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Walter Brueggemann: Case study in divine generosity

“I do not mean that there should be relief for others and pressure on you, but it is a question of a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance. As it is written, ‘The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.'” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

“Paul writes as a practical theologian. He does not coerce the church, as that would violate the act of self-giving abundance. Nor does he ask for excessive self-giving, even though Christ gave self-excessively. He asks only for “a fair balance between your present abundance and their need, so that their abundance may be for your need, in order that there may be a fair balance” (v. 13-14).

Paul completes that part of his argument with an appeal to the manna narrative of Exodus 16:18: “The one who had much did not have too much, and the one who had little did not have too little.” (v. 15). If ever the biblical tradition provided a case study in divine generosity, the manna story is it. Paul does not go on to remind the church that Israel in the manna story was prohibited from storing up surplus, but the point is readily inferred.

Thus we come full circle to his query in 1 Corinthians 4:7: “What do you have that you did not receive?” Manna is all gift; what the church in Corinth has is all gift. It was all given. And now, in a corresponding act of generosity, it may be shared as the church in Macedonia has done.”

Walter Brueggemann in Money and Possessions (Interpretation; Louisville: WJKP, 2016) 224. For those looking for the most recent comprehensive biblical theology of money and possessions, this book is it!

Brueggemann reminds us today that the manna story is a case study in divine generosity.

Do you want to see rich giving in your church? Follow Paul’s example. Notice how he communicates. He graciously points the way to self-giving abundance. He reminds people that all is a gift from God, just like the manna. It cannot be stored up. God’s design is sharing. Anything unshared spoils. Notice no coercion. No motivating with guilt.

Lest you think your students or congregation might ignore you for instructing them accordingly, likely because they have bought the world’s scarcity narrative, remind them that in the manna story the people ignored Moses too (see Exodus 16:16-21). What’s so telling is that God never forces us to acknowledge that He is the giver of all good gifts!

We demonstrate whether or not believe this profound truth by how we handle money. Notice though, there’s no coercion. People will either live like they believe and give with self-giving abundance, or they won’t. Sadly, the latter will miss more than the opportunity to share. Most probably, they have chosen a trajectory that causes them to miss the life that is truly life altogether.

Let’s teach this case study in divine generosity so those we serve grasp self-giving abundance. All we have is a gift to be shared.

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Tim Breene: Rich in faith

Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? James 2:5

“I have been fortunate to come alongside communities and families in some of the hardest places in the world…I have walked the dusty roads of towns and villages in the nations we too easily look down upon from our perch of privilege. I have sat in the homes of people and have heard their stories of suffering, seen their resilience and seen how they can find joy and be thankful to God even in the most challenging circumstances. They have taught me what it is to love, what it is to have faith and what it is to hope in things as yet unseen. They have taught me humility and blessed me with their friendship.”

Tim Breene of World Relief as quoted by James Hoxworth in his 14 January 2018 sermon on James 2.

Rich in faith! That’s the leg up on the rich that the poor possess. Why? They have nothing else on which to rely. Don’t hear this as a slam against the rich, but celebrating that the gospel is for everyone.

Do you sit on a perch of privilege? Is your primary aim in life to insulate yourself and your family from difficulty and discomfort? If so, it might be time to visit the poor, to walk in their footsteps.

Your generosity, I am confident, will grow inestimably. How do I know this? When you visit them, you will learn things. You will see faith, hope, and love in action at depths you never dreamed.

I think you will work diligently to exchange earthly riches for eternal ones from that point forward. How do I know? Once a person realizes that Christ is all they need, their openhanded generosity knows no boundaries after that.

Don’t worry, be generous.

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Patrick Johnson: Follow Me

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” Matthew 4:19

“When Jesus called the disciples, He said just two words. “Follow me.” And they did. This was His style of leadership development and discipleship.

The disciples took a very long walk with Jesus, following Him as He intersected spiritual brokenness, religious self-righteousness, and physical pain with the grace of the gospel. They watched their world set on fire with the intensity of His life…

What if fostering generosity at your church could be set on fire by a singular “Follow Me” focus by the church leadership? Releasing generous disciples via bold leadership accomplishes three important things.

1. It frees people to experience the abundant life of Jesus. So many are trapped by the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of riches. Generosity breaks the power of money.

2. The body of Christ grows best in community. Fostering a community culture of generosity will be a powerful growth-agent in your local body.

3. Overflowing generosity speaks gospel to a hurting world. People can argue with your beliefs, but they cannot argue with generous acts done in love.”

Patrick Johnson in his GenerousChurch blog post entitled “What Just Happened?” – Initiating Paradigm-Shifting Discipleship.”

When I got the email about this blog post this week I saved it for weekend reading. I really resonated with it because of some writing I am doing on another book project about the importance of following.

I find that what hinders us from grasping life in God’s economy is that we overthink it. We try to figure it out before we live it out, when in reality, we chart the opposite course.

We only figure it out when we follow in faith and obedience. For example, until we give generously and sacrificially, do we realize Jesus is not calling us to a life of destitution but rather distribution.

That said, if you want to adopt such a “Follow Me” strategy in your church, perhaps check out the GenerousChurch resources and adopt the language of Paul as your theme verse.

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1

When we actually start following, Jesus does rock our world. His intensity fuels our tenacity. We are released and unleashed as contagious, generous and loving servants.

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R. Scott Rodin: You Have All That You Need

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. Psalm 23:1

“David is saying that because the Lord is our shepherd, we shall NOT be decreased, deprived, empty, lack anything, made lower, experience need, know scarcity, have want. Because the Lord is my Shepherd, I shall increase, have everything I need, be full, be satisfied, lifted up, have abundance, be provided for, know no scarcity, be content. This leads to my translation of this verse as, “The Lord is my Shepherd, and in Him, I have everything I need.”

If this is true (and it is) it must lead us to four powerful convictions.

1. Having enough requires absolute trust. I know the Shepherd, and I trust He will provide for all of my needs…

2. Having enough reorders our priorities. I know the Shepherd, and what the Shepherd provides is all I need. That is an interesting and important twist. It says that it is our Shepherd, and NOT US, who defines what we need. If we are willing to let God define our needs, we can trust Him to supply them.

3. Having enough is a present tense reality. I know the Shepherd, and as a result, my needs today are met. The verse says, “I have everything I need”, not that we ‘hope to have’ or ‘might have’ or ‘plan to have’, but God’s provision is a present reality.

4. Having enough is a declaration of sacred contentment. I know the Shepherd, and therefore I am content. I have enough! Enough for what?

Enough to lay down in peace beside still waters. Enough to have my soul restored. Enough to walk through the valley of death without fear. Enough to trust God’s rod and staff and take guidance and discipline with joy. Enough to sit in the presence of my enemies with his anointing and an overflowing cup. Enough to live with hope all the days of my life. Enough to know whose I am and where my future lies.

This Psalm is but one instance of a preponderance of Scripture that calls us to a life of abundance, trust and contentment. What would it mean for you today if you believed, really believed that God has supplied all your need?

It would mean we would focus on what we have and not on what we think we lack, and the result would be thanksgiving and praise. It would mean we would seek God’s guidance for how best to steward all that He has given, since we believe it is enough to do the work He called us to do. It would mean we would drive away every fear of tomorrow, having faith that the God who supplied our need today in every area of our life will be faithful to do so again and again as long as He gives us breath and life.

I urge you to start this New Year with this one phrase flowing from your lips, “I have enough.” See if it is not the first step on a journey of freedom and transformation as a joyful, faithful steward.”

R. Scott Rodin in “You Have All That You Need” blog post for The Steward’s Journey. Take a few minutes to read Psalm 23 today. Also reflect again on the four powerful convictions Rodin notes above, and repeat “I have enough” over and over. Do this to help renew your mind.

As I think about the idea of “abundance” in 2018, I am realizing that those who don’t grasp it don’t experience a little less than abundance. They miss out on life according to God’s design altogether because their priorities are whacked, their present day reality is skewed, and their outlook is clouded by fear.

“The Lord is my Shepherd, and in Him, I have everything I need.”

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Randy Alcorn: Squandering

Now [Jesus] was also saying to the disciples, “There was a rich man who had a manager, and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions.” Luke 16:1

“God prospers me not to raise my standard of living but to raise my standard of giving. God comes right out and tells us why He gives us more money than we need. It’s not so we can find more ways to spend it. It’s not so we can indulge ourselves and spoil our children. It’s not so we can insulate ourselves from needing God’s provision. It’s so we can give — generously.

When God provides more money, we often think, This is a blessing. Well, yes, but it would be just as scriptural to think, This is a test. The money manager has legitimate needs, and the Owner is generous — He doesn’t demand that His stewards live in poverty, and He doesn’t resent our making reasonable expenditures on ourselves.

But suppose the Owner sees us living luxuriously in a mansion, driving only the best cars, and flying first-class? Or buying only expensive clothes and electronic gadgets and eating at the best restaurants? Isn’t there a point when, as His stewards, we can cross the line of reasonable expenses? Won’t the Owner call us to account for squandering money that’s not ours?”

Randy Alcorn The Treasure Principle: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving (Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2001) 75-76.

No one wants to be accused of “squandering” the Master’s resources. Alcorn points the way for us by encouraging us to make reasonable expenditures. It’s not easy. The world tells us that everything it offers is a need rather than a want so it can be hard for us to be content.

Alcorn unlocks the proverbial secret passage way forward. We must realize that God prospers us, not to raise our “standard of living” but rather our “standard of giving” to the things He cares about. How do we do this practically? We live on a budget. We map how much is enough and we share the rest.

Living within our means and giving according to our means sound like foreign concepts to most Americans. On 3 June 2013, Gallup reported that “two-thirds of Americans do not live on a budget and only 32% of Americans prepare a detailed written or computerized budget.” A budget sets guardrails for spending to help us avoid squandering the Master’s money.

Need help? Check out lesson seven of my Good and Faithful series, “Budgeting: Put to Work What God Provides”. It’s free to watch. I echo Alcorn when I say to my students: This is a test. Thankfully it’s an open-book test. The book is the Bible, and it contains all the wisdom we need.

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Lorilee Craker: De-spoiling Plan

For I will speak to you in a parable. I will teach you hidden lessons from our past — stories we have heard and known, stories our ancestors handed down to us. We will not hide these truths from our children; we will tell the next generation about the glorious deeds of the Lord, about His power and His mighty wonders. Psalm 78:2-4

“So, thanks to Amish parents modeling their money mentoring, I launched the six-pronged De-spoiling plan with my kids.

1. Teach them contentment with what they already have.
2. Show them how to hunt out savings and freebies.
3. Help them distinguish between wants and needs.
4. Say no with some regularity.
5. Encourage delayed gratification.
6. Teach them that hard work won’t kill them, and is probably really, really good for them.”

Lorilee Craker in Money Secrets of the Amish: Finding True Abundance in Simplicity, Sharing, and Saving (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2011) 103.

The world bombards children with messages about materialism and consumerism. Alternatively, we discover “hidden truths” when we practically apply what God’s Word teaches.

As I continue to interact with my Northern Seminary students and reflect on our time together, I recall that most of them testified that their parents did not teach them much about the handling of money.

Parents, we must model and teach our children how to relate to money! Craker adds other helpful maxims in this book that she learned from the Amish, such as, “Use it up, wear it out, make do, or do without.”

We must de-spoil our children because the world spoils them daily. Society dumps lies into their heads. De-spoil them to help them live a life of simplicity, sharing, and saving, and so they avoid discontentment, debt, and disaster!

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D.A. Carson: Let nothing be wasted

When they had all had enough to eat, [Jesus] said to His disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten. John 6:12-13

“All are satisfied; all had enough to eat. John portrays this miracle, not a eucharistic mouthful, still less an ethical lesson on how to shame people into sharing their lunches. This is the ample provision of the Lord who declares, ‘My people will be filled with my bounty’ (Jeremiah 31:14). Though the Lord has lavish abundance to meet the needs of the people, he will let nothing be wasted.”

D.A. Carson in The Gospel According to John (PNTC; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1990) 270-271.

I am weary of getting appeals in the mail that try to shame me into sharing. They’re uninspiring. I wonder if relief organizations might take a different approach. What if they reminded all who are satisfied to gather what is left over and let nothing be wasted? Think about it.

When God looks at the world, generally speaking, I think He sees half of it hungry for food and thirsty for clean drinking water. Those who enjoy these gifts need not be shamed into sharing but educated as to what to do with any surplus. It should be gathered for sharing with those in need and not wasted.

Paul follows suit in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4. He does not beg people to give to feed starving people in Jerusalem. He gives them instructions, the same ones he gave the Galatian churches, and gathers their collective surplus and delivers it to famine-stricken Christians.

What’s my point today? If God has graciously and abundantly provided for you, if you eat and are satisfied, gather the pieces that are left over. They are not yours. Let nothing be wasted. Your surplus is another’s supply. This miracle Passover meal had twelve baskets leftover: the provision of Jesus was sufficient for all Israel.

“Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.”

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Leon Morris and Alfred Edersheim: Travel Light

When Jesus had called the Twelve together, He gave them power and authority to drive out all demons and to cure diseases, and He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal the sick. He told them: “Take nothing for the journey — no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt.” Luke 9:1-3

“The Twelve were to travel light. Jesus told them to take nothing with them, and he spelled this out with no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money. They are to concentrate on the task in hand, not to elaborate preparations. In fact they are to forgo even what would have been regarded as normal preparations for the journey. God will provide what they need and they are to trust Him for it…

Edersheim connects this with the rabbinic rule that one must not enter the temple precincts with staff, shoes and money-bag. ‘The symbolic reasons underlying this command would, in both cases, be probably the same: to avoid even the appearance of being engaged on other business, when the whole being should be absorbed in the service of the Lord.'”

Leon Morris in Luke (Downers Grove: IVP, 1988) 182-183 and Alfred Edersheim in The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, 2 vols. (1890: Pickering and Inglis, 1959) 1:643.

I flew home from Chicago last night, but the Northern Seminary students remain in my heart. I pray, like the first disciples, that as Morris says, that they will “travel light” and as Edersheim adds, that they will “be absorbed in the service of the Lord.” What about you?

This text relates to everyone who desires to follow Christ. We may think we need stuff and money to make things happen, and God wants us to let go of those things so we can learn to trust Him. In God we have everything we have ever needed and will ever need.

God worked then and still works now through willing servants willing to travel light through life. He supplies for those absorbed in His service. That leads to two questions. Are you traveling heavy? Are you distracted by other business?

The one who travels heavy rather than light reveals his or her heart struggles to trust God. If that’s you, ask God to help you today to trust Him to provide. God, help me follow You obediently trusting you to guide and provide. Make this so of my students and readers, Father!

The distracted person shows vacillating allegiance. Other things captivate their hearts. If that’s you, ask God to help you identify and get rid of what distracts you. In biblical terms, cut it off! God, help me let go of anything that draws my heart away from You. Do this in each of our lives for your glory, Jesus!

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Timothy Keller: Fearfulness

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. 1 John 4:18

“The root of an ungenerous heart is not mere stinginess or greed but fearfulness. Accruing resources is often a way we try to take control of our own world and fend for ourselves because we fear we can’t trust God… That is why we become crushed by suffering rather than growing through it. And that is why we are so ungenerous with ourselves and our assets. America is filled with comfortably prosperous people who mostly feel they don’t have enough. They are dominated and controlled by a pervasive sense of resource scarcity and precariousness.”

Timothy Keller in the foreword to The God Guarantee: Finding Freedom from the Fear of Not Having Enough by Jack Alexander (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2017).

In my exploration of abundance and its relationship to generosity between meetings with students this weekend, I discovered this profound, concise thought: “The root of an ungenerous heart is not mere stinginess or greed but fearfulness.” Does fear hinder your generosity?

Numerous times in my life I have wrestled with worry and fear. I have found that focusing on the love of God dispels my fears. To grow in generosity in 2018, consider God’s perfect love for you and start the year by driving out fear! Read Psalm 136, a celebration of the faithful and everlasting love of God!

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Luke Timothy Johnson: The Alternation of Attentive Care

For if the readiness is present, it is acceptable according to what a person has, not according to what he does not have. For this is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality — at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality. 2 Corinthians 8:12-14

“Equality here is not the erasing of differences but the alternation of attentive care. The manner of giving, therefore, should not be by exaction, but by a response to the gift of God. Thus, the motivation Paul gives his Corinthian congregation is not based on the ideas of friendship or egalitarianism, but on the gift of God. They are to give because God has given to them. They are able to give because they have first received. It is not only that God loves a cheerful giver, or that God will sustain them in life and given them even greater prosperity when they give generously. No, their gift, ultimately, must be based on the gift given to them.”

Luke Timothy Johnson in Sharing Possessions: What Faith Demands, second edition (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011) 103.

The interaction with Northern Seminary students has been warm this weekend despite the frigid cold outside in Chicago (pictured above). One student talked at length about how “sharing is caring” which made me think about how sharing our abundance becomes their supply and also our way of showing care to others in need. This led me to read an excerpt from Johnson’s classic scholarly work on the topic.

People get intimidated by the word “equality” in Paul’s correspondence with the Corinthian church regarding the function of their sharing with the starving saints in Jerusalem. Some mistake it for socialism or communism dictated by exaction. Johnson, however, unpacks how equality portrays Christianity in it’s purest form. “The alternation of attentive care” reflects the “love one another” generosity aspect of our faith.

Some days we get to give. Other days we receive. Thus, “the alternation of attentive care” is not about taking care of friends, but about showing the world we are eager to share with others in the family of God in gratitude for God’s care for us. As you think with me about “abundance” this year, ask yourself what you possess in abundance that could be shared attentively with fellow believers in need.

Share with them how you’d like them to share with you if you were in need.

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