Sunday, January 24, 2010

(Stewardship) Extravagant Generosity: To Share Gratefully II Corinthians 9:6-15 and Psalm 116

I heard a story once about a young boy named Nathan, just three years old. Nathan’s parents were trying to introduce him to what it means to be in church, so one Sunday they gave him a dollar bill to put in the offering plate. When the plate moved down Nathan's pew, his parents held it in front of him and told him to place the dollar in the plate. Nathan balked. Finally his mother gently took the dollar from him. She placed it in the plate, and it was passed on down the pew. Suddenly the stillness of the offertory was shattered by a voice demanding, "I want my dollar back! I want my dollar back!" Nathan had been robbed and he wanted everyone to know it. His parents tried in vain to quiet their son, but he was insistent, "I want my dollar back!" Everyone in the congregation was fighting a losing battle against laughter. Throughout the remaining strains of the organist's offertory, the only thing most worshippers heard was "I want my dollar back!" Eventually, his parents gave Nathan another dollar to hold and he was content enough so that the congregation could make it through the Doxology. When the pastor stepped into the pulpit to move the service forward, he knew he needed to address what had happened. Looking out, he told the congregation that morning, "We shouldn't laugh. It may be that Nathan is only voicing the feelings that some of us have after having given to God. We do so, not joyously but out of a sense of obligation. We do so unwillingly. We may not say it, but some of us think it down inside like little Nathan: "I want my dollar back!"

This morning we’re talking about the idea of sharing gratefully as one of our steps towards learning to be extravagantly generous. How can we move from giving to God out of a sense of duty and obligation and move into giving from a heart that overflows with a sense of gratitude and gratefulness?

Our Attitude of Gratitude
I think we can take a lesson from a holiday that we celebrate each year, Thanksgiving. Many of us gather with family and friends on that day to enjoy great meal and time together. But the point of the original Thanksgiving wasn’t just an excuse for fellowship or to overeat! The holiday of Thanksgiving in this country dates back to 1621 when the Pilgrims sat down with the Indians and shared a meal and GAVE THANKS. And they had much to thank God for – keeping them safe as they left their homeland and all that was familiar to come to a new strange place, helping them adapt and settle in and plant crops, and then surviving a harsh winter to be able to harvest those crops.

I know that there are times when it is tough to be thankful. It’s hard to be thankful when we are sick. It’s hard to be thankful when we are denied something which we had set our heart on. It’s hard to be thankful when we lose something or someone we love. But haven’t you noticed that whatever you focus on becomes larger than life? When you focus on your problems they seem overwhelming. When you focus on what you lack, it seems everyone has more than you do.

So what if we were to focus instead on what we have and what we’ve been given? What if each day we were to count our blessings in an exercise of gratitude? Remember the old hymn? – “Count your blessings name them one by one. Count your many blessings see what God has done.”

Our Response to God’s Incredible Gift (Psalm 116)
And what has God done? God has given us so much. We need only to look at Jesus. I John 4:9 tells us that Jesus is “how God showed his love among us” for “he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” You can’t out give God for he spares nothing in being generous towards us, not even his Son.

Our Scripture lesson from the Psalms this morning reminds us of some of God’s other incredible gifts. Here the writer exhibits an attitude of gratitude as he begins, “I love the Lord because…” and then gives us a partial list of some of the wonderful intangibles God bestows upon us:

• God gives us his listening ear (v. 1-2)
• God gets us through the toughest times (v 3-4) and protects us (v 5-6)
• God gives us peace so we can rest (v. 7) and keeps us on track so that we can go the distance (v. 8-11)

And then at verse 12, the psalmist asks a key question: “what can I offer the Lord for all that He has done for me?” For you see, thinking about all that God has given – the divine way in which he shares so graciously with us - ought to stir up within us a response of joy and gratitude.

Fortunately for us, the psalmist doesn’t stop there. Instead of leaving us on our own to figure out what to offer to God, he spells out a few things.

1. First in verse 13, he tells us to “lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord.” The single most appropriate way we can show our gratitude and thanksgiving to God is to accept Jesus’ gift upon the cross. To lift up the cup of salvation by repenting of our sin and turning our lives over to Jesus Christ. This morning the living Christ is here among us, hoping that some persons will for the first time allow him to be their personal Savior and lord.

2. And second, in verse 17, the psalmist tell us to “sacrifice a thank offering to God.” Many ancient Israelites made their living taking care of animals. That’s why they were required to bring an animal sacrifice to give thanks before the Lord, a perfect unblemished animal from among the firstborn of their flocks. Today the majority of the world doesn’t support their families through raising crops and animals. So for us sacrificing a thank offering to God involves our finances.

Sharing gratefully starts when we begin to realize all that God has given to us first. And it continues when we begin to understand the impact that our giving has, not only upon ourselves, but upon our community and the whole kingdom of God.

The Impact of our Sharing Gratefully (II Corinthians 9)
In our Scripture lesson this morning from II Corinthians we find Paul writing to the church at Corinth about the subject of giving. And what he has to say is very interesting. He reminds the believers that they should each give, but “not reluctantly or under compulsion for God loves a cheerful giver” (v. 7). And he reminds the believers that God makes his grace available to them so that they will have all they need (v. 8). But God doesn’t stop there. Paul says that “you will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (v. 11). Why?

Paul lists two reasons showing the impact of our giving:

1) We’re to be generous to help supply the needs of God’s people (v. 12).
2) We’re to be generous because our generosity will result in thanksgiving to God (v. 11, 12, 13)

I want you to think about that for a minute. God bestows gifts and blessings to help supply our personal needs. And then he invites each of us to partner with him in his ministry here in the world by giving back to him through the church a portion, a tithe, of those gifts and blessings. And in bringing our individual offerings together through the missions and ministries of the church we can help supply the needs of others in our community. And that generosity will result in much thanksgiving to God as people’s lives are touched and transformed.

Paul didn’t write these words from some lofty bubble. He had endured his share of dark times and problems – shipwrecks, beatings, imprisonment, unfair criticism and a host of other trials. And over and over again in the writings of the New Testament he expressed an attitude of rejoicing and thanksgiving that nothing could destroy. Having experienced God’s grace and mercy and forgiveness for himself and been transformed by it, he wanted everyone else to experience it as well.

Learning to see our giving from God’s perspective certainly changes our attitude – from a sense of duty and obligation to a joyful response to all God has given as we partner with him to help spread the good news of the Gospel. We’re here today because people in the past followed God’s call to share gratefully and with extravagant generosity. We should follow their example and leave that same kind of legacy for those who come after us.

Scripture invites us to respond to God out of gratitude and joyful obedience, giving that is eager with love because we know Who gave first (I John 4:9-10).

So I ask all of us, is your giving motivated by your gratitude? Count your blessings. This week, I challenge you to think about the different ways you can express to God his priority in your life through your offerings. May we learn to share gratefully our best and all to the One who gave His own Son for us.

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