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Augustine of Hippo: Place and Time

Love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:39b

“Although you cannot help everyone, you can be of assistance chiefly to those who are connected to you by the opportunities of place and time or some other matter. They have become joined to you, as it were, by some chance.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in Concerning the Teaching of Christ, book one.

Because we cannot help everyone, many resolve to help no one. Don’t let that be you. Instead, be of assistance to those by whom God has put you in place and time. Part of almsgiving is noticing and ministering to the needs of those around us. Who has God placed around you?

It may seem like it is by chance, but Augustine, by his language, reminds us that these people have been joined to us. God place us together. One day, we get to help them, and the next day they assist us. It can be in big ways like helping in a crisis or in small ways like opening a door.

Don’t try to save the whole world, as Jesus already did that for us. Just focus on those that God has connected you to in place and time. Pause to pray about who those people might be. Ask God, in silence what you have been resourced to do for them. Now make this a part of your Lenten almsgiving.

I’d appreciate your prayers today as I speak twice at a conference in Orlando on generosity to local church stewardship champions on the topics of “Towards a Theology of Money” and “Connecting Gratitude, Accountability, and Generosity.” Pray for Spirit-filled teaching and receptive hearts. Thanks.

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Josh Reid: Refocus

When you give…When you pray… Matthew 6:1-8

“I am intrigued by the way Jesus ties our giving and our praying together in this passage. He almost says the same thing twice; first speaking about charitable giving and then in the next breath, about how we should pray.

Jesus gives us the following instructions on both our giving and our praying:

  • Don’t do it to be seen by them … if you do that’s the only reward you’ll get!
  • Do do it in secret … then your Father who sees in secret will reward you!

Pretty simple and straightforward. But why does Jesus apply these same instructions to both giving and praying?

I think it has to do with the reason God wants us to give. Christian givers are not philanthropists; we don’t do it for a plaque on the wall. We acknowledge that all we have is God’s and we are but mere stewards. As we give, we are confirming God’s goodness, relying on His promises, remembering who we are in Christ.

When we give, we must also pray because giving, when done in faith, is an act of worship. And when we pray, we should consider what we can give because these actions help us to trust Him more.”

Josh Reid in “Refocus our thoughts – Giving and Praying” posted in March 2019 by Generate Ministries.

Josh is an Aussie mate who ministers down under and faithfully enjoys and shares my Daily Mediations. He shared a recent post he wrote with me, and I loved it, so I pray it blesses you. I like that he emphasizes that our praying and giving are connected and should look different from the world.

In your situation, does your generosity look different from the world?

Christians should abandon “philanthropy” as that form of giving follows human rules and promises earthly glory. Alternatively, New Testament giving uses “grace” language to ensure that all glory goes to God now, and while we can expect rewards in the eternal kingdom, we must not look for them here.

Let us connect our praying and giving during Lent as a basis for our living, giving, serving and loving in life after Lent.

It’s been an great weekend with my brother and his wife, seeing their daughters, and one son-in-law, while spending precious time with my parents for my dad’s 80th birthday. The new header photo captures the Scriptorium at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando. I got to visit there with my parents.

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John Chrysostom: Dispensers

But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night you will have to give up your life; then who will get all these things you have kept for yourself?'” Luke 12:20

“God wanted us to be dispensers, not lords, of His riches.”

John Chrysostom (347-407) as recounted in On Almsgiving by by Martin Chemnitz (St. Louis: LCMS World Relief and Human Care, 2004) 6.

Sometimes the smallest posts make the biggest splash.

We live in a society that celebrates comfort over contentment and accumulates wealth disobediently rather than dispensing it according to God’s design.

If this post convicts you, change your ways while you have time. Jesus labeled the man a fool who stored up wealth for himself instead of dispensing it.

Not only that, he relieved the fool of his dispensing duties. All that he stored up for himself would be shared without his assistance.

The paradox, or at least what we are learning on our journey, is that obedience does not lead to destitution but rather distribution according to God’s design.

It has been so special to spend a few days with my parents in Florida. They continue to serve as faithful dispensers of the spiritual and material blessings God supplies.

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Ambrose of Milan: Are you guilty of robbery?

Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need. Ephesians 4:28

“Perhaps someone will say, what injustice is it, if I do not meddle in anyone else’s property, but diligently take care of my own? O impudent statement, what are you calling “your own”? Do you mean those things which you brought down with you in this world when you entered into this light, when you left your mother’s womb? With what property and with what provisions were you accompanied when you entered this world? Let no one call “his own” what is common to all. That which more than suffices for one’s expenses has been violently obtained.

You do not think, do you, that God is unjust, so that He does not distribute equally the provisions of life so that you are wealthy and in abundance, while others are in want and are needy? Do you not rather think that He wished to confer proofs of His kindness to you and to crown your poor neighbor with the virtue of patience?

When you have received the gifts from God and drawn them into your bosom, you do not think that you have done anything wrong, if you are the only one to have obtained the sustenance of so many people’s lives? Who then is so unjust and so greedy as he who uses the livelihood of many other people not merely to satisfy his own needs, but to have an abundance and ingratiate his delights?

…You should be reproached for nothing less than robbery when you are wealthy and can be of assistance and yet reject the requests of the poor. It is the bread of the hungry which you hold back. It is the widows’ covering which you hide away. It is the money to redeem the wretched that you dig up in your treasure chest.”

Ambrose of Milan (c. 339-397) as recounted in On Almsgiving by by Martin Chemnitz (St. Louis: LCMS World Relief and Human Care, 2004) 5.

Three thoughts this morning from sunny Florida.

Firstly, when Ambrose asks “What you are calling your own?” he smartly reminds people that they brought nothing into this world but were blessed with abundance because of God’s kindness to be a blessing to others. That’s what almsgiving is all about. If you have more than enough, there is likely someone you know who has less than enough. They are struggling to get by. Their work is not making ends meet. Their crisis situations are overcoming them financially. Help them.

Secondly, Ambrose contrasts those with material wealth as having “proofs of His kindness” and the poor neighbor as having “the virtue of patience”. This is a profound thought. At times when we have experience lack, we have found ourselves on our knees, waiting. Patience is something that you can only learn in a place of dependence on God. The rich want everything and expect it right away. The poor have learned to wait. When the rich share, they too learn patience while the poor experience a taste of delight. What a deep truth!

Thirdly, and most Americans think culturally rather than Christianly on this point, not to share abundance is robbery. We work to have resources to enjoy and share. To stockpile for ourselves before God is thievery. God sees it as such. As we have learned, a key reason for almsgiving is to bring about justice, equity, or fair balance as the Scriptures call it. Help others if you have been resourced to help. Do this during Lent and beyond. God sees and will bless you for it. Living this way reflects biblical generosity.

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Augustine of Hippo: Give alms with your right hand

But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:3-4

“The left hand of the spirit is material greed, the right hand of the spirit is spiritual love. So if, when you give alms, you mix in some greed for temporal advantages, hoping to gain some such thing from that good work, you are mixing the left hand’s knowledge with the right hand’s works. But if you come to a person’s help out of simple charity and with a pure conscience before God, with an eye on nothing else but to please the one who enjoins such acts, then your left hand does not know what your right is doing.”

Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in Sermon 149.15 “On Four Questions: First on Peter’s Vision in Acts 10 and then on Three Questions Arising from the Sermon on the Mount” in Essential Sermons, translated by Edmund Hill, edited by Daniel Doyle (New York: New City Press, 2007) 214.

If I could recommend only one book of sermons from the early church fathers, it would be this book. Each sermon provides priceless perspective on texts, and many of them bring social and cultural realities from antiquity into view that are difficult for us to understand as we read the Bible in modernity.

For example, consider today’s Scripture which references the right and left hand. In the Middle East in both biblical times and present day perceptions, the left hand is viewed as devilish or dirty while the right hand is thought of as clean for eating and greeting. So what might Jesus be saying that we may be missing?

Augustine suggests that our giving must be pure and free from any dirty motives. Undoubtedly, if we look at literary and inscription evidence, the top impure motive linked to giving was “love of glory” or recognition. So, the idea of not letting your left hand know about your giving is to avoid giving selfishly to gain glory.

As you give alms this Lent, do it in secret with pure motives with your right hand! What do I mean? Do it in a manner that avoids recognition or acclaim for you in public, but instead, in a manner that is private, because you are really giving before God and to God. He sees and will reward you.

This morning I fly to Orlando, Florida, to see my parents and my brother’s family for a few days to observe my father’s 80th birthday and then to speak at a conference. I’d appreciate your prayers for safe and uneventful travel, continued good health, and Spirit-filled teaching to receptive hearts. Thanks.

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Tertullian of Carthage: Bodily patience

When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. Matthew 6:16-18

“Fasting is the affliction of the flesh. It makes an offering to the Lord of mourning garments and scantiness of food, content with a simple diet and the pure drink of water. It is a victim able to appease the Lord by means of the sacrifice of humiliation… This bodily patience adds grace to our prayers for good and strength to our prayers against evil.”

Tertullian of Carthage (c. 155-225) as recounted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. by David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 275.

What do we learn while fasting during Lent?

Among other lessons, Tertullian says that this practice of “affliction of the flesh” teaches us “bodily patience” which adds grace and strength to our prayers. The setting aside of our desires positions us for an outpouring of God’s grace and helps us tap the source of unfathomable strength.

As we start the third week of Lent, consider how bodily patience will shape life after Lent. Less of ourselves positions us to have greater bandwidth to receive and give more of God’s abundance wherever we go. If this idea of learning “bodily patience” sounds too esoteric, think with me in more plain terms.

If we spend less money on ourselves, eat less food we likely don’t need anyway, and waste less time with unnecessary activities, we have more margin to live, give, serve, and love like Jesus. Simple spending, simple eating, simple living position us for greater generosity in all of life.

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Lactantius of Rome: Justice

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. 2 Corinthians 8:13

“This is the chief and truest advantage of riches: not to use wealth for the particular pleasure of an individual, but for the welfare of many. It is not for one’s own immediate enjoyment but for justice.”

Lactantius of Rome (c. 240-320) as recounted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. by David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 11.

When many read the New Testament teachings on giving linked to equality, they (wrongly) think it sounds like Communist socialism when it reality it is simply Christian sharing.

The former is forced while the latter is voluntary and exhibits proof of our Christian love. Is there proof or evidence of your love?

God’s desire for us is to use our worldly wealth for showing His love through justice, which is simply fairness or sharing that leads to equality. In plain terms, God cares that everyone has enough.

We give alms during Lent to teach us to give in a way that reflects justice or equality. Don’t overthink this. God’s desire is that those with more than enough can bless those with less than enough.

As Paul says, we do this not to make givers feel hard pressed but to teach them that someday they might be the ones in need of receiving. It’s tough, which is why we need seasons like Lent to teach us.

Are you learning? Are you sharing?

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Matt Papa & Matt Boswell: His Mercy is More

You are getting this meditation much later than normal because I’ve had website issues. Malware has been removed and a firewall has been installed. It’s unfortunate but fitting to happen during Lent, a season when we get rid of bad things and create patterns for preserving that which is good. So, I’m celebrating that the website is back up with a song I learned in church yesterday. Read the lyrics then click below to listen to it.

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is His faithfulness; His mercies begin afresh each morning. Lamentations 3:22-23

What love could remember, no wrongs we have done
Omniscient, all-knowing, He counts not their sum
Thrown into a sea without bottom or shore
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

What patience would wait as we constantly roam
What Father so tender is calling us home
He welcomes the weakest, the vilest, the poor
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

What riches of kindness He lavished on us
His blood was the payment His life was the cost
We stood ‘neath a debt we could never afford
Our sins they are many, His mercy is more

Praise the Lord
His mercy is more
Stronger than darkness
New every morn’
Our sins they are many,
His mercy is more

“His Mercy is More” written by Matt Papa & Matt Boswell.

The third verse struck me. It has my word for the year: kindness. What a great and generous God we serve, that though our sins are many, He lavishes the riches of His kindness on us.

I don’t know where you find yourself today, but I pray it ministers to you. In this season of repentance and turning from sin, celebrate the mercies of God that are new every morning.

But, don’t let the mercies stop with you. As Jesus said, “Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:36). Receive mercy and dispense it generously. The whole world needs mercy.

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Cyprian of Carthage: Partners and Fellow Heirs

I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9

“Make Christ a partner with you in your earthly possessions, that He also may make you a fellow heir with Him in His heavenly kingdom.”

Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200-258) as recounted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. by David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 12.

As we celebrate the second feast day of Lent, take a moment to think about whom you will bless this Lent with financial resources. Bless them like you are giving to Christ Himself.

Why is this important? There are eternal implications to our handling of possessions. What we do now matters for eternity and can make a difference where God has placed us right now.

For example, let us partner with Christ like Patrick, the apostle to Ireland, did! He was just one person, but he evangelized a nation by deploying himself and his resources on mission.

Do you want Christ to treat you as a fellow heir in His kingdom? If so, partner with Christ with your earthly possessions right now. Do it while you can and expect a warm welcome in eternity.

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Clement of Alexandria: Supplying needs

For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.” 2 Thessalonians 3:10

“It is right to supply needs, but it is not well to support laziness.”

Clement of Alexandria (c. 195) as recounted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. by David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 9.

When we think about almsgiving, we should see ourselves as suppliers of those who either can’t work or whose work still leaves them in a place of need. We should not, however, serve as enablers to those who can work but are relying on handouts from others.

In other words, our resources should go to the faithful who have real needs. It’s why in the parable of the minas the Master takes the one mina from the “wicked” (the biblical term for “lazy and unfaithful”) servant and gives it to the one with ten minas (cf. Luke 19:11-27).

This Lent, when you think of giving to someone in need, give to someone who is working diligently and yet has lack. If you know a person who is lazy, don’t give them a handout, but rather a hand up. Encourage them to put their gifts and resources to work.

God blesses us with surplus to supply needs which results in praise to God. We do well not by keeping them for ourselves or by giving them to lazy people, but by resourcing those who can’t work or whose faithful efforts leave them in a place of need. To such as these, give alms richly this Lent (and in life after Lent).

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