Thank You, Merry Christmas, and a Blessed Beginning to 2016

I am grateful to you who read, thoughtfully consider, and share what I write here.

Why I write:

  • I write to think. Writing helps me organize, refine, and articulate what’s going on in my heart and head.
  • I write to learn. Putting my ideas into writing pushes me to know what I’m talking about and to thoroughly investigate my topics.
  • I write to help. I share from my study and experience in order to encourage, teach, and bless those who read.
  • I write to shape. I hope my ideas influence others. I want to have a voice that reaches more than just a few people, and that contributes to the maturing process of the body of Christ.

So far in 2015,

  • has had 4,631 visitors and 8,465 page views.
  • The site has had visitors from the following countries:
    United States, Canada, Australia, United Kingdom, Japan, Germany, South Africa, Spain, Singapore, Philippines, Mexico, Ireland, Brazil, Romania, Sweden, India, New Zealand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Netherlands, Costa Rica, Peru, Austria, Guam, Argentina, France, Swaziland, Kenya, Taiwan, South Korea, Croatia, Thailand, Lithuania, Russia, Malaysia, European Union, Nigeria, Bermuda, Switzerland, Colombia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Israel, Caribbean Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, Zambia, Ethiopia, Sri Lanka
  • The home page is the most viewed, so it’s hard to tell which single articles are the most popular, but the most viewed new posts this year, in addition to the home page, are:
    Sunday Evening Services are Dying
    Ashley Madison
    Church Member Migration Part 1  and Part 2
    Some of the Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving series

Thank you for reading. I hope you learn, grow, and are encouraged. Have a great holiday season and celebration of our Savior’s birth.


On Being Generous

Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving Part 8*

I ordered an ice cream cone one time and watched as the server prepared it. She pushed the first scoop all the way to the bottom of the cone. She packed the second so it was even with the top. On this solid foundation, she constructed a towering ice cream edifice that looked like it would fall over any second, but held firm as she placed it in my hand. As I lapped at the overspill, I thought, “Wow, I got more than my money’s worth on this one.” The menu offered one scoop or two. She gave me way more. That’s the way to serve an ice cream cone. No hollow, soggy cone that caves in on empty space as you near the end. Delicious, creamy goodness from the first lick down to the last cold, crunchy bite.

Generosity Reaps Generosity
Jesus used a similar experience to illustrate an important lesson about being generous. He said, Give, and it will be given to you; a good measure—pressed down, shaken together, and running over—will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you (Luke 6:38, HCSB).

Jesus alluded to the common practice of using a fold in one’s garment to carry grain purchased in the market. A very generous grain merchant might say, “Pack it in, shake it down, and I’ll add some more.” No one would keep pouring the grain until it ran onto the ground.

Jesus was saying, If you are generous toward others, you will be overloaded with blessings yourself. Generosity reaps generosity. And God is sometimes extravagantly generous, especially to those who are generous to others.

This is not an absolute promise that you will be rewarded in kind 100% of the time, but is a principle of life. People who live this way will generally experience these results.

Sinful humans are not naturally generous. Most grab what they can and use it for their own needs and pleasure rather than look for opportunities to help others. Jesus pointed out the differences that should mark people who are in God’s kingdom. They stand out because they love their enemies, do good to those who hate them, pray for those who spitefully use them, do not retaliate when insulted or attacked, and don’t even resist when someone forcibly takes their property (27-30). They are, in fact, like their Heavenly Father – kind and merciful (35-36). And they are extremely generous (30, 38).

The primary objectives of New Testament giving are helping people in need and supporting Gospel work. I encourage you to familiarize yourself with Scriptural teaching on these here.

Consider this: Are you world-like in how you give to these objectives – helping people in need and supporting Gospel work – or are you God-like in your giving? A God-like giver says, “Here, let me give you more – so much that it runs over.” And when you and I give generously, we find out just how generous God can be.

Apathy Dries Up Generosity
Malachi was God’s messenger to the Jewish people a few hundred years before Jesus. The priests and the temple operations were supposed to be supported by the peoples’ tithes and offerings. These tithes of agricultural produce also helped to feed the poor (Deuteronomy 14:28-29). But the people had stopped revering God and stopped obeying His law, including the instructions about giving to the Lord and supporting the temple ministry.

The Jewish people living under Old Testament law were commanded to tithe. In the New Testament era, believers in Jesus are not required to tithe. They are instructed to practice grace giving. But we can see in Malachi’s message timeless principles that show the problem with apathy about God and about giving.

God confronted the Jewish people for not revering Him (Malachi 1:6); offering Him their worst instead of their best (1:7-8); misrepresenting His Word (2:7-8); breaking their marriage vows (2:13-16); and more. In addition to these indictments, He made a very serious charge: You have robbed Me! They asked, In what way? He answered, In tithes and offerings (3:8). These people had lost their awe of God, had become apathetic toward Him, and it showed up in their lives and their offerings.

So what did God tell them to do? Begin honoring Him, and start giving! Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house (3:10). The “storehouse” refers to the area in the temple where the grain and other offering materials were stored. “Food” may refer either to animal sacrifices or to meals for the priests and temple workers and the poor. God told them to stop hoarding and consuming, and start sharing with others and supporting the temple ministry.

Here’s the part that connects to what Jesus said in Luke 6:38. God speaking through Malachi issued a challenge to the Israelites: Try Me now in this . . . if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such a blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it.

These people depended on crops for their livelihood. The two great enemies of agricultural productivity were drought and locusts. No rain, no grain. Swarms of locusts would descend on vast fields of produce and devour them in a day. This was God’s way of chastening the Israelites for their unfaithfulness by causing their crops to dry up or be devoured. They had to learn the hard way about the importance of giving.

But even under law, and even in dealing with disobedient people, God always acts in grace. The “windows of heaven” being opened probably refers to heavy rain showers. The “devourer” God promised to rebuke in verse 11 is the swarms of locusts. He was saying, If you return to the practice of providing grain and livestock for worship and to help the needy, I will restore your supply so that you can eat and so you can give.

Then He went further. God said that if they began giving, He would overwhelm them with abundance. That’s what the end of verse 10 means. There will not be room enough to receive it.

Here are some other translations of this amazing promise that help us understand its meaning (emphasis mine).

Yea, I have emptied on you a blessing till there is no space. (Young’s Literal Translation)

. . . see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. (New International Version)

See if I will not open the floodgates of heaven and pour out a blessing for you without measure. (Holman Christian Standard Bible)

. . . if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you a blessing until it overflows. (New American Standard Bible)

Remember the ice cream cone? The grain pouch? Same idea here. God wants us to be generous in our giving, but He is more generous than we will ever be.

Grace Enables Generosity
We move from Old Testament to New Testament, from law to grace. The messenger this time is Paul the Apostle. Paul was not shy about urging Christians to be generous in helping others in need and supporting Gospel work.

2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 contain the most extensive teaching on giving in the New Testament. This is where Paul says to “abound in this grace also” – the grace of giving (8:7).

He emphasizes generosity all through this section. But as he reaches the end, he really pours it on.

He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (9:6-8)

There are so many things to say about this I can’t cover it all, so here are a few key points.

The challenge to give generously is obvious – sow bountifully, not sparingly. The promise of a reward in kind is clear too – you will reap bountifully. This sounds similar to what Jesus said, right? Give and it will be given to you . . . running over . . . And it reminds us of God’s promise to Israel: I will pour out for you a blessing until it overflows.

But there’s an additional point that isn’t emphasized in Luke or Malachi. Paul says that God will give abundantly to you so that you can give abundantly too. See it? God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you . . . may have an abundance for every good work. It’s in verse 11 too – while you are enriched in everything for all liberality.

God is the most generous giver of all. He pours resources into our lives, more than we need. He does this so we can share with people in need and support Gospel ministry.

He provides for us sufficiently and abundantly so that we can give generously.

This is the reverse of what the health and wealth preachers say. God doesn’t promise to make you rich. He promises to enable you to share, not hoard and consume. He provides for you, not so you can live large, but so you can give large.

When you are presented with an opportunity to help someone in need or support Gospel work, consider two questions: What do I have? What can I give? Do not be bound to or limited by the Old Testament concept of tithing. Practice New Testament grace giving. Be as generous as you can.

The grace of God is running over in your life. This is most clearly demonstrated by what Jesus did for you. Paul reminds us of this in 2 Corinthians 8:9, For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. And again in 9:15, Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!

God’s gracious generosity toward us is the model that guides us and motivation that compels us to be generous as well. Grace giving is generous giving.

*This article is an add-in to the series of posts on Tipping, Tithing, and Grace Giving. As I have continued to study what the Scriptures say about grace giving, I have seen an emphasis on generosity through both the Old and New Testaments. Grace giving is by definition generous.

A Musty Book Often Warms the Heart

I have a book on my shelf called Springs In the Valley, by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman. Recently I pulled it down and looked it over. It’s an oldie, published in 1939. The paper dustjacket is crackly, the pages yellowing, and that musty old-book smell reaches my nose as it lies in front of me. Just the kind of book I love.

Mrs. Cowman also authored Streams in the Desert, a similar and possibly more familiar book. Mr. and Mrs. Cowman’s story is fascinating. Springs In the Valley is a book of daily devotional thoughts incorporating Scripture, anecdotes, quotations, hymns, and poems. I am keeping the book open on my desk and spend a few minutes most days reading it. It’s one of those heart-warming resources that renews your love for Christ and your motivation to live for and serve Him. Here is one of the stories from its pages that challenged me. This account is known in Christian history as The 40 Martyrs of Sevaste.

They held their lives cheap.
Revelation 12:11, Weymouth

The persecution of the Christians during the reign of Marcus Aurelius was very bitter. The Emperor himself decreed the punishment of forty of the men who had refused to bow down to his image.

“Strip to the skin!” he commanded. They did so. “Now, go and stand on that frozen lake,” he commanded, “until you are prepared to abandon your Nazarene-God!”

And forty naked men marched out into that howling storm on a winter’s night. As they took their places on the ice they lifted up their voices and sang:

“Christ, forty wrestlers have come out to wrestle for Thee;
to win for Thee the victory; to win from Thee the crown.”

After a while, those standing by and watching noticed a disturbance among the men. One man had edged away, broken into a run, entered the temple and prostrated himself before the image of the Emperor.

The Captain of the Guard, who had witnessed the bravery of the men and whose heart had been touched by their teaching, tore off his helmet, threw down his spear, and disrobing himself, took up the cry as he took the place of the man who had weakened. The compensation was not slow in coming, for as the dawn broke there were forty corpses on the ice.

From Springs In the Valley, 280-281

How “cheaply” do you hold your life? Is it of more value to you than Christ? How will you respond when persecution comes? Who is watching, and may be won by the witness of your life, and of your death?

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