Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The God Who Gives: God Gave Us Gifts

’Tis the season to be giving... fa la la la la la la la la
Aren’t we glad our Lord is living? fa la la la la la la la la
But the question we must ask... fa la la la la la la la la
Is are we equal to the task? fa la la la la la la la la

Wait, what? If something is a gift, then why should we worry about if we are worthy of the gift? Fair question. But this is something we worry about. As the giver we ask questions such as, “Will I get them the right gift?” “Can I afford to give what I want to give?” And as the receiver, we may say, “This gift is really beyond what I deserve.”

So, rightly or wrongly, we are in the middle of that season where we hope to be considered good enough to receive gifts (lists being made and then checked twice for those who were naughty and nice). And we hope to be properly thanked for getting good enough gifts.

So, let me ask, have you ever received or seen someone else receive the perfect gift? How do they react? How does the giver respond? That moment, if/when it happens, is truly a blessing for all involved.

With that in mind, here is an important thought. If you are a follower of Christ, then you have already received the perfect gift? Of course, that is Jesus. But even beyond the gift of Jesus (which we will discuss in two weeks), God has gifted YOU perfectly to serve Him.

Last week, we began this short series by reviewing some of what God has given us. This week, we will go a little deeper with the idea of three particular gifts God has given to all people, but particularly to those who call Him Father.

God Gave Us Time

God is an eternal God. Therefore, time is a part of Creation. God doesn’t need time, we do. When the Bible says, in the beginning God created...well, He also created time. He created the concept of “beginning.” Because God existed before the beginning and will exist after the end – of time, that is. That is why He is called the Alpha and Omega. These are two letters of the Greek alphabet, where alpha is the first letter and omega is the last. For us it would be like saying God is the A and Z.

And because God is eternal, the writer of Ecclesiastes says that He put eternity in our hearts (Eccl. 3.11). We are created to be beings that will live beyond this life (that is, for eternity from here forward), but we are bound by time at this point. So, the question is: What do we do with this gift of time?
  • We must realize our time is limited. (Psalm 90.12)

We only have so many days on this earth and therefore we must make them count.
  • We must make time count. (John 9.4) 

He continued by saying that He was the light of the world. And in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. How can this be true? Listen to verse 5. As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world. Is Jesus still in the world? Yes, through you and me. And thus, if His light shines it shine through us, but it only shines when we make time count. Therefore,
  • We must redeem the time. (Ephesians 5.16)

To redeem something, is to buy it back or recover it. Of course, we call Jesus our Redeemer because He bought us back. That is, Jesus purchased us instead of letting us die and be separated from God. Paul writes that the days are evil. Thus, we need to buy them back. We need to make the best use of the time that God has given us. We need to be intentional. We need to be focused. We need to be committed. Do you know what happens if we are not intentional, focused, and committed? Nothing. Nothing good happens. We say things like, “I can’t believe I just wasted a whole hour (or day)” doing whatever it is we do when we are not redeeming the time.

The problem is that too many people waste too many days and when their life is about to end they realize just how limited their time is, they regret what they haven’t done. I don’t want that to be me, and I pray you don’t want that to be you. And, in the coming year, we are going to have the opportunity to be much more intentional, more focused, and more committed to doing all that God wants from each of us. I can ask if you are ready now, but those are just words. As the old saying goes, the proof is in the pudding. Well, get ready for 2019, because the pudding is about to be served!

God Gave Us Treasure

Now, we come to the topic everyone dreads hearing about during a sermon. But the reality is that God has given you finances. And God offers you the opportunity to return some of that portion to Him. As I mentioned last week, God is a giving God and His generosity far exceeds His “expected” return. He wants a cheerful giver, but 10% should be a minimal goal for us. Maybe we can’t give 10% now; maybe only 2% or 5% is possible. But if you get a 2% increase, why not give 1% extra to God. In a few years, you can be giving 10% or more. 10% is, after all, the full tithe. And the only place in the Bible where God asks for us to test Him is in regard to giving Him the tithe.
  • Our lack of blessing may be from our lack of giving. (Malachi 3.10)

Just before this verse, God asks, “Will man rob God?” The idea is that we often withhold from God in order to meet our own desires. But God says, if you give to me, I will give abundantly to you.
  • Our lack of giving may reveal our lack of faith. (Philippians 4.19)

Do you believe that promise? God will supply all your needs. He will, and that need includes giving back to Him. Why does it include giving? Because we are made in the image of God and this entire series is about the fact that our God is a giving God. Thus, if He gave and still gives, then we should be giving as well. And, if we are not giving, then perhaps, that is because we do not trust Him to provide for us. Of course, some are able to give more than others, but it is not the amount we give it is the sacrifice we are willing to make. Compare the story of the rich, young ruler in Matthew 19 who had much but was unwilling to part with it (Matthew 19.16-22) compared to the widow who gave all she had (Mark 12.41-44). Which person truly had faith?
  • Our lack of faith may reveal where we desire our treasure. (Matthew 6.19-24)

Please understand it is not wrong to have stuff. But nothing we have is truly ours. It is given by God for us to steward. It is ours in the sense that God has allowed us to have/use it, but ultimately, everything belongs to Him. As Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return” (Job 1.21). Job knew the truth because his faith was in the right place. Even though Job struggled and seemingly doubted, he knew that despite losing all he had, his true treasure was found in God. And, as you may recall, God restored to him even more than he lost.

As I say often, we are not to seek what God may give us, we are to seek God. If we seek stuff from God, we may receive it, but miss out on having God. But if we seek God, then we not only get God, but one day (in the next life) we will get everything that God can offer. Remember, God has set eternity in our hearts, so let us focus on where the true treasure lies.

God Gave Us Talent

This last point will spill over into next week, but it is important we see this truth today. Because like with time and treasure, God has given us the ability to do certain things. The question is: How do we use what God has given? Do we use it for ourselves, for others, or for God? Now, the reality is that all three of those aspects can be ok (which is why we need to spill over into next week), but to paraphrase Paul’s thought to a couple of different churches, all that we do should be done for Jesus and to glorify God (Colossians 3.17, 23; 1 Corinthians 10.31).
  • God made us for good work. (Ephesians 2.10)

God knew what He needed, so He gave us the ability to do it. Notice, the verse says that He prepared these works beforehand so that we would walk in them. That is, we should be doing what God prepared for us to do. He didn’t just randomly make you or me. He made us on purpose, with purpose, for a purpose. And thus, He expects us to fulfill our purpose until we are no longer living.
  • Our work may be different, but it is all for God. (1 Corinthians 12.4-7)

We looked at this passage recently on a Hub Sunday with the help of Mr. Potato Head. The truth is we need to be different and have different skills to accomplish different tasks to fulfill the overall mission that God has for us. That begins by each one of us doing our part, and it ends with God getting the glory for what we accomplish together. Thus, God made us all unique and, as such, we need one another to be complete.
  • God made us different because of His grace. (Romans 12.3-8)

Notice verse 6 says that the different gifts we have received are because of His grace. This is stunning. Parents worry too much about being fair. If one child receives something the other child must as well. Now, when one child is having a birthday, some people give a gift to their siblings so they are not left out. That is their choice, but God isn’t worried about fairness, He is worried about getting things done. So, notice verse 6 ends with an exhortation from Paul – “let us use them.” That is, God has given us these gifts based upon what He thinks is best – so, let us use what has been given to us. How? For whom? Well, we will develop this thought more next week. For now, let us be about discovering our gift and using what we know we should be using.

CONCLUSION

Time. Treasure. Talent. These are all gifts from God to His people. The Bible speaks about time often. It speaks more about money and treasures than it does about heaven and hell. And all throughout the Bible we see people using or refusing their talents. The question for us is: How will we respond – as individuals and as a church?

I know that God has gifted me in many ways. However, to use the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, I feel like I am often returning three talents for the five I have been given. A 60% return may be great as an investment in the market, but is it enough for Jesus?

Well, Jesus was willing to receive at least interest from the third servant in Matthew 25. But in reality, 60% is not enough for all that Jesus did for me. He gave 100% of Himself to me so that I could give back to Him. But my failure is why He came. Your failure is why He came. We are just over two weeks from celebrating the birth of Jesus, but it is not just a baby we honor. It is the baby who became a man willing to die so that when we fail to live up to the expectations of God, we can be forgiven because of the sacrifice that man, the man named Jesus, made for you and me.

See, Jesus had a fixed amount of time on this earth. And Jesus had limited treasure. But Jesus also had a certain talent all of which were to fulfill His unique purpose. That is the gift we are ultimately about to celebrate. And that is why we must consider what, if anything, we will give back as our gift to Him. And that is why...

The JOURNEY letter for this week is: YYOU.

It is up to YOU. It is up to me. God has a purpose for each of us and thus He has given us gifts to accomplish that purpose. Ultimately, we are gifted so that God may be glorified, but that only happens if we live our lives in the manner for which He intended. We cannot change yesterday, but we can make a new future by our choices today.

PRINCIPLE: God gave us resources to be used for His glory not ours.
QUESTION: How can I better use what God has given me as an expression of thanksgiving to Him?

NEXT STEP(S):  LIVE: Live what you know as you seek to improve yourself for Him. Don’t wait for tomorrow – make use of the time you have been given today to begin serving God with your time, your treasure, and your talents.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The God Who Gives: God, the Giver

A little more than a week ago, we celebrated a holiday called Thanksgiving. Many people still hold this holiday for its intention – as a day of giving thanks for what God has provided. Of course, the American focus goes back to the pilgrims and the Indians, but the origins of the holiday actually go back to the ancient Israelites and the Feast of Sukkot (the Feast of Tabernacles) which was the feast of the harvest.

But in our day many see the day as the beginning of the season of the getting. That is, maybe we should call December 25th, “Thanksgetting,” and wrap the period in between in a nice bow to represent what many have purposed these 30 or so days. But, even if some people do focus more on what they get instead of what they give, the reality is that someone had to give something in order for that something to be received. Yes, I know that some people give themselves their own gifts to make sure they get what they want, but still, the premise holds true. The act of giving is required for an act of receiving to happen.

So why do people give? Some will say they give based upon what they receive (or hope to receive). Others give because they want to give or because they can. But ultimately, the reason any of us give anything is because we are created in the image of God, and the Bible shows time and time again that God is a giving God.

This week, we begin a four-part series entitled, The God Who Gives. This week will serve as a bit of an overview of the series, with the next three weeks looking more in depth at points two through four from today’s outline. By the time this series is completed, my goal is for us all to appreciate all that God has given to us and for each of us to be more responsive for what He asks of us in return.

Today I am going to share four primary aspects of God’s giving. We must realize that just because God has given it does not mean that all of us have received it. As I mentioned above, these four aspects are really the outline for the series I am preaching this month. The entire theme can be understood in the idea that God is a giving God and therefore, because we are made in His image, we should be giving as well. In fact, as we will see in the next three weeks, we can give to others the very things that God has given to us. But first, let us take a birds-eye view of God’s gifts to us.

God Gave Us Life (Gen 2.7; John 11.25)

We know that God breathed life into Adam (Gen 2.7). But the NT reminds us of this truth as well (1 Tim 3.16; John 6.33).

But beyond human life, God gives that which sustains our lives. He gives:
  • light to make things grow and to help us find our way. – Exodus 13.21
  • (gave) water to the Israelites. – Numbers 21.16
  • rain which allows grass to grow in the field. – Zechariah 10.1

God also gives in order that our lives may be full. He gives:
  • wisdom to those who seek it. – James 1.5
  • increase to those whom He wills. – Psalm 115.14
  • peace and rest to those who seek and trust in Him. – Numbers 6.26; Deuteronomy 12.10

We could go on and on with the things God gives related to life as well as life itself – life that is abundant, both here and forever for those who follow Jesus (according to Jesus – John 10.10). We will come back to this idea in Week 4 a little bit, so for now, let us preview the next few weeks to see what else God gives.

God Gave Us Purpose (Gen 2.15; Jeremiah 29.11)

Again, we can look at the very beginning of the Bible to see that He intends for His creatures to have purpose. At the end of Genesis 1, God says that mankind is to have dominion over all other animals. He commanded the first man and woman to be fruitful and multiply and subdue the earth. In Genesis 2 (v 15), God put the man “in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” Later, God had a purpose for Noah, for Abraham, for Jacob, for Joseph, for Moses, for Joshua, for Samuel, for David, for Isaiah, for Jeremiah, for Daniel, and a whole slew of others. In the NT, we see the same was true for Jesus, but also for Peter, and John, and Paul, and Bartemaues, and even Judas.

Of course, these are marquise names, but what about Tamar and Jael and Nabal and Ziba and Barzillai from the OT or Anna, or Justus, or Parmenas, Publius, Junia, and others from the NT? The point is that God has a purpose for each one of us. For some it is a noble purpose; for others it is a more common one. After all, He is the potter and we are the clay. But the point is that God has created us on purpose for a purpose and our responsibility is to discover that purpose and live our lives accordingly. It goes back to the question I asked time and time again in the last series:

What can I do, if done well, and done for Jesus, can make a difference in this church and for the Kingdom of God?

A part of that answer lies in the purpose that He gave to you. In all of history, you are the only person who is exactly like you. And thus, God made you unique to do something only you could do. The question is are you doing it? If not, maybe it is because you have not discovered that purpose. Do you think it is too late? Well, Moses was 80 and Abram was about 90 when they learned of their purpose. And that is young compared to Noah who was 500 when God revealed his purpose. So, you are not too old. Nor are you too young (remember Samuel was a small child when the Lord first appeared to him). The question is are you interested in knowing your purpose? And if so, are you willing to fulfill it?

We will discuss this aspect of our purpose more next week, and, for that matter, next year.

God Gave Us Love (1 John 4.8; John 3.16)

1 John 4.8 says God is love. And if we are created in God’s image (which Genesis 1 says we are), then some of that attribute is within us. If it wasn’t, then God would be asking the impossible when Jesus said that the greatest command is to love God with everything we are and to love others as we do ourselves. Of course, it is next to impossible to do this well anyway, so we must rely upon the love of God to make it happen in our lives. But not only did God gives us the capacity to love, He gave us His love.

One verse in the Bible says something about God loving us so much He did something for us. You might recognize it if you heard it (referring to John 3.16). What was it God did? He gave His Son. Why? So that we might have life. Wow. That is love. Stop and think about that for a minute. I am sure we all have had a similar thought about sacrificing our own child. But let’s make it practical in this moment. Look at the person next to you. In front of you. Behind you. Look at me. Whatever you may think of the person personally, would you willingly sacrifice them to appease the wrath of a god. History shows that this happened often, including in biblical times. But these sacrifices were made to some god out of fear for what might happen. Our God gave us Himself because He loved us (and loves us) so that we do not have to fear Him, but that we may love Him in return.

But the love that He has given to us is not for just ourselves and Him, it is for all people – and for all of the time. More on this thought in two weeks.

God Gave/Gives Us Grace (Ephesians 2.8-9; John 1.16)

This fourth point relates to the previous one. Love and grace are connected just as love and mercy are connected. Therefore, we have a direct link which connects mercy and grace. The gift of God by which you do not have to die for your sin is because of His mercy. The gift of God by which you have life is due to His grace. As Ephesians 2.8-9 tell us it is a gift of God that we have grace through faith.

You might recall a phrase I isolated around this time last year from John 1. John records that from God’s fullness we receive grace upon grace (v. 16). I absolutely love that thought that grace is multiplied by grace. Take a dose of grace from God and heap an another helping. That is what John says we can receive. But something can only be received if it is offered. And John says it is from the fullness of God that such grace is offered to you and to me. Now, that does not give us license to abuse that grace. Rather, the grace we are extended is to then be extended to others as well. But the idea of grace upon grace is a wonderful picture of how much God has given to us already and how much more He is willing to give us when we fall.

CONCLUSION

We could spend the rest of the day reviewing Scripture for all of what God has given in the past or will give in the future. And, I am certain, we could spend all week here listing (and then discussing) all that He has given to each of us individually. So, why does God give us all that He has and all that He will? Why does God give us all of these things and more? Because our God is a giving God.

Let me ask it one more time with a slightly different emphasis. Why does God give us all of these things and more? Because He wants us to pass on what we have received so that others can benefit as well.

God gives because He is a giving God. But God gives to us so that we can give to others. God made us in His image, so our very nature includes the capacity, and even the desire, to give. The challenge for us is to live up to the challenge of being a giver like God. The truth is that in God’s economy, we cannot out-give the giver. God always has more to give, but that does not mean that He necessarily will give when we want it. Of course, the same is true with us. We often have more to give, but we withhold it for various reasons. However, I would venture to guess that our reasons (however good we think they are) pale in comparison to the reasons God would withhold from us.

That said, as we consider what it means for God to be a giving God, will you consider how God wants you to respond this month as a giver? We will talk more about our own responsibilities in the next three weeks, but before we make excuses or give a rationale for why we don’t give to someone or some organization (including this church), let us stop, for this month, and ask what, if anything, God would have us to give.

The JOURNEY letter for this week is: EENGAGE.

God is the giver, but He has given so that we will engage others. He wants us to tell His story. He wants us to share what He has done in our lives. He wants us to give back that portion from what we have received.

NEXT STEP(S):  LEARN: What motivates you to give or not to give? What motivates you to give the amount you give? Is it duty? Is it habit? Is it love? Is it something else? Take time this week to LEARN what motivates or inspires you to give. Then ask God to help you remain faithful or to fix your life in whatever way it needs to be fixed to allow you to give as God wants you to do.