To Honor and Bless

“...we pray that our present actions will honor those who have come before us 
and bless those who come after us...” These words have been part of the prayer that has guided our capital campaign from the beginning. They say so eloquently in a few words our hopes and desires for all that we do as a church.

If you have entered the building through the lobby any time in the past month, you have seen the photos culled from our archives that mark the historic passage of time. From the groundbreaking ceremony of 1950 through various phases of construction to the 50th anniversary celebrations and beyond, there is a whole lot of OPC that has come before us. And indeed, part of what we do in this campaign is to honor all of that. In order to ensure that there would be not just a building, but a community of faith, here at the corner of Woodrow and Lanier, those who have come before us made sacrifices, financial and otherwise. And without them, it is safe to say that we would not be here today.

And here we are! We have embarked on an ambitious capital campaign totaling more than half a million dollars. Item number one, the roof, is already scheduled to start this week, weather permitting. The rest of it, whether it’s deferred maintenance or improvement, programming or physical plant, is up to us and what we are ready to commit in this present moment.

As you contemplate what it is that you can give to our campaign, please remember that we are asking you not to reduce your annual giving. As we minister in 2012, our annual giving is what makes it possible for the church to operate from day to day. Think of it this way: your annual stewardship gift is for the church that is; your campaign gift is for the church that will be.

In the next week, you will be receiving a brochure with more information about the campaign. You will also be hearing from our campaign ambassadors who will simply contact you to make sure you have received the information. And in two weeks, on December 9, we are asking each of you to make a three-year financial commitment to this campaign.

The request is to consider making a three-year commitment of 3-5% of annual income, or 3-5% of accumulated assets, depending on your situation. And more importantly, we ask you to make your commitment prayerfully. If you haven’t already, take one of the prayer cards in the pew in front of you home, that it may be part of what guides your decision-making.

And that’s the question: what is it that guides your decision-making?

Some of you have heard my own story of how financial giving plays into our family life. I was raised in a faithful church family that did not talk about money or giving. The only modeling I remember was that of my grandfather, who would quietly hand me a dollar bill each Sunday so that I could put something in the collection plate. There was no adjusting for inflation, no understanding that the gift would come out of my allowance. One dollar in 1973 was still one dollar in 1993.

Fast-forward to seminary, where I had no classes on stewardship. Instead, my lesson was to come through relationship. My soon-to-be mother-in-law, a faithful woman who has lived hand-to-mouth as long as I’ve known her, made a regular practice of tithing. She would calculate 10% of her income, pre-tax, and give it to the church. Period. What she has discovered through the years is that there is always enough.

Elizabeth and I began doing the same. As a household with the income of two graduate students, we were not making a huge impact on our church’s budget. But if we ever questioned the wisdom of the tithe, those questions were soon to be eclipsed.

We had been married for a year and a half when Elizabeth was rushed to the hospital, having suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. Within a week, she had been admitted for surgery to remove a “mass” from her brain stem. The surgery was successful, the tumor was benign, and she experienced none of the possible side effects that a brain stem surgery might bring about. We were floating on grace.

And then the medical bills arrived.

I had just graduated from seminary and, coincidentally, out of a spectacular health insurance plan. While we worked part-time jobs, we jumped into Elizabeth’s graduate school insurance with its generous major medical cap of $10,000. The surgery and hospitalization bills came to a total of $70,000.

We began working our way through the hospital billing system, applying for state and federal aid for which we did not qualify. The hospital asked for a thorough accounting of our assets, and stifling a few laughs, I imagine, they put us on a payment plan which would cost us $5,000 in two years. The rest of our hospital debt would be forgiven.

That took care of about half of the bill. The other half was the individual responsibility of each doctor. To them, we were encouraged to write “dear doctor” letters, explaining our situation, and asking for clemency. To our shock, all but one of the doctors agreed to our request, including the surgeon. In the blink of an eye, more than $60,000 in debt was eliminated.

At that point, the whole question of giving seemed superficial. God could not have provided us with a more coherent parable of the meaning of tithing: in our hour of need, we were taken care of not only physically and emotionally, but financially as well. How could we hold back from sharing our good fortune?

This has been the financial foundation that we have lived with ever since. Our pledge every year is based on tithing 10% of our anticipated income. It is the first check we write every month. The meaning of this commitment is something that we are working to pass on to our own children. And as we have contemplated how we will give to this capital campaign, it is these life lessons we have kept in mind.

What about you? What is it that you have learned about the way money works? Is God a part of those life lessons at all? Is it possible that you missed something right before your nose?

You see, it took me almost forty years to realize what I missed in those early days of sitting in the pew with my grandfather: what I had to put in the plate was never mine to begin with. It was a gift. As short-lived and small as it might have been, it could only stay a gift if I was willing to give it away. Is there a better way to describe the blessings that God has given us?

So what about you? How is it that your gift can not only honor those who have come before us and bless those who will come after us, but can also be part of that blessing and honor and glory and power that the angels sing constantly in the presence of God? What is it that could be your sacrifice? Maybe skipping that cup of Starbucks in the morning, or limiting the number of meals you eat out each week? Or perhaps as you contemplate gift-giving this Christmas season, how about taking a page out of our Alternative Gift Market? Do you really need more “stuff”? Or might you contemplate asking family members to give their gift to your church instead?

Whatever your decision, know this: we, too, will be counted among those who have “come before”. There will be those who are grateful for the many, many gifts that this church has given them. Like many of you, I know that there is a desperate need for a church like OPC in this world; and it is ours to make that possible for those who come after.

In short, God has blessed and honored us so richly! May we do the same.