Building Grace Beyond Ourselves Week 3: Open Hands

Sermon Transcript

[Video]

[Michael]: My name is Michael Carter. This is my wife, Chandra Carter. We’ve been at Grace for almost three years. With regard to the Vision Expansion Campaign, I’m actually, along with several other members, one of the captains. We’ve been working with Pastor Chip and with Pastor Tom on some of the VIP meetings, and we’ve been called upon to kind of share our testimony.

Prior to going to the first one, Chandra and I had been talking about what we were going to do as a family as far as contribution. We’ve been praying on it. We still hadn’t gotten to where we wanted to be. So, the night before I was supposed to participate in my first Vision Information Party, I said, “Honey, we need to finish this conversation because I need to talk to others and I need to know that we’ve actually gone through the exercise.”

So, we started talking about “Head,” “Hand” and “Heart,” and we got to what we thought was a good number and we were like, “Alright. Well, let’s think about it.”

The next day, I said to Chandra, “Okay, here’s where I think we should be,” and she was still saying, “Okay. I think we can do this.”

[Chandra]: Even when Michael came back to me with that number, I’m like, “The first number we came up with, I could kind of see how we could get there.” The other number he came up with, I’m like, “Honey, I don’t know how we’re going to be able to do this.” And then, again, I was like, “Okay. Leap of faith. We’re going to commit to this number.”

[Michael]: We started with “Head.” Here’s what we think we can do. And then we said, “If we move some things around, we can get to the next level. But, in order to do more, it’s definitely going to have to come from God, because we have no way of knowing where that next piece is going to come from.”

Later that day, right before the vision information party, we got a call from our accountant. She had previously prepared us for a tax liability. And, after completing the books, she called us and said we didn’t owe the tax liability that we thought we were going to owe. So, earlier that day, we kind of settled on our number. We had no idea where it was coming from. And, by the end of the day, before the meeting, we got a call that said, “Hey, here’s where it’s coming from.”

You know, I listen to the stories of some of the other members on the campaign, and some of the other members in the church, and in listening to those inspirational stories, we’re like, “Hey, you know, that’s pretty awesome. When are we going to have our story? When are we going to have our testimony like that?”

And, right there, as we made the step of faith, our faith was met.

[Chandra]: I think, for me, it has forced me to increase my faith and to trust the process even when I can’t see the end. So, when you have this level of uncertainty, you don’t really understand how something’s going to work out or not, you just have to trust that regardless of how it works out, God has you. And, for some times, I didn’t have a whole lot of faith, but I think I had just enough faith to sustain me until I could build on that and increase our faith.

And, again, looking back on it, could not have orchestrated it any better.

[End Video]

Well, good morning to everybody, and, also, good morning to those who watch via the internet and the mobile app. You know, listen, I want to be up front with you. Not everybody’s going to have that experience, but I think what’s important here is to see that everybody that’s on staff and the captains and those that are involved have really, genuinely said, “Hey, God. What do You want to do? How do You want to work through me?” and all of that.

And we’ve played these testimonies up there just to let you know that God is at work in a lot of people’s lives. And I’m not saying it’s going to be that way for you, but that is what we’re doing here. And so, I’ve been very, very, very specific and intentional over this series, “Building Grace Beyond Ourselves,” because I knew where we were going. We were going to go in the next weekend, we were going to talk about buying a piece of land, building a building and, ultimately, we were going to have pledge cards and we were going to be taking up pledge cards.

And there’s no other way around it. I mean, when you are in a plane — I think everybody’s probably flown in a plane at least once — when the pilot gets ready to land, he doesn’t say, “Okay, everybody, if you could look at the TV now, we’re going to watch Wimbledon and some tennis.”

He doesn’t say that. He says, “Please fasten your seatbelts. Please do this.”

Because that’s what they’re doing. And so, I knew that as we were going to land the plane next weekend, and we were going to have to talk about land and a building, and talk about finances and all of that stuff, I wanted to make sure that I did something very specifically. There’s nothing against buying a piece of land, nothing against having a building and nothing against talking about finances in church.

But I wanted to make sure that if you were new here at any time during this series, or if you were a regular attender of Grace, that none of us — none of us — made this mistake that although we really would like to buy that piece of land, and although we would like to have a building that we can continue to grow in, and although we would really like to secure the finances to be able to do that, I want to make it publicly clear, and very, very clear, that Grace Community Church is not about a piece of land, it’s not about a building and it’s not about money. Grace Community Church is about the Lord Jesus Christ and it always will be about Him. Right? Amen? That’s important.

Because I’ve talked to a lot of pastor friends that have gone through this process of a building campaign, and they said, “Hey, what we became after we built our building was a lot different than what we were before we got that building.”

And so, I’ve been trying over this last few weeks to really put some deep anchors into who we are as a church and the DNA of our church so that we don’t get distracted as we go through this process. And there’s nothing wrong with the process, but I want to make sure that we stay focused on being the church that wants to reach the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ, and that we do not deviate from that at all during this process.

So, what I’ve been doing over the last several weeks, first week of the series, which was actually a few weeks ago, I spoke on having a legacy that was forward thinking. You know, most of us, when we think of legacies — and there’s nothing wrong with it — we think of leaving a legacy in the here and now. I talked about leaving a legacy into eternity, or taking one with us, or forwarding it to us into eternity.

And it was really cool because I preached that message and, this last week, a lot of the staff went to the art conference in Birmingham. And Mindy and I didn’t get to go. Part of it was because we had done a few things and it’s just really tough to get a sitter to watch all of our kids, because most of them aren’t sanctified yet. You know, all that good stuff. But I always go, “Man, I want to preach a great message. I want to be godly. I want to be a good pastor.”

And I preached that message and then I got what I felt was a great confirmation of, “Man, I really did good that week.” Because, as I was watching one of the sermons — or it was a session at the art conference — a couple of pastors got up and talked about how they got to meet Billy Graham before he passed away. And they were talking about that moment and how cool it was. They went in and sat down with Billy Graham. What came out of his mouth was, “I’ve always lived my life with the end in mind.”

And I was like, “I just preached on that. Me and Billy! Yeah!”

You know? I’m like, “I got one right. I got one right.”

You know? And I don’t know what you think about pastors, but you may think we walk on water or whatever else. Let me put that to rest. I don’t get up in the morning and go to my bathroom sink and start brushing my teeth and God removes the roof of my house and light shines down while I’m brushing my teeth and He’s like, “How are you doing, my son?”

“Oh, I’m doing great. I love this Aquafresh toothpaste.”

“Yeah.”

It doesn’t happen that way. My world is crazy. I mean, we have six kids. They’re wild. I mean, they bite each other, they wipe boogers on each other’s. I mean, we’ve got this dog. His name is Satan. I think his name is “Number Two” actually. He’s a cockapoo, so choose either word and that’s what you’ve got. Some of y’all will get that, some of you won’t. But the reality is this morning, I mean, I’m trying to get ready, I’m trying to dress up. I was like, “I’m going to wear a jacket this morning,” and I got a white shirt out. I’m like, “I’m going to look good.” All the kids are going crazy. This one punched me and this one took my iPad. I’m like, “I rebuke those iPads in the name of the Lord.”

You know? And all this stuff. So, what’s happened is said dog has decided to figure out how he can get into the trash can. He’s pulled some of the stuff out of the trash can. Well, he thinks when he has his food, or whatever he has, he’s real protective of that. He hasn’t got that knocked out of him yet, because he’s a puppy. He’s got this territorial thing.

So, Luke, my son, is trying to get the dog away from the stuff. The dog’s growling at him, biting at him. I go down there, there’s a mess on the floor. I’m trying to get the dog away. I’m like, “You better now growl at me, dude. I board you. I pay for your food. I give you a house.”

He’s even got this deal: He thinks that the second floor of our house is his own personal place to go to the restroom. It’s like, I don’t understand. When he goes down the hallway, right outside of Esther’s door, it’s like, “What?”

Anyway. So, what I’m saying is I came to church this morning sweaty, hands on, going, “God, please.”

It was cool, actually. One of my friends texted me on the way in and said, “Hey, I just want you to know I’m praying for you.”

I’m like, “Dude, you have no idea how important that prayer was for me.”

So, I’m saying all of that to say I’m doing my best up here as a pastor to do the best that I can, because I really want this campaign to be awesome. So, I talked about legacy. Last week, I talked about passion. I talked about a passion for the unchurched. I like that word because a lot of people say we don’t have a passion for the lost. We do. But there’s a lot of people that used to go to church that don’t go to church anymore. There’s people that got burned by church or burned by religion or hurt by something. So, I use the word “unchurched” because I want to see all of them. Lost and also people that used to go to church, I want to see them back in the house of the Lord, worshiping Jesus again and restored in their life and doing the things that God’s called them to do.

And so, I talked about having a passion for that. So, this weekend — and I think these are the three main, main, main pillars of a successful ministry, whether we worship in this building or a new building or a tent or out in the woods. Wherever we go, if we have the end in mind and we have a passion for those who are unchurched, there’s one more thing that we need to make sure that we’re still always doing a vibrant ministry here at Grace, and that is living a life with open hands.

An open-handed church is going to reach more people than a close-handed church. Can I get an amen on that one? Right? So, I am a theologian by trade. My little girl, Esther, depending on what day, she likes to call me daddy one day, then she goes into things and she’s like, “Pastor Chip? Pastor Chip? Pastor Chip?” And then it’s, “Doctor Chip? Doctor Chip?”

She’s like, “Are you a doctor?” I’m like, “I’m a doctor.” She’s like, “Can you put a Band-Aid on me?” I’m like, “I’m not that doctor.”

She doesn’t quite understand that. So, being a theologian by trade, I’m not a biologist or a scientist or someone who studies physiology or anything like that, but I did take a moment when I knew I was going to speak on open hands, and I looked at hands. And I realized that, of all of God’s creation, although there’s some primates that have hands, our hand is uniquely differing from every other created being’s hands. We have a very unique hand in the way the muscular structure of the thumb is and all of this stuff.

But, you know, I’m always looking at the body parts and going, “I know God hard-wired things in the way we live.” And I’ve shared this before. Our whole life, we prepare for resurrection, don’t we? I mean, we go to bed every night and it’s night time, and we wake up every morning and it’s light. We go to bed and we wake up. We go to bed and we wake up. Our whole life is a trial run for the ultimate day of resurrection. God has just embedded Himself in the created order if we take time to look at it.

So, I looked at my hand and I started thinking, like, hey, the hand has two positions. A clenched fist, which says, “You ain’t getting anything.” Like my dog. You ain’t getting this trash on the floor. This is my trash. You know? And that can be used as a fist to fight, or that hand can be open, and it’s surrender. I started thinking about hands. I mean, we create with our hands. We touch with our hands. We build with our hands. We work with our hands. I mean, these are incredible things. And we get to choose, in our life, whether we want to have open hands in our life or we have closed hands in our life.

And what I love about the Lord is He never really says to do something that He’s unwilling to do Himself. Look at what the psalmist says. Beautiful passage here. It says:

“You [God] open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.”

I mean, we could just pray right now, couldn’t we? I mean, that’s just awesome that God opens His hand and satisfies the desire of every living thing. You know, because Jesus opened His hand on the cross as those nails would have been blunt forced through His wrists. It would’ve popped that hand open. When you think about that, because of His open hands, He secured salvation and eternity for you and me. I mean, God is an open-handed God.

And we see that in Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6. It’s one of those passages that, when you read, everybody’s like, “Ooph.” Because Jesus says, “You know, listen, I want you to love your enemies. I want you to bless those that do you wrong. I want you to give and not expect anything back. I want you to love people that you would not normally love. Because, if you love the people that you normally would love, you’re not doing anything special. Love those that you would not love. Lend to those that you would not want to lend. Don’t expect anything back. Don’t judge. Live a life of a greatness. Give and do all those things and it’ll come back to you.”

I mean, right sandwiched in that passage — and that’s one of those tough passages. When you read it, you’re like, “Wow. That is tough.”

He says, “And when you do these things, you will be sons and daughters of the most high. Because, when you’re living this way, you look the most like your Father.”

And He says, “Because your Father, your Heavenly Father, is kind to the evil and the ungrateful.”

He says, “That’s what it looks like to have hands open in a radical way.”

Tom Wright, one of the great New Testament scholars, goes by N.T. Wright. Nicholas Thomas Wright. Tom Wright, in his commentary on Luke called “Luke for Everyone,” it’s a real easy commentary to read. This is what he says about that Luke 6 passage. I mean, it’s such great words. Listen to what he says here:

“The kingdom that Jesus preached and lived was all about a glorious, uproarious, absurd generosity.”

All about just open-handed living. Listen to what he says here:

“Think of the best thing you could do for the worst person and go ahead and do it.”

Open-handedness. He says, “Think of what you’d really like someone to do for you and do that for them. Think of the people to whom you’re tempted to be nasty and lavish generosity on them instead.”

He says, “These instructions have a fresh, spring-like quality. They’re all about new life bursting out energetically like flowers growing through concrete and startling everyone with their color and vigor.”

I mean, that’s just beautiful. Living a life of open-handedness. I mean, who in here doesn’t think we need some more kind and generous people in our world today? Come on, now. Think about it for a minute. I mean, you know that. I’m preaching better than you all are letting on. You just half clapped. Yeah.  I mean, seriously, we need some kind, gentle, caring, serving and open-handed people. I mean, my goodness. We do. It should start with us because God’s been so good to you and me.

I was coming to work — I was coming to church. I could call it work, I guess. That’s what my kids call it. “You going to work, Daddy?”

I mean, I’m coming here this morning and I thought, “I need a coffee after that run-in with Satan and the trashcan.” So, I decided to go by Dunkin’ Donuts. When you go by Dunkin’ Donuts on Fruitville, it’s sort of a bad design. You’ve got to go through the back of a bank to come around the front, and so the bank has two lines. Right? That’s the bank’s lines. And then there’s the line that you can pass through. Well, I don’t go through the bank lines. And it’s Sunday, but it doesn’t make a difference. That’s the bank lines. The road here was made for you to go. The only problem is it’s got two bumps on it. Okay?

So, here I’m doing the right thing. I’m pulling around. All of a sudden, this lady goes through the middle of the bank and cuts me off, as I’m going over the second bump, right around me. I’m like, “Man, I’m preaching on open hands today.”

That’s how it works. I need to be nice. So, I was like, “Hey, the lady in front of me, whatever she got, I’ll cover it.”

Because they know me. I go through there every day. So, if that was you, I love you, but you still cut me off. No. We just need more nice people. We need people to live open-handed, and it should start in the Church. We should be that way. We should be open-handed people. So, what I want to do is this: I want to read a couple of just selected Scriptures. I’m going to talk about them just a little bit. I just want you to ask the Lord to help you just listen to these Scriptures. Maybe they’ll speak to you in a different way than they’ve ever spoken to you. Maybe they won’t. At the end of the day, I’m just trying to say, “Hey, you know what? We can have a passion for eternity, we can have a passion for the unchurched, but if we’re a church that clenches our fist and we don’t live open-handedly...”

And I want to say something. I want to brag on this church. I think the most open-handed display in the history of Lakewood Ranch and Main Street is our First Friday. And let me tell you something: There’s a lot of people that come to this church today because of First Friday. Because when you open your hands, God blesses that type of lifestyle.

And I want you to know I was criticized early on for some of that stuff. I’ve been criticized by my family for being too open-handed. I mean, I’m being for real. People say, “Hey, you guys need to calm down.”

I’m like, listen, we want to give. We don’t do it so that God will give back to us. We don’t do it so that, you know, we watch TV and you put 100 dollars in and you get 1,000 back. None of that stuff is the reality. I just believe, with all of my heart, an open-handed lifestyle is the most blessed lifestyle that you can possibly live in this world. And I want to encourage us to live that way.

So, let’s look at a couple of selected Scriptures. Paul says to the Galatian church, “Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

Now, this is what’s important. We sort of naturally intuit the sowing and reaping thing. I mean, we get it. If you plant tomatoes or plant potatoes or corn, whatever you put there, whatever you grow, you’re not going to get something different. I mean, we get that. But what I don’t think we do often is look here: Paul says, “Don’t be deceived.”

In other words, we could be deceived. Have you ever thought about ways you might be deceived about this principle? Well, there’s at least three I know that we get deceived in, as a general rule. One is that I can avoid this. There are so many people that think they can snake their way around the idea of reaping and sowing. “God’s not going to — that ain’t going to happen.”

Whatever. And listen to me. If you’re new here today, this is your first time here at Grace, and maybe you just came in and you want to sort of just see what’s going on, let me tell you something: You can sit back, you can enjoy yourself, you can belong here before you believe. But what I will tell you is whether you’re a Christian or not, reaping and sowing is a part of our lives. This is something that you could walk out of here, even if you’re not a Christian, you walk out of here and know this is true to life. You can’t avoid reaping and sowing.

And I think the reason people think they can get away from it is deception number two. Since I didn’t reap it immediately, I won’t. You get a lot of people that say, “You know, well, I did that, and nothing happened, so nothing’s going to happen.”

And that can be good and bad. Things that we do good. Some people go, “Well, I tried to love my person. I tried to love my wife. I tried to love my husband, and nothing happened.”

That’s because we have a faulty view of reaping and sowing. We’ve been taught, unfortunately, by many Christian leaders that if you just do something, that God then automatically responds right away. That’s not true. That would put the onus on me. If I could do something that would guarantee that God did something back for me, who’s ultimately in control? I am. See, and that’s not the way it is.

Psalm 115:3 says, “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever he pleases.”

So, God’s in control. God’s the sovereign one. But what happens is when we sow something, if we don’t immediately reap it, we sort of get this idea that I can get away then from what’s going on. Can I tell you something? I want you to hear me and hear me well, especially those of you all who are younger, because decisions have consequences. What we do has consequences. It’s unfortunate, but as a pastor, many, many times I have sat down in an office and someone told me, “But this was something I did 15 years ago and now I’m paying for it.”

Because don’t be deceived. You can’t sow and not reap. And, oftentimes, we deceive ourselves because we think, “Well, I didn’t reap it immediately, so that’s not going to happen to me.”

And the third deception is that my reaping is always proportionate to my sowing. That’s not true. Oftentimes you sow little, but you reap lots. Many times, you sow lots and you reap little, but the bottom line is it’s not always proportionate. And, unfortunately, I can tell you in my life and what I’ve seen is that oftentimes when we do something that’s not good, the reaping from those decisions can be catastrophic in people’s lives. And they didn’t sow a whole lot, but they reaped the whirlwind when they made those decisions.

And so, what I would say is that that’s a truism. What we sow is what we reap. And when it comes to our hands, you can’t expect to reap open-handed living with a clenched fist. The way we reap open-handed living is with our hands open. The next passage of Scripture is out of Proverbs.

“One gives freely,” — the Hebrew is “one scatters,” like just throws it out there.

“One gives freely, yet grows all the richer.”

That seems counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? You just throw a bunch of stuff out and, all of a sudden, more comes in? You’d think, “If I’m throwing a lot out, nothing’s going to come in.”

And it says, “Another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.”

I want to just camp out here for just a second. My kids, when they go to the beach, they like to get sand in their hands and then they take it like this and put it in the water. And what they do is they open up their hand just a little bit and some of the sand goes out, and then they pull their hand out and they’ve got some of the sand. A lot of Christians, that’s what we sort of do. We open up a little bit and let a little bit go through rather than having open hands.

I don’t want to make anybody mad at me. I’m just going to hide here behind the Word of God because the Word of God is the one that says this, so don’t get mad at me. You can read it. It’s in here. Do you know one of the things that keeps you and me from living the life of abundance that God wants for us, and oftentimes keeps us from really living godly lives, and sometimes can even keep us from the kingdom of God, is wealth? And it’s all through Scripture. And you say, “Well, are you opposed to wealth?”

No. I’m not. If I were God, all y’all would have nice houses and cars, because I’m a pretty generous guy. Okay? So, it’s not that at all. But what I could tell you is that God realizes something. God realizes that the things that we have can have us. See, I’ve always said it this way: I don’t think God minds if we have things. I think God minds when things have us.

Okay? And what I would say is it’s real easy when you have stuff to do a little bit of this rather than doing this. And what that does, when you live this way, it creates anxiety and fear and all this stuff because you’re holding onto it. Can I just — don’t get mad at me, but everything that you and I have isn’t ours. It’s God’s. And God says, “Here’s the way I want you to live. I want you to give freely. I want you to scatter. I’ll take care of you. Trust me. If you withhold what you should be giving, then you’ll suffer want.”

Now, one of the best commentaries on the book of Proverbs is written by a gentleman whose name is Dr. Bruce Waltke. Bruce Waltke is totally regarded as one of the greatest Old Testament scholars of our generation. Nobody would doubt that. And you may not know this, but Bruce Waltke was Dr. Warren Gage —  our board member, my doctoral advisor at Knox. Bruce Waltke was Warren’s Sunday school teacher when he was a kid, and he was his seminary professor when he went to seminary. And Warren looks at him as a spiritual father.

So, as I was working with Warren at Knox, and we got closer and everything, Warren said, “You know, I think you’re like one of my kids. You’re a son. But, do you know what that makes you? That means that Bruce Waltke is your spiritual grandfather.”

And I was like, “That’s cool.”

So, when we were out in Washington doing our recording for our classes, we all three got together — me, Bruce and Warren — and had dinner. Here’s a picture from that evening. Isn’t that cool? Here’s Bruce. He’s 91, 92 years old. How come I’m so short? Man, I am always so short. And see, this is recorded, so Warren watches all of these sermons. He’s always checking up on me and making sure that I’m biblically correct, because he takes an interest in what I do. So, if you know Warren and I’s relationship, you know that we really enjoy teasing one another.

So, I just want to say, because he’s going to watch this, Warren, you’ve got a big head, dude. That’s a big head right there. And I think, just to be honest with you, there’s two good-looking guys in the picture. I think this is the way the picture should look right here. It’s two good-looking guys. He’ll get a kick out of that. He’ll love it.

Anyway, this is what Bruce says about this particular passage. Here’s what he says:

“The Hebrew verb, ‘the one who gives freely, the one who scatters,’ occurs nine times in the Bible with the sense to throw widely, loosely and freely about. None of its uses suggest tidiness, care or caution. ‘Scatters,’ here, means distributing widely, generously, perhaps brashly, and paying little attention to where the beneficence goes.”

Can you imagine if we as people trusted God in a way to truly live lives with open hands, really just loved on people, served people and said good things to people. We’re good to people. I mean, listen, we have an opportunity — let’s be for real. Society is in need of people that will honor people again. Society is in need of people to be good to one another again. Society is in need. Let it start here with us. Say, “God, help us to learn to be open-handed people that love people and serve people. And even when people do things nasty to us, let us return it with love and grace and kindness, Lord, because we believe that if we’ll do that, that flower will go through that concrete and you can do something great in their lives.”

Amen? Right? Okay. We’ve got a clapping problem here at Grace Community Church. The people online, they’re going, “Woo!” They’re jumping up and down. We’re like, “Uh, I’m not quite sure.”

Listen, it’s okay to clap. Can I tell you something? When you have open hands, you can clap. See how that works? Alright. Let’s continue on.

“He who is generous will be blessed, for he gives some of his food to the poor.”

This is a guy that, you know, he doesn’t have a whole lot, but he sees somebody that’s got need and he helps them. But here’s the beauty: He who is generous will be blessed. The Hebrew here is actually “if you have a good eye.” You’ll notice here this is not the ESV, this is the New American Standard Bible. The literal Hebrew is, “He who has a good eye.”

He who has a good eye will be blessed. And the good eye comes from the fact that many people, when they look at people who don’t have stuff, they look down on them. You know? If you’d work a little harder, if you’d try a little harder, if you’d do a little bit more. What the Scripture says here is that the person with the good eye is going to be blessed because he gives some of his food to the poor. In other words, he sees somebody in need and he helps them.

This is what R.N. Whybray says. He writes on commentaries on Proverbs. He says, “This clearly reflects the economic situation of the giver, who’s able to spare something for the truly destitute, but from a limited budget rather than from great wealth.”

And that’s the beauty is to be people with a good eye that looks at people and says, “Man, that is person that God created.”

You know, what’s interesting here is it talks about from a limited budget rather than great wealth. There’s a YouTube video where they deliver a pizza to a CEO of a multi-, multi-, multi-million-dollar corporation as he’s coming out of the building. And they’ve set this up. They’ve got a homeless guy that, you know, is sitting there. They’ve got everything set up. They give him pizza. Like, “This is yours. It’s a free gift. We just want to give it to you.”

He’s like, “That’s awesome. Thanks.”

He’s got his pizza and he’s walking down the street. And the homeless guy looks at him and says, “Hey, could you spare a slice?”

He’s like, “Nope,” and keeps walking. Then they find a true homeless guy — a true homeless guy — and they give him a pizza. And then they have a person that they’ve staged who’s dressed really nice who walks by and says, “Hey, man. That’s a good-looking pizza. Would you mind if I have a slice?”

The homeless guy goes, “No, not at all. Here,” and hands him a piece of pizza. I just want us to see that sometimes we could wake up a little bit. Let’s face it: Everybody here that lives in Lakewood Ranch and lives in Sarasota, Florida, compared to the rest of the world, we’re rich people. I mean, I understand we may not be rich compared to the rich standards of America, but every one of us has more.

I mean, we all had breakfast this morning. I got to go through Dunkin’ Donuts coffee. I have a dog. I mean, we bought a dog. We’re very, very blessed. We’re fortunate people. Let’s make sure that we have good eyes. When we see people that maybe are need, let’s be people that open up those hands because that hand of generosity might be the thing that leads that person into a relationship with Jesus Christ. Okay?

So, let’s remind ourselves of that. The last Scripture is, “Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered.”

I mean, this is the Word of God. Just let it speak to you. I mean, this is just true. Whether we want it to be true or not, these are true. When we’re people of blessing and people of honor and people of watering, it will come back to you and me. There’s no question at all. And I can say this here: I don’t talk about my own personal life that much because, honesty, I’d rather you know less about me and more about Jesus. That’s just the type of guy I am. But I will tell you this: Mindy and I have lived a life of generosity. We’ve been very, very giving to many people. And people will tell you that. I mean, we will. We just love people. I mean, we support kids with Compassion. We do all kinds of stuff.

We really are giving people. And let me tell you something: God has blessed us. And it’s not just all about the material things, but God has blessed us. And I’m not telling you to do that so that you can get a blessing. I’m just telling you that when you live a life of generosity and open-handedness, you’ll be blown away with what God brings back your way because that’s just the way God works.

So, I want to encourage you to be a church, I want us to be a church, I want us to be individuals that really open-hand in everything that we do. Because if we have eternity on our mind, if we have the end in the forefront of our mind, if we really have a heart for those that are far from God and unchurched, and we will live as people with open hands, I’m tell you what God will do in this church will blow you and me away. And we want to make sure that we keep the main thing the main thing. We don’t want to get distracted no matter where we meet. Whether it’s here or a new building or tent or wherever we go, we want to make sure that we remain the people that God has called us to be, because God is doing something special here at Grace Community Church. And I want to make sure that that specialness continues to happen in everything that we do.

So, I said all that to say that I want to bring this in to where now it’s just reality. Next weekend, we’re going to turn in pledge cards. Next weekend’s going to be a big deal around here because it’s probably as important a weekend as we’ve ever had. Here’s what I want you to hear from me: I’m not asking you to give a dime. Listen to me. I’m not asking you to give a dime. I’m asking you to ask God what He wants you to give. Big difference. I’m not asking you for nothing. So, in case you’re new here and whatever, you go, “Aww, man. Here comes the preacher asking for...”

I’m not asking for any money. I’m asking for you to simply say, “God, what would You have me to give?” and to be open-handed about it and just say, “God, whatever I can do.”

So, here’s the way it’s going to work. On your seat, there’s a pledge card. I want to go through this quickly, but I want everybody to know what’s going on so that nobody leaves here not knowing what’s going on. This is a little diagram here. Nobody needs to get married to this diagram. If you go and get a tattoo of this diagram, you’ve done wrong. Okay? That’s not what we’re asking you to do. It says, very specifically, “No one should feel confined to this schedule.”

And, by the way, as part of the campaign, we did not hire Guido to come to your house and check up on you during the campaign. We’re not doing any of that. Just whatever God wants you to do, that’s fine. This just gives you some idea of what you could give over a weekly, monthly or annually, and what it would equal out over the two years here of the pledge.

On the back, name, address, all that stuff is self-explanatory. But this needs a little explanation. You may say, “Okay. I’m going to give this over two years. This is what I’m going to give.” Okay? And you may have that number. But this first number here is really, really important to us next weekend. We have about 1.2, 1.3 million dollars in the building fund. We need roughly 2 million dollars to purchase the land. That’s the most immediate need that we have. So, we’re asking everybody whatever you can give initially. If you can give 10% of what you’re going to give over the two years, or you can give it all, or whatever you can do is to really try to bring in this firstfruits offering so that we can secure this land.

Then you can figure out how you’re going to give. You might want to give weekly, monthly, annually. You might have another timeframe. Quarterly. Whatever it is. Just write that in. And if you have anything that you want to give as an asset gift — stocks, bonds, whatever you want — you can put that in. And then just total it up and this is your commitment. And you’re going to bring that card with you next weekend. And when you bring that card, there’s going to be envelopes on your seat. You’re going to put that card in an envelope and seal it, because we don’t want anybody to feel like their gifts or what they’re giving is being seen by a bunch of people. It’s confidential. But we want you to hold that.

Now, if you’ve given a pledge card already, there’s going to be an envelope on your seat. Just lick it and hold it, because what we’re going to do is everybody’s going to turn in one of those envelopes. And we’re going to have here at the end of service next weekend where we turn those envelopes in. We’re going to have a song and we’re going to turn them in. You know, we’re not going to embarrass you if you didn’t turn in an envelope or you decided not to or you’re a visitor. We’re not going to go, “Uhh, Row 13, Seat 4, would you please shine a light on them because they haven’t moved?”

We’re not going to do that. That’s not who we are. There’s none of that here. But we believe this is a real significant moment for Grace Community Church, and we want it to be that way. Now, we decided as a church, and we could’ve decided however we want to do it, to use 1 Chronicles 29 as the pattern for giving. David gave first, then his leaders gave, and then the people gave. Well, we decided we were going to do that in this program. So, what we did is we started with Mindy and me, Tom and Nanette, the staff. And then the committee took about 15% of the top servers and givers of the church, people that are here for 3 services every weekend, people that contribute on a regular basis — we took those top 15% and we all pledged together.

I say this not because I want you to think, “Okay, well they’ve got it all handled,” because we don’t. We need more. But I want you to hear this: If you could’ve been there when they tabulate everything, I specifically said, “Please make sure you’ve tabulated this correctly. I don’t want a ‘ruh-roh.’”

You know? And, would you believe it or not, they gave me a “ruh-roh.” They put too — I’m like, you’ve got to be kidding me. But, here’s what we raised, and this is the honest truth. We raised, with the top 15% of the church, givers, servers, staff and everything, 1.8 million dollars for the 2 years. How about that? I mean, fantastic.

We thought it was 2 million, but I guess it got added wrong, which is — I didn’t have anything to do with it, so it’s not my math problem. Isn’t it funny how I didn’t even add it up wrong, but I’m the one who has to deal with it. You know? But, anyway, that was incredible. But we’re still short of what we need, and I just want you to pray this weekend and ask God, “God, what would You do through me?”

Let’s come in here and just rejoice next weekend. We’re going to pray out of here asking God what He can do. Before we leave, though, before we pray, I just want to give you a couple of real quick stories about open-handedness.

There was a homeless man in Colorado in this blizzard. He was helping people push their cars out of the snow. Well, a guy in a house saw him, got on his computer and put the GoFundMe thing together to help this guy get a house. Twenty-two thousand dollars were raised so this guy could come off the street because he was doing something nice. He had open-handedness and look what happened. He was blessed.

Another quick story. A guy in Texas, multi-, multi-, multi-, multi-millionaire had gone out during the Christmas season and had been scanning his card, buying stuff. I guess they shut his card down because he doesn’t normally buy that way. They wanted to make sure that there wasn’t any type of fraudulent activity. Well, he went through a drive-thru on the way home to get his wife and kids some food, scanned the card — declined.

The cook at the fast food store said, “Don’t worry, dude. I’ve got your 59 dollars,” and scans his card. The guy’s like, “What’s your name?”

He gave him his name. He says, “Is there anything at all in your life or in your world that you really have a need of?”

He said, “Yeah. I really want to go to college and I can’t afford it.”

The guy came back the next day and paid for four years of college for that young man. Why am I saying this? I’m not saying this so that you go out at Christmas, scan your card and somebody’s going to pay four years of college for you. That’s not my point. My point is when we live with open hands, God blesses people; He blesses us. Let’s be a church that lives with open hands. Right? Amen.

And, speaking of open hands, they’re in the back going, “Hey, it’s 11:18. You’re three minutes past time. We’ve got people out in the hub. You need to hurry up, boy.”

So, anyway, let’s pray and let’s mean this here.

Dear Heavenly Father, I come to You right now. My prayer is going to be real simple. Our prayer is going to be real simple. Here’s the prayer, because we’ve prayed this prayer over and over again, and we mean it: Lord, if You want us to move forward with land and a building, then Lord, speak so clearly this coming weekend when we see what the body has confirmed. And Lord, if for some reason this is not what You want for us, then shut it down and blow it up. Because, Lord, what we want more than anything is to do exactly what You want us to do.

So, Lord, as we leave this weekend, we leave thinking about being people with open hands, and we leave, Lord, with an admonition. We leave saying, “God, what do You want to give through me next weekend?”

And so, Lord, the only number that matters is 100%. I just pray that 100% of our body would pray that prayer and would respond. And Lord, whatever that comes to will be exactly what we need, exactly what You want for us, and You’ll make it very clear. So, Lord, we give it to You and we thank You that we can give it to You and trust You, knowing that You’re going to do the things that need to be done because it is Your will, not our will, that is done.

So, Lord, as we leave here today, I pray that You’d watch over us and protect us, I pray that You would lead and guide us, and I pray, God, that You’d bring us back safely to when we meet again. And help us, Lord, to continue to be the church that You’ve called us to be that reaches the unchurched by being intentional neighbors that reflect Christ for Your glory and for Your honor. In Jesus’ name, and everybody said, “Amen.”

Give the Lord a big hand clap and tell Him you love Him. See you soon. God bless everybody.

John Flowerree