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The Other Blessing
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
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
"And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching
and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
 And everyone kept feeling a sense of awe; and many wonders and
signs were taking place through the apostles.  And all those who had
believed were together, and had all things in common;  and they began
selling their property and possessions, and were sharing them with all,
as anyone might have need.  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,  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