A Culture Of Generosity

“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.” –  Psalm 112:5-6.  

The University of Notre Dame conducted a Generosity Project. Generosity as defined by the project is “ giving good things”,  giving “freely”, and giving “abundantly.” The project studied the difference between a few  acts of generosity into a culture of  generosity. This project discovered what we instinctively know: in most cases, generosity doesn’t doesn’t come naturally.   

For the Christian, the issue is not just that we give, but how. “God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” (2 Corinthians 9:7). Giving is built on the great why of Christianity.  Why the Son of God would demonstrate the ultimate in generosity in coming to save us. “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). If Jesus is in us, then increasingly His traits should become our traits.  Generosity is one of the great evidences of truly being a Christian. So how do we develop a culture of generosity.   

Romans 12:13 says, “When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.” What Paul is basically saying is that, you have to identify yourself with others in need. In other words, we make the needs of other people our own needs by asking ourselves some questions:  How are they coping? What would I need if I were in their shoes? What would I do?”

The Philippian church took Paul’s needs to their hearts, and he wrote to them; “Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty. . . . Even when I was in Thessalonica you sent help more than once. . . . At the moment I have all I need—and more! I am generously supplied with the gifts you sent me with Epaphroditus. They are a sweet-smelling sacrifice that is acceptable and pleasing to God.” (Philippians 4:14, 16, 18). Paul saw their practical kindness to him as glorifying God. It was an offering that was pleasing to the Lord. Galatians 6:10 adds, 

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.”

The simple definition of generosity is: using your God-given ability to help those in need and where your time, money, and talents come together to meet the needs of others.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. What excuses do people sometimes make for not being more generous with their resources (time, money, and energy) toward others? What excuses have you made?
  2. Identify one practical way you can be more generous in the weeks ahead. 

Keeping The Christian Life Interesante

“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:22 . 

Dos Equis has a campaign about keeping things “interesante.” Advertisers are constantly looking for creative ways to make their products a little more cool, a little more compelling and a little more interesting.  Is there a way to make Christianity more interesante to a culture that often views this 2,000-year-old movement as uncool, untrendy, out-of-touch, and difficult to follow? Is Christianity uninteresting? Is it boring?

Do you ever feel like that? Does it ever feel like there should be more excitement? Does it seem like Christianity is all about not doing things? Does it seem like we are working through a long list of  “do’s and“ don’t’s?” Or is there more to it all? Because, if there’s not, what’s the point? Why not walk away and find something more interesting?

Christianity is far from boring. If the book of Acts and the early church proves anything, it proves that Jesus Christ is living and reigning in power and glory. Jesus is not dead and He is not absent and He is certainly not boring or predictable. Jesus is still changing the world, one person at a time. Look what is happening in short-term mission trips. Our goal is to see lives radically transformed by God. Boring people do not change the world.

But maybe we are right to be bored with our level of Christianity. Maybe our level of purpose, risk, and commitment makes our walk with God uninteresting. But that should not be the case. God didn’t design us to be a spectator, content to be on the sidelines. He didn’t die on the cross so we can spend 5 minutes each morning and several hours on Sunday thinking about Him. He didn’t create us–with our skills, gifts, strengths – to live a risk- free life.  

Following God is not a walk in the park.  There will be times when it will not be fun, and in some cases, it will be painful. There will be other times when it will seem like we are treading water in place. But it will never be boring. It is an adventure that takes resolve and preparation. It takes commitment. It takes faith. It takes a whole lot more than a clever advertising campaign.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you thinking Christianity is boring? Uninteresting?   
  2. What can we do this week to get on this adventure that is the movement of Jesus Christ? 

The Wisdom Of Conscience

“The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith.” – 1 Timothy 1:5 

Why don’t we listen to our conscience? Why do we sometimes ignore that inner voice that helps us choose the right thing to do? Maybe because your conscience is a solution in itself. Your conscience basically acts as “stop/go” decision point. It’s a stop sign that you either stop at or run.

But consciences don’t tell you what to do. Your conscience may warn you before you make an important decision. It will tell you what not to do, but it will not tell you what to do. That requires wisdom. Our conscience warns us about the potential danger ahead, but wisdom tells us how to act wisely.

So, what happens without wisdom? What happens when you have trained your conscience unwisely? What happens when you want to do good, but you haven’t lived wisely for your conscience to work like it ought to? It becomes easier to make poor decisions. When we repeatedly ignore the warnings, our conscience will become calloused and ultimately useless.

God has given every person a conscience to guard and guide them. The conscience, along with the Holy Spirit, identifies what is wrong and what should be avoided. Having a clear conscience means we are careful to avoid sinning against God or others with our words, actions, or attitudes.

The Old Testament prophet Samuel is a good example. In 1 Samuel 12 we find Samuel addressing all of Israel as an old man. Samuel made himself accountable to the people. He had fulfilled their request for a king. He had completed his role as their leader. And now he stood before them and made himself accountable to them. In verse 3 he basically requests a performance review on the job he has done as a prophet.  “Now testify against me in the presence of the Lord and before his anointed one. Whose ox or donkey have I stolen? Have I ever cheated any of you? Have I ever oppressed you? Have I ever taken a bribe and perverted justice? Tell me and I will make right whatever I have done wrong.” They respond in verse 4: “No,” they replied, “you have never cheated or oppressed us, and you have never taken even a single bribe.” 

“The Lord and his anointed one are my witnesses today,” Samuel declared, “that my hands are clean.” (1 Samuel 12:5)  Samuel had a clear conscience. He stood before all of Israel and asked the people who had observed him throughout his life what wrongs he had done to any of them and no one accused him. If we were addressing all the people in our lives would we experience the same result? And if not, would we be willing to make it right.

Our goal is to have a conscience that is clear toward every person we know. And when we stumble we make things right.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. When confronted with questionable situations or opportunities, can you trust your conscience to guide you to make right choices?

Are You Ready To Grumble?

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing” –  Philippians 2:14 (NIV). 

When you read the gospels, you can’t help but notice how often the people around Jesus are grumbling. When tax collectors and other notorious sinners come to listen to Jesus the scriptures say, “And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.’” (Luke 15:2 ESV). When Jesus invites Zaccheus down from the tree and invites himself to dinner the crowd grumbles that Jesus would go to the home of a sinner. (Luke 19:7)  When He cures on the Sabbath (Mark 3) or eats grain from a field, (Matthew 12)  the religious leaders grumble. During the Bread of Life discourse in John’s gospel (John 6:22:59), it says, “So the Jews grumbled about him, because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.’” (Vs 41 ESV) See the pattern 

People always seemed ready to grumble. Yet, Jesus is amazingly patient with His challengers. Jesus doesn’t grumble back. Only one person could – and that was Jesus. But for the rest of us, Philippians  2:14 is one of the most difficult scriptures in the Bible. Who doesn’t complain (NLT), grumble (NIV) or murmur (KJV), bicker or second guess (MSG)? 

We’ve all experienced people who were known more for their grumbling than their gratitude; people who complain about everything. We all have Facebook friends who seem to only post complaints about their lives. And we all know people with an oh-woe-is-me attitude. We have probably been that person at one time or another. It is so easy to start complaining and then before long we are complaining more than we think and we become known as a “grumbler.” 

We want to do everything without grumbling and arguing because we can’t complain and rejoice at the same time. As followers of Jesus, we should be rejoicing. Paul says, “Rejoice always” (1 Thessalonians 5:16 ESV). If you are one of those people who are always complaining, you’re also one of those people who are never rejoicing because you can’t do them both at the same time. In addition, you can’t complain and be grateful at the same time. We have so much to be grateful for. Even though we deserve an eternity separated from God, a home is prepared for us in Heaven. We have a relationship with the same Jesus that Paul knew. We can wake up on any given morning and have fellowship with the Son of God. This is something no world religion can relate to. We have the privilege of communing with the God of the universe over coffee. I hope we never stop being in awe of this life-changing truth.

I was at a fast food restaurant waiting for my lunch appointment to arrive. I couldn’t happen to notice an employee who just stood out. He was smiling and quietly singing “Only Wanna Sing” by Hillsong Young and Free. The smile never disappeared nor did the song on his lips as he worked his way through the complete mess a family of five made. He doesn’t complain or roll his eyes when he picks up the trash off the floor and wipes the ketchup smears off the chairs. He says hi to each customer that walks by him. By refusing to grumble he is showing what it means to live like Jesus.  

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Why do you think it is so easy to default into complaining?
  2. How could being thankful mitigate our tendency to complain?
  3. If you really want to stop complaining, what are some first steps you can take? 

Matters Of The Heart

“Then you will experience God’s peace, which exceeds anything we can understand. His peace will guard your hearts and minds as you live in Christ Jesus.” – Philippians 4:7. 

The Bible mentions the heart almost 1,000 times. Jesus spoke a great deal about the heart. The heart is a metaphor for the inner life.“But the Lord said to Samuel, “Don’t judge by his appearance or height, for I have rejected him. The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7). 

When people think about having a joy filled, happy heart they are usually thinking of what makes them happy. Have you ever stopped to contemplate what it means to be a man or woman after God’s own heart? To please God? Have you wondered how to make God happy? The Bible tells us how to make God happy and live a life that pleases Him. “Finally, dear brothers and sisters, we urge you in the name of the Lord Jesus to live in a way that pleases God, as we have taught you. You live this way already, and we encourage you to do so even more.” (1 Thessalonians 4:1) Hebrews 11:6 adds, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that God exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.”

Every day we make a decision about what is most important in our lives. There is a throne in each of our hearts with only room for one to sit. It is our choice who will sit on the throne. It is not an easy decision because our desires are tempting and when we let them take the throne of our hearts, things never end well. Say you let your desire of money take the throne of your heart, well next thing you know your bank account is zeroed and you’re left with a bunch of materialistic things.  No matter how many times you splurge, the things you acquire will never fill you and eventually you will be hungry for something new. In fact, we can put a lot of energy and thought into things and people that are supposed to make us happy, just to find out that they can’t.

Real happiness, however, is found in Christ and in His everlasting love. Like the old Children’s song says “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy down in my heart, Down in my heart to stay”, God is the one that provides it.Visualize the happiness God has in store: “You will show me the way of life, granting me the joy of your presence and the pleasures of living with you forever.” (Psalm 16:11).

Discussion Questions: 

  1. On a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 = No Joy and 10 = Full of Joy, how would you rate yourself today? What do you think are the reasons for rating yourself that way?
  2.  How can our hearts be changed to be like Christ’s?

Is Age Important To God?

“When I am with those who are weak, I share their weakness, for I want to bring the weak to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” – 1 Corinthians 9:22 . 

Years ago most people starting businesses were older; starting on your own usually required experience and capital which took years to acquire. But while experience and capital are still important, there is no age for entrepreneurship. Age matters little; take a look at the new crop of billionaires and you’ll find that out pretty quickly. While there was a time when young entrepreneurs were looked at as failures waiting to happen, nowadays most people look at a potential entrepreneur’s drive to succeed rather than the year he or she was born.

All this begs the question: Is age relevant to God? The answer is no. Age is completely irrelevant to God. It is assumed that older people are wise and young people are less so. However, there are Christians who, in spite of their older age, are still immature. And there are young Christians who, in spite of their youth, are wise well beyond their years. That being said, as a general rule, older Christians still tend to be the most mature because they have spent many years learning and applying the truth of God’s word to their lives. Younger Christians are generally just beginning and haven’t had the time to learn as much. But it is not the age that matters, it is the knowledge and application of God’s word. It is God’s word which matures us and equips us: ”God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:17). You can be wise at any age.  James 1:5 does not give an age requirement, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you…”  In other words, you can’t really excuse yourself from serving God by saying you are too old or too young. 

God calls people of all ages. The Bible seems to imply there is no upper or lower age limit for service in the Kingdom. God calls the very young like Samuel and Jeremiah to be prophets when they are little more than boys. David was anointed for service when he was just a boy, tending sheep in the fields. Paul writes to Timothy reminding him not to let others look down on him because he’s young (1 Timothy 4:12).  

God also calls the elderly. Abraham was 75 when God called him to leave his place of birth and set out towards the land of Canaan. Moses was 80 when God appeared in the burning bush and gave him the task of returning to Egypt to lead his people to freedom.

Regardless of your age, God can use you. Whether you are young or old, don’t think of your age as a handicap. Don’t let age be a factor.  You just need to seize the opportunity when it presents itself: “Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.” (Galatians 6:10) 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Do you believe God can use you regardless of your age? Why or why not?  
  2. What can we learn from older Christians this week? What can we learn from younger Christians this week? 

Blessed Are The Meek

The meek man is not a human mouse afflicted with a sense of his own inferiority. Rather, he may be in his moral life as bold as a lion and as strong as Samson; but he has stopped being fooled about himself. He has accepted God’s estimate of his own life. He knows he is as weak and helpless as God has declared him to be, but paradoxically, he knows at the same time that he is, in the sight of God, more important than angels. In himself, nothing; in God, everything.”  – A.W. Tozer 

Our culture exalts a hero who conquers, who refuses to submit to others, and who challenges anyone who comes against his interests.  He saves the day or he solves the crime, he’s good at what he does and they need him—and he knows it.  Most of our cultural heroes don’t have an ounce of meekness or humility in them.   

To many, “meekness” suggests the idea of passivity, someone who is easily taken advantage of, spineless and wimpy. Meekness is a difficult concept to define, but displayed perfectly through Jesus. But meek does not mean weak. In Revelation 5:5-6, Jesus is referred to as the Lion and the Lamb. The Lion and the Lamb are descriptions of two aspects of the nature of Christ. We are to see Him as not only the conquering King who will slay the enemies of God at His return but also as the sacrificial Lamb who took away the sin from His people so they may share in His ultimate victory. Jesus was humble and meek but He had all the authority He ever needed. 

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, one of His disciples took a sword and cut off the ear of one of the arresting soldiers in the heat of the moment. In an act of mercy, and meekness, Jesus healed the soldier, then reprimanded His disciple. Jesus knew that it wasn’t time to fight back or insist on His own way. He simply humbled Himself and submitted to the authorities, willingly giving Himself up as a sacrifice on the cross. Jesus could have resisted. He had the power to call the angels for a dramatic rescue. He didn’t submit because He was weak. On the contrary, He was intentionally meek. Meekness is really humble strength under control.  

It may seem counterintuitive, but Jesus’ promise stands—a meek person will be happy or blessed. Jesus pronounces a blessing on everyone who is meek such as in Matthew 5:5 where He said “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Psalm 37:11 (ESV) says, “But the meek shall inherit the land and delight themselves in abundant peace.” 

Meekness is being humble and gentle towards others and willingly being submissive and obedient to the Lord. It is not being selfish and arrogant, loud or obnoxious. Rather, it’s having a quiet but confident trust in the Lord and being willing and able to do whatever it is He commands. In regards to how a meek person would treat others, they would definitely be humble and gentle both in their words and in their actions. Meekness means you don’t see others as better than yourselves.

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Everyone who has humility has meekness and every person with meekness is likely also humble. Agree or disagree and why? 
  2. When you think about meekness, what synonyms come to mind?
  3. Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth. What does He mean and how does that apply to us today?

What Would Jesus Do?

“For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered[a] for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” –  1 Peter 2:21-23. 

Most of us have made decisions with not enough thought put into them. Seldom do we slow down and ask a pivotal question, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” What would Jesus do if Jesus were running this meeting? If Jesus was having this discussion with my spouse, what would He do? If Jesus was handling my finances, what would He do differently? How would Jesus speak into the various problems and concerns that I face today?

Obviously, doing what Jesus would do is a tall order. Jesus prayed constantly, lived purely, labored patiently, and lived purposefully.  These are all things we can and should emulate if we want to follow in the footsteps of Jesus, and help us when we need to make some difficult decisions. 

Yes, we want to do what Jesus would do, and yes, we want to imitate Him as best we can. But if we truly want to imitate Christ, than it requires more than pondering what He would do when we face a tough circumstance or a difficult decision.  

If we want to imitate Christ we must know Him. If we are to know what it means to follow Christ, then we must seek to study Christ—-his life and teaching and, most importantly, his death and resurrection. It is not only a question of what would Jesus do, but what has Jesus done. Once we understand what Jesus has done, we can best understand how to follow Him faithfully. By focusing on what Jesus has done, we will be able to see the bigger picture of God’s plan to glorify himself through the life, death and resurrection of His Son. 

Asking what Jesus has done moves us to the question of “why?” Why did Jesus “…humble himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:8) By submitting to the Father’s will, Jesus revealed the Father’s love for His fallen creation. Although we don’t deserve it, God showed us love, mercy, and grace in Jesus’ death.  

What do we do when we realize the Son of God died on the cross for each of us? The appropriate response, of course, is thankfulness, bowing down, and acknowledging Christ as our Lord and Savior. And in the same vein, we look for ways to serve the Lord in our daily activities. So the question every person must grapple with is not only “What would Jesus do?” but rather “What will you do with Jesus?” 

Discussion Questions: 

  1. How can What Would Jesus Do be part of our daily lives? 
  2. How can What will you do for Jesus be part of our lives as well?   

Are We Paying Attention?

“For God is not unjust. He will not forget how hard you have worked for him and how you have shown your love to him by caring for other believers, as you still do.” – Hebrews 6:10.  

I don’t think we would want our attention spans measured. The results would be disappointing, because our attention spans are typically pretty short. We can’t focus when we get up because all we can think about is coffee. Then a second cup of coffee. And while drinking the coffee we wonder why we are still tired. There are enough distractions during the day that we stop paying attention to all that is happening around us.  

We have all seen him. He lies amidst a pile of newspapers in a park field, covered with a blanket that has seen better days.  People shuffle past him and around him trying not to make eye contact. He wasn’t there when we were young, but he is there now. Sometimes enough people complain and the police will relocate him, at least temporarily. But he will come back. And most people simply won’t pay any attention to him and go about their business.  

Such a man was Lazarus. In Luke 16:19-31 we read the familiar story of the rich man and Lazarus. It is sad to think of Lazarus sitting at the rich man’s gate and begging. Lazarus is a mess with the Bible telling us that “As Lazarus lay there longing for scraps from the rich man’s table, the dogs would come and lick his open sores.” (Vs. 21) We can’t even truly grasp the situation until we pay enough attention to see Lazarus. “Care about them as much as you care about yourselves” (Philippians 2:4)  You see, in this parable, the rich man did not see Lazarus. The rich man’s sin was not that he was rich, but that he did not take notice of his neighbor in need. He was too absorbed in himself to even to see the man sitting as near as his doorstep.

The question is how often have we unintentionally done the same thing. We would gladly help the person if we were simply paying attention. So often fixing a problem only requires us noticing that there is a problem and caring enough to want to help.  Think about when you are facing tough circumstances or you are just feeling low. In those times there is nothing like a phone call from a friend asking how they could help. Or a neighbor walking over to see if you are okay.  When people are paying attention and care enough to reach out to us it always seems to lift our spirits. In the same vein, have we taken notice of someone else whose world is caving in?   

If we want to be more like Jesus, we cannot just step over the person sitting at our gate as if he does not even exist. There are people all around us that need help. People who need us to pay attention and help them if we can.  

Discussion Questions:

  1. Am I aware of needs in my community that God might have equipped me to help fulfill?
  2. What can I do this week to pay better attention to those in need around me? 

Be Humble

“Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.” – Philippians 2:3-4. 

If humility is defined, in Paul’s terms, as “thinking of others as more important than yourself” then humility would appear to be a Christian virtue. Until Jesus Christ came, humility was considered a weakness and not a virtue. It’s not difficult to understand why humility would be frowned upon when pride rules in the hearts of the natural man. It goes completely against the “survival of the fittest” mentality, with the prize and the spoils going to those who are aggressive, assertive, and pursue their own interests, even if this means stepping over others to get ahead. Considering others as more important than ourselves would seem strange before Jesus. 

But, “thinking of others as more important than ourself” is exactly what Christians are told to do in Scripture. We are asked to be humble because Christ was humble. “Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” (Philippians 2:5–8).

So what does humility mean in real life? Consider this: Humility is living with the right understanding of who God is, who I am. There is a link between humility and seeing God clearly. Humility is recognizing that everything I have and need comes from God. It’s an attitude of heart that affects everything a person does and says. In Jesus’ words, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man on the cross, then you will understand that I am he. I do nothing on my own but say only what the Father taught me.’” (John 8:28). Jesus understood why He was sent. He loved His Father and came into this world to reveal Him. He recognized that everything in His life comes from His Father. 

Jesus was God and deserved to stay in heaven. Yet out of His great love for us, He chose to come to earth as a human. Jesus even chose to obey God to the point of dying an embarrassing and painful death on the cross for our sins. Jesus is the perfect example of humility, and we are to follow His example. Now, can we follow His example perfectly? No. Only Jesus can be perfectly humble, but because of His humility, He offers us salvation and forgiveness for all the times we’re not perfect. While our imperfect humility can’t bring salvation to others, like Jesus’ perfect humility did, it can help other people want to know more about our God. 

But it’s not easy to be humble, even if you really are. What is there about us that makes us want to receive credit? Why do we tend to compare ourselves to others? Why are we prone to find fault with others? In those times, in fact in all times, we need to remember that Jesus became nothing during His life on earth, and He gives us His example so that we may follow in His steps.  As John the Baptist said, ”He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less.” (John 3:30)

Discussion Questions: 

  1. Read Philippians 2:3-4 . How do these verses describe humility? (not being selfish or trying to impress, thinking of others, taking an interest in others) Why is it hard for us not to think about ourselves first?
  2. What can we do to remember who God is and who we are?