The Blessings We Don’t Deserve

Just a few weeks ago on a Saturday evening, a small group of followers met together in this sanctuary for a Christmas Eve service. The part of the service that I enjoy the most is the candle lighting service. The room starts dark with just a single, solitary candle. From the Christ candle on the altar, another candle is lit. As the light of Christ is passed from one person to another, the darkness fades until the whole room is lit with the warm glow of candles representing the light of Christ.

Did you ever stop and think why the whole room becomes filled with light? We often think when we share something, we lose a little part of ourselves, but if that was the case, the room would be dimly lit by the time we are done. Instead, the power of sharing increases the light. How is it possible that you take the light of a candle, divide it in half and in half again and again and again, and yet each candle burns with the same brightness despite being shared?

Instead of diminishing when you share the light, it spread, so when you share your flame, instead of half the light you have twice the light. Many people think that when you share a blessing, you lose a portion of it, however our blessings from God are a lot like that flame, when we share our blessing, it spreads and you have twice as much. When you share the things God has given you, it spreads out what God has given you and does not diminish the gift. God delights in blessing his people and just like that candle flame when we share God’s blessings with others, it doesn’t diminish the blessing, it spreads it around and makes it greater.

God is generous in every way and he is generous to us so that we can be generous to others.

Today, I’d like us to make a decision together. I’d like us to agree we will be like God, in that we will be a blessing to others. Will you agree to spread the light?

22 That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants and his eleven sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 23 After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions. 24 So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob‘s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. 26 Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.”
But
Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”

27 The man asked him, “What is your name?”
Jacob,” he answered.

28 Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.”

29 Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.”
But he replied, “Why do you ask my name?” Then he blessed him there.

30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared.”

31 The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip.

Again this week’s message corresponds to a passage that we have read this past week. Let’s take a closer look at the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel. What’s the background? Jacob has been told by God to return to the homeland of his father. He had gone to Haran to find a suitable wife. There he met Rebekah. Through deceit of his uncle Laban, not only did he end up marrying Rebekah, but also her sister Leah. Through a series of events, Jacob now has eleven sons and a very large contingent of flocks and herds. Jacob is nervous, to say the least, about meeting Esau. Remember that Jacob had tricked Esau out of his birthright. Esau sold his birthright for a pot of stew. Not only was Esau tricked out of his birthright, but with his mother’s help tricked Esau out of his father’s blessing for which Esau was furious and had vowed to kill Jacob. It’s with this background that we come to the passage that we read.

Jacob knows he is about to face one of the toughest days of his life. He probably did what most of us do when caught between a rock and a hard place. He didn’t sleep but began to worry. Jacob while he was all alone meets this man (an angel) and wrestles with him all night. The man says, “Let me go.” Jacob replies, “Not until you bless me.” Jacob had no doubt that God could bless him. The question is, would God bless him.

Let’s think about God the Father for a moment. Let’s think about God the Father in human terms. Jesus did in the gospels. Jesus said, “If you humans, who are evil, know how to give good things to your children, how much more will God, who is good, give good things to His children.” We as parents, desire to bless our children and given enough resources we do. God desires to do the same for us and he has unlimited resources.

God did bless Jacob and Jacob call the place Peniel, which means “face of God.” He needed and received a blessing in his time of need.

Think about what God has given to you throughout your life. Do you see the evidence of His touch in your life? How many of God’s blessings have you deserved?

This story of Jacob is quite a story. Jacob was a fighter. He began his life hanging on to his brother’s heel. I wouldn’t want Jacob for a brother. He connived, cheated, and lied. He was a hustler and swindler even with dealings with his uncle. With all this in mind, Jacob still asked God to bless him, even though he didn’t deserve it. We’ve all seen someone do this. Ignore God and act like he doesn’t exist and then when the going really gets tough ask God to help and he does. It doesn’t seem fair. If we were God, we would probably ignore or worse yet, punish someone like that. Most of us would agree someone like that doesn’t deserve any help. He may not have deserved God’s help, but he got it anyway. We serve a God of generosity who blesses us even though we don’t deserve his blessing.

Isaiah 30:18 says, “Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.” Let’s make this more personal. You don’t deserve God blessing, and yet, he gives it to you anyway. That’s what we call grace.

A story is told about the dark days of the last century—the Great Depression and World War II:

The people of New York City often referred to Mayor Fiorella LaGuardia as “the Little Flower,” because he was only five feet four and always wore a carnation in his lapel. He was a colorful character who rode along on fire trucks, raided speakeasies with the police, took entire orphanages to baseball games, and whenever New York City newspapers were on strike, read the Sunday funnies to the kids via radio.

One bitterly cold night in January 1935, the mayor turned up at the night court that served the poorest ward of the city. An obscure law allowed the mayor of New York to serve as a magistrate. On this particular evening, LaGuardia invoked his right, dismissed the judge for the evening, and took over the bench himself. Within a few minutes, a tattered old woman was brought before him, charged with stealing a loaf of bread. She told LaGuardia her daughter’s husband had deserted her, the daughter was sick, and her two grandchildren were starving. Yet the shopkeeper, from whom the bread was stolen, refused to drop the charges.

“It’s a real bad neighborhood, your Honor,” the shopkeeper told the mayor. “She’s got to be punished to teach other people around here a lesson.” LaGuardia sighed. He turned to the woman and said, “I’ve got to punish you. The law makes no exceptions—10 dollars or 10 days in jail.” But even as he pronounced sentence, the mayor was already reaching into his pocket. He extracted a bill and tossed it into his famous sombrero saying, “Here is the ten dollar fine which I now remit; and furthermore I am going to fine everyone in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread so that her grandchildren can eat. Mr. Bailiff, collect the fines and give them to the defendant.”

The following day, New York City newspapers reported $47.50 was turned over to a bewildered old lady who had stolen a loaf of bread to feed her starving daughter and grandchildren—50 cents of that amount being contributed by the red-faced store owner. Some 70 petty criminals, as well as a number of New York City policemen—each of whom had just paid 50 cents for the privilege of doing so—gave the mayor a standing ovation.

That’s a picture of gracious generosity. We serve a generous God. Who suffered and died on the cross for us. He has blessed us beyond measure with houses and wealth and families and health. We are truly a blessed people.

Will any one of us stand up and say this is what we deserve? We know better. We are blessed because God is generous—not because we deserve it, but in spite of it.

But wait, there’s more…There’s great joy in being generous and God wants us to experience the joy of being generous.

By the way, Jacob’s blessing was not only for Jacob, but for his sons and daughters and all generations that followed. Through the generations of Jacob came Jesus Christ, the greatest blessing of all – “God with us.”

We need to remember that God doesn’t give us blessings so that we can keep them for ourselves. Remember the Christmas Eve candles? Our denomination was named after a man who died with enough money to bury himself. John Wesley was a rich man and yet died a poor man, not because he squandered his money (or blessing) but he earned all he could, to save all he could, to give away everything he could. He understood that it is our responsibility and privilege to bless others. The Apostle Paul writes, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God” (2 Corinthians 9:11).

Melva Cooper tells about her eight year old granddaughter, Mary Kathryn.

One day, Mary Kathryn—all excited—brought home her report card. She got all “A”s, and she knew her grandfather would give her a dollar for each of them. Sure enough, granddad was thrilled to see the excellent grades and counted out six one-dollar bills for Mary Kathryn.

She was thrilled! She now had six dollars to spend any way she chose!

A couple of days later, Mary Kathryn asked her grandmother to take her to the Dollar Store. She said, “Grandma, I want to spend four of my six dollars to replace the items in our treat box at school. That will leave two dollars for me.” Picking out just four things at the Dollar Store wasn’t all that easy. Mary Kathryn would pick one thing, then put it back and choose something else. Finally she had it narrowed down to six items.

“Help me choose four things, Grandma,” Mary Kathryn pleaded. The little girl was in a quandary. If she chose two items for herself, she would have to put some of the others back. She wouldn’t be able to give all she wanted to the other children.

Finally, the little girl made a decision. “I know, Grandma,” she said, “I will just use all of my six dollars to give to the treat box at school.”

Like that little girl, we need to realize that everything we have is a gift from God. It goes against the grain to give away to others. We want to keep it for ourselves.

I When you have an opportunity to give, do you see it as a chance to bless others? And here is the question for each of us: “Am I willing to be generous to others like God is generous to me?”

For almost forty years, Eunice Pike worked with the Mazatec Indians in southwestern Mexico. During this time she discovered some interesting things about these beautiful people. For instance, the people seldom wished someone well. Also, they were hesitant to teach one another or to share the gospel with each other. If asked, “Who taught you to bake bread?” the village baker answered, “I just know,” meaning he had acquired the knowledge without anyone’s help. Eunice says this odd behavior stemmed from the Indian’s concept of “limited good.” They believed there was only so much good, so much knowledge, so much love to go around. To teach another meant you might drain yourself of knowledge. To love a second child meant you had to love the first child less. To tell someone “Have a good day!” meant you gave away some of your own happiness, which could not be reacquired.

When it comes to generosity, our thinking can become like that of the Mazatecs. We may think that by giving to others, we will have less.

Here is the lesson every one of us needs to learn—God’s grace has no limit. His generosity is boundless. When He gives to us, He is not made less by it. And when we give to others, we gain.

Make this decision today: I will be generous to others because God is so generous to me.

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