Make a Life by What We Give

“A woman was out shopping one day and decided to stop for a cup of coffee. She bought a bag of cookies, put them into her purse, and then entered a coffee shop. All the tables were filled, except for one at which a man sat reading a newspaper. Seating herself in the opposite chair, she opened her purse, took out a magazine, and began reading.

“After a while, she looked up and reached for a cookie, only to see the man across from her also taking a cookie. She glared at him; he just smiled at her, and she resumed her reading.

“Moments later she reached for another cookie, just as the man also took one. Now feeling quite angry, she stared at the one remaining cookie — whereupon the man reached over, broke the cookie in half and offered her a piece. She grabbed it and stuffed it in her mouth as the man smiled at her again, rose, and left.

“The woman was really steaming as she angrily opened her purse, her coffee break now ruined, and put her magazine away. And there was her bag of cookies, unopened. All along she’d unknowingly been helping herself to the cookies belonging to the man she had shared the table with.”

the wrong-thinking cookie grab

You know, sometimes I’ll just bet we’re like that woman at the table. We’re enjoying the abundance of the Lord, enjoying the sharing of the Lord — all the while thinking it’s our plate of cookies. Unfortunately, we tend to live much of our lives in a kind of forgetful ingratitude. We somehow manage to forget the goodness, grace, and mercy of the Lord because we find ourselves focused on our “cookies” rather than on God.

Well, good news! There’s a remedy for those moments of wrong thinking as we grab for and focus on the cookies. Joshua 24.13-15 gives us insight into the remedy that will help us think a little better, and maybe live a little better.

Perhaps we know Joshua 24.14-15. We’re might be familiar with one portion that passage: “choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve….But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.” I’ve heard those words said by many folks, and I’ve even seen little signs or pictures in peoples’ homes that show those very words as a reminder to choose God everyday. And, as the words suggest, we must choose God over all the other things vying for our attention — every day, sometimes every moment of every day.

it all belongs to God

So, we know Joshua 24.14-15 and it’s demand to choose, but we may not be so familiar with Joshua 24.13.  Without Joshua 24.13, the full challenge of the passage is hard to really hard for us see: “So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant.”

We don’t have anything that wasn’t given to us by God. Not a thing. Top to bottom, inside and out — head, heart, and breath — we come from God. Homes to hobbies, cars to kids, what we have comes from God. Truth is, God gave us everything in his steadfast love and grace.

We hear it at the beginning of Psalm 24.1-2: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it. The world and all its people belong to him. For he laid the earth’s foundation on the seas and built it on the ocean depths.” Hard to miss that phrase, isn’t it: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything (not some things, everything) in it.” It all belongs to God, including us.

a gift from God

You know, I try to remind myself of this truth, especially when things go wrong. “You know, Lord, this is your car, and it would be great if you’d make it work…today, if possible.”  You can insert your own things-go-wrong into that sentence: air-conditioners, toilets, tractors, lawnmowers, computers, or kids.

Well, it’s a comic reminder, but the point is the same. This life we enjoy is a gift of God. From first breath to last gasp, we come from God, every bit of our lives. We belong to God.

Ultimately, when we think about who God is and how God loves, we are reminded of the gift of Jesus Christ. As Paul S. Rees observes, “Stewardship is not leaving a tip on God’s tablecloth; it is the confession of an unpayable debt at God’s Calvary.”

When we think about “choosing this day whom we will serve,” it may start for us in the things of this world — but it finishes at the lavish grace given so generously and ungrudgingly at the cross. That’s what helps us amend our wrong-thinking about the “cookies” of this life. A simple contemplation of the cross of Jesus helps us “choose this day whom we will serve.”

make a life by what you give

I once heard that we make a living by what we get out of life, but we make a life by what we give. Let us choose this day whom we will serve by reminding ourselves of the truth of Joshua 24.13. God gave us everything.

Let’s be a little more like the man at the table. Let’s be willing to give; let’s be willing to share. That day, that harried woman learned much about giving. Let us lead in that same way, by giving. Let us make a life by what we give. And, the greatest gift we can give is helping someone see the love of God in Jesus.

Let us choose this day whom we will serve by how we live, by how we give, by how we love. Let us choose this day whom we will serve by giving and loving like our gracious God. Let us do it every day as a reminder of who and whose we are.

A text for the table: Joshua 24.13-15.

Story Credit: woman with cookies from James Hewitt, Sermon Illustrations Unlimited, pp. 238-9.

Image Credit: “Generous.”