Generous with Our Story
2 Timothy 1: 1 – 14
It is only natural for us to connect the idea of generosity with money. We automatically think of financial resources when we consider the idea of being generous, but the life of generosity for a disciple of Jesus Christ extends to our willingness to utilize ALL our resources in the building of God’s Kingdom…our story…our time through service, study and corporate worship…in addition to our financial resources. I love what Bishop Mike Lowry says, “When the family of Christ gathers together, generosity erupts! Generous living defines and shapes our relationships.”
How we use our resources is fundamentally a spiritual issue. A spiritual life anchored in Jesus Christ is intimately tied to generous living. In the New Testament, those who believed lived generously. They had great power and great grace precisely because the use of their resources was freely surrendered to God’s will, purpose, and desire, and they were willing to share not just their resources, but the reason behind their willingness to share. As we begin this month-long reflection on generosity, let’s take a look at the power behind being generous with our story.
When I say generous with our story, what do I mean? I mean telling others about what God is doing in my life. I mean sharing how God is making a difference today. I mean sharing how I came to faith in Jesus Christ. There are myriad ways to “share our story,” but the essence of what I mean is to be willing to include God in the conversations of our daily lives when it’s appropriate to do so.
It’s not like we’re unwilling to share our lives with others. We generally enjoy sharing news we believe is significant. We share joyfully at the birth of an infant in our family. We celebrate weddings by sharing pictures and stories. We even are quick to pass the word when loved ones die. All appropriately, I might add. But, we also are willing to share the less significant. We see the latest film in the Star Wars franchise, and we can’t wait to post our impressions on Facebook, or call our friend and say, “You’ve got to see this one!” We also have no hesitancy in sharing the lowly estate of the New Orleans Saints, or chiming in with our opinion of the firing of Les Miles. We’re quick to post pictures on Facebook of our children’s first day of school, and we’re often very glad to share their latest achievement in life that makes us proud. We share our lives in lots of ways, and most of those ways never change anyone’s life. I said most.
In our text today, the Apostle Paul is writing to his son-in-the-faith, Timothy. Paul has come to the end of his life, and knowing his days are numbered, shares his story (again) with Timothy. Timothy is not oblivious to Paul’s story. When Paul was on his first missionary journey, he passed through the city of Lystra. That just happened to be Timothy’s hometown. He became familiar with Timothy and his family, and as a result, Timothy became Paul’s traveling companion. Yet, Paul shares it once again, and in the context of doing so, offers this little bit of advice in verse 8: “So never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.” Apparently, Timothy had an issue with sharing the story. See, even the great characters of the Bible have their foibles. As there was grace for them, there is grace for us.
I believe the Apostle Paul give us a clue as to Timothy’s hesitancy in verses 6 – 7: “This is why I remind you to fan into flames the spiritual gift God gave you when I laid my hands on you. 7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Timothy was afraid? Paul reminded Timothy that the power of God can overcome any fear in our lives.
Fear often keeps us from sharing our story. We fear rejection. Someone may reject us if we share our story with them. We fear a lack of knowledge. We simply don’t know how to share. Perhaps that’s because the church has failed to teach faith-sharing…and that rests on me as your pastor. This might have been Timothy’s trouble, too. Timothy was a young man, though he wasn’t a teenager, and Paul, in his first letter to Timothy had to remind him not to “let anyone think less of him” because he was young (1 Timothy 4:12). Fear can prevent us from being generous with our story.
I am grateful that we are a generous congregation. Many of you continue to be generous with your story. Last spring, Chris and I did a message series called Transformation: Possible, and we asked you to share your stories of transformation with us. We didn’t get to use all of them in that series, but we saved them for now. I appreciate Bob Ford being generous enough to share that in 2001, after three previous heart stents, was told the bottom of his heart was not working and that additional surgery was needed. He delayed the surgery until after an already scheduled business trip. On that trip, Bob encountered a friend who was a devout, Charismatic Christian who told Bob she was going to pray for him. Bob was reluctant to submit to the woman’s prayers, not believing what he called that “mumbo, jumbo!” He met his friend anyway, and she laid her hand on his shirt and prayed. In that moment, Bob said he felt heat in his chest and Ann felt it, too. His friend said, “That doctor is going to say there’s nothing wrong with your heart!” Bob shared that’s exactly what happened.
Jane Ellet, too. She shared that while a student at La. Tech, she went to the altar to pray. She asked the Lord if he had changed her life. She shares she clearly heard him say, “Not a change, but a difference.” She hasn’t worried about her relationship with the Lord since. Ask her. She’ll tell you. She also shared (long before I was preparing this message) that a transformative moment came when she read a book by William Barclay. She read, “Not everyone has a Damascus Road experience. Some, like Timothy, learned at their mother’s knee.” That’s perfect segue back to our text, for you see, the greatest opportunity to share our story begins in our home. That’s where Timothy learned his faith. It’s where we’re most likely to learn ours, too.
I’m also anticipating Advent. Olivia Pruett, our newest staff addition, is busy preparing an Advent devotional with daily devotionals written by many of you. We’ll share the journey together as we read those devotionals daily. We’ll literally be on the same page, and many of those devotionals will reflect your stories. Be watching for that as Advent approaches.
When we are generous with our story we live evangelistically. Our story becomes a means of grace for us and for others. John Norris is the person who gave John Wesley the idea of organizing his converts into societies, classes and bands. Norris taught that it was imperative to share our experience of God with others. He said that if we had a life-changing encounter with God and didn’t share it, it was half as effective for us and not effective at all for anyone else, but if we shared it with someone, it became twice as impactful for us, and equally as transformative for others.
How can we be generous with our story? Let me offer you some suggestions:
• Like Bob and Jane, we can tell the story to others.
• Can’t we post a scripture on Facebook that God is dealing with us about?
• Can we write our story like some of you are doing for the Advent devotional?
• Can we share it in a card with a hurting friend?
• Can we share it in a prayer for a neighbor who is struggling?
Even the most mundane things can be transformative when the power of the Holy Spirit is present. It is the power of the Spirit that makes our story a means of grace.
It is the power of the Holy Spirit that makes these mundane elements of bread and juice come alive to tell the story of our collective faith. It is through the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion that we proclaim our collective story to the world. This is where your story and my story come together with His story, and remember that our God is a generous God. We remember that God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. We remember and we proclaim together the mystery of a generous God. The Table (this means of grace) is a way of sharing our story together. And, so we share. May our generosity reflect the generosity of the One who gave himself completely to us…