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Grateful Giving
September 25, 1988


On the north side of Chicago is Evanston, Northwestern University and Garrett Theological Seminary from which I graduated, all of which are situated on the western shore of beautiful Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is usually a blue, calm, restful lake, except when storms strike; then it can become fierce and destructive. Many years ago during a violent storm, a student at Northwestern University named Edward Spencer personally rescued 17 persons from a shipwreck. He was carried to his room exhausted, and this young man, as they laid him in his bed, asked over and over, “Did I do my best? Do you think I did my best?” Years later at a convocation in Los Angeles, a speaker was describing the heroic life saving efforts of Edward Spencer when someone called out and said, “Spencer is here, right here in the audience.” Now he was white haired and elderly. They invited him to the platform and asked him what he remembered, what he could share about that incident. He said, “What I remember about the incident is that not one of the 17 persons I saved ever said thank you.” Not one! Someone has said ingratitude is the halitosis of the soul. An ungrateful soul has a foul breath and burps negative comments, demeaning criticism and unpleasant garbage. Such persons are destructive influences on their family, on the community, on the church. Ingratitude.

On the other hand, a soul filled with gratitude exudes warm, loving acceptance, and exerts a positive, upbuilding, constructive influence on those around. Well, certainly a Christian wants to be a person who feels grateful and thankful. Thanksgiving, the giving of things, is the culminating expression of a Christian's whole life before God. For what are you grateful this morning? In fact, can you name anything you have which is not a gift from God, anything that is not deserving of your heartfelt thanks? Can you think of a thing? Everything you have is a gift from God. Begin with your salvation; with heart-felt thanks receive your salvation. Salvation is a gift from God. Salvation, redemption, justification, reconciliation are all wonderful Bible words which mean a healthy, growing relationship with God, with oneself and with others. When we have a dynamic, living, personal relationship with Jesus Christ, we have a high self-esteem. We feel good about ourselves and about our lives, and we're able to enter into relationship with other people. And that's a gift from God— feeling good about life where setbacks, problems, shortcoming, and even grief are swallowed up in gratitude. Feeling good about life is dependent upon a relationship with God. A living, loving relationship with God is a gift from God.

The biblical model for our relationship with God is upside down to the way our culture thinks. Many church people feel a relationship with God is not a gift from God, but it's something they earn. They spend their lives piling up evidence of how good they are. They construct piles of their achievements, climb to the top and wait for their reward. Their lives are spent anxiously hoping that they're good enough to get into heaven, that they're good enough to be rewarded, that they're good enough to enter into relationship with God. And some of these people along the way get so convinced of their goodness, of their self righteousness, they're very difficult to live with. They strive to be so good they can’t enjoy life; they can’t enjoy others or be enjoyed by others. The Christian model, the Christian life is upside down from them. The Christian life begins with the reward. The salvation for which we all seek is a gift from God. Your salvation, your goodness before God, your self-esteem, your worthwhileness is not dependent on how good you are, not dependent on how well you succeed, not dependent on how much you accumulate, not dependent on how many A's you get, not dependent on how rich you get. Your worthwhileness, your goodness is a gift from God. Your salvation is a gift from God. God loves you and accepts you. God saves you and makes you one of his family because he loves you. That's great news! Therefore, don't pile up success, accomplishments, achievements and records of good work in order to be approved, in order to be saved. Therefore, don't live anxiously waiting for approval. Relax. Relax, let go and trust. Trust in the  grace of God. Trust in Christ and receive God's love. Receive God's approval, receive God's affirmation of you. And then be grateful. Thanksgiving is your primary response to God. Be grateful. Thanksgiving is the culminating expression of your whole life before God.

How do you show gratitude to God? How do we give thanks? By gratefully and generously serving God. That's how we express our gratitude. With heartfelt thanks become a steward, a manager of all God has given you. Wisely use and share the wealth, the time, the health, the talents God has entrusted to you. That's God's plan. Why did God save you? Why does God call you? Why does God give you the resources to live comfortably and relatively healthy? Why? So you can become his workers, the body of Christ on this earth. God is spirit and you and I are his body to do the work.

The text for today's sermon spells out God's plan. In 2 Corinthians 9:8, Paul wrote, “God is able to provide you with every blessing and abundance so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide an abundance for every good work.” God's plan is to provide you with enough food, enough clothing, enough housing, shelter and enough security so that you will have the resources left over to support God's good work. In verses 10 and 11, Paul writes, “God who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, will supply and multiply your resources and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way.” You will be enriched in every way for great generosity which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. Isn't that a wonderful plan? And so simple and so workable, why do we make it so difficult? God blesses you so that you may generously do his work. That's why you are here. That's why you were born. Just a simple plan: God gives you 24 hours everyday. Are you happy with the way you spend those 24 hours a day? Now, we're all very busy. And the pace in Silicon Valley, unlike Texas, is very hectic. We live at a hectic pace. But 24 hours is still 24 hours. And when the pace is hectic, that just requires more effort to make our priorities. So when you reach the end of the day, when you reach the end of a week, do you feel good about the way you have spent your time? Are you a wise manager, a faithful steward of your time? Are you spending your time to further God's work?

How do you feel about the way in which you spend your money? How do you feel about that? God blesses you so you may provide in abundance for God's good work. Does your checkbook show you are handling God's investment in you wisely, prudently, and generously? How do you feel about it?There once was a man who had nothing. God gave him 10 apples. God gave him three apples for food so the man ate the first three apples. God gave him another three apples to trade for shelter from the sun and rain so he traded the second three apples for shelter from the sun and the rain. God gave him three apples to trade for clothing to cover his body so he traded the third three apples for clothing to cover his body. God gave him the tenth apple so he could have something to give back to God in gratitude for the other nine. The man held up the tenth apple to examine it in admiration. It seemed larger and juicier than all the rest. He knew in his heart that this was the apple God expected him to use as a gift and gratitude for the other nine. But the tenth apple seemed better than the others. He reasoned that God had all the other apples in the world so the man ate the tenth apple and gave back to God the core!

Do you feel good about the use, the stewardship of your money? Rather I should say, the money God has entrusted to you for your needs and for the doing of God's work. God's plan to save this world is so simple. God saves us, empowers us, blesses us with so many good things, making sure we have enough and then asks us to do his work. And not with all of it either. God expects us to use 90%, nine tenths, for our own needs.

There's a world out there in desperate need of saving, a world of hunger, injustice, poverty, mental illness, a world that lacks direction and purpose. There's a world out there out there, out  there in your family, out there in your neighborhood, out there in our cities. To the extent of the globe, to the far reaches of the globe, there’s a world out there that is hurting, that needs you and me to preach the message and to rescue those who are shipwrecked. Remember, the motivation, the reason to serve, and the reason to give generously is gratitude. God saves you and gives you the resources so you can do his work, not out of guilt, not out of a sense of duty and responsibility; but out of joy and gratitude with heartfelt thanks for your salvation, for your rescue from the shipwreck. With heartfelt thanks, will you express gratitude by joyfully, gratefully and generously doing God's work with your time and your money?

God's plan is summarized in a poem by Grace Noel Crowell, A Trust of Love.

God loaned me a life, loaned me a life because he takes it back someday.

He takes it back to heaven. Life on this earth is a loan.

God loaned me a life and I must pay God back a portion of each day in loving service.

I must give a part of  every hour I live in thoughtful, kindly deeds to others who are my sisters and brothers.

God loaned me coins I may not spend for any wasteful, selfish end; they are a trust that I must hold as sacred.

All the world's bright gold belongs to God.

And in my spending, I must repay his gracious lending.

God put his love within my heart.

A love I ever must impart to a world in desperate need of care.

All things God gave me I must share.

This is the stewardship of living; a spontaneous and joyous giving.

© 1988 Douglas I. Norris