Are we defined by a generous spirit? What if we asked our friends who know us best? Thoughts on living generously.

As I have mentioned at other times in our life together, I was made say “thank you” by my parents long before I ever knew the true meaning of gratitude. Why? So that I would know how to respond when I finally discovered that emotion on my own. Later I helped my parents prepare to file the family income tax form. As I was adding up my parents’ annual contributions I offered my dad some teenage advice: “Dad, if you would cut back to tithing (that is giving 10% of your income) we could afford the car I want to buy!” Needless to say he did not listen to my “wisdom” and along the way I began to understand something about generosity. At this point in Cindy and my marriage we have given away moneys equal to what our first house will cost us and I can honestly say we have not missed the resources we gave away. That spirit has also allowed us to join the “junky car club” who’s motto is “living with less, so we can give more.” Click on the link if you want to join as well. The following are my thoughts on Adam Hamilton’s chapter “Defined by Generosity” from the book ENOUGH: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life. (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Some give freely, yet grow all the richer; others withhold what is due, and only suffer want. A generous person will be enriched, and one who gives water will get water. (Proverbs 11:24-25)

Those who are generous are blessed, for they share their bread with the poor. (Proverbs 22:9)

A Theological Foundation for a Generous Life

We Are Created to Be Generous and Tempted to Hoard: God created us with the willingness to give—to God and to others. This design is part of our who we are — we need to be generous. Yet there are two voices that “war” against our God-given impulse toward generosity. These voices tempt us to keep or hoard what we have.

  • First, there is a voice of fear. Fear, of what might happen to us, along with a misplaced idea about the true source of our security, keeps us from being generous and leads us to hoard what we have. The truth is that hoarding offers us no real security in this world.
  • Second, we are tempted by the voice of self-gratification. Our culture tells us that our lives consist in the abundance of our possessions and pleasurable experiences. So we find ourselves thinking “If I give” there won’t be enough left for me.

We Can Defeat the Voices of Fear and Self Gratification: When we give our lives to Christ, invite him to be Lord, and allow the Holy Spirit to begin changing us from the inside out, we find that our fears begin to dissipate and our aim in life shifts from seeking personal pleasure to pleasing God and caring for others. Although we still may wrestle with the voices from time to time, we are able to silence them more readily and effectively the more we grow in Christ. And the more we grow in Christ, realizing that our lives belong to him, the more generous we become. Generosity is a fruit of spiritual growth.

There Are Biblical Reasons to Give to God and Others

  • We find more joy in doing things for other people and for God than we ever did in doing things for ourselves. (Acts 20:35)
  • In the very act of losing our lives, we find life. (Matthew 16:25)
  • Life is a gift and all that we are and all that we have (and everything else as well) belongs to God. (Psalm 24:1; Leviticus 25:23)

Biblical Guidelines for Giving: From the early days of the Old Testament, God’s people observed the practice of giving some portion of the best of what they had to God. A gift offered to God was called the first fruits or the tithe, and it equaled one-tenth of one’s flocks or crops or income. Abraham was the first to give a tithe or tenth (see Genesis 14:20, Genesis 28:18-22, and Leviticus 27:30-33).

  • Giving a tithe. As Christians who live under the new covenant, we are not bound by the Law of Moses; we look to it as a guide. Yet most Christians agree that the tithe is a good guideline for our lives, and one that is pleasing to God. Though tithing can be a struggle, it is possible at virtually every income level. If you cannot tithe right away, take a step in that direction. Perhaps you can give 2 percent or 5 percent or 7 percent. God understands where you are, and God will help you make the adjustments necessary for you to become more and more generous.
  • Giving beyond the tithe. Tithing is a floor, not a ceiling. God calls us to grow beyond the tithe. We should strive to set aside an additional percentage of our income as offerings for other things that are important to us (e.g. mission projects, schools, church building funds, and other nonprofit organizations).

What Our Giving Means to God

How Does Our Giving Affect God? From the earliest biblical times, the primary way people worshipped God was by building an altar and offering the fruit of one’s labors upon it to God. They would burn the sacrifice of an animal or grain as a way of expressing their gratitude, devotion, and desire to honor God. The scent of the offering was said to be pleasing to God. It wasn’t that God loved the smell of burnt meat and grain. Rather, God saw that people were giving a gift that expressed love, faith, and the desire to please and honor God; and this moved God’s heart. When given in this spirit, our offerings bless the Lord.

  • Jesus said: “Give and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into you lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:38).
  • The Parable of the Talents reveal a God who expects us to be productive, to take risks, and know that those risks are rewarded (see Matthew 25:14-30).

How Our Generosity Affects Us

Through Giving Our Hearts Are Changed: When we are generous—to God and to our families, friends, neighbors, and others who are in need—our hearts are filled with joy. They are enlarged by the very act of giving. When we give generously, we become more generous.

In Giving We Find the Blessings of God (Malachi 3:10): Many Christians have it wrong. They say that if you give, then God will give more back to you.This is not how it works. We do not give to God so that we can get something in return. The amazing thing is that when we give to God and to others, the blessings just seem to come back to us. Of course, there is no guarantee that if you tithe you will never lose your job or never have other bad things happen to you. Nevertheless, when we give generously, the unmistakable blessings of God flow into our lives.

Jesus said where your treasure is there your heart is also. Jesus says “follow the money” … wish he hadn’t!

Recently I was listending to a conversation with Tim Sanders on his new book Today We Are Rich. Tim tells the story of his grandmother Billye taking him into her home and raising him as her own. In his early years Tim remembers the day a stranger happened to visit their very humble farm. He was out of work and trying to get to another town in New Mexico and was desperate to perform some work in order to get a good meal. Billye and the man agreed to do some chores around the house in exchange for $10 in wages. The man worked hard that day under Tim’s youthful “supervision” and at the close of the day Billye paid the man with a twenty dollar bill and offered him a pair of his grandfather’s shoes. As the man walked away with wealth in pocket and new shoes on his feet Billye whispered to Tim: “Today we are rich!” (check out the inteview on the Catalyst podcast: Episode 131 with Tim Sanders)

If you ask most people to define wealth its always one dollar more than they make. Someone else is always richer. Today I want to challenge you to see that you are rich when you have time, talent and resources to share and to spare. Which means most of us are rich!

Today I want to invite you to ponder one of Jesus’ sayings with me. In the sermon on the mount Jesus offers this insight “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:21). This is so true that it hurts. As a spiritual exercise open your checkbook up and see where your biggest expenditures are. I remember as a teenager doing this with my parents’ checkbook and suggesting that the car I wanted could be found if my parents were to cut back to tithing. I discovered that they gave away almost eighteen percent of their income that year … Jesus says to us follow the money to find where your heart truly is. I wish it was not so, but you can wander into my libraries (one room does not hold all my books) and you will know that I treasure books and the knowledge they hold. What is your treasure? 

As a closing thought you may want to “follow the money” and ask yourself do I use my time, talent, and resources for purposes that honor God and bless others? If so, then join me in saying “Today We Are Rich.”

The following are my notes from reading about “Wisdom and Finance” in Adam Hamilton’s book ENOUGH: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity.

  • The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want (Proverbs 21:5).
  • Precious treasure remains in the house of the wise, but the fool devours it (Proverbs 21:20).

Where Does the Money Go?

Living as Prodigals:   The story of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-16) demonstrates the habits of squandering and spending. The word prodigal does not mean someone who wanders away or is lost. It literally means “one who wastes money.” A prodigal is one who wastes money, who is a spendthrift.

Many of us struggle with that habit as well. We’re not worried about tomorrow. We want it today. The problem with that kind of thinking is that, for most of us, the “famine” eventually comes. It comes when we have spent everything we have and even a little bit of next year’s income. So we use the credit card and charge it, and we go a little further into debt. Finally, we come to a place where we “find ourselves,” just as the prodigal did. We have nothing left, not even any credit, and we can’t figure out how we are we going to make it.

The More We Make, the More We Waste:  It also seems that the more financially secure we become, the less we worry about spending money here and there. We waste a dollar on this or that, and we forget where it went. Money just seems to flow through our fingers. We’re not as careful with our money as we should be. There are many ways we waste money, but there are two primary money-wasters that many of us struggle with. It is not necessary to eliminate these two things all together, but we should think more carefully about how we spend our money.

  • Impulse buying: Tips for avoiding impulse buying: • Never go grocery shopping when you are hungry. • Shop for what you need only. • Make a list and stick to it; buy what you need and get out of the store! • Wait twenty-four hours before purchasing an impulse buy.
  • Eating out: The issue is frequency. The average American eats out an average of four times a week. By eating out less frequently, we will have more money to save, spend on something more important, or give away.
  • By the way, are you wasting money? I ask you to perform a simple test. Go through you check register and add up all the ATM receipts. Tell me how much went through your hands and where did it go. If you do not “know” then it was a waste.

Clarifying Our Relationship With Money and Possessions

We do not exist to consume as much as we can and get as much pleasure as we can while we are here on this earth. We have a higher purpose. We need to know and understand our life purpose—our vision or mission or calling—and then spend our money in ways that are consistent with this purpose or calling.

  • Be Clear About Your Purpose and Calling:  Our society tells us that our life purpose is to consume—to make as much money as possible and to blow as much money as possible. The Bible tells us that we were created to care for God’s creation. We were created to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves. We were created to care for our families and those in need. We were created to glorify God, to seek justice, and to do mercy. Our money and possessions should be devoted to helping us fulfill this calling.
  • Set Worthy Goals:  Being able to accomplish the greater purposes God has for our lives requires some measure of planning. Taking the time to set goals related to our lives and our finances is crucial if we are to become wise stewards of our God-given resources.

The Discipline of Managing Your Money

The Necessity of a Budget/Spending Plan:  Once we have set some financial goals, we need to develop a plan to meet those goals. A budget is a spending plan that enables us to accomplish our goals. Many people find it helpful to seek the advice of a financial advisor. For those who find themselves in the midst of a financial crisis, a financial counselor can help to work out terms with creditors and develop a workable financial plan. Whatever approach you choose, the important thing is simply to have a plan.

Six Financial Planning Principles:  The following financial planning principles can help us to manage our money with wisdom and faith:

  1. Pay your tithe and offering first. Put God first in your living and your giving. Give your tithe and offering from the “top” of your paycheck, and then live on whatever remains.
  2. Create a budget and track your expenses. Creating a budget is simply developing a plan in which you tell your money what you want it to do. Tracking your expenses with a budget is like getting on the scales: It allows you to see how you are doing and motivates you to be more careful with your expenditures. (Suggestion: Use the bulletin insert “Basic Budget Worksheet.”)
  3. Simplify your lifestyle (live below your means). Because this discipline is critical to the success of any financial plan, next Sunday’s sermon will be devoted to this topic.
  4. Establish an emergency fund. An emergency fund is an account separate from checking or long-term savings that is set aside specifically for emergencies. Dave Ramsey recommends beginning with $1,000 and building that to three months’ worth of income.4 When you have this amount, you won’t need to use your credit cards anymore.
  5. Pay off your credit cards, use cash/debit cards for purchases, and use credit wisely. As you are building your emergency fund, begin to pay off your credit card debt and start using cash or debit cards for purchases. Some experts suggest starting with the credit card that has the highest interest rate. Others suggest paying down the smallest debt first, experiencing that victory, and applying your payments from the first card to the second, and so on, creating a snowball effect to pay off the cards as soon as possible. Cut up your cards as you pay them down so that you are not trapped or leveraged by your future for present-day pleasure, as the prodigal son was. If you must use a credit card, such as when traveling or making purchases online, be sure to pay off the debt monthly. If you are unable to do this, then it is better for you to cut up your cards and stop using them altogether.
  6. Practice long-term savings and investing habits. Saving money is the number-one wise money management principle everyone should practice. We do not save merely for the sake of saving. There is a word for that: hoarding. Hoarding is frowned upon in the Bible as the practice of fools and those who fail to understand the purpose of life. Saving, on the other hand, is meant to be purposeful. There are three types of savings we should have: 1) emergency savings, 2) savings for wants and goals, and 3) retirement savings.

Resources for Developing a Budget

Crown Financial Ministries offers the following Spending Plan Calculator: This is a fun and helpful budgeting calculator that automatically generates a suggested budget based upon the user’s inputs and Crown’s recommended expenditures.

Resources for Getting Out of Debt

Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University offers a great deal of online information including his approach to reducing debt using the following “Debt Snowball” tool:

When Our Dreams Become Nightmares … thoughts on having Enough Stuff

This past week I took off for a four day retreat with a duffle bag, a bag of books, and another book bag with several journals and my computer. As we begin our sermon series centered around Adam Hamilton’s book, ENOUGH: Discovering Joy Through Simplicity and Generosity, I have a confession to make. The stuff I carried to Camp Rockfish was the same amount of stuff I lived on for eighteen months in Kenya. 500 days of living out of the same amount of stuff I “needed” for a four day domesticated adventure? Really?!? Several scripture lessons come to mind as I reflect on where I find myself today.

  • Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith, and pierced themselves with many griefs. (1 Timothy 6:10b, NIV)
  • The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity. (Ecclesiastes 5:10)
  • For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life? (Matthew 16:26)

Below are the rough notes and thoughts from reading the first chapter of ENOUGH.

The American Dream

  • For most people, the American Dream has to do with a subconscious desire for achieving success and satisfying the desire for material possessions. It is the opportunity to pursue more than what we have, to gain more than what we have, and to meet success. We tend to measure our success by the stuff that we possess.
  • The love of money and the things money can buy is a primary or secondary motive behind most of what we Americans do. We want to consume, acquire, and buy our way to happiness—and we want it now.

The American Nightmare

  • Affluenza is the constant need for more and bigger and better stuff—as well as the effect that this need has on us. It is the desire to acquire, and most of us have been infected by this virus to some degree.
    • The average American home went from 1,660 square feet in 1973 to 2,400 square feet in 2004.
    • Today there is estimated to be 1.9 billion square feet of self-storage space in America.
    • Meanwhile, the average American family size has decreased … fewer people in bigger space
  • Credititis is an illness that is brought on by the opportunity to buy now and pay later, and it feeds on our desire for instant gratification. Our economy today is built on the concept of credit-itis. Unfortunately, it has exploited our lack of self-discipline and allowed us to feed our affluenza, wreaking havoc in our personal and national finances.
    • Average credit card debt in America in 1990 was around $3,000. Today it’s over $9,000.
    • The average sale is around 125 percent higher if we use a credit card than if we pay cash, because it doesn’t feel real when we use plastic instead of cash. 
    • Credit-itis is not limited to purchases made with credit cards; it extends to car loans, mortgages, and other loans. The life of the average car loan and home mortgage continues to increase, while the average American’s savings rate continues to decline.

A Deeper Problem Within

  • There Is a Spiritual Issue Beneath the Surface of Affluenza and Credit-itis. Our souls were created in the image of God, but they have been distorted. 
    • We were meant to desire God, but we have turned that desire toward possessions. 
    • We were meant to find our security in God, but we find it in amassing wealth. 
    • We were meant to love people, but instead we compete with them. 
    • We were meant to enjoy the simple pleasures of life, but we busy ourselves with pursuing money and things. 
    • We were meant to be generous and to share with those in need, but we selfishly hoard our resources for ourselves. 
    • There is a sin nature within us.
  • The Devil Plays Upon This Sin Nature. Jesus said, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). The devil doesn’t need to tempt us to do drugs or to steal or to have an extramarital affair in order to destroy us. All he needs to do is convince us to keep pursuing the American Dream—to keep up with the Joneses, borrow against our futures, enjoy more than we can afford, and indulge ourselves. By doing that, he will rob us of joy, make us slaves, and keep us from doing God’s will. Check out:
    • Matthew 4:8-10
    • Luke 8:14
    • Mark 8:36
    • 1 Timothy 6:10

The Biblical Alternative

  • We Need a Heart Change: When we accept Christ into our lives we receive a changed heart. Each morning we should get down on our knees and say, “Lord, help me to be the person you want me to be today. Take away the desires that shouldn’t be there, and help me be single-minded in my focus and my pursuit of you.” As we do this, God comes and cleanses us from the inside out, purifying our hearts.
  • We Must Allow Christ to Work in Us: Christ works in us as we seek first his kingdom and strive to do his will. As this happens we sense a higher calling—a calling to simplicity and faithfulness and generosity. We begin to find ways to make a difference with our time, talent, and resources. 
  • By pursuing good financial practices, we free ourselves from debt so that we are able to be in mission to the world. A key part of finding financial and spiritual freedom is found in simplicity and in exercising restraint.
  • With the help of God, we can: 
    • smplify our lives and silence the voices constantly telling us we need more 
    • live counter-culturally by living below, not above, our means 
    • build into our budgets the money to buy with cash instead of credit 
    • build into our budgets what we need to be able to live generously and faithfully