Generosity is Counterintuitive

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Generosity is Counterintuitive

A team working together around the challenge of stewardship in the 21st century has worked hard over the past eighteen months to put together “The Generosity Project,” a pilot program running from Sept. 2017 – Dec. 2018 which will work to provide stewardship resources and support to a cohort group of pastors from New England regions. Members of the team have prepared blogs for “The Generosity Project” participants, which will also be shared on the ABCUSA website in the coming months.  To learn more about The Generosity Project, click here.

In December, team member Steve Bils, Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast, provides his thoughts about stewardship and giving.

As an airplane pilot I spent the majority of the time flying and navigating according to visual flight rules.  I could see the horizon so I could fly straight and level.  I could see the highways and other landmarks on the ground so I would know where I was and where I was going.  However, there were times when darkness or haze obscured the horizon or when distinguishing landmarks was difficult (such as over water).  At these times I was still able to fly and navigate safely because I could rely on my charts, my instruments, and the air traffic controllers to tell me where I was and that I was flying true and level.

As a young pilot one of the difficulties that I had to overcome was the natural tendency to trust “the seat of my pants” when it seemed to contradict what my instruments were telling me.  Often when my instrument panel told me I was flying straight and level my inner ear made me feel like I was banked one way or the other.  If I ignored my instruments and relied on my feelings I would bank in the opposite direction, eventually getting into such a tight diving turn that I would spiral out of control.

In 2 Corinthians 5:7 the Apostle Paul tells us that “we walk by faith, not by sight”. I believe this means that when navigating this life there are times when our spiritual chart and divine controller tell us that we should go one way, but human senses and instincts tell us the exact opposite.  For example, “he who would be greatest among you, let him be your servant” directly contradicts the intuitive human wisdom that has many aspiring leaders stepping on their colleagues and kicking them to the curb in their attempt to get to the top of the hill.

One of my favorite definitions of faith is found in the epistle to the Romans where Paul describes Abraham as one who “did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith . . . being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform.” (4:20, 21)  The Bible records the stories of men and women who, by faith, were certain of many things they could not see, feel, taste, hear or smell.  The eleventh chapter of Hebrews is a litany of such heroes of the faith.  In spite of the conflicting messages they were receiving from their human senses, by faith they stayed the course charted for them by their God, and “obtained a good testimony” that we are encouraged to follow.

Nowhere is the tension between the divine “chart” and the human senses so strong as in the arena of generosity.  Too often the biblical promise, “If you give . . . your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over.  Whatever measure you use in giving, large or small, it will be used to measure what is given back to you,” is ignored, and the conventional human wisdom that says “whatever I give away is just that much less for us to use for our needs” becomes the controlling guide.  Whether it is an individual or a congregation determining how they are going to use their financial resources, this tension is always present.  By faith we know that “he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” but our “inner ear”, our “seat of the pants,” will attempt to cause us to question its validity and spiral out of control.

Allow me to paraphrase the exhortation that follows the descriptions of the lives navigated by faith in Hebrews, “Having received the testimony of so great a cloud of witnesses, let us join them in running with confidence the course that has been charted out for us, laying aside the sin of unbelief which so easily ensnares us.”  We can’t safely walk by sight in a world where the darkness and haze has obscured the true horizon.  We must trust our divine instruments and hear our spiritual traffic controller if we hope to successfully finish our course with joy.

As you face questions about your financial stewardship and generosity, meditate on these directions from our “chart.” Notice how they take a divergent path from what “the seat of our pants” might be telling us.

One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty.

A generous person will prosper;
whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.

People curse the one who hoards grain,
but they pray God’s blessing on the one who is willing to sell.

Proverbs 11:24-26

Bio: Rev. Steve Bils has served as the Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of the Central Pacific Coast (originally ABC of Oregon) since 2009. Prior to moving to Portland, he served as the Associate Executive Minister of ABC of Nebraska, devoting a large portion of his time to his work as the Minister of Mission Support. Steve and his wife, Trudi, will celebrate their 40th anniversary in January with their three children and five grandchildren.