Joy of Sharing

Experiencing the Joy of Generosity

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?

If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 1 Corinthians 4:7

T In the Name of Jesus T

Experiencing the Joy of Generosity

“The Joy of Receiving God’s Blessings”

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?

If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 1 Corinthians 4:7

“Fruit of the Spirit” is the theme for FAITH’s Activity Year. During September we examined the spiritual fruit of peace, and this month we turn our attention to the spiritual fruit of joy. Last week at our annual Lutheran Women’s Missionary League emphasis we focused on how we can all “Serve the Lord with [joy and] gladness” (Psalm 100:2), and this week FAITH kicks off its yearly Stewardship Emphasis under the theme, “Experiencing the Joy of Generosity.”

This year’s emphasis is divided up into three separate aspects of joy-filled stewardship:

  • This week we will be covering the “Joy of Receiving God’s Blessings”;
  • Next week we will consider the “Joy of Managing God’s Blessings”;
  • And then we will wrap it all up the week of October 25 as we examine the “Joy of Sharing God’s Blessings.” That will also be when we receive our 2016 Commitment cards.

The Joy of Generosity—so then, let’s get to it.

Joy, Joy, Joy. There is going to be a lot of joy coming in the next three weeks. But first we have to make sure that we understand what joy actually is. A lot of people think that joy and happiness are synonyms, that they mean the same thing or are at least very similar in meaning. At the surface this might seem true, but if we actually compare joy and happiness, we see that there are some signifi-cant differences.

  • Happiness is an emotion in which one experiences feelings ranging anywhere from content-ment and satisfaction, on the one hand, to bliss and intense pleasure on the other.
  • Joy is stronger, but not as common, than happiness. Joy is often a feeling which is connected spiritually to God or to people. Personal sacrifice can even trigger joy.
  • Happiness comes from earthly experiences and material objects, like getting a nice birthday present or buying a new car.
  • Joy comes from spiritual experiences, like caring for others or being thankful for some undeserved blessings.
  • Happiness often shows itself outwardly through visible signs of delight, like smiling or laughing or even jumping up and down.
  • Joy often shows itself inside the person through an inner sense of peace and contentment.
  • Happiness, more often than not, is a temporary thing based on outward circumstances which often pass somewhat quickly. Your happiness at getting that shiny, new car can quickly dissipate when someone rear-ends you at a stop light.
  • Joy, on the other hand, can be long-lasting based on inward circumstances. You might not be happy when you get rear-ended, but the joy you have knowing that Jesus has already taken the punishment for your sins never ends.

There is a neat quote from this week’s devotions which are included in your FAITH Lines. The quote comes from Epicurus, an ancient Greek philosopher from the third century b.c. He said: “If you want to make a man happy, add not to his riches but take away from his desires.” Now I don’t mean to improve on what Epicurus said, but I might clarify it by noting: “If you want to make a man happy for a short time add to his riches, but if you want to make a man joyful, content, and at peace take away from his desires.”

So there are some similarities between happiness and joy, but there are also some significant differences.

  • Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, but happiness is not.
  • Joy can be present even in sorrow, but you can’t be happy when you’re full of sorrow.
  • Joy is having peace and contentment, and you can be at peace and content even in sorrow. Happiness is being elated, and you cannot be elated in sorrow.

Now let’s take a closer look at text: for today from 1 Corinthians:

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?

If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it? 1 Corinthians 4:7

First Corinthians was a letter written by Paul and inspired by the Holy Spirit. In it Paul was addressing practical issues that the church in Corinth was struggling with. They had many issues that were going on—like sexual immorality, lack of unity, issues with marriage, and idolatry to name a few. Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Read through First Corinthians and you’d think Paul was writing that letter today, because our society is still dealing with many of the same issues of sin that the congregation in Corinth wrestled with.

Another issue that Paul deals with is regarding the Corinthians practice of Communion. It seems that they had turned this wonderful means of God’s grace into a drunken party with segregation based on a person’s economic status. They didn’t know how to receive simply, humbly and joyfully this gift God was giving them in His Holy Supper. So Paul doesn’t mince his words when he points this out to them. He asks them:

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?

If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

Those were tough words, but they were true—true for the Corinthians them and true for our world today. The world today is great at seeking and receiving happiness, especially when that comes in the form of material riches, but the world is not very good at receiving blessings with joy, especially those blessings that remove desires rather than build wealth.

A lot of people, maybe even some of you, look at worship in a completely opposite way than God would have us look at it. Many people see worship as something we do—us giving something to God, us sharing our time, us sharing our offerings, us sharing our songs. That’s not what worship should really be. Worship isn’t us giving; worship is us receiving. In worship we receive God’s gifts, His blessings, His means of grace. For example:

  • When we confess our sins in worship, we receive God’s forgiveness.
  • When God’s Word is read and proclaimed, we receive that Word as it is applied to our lives.
  • When we come to the Altar for communion, we receive the very body and blood Jesus offered and shed on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins. In so doing we are in communion with “angels and archangels and all the company of heaven.”

And the same is true when it comes to our stewardship. There are some pastors who will not speak about money from the pulpit. I’m not one of those pastors. Some members cringe when the annual stewardship emphasis is upon us. They think that now here come those sermons on how we should give of our time our talents and especially our treasures—our money—to God. In fact, they even spell “stewardship” with dollar signs instead of esses.

But that’s not what stewardship is. Stewardship is not us giving to God with a special focus on material things. Stewardship begins and ends with us realizing what God has given to us, and the joy and the peace and the contentment we have that comes from this. Stewardship is the Gospel: “for God so loved the world that he gave!” (John 3:16). Stewardship is that God gave, not that we gave—God gave His one and only Son to die for us. Here’s what one pastor wrote about his own confusion regarding what stewardship is:

After Confirmation I went through high school and college years falling away from the church. I was somewhat involved, but, honestly, it was rather hollow and I was really just going through the motions.

Then in the mid-1990s my. . .brother was diagnosed with cancer and that rocked my world.  One time after visiting him in the hospital I was headed home, but rather than going home I headed to church. I knelt in front of the cross, and I prayed like I had never prayed before.

I tried to make a deal with God and said that, if He would heal my brother, in turn I would get more involved and would start tithing. I thought that stewardship started with me giving rather than me receiving what God was giving me. [Today] my brother is doing great and has been cancer-free for over 10 years.

But, even more important to me than the happiness that I received in the news that my brother was well, was the joy and the peace and the contentment that I truly now have in understanding what I have received from God on the cross. This is the reason that any time I come up to preach, I take the time to walk over to kneel in front of the cross.  It reminds me of what Jesus has given me.

Realizing what God has given us is the source of our joy, but it does not mean that we will always be happy and that is important for us to realize.

  • You may not be happy when you are sorrowful, but you can have joy even in sorrow.
  • FAITH had a couple of weddings lately, and weddings are joy-filled events. But some weeks FAITH has more funerals than weddings. Funeral days usually aren’t happy times, but they can be joyful times. Even in the sorrow of saying good-bye to a loved one, there can be joy, contentment, and peace in knowing what Christ has given them: life everlasting with Him.

A while back the news reported two stories—stories which had both huge similarities (just like happiness and joyfulness) but also stark differences. The two stories were about two young women who both were suffering with inoperable brain tumors. One whose name was Brittany had recently been married when she received her diagnosis, so she and her husband moved to a state where there is a “death with dignity” law, like the one Gov. Brown recently signed in California. So on November 1, 2014, Brittany took some pills that her doctor had prescribed for her—and she died.

The second story was about Lauren. Lauren, a young lady who was just entering college, had also been diagnosed with a brain tumor.  On November 1, the same day that Brittany died, Lauren played in her first and also last college basketball game—a game which she organized to serve as a fund raiser and to build awareness for cancer research. The game was televised on national TV, received a lot of press coverage, and also raised significant funds for cancer research.

So listen once more to the words of our text:

For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive?

Can you see something different in Lauren? Can you see in Lauren someone who realizes the gift of life that she has received and is a joyful steward of that gift.

One of my pet peeves is what I call “lettuce” sermons. “Lettuce” sermons are sermons that end something like this:

  • Since God loved us so much, “let us” love one another. Or:
  • Since Jesus lived His life serving us, “let us” follow His example and serve one another. Or, in keeping with our stewardship emphasis:
  • Since God has given so much to us, “let us” give generously to God in return.

Stewardship isn’t us giving to God. No. Stewardship is us receiving and using what God has given to us. Stewardship isn’t a “lettuce” topic. When we acknowledge all the gifts God so generously rains down upon us, we receive those blessings with joy. So “let us” experience the “Joy of Generosity” (Just teasing! Just wanted to see if you were still listening!) Amen.

T To God Alone Be Glory T