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Justin Welby: What we give we gain

No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. Matthew 6:24

“What we give we gain. What we gain when we give comes in many forms. First of all, when we give, we recognize, both implicitly and explicitly, that life is not a process of exchange and equivalence, but of abundance and generosity…Exchange and equivalence is a zero-sum approach, the notion that what I give I lose to your gain. It implies a closed system. Abundance and generosity implies an open system, one in which the creative power of God is ever active, so what we give we gain. Mammon wants us to believe that the books always have to balance out in the end – that whatever you have is what I can’t have and vice versa…

Mammon is good at arithmetic, and balancing the books, but very bad at divine economics. Mammon’s economy is based on the principle of ‘beggar your neighbor’. But in divine economics, where there is abundance and generosity, there is no zero-sum approach. Instead, we see an economy that facilitates mutual flourishing and the common good…Abundance exists to be given, freely and openly…We need to train ourselves to see the world in terms of abundance and generosity…Such a discipline swims against the stream of the way economy is assumed to work.”

Justin Welby in Dethroning Mammon: Making Money Serve Grace: The Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book 2017 (London: Bloomsbury, 2017) 108-109, 126.

Lent is the time to train ourselves to see the world in terms of the open system of God’s abundance and generosity which teaches us “what we give we gain.” It is not easy because the world teaches us that “what I give I lose to your gain.”

How’s your Lent going in terms of giving? Are you trying to balance the books or seeking to experience the creative power of God? This is not about making poor financial decisions; it’s about choosing to live by divine economics.

Jesus is clear: we cannot serve God and Mammon. He is not trying to ruin us financially; He is trying to help us take hold of life according to God’s economy. When we discipline ourselves to live this way, we find that it’s the only way to live!

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C.S. Lewis: Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. 1 John 5:21

“I have been told of a very small and very devout boy who was heard murmuring to himself on Easter morning a poem of his own composition, which began ‘Chocolate eggs and Jesus risen’. This seems to me, for his age, both admirable poetry and admirable piety. But of course the time will soon come when such a child can no longer effortlessly and spontaneously enjoy that unity. He will become able to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festive aspect of Easter; chocolate eggs will no longer be sacramental. And once he has distinguished he must put one or the other first. If he puts the spiritual first he can still taste something of Easter in the chocolate eggs; if he puts the eggs first they will soon be no more than any other sweetmeat.”

C.S. Lewis in “The Fair Beauty of the Lord” in Reflections on the Psalms as recounted in Preparing for Easter: Fifty Devotional Readings from C.S. Lewis (San Francisco: Harper One, 2017) 181-182.

God desires for each of us (and that includes our children and grandchildren), “to distinguish the spiritual from the ritual and festive aspect of Easter” as we grow in the Christian faith. But how do we attain, and more importantly, maintain a right perspective?

Talk about “Jesus risen” as the sweetest proclamation ever! Share how our enjoyment and generous sharing of gifts from God like chocolate eggs serve to sweeten the celebration, but warn how they can become idols if they supplant the spiritual focus of the holy day.

Is it time to reassess your traditions? With Lewis, don’t misunderstood this as a call to abandon baskets, hunts, and chocolate eggs. It’s a reminder to celebrate “Jesus risen” above all else this Easter. Perhaps share the sweetest news and a chocolate egg with your neighbor this holy day.

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Henri Nouwen: The journey of our adult life

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13:5

“The question is how to go from an absurd life to an obedient life, from a deaf life to a listening life. If you are anxious and nervous and tense and upset, you don’t listen because your anxiety allows you no space to listen. You can’t receive the voice of God that assures us, “You are with me always, and all I have is yours.” Let us try to give time and space to this amazing voice, speaking in our hearts.

Listening is creating the space in which you can hear the voice that says, “You are my beloved son, you are my beloved daughter, you are special to me. All that is mine is yours.” The whole Gospel, the whole message of Jesus, is precisely that: “All that is mine is yours. All that I say is for you to hear, all that I know is for you to know, all that I do is for you to do.” Jesus is saying, “Nothing that the Father gave me do I hold back from you.” Really try to listen to that so as to gradually become like Jesus. That is the journey of our adult life.”

Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) in From From Fear To Love: Lenten Reflections on the Parable of the Prodigal Son (Richmond Hill: The Henri Nouwen Legacy Trust, 1988) 10.

Today’s post has everything to do with generosity because in “the journey of the adult life” people can only hold on to one thing. Will they choose absurdity or obedience? A deaf life or a listening life? The top alternative people cling to instead of Jesus is money. Rather than use it faithfully, they grasp for it absurdly, deaf to everything else.

Some rationalize this behavior as “saving for the future,” ignoring that Jesus describes the person who does that as a “fool” (Luke 12:13-21). Others miss that the call of Jesus to “go and sell” possessions aims not at leaving us as His disciples destitute, but it teaches us to distribute God’s abundant provision. The obedient, listening life discovers Jesus wants us to depend on Him.

Today’s Scripture reminds us that we must keep ourselves free of the thinking that we need money to make it through life. In reality, Christ is all we need. As the week begins perhaps take some time in solitude today to listen to that still small voice that promises to neither leave nor forsake you. Once you hear His voice, do what He says!

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Emilie Griffin: boundless mercy and immeasurable love

‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’ “But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’ “So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:12-16

“The parable of the workers in the vineyard is a fine portrayal of God’s generous forgiveness and mercy. Jesus compares God to a vineyard keeper who pays the same wages to workers who sign on late as those who have been toiling through the heat of the day. Can we accept the idea of a God who is so merciful, so forgiving? Whose justice is so mysterious, so hard to decipher by ordinary rules?

For some of us, this is difficult to accept. But I think the best way to let go of our own judgmentalism is to remember the boundless mercy of God. Rather than make a list of our own slips, rather than chronicle our own self-righteousness, we should let go of even judging ourselves. Instead we should focus on the immeasurable love of God. To remember how deeply God loves us is to feel that we have love to give back, to others and to God.”

Emilie Griffin in Small Surrenders: A Lenten Journey (Brewster: Paraclete, 2009) 32-33.

On this Lord’s day in the heart of Lent, let us focus on the boundless mercy and immeasurable love of God, because when the last are first and the first are last, all people before Him are on the same plane. Only when we realize that all people are equal before God, do we “remember how deeply God loves us” and tap in to His abundant “love to give back, to others and to God.” Letting go of judging others and ourselves is hard. It does not follow the “ordinary rules” of this world.

The measure of the world, that is the value of people, is determined by earthly judging. Where our giving gets all messed up is when we give based on merit, which is the opposite of mercy. We judge one person as deserving of generosity more than another. Nothing could be further from Christian generosity. Alternatively, only when we grasp God’s boundless mercy and immeasurable love toward us, can we exhibit Christian generosity filled with mercy and love.

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F.F. Bruce: Pervasive ambivalence

Do not set your hearts on the godless world or anything in it. Anyone who loves the world is a stranger to the Father’s love. Everything the world affords, all that panders to the appetites, or entices the eyes, all the glamour of its life, springs not from the Father but from the godless world. And that world is passing away with all its allurements, but he who does God’s will stands for evermore. 1 John 2:15-17

“There is a pervasive ambivalence throughout the New Testament writings wherever the church’s attitude to the world in which it exists comes to expression. On the one hand, the world is God’s world, created by God and loved by God, currently alienated from God, it is true, but destined to be redeemed and reconciled to God.

On the other hand, the world is dominated by a spirit totally opposed to God, organized in such a way as to exclude God, drawn towards unworthy goals of material status and self-interest, quite different from the goals towards which the Christian way leads. In this latter aspect, the world is, according to the NEB rendering, “the godless world”…

Everything the world affords, all that panders to the appetites and entices the eyes, all the glamour of its life, springs not from the Father but from the godless world. And that world is passing away with all its allurements, but he who does God’s will stands forevermore” (1 John 2:15-17).

The Christian is sent into the godless world to reclaim it for its rightful Lord, but while it remains “the godless world” it is an uncongenial environment for the Christian…in the world but not of it, involved and detached at the same time…Seeing you have come to know the truth, beware of imitations and refuse all substitutes.”

F.F. Bruce in “The Church in the World” in The Message of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) 89-90, 99.

During Lent we fast from things that are temporal to broaden our bandwidth for the eternal.

Today, NT scholar, F.F. Bruce, reminds us that that we as Christians are here for purpose, to reclaim the godless world for its rightful Lord. To do this we must not be enticed by the things of this world, which are leading hindrances to generosity. We must have a “pervasive ambivalence” toward these things to keep our focus.

Can you identify things that allure and entice you? Perhaps after identifying them, when you see them the next time, remind yourself to “beware of imitations and refuse all substitutes” because the godless world and all its glamour is passing away, but the one who does God’s will stands for evermore!

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Elisabeth Elliot: Five lessons on things

He who did not spare his own Son, but gave Him up for us all — how will he not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32

“It usually takes loss or deprivation in some measure for most of us to count the blessings we so readily take for granted. The loss of material things is not to be compared with the loss of people we love, but most of us have experienced both, and it is things we are considering now…

The first lesson is that things are given by God. Make no mistake, my friends. All good giving, every perfect gift, comes from above from the Father of the lights of heaven [James 1:17]…

The second lesson is that things are given us to be received with thanksgiving. God gives. We receive…Because God gives us things indirectly, by enabling us to make them with our own hands (out of things He has made, of course), or to earn the money to buy them, or to receive them through someone else’s giving, we are prone to forget that He gave them to us…

The third lesson is that things can be material for sacrifice. This is what is called the eucharistic life. The Father pours out His blessings on us; we, His creatures, receive them with open hands, give thanks, and lift them up as an offering back to Him, thus completing the circle…

This lesson leads naturally to the fourth, which is that things are given to us to enjoy for a while…The Bible says, “God…endows us richly with all things to enjoy” [1 Tim. 6:17]. It also says, “Do not set your hearts on the godless world or anything in it” [Col. 3:2]. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should enjoy things made for us to enjoy. What is not at all fitting is that we should set our hearts on them. Temporal things must be treated as temporal things — received, given thanks for, offered back, but enjoyed. They must not be treated like eternal things…

And there is a fifth: all that belongs to Christ is ours, therefore, as Amy Carmichael wrote, “All that was ever ours is ours forever.” We often say that what is ours belongs to Christ. Do we remember the opposite: that what is His is ours? That seems to me a wonderful truth, almost an incredible truth. If it is so, how can we really “lose” anything?”

Elisabeth Elliot in Discipline: The Glad Surrender (Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1982) 105-117.

These five ideas serve as a basic theology for the “eucharistic life” for each of us. The term “eucharistic” celebrates that we acknowledge that all we have received  — gifts of grace upon gifts of grace — cause us to be filled with gratitude so that we gratefully receive, enjoy, and return everything back to God. When we live this way our lives reflect God’s generosity. We choose this way of living this because we have come to realize that generosity is God’s design for temporal things. When we hold on to them, we lose, but when we let go of them, and thus rightly relate to them, we gain.

God help us by your Holy Spirit in this Lenten season and beyond to exhibit these five lessons on things so that others may see our example and make the choice to join us in living eucharistic lives for You. Hear our prayer in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself up for us all, to purchase us with His blood on the cross. Amen.

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James Bryan Smith: In a hurry

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1

“The most important aspects of our lives cannot be rushed. We cannot love, think, eat, laugh, or pray in a hurry…When we are in a hurry – which comes from overextension – we find ourselves unable to live with awareness and kindness.”

James Bryan Smith in The Good and Beautiful God: Falling in Love with the God Jesus Knows (Downers Grove: IVP, 2010) 180.

Jenni and I flew to California yesterday for a few days of rest and to see our daughter, Sophie, perform in the Spring musical at San Diego Christian College. We also get to spend time with Jenni’s parents, our niece and her husband, and Sophie’s boyfriend. Special occasions like these are gifts from God (speaking of gifts from God, last night’s sunset in La Jolla, pictured above, was amazing).

Our lives are full, that’s for sure, but we try to avoid functioning “in a hurry” because as Smith puts it, in that condition we are “unable to live with awareness and kindness.” We must have margin in our lives. The parable of the priest, the Levite, and the good Samaritan is a great example of this (Luke 10:25-37). Two appear in a hurry and one had space to be generous.

Are you in a hurry? Part of fasting in Lent is making margin for that which is best. Perhaps assess your schedule during this season so that after Easter – though life may be full – you will have time for loving, thinking, eating, laughing, praying, and giving.

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John Gore: “God has helped”

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores. Luke 16:19-20

“The name Lazarus, which is the Greek form of the Hebrew “God has helped,” enables us to understand the meaning of the passage a little clearer. The reason that the poor man (Lazarus) went to Abraham’s side is not because he was poor but because he relied on God and therefore, “God helped him.”

The reason that the rich man went to hell is not because he was rich, but rather he saw himself as self-sufficient and therefore not needing God’s help. It is a parable about a rich man who was self-centered, concerned only about himself and his luxurious lifestyle, and a person who relied on God, for “God has helped” him.”

John Gore in A New Look at the Last Things (Eugene: Resource, 2011) 22.

Who are you in this story? Are you the rich, self-sufficient character or the poor person who experiences the help of God? 

The nefarious thing about riches is that when we possess them, we are tempted to trust in them. With cryptic clarity, Jesus warns His hearers that money can’t save anyone, but it can destroy them. This reveals yet another reason to be generous with money.

Those who hold on to money and focus on preserving a luxurious lifestyle should not worry about it burning a hole in their pockets, but fear that it may burn a hole in their hearts.

One aspect of Lent, almsgiving or giving to the poor, is designed to open our eyes and hearts to the people in need around us like Lazarus who lived in close proximity to the rich man in the parable in Luke 16:19-31.

It’s also a wake-up call to the rich not to trust in riches but to use them to help others even as God helped Lazarus. Even as God sees, hears, and helps those who depend on Him, may He give us eyes to see, hear, and help those in need around us.

And lest we fear that our generosity will leave us empty, we can take confidence that even as God has helped Lazarus, He too will enrich us and help us.

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Paul Sibley: Fasting and Feasting

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things. Philippians 4:8

“Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on divine order.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on non-resistance.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on truths that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from shadows of sorrow; feast on the sunlight of serenity.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm; feast on prayer that has the power to move mountains.”

Paul Sibley in “Fasting and Feasting in Lent”. Special thanks to Scott Bailey, a great pastor and friend, for forwarding this list to me.

The list of things to “fast from” contains many of the leading hindrances to generosity. Did any stick out to you as something you may need to fast from so that you can feast instead?

As we feast on that which is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy, generosity does not comprise good works we do as Christians; it describes who we become in Christ.

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Francis Patrick Donnelly: Openness

“And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die. John 12:32-33

“The ungenerous are known as grasping and close-fisted, whereas openness is the mark of generosity. The “opened treasures” put the Magi forever among the generous [Matthew 2:11]. The valiant woman is generous: “She hath opened her hand to the poor” [Proverbs 31:20]. The world with all its goods is a mark of the generosity of God. “Thou openest Thy hand and fillest with blessing every living creature” [Psalm 145:16].

The openness is characteristic of our Lord. His hand was ever open in gifts and blessings. “Sell all thou hast and give” was His teaching and practice [Mark 10:21]. His arms were opened wide to welcome the young and innocent as well as the sinful and old. And it is with generosity as with every other virtue; His heart found special, tender ways of teaching it.

All His virtues reached their highest in the Passion, and there, too, generosity attained to perfection. “And I,” cried our Lord, “if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all things to Myself” [John 12:32]. The open hands and open arms of generosity got a new meaning from the cross. He put Himself there to show that He wanted to die giving, to be fastened firmly in the action characteristic of generosity.”

Francis Patrick Donnelly in “The Generous Heart” in The Heart of Revelation (New York: P.J. Kenedy & Sons, 1917) 99-100.

Each day of Lent brings us closer to the Passion, closer to the openness of Jesus, who from the cross draws all people to Himself. Do we reflect the openness and generosity of Christ toward others? I think that we are quick to open our arms to the “young and innocent” but slow to embrace the “sinful and old” around us.

Father in heaven, as we journey to the cross, captivate our hearts with the generous openness of Jesus so that, by your Holy Spirit, our lives extend generous openness to everyone, from the young and innocent to the sinful and old. In your mercy, hear my prayer, for without such openness we cannot at all be generous.

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