The Contagious Generosity of God

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We read about the generosity of the early Jerusalem church in Acts 4:

“And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there were no needy persons among them. ” (Acts 4:33-34)

The result of God’s grace at work within the church was a generosity that was unparalleled by those around them. It was a generosity that was contagious. Of course, we know that the source of this generosity was God Himself.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

The God that we hear about in the Bible, that we are dealing with in Christianity, is a generous God. God is not stingy, but gives us what we could not get through our own means. The word that captures God’s generosity is grace.

Grace means that we receive what we do not deserve. The God of the universe, in one sense, owns everything, and we have nothing. Yet, though we have nothing, and, perhaps, have less than nothing because of the dark power of sin that infects our lives, God does not give up on this wonderful, cracked creation of which we are a part.

God does more than not give up on the creation. He gives into the creation, taking on human flesh and bone to live in the messy and marvelous world we inhabit. And God coming in, Jesus the Messiah, though He holds all things as His own, lets them go that we might partake of His treasures.

Like some cosmic Robin Hood, Jesus comes to take from the rich to give to the poor…except He is both the rich man and the revolutionary, giving all He can into our lives.

“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich.” (2 Corinthians 8:9)

We come empty to God, and He fills us.

Christianity tells us that God is generous.

And it is because God is generous that His people, too, become generous. This is what we see in the New Testament record. It is not just the Jerusalem church, but the Antioch church that sends off its best to share the message of Christ with the rest of the known world in Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:1-3). It is the Thessalonian church whose faith rang out in the known world because of how they lived it out (1 Thessalonians 4:2-10).

God is a generous God, and His generosity – His grace – is contagious within His people.

A Prayer of Clement of Alexandria

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Be kind to Your little children, Lord; that is what we ask of You as their Tutor, You the Father, Israel’s guide; Son, yes, but Father as well. Grant that by doing what You told us to do, we may achieve a faithful likeness to the Image and, as far as is possible for us, may find in You a good God and a lenient Judge.

May we all live in the peace that comes from You. May we journey towards Your city, sailing through the waters of sin untouched by the waves, borne tranquilly along by the Holy Spirit, Your Wisdom beyond all telling. Night and day until the last day of all, may our praises give You thanks, our thanksgiving praise You: You who alone are both Father and Son, Son and Father, the Son who is our Tutor and our Teacher, together with the Holy Spirit.

By St. Clement of Alexandria, early teacher and apologist for the faith.

A Crash Course in the Gospel (Ephesians 2:1-10)

Ephesians

One of my favorite books of the Bible is the Psalms. Through the Psalms I have learned how to pray. One of my other favorites is the Gospel of John. John’s telling of Jesus’ story has helped me connect my spiritual longings with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ so powerfully. Right after the Psalms and John comes Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Here, the basic contours of right thinking about God and right living with God come together in such a short space that every sentence strikes with power.

This past weekend at Eastbrook Church, as I continued with our series “Ephesians: A Crash Course in Basic Christianity,” I had the privilege of addressing one of my favorite Scriptural texts in this favorite book of mine. I turned to Ephesians 2:1-10 for “A Crash Course in the Gospel.”

You can watch my message from this past weekend and follow along with the message outline below. You can also engage with the entire series here or download the Eastbrook mobile app for even more opportunities for involvement.

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Makoto Fujimura, Images of Grace: Charis

Makoto Fujimura, Sacrificial Grace; Mineral Pigments and Gold on Kumohada; 1997.

 

Makoto Fujimura, Tree Grace; Gold, Silver, Mineral Pigments on Kumohada; 1998.

 

Makoto Fujimura, Grace Psalm; Gold, Silver, Mineral Pigments on Kumohada; 1997.

 

Makoto Fujimura, Grace Foretold; Mineral Pigments, Gold on Kumohada; 1997.

 

Makoto Fujimura, Charis; Mineral Pigments, Gold on Kumohada; 2008.

Is the Kingdom of God Fair?

In Matthew 19:16-20:16 we read one of Jesus’ most challenging conversations, an exchange with a wealthy young man, which is followed by a parable about workers in a vineyard. It is challenging to read both because the wealthy young man struggles with Jesus, but also because the parable quickly touches upon some of our in-built cultural values in North America.

First, the wealthy young man cannot give all for following Jesus because the possessions in his life have too strong a grip on him. He cannot obey Jesus’ words, “go, sell your possessions and give to the poor…then come, follow me” (Matthew 19:21). The greatness of his wealth became a roadblock to his discipleship. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). The apostles are flabbergasted in light of the prevailing Jewish view that wealth affirms God’s blessing on one’s life. If those who are wealthy cannot enter the kingdom with ease (19:23-24) then what about those who are not wealthy? What about the ones, like them, who have little and have even given their meager resources for the kingdom? How much more difficult, they thought, will it be for people with little to enter the kingdom.

And so, Jesus goes on to tell a parable to expand on the idea that “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first” (19:30). It is a parable of troublesome grace for those, like me, who operate on the system of fairness. A landowner hires five rounds of workers through the course of the day to work in his vineyard. While those hired first worked all day, those hired last worked only a few hours. But here is where the scandalous grace comes in: the landowner pays all the workers the same day’s wage regardless of when they began work. The earliest workers agreed to this (20:2, 13), but they are offended by the generosity of the landowner. In the back of my mind, a voice cries out like an alarm: “it’s just not fair!”

But that is just the point. The Kingdom of God is not about fairness, but about grace. What the earliest followers of Jesus thought was the system of fairness in God’s blessing was turned upside down. “Many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” Why? Because in His scandalous generosity, God unleashes grace without measure on all who come to Him. Whether early or late, we all receive an equal portion of the grace of God that is without measure or bounds.

The Weekend Wanderer: 22 December 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

apocalypse“Why Apocalypse is Essential to Advent” – I am just concluding a long preaching series on the book of Daniel at Eastbrook Church entitled, “Daniel: Apocalyptic Imagination and Exile Faith.” Moving through the entire book this Fall brought the apocalyptic visions of the second half of the book into alignment with the season of Advent. I have not had a better preparation for Advent than this in a long time. Because of all that, I really could not agree more with Fleming Rutledge in this excellent essay over at Christianity Today.

 

cherries“Grace” – Over at First Things you will find a beautiful, narrative reflection on grace and Advent by Patricia Snow. It begins: “On a hazy afternoon in late May 1986, I wait, as I wait every weekday afternoon in a parking lot in Branford, Connecticut, for my son to be dismissed from school. While I wait, I listen to Ceci, another mother new to the school, whose son is in my son’s class. She is telling me about her car.”

 

The head pastor of the Zion church in Beijing Jin Mingri poses for picures in the lobby of the unofficial Protestant "house" church in Beijing

“Detention of 100 Christians raises concerns about religious crackdown in China” – The intense pressure by the Chinese government continues to be felt by minorities of all types, and specifically upon individual Christians and church communities. This latest report, occurring last weekend, highlights the ways that President Xi is ratcheting up control to degrees that have not been experienced for quite some time. Religious freedom is a real issue in many parts of the world and Christians must be aware of the present challenges. One church in China is responding more vocally than normal to this challenging situation: “‘Faithful disobedience’: An influential house church in China responds to a wave of police detentions.”

 

Beth Moore“Max Lucado Reveals Past Sexual Abuse at Evangelical #MeToo Summit” – An important event took place last week in Wheaton, IL, related to the #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements. “Today, [Beth] Moore joined major evangelical leaders—including Australian evangelist Christine Caine, bestselling author and San Antonio pastor Max Lucado, and Seattle pastor Eugene Cho—for a Billy Graham Center event called Reflections: A GC2 Summit on Responding to Sexual Harassment, Abuse, and Violence. The event represents the largest inter-denominational response to sex abuse since #MeToo took off last fall.”

 

merlin_147632778_6dffd07c-9d53-48f3-b187-adaaca0217c5-superJumbo“Internet Church Isn’t Really Church” – In case you weren’t clear on what church is, Laura Turner writes to at least help you understand that online church isn’t really church. Of course, this is in part a response to Judah Smith’s launching of a church app for personal, online worship, but that is merely the latest iteration of something that has been happening for years now. Turner writes: “This, then, is the beauty of the church: not that it is perfect or convenient or fits easily into my life but that without it, my life would be deficient. I could still believe in God without the church, could celebrate Christmas without it, or go once a year. But I don’t believe I would truly be a Christian without the real, in-person, Sunday morning church.”

 

hillsong worship“Where next for contemporary worship music?” – Speaking of modern afflictions of church, here is Madeleine Davies’ exploration of the history of worship music and the challenges that it faces today. This is not a short read, which means that it is really worth reading. I would encourage you to take the time to read through this piece and reflect on what worship really means and how music is or is not a part of that.

 

Marsh-and-Fannie-300x225.jpg“Charles Marsh Delivers DuBose Lectures at Sewanee University” – At the end of November Dr. Charles Marsh, professor of religious studies and director of the Project on Lived Theology at the University of Virginia, delivered the DuBose Lectures. His topics bring within their range some of my own greatest areas of interest: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, his ‘religionless’ Christianity, civil rights, Martin Luther King, Jr., and so much more. I have not listened to the lectures in their entirety, but hope to do so soon.

 

Vitamin waterVitamin Water will pay you big bucks to give up your phone for a year – Armed with $100,000 offer and a lie detector test, Vitamin Water is reaching out to see if anyone could really go for an entire year without their smart phone. I’m tempted to go for this, but not sure I could complete all the requirements in the fine print since I preach from an iPad on weekends as a way to avoid using paper notes each weekend. Maybe you could do it!

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]