We are beginning a new series this week that will focus on giving. Did you know that the subject of giving is mentioned 2500 times in the Bible? The next closest subject is only mentioned 500 times. This alone is fairly motivating for us to consider as we explore it. The Word is very clear on the incredible joy and blessing of giving. Most followers of Jesus would like to be more giving but see so many challenges that get in the way. My aim is that we will discover in very practical ways a clear understanding of how we can position ourselves so that the spirit of generosity can flow through us!
When I mention the word giving, what automatically pops into your mind?
So we are going to take a step back…before you start thinking of this message as all about money, it’s not. I want you to first understand the way that you have been designed as it relates to what God is doing in you and through you.
You have been designed to allow the living presence of God to flow in you and out through you like a powerful, rushing river.
John 7:37 "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."
Why is the Holy Spirit compared to a stream of living water, a river? What is so significant about a river?
So, we are going to begin by looking at actual rivers in the Bible and listen to what the river is actually accomplishing.
The Bible begins with a river which flowed from the Garden of Eden and flowed into the major tributaries
The river flowed to a land where gold is found , to land that is exceptionally pure, a place where the most precious stones are found as well and the Tigrus and Euphrates River. In ancient times, you wanted to be along the river because it was there that the passage of all goods would take place and trading would be done.
The Bible also closes with a picture of heaven where the river flows through the central part of the city in Revelation 22: 1-5. Wherever the river flowed, there was life. There were trees of life that grew along each side of the river. The river brings perfect order.
· The River is a picture of the Holy Spirit.
John 7:38 - that is you and I
To be born again is to be part of that very flow of the Spirit and the presence of God. Without His living presence we can easily fall back into becoming a pond or even worse a dam. A pond or a sea can only contain water, it does not give water. A dam completely blocks the flow and tries to contain the water with a focus on one’s own security.
· We are designed for outward flow.
A vision of a river
Ezekiel 47 mirrors this passage in Revelation and it is a vision of a river. Ezekiel had the same vision and the realization was that the river flowed from the south side of the temple. God is the river that is always giving, always flowing into our lives if we let Him. It is a picture of the infinite generosity of a generous God.
Like Ezekiel, we are called to go into the river and we can go in ankle deep, knee deep and even to the place we can’t touch as we are led by the Spirit.
So, my question is where are you in the river?
· You were meant to go with the flow...the flow of the Spirit
We have been created for generosity…so fast forward
On the last day of the seven day Feast of Tabernacles, thousands would gather in the temple and the priests would begin to act out the very vision of Ezekiel. They would be dressed in white robes and would walk down to the Pool of Siloam very reverently and would fill up their golden pitchers with water. They would then take the water and pour it out over the temple floor and it was created in such a way that the water would then flow out down the south side part of the temple past the altar. The crowd would shout with incredible joy and for the nation it was a powerful reminder that through the nation of Israel the presence of God would flow to all nations.
It would be at this incredible event that Jesus, looked upon as a young rabbi, would proclaim loudly in John 7:37 "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. 38Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him."
What was the response...
It was incomprehensible for so many to believe that the temple was not the source of the river because they were really wrapped up in the physical temple being the source of the river.
1 Peter 2:5...we have become the living stones of God’s temple and the powerful rush of water was meant to flow through us to transform barren and broken lives with His love.
We come to Christ to drink and a river of living water will flow out from within us.
We were meant to be leaky temples! It was meant to leak and hopefully at some point just pour out of us.
So, when we are born again, we truly begin to care about what God cares about and pursue what He pursues. It is literally within us and so we can’t stay stagnant.
To become a river, you have to deny self in the sense that you no longer come first.
The origin of the river is in the complete reversal of what has come naturally to all people. It is for that reason that it is often a river that goes against the flow of culture. We are changed to the point where move from getting to giving and from selfishness to sacrifice.
Our rivers are born when we die to getting and learn to start living by giving
It was Satan who started the lie that changed the direction of the flow of the river in his heart when He challenged Eve in the garden to become like God...you can have everything, you can have it all, all the knowledge, all the power in essence to become retaining ponds.
Fear over possessions either gained or lost is a picture of that pond mentality which measures life by the amount of water in one’s pond. The river mentality measures how much flow is going out and giving life to others all along the way.
1. Fruit is the evidence of the flow
In the garden, the enemy convinced both Adam and Eve into believing that God is not fair and that He holds out on us. That is a lie straight from the pit of hell to believe that God is a miserly God. Satan would love nothing better than for us to hold tightly onto everything we have, in essence to not trust God as our supplier and instead hoard our possessions. When we make concern for ourselves first, we separate ourselves from the joy, the life, the growth that God desires for us and we simply dry up and become overgrown as we see in Ezekiel 47v11’but the marshes and swamps will not be purified; they will be sources of salt.
It wasn’t too long ago, I was driving by my old stomping grounds in Acton and one of the things that really struck me was the pond behind my house which used to be a place for swimming and hockey had now turned into a swamp full of bulrushes, weeds and almost completely overgrown. This happens over time when there is no constant stream flowing into it. Spiritual rebirth is like going from stagnation to the raging power of a great river. It is there that a flowing stream brings life to everything along its way.
All NT references to the lack of fruit or barrenness are pictures of death, of loss, of hell itself. They are the stagnant ponds rather than the life giving rivers.
We can either believe the lies of Satan that we must hold on to everything like a pond turning into a swamp or believe that God will just keep pouring into us like a river
· Complete Dependency is the means to increased flow.
Remember that Ezekiel’s guide measured the river four times and the realization is that when God is the source of the river, He will be the one that will create the ever increasing flow.
So, just as a child learns to swim, they eventually get to the place where they can’t touch the ground and they have to completely get to that place of trust with the one teaching them to swim.
So as a father or mother, where are you when your child is learning to swim? You are right there with them. As a child, you have to put completely dependent that they are going to be there to hold you up.
So, what happens when you are caught in an undertoe? What do you do?
We are not meant to hold on to our own understanding, we are not to fight against what the HS wants to do with us.
I have done a lot of white water canoeing and rafting and the one thing the instructor would tell us is not to try to hold on to the canoe or raft or rocks along the way. We had to get our feet up and let the current take us downstream.
It is about trust (swimming) and surrender (when you are in the rapids)!
1 John 3:1
How great is the love of the Father that He lavishes on us that we should be called the children of God. (God’s extravagant love)
He wants to pour out His abundance through us.
Salvation is God using us as the streams of living water to the dry and weary land where we live.
Here’s the takeaway...
In light of breaking of bread and where we are in the Christian calendar which you may not think about but we are coming into a time called ‘Lent’. Now if you have a Catholic background you will be more familiar with this event. For those who have come from a more Protestant background, here is what you need to know. It is a 40 day period for the church that leads up to Easter. The Western church doesn’t include the Sundays as they are considered celebrations. So, it begins 7 Wednesdays before Easter. Lent is a season of soul-searching and repentance. It is a season for reflection and taking stock. Lent originated in the very earliest days of the Church as a preparatory time for Easter, when the faithful rededicated themselves and when converts were instructed in the faith and prepared for baptism. By observing the forty days of Lent, the individual Christian imitates Jesus’ withdrawal into the wilderness for forty days. All churches that have a continuous history extending before AD 1500 observe Lent. The ancient church that wrote, collected, canonized, and propagated the New Testament also observed Lent, believing it to be a commandment from the apostles. (See The Apostolic Constitutions, Book V, Section III.)
Just a few weeks ago someone in our congregation listened to the voice of the Lord to respond to the challenge that Dr. Anne Marie Zadjlik gave us. As she showed us the beautiful corn that was growing, the need that was addressed was for a tractor and an irrigation system. John gave the challenge to speak to Anne Marie if God was moving in your heart and she went with the flow of the Spirit. She gathered her friends to pray and they prayed fervently and sacrificed and along with an anonymous donation more than ½ of the required $17500 has already come in and it hasn’t even been announced but stay tuned!
My challenge is that during this 40 day period, I’m not asking you to consider this. I’m asking that we would all ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what it is that we would fast from in order to allow the spirit of giving flow through us like it never has before. For some of you, it might mean a sacrifice of time in order to serve others, for others; maybe it is to fast from facebook…It may mean a sacrifice of some forms of entertainment in order to make a sacrificial offering at Easter. HoweverThe beauty of lent is that it can be a powerful reminder of Christ’s sacrifice for us. He shed his blood so that we could experience his life giving presence flow through us.
If you are a child of God, it is IN YOU to give!!