Tag Archives: Generosity

It’s Time to Embrace God’s Message on Stewardship

In 520 B.C. the house of the Lord lay in ruin. Though exiled Jews had returned to Jerusalem decades earlier the Temple languished in a state of disrepair. Its condition represented a stark contrast with the lavish homes the Jewish people lived in. Against this backdrop the prophet Haggai voices God’s displeasure over the disparity, proclaiming:

This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies says: The people are saying, ‘The time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord’” (Haggai 1:2, NLT). The Lord then challenges His people with a rhetorical question: “Is it time for you yourselves to dwell in luxurious homes while my house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4, NKJV). God later advises them to: “Consider your ways” and links their greed with the sustained economic malaise they’re suffering. Their selfishness, He explains, always produces poverty, hunger, and discontentment.

God’s people used the financial windfall He sent them to indulge themselves in luxury and enjoy a lifestyle of extravagance, while leaving the work of the Temple undone. It was an egregious example of poor stewardship. The Jews misperceived God’s purpose. They mistakenly believed His material blessings were primarily for their benefit, and not intended to advance His kingdom or glorify Him.

Sadly, we make the same mistake – often on a much larger scale. As American wealth skyrockets the average Christian gives less and less of his income. Think about that for minute. God blesses us with greater prosperity and we respond with less generosity. My friends, something is seriously wrong with that trend.

Christians now give, on average, less than 2% of their income to the church. That’s one-fifth of what the Israelites were required to give under the law. Grace may liberate us from the law’s obligations, but apparently it doesn’t free us from the clutches of greed and selfishness.

Of course, God doesn’t expect us to redirect the resources he lavishes on us to fund bigger more opulent churches to worship in. Rather, He expects us to tithe ten percent to the church and donate another generous portion of our income to fund ministries that advance His kingdom, fulfill the Great Commission, and relieve human suffering. Not because the law demands it but because grace compels us. Gratitude for God’s mercy and relief from sin’s stain should inspire joyful generosity far beyond what the law stipulated.

If, however, we resist and continue down the path of financial idolatry – choosing selfishness over stewardship – we face a fiscal future as grim as the one confronted by those Jerusalem Jews twenty-five hundred years ago.

Examine your spending history from the past year and ask yourself: Does it reflect biblical principles of generous financial stewardship or mirror the greed and materialism that plagued the people of Haggai’s day? If it’s more like the latter you may want to take God’s advice and “Consider your ways!

Sacrificial Love.

God is love. That truth represents one of the overarching themes of Scripture. It courses through every book of the Bible and finds its ultimate fulfillment in Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross – to redeem mankind from sin and reconcile us to God.

That act of selfless obedience gave us more than eternal life, however. It also provided us a model for how we are to love others and demonstrated the supremacy of love both in God’s kingdom and in His people. More than that, we learn elsewhere in Scripture that genuine love evidences the presence of Christ in our hearts and the Holy Spirit in our lives.

The apostle John informs us, “Whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is he who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10, NKJV). Take a moment to read that verse again and consider what John is saying. Those who fail to love the family of God reveal His absence in their lives. Said another way, anyone who claims to follow Christ but does not love God’s people is exposed as a liar. They have no part in God’s kingdom and will not experience eternal life. It is impossible, John tells us, to truly know Christ and not love His followers.

So what does love look like? Is it merely expressed in words? Is it enough just to claim love for others? Of course not. The apostle James tells us that words alone are useless in isolation; they prove nothing. Actions must work in concert with words for love to truly flourish.

In his first epistle John tells us, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16, NKJV). Ah, now we’re getting somewhere in our quest to define love. Jesus shows us how to love others. He sacrificed His life for us because His love for us is so great. He wanted to reconcile us with God so we could enjoy eternal life in His presence.

John declares that we ought to love others in a similar manner – especially our brothers and sisters in the Lord. Just as Christ prioritized our salvation above His temporal needs (safety, comfort, long life), we ought to do the same for others.

Though the form that takes varies by believer, it always mirror Christ’s example in terms of sacrifice and selflessness. John provides one compelling example of demonstrated love in the next verse when he tells us. “Whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?”

The question is rhetorical. You cannot truly love God and allow those in His family to suffer in need. Whoever has this world’s goods, if he or she is a Christian, will share generously with those in need, especially those from the household of faith. How much you ask? Consistent with Christ’s model; that is, sacrificially. Anything less is mere lip service, which John rebukes as inadequate. “My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (verse 18).

The apostle James gives the same message in his epistle. “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,’ but do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:15-17, NKJV).

God calls us to love sacrificially, love substantively, and to reveal Him to others as we love on His behalf. There are countless needs in this world, among believers and unbelievers alike. At the same time, our country enjoys an unprecedented level of wealth that could meet many of those needs. But that will only happen when we, as God’s people, set aside our selfish desires and train our resources on meeting the spiritual, physical, and basic needs of those across the globe.

Take time this weekend to consider the following questions. How is God is calling you to love sacrificially. In what ways does selfishness preempt you from following Christ’s model of love? Who specifically is God prompting you to inundate with love? How can you ensure that acts of selfless, sacrificial love become a part of your daily routine?

Taking Time to Thank God.

In his gospel account of Jesus’ life, Luke recounts an incident that highlights the mercy and generosity of Christ. As Jesus and His followers entered a village during their journey to Jerusalem, ten lepers saw Him from afar and cried out for healing. Moved with compassion, Jesus cleansed each of them from the horrible disease, which allowed them to re-enter society and enjoy life once again (since in those days lepers were expelled from society).

One of the lepers returned to Jesus, praised Him, and expressed his gratitude for Jesus’ blessing. In fact, Luke tells us he glorified God with a loud voice – he didn’t just whisper a quiet, ‘thanks,’ and move on. Surprisingly, this leper was a Samaritan, an ethnicity generally viewed unfavorably by the Jews and considered unclean. In contrast, the other nine lepers never offered thanks or made any effort to recognize Jesus’ blessing. Evidently they were too busy getting on with their lives. His healing created a situation where they now had so many activities on their calendar that they couldn’t afford the time to praise and thank God for His kindness.

We’re like that sometimes, too. When confronting a difficult circumstance or painful situation we often turn to God and ask for His mercy, blessing, intervention, or help. We request He heal us, find us employment, give us a perceived need, or extend His protection. Then when He answers our prayer we often return to our demanding schedules and frenetic lives without crediting Him for what happened or lifting a prayer of praise to Him.

What does that say about our faith when we have no difficulty finding time to cry out to God when we need Him but cannot spare a few minutes each day thanking Him for the many blessings He has rained down on us? Does it reveal a degree of selfishness in our hearts? Does such behavior indicate a less mature, perhaps even less authentic faith?

Fortunately, God is gracious and not vindictive. He never withdrew His healing from the nine lepers who declined to thank Him. He doesn’t demand we express our gratitude when He answers our prayer. He doesn’t inform us that His blessings are conditional on our appreciation. Yet, shouldn’t we extend our voice to Him in praise and worship whether He requires it or not. Is such a small act of gratefulness too much for us to offer?

I encourage you to set aside a few minutes every morning to thank God for the many blessings He has given you – perhaps during your commute into the office, while eating breakfast, or as you complete your morning exercise regimen. Develop a habit of offering gratitude to start each day.

Are you healthy? Thank God. Are you employed? Glorify Christ. Do you have any friends? Family? Offer gratitude to God. Do you have a roof over your head and a mattress to sleep on? Praise the Lord. Can you walk, see, hear, and think? What a blessing! Do you have the confidence of spending eternal life with God in heaven? Rejoice.

No doubt you can identify many more blessings for which to extend appreciation to God. Take some time now to do so and make today the first day of your new habit to praise Jesus for answered prayer and blessing.