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John of Gaza: Learning to Give Alms

Question: What should someone do to become accustomed to giving alms, if from the beginning one does not enjoy giving at all?

Response by John: That person should remind oneself how God will reward those who give, and begin with small things, always advising oneself that one who gives little will receive little; one who gives much will also receive much, according to the words: “The one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully” (2 Cor. 9.6) And, from the little, the thought is gradually moved to desire the bountiful, and therefore always progresses toward perfection. Such a person can reach perfect measures in order to render oneself naked of all earthly things and become one in spirit with the heavenly things.

St. Barsanuphius and St. John of Gaza in Letters from the Desert: A Selection of Questions and Responses trans. John Chryssavigis (Crestwood, NJ: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003) 167.

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Eusebius Pamphilus: Readings from the Ecclesiastical History

Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263-339) lived 200+ years after Acts 4:34-35 and gives this account in his famous work The Ecclesiastical History of Eusebius Pamphilus, Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine drawing from the work of Philo (20 BCE – 50 AD) lived at the time of the early church.

“Wherefore, as it is recorded in the Acts of the Apostles, a book well authenticated, that all the associates of the apostles, after selling their possessions and substance, distributed to all according to the necessity of each one, so that there was none in want among them. “For as many as had lands and houses,” as this account says, “selling them, brought the value of the property sold, and laid it at the apostles’ feet, so as to distribute to each one according to his necessity.”

Philo giving his testimony to facts very much like these, in the same description adds the following statement: “This kind of men is every where scattered over the world, for both Greeks and barbarians should share in so permanent a benefit. They abound, however, in Egypt, in each of its districts, and particularly about Alexandria. But the principal men among them from every quarter emigrate to a place situated on a moderate elevation of land beyond the lake Maria, very advantageously located both for safety and temperature of the air, as if it were the native country of the Therapeutoe.”

After thus describing what kind of habitations they have, he speaks thus of the churches in the place: “In every house there is a sacred apartment, which they call the Semnseum, or Monasterium, where, retired from men, they perform the mysteries of a pious life. Hither they bring nothing with them, neither drink nor food, nor any thing else requisite to the necessities of the body; they only bring the law and the inspired declarations of the prophets, and hymns, and such things by which knowledge and piety may be augmented and perfected.” Translated by C.F. Cruse (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1851), p. 55.

After reading this, let us each ponder these things over the next three days:

(1) As “associates of the Apostles” 2,000+ years later, do we radically handle our riches like this? LORD, what should we sell and distribute to fellow believers in need today?

(2) What would it look like if we as Christians lived together in community today? Do we need to move to a desert place? Could we do it in the city? How about the suburbs?

(3) As our LORD’s presence is always with us, what does He see in our houses today? Do they have a Semnseum or Monasterium, literally translated: a chapel. Do we have dedicated space for study and spending time with Him?

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Gene Getz cites Paul’s charge to offer ourselves as the most comprehensive principle on possessions

“The most comprehensive supracultural principle that describes how Christians should use their material resources is implicit in Paul’s powerful exhortation to the Romans:

I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Romans 12:1-2).

Paul, of course, had in mind many facets of our Christian lives when he penned these powerful words. But one stands out on the pages of Scripture–our priorities regarding material possessions. When we offer our material gifts to God, we’re also engaging in a ‘spiritual act of worship’ that reflects the degree to which we are living in God’s ‘good, pleasing and perfect will.’”

Gene Getz Rich in Every Way: Everything God says about Money and Possessions – 102 Supracultural Principles for Handing Material Possessions (West Monroe, LA: Howard, 2004) 317-318.

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John MacArthur: Whose money is it anyway?

“If you know God owns everything in the world, controls all its assets, and can provide for you as His child, then there is no need for you to trust in luxury, be enticed by materialism, or stockpile for the future. Your daily life as a Christian need not revolve around those concerns, but in being content with what you have (1 Tim. 6:6-8; Heb. 13:5). You don’t have to own everything or be in control of every circumstance to have enough money for your basic needs. Instead, you can set aside all worry and anxiety about your needs and gladly receive whatever God gives you to invest in His kingdom (Matt. 6:31-34). That’s the scriptural answer to how we should view wealth and how we should start to deal with any prideful, selfish preoccupation with greed and materialism.”

John MacArthur in Whose Money is it, Anyway? A Biblical Guide to Using God’s Wealth (Nashville: Word, 2000) 12-13.

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Rick Warren on God and Money: Which one will you choose?

“To become a real servant you are going to have to settle the issue of money in your life. Jesus said, “No servant can serve to masters…You cannot serve both God and Money.” He didn’t say, “You should not,” but “You cannot.” It is impossible. Living for ministry and living for money are mutually exclusive goals. Which one will you choose? If you’re a servant of God, you can’t moonlight for yourself. All your time belongs to God. He insists on exclusive allegiance, not part-time faithfulness.

Money has the greatest potential to replace God in your life. More people are sidetracked from serving by materialism than by anything else. They say, “After I achieve my financial goals, I’m going to serve God.” That is a foolish decision they will regret for eternity. When Jesus is your Master, money serves you, but if money is your master, you become its slave. Wealth is certainly not a sin, but failing to use it for God’s glory is. Servants of God are always more concerned about ministry than money.”

Rick Warren in The Purpose-Driven Life: What on Earth and am I Here For? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002) 267.

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Judson W. VanDeVenter: Song of surrender

All to Jesus, I surrender;
All to Him I freely give;

I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.

Refrain: I surrender all,
I surrender all,
All to Thee,
my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.

All to Jesus I surrender;
Humbly at His feet I bow,

Worldly pleasures all forsaken;
Take me, Jesus, take me now.

Refrain

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Make me, Savior, wholly Thine;

Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.

Refrain

All to Jesus, I surrender;
Lord, I give myself to Thee;

Fill me with Thy love and power;
Let Thy blessing fall on me.

Refrain

All to Jesus I surrender;
Now I feel the sacred flame.

O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory, to His Name!

Refrain

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David Steindl-Rast: The importance of cultivating gratefulness

“The interdependence of gratefulness is truly mutual. The receiver of the gift depends on the giver. Obviously so. But the circle of gratefulness is incomplete until the giver of the gift becomes the receiver: a receiver of thanks. When we give thanks, we give something greater than the gift we received, whatever it was. The greatest gift one can give is thanksgiving. In giving gifts, we give what we can spare, but in giving thanks we give ourselves. One who says ‘Thank you’ to another really says, ‘We belong together.’ Giver and thanksgiver belong together. The bond that unites them frees them from alienation. Does our society suffer from so much alienation because we fail to cultivate gratefulness?”

David Steindl-Rast in Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: An Approach to Life in Fullness (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1984) 17.

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Basil Hume: Be ready to share

“The ‘love of our neighbor’–that outpouring of the love of God, or at least our striving to know what this means–leads us to see Christ in the guest who knocks at our doors, and in the poor, especially, who are in need of our help. The riches of the monastery, whether spiritual or material, are to be shared with others. A monastery may well appear to be a barrier–indeed, in a sense, it is symbolically so, for the values by which many people in the world live must not be the values of the monk–but the door must be open, and the porter welcoming.”

Cardinal Basil Hume’s remarks: “Ealing Abbey, London, 21 March 1980,” from In Praise of Benedict (Petersham, MA: St. Bede’s Publications, 1981) 33.

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Lauren Tyler Wright: The spiritual journey of generosity and describes the path

“Like the development of an artistic masterpiece, giving as a spiritual discipline is a journey or process. To be clear, when I say “practice,” I don’t mean an occasional act of charity. I mean an intentional way of being that spans the course of a lifetime. The creation of art happens over the course of many steps, and in this process beauty can be found. The creation of a piece of art is not just a means to an end but is an end in itself. In the same way, the sacred art of giving produces meaning and delight in each step of the journey. We cannot simply “achieve” a lifestyle of generosity, reap the benefits and check it off our list. Rather, we learn the practice of generosity while we walk our faith journey, step by step, finding joy and fulfillment in each segment, and always seeking to grow through various spiritual practices. This is great news because it means we do not have to “master” the practice before we experience its rewards.

Just like any spiritual practice, giving is something that can be integrated into our lives. When we create a lifestyle of giving, not just participating in a whirlwind of giving one weekend and then dropping the practice, our lives can become continuously filled with blessings that come from this spiritual practice. Creating a lifestyle of generosity is more than just behavioral modifications; it is seeing the world differently every day. When we are able to change our paradigm and see each moment and aspect of our life as an opportunity to be generous, we open ourselves up to experience the rich rewards that occur through sustained giving. Sacred giving can occur in the mundane grocery store moments of everyday life, not just in those headline- grabbing, once-in-a-lifetime major financial gifts. While the goal is to create a lifestyle, you have to start somewhere. Don’t be afraid to start small. It’s the intentionality and regularity of the act that is most important, not the size of the gift. Think of it as a mosaic of small practices that, before you know it, add up to a lifestyle.”

Lauren Tyler Wright in Giving–the Sacred Art: Creating a Lifestyle of Generosity (Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2008) xxii-iii.

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Dominic: The dangers of money and power in the world and the church

“One of the most dangerous things in the world is money; and equally dangerous is power. Both power and money are very pleasant possessions, but they tempt people to be selfish. Men who become rich often forget that they have neighbors who are poor; and they who have power are disposed to use it for their own advantage. They live in comfortable houses, and attend to their own business and shut their eyes and ears to the hardships of the world. They are tempted to be worse than selfish. Being attired in purple and fine linen, and faring sumptuously every day, they forget not their neighbors only, but God also. And this has happened, not only to princes, but to priests; not only to barons, but to bishops, and has made its way into monasteries.”

Dominic (1170-1221) Saints and Heroes to the End of the Middle Ages compiled by George Hodges (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1911) 209-210.

“Dominic was educated at the University of Palencia, here he spent some twelve years in theological study. He is said to have sold his clothes and books to give money to the poor.”

Rodney Castleden in The Book of Saints (Quercus) 106.

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