24 February 2019
Pastor Mike Yamamoto
Good morning, kids! In preparation for this message, I was thinking how I can make you all happy this morning. So, I thought and thought and thought…what would make you all happy? Then, I thought, all kids like treats! So, I want to give you all something this morning, hoping that it’ll make you happy.
I’ll give you 2 choices, and you can choose, okay?
- Do you want this one that I took time to think about, and prepared, and wrapped, hoping that you’ll really like it? Or
- … (look around, look puzzled, look pressured) … (reach into pocket as a last resort) … this one?
(confirm who wants which one)
(ask why they chose it, elicit some answers, hope that the kids will arrive at some good answers)
Those are some great reasons! Did you know that God feels the same way when he receives something from us? It’s true! Like us, God really likes thoughtful gifts. God gets really happy when we give him something that we put time and thought into.
I know this, because all throughout the Bible, and even from the very beginning of the Bible, we see how God feels about gifts. Does anyone know the story of Cain and Abel in the Bible?
(confirm, elicit a response)
There were 2 brothers. The older brother was named Cain, and he was a farmer who grew fruits and vegetables. The younger brother was named Abel, and he, too, was a farmer, but he took care of animals. Now, when it came time to give God a gift, Cain gave some fruits to God, but Abel brought the best meat from some of his best animals. Now, which gift do you think God liked?
(elicit a response, ask why?)
That’s right, God liked Abel’s gift, NOT because he likes meat more than vegetables like me, but because Abel put time and thought into his gift to God. God didn’t like Cain’s gift, NOT because he doesn’t like vegetables, but because Cain didn’t put care and attention into his gift to God.
So kids, when we give something to God, let’s remember that God really likes thoughtful gifts, and that God gets really happy when we give him something that we put time and thought into.
What can I give? I think this is a question that we often ask ourselves when we’re buying a gift for a special person. Valentine’s Day passed just a couple of weeks ago, and I’m sure there were many people asking that same question, “What can I give?” as they picked out their “honmei” chocolates for their special person.
Here in Japan, we also have these things call “giri chocos” or obligatory chocolates. Even if they are yummy chocolates, no one really likes “giri chocos”, or anything given out of obligation, for that matter. Any one and every one would much rather prefer to receive “honmei” chocolates given out of genuine sentiment I’m sure. We all prefer genuine love, care, and attention, and God is not excluded.
In the kids’ message, we looked at the story of Cain and Abel. This is the story from Genesis 4:2-7:
Today, I want us to understand the significance of an offering or gift to God.
Some people confuse the difference between a tithe and an offering. While tithing is a requirement in keeping with Biblical teaching, an offering is voluntarily given. It goes beyond money, and for today, I’m not going to talk about tithing or money. What I do want to focus on is offering in the form of our time and service, and the proper attitude that should go with it.
In the Bible, we see examples of people giving sacrificially as an offering to God in order to gain his favor. I believe the key concept here is “to give sacrificially”. We saw that example from the beginning of time with our story of Cain and Abel, and we continue to see it all throughout the Bible.
To understand the story a little bit more, let’s think about what it took for Cain to prepare his offering, and what it took for Abel to offer his. The obvious lack of details gives the impression that Cain just simply gathered “some” fruits from his harvest. Not the best-looking ones like the ones you see in the “Hankyu Depa Chika”, nor the first fruits like the $1,000-box of 50 first crop cherries here in Japan. The Bible says exactly that in describing Cain’s offering to God—simply “some of the fruits”. In other words, Cain’s offering to the LORD lacked thought and purpose, not only in terms of what he was offering, but also to Whom he was offering it.
In contrast, Abel’s offering was of the fat “shimofuri” portions of meat, that even to this day, and especially here in Japan, are more highly prized than the lean “akami” portions of meat. Hands down, fat tastes good. It’s the reason why people put butter on bread, oil in salad dressing, and fat serves as the main staple of flavor on virtually all food and cooking.
On top of that, it says that Abel took the fat portions of meat from “some of the firstborn of his flock.” This is significant in that he basically killed his best chances at stability. The “firstborn” was not only significant for its notion of strength, health, and God’s blessing and provision, it also literally represented his ability to reproduce and sustain his income and livelihood. Kill the firstborn, and the parent animal has no foreseeable future, and neither does the person who depends on the animals for food and money.
These “firstborn” animals represented everything for Abel, and he sacrificially gave them to the LORD as an offering. It showed that Abel trusted God to grant more future animal offspring. It showed that Abel trusted God with his livelihood and future. And it showed that Abel revered God and thought very highly of Him. That’s why God looked with favor on Abel’s offering, but not on Cain’s.
In the kids’ message, I phrased it as “time and thought” and “care and attention”, but I hope that you can make the connection with this key word of “sacrifice” when it comes to giving and offering to the LORD. We give sacrificially, because we trust in God who is the Provider of all of our needs.
Can you recall another Biblical example where someone was presented with the decision to give his/her firstborn as an offering? (Abraham and Isaac, Hannah and Samuel) In both cases, we have to understand what’s at stake here. For Abraham, if Isaac were given to the LORD, there is no future and no fulfillment of God’s promise to make his descendants as numerous as “the stars in the sky and as the sand on the seashore” (Genesis 22:17). For Hannah, if Samuel was given to the LORD, she would remain childless and in anguish and grief (1 Samuel 1).
In both instances, both Abraham and Hannah responded to the call to sacrificially give with obedience, faith, and trust, and the LORD looked upon them with great favor. Isaac’s life was spared, and God’s promise was fulfilled. And Hannah was blessed with more children after Samuel, three sons and two daughters to be exact.
For us today, I put this in the context of serving and ministry, because it’s the most tangible way to show that we put God first. When we serve God and others through the local church and in ministry, it’s supposed to cost us something. It’s supposed to take up our precious time and energy and resources. It will be uncomfortable. But in doing so, we make a conscious and tangible decision to say that God is first in my life.
It may very well mean that serving will cut in on your valuable free time. It may very well mean that you make a conscious decision to prioritize your time and use it more wisely. It may very well mean that you will have some busy and tired days. It may very well seem like you’re giving up a lot, but isn’t that what sacrificial giving is?
King David said,
Even with his authority and power as king to be able to obtain anything he wanted for free, this was David’s reply when it came time for him to give an offering to the LORD. That’s giving sacrificially.
The woman who anointed Jesus with oil and perfume that cost a full year’s wages was chastised by the disciples for being wasteful. But Jesus commended her for “doing a beautiful thing”, something that was appropriate because she understood to whom she was giving. (Matthew 26) That’s giving sacrificially.
The widow who, in her poverty, gave two coins, which was her entire livelihood, to the church was commended by Jesus for giving more than the rich people who were giving lavish gifts, but only out of their abundance. (Luke 21) That’s giving sacrificially.
And God really loves sacrificial giving, because it shows trust, it shows faith, and it shows devotion. On the other hand, NOT giving sacrificially is like giving leftovers to God. If an important guest were coming over for dinner, would we serve leftovers? That’s what Cain did, and quite frankly, God did NOT look upon his offering with favor.
Cain’s offering was NOT sacrificial giving. It was giving out of convenience. It was me reaching into my pocket and unthinkingly giving what I can scrounge up. It was a “giri choco”. It was giving out of obligation.
Even worse was Cain’s subsequent reaction. He got angry at God for a problem he himself caused. It’s what Proverbs 19:3 says,
My prayer is that we would not be like Cain when God convicts us to give of ourselves and serve.
The proper example to learn from is Abel’s. His offering was one that wanted to please God. I think in his heart, he was asking the question, “What can I give to the LORD that would make him happy?” “What can I give to the LORD that he is deserving of?”
When it comes to giving of our time and serving at church, we should similarly ask: “What can I give as service that would make God happy?” “What can I give as service that would honor God?”
And I say this, because I want every one here to experience the reality of
I see it happening as more and more are stepping into serving roles. And as you do, I believe in faith that you will experience God powerfully through the joy of serving.