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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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Shepherd of Hermas: Pray with humility

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Peter 5:6-7

“Every prayer should be accompanied with humility. Fast, therefore, and you will obtain from the Lord what you plead for.”

Shepherd of Hermas (c. AD 100-160) 2.16, as recounted in A Dictionary of Early Christian Beliefs, ed. by David W. Bercot (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1998) 274.

To pray with humility is to set aside your desires for God’s heart. The “setting aside” of “your desires” part is fasting. We do this so we can experience God lifting us up and giving us what we really need.

I don’t where today’s post finds you. But I pray, as you fast this Lent and set aside your desires, that you receive what you desire from God and so much more because you fasted and prayed with humility and because He is so generous.

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Cyprian of Carthage: Arguments and Excuses

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:31-46

“How do we reply to the arguments and excuses of the rich who refuse to give alms? How can we defend the wealthy whose minds are barren and confused? Who can we excuse them…What greater things could Christ say to us [than this biblical text]? What better way could He encourage us to works of justice and mercy than to say that such acts are done to Himself and that He is offended when we fail to reach out to the poor and needy? Those in the church who are not moved to help a brother or sister may be encouraged when they see how Christ is involved, and those who do not help the suffering may remember that our Lord is in that person who needs our help.”

Cyprian of Carthage (c. 200-258) in “On Works and Almsgiving” in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity by Helen Rhee (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 46-47.

Cyprian struggled with the lack of sharing on the part of the rich, so he reminded them with today’s Scripture that inactivity is offensive to Christ and that “our Lord is in that person who needs our help.”

This month, I am doing a project for Asbury Seminary linked to generosity. I like to compare my findings with larger research efforts, and the national data is startling. Year after year, the more wealthy a state is, the less generous the people are, collectively speaking.

Times have not changed much from the days of Cyprian. So how do we awaken people to shake off their arguments and excuses? How do we motivate them to share what they have stored up for themselves?

I am convinced the answer is to model generous sharing while proclaiming what is true. Let us be known for works of justice and mercy while unashamedly, like Cyprian, communicating truth. Hopefully it will convict some wealthy people to repent and change directions before it’s too late.

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Gregory of Nyssa: Starve your greed

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Isaiah 58:6-8

“Fast from evil-doing, discipline yourselves from covetousness, abstain from unjust profits, starve your greed for mammon, keep in your houses no snatched and stolen treasure. What use is it to keep meat out of your mouth if you wound your brother or sister by evil-doing? What advantage is it to forgo what is your own if you seize unjustly what belongs to the poor? What piety is it to drink water and thirst for blood, weaving treachery in the wickedness of your heart? Judas himself fasted with the eleven, but since he did not curb his love of money, his fasting availed him nothing to salvation.”

Gregory of Nyssa (c. 335-394), the younger brother of Basil the Great and Bishop of Nyssa in Cappadocia, also known as one of the Cappadocian Fathers, in “On the Love of the Poor” based on the translation by Peter C. Phan in Social Thought (Wilmington: Glazier, 1984), revised and expanded by Helen Rhee in Wealth and Poverty in Early Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2017) 71-72.

As we enter the second week of Lent we are reminded by Gregory of Nyssa not to miss the heart of it. Starving greed aims to change us, to discipline us to move away from covetousness, and to propel us toward sharing with the hungry and needy. From God’s perspective, those who don’t share are stealing for themselves what He intends for them to dispense. Giving alms is not optional, but rather, a demonstration of authentic faith.

What does your fasting and giving reveal to a watching world?

This is a rare week, indeed. Our daughter, Sophie, is home on Spring Break with her fiancé, Peter Gomez, and our son, Sammy, of course lives here and his girl friend, Emily Law, is interning here in Denver at a ministry during her final semester. We are enjoying a gift of special time together with all six of us for the first time ever. I am eager to catch up and to hear what God is teaching each of them on their Lenten journeys.

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John Chrysostom: The little in turn becomes a lot

Now about the collection for the Lord’s people: Do what I told the Galatian churches to do. On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with your income, saving it up, so that when I come no collections will have to be made. 1 Corinthians 16:1-2

“When he said, “On the first day of every week,” he added, “each of you.” “I do not say this only to the rich,” he says, “but also to the poor; not only to the free but also to slaves; not only to men but also to women.” Let no one remain unaccomplished in this ministration. Let no one refrain from sharing in the gain; rather, let everyone contribute. Certainly, do not even permit poverty to become a hindrance to this contribution.

And even if you are ten thousand times poor, you are not poorer than that widow who emptied herself of all her property. Even if you are ten thousand times a beggar, you are not more of a beggar than the woman of Sidon who had only a handful of flour, yet was not prevented from extending hospitality to the Prophet Elijah. Although she saw a chorus of children surrounding her, and famine pressing upon her, and nothing else remaining in reserve, she received the prophet with great readiness.

Why did he say, “each of you (by himself) is to put something aside and store it up?” Perhaps because the one laying aside was ashamed and hesitated to offer something little. For this reason he says, “You put to the side and save; and when the little in turn becomes a lot by small contributions, then bring it before all.” He did not say, “gather together,” rather, “store it up,” so you may learn that this expense is a treasure, that this expenditure becomes an advance, a treasure better than any treasure.”

John Chrysostom in “A Sermon on Almsgiving” Homily 10.13 in On Repentance and Almsgiving, The Fathers of the Church, Volume 96, translated by Gus George Christo (Washington D.C.: CUA Press, 1998) 139-140.

It has been conspicuously difficult for me to locate sermons on almsgiving through church history. Thankfully, when we venture back to the early church fathers we locate gems like this one by John Chrysostom. At least three points are noteworthy for us.

Firstly, everyone must participate. Regardless of the level of income, everyone has something to share. As Chrysostom put it, “do not even permit poverty to become a hindrance to this contribution.” Why? In sharing deeper realities come into view. Specifically, we learn that God supplies.

Secondly, small gifts add up to big amounts. Again, as Chrysostom keenly put it, “the little in turn becomes a lot by small contributions.” God sees the sum total of all our small gifts, and He knows that our collective giving can send a big message to a watching world.

Thirdly, the collective giving becomes a “treasure better than any treasure” because it is stored up in the only place where it cannot be touched. So, don’t store up money for yourself on earth and watch it waste away, but store it up in almsgiving and secure it for eternity.

What will you do? Whether or not you are observing Lent, or even if you missed the first week (as today marks the end of the first week), think about what extra you have beyond what you need to live on. Store it up for abundant sharing. Pray about whom to bless and share richly.

I arrived home from a fruitful trip to Guatemala late last night. If you have interest in Global Trust Partners, and my work in helping activate CONFIABLE, reply to this email and I will send you the report of my trip. I am praying for support to aid the ongoing work there for God’s glory.

I am also praying for people to join me global work of multiplying disciples of faithful administration and catalyzing peer accountability groups (like ECFA) to increase gospel participation in every nation. When trusted structures are in place, generous giving flows. Reply to register your interest.

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John Piper: Hypocrisy

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? Isaiah 58:3-5

“Hypocrisy is a terrible blight on the worship of God. Let us take to heart thee long-term implications for worship in our lives and in our churches. No worship — no preaching, no singing, no praying, no fasting, however intense or beautiful — that leaves us harsh with our workers on Monday, or contentious with our spouses at home, or self-indulgent in other areas of our lives, or angry enough to hit somebody, is true God-pleasing worship. Don’t make a mistake here: true fasting may be a God blessed means of overcoming harshness at work, and contentiousness at home, and self-indulgence once anger. But if fasting ever becomes a religious cloak for minimizing those things and letting them go on and on, then it becomes hypocrisy and offensive to God.”

John Piper in Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer (Wheaton: Crossway, 2013).

I enjoyed the first feast day of Lent in Antiqua on retreat with Edgar and Gladys Güitz of G2G and Potter’s House Guatemala. While in the market I shot the new header photo.

The country and the people of Guatemala are so colorful. But fasting if not done with the right heart leads to hypocrisy is anything but beautiful and actually offends God. The same is true for our praying and almsgiving.

As Lent has only begun, let’s pause from giving our attention to Lenten disciplines and look inwardly at our hearts. Father, cleanse us from any wrong attitudes or motives so our fasting, praying, and giving pleases you. Amen.

Today’s a travel day for me. After a morning meeting, I fly from Guatemala City to Houston, and then I get back to Denver this evening. Thank you God for a safe and fruitful trip!

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