Tethered to God

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Third in the series “Defying Gravity”

At about 3:45 p.m. on June 3, 1965, orbiting somewhere above the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii, astronaut Ed White opened the hatch of his Gemini 4 spacecraft and stepped out on the first-ever spacewalk by an American.  Now, in space there is no resistance to one’s movement, so when White stepped off Gemini and began floating in space, he might have kept floating away were it not for a 26-foot tether attached between his spacesuit and ship.  He carried a handheld maneuvering oxygen-jet gun that he used to propel himself from his ship to the limit of his tether and back three times.  And when it ran out of oxygen, White returned by pulling on the tether and twisting his body.[1]

We’ve been considering the pull of financial gravity in our lives.  Financial gravity influences us and draws our focus toward our material and monetary resources and away from God.

We’ve explored how God helps us break free from financial gravity for a life of grace and generosity.  God lovingly calls and welcomes us back home to life with Christ as our Savior.  Jesus is also our Lord, which means he is in charge of our lives.  Our lives are conformed to his ways.  We are linked or tethered to God.  This tether-relationship gives us purpose and provides direction so that we can live God-pleasing lives.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that it’s impossible to serve two masters.  The conflicting value systems lead a person to hate one and to love one.  Tethering our lives to one necessarily means we aren’t tethered to the other.  He also commended the practice of generosity to his followers.  Rather than accumulating earthly treasures that wear out, rust or are stolen, store up treasures in heaven, he said. By this, he was encouraging his followers to invest their faith in God by doing acts of mercy and generosity to help others.

I think most people want to be generous.  Yes, there are some just downright selfish people in the world, but most want to help others.  So the problem may be less the lack of desire to be generous than the lack of a plan to be generous.

In his book entitled Defying Gravity, which inspired this series, Pastor Tom Berlin draws parallels between a gravity-defying feat in history and attitudes relating to generosity.[2]

In 1919 hotel owner Raymond Orteig offered a $25,000 prize (equivalent to more than a quarter million dollars today) to the first person who could fly non-stop across the Atlantic from New York to Paris.  He was inspired by American World War I ace Eddie Rickenbacker, who dreamed of the day when France and the U.S. were linked by air.  Though aviation technology that would make the trip possible did not yet exist, three American and one French team took the challenge.

One of the competitors was Col. Rene Fonck, who was the top Allied flying ace of World War I.  He worked with a team to design a large plane, because he wanted to arrive in his homeland in style.  It was equipped with luxurious furniture, a couch that could become a bed, a mahogany table, and a small kitchen. He also carried cases of wine and champagne.  His plane was designed to carry 20,000 lbs., but at the time for takeoff, weighed in at 28,000 lbs.  He added an extra tail wheel to support the additional weight.

Ultimately, gravity defeated Fonck as his plane rolled past the end of the runway, over an embankment, flipped and burst into flames.  Fonck and one of his crew survived, but two others perished in the fire.

Sometimes financial gravity defeats us.  We want to be generous, but we’re caught in its pull toward luxury and self-indulgence.  We have given into the temptation of self-gratification, storing up earthly treasures now, rather than collecting heavenly treasures for eternity.

 

Yesterday’s Clean-Out Challenge gave an opportunity for us to break free from the gravity of possessions and to experience the joy of generosity.  We had 17 ministry servants who helped unload, including 8 youth and 9 adults, and many people who brought items for Habitat Restore and Salvation Army.  Thanks to everyone who took the challenge.

Another competitor for the Orteig Prize was millionaire Charles Levine.  He had a great plane and a highly-qualified crew, but they never learned to function as a team focused on the single goal of getting to Paris.  To make matters worse, on the night before the flight, Levine presented the two pilots with contracts stipulating that neither would receive any of the money generated by the trip.  One of them filed an injunction the next morning and the flight was grounded.

Levine had the best chance to make it to Paris.  He had a plan and a design, but he lacked a team focused on the goal.  A 2015 CNBC survey showed that 35% of couples say that money is a primary source of conflict in marriage.[3]  In order for us to be generous, we need a shared goal and plan.  Last week’s challenge, the Financial Planning Sheet, was a tool to develop your financial plan for 2018 plan, including reducing debt, managing expenses, and planning generosity.

Commander Richard E. Byrd, who claimed to have flown over the North Pole in 1926, led a third team.  Byrd valued safety and took time to ensure it.  He took every safety device available in 1927 and often two for redundancy. After his plane was damaged in a test flight, he insisted on more tests.  As a result of his extreme caution, someone else completed the flight a full nine days before Byrd departed for Paris.

In our financial lives, sometimes we become so worried about the future that gravity holds us back from being generous now.  We’ll do it someday when we’re sure we have enough, but sometimes, as for Byrd, someday comes too late.  Being tethered to God by faith means we are good stewards of the resources God gives us and we trust God to provide for us.  Remember, in the Lord’s Prayer, we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” rather than asking God to provide for tomorrow and the next day.

A late entrant for the Orteig Prize was the young aviator Charles Lindbergh.  With the backing of some St. Louis bankers and Ryan Aircraft, he worked to design an aircraft for his solo flight.  Lindbergh wanted his plane, known as “The Spirit of St. Louis,” to be as stable and light as possible, so it had only one engine, one seat for one pilot and no front windshield.  He used a side window and periscope to navigate and carried a small raft but no radio or parachute.  Lindbergh took off on May 20, 1927, and completed the 3,600-mile flight in 33 ½ hours, greeted in Paris by a cheering crowd. He accomplished his goal and won the Orteig Prize.

Lindbergh’s flight did not happen by luck; it took careful planning and intentionality.  In our lives, generosity does not just happen; it comes about when we tether ourselves to God and live by Kingdom values.  When God is central to our lives, we begin to order everything we do in light of God’s purpose for us.  We throw off every weight and sin that holds us back. We analyze our financial plans in light of God’s desire for us.

Generosity and stewardship happen intentionally.  To make a meaningful contribution with our time and money, we need to think about what we want to accomplish, make a plan by faith and wisdom, and then summon the courage to act.

Jesus taught his disciples that their clear plan of action begins with being tethered to God.  Only then can we align our priorities and our lives with God’s kingdom and experience the full joy and blessing of faithfulness and generosity.

The third challenge has been mailed out with a letter. It is the Estimate of Giving form.  After you have considered your financial plan for next year, we invite you to pray about your generosity toward operating the ministries and doing God’s work through our church.  Bring your completed Estimate of Giving form next week or pick up one in worship to fill out as we present them as gifts to God.  If you have not received one in the mail, please forgive us and let us know; we’ll get one to you.

Jesus has already given himself out of love for you and me to open the way for us to experience the treasures of God’s grace now and forever.  Tether yourself to God by giving your life to Christ, and you’ll experience abundant life as you defy gravity.

[1]https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1098.html. Accessed 11/10/2017.

[2] Tom Berlin, Defying Gravity: Break Free from the Culture of More (Nashville: Abingdon Press), 2016, ch. 3.

[3] https://www.cnbc.com/2015/02/04/money-is-the-leading-cause-of-stress-in-relationships.html. Accessed 11/11/2017.

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