David VanDenBurgh, Senior Pastor, KetteringSDAChurch, Kettering, Ohio
This sermon is an abridged version of the original, preached on September 3, 2005, at the KetteringChurch.
Summary: God wants us to receive His blessing so that we may be channels of blessings to others. He says, “I will pile blessing upon blessing upon you, because my intention is to bless all people around you, through you.”
The story of two sponges
In one hand, I have a dried-up sponge. It is unattractive and has nothing to give. In the other, I have another kind of sponge. In fact, I had to put it on a plate because it is oozing blessings everywhere. Two kinds of sponges. One dry. One full. The dry one in need, and the full one so full that it is giving up its blessing, even without being asked. There are two kinds of Christians in the world. I am speaking in extremes purposely.
There are dry Christians. Sometimes when you meet these people, you know they are in great need because they feel needy. There are dry churches too. When you attend them, there is not much joy there. On the other hand, there are Christians who are full and rich. You cannot be around them without being blessed, for their joy in Christ is infectious. There are churches like this as well. When you walk in the door you say, “Wow, it feels good to be here!” These are two extremes, and we are all somewhere in between.
God’s plan—a man
In Genesis, God’s creation is like the sponge that is full of water; it just oozes blessings everywhere. And God says, “This is very good.” But it is not long before something goes wrong. As you read to Genesis 11, you see that God’s creation is in deep trouble, and His effort to fix it does not seem to help. For example, He wipes away evil and begins again, but it is not long before that goes bad too. By the end of Genesis 11, you say, “How is God going to fix His problem?
Then in Genesis 12, you discover that He has a plan to restore His broken world, and this plan involves a relationship with a man named Abram. “The Lord says to Abram, ‘Leave your country, your people, and go to a land I will show you.’” And He adds, “The first thing I want you to do is to walk with me.” This sounds simple, but think about what is involved here.
When God says, “I want you to leave everything that is familiar, He is asking a lot of Abram. Abram might have said, “You know I am willing to go with you if you just tell me where we are going.” But God says, “No. Just walk with me!” This requires a tremendous amount of faith for Abram. Then God says: “I will make you into a great nation. I will make your name great. I will bless those who bless you….” (Gn 12:2-3). In Hebrew, the word “bless” means, “to bestow favor upon.” God is saying, “I will bestow my favor upon you.” There is no indication Abram has done anything to deserve God’s favor. God says, “Leave home. Walk with me and I will bless you. It may be scary, but I will be with you.”
The last, important part
Then comes the last part of the contract. God says, “All people on earth will be blessed through you. You will not only be blessed, but you will be a blessing. In fact, the whole world will experience blessings as a result of the blessing I give to you.” And so, Abram was blessed. He acquired many flocks and herds. (Gn 12:16). When he asked his neighbors for land to bury his wife, they replied, “You are a mighty Prince among us” (Gn 23:6). Clearly, God kept His promise.
What does this have to do with us? Something very significant! In Scripture, Abraham is the father of—not only Jews—but all of God’s people. Paul argues this when he says, “Those who have faith like Abraham, are Abraham’s descendants (Rm 4). Therefore, Abraham is our spiritual father. The covenant promise passes down from Abraham through Jesus, and therefore, to those who trust Jesus. Abraham’s promise is our promise: “I will bless you, and you will be a blessing.” We may think of ourselves as God’s favored people. We can expect God to bless us, as He blessed Abraham. God wants us to receive His blessing so that we may be channels of blessings to others. Why this is so important?
Some years ago, J. B. Philips wrote a book called, Your God is Too Small. In that book, he argues that most Christians have a concept of God that is woefully inadequate. Most of us think of God in the way we conceive of ourselves. Bigger and better, but not a whole lot bigger and better. As a result, we have little faith, small expectations and large doubt. We do not expect much of God, so we do not ask much of Him. We do not ask much of Him, so we do not receive much. As a result, our lives are not so different from the lives of those who do not believe in God at all. During the week, we eat the same food. Watch the same programs. Work at the same jobs. This is not God’s plan.
Unfortunately, we are less like the sponge dripping God’s blessings and more like the dried-up sponge. God wants us to see Him as a God of abundance. As a God of grace and blessing. As a God of glory and power. He wants us to expect great things from Him and to have lives that are full, rich and overflowing. Isn’t that His promise? “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall want for nothing” (Ps 23:1). He asks of us exactly what He asked of Abraham: 1) Journey with me. 2) If you do, I will bless you abundantly. 3) And from your blessings, others will be blessed.
The importance of process
If our material blessings cause us to become greedy, then God stops giving material blessings. The reason God could make Abraham fabulously wealthy was because Abraham owned nothing. He never did! Not even his own son. When God said, “Give him back to me” Abraham did. Abraham had everything but he presented nothing. He was open-handed with it all. God’s intention to bless us abundantly can go astray if we fail to share the blessings He bestows. If we “get” to keep, instead of getting to give, we become callous to the needs of the poor and oppressed and our ears are deaf to their cries. We forget that God has blessed us so that we can bless them.
The Church is not a building. It is people. And God blesses His Church so that it can be a blessing. Just like Abraham, we journey with God. We have not arrived but are in process. God calls us to leave everything that is comfortable and safe. To put our hand in His and go wherever He leads. Into places unknown. He says, “If you do this, I will bless you. I will pile blessing upon blessing, and you will be like a sponge dripping blessings wherever you go. I will do this because my intention is to bless all people around you, through you.
The two seas
Years ago, my wife and I went on a tour of the Middle East. When we stopped at the Dead Sea, we decided to take a swim. We changed into our swimsuits and tiptoed barefoot across the burning rocks. The water is beautiful to look at—shiny, blue under the desert sky. You just want to plunge in, splash and drink. But as you walk in, your skin begins to sting because of the high salt content. Why it is called “The Dead Sea?” Because it is dead. There is nothing alive in it. No fish. No seaweed. Nothing.
We also visited the Sea of Galilee. It was beautiful! Clean, sweet, refreshing water. It was full of fish and still supports the thriving fishing industry there. This sweet, fresh water is the same water that goes into the Dead Sea, but here is the difference. The Sea of Galilee takes water in one end and gives it out the other. The Dead Sea takes it in, but it does not give anything out.
God wants His church to be like the Sea of Galilee—receiving and giving. He will pour blessings upon His people. “I will open up the windows of heaven,” God says, “and pour out such a blessing that you will not be able to contain it” (Mi 3:10). Today, we may claim God’s abundant blessing, so that we can bless others. That is the way He designed it be. It is the Abraham story. And it is ours.