Generosity is a Response to God’s Saving Grace

God exemplified true generosity by providing a means of salvation for all who will accept His free gift.  Romans 5:8 tells us, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”  Jesus is the only perfect person who has ever lived on this earth.  The rest of us are not perfect.  We do not deserve to be saved.  Yet, Jesus went to the cross and paid the price for our sins.   Jesus’s sacrifice was a manifestation of God’s love and generosity.

Because God is generous to us, we should be generous with others.  Generosity should flow from the hearts of Christians in response to God’s love for us.  He has given us so much and we, in turn, give a portion of  it to those around us who are in need.  James tells us that “Pure and undefiled religion before God and the Father is this:  to visit orphans and widows in their trouble, and to keep oneself unspotted from the world.”  James 1:27

In the seventh chapter of Zechariah, the people of Israel are crying out to God for relief from their oppressors. They protest that they have prayed, fasted, and mourned.  The Lord tells Zechariah that they are just going through the motions, without having a right heart.  If there hearts were right, they would take care of those in need.  “Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.”  Zechariah 7: 9, 10

James goes on to say that true faith is demonstrated when we take actions to help our fellow man. “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 you 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

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Generosity should not be confused with socialism or income distribution. God has never directed His people to take care of those who are able but unwilling to care for themselves.  In fact, Paul wrote that “the one who is unwilling to work shall not eat.”  2 Thessalonians 3: 10 

Generosity is to be shown to widows, orphans, and those who are in true need of help.  We should take every opportunity to help those who need help as an outpouring of gratitude to God for His love for us and as a means to demonstrate to those in need that God loves and cares for them.

That the Works of God Should be Revealed

The entire ninth chapter of John is devoted to the story of Jesus healing a man who had been blind from birth.  As I listened to my pastor preach from this text on Sunday, I was particularly impressed by the first few verses in which the disciples assumed that the man’s blindness was the result of sin, either by the blind man himself or his parents.

Jesus responds to their question in verse 3, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him.”

What a powerful statement.  This was a grown man who had spent his childhood and some portion of his adult life blind, in order that Jesus could heal him on this particular day and reveal to the world that He had the power to forgive sins and to heal infirmities.

This struck a personal chord with me.  When I was 5, my mother gave birth to my brother John.  In the weeks after his birth, we came to realize that John could neither see nor hear.  The doctors said that John’s birth defects were due to my mother having contracted German measles while pregnant. When John was 3, however, it became clear that he was born as he was in order that God might reveal Himself to our family.

 

My mother casually asked the wife of my father’s commanding officer to pray for John, as he was to undergo surgery in an attempt to provide him with some limited sight.  The woman responding by coming over to our house immediately and sharing Jesus with my mother and encouraging her to read the Gospel of John.  My mother read John that very night and accepted Jesus as her Lord and Savior.

Over the next four years, all the members of our immediately family accepted Jesus as their Savior.  Soon after my father’s salvation, God called John home to Heaven.  John did not receive his sight or hearing while on Earth.  He never learned to speak and never shared the Gospel with anyone, yet we know that the salvation of our family and many others is credited to his account in Heaven.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful to God for revealing Himself to our family by sending us John.

Do Not Fret Because of Evil Men

There is no doubt that our nation is becoming ever more accepting of sin and wickedness.  Over the past several decades, we have legalized the murdering of unborn children, accepted adultery and other forms of sexual immorality as the norm, and determined that everyone should do what is right in his or her own eyes.  As a person who strives to honor and glorify the Lord in my life, I find it is easy to become discouraged.  Our nation is pulling further and further from God and Christian are becoming persecuted for standing up for our beliefs.

As I read God’s word, however, I realize that this is nothing new.  Sinners have always done evil and tried to persecute those who serve the Lord.  David wrote often about his sufferings in the years between being anointed to be the next king of Israel and the fulfillment of that promise.

Psalm 36 opens with these words from David, “An oracle is within my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked:  There is no fear of God before his eyes.  For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.”  (Psalm 36:  1,2)  Wow!  Interesting choice of words, for sure:  “in his own eyes, he flatters himself.”   I have never thought of those who are leading our nation deeper into sins as flatters of themselves, but it does make senses.  Those who support the killing of innocent, unborn children have convinced themselves that they are ‘protecting the rights of women.’  This is certainly an example of self-flattery.  Not only have they convinced themselves that abortion is not a sin, but they congratulate themselves on doing something good and noble.

David continues, “The words of his [the wicked] mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good.  Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong.”  (Psalm 36: 3, 4)

It truly is discouraging to witness politicians and political activists leading our nation to even greater depths of sin.  Yet, I know that God is on the throne.  He allows mankind to run the show for a while, but He is never far away and He will not allow this evil to continue indefinitely.  In Psalm 37:7 – 9 David reminds us of this.  “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.  Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret–it leads only to evil.  for evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.”

 

Meditations of My Heart

Psalm 19: 14 says, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O Lord, my strength and my Redeemer.” 

This verse is an oft-quoted one.  I have used it numerous times in teaching children that it is important to watch what we put into our heart and what comes out of our mouths.  In particular, I have used it to teach that God is displeased when we speak words that are angry, hurtful, vulgar, or lies.  In conjunction, I teach them that these displeasing words will be in our hearts and come out of our mouths, if we feed our minds with similar thoughts through the shows and movies we watch and the books we read.

As I read this verse recently, however, the Lord opened my eyes to see that all words and thoughts that are self-focused are unacceptable to Him.  When I dwell on my problems and the challenges I face in life, then the meditations of my heart are not acceptable to Him.  I turn my focus from Him to the world.  My thoughts can easily become dark and depressing, because we live in a troubled, fallen world.

We will all face times of enormous challenge in life, such as the loss of loved ones, the loss of a job, and struggles with our health.  In these times, we will naturally focus more on ourselves than on others.  But, we should never take our eyes off Jesus.  “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in times of trouble.” (Psalm 46:1)

The psalmist David cried out to the Lord in a time of trouble, “How long must I wrestle with my thoughts and every day have sorrow in my heart?” (Psalm 13:2, NIV)  Then he reminded himself, “But I trust in Your unfailing love; my heart rejoices in Your salvation.  I will sing to the Lord for He has been good to me.” (Psalm 13:5-6, NIV)

The way out of the pits of despair we dig for ourselves is to turn our eyes upon Jesus and to remember His unfailing love.  When the meditations of my heart are not pleasing to the Lord, I need to turn my eyes back to Him and rejoice in His salvation and sing to Him.  For indeed, the Lord has been good to me.

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When God Sends Hardships Our Way

Hardships are a fact of life that we prefer to avoid.  We ask God to send blessings our way and to keep hardships far from us.  When hardships do come, we tend to blame them on the devil.  But, have you ever stopped to think the God might have sent hardship your way?

This reality hit home recently as I read Genesis 15.  This is the chapter where God promises Abram that He will make him a great nation and that His descendants will be as numerous as the stars.  Yet, in the same breath, God tells Abram that the his children will be enslaved in Egypt.

“Then He brought him outside and said, ‘Look now toward heaven and count the stars if you are able to number them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.'”  Genesis 15:5

“Then He said to Abram: ‘Know certainly that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them for four hundred years.  And also the nation whom they serve I will judge; afterward they shall come out with great possessions.”  Genesis 15:13, 14

“But in the fourth generation they shall return here, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete.” Genesis 15:16

Stop and think about this for a minute.  Is that the kind of promise you want for your unborn children:  They will be enslaved for 400 years.  I might have been tempted to tell God that I was just fine without children.  But, Abraham didn’t.  He believed God would supply him with many descendants and that God would bless them through the hardships that would come their way.

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In Exodus, we see this promise fulfilled.  When God sent Moses to Pharaoh to demand His people be set free, Pharaoh made life harder for the Israelites.  As Pharaoh continued to ignore Moses’ warnings, God encouraged Moses that He was in control and that these things were happening so that “the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.” (Exodus 7:5)

Later Moses tells Pharaoh that the plagues are being sent so “that you may know that there is no one like the Lord our God.” (Exodus 8:10).  In Exodus 10:1- 2, God encourages Moses, “Go in to Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart and the hearts of his servants, that I may show these signs of Mine before him, and that you may tell in the hearing of your son and your son’s son the mighty things I have done in Egypt, and My signs which I have done among them, that you may know that I am the Lord.”

Through the hardships of enslavement that the Israelites endured, God showed His mighty power and instilled in them that He is the Lord God almighty.  The Israelites grew to be a mighty nation and left Egypt with great wealth. When they left Egypt, there was no doubt in the minds of the Egyptians that the God of Israel is the one true God.

God allowed the hardship of slavery to come to the Israelites to bring glory to Himself and to spread His fame throughout the world.  God’s fame was still being talked about forty years later when the Israelites finally entered the Promised Land and spies were sent out Jericho. Rahab told the spies, “We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt….And as soon as we heard these things our hearts melted; neither did there remain any more courage in anyone because of you, for the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”  (Joshua 2: 10, 11)

As God has revealed to me that He uses hardships for His glory and His purposes, I have become more willing to pray that God bring into my life whatever circumstances will glorify Him and draw my unsaved loved ones to Him.

Resilience Despite Mistakes and Adversity

I have just finished chapter 5 of Jodi Detrick’s book The Jesus-Hearted Woman.  The chapter is titled ‘Resilience.’  In it Detrick discusses the need to continue fulfilling the tasks God has called us to even when (1) we make mistakes, (2) others hurt us, or (3) life throws curve balls our way.  Detrick refers to these events as My Bad, Their Bad and Too Bad.  Her discussion questions at the end of the chapter focused on Joseph and the resilience he needed in order to become the leader God desired him to be. Unfortunately, Joseph experienced a number of My Bad, Their Bad and Too Bad moments along the way.

As a young man, Joseph had a dream that his brothers bowed down to him.  Unfortunately, sharing the first dream was one of Joseph’s ‘My Bad’ moments.  His brothers already were angry with him because he brought a bad report about them to his father, and they were jealous that their father loved Joseph more than his other sons. This dream added fuel to the fire.  Genesis 37:8 tells us, “So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.”  If this wasn’t enough, Joseph had a second dream in which not only his brothers but also his parents bowed down to him.  And, of course, he shared this dream with his father and brothers–another ‘My Bad’ action. His brothers were angry and wanted revenge on Joseph.

Joseph experienced a ‘Their Bad’ moment when his brothers sold him as a slave to a company of Ishmaelites.  Joseph was bought by Potiphar, a captain of the guard in Pharaoh’s army.  God favored Joseph, and he rose to a position of prominence in Potiphar’s household. Apparently Joseph wasn’t yet ready for the leadership role God had in store for him, as he was falsely accused of inappropriate behavior toward his master’s wife and thrown in prison–another ‘Their Bad’ moment.

We don’t know how long Joseph was imprisoned, but we do know that thirteen years passed between the time his brothers sold him and when Pharaoh released him.  At least several of these years were spent in prison.  It must have been difficult for Joseph to sit in prison year and year waiting for God to deliver him.  I am sure that he recognized that he and his father bore some responsibility for his brothers’ hatred toward him, but he was completely innocent of the charges brought against him by Potiphar’s wife.  It would have been easy for Joseph to become bitter about the circumstances of his life.  He could have convinced himself that God was against him and that his life was over.  But Joseph didn’t get angry and he didn’t give up.  He persevered.  He was resilient despite all the adverse things that had happened to him.

Genesis 39: 21 – 22 tells us, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison.  And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing.”  Joseph’s rise in the prison to a position of leadership did not come overnight.  He had to prove to the keeper that he was reliable and responsible. As he did, his responsibilities increased until Joseph was running the prison.   After some time had passed, the king’s chief butler and chief baker were imprisoned.  Joseph interpreted dreams for each of them which came to pass just as he had foretold. Joseph had shared his plight with the butler and asked the butler to mention his situation to Pharaoh.  How he must have hoped that his release from prison would come soon.  Yet, we read in Genesis 41:1, that another two years passed before the chief butler remembered Joseph.  ‘Too Bad,’ but again Joseph was resilient and persevered.

Eventually, however, Pharaoh had a dream which his wise men could not interpret.  It was then that the butler remembered Joseph.  Joseph interpreted the dreams, being careful to give all the glory to God.  He shared with Pharaoh that God was giving him an opportunity to prepare Egypt for the coming famine.  Pharaoh appointed Joseph to a position of great power, second in command only to Pharaoh himself.  Joseph was used by God to save Egypt and Joseph’s own family from starvation.

We can only surmise as to why God delayed Joseph’s release from prison.  Certainly, in prison Joseph was developing the leadership skills he would need later as a leader over Egypt.  During those years, Joseph continued to serve the Lord and God’s favor was on him.  As the leader of Egypt, Joseph had grown and changed much from the arrogant teenager his brothers had sold into slavery.  When Joseph appeared before Pharaoh, he was humble and quick to give the glory to God.  God opened Pharaoh’s eyes to see that Joseph was the right person to lead Egypt through the coming famine.

Any one in leadership positions faces My Bad, Their Bad, and Too Bad situations on occasion.  The challenges Joseph faced prepared him for more leadership responsibilities. Like Joseph, we must be resilient and allow the adversities we face to help us develop as leaders.  As we do, we will be able to do more and accomplish more, until we complete the work God has called us to do.

Showing Up One’s Enemies

Have you ever been in a situation where you were hurt or embarrassed and you said to yourself, “I’ll show them.”?  I have on many occasions.  I can remember thinking something along the lines of, “If I win the award, that will teach them.”  Or “People will take me seriously if ….”  It’s seems odd to me that as I write this, I cannot remember any of the offenses that caused me to have those thoughts, but I clearly recall thinking them.  I hope, and pray, that my lack of recall stems from truly forgiving those who hurt me.

As I read Psalm 109 this morning, I felt like David was expressing this same basic sentiment.  He begins Psalm 109 by calling on the Lord to come to his defense.  “O God, whom I praise, do not remain silent.”  (Psalm 109:1).  David spend the next several verses laying out his complaint to the Lord:

  • “they have spoken against me with lying tongues” (v. 2)
  • “they attack me without cause” (v. 3)
  • “they accuse me” (v. 4)
  • “they repay me evil for good, and hatred for friendship” (v. 5)

David then clearly and specifically asked God to destroy his enemies.  He asks that God cut his enemy’s life short, leaving his wife and children with no means of support, so that they have to take to the streets as beggars.  He furthers requests that no one show kindness to this family and that the family name be blotted out.

David then reminds the Lord that David was not the only one his enemy treated badly.  “For he never thought of doing a kindness, but hounded to death the poor and the needy and the brokenhearted.” (v. 16)

Does David’s complaint sound familiar?  If we are honest, we all have to admit that we have made, or at least thought, similar statements.  “He’s the meanest man I have ever met.”  “She never has a nice word to say about anyone.”  “He would step on his own mother if it would help his reach his goal.”

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There will always be mean people in this world, and when we encounter them, we often wish evil on them, as David did.  Or we hope to show them up.  If we can play fair and still win, that will really show them.  Or if God blesses us mightily, they will wish they had been nicer, fairer, kinder.  This sentiment is expressed by David near the end of this psalm.

In verse 21, David writes “But you, O Sovereign Lord, deal well with me for your name’s sake; out of the goodness of your love, deliver me.”  He goes on to say, “Let them know that it is your hand, that you, O Lord, have done it.  They may curse, but you will bless; when they attack, they will be put to shame, but your servant will rejoice.  My accusers will be clothed with disgrace and wrapped in shame as in a cloak. (Psalm 109: 27 – 29)

If David, a man after God’s own heart, wanted to show up his enemies and disgrace them, we cannot hope to feel less animosity toward our enemies.  The desire to show up one’s enemies and force them to realize that God is blessing you is a natural one.  However, like David, we need to remember that if God answers our prayer as we desire, it is for His sake and for His glory that He does so.  David reminded God that since David is his servant, God is glorified when David prospers.

We should also remember that David’s son Solomon advised treating our enemies with kindness.  “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink.  In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”  (Proverbs 25:22)  Solomon is reminding us that although we may pray for God to embarrass our enemies and show them up by blessing us, we are still to treat our enemies fairly.   And Jesus taught us to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  (Matthew 5:44)   Justice is to be left to the Lord. 

love your enemies

So, the next time you feel like showing up your enemy, maybe you should stop and pray for him.  Ask God what kindnesses He would have you show him.  You may be heaping burning coals on his head, but you may also open his eyes to the love of the Lord, and in doing so,  your enemy may become your brother in Christ.

What situations have occurred in your life where you really wanted God to honor you in a way that would show up your enemies and make them take notice that God had blessed you?

How have you ‘heaped burning coals’ on your enemy’s head?