Generosity Reality Check ~ Pastor Gary

Notre Dame University’s Science of Generosity Initiative (http://generosityresearch.nd.edu/) has recently shone a light upon American’s notions and habits with regards to generosity and giving.  Some of their findings include[i]: About two-thirds of Americans agree that it is very important to be a generous person Americans perceive themselves as a generous nation 45% of Americans gave no money to charity in the previous year (including a staggering 40% of those who said a generous self-identity was important to them!) Less than 25% of Americans gave more than $500 annually. In short, a relatively small number give freely and generously whilst most give little to nothing I am not necessarily surprised by these results, but do find it very interesting to have such a significant gap between ideals and self-perception and the cold hard facts. What is behind this gap between intention and action? Often it comes down to perception again: too often those who are able to give do not see themselves as part of the solution. Giving is for “rich people” and, of course, they do not see themselves as rich. Did you know that to be in the top 50% of world citizens in terms of net assets (value of all assets including your home, car, accounts etc less your debt) all you need to your name is $3,210. Just $68,800 in net assets places you in the wealthiest 10%. The picture below illustrates the wealth level of the average person by country with the yellow nations representing the wealthiest and the blue and green the least. We can all find people close to us who seem to...

Unity in the Gospel Ministry ~ Pastor Andrew

There is something incredibly painful about church division.  In my pastoral ministry, I have seen conflicts erupt over a clock being moved, dishes being washed, and decorations gone astray.  Little things can become massive points of contention. As long as there have been humans, there have been conflicts.  Visionaries and lone rangers have often split and fractured the church.  Gifted and strong individuals are sometimes prone to exercise their gifts in divisive ways.  But the wise Christian knows and sees that the unity of the church was necessary for the success of gospel mission. What is so interesting about unity is this: the more you make unity a primary goal, the more elusive it becomes.  Unity is a fruit of gospel ministry. In Paul’s mission, he knew that the success of his mission was dependent upon having Jew and Gentile share one mind on saving faith.  So he worked hard to build unity on the basis of the gospel.  If the goal is gospel advancement, how do we work together?  Galatians 2 gives us some clues. First, no church succeeds unless they are on the same page (Gal. 2:1).  And differences can become barriers to cooperation.  But not for Paul.   Partnering with Barnabas and Titus, he ensured that their racial diversity as Jew and Gentile did not result in division but in a demonstration of gospel oneness. Second, a church moves forward when they are compelled by God (Gal. 2:2).  No inward neediness in Paul nor outward pressure to please people caused Paul to act.  He was motivated by the glory and revelation of God. Third, mission succeeds when...

Freed from the past ~ Pastor Gary

Sometimes I wonder if I had no past and no future, would I act differently today. That is to say, how are my daily actions limited by past failures and future worries? We know as Christians we are not to be limited by our past for if we are in Christ we are a “new creation (2 Cor 5:17)”, and we ought not fret for our future for just as the Lord cares for the birds of the air and the flowers of the field he cares for us (cf Matt 6:25-34). Thus, he expects (and enables) us to seek daily the kingdom of God unhindered by past mistakes and future concerns. We then walk in the newness of life promised to us able to glorify God in all we do, whether in word or deed. If you are like me, this is easier said than done. Think of the energy we expend in fashioning our lives in order to manage how we are perceived, what we may accomplish, and who we may impress. It can be an exhausting task. Not that we are to live lives void of ambitions, activity, and accomplishment. Paul spoke of the Lord granting us “good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Eph 2:10b)”. Can we trust that He really has prepared us for our day’s work regardless of our past failures and shortcomings? Can we trust that he will make a way for us in the future, such that we are freed to serve him and others today with all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength? Do...

Pleasing God ~ Pastor Andrew

Co-dependent.  Relationally Addicted. Performance Anxiety.  An inability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship.  These buzzwords and phrases have been around for quite some time.  These people agree with everyone, are constantly apologizing, feel responsible for everyone to feel good, are overburdened in their care for others, avoid conflict and can’t admit when they’re feeling hurt. While we have these modern psychological categories, they are not new. When John wrote his gospel, he saw people who would not believe Jesus because “they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God” (Jn 12:43).  And the apostle Paul knew the freedom of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: “Am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God?  Or am I trying to please man?” (Gal. 1:10).  The accusation against Paul was that he was not really preaching good news, but was trying to satisfy his relational neediness with approval and ‘man-pleasing.’ We all think about ourselves too much.  We maintain appearances to look just “so”.  We gaze a little too long in the mirror (or at our picture in Skype or FaceTime) wondering what people will think about us.  We think that other people think about us more than they really do, and this can paralyze us. Christians have long recognized how the doctrine of justification by faith alone frees us from people-pleasing.  Over 300 years ago, Pastor Richard Baxter could write to his church and remind them of simple truths: If you seek first to please God and are satisfied, you only have one to please rather than many; and it is...

Fighting Fake News ~ Pastor Andrew

In the weeks and months leading up to the 2016 US Presidential election, the prominence of fake news became a major problem.  Fraudulent articles spread throughout social media (Facebook, Twitter) like wildfire.  The CIA said that Russia was propagating fake news stories as part of a psychological and cyberwarfare campaign.  Confusion abounded and truth was sometimes hard to discern in a world that seemed stranger than fiction. The problem for many people was the inability to discern between what was real and what was fake.  Some fake news sites used a tactic called ‘spoofing’ – a ploy to make those who visit the website believe they are visiting trusted and reliable news organizations.  Other stories were structured like news articles but came from unreliable sources or individuals.  Still others used ‘clickbait’ – outrageous headlines that provoke the reader to click on the story and selectively present facts so as to make readers believe one thing when the reality was actually something different. Fake news is incredibly destructive.  In a time where the public is generally uninformed about the complexity of political issues, fake news sites fill the void and appeal to people’s fascination for the extreme, sensational, and speculative. Fake news is not a modern phenomenon.  When the apostle Paul heard reports of the churches in Galatia, he was alarmed.  Fake news was spreading.  Paul’s authenticity, apostleship, and announcement of good news was considered suspect.  So he wrote a terse letter to these churches to call them back – away from another gospel (which is no gospel) and back to the grace of Christ (Gal. 1:6-7). Knowing the difference...

Free Indeed! ~ Pastor Gary

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery  Galatians 5:1 Is there a more attractive word to the human heart and mind than freedom? Politicians, advertisers, artists, and our military co-opt the concept of freedom to persuade, sell, inspire, or justify; but what exactly is freedom? Is it choice? Is it lack of constraint? Is it political, economic, or philosophical? In our culture I believe it is commonly reduced to, “I can do what I want to do”, without much regard for how God comes into the picture let alone how individual and society freedom interact. I don’t know if there is a more compelling, yet misunderstood word in the English language. And what exactly are we freed from or to? Freedom is not just a cultural theme, but a gospel theme. This Sunday we begin our study of the book of Galatians and we have titled the series: “Free Indeed!” One theologian calls Paul’s epistle the ‘Magna Carta of Christian Liberty’. We will find that Christian freedom, or freedom in Christ, is often in direct opposition to cultural notions of freedom. This is hardly surprising as humans have a tremendous capacity for misunderstanding – and reveling in it! So often the “free” choices man makes, and rejoices in, are the very things that actually enslave. Paul writes in his letters to Christians in Ephesus and Colossae that all those not in Christ are enslaved to their sin – dead men walking (see Eph. 2:1; Col. 2:13). In contrast, the Christian...