Open Hands: Living a Generous Life
We are talking today about living with open hands. We are looking in this series at identifying signs of spiritual life. We have concluded that a person who is a Christfollower will have dusty shoes, worn out knees, and rolled up sleeves. Today we add yet another characteristic of people who live their lives like Jesus.
The Bible teaches over and over that we are to live lives of generosity. We are to live with open hands and open hearts. According to tradition, the custom of shaking hands began among the ancient German duelists as a sign of peaceful intentions. The men couldn’t draw swords when their hands were outstretched, so an open hand signified that they were meeting as friends. On the other hand, a closed or clenched fist is a universal sign of greed and selfishness. A closed hand also often represents a closed heart.
What is your answer to the question God asked Moses in the Old Testament? In Exodus 4:2, God asks: “What is that in your hand?” W/hen Moses told Him it was a shepherd’s staff – God commanded him to open his hand and release it. As Moses relinquished it, the Lord returned it to him with fresh power and purpose.
When we live our lives holding on tightly to the things we accumulate in this life it is generally a sign that we don’t really trust God nor have a genuine relationship with Him. What is in your hand? Are you living with fingers open, hands lifted upward and releasing everything to God or are you grasping onto your life with a death grip?
I have used various forms of this illustration but I wonder what you and I are holding onto that is more important than God’s desire for us to live with open hands?
Men who trap animals in Africa for zoos in America say that one of the hardest animals to catch is the ring-tailed monkey. For the Zulus of that continent, however, it’s simple. They’ve been catching this agile little animal with ease for years. The method the Zulus use is based on knowledge of the animal. Their trap is nothing more than a melon growing on a vine. The seeds of this melon are a favorite of the monkey. Knowing this, the Zulus simply cut a hole in the melon, just large enough for the monkey to insert his hand to reach the seeds inside. The monkey will stick his hand in, grab as many seeds as he can, then start to withdraw it. This he cannot do. His fist is now larger than the hole. The monkey will pull and tug, screech and fight the melon for hours. But he can’t get free of the trap unless he gives up the seeds, which he refuses to do. Meanwhile, the Zulus sneak up and nab him. Charles Swindoll, Living Above the Level of Mediocrity, p.150ff
What are you grasping tightly. . .trying to keep under control and unwilling to give to God’s kingdom? Living with an open hand reflects our humble awareness that the Lord can do more than we can do and that his plan for us is better than any we can devise.
For a scriptural reference I am going to use the third Epistle or letter of John.
This letter is from John, the elder. I am writing to Gaius, my dear friend, whom I love in the truth.
2 Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit. 3 Some of the traveling teachers recently returned and made me very happy by telling me about your faithfulness and that you are living according to the truth. 4 I could have no greater joy than to hear that my children are following the truth.
5 Dear friend, you are being faithful to God when you care for the traveling teachers who pass through, even though they are strangers to you. 6 They have told the church here of your loving friendship. Please continue providing for such teachers in a manner that pleases God. 7 For they are traveling for the Lord, and they accept nothing from people who are not believers. 8 So we ourselves should support them so that we can be their partners as they teach the truth.
9 I wrote to the church about this, but Diotrephes, who loves to be the leader, refuses to have anything to do with us. 10 When I come, I will report some of the things he is doing and the evil accusations he is making against us. Not only does he refuse to welcome the traveling teachers, he also tells others not to help them. And when they do help, he puts them out of the church.
11 Dear friend, don’t let this bad example influence you. Follow only what is good. Remember that those who do good prove that they are God’s children, and those who do evil prove that they do not know God. 3 John 1-11 NLT
Gaius is a biblical example of how we can live with open hands. In his case he was a man obviously employed and not able to live the life of an Apostle Paul or some of the others who traveled around preaching and teaching about Christ. Instead he supported the work that they were doing by living with open hands, and open heart and even an open home.
1. Open Hands
Throughout the entire Bible the principle of giving and even tithing is strongly taught and written about. You can’t dodge it and be a biblical Christfollower. It is the responsibility of every Christian to provide a financial base for the sharing of the gospel and for work of the church around the world. In the case of Gaius, he was providing for those who depended on others to support their calling.
Even today there are missionaries, pastors and teachers who have given up carriers and possibly lucrative ones to answer a full time call to ministry.
When you live with open hands, you are living the Christfollowing life. Over a year ago, I began to feel impressed about all the junk I had accumulated and collected. Slowly and surely, little by little I am trying to get rid of it. Do you know how hard it is to get rid of the junk we have collected in our lives?
When you live with open hands, you are a generous person. When you live with open hands you aren’t clinging to things and material possessions.
The American Dream
An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellow-fin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish.
"How long it took you to catch them?" The American asked. "Only a little while." The Mexican replied. "Why don't you stay out longer and catch more fish?" The American then asked. "I have enough to support my family's immediate needs." The Mexican said.
"But," The American then asked, "What do you do with the rest of your time?"
The Mexican fisherman said, "I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor."
The American scoffed, "I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats."
"Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise."
The Mexican fisherman asked, "But senor, how long will this all take?"
To which the American replied, "15-20 years."
"But what then, senor?"
The American laughed and said, "That's the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions."
"Millions, senor? Then what?"
The American said slowly, "Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos..."
I am calling upon you today to evaluate your life and your priorities. I am asking you to consider your generosity and whether or not you are living with open hands.
2. Open Hearts
In the third book of John, the word love appears many times. It is evident that John and Gaius were spiritual brothers and friends but beyond that Gaius was practicing an open heart toward people who came through his city to do ministry that he didn’t even know. He was going out of his way to live with an open heart and open hands.
Living with open hearts is what many of you do. The work and the ministry of this church will never be done by the staff of this church. (or any other church for that matter) Yes we have staff and yes they work hard but we are working to provide opportunities for the actual church or the people who make up this local expression of Christ’s body to serve both with their talents and in the strengths they were born with.
1 Therefore I, a prisoner for serving the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God. 2 Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love. 3 Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. 4 For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. 5 There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6 and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all.
7 However, he has given each one of us a special gift through the generosity of Christ.
11 Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. 12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Ephesians 4 NLT
Those of you living with open hearts and hands are people who make the work of this church happen.
You are the people who attend a service and work a service.
You are the people who:
Stand in the parking lot and direct traffic
Greet people who come through the door
That connect with people you think might be new instead of just talking to those people in your small group or personal friends.
Pray with folks who come forward and pray
Work in the nursery
Work with Kid City and Student Ministries (this can involve everything from teaching to traveling with a bunch a kids and just loving them like Jesus did)
Serve on a hospitality team
Set up and tear down chairs, tables and rooms so that others can do ministry
Show up and volunteer at when we do community outreach.
You are the people that:
Flip light switches during a service
Plan our worship services and work to make them creative and meaningful
Sing and lead worship
Count the offerings
Lead a small group
Volunteer your time to help the staff by serving in some cases as the family we left behind to come here and lead this church.
Produce videos and run cameras or sound or video projection
You are people who work in the food pantry and live with open hearts by not just handing out food but you hand out a smile and some conversation in the name of Jesus.
3. Open Homes
Obviously in this story, Gaius was literally opening his home. We believe in this church that community is a critical component of being a Christfollower. In fact, if you are not in some kind of a group you are going to miss out on the experience of doing life with a group of people that have your back and care about you beyond a surface kind of relationship.
This kind of community doesn’t just happen. It is hard work but work that is worth it in the end. We are trying to put an emphasis on small groups again and bring back this part of who we are as a church and you know what the greatest need is? We need people who are willing to lead and in many cases that means opening ones home or leading others to share their homes and hearts. We have some groups that have outgrown their homes and they have split into new groups or in some cases they meet at one of our church locations.
We are told in the New Testament that we should practice hospitality without grumbling. (1 Peter 4:9) The writer of Romans 12:13 stresses that we are to be “given to hospitality.”
I am so thankful today for those of you in this church who understand the idea of community and importance of small groups. I remember well the year we outgrew our ability to have all church baby showers and wedding showers. I remember when we had to tell people, you need to be in a small group because that is who is going to care for you when you are in need. That’s who is going to celebrate with you when your kids get married or you add to your family by having a child. That is who is going to hold your hand when your life is challenged or falling apart. It will be the people you are doing life with that will hold you accountable in your spiritual journey and not let your marriage fall apart. They will love you and care for you with open hands, hearts and even homes.
I call on us today to be a church or the body of Christ that learns to live generously with open hands.
It was summer, 1959. At a resort in Northern California. Just out of college, a young man got a job that combined being the night desk clerk at the resort and helping with the horses in the stable. The young man, new to the job and his boss are not getting along very well.
The employees were served lunch daily. But much to the young man’s chagrin, every day lunch was the same thing. 2 wieners, a mound of sauerkraut, and rolls that were nearly always stale. To compound his unhappiness, the meal wasn’t even free – it was deducted from his pay.
On Friday night of that week, when he was working the night clerk part of his job, the young man went to the kitchen to get an evening snack, and all there was the same wieners and sauerkraut. He saw a note posted on the wall that gave the next day’s menu: you guessed it, wieners and sauerkraut on Saturday.
That does it, he said. I quit. But he didn’t want to go without an audience. Someone needed to pay attention to his misery, so he started unloading on the only other person there, the night auditor. He said I’ve had it up to here, and I’m going to throw the wieners and the sauerkraut right in the boss’s face. He said, I’m sick and tired of this misery and nobody is going to make me eat wieners and sauerkraut for a whole week and make me pay for it, and who does he think he is anyhow and the horses are nags and the guests are fools, and I’m packing my bags and heading for Montana where they wouldn’t feed wieners and sauerkraut to the hogs.
The rant went on for some twenty minutes or so. He ended it with a call to arms, freedom, unions, and the breaking of the chains of the working masses. The night auditor sat quietly during his tirade, sitting on a stool, smoking a cigarette.
Let me tell you a little something about the night auditor. His name was Sigmund Wollman. Mr. Wollman was an older man, very thin, with this chronic cough. He liked being alone at the night job. It gave him peace and quiet and time to read sometimes. Mr. Wollman was a survivor of Auschwitz. 3 years he was in the camp.
To him the wieners and sauerkraut was a feast. And to have the freedom to walk into the kitchen to eat it whenever he wanted. In Auschwitz, he dreamed of such a time.
So, he asked the young man who was red in the face and working himself into another snit. Are you finished?
Lissen. Lissen me. You know what’s wrong with you? It’s not the wieners and sauerkraut, and it’s not the boss, and it’s not the chef, and it’s not the job.
OK, so what is wrong with me?
What’s wrong is this: you don’t know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you have a problem. Everything else is inconvenience. Life is inconvenience. Life is lumpy.
The author of this story, Robert Fulghum, continues: seldom in my life since have I been hit between the eyes with truth so hard. There that night while I was in my misery, Sigmund Wollman simultaneously gave me a swift kick while also opening a window in my mind. And ever since, when something has me backed to a wall I think of his words:
Life is lumpy. Lumpy. A lump in your oatmeal. A lump in your throat. A lump in your breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference between inconvenience and real problems.
Let us pray: God I pray that today we might become people with open hands, open hearts and even open homes. May you help us O Lord to understand our roles on this earth and that we were not put here to accumulate and hoard but to give and share the message of Jesus Christ.
Help us to understand that our jobs not only provide the money we need to live but provide us places to serve with open hands and hearts. Help us to understand that we make up the church and its ministry. That the effectiveness of this church will be based on our personal effectiveness at finding our place and giving our time, talents and treasure to You.
Now Lord give us a continuation of Your Spirit’s presence I pray in Jesus name. . .In 2001, God changed my life. In 2001 I was asked if I wanted to pastor “Newark First Church.” (as it was referred to in Nazarene circles) I assured the District Superintendent that I did not. My family was comfortably situated in a newly built home, attending a church they loved and we had just relocated within the past year. I was then asked to serve for the summer as Interim lead pastor. I welcomed the opportunity to be a part of a church I knew really nothing about.
Within six months of leading the church through some interesting transitions and playing a part in bringing a sense of stability to a challenging and unstable situation my wife and I became open to the idea of moving and accepting the invitation to lead this church wherever God wanted to take it.
I am not sure what I expected to happen, nor could I have envisioned the journey of the last eight years. God has truly led us all the way.
We are now a church that meets in three locations with three very different and distinct expressions of Christ’s body. We have become a church known for caring for our community and neighborhoods. We are a church that tries hard to lead people into a growing relationship with Christ.
The reason I am back out here today is because I need to share some of my thoughts with you. As the lead pastor of this church, I need to tell you what has been going on in my life and mind for the last few months.
I have struggled these lasts eight months or so. I have struggled at times with whether or not I should still be the lead pastor of this church. I have been open to God’s working in my life and even been willing to step down if that is what it would take to allow this church to move forward.
There are times when I haven’t wanted to show up because the load of caring for 1000 people plus their extended families is more than can be done by one person. There have been a few Sundays where I felt overwhelmed by the notion that there would be people by the hundreds all wanting and needing a personal touch by someone.
Many people still view the church with a smaller church mindset and think that only the pastor can really do ministry. (a notion we totally don’t accept by the way) I thank God over and over for the people who help share the load of pastoral care.
I have wrestled with the notion that we are in a struggle to keep from becoming a consumeristic church filled with people asking not what they can do for the ministry of this church but what the church can do for them.
Now what brings me out here to sit on this stool today?
I am struggling and wrestling internally more than you can ever imagine or than I can share with you because I believe that our church is poised right now for some of the most effective days of ministry we have ever seen or experienced.
I believe that many of our ministries are healthier than they have been in years. Our children and teens are being cared for and taught what it means to be Christfollowers in a way unheard of in most churches. Our worship services in three locations are very meaningful on a weekly basis to those who attend each week.
Our outreaches into the community are making a difference in the lives of people and I rejoice at what has been done.
Why the struggle?
In the midst of our greatest potential and the possibility of really going to another level of ministry we are being hindered by unfaithfulness.
There are a lot of you in this room that are faithful in giving and are practicing the biblical command to tithe. Tithing is a system that provides for the total needs of the church from administrative to outreach around the world.
It has become painfully obvious to me that there are people in this church who don’t trust God with the money He gave them in the first place.
On the eve of what I believe are our best days, we are struggling to meet our financial obligations week to week. There is nothing about this that makes sense unless there are people who are sitting here week after week but not really trusting God with their resources by tithing and giving like the Bible clearly teaches us to give.
Frankly I am at a loss to know what to do next. . .
I am not begging for money but I am laying it out there and telling you that we can’t continue to do even the ministries we are doing now unless some folks begin to obey God in the giving areas of their lives.
If I knew at the beginning of the summer where we would be financially right now we probably would have canceled two of our biggest outreaches to this community. 350 kids would not have heard the message of Jesus Christ at Mega Sports and Creative Arts camp and 1000 plus people would not have been touched by Operation Gear Up.
Frankly speaking, It is one of the most disheartening things I have ever faced in ministry. To have a church as free as ours to do ministry in a creative way unencumbered by years of church traditions and yet not be able to move forward has driven me to my knees.
I am asking for you to respond by joining me in prayer.
I am asking for you to respond by joining me in faithfully tithing as we are commanded to do.
I am asking you to respond by rising to the challenge of new ministries that need desperately to happen but can only take place if we live with open hands and open hearts.
I am asking you today to be a part of this church and its mission in a way that maybe you never have.
Now is the time to step up and start doing what you should do. Now is the time to show up and support the doors of ministry God continues to open for our church.
The Apostle Paul wrote to a young pastor by the name of Titus these words:
“ 1 But as for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine: 2 that the older men be sober, reverent, temperate, sound in faith, in love, in patience; 3 the older women likewise, that they be reverent in behavior, not slanderers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things— 4 that they admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, 5 to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.
6 Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, 7 in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility,[a] 8 sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.
11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, 12 teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present age, 13 looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, 14 who gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works.
15 Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you.