All month we have been talking about those things that help us GIVE. Knowing that when we are generous we will be healthier and happier can move us to give. We are often inspired to give by those we have seen live generous lives and when we have a vision of how our giving can change us and others and actually work to bring about God’s kingdom, it motivates to give and at times give sacrificially. Jesus had this amazing ability to do all of this in people’s lives. Last week we heard about how Zacchaeus was willing to give away half his possessions and pay back anyone whom he cheated 4 times the amount because Jesus helped him see a vision of who he could be and how God wanted him to live his life. Jesus inspired people and helped them see a vision of God’s kingdom and the potential for their lives which moved them to give generously. But there is one more thing Jesus was able to do which motivated people to give – he showed them that their giving was effective. When people gave, it made a difference in their lives, the lives of others and even the larger community in which they lived. When we know that our gifts will be effective, we will feel better about giving and in turn be more willing to give.
Today we have blessed and will send hundreds of shoeboxes to children around the world and one of the reasons we can so easily collect all these is because we know that each box will make a difference in the life of a child. Each and every box will be opened by child who will be filled with joy and gratitude and appreciation. Each box will be effective in changing the heart and life of a child and because it is given in Jesus’ name and contains information about the love of God and the gift of Jesus, the box can be effective in changing a child’s entire life and outlook and future. The reason we don’t have to push Operation Christmas Child and work hard to encourage people to give to this is because we know our giving here will be effective. We give when we know our giving will be effective and make a difference.
We are able to collect 500 cans of sweet potatoes because we know that the food boxes will make a difference in the life of a family this Christmas. We know the food bank does a great job in screening families to make sure those in need get food and we know that most of the food is donated so it is an effective way for us to help feed those who are hungry
We will work hard to serve hundreds of meals on Christmas Day and we will do it with joy and enthusiasm because we know our giving to the Christmas Day dinner makes a difference in the lives of people who have nowhere else to go. We have heard the stories of people who have said if it wasn’t for the church, they would have no one to talk to, no one to eat with, no one to be with on Christmas Day; so we know our giving there makes a difference. It also makes a difference in the lives of the people who come here to help. Remember giving generously brings health and happiness which means giving makes an effective difference in our lives. Last year a family volunteered to help at the dinner just a few weeks after the sudden death of a family member. They needed to not only be with other people they wanted and needed to help other people on Christmas Day so they came to serve in the dining room and just being here to help others made a real difference in their lives.
This church gave a lot to establish the Faith Centre and continues to give a lot to keep it going and we do this because we know that our giving makes a real difference in this community. The Faith Centre is THE place where anyone and everyone who has a need goes to get help. There have been people who have showed up at the Faith Centre when their water broke and they started to go into labor and the reason they went there is that they knew someone would help them. That ministry makes a difference in our community and so we continue to support them and many of you support them with your time, energy, gifts and donations.
People want to give and are willing to be generous if we know that our giving is making a difference and the reason Jesus was able to call people to give so much of their lives to God and to his mission to bring forth the kingdom of God was because they could see that giving to Jesus was effective. Giving to Jesus made a difference. Look at John 6:5-14.
The last line there says that the people saw this as a miracle; they saw that Jesus was able to take this small gift of 5 loaves and 2 fish and feed thousands of people. When we give to Jesus it makes a difference. It also makes a difference in our lives – think about that little boy watching his gift feed so many people. You have to believe it motivated him to give at other points in time in his life. When we see our gifts change people’s lives it moves us to give joyfully and generously.
Jesus also shows us that our gifts to others can make a difference. One day some men came together to give their paralyzed friend some help and so they picked the man up and carried him to Jesus. When they couldn’t get through the crowd they carried the man to the roof and dug their way through and lowered him in front of Jesus and the Bible says that when Jesus saw their faith, he healed the man. It was when Jesus saw the faith and the hard work and determination of the friends that he healed the man. In that moment those men knew that their giving was effective – it made a real and lasting difference in the life of their friend.
So when people gave money or possessions to Jesus, he used those gifts effectively and changed situations and lives and when people gave their time to Jesus or to people in need, those gifts also made a difference. People also gave their lives to Jesus because they knew that following Jesus and living for him would be more effective than living without Jesus and following their own way. The disciples followed Jesus and gave him all they had because Jesus was making a difference in their lives. They found more purpose and satisfaction in following Jesus than in fishing or tax collecting or any other job they had. Giving to Jesus made a difference in their lives and so they kept on giving.
But it’s not just giving to the person of Jesus that is effective, so is giving to God through the church and from the very beginning of the church there has been a call to support it with our gifts. In Acts 2 we find the church has just been formed and the people started to pool their resources for the work of the church – Acts 2:42-47.
So worship, mission, outreach and fellowship were all supported by the gifts of the people and people gave to the church because they knew that what they were doing was making a difference in their lives, the lives of those around them. They knew that giving to the church was changing people’s lives, look at verse 47(b) – the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. People continued to give not because they were ordered to or because it was the new law of the church, they gave because God was calling them to give and because they knew their gifts to the church were effective in all kinds of ways.
My hope and prayer is that people still see giving to the church as an effective way to change people’s lives, change communities and change the world. Beyond shoeboxes, sweet potatoes and the Christmas Dinner, giving to the church is effective because like Jesus, what we seek to do in the church is to change people’s hearts and lives. Think about it, Jesus did provide food for the crowds, but he also taught people that it is important to trust God for what we need. And while Jesus did heal people physically, he also taught people the importance of living in ways that bring healing and hope into our lives and the lives of others. Jesus taught us to forgive and to seek forgiveness which can heal us in ways doctors and medicine and surgery can’t.
While Jesus often called us to change our actions what he really wanted was a change of heart and that is something we can do which few other organizations and institutions can. While the government can feed people – they can’t tell people about the God who provides us with all the food and who will always care for us if we will trust in Him. Schools can educate but they can’t tell children about the God who loves them so much that he has a purpose for them and a plan to prosper them if they will trust Him. And health care might get us to doctors and hospitals but the affordable care act does not bring hope and healing like Jesus can. What the church has to offer is a relationship with God that can make a real and lasting and eternal difference in people’s lives and that is what Jesus offered and that is what we as the body of Christ today can still offer.
So it’s important for us to give to the church because what we do is helping shape people’s hearts and lives and teach the next generation that living the way Jesus shows us and teaches us makes a real difference. This week I heard from a couple who said “having Mark come up and share helped us to start thinking about ways to encourage our child to begin developing a lifestyle of generosity.” That’s the power and importance of the church. We can model for one another what living for God looks like with the hope that our lives will inspire, encourage and cast a vision of how others can follow Jesus. We are seeking to do what government and social agencies can’t do and that is establish a faith and trust in God that shapes values and morals that can improve people’s lives and the world in which we live.
A few years ago we were offered a chance to partner with head start in our daycare, but if we did there were going to be certain times when we weren’t going to be able to talk about God. We said, thanks, but no thanks. Talking about God whenever and however we wanted to and needed to is important to who we are. It is what sets us apart from other organizations and we aren’t going to compromise on that. Talking about God can bring more lasting and eternal changes to the hearts and lives of children and families and that is more effective than anything else we do. Families from our daycare and playschool say that their children are coming home and saying grace before a meal and they say the ones they have learned here. Teaching children about Jesus in VBS, Sunday School and Children’s Church makes a difference in the lives of our children and their families and it is make a real difference in our life as a church and in the community in which we live.
I can tell you that giving to the church so that we can come together to show the community the love of Jesus is making a difference in this community. I hear about it all the time. Many leaders in the community say to me that this church is making a difference. Parents tell me that this church is making a difference in the lives of children, youth and families. What we are seeking to do in Sierra Leone is making a difference in a nation that is being torn apart again and is going to struggle once Ebola is contained to rebuild. Giving to the church is effective. Yes, sometimes our giving to the church is to keep the lights on and the carpets cleaned and the ministry going, but the life of Faith Church is making a difference in this community. We are being effective both here and around the world and so we can give with confidence that our gifts of time, energy, prayers and money are all worthwhile.
While this is not a specific call for us to all give more to the church, it is a reminder that God has shown us that generous giving to God through the church is the way God wants to work in the world. Giving to the church is one of the most effective ways we can give because what we do here makes a difference in people’s lives and it makes a real difference in families and our community and communities around the world and it makes an eternal difference in all of our souls. We are created in the image of God and the very first thing God did was to give – to give light and life to the this world. So it is in our spiritual DNA to give. We were created to give and wired to give and Jesus knew this which is why he called people to give.
God’s giving made a difference and so Jesus knew that people wanted to give in ways that would also make a difference so he showed us how our gifts of food, money, time and faith are effective and the more we give the more we will receive. The more we give the more of an inspiration we will be and the more we give the more of a vision of God’s kingdom we lift up for others to see. So the more we GIVE the more our lives become an invitation and inspiration for others to GIVE.
G.I.V.E ~ Effective
1. Read and reflect on how Jesus shows us that giving to God and others is an effective use of time, faith, money, possessions and lives:
• Matthew 4:18-22 – The calling of the fishermen
• Luke 17-26 – Jesus heals the paralytic
• John 6:5-14 – A boy gives his lunch
• Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-35 – The church gives to others
2. Identify ways in which giving to the church is effective. How does the church help change lives? Families? Our Community? World?
3. During the following weeks, here are some ways to give to God and others that can make a difference:
• Attend next Sunday’s Essence of Joy concert
• Donate food, money or pies to the Christmas Dinner
• Volunteer to help with the Christmas Dinner
• Support the Faith Centre (Food Bank, toys for tots)
• Consider alternative gift giving and donate money to the church or charities instead of giving gifts
• Set aside money for the Christmas Eve Offering which will go to Sierra Leone
• Support a needy family through the holidays
• Commit to being in worship through Advent as a gift of time and worship to God
4. Giving Thanks is always an effective use of our time in prayer. Set aside time this week to say thank you to God.
Give thanks unto the LORD, call upon His name; make known His deed among the people.
1 Chronicles 16:8
In everything, give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus.
1 Thessalonians 5:18