Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - Grace of Giving

Years ago, I saw an ABC news program done by Diane Sawyer about the people and children of the Appalachian Mountains. It was called “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains”. The poverty rate in that region, at the time of the broadcast, was three times the national average. One of the things that struck me deeply was an interview with a pastor of a small church. The congregation of that church were poor, but they were able to donate to the church. The donation for that particular Sunday was sixty-eight cents. Even as poor as they were, they managed to scrape together an offering to God. 

After watching that program, the Holy Spirit spoke to my heart and reminded me that it is not the size of the donation that counts. It is what is behind it that means more to God. In Luke 21, Jesus observes a widow who comes quietly into the temple to make her donation. While others are making a big show of how much they are giving, she quietly drops two copper coins into the collection box. Jesus tells his disciples, “3 “I tell you the truth. This poor widow has given more than all the rest of them. 4 For they have given a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she has.” 

Although we are commanded to tithe ten percent to God, most, I would argue, give out of strict duty and do it only out of their abundance. In short, many give only if they can afford to give or if they want something in return. Those who give for those reasons give only if it is convenient for them to give. This is not what we are to do. We are not to give because we expect God to reward us by giving us a return on our investment. There are those that believe that if they give God money, He will open His hand and just pour money and blessings upon them. We are to give for a better reason than material gain or the desire to reach for more from God.

It is important to understand that we are to give in order to bring glory to God. Even when times are tough, we should not fail in our giving. In chapter 8 of Paul’s second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul writes about the Macedonian churches, “2 In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. 3 For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, 4 they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people. 5 And they exceeded our expectations: They gave themselves first of all to the Lord, and then by the will of God also to us.

Like the Macedonian churches, the congregation of that small, poor Appalachian Mountains church gave entirely on their own and beyond their ability. They gave without expecting anything in return and desired the same as those churches in Macedonia, “the privilege of sharing in the service to the Lord’s people”. Because of their sacrifice, God blesses them each and every day. He provides for their needs of food, shelter and clothing. Anything beyond that is abundance and they share that with others who are less fortunate. 

Late in chapter 8, Paul writes, “13 Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 14 At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, 15 as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’”

I am not advocating socialism or communism and have no desire to debate this topic. What I am saying is that we all, at some point in our lives, need some level of help. Consider, for example, the illness that I have had to deal with. Like many facing the horrors of cancer or major medical procedures, we have had to face major financial hardship and debt. God has provided for our needs and continues to do so each day. We praise Him for that and know that He will continue to do that. We like the churches of old continue to give freely to those in need or to ministries that can help others. My family and I do not do this for reward or the expectation of having God lavish us with money, expensive houses, fancy clothes and jewelry or even a jet plane. We do it to help those who need help. Has it been difficult for us? Yes it has. There have been times when we just felt that we could not do it, but we manage to find another area to cut back in our lives and we give our offering. We know that God will provide for our every need and will reward us spiritually as we continue to share not only what we have but, most importantly, also the Good News with all who walk in darkness who seek something more than just the things of this world.

Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount as recorded in Matthew 6, “31 So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ 32 These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. 33 Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” Jesus clearly tells us that our Heavenly Father knows all of our needs and will provide for them. We have nothing to worry about. We must have faith even if it is as tiny as a mustard seed. The smallest amount of faith grows and becomes that anchor we need in the tough times we face. 

As Christians, we have an obligation to help those in need all the time. Even if we are experiencing hard times, we are to help wherever and however we can. In Acts 2, we see how the early church grew and how those individuals united as a faith family, The author of Acts writes, “44 And all the believers met together in one place and shared everything they had. 45 They sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. 46 They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity — 47 all the while praising God and enjoying the goodwill of all the people. And each day the Lord added to their fellowship those who were being saved.

By following the example of the early church, we will see a harvest. It will be a spiritual harvest of those who once walked in darkness and are now saved not by money but rather by the sharing of the Good News and the blood of Christ Jesus that was spilled to atone for their sins. Even as we face hardship, we must continue to praise God and enjoy the goodwill of others by sharing what we have.

While I was in the hospital, our neighbors offered to bring over hot meals to my wife and take care of our home while I was recovering. They even asked if we needed fresh farm eggs that their hens had laid. Because of their generosity and grace of giving, my wife and I continue to thank God for putting them in our lives. There may come a time when they may need help and we will share with them whatever we have in order to help.

During natural or man-made disasters, the stories of self-sacrifice and sharing with neighbors are shared by the media. These wonderful stories illustrate the desire of people to help their neighbors and those they do not even know. Some will say, while they are being interviewed, that it is the Christian thing to do. These public statements speak volumes of their faith and their desire to serve God and His children in whatever role He leads them to serve.

As I look back through the history of this great nation, the United States was founded on the principles of Christianity. Because of that, whole communities worked together to help those who may have lost their homes to fire or other natural disasters. Wherever disaster strikes around the world, Americans are the first to give and volunteer to help. We send help to those in need and feed people we have never met. 

Jesus, in Matthew 25, eloquently and simply puts it this way, “35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

We do all these things not to curry favor or to get something from God. We know that our Heavenly Father sees all that we do. Our true blessings and rewards are stored in Heaven. Jesus, in Matthew 6, tells us, “1 Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.

As you go through this week, remember the lessons of the early churches and exercise the grace of giving. Give to those in need even when you are facing tough times. Give graciously and praise God for meeting your daily needs of food, shelter and clothing. Give cheerfully without expecting anything material in return. In short, show your Christ-like attitude by giving to those in need for the sake of giving. If you give with the expectation of getting financial gain from God, then you have missed God’s message. Remember what Samuel tells Saul in 1 Samuel 15, “What is more pleasing to the LORD: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to his voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice, and submission is better than offering the fat of rams.

Because of obedience and submitting ourselves to the Lord and loving our neighbors, God will bless us. With that in mind, we can stand firm in His grace and know what “grace of giving” truly means.

May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord smile on you and be gracious to you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.
~ Numbers 6:24-26 New Living Translation (NLT)

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