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Edwina Murphy: Are you ready for the reversal?

In my last night before departing Sydney, I had dinner with a good friend, Peter Murphy, and his wife, Edwina, a brilliant scholar who recently authored the article, “Sell Your Possessions: Cyprian, Luke, and Wealth” (Colloquium 49/2 2017). Great article! Therein she shows how the bishop (Cyprian of Carthage) used Scripture and teaching to champion the only right use of wealth: be rich toward God.

“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 12:20-21

Murphy reports this from Cyprian of Carthage (in Dom. or. 20; CCSL 3A:102–3): “So also God rebukes the rich fool, who thinks of his earthly wealth and boasts in the abundance of his overflowing harvests, saying, “You fool, tonight your soul is required of you; then whose will be those things which you have prepared?” The fool who was to die that very night was rejoicing in his stores, and the one to whom life was already failing, was thinking of the abundance of his food. But, on the other hand, the Lord tells us that he becomes perfect and complete who sells all his goods, and distributes them for the use of the poor, and so lays up for himself treasure in heaven.”

Then she adds this profound thought: “Cyprian uses the rich fool to demonstrate the reversal which will take place in the future — those who rejoice in the abundance of their possessions will lose them, but those who renounce them and give generously will be rewarded.”

Neither Edwina nor Cyprian suggest this reversal; they just alert us to what Jesus is telling us. Friends, on this Lord’s day (which I will spend flying all the way home in my 24-hour journey), resolve to ready yourself for reward. Make the reversal. Give generously, according to your ability. Renounce all the world says money can do for you and put it to work, be rich toward God.

Are you ready for the reversal?  Remember, “those who rejoice in the abundance of their possessions will lose them, but those who renounce them and give generously will be rewarded.”

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Rebekah Basinger: Tell a story

“So Jesus told them this story…” Luke 15:3

“People listen differently when stories are told. Their ears perk up. They smile. They nod. And they remember. A picture may be worth a thousand words, but a well-told story can be priceless.

And therein lies the challenge for stewardship leaders. It takes a particular kind of story when the purpose in the telling is to grow generous hearts. Specifically, stories that help move folks from casual givers to joy-filled stewards are those that: Aim for the heart…Are specific rather than general…Are timely…Include a call to action…

And how do you craft stories that do all this? The following pointers can help. Start with the end in mind…Provide context…Make the changing of lives, not the sustaining of your church the focus of the story…

Stories, when told well and with conviction, really are a stewardship leader’s best friend. The folks in the pews appreciate them, too. So, stewardship leader, tell a story. Please.”

Rebekah Basinger in “Stewardship Leader: Tell A Story, Please” in Giving: Growing Joyful Stewardship in Your Congregation, volume 20 (Richmond: EMS, 2018) 30-31.

When I gave my plenary address at the conference in Brisbane this week on Abundant Life and Service from John 10:1-18 this week, I parsed biblical truths with precision, but I am convinced, it was my story about shepherd and the cows in an African village that people will remember, perhaps in part, because I used pictures when telling the story.

It’s humbling to think we might prepare detailed remarks and all people will remember is the story! For that reason, join my good friend Rebekah Basinger in not just giving financial reports at church, tell a story. The numbers do tell a story. Tell it with creativity and enthusiastically. Your effort will disciple people to join in the story.

With each meditation, people say they like the idea on top, but they love the story I tell below that fits the idea into life. So what’s my story today? It’s grace! After flying over 50,000 miles in a month (twice around the world), serving brothers and sisters in India, Egypt, and Australia, I get fly home tomorrow. His grace has brought me safe thus far, and grace will lead me home!

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Richard A. Swenson: Eight Prescriptions

I am not saying this because I am in need, for 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 4:11-13

“On the righteous side, God uses money to bless untold millions and advance the kingdom. On the unrighteous side, the Evil One uses money to corrupt people, to separate them from God and each other, and to sow discord and discontent…

It is important to note that God never, under any conditions, needs money to accomplish His purposes. That said, He does use money in various ways to bless His people and also to test us… Money is singled out by God for special warning. It is the only power having the audacity to go toe to toe with God and challenge Him for ownership…

Here are some prescriptions that might help us gain control of the money issues in our lives and submit them to the control of the kingdom. While individuals can do little to change our economic system, there is much we can do to prevent from being trapped by it. It is no surprise that contentment wishes to play a part in this rescue.

Rx:1 – Base Contentment on God rather than Economics. God promised He would never leave us or forsake us. Money cannot give such a promise…

Rx:2 – Stop Thinking Primarily in Money Terms… This does not mean we are never to think about money, but only that we are to think about money in the proper way. It is a tool. An important tool. A tool that can do much good. A tool that also can cause much harm…

Rx:3 – Pursue Activities That Don’t Cost Money… Reading a good book can offer a literary journey around the world or across the ages. Try going for a walk, tending flowers, sitting by rivers, attending free concerts in the park, watching people (especially kids)… Activities that do not require money, especially community, friendship, and hospitality, nevertheless constitute a rich lifestyle.

Rx:4 – Explore Employment Options… It is perfectly acceptable to look for a better job… But if He does not grant a betterment in our conditions, then our spiritual responsibility is to be content to live within our harvest…

Rx:5 – Do Not Take Orders from Money. People have a tendency to bow to money. They recognize it’s power and decide they will do anything to serve it… This behavior is not for the people of God. We should resist the force of money whenever we feel it…

Rx:6 – Don’t Link Self-Esteem to Money… Sometimes it requires a righteous ego strength to go against the flow of our culture. Then, however, we remember that Jesus walked opposite the prevailing winds years ago and told us to follow His example.

Rx:7 – Go Ahead, Buy the New Sofa, Maybe. If the couch is geriatric, we are not necessarily required to be content with it. If we have the funds and feel God smile, buy a newer one. But if we are repeatedly wanting another couch, a different couch, a new couch, a more fashionable couch, a couch like the neighbors’, a couch that makes us feel good about ourselves, then I doubt God is still smiling.

Rx:8 – Resist Saying, “I Will Be Content When…” Contentment in God, His provision, presence, and providence, is not a postponable commodity… The Bible does not say be content when you have; it says be content with what you have. True contentment is not based on contingencies but on God alone.”

Richard A. Swenson in Contentment: The Secret to Lasting Calm (Colorado Springs: NavPress, 2013) 163-174.

Gary Williams of CMA Australia gave me this book and I could not put it down in the quietness of my hotel room. I loved the list of prescriptions for finding contentment in a consumeristic world that calls us to love money. I hope you do too.

Read through the list again just reading the bold-face type. Do any of these seem to resonate with you as prescriptions that may be just what the doctor ordered to help you foster contentment to position you to grow in generosity?

Pick one and ask God to help you lean into that area. Why do this? We must deprogram ourselves from the world’s economic mindset. As Swenson notes, when we hold on to money instead of enjoying and sharing it, our actions reveal our trust is in money.

We send God a message, loud and clear, that we do not trust Him to provide, so we will take matters into our own hands. We rationalize it away as good stewardship, and in so doing, prohibit ourselves from experiencing the contentment He desires for us.

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Justin Rabbach: More than distanced charity

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40

“Young adults do not want to just do something good when it is possible to do something great. We can give enough money to pay for dinner for someone who is hungry, which is a good thing to do, but why would we not also look for a way to do something great, such as making sure that person is not hungry again come morning?

It is inspiring and encouraging to see gifts and acts of generosity not out of excess and what is left over, not out of the sense of sure footedness of standing on solid financial ground, but rather from a sense of hope and faith in the ability of the church to do something great — like the Great Commandment (Matthew 22:36-40) and the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20).

Look at the rise in giving to organizations doing sustainable mission work or micro-lending. Maybe young adults, and all of us, are ready to do more than provide one meal. We can put faith in the gifts and skills of others, offering more than distanced charity. We can provide hands-on support and relationships. We can make sure that our gifts of money and time are not just about us and what we can offer but are also examples of ongoing generosity and encouragement, leading to more examples of the same.”

Justin Rabbach in “Encouraging Greatness” in Giving: Growing Joyful Stewardship in Your Congregation, volume 20 (Richmond: EMS, 2018) 22-23.

Rabbach offers keen insight for inspiring generosity in young adults. Offer “more than distanced charity” and give them hands-on opportunities to show their love of God by extending love to neighbor. My wife, Jenni, and I would add that starting early helps get young adults on the trajectory of generous service.

For us, we took our children on a trip to Mexico to build homes for the poor when they were in elementary school. It was eye-opening for them, for all of us! We combined that with regular opportunities to serve locally in their teenage years, and now its great to see them serve as young adults, as Rabbach writes, “from a sense of hope and faith in the ability of the church to do something great.”

After a great two-day conference and strategic meetings at the home of Gary and Debbie Williams, I think about the kind feedback I received after teaching one plenary session and four workshops. Many said, “Gary, thanks for coming all the way from America to teach us. It was just what we needed. We are so grateful!”

When we offer “more than distanced charity” but make great and loving sacrifices to go where help is needed, we serve generously. What might it look like for you to offer “more than distanced charity” with the abilities and resources that God has entrusted to you? How you generously aid others disciples them to love and serve likewise.

And some times you get blessed unexpectedly in bringing aid. For example today, outside the home of Gary and Debbie Williams, I was stunned by the beauty of an enormous poinsettia, the size of a tree (pictured above)! It led me to pray that the fruit of generosity blossoms in each of us like this plant, so that people see Christ in us!

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Josh Wilson: Dream Small

A bloke at this conference in Brisbane asked me chat, so I suggested we have breakfast. We had a rich time together yesterday. I learned about his service to ministries and vision for growing generous givers in Australia. He expressed deep gratitude for my feedback on his initiatives. It was a great hour together.

Then on the way to the convention center where I was speaking, he asked me a few more personal questions. He was pleasantly surprised by willingness to spend time with him coupled with my energy level due to the early hour and frequent travel, so one of his last questions was simply, “How do you recharge?”

I said, “Whenever I wake up, sometimes is really early like 2:30am or 3:30am, I can’t wait to spend time with God to see what He has for me. Each day I feel as excited as a child on Christmas morning.” I then recited part of this text which Jesus echoes in Matthew 4:4 because I have been humbled to realize only manna, daily nourishment from the LORD, satisfies my soul.

He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. Deuteronomy 8:3

So this morning when I rose at 2:44am, I confess I normally stay out of my email box and use books or online search tools to read God’s Word and mine whatever topic I feel led to pursue, but today was different. I felt led to start in my inbox, and there it was: the fortnightly Spigot from Soulcare Anchoress (authored of course by my dear wife, Jenni). I read it: Dream.

The content made me think of our radiant daughter, Sophie, who shines for Jesus, and is now realizing a long-time dream (read the Spigot to see what it is). Then I listened to the song she included and tears flowed. It was a combination of missing her and loving the lyrics. I had to share it with you. “Dream Small” today. Click to listen. Read the lyrics. Change the world.

Dream Small by Josh Wilson

“It’s a momma singing songs about the Lord
It’s a daddy spending family time that the world said he cannot afford
These simple moments change the world
It’s a pastor at a tiny little Church
Forty years of loving for the broken and the hurt
These simple moments change the world

Dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Live well
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
Dream small

It’s visiting the widow down the street
Or dancing on a Friday with your friend with special needs
These simple moments change the world
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with bigger dreams
Just don’t miss the minutes on your way, your bigger things
‘Cause these simple moments change the world

But dream small
Don’t bother like you’ve gotta do it all
Just let Jesus use you where you are
One day at a time
Live well
Loving God and others as yourself
Find little ways where only you can help
With His great love
A tiny rock can make a giant fall
So dream small

Keep loving, keep serving
Keep listening, keep learning
Keep praying, keep hoping
Keep seeking, keep searching
Out of these small things and watch them grow bigger
The God who does all things makes oceans… from rivers

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Glen Guyton: Unburdened

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:10

“True freedom does not mean winning the lottery or hoarding material wealth. True freedom means that we have unburdened ourselves from distracting yokes and have positioned ourselves to do the good works God has called us to share. In the end, our money should represent the best of our lives: an extension of the bountiful blessings provided to us by God, blessings that we share to build lives and strengthen the community.”

Glen Guyton in “Break the Yoke” in Giving: Growing Joyful Stewardship in Your Congregation, volume 20 (Richmond: EMS, 2018) 29.

As I speak at the CMA conference in Brisbane, Australia, may God help me inspire the 300+ attendees to live unburdened from distracting yokes that hinder abundant living and fruitful service, and may He help you use the money He has supplied to you to do the good works He has prepared for you to do. That’s the way of Jesus, and life in His economy is all about enjoying His blessings and putting them to work to accomplish His purposes for His glory.

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Janelle Rozek Hooper: Small and Practical

Come, my children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD. Psalm 34:11

“Start small and start practical. Kids as young as four and five years old can make their own beds. They may not make them exactly the way you would like them to, but they can put their sheets in decent order and their stuffed animals in place. By owning responsibility for their bed, they are not just showing you respect but also learning to respect those things within their care, like the bed they sleep in — this is stewarding their gifts…

So learn together about how to steward by being honest with yourself, as well as by valuing your children, trusting them to do their best with small and then larger things. Other best practices grow from those beginning steps of value and trust. Children can make responsible stewardship decisions at a young age if we spend the time working with them on it. I don’t mean that one talk with the kiddos will result in a responsible young steward — it needs to be ongoing…

Your children have value and something to offer. Let them surprise you! Let God surprise you through them. Trust that God is working through all of us — young and old — and keep the conversations going. Faith formation is an ongoing, never-ending, always-practicing, never-perfect lifestyle. How proud you and your children will feel as you practice stewardship together!”

Janelle Rozek Hooper in “From the Heart” in Giving: Growing Joyful Stewardship in Your Congregation, volume 20 (Richmond: EMS, 2018) 26-27.

I just spent a restful weekend with friends in Sydney. They have a small child, Sam, so this article on teaching stewardship to children got my attention. I appreciated the practical nature of it. Little things and ordinary conversations on a consistent basis builds responsible young stewards.

I depart Sydney with a prayer of gratitude to God for Sam’s parents, Tom and Jaime (and other parents out there reading these Daily Meditations), for their willing to do the little things coupled with conversations over the long haul to help their children grow into responsible stewards. God bless them.

And I have just arrived in Brisbane (sunset skyline pictured above with the downtown skyline) to speak this week.

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Skye Jethani: The source of life and well-being

Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Matthew 4:4

“Jesus understood that life is not ultimately sustained by what we eat, but by God’s will. True life is to be found in Him and not merely by consuming His gifts.

The temptation Jesus faced in the wilderness is one we face every day. According to The New York Times, each American is exposed to 3,500 desire-inducing ads a day, each one promising us the life we’ve always wanted is just one purchase away. Rodney Clapp says, “The consumer is schooled in insatiability. He or she is never to be satisfied— at least not for long. The consumer is tutored that people basically consist of unmet needs that can only be appeased by commodified goods and experiences.”

The world, like Jesus’ enemy, tells us that we are defined by our desires, and the purpose of life is to satisfy them. To be fair, not every desire is ungodly or even unhealthy. There is nothing immoral about desiring food as Jesus did in the wilderness. The problem is that we have elevated desires to the status of rights and the thought that a desire should go unfulfilled, even temporarily, or that we should willingly deny ourselves in order to generously bless others, is utterly inconceivable to most people today. To deny ourselves a desire, we are told, is to deny our very identity and purpose! We have made our desires, rather than our Creator, the goal of life. And in this consumeristic soil, generosity is nearly impossible to cultivate.

That is why, more than ever, we need to hear the wisdom of Jesus: We do not live by bread alone. We are more than our desires, and the purpose of life is more than satisfying our natural longings however legitimate they may be. True life flows from the Living God, and our deepest longings are ultimately only satisfied in union with Him.

Real generosity will only be cultivated in our lives when we see God Himself, rather than material things, as the source of our life and well-being.”

Skye Jethani in Whole Life Generosity: Living in Relationship, Gratitude, and Release (Generous Church: Galley Edition) 18-19. Special thanks to Patrick Johnson and Generous Church for making this PDF available for people to study.

As I think about opening a conference with “Abundant” as the theme this week, my aim will be to connect people to the Living God who is our source of life and well-being. I am learning that to do this for the audience or for you as a Meditations reader, I must get your focus off that which the world tells you to fix your gaze.

You are more than your desires, and you are not the provider of those desires. The purpose of the Christian life is not to slice of a portion for God and then live on the rest as you wish to meet your consumptive needs. Notice how you become the center of that universe in that paradigm. God made you and me to live in union with Him.

But how do we do that? This part took me a while to figure out, too long perhaps, but it’s right in the heart of all of Jesus’ teachings. We need to let go of the other god that competes for our trust: money. The only way we take hold of “true life” is to enjoy and share all God supplies (1 Timothy 6:17-19). It’s our role in our brief time on earth.

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Ann Voskamp: Every fear is a mask for an idol

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Colossians 3:5

“Every fear is a mask for an idol. Sit long enough in the quiet and let the fear get close enough — what seems like your worst nightmare — and then let your hand flash out like a fireball of fierce redemption, rip that flimsy mask off, and name the fear for what it is. Break your idols and you break free of all your fears.

So I will go on crushing all of your life-absorbing fears to a fine powder because this is the deal: I want to be better at letting go of you than letting go of joy. I don’t have to worry about what’s up ahead because Christ is the head of everything. And I don’t have to fear what’s around the next corner because Christ is already there too.

We don’t have to abide in our fears because we can abide in our Father. There’s believing it and then there’s abundantly living it: Fear is a liar and love hands out keys. Love is infinite and love can’t ever end, and if love doesn’t ever run out, what is there ever to fear?

There will still be love when the worst happens, and when the hope doesn’t happen. There will still be love when everything’s crumbling, and there will be enough love to rebuild. There will still be enough love to keep breathing, to keep believing, to keep being and being brave.

For this I know: Fear can be what we feel, but brave is what we do. And there’s enough brave in me to believe that though the the world is broken, there is light getting in… That though the busted road ahead may head through the dark, there is more than abundantly enough love around every bend that will carry more than I can imagine…”

Ann Voskamp in The Way of Abundance: A 60-Day Journey into a Deeply Meaningful Life (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2018) 69-70.

As I reflect on that which is abundant, I realize that the best way to help people grasp it might actually be pointing out the obstacles to it. Fear comes into view as a barrier, but I think it’s not the problem but the symptom of the problem. Or, as Voskamp put it, “every fear is a mask for an idol.”

Related to generosity, people who store up treasures earth because they fear not having enough for the present or for later in life, reveal their idolatry to money. Think of how God sees that. It would be like fearing we won’t have enough oxygen to breath so we must bottle the air around us to sustain us through tomorrow.

So life is full of twists and turns. Perhaps you are facing a struggle right now? Should you, motivated by fear, stockpile money to try to navigate an uncertain future? Or is the better approach, the only life-giving path, to stop merely believing that having Christ is having everything you need and start living like it is true.

I’m resting in Sydney (pictured above) this weekend with friends, Tom and Jaime Schell. In a rigorous season of travel, I could fear poor health, having insufficient resources to care for my needs or my family, or even calamity. I find the only solution is abiding in the love of Christ, the only source of abundant life and strength for each day.

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Nancy Guthrie: How to avoid impoverishing yourself

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

Hear today’s post as God speaking to you. “An insatiable appetite for wealth will only make you miserable. I intend to save you from being endlessly unsatisfied, irrelevant, selfish, and shallow. I’m calling you to find your joy not in amassing more for yourself, but in giving more away — in giving yourself away. By no means am I suggesting that you impoverish yourself; I’m showing you how to avoid impoverishing yourself. I’m encouraging you to store up treasure in the only way you will be able to enjoy it forever. I want you to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share and thereby store up heavenly treasure for yourself. As you set your heart on me, confident in my goodness, pouring out that confidence through a wealth of good works serving others, you will accumulate that which will enrich you forever.”

Nancy Guthrie in Abundant Life in Jesus: Devotions for Every Day of the Year (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2011) reading for June 6.

When this posts I will be somewhere over the Pacific traveling to Sydney, Australia. I have many meetings down under but the primary purpose for the trip is to speak at the CMA Conference on 5-6 June 2018 in Brisbane. “Abundant” is the them of the conference so that’s my word for this entire trip.

This devotional ministered to me. It’s masterfully written. God beckons us to find our satisfaction in Him, the only source of abundant life. When we give away ourselves and any wealth, we don’t end up empty but rather, enriched. We have discovered that the only way to figure this out is to live it out. In that sense it requires risk and faith to take hold of it.

What keeps us from grasping abundant life? In short, the love of money stands in the way. Society teaches us that money solves our problems, so we can never have enough of it. Fear kicks in and tells us to accumulate it, so we don’t even enjoy what we have. When this happens, the evil one wins. He uses money to fool people. He wants you to miss abundant life!

How can you avoid impoverishing yourself? Work hard. Give generously to your local church, various ministries, and save a portion to be the Good Samaritan to neighbors in need. Live simply. Avoid debt. Engage in God’s work around the world in areas that match your interests and passions. Give yourself away and find the abundant life Jesus offers.

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