Christianity 201

November 18, 2022

Why Was the Widow Down to Her Last Pennies?

In my part of the world the penny (one cent coin) was eliminated several years ago. Not having it certainly speeds up cash transactions, although most purchase payments are done electronically anyway. In the narrative today, a widow is down to her last few cents, and while her response to that situation is to be generous, you have to wonder how she got that low on funds.

Today we’re back for the eighth time at the website Borrowed Light, and for the seventh time with Mike Leake. Click the title to read this where it first appeared.

One Way Spiritual Abuse Happens

“But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.”Mark 12:42

Jesus goes on to tell us that she gave “out of her poverty”. She put in her last two cents. Yes, he commends her. But Mark also wants us to know that Jesus “sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put”. Mark places Jesus in opposition to this whole racket.

This text is not only a commendation of the widow’s offering. It’s perhaps even more an condemnation of the temple system. We should be asking, “why is this widow down to her last two cents?”

This is another one of those places in Scripture where the subheadings distract us from meaning. We’re supposed to read Mark 12:40 with this text: They devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers…” As one of the most vulnerable members within what was supposed to be a God-reflecting society, she should have been flourishing and not down to her last couple pennies.

I imagine this widow to be a sweet and devoted woman. We have several of these women in our church. They are often the backbone of our ministries. Often they are bound by duty and dedication. It’s no surprise that Jesus commends this widow’s offering.

If we were to interview her about this gift she’d likely say something like, “it was my duty to do this. The leaders have told us that this is a way in which we can honor God. So I give because I love God. This offering is a gift to my LORD, and a reminder that He will take care of us.” As she says this she points to one of the religious leaders—adorned in gold, flowing robes, sitting at important seats and places of honor—“they help us know how to obey God”.

What is Spiritual Abuse?

What I’ve just described to you is spiritual abuse. Here are a few of the better definitions (source):

“Spiritual abuse happens when a leader with spiritual authority uses that authority to coerce, control or exploit a follower, thus causing spiritual wounds.” (Ken Blue, Healing Spiritual Abuse, 1993)

“Spiritual abuse is when a Christian leader causes injury to others by acting in a self-centred manner in order to benefit themselves.” (Nelson, Spiritual Abuse: Unspoken Crisis, 2015)

“Spiritual abuse happens when people use God, or their supposed relationship with God, to control behaviour for their benefit.” (Diederich, Broken Trust, 2017)

You can see each of these definitions at play in the story of the widow giving her final two cents and Jesus’ words of condemnation for the Pharisees who are devouring widows’ houses. They used their spiritual authority for their benefit and not for hers.

Spiritual abuse is one of those things that happens not only at the hands of one particular person but it can happen through multiple hands within an unhealthy church culture. And often it is subtle. It can, at times, be hardly recognizable.

There are many ways in which spiritual abuse can happen, but today I will share with you one way in which it subtly happens within churches and communities of faith.

How does spiritual abuse happen?

We are on the road to spiritual abuse whenever we equate our ideas with the Bible’s imperatives. Let me explain.

Hebrews 10:25 tells us that we are to “not neglect to meet together” but instead we should be “encouraging one another”. From, this text you are safe to give this general principle: gathering with other believers is a vital component to being encouraged in the faith. Or to put it more bluntly, we are commanded by Scripture to encourage one another.

Biblical imperative: encourage one another through gathering together.

That is a non-negotiable. But watch what happens…

As a pastor I come along and take that biblical imperative and match it to a ministry idea:we should meet in weekly small groups for the purpose of encouraging one another in Christ.

Ministry idea: Small groups help us encourage one another through gathering together.

I might say something like, “at Calvary we believe God calls us to gather together to encourage one another, we obey this through weekly small groups.”

That sounds good, right?

Except nowhere in Scripture does it say, “obey this through weekly small groups”. It’s a great idea. I think it does help you obey this imperative. But the ministry idea itself does not have the authority of Scripture.

It turns into spiritual abuse whenever we use our authority (whether it be pastoral authority or the church’s cultural authority) to force obedience of a biblical imperative through our ministry idea. And people are wounded by this type of thing all the time. They experience loads of false guilt.

These things are subtle too. It is incredibly easy to merge a biblical imperative with a ministry idea, so that over time the ministry idea become synonymous with the biblical imperative. It happened to the Pharisees. And it happens within so many of our churches.

Conclusion

There are, I believe, two main solutions.

First, it would be good for leaders to slow our roles. We are not to be faith handlers. We must have the humility to acknowledge that our suggestions for how to obey an imperative do not carry the same weight as Scripture. We can be firm on what the imperatives are, but we must be humble in the specific way these are carried out.

Secondly, it is good for all of us to stop and ask questions of every thing we assume is an imperative. What exactly did God say? Part of the deception for the first couple was when they added, “we shall not touch”. God never said that.

As we begin to melt away some of the dross it is important for us to remember that imperatives really do matter. We should have a heart to obey what Christ has commanded us. But also the humility to let ourselves and others relationally work out what obedience actually looks like.

I am His.

So are you.

October 13, 2022

Thank God for the Generosity of God!

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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by Clarke Dixon

Thank God for the generosity of God! Where would we be without it? Where would we be without the generosity of God as expressed in the creation of the universe, the creation of a life permitting world, the gift of life, the gift of water and weather systems to supply the water, the gift of food and eco-systems to supply the food, the gift of bodies that know what to do with water and food, the gift of family, friends, and relationships, the gift of communication, language, intellect, and so much more. We are only scratching the surface of all that we can be grateful for, and yet we are only one chapter into the Bible. Thank God for the generosity of God as expressed in creation.

Let us go further into the Bible as we consider the generosity of God:

I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others. For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:8-9 (NRSV)

In what way was Jesus rich when carpenters would hardly amass great wealth in that day? Jesus was rich, not by trade or earthly inheritance, but by identity as God. We can think of what Paul wrote to the Christians in Philippi:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Philippians 2:5-8 (NRSV)

The generous act of Jesus, in becoming poor though rich, was really the expression of the generosity of God. This is not just one generous act of God among many, this reveals the generous character of God. Generosity is a character trait of God. Generosity is expressed in everything God does. Thank God for the generosity of God!

Being followers of Jesus, we want to become more like Jesus. This means developing in generosity, not just as something we do from time to time in generous acts, but as a character trait, something that is expressed in everything we do.

This brings us in our current series to our next “cultural statement” from Open Table Communities, statements that are good not only for a sister faith community like OTC, but also for an old fashioned kind of church like we are at Calvary Baptist:

A Culture of Generosity
We nurture a practice of giving and blessing others and sharing the resources we have with those who do not have. We view generosity as an act of resistance against greed and systems of exploitation. We learn to hold a generous posture with our ears for listening, our questions for understanding and our words for sharing our stories, perspectives and lived experience.

Open Table Communities

When we speak about generosity in church circles, we tend to focus on generosity in treasures, talents, and time. Why do we pastor/preacher-types normally focus on those? I think it is because these things impact the life of the congregation as an organization. When people here at Calvary, for example, give financially, get involved according to their gifts and abilities, and give of their time to the work being done at Calvary, they are helping us do collectively what we believe we are called to do, namely helping people walk with Jesus in faith, hope, and love. This kind of generosity helps the church grow and remain healthy. This is good, but generosity is not just about impact people can have on a church as an organization.

As we see in the cultural statement above, generosity modelled on Jesus is focused on the impact we can have on people and the world as we address lack and systems that create lack, namely the greed and exploitation that leads some people to poverty while leading others to wealth. It is also about impact on us as we are changed in our character when we take a posture like Jesus.

I recently finished listening to a podcast series called the Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. The lead pastor of the church known as Mars Hill is one year older than me and he became a pastor, in co-founding Mars Hill, one year before I became a pastor. Over the years I have gone from pastoring two very small churches, to pastoring one mall church, to pastoring one smallish church, to pastoring another smallish church. Meanwhile the pastor of Mars Hill led it to grow into a mega church with multiple locations and thousands involved. I imagine there was great leadership in getting people to be generous in giving of their treasures, talents, and time along the way, enabling this church to grow exponentially. However, as related in the podcast, there was at the core, systems of greed and exploitation. And now the church is no more. Many people were wounded along the way. Some fervent Christians walked away, not just from the church, but from Christianity. How things might have been different if Mars Hill had adopted this cultural statement on generosity, if it had developed a true culture of generosity, especially among the leadership.

When generosity is a character trait, we will be generous, not just in our treasures, talents, and time, but in anything and everything.

As expressed in the cultural statement, we will be generous in our listening. To be so means giving others the gift of time, quietness, attention, and understanding.

We will be generous in questions for understanding. We will seek to be understanding of others. We will seek to minimize misunderstandings. This means being generous in our desire to honor others and to hear clearly.

We will be generous in our words for sharing our stories, perspectives and lived experience. This requires a kind of self-confidence, that our stories, perspectives, and lived experiences are worth sharing. Generosity flows from abundance, and in this area we may convince ourselves that we are lacking, that our stories and our perspectives are not worth hearing, that our lives are not worth sharing. I think it was C.S. Lewis who said that humility is not thinking less of ourselves, but thinking of ourselves less.

But we can keep going, with generosity in anything and everything; generous in assuming the dignity of others, generous in giving people the benefit of the doubt, generous in offering forgiveness, generous in willingness to go deeper in relationship.

We began with thank God for the generosity of God. The generosity of God has had a huge impact on the world. We would not be here without it. We would not be anywhere. We would have no future without the generosity of God.

Thank God for the generosity of God, a character trait found expressed in creation, in Jesus, and in so much else. Are the people in our lives saying thank God for the generosity of God as expressed in us?


Clarke Dixon is, in case you missed it, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Cobourg, Ontario, Canada. His sermon summaries appear here most Thursdays. Read more at his blog, Thinking Through Scripture.

October 10, 2022

A Day to Give Thanks

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:33 pm
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This was Thanksgiving Day in Canada, and I wasn’t planning to acknowledge it, but as I worked on some writing for another audience, this all came spilling out…

Newcomers to Canada (and the U.S.) are often amazed that our fall [harvest] holiday is framed in terms of giving thanks. Most countries don’t have that emphasis.

According to Wikipedia, “Thanksgiving is a national holiday celebrated on various dates in the United States, Canada, Grenada, Saint Lucia, and Liberia.” It’s a short list, isn’t it?

But where lies the object of our thanks?

It reminds me of those wall-decor pieces they sell in home accessory stores that simply say “Believe.” Uh, believe in who, or what exactly? The sign leaves it open-ended. For Christians reading this, do I really need to spell it out? We know where the object of our belief (i.e. our trust) is placed. But in the broader marketplace, ‘Believe’ is ambiguous.

Imagine having a feeling of gratitude well up inside you, but having nowhere to place it. G.K. Chesterton famously said, ““The worst moment for an atheist is when he is really thankful and has no one to thank.”

Andy Stanley’s Northpoint Community Church in Atlanta does a special two-week emphasis every year called “Be Rich.” People misunderstand this and assume it’s some type of prosperity doctrine. In a way it’s the opposite. The phrase is taken from I Timothy 6: 17-18:

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.”

Thanksgiving is not only a time to express thanks, but to share the abundance that we possess; to give out of the overflow. One local church yesterday had people bring donations for Fare Share (food bank) and I can’t think of a better activity on a better day.

In 2 Corinthians 9; 10-11, Paul seems to be talking about two things at once, a harvest of bread and a harvest of righteousness. Read for yourselves:

“Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.”

It’s a great day to give thanks to God. Now then, how can we express thanksgiving in a tangible way to a world where food poverty and homeless top our local and national headlines?

…As it turns out, there was a pathway to these thoughts, and that pathway involved a verse that appeared on my NIV Bible app this week, the very next verse to the verses in 2 Corinthians 9 quoted above, verse 12. If ever a verse described some of my wife’s ministry endeavors, it’s this one:

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God.

Out of the overflow of my wife’s life, I see compassion, a servant’s heart, a pastoral heart, and the verse states that service which supplies needs is an expression of thanks to God.

It’s imperative that we connect the dots for people. We don’t have to literally say, “I’m giving you this cup of water in Jesus’ name;” or “In Jesus’ name receive this sandwich…” but we can say something more immediate, more personal, like, “I’m doing this in love because of the love that Christ poured on me;” or “I’m giving this to you because Jesus gave so much to me.”

It’s an expression of thanks to God.

August 7, 2022

Honoring the Offering

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:32 pm
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And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. – Hebrews 13:16

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.  2 Cor. 9:7

Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. – 1 Timothy 6:18

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Jesus, in Matthew 6:19-21

Many years ago my wife worked in a church leading worship where one of the members of the church’s “Program Team” objected to her sometimes having the congregation sing another worship song concurrent with the offering being received. She was okay with an instrumental song, but felt that combining the congregational singing with the placing of cash and envelopes in the basket being passed failed to “honor the offering.”

I have no idea where she got that concept.

Today we have quite a different situation. There is no offering received in many of our churches. During the pandemic, places of worship were told by local health authorities to avoid the surface contact generated by passing an offering plate or a tray of communion elements.

Long before the outbreak, some churches had switched to a box at the back of the auditorium. (I loved it when Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids would announce the “Joy boxes” and the congregation would cheer!)

Moreover, many of us give online these days. We use neither cash nor envelopes, and our electronic giving replaces checks. (That’s cheques for my Canadian/Aussie/UK readers.)

But giving is an act of worship, right?

If so, it follows that act of worship should be part of a worship service, right?

So how we incorporate “taking up the offering” when we’re not actually taking up the offering.

In once church I visited, people take a small card (business card size) that said, “I use automatic bank withdrawal giving,” as they walk in and then as the plate or basket is passed, they drop the card in. (Hopefully they’re being honest, or there’s a whole set of Ananias and Sapphira admonitions we could mention here.)

But one church we watched online did something different. It was an offering liturgy prayer that the entire church spoke, a declaration of a giving spirit (or perhaps the intention to do so as soon as the service ended.)  It’s worded this way:

Holy Father, there is nothing I have that You have not given me. All I have and am belong to You, bought with the blood of Jesus. To spend everything on myself, and to give without sacrifice, is the way of the world that you cannot abide. But generosity is the way of those who call Christ their Lord; who love Him with free hearts and serve Him with renewed minds; who withstand the delusion of riches that chokes the word; whose hearts are in your kingdom and not in the systems of the world. I am determined to increase in generosity until it can be said that there is no needy person among us. I am determined to be trustworthy with such a little thing as money that you may trust me with true riches. Above all, I am determined to be generous because You, Father, are generous. It is the delight of Your daughters and sons to share Your traits and to show what You are like to all the world.

This statement of what it means to be generous toward the world and toward God, both corporately and individually, replaces the offering for this church.


Source of Giving Liturgy: Westside AJC (a Jesus Church), this is the congregation founded by Phil and Diane Comer and taught for years by John Mark Comer. Click image to see full size or visit: https://westsideajc.org/about#giving-section

Scriptures used in the preparation of the Giving Liturgy (click the above link to see the version where these footnotes correspond.

(1) Psalm 24 v1, Psalm 31 v19, Ephesians 1 v7, James 1 v17, 1 Timothy 6 v17
(2) Proverbs 11 v25, 1 John 3 v17
(3) 1 Timothy 6 v17-19, Romans 12 v2, 2 Timothy 3:2-5, 2 Corinthians 9 v6-8
(4) Acts 4 v32-35
(5) Luke 16 v10-11
(6) Psalm 81 v10, Matthew 7 v7-11, John 16 v23-24, Romans 8 v32, Ephesians 1v3, Ephesians 1 v7-8


For our Canadian readers: Coincidentally (honestly!) this ran today on our ministry Facebook page, but U.S. readers can give to this as well, though you won’t get a tax receipt.

It’s Sunday, and there are people reading this for whom it’s been a long time since you were in a place where an offering plate was passed. Searchlight’s recommended Christian charity of choice continues to be the Welcome Home Children’s Centre in Haiti. Your donation today can provide shelter, food, clothing, supervision, school fees, school uniforms, transportation, and more for 14 children, at the orphanage located two hours north of Port-au-Prince. Click on their page at Canada Helps to donate, or donate by credit card or Paypal using Welcome Home’s own donation page at this link.

June 25, 2022

Our Monetary Giving is a Sign of our Trust in God

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:34 pm
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You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 2 Corinthians 9:7 NLT

Today’s devotional again takes us to a website we’re featuring for the first time. SeekGrowLove.com features different authors each day. The writer of today’s thoughts is Cayce Fletcher. Clicking the link in the headline below will take you to where we discovered this earlier today. (Below it is a link to a full chapter you might wish to read first.)

Saturday – June 25th

2 Corinthians 8

Tithes. It’s an uncomfortable topic. People get uncomfortable when you talk about money in general, and when you say they should give away their money, sometimes they can get downright feisty. If you are under 18, the idea of tithing is just that moment in church where they play an instrumental song and some people reach in their purse or wallet to discreetly turn in a folded bill. You may even participate with some money that your parents have given you. After 18 though – when you’re in charge of paying bills and then taking care of other living beings (whether that’s a dog, a child, or a plant), that’s when tithing can get overlooked. I know it does in my case.

2 Corinthians 8, today’s reading, is all about giving which is just another word for tithing. Tithing was a word that originated in England in the Middle Ages to describe the custom of giving 10% of income to the church to support it during that time. Paul talks about this, but he doesn’t focus on the legalistic requirement of giving 10% to ‘do your duty.’ Instead, Paul frames this giving to support the ministry of the apostles, the ministry of spreading the gospel, as an opportunity, a privilege. He says, “For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability. Entirely on their own, they urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing in this service to the Lord’s people” (2 Cor. 8:3-4).

To participate in the ministry of the gospel whether through actually traveling from place-to-place or supporting via funds was a good thing. It wasn’t a duty that they should begrudgingly do. Later in the letter to Corinthians, Paul goes on to say,  “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Tithing is very much about our attitude. Are we cheerfully giving this offering to support the ministry of God? Or are we doing it only for the appearance of ‘doing the right Christian things’?

When you think about giving of your time or money, how much should you give? Paul says this: “And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.  For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.”

In this, Paul again is pointing to the importance of attitude when considering how much time or money to give. He wanted the Corinthians to continue with the same desire, regardless of how much they actually gave. He also pointed out that if the desire to give is there, God doesn’t look at how big the gift is. He looks at how much is given in comparison to how much that person has. You can read more about this in the parable of the widow and the two coins in Mark 12:41-44.

Ultimately, our tithes and offerings are a display of our trust in God. They harken back to the sabbath rest of the ancient Israelites in the desert. By giving God a portion of our time or our money, we trust that God will do great things with it in the world, and we trust that God will make sure that we are taken care of with what we have left. Now, ‘taken care of’ does not mean that we will get rich off of tithing. (That’s the false prosperity gospel.) Taken care of means that we will have clothes on our backs and food in our bellies (Matt. 6:25-34). Our tithes and offerings can also fix our relationship with money. Instead of holding it tightly and greedily, by giving our money away – we are reinforcing that it is not an idol in our lives. Our attitude towards money changes.

What can you give back to God today?

Questions for Application: 

  1. Do you normally tithe? How does giving look for you?
  2. Can tithing be more than just money? (For example, time serving at a church camp or participating in the worship band.)
  3. What is your relationship with money? How do you think that relationship affects your relationship with God?

 

 

December 10, 2021

Giving Irrationally

Filed under: Christianity - Devotions — paulthinkingoutloud @ 5:44 pm
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ESV Acts 20:34 “You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

The title of this devotional may imply a type of giving that is detached from all common sense, but as strange as that may seem, it’s on entirely far off from what we’re talking about.

In our part of the world, The Salvation Army has introduced tap payment (what in your part of the world may be called touch payment) on its collection ‘kettles.’ Although my wife and I plan to make a more focused online donation in a few days, I decided to use the device, especially since I am often encouraging others not to simply walk by the volunteers doing the collecting; especially now that we don’t transact with cash as frequently.

The machine offered three different donation amounts; I picked the middle one and waved my payment card. The machine beeped and then, five second later, there was another beep and I was on my way.

I’ll never know who that donation will affect, but I certainly appreciate that the local chapter of The Salvation Army isn’t paying a large staff to run the annual Christmas appeal, and that the actual collection point is staffed with volunteers.

In describing my beep-beep experience, I quoted Jesus in Matthew 6:3 (NLT)

But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.

It was an effortless, and I should add spontaneous act of giving, one that is in great contrast to where we were a decade or so previous, when we were on the receiving end of The Salvation Army’s generosity.

In 2 Corinthians 9:7, we get an idea of the spontaneity in giving that God desires. The verse is translated different ways:

  • God loves it when the giver delights in the giving. (MSG)
  • God loves the person who gives happily. (NCV)
  • God loves a cheerful giver. (Many other translations)

From this we often hear the phrase, “Give hilariously.” I figured that ‘Give irrationally’ was just a small stretch at that point.

Again, in my part of the world, giving is often anything but that. It’s strategic giving, focused toward the end of the year, for the purpose of receiving a tax benefit. Or perhaps the realization that the church treasurer is going to issue a year-end receipt soon, and our year-to-date gifts to our local congregation have been somewhat anemic.

It’s certainly not the spontaneity or hilarity that these verses imply, but you speak with the actual givers, the ones who practice generosity, you find them telling you repeatedly that there is joy in giving.

This type of giving is also quite distanced from the type of giving that is done in anticipating of getting something in return. While this may be a kingdom principle — in other words this is how things operate in God’s realm — it shouldn’t be the primary motivation. The principle is stated in Luke 6:38

Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you.” (CSB)

While there is the promise of blessings returned, the person giving on that basis alone isn’t giving out of the best of motives; and the preacher or church leaders who encourages people to give because they’re going to get something back is encouraging a type of exchange transaction, not a spirit of generosity at all.

Further, a generous spirit is indicative of our faith as a whole. James writes,

James 2 (The Message)14-17Dear friends, do you think you’ll get anywhere in this if you learn all the right words but never do anything? Does merely talking about faith indicate that a person really has it? For instance, you come upon an old friend dressed in rags and half-starved and say, “Good morning, friend! Be clothed in Christ! Be filled with the Holy Spirit!” and walk off without providing so much as a coat or a cup of soup—where does that get you? Isn’t it obvious that God-talk without God-acts is outrageous nonsense?

Scripture tells the world will know we’re Christians by love, and love is expressed in kindness, compassion and generosity.

What individuals or organizations did you think about giving to as you read this?

Take the next step.

December 11, 2020

“Not by Works…” but Works Count!

Earlier today, Lee Grady, who we’ve often featured here, posted this on his Twitter account:

Hebrews 6:10 says: “For God is not unjust so as to forget your work and the love which you have shown toward His name.”

He added,

God sees the little things you do: The kindnesses you offer, the encouraging words you give, the sacrifices you make and the prayers you pray.

The website BibleHub is one I frequently use because it can, as in today’s case, offer an endless trail of related verses such as,

Kindness to the poor is a loan to the LORD, and he will give a reward to the lender.
 – Proverbs 19:7 (CSB)

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
 – Matthew 25:40 (NIV)

He who is generous will be blessed, For he gives some of his food to the poor.
 – Proverbs 22:9 (NASB)

This is what the LORD says: “Keep your voice from weeping and your eyes from tears, for the reward for your work will come, declares the LORD
  – Jeremiah 31:16a (BSB)

Just as it takes several points to define a line, some find it helpful to see two or more scriptures as verifying a scriptural principle. However, this type of “verse-mining” is no substitute for reading a little extra context such as we find in Acts:

NIV.Acts.10.1 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”

Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.

The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God…”

So what does Cornelius receive? Nothing material or tangible. Instead he becomes the instrument by which the Apostle Peter is going to orchestrate the inclusion of the Gentile believers into one single family. He becomes the gateway of the followers of “The Way” (followers of Jesus) entering into a whole new chapter which is the beginning of the first century Christian church.

The website BibleRef.com notes that in some respects, our opening verse from Hebrews is a study in contrasts: (I’ve highlighted sections of this.)

…Their good deeds, on behalf of God, are obvious… The idea that God is absolutely fair—or “just”—in His attitude towards their good deeds is a preview of the next passage. The people who were criticized for being spiritually immature, and in danger of “falling away,” are at the same time living out a very Christ-like love for others.

This is a useful point to remember when discussing spiritual maturity. According to this passage, a person can serve God, loving others with good works, and yet still suffer from an immature approach to Christian truth. The intent of Scripture here is not to dismiss love and service, of course, but it is also not meant to relax the threat of “falling away.” Service to God is a good thing, and a sign of sincerity. But it’s important to love truth, and grow in wisdom, just as much as it’s important to live out our love for other people.

In other words, acts of kindness and service are not an end in themselves. They are simply good, but they are also just the beginning.

In some respects the verse is a pause from what the writer has been saying. It’s a deep breath before he continues with what he has been saying before. It’s not unlike the messages to the churches in Revelation in that respect, some of which begin with something quite positive but then comes the “However…” It’s not a good practice to berate people in teaching without finding places to offer encouragement to those who are sincerely seeking after God.

The website KnowingJesus.com notes this as well:

The verse in question, which immediately follows an important warning against spiritual immaturity and some elementary instructions on reaching full maturity, gives some great encouragement to believers.. who are seeking to stand firm in the faith, in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation.

God sees our good works and remembers them. EnduringWord.com notes:

When we are discouraged we sometimes think God forgets us and all we have done for Him and for His people. But God would deny His own nature if He forgot such things (He would be unjust). God sees and remembers.

We must however take this principle alongside the overarching concept that we are not saved by works. We have to find the balance between these two truths: God sees our deeds, but our deeds aren’t key to our salvation.

…There is also a warning as to how the opposite of this principle applies:

Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing, but those who close their eyes to poverty will be cursed.
 – Proverbs 28:27 (NLT)

And of course there is also a practical, pragmatic side to all of this:

Share what you have with seven or eight others, because you never know when disaster may strike.
 – Ecclesiastes 11:2 (CEV)

…So there we have it. About 900 words, all inspired today from a single post on Twitter! Thanks, Lee!


Wondering what you can do? An hour later Lee wrote,

Do you know what your primary areas of ministry are? Ask your closest friends and mentors to list what gifts they see in you. You may be surprised. Sometimes our fears and insecurities prevent us from seeing what others see clearly.

Not all my spiritual gifts began operating at the same time. I began writing for Jesus at age 22, but I didn’t start preaching until I was 42. Just because a gift hasn’t surfaced yet doesn’t mean it won’t. Keep growing spiritually and you’ll be surprised by the way He uses you!

May 27, 2020

If You Ever Wished You Could Have Done Something, You Still Can

A different meaning for “gifts in kind”

In North America, we usually use the phrase “gifts in kind” to refer to donations people make to charities and non-profits of things other than cash. Someone will donate a valuable sterling silver cutlery set, or an oil painting by a renown artist.

We usually think of such gifts as originating with people who are wealthy — after all, they owned these beautiful pieces in the first place — but it can also be done by people who are too poor to make a monetary gift, but find themselves in possession of something that can be assigned a value and then sold by the organization they wish to support.

Today, I want to consider a situation where the gift was somewhat “in kind” — and I’m borrowing the term here for a different purpose — is being made because it has become impossible to give to the original intended recipient. In other words, person “A” is no longer around to bless, but in their honor, I am giving to person “B.”

2 Samuel 9:1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

2 Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“At your service,” he replied.

3 The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan…”

As the chapter continues, David pours out his generosity to Mephibosheth. The book Men of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Robert Wogelmuth tells us:

…David lavished Mephibosheth with more than he ever could have dreamed: land, servants, and access to the king’s table. Mephibosheth had not deserved the misfortune that had marked his life. But neither did he earn the good fortune that suddenly befell him. Mephibosheth must have been overwhelmed by it all.

There is more to the story to be sure, but I want to return again to verse one:

1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

I’m wondering if there’s anyone reading this who can think of someone who has passed from this life, and there perhaps a wish that you could have done something, or done more to bless that person?

Before we continue, it’s important to note that David and Jonathan had a covenant relationship. Matthew Henry notes:

It is good sometimes to bethink ourselves whether there be any promises or engagements that we have neglected to make good; better do it late than never. The compendium which Paul gives us of the life of David is this (Acts 13:36), that he served his generation according to the will of God, that is, he was a man that made it his business to do good; witness this instance, where we may observe,

1. That he sought an opportunity to do good.
2. Those he inquired after were the remains of the house of Saul…
3. The kindness he promised to show them he calls the kindness of God

At this point, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook and say, “I did not have a covenant relationship with anyone like that.

But is there someone to whom you could say,

  • Your father was a major influence in my life
  • Your mother helped me through a difficult time
  • Your brother was like a brother to me
  • Your aunt and uncle were very generous to me at a critical time
  • Your sister’s encouragement was always both needed and appreciated

and then, in recognition of that

  • invite them over for dinner or out to a restaurant?
  • give them a gift, perhaps even a Bible or Christian book?
  • make a charitable donation in their name or in memory of their loved one?
  • write out the story of how their relative blessed you and print it out for them as a keepsake?
  • failing all else, just simply tell them how much their family means to you?

Verse seven is our model. In light of the deep relationship between David and Jonathan:

7 “Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Take a pause here to ask yourself: Is there a Mephibosheth in your life?

March 25, 2020

In the Absence of Communal Meals

Part of being the family of God is eating together. The Western mindset doesn’t emphasize this enough, but Eastern faith traditions have this much more entrenched.

Nevertheless, we have our moments, whether it’s the annual church banquet, a monthly pot-luck (sorry, that’s pot-blessed for some of you) dinner or just having a few friends over for dinner, the local church does enjoy opportunities to ‘break bread’ together.

So we grieve the loss of that during these weeks.

We are a people who are (or ought to be) naturally given to hospitality. But we also need to know how to receive hospitality. I’ve known people who loved to serve, and loved to give, but had serious difficulty when it came to accepting the hospitality of others.

We also are a people who prioritize giving food to the hungry in Christ’s name, whether it’s through a food bank, a soup kitchen, or coming alongside organizations which do this well, such as The Salvation Army. In Matthew 10:42 (NIV), Jesus said,

“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

A related verse, when I looked that one up is Proverbs 19:17 (ESV)

Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the LORD, and he will repay him for his deed.

Almost exactly five years ago this day (3/26/15) Jancie Garrison offered us a scripture medley of related verses:

Rom 12:13 Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Rom 12:16 Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Heb 13:1-2 Keep on loving each other as brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.

1 Peter 4:9-11 Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.  

but it’s interesting to go back and read her introduction to that article:

For much of my life I believe I misunderstood the word hospitality. I understood it to mean inviting someone into my home and perhaps sharing a meal and spending an enjoyable time with them. The them however, was always someone I already knew. I didn’t grasp that it was to be a stranger.

That is further compounded by the present situation, with the world on lockdown. We lack a proper context in which to connect with ‘the stranger,’ much less share a meal together. (Though there are things we can do such as giving out takeout food or grocery store gift cards.) So we’re in this doubly difficult time where we neither connect over a meal with our fellow-Christ-followers, or those who have not yet crossed the threshold of faith.

But these opportunities will present themselves when the current crisis has passed, and it’s important that we start strategic planning toward them now.

Jesus didn’t hesitate to share a meal with people of all types.

Matthew 9:10 (NLT) tells us,

Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners.

Would we accept such an invitation? Or even plan an event with a similar mix of people? Such an evangelism strategy today is called ‘a Matthew party.’ The organization known today as Cru employs this method on university campuses; this article tells more. Or see especially this article, which tells how your small group can do this 3-4 times a year…

…Food figures into many gospel stories: The Last Supper; The Feeding of the 5,000; Matthew’s Party; or The Dinner with Mary and Martha. Breaking bread with someone, no matter what the context, has a certain significance that it’s so easy to overlook.

When we’re all mobile again; what type of food-related event can you envision within your sphere of influence; in your small corner of the world?

 

 

January 15, 2020

Did You Bring the Right Offering to Church?

Can we return one last time to the Advent/Christmas narrative? We weren’t sure, but we knew last week there was a possibility that Clarke Dixon’s article from last week, would have a Part Two, but it didn’t get published on his blog until this week. So today, this article, and then tomorrow, Lord willing, Clarke’s regular Thursday blog post.

by Clarke Dixon

Did you bring the right offering to your church? Perhaps pastors such as myself will be tempted to say “no.” That may be based on organizational number crunching for 2019 and a realization that red is not just a Christmas color. As Christmas fades into the past, an event following that first Christmas will help us reflect on our offering.

Let us consider the Magi. We usually think of the Magi as being at the manger along with the shepherds on the first Christmas Day. However, based on Herod’s killing of Bethlehem’s 2-years-old-and-under infants (see Matt 2:16), they likely arrived later.

On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

Being non-Jewish, the Magi do not bring an offering according to any religious rule, but rather from of a spirit of generosity. It is an interesting exercise to read through the entire New Testament, taking note of how often religious rules for giving are promoted in contrast to how often generosity is taught and modelled, especially by Jesus.

It is an interesting exercise to also consider the difference between giving out of religious duty and a spirit of generosity. For example, it is possible to earn millions of dollars, tithe a tenth of all that is earned to a church, and yet be completely lacking in a generous spirit. We would be left with incredible wealth, yet could still be stingy to everyone and every need that crosses our paths. Even though we have given much to our church community, we can be Scrooge-like in sharing our gifts of time and talents. Are our offerings of time, talents, and treasures an expression of a growing and generous spirit, or merely an expression of how religious we are? Our offering is not just a matter of accounting and number crunching, but a matter of the heart.

Further, let us consider that the Magi bring their offering, not to the temple, but to a person. Are our offerings focused on Jesus? Are they focused on Jesus when they are given to an organization we call a church? It is more important that churches help people connect and walk with Jesus, than simply keep churchy and religious things happening. Since our offerings are part of personal devotion and worship, we would bring them as an act of worship, even if we were asked by God to be burn them on an altar.  But God has not asked for that. He has directed us to help people connect with Him.

Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT)

Do our offerings help people connect with God and walk with Jesus?

There is another offering for us to consider as we bid farewell to the Christmas season. Let us go back to the temple, to the moment Simeon held the infant Jesus in his arms and said to Mary:

“This child is destined to cause many in Israel to fall, and many others to rise. He has been sent as a sign from God, but many will oppose him. As a result, the deepest thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your very soul.” Luke 2:34-35 (NLT)

A sword would indeed pierce Mary’s soul when Jesus was opposed by his own people, who should have known better, and hung on a cross by the Romans, who should have done better. We are barely beyond Christmas and already we are hearing about Good Friday. While we think of the offerings of the Magi, the offering brought by God for outsiders like the Magi is the real news here. God’s generous spirit is on full display!

Have you brought the right offering to church? Come to Jesus, see the gift he has for you. Then see where generosity leads you.


Clarke Dixon is a musician, motorcycle enthusiast, and pastor in Ontario, Canada. He is the single-most-frequent contributor to C201, with articles appearing most Thursdays.

June 11, 2019

Those Who Don’t Share Show by Their Actions They Don’t Know Him

It was either an email or a referral from another writer we feature here, but sometime late last week we got connected to the website Generosity Monk. Author and teacher Gary Hoag has curated an amazing collection of excerpts from scholarly books and commentaries — including some obscure sources — and runs the excerpt followed by some observations on what makes this personal to him.

There are similarities to C201, as he’s been doing this faithfully on a daily basis since June, 2009. The site is a goldmine of devotional and study resources.  Because of that, we’ve featured it both yesterday and today. Click the header below to read this at source.

A.W. Tozer: Abundant Goodness

Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; His greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends Your works to another; they tell of Your mighty acts. They speak of the glorious splendor of Your majesty—and I will meditate on Your wonderful works. They tell of the power of Your awesome works—and I will proclaim Your great deeds. They celebrate Your abundant goodness and joyfully sing of Your righteousness. The Lord is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love. The Lord is good to all; He has compassion on all He has made. Psalm 145:3-9

“The goodness of God is that which disposes Him to be kind, cordial, benevolent, and full of good will toward men. He is tenderhearted and of quick sympathy, and His unfailing attitude toward all moral beings is open, frank, and friendly. By His nature He is inclined to bestow blessedness and He takes holy pleasure in the happiness of His people.

That God is good is taught or implied on every page of the Bible and must be received as an article of faith as impregnable as the throne of God. It is a foundation stone for all sound thought about God and is necessary to moral sanity. To allow that God could be other than good is to deny the validity of all thought and end ill the negation of every moral judgment.

If God is not good, then there can be no distinction between kindness and cruelty, and heaven can be hell and hell, heaven. The goodness of God is the drive behind all the blessings He daily bestows upon us. God created us because He felt good in His heart and He redeemed us for the same reason.

Julian of Norwich, who lived six hundred years ago, saw clearly that the ground of all blessedness is the goodness of God. Chapter six of her incredibly beautiful and perceptive little classic, Revelations of Divine Love, begins, “This showing was made to learn our souls to cleave wisely to the goodness of God.”

Then she lists some of the mighty deeds God has wrought in our behalf, and after each one she adds “of His goodness.” She saw that all our religious activities and every means of grace, however right and useful they may be, are nothing until we understand that the unmerited, spontaneous goodness of God is back of all.”

A. W. Tozer (1897-1963) in “The Goodness of God” in Knowledge of the Holy, 57.

God’s abundant goodness serves as the basis or foundation for all of our living, giving, serving, and loving. See for yourself. Read Psalm 145. Consider verse 16, in which David proclaims: You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing. The reason we live with openhanded generosity is because that’s God’s posture toward every living thing. Those who know and understand Him for who He is will enjoy and share His goodness and kindness.

The sobering truth is that those who don’t share, show by their actions that they don’t know Him.

This thinking is echoed much later by Julian of Norwich, an anchoress, who (of course) reminds me of my wife, Jenni, who serves God as the Soulcare Anchoress. Those who adopt the title “anchoress” (or anchorite) imply that they have discovered by knowledge and experience that all of life must be anchored in one thing alone, the goodness of God, which is why relationship with Him (and obedience to Him) must be pursued above all else.

Rather than lose you with what sounds like lofty thinking, let me make my point.

Because of the abundant goodness of God, we can be kind and generous. But will we be kind and generous? As His blessings flow to us, the only way to rightly receive and share them is to know and have a deep relationship with Him. Out of that anchored relationship, we become like Him when we walk in obedience, and then with righteousness, justice, and open hands, we dispense His abundant goodness and kindness.

If that went over your head, then read Psalm 145, count your blessings, and think how you can bless others today and this week as a result.

April 25, 2018

Giving to Get

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NIV Luke 14.12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Today we’re back with Mayfield, Kentucky pastor and counselor Josh Ketchum. Click the title below to read at source.

Life in the Kingdom

Why do we do what we do? Most things we do with an expectation of getting something in return.

Consider these questions . . .

Why did you have the last people over to your house? Why did you give your wives flowers for your anniversary? What was your expectation when you helped a poor person with gas? What was your expectation when you mowed the yard for a neighbor when he was sick?

What were you expecting? Why did you serve them? What was the repayment you were hoping to get?

Jesus gives us a challenging principle in Luke 14:12-14. He says for us to have a dinner and not invite our friends or family. Don’t invite those who have wealth or those similar to you that will “pay” you for the invitation. He says rather to “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed.” The reason you will be blessed is because they “cannot repay you.” In fact, you may not receive any earthly payment or satisfaction, but you will be “repaid at the resurrection of the just.”

Who loves like that? What if we did? What if we loved simply to love. What if we let our expectations of what we will (or should) get out of it go?

It would transform our relationships and our attitudes.

Consider these thoughts . . .

What if I loved my wife today without expecting anything, but only offering to her my service and complete acceptance for who she is? It would foster sincere and true love in our marriage. It would free her and me to love, rather than acting out of fear and pressure.

What if I chose to invite people to my home who are different from me, who I don’t really know, but people whom need a friend and whom I haven’t really learned their story?

What if I chose to love others in my family in a way that communicates I respect who they are and the choices they make, rather than punishing them when they fail to meet my imposed expectations?

What if I sought to release my focus on what I get and chose to simply love for the sake of Jesus? Isn’t this the love of Christ? Christ’s love is unselfish and done without the expectation of payment. He loved us on Calvary’s cross, while we were his enemies (Rom. 5:8-10).

Consider your motives for your actions toward others. Choose to intentionally love others without the expectation of anything in return. Choose to love without expecting any repayment. Even take it one step farther, go find someone to love who can’t really give you anything (a young child, a poor stranger, or a elderly person). You will be blessed when you do!

NIV Romans 5.8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!

December 29, 2016

Acts 28: 28 Acts of Generosity in the Book of Acts

Today we’re paying a return visit to the blog Preacher Smith, written by David Smith who is a pastor in Baytown, Texas. This appeared in November, and I’ve left the date reference intact. Click on the title below to read at source. (Check out other posts in the Fruit of the Spirit series.)

Sermon Follow-up: 28 Acts of Generously Giving Good in Acts

My sermon this past Sunday morning (Nov. 6) was in regard to the sixth aspect of the fruit of the Spirit: generosity/goodness.

Each of my sermons in the series of which this sermon was a part (Acts: The Way, It Works) makes some connection with the fruit of the Spirit and the lives of Christ-followers in the book of Acts. However, I deliberately left the connection with Acts missing from this past Sunday’s sermon … until now.

Even just a quick skim of Acts reveals a multitude of instances of generosity/goodness recorded by the book’s author (Luke). Following are twenty-eight examples, one from each of the Acts’ twenty-eight chapters.

1. Giving the community of faith your presence for the sake of united prayer.

“They all joined together constantly in prayer …” (Acts 1.14)

2. Giving your heart and your possessions to those in need.

“They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.” (Acts 2.45)

3. Giving your attention to those who have become virtually invisible to others.

“Now a man who was lame from birth was being carried to the temple gate called Beautiful, where he was put every day to beg from those going into the temple courts. When he saw Peter and John about to enter, he asked them for money. Peter looked straight at him …” (Acts 3.2-4a)

4. Giving the word of God to others, freely and without fear.

“… they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.” (Acts 4.31)

5. Giving encouragement to others by having a healthy attitude about the things you suffer.

“The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5.41)

6. Giving welcome and acceptance to those new to faith in Christ.

“The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith.” (Acts 6.7)

7. Giving grace to those who misunderstand you, hate you, and work your harm.

“While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed … ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7.59-60)

8. Giving obvious evidence of your faith by sticking with God and taking your faith with you through all of life’s changes.

“On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. … Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.” (Acts 8.1,4)

9. Giving your talents and skills over to the Lord’s disposal for the blessing of others.

“… showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made …” (Acts 9.39)

10. Giving your mind over to God for him to teach you new things as to your perspective of, and way toward, others who are very much unlike you.

“… God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean.” (Acts 10.28)

11. Giving others the gift of an open mind as to their understanding of things.

“… when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcised believers criticized him … Starting from the beginning, Peter told them the whole story … When they heard this, they had no further objections and praised God …” (Acts 11.1,4,18)

12. Giving room for others to join you in your service to Christ.

“When Barnabas and Saul had finished their mission, they returned from Jerusalem, taking with them John, also called Mark.” (Acts 12.25)

13. Giving energy and motivation to others to keep on keeping on with God.

“… Paul and Barnabas, who talked with them and urged them to continue in the grace of God.” (Acts 13.43)

14. Giving inspiration to fellow Christ-followers by sharing the generous good you have experienced thru God in your life.

“… they gathered the church together and reported all that God had done through them …” (Acts 14.27)

15. Giving well-timed use of conciliatory statements in moments of tension.

“We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.” (Acts 15.11)

16. Giving of your home to bless other believers.

“When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.” (Acts 16.15)

17. Giving credit where credit is due, particularly when you see those yet to believe catch a glimpse of what is true and right about God and people.

“From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’” (Acts 17.26-28)

18. Giving the grace of real connection and helpful guidance rather than the world’s way of criticism and complaining, which only breeds problems and distance.

“Apollos … was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. … When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.” (Acts 18.24-27)

19. Giving your sinful habits up in public confession and repentance so as to solidify your commitment and to give testimony of the Lord’s work in your life.

“Many of those who believed now came and openly confessed what they had done. A number who had practiced sorcery brought their scrolls together and burned them publicly. When they calculated the value of the scrolls, the total came to fifty thousand drachmas. [nearly 150 years’ wages for the average worker] In this way the word of the Lord spread widely and grew in power.” (Acts 19.18-20)

20. Giving your daily existence completely over to the Lord so as to not only free yourself from fear and dread, but to lead others to do likewise.

“… I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the good news of God’s grace.” (Acts 20.24)

21. Giving yourself over to full establishment of faith in the lives of your children.

“… Philip the evangelist, one of the Seven … had four unmarried daughters who prophesied.” (Acts 21.8-9)

22. Giving clear thought as to how you can best share with those who could benefit from knowing why you are a Christian and how you became one.

“You will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.” (Acts 22.15-16)

23. Giving yourself over to intervening for the lives of others.

“The next morning some Jews formed a conspiracy and bound themselves with an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul. … But when the son of Paul’s sister heard of this plot, he went into the barracks and told Paul.” (Acts 23.12,16)

24. Giving respect to whom respect his due.

“When the governor motioned for him to speak, Paul replied: ‘I know that for a number of years you have been a judge over this nation; so I gladly make my defense.’” (Acts 24.10)

25. Giving others the courage of your convictions and standing up for your true rights.

“Paul answered: ‘I am now standing before Caesar’s court, where I ought to be tried. I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!’” (Acts 25.10-11)

26. Giving prayer to God for others come to faith in God, to become disciples of Christ.

“Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’ Paul replied, ‘Short time or long—I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’” (Acts 26.28-29)

27. Giving thanks to God, openly and sincerely, whether in the presence of believers or not.

“… he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat.” (Acts 27.35)

28. Giving kindness to others in the ways they need most in the moment.

“Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold.” (Acts 28.1-2)

And so, let us make our faith practical. Let us practice what we preach, namely that “God is good, all of the time.” Let us do and give good, generously so, to others, every day, in the name of, and by, the Spirit of Christ Jesus our Lord and Savior. For his glory, not our own.

May 28, 2015

Gifts in Kind

In North America, we usually use the phrase “gifts in kind” to refer to donations people make to charities and non-profits of things other than cash. Someone will donate a valuable sterling silver cutlery set, or an oil painting by a renown artist.

We usually think of such gifts as originating with people who are wealthy — after all, they owned these beautiful pieces in the first place — but it can also be done by people who are too poor to make a monetary gift, but find themselves in possession of something that can be assigned a value and then sold by the organization they wish to support.

Today, I want to consider a situation where the gift was somewhat “in kind” — and I’m borrowing the term here for a different purpose — is being made because it has become impossible to give to the original intended recipient. In other words, person “A” is no longer around to bless, but in their honor, I am giving to person “B.”

2 Samuel 9:1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

Now there was a servant of Saul’s household named Ziba. They summoned him to appear before David, and the king said to him, “Are you Ziba?”

“At your service,” he replied.

The king asked, “Is there no one still alive from the house of Saul to whom I can show God’s kindness?”

Ziba answered the king, “There is still a son of Jonathan…”

As the chapter continues, David pours out his generosity to Mephibosheth. The book Men of the Bible by Ann Spangler and Robert Wogelmuth tells us:

…David lavished Mephibosheth with more than he ever could have dreamed: land, servants, and access to the king’s table. Mephibosheth had not deserved the misfortune that had marked his life. But neither did he earn the good fortune that suddenly befell him. Mephibosheth must have been overwhelmed by it all.

There is more to the story to be sure, but I want to return again to verse one:

1 David asked, “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake?”

I’m wondering if there’s anyone reading this who can think of someone who has passed from this life, and there perhaps a wish that you could have done something, or done more to bless that person?

Before we continue, it’s important to note that David and Jonathan had a covenant relationship. Matthew Henry notes:

It is good sometimes to bethink ourselves whether there be any promises or engagements that we have neglected to make good; better do it late than never. The compendium which Paul gives us of the life of David is this (Acts 13:36), that he served his generation according to the will of God, that is, he was a man that made it his business to do good; witness this instance, where we may observe,

1. That he sought an opportunity to do good.
2. Those he inquired after were the remains of the house of Saul…
3. The kindness he promised to show them he calls the kindness of God

At this point, it’s easy to let yourself off the hook and say, “I did not have a covenant relationship with anyone like that.

But is there someone to whom you could say,

  • Your father was a major influence in my life
  • Your mother helped me through a difficult time
  • Your brother was like a brother to me
  • Your aunt and uncle were very generous to me at a critical time
  • Your sister’s encouragement was always both needed and appreciated

and then, in recognition of that

  • invite them over for dinner or out to a restaurant?
  • give them a gift, perhaps even a Bible or Christian book?
  • make a charitable donation in their name or in memory of their loved one?
  • write out the story of how their relative blessed you and print it out for them as a keepsake?
  • failing all else, just simply tell them how much their family means to you?

Verse seven is our model. In light of the deep relationship between David and Jonathan:

“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”

Is there a Mephibosheth in your life?

 

November 26, 2014

The Time Jesus Commented on What Someone Put in the Offering

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Time for our regular midweek contribution from Canadian pastor Clarke Dixon. Click the link in the title below to read at source and then check out the rest of the series on generosity.

offering boxWhat Would Jesus Say About Our Offering?

Have you ever thought you had privacy when you really have not? There is something about putting on a full-face motorcycle helmet that can make you think you have as much privacy as sitting in a car, and so I have heard at least one motorcyclist singing at the top of his lungs while waiting for a light to turn green! We take privacy seriously at [our church] and have all the policies and procedures in place to ensure people’s givings are kept confidential. I am not aware of what people give. But one thing we cannot do is ensure that giving is kept hidden from the Lord’s eyes. Let us consider one moment that Jesus was watching the offerings:

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” Mark 12:41-44 (NRSV)

A few questions may help us get into this passage:

1. Who is the example of generosity?

The rich put in a lot of money while the poor widow put in very little. Yet according to Jesus she is the example of generosity for she is making the greater sacrifice. Suppose I were to peach on tithing and everyone walked away convicted that they ought to give 10% of their income. Now suppose one such person earns a million a year, and therefore commits to giving $100,000 a year. We would certainly celebrate such generosity and the opportunities it would grant a small church like ours to increase in mission and ministry. Now suppose a single mom with children and rent earning $25,000 a year commits $2500. Who is more generous? I do not know this from experience but I would think you could live quite comfortably on $900,000 a year. I also do not know this from experience but I would think a family living on $25,000 per year would miss the $2500 very much.

Now we need to make a decision. By commending the generosity of the poor widow is Jesus commanding those of little means to give what little they have or is he challenging those with abundance to break through to greater generosity? For the rich, a 10% tithe may keep the religious police happy, but does it please the Lord? For the poor, a 10% tithe may keep the religious police happy, but does it further cripple people who are already financially beaten down? Which leads us to our next question.

2. Is Jesus celebrating or lamenting?

We tend to assume that Jesus is celebrating the generosity of the poor widow here. However some Biblical scholars think rather that Jesus is lamenting over what he sees. Consider what Jesus said immediately before this:

38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” Mark 12:38-40 (NRSV emphasis mine)

What we may have here is Jesus pointing to the poor widow as an example of someone who is “devoured” by the religious leaders. That she, “out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on” (v.44) may be something regrettable. It is worth noting that Jesus next speaks about the destruction of the temple. The poor widow has just given all she had to support something that will soon be under judgement.

Or perhaps we have both, that along with a condemnation of the scribes’ warped religiosity is a commendation of the widow’s generosity. The religious leaders are looking to take all the poor widow has to live on, and soon they will be looking to take the life of Jesus. But the poor widow’s heart is generous and she gives what she has to live on, pointing forward to the supreme example of generosity, Jesus, who gives His life.

We can tend to get pretty religious when it comes to financial support for the church. Jesus has a lot to say about money, yet he never directly commands or commends a tithe. Nor does it appear to be a theme within the early Church as we encounter it in the New Testament. But generosity is something that is very much commended by our Lord and the apostles. Generosity is a character trait the Holy Spirit develops within us as we yield our lives to the Lord. The question is not “are you tithing” but “are you being generous toward the Lord’s work?” What generosity looks like will be different for each person. 10% may be a good goal for a great many, but it may not be wise for some, and may not be generous for others. We do well to drive not deeper into religion, but deeper into our relationship with Christ to discern the answer to that question. Which leads us to our final question:

3. If we were the ones Jesus watched putting our offering into the treasury that day, what would He say?

This part is for you to write:
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