Monday, 29 August 2011

The "Law" of Generosity?

Several blog posts have caught my attention as I look at the subject of generosity.

Larry Jones writes about "Is Giving Really Giving?". He questions the supposed absolute of not expecting to receive anything in return (Luke 6:35). Through the act of giving we do experience an equivalent or reward. I believe that God has created a "universal law", whereby when we give back to Him and others, He opens up at least the possibility for equivalent rewards.

Here are some bible study notes on the morality of benevolence.

David Matthias offers an inspiring testimony of generous giving which did not involve any money changing hands! Read about how several people's pressing needs were met by sharing possessions.

Zach Nielsen offers some challenging insights on "financial peace" - the contentment that comes through being generous and unselfish with what has been entrusted to us. His post is particularly useful in that he links to various articles for and against the notion that money is by nature a danger to faith.

Here Nielsen puts his finger on the moral and intellectual dilemma we all face vis-à-vis our wealth:
'I’m afraid the framing of this discussion leads us to ask the wrong questions. Like the junior high boy who wonders "how far is too far" with his girlfriend, we are quickly caught up in questions about how rich is too rich, how poor is too poor, and the like. Where is the line? Do I feel guilty for having too much? Do the kids have enough? What does “enough” even mean? Should I feel guilty about not giving as much as so and so? If I give more, does that mean I am more spiritual? The hamster wheel of comparison, propelled by our spring-loaded legalism, keeps spinning to exhaustion. We are all tempted to be proud about what we give or feel guilty about what we don’t.'

Friday, 26 August 2011

Ground Rules for Generosity : Scripture

I came across this article, which gives a good overview of the principles and practical application of generosity in the churches of the New Testament.

It somehow seems appropriate, as we start looking at the theme of generosity, not to go to church-historical sources but with scripture. There are good reasons for this, and not least that among evangelical Christians today, few look beyond tithing (giving 10 percent of your income) as a guide for financial giving.

What follows are my own ponderings and interpretations, but they tally very well with those of the article linked to above.

God loves a cheerful giver is still the guiding principle [2 Corinthians9:7]. Human beings are creatures of habit. Drift easily sets in and we lose the freshness of sacrificial giving and the joy of generosity. Many Christians then find convenient ways of justifying personal wealth by giving a bit here and there.

In the gospels, there are examples of 'giving to charity' in today's sense, e.g. John13:29. Yet chiefly we are urged to show justice to the poor by identifying with them and sharing what we have with them in the new, classless society that is the Church. That's why the first Church in Jerusalem shared meals in homes with glad and generous hearts, and met each other's financial needs by sacrificial giving [Acts 2:45-46]. It was the Holy-Spirit-inspired pattern for all ages.

Everyone must give, and the New Testament way is "the apostles' feet": you give to your church for God's work. How much to give? Tithing is an Old Testament practice which is not laid on Christians. It can be a start, but Jesus, the pioneer of a new covenant, shows a new way:
give everything you can - which is usually more than you think you can.

The Apostle Paul gives some helpful guidelines:
* Give as much as you can [2 Corinthians 8:3];
* Give freely, without pressure [ibid, v.3,8];
* Give cheerfully, not grudgingly [chap.9:5-8];
* Give as an expression of care and unity in the kingdom of God [chap.8:4];
* Give, trusting God to bless and reward the lavish heart [chap.8:4].
* Give as an act of worship and thanksgiving, and be blessed in blessing others [chap.9:14-15].

Thursday, 18 August 2011

A Challenge To Generosity

Having looked in recent posts at sustainability and simplicity, the logical next step is GENEROSITY.

This post by Phil Whittall is a good starting point. The issue of generosity, he writes, goes further than simply the wallet - "it reveals the condition of my soul." He assesses very honestly the natural selfishness of his own (and, no doubt, your) conditioned responses, which instinctively says spend and not give. He concludes, bravely: "My hope for my baby son, is that I can introduce him to the greater joy of giving before he figures out the lesser joy of receiving."

One very early Christian text can back this up. The 'Didache' (pronounced "didder-key", it's Greek for "teaching") is of uncertain date, but internal evidence leads most commentators to place it at the latest AD 100. It is a short handbook of moral and practical governance for churches, perhaps in Syria, and it is anonymous.

Here are some quotations on generosity (and meanness) which carry the freshness of Early Church clarity.

Let your money sweat in your hands until you know to whom you should give it.

Be not one who stretches out his hands to receive, but shuts them when it comes to giving.

Do not hesitate to give, nor grumble when you give; remember who is the good Paymaster of the reward [i.e. God].

Share everything with your brother, and do not say it is your own; for if you are sharers in the imperishable, how much more in perishable things?

Whittall concludes: "I want a richer life and that means giving. I want to be like Jesus and that means giving, I want to be blessed by God and that means giving. So I don’t want to work out how to live on less but work out how to give more." It is desires like that which resonate so well with the Early Church, as shown in the Didache. More than that, they're prophetic.

Friday, 5 August 2011

Simplicity - an Imperative for Now

Back in May 2011 I posted this. In particular I wanted to 'big up' Mark Powley's phrase: The pendulum is swinging back to community.

Already I could see a number of branches growing out from that trunk, and the first that I set out to explore was the twin theme of SIMPLICITY and SUSTAINABILITY. My last six posts used Basil of Caesarea's timeless thoughts and provocations to illustrate the theme.

I had thought to move on to the next branch, but then Martin Charlesworth posted this on the Jubilee Blog. It arrested me, challenged me, and rang such bells with all that I've been posting from Basil, that I commend it to you here.

What I have tried to underpin historically, Martin shouts from the rooftop as a word for today. Here are his concluding points.

Simplicity is more about an attitude of heart.

Simplicity is the willingness to ask the hard questions about what we own.

Simplicity is the willingness to be thankful for what we have, rather than restless for what we hope to acquire.

Simplicity is about choosing not to define ourselves by what we own.

Simplicity is about staring out materialism.

Simplicity is about the exciting risk of faith in giving away as much as possible.

Simplicity is about being deeply thankful for the things we possess and then finding joy in living for people.

Simplicity is about remembering the poor every day and thinking about the rich only about once a month.

Simplicity is about travelling lightly through this world.

Simplicity is about following Jesus – the master of simplicity.

The pendulum swinging back to community? I think so!