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The Other Blessing

Malachi 3:10

Today, we are going to spend our time we will spend together studying God's Word a little differently. Though it is not unusual for me to quote from a book during a sermon, the quote is usually just about a paragraph long, today I'm going to read an extended passage to you to help us think about what I'm calling, "the other blessing." Last week, I read several of God's Promises to you, one of them included a promise that God will bless tithers. It says, "'Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in My house, and test Me now in this,' says the Lord of hosts, 'if I will not open for you the windows of heaven, and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.'" (Malachi 3:10 NASB) 

We didn't define that blessing, because the scripture doesn't. Some will interpret this verse to say that if you give money to God, He will bless you with more money for you to have and keep. If that's the case, why wasn't Mother Teresa a wealthy woman when she died? Why wasn't Jesus Christ a wealthy man when He died? I certainly don't know anyone who has spend a more giving life that Jesus, or people like Mother Teresa, yet their giving didn't result in more wealth for them.

Now I believe the cliche is true, you can't out give God. Mainly because He gives us 100% of what we have, and we only return a portion of that to His storehouse-the local church. But my observation of watching God bless people financially is that God is more likely to give through someone than to someone. Yes sometimes He blesses people financially, but I don't believe it is so they will have more comfort in their life, but because He knows they will spread it around where He wants it to go. 

One way I'm sure He blesses us, is that we have the assurance that we are doing our part to help the church fulfill its kingdom responsibilities. The scripture puts it this way, "that there may be food in My house."

For the past four years, I've been looking for "them" in our church but have only found "us." I often hear people say, "THEY ought to do something about that, or THEY ought to fix that." THEY aren't members of the church-all we have is "US." We are responsible. No one has more responsibility than another-we share equal responsibility. I don't mean to imply that we should give an equal amount to the work of the church, just that we should make an equal sacrifice. That's why the tithe is so just-it is a percentage of income, not a flat fee.

But enough talk about money. Because, really, money is only one component of what I'm talking about. One of the most powerful blessings we enjoy from tithing, is not an individual blessing, but a corporate one. Let me illustrate my point by reading you something that has nothing to do with money, but everything to do with the mentality of taking responsibility for the church and reaping the benefits of knowing that you don't just "take what you need" from the church, but that you also "give what is needed." I want to read one of my favorite passages from Future Church. It is about a time when Sandals Church Riverside was unified toward a common cause.

"Community, at its core, is more than hanging out with pals or fitting in with a group. It is more than a program or an organization. It exists, in its purest form, when the church is mystically transformed into the body of Christ-something Nathan Brown, the Administrative pastor at Sandals, Riverside experienced on August 21, 2000.

Nathan wanted everything to be just right for Danielle's birthday. It took some planning to pull it off, but logistics is Nathan's thing; after all, if he can relocate a congregation averaging 800 in worship across town, he could pull off a surprise party for his wife-it was no big deal. They dropped Leah, their newborn daughter, off at Heather and Carlos' and headed out to a steak house for the evening. Instead of going straight to pick up their daughter after dinner, Nathan made up an excuse of needing to pick up some chairs in order to stop by his brother's house. As he looked out of the corner of his eye at his wife, Nathan knew he'd pulled it off. She didn't suspect a thing.

Nathan pulled into Matt's driveway. Everything was normal. The crowd had done a great job hiding their cars. 'You wanna come in for a minute and say hi to Matt and Tammy while I go get the chairs?' Nathan asked. He opened Danielle's door and they walked hand in hand to the front door.

'Surprise!' Everyone yelled. Danielle was beaming. Usually she doesn't like attention drawn to herself, she's a behind the scenes kind of a gal, but she seemed to be soaking in the moment. The room was filled with church leaders from Sandals, but they were more than that-they were friends-they were family.

Nathan had worked hard to help his brother Matt build Sandals, Riverside. They are an unusual pair. Matt is a people person, a front-line leader. His personality is dynamic-there is just something about him that makes people want to buy-in to his dream and follow him. Matt is a dreamer. Not Nathan. His feet are firmly planted on the ground. His attitude is, 'tell me the dream, and with God's help, I'll make it happen.' He's all about making stuff happen. Little did he know that the church he'd help his brother build would become such an important community for his family. And I'm not talking about what was happening at Danielle's surprise party either. That kind of community is easy. Anyone can throw bean dip on a table, invite some friends over, and call it a party. But what was about to happen wasn't so elementary. It can't be explained by leadership, dreams, or administration-it was a God thing.

The room was immaculately decorated. There were tons of presents and food everywhere. As they were going around greeting everyone and thanking them for the party, a wrought iron gate slammed shut and Leah, Nathan and Danielle's daughter, jerked. A few seconds later, Carlos noticed that she clinched her fist, pulled her elbows into her side, then stretched them out. Carlos immediately called for Danielle, 'Hey Danielle, Leah's upset, can you calm her down?' When Danielle retrieved her six-week-old baby, she could tell that something was wrong. She grabbed a lock of Danielle's hair and started yanking on it and began shuddering. Nathan glanced over at Danielle and saw sheer terror in her eyes. He took Leah from her and tried to take Danielle's hair out of Leah's hands. Leah made a deep guttural sound-the sound of the last bit of air leaving her tiny lungs. It wasn't the sound of an 'I need attention cry' or 'I'm hurt cry'-it was far beyond those familiar sounds.

Leah was dying. Nathan walked into the house. Leah was turning blue. He walked away from the florescent lights, hoping the strange coloring was because of the lighting in the room. When he entered a room with incandescent lights, Leah's color had changed again: this time she was gray. There were three people in the room: Matt's in-laws and a 19-year-old girl. Nathan started CPR and told Elissa, the nineteen-year-old girl, to grab the keys in the baby bag and to come with him. Nathan made a split decision to drive the four miles to the hospital himself, instead of dialing 911. Danielle burst through the front door and ran out onto the front driveway just in time to see Nathan speeding down the street.

Danielle collapsed into a rubbery heap. Matt walked up behind her and helped her to her feet. Matt drove Danielle to the hospital. Inside, the party turned into a prayer meeting.

Nathan drove, Elissa breathed into Leah's cold lips, Nathan performed chest compressions and sped as quickly as he could to the emergency room, running four red lights in the process. He didn't bother parking the car; he pulled into the ambulance's parking place, put on the emergency break, took Leah from Elissa and ran into the hospital.

'My baby's not breathing.' Immediately, the doors to the emergency room flew open. One nurse directed Nathan where to go with his baby as another one set off the 'Code Blue.' As Nathan handed Leah over to the nurse, he knew his baby was dead. Eight doctors and countless nurses scrambled to Leah's bedside and began working on her. One of the nurses took Nathan in a room where he could be alone. He could still hear Elissa's words to Leah in the car, 'Hold on baby, you can do it, hold on.' The events of the past few minutes swirled through his head. In the car, Leah seemed to respond as Elissa performed CPR, but Nathan didn't know if that was because she was breathing or because air was being forced into her. Nathan reached for his cell phone and called Danielle's twin sister in New York, his Mom and Dad, and pastor Tom Lance, his sponsoring church pastor, to tell them what's going on and to ask for their prayers.

Then it got quiet-real quiet. Too quiet. His hands began to shake. His body jittered. His muscles tensed. As he assessed the situation, the lead doctor looked at everybody and said, 'We need to pray.' They defibulated her five times, incubated her-they did everything they could to save her.

'Excuse me, Mr. Brown, would you mind moving your car and parking it in the parking lot?' At the moment, the last thing Nathan was worried about was his car, but grudgingly he did as she requested. As Nathan walked back toward the hospital, he saw Matt's car pull in. He called to Danielle. They came over. 'What's going on?' Matt asked. Nathan didn't answer, he just held onto his wife. 'It's not good is it?' Danielle asked. Nathan responded, 'She was never ours.' Inside, Danielle held Nathan tight and sobbed. A nurse came over and asked if they'd like to move over to the meditation room. I know what's happening, Nathan thought, they're separating us from the general population so we don't scare the others when the Doctor comes out with the bad news.

Inside the room, others from the church joined Nathan, Danielle, Elissa, and Matt and they prayed. 'Lord, no matter what happens, we'll serve you,' Nathan prayed. 'There's no doubt in my mind that you can heal her, but whichever way it goes, we'll serve you.' Others prayed. They prayed for healing, comfort. The prayer circle ended with someone saying, 'In the name of Jesus we pray that she'll be healed. Amen.'

As they looked up, a doctor rushed into the room and said, 'We got her back!' Leah wasn't out of the woods, but she was alive. The doctors transferred her to a larger hospital. Nathan and Danielle were in no condition to drive, so people from the church drove them. The next morning they finally crashed around 1:00 at the hospital, but they weren't alone-a couple men from the church remained behind and prayed over them all night long.

The next night, some other men stayed and prayed over them. Sandals people brought meals for the family; one family parked their RV on the Hospital parking lot so the Browns would have a place to stay. Up to 30 people a night stopped by to pray. People cleaned their house for them and did their laundry so they'd have clean clothes. Some of the people at the party began fasting that night and spent the next two weeks in prayer and fasting for Leah. One night, about 11:00 PM, Nathan had to sign a release authorizing an emergency surgery. He picked up his cell phone and called Tony, the community pastor, and Mark, the prayer minister, and asked them to wake up all the small group leaders and have them call their small groups and ask them to pray for Leah. That night the church rose up in prayer for one who could not pray for herself-some of them drove to the hospital and 'prayer walked' around the building-and God heard their prayers.

Many of these people who surrounded the Browns were single without kids, but were drawn into the circle of community with compassion for Leah. It wasn't that they fit a demographic profile or that they had that much in common with Nathan, Danielle, and Leah, it was the love of Christ that compelled them to minister and connect with a brother and sister in Christ.

It isn't what people said that meant a lot to the Browns, it is what they did that counted the most. 'The people that were the most awesome were the quiet people that were just there,' Nathan says. 'The people that said 'I love you' and stood with us so we didn't have to be alone. Those were the people that had the most impact on us during our trial.'

Today Leah is OK. She's met all her developmental goals for her age and Nathan and Danielle are optimistic-optimistic about their daughter's future and their church's.

Some people settle for picnics on the 4th of July or potluck dinners after church and think they are experiencing Christian fellowship. But in the 'valley of the shadow of death,' others find real community. Sometimes the shadow is theirs, and sometimes it is someone else's that they run to, to stand beside. Regardless, they learn that in those times God is there, in the midst of His people-in community." (Future Church, 234-40) 

Acts 2:42-47

"And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 

[43] And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and signs were taking place through the apostles. [44] And all those who had believed were together, and had all things in common; [45] and they began selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all, as anyone might have need. [46] And day by day continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart, [47] praising God, and having favor with all the people. And the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved." (NASB) 

And that my friends, is the other blessing-being together. Doing something together. Sharing responsibility. Doing my part. Don't you want that blessing too? 

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