Sermon: "Giving Like God Gives"
Delivered July 11, 2006 by Rev. John Schmidt.
Theme: God is a giver, and there is no worthier goal in life than to give like God gives.
Sermon Notes are at the end.
Well a number of years ago I went to a retreat with a bunch of international students who were studying here in the United States. We went to a little retreat center in Vermont. It was a beautiful place; a farmhouse set out among some open fields with forestland surrounding it and trails going through the forest. It was winter so everything was covered with snow. It was beautiful. And this farmhouse had been bought a guy who had retired from IBM and he had put his life savings into buying this property and refurbishing the farmhouse and the stables surrounding it. So you would walk into the stables and it was not converted into kitchens and dorm rooms and places to meet. It was beautiful and the farmhouse itself was beautiful with all kinds of rooms for people to stay during retreats. The owner and his wife would cook for the various retreats that came there.
But one of the things that stood out the most to me was that anytime a group came there, including our group, the owner and his wife would move out of the master bedroom and allow the leaders of that retreat to stay in the master bedroom. Now this wasn't necessary because of any space issue, because there were a number of other rooms that were available, but it was out of their conviction that they wanted to give their very best to God and so that meant that they gave the very best room in the house, which was that master bedroom, to the people who would come and serve Christ at these retreats. It really had an impact on me about this desire to give and to give sacrificially and to give of the very best that we can in God's service. And this man did this for people that he didn't even know, he and his wife. He was giving sacrificially, openly, freely, giving as God gives.
Today we are affirming the vision of this congregation and some of us are making new commitments to God in giving. Some of us are affirming older commitments. Others of us are taking just another step forward in understanding what God is doing and trying to find out what our place is in it and all part of this is this call from God to give; to give of ourselves, because that is the way that God has made this world. God is doing stuff in the world, but so much of what he does in the world requires that we join him and that we give of ourselves to take part in it so that there are things that God wants to do in the world that aren't going to happen except as we are called up and caught up with God in taking part together with him. And God does not mind enlisting us in giving ourselves and calling us to give of ourselves or even make sacrifices, because that is how God is himself.
When he asks us to give, when he asks us to sacrifice, he is asking us to become more like him, because God is a giver. God has given us everything. God has given us life. God has given us a restored relationship with himself. God has given us forgiveness for our sins. He has given us of his Holy Spirit so that we can actually have an experience of God inside of our lives the way that we are transformed from the inside out in a close intimate relationship with God. God gives to us constantly. If we ask for wisdom, God gives us wisdom. If we ask for power, he gives us power in ministry. He gives us material things when we need that. He gives us peace. In fact, every good thing we receive in life no matter what channel it comes through, every good thing ultimately is given by God. God is the giver of every good and perfect gift. God gives. And so that means that as we look at this issue of giving, we've got to recognize that there is no higher calling in life. No worthier a goal than to be like God and part of being like God is giving like God gives. So let's take a little bit of time to look into scripture and see what it means to give like God. I am just going to go to a few separate verses. Take a look at those verses and reflect, just for a few minutes about what those things tell us about the way God gives.
Let's first begin in John, Chapter 3, Verse 16; a very familiar verse to many people. God gives lovingly.
For God so loved the world that he gave. God gives lovingly. God gives because he loves first. It's out of love that he gives. God gives out of love to the point that he gives at a cost to himself. There are so many ways that God could have given, but he looked at what the need of the world is and he gave to the point where that need was met and our need was to have a relationship that was free and firm with himself, to be forgiven, to have that enmity, that hostility, dealt with and God gave to deal with that need. God loves so God gives. That is what is behind our entire experience of life and all the blessings that we receive. We receive these things because God loves us first, not because there is anything about us that makes God this way. So that means that if we are going to give like God that means that we give out of love.
Now there are a lot of other reasons for giving that people give. It's not trying to make points with God; and if I give this God you know you will accept me more. It's not giving in such a way that other people notice that we give so that we get all kinds of affirmation from people and it's not giving out of guilt. The kind of giving that we are called to whether it's giving of our time, giving of our skills or giving of our money, in any of these cases the kind of giving that we are called to is the giving that grows out of love and that's love for God and love for other people. It grows out of love for God because we want to be like him. We love God enough that we want to be like God. We want to value what he values. We want to be involved in what God is doing in the world. We want to love the people that God loves and so out of our love for God we want to be more and more like him and out of that motivation we give more and more of ourselves.
But it's also love for people. God calls us to love other people and so that means that if we love them, we can put their needs on the same level as our own needs. We can treat their needs as seriously as we do our own. It means that we want other people to experience the very best that God can give them even if that means that God is going to use us as a channel of that goodness to them. And if we are going to love people like this, sometimes our feelings help us, but sometimes our feelings don't help us. So this kind of love is not dependent upon feelings. Sure, feelings help us sometimes. We see a movie or TV show and we see the plight of children who are dying of starvation or who are orphaned because of AIDS and there is something inside of us that resonates with that and we grab hold of that and we want to be involved and dealing with that need, in however small a way. In that case, our emotions are helping us, but there are other times that we are called to love and our emotions aren't necessarily helping.
I had a home office when we lived in Japan and I was always trying to get things done in that office and the children would come after school and bother me. They would try to get my attention. "Come on dad, would you do this or would you do that?" "Watch me do this" or "Listen to this". And my first response often wasn't emotionally very loving. You know it was like, "I am doing important stuff here. Get out of here." But you are called to love anyway. And so I would out of a desire to honor God, but also out of a desire to honor no matter where my feelings are at the moment, make the decision to connect with these children; maybe not do exactly what they wanted, because there are other issues and other needs in life, but to connect with them and know that before God I was learning to love them. Whether our emotions are helping at the moment or whether our emotions are getting in the way, we are called to love and out of that love called together. So giving in love is one of the ways of fulfilling the verse that has been part of the whole year up to this point. It was mentioned earlier.
God gives in love. We love imperfectly, but the more we grow in our love for God, the more we begin to love the people that God loves, the more we become like him. God gives in love.
The second thing though is that God gives sacrificially. And to take a look at that, let's move now to Mark, Chapter 10, Verse 45. "For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many." Giving is something that is so amazing that it costs God something to do it. God gives at sacrificial levels. God doesn't surround himself and say, I will give, but I will only give to a point. Once it begins to hurt, once it begins to be at all costly, no I don't want any part of it. God gave to the point that he gave his only son and when you look at life from Jesus' perspective he gives up all the privilege and riches of what it means to be a member of the godhead and becomes a human, not only a human he becomes a servant, not only a servant but a servant who is willing to die and not only one who dies, but one who dies the most humiliating and painful kind of death on the cross. It cost Jesus something to love. It cost him something to give to us. That's a characteristic of God; that God gives sacrificially. And so that means that if we are going to give like God, it means that we are called to giving beyond what's merely convenient and comfortable; whether it be of our time, whether it be of our skills and ways we can help things or whether it be of our money.
We are called to give like God. And so that means that sometimes we are giving to something that the pay off isn't primarily for us. We have already heard earlier about how the earlier leaders of this church built the sanctuary for people who hadn't come yet. They bought all this property out in back at a time that other churches weren't buying much property. It wasn't viewed as being needful. They bought that extra property. They took second mortgages on their houses. They did all kinds of sacrificial things to push out for a future that they didn't even know the details of yet. And we have received that. Sacrificial love, sacrificial giving is giving beyond what we immediately receive back for ourselves.
Some of the best examples of that in this congregation are the deacons. People who constantly are giving beyond themselves; giving for situations where they don't receive a pay back and there was just an opportunity to reflect on that.
It came up on Friday when Brad Horn wrote a letter and sent it out to some of the staff and others and it says I would like to take the opportunity to gratefully, and by the way Brad Horn is the facilities manager here at the church, so he is always thinking about the condition of the building and how it is being used and all and he says this: "I would like to gratefully acknowledge the recent service of the deacon ministry during Mr. Pullman's funeral. Not only did they provide blessing and comfort to the family in their service of refreshments in fellowship hall, they richly blessed the custodial staff by leaving the hall and kitchen in even better shape than we provided it for them." What a wonderful testimony of stewardship. My prayer is that God give each of us as individuals and participants in our various ministries the desire to leave everything even better than we find it. You know it would be so easy to help a family. You know you interrupt your schedule, you change everything around to come and make refreshments and serve refreshments. It would be so easy when its all done to say, I've done my part let somebody else clean it up right. But they didn't do that. They gave God their very best even though it cost them even more. It's a privilege to work with people like that. So giving sacrificially--nothing probably makes a stronger statement of Christ likeness than a capacity to sacrifice for others.
The third way of looking at the way God gives. God gives willingly and to reflect on that let's go to Romans, Chapter 8, Verse 32. I am going to begin right before this passage that is in front of you. "If God is for us who can be against us? He who did not spare his own son, but gave him up for us all. How will he not also along with him graciously give us all things?" If God is for us, who can be against us? Why is God for us? Is it because of something that we did? Are we forcing this on God in any way whatsoever? No. God is for us because he choses willingly, freely to be for us and because God has chosen to be for us, he has made a great sacrifice in love on our behalf by giving his own son and if he has given to that extent already, how will he not also with him give us everything else that we could possibly need? God chooses that position with us. He chooses to give. And we too are given a choice. God doesn't force anything like this on us. Jesus gave advice. Jesus taught. Jesus even gave commands. But he never used the power of heaven to force somebody to do something they weren't willing to do.
God is not going to force us to become more like him. He wants it, but he wants it to be something we do cheerfully, energetically; something that we are delighted to do as we give more of ourselves, as we respond more to what his character is like. So we have choices. One of the choices we have is we get to choose what we give our time and energy and money to. So some people are involved in the Franklin Graham festival. Some are involved in VBS. Some are involved in mission projects this summer. Others are involved in the normal ministry of the church. Others are focused more on the details of getting the building accomplished. All of these are valid ministries in the church and we get a chance to choose how we are involved. But we've got to remember that our choices matter. When we choose to do something or when we choose not to things happen or don't happen, both in the world and in our own lives. The choices we make affect our own lives. So our choices matter.
Let's think again about that man from IBM. He made a choice to love people by investing his time and money into future ministry. He made space for ministry for people that he didn't even know yet. He didn't even teach at the retreats that happened on his property. He sacrificed, he reshaped his life in order to do ministry, he and his wife to do a ministry by providing a space so that in the future sometime people could have their lives changed as they encountered Jesus Christ through the ministries and retreat that happened on their property. He sacrificed for that. He gave like God gives. And that's what we are choosing to do as a church. We are choosing in love to sacrifice; to make a space available to future ministry, so that people that we don't even know yet will have their lives changed by God. That's the heritage that we have at this church. This is the way choices have been made in the past and we are determined that that's the way choices are going to be made in the future as well. Giving like God gives. It's a choice. It's our choice.
Let's pray. God we thank you. We thank you for giving the way you give. We thank you for all the ways we receive that and enjoy that and now pray that you continue to work in our lives, that in all the different dimensions of our lives we will more and more be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ our Savior in whose name we pray. Amen.
© 2006, Rev. John Schmidt
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