Stewardship Sermons

From Dread to Joy

Dr. Tony Hopkins; Pastor FBC Greenwood, SC; CBF of SC Coordinating Council Member
November 5, 2006

From Dread to Joy
1 Chronicles 21:18-26
  

This morning represents the fifth and final Sunday in our month-long emphasis related to our Renewing Hearts and Heritage campaign.  Of course I have been very interested in what our church members have had to say about their experiences during the campaign process.  If I tried to summarize our collective emotional and psychological journey, I would identify three stages:  we have gone from dread to relief to joy. 

When we first announced that we had to have a capital campaign– well, that tells how we felt, doesn’t it?  Nobody said, “Oh boy, we get to have a capital campaign!”  We said, “We have to have a capital campaign.”  And we felt sort of a collective dread, or fear, about what the process would be like.  Am I going to be bombarded with a lot of talk about money?  Am I going to feel pressured, or coerced?  Is somebody going to try to make me feel guilty? 

As a pastor, I know that church members have these feelings, so I am always reluctant to preach about money.  My reluctance is reinforced by the fact that I came along in ministry when we were hearing so much about Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert and Oral Roberts; so any time I speak of money at church, I have this fear that people will associate me with them.  Do you remember the time Oral Roberts told his church and his television viewers that if they did not give so much money by a certain date, the Lord was going to “take him home”?   To portray God as an extortionist, to suggest that if enough people did not come across with enough money, God will kill someone, is both obscene and ludicrous– a person doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry.  As I recall, I laughed at the time, partly because I like laughing better than crying; and partly because it did give the late night talk show hosts some good material.

In that same light-hearted spirit, someone did suggest a possible fundraising strategy for our capital campaign.  I was given an installment of the comic strip “Kudzu,” by Doug Marlette.   As the name “Kudzu” suggests, the setting for this comic strip is a rural community in the southern United States.  The preacher at the little country church is a man named Will B. Dunn.  In the first frame, he is standing in the pulpit and saying, “As you all know, the tornado that came through last week destroyed the parsonage.”  In the second frame he says, “Until we can raise the funds to rebuild the parsonage, I will be living with some of you.”  In the final frame, the preacher is holding an offering plate with money piled up about eighteen inches above the top of the plate.  Someone suggested that if our campaign were not successful, I could threaten to move in with various church members, and that would probably really spur on the giving– which I have no doubt that it would.

Another possible fundraising strategy began to be discussed on the Sunday this summer when I preached about Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.  Genesis 39 says that Joseph was “handsome and good looking,” apparently so attractive that the writer of Genesis felt the need to be redundant.  That Sunday I said something like, “Joseph was handsome and suave and debonair; he was to Potiphar’s household staff what Kenny Standley is to our church staff.”  Immediately after that service, Ron Davis said that the title should not be given to Kenny Standley outright without him, Ron, at least being given some consideration– and Ron is quite a dapper fellow.  As it happened, Ron’s parents visited our church a couple of weeks later.  I shared the story, and his mother completely agreed that he should be considered; and that perhaps he, Ron, should be given the title.  So then somebody suggested that we might put out in the narthex a couple of large jars with pictures of Kenny and Ron, respectively, and allow church members to vote for, say, a dollar a vote.  And then somebody said that perhaps there were other men in the church who should at least be considered.  And then either Byron or Lou Hilley (I’m not sure which) suggested producing and selling a “Men of First Baptist Church” calendar– and that’s where I pulled the plug on this whole conversation.  I said, “We have gone as far down this path as we are going to go.”  I said last week that I am not authoritarian leader, but sometimes the senior pastor needs to put his or her foot down, and this was clearly one of those times.

Now why do I share all of that?  Because it illustrates something about this journey we’ve been on.  As I said a moment ago, we started with a sort of collective dread; but when I began to hear church members making jokes about the campaign, I knew that their fear was being changed to relief.  One of our oldest, dearest, and most faithful members came out of a campaign meeting, looked at me, and said in utter sincerity, “Well, that wasn’t so bad.”  The name of that feeling is relief, and I think many of us felt that.  And I think there are two reasons for that.  The first was the experience of the campaign; as we went through the process, we discovered that in fact we were not going to be harangued or coerced.  The other reason is that the campaign steering committee did a great of communicating the most important truth related to this campaign.  They were good communicators and educators, and they helped us understand that this campaign is a not an end in itself.  It is a means to the end of fulfilling the mission God has given our church.  Campaigns, budgets, dollars, facilities, and projects– they are all tools which we use to reach a goal; and the goal is to fulfill our God-given mission.  As we collectively discerned during our Futuring process last year, we seek to have the heart of Jesus, and we seek to be the hands of Jesus as we do ministry in our community and our world.

When Carol and I were in the Furman Singers (lo, these years ago), we got to sing in some of the great cathedrals in England and France, including the cathedral at Chartres.  There is an old story about traveler from Italy who visited Chartres while the cathedral was being built.  Arriving at dusk, he went to the site just as the workers were leaving for home.  He asked each of them what they did.  One man replied that he was a stonemason, and he spent his days carving rocks.  Another man said that he was a glassblower who spent his time making slabs of colored glass.  Still another man replied that he was a blacksmith who pounded iron for a living.  Wandering into the deepening gloom of the unfinished structure, the traveler came upon an older woman, armed with a broom, sweeping up the little pieces of stone and glass and iron from the day’s work.  “What are you doing?” he asked.  Looking up toward the magnificent arches, she replied, “Me?  I’m building a cathedral for the Glory of the Almighty God!”  She had a vision of something much larger than her individual contribution to it.  At FirstBaptistChurch, we have a vision of fulfilling the mission God has given our church.  We have a vision for seeking the heart of Jesus and being the hands of Jesus in this community.  And whatever we contribute– our time, our money, our energy, our service, our spiritual gifts– we know that we are part of something much larger than ourselves.  At the same time, knowing that we are part of something so great and important and magnificent brings us joy– which brings me to the final stage I spoke about.

I have had so many interesting conversations with church members during this campaign.  One man made the insightful comment that trying to get people to give using guilt, or pressure, is not only unpleasant, but it is also ineffective.  He said, “I don’t give in response to guilt, or obligation.  I give out of gratitude.”  He talked about how God’s love has been overwhelming to him; and how God’s grace has shaped everything about his life.  He said, “I give in response to that.”  To be so mindful of God’s love and grace that it births in us gratitude and generosity and joy– that’s a life worth living.    

Our scripture says that these very things– gratitude and generosity and joy– could be found in the life of King David.  David was the most beloved king in the history of Israel.  He united the kingdom, established Jerusalem as its capital, and brought the ark of covenant there.  And if it had been up to him, David also would have built God’s temple.  But God says to David, “Because you have shed so much blood waging your wars, you will not build a house to my name; your son Solomon will build a house to my name” (see 22:8-11).  David is disappointed but obedient.  Of some consolation to him, I think, David is allowed to make preparations for building the temple (22:2-5), including purchasing the site on which the temple would be build.  Under the direction of God’s messenger, David selects a site which is on the property of a Jebusite farmer named Ornan.  David says to Ornan, “I want to buy part of your property, this high ground where your threshing floor is; I want to buy it at its full value.”  Being a loyal subject, Ornan says, “If my lord the king finds this place pleasing, let him have it.  Take the land and all that it is on it, and make an offering to the Lord.”  But David says, “No, that wouldn’t be fair to you.  Besides, if I offer to the Lord what is yours, then it’s not a gift from me.  I will not offer to God that which costs me nothing.”  David says, “I will not offer to God that in which I am not personally and genuinely invested.”  You see, David knew the secret, that if he diminished his generosity, he would diminish his own joy.  The world says that joy comes from getting and keeping and having and hoarding– but that is a description of the most miserable, miserly people I have ever known.  But the most joyful people I have ever known understand that the joy of having is that we have something to give and to share; it means that we can be generous, as God has first been generous with us.  Every time we give, every time we share, every time we serve, we are helping not only to build God’s house but also to build God’s kingdom.

At the very top of the list of what we want to give and share is God’s love.  We have talked so much about the mission of our church, last year during the Futuring Process and this year during Renewing Hearts and Heritage– and it has been helpful– but on the most basic level, the mission of every church and the mission of every Christian is to share God’s love, to help people know and experience the love of God in Jesus Christ.  At our leadership event ten days ago, I shared an illustration related to this truth; and several people whom I love and respect asked me to tell that story this morning as we prepare to bring our gifts to the cross. 

Ken Chafin was my professor of preaching at Southern Seminary, but before that he was pastor of a church in Houston, Texas which had 12,000 resident members.  Because of the size and prominence of that church and because of his giftedness as a speaker, Ken was invited to speak all over the country.  He was on a radio talk show in New York City.  The format was that he would have some time to talk, and then there would be a time of questions and dialogue with the audience.  After Ken had spoken, a young woman in the audience raised her hand.  Someone with a microphone went over to where she was, and she stood up on crutches with one leg in a cast.  She said, “I’m seventeen years old.  I came to New York when I was fifteen, and I became a prostitute at sixteen.  My leg is in this cast because my pimp broke it.  He said I wasn’t bringing in enough money.  [She said,] I don’t know how I got into this mess, and I sure don’t know how I’m going to get out.  But most of all, I don’t know how God could love a girl who has sold her body.” 

Ken said, “I did the only thing I could do:  I began to talk to her out of the gospel.  I told her about Jesus and the woman at the well, Jesus and the woman caught in adultery, the Loving Father and the prodigal son.  ‘This,’ I said, ‘is how God loves sinners.’”  After the show was over, they put the young woman in touch with some civic authorities for her protection; and with a local church which would take her in and care for her spiritually and emotionally.  Ken had gone out the back door of the studio and was getting into the car to go to the airport when someone came running out of the door calling, “Dr. Chafin!  Dr. Chafin!”  The man said there was a woman on the phone who was seventy years old, and she really wanted to talk to Ken.  He went back in to take the call, and the woman said, “I was listening to your radio show today.  Like that young woman you talked to, I became a prostitute here when I was sixteen years old.  Fortunately, I had some friends who got me out of that very quickly.  But for all of those years, in my heart, I haven’t really believed that God could love me.  Listening to your broadcast today, I realized that it was not that God had not forgiven me; rather, I had not forgiven myself.  Today, for the first time in fifty-four years, I felt the love of God in my heart, and I wanted you to know.”

This is why we do what we do, so that people can experience the great love of our God in Jesus Christ.

Stewardship Sermons

Is Heritage Really Important?

Dr. Tony Hopkins; Pastor FBC Greenwood, SC; CBF of SC Coordinating Council Member
October 22, 2006

Is Heritage Really Important?
Psalm 47:1-4
    

One of the things we have been saying throughout our Renewing Hearts and Heritage emphasis is that the work we are doing will allow us to hand down our heritage to those who come after us.  But that begs a question:  is that so important?  Is heritage really such a big deal?  For that matter, what do we mean when we speak of our heritage?  What exactly is it that we intend to hand down? 

The first thing we should say is that it is a Christian heritage, a heritage built on what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.  If we asked people who entered our sanctuary what they noticed first, I think most would say either, “The cross” or, “The windows.”  The cross is the symbol of Jesus’ death, and the windows are filled with symbols of Jesus’ life– because it is a Christian heritage we have in this place.

It is also a Baptist heritage.  You may have heard me say, “I’m so Baptist that if a mosquito bites me, it flies away humming ‘There’s Power in the Blood.’”  “Baptist” is not as important as “Christian,” but it does have some value and some distinctiveness.  Baptists are known for missions.  Baptists are known for the autonomy of the local church:  there is no person or group outside of our church which governs us; the decisions which affect us are made by the members of our church.  Baptists are known for the priesthood of all believers, our insistence that you do not need a human intermediary to approach God on your behalf; through Christ, each person has direct access to God.  Baptists are known for fellowship and food.  I read about an elementary school class which was having show and tell, and each student had been asked to bring something to represent their family’s faith.  A little girl got up and said, “We’re Catholic, and this is a rosary.”  A little boy said, “We’re Jewish, and this is a Star of David.”  The next child said, “We’re Baptist, and this is a casserole.” 

Ours is a Christian heritage; it is a Baptist heritage.  But even within those broader contexts, there is a particular heritage here, at First Baptist Greenwood, which is in some ways unique, or distinct.  One unique feature is our commitment to local missions.  A lot of churches support missions overseas, but they are really not very involved or very invested in their own communities– this church is clearly an exception to that trend.   Another unique feature is our architecture.  In the vast majority of Baptist churches especially, the focal point of the sanctuary is the pulpit.  It is much better theology to worship here, where the focal point is the cross.

I hope you have watched the DVD we prepared in conjunction with Renewing Hearts and Heritage.  Among other things, Mary Hamrick does a wonderful job of talking about what I’m talking about, the uniqueness of our church.  She rightly begins with worship.  Worship here is unapologetically Christ-centered.  We value tradition and reverence.  We gather here not to be  entertained, not to see who else is here and what they are wearing, or not for any other reason than to worship the God who has shown us such great love in Jesus Christ.  And again, this is becoming more and more unique.  Especially in Baptist life, the clearly dominant trend is toward a more upbeat, contemporary, celebrative style of worship.  I want to be very clear that I am not criticizing that; and I recognize that those churches will reach some people whom we would never reach.  But it does mean that we have here is sort of an increasingly rare jewel, especially in Baptist life. 

In fact, months ago our campaign consultant asked me to write for our steering committee a piece which described our church’s identity and heritage.  And I said that there are four pillars, or columns, on which our identity and heritage rest; and the first was worship.  Jim Firmin, the Executive Director of the campaign, said, “Tony, when I read that piece, as I read each of your four major points, certain people and events from our church immediately came to my mind.”  If you folks who are very new to the church will bear with us for a minute, I think all of us who have been around a while will have the same experience Jim had.  When you think of worship here, whom do you think about?  Dr. Bowers?  Dr. Harris?  Elbert Adams?  Edgar Davis?  I think of Ron Davis, who helps me worship each week.  Some of you will think about the wonderful choirs and soloists and instrumentalists here– music has been such an important part of our heritage.  Some of you will think about our church being kicked out of association in 1970, and you came back here, and Bill Treadwell led you in a communion service which was a very meaningful worship experience.  Some of you will think about coming to the chancel steps on Christmas Eve and individually receiving the elements of the Lords’ supper from our ministers. 

I said that a second pillar of our heritage and identity is missions.  I think anybody who was here at the time will think about Carole Mauldin and the other people who helped birth the Bowers-Rodgers Children’s Home.  Many of our youth and college students will think about Chris Fox, who introduced them to doing missions.  Others will think of other projects and trips.  You get the idea.

Now, do you remember the question we started with?  The folks who come to Wednesday night Bible study laugh at me– justifiably– because someone will ask a question, and the answer is so long that by the time I stop talking, it’s hard to remember what the question was.  The question we started with this morning was:  is heritage really important?  I think a brief stroll down memory lane will answer the question.  Did you or someone you love come to know Jesus here?  Were you or someone you love baptized here?  Ordained here?  Have you found a way to serve Christ here?  Have you built meaningful Christian relationships here?  Has your faith grown here?  Have you discovered spiritual gifts here? 

I think the writer of Psalm 47 would laugh at my question, even if he understood it to be rhetorical.  He would say:  of course your heritage is important.  In our text, the psalmist says:  don’t you realize that your heritage is a gift to you from God, and it was given with great love?  I think about Jeremiah 29:11:  “I know the plans I have for you, say the Lord; plans for your good, to give you a future with hope.”  I sounded this theme for six months during our Futuring process last year, saying that God recognizes that we are unique congregation, and therefore God has a unique plan and a unique mission for our church.  Just as we are unique when we look forward, to our future, so we are unique when we look back, at our heritage.  As a friend of mine says, “How can we fully understand and appreciate where we are if we don’t know where we’ve come from?”

Not that I’m saying that we should worship the past.  Blind resistance to change is in the end a stubborn refusal to grow; and clearly God wants us to grow.  As somebody said, “The seven last words of the church are, ‘We’ve never done it that way before.’”  But having said that, I truly believe that the heritage of this place is too special and too wonderful to let it end with us; and that’s why we are having our Renewing Hearts and Heritage campaign. 

I’ll tell you another thing which I think makes this church special:  the value we put on reverence in worship is balanced by, complemented by, the value we put on joy– joy in living and in Christian fellowship.  Joy is the other thing the psalmist talks about in our text.  The danger always for liturgical, traditional churches is that we will be cold and stiff and stodgy.   Everyone in this room has known some dear saint whom we loved, but when they said, “Yes, as a Christian, I have great joy in the Lord,” we wanted to say, “Please tell your face!  It’s okay to smile.  It’s okay to share in the laughter of grace.”  God wants us to have joy. 

As much as in any moment I can remember in my tenure here, there was great joy in the laughter one Sunday morning when Kenny Standley was doing the children’s sermon.  (Kenny is suddenly very attentive– and a little nervous.)  He was talking with the children about the church as a place of handing on traditions, learning, Christian education.  Kenny said, “For instance, if I wanted to learn more about the Bible, we have some wonderful Sunday School teachers here. And if I wanted learn more about youth ministry, I could go to Chris Fox, who is a fine youth minister.   And if I wanted to learn more about church music, I could go to Dr. Ken Lister, who knows a lot about that.  And if I wanted to learn about good preaching, I’m sure there’s a good preacher out there somewhere.”  His timing and delivery were perfect– sometimes people hit the punch  line too hard, but it was perfectly understated, no change in inflection.  The congregation roared; the children were just a little puzzled about what was so funny.  The next Wednesday evening, I decided to practice what I call Christian retaliation, revenge in the name of Jesus; and I facetiously said during the announcements, “This weekend, Kenny Standley will be teaching a seminar about good preaching.”  And somebody sitting right up front in the fellowship hall looked at me and said, “Are you going to attend?”  How wonderful to be part of family which shares in joy and laughter together; and to know that when we do so, we are strengthening our connection to God and our connection to each other.

Another very special feature of this church was articulated very well during the Futuring process last year by Sally Baggett.  She talked about growing up in this church and (particularly as a teenager) working through all of those hard questions you have to work through if you are going to arrive at mature faith. Why do bad things happen to good people?  Does that mean that God is not in control?  Does it mean that God doesn’t care about us?  Is Jesus’ death on the cross really sufficient for the forgiveness of all of my sin?  She said, “As we worked through those tough questions, nobody judged us, or told us that we were bad for having doubts, or questions.  This was a safe place for us to work through our faith, with a church that loved us and gave us the space we needed to do that.”  Sally didn’t say this, but the truth is:  the church family which loves the person working through the hard issues of the faith– that church’s love is a reflection of God’s love.  That’s the heritage we have here. 

I was talking with some of our leaders last week about the Bela family.  The Belas settled in Greenwood as refugees from Kosovo in 1999.  This family literally had a tank pull up in front of their home.  The military personnel said, “Tomorrow we will destroy this village; if you don’t want to be killed, you’d better get out today.”  Somehow the Belas landed in Greenwood, and this church under the leadership of Kenny Standley sprang into action.  They provided them with a home, furnished that home, provided their basic necessities, taught them how to adapt to this culture, helped them learn English and find jobs– whatever they needed. Today the Belas live in a beautiful Habitat home.  They are happy, productive members of this community.  In a conversation one day, Ruhan, the father, said to me, “You know, the people who took everything from my family and all of the families in our village would have identified themselves as Christians– that was their faith background.  [He said,] I would have lived my whole life thinking that that’s what all Christians were like if not for the FirstBaptistChurch in Greenwood.”  Now you tell me:  is our heritage important?

Clearly, the answer is, “Yes.”  But as soon as we answer that question, it immediately leads us to another question:  how important is it to me and my family?  Is it important enough for me to give generously to the Renewing Hearts and Heritage campaign?  Is it important enough for me to search my heart and ask if God would want me to reorder some of my priorities?  Is it important enough that I would be willing to make sacrifices? 

While I was pastoring in Edgefield, our church there did a renovation project– it was much smaller in scope than what we are doing right now, but it was a challenge to that church with their resources.  They met their campaign goal; and by they way, they also met their budget every year during their campaign.  They understood that campaign gifts are over and above gifts, in addition to regular offerings– if we redirect our regular tithes and offerings into the capital campaign, we undercut all of the ongoing ministries of the church.  But we were in this stage of the campaign:  we were trying to educate the church about what we were doing and why we were doing it.  Nita Tompkins, a widow in the church called me and asked me to come by her home.  I did, of course.  (This was in 1996).  She said, “Our church last had a capital campaign in 1978, when we built our educational building.  My children were in college at that time– it was the time when we had the greatest financial demands on our family, so I couldn’t really give to that campaign as much as I wanted.  [She said,] For almost twenty years now, I have been praying that God would let me live long enough to see another campaign in our church so that I could give much more generously than I was able to last time.”  The she smiled and said, “I am so thankful that God has answered my prayer and given me this opportunity.”  Not “this challenge,” not “this burden,” but “this opportunity.” 

We regularly pray in our church for God’s will.  We regularly pray for God to use us to fulfill the mission God has for our church.  Don’t you see?  God has answered our prayer and given us this opportunity.  Don’t be left out.

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