A healthy lake has at a minimum two things: a flow of good water coming into it from a stream or river as well as a flow of water out of it, also in the form of a river or a brook. Without both of those, a lake dries up or becomes stagnant.
Likewise, something similar is true of us when it comes to generosity. God wants His people to be generous. In other words, there should be an outflow of generosity from those who are God’s children. The Lord regularly reminds His people of that throughout Scripture. For example, the Israelites were told to be generous lenders and givers (Deut. 15:8, 10). Proverbs has a reminder, “He who is generous will be blessed…” (Prov. 22:9). Timothy instructed the church “to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share” (1 Tim. 6:18). “Generous” should describe Christians the way that “white” describes snow or “beautiful” describes Yosemite. Anything less is a distorted image of what it means to be a Christ-follower.
The only way to have that outflow of generosity, however, is to have it result from an inflowing of God’s generosity toward us. All good and healthy traits find their source in God Himself. We let His essence, His being, flow through us to others. This is true of generosity as well. Generous acts don’t begin with us. God is the initiator of all good things, generosity included. We are the recipients. We pass along what we receive from Him. That’s how the writer of 1 Chronicles reflected on the exhortations to generosity:
“But who am I and who are my people that we should be able to offer as generously as this? For all things come from You, and from Your hand we have given You” (1 Chronicles 29:14).
While generosity includes the use of monetary resources, it can be more—being generous with words of encouragement, the gift of time or simply the gift of presence. All of us can be generous, even if the bank account is low.
While Old Testament saints were able to be generous because of the Lord’s generosity toward them, those of us who are New Covenant believers have even greater evidence of the lavishness of God’s generous nature in the person of Jesus, the One who left the riches of heaven to come in poverty, that we who are poor might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9).
That said, here are some generosity ‘inflow’ and ‘outflow’ questions to prayerfully consider:
How much would generosity be considered a distinguishing characteristic in your life? To whatever extent it may be lacking to some degree, prayerfully ask the Lord to help you see why that is.
How frequently do you recognize, and think about, the ways that God is lavishly generous to you? How frequently do you intentionally look for ways that God is generous with you?
To whom can you practice generosity this holiday season?
In Colossians 1:15-23, Paul wrote an amazing hymn about the person and work of Christ. Paul wrote that Jesus not only created all things (v. 16), he also stated, “… and in Him all things hold together” (v. 17). What this refers to is the fact that in this incomprehensively vast universe, Jesus holds every part together—every galaxy, every star, every comet, every molecule, and every atom. Given the scope and complexity of the universe, that’s an immense number of things to ‘hold together.’ The amazing thing is that holding the entire cosmos together is not difficult work for Jesus. Just as He effortlessly created the boundless universe of visible and invisible, so He effortlessly sustains it. There is no difficulty in it for Him. He doesn’t get fatigued by it. He has it completely under control.
This is more than just an academic truth, however. It’s actually very practical. Not only does Jesus hold together the unfathomably vast cosmos, He holds together our lives. Yours and mine. He who effortlessly sustains every facet of this complex universe is also keeping an eye on every aspect of our lives and issues. There’s not a single element of which He is unaware. He ‘holds together’ every facet of our lives.
More and more I’ve thought of this as I’ve crawled into bed at night, still carrying burdens of the day. Those burdens can easily threaten my sleep. I have been reflecting more on the fact that Jesus is currently holding the universe together. Because He’s doing a more than adequate job with the universe as a whole, I realize that He is more than capable of holding together every detail of my life… and the lives of others I care about. I sleep better when I think that way as I wind up the day. Reflect on the reality of Colossians 1:17 if you go to bed burdened. It’s a way better than a sleep aid.
There are surprising texts in the Bible, but one that has to rank toward the top of the list is the first part of Acts 5. It’s shocking to read about two people—even more, two church members—falling dead at the feet of Peter. It seems so antithetical to the portrayal of God throughout Scripture. Rarely are there instances of God taking the lives of people as immediate judgment. Perhaps such punishment would be more understood for egregious sins, but Ananias and Sapphira were ‘only’ guilty of lying. Sure, they should not have fudged on the actual sales price of the property they sold, but at least they contributed something to the cause. All in all, the judgment of them falling to the ground dead is a head-scratching problem for many.
While there are questions attached to this text that will always be difficult for me to answer, I can’t help but ask another question: What’s the real surprise in this story? Is the biggest surprise in the fact that Ananias and Sapphira died, or is it that all of humanity doesn’t pay an immediate price for our sin? Given the fact that we all sin (Rom. 3:23) and the fact that sin is worthy of death (Rom. 6:23), God would certainly be justified in immediately responding to our sin. Ananias and Sapphira actually got what sin deserved. We have become so accustomed to the incredible patience of God, however, that we are taken aback by immediate judgment.
Perhaps a more appropriate response to Acts 5:1-11 should be thankfulness for the incredible patience of God and the gospel. We should be thankful for the amazing love of God that doesn’t immediately judge every instance of sin with a death sentence. Instead, we should be awed by God’s unfathomable love and patience toward us. In addition, we should be thankful for Jesus who took the penalty for our sin upon Himself. This certainly doesn’t answer every question to the surprising events in this text, but maybe it helps us look at this text with a needed perspective that results in gratitude.
More than any other structure in Israel, the temple gave Israelites a sense of identity. The temple was central to their identity primarily because that was the place where Yahweh was worshiped. Even from an architectural perspective, the temple was awe-inspiring. The temple mount would have encompassed an area equivalent to thirty-five football fields. But the temple was impressive for reasons other than just its size. According to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus, the entire façade of the temple was covered in gold plates that would cause the temple site to be almost blinding when the sun rose. In addition to the gold, the upper parts of the temple were pure white, probably marble. To the Israelites of Jesus’ day, the temple was the ultimate insignificance, beauty, and permanence.
In light of the significance of the temple, one can imagine how shocking Jesus’ prophetic words would have been when He said, “As for these things which you are looking at, the days will come in which there will not be left one stone upon another which will not be torn down” (v. 6).
His disciples struggled to grasp how that might be. They asked a question: “Teacher when therefore will these things happen?” (v.7). Jesus went on to explain the events surrounding His return, the one in which He will return in the fullness of power and glory (vv. 8-36). In other words, they were to live in light of that which was to come. Even the most significant and impressive of human structures of their day would become a pile of rubble in a matter of a few decades. More than any possession or structure, Jesus was to give meaning and direction to their lives.
This is instructive for us as well. It’s easy to tie our identities to things that appear so impressive and beautiful in this life. We chase after things because they give us significance. Our identity gets wrapped up in these things. In the here and now they seem so significant, so permanent, so valuable. The reality is that all this will be gone someday. The structures that we spend so much energy to acquire or build will decay. They will be sold. They might be torn down.
No human accomplishment, no matter how impressive, will last forever. Only the kingdom of God will be eternal. Jesus’ return will shake the world and turn it upside down. The question for us is: Where are we aiming? How much are we living in light of eternity? In light of Jesus’ return?
How to respond?
Prayerfully think about where you are pursuing your identity or your purpose. To what have you pinned your most significant hopes? What do you dream about? How many of those things are temporal in nature as opposed to things of eternity? Use this time to prayerfully reflect on those things you consider most important. Prayerfully confess any areas where you are improperly pursuing things that are temporal in nature and reorient toward that which is eternal.