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An Economy of Abundance

This week, for the first time since living in Penhold, we planted a garden. I mean, last year we did plant a little flowerbed with a few veggies in it, but we’ve never had a real garden space at this house until this year. Which has been has been bit disappointing to us – previously we’ve always had large gardens and we love fresh peas and corn and carrots and beans and all that. But landscaping is always a multi-year process (for us anyway) – everything takes time and we just hadn’t gotten to the point where we were ready for the garden. But finally, this year, having dug up our entire backyard anyway, we were finally ready to plant a garden.

So that’s what we did on Saturday and now we’re all pretty excited to watch those tiny little seeds sprout and grow and then ultimately produce a whole bunch of really good things to eat! 

And it’s always amazing to me how one little seed produces so much! For example, if you plant just one little bean seed, that little bean seed will grow and produce a plant with about 20 bean pods – and each of those pods hold about 6 beans – so that’s roughly 120 beans produced by planting one little bean seed. That’s a pretty good return on investment! You plant 1 and get 120 back!

Corn is even better. You plan one little kernel of corn and you get a plant with at least one (maybe even 2 or 3) corn cobs with each having between 500-1200 kernels each! That’s a really impressive return!

Tomatoes are even more amazing. In each average-sized tomato, there are between 150-300 seeds. That’s per tomato – and each tomato plant grows a lot of tomatoes! Now we probably wouldn’t get this with our short growing season, but in the commercial greenhouses, one tomato vine will grow about 200 tomatoes in a season. So even at 150 seeds per tomato, that’s 30,000 seeds all produced from one little tomato seed. Incredible.

And then, just as one final example, consider an apple seed. If you plant one single apple seed, you can grow a beautiful apple tree. That apple tree, once’s it’s fully mature, will produce on average (depending on the variety) about 500 apples each year. Each of those 500 apples will hold about 10 seeds – so that 5,000 seeds per year. Now perhaps that’s not as impressive as the 30,000 tomato seeds, but this apple tree will continue producing these apples year after year for at least 20 years or more. That means, that over the lifetime of that apple tree – from one little apple seed – will grow over 100,000 other apple seeds.

And I bring all this up because I think it’s a wonderful illustration of how the economy of God is an economy of abundance. And I’ll explain what I mean by that in just a minute, but first, let me back up and remind us all of what we’ve been talking about for the past several weeks.

Right now we’ve been going through a series entitled “Kingdom Living” and we’ve been wrestling with the question of “How do we live in the Kingdom of God?”

The Bible tells us that when we accept Christ as our Saviour – we also accept him as our King – and rightly so! Not only is God deserving to be our king – I mean, He is our Creator, He gives us life and sustains us, He loves us so much that he became like one of us and even died in our place…  So not only is God deserving to be our King, but He’s also uniquely qualified to be King. He is all-knowing, all-powerful – He’s morally perfect. We couldn’t imagine anyone more qualified to be king.

So out of all the people that we would want to be our king (including ourselves), God is logically our preferred choice. We read in Romans 12:2 that his will for us is good and pleasing and perfect. Isn’t that the kind of king you would want? A King who loves you like crazy – a King who has all the power to do whatever he chooses and the wisdom to make right choices every single time – and to top it all off, his will for you is good and pleasing and perfect?

That’s certainly the kind of king that I want to have. And so I’m quite happy to pray as Jesus taught us – “Thy Kingdom Come. Thy will be done on earth, in my life, in my family, in my community – just as your will is being done in heaven.” Because I know that God’ will, that God’s kingdom, is good and pleasing and perfect.

So even though we live in this place and in this society and in this culture – we live in this world, but we’re not of this world. As Paul puts it, we are citizens of heaven – citizens of the Kingdom of God.

However, that comes with a lot of challenges for us because God’s kingdom is very different from the kingdom of this world. It operates by a very different set of rules. Very much like traveling to a different country – we find that the Kingdom of God has different customs, different values, different cultural expectations, and even a different economy. 

And we started to touch on that idea of God’s economy just a little bit last week as we concluded our mother’s day message. We talked about how our western society today has become probably the most individualistic, me-centered society in the history of the world. I think we’d be hard pressed to find another culture in any period of history where it was more ‘every-man-for-himself’ than it is today.

We no longer make decisions based on the needs and desires of society as a whole, or as people groups, or even as family groups – but more and more, every decision is based on the needs and desires of the individual. The question is always “What’s best for me?” – not, “What’s best for us?”

And that’s a stark contrast to how things work in the kingdom of God. Jesus teaches us (and shows us by example) that we are to put others first. That we are to sacrifice for the good of others. That we are to give up our rights and our privileges and the things we’re entitled to for the benefit of one another.

Jesus certainly did that. The ultimate example of course was sacrificing his life on the cross for us. He lived and died and rose again, not for his own gain, but for the benefit of all of us.

And Paul tells us in Philippians 2:5 that as his followers, we…

5 You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had. Philippians 2:5 NET

We should have that same self-sacrificing love for one another that Jesus has for us. And I’m guessing that most of us wouldn’t argue with that. We agree with the theory that as followers of Jesus, we should have a self-sacrificing, generous, putting-others-first kind of attitude. But the hard part is actually living that out. I mean, what does that even look like?

We talked about Mother’s last week (being Mother’s Day) and how they sacrifice all kinds of things for their kids. They give up sleep – they give up all kinds of time. Many moms sacrifice their careers or personal ambitions, and instead they work in the kitchen and in the laundry room tirelessly for the sake of their kids, and you moms could certainly add to this list all the ways that moms sacrifice out of love for their kids.

If we are to have that same kind of self-sacrificing love for one another – what does that look like for us?

We looked at the example in Acts 2 of those first believers who sold their property and possessions and shared the money with those in need. Is that what we’re talking about? Is that what God is calling us to do? Sell our stuff so that we can give to others? 

Does putting others first mean we should give up our comfortable homes or our multiple vehicles or our retirement savings in order to share with others? Are we selfish to have an abundance when many others have much less?

I mean, how self-sacrificing should we be?

And that’s a great question to lead into today’s message because I think before we can answer those types of questions, we need to make sure we understand of the economy of God. Economics in the kingdom of God are very different from the economics in the kingdom of this world.

Now most of you did not come to church this morning expecting to talk about economics. In fact, for some of (particularly some of you kids) have no idea what economics even are. So before we go any further, we should probably define this term ‘economics.’

I found a fairly simple definition of economics – one that’s been used economic textbooks for more than 100 years. It goes like this:

“Economics is a study of man in the ordinary business of life. It enquires how he gets his income and how he uses it.” ~ Alfred Marshall: Principles of Economics (1890)

So basically, economics is the study of how we get stuff and how we use that stuff. That’s the basic idea. Our economy is how we manage and acquire and produce and use up our resources. And so some of you might immediately see how the economy of God might be very different from the economy of the world.

But let me try to point out a few differences. And try to bear with me – I’m not an expert in economics but I’m going to try to explain a couple economic concepts. If you happened to have taken economics in university, you’d probably be the better one to explain all this, but I’m going to try anyway! And don’t worry – there is a Scriptural point at the end of all this! So if you tune out during this economic talk, tune back in when we start pulling out the Biblical principles!

Now the economics of the world are based on the worldview of scarcity. Let me show you another definition of economics that reflects this understanding. This definition is probably the most commonly used definition in modern economics today.

“Economics is a science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have alternative uses.” ~ Lionel Robbins: London School of Economics (1932)

Now I may have lost some of you already, but basically this is saying that economics is the study of people as they decide how to use their limited resources (their scarce means) to get what they want. If I were to explain this to my kids, I say “You have limited money – you have a million ways to spend it/invest it/grow it, what are you going to do (with what you have) – to get what you want?”

Well, the part that I found really interesting as I briefly looked into this study of economics is how important this idea of scarcity is to our economy. Let me give you one more definition – this is the definition of scarcity.

“Scarcity refers to a gap between limited resources and theoretically limitless wants. The notion of scarcity is that there is never enough (of something) to satisfy all conceivable human wants, even at advanced states of human technology.” ~ Wikipedia

Scarcity says there’s never enough of something to satisfy everyone’s limitless wants. There’s just not enough gold in the world to satisfy everyone’s possible desire for gold. Shoot, I might want 7 billion tons of it for myself. There’s always more wants for gold than there is actual gold. That’s the idea of scarcity. 

Investopedia explains scarcity this way:

In a hypothetical world in which every resource—water, hand soap, expert translations of Hittite inscriptions, enriched uranium, organic bok choy, time—was abundant, economists would have nothing to study. There would be no need to make decisions about how to allocate resources, and no tradeoffs to explore and quantify. 

In the real world, on the other hand, everything costs something; in other words, every resource is to some degree scarce…. Scarcity is the basic problem that gives rise to economics.

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/s/scarcity.asp

So as you can see, scarcity is the engine that makes our economy work. It’s the founding principle of supply and demand – that is, when things are scarce – when there is not enough supply to go around, the demand is high – therefore, so is the price. We experience that every May Long weekend at the gas pumps. Captialism and really, the world’s economy is based on that principle of supply & demand – which is in turn, based on the notion of scarcity. 

But what if the notion of scarcity was actually a false notion? What if God designed the world to function without scarcity? What if there was an abundance of everything for everyone? 

Let me ask you a question: I don’t know how you imagine heaven, but in your imagination, do you think that anyone in heaven will be in need? Will there be some rich and some poor – or will everyone be fully satisfied?

Or how about this question: If you could design a perfect world, how would you do it? Would set it up with limited resources so that everyone would have to fight over it to see who would get what? Or would you set it up so that there was an abundance – so that everyone had more than they needed? If you were God, how would you create the world?

It seems to me a no brainer that a perfect world created by a good and pleasing and perfect God, would be a world full of abundance, not scarcity. It seems to me that God would design things so that everyone single one of us could have all that we needed and more!

And you know, I believe He did. I believe that’s the world that God designed and created. We looked briefly at those different seeds this morning. One apple seed producing 100,000 others? Theoretically, in 50 years, there could be 10 billion apple trees from one seed. That’s an apple tree for every man, woman, and child on the planet.

The economy of God is an economy of abundance. Let me give you two examples from the Bible. The first is the example of mana. When the Israelites left Egypt and began heading towards the promised land, they quickly began to grumble and complain that God wasn’t providing for them. They didn’t have food to eat! So what did God do? He provided for them in an abundant and  miraculous way. We read in Exodus 16 verse 11.

11 Then the Lord said to Moses, 12 “I have heard the Israelites’ complaints. Now tell them, ‘In the evening you will have meat to eat, and in the morning you will have all the bread you want. Then you will know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 That evening vast numbers of quail flew in and covered the camp. And the next morning the area around the camp was wet with dew. 14 When the dew evaporated, a flaky substance as fine as frost blanketed the ground. 15 The Israelites were puzzled when they saw it. “What is it?” they asked each other. They had no idea what it was.

And Moses told them, “It is the food the Lord has given you to eat. 16 These are the Lord’s instructions: Each household should gather as much as it needs. Pick up two quarts for each person in your tent.”

17 So the people of Israel did as they were told. Some gathered a lot, some only a little. 18 But when they measured it out, everyone had just enough. Those who gathered a lot had nothing left over, and those who gathered only a little had enough. Each family had just what it needed.

Exodus 16:11-17

This is a great example of the economy of God. Even when some gathered a lot and others gathered a little – everyone had just enough. Each family had just what it needed. And that went on for 40 years. Verse 35 says…

 So the people of Israel ate manna for forty years until they arrived at the land where they would settle. Exodus 16:35

God faithfully provided for them – so that everyone had enough – for 40 years. Of course, God didn’t stop providing after that. He provided for them in a different way as they were then able to being eating from the produce of the promised land – the land flowing the milk & honey. God continued to abundantly provide for them.

The other example that I want to share is the story of how Jesus multipled the fish and bread for 5000 men plus women and children. This is a great example of how the disciples lived according to the notion of scarcity – that there wasn’t enough – But Jesus knew differently. It says in Matthew 14:15…

15 That evening the disciples came to him and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away so they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.”

16 But Jesus said, “That isn’t necessary—you feed them.”

17 “But we have only five loaves of bread and two fish!” they answered.

18 “Bring them here,” he said. 19 Then he told the people to sit down on the grass. Jesus took the five loaves and two fish, looked up toward heaven, and blessed them. Then, breaking the loaves into pieces, he gave the bread to the disciples, who distributed it to the people. 20 They all ate as much as they wanted, and afterward, the disciples picked up twelve baskets of leftovers. 21 About 5,000 men were fed that day, in addition to all the women and children!

Matthew 14:15-21

Now both of these examples that I’ve given you here are miracles – they are exceptions to the rule. This sort of stuff doesn’t usually happen. But that being said, the fact that God chose to do this – miraculous or not – shows us God’s design and God’s desire. He wants to provide for his Creation abundantly. God delights in providing for us. His economy is an economy of abundance – not scarcity.

But here’s the issue: When we look at the world around us, we don’t necessarily see abundance. We see people around us homeless, jobless, unable to provide for their families – even in Canada. Outside of Canada, we see whole countries in poverty – children dying from starvation. That’s the sad reality. That’s not God’s design and that’s not God’s plan – but the world does operate by the principles of scarcity.

And the reason for that is sin. One of the biggest factors of course, is the sinfulness of man – everyone of us being selfish and me-centred as we’ve been talking about – but another factor is the curse of sin on the earth brought about by Adam & Eve. In Genesis 3 verse 17, God says to Adam…

17 And to the man he said,

“Since you listened to your wife and ate from the tree

    whose fruit I commanded you not to eat,

the ground is cursed because of you.

    All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.

18 It will grow thorns and thistles for you,

    though you will eat of its grains.

19 By the sweat of your brow

    will you have food to eat

until you return to the ground

    from which you were made.

For you were made from dust,

    and to dust you will return.”

Genesis 3:17-19

The curse of sin has changed the world (which God has designed to provide for us abundantly) so that now, we must struggle to survive.

But here’s the good news. Ever since that time, God has been at work redeeming and restoring His good creation! Now usually we think of God’s redeeming work in terms of God saving us from sin – giving us eternal life with Him through the death & resurrection of His Son Jesus – and that’s certainly that central part of this. But God is continually countering and undoing the effects of sin in His Creation.

If you’ve been watching Survivor recently – they’ve been theming this season around Ghost Island – and the idea is that they are remembering contestants from seasons past and some of the biggest mistakes that have been made in the game. And as they do that, they present a similar opportunity to the current contestants with the challenge to “Reverse the Curse”. The idea being – Let’s see if you make the same mistake.

But that’s exactly what God is doing – he’s reversing the curse. He’s undoing the damage brought about by sin. Of course, the key part in that and the central message of the Gospel is that Jesus defeated death by rising from the dead – and we can have life through faith in Jesus – but there is so much that comes with that. Paul writes in Romans 8:20….

20 Against its will, all creation was subjected to God’s curse. But with eager hope, 21 the creation looks forward to the day when it will join God’s children in glorious freedom from death and decay. Romans 8:20-21

All of creation is part of God’s redeeming work.

I think it was at Justified not too long ago that we talked about how Jesus didn’t just come to die and rise again. His life was actually just as important as his death. He came to show us how to live in the Kingdom of God. He came to carry out God’s work of reversing the curse.

When John’s disciples were wondering if Jesus really was the Messiah or not – do you remember what Jesus told them? In Luke 7:22…

22 Then he told John’s disciples, “Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, those with leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor.” Luke 7:22

How do we know that Jesus was the Messiah? He was busy reversing the curse. He was undoing the damage of sin. He was carrying out the good and pleasing and perfect will of His heaven Father – redeeming and restoring Creation.

And what’s exciting to me is that we get to be part of that. Not only has God redeemed us, but He’s invited us to join him in his work of redeeming the rest of Creation.

As citizen of the kingdom of God, we get to live in the economy of our abundant God and generously share that with the world around us. We get to bring God’s abundancy into a needy and hurting world.

That’s what God was doing when he provided 40 years worth of quail and mana for the Israelites. That’s what Jesus was doing when he provided fish and bread for those 5000+ people. That’s what those early church believers did when they sold their property and possessions to share with those in need. They were bringing God’s abundancy into a needy world.

And we get to do the same thing! Everyone of us are recipients of God’s abundancy. From our physical blessings (like food and clothes and shelter and much more), to relational blessings – friends, family, community to spiritual blessings like (forgiveness, peace, joy, and life.) God has been so generous to us. 

And God invites us to generously share his abundancy with those around us. Even though we live in a world operated by the principles of scarcity – we can counter the effects of sin and help restore God’s Creation by operating under the principles of abundancy.

Jesus invites us to do that in the famous sermon on the mount, in Matthew chapter 5. What Jesus says seems pretty backwards, but he’s inviting us to counter our culture and operate under the principles of abundancy. Let me give you an example, in Matthew 5:40, Jesus tells us…

If you are sued in court and your shirt is taken from you, give your coat, too. If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile, carry it two miles. Give to those who ask, and don’t turn away from those who want to borrow. 

Matthew 5:40-42

On that same track, in Luke 6 Jesus says…

When things are taken away from you, don’t try to get them back…. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked.

Matthew 6:30 & 35

To most people this sounds really backwards. Getting sued and then giving more than what you are sued for? Being robbed and not trying to get it back? Loaning out money without expecting repayment?

We simply can’t do that when we operate under the principles of scarcity. We can only do this when we understand and live in the abundancy of God. 

When we recognize that all we have is a gift from God – and there’s plenty more where that came from – then we can be free to be generous. We can be free to join God in bringing abundancy into a needy world – restoring and redeeming God’s good Creation.

And can you imagine what would happen if all of God’s people began to live like this? Instead of clinging to what we have as our own – what if we just started giving generously to the people around us? Instead of looking to our government to give us tax breaks for our charitable receipts, or grants for our summer workers or funding for our Christian schools – what if we flipped it the other way around?

What would happen if the church started donating donating to the government to help fund hospitals and long-term care facilities and housing for the poor.  That probably seems like a pretty crazy idea – but doesn’t that seem like the kind of stuff that God would want us to do?

Shouldn’t we be mimicking Jesus and using God’s resources to help the blind see, the lame to walk, to bring cures to those with leprosy, to help the deaf hear, and bring Good News to the poor.

As citizen of the kingdom of God, we have the privilege of joining with God in his work of restoration and redemption. And that isn’t limited to just sharing about Jesus. That’s critical of course, but our world is broken in so many ways – and there is equally as many ways that we can help bring healing and restoration to our world. That may seem like a daunting task, but we have all of God’s resources at our disposal to do it.

And our part in bringing restoration might just be as simple as giving a hug to some someone who needs a hug. It might be as complex as our whole church investing years of time and money to build and operate something like the pregnancy care centre or an addiction recovery ministry. Who knows what God might put on our hearts? But certainly if God leads us to do it, he has all the resources necessary to make it happen. 

The famous missionary, Hudson Taylor said…

 “God’s work done in God’s way will never lack God’s supply.” ~ Hudson Taylor

So here’s the question I’ll leave you with for this week: How are you working with God to bring restoration and redemption to a hurting and needy world? For most of us, God has already given us abundant resources to begin bringing joy, and hope and help and healing to our community and our world. But we have the choice: we can operate in the world’s economy of scarcity –  clinging to what we have – fearing that we won’t have enough.  Or we can operate in God’s economy of abundance – giving generously and confidently – knowing that our God, with his limitless resources, is at work through us – restoring and redeeming Creation.

 

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