Category Archives: Generosity

The Mark of the Believer

“…In your faith supply…brotherly kindness…” 2 Peter 1:5,7

brothery kindnessThe Greek word used in this passage is “philadelphia”. This compound word comes from “phileo”, meaning affection or fondness and “adelphos”, meaning brother, kinsman, or relative. Considering the male-dominated society to which this letter was addressed long ago, it is no surprise that non-inclusive language was used. Despite the words used, the intention of this word has always been the idea of loving fellow believers, male and female. These fellow believers are brothers and sisters in Christ. We are spiritual siblings! We’re supposed to treat one another in this way…and maybe even better than some of us actually do treat our blood brothers and sisters.

My only sister was hospitalized a couple years ago with a dangerous and potentially lethal infection in her internal organs. It was so bad that the doctors actually told her that she may die from this – she needed to get her affairs in order. My sister is younger than me…way too young to die, it seemed. When I heard about her situation, my concerns were directed toward her…and so were my energies. I took a day to drive a couple hundred miles to see her in the hospital, hold her hand, cry with her a little, encourage her, help her bear the pain and fear, and spend some time praying and ministering to her spirit. This is what brothers do with sick sisters. We go out of our way, change our plans, and make comparatively insignificant sacrifices to care for our siblings. She was family and needed to be treated as such. By the way…it seems God intervened. The day after I was there, she turned a corner in her condition and was home in week!

The characteristic that needs to be added to our faith is a fondness or affection for fellow believers. This may seem like a no-brainer until we step back a little and take inventory. I’m occasionally stunned at the inappropriate ways fellow believers treat one another. We can unintentionally begin to view our spiritual siblings as enemies rather than comrades. Instead, the behavior of believers, one to another, is to be radically different than what we find in the non-believing world. The letter to the Ephesians describes a clear contrast between what was and what should be.

“And do not bring sorrow to God’s Holy Spirit by the way you live. Remember, he has identified you as his own, guaranteeing that you will be saved on the day of redemption.

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of evil behavior. Instead, be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven you.” (Ephesians 4:30-32)

Affection, by its very nature, is a motivating reality that comes from within. When we think of philadelphia, we are referring to BOTH outer actions AND inner feelings. When you are fond of someone or something, you are excessively tender, even overindulgent — you strongly like and cherish with unreasoning feelings.

So people, let’s be sure we love one another, because Jesus said, “By this will all people know that you are my disciples, that you have love for one another.”

Inferior?

God LOVES to accomplish His work through those deemed inferior. (From yesterdays look at Isaiah 54) Want a quick list? Moses the murderer, Gideon-the-nobody beating out wheat, Rahab the harlot, David the shepherd (even family knew he couldn’t be the one chosen by God), and the strange assortment of misfits and leftovers that Jesus called as disciples. God LOVES to accomplish His work through those deemed inferior.

Here’s one more for the record: Caleb the warrior. It states in Scripture numberous times that Caleb was “the son of Jephunneh the Kennizite.” In fact, it is mentioned 15 times! It’s like saying, “Do you get this? Are you catching the significance of this fact? Do you know what this means?” In other words, realize that Caleb was only one half Israelite. He was not really of the true people of God–he was sort of grafted in, you might say. He was more like an Old Testament samaritan–an unwanted half-breed. He certainly was not the candidate to stand out as a great spiritual leader among the 12 tribes.

The Kennizites were a tribe in the southern portion of Canaan, a tribe God told Abraham he would overtake (Genesis 15:19). These were the peopleIsrael was to have no mercy over. These represented sin, waywardness, temptation, doorways to idol worship, and their greatest threat to family disintigration. But here stands Caleb, one who God states “has a different spirit in him and has followed Me fully, I will bring into the land where he went, and his descendants shall inherit it,” Numbers 14:24. Amazing.

Even a quick study of Caleb is fascinating. He was a man of great character, oozing with leadership gifts, decisive, courageous, willing to stand out in the crown in all oppostion to popular opinion. Caleb never lost sight of God’s dream for His people, even while suffering for 40 years in the wilderness because of OTHER PEOPLE’S FAITHLESSNESS. Even when he was 85 years old, he states, “I am as strong now as I was when Moses sent me on that journey, and I can still travel and fight as well as I could then. 12 So give me the hill country…” Joshua 14:11-12.

God LOVES to accomplish His work through those deemed inferior. He seeks those who have A DIFFERENT SPIRIT and who FOLLOW HIM FULLY. Everything else is meaningless. In fact, he is looking for those who don’t expect God’s blessing. He loved to work this way long ago…and still loves to do it today.

I know…

Unexpected

I love the way God works in crazy and unexpected ways. He is the inventor of the underdog, the power behind the superhero, the One who makes “silly” dreams come true.

Isaiah 54, of course, comes right after Isaiah 53. The “shout for joy, O barren one” of chapter 54 comes right after the “He bore the sin of many” in chapter 53. The idea is simply this: Once Christ has accomplished His work in behalf of all sinners, there is reason to get excited because God will work in new and mind-blowing ways. Take a quick look at what this looks like in this passage:

Verse 54:1, “Sing, O barren, thou that didst not bear; break forth into singing, and cry aloud, thou that didst not travail with child: for more are the children of the desolate than the children of the married wife, saith Jehovah.”

This verse is written in a Hebrew nuance giving us the sense that those who have experienced numbing disappointment in life–those that are considered inferior–are the ones who God will bless in unexpected ways in the New Kingdom economy.

Verse 2, “Enlarge the place of thy tent, and let them stretch forth the curtains of thy habitations; spare not: lengthen thy cords, and strengthen thy stakes.”

Using the imagery of the Old Testament home, God is telling His people to take concrete actions of faith to prepare for what He’s going to do–in this case, they better make their houses bigger because they’ll need it.

Verse 3, “For thou shalt spread abroad on the right hand and on the left; and thy seed shall possess the nations, and make the desolate cities to be inhabited.”

God intends for His “blessed ones” to infiltrate the earth. Scripture is emphasizing the fact that God blesses us to bless others — He rescues us so that we become rescuers!

  • If you feel inferior for any reason, this is a passage of great hope and promise for you.
  • If you believe God wants to do something significant in your life, take concrete action so that God’s blessings can be received and utilized when they come.
  • If you have been blessed, don’t you dare get the idea it’s just for you to enjoy. You must go and infiltrate the earth so that others can have what you have.

 

Audacious Action

Joshua was an audacious leader because he had audacious expectations of those who followed him.

As the new generation of Israelites stood on the Eastern bank of the Jordan, eager to follow their leader, Joshua addressed two and a half tribes with a specific challenge:

Then Joshua called together the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. He told them…”Your wives, children, and livestock may remain here…on the east side of the Jordan River. But your strong warriors, fully armed, must lead the other tribes across the Jordan to help them conquer their territory. Stay with them until the LORD gives them rest, as he has given you rest, and until they, too, possess the land the LORD your God is giving them. Only then may you return and settle here on the east side of the Jordan River in the land that Moses, the servant of the LORD, assigned to you.”  Joshua 1:12-15

Joshua was telling these God-followers that they needed to look way beyond themselves to live for the sake of their brothers and sisters. This was not an easy call.

  • It required danger and sacrifice.
  • It meant they could not relax and enjoy the good life while their fellow followers were still unsettled.
  • It demanded sacrifice, not only the warriors, but also from the families that needed to let them go.
  • It did cost some of them their very lives.

In the New Testament, we see liberal generosity and cutting edge sacrifice demonstrated by the first church as “they sold whatever they had and distributed to any who had need.” In the Old Testament, we have the new generation of Israelites who are called to audacious action on behalf of their fellow God-followers.

How often we overlook the higher calling of God. How natural it is to settle in when we have what we want. How normal the Christian life can be when we have a me-orientation. But the audacious Joshua called his followers to audacious action. It cost the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and Manasseh a lot…and honored God tremendously.

Audacious followers live for the wellfare of their brothers and sisters in Christ.

God is Writing the Story

Right now life is crazy. Nonsense. Confusing. Amusing. Goofy.

What fun!

We had the great privilege of being honored by our church last Sunday. After 16 years, there were lots of stories, video out-takes, and a little toomuch comfort in making fun of me as I exit. What a blast we had! What an overwhelming sense of honor I was given.

One of the crazy and fun groups we've had helping us this week.

This week, we have Edinbrook people coming over every day to help sort, carry, clean, and laugh. We still have lots of laughter going on. We are humbled at the outpouring of support and love by our friends. There are no words to describe what’s happening in our hearts these days. Wow!

The house is no-longer a home. Nothing is “in its place” any longer. I can actually see the floor of the garage (that’s good!).

On Friday, we drive away. This is where we have raised three children, been to hell and back in some of life’s most excruciating experiences, met God over and over in life transforming ways, entertained hundreds of people, and found a haven from a needy and broken world. We’re leaving it to embark on the next chapter of our lives.

Of course, I love reading books…especially great stories. You find yourself on the edge of your seat, at times. What will come next? Will they survive? How will they get through this or what will be the breakthrough here? That’s a little how we feel, except we’re the story. We’re stepping into the next chapter. It will be different…and it will be good. God is writing the story…

 

Koinonia

Don’t you love Greek words? There’s a reason they say, “It’s Greek to me!” A Greek word means nothing to us until it’s explained and, suddenly, a whole new meaning to a commonly used English word emerges. So here we go…

Koinonia is the Greek word for fellowship. It is so often misunderstood, though. Traditionally, in our church circles anyway, fellowship is used for the time after evening church when people sip coffee and eat apple pie. It’s what happens in the casual minutes after a Sunday school class as people are sharing how horrible or wonderful their week was. Fellowship is often considered to be casual conversation, superficial interactions, and planned events.

The root word for koinonia means “to participate, partner, or have intimate interactions.” It conveys the idea that there is common ownership of one another’s lives and experiences, victories and defeats, good times and deep struggles, fun and hard work. It is a picture of people doing life together. One of the most accurate descriptions of koinonia is found in Acts 2, where it states that “all the believers were of one mind and had all things in common.” In contrast to the motif of life in suburban America where individualism is king, the early church considered interdependence essential to living life in a Christ-honoring way.

I was just thinking about the numerous variations of koinonia I experienced yesterday…

  • Seeking wisdom and advice from a close friend and trusted adviser. These were conversations of confession, honesty, encouragement, and practical advice.
  • The laughter and fun of having breakfast in bed with my wife AND son. They made me an amazing omelet, fantastic coffee, many other fixings, and then spoiled me by serving me in bed. Of course, it WAS my birthday, but it was great stuff!
  • Spontaneous time with a crazy (and fun) neighbor who “dropped in” on us. She ran over in her robe and slippers and stayed for three hours! There were moments of tears, hugs, laughter, goofy conversation, serious conversation, food and drink, dreaming together, and encouraging one another. Wonderful!
  • The arrival of a soul-friend who came to help us get rid of boxes and boxes of used books. Just her presence is ministry. She oozes love and laid a little of that on us again yesterday. And, of course, she and Susan carried lots of boxes, bringing them to Half Price Books for a little cash.
  • A delicious home-made meal and great conversation with a  rare and godly young couple. They invited us over for dinner. They honored us, blessed us, fed us (Wow! it was yummy!), and encouraged us. We ended up praying together, hugging a little, and treasuring this pair more than ever.

This was ONE DAY of koinonia. Each encounter enabled us to experience God in different ways. And each encounter fed us, blessed us, strengthened us, and filled us with Holy Spirit power.

I was reminded yesterday of what a treasure koinonia is. I am a rich man indeed!

One of Those Words…

Grace. It’s one of those words we use as Christians that supposedly means a lot, but often fails to grip us, change us, or fuel us. Here’s what I’ve noticed about grace so often:

  • People who claim to love it fail to live it.
  • Those who are saved by it are hesitant to extend it to others.
  • We are much better at judgement, legalism, and hard-fast rules than grace.
  • Grace often looks liberal…like we fail to stand for truth. But just remember, grace is truth.
  • Generosity of all sorts sprouts from authentic grace lived out of our lives…generosity to overlook an ugly failure, a past debt, an unfortunate interaction, an unjust accusation, and more….
  • Many who claim to know what it is have trouble actually embracing it in its fullness.

“Grace” has become so commonplace in our Christian verbiage that it slips off of the tongue with little thought to its mighty power. Grace is what only true Christ-followers can give to the world. It is:

  • Unconditional love and acceptance.
  • Lack of judgmental-ism, even when others may “deserve” to be judged.
  • Christ-like love in action.
  • One of the most powerful forces on earth.
  • Loving people, “even though”, not “because of.”
  • Our ONLY hope of a right standing with God.

“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.

When we actually depend upon God’s grace to live every day,                                                                                                              we will actually extend grace to others in every way.

This is the ONLY way to live!

Prayer Moves Us

“Prayer overcomes our compassion with love in action.”

Romanita Hairston, VP of U.S. Programs, World Vision

This statement was made by Romanita Hairston, Vice President of U.S. Programs, World Vision. This statement emerged from her study of Nehemiah. When this great Old Testament leader heard of God’s people suffering hundreds of miles away, he was so overcome with compassion for them that he broke down weeping. This alone humbles me. Am I truly broken for the those suffering right around me or across the world? Nehemiah’s heart was tender, broken by the things that break God’s heart.

Things didn’t stop with compassion. So often we can feel deeply about a situation revealed to us, but that’s where it ends. Not with Nehemiah. His compassion moved him to prayer…for days. His prayer moved him to action. His compassion was overcome with love in action! He went on to accomplish the mind-blowing task of rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Though demolished for 100 years, the walls were rebuilt in 52 days once they started!

We are surrounded by broken walls. This morning, I was reminded of:

  • Youth homelessness right in our northern suburbs of Minneapolis. Hundreds of them!
  • 50% of all minority youth do not graduate from high school.
  • One in five children live in poverty. By the way, youth living in poverty in Brooklyn Park has recently tripled, much of that due to the crumbled housing market, equal in scope to that of Detroit.

There are needs — broken walls — all around us. Do you see it? Do you feel anything by this? Is there some compassion in you for the blight all around us?

Now, if you feel some compassion, you are where Nehemiah was when he started his initiatives of influence. But compassion is only the starting point. By the way, our city is eager to help collaborate the passions of our people and churches to make significant changes to the “broken walls” we face.

How many opportunities do we miss because we fail to pray? We feel deeply and may erroneously feel that this is what is expected. Yes–partly. But faith without works is dead. Let us FIRST fall to our knees and ask God to sweep over us, overcoming our compassion with His love in action.

3 Things to Work On…

Here are 3 things for us to work on at Edinbrook:

  1. Step into the multi-cultural entities in our community. Sending people to other places is wonderful, but God has brought the world to us. Even though we have become much more culturally diverse as a church, we have primarily let people come to us. I believe God wants us to step into their world…similar to what Jesus did for us. Engaging our “Samaria” — those people we would just as soon overlook–is not an easy nor quick assignment. I would love to see a strategic planning team formed to begin praying and planning a way for us to be the presence of Jesus to the remotest parts of the world all around us.
  2. Become contagiously generous. So many Edinbrookers are extremely generous with their money, time, energies, and resources. In fact, this ministry would be nothing if it wasn’t for the generosity of so many through the years. I have been constantly amazed at the level of commitment and engagement by hundreds of people giving themselves for the sake of Christ at Edinbrook. Along with this stream of extreme generosity, however, is another segment of our church that “missing in action.” A segment of nearly 50% of our people are still missing the thrill of generosity — watching from the sidelines as spectators rather than key players in the thick of the action. I can hardly imagine what we could do if everyone was infected with generosity. We will soon be pulling a Generosity Team together to help us develop in this important area of church life and ministry. Just a reminder — let’s make up the $50,000 we’re behind by the end of October. You can give right now at our GIVING PAGE.
  3. Become radically selfless. This forgetting of self is, in so many ways, the essence of what it means to be like Jesus. We have come so far as a church, but still tend to lean towards a consumerist mentality. For so many years, Christians have church shopped, voiced their preferences, held to the idea that church is really for us, and felt fine about “checking out” if we’re not getting what we want. In reality, what ought to hold us together more than anything is a common passion to “make disciples of all nations.” We need to eat, drink, breath and live this Great Cause entrusted to us. The common curse of American Christianity, however, is to forget about “them” and orient things for “us.” As I’ve said, we’ve come so far, but still need to stand against the big green monster of self-infatuation when it comes to church life.

A Matter of Honor

The only instance where tithing (giving a tenth) is found in the New Testament is when Jesus makes a statement to the scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23:23-24: (It’s also in Luke 11:42)

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have donewithout neglecting the others. 24 “You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

It is important to note that Jesus is totally in favor of tithing when, even of the garden herbs, He states, “these you should have done”. Of course, Jesus is really teaching about the “weightier provisions” that are more about issues of character rather than just the details of the law.

Jesus emphasized the condition of the heart over and over much more than a rule to obey. Tithing was a benchmark set long before the law when Abraham gave a tenth of everything to Melchizidek as an act of grateful worship. In later years, the law of the tithe was implemented to make sure that a priority was placed on getting God’s work done through the temple service. This standard was set by God to make sure we knew what was reasonable and right.

In tandem with the tithing emphasis is the admonition to give the first part, often called the first fruits in Israel’s agricultural environment. As an example, Proverbs 3:9-10:

Honor the LORD from your wealth,
And from the first of all your produce;
So your barns will be filled with plenty,
And your vats will overflow with new wine.

In cultures all around the world, honor is woven into the fabric of their daily life. This is not the case in the United States. We’ve lost the concept of honor somehow. So, when scripture talks about honoring, we can easily overlook this and miss a critical piece of what it means to be in relation to God. We are to honor Him — to revere, yield to His position and person, and give respectful expressions to. And how do we do that? By giving Him the FIRST PART of everything we accrue.

And when we honor God, His heart is open toward us. Just look at the second half of the above scripture passage! Wow! I would love to have God’s favor directed toward me like that! Yes–it is ours as we honor Him with our first portions.

As I look at the New Testament, it’s not so much about obeying a particular number, but rather living with generosity in your heart. What is generous? Is 10%? For some people, absolutely. For others it would seem to be a very good starting point. Whatever the case,make sure you honor God, both by the amount you give and in what priority you give it.

Honor the LORD from your wealth, And from the first of all your produce; So your barns will be filled with plenty, And your vats will overflow with new wine.