack this a bit.  We talked last week about the fact that church attendance is on the decline.  Part of the reason for that is that church membership is on the decline as well.  The idea of being an official member of a church today is waning in popularity.  There are a number of reasons for this.  Some of them are legitimate such as churches who have abused the concept of membership in one way or another turning people off to the idea of membership.  Some of them aren’t such as our culture’s constantly lowering the bar on what counts as faithfulness and commitment.  We want to not be “tied down” by anything.  We want to “keep our options open.”  What really ends up happening here, though, is that we never really make firm commitments and miss out on the blessings that come from them.  We can see this in the ever-rising tide of folks who settle for cohabitation…living together…instead of actually getting married.  In spite of how glamorous, fun-filled, and freeing such a lifestyle is billed to be, a fair bit of research has revealed that it is never as happy , fulfilling, or long-lasting as the real thing.  Even married couples who don’t feel like their marriage is good are better off than couples who are just living together.  That’s not to mention that kids do way better when mom and dad are married instead of just living together.

In any event, the concept of church membership is on the decline in our culture and I don’t think that’s a good thing.  While we could certainly stand to take a hard look at it and find ways to make it more appealing and more meaningful, it’s still a really important concept to maintain.  Taking the admittedly sometimes scary (though no more so than the decision to get married) step of formally committing yourself to a local arm of the body of Christ does something really powerful.  It says to them: I’m going to be here no matter what and I am committed to seeing this body become fully who God designed it to be.  It says to them: I am committed to seeing your mission advanced into this community and the world beyond it; in fact I’m going to make it my mission too.  It says to them: I am convinced that God has led me here because you have something I need…and because I have something that you need.  That in turn allows them to say back: We receive you fully into our fellowship and we will commit ourselves to pouring into you so that you might become fully who God designed you to be which will be to our mutual benefit—the more like Jesus you are, the more like Jesus we all will be.

And, though you don’t have to like this, given the state of our world, accomplishing the mission of the church requires resources.  Or perhaps to put that more memorably: ministry costs money.  If a church wants a pastor to be available at the range of times most churches want their pastor to be available they have to pay him because he’s not going to have time to both meet all of their expectations and work somewhere else.  If a church wants to formally meet somewhere that is not public space they need to have access to some kind of a building.  Now, many churches rent building space, but that requires…rent money.  And if you are renting somewhere, you are probably going to need your own sound equipment which requires money.  You may need to have your own tables and chairs to set up which requires money.  Many other churches, though, own their own building like we do.  And while we may not have to pay taxes on the things we own, we do have to keep the lights on…more money.  We need to maintain the building…more money.  We’re used to climate-controlled settings so we have to run the heat and the air…a lot…more money.  Say a church wants to teach its people something about the Christian life.  It could be that all the teachers just open up their Bibles (which they had to buy) and go for it, but most folks don’t feel equipped for something like that.  Most teachers want some kind of a study guide to help them in their teaching process.  How do you come by such things?  Well, you could write your own stuff as some churches do.  But that takes a lot of time on somebody’s part that they’ll probably need to be compensated for.  Most churches, like us, though, use material that has already been put together for them by a group of folks whose job is to write teaching material for churches.  Guess how you come by that.  You buy it…with money.

I could go on and on like this, but you get the point.  Ministry costs money.  Well, most churches don’t create a product they can sell in order to come by that money so where does it come from.  It comes from you.  It comes from the people who understand that ministry takes money and who give out of their resources in order to see it happen.  More specifically, it comes from church members.  It comes from the group of people who have committed their time, their talent, and their treasure to seeing the mission of the church accomplished.  If you are a member of a church—whether this church or some other church—then giving to the church is what you do.  You have made a formal commitment to seeing that church’s mission accomplished, that mission takes money to accomplish, and so you give to the church.  If you aren’t a formal member of a church, giving to a particular church can’t really be expected of you.  But, even if you haven’t officially joined a community but you are nonetheless a part of that community in heart and mind such that you’re working to see the mission of that community accomplished and benefitting from the resources of that community why wouldn’t you give to support it?  Maybe the better question is: why wouldn’t you just join?  Why wouldn’t you just make formal what is already happening informally?  Why wouldn’t you just make a commitment?  As for folks who are just visiting or who are perhaps still in that “dating” stage with a church (and eventually dating either goes somewhere more formal or else it stops): nobody expects you to give here.  You should be giving somewhere because that’s a spiritually healthy thing to do, but your presence is gift enough for now.

All of this, then, plays into the second part of supporting a church financially.  This second part can be summed up in the answer to a commonly asked question: how should I give?  Well, to answer this let me take you to an episode from Jesus’ life.  This happened during Jesus’ final week before His crucifixion.  During that week, Jesus spent a fair amount of time in and around the Temple complex teaching the people and challenging or being challenged by the religious leaders.  One afternoon He sat down with the disciples to rest for a minute and he happened to be sitting across the courtyard from the treasury box where people would leave their offerings.  As He sat there He watched as a line of rich people came by to make their offerings.  They were showy about it.  They brought in bags of coins and dumped them in the box and it made a lot of noise and everybody oohed and aahed.  But as this generous group of rich folks moves away, something else happened that nobody but Jesus even knows to notice; that nobody but Jesus even could have noticed.  An old woman hobbles up to the box, drops in what amounted to about a penny, and hobbles off.

As the woman shuffles away, Jesus calls the disciples over and says, “Hey guys, look at this.  Do you see that old woman right there?  No, not her…that one.  I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them.”  And as the disciples’ jaws all hit the floor together, Jesus explains what He means: “…they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”   Now, we could probably focus a lot of time on this scene, but let me give you the short version this morning.  First, God sees what we give.  He sees it.  Every time you give whether it’s here or somewhere else, God sees it.  I mean, it’s His stuff, right?  So of course He’s watching it.   He sees if you give it; He sees if you don’t give it.  Whatever it is you do with His stuff—because all of your stuff is really His stuff—He sees it.  Second, He isn’t concerned with the size of our gift.  If He was then those rich people made Him happy and that old widow offended Him.  I mean, short putting just one coin in the box, she literally could not have put in less money than she did.  If God cares about the size of our gift, she failed.  Thankfully He doesn’t.  It would actually be a pretty scary concept to think that God was pleased with a certain size of offering.  I suspect most of us would be in trouble.  No, God doesn’t care how big our gift is.  Jesus praised this woman.  And why?  Because, number three, God is concerned with the size of our sacrifice.  The greater the sacrifice on our part, the more trust we are placing in Him to provide for our needs.  The greater the sacrifice on our part, the less controlled by our stuff we are.  The greater the sacrifice on our part, the greater our commitment to the mission of the church.  So then, how should we give?  Sacrificially.  Generosity is great.  Be as generous as you can.  The money all those rich people put in the box was no doubt used for some good things.  The church benefits greatly from generous people.  But if an act of generosity is not also an act of sacrifice, it’s not worth nearly as much.  We’ll talk more about this in a couple of weeks, but for now, if you want to know how much you should be giving to the church, figure out a percentage of your income that represents a meaningful sacrifice for you and start there.

Third, and let’s come back around to where we started: supporting the church financially comes out of our love for the church.  Remember what I said a little while ago?  We are more likely to give to things in which we have an emotional investment.  We’re more likely to give to financially support people and causes and organizations we love.  Cute puppies make money.  Now, I don’t have a sob story for you this morning or a bunch of pictures of starving children or cute puppies or anything like that.  But I can tell you this: Central is worth your emotional investment.  It’s worth your heart because lives are getting changed because of what we’re doing here.  We are creating a place where people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ.  There are other great churches in this community, but nobody is doing what we do.  Nobody is having the kind of impact on the Midway School community that we are.  Nobody is reaching kids with the Gospel message in this community on as broad a range as we are.  Nobody is seeing young families find a church home worth investing themselves in like we are.  Simply put: Central is worth your emotional investment.  And, if you’re already emotionally invested here, my challenge to you is to make sure your financial investment matches your emotional investment because ministry takes money and there’s more to be done.

I went back the other day and listened to some testimonies we have recorded from one of our Celebrate Central Services.  Specifically I was listening to Heather Perry’s testimony of how their family got connected here.  I’ll tell you: I was sitting there in my office variously getting misty-eyed and fist pumping as I listened to her get weepy describing all the reasons they love this church.  She made very clear that her family’s life has been transformed…because of you.  What more, I know them.  They are impacting the lives of still other people as a result of being empowered here to engage their world for Christ.  And do you know what started it?  We were willing to cut the lights and the heat on for a couple of extra hours—which cost us money—a few extra times a month.  If this kind of an impact came from that kind of an investment…imagine what else we could do.  Now, in a couple of weeks I’m going to make some really specific challenges to you on this topic.  But for now, my challenge is this: love the church and show it by investing in the church.  We are creating a place where people matter and are empowered to engage their world for Christ.  You don’t want to miss having a stake in that.