Abba Poemen: Live humbly and give alms

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Abba Poemen: Live humbly and give alms

Sell your possessions and give alms; make to yourselves purses not growing old, an unfailing treasure in the heavens, where thief does not draw near, nor does moth destroy. Luke 12:33

“A brother asked Abba Poemen saying, ‘Give me a word’… The old man replied, ‘As far as you can, do some manual work so as to be able to give alms, for it is written that alms and faith purify from sin.’ The brother said, ‘What is faith?’ The old man said, ‘Faith is to live humbly and to give alms.'”

Abba Poemen (340-450) Egyptian Coptic Monk in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 1975) 176.

The desert fathers spoke with simplicity and clarity. Here, Abba Poemen offers a good word  for everyone: live humbly and give alms! Consider again his wisdom.

Faith is realizing your role to work productively and not hold on to your surplus but to share it generously. But what do we normally do with our surplus? Think about it.

We buy things the advertisers tell us we need. No wonder Jesus said to sell those things and to pour the money into people. Who can you aid this Advent season?

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Maximus Confessor: The four kinds of people who acquire money

You alone are the Lord. You made the heavens, even the highest heavens, and all their starry host, the earth and all that is on it, the seas and all that is in them. You give life to everything, and the multitudes of heaven worship You. Nehemiah 9:6

“Not so much out of necessity has gold become enviable by people as that with most of them can provide for their pleasures. There are three reasons for the love of money: pleasure-seeking, vainglory, and lack of faith. And more serious that the other two is lack of faith.

The hedonist loves money because with it he lives in luxury; the vain person because it can be praised; the person who lacks faith because he can hide it and keep it while in fear of hunger, or old age, or illness, or exile. He lays his hope on it rather than on God the Maker and Provider of the whole creation, even of the last and least of things.

There are four kinds of people who acquire money, the three just mentioned and the financial administrator. Obviously only he acquires it for the right reasons so that he might never run short of relieving each one’s need.”

Maximus Confessor (c. 580-662), Theologian of Constantinople, in Maximus Confessor: Selected Writings trans. George C. Berthold (Mahwah: Paulist, 1985) 63.

What kind of person are you with relationship to money? The irony is that the only One who sees and knows your situation is the One who made you and desires that you trust Him to provide for you.

Maximus Confessor proclaims truth with candor in spelling out the four kinds of people. Notice the function of the faithful administrator, and that is a key biblical term, administrator.

This word implies the faithful stewardship of God’s resources to accomplish His purposes, which is to care for your needs and those around you. We get to enjoy and share all our Maker provides.

Advent begins today. It’s a season when we welcome the Savior, Christ the Lord, who comes to us. To prepare for His arrival, let show our faith in Him by living as faithful financial administrators.

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Abba Poemen: You will not do it

And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased. Hebrews 13:16

“A brother asked Abba Poemen, ‘An inheritance has been left me, what ought I to do?’ The old man said to him, ‘Go, come back in the three days, and I will tell you.’ So he returned as it had been decided. Then the old man said, ‘What shall I say to you brother? If I tell you to give it to the church; they will make banquets with it; if I tell you to give it to your relations you will not receive any profit from it; if I tell you to give it to the poor, you will not do it. Do as you like, it is none of my business.”

Abba Poemen (340-450) Egyptian Coptic Monk in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, trans. Benedicta Ward (Kalamazoo: Cisterian, 1975) 172.

Often people ask me questions like ‘What should give to?’ or ‘How much should I give’?

My tendency with my answers is to try to help people to understand and obey the teachings of Jesus. I map out the reasons why they should follow God’s design for taking hold of abundant life.

Instead, from now I think on I will answer like this Desert Father.

I will present the realities related to giving to ministries and family members and the poor. Then I will tell them that likely they won’t listen anyway. Reverse psychology. And I will remind them that it’s their call.

Why? Each person has to give an account for his or her own stewardship.

And I guess there is another reason Abba Poemen’s answer excites me. I am tired of trying to convince modern-day hypocrites to stop storing up treasures on earth.

To awaken them I want to share truth and then boldly proclaim, ‘You will not do it’!

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John of Gaza: Examine Yourself

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. Matthew 5:7

“Question: If I would like to give alms, but my thought has doubts about giving, what should I do?

Response by John of Gaza: Examine yourself, and if you found that you are doing this out of stinginess, then give something even beyond what you should have given, for example an additional small amount, and you will receive God’s mercy.”

John of Gaza in Letters from the Desert: Barsanuphius & John, trans. John Chryssavgis (Crestwood: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2003) 189-90.

Have doubts about giving? John of Gaza urges us to examine ourselves. If we locate any stinginess or reluctance, note his advice. Give more and receive God’s mercy.

Consider the significance of this wise counsel. Often we pause in giving because we think a recipient does not “deserve” what we may give. Did you deserve Christ’s giving toward you? 

When we think about the mercy we have received from God and give generously, we become recipients of mercy. Christ assures us of this in today’s Scripture.

Think of this like a Black Friday Bonus. Give generously, and become rich in mercy! Thanks God for the blessings of abundant life in Christ.

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Desert Father: Double Shame

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

“Someone begged an old man to accept some money for his needs, but he refused saying that his manual work supplied all that was necessary. When the other insisted that he should accept at least enough for his essential needs, the old man replied, “It would be a double shame to accept it: for me to receive what I do not need, and for you to give what belongs to others.”

A Desert Father in The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers: Systematic Sayings from the Anonymous Series of the Apophthegmata Patrum, trans. Benedicta Ward (Oxford: SLG Press, 1986) no. 126.

Today is Thanksgiving in America. If you get this post, I am thankful my website is back up. Daily, my web security says it’s under “brute force attack” and I got hacked again on Tuesday. God has been gracious to get it going again. To read yesterday’s post, scroll down to locate it.

On this Thanksgiving Day, if God has given you the strength to work and supply resources sufficient for your needs, give thanks. Count your blessings! You are among the half of the world’s population positioned to give. The other half has insufficient resources to live.

The unnamed desert father reminds us that its a “double shame” if we keep any surplus or to accept further resources when were are not in need. I realize that what I am saying is un-American, but it’s thoroughly Christian to share along these lines.

We live in a time that considers it shameful to live a life of dependence on God and interdependence on others. Alternatively, the Apostle Paul talked about sharing surplus in his second letter to the Corinthians. Take his words to heart so that your giving reflects dependence on God and care for others.

Our desire is not that others might be relieved while you are hard pressed, but that there might be equality. At the present time your plenty will supply what they need, so that in turn their plenty will supply what you need. The goal is equality, as it is written: “The one who gathered much did not have too much, and the one who gathered little did not have too little.” 2 Corinthians 8:13-15

Imagine you are the Christ follower in need. Let your requests be made known unto God. Do you want fellow believers to share with you? Take inventory on this Thanksgiving and plan some generous giving. Share with others as you would like them to share with you.

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Tobit: Begrudge

Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7

“Give alms from your possessions, and do not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it. Do not turn your face away from anyone who is poor, and the face of God will not be turned away from you.”

Tobit 4:7 (NRSV). The book of Tobit is part of the Apocrypha and labeled as one of the Deuterocanonical books. It is generally not included among Protestant Christians’ list of canonical books, while it is for Roman Catholics and most Orthodox traditions.

Regardless of our modern reception of Tobit, it is important to understand that this story about a righteous, law-abiding Jew likely influenced Jews within the early church. Today Tobit offers advice that sounds similar to the words of Solomon in Proverbs 11:24-25.

“One person gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”

The Apostle Paul the exhortation not to give reluctantly appears to echo this idea from Tobit to “not let your eye begrudge the gift when you make it.”

This is a timely word in America as we approach Thanksgiving, Giving Tuesday, and the Christmas giving season. Give generously. Treat the poor how you want God to treat you.

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Tobit: The impact of alms

But give as alms those things that are within, and behold, everything is clean for you. Luke 11:41

“Prayer with fasting is good, but better than both is almsgiving with righteousness. A little with righteousness is better than wealth with wrongdoing. It is better to give alms than to lay up gold. For almsgiving saves from death and purges away every sin. Those who give alms will enjoy a full life, but those who commit sin and do wrong are their own worst enemies.”

Tobit 12:8-10 (NRSV). The book of Tobit is part of the Apocrypha and labeled as one of the Deuterocanonical books. It is generally not included among Protestant Christians’ list of canonical books, while it is for Roman Catholics and most Orthodox traditions.

Tobit influenced the thinking of first century and early church Christians on many topics, especially the impact of alms. Today’s post highlights that almsgiving “saves from death and purges away every sin.” I discussed this with a scholar this past weekend to gain insight.

This idea must not be misunderstood that giving to the poor accomplishes one’s eternal salvation, but rather than we are delivered from the power of money and we overcome money’s power in our lives by giving. Our giving helps us enjoy life as God designed it.

But it also reveals that in not doing it, things will be bad for us. Giving alms is preferable to holding on to money or laying up gold. For Jesus, how we handle money reveals what’s in our hearts. What does your giving reveal about your heart?

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Cyprian of Carthage: Has the vigor of faith dwindled away?

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. Acts 4:32

“This unanimity formerly prevailed among the Apostles; and thus the new assembly of believers, keeping the Lord’s commandments, maintained its charity. Divine Scripture proves this, when it says, “But the multitude of them which believed were of one heart and of one soul” (Acts 4:32). And again: “These all continued with one mind in prayer with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with His brethren” (Acts 1:14). And thus they prayed with effectual prayers; thus they were able with confidence to obtain whatever they asked from the Lord’s mercy.

But in us unanimity is diminished in proportion as liberality of working is decayed. Then they used to give for sale houses and estates; and that they might lay up for themselves treasures in heaven, presented to the Apostles the price of them, to be distributed for the use of the poor. But now we do not even give the tenths from our patrimony; and while our Lord bids us sell, we rather buy and increase our store. Thus has the vigor of faith dwindled away among us; thus has the strength of believers grown weak. And therefore the Lord, looking to our days, says in His Gospel, “When the Son of man comes, think you that He shall find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8)

We see that what He foretold has come to pass. There is no faith in the fear of God, in the law of righteousness, in love, in labour; none considers the fear of futurity, and none takes to heart the day of the Lord, and the wrath of God, and the punishments to come upon unbelievers, and the eternal torments decreed for the faithless. That which our conscience would fear if it believed, it fears not because it does not at all believe. But if it believed, it would also take heed; and if it took heed, it would escape.

Let us, beloved brethren, arouse ourselves as much as we can; and breaking the slumber of our ancient listlessness, let us be watchful to observe and to do the Lord’s precepts.”

Cyprian, bishop of Carthage (c. 200-258) in “On the Unity of the Church” Treatise 1.25-27.

It’s inspiring to attend a conference with biblical scholars and theologians, but doing it with my soon-to-be son-in-law, Peter Gomez, has been extra enriching. Two days ago, I attended a session in which my friend and scholar, Edwina Murphy, spoke from the writings of Cyprian to arouse his hearers to observe all Jesus commanded.

The same is true in our day. Jesus tells us to sell and instead His people buy and increase their store. The zeal to adhere to Christ’s teaching like in the days of Acts was waning in Cyprian’s day and is nearly gone in ours. What should we say in personal conversations? What can we preach to awaken a slumbering Church?

Cyprian points the way. We must proclaim the teachings of Christ and remind the Church that He is coming again. We are living in the in-between. Someday soon, our Lord will return. As in the parables, when He does, His people will have to give an account. May this reality make us watchful to observe all He commanded in the meantime.

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Didache: Stretch and don’t shut

“If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be. Deuteronomy 15:7-8

“Be not one who stretches out his hands to receive, but shuts them when it comes to giving.”

Didache, a.k.a. “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” (late first or early second century) 4.5.

As I stated yesterday, the Didache is viewed by many as the early church discipleship manual. Today’s brief quote sums up the posture of our hands linked to giving. We must stretch them out to receive and not shut them to give.

When it comes to receiving we are quick to stretch out our hands. But are we as quick to give? Consider your own heart. Resolve today to take the posture you want God and others to take toward you.

Be as quick to give as you are to receive. That’s what the twelve apostles taught the early church followers. To teach it today, we must first live this way. God, help us be as quick too stretch our hands to give as we are to receive. Amen.

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Didache: Blessed is he that gives according to the mandate

Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Luke 6:30

“Give to everyone that asks thee, and do not refuse, for the Father’s will is that we give to all from the gifts we have received. Blessed is he that gives according to the mandate; for he is innocent. Woe to him who receives; for if any man receive alms under pressure of need he is innocent; but he who receives it without need shall be tried as to why he took and for what, and being in prison he shall be examined as to his deeds, and “he shall not come out thence until he pay the last farthing.” But concerning this it was also said, “Let thine alms sweat into thine hands until thou knowest to whom thou art giving.”

Didache, is an early Christian work a.k.a. “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” that was viewed as canon by some thus it is included in the Apostolic Fathers. (late first or early second century). Click to find this excerpt at 1.5-6 or read it in its entirety.

The focus of my Daily Meditations for the foreseeable future will shift from quotes from the post-Reformation enlightenment period to the early church in the first 3-4 centuries. Today’s post goes back to the very beginning to look at the teachings of the 12 Apostles.

Didache is viewed by many as the early church discipleship manual. Read it. It only takes a few minutes. What I noticed in my fresh reading of it was that the word “give” is mentioned 27 times. Interestingly, it’s the most repeated verb in the Didache.

Who we are, our being as followers of Christ, should first and foremost propel us to give. It’s a mandate. Notice that Didache quotes Jesus. That tells us that the disciples took this mandate from Jesus seriously. It was not optional.

And consider another early church expression: “Let thine alms sweat into thine hands until thou knowest to whom thou art giving.” What a word picture! Don’t let the money stay comfortably with you so it gets where God wants it to go.

Today there are people praying for needs to be met. We have a few of our own. If you have needs, lift them to the Father. Let’s trust Him together. For those who have more than they need, well, “Let thine alms sweat into thine hands until thou knowest to whom thou art giving.”

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