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Walter Brueggemann: The gift who keeps on giving

Taking the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then He gave them to His disciples to distribute to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces of bread and fish. The number of the men who had eaten was five thousand. Mark 6:41-44

“The words sound familiar do they not? His prayer consists in the four big verbs of Holy Communion: “He took, He blessed, He broke, He gave.” Jesus takes the ordinary stuff of life in all its scarcity – two fish and five loaves – and transforms them into God’s self-giving generosity. The outcome was that “all ate and were filled” (v. 42). But that is not all: there were twelve baskets left over, enough bread for all the tribes of Israel.

The church – the disciples – are always a little slow, unwilling to learn what the new data of Jesus means, unwilling to recognize that the world is changed by Jesus, unable to act differently in the new world of Jesus. The disciples seem often to act as though Jesus did not really matter; they act as though the world was still bound in scarcity and anxiety and fearfulness and hoarding.

But let me tell you the news that is proclaimed by Christ’s coming, about which we are reminded at every Communion service: Jesus has turned the world into abundance. God is the gift who keeps on giving, and the people around Jesus are empowered to receive abundance and therefore to act generously.

Every day, all day: it’s still true! “He takes, He blesses, He breaks, He gives.” And we are astonished about the surplus. It is all there for those with eyes to see, with ears to hear, and with hearts to remember. We are recipients of enough and enough and more than enough, enough and enough and more than enough to share. And to be glad in this Giver who keeps on giving…endlessly.”

Walter Brueggemann in Celebrating Abundance (Louisville: WJKP, 2017) 8-9.

After this powerful reading, Brueggemann concludes with this prayer, which is fitting, because we, like the disciples, “are always a little slow” and unwilling to live in the reality of Jesus so we fail to grasp life in His abundant economy. We remain bound in “scarcity and anxiety and fearfulness and hoarding.” Let’s pray it with him.

God whose giving knows no end, make us glad recipients of your generosity. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to remember your abundance, that we might share it with the world. Amen.

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Corrie ten Boom: Mirror

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18

“A mirror doesn’t have much to do. To do it’s job it just must hang or stand in the right direction. You and I don’t have to do a great deal either. We need only to look to the Lord Jesus and He will make us like mirrors, and He does it so well! We don’t need to strive and try to be a blessing but just look in the right direction. Then Jesus makes us a mirror of Himself. When you get to heaven, people may say to you, “You invited me here.” Then you will ask, “When did I tell you about heaven?” You will discover that Jesus used you when you were really looking to Him.”

Corrie ten Boom (1892-1983) in Messages of God’s Abundance (Grand Rapids: Zondervan) 28-29.

Many people make resolutions each new year about things they want to do. If you want to grow in generosity, if you want to bless more people, I suggest remove the veil from your face and look at Jesus as much as possible. I don’t think you can do too much of this. I have never heard anyone say, “You are spending too much time with Jesus.” People will appreciate that you are real. They will see Christ’s love through your words and actions. You will bless people without even realizing it because your focus is on Jesus. Ask yourself as the year begins: Which way is my mirror turned?

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Christian Smith & Hilary Davidson: Abundance

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed. 2 Corinthians 9:8

“The human body and spirit are simply built in such a way that they tend to thrive when they experience the liberation, enjoyment, gratitude, confidence, and openness that accompany life in a perceived world of abundance. And those same bodies and spirits wither under the anxiety, stress, preoccupations, hoarding, and self-protection that accompany imagined worlds of scarcity and threat.

Practicing generosity often entails at some point an existential confrontation that is involved in the personal paradigm shift away from living in a world of scarcity and instead into living in a world of abundance, blessing, gratitude, enjoyment, security, and sharing. Therefore, practicing generosity in this way tends to promote happiness, health, and purposeful living.”

Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson in The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose (Oxford: OUP, 2014) 77-78.

Happy New Year!

As you may recall, two years ago my word for the year was simplicity, and last year, providence. This year, my word is abundance. I plan to explore the idea of abundance in the Scriptures and through church history as it relates to generosity over the course of 2018.

For the Apostle Paul, abundance is the fruit of grace. When God’s grace abounds toward us and toward His creation, the guiding economy that results always reflects a world of abundance, which frees us from the stresses and patterns of the world of scarcity.

Practicing generosity, according to the extensive research of Smith and Davidson, becomes the pathway from the oppressive world of scarcity to flourishing in the world of abundance. And what’s so exciting is the benefits that await everyone, not just wealthy people.

When we practice generosity in light of God’s abundance, “blessing, gratitude, enjoyment, security, and sharing” characterize the various aspects of life. Furthermore, the research shows that it promotes “happiness, health, and purposeful living.”

These benefits resonate with me as I am working on an ebook with Tim Macready of Christian Super called, Purposeful Living. Stay tuned for the release of that resource to gain financial wisdom for all of life. We appreciate your prayers for us and that project.

Thank you God for your grace. It provides us with everything we need to live, give, serve and love. By your Holy Spirit, help us model life in your abundant economy and point the way so others join us and take hold of life. Hear our prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Oswald Chambers: Amateur Providence

When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!” John 21:21-22

“One of the hardest lessons to learn comes from our stubborn refusal to refrain from interfering in other people’s lives. It takes a long time to realize the danger of being an amateur providence, that is, interfering with God’s plan for others. You see someone suffering and say, “He will not suffer, and I will make sure that he doesn’t.” You put your hand right in front of God’s permissive will to stop it, and then God says, “What is that to you?” Is there stagnation in your spiritual life? Don’t allow it to continue, but get into God’s presence and find out the reason for it.

You will possibly find it is because you have been interfering in the life of another — proposing things you had no right to propose, or advising when you had no right to advise. When you do have to give advice to another person, God will advise through you with the direct understanding of His Spirit. Your part is to maintain the right relationship with God so that His discernment can come through you continually for the purpose of blessing someone else.

Most of us live only within the level of consciousness — consciously serving and consciously devoted to God. This shows immaturity and the fact that we’re not yet living the real Christian life. Maturity is produced in the life of a child of God on the unconscious level, until we become so totally surrendered to God that we are not even aware of being used by Him. When we are consciously aware of being used as broken bread and poured-out wine, we have yet another level to reach — a level where all awareness of ourselves and of what God is doing through us is completely eliminated. A saint is never consciously a saint — a saint is consciously dependent on God.”

Oswald Chambers in My Utmost For His Highest (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1963) reading for November 15.

Yesterday’s post included the word “utmost” so that made me think of My Utmost For His Highest and inspired me to see what Oswald Chambers had to say about providence for the last day of 2017. The Spirit has saved the best for last! This reading is a gift for all those who desire to press on to maturity in their generosity.

Are you an amateur providence? I can think of many occasions when this has been true of me. In those times, our actions are not a fruit of the spirit but a fruit of our flesh. Instead we must attune to God and follow Jesus in obedience so that His discernment flows through us continually by the Holy Spirit to guide us in blessing others.

Notice how to avoid amateur providence. We must remain consciously dependent on God. No wonder Jesus said to let go of money. When we hold on to it, we depend on ourselves and the resources we can muster rather than God. Obedience and dependence on God is the only way to live a generous life that exhibits divine providence and glorifies Him.

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Don Orione: Hold Nothing Back

But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 2 Corinthians 12:9

“God wishes each of us to work as hard as we can, holding nothing back but giving ourselves to the utmost, and when we can do no more, then is the moment when the hand of divine providence is stretched out to us and takes over.”

Luigi Giovanni Orione, a.k.a. Don Orione (1872-1940) in The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations, edited by Martin H. Manser (Louisville: WJKP, 2001) 304.

Don Orione founded a congregation in Turin, Italy, known as “The Sons of Divine Providence” more than a century ago and rallied many to join him in caring for widows, orphans, and the disabled. The group persists to this day and has touched countless lives. They tapped into the secret source of generosity: divine providence. Have you?

God sees our work, and He sees our giving. He also sees what we hold back. He does not need our money. He wants our hearts. When we are “holding nothing back but giving ourselves to the utmost” His grace and power rests on us. This becomes evident to all around us. God’s grace and power, rather than our own might, makes things happen.

Hold nothing back. Entrust your life to divine providence like the widow in Mark 12:41-44. She’s the only NT giver that Jesus celebrates as a model for the disciples! Why? She put in everything! Jenni and I plan to end another year by holding nothing back. It’s the giving Jesus celebrates and His grace and power are sufficient. We are not alone in taking this approach.

Just yesterday, after I read this thought by Orione, my friend, John Stanley, alerted me to a post by Fred Smith on this same theme of holding nothing back. It’s called “Dollars and Scents”. Clearly, God wants His people to unleash what is His to accomplish His purposes for His glory. John’s in. Fred’s in. We are in. Care to join us? Hold nothing back.

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Francis Atterbury: The Methods of God’s Providence

All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Acts 2:44-45

“Learn not to dispute the methods of God’s providence; and humbly and implicitly to acquiesce in and adore them.”

Francis Atterbury (1663-1732), English bishop in Day’s Collacon compiled and arranged by Edward Parsons Day (New York: IPPO, 1884) 743.

The humbling part about my exploration and experience of providence in 2017 has been to realize repeatedly that God made us to need Him and each other.

For example, when my son’s car died and he needed help, it was easy to give him my car. It was slightly harder to receive a free car from a friend, but it has been a blessing.

It’s easier to give than to receive. The challenge is that unless we learn to both receive and give, we can’t be generous because we must first receive from God and others in order to give.

Atterbury sums up the posture for us. We must not dispute the methods of God’s providence that are greater than we can comprehend. We must humbly accept and adore them.

Thank you God for providing for us and carrying us through another year with highs and lows in which we learn experientially our need for You and others on life’s journey. Amen.

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B.B. Warfield: The Solution

Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Matthew 6:25

“A firm faith in the universal providence of God is the solution of all earthly problems. It is almost equally true that a clear and full apprehension of the universal providence of God is the solution of most theological problems.”

Benjamin Breckinridge Warfield (1851-1921) in The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations, edited by Martin H. Manser (Louisville: WJKP, 2001) 304. As we draw near to the end of 2017, I will conclude the year with reflections on the providence of God.

Jesus instructs His disciples not to worry about even the most basic earthly things. He roots this teaching in the faithfulness of the Father in heaven to care for us. The providence of God emerges as the solution to one of the greatest human maladies: worry.

Each Christmas we celebrate the generous gift of Jesus Christ, God’s provision for a lost world that solves our greatest theological problem: separation from God because of our sins. Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly.

Faith in God’s providence is the solution to unleashing generosity. Without it, worry overtakes us and hinders our sharing. When we tap into it, we experience abundant life and help others grasp it. Let faith in the providence of God free you from worry and release your generosity.

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Jerry Wear: Act of Worship

Later they sent some of the Pharisees and Herodians to Jesus to catch Him in His words. They came to Him and said, “Teacher, we know that you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by others, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay the imperial tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or shouldn’t we?” But Jesus knew their hypocrisy. “Why are you trying to trap me?” He asked. “Bring me a denarius and let me look at it.” They brought the coin, and he asked them, “Whose image is this? And whose inscription?” “Caesar’s,” they replied. Then Jesus said to them, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” And they were amazed at Him. Mark 12:13-17

“I am reading articles about impending tax reform. Some are saying the proposed reforms will reduce charitable giving by upwards of $20 billion dollars because there will be reduced tax benefits. This may be true for people looking only for some tax relief or giving for reasons other than sharing their blessings and giving back to God a portion of that which He has provided. But this is not true of those who understand that we are stewards of the Living God, the Almighty Creator, and the Savior of our eternal souls. A steward gives first and foremost as an act of worship to the One who has done so much and given so much to us…I am grateful for the tax benefits afforded to us for giving to worthy ministry, but I believe that what drives most Christians to give is love — love of God, the unsaved, the widows, and the poor. If we give as God instructs, we are not driven by tax brackets. Rather, we are compelled to please our Heavenly Father…”

Jerry Wear in “Stewardship Has No Tax Bracket” on the Cru Foundation blog posted in December 2017.

With Christmas in the rear view mirror and the end of the year fast approaching, many people in the USA are thinking about making charitable gifts to receive tax benefits. With my first degree in accounting, I am all about understanding the tax code to maximize charitable giving, but tax ramifications should not guide our giving, worship should!

If we revisit the words of Jesus when interrogated by the Pharisees and Herodians about paying taxes, we find that His punchline tells us what to do with all that God provides: pay taxes and return the rest to God. That’s how Christ wants us to show the world the God we serve. We show our faith through sacrificial giving toward things that matter to God.

As Wear summarizes, we worship God by putting to work the money He has entrusted to us to share the gospel of Christ with the lost, to minister to widows, and to care for the poor. For more on this topic in this season of tax reform, check out a blog I wrote for Christian Leadership Alliance called “Charitable Giving” that posted on 6 December 2017.

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Tom Blackaby and Rick Osborne: Bless others today

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-4

“Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) is celebrated in many countries around the world and is also called the Day of Goodwill, St. Stephen’s Day, the Day of the Wren, and even the second Christmas Day. Like many holidays, it is deteriorating into a shopping spree with Boxing Day sales for stores to clear their inventory. But it used to be a day for people to gather with their friends and family after Christmas and celebrate the season together. Some believe it begins with masters allowing their servants to return home after Christmas carrying boxes of food and Christmas bonuses for their family. Some countries will have special sport competitions (college basketball, European football, prize fights) on this day each year. Many families have begun their own traditions for using this day to be a blessing to others who are less fortunate. After all the Christmas wrapping paper is put away, and the tree looks bare with unwrapped presents, consider for a moment how good God has been to you and your family. Remember the gifts God has given to us are not meant to be hoarded but to be shared with others around us.”

Tom Blackaby and Rick Osborne in Experiencing God at Home Day by Day: A Family Devotional (Nashville: B & H Publishing, 2013) 336.

Special thoughts to friends around the world celebrating Boxing Day at various sporting events. My mind goes to my Aussie mates cheering on their cricket team as it battles England at the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground) for a test match that starts today. It will be far less eventful here in our home, though we plan to pay games like Ticket to Ride which take us on adventures around the world.

The roots for Boxing Day can be traced back as far as the Middle Ages when the alms boxes in the back of churches were opened and distributed to the poor. In like fashion, Blackaby and Osborne wisely suggest that each of us counts our material blessings on this day and shares them. Jesus urges us to do this and instructed us to do it secretly. Don’t succumb to inactivity! Count your blessings, ask God where to deliver your surplus, and share secretly!

God is watching what we will do more intently than fans of cricket matches or football games. Happy Boxing Day! Bless others today.

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Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet: Generosity, Godliness, and Gentleness

“This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” Luke 2:12

“Jesus Christ is priest, prophet, and king. It is in this way, the He is the Christ, and it is in the same manner that we are Christians. For, by the generous outpouring of His anointing, we are made kings and we are able to sacrifice, “a royal priesthood,” as Peter says (1 Peter 2:9). And as John says in the book of Revelation: “Jesus Christ has made us kings and the priests of God His Father” (Revelation 1:6). We must then have a truly royal courage, not allowing ourselves to be subjected in any way to our passions. We must have only the loftiest of thoughts, not allowing ourselves to be enslaved by earthly ones.

As kings, let us be magnanimous and tremendously generous. Let us aspire to the noblest deeds, but let us aspire to them as priests who offer spiritual sacrifices to the Most Holy. Christians, we are no longer [people] of the world; we are those to whom it has been said, “You shall be holy, for I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16). In what way are we prophets? Let us act by a heavenly instinct. Let us leave the walls of this present world, and let us be filled with the things that are to come. We should breathe only eternity. But you are making a home for yourself upon the earth. You wish to rise in stature here. Dream instead of a land in which you shall be king: “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

One of the principal effects of the Christian faith and of the holy anointing of the children of God is gentleness. “Learn from me,” said Jesus Himself, “for I am gentle and lowly in heart” (Matthew 11:29). Isaiah predicted His gentleness in these words that Matthew later applied to Christ: “Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon Him, He will bring forth justice to the nations.” Here is a most extraordinary servant, who “will not cry or lift up His voice,” as the contentious and disputatious do. How gentle He is and how humble (Isaiah 42:1-2; Matthew 12:18-19)!”

Jacques-Bénigne Bossuet (1627-1704) in Meditations for Advent is a translation of Élévations à Dieu sur tous les mystères de la religion chrétienne from Oeuvres complètes de Bossuet, edited by Abbé Guillaume in Lyon, France, in 1879 (Sophia Institute Press, 2012) 69-71.

Happy Christmas to all from our townhouse in Littleton, Colorado (pictured above with fresh snow yesterday). Certainly you have plans for this festive day, such as special time with family and friends. Before the day gets away from you, take a few minutes to reflect on the significance of the birth of Christ. It’s another “sign” of God’s providence in the Scriptures.

As Bossuet eloquently states, Jesus Christ, whose birth we celebrate, is priest, prophet, and king, and so as Christians, He has made us priests, prophets, and kings. We have a courageous calling to live differently from the world: to give magnanimously and generously, to live holy and godly lives, and to serve with humility and gentleness.

How is this possible? Follow the “heavenly instinct,” the leading of Holy Spirit to live, give, serve, and love like the Christ of Christmas. When we do this, we serve as signs that point people to God. How will you serve as a sign today (and every day) to point people to God through your generosity, godliness, and gentleness?

 

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