Growing through Adversity

Are you frustrated today? Dealing with some kind of a set-back? Remember, “Nothing beautiful comes without suffering” (Desmond Tutu). Countless stories, like that of Nelson Mandela, remind us that the path to deep joy and generosity of spirit, does not lead away from suffering but through it. While pain and conflict can certainly embitter us, if we don’t lose sight of God’s presence and the hope of redemption, we can find meaning in our suffering and it can ennoble us with greater wisdom and compassion. The most sure sign of this transformation is that we lose the compulsion to retaliate. Instead of returning insult for insult, we develop the capacity to put ourselves in the shoes of others long enough to ask, “What is possessing him to act this way?” While this does not mean that we abandon healthy boundaries and stop exercising wisdom when deciding whom to trust, it does help us surrender ego and exercise more empathy and wisdom when deciding how to move forward. Our kindness grows only when it is tested.

However, this transformation takes time (for most of us a long time), and this means that we not only need to cultivate compassion for others but also for ourselves as we repeatedly try to offer more mature responses in the face of difficulty.

For more on this topic: “Suffering and Adversity: Passing through Difficulties,” in The Book of Joy by Desmond Tutu & The Dalai Lama.

Why Our Church Gave $1,200 Away in Worship This Morning

This morning our church gave away $1,200 to those who came to worship. Here is why we did.

November is stewardship month, and we are teaching the importance of expressing gratitude and choosing joy through the spiritual discipline of self-sacrificial giving. Christians claim to serve a generous God, and if this claim is to have credibility to a watching world then it must be reflected in our actions, individually and corporately. Too often, the church asks its individual members to do things that it does not do as a larger body. We tell our members to care for the poor, but there’s nothing in the church budget for this need. We tell our members to share with others by giving to the church, but then we spend all the tithes on ourselves. We tell people not to allow fear to keep them from giving, but then refuse to release funds into the community because we fear scarcity. The church lacks credibility when it calls individuals to give generously and courageously while corporately hoarding its resources and refusing to invest in the surrounding community.

In order to avoid stumbling into this hypocrisy, Shepherd’s Community UMC gave away a large sum of money during a very difficult financial season. Here is what we are hoping to accomplish. First, we want to practice what we preach and lead by example. We want our giving to be a living, breathing testimony to the generosity and faithfulness of God. Second, we want people to experience the power of generosity at work; we want people to see, firsthand, how God can take a small investment of time, talent, and money and multiply it through our resourcefulness to make a real difference in the lives of hurting people. Our hope is that once recipients experience this for themselves with our money that they will be more faithful and courageous in investing their own money in such endeavors. Our mission in the United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and part of fulfilling this mission is cultivating a generous, compassionate, outwardly focused, and socially active people who stun the world with extravagant generosity.

So we literally put our money where our mouth is regarding this conviction. We gave twelve $100 bills to twelve families/groups who were willing to work hard to multiply it and give it away to help others. We are calling this the #KindnessProject and asking the recipients to do four things in the next twelve months:

Pray about it. Ask God to help you answer the following questions: What are the needs in my community? What are the needs of my co-workers or friends? What organization or charity can use this money to do significant good for those in need? To whom does God want me to give this money?

Multiply it. Invest your money in a project that will multiply the funds and add value to the community. You can work alone, with your family, or with a small group of friends, but the minimum goal should be to double the investment. While we would encourage you to let people know why you are doing this project through SCUMC, we don’t want you to do it at church for church friends. Get out into the community and serve people you don’t know. As you consider how to multiply your seed money, you can find many fundraising ideas online.

Give it away. Give all of the money away as an act of kindness or compassion to a person, family, organization, or ministry. You might do something for teachers at your school, give it to your favorite charity like the Salvation Army, or purchase a farm animal for an impoverished family in South America through Heifer International. The possibilities are endless. The catch is, you cannot give the money back to our church. We don’t want it. You have to give it away.

Tell the story. Share the story with us and with the world about how you helped others by participating in the #KindnessProject. Once you are ready to share, we will give you time on Sunday morning to talk about your project and show pictures. We would also invite you to give updates on social media periodically so others can see the power of generosity at work through you. Use the hashtags #scumc and #KindnessProject as you post things online so we can search and share all the updates and images. Hopefully, this will create some healthy competition as we try to out-serve each other in love.

May this #KindnessProject show people that we serve a generous God and that the power of generosity can make a real difference in the world! If you would like to donate $100 seed money, please contact Pastor Mark:

Here is the message leading up to the challenge:

What’s the Point of Life? Learning from a Rich Fool

Many people get to the end of life and realize that they have missed the point. They work hard for financial security, keeping everything they have to themselves. The love of money corrupts their character and leads to misery. Jesus explains how to avoid this trap and how to embrace a life full of meaning, value, purpose, and joy. Check out this message and learn how! (We had some technical difficulties with our camera while shooting this video, so in some places the video cuts in and out. But the audio is good all the way through. We’re working hard to get a new camera to fix the problem.

Fear of Scarcity Should Not Determine Generosity

We live in a world of immense need, and often we are presented with opportunities to give: the offering plates are passed on Sunday morning, late night television commercials remind us of starving children, and organizations like the Red Cross launch text campaigns on social media to help those harmed by natural disaster. In moments when we are inspired to respond generously, we are tempted to think, “Finances are really tight right now and I don’t have anything to give.” This focus on lack of resources functions to silence the generous impulse. But this way of thinking in which the fear of scarcity forecloses on generous action is called into question by the apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 8.

In this chapter, Paul brags on the churches of Macedonia because while they were enduring a time of severe affliction and living in extreme poverty they were still filled with “abundant joy” and showed extravagant generosity to “the poor.” Indeed, Paul explains, “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 . . .” (vv.3-4). How is this possible? How can people enduring severe affliction and extreme poverty exhibit abundant joy and radical generosity? Because they gave not according to what they did not have, but in accordance with what they did have (v.12). They didn’t start by asking, “Do I have enough to give?” which is a question driven by scarcity and fear. Rather, they started by asking, “Given what God has already placed in my hand, what can I freely share with others,” which is a question driven by abundance and gratitude. This change in perspective is exactly what is necessary to become a cheerful giver that activity reflects the extravagant generosity of God. This is the kind of giving that God desires from us, the kind of giving that makes sense of Jesus’ saying, “It is more blessed to give than receive” (Acts 20:35).

Is your worldview driven by scarcity or abundance? How would things change in your life if you focused on what you have to give not on what you don’t have to give?