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Enough: Defined by Generosity, October 8, 2023

Proverbs 11:24-25, 22:9 Folks, I’m starting this message out a little differently. I wanted to get a couple ideas into this message today, and I came across this devotion from Henri Nouwen that covered those ideas and more. These words from the great theologian Henri Nouwen set the foundation for today’s message,

“Enough: Defined by Generosity.”

And now please hear these important words, if you can grasp what this man says, and live it out you will grow in your ability to be generous.

“God’s First Love,” by Henri Nouwen

“Knowing God’s heart means consistently, radically, and very concretely to announce and reveal that God is love and only love, and that every time fear, isolation, or despair begin to invade the human soul this is not something that comes from God. This sounds very simple and maybe even trite, but very few people know that they are loved without any conditions or limits.

This unconditional and unlimited love is what the evangelist John calls God’s first love. “Let us love,” he says, “because God loved us first” (1 John 4:19). The love that often leaves us doubtful, frustrated, angry, and resentful is the second love, that is to say, the affirmation, affection, sympathy, encouragement, and support we receive from our parents, teachers, spouses, and friends. We all know how limited, broken, and very fragile that love is. Behind the many expressions of this second love there is always the chance of rejection, withdrawal, punishment, blackmail, violence, and even hatred. . . .

The radical good news is that the second love is only a broken reflection of the first love and that the first love is offered to us by a God in whom there are no shadows. Jesus’ heart is the incarnation of the shadow-free first love of God.

Henri J. M. Nouwen

This scripture from Jesus’ brother James 1:17 accompanied the devotion, and I quote, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.”

ONLY IF we receive GOD’S GENEROUS LOVE,

CAN WE BE GENEROUS…

One Wednesday morning about thirteen years ago, when Hope and I were serving in Mountain Grove, MO. our lay leader, Charlie Green called and told me that he and Wallace Greenfield we going out to sell “Hamburger Feed” tickets for The Trinity Church fundraiser to Wallace’s neighbors.

The Hamburger Feed was a big fund raiser for Trinity Church missions. Wallace told Charlie that I had wanted to meet his Amish neighbors. I looked at my calendar and thought about the work I had planned to do that morning.

I almost said no.

I’m so glad that I said, Yes!” to Wallace and Charlie. It was an inspiring and wonderful morning! What a blessing it was to see the people’s faces and eyes light up when they saw Wallace walk up to their door. They just radiated warmth and love and Wallace was warmed in the glow; shining right back at them. Neighbors that had worked together, shared food together, road to town together, and prayed together. I witnessed their generosity shining in their faces towards each other. It was absolutely beautiful.

I’ve seen generosity shining in the faces of you all here at Harmonie Church; and I’ve seen generosity it in the people supporting the Food Pantry, I’ve seen generosity in people working with all of the wonderful ministries here in Warren County.

The folks we met with Wallace, the Amish, and folks from other churches, were glad to donate money and buy tickets to help us at Trinity Church with our missions. The folks that I’ve experienced being the most generous were the some of the poorest folks in Missouri, Mexico, Louisiana, North Carolina, Kentucky, Turkey, Kenya, Mozambique, and Haiti that had very little possessions, but they generously shared what little they had with visitors. I have been humbled many times over the years.

I talked last week how GOD created us to be generous; and we are tempted to hoard, by our desires that are used by the devil, whispering in our ear. God created us with the willingness to give—to God and to others. This design is part of our makeup; we actually have the need to be generous. Yet there are two voices that “War” against our God-given impulse toward generosity, tempting us to keep or hoard what we have been blessed with.

The first voice that the deceiver whispers is fear. Fear of the economy, Fear of health concerns, Fear of family problems, Fear of what might happen to us, along with a misplaced idea about the true source of our security, keeps us from being generous and leads us to hoard what we have. The truth is that hoarding offers us no real security in this world.

The second lie that the devil tells us, is that we deserve WHAT WE WANT! WHEN WE WANT IT!! Self-gratification is disease. Our culture tells us that our lives consist in the abundance of our possessions and pleasurable experiences. So, we find ourselves thinking,

“If I give to others, there won’t be enough left for me.”

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

God can help us defeat the voices from the deceiver.

When we give our lives to Christ, invite him to be Lord, and allow the Holy Spirit to begin changing us from the inside out, we find that our fears begin to dissipate and our aim in life shifts from seeking personal pleasure to pleasing God and caring for others.

Although we still may wrestle with the voices from time to time, we are able to silence them more readily and effectively the more we grow in Christ. And the more we grow in Christ, realizing that our life belongs to him, the more generous we become. Generosity is a fruit of spiritual growth.

We are all individuals with different gifts and graces. We need to know, or learn what we might be generous with. It could be our time to visit or call, or send a card. We all have GOD given gifts to generously share with our neighbors. What did the Little Drummer boy offer to Baby Jesus?

God’s Holy Word in the Bible gives us reasons to give to God and other folks. In Acts 20 Jesus’ Words reminds that we find more joy in doing things for other people and for God than we ever did in doing things for ourselves. Jesus said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35)

Jesus tells us in Matthew 16 that in the very act of losing our lives, we find life. (Matt. 16:25) We learn in Psalms 24 and Leviticus 26 that life is a gift, and everything belongs to God. (Psalm 24:1; Leviticus 25:23)

From the early days of the Old Testament, God’s people observed the practice of giving some portion of the best of what they had to God; not just what they had left over.

A gift offered to God was called the first fruits or the tithe, and it equaled one-tenth of one’s flocks or crops or income. Abraham was the first to give a tithe or tenth. (Genesis 14:20, 28:18-22; Leviticus 27:30-33)

As Christians who live under the new covenant, we are not bound by the Law of Moses; but we can look to it as a guide. Most Christians agree that the tithe is a good starting point for our lives, and one that is pleasing to God. Though tithing can be a struggle, it is possible at virtually every income level. If you cannot tithe right away, take a step in that direction. Start at 2% or 5 or 7%, where ever you can, and God will help you make the adjustments necessary for you to become more and more generous.

Tithing is a floor, not a ceiling. God calls us grow beyond the tithe. We should strive to set aside and additional percentage of our income as offerings for other things that are important to us, such as mission projects, schools, and other nonprofit organizations.

From the earliest biblical times, the primary way people worshipped God was by building an altar and offering the fruit of one’s labors upon it to God. They would burn the sacrifice of an animal or grain as a way of expressing their gratitude, devotion and desire to honor God.

The scent of the offering was said to be pleasing to God. It wasn’t that God loved the smell of burnt meat and grain. Rather, God saw that people were giving a gift that expressed love, faith, and the desire to please and honor God; and THIS moved God’s heart. When we give in this spirit, our offerings bless the Lord.

In today’s scripture from Proverbs 11 (:24-25) we hear: “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others, will himself be refreshed…And from Proverbs 22 (22:9), “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” And Jesus tells us in Luke 6 (:38), “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

My friends, we are all blessed to be a blessing to GOD and our Neighbors.

As we grow in our ability to give, God transforms us. When we are generous—to God and to our families, friends, neighbors, and others who are in need—our hearts are filled with joy. They are enlarged by the very act of giving. When we give generously, we become more generous.

Many Christians have it wrong. They say that if you give, then God will give more back to you. But that is not how it works.

We do not give to God so that we can get something in return.

The amazing thing is that when we give generously to God,

to others, the blessings just seem to come back to us.

Of course, there is no guarantee that if you tithe you will never lose your job or never have other bad things happen to you. Nevertheless, when we give generously, the unmistakable blessings of God flow into our lives.

Wallace and his neighbors showed Charlie and me the true spirit of being a generous community. We experienced the fruit of the God’s Holy Spirit. Neighbors were truly being Christian neighbors; giving freely to each other as the other has need.

Our generous God has so richly blessed our church in the past. God is blessing us now; and God can help us to grow again!! God can help us here at Harmonie to learn to live without fear; to live with generous, open hands to God, to each other, and to the community. With God’s help we will be defined by generosity.

Let us pray… Oh God, we thank you that you have given us life, that you sustain us by the power of your Holy Spirit and that you gave Jesus Christ as an offering for us and for our sins.

We thank you for the abundance that we have in our lives. And we pray that you would help us. Help us, oh Lord, to honor you with our tithes and offerings. Help us to care for the poor and those who are in need.

Help us to recognize that it is more blessed to give than to receive. We offer ourselves to you. Help us, oh Lord, to do your will. Please help us to truly follow your way, your truth, and your life. Jesus, Lord and Savior, it is in your name, that we pray. Amen!

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