A few years ago I went to the Northwest Ministry Conference, an event held just outside Seattle in Redmond, Washington.
(An aside – I’ve attended a lot of conferences in my time, and heard a lot of words spoken by various speakers, instructors and facilitators. Truth be told, its hard to store all that information in my head. Usually, my biggest takeaway from a conference isn’t all the things I’ve been told, but the encouragement and inspiration needed to forge ahead in ministry.)
One teaching I do distinctly remember at the conference came from pastor and evangelist Kevin Harney. His message was on being generous with the grace and love that God has so freely bestowed upon us.
In his talk he told a story about being in Michigan at a small-town parade for 4th of July.
The parade featured several homemade floats on which people would sit and toss candy to the crowd. Harney observed that there were, essentially, two kinds of candy tossers.
One group took their bags of candy and very slowly tossed the contents to those who lined up to watch the parade. Harney said it was almost like these individuals were looking over the crowd to see who deserved a piece of candy. If someone jumped and yelled and cheered, they would get the candy-tossers attention, and likely earn some candy.
Harney said that some of these cautious candy-tossers were so selective in throwing out their candy, he was sure they would end up at the conclusion of the parade with plenty of candy still in their bag.
On the other hand, there was a group of candy-tossers who were much more open-handed when it came to giving out their candy. They dug their hands into their bags and filled their fists to the brim. They barely took time to look out into the crowd before hurling their candy into the crowd. There was no sizing people up to see if they deserved a piece of candy or not.
Kevin Harney’s point was pretty clear. When it comes to loving others and dispensing grace, a lot of us can be like that first group of candy-tossers. We become very economical! But there really is no limit to how much love we can share.
We have a great example in God of how far the extent of love and grace can reach. Consider a trio of scriptures:
But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— (Ephesians 2:4-5 ESV)
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 ESV)
But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
When it comes to God’s love toward us, stingy is not a word that could be used to describe Him. He is rich in mercy and generous with His grace!
And in response to God’s love, we are challenged to spread such love to others.
The instruction from 1 John 4:19-21 is crystal clear:
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
How often do I feel like one of those miserly candy-tossers who ended the parade with plenty of candy in their bag? Way too much.
But to really understand and embrace the grace, love and mercy God offers me should change my heart to be more open to those around me.
R.C. Sproul once said:
In the New Testament, love is more of a verb than a noun. It has more to do with acting than with feeling. The call to love is not so much a call to a certain state of feeling as it is to a quality of action.
To become like those generous candy-tossers, one must realize that love must be rooted in gratitude and grounded in obedience.
Otherwise. we’ll end up with a half-empty bag at the end of our life.