There’s a story about a local fitness center, which was offering $1,000 to anyone who could demonstrate that they were stronger than the owner of the place. Here’s how it worked. This muscle man would squeeze a lemon until all the juice ran into a glass, and then hand the lemon to the next challenger. Anyone who could squeeze just one more drop of juice out would win the money.
Many people tried over time other weightlifters, construction workers, even professional wrestlers, but nobody could do it.
One day a short and skinny guy came in and signed up for the contest. After the laughter died down, the owner grabbed a lemon and squeezed away. Then he handed the wrinkled remains to the little man.
The crowd’s laughter turned to silence as the man clenched his fist around the lemon and six drops fell into the glass. As the crowd cheered, the manager paid out the winning prize and asked the short guy what he did for a living. “Are you a lumberjack, a weightlifter, or what?”
The man replied, “I work for the IRS.”
So this morning as I want to wrap up our series looking at our vision for the future and how we will respond as we seek to be a part of doing something big and making an impact on our world and on the lives of people. Over the last several weeks I told you I believe that if we as a church are to be faithful to Jesus Christ, if we are to make a difference in the lives of men and women, boys and girls, if we are to impact our community and world, and have a ministry that will truly stand the test of time, then these are the building blocks on which everything else must rest.
First and foremost our response must be grounded in gratitude. Once we realize that all we have and all we are comes from God, that we can overflow in our hearts with gratitude because we realize that everything we have is a gift. And the more we are grateful for what we have the more we are willing to give of ourselves to others so that then they can have it as well.
Then we also talked about that a life of giving needs to be revealed in prayer. Once you say, “Ok Lord, you’ve given me all of these resources; I’m thankful for all the resources you’ve given to me,” how is it that you would have me use them for your kingdom? The answer to that question is revealed in prayer.
Well today’s the last part. And I want to share with you where this all leads us when you start with the love of Christ, and that love them makes us grateful; and how that gratitude translates into, “Ok Lord what would you have me do?” Today we are going to talk about living a giving life in faith. And Dr. Scott Mackenzie says, “A person should consider all of which he or she is grateful for, prayerfully determine how God would have him or her use those blessings, and then ask the most important question – “Now what?” How will I live faithfully to carry out what you have called me to do?”
And friends love is good. Gratitude is good. Prayer is good. And they all inspire us to give and to have these grand ideas about what we can do, but if we don’t respond in faith to what God calls us to; if none of those actually lead us up to actually taking action in faith to what God has called us to, they are meaningless. We are people who are called to live a life in faith. Which requires taking action and following through.
And I want to take you to a passage this morning that shows a life that is lived faith. And it is the story of Zacchaeus. It is one of those stories, probably you’ve heard it any number of times. You may have heard it when you were in Sunday school. You may have learned to sing the little song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man and a wee little man was he…” And Zacchaeus climbing up in the sycamore tree to see Jesus.
But I think he is a good model for us as we think about what it means to live a life of faith; a faithful response to what God has done for us. And I think it’s very easy for us to be able to say and to understand that Zacchaeus was probably the most hated man in Jericho.
We are told that he was a tax collector – that he was a chief tax collector which meant that he was the one that got paid double by collecting all the taxes from the people. He was the one who really knew how to squeeze the juice out of the people. And people then were not a lot different than us. Most of us don’t look forward to writing a check to the IRS on the 15th of April; that’s not our favorite thing to do. Multiply that any number of times and knowing that the whole system was designed to get as much as you could possibly get from people back then, and then you begin to understand a little bit about why the people of that day despised tax collectors so much.
Zacchaeus was the kind of guy that nobody wanted to hang out with. Nobody wanted to be with him because they knew the kind of person he was. There just wasn’t very much about him that was all that likeable.
But Zacchaeus was a person just like all the other folks living in Jericho. And he was a person who had feelings and who had hurts and who had needs. Zacchaeus was someone who recognized, who understood very well, nobody wanted to be around him.
Can you imagine how lonely his life must have been? Can you imagine how he must have felt when he started hearing stories about this guy from Nazareth named Jesus? This man who got in all kinds of trouble with the religious establishment because he really seemed to enjoy spending time with… with prostitutes; with sinners. And Zacchaeus even heard that Jesus would spend time with people just like him; with tax collectors.
And then he heard that Jesus was on his way from Galilee to Jerusalem. And Zacchaeus knew what that meant, that he would be traveling through Jericho. He would be coming right through Zacchaeus’s town.
Think about that just a little bit. Zacchaeus knew that Jesus was on his way. He knew that Jesus was the kind of person that on a good day might even spend some time with someone like him. The scripture does not say to us that Zacchaeus wanted to talk with Jesus. We get the impression that he just wanted to see Jesus. He just wanted to get a glimpse of someone who might care enough about him to have a kind word for him.
And so you imagine Zacchaeus plotting and planning and figuring out how he could avoid the crowds, because someone like him really didn’t like to be in big crowds of people where no one liked you.
So I would imagine that he made his route early that day when he knew that people were on one end of town to see Jesus, he went to the other end of town where nobody was around so that he could get up in that sycamore tree that just happened to hang out over the main road through Jericho. So that he could be there, kind of hidden up in the branches of that tree not to call any attention to himself at all; not to say anything to Jesus at all, but just to see him when he passed by. That was the best he thought he could do.
We know the story don’t we? Jesus came through town. He met a blind beggar when he was coming into town and healed him; gave him back his sight. And then he continued to come through town and the crowd is growing. And Jesus is walking through town, walking right under that sycamore tree. And isn’t it just like Jesus. He knew Zacchaeus was there. And he got right under the tree. And when he got there Zacchaeus’s heart must have been skipping a beat because, “Here was this one, this one who liked people like him.”
And then Jesus stopped and he looked right up into the tree, eyeball to eyeball with Zacchaeus. “Zacchaeus, what are you doing in that tree? Come down out of there. I want to go home and have dinner with you tonight.”
And I would imagine that Zacchaeus had to hang onto the limbs just a little bit tighter because he was ready to just fall right out when he heard that. When he heard someone call his name in a way that was loving and kind and not derogatory or insulting. That was a huge thing for Zacchaeus. But to have someone actually say, “Zacchaeus, I want to spend time with you. I want to go to your house tonight.” By the time Zacchaeus got out of that tree he had had enough time to simply be overwhelmed by this great gift that had been given to him; the gift of someone who offered to him love and mercy and understanding and grace beyond anything he could have ever hoped or dreamed or imagined would have been possible for him.
And when he got to the place where he was able to stand face to face with Jesus – and Jesus again is extending that invitation to go and spend time with Zacchaeus, all that Zacchaeus was able to say – and Zacchaeus is already hearing the gripping and the grumbling of the crowd, because as soon as Jesus stopped and spoke his name and everybody looked up in the tree they’re thinking, “Oh my God, here he comes to ruin the day. That sinner. That terrible person.” And they were grumbling as Jesus said, “I want to go home and spend time with you, they were saying – and probably I’m sure loud enough for Jesus and Zacchaeus and everyone else to hear, “What does Jesus think he’s doing? Does he not know the kind of person that is? How would he spend time with him?”
And so by the time Zacchaeus is standing in front of Jesus all Zacchaeus can think is, “How do I respond? I have been given so much. How do I even begin to express gratitude? How do I even begin to respond?”
So Zacchaeus looked at Jesus and he said, “Half. Half of everything I have I’m giving it to the poor. And if I have wronged anyone – and when he said that there must have been laughter in the crowd, because he was the chief tax collector and everybody there knew that he had cheated every person there if he had collected taxes from them. “Half of everything I have I give to the poor. And if I’ve wronged anyone I will repay them back 4 times.”
Now how do you think Zacchaeus felt about that? I think that he felt that was the only response he could give. “I’ve been given so much. How can I respond? What can I offer in return?”
Who benefited from Zacchaeus following through with what he said? Who benefitted from that? In monetary terms, who benefitted? Well, the poor would have benefitted and the people that he had wronged, certainly. But think of all the people in Jericho. Were their lives completely changed by what Zacchaeus did? There would have still been people who had needs. Who benefitted most from that gesture? It was Zacchaeus. It was Zacchaeus who was saying, “How can I express my faith?” And for him in that moment his expression of faith was being able to offer something of himself. It was an expression of gratitude, understanding that he wasn’t paying for that great gift of grace. He was making just a faithful response. And that was his way of being able to see that.
Let me ask you a question. How are you thinking about our capital campaign and how you will respond? How are we thinking about that? And how are we thinking about what our response will be to our annual stewardship campaign, to our annual budget? Are we thinking of this in terms of a financial concern, as a practical matter? We can certainly think of it that way. And we can think that in practical terms - we want to raise $2 million dollars to renovate and expand our facility.
We can think of it financial terms and we can that it’s important for us to provide funding for these improvements and expansions to take care of maintenance issues and to build much needed new space. And that’s a good practical way of thinking about that.
We can think about the annual stewardship campaign and our annual budget as a way of paying our bills. And that’s that. The annual budget is what keeps the lights on. It’s what keeps the heat and AC running. It’s what pays for the staff and the programming and the printing of the bulletins that we have every Sunday morning.
So are we thinking about the capital campaign and the annual budget in financial and practical terms?
Or maybe we’re thinking about it as an obligation. I’m a member of Sterling Church. I participate in the ministries of Sterling Church so it’s my obligation to do my part, to do my fair share, to pay my dues. So we think of it as an obligation.
Or maybe we think, “Well you know I believe in the projects. I believe in what we’re doing. I believe in improving and expanding our space and taking care of our building needs. And I believe in supporting the budget of the church. And so we do it because we believe in the projects. I believe in our ministries and missions.”
You know I was looking at our budget and if you look at our annual budget you will notice that … goes to ministry. Children’s ministry, youth ministry
Do you believe in children’s ministry? I think we all do. We see the benefits of that. And so we can say, “I support the budget because I believe in our children and youth and worship and discipleship and fellowship and missions and evangelism and our Amigos. Whatever area it is for you, you can say, “I believe in the budget because one of those areas. I believe in the budget because I support the salaries and the work of our 13 staff members. You can say, “I think they’re doing a good job. I want to support our staff.”
Over the last several years we have seen our church grow so much in our support and participation in missions. And so we can say, “Yes I want to be a part of that and I believe in those projects and they are making a difference and impacting lives and I want to support them.”
But let me say that all of those are OK ideas. But I think there’s an even better reason.
Let me see if I can illustrate it this way.
I was visiting with one of our church members a while back and he is one of those that Tom Brohcaw so aptly described as “The Greatest Generation.” This is the WWII generation that he calls in the story of our nation’s history, the greatest generation. He was telling me some of the stories of his experiences and what it was like to serve our country and to fight to defend the freedom that we all hold so dear.
And as I listened to his stories and his life of service to our country I couldn’t help but wonder why he was so willing to serve. Why was he so willing to make this sacrifice, leave his home and family and go off to serve and fight for our country? What was the reason for that? I was really curious to know so I asked him.
Now I guess he could have said, “It was to meet an obligation. It was an obligation that the government placed upon me. And so there was no choice. It was for obligation’s sake.” Do you think that is why he served?
Or he could have said, “You’ve heard about the GI Bill. My service in the military was because I knew there was this program, this great benefit he would get out of it. And you serve a few years in the armed forces and then you can come out and you can be a part of a GI Bill and it will help pay for your education.” Is that why he served?
Or maybe he could have been one of those who said, “Well I just felt like it was my duty as being a citizen of this country and that’s a responsibility and a duty that I have.” Is that it?
You know what he said? When I listened to his stories, when I listened to him talk about his experiences, I didn’t hear, “It was an obligation to the government. It was fulfilling that duty. It was for the benefits I would get when I came back.”
Do you know what I heard? I heard him say, “It was because of my love for this country. Because I believe in the principles and the ideals of what this country stands for.” That’s what I heard. Over and over again. It was a thankful response for what we’ve been given here and wanting to see that continue on.
Let me just say that I think that hits it a little better. And I think that mirrors a little bit more what we see in this life of Zacchaeus here too. Zacchaeus wasn’t looking for a way to pay his dues. He wasn’t looking for a way to kind of get out from under – he wasn’t looking for a way to make friends; “If I give all this back then maybe people will like me.” His was simply an expression of deepest gratitude. It was a way of living out his faith. It was a way of responding and recognizing this great tremendous gift that he had been given in the fact that Jesus would stand below him and say, “Zacchaeus, come. I want to walk with you. I want to touch and change your life. I want to give you a grace that you have never nor would never ever be able to receive. I want you to know that your past has been erased and you’re able to start out new again.”
That is what motivated Zacchaeus to make the response that he did. It was motivated by his sense of gratitude. It was motivated by him recognizing that this was a way for him to live out his faith. It was a way not because of the amounts at all, but it was a way for him to grow closer to the Christ by being able to offer that expression of gratitude and praise.
Can I encourage us – we’ve got one week now. Next Sunday will be commitment Sunday. We will have the opportunity to make our commitment to the capital campaign and to the annual stewardship campaign for the annual budget of the church. This week as you’re thinking about and praying about and moving toward that time – I’m not going to say don’t think about it in practical or financial terms. I won’t say don’t consider the particular programs and ministries that will be supported. But I am saying think about your response as your response to Christ – for what you have received in His calling your name; in His speaking to you, calling you by name and saying, “I want a relationship with you. I want to come home with you; to live with you, to touch your life.” And I invite you to think about your response in those terms. As a response not just to a program or a campaign, not just to a project, but your response to the life that Christ offers and gives to each one of us.
I think that is the way that invites us even through this time to grow in our relationship to Christ, not just to move forward as a church, but for us as individuals to grow stronger and deeper to express our faith and our faith commitment.
We are asking in this time, “Lord, what would you want to do through me?” We are asking that Christ would lead us and that our response would be that grateful response to what Christ has done and is doing and will continue to do in each of our lives. We are asking that He would show us where to go and that we would follow where He leads.
Sermon Topics: Church Growth