How to live with open hands? What enables generosity?
Remember your first love!
(Mark Siebert/The Gift Shop- Giant Eagle Gift Cards)
Are you familiar with Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner’s wildly popular book Freakonomics published by in 2005? They followed that book with a freakquel called SuperFreakonomics.[i]
One of the stories they tell in their first book is about two brothers. The story goes this way. “In 1958, a New York City man named Robert Lane decided to name his newborn son Winner.” Granting that it was a little odd, he thought it might give his boy a leg up on the competition. Winner Lane. How could the kid fail with a name like that? Three years later another bouncing boy came along, and dear old dad, for reasons no one can quite pin down, decided to name him “Loser.” There’s no indication that he was unhappy about the baby’s arrival. I guess somehow it just seemed like the right name to “bookend” with Winner. At any rate, the world was given two brothers. Winner and Loser Lane. Would you like to guess how they turned out? Freakonomics is about “the hidden side of everything!” Loser turned out to be a winner, graduating from college and joining the NYPD, eventually becoming a sergeant. Winner, on the other hand, turned out to be a loser, being arrested nearly three dozen times for burglary, domestic violence, trespassing, and resisting arrest. Today, as you might expect, Winner and Loser Lane have little contact. What’s the lesson?
A minister friend of mine, Mark Atteberry, said, “When all is said and done, life is still about choices. Little choices and big choices. Every day we make them and they lead us steadily, inch by inch, toward our destiny. Labels don’t matter. Nor do privileges or hardships. Plenty of people have blown privileges and overcome hardships. We are what we choose to be.[ii]
We have been given choices in this world. Do me a favor and take your hands and open them up like this! We can live life with open hands or clinched fists! Which way am I going to choose to live - with open hands or clinched fists! For the last five weeks I’ve given you five reasons why we ought to be generous. May I remind you! People are lost and matter to God. Future generations (students) need to know. Some situations are just plain obvious – like helping the poor. Jesus gave first and faith is what pleases God. Those are just five reasons why, but despite the why! People often choose to approach life with clinched fists! So two questions came to my mind. #1: What enables generosity?” And (#2) are there any examples? There are – I found seven! Open up your Bibles today to the Book of Revelation! Do you need a Bible? I have two invitations for you. First, Pizza & Pastors is this Sunday at 12N in the Global Café! Please come. I also invite you right now to honor all Veterans. Please watch this. (Veteran’s Day 2012 clip) If you are a Veteran or a family member of a veteran would you please stand! Thank you for your service!
For the next four weeks we will find ourselves in Revelation chapters 2 & 3. But – to make sure we’re all on the same page let’s start with Revelation 1:1! The revelation of Jesus Christ… Our English word Revelation is this Greek word – “apokalup(LOOP)sis”[iii] where we get a familiar English word “apocalypse.”[iv] Apocalypse means “to uncover, unveil, disclose or reveal!” Well, reveal what? The story of Jesus! Dr. Mark Moore said, “The primary purpose of this book is to encourage believers to hang on to Jesus. Revelation is a guide for living through terrible times!”[v]
Terrible Times… As Hurricane Sandy bore down on New York City, almost everything shut down—except for one rogue Starbucks near Times Square. Desperate (addicted?) Starbucks junkies courageously fought winds, rains, and dire warnings just to get a latte or a cup of coffee. Alex Mwangi, 25, walked more than 20 blocks looking for an open Starbucks. Alex said, "It took half an hour. But I'm a Starbucks fanatic. I go four or five times a day."
Terrible times – I’ll tell you terrible times Greg! I sense our recent election has created two atmospheres in the US! One of elation and one of doom & gloom! We face terrible times ahead. That’s true if you stop believing in Jesus Christ! The book of Revelation is unique because it’s a combination of writing. It’s a letter, a prophecy and apocalypse. Let’s look at one. Revelation is a letter! Look at verse 4! Revelation is a “Dear John” letter! This book was written to John and to seven churches! Don’t ever forget that! Why to John? Go to verse 9! (MAP) This is John the Apostle. The same John who took care of Mary, Jesus’ mother. The brother of James – one of the sons of Thunder! John is all alone now! He’s the last living Apostle. John has been banished to Patmos. Why? Because he called Jesus LORD! Roman Emperor Domitian didn’t like that! “Domitian was described as savage, cruel, sexually immoral and evil. As Emperor he demanded his subjects call him “Dominus et Deus Noster” which means “our lord and god.”[vi] In that day you worshipped the emperor and called him Caesar. But John and many other believers didn’t. Their choice meant persecution! Jesus writes to John and to the seven churches – stay faithful. Turn to Revelation 1:10 (Read 10-11.) (MAP) Now go to chapter 2!
Seven churches. John writes down what he sees and what he hears from Jesus! All seven churches are given a picture of Jesus! CHECK THIS OUT! (1:14-17) Six of the seven receive praise. Laodicea does not. Five of the seven are criticized and punished. Put gold stars by Smyrna and PhiladelphiaJ All seven churches receive a promise from Jesus! Ephesus is first! Find chapter 2:1. (Angel-Ben–wings pic) Revelation is letter, prophecy and apocalypse! Apocalyptic language is filled with wild images, numbers and colors. Do you remember the TV show LOST? Some people got it; others didn’t. Those that didn’t complained that it didn’t follow a logical order. Neither does Revelation! Revelation even has code words. Some are explained others are not. Go back to verse Revelation 2:1! John’s picture of Jesus is that he’s holding seven angels in his right hand and walking among the seven churches! That’s so cool! Jesus gives these folks at Ephesus some PRAISE! (Read 2-3) But immediately after the praise comes the CRITICISM! (Vs. 4) What does that mean? Well, a careful review of verses 2 & 3 help us see what forsaking your first love doesn’t mean! It doesn’t mean – working hard, persevering (not bowing to false gods like Artemis), or falling for false teaching or enduring hardship! Those are ALL good! BUT…
Two men are ice fishing. One has had no luck, while the other guy has been catching fish all day! The man having no luck finally walks over and asks the other man, “what’s your secret?” The guys says, "Mmmmm mmm mm mmm mmmm mmm mmm!" "I'm sorry, what did you say?" The man spits his worms into his hand and says, "You've got to keep your worms warm."[vii] At that moment you forget about all the fish that guy caught!. All you can think about are the worms! That’s so gross! The church at Ephesus did allot of good, but one gross action stood out! They didn’t love Jesus like they used too! Jesus was here, but now here!
Some scholars believe Jesus was married - most likely to Mary Magdalene. The reason I think that’s bogus is because they people who knew him well never mentioned. Never. John, Peter even Paul. However, Jesus was married. His bride is the church!
Tricia and I have been married for 27 years. What’s true for all marriages is that the longer a marriage goes the easier it is to take your spouse for granted. They blend in. They become all too common. Jesus tells us how to correct this in verse 5! Hmmm. What did Tricia and I do at first? We spent time together. We enjoyed each other’s company! We wanted to be together. Rarely now one spouse say to the other, I don’t love you like a used to. It’s just easy to justify! Life is busy. The kids keep you busy. We just don’t have time for each other and truth is we don’t have time for Jesus! Instead of him growing GRANDER in our minds we make him out to be equal to everyone else.
Greg, I’m not married. This doesn’t apply to me! Really – put your hands out like this again! What enables generosity is having the right picture of Jesus. If you approach life with open hands – Jesus is your highest priority! If you approach life with clinched fists you have forsaken your first love! What’s the solution? Jesus tells us REPENT!
I repented this past week. My attitude has been awful. Where do you need to repent? Have you taken your spouse for granted? Have you concluded that your money and resources are yours alone? My stuff is my stuff. No it’s not. It all belongs to God. Make a powerful choice that will change your life and live with open hands. “God, what I have is your!”
After the Invitation:
Do you remember Loser Lane? He never tried to hide his real name, but people didn’t feel comfortable calling him “Loser” so they called him Lou instead.[viii] Christ followers go by many names or descriptions. Christians, saints, disciples, followers, learners – and overcomers! What are we overcoming? Our tendency to push Jesus down and elevate something or someone else! Who are we overcoming? SATAN! I grew this past week because I repented. Do you need to repent?
Used on Saturday Night only:
I’m not sure for you, but I know what it means to me! For the last several months I have found being a minister so difficult. I have let my relationship with God - my picture of Jesus become a job! And I stopped liking my job! I have a problem. I take personally your spiritual growth. On the surface that sounds good, but deep down it’s a literal “hell” I want out of. So I’m saying to you all – I am not responsible for your spiritual growth! I am responsible to help you see Jesus in ALL his glory, but you must choose to grow. You must choose to follow him!
[iii] Logos Bible Software, ESV/Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon #602
[iv] MacArthur Bible Commentary, 1992
[v] Mark E. Moore, Revelation Study Notes, September 2008
[vi] Duvall & Hayes, Grasping God’s Word, 283.