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Henri J. M. Nouwen: Discipline

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32

“Kindness is a beautiful human attribute. When we say, “She is a kind person” or “He surely was kind to me,” we express a very warm feeling. In our competitive and often violent world, kindness is not the most frequent response. But when we encounter it we know that we are blessed.

Is it possible to grow in kindness, to become a kind person? Yes, but it requires discipline. To be kind means to treat another person as your “kin,” your intimate relative. We say, “We are kin” or “He is next of kin.” To be kind is to reach out to someone as being of “kindred” spirit.

Here is the great challenge: All people, whatever their color, religion, or sex, belong to humankind and are called to be kind to one another, treating one another as brothers and sisters. There is hardly a day in our lives in which we are not called to do this.”

Henri J. M. Nouwen in Bread for the Journey: A Daybook of Wisdom and Faith (New York: HarperCollins, 1997) 4 February.

Nouwen astutely reveals the key to extending kindness: discipline. It requires discipline to see others, especially people that are very different from us, as fellow humans and as next of kin. Our tendency is to emphasize how we are different rather than to celebrate what we have in common.

Paul reminds the Ephesians (and all of us) what brings all people together. Sure we can point fingers and judge how sinful one person is because of what they have done, but the reality is that all humans are equally bad, and all can only find forgiveness from our Lord Jesus Christ. The cross makes the way for kinship.

I am still in Chicago to meet with students (pictured above) individually or as couples (if they are married) to discuss their financial houses and how the biblical instruction helps them put them in order. We will also consider together how the truth sets them free to be kind and generous.

Are you disciplined? Will you adopt a humble perspective in your mind and have compassionate love in your heart for others that propels a person to action that is beautiful? If you think it’s hard, then reflect on what Christ has done for you. Gratitude to God will serve as fuel for your kindness.

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Thomas Merton: Supernatural people

The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 1 Peter 4:7-11

“Those were weeks I shall never forget, and the more I think of them, the more I realize that I must certainly owe the [family that hosted me] for more than butter and milk and good nourishing food for my body. I am indebted to them for much more than the kindness and care they showed me, the goodness and the delicate solicitude with which they treated me as their child, yet without any assertive or natural familiarity. As a child, and since then too, I have always tended to resist any kind of possessive affection on the part of any other other human being — there has always been this profound instinct to keep clear, to keep free. And only with truly supernatural people have I ever felt really at my ease, really at peace.”

Thomas Merton in The Seven Storey Mountain (New York: Harcourt, 1998) 63.

Now I am turning from favorite professors to fellow monks whose lives and writings have shaped my own life to understand “kindness” in 2019.

Thomas Merton was a Trappist monk, which means he followed the Rule of Benedict in a cloister. He lived at the Abbey of Gethsemani in Kentucky the last 27 years of his life. When Merton traveled, he relied on the kindness of others to provide a home away from home, much like I did on my recent trip to Egypt. That’s what came to my mind when I recounted this excerpt from his classic work.

For another example, when I teach at Northern Seminary, my needs are met by a dear woman named Linda Owens. She oversees student services and ranks in the category of supernatural people. Empowered by the Holy Spirit, she shows kindness by anticipating and addressing the needs of others without grumbling. Her kindness touches all beneficiaries and shapes the whole campus environment.

Peter understood the recipe for kindness too. We must be alert to pray, eager to love deeply, ready to extend hospitality joyfully, and everyone plays a part. Notice in today’s Scripture, whether speaking, like I have been doing as the visiting professor, or serving, like Linda has been doing to host Faith and Finances, our use of our giftedness shows kindness, creates peaceful settings, and results in praise to God.

Father in heaven, by your Holy Spirit make us into supernatural people whose kindness shapes the lives of those around us and creates peaceful places. Hear my prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Richard J. Foster: Spiritual Power

No servant is able to serve two masters. For either he will hate the one and he will love the other, or he will be devoted to one and he will despise the other. You are not able to serve God and mammon. Luke 16:13

“Money has power, spiritual power, to win our hearts. Behind our coins and dollar bills or whatever material form we choose to give our money are spiritual forces. It is the spiritual reality behind money that we want so badly to deny. For years I felt that Jesus was exaggerating by fixing such a huge gulf between mammon and God. Couldn’t we show how advanced we are in the Christian life by giving each his due, God and mammon? Why not be joyful children of the world just as we are joyful children of God? Aren’t the goods of the earth meant for our happiness? But the thing I failed to see, and the thing that Jesus saw so clearly, is the way in which mammon makes a bid for our hearts. Mammon asks for our allegiance in a way that sucks the milk of human kindness out of our very being.”

Richard J. Foster in The Challenge of the Disciplined Life: Christian Reflections on Money, Sex, and Power (New York: Harper SanFrancisco, 1985) 26. I am safely in Chicago, IL, where I will teach “Faith and Finances” at Northern Seminary through Tuesday.

Foster keenly alerts us to the spiritual power behind mammon. It’s sobering to think that allegiance to mammon “sucks the milk of human kindness out of our very being.” But what does that mean in plain terms as we think about kindness and generosity?

When we serve mammon, it leads our hearts to focus on worldly desires rather than be guided by God to accomplish His purposes. This is not insignificant. We become just like the masses in an unkind world. It makes us unkind.

When, instead, we live as faithful stewards and joyful children of God, our aim is higher and our impact greater. We serve God and use money to accomplish His purposes. We do kind things, large and small, that shape our being and touch others deeply.

So, now the connection to generosity comes into view. Only those who serve God and use money faithfully are free from the spiritual power of mammon to be agents of kindness. Will that be you? The only way forward is to put to work what you have in obedience to the teachings of Jesus.

Our tendency is to rationalize disobedience. We say, “But my heart is right!” Foster would say we are fooling ourselves into thinking we have advanced so far in the Christian life to say we can hold on to both. We serve whatever we are holding on to, and we can’t hold on to both God and mammon.

Father, use biblical truth to set my 27 Faith and Finances students free from slavery to mammon this weekend. Make this true for all Daily Meditations readers too. As we serve You rather than mammon, show Your kindness through us to an unkind world. Hear this prayer in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Dallas Willard: Life without lack

Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Luke 12:32

“Lord Jesus Christ, we are so thankful that You have said, “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” We are so thankful for the ease with which You walked upon this earth, the generosity and kindness You showed to people, the devotion with which You cared for those who were out of the way and in trouble, the extent to which You even loved Your enemies and laid down Your life for them. We are so thankful to believe that this is a life for us, a life without lack, a life of sufficiency. It’s so clear in You, the sufficiency of Your Father and the fullness of life that was poured through You, and we’re so thankful that You have promised that same love, that same life, that same joy, that same power for us. Lord, slip up on us today. Get past our defenses, our worries, our concerns. Gently open our souls, and speak Your Word into them. We believe You want to do it, and we wait for You to do it now. In Your name, amen.”

Dallas Willard (1935-2013) in Life Without Lack: Living in the Fullness of Psalm 23 (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2018) xiii.

Today’s post comes from another great professor. I’ve read many of his books and got to spend time with him on one unforgettable occasion. This prayer opens the book that beckons us to live in light of the realities of Psalm 23. I think it’s a great prayer for starting 2019. Read it again. What stirs within you?

Do you desire to walk with ease on the earth and show generosity and kindness? Do you believe there is such a thing as life without lack? Have you taken hold of the love, life, joy, and power of Jesus? Read the prayer again, and read Psalm 23 too.

We cannot walk with ease and show kindness to others until we have taken hold of the fact that in Jesus we have everything need. Life still has troubles, but we have a Good Shepherd to guide us. Once we get this, we can thrive and bless others with kindness as He did. Take two minutes to express your gratitude today.

This morning I fly to Chicago to teach “Faith and Finances” at Northern Seminary this weekend. I aim to touch 27 lives with the truth, kindness, and generosity of Jesus. Most have fears, so Jesus, empower me to help them grasp life without lack so they will serve as conduits of truth, kindness, and generosity. Amen.

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Walter Brueggemann: No more business as usual!

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you really know Me, you will know My Father as well. From now on, you do know Him and have seen Him.” Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.”

Jesus answered: “Don’t you know Me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in Me? The words I say to you I do not speak on My own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in Me, who is doing His work. Believe Me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in Me; or at least believe on the evidence of the works themselves. 

Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in Me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father. And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it.” John 14:6-14

“Jesus ends His testimony to Himself, “Do the works that I do.” We know from the ancient story what His works are: He healed the sick; empowered the lame, blind, and deaf; cured lepers; and welcomed the poor. His work is practical bodily transformations for well-being, most especially among those left behind… The new way, the new truth, the new life is a way of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, and patience, and above all, love. Self-giving love is the hallmark of gospel life. The radical call of baptism into Jesus is a continuing process of putting off old behavior and putting on new conduct. No more business as usual!”

Walter Brueggemann in Gift and Task: A Year of Daily Readings and Reflections (Louisville: WJKP, 2017) 46.

Notice for a moment where I went to start learning about kindness in 2019. Yesterday, we began the year by sitting at the feet of C.S. Lewis, one of the greatest professors of all time. Today, we heard from Brueggemann, maybe the most prolific biblical scholar in our day. Yesterday we learned that kindness was unusual. Today we learn why. Only those who say “No more business as usual!” reflect it.

Kindness has absolutely nothing to do with our old way of living. It’s only exhibited in the new way of Jesus. As we follow Jesus, we see him do little things like touch a person who is broken and hurting and they are healed. His little steps appear as big acts of kindness. When we go and do likewise, empowered by God’s love, our kindness leaves those we serve better than we found them.

As we go about our day, it’s the little things that make a big difference. A kind word can give a person hope. It can open the door to sharing with them the reason for our hope, that is, about Jesus who is is the way, the truth, and the life. Kindness opens the door for even greater things like helping people go from slavery to freedom, from blindness to sight, from limping along to running the race set before them.

Jesus, we exalt you as the way, the truth, and the life. Provide the strength we need to serve the weak, the wisdom we need to guide those who wander, and the love we need to heal the broken. Sustain us and cause your grace and kindness to flow through us in the little things so that it transforms all we touch for Your glory. Make it so in 2019 and beyond. Hear our prayer in Your mercy. Amen.

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C.S. Lewis: Kindness

The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Acts 28:2

“The real trouble is that “kindness” is a quality fatally easy to attribute to ourselves on quite inadequate grounds. Everyone feels benevolent if nothing happens to be annoying him at the moment. Thus a man easily comes to console himself for all his other vices by a conviction that “his heart’s in the right place” and “he wouldn’t hurt a fly”, though in fact he has never made the slightest sacrifice for a fellow creature.”

C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) in The Problem of Pain (Québec: Samizdat University Press, 2016) 32.

Happy New Year everyone!

In December I began praying about my word for 2019, the idea I would lean into over time. One day, about a week or so ago, I woke up early to spend time with Jesus. It was just after I returned from Egypt where I experienced rich hospitality. The word “kindness” came to me.

I’ve mulled over it and am convinced this word is a gift from God to me for 2019.

Kindness is generosity combined with sacrifice and love. It thinks about others and acts on their behalf. As we see in today’s Scripture, kindness is “unusual” as most people think and act only for themselves. Or, as Lewis notes, some rationalize their benevolence in their minds but fail to live it out toward others.

What about you? What comes to your mind when you think of kindness?

Over the course of this year, though I will likely take many rabbit trails looking at other facets of generosity along the way, we will look closely at this theme, kindness. As we do, here’s my exhortation after sitting at the feet of Professor Lewis today: Be honest with yourself about kindness.

God is not impressed by rationalizations such as “my heart is in the right place” or that “I wouldn’t hurt a fly” but rather how your heart activates both your thinking and your actions to sacrifice in ways that show God’s generosity and love. That’s kindness.

Father in heaven, help us by your Holy Spirit to grow in kindness in 2019, so that people see your love though our generosity and sacrifice. Make it so I pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Clinton E. Arnold: Far more abundantly

Now to Him who is able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us, to Him be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever and ever. Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

“The power of God is the central theme of Paul’s praise in this doxology… To heighten their perspective on the active power of God toward the readers, Paul says that God can accomplish more than they ever ask Him in prayer. He then takes it a step far beyond that by asserting that God can do more than they can even imagine… What is even more amazing is that God uses His power for the benefit of His people.

Paul says that God works “according to the power which mightily works within us.” He has already displayed this power by raising Jesus from the dead and exalting Him to His right hand in a position of authority over all the forces of evil… This assures the readers that what He has promised — especially to bless them with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ — He is able to fulfill…

This is the only doxology that explicitly refers to the church as the medium of His glory… As the church maintains its vital unity with Christ, becomes more like the Father in holiness, defeats the influence of the power of the supernatural enemies, fills the world with the good news of the Son resulting it its numerical growth, and offers continual praise to the Father, the church brings glory to God.”

Clinton E. Arnold in Ephesians (ZECNT; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010) 219-220.

It is only fitting that my last post of 2018 (and my last post on the theme of abundance) would have a doxology from Scripture as the biblical text. This doxology celebrates the matchless power of God, reminds us of the amazing privilege of prayer, and sets forth our collective role as the church to glorify God.

Notice that the doxology proclaims what is true, that God is “able to do far more abundantly beyond all that we ask or think.” Does God work like we expect? Rarely. Does He work wonders we could never imagine? Often. Why say this? If God answered every prayer the way we asked, we’d get the glory. There’s something bigger at play and we have a role in it. It’s God’s glory.

When we abide in Christ, and live in the reality of His power, God works in amazing ways through us. We are humbled to realize we are part of something bigger than ourselves, though our prayers often revolve around our troubles or situations. In the midst of all this, we bring Him glory through our generous living, giving, serving, and loving, that can only be credited to His power and fueled by His abundant and gracious provision.

Father, bless us to be a blessing in 2019 and beyond. Work abundantly beyond what we could ever ask or imagine by your Holy Spirit. Do all this through us collectively, as your Church, so the world sees You right now, in this generation when so many have lost hope. Work generously in and through us and be glorified right where you have placed us we pray in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Tremper Longman III: Confidence in God’s Abundance

Your love, Lord, reaches to the heavens, Your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, Your justice like the great deep. You, Lord, preserve both people and animals. How priceless is Your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. They feast on the abundance of your house; You give them drink from Your river of delights. For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light. Psalm 36:5-9

“I treat this as a psalm of confidence… The psalmist addresses God directly to extol His character and the benefits of a relationship with Him…

God’s people enjoy His love, His righteousness, faithfulness, and justice. God displays these qualities in abundance. His love and faithfulness reach upwards to the heavens. His righteousness is as high as the highest mountains and His justice as deep as the deepest sea.

The benefits of a relationship with God include protection. The psalmists expresses his intention to trust God by evoking the refuge provided by bird’s wings…

God provides the sustenance needed for life, both food and drink. The reference to God’s house is likely a reference to the sanctuary, thus perhaps linking the feast’s abundance to the fellowship offerings enjoyed by worshippers…

God is a fountain of life… as a fountain spews forth refreshing water, so God is the source of life. He provides light, light that illuminates our life.”

Tremper Longman III in Psalms: An Introduction and Commentary (TOTC; Downers Grove: IVP, 2014) 175-177.

It’s been an amazing journey to reflect on the relationship between abundance and generosity in 2018. As we near the end of the year, I thought it was fitting to look at a psalm that celebrates this theme.

From Psalm 36 we discover the source of our confidence in life. It flows from a relationship with God and our experience of His abundance of love, righteousness, faithfulness, and justice. Since those are big words, let’s pause to consider their function and meaning.

Looking ahead to 2019, no matter what you will face, rejoice that nothing can separate you from the love of God. Pause daily and ask God to fill you with love, so that you are deeply satisfied and enriched to bless all those you touch each and every day.

In a deep relationship with God we also find an abundance of righteousness, faithfulness, and justice. This reminds us that God will show us the right ways we should go each day, and we can rely on His faithful promises and presence each step of the way.

Many people try to find security in money, while the psalmist beckons us instead to rely on the priceless care of God. In His justice we can trust, and we find rest and protection in the shelter of His wings. Even as there is no such thing as generosity apart from God (as God’s Word teaches us that generosity is a fruit of the Spirit), we cannot experience it or grow in it apart from a relationship with God.

So, to grow in generosity in 2019, I suggest you make sure you are practicing disciplines to deepen your relationship with God. Tune out the noise in your life so you can hear from God. Block 15 minutes each morning to read through a chapter in God’s Word a few times to nourish your soul.

Take time to pray too. I like to follow the simple acronym, PRAY so that my prayers center on God and not myself. Open with Praise, take time for Repentance, Ask God to minister to others who are in need or hurting around you, and then last, lift up requests for Yourself.

And perhaps get outside and enjoy the life and beauty of God’s creation like the psalmist undoubtedly did. Celebrate the greatness of God that surpasses the majesty of the mountains, the serenity of the sea, and the tranquility of rivers.

If you need help with this, enjoy these two fly fishing videos that my son, Sammy, recently gave me as gifts for my birthday (Whitehorse Basin Cutthroat Trout Fly Fishing) and for Christmas (Northern Great Basin Redband Fly Fishing). They celebrate seven new sub-species of trout we tracked down in a week-long expedition in Southeastern Oregon this past summer. The footage is stunning and the music will minister to your soul.

Nurture your relationship with God with intentional disciplines in 2019. It will take your faith to new heights and depths, and best of all, you will gain unfathomable confidence in God’s abundance.

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James R. Edwards: Abundant love of God

Looking at His disciples, He said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.” Luke 6:20-26

“The blessings and woes set forth the way of Jesus concretely and directly, and in contrast to conventional societal behaviors. Those blessed are not “poor in spirit” (Matthew 5:3), i.e., blessed because of spiritual humility, but those who have given up everything and are persecuted for Jesus’ sake… The poor can be either good or evil. But poverty does make disciples aware of their need and dependence on God, and their physical wants open them to the abundant love of God and joy of salvation. Poverty is not a reflection of divine displeasure, but rather, like Pascal’s “God-created vacuum,” something that God uses to increase dependence on Himself, and to fill with Himself. There can be joy in their poverty for everything contained in the kingdom of God is their possession.”

James R. Edwards in The Gospel According to Luke (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015) 193-194.

As I wrap up 2018 with a few more meditations on the theme of abundance, I want to reiterate the importance of daily filling your heart and life with the abundant love of God rather than pursuing the things that society says will satisfy you and give you comfort and pleasure. The abundant supply of love never runs out. Do this because love is the one trait for which people should recognize us, because love covers a multitude of sins, and because it heals the deepest brokenness. But hear this exhortation with a warning.

If you give up your plans for your life and follow Jesus resolving to serve as a generous conduit of this love, those around you will not only notice, they might turn on you. Your obedience when set alongside their cultural conformity reveals their true character and yours. What will happen as a result? Jesus does not sugarcoat it. You will likely have times of hunger, weeping, and even persecution like the prophets before you. And yet, the reward will outweigh any strife you endure, but that won’t come until later.

So what’s my charge to you as you look ahead to 2019 and think about living generously?

Choose the path of dependence on God which opens you to rely on the abundant love of God daily and experience the joy of salvation. While others pursue their bucket lists that leave them empty, you will take the most exciting and hardest journey imaginable. But it’s one that will cause you to be enriched. If others want to join you on the journey, urge them to fill the vacuum in their hearts with the abundant love of God. That could be the most generous thing you do next year. With such sojourners, you will forge deep spiritual friendships that will last a lifetime.

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Walter Brueggemann: Abundant living

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. Romans 12:21

“What counts for a Christian is how one lives. We are called by the gospel to live a different kind of life, to be engaged in the world and in the neighborhood in transformative ways. That is why Paul, after he makes his complex theological argument, ends in Romans 12 with a quite specific inventory of how Christians are to live in the world and in the neighborhood.

Paul says: Live in generosity as a giver. Paul knows that those who live in the gospel have been given an abundance of life, and they are to let that abundance from God spill over into the life of the neighborhood. That abundance among us is very often a material blessing, and it is to be shared. But it is also a generosity of spirit that reaches out, by its very openness, to let one’s presence and attitude be a blessing to others around.

Paul writes: Extend hospitality to strangers. The stranger is somewhat different for us now, as we are variously preoccupied with differences in ethnicity, in gender, in nationality, in religious passion, or even in class. It is easy enough to be suspicious of strangers and to stay with one’s own kind and exclude the others if we can. But Paul knows that in fact we are all strangers and aliens in the world, and we have been wrapped in God’s goodness that gives us freedom to practice hospitality to others, so that they may be welcome and make a home in our midst and be with us in the neighborhood of God.

Paul writes: Never avenge yourselves. He knows about trying to get even. He urges fellow Christians instead to break that vicious cycle of getting even, to transform the thirst for vengeance into acts of forgiveness, so that one no longer needs to get even. Such a transformative act impacts both parties in healing ways, the one forgiven and the one who forgives.

There is more that Paul highlights, but what a place to start: generosity, hospitality, forgiveness. When we resolve to live that way, the neighborhood is transformed.”

Walter Brueggemann in Celebrating Abundance: Devotions for Advent (Louisville: WJKP, 2017) 62-63.

When we get together in America over the holidays of Christmas and New Year’s Day, many people talk about various facets of life. Some speak about sports, politics, current events, or other topics. Often the focus of the conversations orbits around what needs to be done to change the world, solve systemic problems, or make things right in a broken world.

Interestingly, we have everything we need to sort every social ill in the Christ of Christmas. As we walk with Him we grasp abundant living and point the way for others. When we live and interact with our neighbors with generosity, hospitality, and forgiveness, we bless, welcome, and love in otherworldly ways. We show the world that Jesus is the transforming answer.

As we wrap up 2018 in looking at the theme of abundance, I have a question for you. Does your life reflect abundant living? After four rare days as a family of four, I write with gratitude to God that each member of my family is living this way. Today we disperse to live it out. What counts for all of us as Christians, as Brueggemann rightly notes, is how we live. How we live shows our neighbors what we believe.

What will your life reveal about what you believe in 2019? A good starting point is to lean into these three themes. Consider how God has resourced you to serve as a generous conduit of blessing. Think about something you can do to help a wanderer find a home with Christ. Reflect on what it means to forgive and love those around you. Over time, this will transform your life and your neighborhood!

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