This morning I had the song "He owns the cattle on a thousand hills" running through my mind because tomorrow I will be preaching on giving. The song references Psalm 50:
That verse raises the question "Why do we give? After all, it's not like God needs my money!" By extension, we could also expand that question to "Why do we serve? After all, it's not like God needs my help in doing His work in this world!"
The short answer (and a perfectly legitimate answer) is "Because God commanded it!" But that answer is not sufficient, since Paul, in 2 Corinthians 9:7, tells us that we must not give "under compulsion." And fulfilment of a command is a compulsion, or responsibility.
Why do we give? Why do we serve? Because God is doing a great and wonderful work in this world, and we delight to be part of that work. Further, because He is our Father, He delights to have us join in that work with Him.
I have a three year old daughter who likes to draw with me. She'll come down to my office where I'm working and say to me, "Daddy, draw a picture with me!" So I'll pull out my art supplies, sit her in my lap, and we'll begin.
"What should we draw?" I'll ask.
"A silly creature!"
She will begin telling me what the silly creature should look like. Four arms, seven heads, three horns, and on the list goes. She laughs as I draw, and I smile as I listen to her next instruction.
When the picture is drawn, we take colored pencils in hand and work side by side on it. When the picture is complete, we sit back and admire it, and she takes it upstairs to show mama.
Here's what we all know about this activity: I don't need my daughter's help when it comes to drawing silly creatures (or anything else, for that matter). I'm perfectly capable of doing it on my own. So why do I involve her in the process? Because she's my daughter, and I delight to work side by side with her.
And why does she want to draw pictures with me? Because I am her father, so it is also her delight.
So it is with us and God. He is our Father. It is our delight, and His, to work side by side in the wonderful work He is doing in this world. Not out of compulsion, but cheerfully, for the sheer joy of working with our Heavenly Father.
Have you ever been to a concert of a symphony orchestra? There's something quite dramatic about watching a group of musicians working together under the conductor's leadership to produce beautiful music. If you go to a concert, there are certain members that will stand out to you, and attract your attention.
The conductor, obviously, captures our attention as they wave their hands and baton, and use even the slightest body motions to guide and direct the members of the orchestra.
Then there are the violinists, who often carry the melody, and do so with dramatic sweeps of their bows across the strings. Watching a section of violinists playing in unison and unity is an impressive and beautiful sight.
The timpanist, too, may capture our attention; their arms beat out a rhythm, or create a rumbling thunder sound, occasionally producing sounds that make us want to tap our feet, and occasionally sounds that make the music sound ominous.
There are other musicians who are less likely to capture our attention.
The clarinetist, for example, even if they have a solo (like in the haunting opening phrase of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue), you might not notice them, because their body and arms do not make any grand movements. There is no bow to draw across the strings, no mallet to bang against a tightened drum. Just fingers moving on the instrument -- and if you're far away from the stage, you won't see much movement at all!
And what about those poor bass viol players? Most of the time you could even forget that they're standing there. They don't get the fast, or the melodic, or the dramatic passages to play; most often they are simply plodding along with deep bass notes that you may not even consciously notice.
The church, the body of Christ, is an awful lot like that orchestra. Paul talks in 1 Corinthians 12:22 about parts of the body of Christ being like the violins, and parts like the bass viols.
Okay, those are not the words he uses, but he talks about members of the body that we deem as more honorable, more valuable, and the members we talk about as being less honorable.
The more honorable members are like the violinists. They are the ones who get all the attention, all the praise, all the respect. Everyone sees what they do, and they laud them for it.
But others are like those bass viols. Day after day no one notices what they do, no one says, "Wow! That was amazing what you did yesterday!"
"Great sermon," we tell the pastor.
"What a great job you did cleaning the toilet," we don't ever say to the person who volunteers their time to make sure the church's restrooms are sanitary.
But please allow me to let you in on a little secret. The bass viol is every bit as important as the violin. You might not consciously notice the bass player doing his thing in the background, but if he was gone, you would be very quick to say, "There's something wrong with this piece of music!"
Just as you would be very quick to say, "There's something wrong in this church" if people stopped cleaning toilets, or painting walls, or paying electric bills.
And finally, please let me tell you one last secret. Preacher, evangelist, miracles, helps, administration, they're all important. Paul says so. But he says not to bicker about which is greatest, because there's one thing that's more important than any of them.
Love. It's the more excellent way.
Meal times were much more simple before our son started eating "grown-up" foods. When we sat down to eat, Laura and I had our plates, and our son had his bowl. We ate from our food, and he ate from his, and I don't think it ever occurred to him to wonder what we were eating.
But that changed when we started feeding him food off our plates. Once we started that, from then on, he would always be curious about what was on our plates.
And that's fine, but sometimes it's a bit inconvenient. There are some foods that we don't feed our son yet (for example, his pediatrician has recommended that we not feed him peanut butter just yet, and if I'm eating eggs with yolks that are a bit runny, I won't feed them to him).
This morning our son had a bowl of cereal, but I had a breakfast sandwich made with bread, cheese and eggs (slightly runny). On a normal morning, he will go at his cereal with great gusto, and never stop until it's finished. But this morning, since I was eating a breakfast sandwich, he was extremely curious about that, and would not eat his own food, because he was determined to have some of mine.
The interesting thing was that as soon as my sandwich was gone, he went immediately to his cereal and gobbled it all down without hesitation.
He knows that his cereal is quite yummy, and under normal circumstances he doesn't hesitate to dive into it. But today his desire for something else kept him (temporarily) from enjoying his own food.
That made me think of a couple verses in scripture about the blessings God gives to us, and the way we respond to those blessings. Just as I don't give my son things that I don't think are good for him, God doesn't give us things that aren't good for us. James 1:17 says that all good and perfect gifts come down from the Father. And under normal circumstances, I would rejoice in those good and perfect gifts.
But sometimes something else comes along that God doesn't intend for me to have -- something that would be unhealthy for me. And what happens? Silly me, I stop focusing on the good things God has given me, and I start focusing on the things He hasn't given me. The result? I cease to enjoy the good things that God intended for me to have.
This is one of the great secrets of contentment -- to understand and have faith that what God has given me is far better than what He hasn't given me.
In Philippians 4:11, Paul says that he has learned to be content whatever his circumstances. What about you? Are you content? Or are you always distracted from what you do have by the things you don't have?
Ever stop to think about gifts you've been given, and why they are important to you? There are many reasons why a gift might be important to you...let's look at a few.
#1: A gift might be from someone who is very special to you. With Valentine's Day right around the corner, this is a reason lots of people are thinking about. When you think about the gifts people receive for Valentines Day...roses, chocolates, jewelry, etc., they are rarely practical, and often not even all that expensive. And yet, when a girl gets her very first rose from a guy, she's likely to keep it on display until it's mostly wilted...then she'll press it and keep it forever (or at least until she breaks up with the guy!). It's not because the rose itself is so valuable...it's because it comes from someone who is very valuable to her.
#2: A gift might be life-changing. This was the case with the very first ventriloquist puppet I ever received. It was a Christmas gift from my parents when I was in sixth grade. None of us guessed at the time that this gift would result in me traveling not just around the state, but throughout New England and across the world. That gift really did change my life.
#3: A gift might be expensive. Obviously, if we receive a gift which costs a lot of money, we treat it very carefully, because we know that it is irreplaceable. I recently received a large gift which allowed me to refit my recording studio. I purchased a somewhat expensive studio microphone. Then last week I needed a sound system to take to our youth group's winter retreat. Do you think I took my new microphone? Oh, no! That one stayed safely at home. Why? Because it was costly, I was protecting it.
I think it's interesting that our salvation fits all three of these categories. It is a gift from someone who should be very precious to us: our Lord Jesus Christ. Why is he precious to us? Because of His great love for us. 1 John 4:19 gives us the reason for our love: because He loved us first.
Our salvation is also precious to us because it is life-changing. This is certainly true, although we don't always see the changes immediately. Jesus Christ promised us in John 10:10 that He had come not just to give us life (and that's pretty signifinant in itself!) but also to give us an abundant life. How precious should that gift be to us?
And, of course, the gift is a costly one. In 1 Peter 1:18 we are told that our salvation (redemption) was not purchased with something perishable (silver or gold) but with the precious blood of Jesus Christ. What a costly gift our salvation was! Jesus didn't reach into His pocket and pull out thirty pieces of silver to purchase my salvation...it was far more costly than that! He gave up everything to give me the most precious gift I will ever receive.
So the final question is...how do we treat this gift? 1 Peter 1:17 tells us that, because our redemption was such a costly gift, we are to conduct ourselves "with fear." Just as I would never risk damaging my expensive studio microphone by treating it carelessly, I should never treat my relationship with Jesus Christ in a careless manner!
It is the most precious thing I have in this life.