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Sermon for Sunday 17 April 2016

First Lesson: Acts 20:17-35

17Now from Miletus {Paul} sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”


Psalm 23

1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters. 3He revives my soul and guides me along right pathways for his name’s sake. 4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. 6Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Second Lesson: Revelation 7:9-17

9After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 12saying, “Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.” 13Then one of the elders addressed me, saying, “Who are these, clothed in white robes, and from where have they come?” 14I said to him, “Sir, you know.” And he said to me, “These are the ones coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15“Therefore they are before the throne of God, and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. 16They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. 17For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”


Gospel: John 10:22-30

22At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” 25Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, 26but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.”


I came across a story the other day about a particular Christmas that a certain young man would never forget. It was the first time that he had been given money by his parents so he could go and buy them a Christmas gift. For several years he was always getting something from his parents, but never giving anything to his parents. He finally realized one day, “Something’s wrong with this picture.”
Being too young to work a job and not being smart enough to ask for an allowance, he went to his mom and dad and offered to do some extra work around the house in exchange for money so he could buy them some Christmas gifts. In essence, he didn’t wind up doing anything more than he was normally asked to do and he got the money
anyway. His motives started out right, but then his own desires got in the way.
After receiving the money from his parents, he went to the store to buy them something, but once he got there he couldn’t figure out what to get them. Standing there in the store he realized, he didn’t have enough money to buy them anything big like clothes or other things they might be able to use. So he looked at the few dollars he had
in his hand and he asked himself this question, “What would I want?” With that, he bought each of his parents a long string of individually wrapped balls of bubble-gum and a candy bar. Getting home, he carefully wrapped each gift and excitedly put them under the tree.
On Christmas morning when his parents opened up their gifts their faces said it all. It was the look that simply said, “We think we just got the short end of the stick.” His mother, being the tender-hearted person that she was, smiled and simply said, “Thank you so much for the gift son, but you can have it.” This, of course, naturally made him very happy. His dad reaction, however, was something else. He tossed the gum over to his son, mumbled something and put the candy bar in his shirt pocket. Not being satisfied with his dad’s reaction and mustering up all the courage that he could, he looked at his dad in the spirit of Christmas and said, “Dad, can I have your candy bar?”
With fire flashing from his eyes, the father indignantly looked at his son and said, “No!” The dad then proceeded to peel that wrapper off the candy bar like the peel from a banana and tried to put the whole thing in his mouth. Then, like a giant washing machine, his dad stood there trying to get his mouth around that candy bar as it rolled over and over between his teeth. His dad didn’t say another word to his son that Christmas Day.
The son’s problem in this story was the same problem many people have; the desire to get, the desire to receive, the desire to get the long end of the stick, the desire to get what we want, even if it means taking it from someone else. In short, the son wasn’t giving to give; he was giving to get. That young man was convinced that it’s far better to get than it is to give. I wish he had known and learned the truth of something that Jesus said.
It’s a direct quote and it’s the only direct quote of something Jesus said not found in the four gospels. The quote I’m referring to is found in our first reading for today, Acts 20:35. It was quoted by the Apostle Paul, and it was obviously something that Jesus had said so many times, that the early Christian community had memorized it and remembered it. Paul quotes Jesus as saying, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Now to our modern way of thinking, this doesn’t sound logical.
Rational thought tells us that if I give you something that you don’t have, then you’ll have more and I’ll have less. If that’s true, then there’s no way you can be more blessed by giving than you can by receiving. If what Jesus said is true, if between the
blessing of giving and the blessing of receiving, the blessing of giving is the greater blessing, then therein lies a principle we need to learn today that will change our whole perspective on giving versus getting. The key is, giving doesn’t take from you what you shouldn’t have. It gives to you what you would never have if you didn’t give.
I thought through what Jesus said and I asked myself this question, “How is it more blessed to give than it is to receive? How does giving leave you better off than getting? What does giving give you, that getting never does?” And as I began to study
the scripture and listen to the words of Jesus, I discovered three things that giving does for us that getting doesn’t and three reasons why it’s more blessed to give than it is to receive. First, giving gives us the opportunity to accept the greatest invitation.
Most of us in this room have prayed on many occasions and I guarantee that there’s something we have in common about those prayers. There’s one prayer that we’ve all prayed in our lifetime more than any other prayer and that prayer always begins with two words, “Lord bless.” We can’t hardly go a day that either we don’t say those words or we don’t hear someone else say it – “Lord, bless this food”, “Lord, bless my family,” “Lord, bless my church,” “Lord, bless my finances,” or “Lord, bless my business.” Lord, bless this or that… And, of course, we can’t forget the Southern favorite, “Lord bless their heart!”
There is, of course, a reason we so easily pray that prayer. Instinctively, we just know there’s nothing greater in life than to have the blessing of God. If God is greater than any other force in the world, then the blessing of God has to be greater than any other blessing. In light of that, listen to these words again, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Think about it logically.
If you knew that you could be blessed by God and God offers you two blessings – one is a lesser blessing and one is a greater blessing. Which blessing would you want to choose? Of course, you’d say, “I’ll take the greater blessing for $200!” We instinctively understand that there’s a blessing in receiving. Receiving an unanticipated inheritance or a gift out of the blue, can really help us when we have bills to pay. To receive a scholarship to college, to receive a tax refund, to have someone else pick up the check are all blessings we enjoy receiving. Yet, Jesus said, there’s an even greater blessing then that and that’s the blessing of giving. Giving is the invitation that God gives us to get in on His greatest blessings.
When God invites us into the land of giving, it’s not to take something from us. God invites us into the land of giving so He can give something to us that we would never have any other way. Giving is the antidote to some of the most serious psychological and spiritual diseases that people have for which there is no other cure. For example: Many people have a problem with greed. Or they may have a problem with wanting more. There are many who are addicted to shopping and buying and
continually accumulating things even though they don’t need them. The question is, do we know how to be freed from greed? It’s simple, give.
Some have a problem with selfishness. For many, it’s difficult to share with others. I know some people who have a problem with eating off of other people’s plates. The answer of how to be free from selfishness is to give. God is a giver. Giving is simply God’s invitation to be like Him and behave like Him. All of us are here today because God chose to give us life. This world is here today, because God chose to give it
existence. We have an opportunity to go to heaven, because God chose to give His Son for our sins and through His Son eternal life.
If you’re like me, you’re a bottom line thinker. As such, you could very well be saying to yourself, I’m not buying what he’s selling. You still think that giving takes away from what you have and getting is the only way to go, if so, listen to this second statement. Giving gives you the opportunity to make the greatest investment. These are words you’ll never hear from your typical financial advisor, but Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21, NIV)
Listen carefully to what Jesus is telling us about all the stuff we accumulate, all the stuff that we buy, about all the stuff that we store, all the stuff that we shelve, about all the stuff that we have and all the stuff that we keep. Jesus says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth.” (Matthew 6:19, NIV) Why shouldn’t we?
It’s certainly not because earthly treasures are bad. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with having stuff. The problem is that our stuff can easily become our idols. Our possessions can quickly take the place of the One who gave them to us in the first place. Take everything that you own right now – that is everything you think you own. Take everything that you’ve worked for or are currently working for – well guess what? One of two things will happen to everything you think you have – 1) You’re going to lose it; or 2) You’re going to leave it. You’re either going to lose it, because it’s going to rot, depreciate, fall apart, become obsolete, get stolen, get broken or destroyed or you’re going to leave it. The reality is, that at some point we’re all are going to die and we can’t take it with us. That’s why Jesus gives us this alternative.
“But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:20, NIV) You don’t store up treasures in heaven by getting; you only store up treasures in heaven by giving. Maybe an illustration would be helpful. Imagine if you will, living in a country going
through a civil war. Syria for example. Living in Syria, you naturally accumulate Syrian Pounds. Now imagine watching as a foreign army comes in and by your estimation, it’s only a matter of days or weeks at best, before the government is over thrown. You know the end is going to be very soon. Here’s the question, “What would you do with all of that Syrian money?”
In a matter of days, maybe a week or two, it could very well be worthless. If you’re smart, there’s only one answer. You would cash in all your Syrian pounds for
other money or currency of value like gold or other metals or possessions. And the reason is simple; that’s the only currency that’s going to have any value when the war is
over. You would keep just enough Syrian Pounds to keep yourself alive until after the war ended.
With that in mind consider this; the Bible is clear, we don’t know the day nor hour of Jesus’ return. (Mark 13:32) But the Bible is clear that He will. This world isn’t going to last forever and neither are we and neither is all the stuff that we have. What we have on this earth we’re either going to lose or we’re going to leave it. However, what we give to Christ and His kingdom and His work is going to last forever.
The famous missionary, Jim Elliott, who was killed by the Auca Indians down in South America, giving his life to preach the Gospel, made one of the greatest statements I’ve ever heard outside the Bible. He said, “He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” So there’s good news for all us bottom line thinkers. Jesus is a bottom line thinker too. He’s arguing from the bottom line, that it’s better to give than to receive, not just because it’s the right thing to do, but because it’s the smart thing to do. We can’t take it with us, but we can send it on ahead and the way we do that, is by giving and investing in God’s work and kingdom.
In 1 Timothy 6:18-19 we read, “Give happily to those in need, always being ready to share whatever God has given you. By doing this you will be storing up real treasures for yourself in heaven. It is the only safe investment for eternity.” That’s what giving does. Giving gives us the opportunity to make the greatest investment. And finally, giving gives us the opportunity to have the greatest influence.
Jesus, in Luke 6:38 said, “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.” Interesting verse isn’t it? Jesus said giving doesn’t prevent us from getting. Giving is the way to getting. Remember what was said earlier? Giving doesn’t take from you what you shouldn’t have. It gives you what you would never have, if you didn’t give.
According to our Lord, “The more you give the more you get back. The more you give out the more that comes back to you.” Now I don’t want what I’m saying to sound like some TV preacher ding donging for money, because there’s way more to consider here than just give and get. God looks at our attitude, our motivations and our ability to handle the blessing. Furthermore, we can’t simply think of receiving from God in a dollars and cents way.
For example, what is the value of our health? Or the value of a healthy family? What about a good job or a secure retirement? What about access to top quality dental and health care? Good insurance, adequate food, shelter, clothing, clean water. What about the value of a loving, supportive family and friends? You see, too often we forget about all the blessings God gives that may not have a direct monetary value but are indeed extremely valuable. We are blessed with living in one of the greatest, most prosperous countries in the world and that, in and of itself, is a tremendous blessing.
But with that said, what’s also true is that God is the greatest giver in the universe and He loves to shower gifts on His children. Proverbs 11:25 says, “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.” If we give encouragement, we’ll be more encouraged. If you give a blessing, you’ll be blessed in return. If you give friendship, you’ll have more friends.
Anyone who has done any investing knows the term “ROI.” ROI means “Return On Investment.” Suppose you decide you’re going to accept Jesus’ offer and become a giver. You’re going to believe what He says and you’re going to change your whole attitude toward giving and getting. You’re going to reverse what you’ve always thought. Instead of trying to become a getter which causes credit card debt, unnecessary consumer spending, selfishness and greed off the chart, you decide to major on giving. You have a right to ask “What would be my ROI? What’s the bottom line?”
Jesus tells us that “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or
father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.” (Matthew 19:29, NIV) It’s hard to imagine a return on 100 times and eternal life. It’s a pretty good investment. There isn’t a mutual fund, a hedge fund or any kind of fund that would give you that kind of return. However, we can get that kind of a return by investing in God’s kingdom. With that in mind, I have a challenge for you. Summer is coming: between now and mid-summer, I want to challenge you to be a blessing to others by giving your time, talents and your resources to God.
How do you think our families, our community, our church would be impacted if each of us took up this simple challenge for the next 90 or so days? Give in your relationships by sharing Christ with a friend or family member. Give of your talents and time in a ministry or mission this summer. And give of your resources in your faithful tithes and generous offerings. I can’t promise you you’ll get $100 for every dollar you give to church and charity. However, I can promise that the ROI on your investment in God’s kingdom will be amazing. God will use your giving to accomplish great things.
I read about a monk who was traveling down the road one day and he found a precious stone. It was a jewel that was worth a tremendous amount of money and he kept it. One day a traveler came by who was very hungry and the monk opened up his bag to share some food with him and the traveler saw that jewel. He asked the monk if he knew
what it was and how valuable it was and the monk said he did. Then on a whim he asked the monk to give it to him. The monk did so without any hesitation. The traveler departed overjoyed with his unexpected gift of a jewel that was valuable enough to give him wealth and security for the rest of his life.
A few days later, however, he came back looking for that monk. When he found him, he gave the jewel back to him and said, “I’ve got you figured out you rascal! I want you to give me something far more precious than that stone.” The monk with a quizzical look on his face asked, “What could that be?” He said, “Give me whatever it was that enabled you to give the jewel to me in the first place.” I pray that we’ll all discover whatever it is, that caused God to love us so much that He gave His only begotten Son that we might have forgiveness of our sins and eternal life, that we might have a relationship with Him, and that we might be just like Him and behave like Him in showing others it’s more blessed to give than it is to receive.

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