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James Bruckner: Basic idolatry and the puffed-up life

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith. Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”

Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own — for how long? — and loads himself with pledges!” Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life.” Habakkuk 2:4-10

“Habakkuk’s woes are instructive wisdom for the believer. In each woe the lack of faith takes the form of relying on oneself instead of God…

For our success we rely on and give credit to almost anything besides God: our intelligence, wealth, logic, strength, military might, aesthetic abilities, pride of status or birth, tenacity, or problem-solving skills. All of these are gifts from God, and we too easily give ourselves the credit for them and what they enable us to accomplish.

This is basic idolatry. We do not need a shrine in order to worship them. They are worshiped every time we rely on them without reference to God, every time we are proud of our accomplishments without noticing their source, every time we take credit without thanksgiving, and every time we gain wealth by taking advantage of another.

The woes are to remind everyone who achieves something in life to continue to live by faith and not enter the woes of the puffed-up life…

The woes demonstrate the foolishness of living a puffed-up life. They stand in stark contrast to living by faith. The woes are an ironic lamentation for the death of violence and the implosion of unbelief and idolatry. They are most directly applicable to governments that impoverish the wealth, dignity, and security of their citizens. They also apply to any myopic pursuit of power and self-promotion, which will never be satisfied.

The insatiable pursuit of wealth, status, and consumerism is like being drunk with wine. It’s satisfaction is false and gives no true rest.”

James Bruckner in Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004) 243-244.

The pattern of this world is the pattern of basic idolatry and the puffed-up life. As Bruckner rightly notes, such people “rely on and give credit to almost anything besides God.” On that path, greed, which is the desire for money and things that cannot satisfy, destroys them and all those around them.

What does this have to do with generosity?

For years I wrongly thought generosity was linked to me working hard and accumulating a lot and sharing a portion of it. I realized that I looked at what I was giving and God looks at what I don’t give and what that says about my heart. I had so much saved for myself that my life required no faith. I relied on what I had stored up rather than exhibiting faith in God.

When I came to my senses, I realized that heaping up for myself what was not my own because it belonged to God was not only the opposite of God’s design, it was foolish and self-destructive. Sadly, the biggest thing people trust in rather than God is money, and Jesus knows this, which is why He said pointedly that we cannot serve God and money (see Matthew 6:24).

Is that your story? 

I am convinced with our sin nature, everyone’s story starts that way, but we don’t have to finish that way, and what matters is how we finish. To choose God’s right way, means we choose not to rely on ourselves, but we resolve to live by faith. The only way to do this is let go of that which we trust instead of God. God does not force us. The choice is ours and He sees everything.

 So, what’s the message from Habakkuk to us about generosity? The only right way to live is to live by faith.

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Eugene H. Merrill: Give careful thought to your ways

Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: “Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your paneled houses, while this house remains a ruin?” Now this is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. You have planted much, but harvested little. You eat, but never have enough. You drink, but never have your fill. You put on clothes, but are not warm. You earn wages, only to put them in a purse with holes in it.” 

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honored,” says the Lord. “You expected much, but see, it turned out to be little. What you brought home, I blew away. Why?” declares the Lord Almighty. “Because of my house, which remains a ruin, while each of you is busy with your own house. Therefore, because of you the heavens have withheld their dew and the earth its crops. I called for a drought on the fields and the mountains, on the grain, the new wine, the olive oil and everything else the ground produces, on people and livestock, and on all the labor of your hands.” Haggai 1:3-11

“The speciousness of the people’s excuse is apparent by the fact that, while the temple work was halted, they had undertaken their own construction activities apace. Not only so, but the houses they built were, in some cases at least, luxurious in their appointments. With obvious irony, the prophet speaks of the rich paneling they have installed…

Members of the post exilic community, far from articulating their faith in the Lord’s gracious restoration and covenant renewal by erecting a place where He might once more dwell among them, was concerned only for their own well-being. The time for the Lord had not come because the time they needed for their own interests was uppermost in their minds…

The challenge to them is expressed in the strongest terms. “Think carefully on your ways,” the prophet commands. Literally, he says, “Set your heart upon your ways,” an injunction calling for the utmost degree of reflection and attention… The demand for attention is called for in order that the people might understand the connection between their negligence of God’s house and their total lack of success in everyday life. It is a class case of cause and effect.

To make his point, Haggai gives four examples of the futility of selfish effort. The people have planted abundantly but for very little return. There may be metaphorical overtones to this statement, but that it should be taken quite literally as well is evident from the next observation by the prophet: they eat and drink but never to the full… Even their clothing is inadequate to keep them warm… Finally, whatever profits did come their way were lost through the holes in their purses…

The indifference of the people toward holy things has thus been exposed, attested most eloquently by the direful effects of unproductive labor and an economy in shambles. Failure to address their highest priority — the building of an earthly dwelling place for their God — has reduced them to poverty… Rebuilding the Temple would not per se bring God’s blessings. There must be genuine restoration of worship and service by the people.”

Eugene H. Merrill in Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi: An Exegetical Commentary (Richardson: Biblical Studies Press, 2003) 25-27.

Our tendency is to focus on ourselves, isn’t it? As God’s people, our priorities, unless given careful attention, will follow the pattern of our flesh and get out of alignment with God’s design. When that happens, everything else, in due time, will unravel. That’s basically what’s happened in the days of Haggai.

Other times we walk with God and then expect God to act like some cosmic genie for us (as prosperity gospel proponents wrongly advocate). Regardless of the level of material blessing that we experience, our hearts must be in the right place. God must be first, and our service, worship, and resources should exhibit that.

Coming out of exile around 520 B.C., we would think God’s people would have their priorities right. Haggai proclaims that what was uppermost in their minds was not God or the condition of His house. They were focused on their own paneled houses. We see this today. People give their first and best to themselves rather than God.

As you give careful thought to your generosity, what would it look like for you financially to make God’s design and His priorities, your uppermost concern? Do this not as a magical or mechanical pathway to material prosperity. Do it because it’s God’s design and because if you don’t, all of life will eventually unravel.

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J. A. Motyer: Tenants for Justice and Righteousness

“Woe to you who add house to house and join field to field till no space is left and you live alone in the land. The Lord Almighty has declared in my hearing: “Surely the great houses will become desolate, the fine mansions left without occupants. A ten-acre vineyard will produce only a bath of wine; a homer of seed will yield only an ephah of grain.”

“Woe to those who rise early in the morning to run after their drinks, who stay up late at night till they are inflamed with wine. They have harps and lyres at their banquets, pipes and timbrels and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the Lord, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile for lack of understanding; those of high rank will die of hunger and the common people will be parched with thirst.” Isaiah 5:8-13

“Here, then, is a classic passage on the corrupting power of riches (or at least of the desire to acquire them). The land-grabbing of verse 8 was contrary to the basic principle in the law of Moses that the LORD owned the land, and that all His ‘tenants’ were to have a fair share of it. The wealth was gained by oppression and could be held on to only by further oppression.

When confronted with their sin, the offenders either became brazen or resorted to specious arguments to justify their actions. But nothing could conceal the fact that they had rejected the law of the LORD Almighty. Pretending to be wise, they actually became fools. In their drunken debauchery they could no longer understand God’s ways or see what He was doing.

In contrast to all this stands the God of justice and righteousness, whose word they have despised. God’s holiness consists essentially in His moral character, and this means that He cannot be indifferent to evil. But the judgments, foreshadowed here — desolation of houses and land, exile, famine and death — will affect rich and poor, noble and commoner alike. By their actions the ruling élite have brought about the ruin of the nation.”

J.A. Motyer in The Message of Isaiah (TBSP; Downers Grove: IVP, 1996) 56-57.

These are two of six woes proclaimed against the Judah and they relate to greed, the antithesis of generosity. This oracle was proclaimed sometime during the reign of King Uzziah (c. 750 BC). The LORD Almighty was not happy.

Grabbing land and building extra houses revealed a complete disregard for the command of God that His people were tenants and not owners of the land. God’s desired that every family have a place: that was the right or just use of land in the eyes of the LORD. Their greed would lead to their own destruction. Notice the ironic twists.

The houses of the ones who were land-grabbing would end up desolate. Though they were inflamed with wine, they would end up hungry and cause everyone to thirst. Because they did not use property following God’s design and desire, that is, with righteousness and justice, everyone would suffer and the land would cease to be fruitful.

Don’t miss the message. When greed people us to acquisitiveness, that is stockpiling money, possessions, lands, and houses for themselves, they won’t even get to enjoy them. While these oracles were proclaimed more than 2,700 years ago, God’s heart remains the same, and it seems like times have not changed a bit.

We must all see ourselves as tenants in this world who handle property with justice and righteousness. While the rich get richer and the poor get poorer, God sees. What should we do? Anything more than basic food, clothing, and shelter should be shared with others. Accumulating for self what God intends all to enjoy never pleases Him.

For years I followed the cultural narrative that said, “I earned it. It’s mine.” It’s a lie. God owns and sees everything. Nothing is hidden from His view. He wants us to live as faithful tenants for justice and righteousness, which means we get to live is as pilgrims in this world, eager to share generously all He supplies so that everyone has enough.

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Thomas J. Finley: Simultaneously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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O. Palmer Robertson: Jealousy, idolatry, and covetousness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Nicholas Breach: Chief Indicator

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Matt Bird: Purely out of love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Craig L. Blomberg: Golden Mean

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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John Stanley: Generosity Champions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tim Macready: Refocus our thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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