Thursday, October 31, 2013

Generosity is a Christian Family Value

We at the Region are working on a plan for funding our ministry for 2014.  We often call this a budget, but I prefer to think of it as printed outline of what we feel God is calling us to do in the coming year.  If you are not personally working on a plan for funding your church’s ministry for the coming year, you can be sure that someone within your congregation is doing so.  Perhaps your worship is focusing on stewardship these days.

The way we approach and handle money is usually a reflection of how we were raised.  It is one of the “family values” we inherit.  We choose to follow the practices of our parents or, in some cases, react against what we were taught.  The family value I inherited was frugality.  Any waiter or waitress that asked if we still “had room for desert” was wasting his or her time.  Such an unnecessary expenditure would have been unthinkable.  One always tried to limit the damage and get out the door.

For much of my life I believed that generosity was the luxury of those who lived with excess.  People with more money than they needed could afford to be generous.  People with spare time on their hands were free to take advantage of opportunities for volunteering.  This unfortunately limits the practice of generosity to the very few.  How many of us feel we have too much money or time?  Not many of us I suspect.

I then read something in the Bible that broke something loose in my heart.
We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of Macedonia; for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints—and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us, (2 Corinthians 8:1-5).
Paul was taking up a collection from the Gentile churches to help out the church in Jerusalem that had fallen into poverty.  Paul uses the example of the Macedonian churches giving out of their poverty to move the Corinthian church, a church of some wealth, to contribute to this offering.  Generosity is not just for the well off among us.  It is to be practiced by all of us—the rich and not-so-rich, the busy and not-so-busy.

I am trying to be a more generous person, more generous with both my time and my money.  God is always challenging us to grow; this is one of my current growth areas.  For me, it is a form of liberation from fear and anxiety to faith and joy.  This is a good time of year, when the Region and churches are planning for ministry in the coming year, for us all to be thinking about generosity.  Generosity is a Christian family value, for the whole family—both the well off and the not-so-well-off.

Jim Kelsey
Executive Minister of the American Baptist Churches of New York State

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Things Just Work Out

I began work as your Executive Minister, just over a year ago, and last week was the one-year anniversary of our moving into our house here.  In the shadow of these mile markers, I have been giving some thought to the past year and how we ended up here. 

My mother–in-law is prone to say when reflecting upon life that “things just work out.”  If you know her, you know that she doesn’t mean exactly what she is saying; there is a subtext.  She is a person of abiding Christian faith who knows most of the stories in the Bible and can actually tell you where to find them—book and chapter.  So when she comments “things just work,” you know she is not saying that we are simply victims of the vagaries of historical accident.  Someone is working them out; that is what she means.  She sees the hand of God in the daily rhythm of our days.  As I look over the past year in the life of the Kelsey family, I have to say: “Things just work out.”  I believe that God brought us to New York.  This is not simply good fortune, a lucky break.  God has planted us here.  Thus we are stewards of the opportunities and life that we have found in this place. 

Don’t take this too far, I don’t believe everything that happens in the world is God’s will.  Paul wrote: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).  This does not necessarily mean that God causes all things or that God wills all things.  It does mean that God can redeem all things to serve some good purpose.  A good bit of what happens in this world can be chalked up to human beings making poor choices.  We broke the world a long time ago, and some day will set aright anew.   For now it is something less than what God wills.  Jesus warned us to be careful about drawing too direct a line between what happens in this world and the guilt of those to whom it happens (Luke 13:1-5).

There are times, however, when we sense that God has been at work in some particular way in some particular place at some particular time.  I feel that as I look over the last year.  Our lives are held in the hands of a loving God.  I am so convinced of this.

Things just work out.  We say that with a knowing nod because we believe that there is One who is working out some of those things in our lives.