Thursday, August 16, 2012

Accessing Infinite Supply

 I rarely try to turn sermons into blogs. For one reason, I want the freedom to express private opinions and a blog is a better place to do that than a sermon. For another thing, sermons are too long, and that includes this one. 
Nonetheless, I decided to post a sermon  because I thought it might encourage someone who is struggling with a financial need. 
The sermon comes from a story from the life of Elisha and begins when a widow asks for his help.
 In a world without social security or the other kinds of care that a healthy community offers to the socially vulnerable, Widows were particularly defenseless.  This was especially true in the ancient world. Widows had few resources to provide for themselves. It was, therefore, the responsibility of God’s people to provide for them.

In this case, the widow had inherited her husband’s debt but did not have assets to pay the debt.

The creditors were even planning to sell her children into slavery. She was distraught because she was facing utter loss and ruin. That’s why she went running to the prophet: to see what, if anything, could be done.

Elisha listened to her story. He didn’t say, “I’m sorry; the people have not been giving and so our budget is shot.” He didn’t say, “I am a poor man too; I simply don’t have any way to help you.” He certainly didn’t say, “your late husband got you into this mess. I am not obligated to bail you out for his mistakes.” He was not a modern preacher, thankfully.

What he said was similar to what the apostles told the lame man sitting at the temple gate; “we have no silver and gold. But we have something far better. In the name of Jesus, rise up and walk.

The prophet told the widow to borrow as many pots and pans from her neighbors as she could find.  He didn’t tell her mooch off her neighbors, mind you. He just told her to tap into the capacity of her community. “Go tell your friends and neighbors to help you prepare for a miracle,” he said in effect.

So she did. She a lot of borrowed pots, pans, and bottles. She turned away from her despair and depression. She began preparing to receive God’s provision.

Now here is a question for you: are you preparing yourself for provision or for loss? Are you asking your neighbors to help you prepare for a miracle or are you asking them to share in your misery and despair?

This woman was terrified. Her future looked bleak. Nonetheless, after hearing the prophet’s words, she turned away from her dark mood, and got to work preparing for what God was getting ready to do.

This was the attitude the mother of the Lord expressed to the angel, “let it be done unto me according to your word. “ It was Abraham’s attitude who “staggered not at the promises of God.” It is the attitude God wants all of his children to cultivate. It’s not always easy but it is important to work on it.

Lately, I have been reading through St. Luke’s Gospel. I have noticed that in all the early chapters, Jesus keeps meeting people who are in real trouble. They are going through are storms, dealing with demon possessed people, and morning the loss of family members to death. When he meets these people, they are acting out of fear. That is the natural response to disaster, or even to the potential of disaster. But in every case, the Lord first shifts their mood by proclaiming to them a different future than the one they are envisioning. When their attitudes shift, he does miracles for them.

That is what the widow in this story experienced. She had a mood change. After meeting with the prophet, she went home and filled her house with expectancy instead of with weeping and wailing. In obedience to God, she took her meager supply of oil and began pouring it into all the containers she had borrowed from her community.  She stopped gripping her resources. She released those resources into the containers. And when she did, to her great delight, the oil just kept running and running until it had filled every container she had available.

That’s how she paid off her debts and got back to raising her boys.
Now you need to ask yourself a couple of questions right now: what is my oil? What limited resources am I gripping tightly because I don’t believe there is any more where they came from? And, is it possible that God is asking me to pour out that resource into the containers around me?

As you think about how to answer those questions, think with me about another story.

This story comes from one of the Lord’s sermons. He said that a rich man going on a journey asked three servants to manage his goods while he was away.

The first one faithfully read the Wall Street Journal. He invested the boss’s funds in a moderately risky stock portfolio but which his research indicated would probably bring a healthy return. 

The second man was not as knowledgeable as the first. He invested the boss’s money in a mutual fund that had been doing business for sixty years and which had a reputation for integrity and stability. The servant thought this fund would be safe enough but would also bring a modest return.

The third man was troubled that his boss would load him down so unfairly with this responsibility. He even began to think that it was some sort of a trap to get him into trouble. After thinking about it a bit, he took the boss’s money and put it in a safe deposit box at his bank.

When the boss came home from the long trip, the first man reported that the Japanese had bought out a little computer company that was a part of his stock portfolio.  This had resulted in huge profits. The boss’s investment had doubled.

The second man reported that to his relief, A.B. F.& G Mutual Funds had proven to be reliable. The boss’s investment had experienced a healthy increase.

When the third man came in, he explained that when he had realized what a shrewd boss he was serving, he had determined to do nothing that would get him fired. So he had kept the boss’s investment in the safe. Here was the original investment, safe and sound, down to the last penny.

Surprising perhaps, Jesus said that the boss was furious at this servant’s attitude. He took the money and gave it to the other two in gratitude for their services.
Thinking about these two stories this week led me to ask four questions this morning. If you answer them honestly, you will experience a shift of attitude, in this very service, that will prepare you to access God’s infinite supply.

The First Question: Do I live in a world of scarcity or in a world of abundance?
            When the widow went to the prophet, she went assuming that she lived in a world of scarcity. She had done her best. She had worked hard. She was not responsible for the mess she was in. Nonetheless, she had no other resources that what she could see.

The prophet didn’t rebuke her. After all, her response to the situation was normal. Anyone with a heart could see that. But her obsession with scarcity was keeping her from accessing provision from the invisible world, from that place where there is infinite supply.
The man who hid the money in the safe had that same mentality of scarcity. He believed the world contained finite resources.
This is the attitude our Lord tells us to discard.  If we believe we live in a world of scarcity, in a world of finite resources; then only some people, those are powerful, intelligent or well connected, can get what they need. The rest of us must live under their dominion and in their shadow. We can only get things if those powerful people help us. The rest of us may not deserve, or at least cannot obtain the things we need.

“NO!” God shouts.

“Look at me! Stop looking at the nation, the bankers, or the advertisers. Look at me! Ask me for what you need. I will give you your daily bread. I will provide and guide. But look to me. If you look at other places, even at the church, their resources are indeed finite. But mine are infinite.

I created the entire universe out of nothing. I can provide everything you need out of nothing. I am not limited by your resources.”

I have had a good reason to think about these things this week.

Most of you know that two weeks ago, Trish and I put our children and grandchildren on a plane for Ireland. It was a very difficult day for us. Three of our four grandchildren have lived with us since they were born. We have seen them nearly everyday. We see our granddaughter who lives in Phoenix three or four times a year and that has been rough. Now we have no grandchildren living near us. I have found that tough to accept.

I hope it is not melodramatic to say I have grieved this change in our lives.

Austin is getting his masters degree this year in classical languages and is working with Discovery Church in Galway. That’s good. Tiffany is parenting three children while trying to have some sort of personal life.  Together they are all having an adventure in Ireland and I’m glad for them.
            (You can read about my children’s Irish adventure at: )
            I saw all of this coming a few months ago and dreaded it.
One of the things that worried me the most was them living in another country without enough means to support themselves. So I started trying to structure my budget to serve as a safely net for them. I figured if there was an emergency of some sort, or if money didn’t come through for them, I would be responsible.
            Then the day came to take them to the airport. They finally went through security and turned once more to wave.  The last thing we saw was our youngest granddaughter, waving goodbye to us from the other side. When she did that, Trish and I held on to one another while Sherri Banks prayed over us. Then we went home to an empty house and started cleaning up several years’ worth of toys.
            The night before, Joshua McLeod had written me an email to remind me that I had agreed to give a sum of money toward buying a camera for Shawn Brown. Shawn is a professional, award-wining photographer who takes stunning photographs of our church people as they work, pray and play. We use those photographs a lot. Much of the ones you see hanging on the walls around here are his work. He has been doing all of this without good equipment of his own. So Joshua figured that if we all chipped in, we could get a great camera for him. That would bless Shawn and he would keep on blessing us.
            That sounded good to me until that morning Joshua called on me to make good on my pledge. The reason it became a struggle was that my children’s plane had been delayed in Charlotte. That had made them miss their flight to Ireland. As a result, they were stuck in the airport with three children and would be there well over twenty-four hours.
            I knew they needed a hotel room and food. Even with those things they would be stuck in the airport for several hours. I didn’t want them to use their limited funds. So I thought I need to get them some money.  The problem was, my cash flow had already been stretched for the month. So as I tool the money for Shawn’s camera to Joshua, I was thinking, “gosh, I need to be careful with my giving this year.  My children will need this money and they are my first responsibility.”
            I think you can see that my attitude became fear-driven. I was falling back into the heathen belief that we live in a world of scarcity, the very belief God tells  us to avoid.
            God graciously pulled me out of that attitude.  Here is how he did it.
            Before I could arrange to get some money to New York, someone beat me to it. A person called and paid my children’s hotel bill. Then, a previous Christ Church staff member, who now lives in New York, went and picked up my family (and the Carlsons, who were traveling with them) and took them all on a sightseeing tour of the city.
            When my children got to Ireland, they discovered that people here had been sending them money as people there had been working to get them settled and secure in a new country.
            Here is what I learned from all of that.  I should care of my own children.  It is right to think of my family as my first responsibility. However, as I do, I must remember that I have finite resources but that God has infinite resources. If I become my children’s supply, there will not be enough for all of us. But if God is their supply there will always be enough.
            Not only that. I must learn that I cannot hold back from giving generously to others. God will meet my need, my children’s needs, the church’s needs and the needs of all the people of this community. But I have to keep pouring my oil out.  If we become generous toward one another, we will tap into God’s infinite supply. If we act out of fear, from a belief that we live in a world of scarcity, we will never tap into God’s infinite supply.
            In other words, an inordinate fear of scarcity is an obstacle that restricts, or even prohibits, our ability to access infinite supply. Stinginess is not faith. Control is not faith. We must learn to become generous.
            Here’s the take away for our church: we should not worry so much about the church’s financial resource that we become stingy in providing for the personal needs of God’s people. If we discourage giving to one another in hopes of getting more money for this institution, we will diminish our capacity to give and receive. What we must do instead is invest in one another. We must pour our oil into all the containers around us. 
When we help Shawn get a camera, you see, we are giving him a tool to make money and art. That increases his capacity to give.
            If we help those whom need training get that training, we are helping them survive and thrive in this very changed economic situation. We should help some get tools. We should help some gain access to our personal contacts. We should help some with advice. We should help yet others with a word of encouragement.
            What we must do above all is cast out and overcome the belief that we live in a world of scarcity.  We must reject any fear-based attitude. We must drive out any cynicism and sarcasm. We must get to work increasing our capacity to receive God’s provision. When we do this, we will receive miracles.

The Second Question: What Do I need?
            I urge you this morning to identify the thing you most need. Tell God what that is.  Then, tell God’s people.
            Some people on our staff need money for seminary.
            Many people no longer view the ministry with respect. They believe pastors just rant and rave about things they know next to nothing about. Some of that has occurred because we expect ministers to meet our spiritual needs without any training, and then work for nearly nothing. It’s a recipe that insures pastoral failure and disillusionment. It also undermines the work of God’s church. More than at any other time in history, we need informed, intelligent and capable minsters of the gospel to lead us in the days ahead. But we are not doing much to see that that happens.
            That’s why several of our leaders are going to seminary. We all need to support them. If we do, they will bless us, now, in in the days ahead.
            Now, these are some of the needs I know.  
            There are hundreds of others in this church that I do not know.
            I certainly don’t have enough money to fund all of our dreams or even our needs. The church as an institution doesn’t either. But God does. The church is not our infinite supply. But God is. If he leads us to do something, he will fund it. But we will not be able to access it if our eyes remain fixed on some finite source, or our attitudes remain trapped by a belief in scarcity.
            What we must do then is discover and acknowledge our needs to God and to our neighbors. Even as we acknowledge our needs to others, we do not expect them to become our supply. They may become channels for getting God’s supply to us, but if we look to them for our supply we will once again be relying on a finite source. We must learn to access the infinite source instead.
The Third Question: Will God Provide What I Need?
            The third question is about our trust in God. Will he provide? Now, one thing for sure, he may not provide things that are not good for us or which are outside the scope of his plan for our lives. Some people probably need a jet to do their work. I am not one of those. My material needs are actually modest. Give me a room over my head, some books, a guitar a piano and something to write with and I can do most of my life’s work. I can provide for myself with those tools.
            That was not always true. Once upon a time, I needed money to get an education. God provided that, often through others.
            If we give Shawn a camera, he can provide for himself.
            If we give a trained carpenter tools, he will have what he needs to do his work.
            However, if God calls you to become a surgeon, that training will cost a lot of money. If you don’t have the money, God has to provide it. The question is: will he? Will he really? That doubt, that God will provide, quickly becomes an obstacle that hinders us from receiving God’s provision.  It will encourage us to get frantic, to begin looking at finite sources, sources that cannot possibly support our hopes. We will return to fear and the old belief in scarcity. We will lose faith, and possibly, our dream and joy.
            What the Lord teaches us in these two stories, and throughout his Word for that matter, is that He is trustworthy and that He can create something out of nothing. In fact, he manifests his presence among us by providing for us. But a shift in our attitude must occur so we will see His provision and receive it.

The Fourth Question: How Will God Provide for Me?
            This leaves us with a final question? How will God provide for us? Discovering how that happens is the great adventure of life. How He does that differs for each of us. However usually God’s provision for us works to heal us of our greatest fear. God uses our need, and His supply of our need, to heal our souls. If we are afraid of human disapproval, his plan may lead us through times we must tolerate the disapproval of others. If we fear financial loss, God may allow us to experience times of loss so we will lose the fear of it.  Whatever God does, He is always working to bring us into the abundant life He has planned for us. Naturally, the abundance may not always be what society defines as abundance, but it will always be what will bring us deep joy, the presence of God and a sense of fulfillment.
            To move into God’s abundance for us, we must release our notions of how He ought to provide for us, or by what means He chooses to provide. Receiving provision may require you to meet new people. It may mean involve back to school. It may mean selling your house or downsizing your lifestyle. I have no idea; that’s between you and God.
            So I don’t know what receiving Gods provision will mean for you except for one thing: it always involves becoming a generous person. It always means learning to give. It always involves moving way from stinginess, as I had to do last week! Receiving God’s abundance for you, you see, requires you to want others to have abundance and to do everything you can to help them get it.
            This sermon may sound like those prosperity messages that define an “abundant life” as one without suffering. The Bible does not promise us this. In fact, it tells us the opposite. But paradoxically, believers will experience joy even in their suffering because they are living the life God designed them to live. They are fulfilled because are living out their purpose. None of us like suffering. However if we trust the Lord, He will keep working out his plan for us.
So, as much as possible, we must release self-pity and despair, even when we are suffering. That usually takes some work. It sometimes and requires time to walk through the painful changes of life that cone our way, or to face our unrealized dreams. Even then, we must ask the Lord to help us be generous and gracious. We must forgive those who have harmed us, either intentionally or unintentionally. We must do that not only because these negative attitudes hurts us but because they will distract us from the life of abundance God intends us to enjoy.   
            Finally, in a real sense, I think we are both like the widow in need, and the neighbors whose pots and pans she needed. We must share our pots and pans to help meet the widow’s needs. But when we do she may turn around and share her miracle oil with us. If we stay closed up, preoccupied with our own need; if we fail to share our pots and pans with our neighbor, we may never discover the infinite supply that can meet all of our needs “according to His riches in glory.”
            Today, not tomorrow or next week, I urge you to make your need known to God and His people. At the same time, step out to discover, and then help meet your neighbor’s needs.  As we do this together, we will experience the glory of God. We will watch His release life’s greatest joy: being and doing what He created us to be and to do. 

1 comment:

Larry said...

Thank you Pastor Dan