Pastor Edgar Mayer; Living Grace Community Lutheran Church; Message on Acts 10 – The Appointment 05; Date: 24 May 09

For more sermons and other writings check out pastor’s homepage: http://www.geocities.com/mayeredgar

 

 

The Double-Action

 

The Cornelius story provides still another key to our life with God. Listen again to the opening Bible verses – Acts 10:1-8: “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius … He was a devout man who feared God, as did everyone in his home. He gave many gifts to the poor among the people and always prayed to God. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, ‘Cornelius!’ Cornelius stared at him in fear. ‘What is it, Lord?’ he asked. The angel answered, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have ascended as a memorial before God … ’”

This is interesting. According to the angel – a monument – a memorial (not unlike the Anzac memorials that we know) with the name of Cornelius on it – ascended before God in heaven (honour came to Cornelius in heaven) and God – for that reason – in response – sent an angel to him on a mission of blessing. God was pleased with Cornelius and found it impossible to ignore him. Why? As Christians – and as those who are thinking about becoming Christians – we want to know because we also want God to be pleased with us. How are we to live? What concrete actions are at the heart of our relationship with God? The answer is in the Bible verses. I repeat them  – Acts 10:1-8: “ … Cornelius … gave many gifts to the poor among the people and always prayed to God … The angel said to him, ‘Your prayers and gifts to the poor have ascended as a memorial before God … ’”

We are left in no doubt. God took note of two things – the prayers of Cornelius and the money which he gave to the poor. God desires this kind of double-action in every Christian. At one time Jesus was asked by a Bible teacher – Mark 12:28: “ … Of all the commandments, which is the most importantJesus answered by saying – Mark 12:30-31: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than theseThis was the theory – love God and love your neighbour – which Cornelius then lived out in practice. He loved God by praying to him always and he loved his neighbours by giving them much money.

We could now go down the track and expand on what it means to pray always. For instance, another angel proclaimed in the last book of the Bible – Revelations 14:7: “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgement has come. Worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of waterWorship him for who he is and what he has done. In the same vein another verse says – 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: “Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus

When we pray, we give praise to God and – at the same time – we also exercise an immense privilege. There are promises attached to prayer. I give you two more Bible references – Hebrews 4:16: “Let us then [because we have peace with God through Jesus Christ] approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” Philippians 4:4-7: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice … Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ JesusPrayer is a privilege because God answers prayer.

We could now go down this track and say much – much – more about prayer but – for the purpose of this morning’s message – my guess is that we do not struggle as much with prayer as we struggle with the second part of the Christian double-action, that is: the giving away of money to the poor – our money. This is not a comfortable subject and some of us may even think that talking about dollars and cents in church is not spiritual enough (hard cash is of the world – not church) but – the truth is that – Jesus himself always talked about money. He preached more than twice as much on giving than on prayer and the angel explained to Cornelius that his prayers and money giving together ascended as a memorial to God. Both melded into one before God – just as the two commandments of loving God and loving others seem to have melded into one. Together they are the most important commandment.

Jesus even explained that – at their deepest level – the commandments of love do become the one commandment of loving God. He said – Matthew 25:40: “ … Whatever you do [original: did] for one of the least [for those that are hungry or thirsty, naked or sick or in prison] … , you do [original: did] for me

However – before we stress too much about where this may go – the good news is that God knows the value of money and does not object to us having some. Whatever we give to him, will return to us with interest. According to the Bible it is like a farmer sowing seeds in spring time and reaping a manifold return at harvest time. Seeds multiply. Money multiplies in God. Cornelius gave much money to the poor but then it became a memorial ascending to God and therefore God sent an angel to him with much more favour in return. The Bible again and again confirms this principle: Give and you will receive – empty your pockes and they will be filled again – with more than enough from God.

The Bible abounds in references to this. For instance, Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to youJesus said – Luke 18:29: “ … No one who has left home or [family] … for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life.” Luke 12:29-34: “ . do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it .. your Father [in heaven] knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well … Sell your possessions and give to the poor … ” 2 Corinthians 9:8: “And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” Malachi 3:8-12: “ … ‘Will a man rob God? Yet you rob me. But you ask, How do we rob you? In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse – the whole nation of you – because you are robbing me. Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it. I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not cast their fruit,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,’ says the Lord Almighty

According to the Bible and this last reference – God is so committed to making our money multiply that he invites you to test him in this. “Givehe says – maybe for the first time: “Try me in this and see whether I will not in return throw open the floodgates of heaven for you and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it.”

This is the good news. We are serving a rich God whom we can trust with our giving. Yet – and I say this before you open your wallet and start giving – when we delve deeper into the Bible teaching – the whole subject matter of money does become more difficult – even scary – after all. Even the last Bible reference was not only positive. God accused his people of robbing him because they were not paying the tenth of their income – plus offerings – to him for the upkeep of temple worship. Therefore, he announced to them that they were under a curse. Strong words! Alarming words – because: What do they mean for us? Does a Christian rob God when he does not give the whole tithe to God – that is: ten percent of his income – and is he therefore – at some stage – under a curse?

But why – with the promise of open floodgates – would we hold back money from God? Why did his people in the past? God knew why and he exposed their reasoning – saying to them – Malachi 3:14: “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What did we gain by carrying out his requirements …’” The people in the past lost faith in God – no longer believed that serving him would bring anything in return. You need faith to start tithing.

Another problem was greed. Giving money away goes against the grain of most of us – no matter what is promised in return. Only – human greed cancels out all of God’s promises. The Bible teaches – James 3:3: “When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasuresWrong motives – greed – frustrate prayer. God will not release anything in response to that.

Cornelius did not give his money to the poor for selfish reasons but as an act of worship to God. He was devout and God-fearing and Peter – therefore – preached about him in this manner – Acts 10:34-35: “ … God … accepts people … who fear him and practice righteousness … ” Therefore, any church sales-pitch which appeals to your greed – like: “Give to become rich. If you want a better car, put more in the offering plate … ” – is bound to end in tears. Greed is not God-fearing and is not righteousness.

Furthermore, God does promise to open up the floodgates of heaven for us but the blessings are not always in the form of prosperity and not always for ourselves. Cornelius did not receive a good investment tip from the angel – as much as that may be needed today in the midst of a global financial crisis. Cornelius and his family and his friends received far more than money. God granted them salvation, repentance unto life and the baptism with the Holy Spirit – Acts 10:44-46 – the Bible says: “ … the Spirit came on all who heard the message … they heard them speaking in tongues and praising GodGod set up Cornelius for the future – eternity – which is far more important than dying with the most toys on earth. [Consider also how Cornelius’ charity ended up leaving a mighty inheritance for his children who also received salvation and Spirit baptism because of him.]

We need to be careful here. The Bible teaches us words of wisdom – 1 Timothy 6:6-10: “ . godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil … ”

I give you one example which may illustrate how this can work out in practice. A pastor from the persecuted church in China writes about his years in prison – I quote from his book: “I noticed that my son wore the same clothes every time he visited me – the same clothes he’d owned at the time I was arrested. Even though he was growing much bigger, he had to keep wearing the same shirt and trousers. His shoes had large holes in them. Delin [my wife], Isaac [my son] and Yilin [my daughter] were extremely thin. I realized they had no money at all and were struggling to survive” (Brother Yun: The Heavenly Man, Grand Rapids: Monarch Books 2002, p210).

This family gave everything and were suffering in persecution. Where then were the provisions of God? Abundance did not come to them at that time but God proved faithful. He can be trusted to supply what is needed. The pastor’s wife wrote this about the years of hardship: “God helped us greatly while my husband was in prison. There are two special miracles that I’d like to share with you from this time. With only Yun’s mother and me left to run the farm, things were desperate! We had no clue what we were doing. We decided to plant sweet potatoes, but didn’t know how to do it. I found out later that we should have planted the roots about two feet apart. I had planted them just a few inches apart. All summer long our neighbours who heard about my foolishness mocked us and made fun of us! The news spread rapidly and I was the butt of many jokes. Then in autumn, all our neighbours started cursing because they had very poor yields from their harvest. Their sweet potatoes were only the size of tennis balls. When we pulled up our sweet potatoes, we found they were almost the size of basketballs! It was a great miracle and everyone knew God had taken care of us.

Our neighbours respected us more from that moment on and they didn’t view my husband as a cursed criminal any more … The second miracle took place when Isaac was three. We had to exchange a portion of whatever crops we produced because we owned no animals or fertiliser. Therefore it was imperative we had a good harvest, or we would not be able to buy food to eat or the other items we needed to survive.

This time I didn’t know how to plant wheat seeds. I placed them so close together that they carpeted the soil! Just a week before the wheat harvest, a severe hailstorm struck. Ice the size of tennis balls fell from the sky. I rushed outside when the hail started and could already see that some of our neighbours’ wheat fields had been completely flattened by the storm. Yun’s mother and I fell to our knees and cried out, ‘God, have mercy on us!’ A great miracle happened. Our field was the only one protected by the Lord. All our wheat was standing upright, untouched by the hail. Everyone else’s fields in the whole area had been obliterated. People came out of their homes after the storm subsided and saw how the Lord Jesus Christ had protected us. It was another powerful testimony to them. While we enjoyed thick, healthy wheat that year, our neighbours had no harvest and were forced to use what was left of their crops as food for their animals. Looking back, despite the hard times, the Lord was faithful to us” (Brother Yun: The Heavenly Man, Grand Rapids: Monarch Books 2002, p164-165).

God was faithful to his promises – in this case, not granting prosperity but the miracle of survival during the family’s worst years. How are you hearing this? Is this acceptable to you?

We continue with going deeper. Jesus attacked the rich with a vengeance and much of what he said makes us nervous – even today. I give you a further sample of his sayings – Luke 6:24: “ . woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort.” Luke 16:13: “You cannot serve both God and Money.” Luke 18:25: “ . it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Luke 12:15: “ … Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions

Jesus pushed this line to the utmost limits of anyone’s comfort zone and in the end demanded that we give up everything for him, saying – Luke 14:33: “ . any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 12:33: “Sell your possession and give to the poorThis then became practical and real among the first Christian about whom the Bible records – Acts 2:44-45: “All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods [when required], they gave to anyone as he had need.” Acts 4:32-35: “ … No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had … There were no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and … it was distributed to anyone as he had need

Wow! This is confronting and – by now – somewhat confusing. What is on God’s mind? On the one hand, he teaches the principle – Luke 6:38: “Give, and it will be given to you … ” He promises to open floodgates of rich harvests in return to our giving but, on the other hand, he asks us to let go of all of our possessions. What is going on here?

The answer is that God is absolutely committed to breaking the stronghold of money in our lives. God is a jealous God and he knows that – many a time – we trust in money more than we trust in him. We think that money buys insurance – buys power – buys status – buys pleasure – buys sex appeal – buys independence. We love money and we fear losing money. But God – to our great discomfort – is absolutely committed to breaking what money has become in our lives – before he again trusts us with lots of it.

Rees Howells raised millions of pounds (in today’s currency) for the kingdom of God during World War II but in his early days God taught him to depend on him alone for everything. He was to serve God (in preaching and prayer) but not earn a wage and not ask anyone for donations.

[Abbreviate and retell this section from Norman Grubb: Rees Howells Intercessor, Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press 1952, 159-160:] “On one occasion he only had a few days in which to get 20 pounds … There was another student, a Cambridge graduate, who had been saying openly that he had never prayed a prayer that had brought a direct, definite answer. So Mr Howells invited him to join in this prayer for 20 pounds. He had never heard of praying for money like that and expecting it to come. They were to pray for two hours one afternoon, each in his own room. The young man was exhausted at the end of it! He had never known time go so slowly; he said the two hours were like two months! Mr Howells did not pray through in the afternoon, so suggested that they should go back for a further two hours in the evening. ‘What!’ exclaimed his friend, ‘four months’ hard labour for 20 pounds!’ However, he agreed to try again if Mr Howells thought he could be of any help. Before the end of this second period of prayer, Mr Howells went to his room, and said, ‘You don’t need to pray any more, I am through.’ ‘Have you got the money?’ he said. ‘No, but I have got the faith, and the money will come.’ … Two days later Mr Howells received two 10 pound notes … he went to his friend’s room and held them up for him to see … “

Twenty pounds may not sound like much money but God – step by step – taught Rees Howells to live by faith in him and not faith in what he could provide for himself. He was to give up everything – and all control – for the floodgates of heaven to open for him – always. [By the way, did you notice the principle by which Rees Howells prayed until he had the faith for receiving the money. When the faith came – the boldness and certainty of faith – he knew that God would give according to his faith.]

This is not an easy walk. Another example from his life. [Abbreviate and retell this section from Norman Grubb: Rees Howells Intercessor, Cambridge: The Lutterworth Press 1952, 162-164:] “ … [Rees Howells and his wife were preparing to leave as missionaries to Africa] There is always a tendency to keep money, so as to get out of God’s testings,’ said Mr Howells, ‘and we tried our best to do it this time! Anyway, we had to spend the money, and all the people of the place thought we were well supplied. So we were, up to that week, and we thought money would be sure to come the day before we leave for London; but the last post came and no money, and our train was leaving before the post next morning. We thought it would be very hard to say good-bye to my uncle and aunt and little Samuel, but the burden for the train money made the parting a little easier! … Next morning, it was not so hard to part with our parents, because we had to walk to the station without the money! We felt sure that it would come on the station platform, but no, the time came for the train to leave. What were we to do? There was only one thing possible. We still had ten shillings, and we must go as far as we could with it, then our extremity would be God’s opportunity. We had to change trains at Llanelly station, about twenty miles from our home, and wait there for a couple of hours, so without letting anyone know, we only booked as far as that. There were many people at our home station wishing us all the good things, but what we needed was money to go to London! Many also came as far as Llanelly, singing all the way. The thought that came to me was, ‘I’d sing better if I had the money!’

… now the time for the train had come. The Spirit then spoke to me and said: ‘If you had money what would you do?’ I said: ‘Take my place in the queue at the booking office.’ ‘Well, are you not preaching that My promises are equal to current coin? You had better take your place in the queue.’ So there was nothing I could do except obey. There were about a dozen people before me. There they were passing by the booking office one by one. The devil kept on telling me, ‘Now you have only a few people in front of you, and when your turn comes, you will have to walk through. You have preached much about Moses with the Red Sea in front and the Egyptians behind; but now you are the one who is shut in.’ ‘Yes, shut in,’ I answered, ‘but, like Moses, I’ll be gloriously led out!’ When there were only two people before me, a man stepped out of the crowd and said, ‘I’m sorry I can’t wait any longer, but I must open my shop.’ He said good-bye and put thirty shillings in my hand! It was most glorious, and only a foretaste of what the Lord would do in Africa, if we would obey. After I had the tickets, the people who came with us to the train began to give gifts to us, but the Lord had held them back until we had been tested. We were singing all the way to London

This seems to be a nerve-wrecking way to live. In the end they were singing all the way to London because God – once again – was faithful but do we want to live in the same way – always on the edge of depending on God for everything? Maybe this message should have stuck with the topic of prayer. Cornelius not only gave money but also prayed and – maybe – we should have tried to be like him in that first – not get into these money matters.

Only – as we have said in the beginning – both are worship and both are spiritual (cf. Romans 12:1) and – even with God – actions speak louder than words. We cannot pray and propose to love him but then not practice mercy and pay the cost of serving him. Then – as a church – we need people who are confident that handling money – seeing it multiply by faith – is their main spiritual work. The Bible does talk about the grace gift of “contributing to the needs of others” (Romans 12:8; cf. 1 Corinthians 12:28) and we need people who grow in this gift of financing kingdom work.

Are we ready now to make this very concrete and practical? How much are you to give? A good starting point is what God told his people from the beginning. I read from the Bible – Leviticus 27:30: “A tithe of everything from the land, whether grain from the soil or fruit from the trees, belongs to the Lord; it is holy to the LordThe meaning of the word “tithe” is “a tenth part”. Ten percent was to be given back to God and as a starting point we may do the same. Freewill offerings are on top of that but the ten percent were to be returned to God first – before considering all of our other needs – as the Bible teaches – Proverbs 3:9: “Honour the Lord with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops

How does the figure of ten percent strike you? Is it too high? Is your income too low to meet this standard? One day Jesus was watching what people put into the offering box and – I read from the Bible – Luke 21:1-4: “ … Jesus saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. ‘I tell you the truth,’ he said, ‘this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.’”

Jesus praised the poor widow for giving to God everything that she had. It wasn’t foolish of her but an act of great sacrifice and worship. Jesus was pleased with her. We may think that two very small copper coins – or (today) two ten cent pieces – are not even worth putting into the offering bag. What can anyone buy for that? Yet, God takes an entirely different view. He views the small amounts as a testing ground for us. He says in the Bible – Luke 16:10: “Whoever can be trusted with very little can be trusted with much … ” (cf. Matthew 25:23). If we can be trusted to be faithful with a small income, he will be able to trust us with much more.

Are we still nervous? Hear God assuring us again – Malachi 3:8-12: “‘ … Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse … Test me in this,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that you will not have room enough for it … ’”

Tithing is a good starting point for giving back to God. However, then we can go further in our faith.[1] We are a rich people and therefore Jesus’ words apply to us – Luke 12:48: “ … From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” 1 John 3:17-18: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him? Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth

What do you think? With faith in God how far can we go? What difference can we make in this city and nation? I close with a testimony from Heidi Baker. She writes (April 11, 2007): “Years ago, I had a vision of Jesus surrounded by a multitude of children. Jesus looked at me with his intense, burning eyes of love, and I was completely undone. He told me to feed the children, and I began to cry out loud, ‘No! There are too many!’ He asked me to look into his eyes, and he said, ‘I died that there would always be enough.’ Then he reached down and broke a piece of flesh out of his right side. His eyes were so magnificently beautiful, yet his body so bruised and broken. He handed me a piece of his flesh, and as I took it and stretched my hand out to the first child, it became fresh bread! I gave the bread to the children and they all ate.

Then he put a simple poor man's cup next to his side and filled it with blood and water. He told me it was a cup of ‘suffering and joy,’ and asked me if I would drink it. I drank it and then started to give it to the children. It became drink for them. Again he said, ‘I died that there would always be enough.’ Since that day, I have taken in every orphan child he has put in front of me, and have asked my co-workers to do the same.

For the next ten years, I learned a lot about provision for the poor. With delight, I have watched God place bread in our hands for the children to eat. By his grace, every day there is somehow always enough food. Since the vision, we have gone from caring for 320 children to over 6,000. My heart is so full of praise and gratitude to God for how he has blessed us with all these beautiful children. I have stood in awe as God has grown us from a few churches to over six thousand in ten years time.

Jesus has given us fresh bread from heaven. We live to be in his glorious presence. He has poured out his love to us without measure. He has called us to bring the lost children home. I love him more than life! Every breath is for Him.”

First Heidi cried out: “No! No! There are too many orphan children. I cannot take care of themBut then she looked into Jesus’ eyes and heard him say to her: “I died that there would always be enoughFrom that day Heidi never said “no” to a single needy child. She kept giving what she had and trusted Jesus that somehow there would always be enough. [I am sure that a memorial in her name has also ascended to God in heaven.]

What about us now? How far can we go with the Christian double-action of praying and giving? Maybe we have to test this out in stages. We begin with tithing and then slowly get to a place where we also never say “no” to a single needy person among us. Jesus said: “I died that there would always be enoughTherefore – pray and give – according to you faith – and there will always be enough. Amen.



[1] Carlos Annacondia: Listen To Me Satan, Lake Mary: Charisma House 1998, p14-15: “Even though I was still working, the most important thing in my life was serving the Lord, not making money. This was a difficult situation for the members of my family who didn’t know the Lord and couldn’t accept that my life was devoted to him … During those first days of my walk with the Lord, something astounding was happening to me. During my times of prayer, God always showed me the shantytowns. At night when I closed my eyes, I could see poor areas that were shunned by society: children going barefoot and houses made of cardboard and corrugated iron roofs. At first I could not understand what God meant, and I thought I had to leave or give away my possessions, including my share of the company – simply give everything to the poor. I felt burdened by the Lord and spent many days praying and crying, not finding any peace. When I prayed with Maria concerning this, the Holy Spirit touched her and she said, ‘I am with you.’ But I couldn’t find any comfort.

                One afternoon, I told Maria, ‘I want to leave everything behind and move to Chaco to preach in the jungle. Do you want to come with me?’ Her response was, “I’ll go wherever you go.’ That same afternoon I left my home and decided to give everything away. The first thing I did was give my father my brand-new car since he needed one.

                Then I went to talk to my pastor, Brother Gomelski. After giving some thought to what I was telling him, he said, ‘You have worked very hard to obtain what you have; you didn’t steal it. Therefore, use your assets for God only when he asks you.’ That moment I felt as Abraham did when he lifted his knife, ready to kill his son. When God saw his servant didn’t hesitate but was willing to carry out his orders, even handing over his own son, God stopped Abraham’s hand. God realized that my treasure was not composed of my material belongings but of my love for him and for the lost. Today I realize that it would have been a mistake to give up everything, since for many people, including my family, it would have been more of a scandal than a blessing.”