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Do you give or receive?

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” Acts 20:35, NIV

Do you believe this? Is it more blessed to give than to receive?  I would bet you whatever you or I could afford to lose, that the overwhelming majority of  humanity does not believe this, and that most people in this room don’t believe it. We might say that it’s a good thing, just like it goods for “you” to turn the other cheek, or for “that guy” to watch the extra mile, or that “others” should forgive like they’ve been forgiven, but we don’t practice what we preach.

It is more blessed to give than receive!  Do you practice this? If  you want to see where the other guys—and perhaps your heart is—look and see how tempers flair and attitudes change when money or material possessions are involved—even within the church. The love of money is the root of many sins, and the cause of the demise of many Christian congregations.  Honestly, wonderful as it is to have this building and all the equipment this church and my camp has, I would prefer that we would be free from all possessions, maintenance bills, insurance premiums and the worry about polishing, vacuuming mowing and washing, and the associated trap of possessing  “things”.

But for a moment think about Paul’s quote from Jesus.  Do you know where that quote came from in the gospels? It does not. Jesus is never recorded to have ever said those word.  But remember, when Paul spoke those words, there was not New Testament. The  gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John did not exist yet.  But Paul did not need the New Testament in order to know what Jesus taught. Paul may have been told by the Apostles that Jesus said this—it was probably common knowledge that Jesus said this many times— that’s my opinion,  But Paul may have also received supernatural revelation directly from Jesus Himself. Jesus spoke directly to Paul on the road to Damascus (Acts 9; 22:8), “the Spirit of Jesus” kept him from preaching in Bithynia (Acts 16:7, ASV), and “the Lord spoke to Paul…by a vision” in Corinth (Acts 18:9). Paul was an inspired apostle (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:37; 2 Peter 3:16). The message that he preached came directly from God. To the churches of Galatia, he wrote: “But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ (1:11-12,NIV).

Paul knew Jesus, and Jesus taught him this truth: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

The gospels do not contain everything Jesus said or did. In fact, near the end of John’s gospel account, he commented, “ True Jesus did many other signs in the presence of His disciples, which are not written in this book…. There are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written” (John 20:30; 21:25).

But the point is that we struggle with believing that giving is better than getting, and why wouldn’t we? Acquiring and hoarding are part of our cultural existence, and evidence of our broken nature. We love the security of having stuff. We’re a disposable culture addicted to the emotional boost of buying something new.

The sad truth is that there are some dirty, greedy, selfish people out there. And unfortunately I know some—-some have worked for me—-some I have called my friends—-some I have mistakenly believed were truly seeking God’s favor.

With three young men in my home there’s always some competition when it comes to everything.  If I do one favor for one, the others are quick to request a compensating favor.  A few years ago, if  I read to one, I had read to all.  And when it comes to sports or games, typically there ends up being a fight to see who comes out “on top”—no matter what the games.  I recall playing “king of the mountain” as a child, and that’s the best way I can describe how these my sons, and the other sons at the camp,  interact with each other. One is always trying to exceed the others.

In a boys’mind, the short-term goal is to have more toys than anyone else in the house—and then hoard those gifts.  In my home we have footlockers full of toys they never play with and yet they are determined to have more and more.  Sadly, they’re living lives that are really quite common and natural in the USA. Shame on us fathers and mothers for fanning the flame of greed.

But as I scold them for being selfish or for bragging or hoarding, I know that I am swimming upstream when I take into consideration all that they see in magazines, television, advertisements and movies.  If they don’t  hoard, compete and fight to be on top, they are not acting like other boys and girls! We really don’t know what to do with folks that act contrary to “normal” human interacting, so we ignore them, ostracize them….or we crucify them.

The joy I am attempting to impress upon my sons is the joy that comes from giving, from letting others get to the top ahead of you and from denying your own rights and instead defending the rights of others.   But when I say these things they look at me as if I have two heads.   It’s as if they are muttering to themselves, “Daddy is out of his mind?”   So whom do I point to as examples of living a selfless life?  Who can direct them to what would instill within them the hidden but incredible satisfaction and union with God that comes about when we truly live a life like Jesus?   Can you think of any national leader, athlete or even a clergyman that could be singled out?

Obviously Jesus is the solitary hero to look at, but He is not still walking on the earth right now—only His disciples are, people like you and me.  We are here to mirror the kind of life a young person should live.  And this is why I am somewhat critical of folks, like me, who minister in the “name” of Jesus but forget that little eyes are ever upon us.   Are we exhibiting, daily, the humility, selflessness, love and devotion to God that we should be showing?  Are we industrious, hard working, honest, trustworthy.… and do we love as He loved?  As I take time to examine my own life and bear in mind that for the time being I am the closest example of Jesus these boys have, I should shudder a bit. “Woe to him who causes one of these little ones to stumble.” (Matthew 18:6, NIV)

But as I have worked with people who have great wealth, and those that have little, let me tell you what I have come to see.  I have watched people of moderate success become exceedingly successful and wealthy. I know of others that inherited a lot of money or somehow “got lucky” and hit the jackpot—through the death of a spouse, or a lawsuit or their own hard work.  Money does not change people.  It unmasks them.

But Jesus, and later Paul, were not just talking about giving money—but the entire perverse focus on self…versus and the joy and Jesus-likeness that comes from  giving, .compliments, attention, encouragement, a helping hand and so forth. We complain about not receiving these things enough—-do we give—lavishly?

But staff, members of this church and guests, consider please the need to give!  Giving illustrates how much God loves us to  those that do not know Jesus! It’s evangelism! It opens the door!   Someone asked me just this past week why a member of this church would be so generous in helping her and her family. She caught me off guard and I blurted out, “Because he’s a Christian!” And of course, that’s the right reason.  Christians give without measure because they have received without measure—- and it confuses those who don’t know the abundance of His love.

But let me offer a somewhat self-serving reason.  It will make you happy.  It’s a proven fact, within secular science, that people who give are much, much happier than those who do not. If you are not happy, maybe you’re not giving to others.  It also lengthens your life! People who regularly volunteer, for unselfish reasons, live longer, healthier lives.

You will also be blessed by God! We’re told that “God loves a cheerful giver”.  And because He requires from us obedience, and giving is a command of God, you’re in His favor when you give of your time, talent and finances.

In the Christian life there’s sometimes a disconnect between who we are, and who we think we are. The enemy is delighted with this.  But giving is a means whereby we actually can show ourselves that we are in fact truly His.  When you get into the habit and custom of being generous in compliments, time and your possessions, you realize how important it is to be generous! Why is it important?  Because to not be generous is to deny His new nature within you!

Finally, think about the blessings that comes with being generous!  Jesus said, “And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”  (Matt. 10:42). Good grief, He’s watching even the smallest gestures of generosity and selfless giving!  The fact that God is keeping tabs down to glasses of water given in His name should be pretty motivating—right?  The writer of Proverbs says it in even more emphatic language, “Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and He will repay him for his deed” (Prov. 19:17).  Think of that promise and assurance from God!  He’s going to “pay you back” for your generosity!

Over the past 40 years I have witnessed something that concerns me greatly with teenagers and children that attend camp.  Without a doubt, kids have much, much more than they did 40 years ago when they came to camp. It used to just be a foot locker with camp clothes and maybe a flashlight.  But now nearly all of them come with expensive devices that cost hundreds of dollars, often wearing expensive designer basketball shoes. One often reads about gangs of teenagers killing total strangers for their expensive shoes.  The focus has become more and more upon getting—not giving.

And what this has created is a dark and impoverished  self-image that constantly feeds the appetite for more and more. The blessedness of giving is that it  helps us to move our selfish focus upon ourselves and instead focus on  others.  And you begin to see yourself as one that is making the world a better place—not just your toy chest more full of toys.  The Bible says “that the eyes of man are never satisfied.” (Prov. 27:20). The need to amass more and more is completely real.  People who chose to give become infected  by the a spirit of generoity and begin to see their own belongings differently. Seeing and responding to the needs of others helps create a sense of peace in their own desire for acquisition.  The more you give, the more you begin to see all of your resources as tools for showing genuine love—the very love that Christ gave us on calvary.

And for everyone here that finds himself or herself not liked, or with less friends that you wish you had, let me testify to this:  You will like yourself more, as you start to give, and you will find the others like you more!   When you’re a genuinely generous person, people find you trustworthy and kind. We need to become generous people because it’s the right thing to do, not because we’ll benefit,  but you can be sure that blessings will follow. You can’t out-give, out-bless, or out-love God. But what a blessing to others and yourself to try!

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