What else can you say on special days? That was the haunting question I asked myself as a pastor after serving a relatively long tenure in one church. Easter and Christmas came every year. So did Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and the Fourth of July as well as various other times on the church and Christian calendar.
The one occasion which caused me as much heartburn as any was stewardship emphases. Annually, we had an emphasis tied to the introduction of the church budget, and then there were the seemingly endless capital campaigns for building facilities which were on the horizon. What more can you say about the discipline of stewardship and the ministry of giving?
Well, I think there is always more to say on this important subject. This is one of those areas of the Christian life, like personal witnessing and prayer, which needs constant care and maintenance. I remember one time as a pastor telling my people, “This morning, I am going to give you the name of the biggest giver in our church.” I allowed for an abnormally long pause, and then I quoted John 3:16. The people were relieved that I had not lost my mind.
John 3:16 is perhaps the best text in the Bible for preaching on stewardship and the ministry of giving. In the mind and heart of God, He fashioned His grace into the person of Jesus and gave us the greatest and best gift ever. As the old saying goes, “You can’t out give God, He gave His all. He gave us Jesus.” We can really never understand this gift until we comprehend something of the meaning of the agape love of God. This is the most selfless love possible. When we become channels or conduits of God’s selfless love, the ministry of giving becomes second nature.
In 1991, I was among several Alabama Baptists who traveled to South Korea to inaugurate our new partnership with the Baptist family of that nation. For me, the visit was most memorable. It had been the longest overseas trip I had ever made and the first one to the so-called Pacific Rim. Needless to say, I learned much from the cross-cultural exchange. I never mastered eating without standard American utensils. Furthermore, I was not agile enough to learn how to sit in the floor with my legs crossed and eat meals which consumed far more time than we Americans spend at the table. In South Korea, as in many locations, fellowship during meals is a cultural art form. They enjoy their meals and the interaction related to them.
What impressed me most about the Korean Christians was the gracious way they ministered in giving. They were so kind and thoughtful about giving gifts to guests. While with one of my hosts, I mentioned how much I liked the seat cushion in his car. When I left to go home, my host stood smiling with a car seat cushion handwrapped for me. He was so proud of himself, and he radiated an abundant joy – so rare in our culture.
I did not have any idea that he would give me a gift which was so personal and rather costly too. In retrospect, the way my host and the other Christians gave is quite instructive. The Korean believers give with both hands extended. With this gesture, they are saying, “I am holding nothing back. I am giving you all I have to offer. This is my best gift.”
American Christians can learn much from “giving with both hands extended.” We need to begin by giving ourselves to the Lord as Paul challenged the Corinthian church to do. Then we need to give with nothing withheld. We can give our all when we know that our God has given His all for us. That is why our God is the greatest giver ever. What a beautiful example of the ministry of giving. This is the kind of giving that takes the “stew” out of stewardship.