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Daniel M. Bell Jr.: Unending Charity

And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity. 1 Corinthians 13:13

“Christ’s work on the cross is a display of the plenitude of divine charity (John 3:16), of God’s giving and giving again. The atonement is not a settling of accounts, an exaction of payment, or the calling in of a debt. Rather, it is a matter of God’s ceaseless generosity, of God’s graceful prodigality. It is a matter of donation, of divine donation for our sake. Thus Christ is not our offering to God but God’s offering to us (Romans 5:8). God has always given to humanity in the form of love, and when humanity rejected that gift, God forgave and gave again in the form of love incarnate, which is the Son. Christ’s work is that of giving again, of communicating God’s prodigious love and grace (which has never ceased to flow) to humanity again (and again)… In Christ, God has refused to render to humanity what is due sin, but instead graciously endures humanity’s rejection and extends the gift/offer of redemption and reconciliation through Christ (Romans 3:25)…

In the economy of salvation, Christ is given not too to pay a debt or appease an angry God but so that God’s desire for communion is satisfied. Christ gives, even to the point of death on the cross, that desire might recover its rest, its true end, its enjoyment in the communion of charity that is the divine life. For this purpose, this mission, in Christ we are empowered to give ourselves — all that we are and all that we have — in love of God and service to our neighbor. In Christ our life is so ordered economically that we reflect the divine economy of ceaseless generosity, of unending charity. The Christian (economic) life is a matter of living life as the gift that it is. How does the body of Christ live so that its life is one continuous offering? How does our life reflect God’s unceasing generosity? Are we producing and using and enjoying all to the glory of God?”

Daniel M. Bell Jr. in The Economy of Desire (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012) 150, 159-160.

On this Lord’s day, as we think about debt, let us not see it wrongly in our relationship with God. As Bell put it, “Christ is given not too to pay a debt.” He is given to restore our relationship with God. “Thus Christ is not our offering to God but God’s offering to us.” Christ incarnates God’s ceaseless generosity, His unending charity toward us.

The reason we then avoid financial debt is because we aim at “producing and using and enjoying all to the glory of God” rather than for fleshly or self-serving motives. We deploy all we are and all we have in love of God and service to neighbor not to win brownie points with God but to show a watching world how to live life as the gift that it is.

That’s why we were redeemed by the blood of Christ and reconciled to God. We’ve been made alive to experience communion with God and help others grasp it, not to accumulate stuff. Society deems the church irrelevant because most “so-called Christians” are no different from the world. They are saddled with debt from accumulating things and not extending the unending charity they supposedly received in Christ.

Is God speaking to you today? If so, take time to repent. Consider the ceaseless generosity extended to you in Christ. Think about the reality that you are here not only to grasp this divine life but to share it with others. Now chart a new course. Map your plan to pay off financial debts so that you are free to extend “unending charity” in love of God and service to neighbor. It’s the only way to live!

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Brad Hewitt and James Moline: Add a better substitute

Some people are always greedy for more, but the godly love to give! Proverbs 21:26

“There’s a mentality that often drives debt reduction. It says, “Get out of debt and your life will be better.” “Just do these easy steps and you’ll be financially home free.” “Go without now so you can accumulate more in the long run.” “Don’t spend now so you can spend later.” But any solution that offers a quick fix to an entrenched problem reflects the consumer myth that we can have what we want when we want it. Any approach that subtracts something from our life without adding a better substitute just creates a craving for more. And the crazy idea that we should get out of debt now so we can buy more later feeds an unhealthy longing to acquire more when we already have enough.

Can we make this really practical? You might be reading this book while sipping a five-dollar cup of coffee, a daily habit that makes a large dent in your budget than you want to admit. Maybe you’re dressed in clothes you “paid for” with plastic. And perhaps you drive a new car to a job where your paycheck doesn’t cover your bills. Something inside you realizes, This doesn’t add up. You understand you need to change. So with fresh resolve you slice your spending right and left. You swear off your favorite coffee shop, shopping mall, and car dealer. We agree with you that unhealthy habits indeed need to change. But we want to suggest a different starting point: begin by adding more good stuff.

By adding “more good stuff” we don’t mean another round of spending. We’re talking about leading with generosity grounded in grace. Instead of putting all your energy into cutting, focus on giving. Start by volunteering. Spend time helping family, friends, and strangers in ways that also give life to you. Consider giving to a cause you care about, some dollars you didn’t give last time you saw a need. By leading with generosity you begin to quiet the gnawing hunger you thought you were satisfying by buying more and more stuff. Soon you will see the good results that come from an openhearted life. When you choose to live generously you break your persistent desire for more. And when that happens, it’s far easier to get out of debt.”

Brad Hewitt and James Moline in Your New Money Mindset: Create a Healthy Relationship with Money (Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2015) 44-46.

Too many get-out-of-debt programs focus on not spending in the short run so you can accumulate wealth in the long run. This mentality deals with “slavery to debt” but fails to address the “love of money” problem that entraps people in perpetuity. How do we break free? Hewitt and Moline point the way: add a better substitute. Giving is the medicine that cures the sickness of debt. If you find yourself in debt, take their advice. If someone you know wrestles with debt, forward this post to them. Help them find freedom and life!

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Adam Hamilton: Affluenza and Credit-itis

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 1 Timothy 6:10

“How did the “American Dream” become a nightmare? To a great extent, it is due to two distinct yet related illnesses that impact us both socially and spiritually. The first illness is called affluenza, which is the constant need for more and bigger and better stuff — as well as the effect that this need has on us… Most of us have been infected by this virus to some degree. If we’re honest, we all must admit that we’ve struggled at one time or another with the desire to acquire…

This brings us to the second disease that goes along with affluenza: credit-itis. Credit-itis is the opportunity for us to buy now and pay later…and it feeds on our desire for instant gratification… Unfortunately, it has exploited our lack of self-discipline and allowed us to feed our affluenza, wreaking havoc in our personal and national finances… Credit-itis is not limited to purchases made with credit cards; it extends to car loans, mortgages, and other loans as well…

There is a spiritual issue that lies beneath the surface of affluenza and credit-itis. This issue is not new; it has been a part of humanity almost from the beginning. Inside us there is a brokenness; the Bible calls it sin…We were meant to desire God, but we have turned that desire toward possessions. We were meant to find our security in God, but we find it in amassing wealth….We were meant to be generous and to share with those in need, but we selfishly hoard our resources for ourselves. There’s a sin nature within us.

Three of the seven deadly sins relate directly to the problem we have with money and possessions. First, we are afflicted by envy or covetousness. We want what others have, and we will do whatever we can to get it — whether that means taking it or buying it for ourselves. Second, we are afflicted by greed or avarice. We have an intense desire for more and don’t want to share what we have. And third, we are afflicted with gluttony. We keep consuming, even when we are full and our needs are met.”

Adam Hamilton in Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity (Nashville: Abingdon, 2009) 14-21.

As I explore debt in the writings of thoughtful stewardship professionals and respected pastors, I find it interesting how they sing a consistent tune. Debt represents a symptom of deeper spiritual dynamics at play. Hamilton sets forth two significant spiritual issues, affluenza and credit-itis, that come into view as modern manifestations of deadly sins that have plagued God’s people throughout church history. They relate specifically three of the “seven deadly sins” (which are pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth).

What can we make of all this as we seek to avoid debt and grow in generosity? Following Hamilton’s counsel, we must each admit how affluenza and credit-itis have influenced our lives, creating patterns of sin and slavery rather than fruitful behavior and freedom. Then as we repent, which means to change directions, we realize that life is only enjoyed when we follow God’s design. This requires daily discipline. The way forward must be marked by repetition and prayer. Here’s the prayer Hamilton suggests we pray daily to renew our minds.

Lord, help me to be grateful for what I have, to remember that I don’t need most of what I want, and that joy is found in simplicity and generosity. Amen.

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Larry Burkett: Debt is not the norm

The LORD will open the heavens, the storehouse of his bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none. Deuteronomy 28:12

“Regardless of how it seems today, debt is not the norm in any economy and should not be the norm for God’s people. We live in a debt-ridden society that is now virtually dependent on a constant expansion of credit to keep the economy going. That is a symptom of a society no longer willing to follow God’s principles. We see this disobedience in many areas, so why should we assume it is any different in the area of money? Yet Christians who would never think of actively participating in a lifestyle of sinful behavior naively follow the world’s path in the area of credit.

Listen to the promise God made His people: “If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all His commands I give you today, the Lord you God will set you high above all the nations on earth…The Lord will open the heavens, the storehouse of His bounty, to send rain on your land in season and to bless all the work of your hands. You will lend to many nations but will borrow from none” (Deuteronomy 28: 1, 12, emphasis added).”

Larry Burkett (1939-2003) in Debt-Free Living: Eliminating Debt in a New Economy, Revised and Updated (Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2010) 151.

Don’t read today’s Old Testament text prescriptively as a way to manipulate God for material abundance as the so-called “prosperity gospel” people read it. Read it as descriptively setting forth God’s design for His people. His design calls for obedience and results in freedom. While most people agree that debt leads to slavery, most don’t see it as disobedience. They instead fall back on the “debt is the norm” mentality.

Burkett rightly notes that debt is not and should not be understood as the norm. Most of the people of the world have no access to debt, so it is certainly not the norm globally. Where it comes into view as disobedience is that, in most cases, we usurp God’s role as Provider and seek to supply our own needs through debt. We exhibit discontentment with God’s timing and take matters into our own hands.

Pervasive debt is a symptom of many things. It’s easy to get, so it can reveal laziness. It also shows a shift from trusting God to supply in His time. God’s design for us is far better than anything we can muster with debt (or hoarding). In the days to come we will explore ways to get rid of financial debt, but for now, avoid it whenever possible as it both enslaves and limits Christian generosity.

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Scott W. Hahn: Owe nothing to anyone but love

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. Romans 13:8

“Paul opens with the counsel that readers should owe nothing to anyone. In what ways he intends readers to apply this directive is not explicit. It can plausibly be taken as a warning against racking up unnecessary financial debts. Christians (and others) are unwise to borrow and spend beyond their means, as this is poor stewardship of the resources that God has entrusted to each. Paul’s teaching is a call to avoid the burdens of debt insofar as possible and to make every reasonable effort to climb out of debt when it is incurred.

The Apostle does make one exception to this rule, however, since the debt we have to love one another always remains outstanding and is never paid in full. Everyone we encounter, inside or outside the family of faith, is entitled to our charity. And, of course, for Paul love has everything to do with practical service and bearing one another’s burdens; it has nothing at all to do with sappy sentimentalism. Readers can get a sense of what he means by reading the lyrical description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-13.

Paul adds that the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. This is remarkable. The verb “fulfill” means “to satisfy what is required” or “to accomplish in full.” But to appreciate the significance of Paul’s statement, remember that the Torah presents 613 prescriptive and prohibitive commandments touching on all aspects of Israel’s life, worship, and social organization. Underlying this great diversity of precepts an essential unity of purpose: to teach God’s people how to love. Consequently, Paul can say that love for another meets and exceeds the requirements of them all.”

Scott W. Hahn in Romans (CCSS; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2017) 234-235.

The Apostle Paul states plainly that the ideal pattern for us as Christians to follow is to live within our means and owe nothing to anyone but a perpetual debt of love. When we do this, we fulfill the whole law of Christ, or in plain terms, we walk according to His design for us as those He redeemed or literally purchased with His blood.

The availability of credit in antiquity was nothing like we have today in modern settings with credit cards, consumer debts, and other forms of debt instruments. Back then families lived in multigenerational units on land families often owned for many generations. The notion that everyone took out a 30-year mortgage to buy a home was non-existent.

So how do we avoid debt and aim at love today? We are asking ourselves that in real-time. While our son graduated from college debt-free and daughter has one more year toward that goal, might their future spouses bring debt into their marriages? If so, we’ve already talked as a family that our plan will be to help them eliminate it as soon as possible.

Early in our marriage, we rented and saved for nine years. Then we made the mistake of following the cultural pattern of having a mortgage which made presumptions about the future and limited our freedom to serve. So instead, we chose to sell the house and buy a simple townhouse to have bandwidth to live, give, serve, and love richly.

Speaking of loving richly, I want to honor my wife, Jenni, as today marks our 26th wedding anniversary. I blessed to have a wife willing to live simply, give generously, and love richly rather than hoarding for false security on the one hand or overspending beyond our means on the other. We avoid debt and talk often about ways to love others well.

This way of living is not something we figured out overnight. Why? It’s both countercultural, which means few people live this way, and radically biblical. Our greatest joy is watching our grown son and daughter, Sammy and Sophie, avoiding debt and aiming at love in everything they do. Join us. We often say, “It’s the only way to live!”

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DeForest B. Soaries Jr.: Plastic Shackles

The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender. Proverbs 22:7

“Consumer debt gips millions of people in plastic shackles every bit as powerful as the iron chains that once bound slaves. A bold, even audacious, statement, I know, particularly considering the historical atrocities of slavery in our country. As a descendant of some of those slaves, I do not make this analogy without recognizing the gravity of its implications. I do not make such a comparison lightly or for the sheer effect of its cultural shock value, although the ongoing enslavement of millions of Americans should shock and concern all of us.

While many of my fellow African Americans may be particularly upset or offended by my literal comparison, I find that enslavement is the only adequate word to express the dire, life-draining, debilitating condition in which we find ourselves today… We’ve come to accept, as normal, a lifestyle in which we are always behind, borrowing from our future earnings to assuage our present bill collectors to pay for a forgotten past… This pattern of widespread behavior is historically unprecedented.”

DeForest B. Soaries Jr. in Say Yes to No Debt (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2015) 17, 20.

I am shifting my focus for the foreseeable future to one of the leading limiters to generosity: debt. My posts will aim at shining biblical light on this dark topic. From the lips of the wise sage, Solomon and, much later, Soaries, a pastor from New Jersey, we start by proclaiming the truth that debt is enslavement.

Soaries gives it the name “plastic shackles” because it often starts with credit cards and their relatively high interest rates as compared to other forms of debt. Debt make promises about products and services that actually limit a person’s ability to live, give, serve, and love like Jesus. In that sense, it may be one of Mammon’s greatest tools.

Why does everyone fall for it? Soaries notes that greed is celebrated by advertisers who employ celebrities to convince us to buy things with money we don’t have. Common forms of debt range from consumer products to education. We believe the messages that “everyone is doing it” so we fall into its trap.

We must call out advertising messages that are lies. When marketers says we “deserve” something or “have to” possess the item they are selling, we must call it out. Do this with your spouse, your children, or whomever is with you. We must help each other avoid debt because it limits our living and our generosity.

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Karen H. Jobes: That alternate society

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. 1 Peter 4:8-10

“Most commentators construe hospitality at the time Peter wrote to mean that Christians are to welcome fellow believers into their homes as overnight guests. Because suitable inns were few and far between in the first century, this form of hospitality was no doubt both a practical necessity and a mutual courtesy. And since Peter is addressing believers scattered all over Asia Minor, they probably have opportunity to assist traveling Christians from other towns and provinces in this way, especially perhaps the courier who will carry Peter’s letter.

However, there is nothing in the immediate context to suggest that such hospitality specifically focuses on hosting overnight guests. In fact, the repetition of the reciprocal expressions in 4:8 “for one another”; 4:9 “to one another”; and 4:10, “serve one another”, suggests a hospitality that functions within and among the local community of believers. If so, Peter may be expecting his readers to open their homes for the purpose of Christian worship and fellowship, since at that time the local church had to meet in the homes of its members.

This form of hospitality could be quite costly if it marked the family as a target for anti-Christian persecution. Furthermore, to welcome all Christian believers into one’s home without grumbling requires one to maintain a certain openheartedness toward all. The exercise of love that Peter says is above all would be necessary if the local church was to have a place for all believers to gather together.

It is this quality of openheartedness toward one another that is a basis for a Christian hospitality willing to minister to other believers even in the absence of warm feelings and even when relationships are strained. Moreover, such openheartedness toward fellow believers would allow the opportunity for hospitality beyond the official meetings of the church. If their pagan friends and even their own families are ostracizing Christians, those distressed believers are to find a warm welcome in the homes of other members of the Christian community.

The church is to be that alternate society where Christians find a place when shunned by unbelievers who live by different values. In a hostile world, the church is to be a place of safety and well-being for its members, a place where common beliefs unite more than differences divide. The Christian community is a colony of the holy nation of God among the nations of the world.”

Karen H. Jobes in 1 Peter (BECNT; Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2005) 280-281.

Father in heaven, make us an openhearted, generous people who appear as “that alternate society” in a world filled with hostility and brokenness. Help us extend hospitality with gladness and without grumbling so fellow believers experience the love of God through our living, giving, serving, and loving, and so the watching, pagan world can see what a warm welcome really looks like. By your Holy Spirit, please graciously draw those onlookers into the family of God too. Make all this so we ask in the name of Jesus. Amen.

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Elisha L. Magoon: The vernacular of heaven

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Romans 12:13

“Hospitality is the vernacular of heaven and needs to be more widely inculcated in practical exemplification on earth. Gentle warmth opens the pores of our body sooner than intense heat. The wild rose of the wilderness and its kindred flowers more delicately nurtured in our gardens shut themselves up alike when the sun retires and the chilling damps of night approach.”

Elisha L. Magoon in Day’s Collacon, compiled and arranged by Edward Parsons Day (New York: IPPO, 1884) 388.

What does hospitality look like in “practical exemplification” in your life? In plain terms, how is your generosity expressed through “gentle warmth” or “thoughtful gestures” toward others?

Christian generosity thinks about the needs of others and meets them in practical ways. How can you use what you have to serve those around you in generous, thoughtful, and warm ways?

On my travels this past week fly fishing with my son, Sammy, in various wilderness areas, I saw many flowers cared for by our Father in heaven. He gave them water to drink and warm sun to blossom by day.

It reminded me that we can be be generous and hospitable knowing that our Father in heaven will care for us too. When we trust in His faithful care, it frees is to function according to the vernacular of heaven, or in a word, hospitably.

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L. Carroll Judson: Arrived at their majority

Moreover, when God gives someone wealth and possessions, and the ability to enjoy them, to accept their lot and be happy in their toil — this is a gift of God. Ecclesiastes 5:19

“Banish all inordinate desires after wealth. If you gain an abundance, be discreetly liberal, judiciously benevolent, and if your children have arrived at their majority, die your own executor.”

L. Carroll Judson in Day’s Collacon, compiled and arranged by Edward Parsons Day (New York: IPPO, 1884) 1013.

As I have come to the end of this week-long fly fishing trip with Sammy, after earlier this summer having spent a week with Sophie on a teaching trip to Egypt, I am convinced that both our children have “arrived at their majority” as Judson put it.

They both work hard, live contented lives, and love and serve generous. They’ve matured into young adults (which is what “arrived at their majority” means), so the focus of stewardship changes for Jenni and me.

In fishing circles the saying goes like this: “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” Figuratively speaking, Sammy and Sophie have learned how to fish, so we can let our owns hands be our executors.

Thank you Lord for the gift of time with my son and daughter this Summer. Thank you for growing them into mature young adults. Now, help Jenni and I put to work all we are and all we have every day of our lives holding nothing back. Amen.

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Joseph Hall: A certain thing

One thing I ask from the LORD, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the LORD and to seek Him in his temple. Psalm 27:4

“Everyone would have something, such perhaps as we are ashamed to utter: the proud man would have a certain thing, honor; the covetous man would have a certain thing, too, wealth and abundance; the malicious would have a certain thing, revenge on his enemies; the epicure would have pleasure and a long life; the barren, children; the wanton, beauty; each would be humored in his own desire, though in opposition both to God’s will and his own good.”

Joseph Hall (1574-1656) in Day’s Collacon, compiled and arranged by Edward Parsons Day (New York: IPPO, 1884) 178.

Is there a certain thing that you desire? On trips like this one that I have enjoyed with my son, Sammy, I am reminded that every fly fisherman desires to catch fish, and we caught many of them. But for our own good we must have one desire above all others. We must make the LORD our greatest desire.

What’s this got to do with generosity? We will never be generous if our desires are linked to things. God’s will for our lives is that we desire Him above all else, when we do, we are rightly positioned to enjoy and share His good gifts. In the days to come we hope to make videos of our trip. We made memories worth enjoying and sharing.

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