IMAGINE: Preparing for God’s Best
Jeff Jones, Senior Pastor
April 15/17, 2005
Wasn’t that great, seeing our church in action? I just don’t know if I’ve ever been more proud of our church. People in our community were blown away as hundreds of our people made Christ’s love very real and very visible in this community. And even though it was hard work, I promise you all those people would tell you that they were glad that they gave every effort they gave. Love Collin County was a big day for our church and our area. And we are just getting started.
As the body of Christ, God calls the church to be his feet and his arms to display his love and to make the invisible God visible. It is our job to represent Christ right here and to point people to him, to bridge people to a great life in Christ.
That is what this Imagine campaign that we are in right now is all about—it is about that vision. The only reason we would relocate our church is to better fulfill our vision and bring more glory to Christ—this is a big step and a bold one, but we believe God is calling us to do it. And it really comes down to you and me taking this step together—that’s the best part.
Last weekend on Sunday afternoon we had our first gathering at the land, and it was awesome. The weather people said that right at the time the prayer event was scheduled was going to be a massive storm and squall line…but we brought Gene Getz up here to pray…we brought out the big guns, spared no expense, and God obviously heard. There were storms north and sound of us, but God protected that event. After a brief time of prayer, people did the prayer walk and part of that was driving their stake in the ground. On each stake were prayers that they had written, and as they drove the stake in the ground they prayed for what God would do through our church on this land. It was overwhelming to see families and groups huddled around each other praying. I want to give you a taste of what happened there.
Just being on that land together as a church and praying for God’s provision and nailing our stake in the ground was an awesome moment and made it all so much more real. We could envision what it will be like to be there. We could imagine the people we will reach there, the families who will be impacted there, the children who will come to know Christ, the youth who will be challenged to live for Christ. The destination became more real. And for all of us, one day that destination will be a wonderful thing. It will be great to serve this community from that location.
But before the destination comes the journey. That’s the way God has always done it. He prepares us for the destination with the journey. Some people have asked me, “Jeff, do you really think our church is ready for this? Are we really ready to reach the people God is calling us to reach? Are we really ready to live out this vision?” And I’ve said, “No. Absolutely not. But we will be! By the time we get there, I have no doubt that God will get us ready. And he will use the journey to do so.”
As excited I am about the destination, I am even more excited about the journey. It is in the journey that God will stretch our faith, solidify our vision, unify our church, and strengthen our commitment. As I’ve said before, the journey is not long geographically—only a couple of miles—but it is an expensive trip. It means raising 15 million dollars in order to relocate. That’s our goal to fully relocate in one swoop, which is a big step. That’s what we are hoping to do and we believe that God can certainly provide that through his people. That’s our faith challenge. For those who take the step, God will grow us and stretch us…the journey is the best part of this.
I feel so strongly about this that if Bill Gates called tomorrow and said, “Jeff, I’ve heard about your little 15 million dollar effort. Jeff, I’ve had lunches that cost more than that. Let me skip lunch tomorrow and send you a check so you don’t have to worry about it,” I know what I’d say. It would be hard, but I know I would say something like, “Bill, thanks for the offer. You’ve enriched my life. I use Windows and generally like it. But I’m going to have to turn you down. Our church needs to do this. That’s the way God does things. He stretches each of us and will grow us in the journey.”
So today we want to look at how to take this journey—what it means to be faithful. Because God wants to use ordinary people like you and me to do this…there is nobody else. It really comes down to you and to me. Next week is Big Step weekend, where we will all take this step together. Next week we will among other things make our pledges of what we believe God is leading us to give over the next 3 years. Almost everyone I talk to is excited and wants to be a part, but how do we even pray about this? As a church, it has been over 20 years since we’ve taken this kind of step, so we are a little rusty. I have never been through a building campaign like this, so early on I really didn’t know how to pray about what God would have us do.
But the good news is that we really don’t have to guess about how to pray about this because in the Bible God tells us. There are four capital campaigns in the Bible, 3 in the Old Testament and one in the New, and in each God tells us how to pray about things like this…he tells us what to do. Today we are going to look at one campaign in the Old Testament, when Moses and the people of Israel built the Tabernacle, and we will look even more at the one in the New Testament. The 3 Old Testament campaigns are buildings, but the New Testament one is about famine relief in Jerusalem. In 2 Corinthians, they are raising money above and beyond regular giving to the church for a special project over a certain period of time, and in this passage, God tells us how we need to pray about moments like this.
1) Give sacrificially
In 2 Corinthians 8:1-7, Paul says, “1And now, brothers, we want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. 2Out of the most severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the saints. 5And they did not do as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then to us in keeping with God's will. 6So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part. 7But just as you excel in everything–in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us[a]–see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
This group of people gave not out of excess but out of poverty. They weren’t giving out of the extras in their lives they gave out of poverty. They sacrificed, and they begged for the privilege of sacrificially giving to God.
You might think that is crazy that people would beg to sacrifice, but some I’ve talked with already have had that mentality. I’ve talked with a small number of families to ask them to pray about this in advance, and many of them have had that attitude. One family said, “Jeff, go home and be with your family. We are going to give, and give sacrificially. Sacrifical giving is the only kind that truly honors God. He’s not pleased with giving out of excess, but when it hurts and when it demands faith. We are going to give sacrificially and there is nothing you can say that will keep us from doing that. So go home and be with your family.” That’s the Macedonian attitude.
I heard a story in another campaign at another church about this single mom who was raising two kids with a couple of minimum wage jobs. She heard that the opportunity was to give over and above her normal tithe to the church, and she didn’t know how she could give any more than what she was already giving. She said that she never bought a dress at a department store but always second hand and had given up wearing makeup because it was a luxury she couldn’t afford. How could she find the money? So, she prayed. She said, “Every day I went to Wendy’s by my work and buy something for lunch off the 99 cent menu. I get one item and then a water. I realize that I can give that up, and that a dollar a day means 5 dollars a week and 780 dollars through the course of the whole campaign.” She sacrificed and gave the 780 dollars. When the church’s capital campaign was finished, they raised 500 dollars more than they needed to build. Her gift, though it may not have been huge in a relative sense, pushed them over the top.
God is honored by sacrificial giving, and that is the kind of giving that it will take to pull off this vision. For a church to do something like this means that a lot of people have the Macedonian attitude.
2) Give by faith
We need to give by faith, trusting God to provide for our commitment. Again, in 2 Corinthians 9:8-11, Paul says, “8And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 9As it is written: “He has scattered abroad his gifts to the poor; his righteousness endures forever.”[a] 10Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.
God is the one who supplies seed to the sower. When we commit to give, he commits to provide for us the opportunity to do so. He is committed to making us rich in every way so that we can give and be generous. Last week I mentioned Miss Helen, an older lady that impacted my life tremendously in high school and college. She was in her 70s then, and really taught me what it meant to have a vibrant relationship with God. I’ve talked about her often in messages. She died a few weeks ago and is in heaven now. But one of the things I remember most about her was her generosity. I probably heard Miss Helen say 1000 times, “You cannot outgive God. The more you are generous the more he is generous, so Jeff live generously. God provides seed for the sower.” And she lived that way.
When I was in college, I found out through her brother that her income was less than her expenses. Occasionally I or some other people who cared about her would collect money and slip it under her door. I’d go in the morning and slip it under there. Invariably, next time I was with her, just before I’d get up to leave, she’d jump up joyfully and say, “Jeff, I have something for you!” And she’d bring out that envelop of money and say, “This is for you!” And I’d say, “No, it’s for you! Someone gave this to you.” And she’d say, “I know, and that gives me the opportunity to give it to you.” After a few more protests, she’d respond by saying, “Jeff, don’t worry about me. God provides for me, and you cannot outgive God. The more you give, the more he provides.” She lived that way, and guess what? God did provide. That’s giving by faith.
I’ve seen that attitude in this Imagine process as well. Another person here at Fellowship told me that he and his wife both agreed on an amount of money that was a lot for them and sacrificial—fifty thousand dollars. They are not a wealthy couple, but found some ways to make that happen. But once they realized how it could all happen, they realized that they weren’t giving enough. If they knew where it was all coming from, was that really a faith gift? It wasn’t going to stretch their faith, so they doubled their commitment to a hundred thousand dollars. They don’t believe that is presumptious, but they are looking to God to provide and are excited to see how God will do so. That one challenge me and caused us to change our gift. We want it to be a faith step too.
3) Give willingly
Paul told these early believers: “7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” God is honored by cheerful giving, not giving under compulsion or guilt. I don’t want anybody to be manipulated in any way to give more than they are willing to give. There are some fundraising groups out there that are very slick that we refused to work with because they felt manipulative. All we want to do is to communicate the opportunity, ask people to pray about what God wants them to do, and then do that. We don’t want them to do any more than that, nor do we want to ask any less.
Even in the Old Testament, when Moses gave the people the opportunity to give to build the tabernacle, it was voluntary. Moses could have taxed the nation to build the tabernacle, but that’s not the way God wanted it. God wanted people to give with the heart of worship not the heart of obligation. In Exodus 35:4-5, Moses says, “This is what the Lord God commanded: from what you have, take an offering for the Lord. Everyone who is willing is to bring to the Lord an offering…” Later, in Exodus 35:21 it tells what the people did: “…and everyone who was willing and whose heart had moved him came and brought on offering to the Lord for the work on the Tent of Meeting.”
God wanted people to give in worship, not out of obligation. And that is the same way with this Imagine Step. All we are asking is that you go to God and decide in your heart what this kind of giving looks like for you—what a sacrificial, faith gift means…and whatever you decide, that’s what you do. I don’t want anyone feeling manipulated, but I do want us all to feel challenged to do exactly what God wants. This week, take the time to ask him and then come prepared to take that step next week…whatever it is.
4) Give creatively
For this principle, I want us to look back at Exodus again. People gave out of what they had, out of their wealth and they gave creatively. Exodus 35:5-9 says, 5 From what you have, take an offering for the LORD . Everyone who is willing is to bring to the LORD an offering of gold, silver and bronze; 6 blue, purple and scarlet yarn and fine linen; goat hair; 7 ram skins dyed red and hides of sea cows [a] ; acacia wood; 8 olive oil for the light; spices for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense; 9 and onyx stones and other gems to be mounted on the ephod and breastpiece.
They gave creatively…not only currency like gold and silver and bronze but also things like linen and goat hair, ram skins, and hides of manatees. Now, if some of you give manatee hides I have no idea what we are going to do with them and environmentalists wouldn’t appreciate it anyway. So, don’t go kill a sea cow. The point is to think creatively.
Use Slide of Ideas from the Small Group Meetings bulleted
Most of us want to give, and so here God says, Look at what you have. Most of us have savings, and for Christy and me that is the biggest source of funds for our gift. We also are giving some out of our monthly cash flow, because we as a family want to feel the sacrifice each month through these years. But there are other creative ideas. Gene told his story last week, how he sold some property and there are others in this campaign that are doing that. Others are selling assets they have, like one family who is selling at auction a valuable painting. Another idea I’ve heard one person doing is getting a part-time job. She is a mom that works two days a week when her kids are in school, and she is going to add one day to that. Still others are waiting on certain expenditures like buying a car to free up money for the campaign. Others have given appreciated stocks, which means that they don’t pay capital gains and get the full deduction from the gift. There are many ways to give is the point, and in this process already it has been very cool to see people get creative.
5) Give expectantly
He says in 2 Corinthians 9:6, 6Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. God is clear: If you want to reap big, you have to plant big. If you and I choose to plant and invest in God’s work, God will bless us accordingly. I don’t know how many people over these last weeks have encouraged me, saying, “Jeff, challenge people to give. They are the ones who are losing out when they don’t. If you don’t challenge them and let them know, they will miss out on God’s blessing.”
So, what is God asking us to do? He spelled it out already. Give sacrificially, willingly, and by faith. And then trust God to provide and to bless. What we are asking all of us to do is to take this week and pray about what God wants us to do—and that is the right answer. These pledges are confidential, between you and God. What we are asking is the same thing that Moses asked the people thousands of years ago. Exodus 35:20 says, “Then the whole Israelite community withdrew from Moses’ presence, and everyone who was willing and whose heart moved him came and brought an offering to the Lord.”
To prepare you to do just that, I’ve asked Brian Berry to come and give some more specifics about how we can pray about this and how this whole process works. Brian is a minichurch leader here at Fellowship and is the leader of our Imagine Campaign team. He has done an incredible job, and let’s welcome him to the stage.
So, it all comes down to now. Let’s go away today and take this week to pray about what God will want us to do and then come prepared next week. And I’ll pray that the same thing happens for us that happened thousands of years ago. Here is what happened to Moses and the people of Israel in their campaign: They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. 4 So all the skilled craftsmen who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left their work 5 and said to Moses, "The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the LORD commanded to be done." 6 Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: "No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary." And so the people were restrained from bringing more, 7 because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work. Exodus 36
Wouldn’t that be cool if that happened…if next week, we had to say, “No more! We’ve raised more than enough.” Let’s pray that way. Let’s pray that God will give us the same spirit and heart that these people had. Let’s jump into this journey and watch God provide and allow God to stretch our faith. Let’s take this step together. What we are doing is big, but we serve a God who is…able.
Pray (on knees)