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Generosity

by Stu Johnson

Posted: February 15, 2018

It's more than money…

No. 11 in the Thursday Morning Guy’s group series (see list)

Once again, I report from the Thursday Morning Guys group I’ve been attending at a local church. Each week one of the guys suggests a topic for discussion. The blogs that result are not minutes from the session, but an attempt to glean useful themes, to which I may add my own insights. The topic at the February 8 session focused on generosity. 

THE DISCUSSION STARTER

Topic suggested by one of the guys, shared in an email the night before

[A denominational leader] spoke to the leadership team and others on Saturday and to the congregation on Sunday on the subject of generosity.  What do you think of some of his comments:

  • "Giving is using the person you were created to be"
  • "Givers have all the fun!" 
  • "Givers are people that have an abundant life regardless of circumstances"
  • "Giving is not the work of guilt and not the work of fear"
  • "Work of faith is not an oxymoron!"
  • "Holy habits, holy risks"
  • "God's grace is the foundation of biblical stewardship.  Don't turn generosity into a work."

THE CONVERSATION

The week’s leader reminded the group that the weekend’s speaker stressed a broad concept of generosity, not focused just on giving (though you will see that much of the discussion was drawn to that).
 
Some of the responses were directed at specific phrases from the discussion starter:

“Givers have all the fun”

  • One of the guys told how his parents taught 10% tithing. That was not much as a kid, but formed a habit that has continued. It is a pleasure to write checks. (More on that later).
  • I related how, in my task of recording contributions at another church, we tracked children separately from their parents, so they would see how much they gave—an encouragement to develop a habit of generosity, since some of those donations of a few pennies represent the widow’s coins compared to a carefully calculated 10% tithe of those with more means (see Luke 21:1-3).
  • Maybe “joy” is a better word than “fun,” suggested another.

“Givers are people that have an abundant life regardless of circumstances” / “Holy habits, holy risks”

  • One of the guys related his experience with an orphanage in his home country. When the orphanage found out a group who came to visit were Christians, the immediate response was to ask for money. Saying they did not have the means to do that, they suggested they could bring clothes or other material things.  That need, however, was being met. In the end, they simply showed up, offering an adult presence, which turned out to be the best and most generous gift they could offer.  
  • There were other examples of people who simply “show up” to meet the needs they see—among the group were several who have been recipients of such care.
  • Another example was given of a man who gave faithfully to his church from modest resources. But he was generous in time spent around the church, taking away items for recycling, spending hours on his hands and knees weeding the church grounds, and always ready to make coffee and bring homemade baked goods for the Sunday social time—never seeking recognition or reimbursement.
  • Several mentioned a man who felt led to go on a mission trip, despite being far short of what was needed to go.  He did not see it as a risk, but something that had to be done—and God provided in numerous and miraculous ways.
  • In another mission setting, one of the guys has been involved in taking student athletes to Romania. In one case, an athlete mentioned to his parents a visit with a poor family. The athlete’s family was touched by the story and sent money through a local pastor. The downside, however, was that focusing on one family produced jealousies among some of the other families in the area. But, as another pointed out, you have to follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit and trust that God will work for good even in such seemingly awkward situations.  
  • You cannot live the abundant life without risk on either side of the equation—the one responding to a call to go or the one extending generosity to someone in need.  Is everyone who receives a vehicle or makes use of a food panty actually needy?  It is a risk, but the majority of recipients are worthy, very appreciative, and the donation may help them redirect their lives.

Other parts of the conversation were tangents worth following:

The power of money

A constraint on generosity

  • As well as many people do financially, there can be an insatiable need for more.  “Money plays games with our heads.”
  • Money mimics God—it gives a sense of immortality and power. That is a point made over the weekend by the speaker referred to in the discussion starter, leading him to conclude: “God is God, money is not.”
  • “Money is not neutral,” said one of the guys, “give it away to break its power.”
  • Other observations: The more people earn, the smaller proportion they give.  Giving is hard when most people live 20% above their means.

The act of giving

The mention of writing checks led to some discussion of the value of different methods

  • To several, the act of writing a check was more meaningful than using automatic withdrawals or other approaches that were not as immediate and “tactile.”
  • The sense of tactile experience spurred another to consider the act of worship represented by the sacrificial system of the Old Testament: selecting a lamb, carrying it to the place of sacrifice and personally killing it before giving it to a priest.
  • Others were not bothered by the sense of personal touch, feeling free to use whatever technology is available.  The key with either approach, in the end, was the habit of giving.
  • An illustration seen at another church: The pastor had two jars, a pile of sand, and a bunch of “things” (small objects representing a tithe to be given to God). He filled one jar with sand, making it impossible to push many things into the sand. In the second jar he added the things first, then added sand, which flowed around the things and filled the remaining space. The point: give to God first and he will provide the rest of your needs.
  • I remember a similar illustration in a sermon by Robert Schuller.  On the massive pulpit in Crystal Cathedral he lined up 10 apples.  After setting one of them aside as a tithe, suggesting this was the first obligation, he grinned broadly and swept his hand across the remaining nine, saying something to the effect of “and look at ALL that is left for me to use!”

What personal experiences or observations can you add?

PRINCIPLES PROPOSED

From the conversation and a search of Scriptures, I would like to suggest four basic principles related to generosity.  

Generosity flows from faith

In both the Old and New Testaments, we see this connection.

After years of turning away from God to foreign gods, King Hezekiah instituted religious reforms to restore Israel to a right relationship with God, including morning and evening offerings and the observance of weekly Sabbath and other festivals. He then suggested what the people could do:

When the people of Israel heard these requirements, they responded generously by bringing the first share of their grain, new wine, olive oil, honey, and all the produce of their fields. They brought a large quantity—a tithe of all they produced. (from 2 Chronicles 31:1-6)

In the New Testament, we find this comment in a letter from the Apostle Paul to Philemon (a single-chapter book):

I always thank my God when I pray for you, Philemon, because I keep hearing about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all of God’s people. And I am praying that you will put into action the generosity that comes from your faith as you understand and experience all the good things we have in Christ. Your love has given me much joy and comfort, my brother, for your kindness has often refreshed the hearts of God’s people.  (Philemon 4-7)

Develop the habit of generosity

Whether giving a tithe, devoting time as a volunteer, providing hospitality, make it a regular part of your life. Follow the advice of several of the guys who spoke of the important example of parents who set a pattern, even in the smallest way, that grew into a habit.

If you want an investment with huge dividends, nothing approaches the Abundant Life found in Christ and lived to the full. As one of the guys suggested, “Generosity begets generosity. Faith begets faith.” He gave his own example of working as a bartender (God does have a sense of humor, I thought!). At one point, he decided to give whatever he made on Saturday nights to the church. He had never made more than $100 until he started doing this. It began to grow and reached as much as $275. As it rose, it was tempting, he said, not to fulfill his commitment, but he continued to honor it.  Being young and financially naïve, he simply put the cash in the offering plate (a lot of small bills, which must have mystified the counters when this started to happen each week!). He was not concerned about the precision of calculating a tithe or getting a report for preparing income tax. It was a lesson in faith, with a sense of freedom, not being in bondage to money.

Show up!

Be aware of the needs around you. Ask the Holy Spirit to make you sensitive to those needs. Lower your threshold of response. Do you wait to see if someone else will respond before you can join an effort (or simply let someone else address a need)? Instead, be quick to step up—show up—by yourself, with others, or by getting the ball rolling (there are situations where it would be inappropriate to take action on your own—check with a pastor, elder, counselor, social worker, or others who may know more and help direct your own involvement).

Another aspect of showing up is the importance of personal involvement. For some individuals and churches, the first and easiest response is to give money.  As helpful as that usually is, there are likely many other ways to be generous: giving to others from your talents, material resources, and time, a form of stewardship of all the blessings that God has given you.

Find joy in obedience

While some people may seek recognition (even immortality) through their giving, our true motivation should be obedience to the Great Commandments (love God, love your neighbor—see Matthew 22:37-39) and the examples of hospitality, service, and tithing (whether the first and best of a crop, or the first payment made from a paycheck) found throughout the Bible and in numerous examples of generous people around us.

What principles can you add from what you have learned, observed, and applied to your life?

GUIDANCE FROM SCRIPTURE (God’s written Word, the Holy Bible)

Generosity begins with God

  • Let the wicked change their ways and banish the very thought of doing wrong. Let them turn to the Lord that he may have mercy on them. Yes, turn to our God, for he will forgive generously. (Isaiah 55:7)
  • You know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty he could make you rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)
  • . . . he has given each one of us a special gift[a] through the generosity of Christ (from Ephesians 4:4-8)
  • Oh, how generous and gracious our Lord was! He filled me with the faith and love that come from Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:14)
  • He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. (Titus 3:6)
  • If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. (James 1:5)

The blessing of generosity

  • Give generously to the poor, not grudgingly, for the Lord your God will bless you in everything you do. (Deuteronomy 15:10)
  • The godly always give generous loans to others, and their children are a blessing. (Psalm 37:26)
  • They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. (2 Corinthians 8:2)

The character of the generous person/church

  • Light shines in the darkness for the godly. They are generous, compassionate, and righteous. Good comes to those who lend money generously and conduct their business fairly. Such people will not be overcome by evil. Those who are righteous will be long remembered. They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes triumphantly. They share freely and give generously to those in need. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. They will have influence and honor. (Psalm 112:4-9)
  • But generous people plan to do what is generous, and they stand firm in their generosity. (from Isaiah 32:7-8)
  • They worshiped together at the Temple each day, met in homes for the Lord’s Supper, and shared their meals with great joy and generosity— (from Acts 2:45-47)
  • If your gift is to encourage others, be encouraging. If it is giving, give generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly. (Romans 12:8)
  • As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever. For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem[b] will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God. As a result of your ministry, they will give glory to God. For your generosity to them and to all believers will prove that you are obedient to the Good News of Christ.. (2 Corinthians 9:9-13)
  • Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. (1 Timothy 6:18)

About the Scripture references: unless indicated otherwise, these are taken from the New Living Translation (NLT).  Links connect to BibleGateway.com, where you can see other translations, view the broader context, listen to an audio version and find other Bible resources.  Also check the resources available in the Enrich/Faith section of this site.


Stu Johnson is principal of Stuart Johnson & Associates, a communications consultancy in Wheaton, Illinois. He is publisher and editor of SeniorLifestyle, writes the InfoMatters blog on his own website and contributes articles for SeniorLifestyle.

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Posted: February 15, 2018   Accessed 160 times

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