VanderZee_ Leonard-Hilarious Giving

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					                                         Hilarious Giving
                              II Corinthians 8 and 9 (selected verses)
                                         January 19, 1997
                             South Bend Christian Reformed Church
                                      Leonard J. Vander Zee


        One of the interesting, and potentially problematic things about the Bible's teaching about
giving, is that giving is almost always associated with a reward. In Malachi 3, God says through
the prophet, Test me...see if I do not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down an
overflowing blessing. Jesus says that anyone who gives a cup of cold water to one of his little
ones will not go unrewarded. And Paul is no exception, the one who sows sparingly will also
reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will reap bountifully.... And God is able to
provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that always having enough of everything, you
may work abundantly in every good work. (II Cor. 9: 8)

        What does this mean? Is giving an investment on which I can count on a return, If so, it's
better than the stock market. Some Christian ministries have built their empires on this sort of
biblical promise. Seed Faith. You believe God to meet some need, financial usually, and then
send in the seed money. Someone in our church regularly gets letters one from of these
ministries. One letter, computer generated on yellow legal pad with what seemed like honest to
goodness handwriting said that the evangelist had suddenly awakened in the middle of the night
and, as he wrote, "I thought of you and prayed for you". (I think I would have written back, "I'm
sorry to have wakened you.) It went on to say that the miracle she sought would certainly come
if she hadv the faith to plant the seed (meaning, of course, the ministry). The latest letter informs
her: "I prayed for you tonight. When I left the secret place, I felt impressed to write to you about
your adversity.... THE TIDE IS TURNING IN YOUR FAVOR TODAY" And, of course, in a
seemingly hand-written P.S., came the appeal for the seed faith gift of $20 or more.

        What do we make of this? In one sense, the cheerful generous giving to which Paul
invites us seems to be destroyed by this kind of hard-edged reward mentality. Give for what you
can get out of it for yourself. There's an almost lottery-like appeal to it. Such a blatant appeal to
self-interest in our giving rightly makes us nervous

        On the other hand, as I said, the whole Bible is full of talk of rewards, not only for godly
living but also for giving. Let's face it, there is an element of self-interest to our faith. It would
be a strange thing indeed to follow Christ and make sacrifices involved if it weren't in our own
interest to do so. Being a Christian has its benefits. It affords us an eminently plausible and
profoundly comforting explanation to our existence. It enables us to live a life of joy and love
and meaning. It places us in the midst of a community of faith and caring. And, most of all, it
gives us the promise of eternal life, no small reward in this world of sin and death. That's not a
bad bargain.

       So, we can talk of rewards, but God's rewards are always the gifts of grace, not payment
for services rendered. It's not some tit for tat arrangement, a quid pro quo of contributions. We
have no claim on God because we paid made our deposit in the Kingdom bank. God loves a
cheerful giver because God is a cheerful giver, the giver of every good and perfect gift. And
God, being who he is, loves to shower blessings on his people, and not just his people, but all
people, and animals, the whole creation teems with the extravagant and gracious gifts of God.

         But that's not strange to us. Our human love is like that too. It's natural to want to give
gifts to those we love. It's not a reward for services, that would cheapen the whole interaction.
Because Judy and I loved our children, we tried to give them a good education. We were willing
to sacrifice a lot to give them that opportunity, and it wasn't because we were looking for
personal payback. But they came anyway. Now it's a great delight for me to see what education
has enabled them to do with their lives and how it affects the lives of others and of the Kingdom
of God. Acts of love and commitment create their own reward. That, it seems to me is what the
rewards of the gospel are all about. God loves his people, and the more God sees their love and
courage, and faith, hope, and generosity the more he wants to give to them.

        The image Paul uses here and elsewhere is sowing and reaping. This image occurs so
often in the Bible it could be called a law of the Kingdom of God, in fact, it's a law of life. You
reap what you sow. You know how it works. If you hoard your love, your compliments, your
embraces, your feelings, your resources, the harvest will be proportionately small. Spend your
love, lavish your care on others, distribute your hugs generously, let genuine approval and
heartfelt compliments flow freely, and it will come back to you as well as enrich those around
you. You sow love you reap love. You sow compassion, you reap compassion. And you sow
your money in the Kingdom of God and you will reap.

       What exactly do we reap financially. Paul says God is able to provide you with every
blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share
abundantly in every good work.... You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity,
which will produce thanksgiving to God.... Jesus himself made the same point. When you give
alms do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing, and your father who sees in
secret will reward you. (Matt. 6:3,4) This is all quite purposely vague it seems to me. This is no
computer generated letter promising the miracle you desire. We do not place God under some
obligation by our giving. Nor does God promise wealth or a trouble-free existence. This is the
dance of grace. God sees our good works, our love, our giving, and God graciously and naturally
gives back, just like we do for each other. The only difference is that the God to whom we give
is the creator and provider of the universe, the Lord of sowing and reaping. As it says in the
Heidelberg Catechism about God's faithful care of us all, "He is able to do this because he is
almighty God. He desires to do it because he is a faithful Father."

        The clearest lesson we learn from all this is that giving is never a loss. It should not be
placed in the debit column. John Calvin put it this way. "Whenever fleshly reason calls us back
from doing good through fear of loss, we should immediately oppose it with this shield: But the
Lord declares that we are sowing."

       The money we give is not lost, it's sown. It brings glory and thanksgiving to God. And
God is a shrewd steward of his resources. He does not want his money wasted, but is looking for
a return. And when God has a cheerful giver who loves him and offers from his or her resources
with a glad and generous heart, God blesses that person. Now, again, this is no iron-clad
guarantee that we will grow wealthy through giving, or that we will never face hard times when
we give. It's a general description of the way the Kingdom works, but an important one, one we
can rely on.

       My parents were tithers as long as I lived in their home. I vividly remember how every
week Dad's pay envelope was brought home in cash, with lots of ones and fives, so that on the
dining room table Mom could put everything in the proper envelope. And the first one was the
tithe. I know that many times this was a sacrifice. They never got rich, not even close. But I can
tell you that they always had what they needed, sometimes provided in extraordinary ways, and
God blessed them in countless other ways as well. And I'll tell yo something else. There was
something special about that first envelope and what they could do with it. As people in what I
would call genteel poverty, they glowed with satisfaction at what they could give. There was a
certain wholesome pride and Christian dignity in that special first envelope. Their giving did not
make them poorer in any way, it made them richer of soul. And they believed on the basis if
God's promises that God would supply their needs. And he did. The point is this, don't be afraid
of losing when you give, rather be sure that in your giving, whatever it may be, you will reap
what you sow.

      Most important, says Paul. God loves a cheerful giver. In that, I suppose God is not
much different from us. Have you ever had something given to you grudgingly? I remember a
time I was in need and went to someone for help. I'll tell you, there was a lot of hemming and
hawing, and wondering about the payback schedule and whether he really had enough to spare. I
finally said, "Thanks, but I don't really think I need it any more", and walked out the door." I
knew two things immediately, he didn't really want to do it, and even if he ended up giving what
I needed I would end up being constantly reminded of the gift forever and ever, world without
end, Amen. It would be a form of control rather than an act of generosity..

        But a cheerful giver, someone who gives gladly, freely, happily. What a pleasure. What
a delight. What a contagious virtue that is. The Greek word here is the word from which we get
the word hilarious. Hilarious givers.

       Not long ago there was an offering in church to which I wanted to give, but I had not
remembered to plan for it. I reached for my wallet, and discovered, to my chagrin that there was
only one bill, a $50. Yhat was not exactly my plan. After a few seconds of exquisite indecision,
I just grabbed it and put it in. And to my amazement, I found I had a smile on my face. The
sheer spontaneity, the holy foolishness of it made me glad. Giving ought to be fun, and when it's
not, there's something wrong with our hearts. We sense the excitement of being meaningfully
involved in God's work.

       I hope we can sense the excitement of this two phase campaign for ministry expansion we
are embarking upon today: "Make way for the Kingdom" . It will lay out a vision for the future
ministry of this congregation. In giving to it we are sowing seeds for a harvest we can only
vaguely imagine. I also believe we'll see a growing sence of excitement in our congregation as
we give freely and cheerfully as the Lord has provided us. I expect to see the benefits flow way
beyond meeting the goals of our campaign, into love, and gratitude, hope, and commitment as
God rewards our generosity.

        When it comes to giving, you just can't lose. God loves it, you benefit, the receiver is
blessed, God is thanked, and the seed of an abundant future is planted. It's an offer you can't
refuse.

				
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