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Mark Allan Powell: Becoming and Acting

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say of the Lord, “He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust.” Psalm 91:1-2

“Being a faithful steward does not necessarily mean being a person who is a major donor to church or charities, or being a person who is reluctant to spend money on his or her own pleasures or concerns. Rather, a faithful steward is a person who views this world as God’s good creation and is grateful to be a part of it; knows that God cares for those whom God has made and is ready and willing to rule their lives; and trusts God to provide him or her with whatever they need to be content. Faithful stewardship is a matter of becoming such a person and acting accordingly. Indeed, when faithful stewards do become people who are extraordinarily generous or thrifty, it is because they are living the way that they want to live, acting on a faith that tells them they belong to God.”

Mark Allan Powell in Giving to God: The Bible’s Good News about Living a Generous Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006) 44.

After three fruitful days in Seoul with Angelito “Anjji” Gabriel, he and I head to Manila today to teach Faith and Finances together at Asian Theological Seminary this week. The new header photo is the view from my guest room at Edsa Shangri-La.

Psalm 91 and 92 encouraged my soul today. I pray they blesses you too.

We can trust that our Creator cares for those He has made. He desires that we grow into our role as His grateful and generous children. Pray for that outcome for our students this week: that they will become faithful stewards as they act on what they learn in God’s Word.

Today we rest in the shadow of the Almighty after a four hour flight. Tomorrow we commence ten days of classes and conferences.

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Brian Rosner: Accountability

He boasts about the cravings of his heart; he blesses the greedy and reviles the Lord. In his pride the wicked man does not seek Him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God. His ways are always prosperous; your laws are rejected by him; he sneers at all his enemies. He says to himself, “Nothing will ever shake me.” He swears, “No one will ever do me harm.” His mouth is full of lies and threats; trouble and evil are under his tongue. He lies in wait near the villages; from ambush he murders the innocent. His eyes watch in secret for his victims; like a lion in cover he lies in wait. He lies in wait to catch the helpless; he catches the helpless and drags them off in his net. His victims are crushed, they collapse; they fall under his strength. He says to himself, “God will never notice; he covers his face and never sees.” Psalm 10:3-11

“That riches can be a substitute for God is suggested at one point in Psalm 10. Paul’s use of Psalm 10:7 in Romans 3:14 indicates that he knew the Psalm. In Psalm 10:3-11 there is a long and traditional description of the wicked: the wicked deny their accountability to God, prosper in arrogant iniquity, and oppress the lowly…The material things that the wicked covet in this verse are set up as a substitute for God…Wealth inspires a lack of accountability to God.”

Brian Rosner in Greed as Idolatry: The Origin and Meaning of a Pauline Metaphor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2007) 74, 76.

Today in Seoul, I am speaking at the International Forum on Financial Accountability and Compliance. I will share biblical remarks to shine light on why administrators of churches and organizations must exhibit accountability and transparency. In plain terms, it protects us from our own greed and tendency to trust in wealth rather than God. When we both comply with laws and follow higher standards of transparency, we move toward preserving God’s honor.

As David, the psalmist notes, the greedy become overcome by their pride which leads them to do horrible things to people to advance their purposes. They become deluded even thinking their sin is beyond the sight of God who, of course, sees everything. Rosner rightly notes that “wealth inspires a lack of accountability to God,” so those who steward it as individuals or in organizations must exhibit transparency to keep it from destroying them.

I love to pray the Psalms when I travel. This Psalm reminds me that God sees everything. He hears the cries of the afflicted. He knows who is trusting in money rather than Him. So, for those of us who desire to live generous lives, we must champion accountability. Who holds you accountable to serve as a conduit rather than a container of God’s blessings? In asking the question, I am not trying to rob you but help you make sure wealth does not overtake you.

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Randy Alcorn: Making Preparations

Jesus told His disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’

“The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg — I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

“So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ “‘Nine hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred and fifty.’ “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’

The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light. 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 16:1-9

“The story of the shrewd manager in Luke 16 is one of several stewardship parables. It shows us that each of us should carefully invest our financial assets, gifts, and opportunities to have an impact on people for eternity, thereby making preparations for our own eternal future…When we stand before our Master and Maker, it will not matter how many people on Earth knew our names, how many called us great, or how many considered us fools. It will not matter whether schools and hospitals were named after us, whether our estates were large or small, whether our funerals drew ten thousand or no one. What will matter is one thing and one thing only — what our Master thinks of us…As God’s child and His money manager, what personal, spiritual, moral, and financial changes do you need to make to get ready to give Him a face-to-face account…?”

Randy Alcorn in Managing God’s Money: A Biblical Guide (Carol Stream: Tyndale, 2011) 25-31.

Few stewardship writers in my Faith and Finances bibliography speak as pointedly and profoundly as Randy Alcorn. It’s a privilege to expose this book to my students as well as to Meditations readers. In this excerpt, Randy offers comments on a series of parables, one of which is among my favorites and today’s Scripture, the parable of the shrewd manager.

God wants us to use all the resources we can muster to “gain friends” not on earth but to “gain friends” for eternity. All our efforts should urge people to be making preparations for our eternal future. Or as my friend, Michael Blue likes to say, don’t think about 30 years from now, think about the implications of your stewardship decisions 30 million years from now.

I safely arrived in Seoul. Pray for a good press conference today. Anjji Gabriel of CCTA (Philippines) and I, representing ECFA (USA), will be interviewed about the International Accountability Symposium on Saturday for CCFK (South Korea) sponsored by Kurios. Since that was a mouthful, let me explain how this relates to gaining friends for eternity and the new header photo above.

Financial corruption from dishonest managers has brought shame to the name of Christ in a few prominent churches in South Korea in recent years. As a result, the government has implemented new laws. CCFK aims to help Christ-centered churches and ministries do what is right to comply with these laws to prepare to give an account to the government and ultimately to God.

As that’s the work of CCTA in the Philippines and ECFA in the USA, Anjji and I are here to help raise awareness among pastors and ministry administrators regarding the importance of doing what is right before God and man in the faithful administration of God’s work (see 2 Corinthians 8:20-21). Why? To enhance trust and encourage greater giving!

When people know they can trust the ministries they support, they are more eager to use the worldly wealth they possess to gain friends for eternity. And, when the skilled workers administrating these churches and organizations do what’s right before God and man, they too are prepared to give an account for their stewardship to the government and to God.

Since Anjji has not spent much time in Seoul, I took him to Yanghwajin, the foreign missionary cemetery (pictured above) so he could learn the history of the church in Korea over the past century or so. Those who sacrificed their lives to bring the gospel to Korea are honored and remembered there. They undoubtedly gained countless friends for eternity!

So with Randy, I conclude by asking: As God’s child and His money manager, what personal, spiritual, moral, and financial changes do you need to make to get ready to give Him a face-to-face account? However the Spirit leads, respond with obedience and without delay. The time to be making preparations for your eternal future is never tomorrow but always now.

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David Cowan: Unexpected Goodness

“For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. “About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. He told them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.’ So they went.

“He went out again about noon and about three in the afternoon and did the same thing. About five in the afternoon he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’ “‘Because no one has hired us,’ they answered. “He said to them, ‘You also go and work in my vineyard.’

“When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, ‘Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first.’ “The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. ‘These who were hired last worked only one hour,’ they said, ‘and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day.’

“But he answered one of them, ‘I am not being unfair to you, friend. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? Take your pay and go. I want to give the one who was hired last the same as I gave you. Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’

“So the last will be first, and the first will be last.” Matthew 20:1-16

“Some of us are “doing better” than others. Some live in better neighborhoods, have better jobs, and earn more money. It seems that some people get better rewarded than others. Is this fair? Why should the economy not be prosperous for everyone? Of course, maybe we are just envious? The Bible tells us that God has provided for us all but challenges our generosity and pride…

We are like those hired laborers, and God is like the owner of the vineyard. Jesus is telling us not to be like the resentful laborers. He reverses the understanding of how things work. His kingdom works differently than our world. He is not proposing this as the way to organize our labor practices. These contrasts underlie the different between the two realms. Jesus concludes bu pointing out that this is what the kingdom of heaven is like, not by saying, “And this is how you run a vineyard”!

The lesson we learn is that those that come late to faith are not at a disadvantage. Likewise, those who are involved in the church from birth are not advantaged. No one gets an automatic front seat in heaven. This is a hard teaching from Jesus. What He is telling us is that God rewards us with unexpected goodness. We are being warned and encouraged at the same time. It is a warning that we should not think we are above those outside of faith. To the contrary, we have a service to perform by brining them to faith in Christ. It is encouraging because God is so generous in His offer of grace.”

David Cowan in Economic Parables: The Monetary Teachings of Jesus Christ (Downers Grove: IVP, 2006) 51-56.

After prayer in a quiet corner at San Francisco en route to Seoul and Manila to speak in various settings and to teach at Asian Theological Seminary over the next three weeks, I feel led to quote from great books that I expose to my students in my Faith and Finances course.

Cowan richly points us to the unexpected goodness of God. That’s what God’s generosity and our generosity should look like. It should not follow the norms of this realm but the patterns of the kingdom. In that sense, it should humble the proud while lifting up the lowly.

Shortly I depart for Seoul. A hundred years ago, that nation was poor and oppressed. Thanks to missionaries who sacrificed their lives, the gospel spread and was widely received. Many in Korea would attribute their current material prosperity to the obedience of many in following Christ.

What I love about the Korean Church is the “unexpected goodness” they extend to others. Per capita, they are the #1 missionary sending nation in the world. They want everyone, especially the most disadvantaged, to know about Jesus. Their generosity shines through their unmatched missionary zeal.

What about you? When you read the parable do you cry foul with the workers? Or do you look beyond the earthly message to find the eternal lesson? Since the first are last and last are first, that puts everyone on the same plane. It’s rather humbling isn’t it. In response, we get to dispense the same shocking grace to others.

And I will remind my students that when we intentionally extend “unexpected goodness” to the least deserving, we show the world what the kingdom is like. These are not random acts of kindness, but subversive (countercultural) distinctly Christian efforts to make known the generosity of God.

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Gordon D. Fee: What’s wrong with prosperity theology?

Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. 3 John 1:2

“First, despite all protests to the contrary, at its base, the cult of prosperity offers a man-centered rather than God-centered theology. Even though one is regularly told that it is to God’s own glory that we should prosper, the appeal is always made to our own selfishness and sense of well-being. In fact, the only one who could possibly believe this non-biblical nonsense is someone who wants to, and the only reason one would want to is because of its appeal to one’s selfishness…

Second, this false gospel presents a totally false theology of giving. In the New Testament, as well as the Old, God’s love and giving are predicated on His mercy, and therefore in their every expression they are unconditional. God loves, and gives, and forgives — unconditionally no strings attached. The human response to divine grace is gratitude, which expresses itself in identical unconditional love, and giving, and forgiving. The cult of prosperity, on the other hand, tells us that we are to give in order to get…

Third, such an Americanized perversion of the Gospel tends to reinforce a way of life and an economic system that repeatedly oppresses the poor — the very thing that the prophetic message denounces so forcefully. Seeking more prosperity in an already affluent society means to support all the political and economic programs that have made such prosperity available — but almost always at that expense of economically deprived individuals and nations.”

Gordon D. Fee in The Disease of the Health and Wealth Gospels (Vancouver: Regent, 2006) 17.

When people read texts like today’s Scripture through a selfish, worldly lens, one result is the toxic thinking known as prosperity gospel. The biblical greeting must be understood simply as hoping that his reader is doing well and in good health despite the varied circumstances of life just as his soul is well because He is in Christ.

Nowhere does God promise those who follow Him that life will be rosy and filled with riches. Sadly, many believe this pipe dream in the USA and it has spread overseas, so as I prepare to teach in places like Seoul and Manila, I need to refresh my thinking to help students who wrestle with how to counteract prosperity gospel thinking where they minister.

I’d appreciate your prayers for me on this long journey. Of course, I hope all goes well with me, my wife, our son, and daughter while I am traveling even as it is well with their souls in Christ. But I also know that should trials come my way or theirs, our good God allows them to shape each of us into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ.

I pray that wherever each member of my family and every meditations reader goes over the next three weeks while I am abroad, that our giving reflects God’s giving. I pray that we exhibit the unconditional love and grace, the mercy and kindness, the forgiveness and love of our Lord Jesus Christ in gratitude for all He so freely lavished on us.

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Daniel I. Block: Heart Transplant

They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God. Ezekiel 37:23

“The process of purification envisioned involves two actions, in both of which Yahweh functions as the agent. First, Yahweh will rescue the Israelites from their apostasies. The verb, hôšîa’,”to save,” usually envisions deliverance from external enemies but like 36:29, the present usage envisions the people’s sin as the enslaving power.

Second, Yahweh will cleanse or “purify” them. The verb tihar recalls 36:25-28, which, in offering a fuller description of the cleaning process, had associated the experience with a heart transplant and an infusion of Yahweh’s Spirit. The link is confirmed by the reference to covenant renewal, expressed in both instances by citing the covenant formula.

The declaration, “They will be my people, and I will be their God,” signals the full restoration of Israel’s relationship with Yahweh. The present association of covenant renewal with the termination of idolatry, disgusting conduct, and rebellion is reminiscent of 14:11, and it intentionally announces the reversal of 5:11. Provoked by their defiling and abominable acts, Yahweh had abandoned His people. Now that He has purified them, He may return and normalize the covenant relationship with them.”

Daniel I. Block in The Book of Ezekiel, Chapters 25–48 (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 414. Today marks the last post in my recent exploration of the prophets. I am shifting gears as tomorrow I fly to South Korea and the Philippines to teach. I will turn to themes related to my teaching on Faith and Finances for individuals and Faithful Financial Administration for organizations as I speak on behalf of ECFA at numerous events for CCFK in South Korea and CCTA in the Philippines.

Why save Ezekiel for last?

My wife, Jenni, has been exploring this book lately which is not for the weak and faint of heart. After chapters of shining light on the sins of God’s people (such as charging interest and taking profit from the poor instead of helping them freely, see Ezekiel 22:12) and sharing the jealousy and zeal of God for the cleansing of His people, we see the proclamation of the heart transplant in this text cited above and included below, Ezekiel 36:25-28.

I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

How does this relate to generosity for us?

The heart transplant God promises for His people Israel will be made available to everyone through Jesus Christ our Lord. So, we too will become moved by the Spirit to honor God, and the Spirit will produce fruit in us. One fruit of the Spirit is “generosity” (Galatians 5:22-23). So the only possible way any human being can abandon idolatry and exhibit generosity is to get a heart transplant from our Lord Jesus Christ. That said, I conclude with one question for you, or anyone you know who wants to grow in generosity.

Have you had a heart transplant yet?

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Frank S. Page: Worthless Idols

“Those who cling to worthless idols turn away from God’s love for them. But I, with shouts of grateful praise, will sacrifice to you. What I have vowed I will make good. I will say, ‘Salvation comes from the Lord.’” Jonah 2:8-9

“Jonah herein declares his conviction that Yahweh alone is the source of salvation, and He bestows it upon those who call on Him. On the other hand, those who look to idols miss the grace that could be theirs…Here Jonah dealt with the subject that is the basis of the book, that there is the possibility to forfeit God’s offer of salvation…In the words “salvation comes from the LORD,” Jonah extolled the work of the Lord as Savior. Salvation for the sailors is emphasized in chapter 1, for Jonah in chapter 2, for the Ninevites in chapter 3, and it is the objective of God’s questioning Jonah in chapter 4. Jonah recognized that he deserved death, not deliverance. He then knew, as we do, that no one deserves deliverance. It is an act of mercy by a gracious God.”

Frank S. Page in Amos, Obadiah, Jonah: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture (NAC; Nashville: B & H Publishing Group, 1995) 251-252.

We have all held on to the wrong hope at times. For some, our worthless idol is wealth, for others it may be possessions or power, and for the rest it comes into view as anything else that is not the one true God. Some still persist in looking to “worthless idols” and, in so doing, miss the grace that could be theirs from the living God.

What does this have to do with generosity? We must not miss the generosity of God revealed in the book of Jonah. He extended grace to the seamen, to Jonah, and to the Ninevites. It flows to all those who come to their senses not as an end of itself, but on the way to others who also need the grace that could be theirs. If you have it, don’t let it stop with you. Someone else needs it.

We live in a world where many cling to worthless idols. If your neighbor or co-worker is holding on to the wrong hope, and you have found help and salvation in the LORD, don’t just let them flounder. The most generous gift you can give them to is the grace that could be theirs. If God can save pagan seamen (see Jonah 1:15-16), He can save anyone!

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Gary V. Smith: Culturally Comfortable

With what shall I come before the Lord and bow down before the exalted God? Shall I come before Him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Shall I offer my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Micah 6:6-8

“Today people may think they have done what God expects if they have been baptized or joined the church, just as Micah’s audience thought they had done everything God wanted when they sacrificed a number of animals. Some think that they have pleased God because they celebrate Communion once every month or contributed at least a good part of their tithe ever week. Others assume God will be pleased with them for saying the Rosary or the Lord’s Prayer several times a day. A few think that following the Golden Rule or doing as well as the guy next door is all that is required…

These different options tend to be based not only on personal opinions but also on the belief that God is only impressed with repeated performance of duties or with what I find culturally comfortable. In most cases a good thing becomes a poor substitute for the most important requirement from God: truly communicating with Him…Micah clearly indicates that outward display of religious piety is not the key. This is especially true when it comes to the misconception that we can somehow please God more or earn His favor automatically by increasing the number of things we do for Him…”

Gary V. Smith in Hosea, Amos, Micah (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2001) 559-562.

As Micah states plainly, God did not spell out the parameters of a relationship with Him as if they were a checklist so that religious piety was disconnected from everyday living. No, He’s not looking for “repeated performance of duties.” On the contrary, the law was to teach us God’s design for life and living, that we act with justice and fairness toward others, that we love to show mercy because we ourselves have received mercy, and we walk humbly with God.

This means rather than doing what is “culturally comfortable,” we live countercultural, generous lives. The world says to condemn sinners, we urge forgiveness. The world hoards wealth, we freely share it. The world exhibits piety on occasion for show, we commune with God as part of everyday life. Yet again the prophets remind us that God does not need our money, He wants every aspect of our lives to bring Him glory. What about your life? Do you appear culturally comfortable?

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Leslie C. Allen: Boomeranging

“Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you [Edom] will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor gloat over them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster. You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble. The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.” Obadiah 1:10-15

“The punishment predicted there is to the prophet’s mind no arbitrary one, but a natural corollary of what the Judeans themselves had suffered at the hands of there enemies and also of the Edomites, who had not only supplied no help but — and this was the last straw — actually derived gain from their kinsmen’s misfortune. But right would eventually be done, he was sure…

The treachery of Edom in its treatment of Judah is to be echoed in the betrayal of Edom by its own allies and confederates. The traitor will be betrayed in turn, and the unfaithful will discover how bitter is the taste of infidelity…Edom’s greedy outstretching was fated to end…The prophet does not lightly repeat his vocabulary; as will be later made explicit, all these things are bound together in divine providence by an inevitable chain of cause and effect…

Obadiah passionately believed in God’s providence as a powerful factor, which would eventually right wrongs or at least compensate in some way for wrongs committed…God’s intervention was the law of an eye for an eye writ large on the tablet of world history. Destiny would mirror deeds committed earlier. As you have done, so will be done: the passive, as often alludes to divine agency. The next clause speaks of a natural boomeranging of events as consequences.

For Obadiah the orientation of judgment was centered firmly in this world and this life on earth. Therefore God’s moral sovereignty meant that God had so ordained the constitution of the world and the movement of its history that the principle of retribution was written into life. God ruled and overruled through a natural law at work in the world so that equilibrium was achieved. “Whatever amount you measure out for others will be measured back for you” (Matthew 7:2). Justice would be done, the prophet assured his contemporaries.”

Leslie C. Allen in The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah (NICOT; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1976) 155-160.

As we explore the prophets considering themes like greed, wealth, abundance, and generosity, today’s excerpt comes from the shortest Old Testament book, Obadiah. Though difficult date, scholars place Obadiah as likely the first of the prophetic writers, writing about c. 840 B.C. during the time of Elisha. Edom rebelled against Jehoram, king of Judah, and benefited from the invasion of Jerusalem by the Philistines and Arabs (cf. 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:16-17). God saw this and proclaimed this oracle against them through his servant, Obadiah

How does the message of Obadiah relate to us today? In plain terms: What goes around, comes around. Justice will be served by divine providence. Those who, motivated by greed, “derived gain” from the misfortune of others, will themselves be looted. We can be confident that such “boomeranging” will happen. Read Obadiah to find solace if you ever feel you have been wronged. Though our world is filled with injustice, either in this life or in the eternal judgment of God, we can rest assured that justice will be served.

So, how does this relate to our generosity? Allen rightly cited how Jesus answered this question. “Whatever amount you measure out for others will be measured back for you” (Matthew 7:2). If you generously extend forgiveness to others, it will be extended to you, and if you don’t, it won’t (Matthew 6:14; Mark 11:26). If you share generously with others, God will sort your needs, but if you don’t you will bring poverty and ruin upon yourself (Proverbs 11:17, 24-25).

Understanding this not about manipulating God to prosper materially, but about following His design for life and living. Speaking of God’s design, today I honor my brother, David. I celebrate his life, his deep faith in God, his marriage to Joanna, his love for his family and friends, and his service as president of Warner University. All those things are good, but most of all, I am thankful that he lives, gives, serves, and loves generously like Jesus. Happy 55th Birthday, David! I love you.

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David W. Baker: Rend your heart

“Even now,” declares the Lord, “return to Me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.” Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity. Who knows? He may turn and relent and leave behind a blessing — grain offerings and drink offerings for the Lord your God.” Joel 2:12-14

“When Yahweh next speaks, it is not in warnings of judgment but in tones of grace. Destruction is not inevitable if the people show repentance. God Himself and His character are now the center of attention, not the people and their wrongs…The reason for the command to repent follows in a litany of descriptors of God. Repentance is to be based on who God is, not on anything of the one who repents…God is not only a judge but someone who wishes to temper His judgment, if the correct response is forthcoming.

It is theologically vital to note the hesitancy, however, “Who knows?” While God has shown His graciousness in the past and one expects Him to be consistent in His actions and show graciousness again, one must not become either complacent or presumptuous. God is by no means obligated to show compassion and forgiveness. Each time it must be seen from the perspective of human sinners as an unexpected grace, one that is by no means deserved. God’s pity is here expounds by describing an actual blessing, a gift of grace…”

David W. Baker in Joel, Obadiah, Malachi (NIVAC; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2006) 80-82.

God desires our obedience and, whenever we stray from that course, our repentance. His grace and compassion must not be assumed but must be understood as a gift. There are three implications we must not miss from this.

Firstly, when speaking about generosity, we must remind ourselves that far more money, God wants our hearts loving Him and loving our neighbor. So if our hearts are not right with God or with our neighbor, we must be reconciled before doing any giving (see Matthew 5:24).

Secondly, we must realize that all we possess is a gift of grace, and it’s nothing we earned or deserved, regardless of what the world says. God graciously supplies us with everything we have, so we can, in turn give good gifts to Him, have our basic needs met, and bless others.

Thirdly, we must not allow ourselves to become “complacent or presumptuous” in our walk with God. He’s not looking for perfect human conduits to enjoy and share His blessings, but rather obedient and repentant ones. We must not take His grace for granted.

My family enjoys an old board game one of my students alerted me to called, The Generosity Game. We love playing it together. One fun twist is that every time you land on a spot that gives you an opportunity to give, you have to draw a card to see if your heart attitude is right. If it is, you can make the gift, if not, you cannot. The object of the game is store up as much as possible in heaven, and that’s only possible when our hearts are right.

Let us avoid complacency and presumptuousness by rending our hearts with obedience and repentance. Then, and only then, can we practice generosity which comes into view as merely using all God’s abundant gifts as He has instructed us in the first place.

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