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Thomas J. Finley: Simultaneously

“This is what the Lord says: “For three sins of Israel, even for four, I will not relent. They sell the innocent for silver, and the needy for a pair of sandals. They trample on the heads of the poor as on the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed. Father and son use the same girl and so profane my holy name. They lie down beside every altar on garments taken in pledge. In the house of their god they drink wine taken as fines.” Amos 2:6-8

“Amos condemns, by the authority of the Lord, debt slavery, gouging of the poor, the denial of legal redress to the afflicted, improper treatment of a maidservant, depriving debtors of their only clothes, and using the legal system to extort money. The Mosaic law gave explicit regulations or prohibitions for each of these crimes. Amos accuses the people of practicing oppression while simultaneously participating in religious ritual…”

Thomas J. Finley in The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary on Joel, Amos, and Obadiah (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute, 1990) 162.

Finley was my Hebrew professor back in seminary. I especially appreciate his use of the word ‘simultaneously’ in this excerpt from his commentary.

God’s people were simultaneously practicing oppression and participating in religious ritual. What does this have to do with generosity? They were doing whatever they could to make money, with little or no care for the detriment of other people, and then walking into the temple and making their offering as if everything was cool. And, if that’s not bad enough, behind the scenes they were indulging in sexual perversion. The Lord says through His servant, Amos, “Enough!”

Since 750 B.C., it seems that times have not changed much. Consider the similarities to today.

Many people do what is legal, though in God’s eyes it is not moral, such as taking advantage of others and amass great wealth for themselves when God intended it for enjoyment and sharing. Whether inside the Church or outside, these people often succumb to their carnal lusts and indulge in pornography or promiscuous relationships beyond the scenes. Then they walk into church and participate in religious ritual, which includes making offerings, or in plain terms, giving, but there’s a disconnect.

Back then, God saw all this injustice and through His servant, Amos, proclaimed, “Enough!” I echo him today, “Enough!”

God sees everything. He sees how we earn the money we have and what we do with it. He does not need our money. He wants our hearts. He desires that our walk simultaneously match our talk as His people. He wants our earning and our giving to reflect justice and bring about righteousness.

If you are convicted in any way, confess and turn from your sin, and make things right (literally, “make restitution”) like Zacchaeus did (Luke 19:1-10). And, since I mentioned him, too many people wrongly read Zacchaeus as a generosity example that justifies holding back large portions of wealth for yourself (in his case, literally, “half”) . On the contrary, Zaccheaus did not do any “charitable giving” that day, but rather simply made right the balance with those he had cheated and made restitution to the poor from whom he had extracted far too much money. Anyone in the same position today should take the same restorative action!

Remember, God sees everything. He sees how we earn the money we have and what we do with it. He desires that our walk simultaneously match our talk as His people. He wants our earning and our giving to reflect justice and bring about righteousness. When we do that as a way of life, then that is generosity.

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O. Palmer Robertson: Jealousy, idolatry, and covetousness

The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord takes vengeance and is filled with wrath. The Lord takes vengeance on His foes and vents His wrath against His enemies. The Lord is slow to anger but great in power; the Lord will not leave the guilty unpunished. His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. Nahum 1:2-3

“God’s jealousy consumes, but it also redeems. Because He is jealous, He cares enough to redeem human beings out of their recalcitrant state. Because idolatry, covetousness, and brutality insult His honor, God shall destroy the wicked — and also save His rebellious people.

This twofold outworking of the jealousy of God explains the combination of contrasting attributes in God as depicted in the many passages that present His jealousy. He is jealous, full of wrath, and by no means will clear the guilty; yet simultaneously He is good, long-suffering, merciful, and gracious, slow to anger, abundant in lovingkindness, and forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin.

This combination of elements inherently provides a framework for understanding such comprehensive doctrines as the love of God in providing atonement for sin, the sovereignty of God in working salvation, and the inevitability of the final destruction of sinners.”

O. Palmer Robertson in The Books of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (NICNT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 61.

I have felt compelled by the Spirit this weekend to turn my attention back to my word for the year, abundance, in an unlikely place, the prophets, for the foreseeable future.

Nahum’s oracle proclaims that God’s jealousy for us drives Him to both consume and redeem us. While His people cannot help but fall into idolatry and covetousness, He remains abundant in long-suffering toward them. That’s generosity.

Stop and think about how much God loves you and me. For our sin we deserve death but He made a way for us to find life through Jesus Christ our Lord. This relates to generosity because He is gracious, slow to anger and forgiving.

Are you gracious, slow to anger, and forgiving in your giving? Perhaps the prophets are a great place to explore the generosity of God because it’s so distinctly Christian in nature. It’s lovingkindness extended to the undeserving.

Many people only direct giving to those they think are deserving. We should drop that term from our vocabulary. Realizing that God lavished forgiveness on us in an undeserving state, Christian generosity is doing the same to others.

Don’t do this because I say so. It was Jesus who said to love our enemies, forgive each other 70×7 times, and show mercy to others. Our jealous God saved us from idolatry and covetousness. We get to do the same for others. That’s generosity.

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Nicholas Breach: Chief Indicator

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

“God owns everything and is our sole Provider. If we correctly grasp that God’s role is to provide and our role is to manage what He gives us, then we create in ourselves, in our actions, a sense of anticipatory dependency. We take the posture of a trusting child in relationship to our Father for the next good gift.

When our minds are occupied with thoughts of how to best use God’s gifts to advance His kingdom, our hearts naturally follow (see Matthew 6:21). If we are storing up treasure here on earth by considering our bank accounts as our source of power, respect, and salvation, our hearts will move surreptitiously away from God.

God has given us money to show us where our idols lie and to force us to make a decision on where we want our heart to go. The very use of the thing that risks becoming our idol can instead be the chief indicator of our Christian faith.”

Nicholas Breach of Compass – Finances God’s Way in his three-page essay “What does your savings account say about your heart?” in Purposeful Living: Financial Wisdom for All of Life compiled and edited by Gary G. Hoag and Tim Macready (Rhodes, NSW: Christian Super, 2018) 76-78. Click on the title to download this free ebook today.

How we use money reveals our idols or serves as the chief indicator of our faith. When we obey Jesus and store up treasures in heaven, our heart follows and we live with “anticipatory dependency.” When, instead, we ignore the command of Jesus not to store up treasures here on earth, our hearts “move surreptitiously away from God.”

I confess, I had to look up “surreptitiously” as I did not know its definition. It means “in a way that attempts to avoid notice or attention; secretively.” So, when we store up wealth on earth (which is what I did for about 40 years), we become a slave to the very thing we think we own. It’s true.

When we read words like “idols” we think of graven images. We tell ourselves that we go to church, worship God, and don’t bow to any statues, so we are good. Not so fast. It’s better to think of idols as anything we serve or in which we place our trust. If we store up treasures on earth, the bank account is testimony against us (see James 5:2).

The reason Jesus said to put our treasures in heaven is that, as Breach rightly notes, where our treasures go, our hearts go. Giving does not earn salvation, but it is a “chief indictor” of authentic faith (see 2 Corinthians 8:24). Where are your treasures? I ask not because I don’t want your heart to drive surreptitiously away from God.

Don’t choose to live differently from the world because I say so. Do it because you realize depending on God is way better than trusting in yourself. Do it because you have a faithful Father and you want Him to see you as a “trusting child” who is ready to use faithfully whatever God supplies to advance God’s kingdom.

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Matt Bird: Purely out of love

Now on His way to Jerusalem, Jesus traveled along the border between Samaria and Galilee. As He was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met Him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!” When He saw them, He said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed. One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked Him — and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then He said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” Luke 17:11-19

“Governments around the world are becoming increasingly aware of their inability to solve social problems from the centre. Austerity is only making their job harder and dramatically reducing the resources at their disposal. This is creating an unprecedented opportunity for the global church to respond by demonstrating the generosity of Jesus in their local communities.

The Bible gives us plenty of stories to draw on for inspiration. When Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem He encountered a community of ten lepers who stood at a distance and called out to Him for help (see Luke 17:11-19). Whilst leprosy was a common condition during biblical times, lepers were considered to be outcasts who were both spiritually and physically unclean, and so forced to live in communes separated from society as a whole.

In an act that would have seemed outrageous at the time, Jesus cleansed the whole community of leprosy. In doing so, He didn’t simply restore their physical health, He enabled them to re-enter mainstream society and economically empowered them to work for a living, rather than beg. The incident provides a perfect demonstration of Jesus’s passion for the spiritual, physical, social, and economic transformation of communities.

If you recall the story, then you’ll also know that only one member of the former leper community returned to thank Jesus (see Luke 17:15). It’s also worth noting that Jesus didn’t ask for this response. In fact, Jesus made no demands of those He healed, in the same way that He makes no demands of us. He acts purely out of love.

When we do what we do in a community we should do so with the same generosity that Jesus showed those lepers. To love others as Jesus loves us means that we serve them and share to meet their human needs regardless of whether they ever come to Christ or ever come to church.”

Matt Bird of Cinnamon Network International, which has mobilized churches to transform communities across the UK and whose impact is going international to places like the USA, in his three-page essay “How can the building of life-giving relationships with those in greatest need position churches to transform their communities?” in Purposeful Living: Financial Wisdom for All of Life compiled and edited by Gary G. Hoag and Tim Macready (Rhodes, NSW: Christian Super, 2018) 96-98. Click on the title to download this free ebook today.

So often we are tempted to give with strings attached. We make restrictions revealing that it’s obvious we are not merely trying to restore, to support, to activate something but to control, to dictate, or even to manipulate people or organizations to accomplish our desired ends or outcomes.

When Jesus was generous, as Matt rightly notes, He acted “purely out of love.” What Matt has found in the UK is that when churches take the resources they have to the people with the greatest need (like the lepers) in communities and act “purely out of love” that transformation happens.

Like the healed leper, Matt has seen people run back with gratitude because someone had compassion on them, purely out of love. What about you? Does your giving have strings attached? Or do you give “hands free” like Jesus and like Barnabas who set the money at the feet of God’s servants (see Acts 4:32-37)? 

Your generosity cannot go wrong and will look like Jesus if you aim at giving “purely out of love!”

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Craig L. Blomberg: Golden Mean

Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonor the name of my God. Proverbs 30:8-9

“Almost without exception, the financial consultants of our world want to help us make as much money as we can. Of course, they typically take a small percentage of our holdings every year; so the more they help us make, the more they earn.

On the other hand, countless advertisers implicitly tell us not to save or invest, because they want us to buy their products immediately. If we cannot afford them, we should borrow money so we can still get them at once. Often they offer us a year or more before we have to start paying off our debts, even though interest has been accruing all along. Credit card debt is the most dangerous of all because of its exorbitant interest rates. Those who listen to both of these messages wind up in essence trying to make all they can so that they can spend all they can!

In a very different vein, John Wesley, in his sermon, “The Use of Money,” famously declared, “Gain all you can…save all you can…give all you can.” This teaching comes much closer to the biblical outlook on saving and investing. Unfortunately, Christians too often fall victim to imitating the ways of the world than to following Scripture…

We are tempted to veer toward one of two opposite ends of a spectrum. One views wealth as nothing but a blessing from God. The other thinks the accumulation of unneeded resources always offends him. Proverbs 30:8-9 offers a golden mean: “give me neither poverty nor riches” so that I don’t have to steal but also so that I don’t deny God by thinking I can provide entirely for myself. 1 Timothy 6:17-19 insists that God “richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment,” but only in a context where we are first of all generous to others.

In today’s economy, then, saving and investing are good when they enable us to be more generous to those for whom we are responsible and to avoid our becoming a burden to others in church or society. But they are seductions to sin when they tempt us simply to make ourselves more comfortable than we need to be.”

Craig L. Blomberg, Distinguished Professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary, in his three-page essay “Saving and Investing: Keys to a happy life, terrible mistakes, or something in between?”” in Purposeful Living: Financial Wisdom for All of Life compiled and edited by Gary G. Hoag and Tim Macready (Rhodes, NSW: Christian Super, 2018) 79-81. Click on the title to download this free ebook today.

Blomberg’s ‘golden mean’ expression sums up the posture of the faithful steward. We neither live beyond our means so we end up in poverty nor do we aim at wealth accumulation. Instead, we fix our focus on God and give thanks for basic provision for enjoyment and sharing rather than on comforts and luxuries.

Most people are not content with “daily bread” though Jesus instructed us to pray precisely for that (Matthew 6:11). They live like Jesus said, “Give us this year, our annual windfall!” or “Give us us this lifetime, a comfortable nest egg.” Such a posture communicates no desire to depend on God. What should we do?

Blomberg charts the course. Aim for the golden mean. Avoid poverty by living within your means, don’t be tempted to accumulate more than sufficient provision, and serve as a conduit of blessing. If this sounds otherworldly, well, it should. The best investments are not saved or spent here, but stored up in heaven.

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John Stanley: Generosity Champions

Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity. 1 Timothy 4:12

“It occurs to me that if we want to help someone else grow in generosity it must begin with us. “Do as I say, not as I do” just doesn’t work. Others influence us most when their words and actions are consistent. We observe them and follow their lead because we believe they are the real deal. An advisor, a friend, or a colleague that is living generously is best suited to champion others to do the same.

Can you think of such a person right now? Let me tell you why I ask. All personal growth happens in relationships. Think about it. Maintaining physical health and wellness requires us to have advocates, informants, medical professionals, and fitness coaches in our lives. Growing in our Christian faith requires both ancient and present day spiritual advisors. These people teach us to listen to the Holy Spirit…I like to refer to such exemplars as generosity champions.

Generosity champions are clear and confident. In their hearts, they desire to change the world around them. They spend themselves to make these changes, because they believe God has put them here for that purpose. As I have watched them, they don’t go at it alone. They reflect on their ability to influence others through personal connections.

If that sounded like a mouthful, let me put it another way. Generosity champions maximize their relationships and connections to help good things happen. We learn from these people by watching them do it. What’s so great about generosity champions is that they connect people for the benefit of others regardless of the implications to themselves.

Generosity champions build bridges for people. When they connect two people who share the same aspirations or challenges they practice what may be the most undervalued and inexpensive act of generosity. They open a door, send an email, make an introduction, or place a call. And, these people, as I have watched and learned from them, don’t push their own agenda but follow a higher one.

Generosity champions listen to the Holy Spirit and have hearts that confidently use their strengths and capacities generously. We can do this too. And it turns out that when we spend ourselves as a volunteer along these lines, we experience tremendous joy and fulfilment, while avoiding merely trading time for obligation. This results in us investing our time in others generously, not out of duty.”

John Stanley, creator of Generosity Gameplan and author of Connected for Good, in his three-page essay “What helps people grow in generosity?” in Purposeful Living: Financial Wisdom for All of Life compiled and edited by Gary G. Hoag and Tim Macready (Rhodes, NSW: Christian Super, 2018) 122-124. Click on the title to download this free ebook today.

Can you think of a generosity champion in your life? With that person in mind, let’s drill down on three profound points Stanley makes.

Firstly, “all personal growth happens in relationships” and those relationships are between us and other people, as well as between us and God. Regardless of his or her age, how has that the champion in your life influenced you? And how would those closest to you say that your relationship with God shapes your living, giving, serving, and loving?

Secondly, “these people teach us to listen to the Holy Spirit.” My wife, Jenni, who is a spiritual director (Soulcare Anchoress) calls it, “attuning to God,” which always reminds me of those old-fashion dial car radios that had to be tuned carefully to locate the station. How has the generosity champion in your life taught you to attune to God?

Nurturing relationships and listening to the Holy Spirit in a noisy, crazy, busy world requires each of us to tune out the World and to tune the antenna of our hearts and minds carefully to God. And people who do are positioned to “confidently use their strengths and capacities generously” rather than “trading time for obligation.”

I got to spend a couple days this week with a generosity champion in my life. I have actually been helping him with a project, but I am gaining more than I am expending because he’s teaching me how to live and how to be generous as I get older. Find a generosity champion, spend time together regularly, and learn from his or her example.

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Tim Macready: Refocus our thoughts

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength. Philippians 4:11b-13

“Contentment helps us greatly as we seek to be faithful stewards. It protects us from poor financial decisions like overspending or unnecessary debt, and positions us to give, save, and live faithfully. But the secret of contentment is also hard. By the time Paul writes Philippians, 25-30 years have passed since his conversion. For Paul, growth in contentment took time and perseverance. Same for us. It takes discipline to find contentment in our thoughts and actions.

To learn the secret of contentment I suggest we refocus our thoughts in at least three areas.

1. To what we have instead of what we don’t have — The world teaches us to think about what we want. It bombards us with advertising specifically designed to make us want things we don’t have. But the contentment that Paul talks about is not dependent at all on external circumstances — it reflects trust in God’s provision — whether great or small. God’s Word teaches us to reflect with thankfulness on what we have been given, rather than fearing for the future or desiring what we don’t have…

2. To the least rather than the greatest — Living in Australia, it is easy to compare ourselves to those around us, particularly those who have more than us. The world tells to look ahead and upwards — aspiring to the next salary increase, the next promotion, the next opportunity to climb the material ladder. But the Bible reminds us that we should focus on the least rather than the greatest. When we do, we realise that in a global sense, we are abundantly wealthy. There will always be those who have been blessed with more than us. But there are billions who have less. While we are free to make decisions about which of our wants we will satisfy, many are left unable to satisfy their most basic needs of water, food, safety, clothing, and shelter.

3. To eternity rather than the present — The world teaches us to focus on our present desires, and tells us to seek pleasure now rather than delaying it. But the Scriptures teach us to live for eternity. Paul tells us to set our minds on things above, where Christ is — and to reflect on the boundless riches of Christ (see Ephesians 3:8), and the glorious inheritance that is to come (see Ephesians 1:18). Jesus encourages us to store up earthly treasures in the place of eternal abundance and blessing (see Matthew 6:20).”

Tim Macready, chief investment officer for Christian Super and Brightlight, in his three-page essay “What can we do to foster contentment?” in Purposeful Living: Financial Wisdom for All of Life compiled and edited by Gary G. Hoag and Tim Macready (Rhodes, NSW: Christian Super, 2018) 125-127. Click on the title to download this free ebook today.

In doing research this week, I find that I have to look in the right place to learn what I need to know. That’s how we learn contentment too. We need to look where the Word tells us and not where the world tells us. It’s easier said than done. It took the Apostle Paul nearly three decades to figure it out, so my Aussie mate, Tim Macready is right to say it’s hard!

As we all have room for growth in this area, pick one of these three areas that he beckons to refocus.

If your mind drifts to what you don’t have, pause to give thanks for what you have and see what happens. What happens within you? Does your heart fill with gratitude?

If your attention gets drawn to the greatest, the rich and famous, take a moment to think about who you know may be suffering or going through a difficult time. What happens when you stop to pray for that person or consider ways you could minister to his or her needs?

To put earthly things in the right perspective, spend five minutes in silence and ask God what eternal things should fill your focus. How did the Holy Spirit speak to you?

I don’t know where you are at with regard to contentment, but I know you will find your way if you reflect with thankfulness on what you have, focus your thoughts on the needs of the least around you, and think about things above rather than earthly things, I know you will find your way, because what we think about shapes how we live.

Before we can be generous, we must first learn contentment. That starts with our thought life and not in our wallet or purse.

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Keith Krell: Foolish or Rich toward God

And [Jesus] told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16–21

“In one of Jesus’ most memorable parables, known as “The Rich Fool” (see Luke 12:16–21), we read about a wealthy farmer who ignored God and lived only for himself. He was not “rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

This farmer made at least four mistakes. Firstly, he failed to acknowledge God’s generous provisions. God blessed him with his harvest, yet he did not express appreciation or even recognize God as the Provider.

Secondly, the farmer assumed that he was in charge of his wealth and possessions. The pronoun “my” occurs four times in Jesus’ story and the word “I” occurs eight. Such independence is often the natural product of “earned” wealth.

Thirdly, the farmer thought he had plenty of time. He claimed to have “plenty of grain laid up for many years” (Luke 12:19). This man was so busy planning out his comfortable future that he forgot his need for true “life” (Luke 12:15).

Finally, the farmer didn’t share his abundance, but kept it for his own private use. He showed no concern or responsibility for others.

In response to the farmer’s attitudes and actions, “God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself” (Luke 12:20)? Jesus concludes the lesson of the story with sobering words, “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:21).

It’s tragic when people are rich in this life but poor with regard to the next.”

Keith Krell, pastor and professor, in his three-page essay “What does it mean to be rich toward God?” in Purposeful Living: Financial Wisdom for All of Life compiled and edited by Gary G. Hoag and Tim Macready (Rhodes, NSW: Christian Super, 2018) 58-60. Click on the title to download this free ebook today.

When you read Krell’s masterful piece, he keenly advises us not to make the same four mistakes. Instead, when God blesses us materially, he beckons us to exercise humility, cultivate contentment, practice generosity, and forward treasure.

What about you? Regardless of your past, starting today don’t be foolish but be rich toward God.

At the core of this parable we find our role is not just to enjoy God’s provision but to distribute or share it (see 1 Timothy 6:17-19). The rich fool was blessed to be a blessing and decided to keep it all for “his own private use” so God relieved him of his duties.

If God has blessed you abundantly, don’t make the same mistakes. Life is short, enjoy and share generously!

On a personal note, I flew to New York yesterday to meet up with a close friend and Major League Baseball historian, Dan Busby. He’s been coming here regularly for over three decades. He will spend today and tomorrow doing research here in the archives, and I will assist him. As my knowledge is only a fraction of his, perhaps I will give feedback for enhancing an article he’s working on.

The Hall of Fame celebrates the history of America’s favorite pastime for everyone’s benefit. Back in Denver, I’ve been asked to join the board of the National Ballpark Museum, so I am also here to explore the exhibits to learn to create settings that educate and edify all who visit them.

I am praying about this opportunity. If I serve, it will be to bless others richly.

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Jeff Anderson: Giving that pleases God

But the king replied to Araunah, “No, I insist on paying you for it. I will not sacrifice to the Lord my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.” So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen and paid fifty shekels of silver for them. 2 Samuel 24:24

“It’s not always easy to view God in our giving. After all, God is invisible. And He doesn’t drop fire from heaven to show pleasure in our cash gifts. Sadly, that’s why giving today often becomes more about having impact than about pleasing God.

When making giving decisions, we wonder: Does the church leadership have vision? Does the non-profit have sound management? Are the funds getting to the poor? How much of every dollar goes to administrative costs?

We want our gifts to make a difference, right? After all, our gifts can change the world. And that makes us feel good. But what makes our gifts especially acceptable (pleasing) to God? Consider two thoughts.

1. God measures how our gift costs us. God values our sacrifice.

Consider two families with the same household incomes. Both give the same percentage of their gross incomes to their church. Digging deeper, we learn Family A receives free medical coverage from their employer and use of a company car. But Family B pays a significant portion of their health care premiums.

Family A also has parents who live nearby — providing regular dining opportunities, occasional vacations and on-call babysitting for the grandkids. Family B does not have assistance from family and incurs significant costs to care for a special needs child.

Though the percentages are identical, the “giving” costs more for Family B. The point is not to undermine Family A’s generosity (their gifts can please God also), but to recognize that God’s calculator goes much deeper in measuring how our gifts cost us personally.

When a man offered to provide King David the land, animals, and materials to present sacrifices to God, David insisted he pay full price, saying, “I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing” (2 Samuel 24:24). The question for us is — does our giving cost us in a meaningful way?

2. God measures the gift by our hearts (that is, our obedience).

Giver A is viewed as a “good person.” He attends church regularly as well as occasional Bible study classes. But he doesn’t seem bothered by behaviors such as cheating on his taxes, gossiping at home, cutting corners in the marketplace to inflate sales commissions, or ongoing lust in his heart. Giver B prays and reads the Bible faithfully, seeks forgiveness with her family and others. Maintaining a pure heart is a priority to her.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that if your brother has something against you, leave your gift at the altar and go reconcile. Then come give your gift (see Matthew 5:23-24). So, we see that our gifts are an extension of our walk with God.

If a seemingly “generous giver” is living a life of sin or conflict, the gift may be nothing more than Christian philanthropy (literally, “love of man”). A gift might be effective (at meeting needs) but may not please God. Ananias and Sapphira learned this the hard way (see Acts 5:1-11). They sold their land and gave (part of) the proceeds. The gift might have been effective, but it did not please God.”

Jeff Anderson in his three-page essay “How does God measure our giving?” in Purposeful Living: Financial Wisdom for All of Life compiled and edited by Gary G. Hoag and Tim Macready (Rhodes, NSW: Christian Super, 2018) 70-72. Click on the title to download this free ebook today.

When we look at giving from God’s perspective we discover there’s something far more important that meeting needs or solving problems. Anderson alerts us to the fact that God desires sacrifice and obedience. God cares more about what we keep and what that says about our hearts than what we give. Further digging reveals that sacrificial giving is the only kind of giving that Jesus celebrated (see Mark 12:41-44). God also cares about our obedience. We can be so focused on making money to give it away to meet a need or solve a problem that we miss the point of giving. God does not need the money. He wants our hearts, our obedience.

So how can our generosity please God? Realize the sacrifice Jesus made for you and respond gratefully by obeying all that He says to do with money, rather than picking and choosing which commands you will follow.

Giving for many people many people looks like this. They either hold back a portion from God like Ananias and Sapphire, or they give to assuage their guilt for sins committed against God or linked to unreconciled relationships. If you fall into those categories, then leave your gift at the altar today and be reconciled with God or with a brother or sister. And never ever hold anything back from God, as only sacrificial giving and obedience please Him.

We can trace this through human history. Acceptable giving comes into view with Cain and Abel (see Genesis 4). Cain brought a sampling of his produce. Abel sacrificed his first and best, implying that his entire flock belonged to the LORD. Abel did what was right. Cain succumbed to the sin crouching at his door. The pattern continues today. Some give a sampling. Others give their first and best. Hold nothing back. Sacrifice and obedience pleases God.

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Todd Harper: Giving can break the power of money

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” Acts 20:35b

“These simple words of Jesus provide the key to freedom and joy in our relationship with money. Though this is a well-known verse, few Christ-followers truly know, understand, and apply this truth in their everyday lives.

In more than 20 years of working with givers, I have observed that ambivalence towards the words of Jesus is not due to lack of belief, rather it is because we have been caught up in the power of money for far too long. The term “blessed” isn’t even all that accessible anymore due to its overuse, so I prefer Randy Alcorn’s helpful definition — he translates “blessed” as “happy-making”.

Money, or the love of money rather, breeds many things that are anti-blessed or not “happy-making”. Money has the tendency to isolate and cause anxiety. It has power in our lives because we believe it can fulfill, protect, give control, and ultimately satisfy. It whispers in our ear that without it, we won’t be happy or secure. The love of money or the pursuit of ever-more money creates an atmosphere that all too often takes God, and our dependence on Him, out of the equation.

So how can giving break the power of money in our lives?

I would suggest that giving can break the power of money in three ways, firstly, through revealing the power of grace, secondly, by challenging our self-reliance, and thirdly, in welcoming us into a conversation with our Creator.”

Todd Harper, President of Generous Giving, in his three-page essay “How can giving break the power of money in one’s life?” in Purposeful Living: Financial Wisdom for All of Life compiled and edited by Gary G. Hoag and Tim Macready (Rhodes, NSW: Christian Super, 2018) 55-57. Click on the title to download this free ebook today.

This is one of those spiritual lessons that we don’t figure out until we live it out.

The power of money is real. It crosses the line and takes control of our lives when it promises us things only God can deliver. Sadly, all too often we succumb to it’s temptations and live like we believe the lies. It whispers to us to hold on to money, telling us that it can “fulfill, protect, give control, and ultimately satisfy” our deepest longings when in reality, only God can do that.

We only realize these are lies when, instead, we listen to Jesus and do what He says. He’s not trying to rob us but help us. It’s like we are in an Escape Room called “Money” and giving is the mystical, counter-intuitive key that unlocks the only pathway to freedom and joy. As Harper notes, it reveals the power of grace, challenges our self-reliance, and welcomes us into a conversation with our Creator.

I am convinced that the first followers of Christ did not settle for the anti-blessed life. In today’s Scripture, Luke recounts Paul proclaiming this saying of Jesus to the Ephesian elders in his farewell address to them in a way that reveals to us that these disciples wanted everyone to know the freedom and joy it offers. Do you? Have you discovered experientially how giving breaks the power of money in your life?

Once you live it out you stand in awe that you get to serve as a conduit that enjoys and shares God’s generosity.

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