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Augustine of Hippo: No reserve fund

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. Acts 2:32-34a

“It’s not right for us to keep a reserve fund; it’s not the bishop’s business to save up gold, and repulse the beggar’s outstretched hand. There are so many asking every day, so many groaning, so many needy people pleading, that we have to leave several of them unhappy.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in Sermon 355.5 in Essential Sermons, translated by Edmund Hill, edited by Daniel Doyle (New York: New City Press, 2007) 410.

I read one of Augustine’s sermons this week while traveling. When he was bishop of Hippo, he believed strongly that when a bishop had a reserve fund, needs would go unmet, so he had no part of it. As God supplied in the community, like the early church in Acts, they shared and had enough.

Under Augustine’s leadership, the church did not just give handouts which creates dependencies. They would give people a hand up to build and restore them to become productive disciples. Regardless of what other bishops were doing, and regardless of what others are doing today, don’t keep a reserve fund.

God’s design in a world where half the people have more than enough and the other half have less than enough is generous sharing. The community is sustained by obedience. If you are a pastor or ministry administrator, stop keeping a reserve fund. Put to work what God supplies if you want more (cf. Luke 16:10-12).

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John Climacus: Fasting is …

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18

“Fasting is the coercion of nature and the cutting out of everything that delights the palate, the prevention of lust, the uprooting of bad thoughts, deliverance from dreams, purity of prayer, the light of the soul, the guarding of the mind, deliverance from blindness, the door of compunction, humble sighing, glad contrition, a lull in chatter, a means to silence, a guard of obedience, lightening of sleep, health of body, agent of dispassion, remission of sins, the gate of Paradise and its delight.”

John Climacus (579-649) in The Ladder of Divine Ascent, translated by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (Harper & Brothers, 1959) Step 14.33.

This is classic was written Abba John, Abbot of the monks of Mount Sinai, sent to another Abba John, Abbot of Raithu, at whose request it was written. Think of it as ancient document encouraging spiritual growth.

It is not surprising that fasting is a key discipline for the monks throughout church history as the instructions from Jesus about fasting appear in the heart of His sermon on the mount.

Recently many people have been asking me about fasting. Surprisingly, most of them say that they have never been taught anything from the Scriptures about fasting, though it is mentioned numerous times.

Climacus gives us a profound set of expressions. I suggest you re-read his post and pick one that resonates with you. For some, it may be “the uprooting of bad thoughts” and for others “purity of prayer.”

Many might see it as “deliverance from blindness” as they find clarity from God, while others may report “a guard of obedience” or “agent of dispassion” to get their attachments and affections reordered. What is fasting for you?

I believe fasting is also a “gateway to generosity” as learning to say “no” to our fleshly desires positions us to have margin for living, giving, serving, and loving generously.

However you see fasting, don’t make it a stranger! Patrick Johnson and I have fasted a number of meals recently asking God to pour out His Spirit on Generosity Dallas today. Pray for a great day and a safe trip home. Thanks.

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John of Ruysbroeck: Overflowing Love

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. 1 Thessalonians 3:12

“Now the man who is established in the bonds of love shall dwell in the unity of the Spirit; and he shall go out with enlightened reason and with overflowing love in heaven and on earth; and he shall mark all things with clear discernment; and he shall dispense and distribute all things, out of true generosity, and because of his richness in God.”

John of Ruysbroeck (1293-1381) in The Adornment of Spiritual Marriage, Book 2, Chapter XXXIX.

Today I fly to Dallas to speak at Generosity Dallas tomorrow. I will be joined by a great slate of speakers including my friend and brother, Patrick Johnson of Generous Church. He has produced many great resources, including, Overflow, so this post made me think of him.

John of Ruysbroeck reminds us that our generosity is fueled by the overflowing love of God. We can dispense and distribute abundantly because of God’s generosity toward us. We have enlightened reason, clear discernment, and richness to enjoy and share.

Are you established in the bonds of love and dwelling in the unity of the Spirit? Those who get it, realize they are not the end users of all God provides. He blesses us to be a blessing. God, work through Patrick and me and the other speakers to bless many tomorrow. And may your overflowing love bless all who read this. Amen.

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Ignatius of Loyola: Give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, Your strength

The LORD is near to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth. Psalm 145:18

“O Christ Jesus, when all is darkness and we feel our weakness and helplessness, give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, and Your strength. Help us to have perfect trust in Your protecting love and strengthening power, so that nothing may frighten or worry us, for, living close to You, we shall see Your hand, Your purpose, Your will through all things.”

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) as recounted The World Knew Him Not by Deaghlan Fionn (Morrisville: Lulu, 2010) CIV.

Yesterday’s prayer of trust touched many, so I searched for more prayers through church history and found this gem. Notice at the heart of the prayer is this humble cry, “Give us the sense of Your presence, Your love, Your strength.”

God’s generosity to give us His presence, love, and strength is the basis for our ability to be present with people, to love them, and to empower them. Our generosity flows out of our trust in God’s protecting love and strengthening power.

So how do we tap this abundance? Proclaim and live according to what is true even when all is darkness and when you feel helpless. Your generosity will shift from sharing drips in times of plenty to serving as spigot of love even in times of trial.

I want to honor my sister, Heather, today. She’s overcome times of weakness and helplessness through her trust in God. Today’s her birthday. Happy Birthday, Heather. Though I don’t live close to you or get to see you that often, I love you.

My time with the ECCU board yesterday was fruitful beyond expectations. Thanks to all those who prayed for me and my time with them. I wrap up this morning and fly home with thanksgiving in my heart. Thank you, Jesus!

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Faustina Maria Pia: Litany of Trust

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10

Litany of Trust

From the belief that I have to earn Your love
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear that I am unlovable
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the false security that I have what it takes
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear that trusting You will leave me more destitute
Deliver me, Jesus.
From all suspicion of Your words and promises
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the rebellion against childlike dependency on You
Deliver me, Jesus.
From refusals and reluctances in accepting Your will
Deliver me, Jesus.
From anxiety about the future
Deliver me, Jesus.
From resentment or excessive preoccupation with the past
Deliver me, Jesus.
From restless self-seeking in the present moment
Deliver me, Jesus.
From disbelief in Your love and presence
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of being asked to give more than I have
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the belief that my life has no meaning or worth
Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear of what love demands
Deliver me, Jesus.
From discouragement
Deliver me, Jesus.

That You are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me
Jesus, I trust in You.
That Your love goes deeper than my sins and failings and transforms me
Jesus, I trust in You.
That not knowing what tomorrow brings is an invitation to lean on You
Jesus, I trust in You.
That You are with me in my suffering
Jesus, I trust in You.
That my suffering, united to Your own, will bear fruit in this life and the next
Jesus, I trust in You.
That You will not leave me orphan, that You are present in Your Church
Jesus, I trust in You.
That Your plan is better than anything else
Jesus, I trust in You.
That You always hear me and in Your goodness always respond to me
Jesus, I trust in You.
That You give me the grace to accept forgiveness and to forgive others
Jesus, I trust in You.
That You give me all the strength I need for what is asked
Jesus, I trust in You.
That my life is a gift
Jesus, I trust in You.
That You will teach me to trust You

Faustina Maria Pia in Litany of Trust (Suffern, NY: Sisters of Life Annunciation Motherhouse).

Special thanks to my neighbor, Ken Sharp, for sharing this with me when Jenni and I played dominoes with him and his wife, Carol, a couple days ago.

It’s a great prayer that ministers to him daily. It touched us, and I pray it blesses everyone who reads it. Focus with me on the repeating phrases: “Deliver me, Jesus” and “Jesus, I trust in You.”

Every single day we need to be delivered from worldly notions, false beliefs, fears, and anxieties. These realities seek to immobilize us and limit or even hinder progress in our walk with God. From all these, deliver us Jesus.

Then as we lean into the abundant life that Jesus offers us, it requires trust at every turn. Prayers like this help us daily to declare our trust and dependence on God. Jesus, we trust in You.

Today I facilitate a board training on to The Council: A Biblical Perspective on Board Governance for ECCU in California. From all fears and worries. Deliver me, Jesus. Lead and guide me. Jesus, I trust in You.

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James Nayler: Light

Light arises in the darkness for the upright; He is gracious and compassionate and righteous. Psalm 112:4

“Art thou in darkness? Mind it not; for if thou dost, it will fill thee more; but stand still and act not, and wait in patience till light arise out of darkness to lead thee.”

James Nayler in A Collection of Sundry Books, Epistles and Papers (Cincinnati: Stanton, 1716) xlv.

It seems like many people around me are struggling in the darkness. Some are in despair, others in poor health, and some lack direction.

What is the gift we can give such people? I think the answer is to listen, love them, and encourage them to wait for light from God as promised in today’s Scripture.

Father, for all who feel they are in darkness today, help them stand and wait for you to light their way. Hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Henri Nouwen: Interruptions

One day Jesus was teaching, and Pharisees and teachers of the law were sitting there. They had come from every village of Galilee and from Judea and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was with Jesus to heal the sick. Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. Luke 5:17-19

“While visiting the University of Notre Dame, where I had been a teacher for a few years, I met an older experienced professor who had spent most of his life there. And while we strolled over the beautiful campus, he said with a certain melancholy in his voice, “You know, my whole life I have been complaining that my work was constantly interrupted, until I discovered that my interruptions were my work.”

Don’t we often look at the many events of our lives as big or small interruptions, interrupting many of our plans, projects, and life schemes? Don’t we feel an inner protest when a student interrupts our reading, bad weather our summer, illness our well-scheduled plans, the death of a dear friend our peaceful state of mind, a cruel war our ideas about the goodness of man, and the many harsh realities of life our good dreams about it? And doesn’t this unending row of interruptions build in our hearts feelings of anger, frustration, and even revenge, so much so that at times we see the real possibilities that growing old can become synonymous with growing bitter?

But what if our interruptions are in fact our opportunities, if they are challenges to an inner response by which growth takes place and through which we come to the fullness of being? What if the events of our history are molding us as a sculptor molds his clay, and if it is only in a careful obedience to these molding hands that we can discover our real vocation and become mature people?

What if all the unexpected interruptions are in fact the invitations to give up old-fashioned and out-moded styles of living and are opening up new unexplored areas of experience? And finally: What if our history does not prove to be a blind impersonal sequence of events over which we have no control, but rather reveals to us a guiding hand pointing to a personal encounter in which all our hopes and aspirations will reach their fulfillment?

Then our life would indeed be a different life because then fate becomes opportunity, wounds a warning and paralysis an invitation to search for deeper sources of vitality. Then we can look for hope in the middle of crying cities, burning hospitals, and desperate parents and children. Then we can cast off the temptation of despair and speak about the fertile tree while witnessing the dying of the seed. Then indeed we can break out of the prison of an anonymous series of events and listen to the God of history who speaks to us in the center of our solitude and respond to His ever new call for conversion.”

Henri Nouwen in Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life (New York: Doubleday, 1975) 52-53.

What if our ‘being’ related to interruptions precedes any generous ‘doing’ on our part? I think Nouwen and his unnamed professor friend are spot on with their assessment. As I think about Jesus, He was constantly interrupted and then did His best work.

Today’s Scripture is a perfect example. One minute Jesus is teaching, the next He is healing the paralytic man. Consider other examples with me. One minute He was asleep, and the next minute He calmed the storm (Luke 8:22-24). One minute He is walking, the next He heals Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52). The list could go on and on.

The point for us today is not to abandon all plans of generous living, giving, serving, and loving. Stay the course. The lesson is to welcome interruptions as formative factors in God’s plan for us and to treat interruptions as unplanned opportunities for doing our best acts of generosity.

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Basil of Caesarea: The troubles of usury and the munificence of the Master

Again I said, “The thing which you are doing is not good; should you not walk in the fear of our God because of the reproach of the nations, our enemies? And likewise I, my brothers and my servants are lending them money and grain. Please, let us leave off this usury. Please, give back to them this very day their fields, their vineyards, their olive groves and their houses, also the hundredth part of the money and of the grain, the new wine and the oil that you are exacting from them.” Then they said, “We will give it back and will require nothing from them; we will do exactly as you say.” So I called the priests and took an oath from them that they would do according to this promise. I also shook out the front of my garment and said, “Thus may God shake out every man from his house and from his possessions who does not fulfill this promise; even thus may he be shaken out and emptied.” And all the assembly said, “Amen!” And they praised the Lord. Then the people did according to this promise. Nehemiah 5:9-13

“Listen, you rich men, to the kind of advice I am giving to the poor because of your inhumanity. Far better endure under their dire straits than undergo the troubles that are bred of usury! But if you were obedient to the Lord, what need of these words? What is the advice of the Master? Lend to those from whom ye do not hope to receive (Luke 6:34-35). And what kind of loan is this, it is asked, from all which all idea of the expectation of repayment is withdrawn? Consider the force of the expression, and you will be amazed at the loving-kindness of the legislator. When you mean to supply the need of a poor man for the Lord’s sake, the transaction is at once a gift and a loan. Because there is no expectation of reimbursement, it is a gift. Yet because of the munificence of the Master, Who repays on the recipient’s behalf, it is a loan. ‘He that hath pity on the poor lendeth unto the Lord’ (Proverbs 19:17). Do you not wish the Master of the universe to be responsible for your repayment? If any wealthy man in the town promises you repayment on behalf of others, do you admit his suretyship? But you do not accept God, Who more than repays on behalf of the poor. Give the money lying useless, without weighting it with increase, and both shall be benefited. To you will accrue the security of its safe keeping. The recipients will have the advantage of its use. And if it is increase which you seek, be satisfied with that which is given by the Lord. He will pay the interest for the poor. Await the loving-kindness of Him Who is in truth most kind.”

Basil the Great (330-379) bishop of Caesarea, one of the three Cappadocian Fathers, and doctor of the Eastern Church in Basil: Letters and Select Works (Grand Rapids: CCEL) 83-84.

In my recent study of Nehemiah, I saw the toxic power of usury destroying the relationships between the people. Rather than lending and trusting God to replenish according to His promise, they were heaping burdens on one another for gain. It had to stop in the days of Nehemiah and must stop today among God’s people. This will be hard because most of modern society is structured usury, that is, lending at interest.

Here’s where we can make a difference, or at least a start. If you believe in the munificence of the Master, the next time you have a poor person experience financial need, think of aiding them as lending to the highest rated surety company. In plain terms, God has promised to repay you so put that stagnant money to work. Basil would argue, and I with him, that there is no greater use of those funds in the eyes of God.

As my word for the year, kindness, intersects with generosity, I am discovering that open-handed lending to the poor, positions us to receive the promise of God’s kindness. Jesus is calling us to handle money in otherworldly ways, and says that when we do we will be called “children of the Most High” (Luke 6:34-35). Any hesitancy on our part reveals our disbelief. Don’t let that be you. Put away usury. Aid your neighbor without delay.

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Gregory of Nazianzus: The Sponsor

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing — grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.

Blow the trumpet in Zion, declare a holy fast, call a sacred assembly. Gather the people, consecrate the assembly; bring together the elders, gather the children, those nursing at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room and the bride her chamber. Let the priests, who minister before the Lord, weep between the portico and the altar. Let them say, “Spare your people, Lord. Do not make your inheritance an object of scorn, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” Joel 2:12-17

“Possess your souls in tears, and stay His wrath by amending your way of life. Sanctify a fast, call a solemn assembly, as blessed Joel with us charges you: gather the elders…

Come then, all of you, my brethren, let us worship and fall down, and weep before the Lord our Maker; let us appoint a public mourning, in our various ages and families, let us raise the voice of supplication…

Let this, instead of the cry which He hates, enter into the ears of the Lord of Sabaoth. Let us anticipate His anger by confession; let us desire to see Him appeased, after He was wroth. Who knoweth, he says, if He will turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind Him?

This I know certainly, I the sponsor of the loving-kindness of God. And when He has laid aside that which is unnatural to Him, His anger, He will betake Himself to that which is natural, His mercy. To the one He is forced by us, to the other He is inclined.

And if He is forced to strike, surely He will refrain, according to His Nature. Only let us have mercy on ourselves, and open a road for our Father’s righteous affections. Let us sow in tears, that we may reap in joy, let us show ourselves men of Nineveh, not of Sodom.

Let us amend our wickedness, lest we be consumed with it; let us listen to the preaching of Jonah, lest we be overwhelmed by fire and brimstone, and if we have departed from Sodom let us escape to the mountain, let us flee to Zoar, let us enter it as the sun rises; let us not stay in all the plain, let us not look around us, lest we be frozen into a pillar of salt, a really immortal pillar, to accuse the soul which returns to wickedness.”

Gregory of Nazianzus (329-390) in Oration 16.13-14 “On His Father’s Silence, Because of the Plague of Hail.” in Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, edited by Philip Schaff (New York: Christian Literature Publishing, 1893).

Gregory is the second of the three Cappadocian Fathers. Yesterday we heard from Gregory of Nyssa. Tomorrow we will hear from Basil the Great of Caesarea.

Today’s post relates to generosity in this way. In times of crisis, God’s workers must serve as “the sponsor of the loving-kindness of God” for those they serve. We do this by leading people to pray, fast, and confess to call for the mercy of God lest our wickedness consume us.

Whom do you serve? How might this posture impact them?

This is not about manipulating God. It’s about taking a proper humble posture to “open a road for our Father’s righteous affections” toward us. Generously serve your people in this way. Do it. Who knows, God may again leave a blessing behind him?

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Gregory of Nyssa: Spectators and the Divine Race

For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea. Habakkuk 2:14

“At horse races the spectators intent on victory shout to their favorites in the contest, even though the horses are eager to run. From the stands they participate in the race with their eyes, thinking to incite the charioteer to keener effort, at the same time urging the horses on while leaning forward and flailing the air with their outstretched hands instead of with a whip. They do this not because their actions themselves contribute anything to the victory; but in this way, by their good will, they eagerly show in voice and deed their concern for the contestants. I seem to be doing the same thing myself, most valued friend and brother. While you are competing admirably in the divine race along the course of virtue, lightfootedly leaping and straining constantly for the prize of the heavenly calling, I exhort, urge and encourage you vigorously to increase your speed.”

Gregory of Nyssa (335-394) in the prologue of The Life of Moses (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press) Book 1:1.

Sometimes in God’s providence we receive a generous generous word of encouragement right when we need it. That happened to me yesterday. This post came to me like a shout from a spectator in the crowd to cheer me on in the divine race. What a blessing from my friend and brother, Micah Kohls.

Take five minutes to pray. Think about the contest before your eyes. Consider with the guidance of the Holy Spirit whom you might encourage or bless today with an exhortation to push hard to the finish line. Now take the time to bless that person. Your word may be just what they need.

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