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Jesus is Generous

Jesus Is Really Good - Sermon #3: Jesus is Generous
Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor • Feb 28, 2016 • Lindsay Balazer, Connections Coordinator

 

Introduction

If you would like to grab sermon notes while I’m introducing myself and recapping a bit please go ahead.  Also, I’m going to actually sit down here. I am much more used to joining you all out there, so I’m a bit more comfortable sitting and having more of a conversation with you here.

 

I am Lindsay Balazer, the Connections Coordinator here at Vineyard. I oversee Community Life Events, Life Groups and some of our Fundraising and Giving Efforts.

 

We are currently in our Lenten Sermon Series called Jesus is Really Good. Pastor Donnell spent our first two weeks discussing Jesus as the Good Physician and Jesus as Trustworthy. If you weren’t here, I’d invite you to listen to the Ustream online our website. Over the next several weeks we will continue to explore the goodness of God as demonstrated by Jesus.

 

Let me tell you a story. .  Wednesday is typically my main day at work here and the snow was coming down Thursday was my day for sermon revision during naptime. This week, the staff was tied up with a day long meeting, so I knew Thursday was THE day. Well, as you ALL know, the snow kept on coming and we had our first snow day of the year.  I usually LOVE snow days. I enjoy having my kids home and taking full advantage of our big hill out front for some serious sledding, But this Thursday, I was supposed to write and edit and with four kids at home, this time I had carved out was precious. So, I texted with some friends and they said they could all come over to my house and bring their kids… we would tire everyone out and my plan was to use the 2.5 hour nap from Clara, my youngest, to write. My second born tells me she has a headache, and after taking her temp is at a 100.9. I text everyone again. No sledding. A friend offers to take my other older two so once Clara naps I can work. Clara doesn’t nap (now, please understand.. she ALWAYS naps). So, I start to feel the tension on my resources. I don’t have time to give up here, I don’t have energy to comfort her, and then my sick one is miserable and needs both time and energy as well. I feel Jesus’s tender reminder, are you willing to give generously even though it feels like you have nothing to give? UGH. His Timing was … timely.

 

Science of Generosity

So, let’s talk about Generosity. Before we begin diving into the scriptures, did you realize or ever think about the science behind generosity?.  The Science of Generosity Initiative that is out of Notre Dame. Established in 2009 with a $5 million grant, the initiative grew out of Christian Smith’s book on Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don’t Give Away More Money (Oxford 2008). The book identifies a crucial set of factors that appear to depress religious financial support -- among them the strong draw of a mass-consumerist culture and its impact on Americans' priorities, parishioners' suspicions of waste and abuse by nonprofit administrators, clergy's hesitations to boldly ask for money, and the lack of structure and routine in the way most American Christians give away money.  Its hard because the Christian Church challenges individual financial priorities, but has not been perfect in our management of money, and has not created a great counter culture of discussing our relationship with money.

 

I think, as we dive into things today, we can see Jesus as our model, not our culture, not necessarily the church, but Jesus… we can maybe see a different picture of generosity than we are familiar with.

 

 

Jesus is Generous

I have to say, I have been so excited about the topic Jesus is Generous. I think my only concern coming into this topic was that people might think that this was all about giving more money. But, let’s be clear, if we are talking about Jesus’s Generosity, we are talking about much more than giving more money. In the Bible’s accounts of Jesus, his disciple Matthew captured some observations about Jesus’ generosity.  Today we will read from Matthew 6 and see what Jesus has to say about our God’s kingdom which I think speaks about generosity without ever using the word.

 

For our purposes, I use the word generosity to refer to the virtue of giving good things to others freely and abundantly. What exactly generosity includes can be various things: money, possessions, time, attention, aid, encouragement, emotional availability, and more.

 

Its interesting how God works and drives home His messages sometimes. As I was preparing for this talk, I was able to experience what abundant generosity of other resources looks like. I’ve had a rough few weeks, and in that time, friends, coworkers, neighbors, life group members, counselors, and other awesome people have called and chatted with me for hours, taken my kids, texted often, made us food, provided counsel, encouragement, love, and prayer, cared for my husband and family, given gifts and did I mention chatted for hours?  And what did I give them in return? Nothing. They, every one of them, gave of themselves freely and abundantly...all with different resources at their disposal. I share this story, not to say, hey I’ve got an awesome support network, which is true.. but more to say, I could never have known what I needed. But as God both asked people to respond and drew on those I was in relationship with already, I was able to experience His generosity as demonstrated through the love of others.

 

While considering Jesus being Generous, I realized that there is not much said explicitly about him and generosity. Considering the fact he was a homeless carpenter, I suppose that makes sense. However, what we do see is Jesus surrendering at every moment to God’s leading, trusting the resources of the kingdom would be available to Him. Let’s be clear, we do have abundant evidence of Jesus being generous from the scriptures. I once heard someone talk about how they just felt like Jesus couldn’t understand them as a mom. So, she dove into the scripture and found him being woken up, interrupted, dealing with whining, people pulling on his clothes, sharing food, interrupted meals, taking care of others.  Although she was hysterical to listen to, what she described was a man who gave freely, abundantly and often.

 

And so, with that in mind, let’s look at Matthew 6:25 -35. In Matthew 6, we find ourselves in the midst of the sermon on the mount, which is a series of brilliant, epic teachings from Jesus about how the world works and how to live life well (among other things.)

 

Matthew 6 25-35,

25“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes? 26Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life? 28“And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

 

Look at verses 25-26. Here we find Jesus beginning by grounding us in the love and non-anxious presence of God. Don’t worry about your life, what you will eat or drink. Life is more than that anyway. Your worry about it doesn’t change anything. In fact, look at the birds over there (I kind of like to picture some pigeons here which I learned actually did exist within the Roman Empire). But I can just see Jesus pointing at a bunch of pigeons saying, “Look at them! These busy birds.. Flying around, gathering food, building nests, doing what they are made to do. Do they look worried?

And once they have what they need, they don’t save it. They eat until they are full and look again the next time they need to eat. They don’t keep their food from other birds, they don’t store months of food worrying they’ll never eat again. This isn’t to say that there aren’t some birds who won’t make it, but the overarching message here is that God gives these birds food until they are full. You mean so much more to God than a bird. He Adores You, He’s created you in His image, will He not take care of your life?

 

Then He says “Don’t worry about your body, or what you will wear.” Your body is more than clothes. You are living with such a limited picture of what I desire for you and what I have to give you. You are worried about your clothes, but have you looked at the flowers? Now I just read about his superbloom that is happening in Death Valley right now.  One of the Death Valley national park rangers described it as this, 'These areas that are normally just rock, just soil, just barren ... they're filled with life. So Death Valley really does go from being a valley of death to being a valley of life.'

 

And so we look at these flowers and hear Jesus say, not even Solomon, the most notable, wealthiest, wisest king could compare to the beauty the Father has given this valley. What does that tell you about God?

 

First, we begin to see more of God’s perspective. We see how God sees these birds and flowers, in healthy relationship with one another. Its not about how much we have but recognizing that what we have is God’s. Our food, our clothing, our care is all in His hands. As we lean into this, one of the most visceral ways we’ll experience this is that we will worry less. If we can trust that our car is a gift from God and it breaks it down, can we trust that He will provide for us in our need? Transportation? Another car? Money?  OR Can we trust that if our car is a gift from God, we might be asked to give it away if someone else is in need? Completely or borrowing? If a car is too big of an example, let’s use a winter coat.  If you can trust God who loves you immensely more than the birds and flowers and your winter coat (a gift from God) tears in half as you step off the bus, can you trust He will provide (possible through the generosity of others, or perhaps your own resources) a new coat? OR Can we trust that if our winter coat is a gift from God and someone who cannot afford a new coat needs one, He might want us to provide for that need? You see, As we worry less, our decisions and the way in which we live and give of ourselves is impacted.

 

A couple of years ago, Mary Walker and I held a Lenten series for kids. One of the weeks we spent time talking about generosity. We asked these 6-12 year olds to sit in a circle and open their hands. We each had candy and money to divvy out. We weren’t sure which would be of interest to this age group. Anyway, at any time they were able to close their hands and be done with the time. However, so long as their hands remained open, we could freely give and take what they had. It was so interesting. I remember the first kid who received the candy instantly closed his hand. But then he saw that as his hand was closed others were getting more than just one of that candy. And then we watched each child close their hands as they weighed the risks of whether or not this was the amount they felt satisfied with based on what their peers had. As we debriefed with the kids, what was so fascinating was their worry of not getting the same amount as everyone else, the worry they had about closing too soon or closing too late after they had already lost something.

 

I love this illustration with the kids. I feel it speaks so much to our own experience. We look at others, measure our “wealth,” our goods, our experiences and decide how or if we are going to be generous.

 

I have since wondered what this experiment would look like if they saw how full the bags of coins and candy were, would they still have closed their hands so quickly? If they had known we had more than we even had time to divvy up, would they have ever closed their hands at all? If I am recognizing that all I have is from God, and I know that He has all I need.. just like the birds or the flowers than why are I am I so prone to closing my hands just like the kids? How might we live differently if we were mindful of the resources given to us?

 

This country promises so much to us. Hard work, dedication, perseverance, determination can bring us money, happiness, friends, awesome stuff, romance, good jobs.

 

And if it doesn’t happen for us . . .we are not working hard enough, dedicated enough, determined enough, focused enough… etc. It’s on us. We beat ourselves up. We feel less than. We cry in our rooms. We keep it to ourselves. We feel shame because this world tells us it’s our fault we don’t have enough.

 

And if we do experience those things, then that realization is ours to own because we made it happen. We close our hands, we savor the fruits of labor, we measure ourselves as good, and we cherish this thing we have achieved.

 

But Deuteronomy 8 says,

 

17 You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” 18 But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth,

Everything we have from God is a gift. Our food, clothes, money, water is all a gift from God. We have been given a lot.

 

1 Timothy 6:17 says,

“Command those who are rich in the present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth.”

 

When you hear this verse about the rich, who do we think of? Business leaders? Politicians? Celebrities? Or even closer to home… a neighbor with a bigger house? The family with the awesome boat, or the nicer car? I certainly think of someone else who has more than I do. But I think when we start comparing ourselves to others as the measure of our richness, we miss the point. Paul is sending a warning to us about owning our wealth and abundance as our own. About closing our hands around what we do or do not have. This mentality brings in the worry, the fear, the anxiety, the protectiveness that prevents us from generosity.

 

Worry is lethal to thriving because it’s a failure to be fully present. Worrying about something means you’re there, not here — you’re stuck ruminating on the future, not enjoying (or even just being) in the present. Jesus teaches us to be fully present in this moment, not missing a thing right here, right now.

 

We can then be free to act when we need to act and surrender the thing we cannot control to God, who has immeasurably more power than we do. Jesus says in John 15:5, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.”  In the Science of Initiative Giving, what they are finding in their research is that how secure you feel with close others, called attachment security, the more likely you are to be generous. When I heard that, I thought that’s exactly what Jesus is describing, but it’s the attachment and reliance on our Father, I cannot think of a stronger attachment than this.

 

It is this wisdom that allows us be the kind of people who can act in generous ways because we are grounded in God’s love and are not worried about the world’s problems, but are engaging them and doing something about them.

 

Let me give you an example:

 

There is a great story about George Mueller, who founded very effective orphanages & schools in England in the 19th century, and who is a great hero of faith in God & the power of prayer. Here's a quote: "Through all this [the growth of the orphanages], Müller never made requests for financial support, nor did he go into debt, even though the five homes cost over £100,000 (100,000 today is $140,000) to build. Many times, he received unsolicited food donations only hours before they were needed to feed the children, further strengthening his faith in God. For example, on one well-documented occasion, they gave thanks for breakfast when all the children were sitting at the table, even though there was nothing to eat in the house. As they finished praying, the baker knocked on the door with sufficient fresh bread to feed everyone, and the milkman gave them plenty of fresh milk because his cart broke down in front of the orphanage."

 

What many people do not know is that, while the orphanages always seemed to be barely getting by, Mueller's ministry actually gave away thousands of pounds to other ministries. In particular, they gave to Hudson Taylor's China Inland Mission, which was the first faith-based mission ever founded. (Taylor also never asked for money, and practiced a reliance upon God to move people through prayer alone)

 

Mueller never told anyone, nor did Taylor. But when they went through the books after both of them had passed, it was discovered that Mueller's mission had given many thousands of pounds to CIM.

 

Isn’t that story just incredible? Here were two men living out what Jesus is describing in Matthew: Entrust yourselves to the God of love who knows what you need before you ask for it. Because of this trust, they weren’t afraid to give away resources even though they also had needs of their own.

 

So, as we take this story into our own lives, and learn from saints before us, and set our worries aside so we can live with open hands and generosity and we trust that all we have from God is a gift. We need to consider what our resources are. And be careful, because we live in a culture that says we are only able to give when we have an overflow. But we also live in a culture that makes us think having two cars is normal for a family when only 8% of people in the world actually have cars.  I am speaking to myself here, just to be clear. Because, I don’t know how, unless we had 3 cars I could even consider giving one away for even a week, but I can only imagine what that must sound like to the 92% people who don’t have a car in the first place. There is this misunderstanding that we can only give when we have an abundance of something. But how do we view abundance when our normal is full pantries and good meals everyday while someone is dying from hunger every minute or two? All I’m saying is that we can’t measure what we can give based on what we have. If its all from God, we can only measure what we can give when we ask him.

 

Taking a look back to the 2nd part of the 1st Timothy verse from earlier,

 

“17 Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. 18 Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. 9 In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”

 

This is how Jesus lived. He lived a life that was without fear, or worry, that wasn’t measured against what others’ had because he trusted his father’s provision, care, and love for him, just like we can. And that is what we have the chance to bring to God today.. So, like I said in the beginning, this isn’t just about giving more money.  This is about experiencing the worry-free, abundant provision of God and allowing Him to use us to provide his abundant provision to others.

 

There will be a time (it will come soon if you want to ask for it) where He will ask you to feed or clothe or respond with time, prayer, energy and you will be asked to provide for another in some way. If there is a need you see, and you feel your heart moved by that and you can respond, but fear prevents you. Open your hands and trust God. This might be your Lenten practice of blowing some money on one of your six. Or perhaps it could be loving a friend, a stranger, a refugee. or maybe its resisting the need for the next big consuming buy. I don’t know, this is all between you and God. But are you willing to consider that the best question is not what can I get, but what can I give?

 

I don’t believe everyone is called to live on the very edge like George Mueller, but I don’t want that to keep us from considering should we live closer to the edge?  In light of that, we might ask how can we rely on God and recognize needs of others and respond to those needs?

 

I think that question is answered by “where are we keeping our hands closed?” I’ve watched friends and friends of friends open their hands in various different ways, here are some practical ideas:

  • A woman gives one week of her grocery budget each month to a mission work that she believes.
  • A mother who doesn’t work takes a working mothers children when childcare falls through.
  • A spare bedroom in a home that is never used is offered to someone in need (perhaps a Mission Outpost Intern?).
  • Even though the weekend is inconvenient, cold and busy, you go and help a family who is moving.
  • You walk into church, late for serving, but instead of rushing by that person who looks lost, you say Hello and offer your time.

 

I don’t claim to know how God might ask to use the resources He has given you, but as you allow your world to be interrupted by others needs, He will ask.

 

Practical Tip:

I have a few Practical Tips this week.  Some are stand alone, but then I’m peppering our Lenten Spiritual Practices with some open handed ideas.

  1. Consider spending time in one of the Gospels, take Matthew even. Notice how Jesus responds to those who are in front of him. What does Jesus’ generosity look like in terms of his time and his energy? Can you see the secure attachment to the Father?
  2. Inventory your own resources. What are they? Money, time, energy, or other resources? Make a list. Where are you closing your hands? Is your grocery budget off limits (I’m using that because I’m close handed there)? How about Saturday nights? Do you ever invite people over to your house? What do you see as yours and you won’t consider sharing or letting go of?
  3. Sometimes, it's hard for us to imagine what it looks like to open our hands, so I would encourage you to join a life group. We have a new Lenten Group you can join, or any of them really. I think we often learn so much from one another when it comes to generosity.  As I mentioned earlier, the generosity of others over the past few weeks has shown me how to be more generous to others. Join a Life Group, and hear these kind of stories, and be relationship with others where you both experience Jesus’ generosity and can also be His hands and feet for others.

Anna Hillaker & Jade Ho have a Tuesday evening Lenten Small Group. 7pm at the church, focusing on Lenten Spiritual Practices.

 

Lenten Spiritual Practices Review

We are currently in the season referred to as “Lent” which is the 40 day period before Easter used by the church to prepare ourselves for baptism and the celebration of the resurrection of Jesus. During this Lenten season, we have five Spiritual Practices to help you meet God at the edge of your comfort zones and invite God to speak to our hearts and respond to a more generous posture in our lives.

  • My Bold Request
    Identify one thing you’d like to ask God to do for you and then ask daily. This is personal and supposed to be for you, not someone else.. It could be something you really need right now or something you’ve always wanted.

    Praying and asking God for this allows you to believe in a God of abundant resources who gives generously.  Its holding open your hands and asking for what you need or want.
  • The Answered Prayer Wall
    If during Lent you have any answered prayers, please take a moment to come up and write it down on a sticky-note and stick it on the Answered Prayer wall. This is a little reminder to us all that when one of our prayers is answered, all of us are blessed because we’re all connected in Christ.

    Perhaps this week you could practice living with open hands, allowing God to put things in and take things out (just like the experiment). You could pray for opportunities for both in the following week and post on the prayer wall God’s responses.
  • Identify and Pray for Your Six
    We invite you to prayerfully select six people in your world to pray for each day. We suggest people just beyond your primary relationship circle. Neighbors, coworkers, baristas you may not have strong relationships with but come in contact with regularly. Perhaps consider praying for their reception of generous gifts, love, and provision in addition to their hearts being moved to joyfully give of themselves to others?
  • Blow Some Money on Your Six
    This is a chance to be generous and open to a way you can freely give to one of your six. Ask God for this opportunity, and respond when He presents it to you.
  • Experiment with a daily devotional
    We have a daily devotional available on the church website as a PDF that you can download and print out yourself.
    This is asking us to be generous with our TIME.  This may be the more difficult practice.

BAPTISM

And our last practical tip of the morning is to get baptized on Easter morning.  And this, in some ways, is the ultimate way to express a shift towards being generous - symbolizing death to our way of doing things and rising in a new life is such a powerful way to express your response to God’s generosity!  We return God's love by offering him our very lives and all the things which that might entail including being open-handed with our time, our wealth, our patience, our grace - everything!  So if your faith journey hasn’t been marked by baptism in the Christian Church, perhaps you’ll consider it today?  If you would like to speak to a pastor about baptism, reach out to us in person, via e-mail, or sign up at our Event’s Station in the lobby.

 

 
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