Generosity


Proverbs 19 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He blesses our generous hearts

My husband has one of the tenderest hearts towards needy souls of anyone I’ve ever known.  Because of his generosity, I’ve always said if a man came to him with a desperate need for a wife and a mother to care for his children, Tom would be tempted to help him out and give me away.  He says this absolutely isn’t true, and I guess after over 40 years of marriage, I can assume that he means it.

One time a homeless man came up to Tom at our church during the lunch hour asking for money because he was hungry.  Tom rarely gave actual cash to those in this situation but would buy them lunch asking that they work a little in the church yard or help in some way, and this happened many, many times through the years.  When he asked this man to do some work, the man replied, “Work?  You want me to work?  I don’t work, I’m just a bum!”  Well, Tom had to appreciate his candor and shared the love of Jesus with him as they walked to the restaurant.

“If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—and He will repay you!” (17)  It’s a hard concept to accept, but it’s as if the Lord was now in debt to Tom.  It’s similar to when we take a client out to lunch on our dime, our company reimburses us for doing so.  Tom took the poor man out to lunch on his dime, so the Lord reimbursed him, to be sure.  Those of us who know Tom understand that it wouldn’t matter – he just loves to give.

“How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands…They share freely and give generously to those in need.  Their good deeds will be remembered forever.  They will have influence and honor.” (Ps112:1,9)  Just wanted to give honor today where honor is due.

The economic downturn has affected so many families today, and many have lost their homes and jobs.  But no matter how difficult things may get for us as individuals, there are so many others who have it much, much worse.  A simple meal or bag of groceries may be the only light they see in their dark tunnel.  “Feed the hungry, and help those in trouble. Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you will be as bright as noon.” (Isaiah 58:10)  Our giving to others brightens someone’s world, and according to Proverbs 19, the Lord will reimburse us – we just can’t lose! 

Moving Forward: Planning to do some lending to the Lord today; but because I am so indebted to Him, I won’t be keeping a record of it. 

Tomorrow @ Hosea 1-7

Leviticus 19-21 (NLT link) 

Discover His heart: He provides for those in need through the generous hearts of those who love Him

@ Leviticus 19
With four older brothers, the prospect of hand-me-downs was a little disconcerting when I was young.  Money, with all the amenities that it buys, was scarce in my early years, and those clothes were threadbare by the time they got to me. However, somehow beautiful clothes seem to magically appear for me to wear from time to time.  It wasn’t until many years later that I learned that a couple of generous families in our church periodically collected clothing for me and gave them to my mom. Yes, they were second-hand but not threadbare, in fact, they were beautiful!  When I wore them, I felt like a million bucks and didn’t realize how poor we really were during those early years.  God bless those generous hearts!

“When you harvest the crops of your land, do not harvest the grain along the edges of your fields, and do not pick up what the harvesters drop. It is the same with your grape crop—do not strip every last bunch of grapes from the vines, and do not pick up the grapes that fall to the ground. Leave them for the poor and the foreigners living among you. I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:9-10)

God instituted the first welfare program, the first method to meet the needs of those who were without food.  Instead of seeking to get that last grain or that last grape into their own coffers, God encouraged the harvesters to simply regard those who were lacking and provide out of their surplus for them.  What a concept!  No government programs, no welfare red tape, just generous hearts representing a generous God and providing for the needs of others. Imagine that.

A few years ago I was shopping at the grocery store when a woman walked past me wearing a dress that was familiar to me.  From some distinctive alterations that it had, I realized it was a dress I had bought and worn for a while and then donated to a ministry that provided clothing for those in need.  She wore it well, and that made me smile as I remembered generous hearts that had touched my life so many years ago.

“You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.  And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, ‘They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.’”(2 Corinthians 9:7-9)  When we give cheerfully to those in need, God continues to bless us to do even more.  While I have remembered generous hearts from my youth for almost 50 years, God remembers them forever, and that, my friends, is a very long time.

Moving Forward: Shrugging off the selfish trends all around me, I pray that God will open my eyes to those in need and fill me with a great big heart of generosity. 

Tomorrow @ 2 Kings 16-20

2 Corinthians 9-10 

Discover His heart:  He rewards and remembers our generous hearts

I’ve visited a few churches over the years where the congregations had a rather unique response at the announcement that it was offering time.  They would break out in applause and praises to the Lord.  No apologies were made for receiving the offering, and there was no hesitancy in giving.  All I can assume is that these congregations had learned the key to giving and looked forward to the opportunity to do so as found in Paul’s teaching in Chapter 9.  Blessed congregations! 

2 Corinthians 9
“Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop.  You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” (6-7)

If we’ve ever received a gift that was given to us with reluctance or displeasure, a great deal of the joy that the gift could have brought to us was never realized.  In fact, we can look at the gift in the future and still feel sadness about the reluctance that came with it. No wonder Paul reminds us to give cheerfully to others.  God loves us when we give with a joyful heart, and He makes sure that there will be more to give in the future.  We are cheerful, the receiver is cheerful and God loves us – it makes me cheerful just to think about it!  But that’s not all…

“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 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God… And they will pray for you with deep affection because of the overflowing grace God has given to you.” (11-12,14)

Our cheerful giving will not only be rewarded by God’s love for us, which in itself is more than enough, but we also will be enriched > enhanced > supplemented> deepened in every way!  And yet another bonus is that the recipients of our gifts will thank God and pray for us with deep affection.  I, for one, take all the prayers on my behalf I can get.

When we think about eternity in Heaven, we want our deeds to follow us there.  Paul offered a promise for those with generous hearts, one that will stand the test of time, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” (9)  So, there are actually two things that we will take with us into eternity – those we have won to the Lord and the memory of good deeds.

So, when we are tempted to hoard or close our hand in financially challenging times, we would do well to remember those less fortunate than us because we are God’s instruments to touch their lives.  Give, not haphazardly or unwisely, but give with generosity and with smiles on our faces.  When we do this, according to Paul, we really have a lot to smile about. 

Moving Forward:  Over and over again I’m reminded that I can’t outgive God.  He always wins! But I will give to others with a cheerful, generous heart and prove that His Word is true. 

Tomorrow @ Exodus 25-28

3 John (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He opens doors of opportunity to partner with His servants

Having spent three months on a short-term mission’s assignment in the past, I understand the message of 3 John, as well as its significance.  Traveling and living out of a suitcase becomes exhausting after a while, but the bright note in the experience is the kindness and fellowship of other believers.  Several families along the way opened their homes and hearts to us, providing comfortable lodging, delicious meals and precious fellowship.

In and of itself, it was humbling to be on the receiving end of such kindness, but the fact that these were missionary families made it all the sweeter.  I will never forget their generosity and kindness to us, and like John in our reading today, I often pray that “all is well with them and that they are as healthy in body as they are strong in spirit.” (2)

3 John is a perfect counter to the unseemly hospitality given to false prophets mentioned in 2 John.  Obviously this is a personal letter from John to his gracious friend Gaius, and it’s significant that of all the personal letters John must have written to believers, God’s guidance in the formation of the Bible included this letter.  Evidently, hospitality is important to the Lord. In fact, the Bible is filled from Genesis through the New Testament with examples of hospitality and the blessing that it brings to both the giver and the recipient.  Jesus and Paul both addressed it.  There’s something powerful in the act of opening one’s home or pocketbook to bless others, especially those who minister the gospel.

“Dear friend, you are being faithful to God when you care for the traveling teachers who pass through, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church here of your loving friendship. Please continue providing for such teachers in a manner that pleases God. For they are traveling for the Lord, and they accept nothing from people who are not believers.  So we ourselves should support them so that we can be their partners as they teach the truth.” (5-8) There it is – the simple truth.

For me, the opportunity for fellowship with His servants seems blessing enough, but when we provide care, hospitality and support for those who minister, we become partners in all that they do.  We are partners – associates, cohorts, co-workers – with those we support, partners not only in the expenses of the mission but also in the profits.  These are eternal profits that moths and rust cannot destroy. (Matthew 6:19)  The benefits from these partnerships last forever.

Moving Forward:  May a heart of hospitality invade my busy day, partnering with servants in their mission.

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 29-31

Deuteronomy 23-25 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He desires that we bless those who serve us with generous hearts

I don’t think any novel has had more movies made from it than the beloved “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens, and I enjoy them all.  From the classic black and white version with Alastair Sim to the contemporary Jim Carrey rendition, and every movie in between, I love the story of a changed man named Scrooge.  Not only was the old Scrooge miserly in his giving to the poor, but he was stingy with his faithful employee, Bob Cratchit, as well.  His treatment of Bob was the historic raw deal, overworked and underpaid.  Of course, Dickens wasn’t the first to address the subject of stinginess.  Moses had it covered long before. 

@ Deuteronomy 25
“You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.” (4)  We may not feel edified by this scripture, but keep reading because it’s more relevant than we may think.  Moses was addressing kindness and mercy towards the animals that toiled for the Israelites.  The oxen crushed the grains under their hooves for hours to remove the hard outer shells, and to muzzle them would deprive them of eating some of the grain for themselves.  Solomon wrote, “The godly care for their animals, but the wicked are always cruel.” (Proverbs 12:10)  The sanitary conditions of this aside, even an ox deserves compensation for its labors.

Paul took this simple scripture to another level in the New Testament in I Corinthians 9:9-10, “For the law of Moses says, ‘You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.’  Was God thinking only about oxen when he said this? Wasn’t he actually speaking to us? Yes, it was written for us, so that the one who plows and the one who threshes the grain might both expect a share of the harvest.”

How we treat those who serve us is important to God.  Employees who work for us, those who faithfully minister to us and individuals who make a living off of tips offered in gratitude deserve to share in the harvest.  Living the life of Scrooge is not a godly lifestyle.  It’s one thing to be frugal, but it’s another thing to be cheap.

“Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching.  For the Scripture says, ‘You must not muzzle an ox to keep it from eating as it treads out the grain.’ And in another place, ‘Those who work deserve their pay!’” (I Timothy 5:17-18)  Paul took to heart our verse today from Deuteronomy, quoting it twice in his writings.  Those who preach and teach the Word of God “should be respected and paid well” for their faithfulness to the work of God.  The old school of thought that a pastor only works one day a week is pure ignorance.  Most pastors serve their congregations six or seven days a week and are generous with their time almost to a fault.  How cruel it would be a muzzle them by not providing for their needs.

During the Christmas Season when the spirit of giving is in the air, as well as throughout the year, let’s remember with generous hearts those who serve us in so many different roles and those who minister to us.  I want to be like the new and improved Scrooge of Christmas morning but without the nocturnal visitors.  “Ever afterwards..it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge.  May that be truly said of us!  And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God Bless Us, Every One!” (C. Dickens)

Moving Forward: I thank God today for the generous hearts that minister to me and bless my life.

Tomorrow @ Nehemiah 5-9

James 1-3 (NLT) 

Discover His heart: He reveals Himself through our salvation and our good works

Most of us have encountered the wheeler dealer, the pitchman, who makes promises but doesn’t deliver.  Our dealings with them often result in difficult learning experiences.  Years ago we planned a mission’s trip to Paraguay with 200 youth and leaders.  A travel agent approached us with the best price on tickets we could find, and more importantly, he was the only agent who found seats on the days we needed to travel.  We sent him the money with the understanding he would meet us at the airport with the tickets – lesson #1.  And indeed, he met us at the airport on our day of departure, but could not produce the tickets because…well, at that point it really didn’t matter.

There we sat with 200 eager students on a mission and no tickets. Through a series of miracles, and I mean miracles, we reached our five cities of ministry in Paraguay and those churches we helped to plant are still reaching the lost today.  God is faithful when others are not.  That travel agent could say he was a travel agent all day long, but until he produced the tickets, it really didn’t matter what he said – lesson #2.  We have to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak.  James, one of the Jerusalem church leaders, was all over this one. 

@ James 2
“What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone? Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing, and you say, ‘Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well’—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do? So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless…You say you have faith, for you believe that there is one God.  Good for you! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble in terror. How foolish! Can’t you see that faith without good deeds is useless?” (14-19) Show me the tickets!

To prove a contradiction in scripture to James 2, Bible skeptics love to point to Romans 1 where Paul teaches, “‘Abraham believed God, and God counted him as righteous because of his faith.’…people are counted as righteous, not because of their work, but because of their faith in God who forgives sinners.” (3,5)  Good works do not save us, only the blood of Jesus can do that, but good works are an indicator that we have received salvation.  Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.” (2:8-10)  Show me the tickets!

God sees our faith, our belief in Him, because He sees our hearts.  Man sees our faith through our love and good deeds.  Many of us have begun the Christmas shopping tradition and what a great opportunity to show our faith to those without food or clothing.  I know a family that first buys Christmas with all its trimmings for a needy family, and then with the money that is left, they buy gifts for each other.  I see Jesus all over them.  However, our good deeds should reveal our faith to others all year long.  We don’t want to be like the useless travel agent who never proved to us that he was a travel agent.  Show them our good works! 

Moving Forward: I plan to do some good works today because of the great work He did for me when He saved me. 

Tomorrow @ Deuteronomy 4-6