By the Rev. Ed Hird
“Bishop Doc Loomis and Titus, Giant-Killers on their way to Corinth” (2 Corinthians 8 & 9)
Some of you will not be aware that Bishop Doc Loomis began his ministry in a small rural church where the roof was seriously leaking for many months. One Sunday Doc became so frustrated by the lack of progress that he announced to the congregation that the communion service would not begin until the leaking roof issue was dealt with. Ten minutes, twenty minutes, half an hour passed until finally the resident tightwad at the back of the church spoke up and said: “Let’s get the service started. I’ll give fifty dollars.’ At that exact moment, a huge chunk of plaster fell from the ceiling and hit him on the head. Pulling himself up from under the pew, he said in a weak voice: “I meant to say five hundred dollars”. Doc Loomis quickly spoke out: “Hit him again, Lord!” What I will be sharing today is probably already familiar to you, but sometimes God needs to hit us again with familiar truth.
I was welcomed as the Rector of St. Simon’s NV almost 21 years ago. Upon my being hired, one of the wardens/elders told me that we are $10,000 behind from last year and if things don’t turn around by June, they wouldn’t be able to pay your salary. “No problem”, I said, “God pays for what he orders.” They felt better; I felt worse.
I met with our St. Simon’s NV Church Council and just studied one biblical stewardship passage at each meeting. After a few months, one of the Church Council members said: “This is all very nice, Reverend, but when are we going to do something?” It seemed to me that we were doing something by educating our leaders first.
I had told our ACW ladies group that they could no longer save the church with their garage sales. Rather they needed to give the money away to missions and outreach, an idea that rather caught on. Finally in June of that first year, I preached on the lectionary passage talking about tithing our first 10% and sacrificial giving above 10%. Some of our long-timers hit the roof. A medical specialist heard about the situation and began tithing that next Sunday. This action broke a log jam and released a flood of biblical generosity from which we have never looked back.
Every year at St. Simon’s NV we have an annual Stewardship education time where we teach from the bible on biblical stewardship of our time, time and treasure, and where lay people share for two to three minutes why they tithe. During the Stewardship Education time this fall, I felt led to read 50 books on biblical stewardship from Regent College.
Our stewardship focus always wraps up with an annual pledge Sunday where people bring in their pledge cards for the coming year. This November we celebrated our 22nd annual Pledge Sunday. Around Pledge Sunday 2008, Peter and Elsbeth Turner did a remarkable skit on 2 Corinthians 9.
Some of you know that I am writing my third book. I have 120,000 words written so far on my sequel to ‘Battle for the Soul of Canada’ which was about Timothy. This third book is about Titus, a remarkable paratrooper who Paul planted smack in the midst of Crete, which had been a pirate island for 800 years before Christ. Paul quoted Crete’s famous 6th century philosopher Epimendes said ‘All Cretans are liars, evil brutes, lazy gluttons.’ Paul fully agreed. Paul’s challenge to Titus was to raise up godly healthy churches in every town in Crete, drawing on reformed ex-pirates who had given their lives to Jesus. That sounds like the challenge we are facing as the Anglican Coalition in Canada and in our new Province, the Anglican Church in North America, reaching out to a post-modern pirate culture.
Paul in vs. 1 of 2nd Corinthians 9 ironically says that there is no need to talk to them about financial stewardship, which he calls ‘service to the saints’. Then Paul proceeds to talk for another chapter, on top of Chapter 8 which was also about financial stewardship. The heart of his message is that ‘you better not shout, you better not cry, you better not pout, Titus is coming to town.’ Whenever money is mentioned in many Anglican Churches, shouting, crying and pouting often happens. Titus was coming to Corinth to receive a significant offering for the suffering Jewish Christians in Jerusalem.
Why did Paul send Titus to the Corinthians, or for that matter Doc Loomis recently to White Rock? 2 Corinthians 8:6 tells us that Titus was sent to bring a healthy conclusion to a good beginning. “So we urged Titus, since he had earlier made a beginning, to bring also to completion this act of grace on your part.”
The Corinthians were known for their generosity, just like the Macedonians who had given very generously out of their most severe trial, overflowing joy and extreme poverty (8:1). Paul wanted the Corinthians to be like the Macedonians who didn’t just talk the talk; they walked the walk financially. Paul wanted the Corinthians, just like they excelled in the charismatic gifts of faith, speech, knowledge, complete earnestness, and love for them, to also excel in this grace or charismatic gift of giving (8:7).
So Paul sent Titus along to help the Corinthians be the cheerful givers that they wanted to be. Paul described Titus in 8:17 as a first century Doc Loomis. Titus was enthusiastic, welcoming and showed initiative. 8:22 says that Titus was zealous, dedicated, diligent. That is Doc to a ‘T’. Both Doc and Titus were born to be giant-killers.
Timothy on the other hand was much more hesitant and shy, and had to be coaxed into his significant leadership by Paul. That is why Paul said to the Corinthians in Chapter 16:10-11 “If Timothy comes, see to it that he has nothing to fear while he is with you, for he is carrying on the work of the Lord, just as I am. No one, then, should refuse to accept him.” Timothy could be easily thrown off by criticism and negativity. Titus plodded in where angels fear to tread.
Paul also chose Titus because Titus could be trusted financially. Someone said that there are three key temptations by which Satan tries to destroy leaders of church: ‘gold, girls, and glory’ or ‘sex, money, and power.’ On the North Shore, the treasurer of a local church ran off with $70,000 of the church’s funds. It rather put a damper on the party. That is why Paul said about Titus that ‘they were taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of people.” (8:21)
Paul in Chapter 9:2 commented about the Corinthian eagerness to help, which he had been telling the Macedonians about. The Corinthians were famous for their eagerness to give. “Your enthusiasm (zelos/zeal)”, said Paul, “has stirred most of them into action.” A passion for tithing and biblical stewardship is contagious. I have found that when clergy and church council tithe their first 10% and give sacrificially over and above, it sets a tone for the rest of the local congregation. I remember many years ago where a rector told me that he believed in tithing 10% but wouldn’t give it to his own congregation, because he didn’t think that they spent it well. My sense is that biblical tithing is its own reward, even if they just went out and burnt the money after collecting it. I suggested to the Rector that if I couldn’t trust my congregation (which is the storehouse) with the tithe, then I would need to leave and find another congregation. But I will never agree to robbing God, as the Malachi 3:10 describes withholding the tithe.
I must admit that I actually robbed God for over eight years after becoming a Christian in 1972. I gave generously by Anglican standards and believed in tithing but was waiting until I felt financially secure enough to tithe. When I lost my voice in Dec 1980, I read Dr Peter Wagner’s book “Your Spiritual Gifts can help your Church Grow’ where he challenged people to tithe, saying that God would meet one’s needs. As I had no income at the time, I figured that 10% of nothing was doable. God met my family’s needs for the next 12 months, while I had a throat operation and then was able to go to St Matthew’s Abbotsford as an assistant priest exactly 12 months after I had stepped down from St. Phillips Dunbar. Because God met my needs while I was out of work and couldn’t speak, I figured that I couldn’t stop tithing now that I once had a real job and income. You may have noticed that I am passionate about tithing. In fact it is the only area in the bible where God says that we can put God to the test and see if he will not open the floodgates of heaven. Everywhere else it is forbidden.
So why did God send Titus to this congregation that was already famous for generosity? Because he wanted them to finish well. Talk is cheap. Walking the walk is costly. It is very easy in our west coast culture to start something new, to be generous for a short period. The challenge is to hang in when things get more challenging, when people offend you, when your hopes are disappointed. Titus according to 2nd Cor 9:3-5 was sent to help the Corinthians keep their financial promises. Our last four St. Simon’s NV services, including two on Dec 28th and two at Christmas, have been cancelled because of treacherous snow conditions on the North Shore. Why, you may ask, am I not worried about the financial hit that we may take? Because St. Simon’s NV people are generous tithers and sacrificial givers, who regularly can be counted upon to keep up with their yearly pledges. Not even snow and cancelled services keeps St. Simon’s NV people from being financially faithful.
St. Simon’s NV people realize that if they sow sparingly, they will reap sparingly (9:6). For the past twenty-two years, I have watched them sow generously and reap generously. I have seen God make all grace abound at St. Simon’s NV so that having all they need, they have been able to abound in every good work. (9:10)
St. Simon’s NV used to be a mission congregation for many years, which meant it didn’t pay its own way, and was almost closed several times by higher authorities. When St. Simon’s NV started tithing, it also began supporting missionaries around the world and locally. God has made the people of St. Simon’s NV rich in every way so that they could be generous on every occasion, resulting in thanksgiving to God. (9:11).
When we were thrown out of our buildings after joining up with Rwanda, God provided many financial miracles. We had a lot of startup costs in a new setting, and were in Dec 2005 down to five hundred dollars in the bank. There was a lot of pressure from a few to drop our missionaries in order to balance the budget. But God spoke to me through people like Bishops Doc Loomis and Chuck Murphy at the Anglican Mission conference. I determined that I would not sacrifice our missionaries on the altar of meeting our budget. So we kept giving to our missionaries, and God miraculously came through.
Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 9:12 that generous giving will not only meet the needs of God’s people (how many of you think that it is a good idea for your Rector and family to have food on their table and a roof over their heads?), but it will cause overflow of thanksgiving to God. Generosity comes from thanksgiving and releases more thanksgiving. By your generosity, others will praise God for your financial obedience and your liberal sharing (haploteti) with others. It is worth noting that the only time that the bible encourages us to be liberal as Christians is financially, not doctrinally or morally.
Each year before our annual Pledge Sunday, we have a twenty-four hour Stewardship Prayer Vigil organized by Elsbeth Turner, who is also organizing our 22nd Annual Renewal Mission on March 20th-22nd with Doc Loomis and William Beasley. This November we had 52 people commit to praying for an hour, the largest response in our St. Simon’s NV history. Prayer and financial stewardship are inseparably linked (2 Cor 9:14). It is vital that we never ask anyone to do anything important that you don’t ask them to first pray about, whether it is time, talent or treasure. As we seek the Lord in prayer about what we need to give, God will speak to us and soften our hearts.
2 Cor 9:7 says that each person should give what he has determined in his heart to give. The heart is the heart of the matter. The key words are: “Not RELUCTANTLY or UNDER COMPULSION”. God loves a cheerful giver. Biblical stewardship says no to arm-twisting, motivating through panic appeals or guilt.
Canon Doc Loomis has been such a blessing to All Saints Community Church a few weeks ago, challenging people to give it all to Jesus. That is one of Doc’s favourite themes. As a young preacher, Doc was preaching a three point sermon. The first point was ‘give it all to Jesus’. While Doc was passionately preaching, a woman jumped up and said “I’ll give it all to Jesus. My hat for Jesus” as she threw her hat up by the pulpit and sat down. Doc’s second point was ‘give it all to Jesus’. Once again the woman jumped up and said ‘I’ll give it all to Jesus’, throwing her coat up by the front pew before sitting down. Doc’s third point was ‘give it all to Jesus’. Suddenly the same woman jumped up again, but Doc was quick on his feet, saying “Madam, your purse next”. She said down and said to the man next to her: “Doc quenched the Spirit”. It is funny how many people think that you have quenched the Spirit when you mention finances.
Let me tell you clearly. All Saints Community Church does not need your money. God is quite capable of looking after All Saints without you. But God does love a cheerful, hilarious giver. God is inviting you to be generous at All Saints so that you can grow spiritually and become more Christ like. How many of you would like to decide today to be a generous giver? How many of you want to be a generous cheerful giver? How many of you are willing today to trust God with a tithe in the coming year 2009? Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift.