Hardhearted and Tightfisted

generosity

Please read Deuteronomy 15:1-11 in your Bible.

A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case presented then said, “I can understand why you approached me. Yes I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother needs 24 hour nursing care?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight on her own?”

“No we didn’t” came the reply.

“Did you know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary work overseas?”

“No we didn’t”

“Well, if I don’t give them a cent, what makes you think I’ll give it to you?!”

CONTEXT = The book of Deuteronomy is Moses reviewing the law with the Israelites prior to their campaign to occupy the Promised Land.  It is a collection of teachings in no obvious order, so context is not as important as it is for other parts of the Bible.  However, this section joins with 14:27-29, which identifies the needy persons requiring support: the Levites (assistants to the priests), aliens, fatherless, and widows.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

  1. God attached a promise of prosperity to the 7 year cycle of debt forgiveness.

This command is one aspect of God’s commands to observe a “Sabbath Year” every seventh year.  Other aspects of a Sabbath Year include the release of slaves and allowing the land to rest (planting crops was forbidden; only what grew “volunteer” was to be gleaned for food).

Here in Deuteronomy 15, God commanded debt forgiveness of loans made to fellow Israelites (1-3).  Throughout the Old Testament law, God’s people were to give one another special treatment.  The language is a little ambiguous whether this was a permanent forgiveness of debt or a temporary one, just for the duration of the year.  Either way, it was to be a demonstration of faith in God and generous love to needy countrymen.

God’s gracious gift of prosperity was given to empower their gracious generosity.  Verse four states God gave them the LAND AS AN INHERITANCE.  Combine this with the promise of prosperity in v. 6 and we see their prosperity as a gift from God to be shared, not a personal achievement to be hoarded.

On the surface it appears verse 4 contradict verses seven and eleven. Verse four states, THERE SHOULD BE NO POOR AMONG YOU while in verse seven we read, IF THERE IS A POOR MAN AMONG YOUR BROTHERS and verse eleven says THERE WILL ALWAYS BE POOR AMONG YOU.

The way I see it, verse four is a promise: if this statute is observed, poverty would be eliminated.  It is a conditional statement: this effect would be achieved by a combination of the people’s obedience and generosity and by the Lord’s blessing.

On the other hand, verses seven and eleven are a prediction that the Israelites would NOT observe the statute and so poverty would continue.   Verse four reflects optimism, verses seven and eleven show pessimism or realism.  We see both these perspectives in other statements Moses made, so it is not at all out of character to see both of them here.  It is worth noting that in the Gospels Jesus agreed with the realistic tone of verses seven and eleven when He said, “THE POOR YOU WILL ALWAYS HAVE WITH YOU.”  The situation had changed so much that an observance of Sabbath years was impossible and the cure for poverty unavailable.

Had this system been followed, it would have limited the centralization of wealth in the hands of the few.  The cancellation or suspension of debts would have put money back into the economy and eased the oppressive burdens of indebtedness.  As God promised it would work, I have no doubt it would have eventually eliminated poverty from Israel.  To observe the Sabbath Year as it was commanded would have been an act of trust in God and a huge faith-building experience.

Verses five and six develop God’s promise of future prosperity.  This is Moses assuring the people that if they follow these rules even though they appear to have no business sense, they do not need to fear poverty.  They can count on God to reward their faithfulness with fruitfulness.

Verse five conveys in two phrases the condition that predicated the fulfillment.  Firstly, IF ONLY YOU FULLY OBEY. In the Hebrew language, this is an “infinitive absolute construction indicating intensity” which is a fancy way of saying the original language stresses the condition of obedience more than we can in English.  Secondly, IF ONLY YOU…ARE CAREFUL TO FOLLOW ALL THESE COMMANDS, especially the Sabbath year laws of this section.  The Old Testament  law teaches us that God blesses complete obedience, not grudging obedience or faked obedience or partial obedience.  In order to do right by God we must obey completely, which includes body and soul.

Verse six is a promise of prosperity and security = THE LORD WILL BLESS YOU AS HE PROMISED.  Prosperity is promised in this phrase: YOU WILL LEND TO MANY NATIONS BUT WILL BORROW FROM NONE.  National prosperity would be one of the means God would use to end poverty in Israel.  Security is promised in the words, YOU WILL RULE OVER MANY NATIONS BUT NONE WILL RULE OVER YOU.  Economic prosperity would certainly be part of how this promise would be realized, but that does not exclude military or political means.

These promises came to their greatest fulfillment during the reign of King Solomon.  Israel enjoyed fantastic wealth and held the preeminent place among the nations of the world. However, as they did not keep this command and observe the Sabbath years, the wealth stayed in the hands of the minority and poverty remained.  We know from history that God clearly kept His part of the covenant but Israel did not keep her part.  As a consequence, Solomon’s sons divided the kingdom and the fortunes of both nations fell over several generations, ending in both nations being conquered by foreigners.

  1. God commanded generosity to the poor.

God condemned having a bad attitude toward the poor.  Verse seven forbade being HARDHEARTED and TIGHTFISTED.  Note this is a condemnation of both attitude and action that results in a person who could help refusing to help.

Verse nine goes a bit further, condemning WICKED THOUGHTS about abusing the Law and the poor.  After all, a businessman might, in year six, decide that he does not want to wait twelve months or more for repayment to start, and refuse to make a loan.  God appealed to the spiritual side of His people and condemned this selfish attitude as a sin.  There is a word of deterrent here in verse nine; help the poor lest they appeal in prayer and God declares the miser guilty of sin.  This is the only place a warning of this type is found in the Bible.  In the Old Testament, a miser is depicted as a sad and lonely figure while a generous person is shown as happy and social.

God commended generosity.  Verses eight and eleven command being OPENHANDED in order to meet needs.  Righteous and happy people are generous people.  While they exercise caution and give in an orderly fashion, they are nonetheless gracious in their giving.  Be aware of God’s grace and generosity to you and then follow His example.

In verse ten, Moses commanded the people to GIVE GENEROUSLY…AND WITHOUT A GRUDGING HEART.  Thoughtful and careful use of one’s resources is a part of wisdom, but that is not an endorsement of miserliness.  Hoarding and withholding from the needy is condemned as a sin.  A generous heart is indicated by the habit of thinking of the needs of others ahead of your own.

Prosperity is given to empower & reward generosity.

          I suppose economists would look on this regulation with horror.  So much of our economy is based on credit and loans earning interest, debt forgiveness would seem to them like rewarding slackers and creating poverty.

It’s possible the ancient Israelites shared this perspective on the Sabbath year laws.  We have no evidence these laws were ever observed.  Sadly, people with money and power are unwilling to release it and apparently their will triumphed.  Which is too bad for a host of reasons not least among them is that it would have been wonderful to see this economic system demonstrated and an actual end to poverty achieved.

In his 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon Johnson declared “war” on poverty.  His methods of war predictably involved expanding the federal bureaucracy.  The four pillars of this effort included an expansion of Social Security, food stamps, job agencies, and educational programs. We’ve been at this war for just over 55 years.  Are any closer to winning?  What’s really needed is what God’s law decreed in Deuteronomy 15; a heart of generosity and grace toward persons less fortunate than one’s self.

RESOURCES:

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (#3), Earl S. Kalland.

The New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Deuteronomy), Peter C. Craigie.

https://storiesforpreaching.com/category/sermonillustrations/generosity/

 

Seven Modern Maladies and God’s Solutions (7 of 7)

Greed & Generosity

Greed is a vice as it places a greater value on things than God or people.  Generosity does the opposite.

If you are 50 year of age or older, you know this guy:

howell

“Thurston Howell III” from the TV show “Gilligan’s Island.”  The opening credits call him “the millionaire.”  In one episode Howell’s wife Lovey explains that during the Great Depression the Howell family suffered great loss going from being billionaires to being mere millionaires.  Though they were allegedly only going on a “three hour cruise,” the Howells brought several suitcases of clothes and money.  This makes me think they were really on the lam from debt collectors!

In 2013 Forbes magazine published a Fictional Top Fifteen list of the wealthiest fictional characters.  Thurston Howell III came in fifth overall, behind Santa Claus, Richie Rich Jr., Oliver “Daddy” Warbucks, and Scrooge McDuck.  Pretty heavy hitters there!

Both the Howells were pampered rich people who bragged about their possessions, wealth, and connections to the rich and famous.  Neither of them offered to work on daily chores or help with rescue plans, despite their alleged eagerness to return to civilization.

As a symbol for the deadly sin of GREED, Mr. Howell is the obvious choice.  Veteran actor Jim Backus hammed his way through the role, achieving a surprising range of emotions, including a child-like need to sleep with a teddy bear imaginatively named “Teddy.”  Backus so successfully affected a character of East Coast wealth and privilege that we have a hard time thinking of any other character as the stereotypical “millionaire.”  In fact, during the 2012 presidential campaign Mitt Romney was compared to Thurston Howell III as the epitome of a wealthy Easterner, out of touch with reality and the common American.

Jim Backus died in 1989, his last screen credit being the voice of Howell on “Gilligan’s Planet,” an animated spinoff of “Gilligan’s Island.”

  1. The vicious vice of greed (1 John 2:15-7).

Usually we think of GREED as being a love of money, an unquenchable desire for more.  Today we’ll expand our definition to include love of worldly things when we love anything or anyone more than God.  In fact, that’s the also the definition of idolatry!

John taught that love of the world and love of God are mutually exclusive.  In abundant clarity, the Spirit revealed through John the trials we can face.

What we love reveals a lot about us (15).  Here are the contrasting orientations.  Love of self and love of worldly things go hand in hand.  Love of God and love for others is manifest in an attitude that discounts worldly things, using them to bring joy to others and self.

John identified a “Big Three” set of attitudes that betray love of worldly things (16).

First, the CRAVINGS OF SINFUL MAN.  The phrase SINFUL MAN is translated as FLESH in other versions.  The CRAVINGS are SINFUL because they come from the sin nature and lead to sin.  As sin, these CRAVINGS separate us from God and from one another.  This is GREED in the form of exalting self so much that God and others don’t matter.

Second, the LUST OF THE EYES.  LUST can also be translated as “covets” or “envys.”  It is a sin that is not limited to sexuality; it covers everything in this world that we can desire passionately.  It is the life of an addict; so self-centered that one is unaware that their passion is not normal or healthy, but is consuming them.  This is GREED in the form of acquiring, hoarding, or using things.

Third, he BOASTING OF WHAT HE HAS AND DOES.  This is a “KIA” person.  No, I don’t mean “Killed In Action,” instead this acronym means “KNOW IT ALL.” This is the kind of person who can’t stop telling you about their brainstorms, their kid’s honors, and what they bought on sale!  This is a life dominated by the latest thing, having the “prettiest” or the “greatest.”  It is chasing after achievement to make you feel better about yourself; a vain effort to justify your misdeeds and even your existence.  This is GREED in the form of reputation; focusing on what other people think about you.

Worldly things are not worthy of our love because they do not last forever: THE WORLD AND ITS DESIRES ALL PASS AWAY (17). Either at death or at the second coming, this world is going to cease for every one of us.  On a personal scale and also on a universal scale, all that glitters and all that is gold will one day be no more. There are other reasons not to love the world.  Satisfy a worldly urge and the urge will soon return.  Worldly things do not provide lasting satisfaction.  Satisfying a worldly urge will not benefit your spiritual life; worldly honors will not make you more spiritually mature.  God is eternal; things are temporary.  It makes no sense to invest ourselves in the stuff that won’t last. Instead, here’s where we should be putting our time and energy: THE MAN WHO DOES THE WILL OF GOD LIVES FOREVER.

  1. The vital virtue of generosity (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Paul condemned the LOVE OF MONEY so thoroughly in vs. 6-10 that someone might think it impossible to be RICH and heaven-bound.  Here Paul instructs rich people how to live in a godly way that prepares them for heaven.  That fact disproves any notion that the RICH are automatically excluded.

The RICH person’s “don’t do” list.

First, don’t be ARROGANT (17).  I want to interpret ARROGANT to mean “self-sufficient.”  Paul is commanding Timothy’s people to rely on God, not on their wealth or any other worldly thing.  Both self-sufficiency and outright arrogance are subtle and frequent temptations for people who have a lot of stuff.

Second, don’t put your HOPE IN WEALTH (17).  Why not?  Because it’s so UNCERTAIN.  The word UNCERTAIN notes that worldly things are likely to disappoint us; they will disappear when needed most.  For example, money can buy insurance and medical care, but you can’t buy health or recovery from illness.  Proverbs 23:4-5 makes a point I believe all of us have experienced at least once: DO NOT WEAR YOURSELF OUT TO GET RICH; HAVE THE WISDOM TO SHOW RESTRAINT.  CAST BUT A GLANCE AT RICHES AND THEY ARE GONE, FOR THEY WILL SURELY SPROUT WINGS AND FLY OFF TO THE SKY LIKE AN EAGLE.  Time flies; it seems money does too.

Worldly things are unworthy of our love for all these reasons.  What is certain is God’s love and He is the only

Next, we read the RICH person’s “to do” list.

First, put your HOPE IN GOD (17).  Why?  For one thing, it is God who RICHLY PROVIDES US WITH EVERYTHING.  RICHLY means God has been generous with us; we must be generous with one another.  Notice the word EVERYTHING; we need to be reminded that neither we nor the bank really “own” anything.  All of it is owned by God and put in our hands to use for His glory.  His purpose in this provision is FOR OUR ENJOYMENT.  Worldly things are never to be the center of our affections, but they are given for us to enjoy.  Joy is at the center of the life of godly people.

Second, do GOOD (18).  GOOD is best defined as “godly.”  Morally good things are in line with the revealed will and character of God.

Third, become RICH IN GOOD DEEDS (18).  Worldly ambition is to become rich in worldly things; to possess much.   Godly ambition is to do good as often as possible.  Accumulating good deeds for their own sake is not the point; that would merely be pride.  Instead, Scripture describes three God-approved motives:

Love for God; gratitude for what He’s done.

Love for others; a desire to serve and connect them with God.

Love for self; the accumulation of heavenly rewards.

Fourth, be GENEROUS (18).  God has loved us unconditionally; we ought to love each other unconditionally.  God has generously provided for us all things needed to survive and to enjoy life.  We must be similarly generous with each other.  If we thought of ourselves as a pipe, and not a pool, it would help.  We tend to see ourselves as pools; God gives and raises the level of stuff we accumulate.  That’s not biblical.  More appropriately, we are pipes or conduits through which God’s gracious gifts flow from us to others.

Fifth, SHARE with others (18).  This word is translated “distribute” in the King James’ Version.  Take the wealth entrusted to us and distribute it among the needy and good causes.  No hoarding.  If you don’t have much money, share your time.  If you don’t have much time, share your table.  Scale is never a reason for not sharing; typically the poorest people are the most likely to SHARE, the wealthiest the most likely to hoard.

Whether we consider ourselves rich or poor or something else, we are to use worldly wealth to gain eternal rewards.  Paul wrote, LAY UP TREASURE FOR THEMSELVES AS A FIRM FOUNDATION FOR THE COMING AGE and TAKE HOLD OF THE LIFE THAT IS TRULY LIFE (19).  Do you need to a reminder you can’t take any of this stuff with you past death?  If so, here’s your reminder (v. 7): FOR WE BROUGHT NOTHING INTO THE WORLD, AND WE CAN TAKE NOTHING OUT OF IT. It may help to think of worldly things as things we can expend to “invest” in heaven, looking forward to receiving a “dividend” when we stand before Jesus Christ.

If you are younger than 50, you know all about:

linkedIn

LinkedIn, a website that is designed to help people fulfill their business ambitions.  The site was launched in 2002 to help employers and job seekers network and find one another to facilitate employment.

This website serves us as a symbol of GREED because it is all about worldly ambition, climbing the corporate ladder, being a success in purely worldly terms.  In fact, the founder of LinkedIn, Reid Hoffman, made that connection himself in an interview last year.

I joined LinkedIn five years ago as a means of searching for a job.  Now I use it to publish my messages on the Internet and stay in touch with friends and associates.  LinkedIn has a great deal of influence on our culture; it is the 34th most popular website world wide, with with 500 million members in 200 countries as of a year ago.  In 2016, Microsoft acquired LinkedIn for 26.4 billion dollars.

If you’ve been paying attention, you know that we’ve covered seven deadly sins and there were seven castaways on Gilligan’s Island.  We picked on the Skipper twice but haven’t talked about Gilligan at all.  You may be wondering what role the character of Gilligan is supposed to play in this series of messages.  What deadly sin is Gilligan supposed to symbolize?  Let’s stop and think about it:

– Gilligan is responsible for marooning them on the island.

– His clumsiness and ineptitude foils all their escape plans.

– He wears red in every episode.

– It is HIS island.

Isn’t it obvious?  Gilligan is a symbol of the THE DEVIL!

– The devil deceived Eve and is responsible for marooning us in this world of sin.

– The devil will always foil “escape plans” that depend on any kind of worldly resource.

– The devil, however, doesn’t always wear red; he’s more subtle than that.  The Bible says he can appear as an angel of light (see 2 Corinthians 11:14).

– This world is HIS “island.”  In John 12:31, Jesus called him THE RULER OF THIS WORLD.  2 Corinthians 4:4 calls Satan THE GOD OF THIS AGE.  Ephesians 2:2 depicts him as THE PRINCE OF THE POWER OF THE AIR.

I heard something recently from a radio preacher that struck me as quite profound.  He said that the devil is incapable of creating anything new.   There is no good thing in him.  So he must invade the good to borrow from it or copy it.  This means that the seven deadly sins are all corrupted versions of seven vital virtues.  Let’s resolve to NOT give the devil his “due” or anything else.  Let us practice the virtues and dump all seven of the deadly sins.

 

RESOURCES:

Wikipedia.

Zondervan Bible Commentary

Thru the Bible, McGee

Be Good, Even to the GFN

Please read Luke 6:32-36 in your Bible.  I have used the NIV for my remarks.

Goodness is a Fruit of the Spirit to be shown to all people.

“Abijah Powers felt moderately sure nobody would recognize him when he registered under an assumed name at the little inn. It was more than twenty years since he had left the town–a hard, reckless boy, running away from a good father and a devoted mother because he hated goodness and loved lawlessness and his own way.

“For years he had led the life of a vagabond. Then the spirit of adventure was aroused in him by the stories of the wealth of the Klondike. He joined one of the earliest parties, in that hazardous search for gold, and succeeded beyond his dreams. Now he had come back, with his old instincts, but with the wealth of a millionaire, and some strange compulsion led him to the village where he first drew breath.

“He did not even know whether his parents were living or dead. It was altogether likely they were dead. With that conviction and without asking a question, he made his way in the August twilight to the graveyard, and to the spot where for three generations his ancestors had been laid.

“Yes, there were new stones placed since he had been there. The sight moved him strangely. He bent to read the inscription on the first one. It was to the memory of his father, ‘Died, 1884.  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.’

“The date cut the man to the heart. His father had died a year after the only son had run away! And his mother had been left alone! But perhaps she had followed her husband mercifully soon. Again he bent to read, this time with tear-filled eyes, ‘Died, 1902.  And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes.’

“His mother had been alone for eighteen years! She was but just dead — in poverty, perhaps; certainly in loneliness. He drew himself up as if to shake off a hideous dream.             “But the other stone – whose grave could that mark? They had no relatives except some distant cousins. Perhaps some one of them had done for his mother what he ought to have done in her long, desolate years. Again he stooped to read – his own name. ‘Abijah Powers. Born 1870; died–.  The only son of his mother, and she was a widow.’

“It was his own gravestone, set up by his mother when her hope of his return was dead. Out of the depth of his memory there flashed up the story of the widow of Nain, and the gracious presence which spoke the word of life to her dead son. How many times his mother must have read and re-read the page, and how frequently she must have prayed that her boy, bone of her bone, and flesh of her flesh, might be given back to her arms!

“The thought was anguish to the graceless son, and it brought him to his knees beside his own empty grave. With his hand resting over his mother’s head he wept as he had not wept since he was a child. They were gracious drops. Out of the mother’s love, which had found its cold comfort in the words of scripture for the grave that was no grave, there came, indeed, the resurrection of the real, living soul.

“The widow’s son went out of the graveyard that night a new man. The world wondered what had happened to him. Money did not often make a man over from a devil to a saint; but that miracle seemed to have been worked in Abijah Powers. Nobody knew that the transformation did not come from the touch of Klondike gold, but from the power of love — reaching from beyond the vale, and speaking from the cold marble of a gravestone.” –Youth’s Companion  <Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-michael-mccartney-stories-confessionofsin-repentance-15006.asp  on 6/24/16.>

  1. God’s four-fold standard for how to treat everyone,

including the Good For Nothin’.

First: Show them LOVE (32).  It is not a display of godly love to love people who have already declared their love for you.  Jesus said even “SINNERS” do that.

The word SINNERS is in quotation marks in your Bible to show that Jesus is using that word with more than a bit of irony.  The Jewish religious leaders would have used that word with disdain to refer to pagans, tax collectors, prostitutes, and other “low-lifes” they had decided weren’t really worth it.  Worse than that, they believed that merely associating with the GFNs corrupted a good person and made them unclean.

This was one of their complaints about Jesus: He hung out with the GFNs.  Jesus’ message here is don’t just be loving, good, generous and merciful to the people whom you know have been or will be loving, good, generous, and merciful to you.

Do the right thing without any strings attached.  Do not be motivated by what you hope to gain in this life, but by the REWARD only God can give: in this life and/or in the next.  True love is unconditional.  Achieving that is impossible apart from God, so when we act with this kind of love, we demonstrate we are God’s people.

Second: Treat them with GOODNESS (33).  Goodness is our Fruit of the Spirit for the month of June.  Remember, this is the Year of Jubilee so we’ve been highlighting a different Fruit each month.  Goodness is an active state; we don’t wait for the other person to express a need, we look for opportunities to do good and act when they present themselves.

Claiming faith is easy (which is why most people do it) but enacting it is more difficult.  This is because goodness requires sacrifice.

– Sacrifice of time/my schedule/convenience.

– Getting outside comfort zone.

– Sacrifice of money, goods.

– Sacrifice of prejudices.

Third: Show them GENEROSITY (34).  Generosity does not make much sense financially; it is primarily an investment of earthly goods in order to realize heavenly dividends.

For example, consider the difference between a bank and a church.  A bank loans money to people after they’re assured they can pay it back.  AND they charge them interest for the privilege. A church gives to those in need, not expecting or even wanting a repayment.  We may take steps to verify the need, but we give without strings attached.

Fourth: Forgive and forbear: show MERCY (36).  The justification for being merciful is that we have been shown mercy by our heavenly Father.  We are to gratefully follow His example.

Mercy is the virtue of giving kindness in return for cruelty.  It is NOT insisting on one’s rights or on punishment or getting even.  Mercy is not getting what you deserve, but instead getting what you don’t deserve.  For most people, mercy is not our first reaction when we have been hurt.  But our first reaction is not often the most godly one either, is it?  As with all virtues, doing mercy takes time & practice.  Whether society calls you a SINNER or not, mercy is what God has shown to all people.

  1. What’s in it for you: a GREAT REWARD. (35)

All four of the virtues presented here can be described as different forms of grace.  Jesus taught that showing grace to people who are ungracious to you is to your CREDIT.  That is the Greek word for “grace.”  In our worldly frame of mind, in our human nature, we want to insist on fairness, especially when the big ME is left holding the bag.  This is backwards to God’s economy.  We are promised that showing grace merits us eternal rewards.  God will make justice happen, but not in your timing or in the way I might prefer.  1 Peter 3:19-21 also talks about CREDIT with God being earned by enduring suffering we experience as a result of doing God’s will.

What kind of reward are we talking about?  Is it worth all the trouble of being good?

It’s not an earthly reward.  I say that because in v. 35 Jesus commands us to LOVE, DO GOOD, and LEND WITHOUT EXPECTING ANYTHING BACK.  The word ANYTHING means precisely that.  We are not to be motivated by any expectation of earthly reward, including recognition (like a “thank you”) or even gratitude.  Remember, this standard includes the GFN folk some of whom will not be polite or even think about repaying you.

The adjective GREAT makes me think the reward will be heavenly.  The Greek word for REWARD more often refers to the wage given to workers.  So there is a real sense that these rewards have been earned, or at least, are given in response to sacrifices made.

It is rewarding to be named SONS [children] OF THE MOST HIGH.  We are adopted into the family of God (see Romans 8:23).  We need to act in ways that honor our family name and are in accord with our family character.  We stand for something great.  Our family character has been acted out in Jesus Christ.  We seek to speak and act in ways that would be in accord with Him.

Your reward will be in proportion to your sacrifice. See Luke 18:28-30, where Jesus makes this promise to His 12 disciples who left so much to follow Him.

We are rewarded for being like God – for acting in ways consistent with His character and will.  In this passage, that means God who is KIND TO THE UNGRATEFUL AND WICKED.  Since God is KIND to people who are not KIND to Him, we must be too.

What SHOULD BE our motive for doing good?

– God said so: His commands are perfect and our delight

– Jesus’ Golden Rule (v. 31): Treat others as you want to be treated. Whether you ever get it back or not!

– Sensitivity to need. People need the Lord and have material needs too.  Love motivates us to help.

– Heavenly reward: what’s promised here.

The biggest impediment to our showing the goodness of God is our own goodness.  All around us every day there are people who have no more interest in God than an insurance policy.

They go about their daily lives without prayer or the word, assuming that their goodness alone will be good enough to get them into heaven.  The problem is, that our goodness is never good enough to merit eternal life.  People are condemning themselves to hellfire with their bland, misplaced trust in their own goodness.

Let me be clear – and this is good news, by the way – none of us is good enough.  Salvation is only by grace, it is the gift of God.  But the gifts of God do not stop at salvation.  He commands us to live our daily life doing good works and gives us all the resources we need to do it.  And on top of all that, God forgives us when we fail to do good and repent!

What’s required to receive all these gifts is to accept them by faith.  We can be good if we get ourselves out of the way and let God’s goodness be expressed in our daily living.

“A Native American and a white man were deeply moved by the same sermon. That very night the Native American received Jesus as his Savior, but for days the white man refused to accept Christ. At last he, too, repented and enjoyed the sweet peace of having his sins forgiven. Later he asked his Native American friend, ‘Why did it take me so long, while you responded right away?’

“’My brother,’ he replied, ‘I can best explain it by this little story: At one time a rich prince wished to give each of us a new coat. You shook your head and replied, “I don’t think so; mine looks good enough.” When he made the same offer to me, I looked at my old blanket and said, “This is good for nothing (GFN!),” and gratefully accepted the beautiful garment. You wouldn’t give up your own righteousness. But knowing I had no goodness of my own, I immediately received the Lord Jesus Christ and His righteousness.”’”

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-clyde-grimes-stories-confessionofsin-becomingachristian-11404.asp on 6/24/16.>

In his commentary, Darrell L. Bock wrote, “The call of the disciple is to a greater love, a distinct love, a love that is unique in the world.” (The New International Version Application Commentary, p. 194.)  Again, the point is that we stop trying to do it on our own.

This requires that we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit God gives to all people of faith.  We are sensitive to opportunities to do good and selfless enough to make the sacrifices of our resources of time, convenience, and pride.

(If you’d like to see and hear this message, go to YouTube.com and look up “EBCSF.”)

Joseph: Reunited

(Please read Genesis 45 and 46 in your favorite version of the Bible.  I have prepared these remarks using the NIV.)

If you’ve been following along, you’ll notice that I’ve hopped over chapters 42-44; Joseph’s intrigues with his brothers.  I confess to being chicken.  I don’t see Joseph’s reason for engaging in these maneuvers, they’re lengthy, repetitive, and they only complicate the story. I encourage you to read them for yourself.  When you can make sense of it, please contact me.

SO.  From confession to an MSN News item dated September 16 2015:

A 103-year-old Georgia woman, banned from the church she’s been attending for over nine decades, is speaking out about her expulsion from her Baptist Church.

“According to reports, Genora Ham Biggs and the Rev. Tim Mattox of Union Grove Baptist Church in Elberton, Ga., have been going back and forth over his preaching, which Biggs calls a ‘holiness style’ that has been adopted at the church since he was hired about six years ago. Biggs says that sort of preaching doesn’t belong in a Baptist church.”

Biggs, who has been attending the church since she was just 11 years old, and who once served as the church secretary, is known by some in the congregation as the “church mother,” while others have dubbed her a “Jezebel.” But a recent letter from the church directed her that she is no longer welcome to worship; she’s been banned from entering the property after being too outspoken.

When Biggs tried to attend the service after receiving the letter, Mattox met her at the door and told her she wasn’t welcome. She pushed in, and Mattox reportedly dismissed the service, sent everyone home and shut off the lights. Biggs was left sitting alone, in the dark, in a church pew.

Biggs told Fox Carolina: “I was shocked. It was not a good feeling. I haven’t seen anything like this before,” she said of the service being canceled outright.  Biggs is receiving widespread support on social media, while the church’s Facebook page has been barraged with damning messages against the actions of the church.

(Retrieved from http://www.examiner.com/article/103-year-old-woman-banned-from-church-lifelong-churchgoer-booted-by-ga-church on 9/17/15.)

It’s bad when the family is fractured.  I think we can agree on a few facts regarding this story: One, we have only heard one side so far.  Two, we do not want the problems of the church being prosecuted in social media.  Three, both sides seem to have forgotten whose church it is.  Four, we need to pray that this church family gets restored; that the conflict gets resolved.

This kind of fractured family is where we began our look into the life of Joseph.  We saw how sibling rivalry ushered in a set of very difficult and even unjust circumstances for Joseph.  Today we find out why.  From Joseph’s own lips we will learn what God was doing throughout all these circumstances, even the mistakes, miscues and outright sins that various people committed.

I pray that after today we’ll be encouraged by the knowledge that God is in control and that He has the power to take what is intended for evil and turn it to good.

MESSAGE: In all circumstances, God is working on our salvation.

  1. Reunited with his brothers, Joseph explained God’s greater purpose (45:1-15).

Whatever motive Joseph had for the two intrigues he perpetrated in chapters 42-44, he abandoned them at the end of chapter 44 and is overcome with emotion at the beginning of chapter 45.  He dismissed his ATTENDANTS, but proceeded to weep so loudly that they overheard his cries AND they felt justified in reporting this to Pharaoh.  Verse three indicates part of the emotion is concern for his father: Joseph wants to know whether he is alive or not.

For their part, the eleven brothers are confused and slow to understand.  In their defense, keep in mind this is a sudden and dramatic change.  Previously, the Egyptian official before them – now claiming to be their brother – had accused them of spying and thievery.  The passage of years and wearing the garb of a different culture no doubt changed Joseph’s appearance: he had to call them to have a closer look and see who he really was.

This is one of the more dramatic scenes of the Bible but the emotion is very understated.  The writer does not want us to miss the point in all the drama.

Joseph explained the point of it all is that God was at work all the time. He stated God’s will succinctly: “IT WAS TO SAVE LIVES THAT GOD SENT ME AHEAD OF YOU.”  Though the brothers’ intentions and actions were evil, God’s will was done.  This truth is the key to the Joseph narrative; God is in control in ALL circumstances.

This fact would be of international consequence. Countless people would be saved. But, as we see later in the passage, Joseph and Pharaoh would see to it that God’s will was on a personal scale too, and Joseph’s family would be saved.  Starting with the dreams and continuing with all the exceptional events of Joseph’s life, he was being prepared and placed by God where God wanted him to be.

The scene ends with the brothers being reconciled: hugging, kissing, and talking to one another (45:14-15).  When they parted company, Joseph gave them a bit of brotherly and friendly advice: “DON’T QUARREL ON THE WAY!”  This implies their reconciliation is complete and the relationship is restored.

  1. Pharaoh blessed the reunion with extra provision for Joseph’s family (45:16-24).

The text implies that Joseph and Pharaoh came up with the same idea independent of one another: to bring his father’s household to Egypt, where they could be cared for throughout the remaining years of the famine.  Pharaoh was especially generous; “I WILL GIVE YOU THE BEST OF THE LAND OF EGYPT AND YOU CAN ENJOY THE FAT OF THE LAND.”

Given the circumstances, Egypt was the best place for Israel & his family to be.  It’s said at least three times in this chapter to make it obvious; God worked to save His people.  Historically, we know that the sons of Jacob did prosper in Egypt.  They grew to be a great and numerous people.  You could say that Egypt provided a safe place in which the people of God could prosper.

Here’s an important truth, folks; God’s will is always what’s best for you.  In the short term, it may present difficulties, but it always ends up being for our good.

3. Joseph was reunited w/ Jacob(45:25-46:34)

You can understand how Jacob, who had been so heartbroken at the news of Joseph’s death so many years ago, might be STUNNED to hear that he was alive after all.  The word for STUNNED literally means that Jacob’s “heart grew numb.”

Jacob the Deceiver could hardly believe that he had been deceived all these years.  How could he admit such a thing, even to himself?   More likely, I think, was that the news was too good to be true.  The shock and surprise were too great to easily overcome.

What convinced him were the carts full of food and provisions that Pharaoh and Joseph had ordered as gifts to the family.  Joseph’s survival and exaltation to a place of authority in Egypt – the whole improbable tale – must be true, for it explained the evidence of his eyes.

In contrast to his “numbed heart,” the evidence before Jacob’s eyes REVIVED his SPIRIT and he exclaimed, “I’M CONVINCED! MY SON JOSEPH IS STILL ALIVE.  I WILL GO AND SEE HIM BEFORE I DIE.”  The generosity of Pharaoh REVIVED Jacob.  As we know, acts of kindness can renew a human heart.

Having made his decision to believe Joseph was alive, Jacob/Israel set out for Egypt.  At one of the caravan’s stops, he worshipped God.  Notice Jacob acted FIRST.  He acted on faith and THEN God sent a vision that affirmed his decision.

God told him, “DO NOT BE AFRAID.”  How often do we read THAT in Scripture?  And yet, how often do we allow ourselves to be bound by fear?  The LORD encouraged Jacob in four other ways:

– By reminding him of the promise first made to his grand-father, Abraham; “I WILL MAKE YOU INTO A GREAT NATION.”  This would happen in Egypt.

– By promising to be with him; “I WILL GO DOWN TO EGYPT WITH YOU.”

– By promising to bring the nation of Israel out of Egypt; “I WILL BRING YOU BACK AGAIN.”  In Genesis 15:13-14, God told Abraham that his descendants would be slaves for 400 years, but they would come out of it endowed with great wealth.

– On a personal level, promising Jacob that he would be with Joseph until the day he died; “JOSEPH’S OWN HAND WILL CLOSE YOUR EYES.”  They wouldn’t be separated again, as Joseph’s hand would be the one to close Jacob’s eyelids after he died.  This may sound like a strange way of phrasing a promise, but from Jacob’s own words, all he wanted was to see Joseph again before he died.

“When you’re in church, should you leave your cell phone in your pocket or purse? Or can you take it out to look up Bible verses or take notes?

“Almost all Americans (96%) believe that using a cell phone in church is generally unacceptable, according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center. In fact, worship services are the most frowned-upon setting to use a cell phone, followed closely by movie theaters and meetings.

“However, half of Americans who use their mobile device during worship services find their phones are an easy way to look up scriptures and songs. About 40 percent said using mobile and internet technology can help messages of hope and inspiration reach more people, as well as can make personal faith more accessible to those with disabilities.  Christianity Today has noted how many millennials use their cell phones to fact check their pastor’s sermon.”

(Retrieved from http://www.christianitytoday.com/gleanings/2015/

september/sunday-morning-where-should-cell-phone-be-church-etiquette.html on 9/17/15.)

I am convinced that electronics will never take the place of face-to-face personal conversation.  I know that problems get resolved and relationships restored when people talk and listen.  I believe that even though God can redeem t worst circumstances, He prefers that we love one another first & work together to overcome obstacles to our relationships with one another.  In all circumstances, God is working on our salvation.  He expects us to join Him in that work.

The Blessing of Generosity

(Please read Ruth 1:22-2:23.  My remarks are based on a study with the NIV.)

          Years ago on Candid Camera, children were used in an experiment about generosity. The children were placed by themselves in a room with a plate of cookies. On the plate were at least two cookies, there may have been more, but one of the cookies was very large. The adult left the room and the kids were allowed to take a cookie. You know, they all took the big one. One boy was challenged as to why he took the biggest cookie. Alan Funt, the host, told the boy, “All you left me to eat was the little cookie. I would have eaten the little cookie and given you the biggest one.” Without a blink the boy responded, “Then you got the one you wanted.”

<Retried from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-brian-matherlee-humor-christianvalues-28169.asp on 7/10/15.>

Generosity is a tough thing to learn.  It is not part of our human nature; it is a virtue that must be sought and cultivated.

Message: Generosity is a virtue that benefits both the giver and the gifted.  It glorifies the God we serve.

  1. God’s Law required charity in the manner of harvesting.

Our culture is no longer agricultural, so it may be a challenge to wrap our heads around what’s happening here in Ruth.  So I offer a little background first, explaining what the Old Testament Law commanded.  We can better appreciate Boaz’s generosity as we see how far beyond the Law he went in his kind-hearted treatment of Ruth.

Leviticus 19:9 = [THE LORD SAID TO MOSES,] “WHEN YOU REAP THE HARVEST OF YOUR LAND, DO NOT REAP TO THE VERY EDGES OF YOUR FIELD OR GATHER THE GLEANINGS OF YOUR HARVEST.  DO NOT GO OVER YOUR VINEYARD A SECOND TIME OR PICK UP THE GRAPES THAT HAVE FALLEN.  LEAVE THEM FOR THE POOR AND THE ALIEN.  I AM THE LORD YOUR GOD.” (This is repeated, in abridged form, in 23:22.)

Deuteronomy 24:19-22 is part of a section where Moses gives Israel one final instruction in the Law before he is parted from them.  These verses are an elaboration of the Law we read in Leviticus and reveal two of God’s purposes for this law about gleaning.  The first and last verses of this passage are bookends that supply two purposes God had in instituting this law.

– Verse 19 = THAT THE LORD YOUR GOD MAY BLESS YOU IN ALL THE WORK OF YOUR HANDS.  God blesses generous people.

– Verse 22 = REMEMBER THAT YOU WERE SLAVES IN EGYPT.  THAT IS WHY I COMMAND YOU TO DO THIS.  God gave this command to keep His people humble and helpful in times of plenty.

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 expounded on this law, adding two examples of how to behave on a neighbor’s property.  They sounds like rules against abusing the gleaning laws by prohibiting gleaners from hoarding the free food.  The wisdom of these rules for is evident by the fact that they are still observed today in Arab lands and in German orchards.

– It is OK to eat grapes while in the vineyard, but not to carry any away in a basket.

– It is permitted to pick grain by hand, but the gleaner cannot use a sickle.

Though I can provide no chapter and verse to prove it, I believe the laws on gleaning were a simple kind of “welfare” program that provided for the most helpless members of their society.  It was good to require the poor to work to help themselves and at same time providing land owners an opportunity to be charitable.

The narrative makes it obvious not everyone in Israel kept this law.  Ruth’s statement in 2:3 assumes an adversarial tone; “LET ME GO TO THE FIELDS AND PICK UP THE LEFTOVER GRAIN BEHIND ANYONE IN WHOSE EYES I FIND FAVOR.”  The protection Ruth received from Boaz and the warning from Naomi point out that sometimes gleaners were mistreated.  (See Isaiah 17:5-6 for another window on this subject of gleaning.)  To be fair, there were probably some folk who abused the privilege of gleaning, in violation of Deuteronomy 23:24-25.  Our modern “welfare” system seems to abused in various ways, as you’d expect.  Where sin and human nature finds opportunity, even the most well-intentioned systems are subject to abuse.

The amount and quality of the gleanings depended on the generosity of the landowner.  Deciding what constituted the “edges” of a field was left open to individual interpretation.  This reflects the fact that generosity is one of the hardest virtues to legislate.  By definition, generosity has to be grace; it is over and above what’s required/expected/customary.

Our passage is bookended by the two harvests mentioned: 1:22 put these events during the barley harvest, about April/May.  2:23 includes the wheat harvest which occurred some weeks later.

  1. Boaz was a godly and generous man.

The name meant “Lively, vigorous, strong.”  Here are some things the text reveals about Boaz.

According to 2:1, he was A MAN OF STANDING.  In Judges 6:12 and 11:1, this words refers to a warrior.  It can also mean “property owner” or “prominent.”  In 2 Kings 15:20 it is translated as “wealthy.”

2:1 also records that Boaz was a relative; he was Naomi’s in-law, being from the same clan as her husband, Elimelech.

Part of Boaz’s standing in the community is based on 2:2-3: he was a landowner.  Ruth selecting his field for gleaning is attributed to good luck in the text.  Though the NIV renders the phrase AS IT TURNED OUT, but the word means “by chance.”  Yet we know God lead her to this field, that it wasn’t just a lucky break or a plot device.  The writer may be resorting to irony by this choice of words, showing that what appears to be luck is the providential hand of God.

In 2:20 Boaz is identified as A KINSMAN-REDEEMER.  This is a key term, essential to our understanding of this book.  Boaz was a CLOSE RELATIVE, one of those who could act as a KINSMAN-REDEEMER by marrying Ruth.  He was a REDEEMER because he could:

– Avenge the death of a murdered relative (see Numbers 35:19) – not appropriate here.

– Marry the childless widow of a deceased brother and raise up children for him (see Deuteronomy 25:5-10).

– Buy back family lands that had been sold (see Leviticus 25:25).

– Buy out of slavery family members who were sold into slavery to pay a debt (see Leviticus 25:47-49).

– Provide for the needy and helpless members of the family of the deceased (see Leviticus 25:35).

– What is most important in the text and for our purpose is that Boaz was a generous man.

— He was generous with his time, showing attention to his workers. In verse four the greetings we see demonstrate he loved his workers and they returned the good favor.  This was a typical exchange in Israel at that time, but is still a good insight into the character of Boaz and his relations with his workers.  Boaz did not sit in his office in Bethlehem and count his money; he went to the fields and checked on how the harvest was progressing.

Verse five shows that he knew his workers; knowing Ruth was not one of them, he asked about her.  He’s effectively asking, “Who is this?  Where does this young woman fit in?”  The foreman’s reply (vs. 6-7) gives us insight into Ruth’s character: she impressed the foreman as being a woman of respect and ambition. Ruth was respectful in the sense that she could’ve showed up demanding the right to glean, but asked first.  She demonstrated her ambition in the fact that she worked steadily, taking little time to rest.  (Was she shaming the professionals?)

— Boaz showed generosity toward a foreigner in his concern for Ruth’s safety and success (2:8-9, 13).  He referred to Ruth with the same term of endearment Naomi used; “DAUGHTER.”  (This may also indicate a disparity in their ages.)  Boaz acted on this concern in five different ways:

— He not only approved her gleaning in his field but invited her to follow alongside his female workers and pick up the cuttings, not just the leavings.

— He’d given his men a warning not to take advantage of her low station; they were to not TOUCH, “strike” or “molest” her.

— He gave her permission to drink from the water jars.  These were for t workers; this was not a privilege normally given to gleaners.

— He invited her to the harvesters’ meal where she got an abundance of food (2:14).  This was a midday meal that consisted of roasted grain they’d just harvested, bread, wine vinegar, and other foods as available.  This meal was certainly not a privilege normally given to gleaners.  Whether this was typical to Boaz’s generosity or indicates his increasing interest in Ruth, the text does not say; the act may portray both.

— He instructed his men to assist her gleaning, to the point she had more than enough (2:15-17).  This went beyond what the Law required; it is an act of extravagant generosity.  Not only were these men not to mistreat Ruth (EMBARRASS), but they were to secretly make her gleaning easier and more productive!

— Though our culture regards blessings and curses as artifacts of a more superstitious time, Boaz was generous with his blessings.  Boaz blessed Ruth in 2:11-12.  He was impressed with her loyalty to Naomi and her acceptance of faith in God.        — Boaz continued to be generous: he allowed Ruth to glean through two different harvests (2:23).  This would have been a period of about seven weeks.  If we assume Boaz showed this same level of generosity to Ruth the entire time, the two widows had supplies enough to live comfortably for 3-7 months!

— As the saying goes, the “proof is in the pudding.”  The result of all this is that Ruth’s gleanings that day amounted to almost a full EPHAH.  This would be half to two-thirds of a bushel of grain, about 29-50 pounds!  This extraordinary amount was much more than the average gleaner would have gotten.  In other ancient cultures, a worker’s ration was considered to be 1-2 pounds of grain a day, so by this standard, there was enough gathered on this one day to last them a few weeks!

Ruth’s replies to Boaz’s kindnesses (vs. 10+13) show her humble and gentle character.  Since Ruth did not know about the assistance given her by Boaz’s workers, she thought all this grain was just another day’s work!  This is a touching aspect to this wonderful story of a loving, generous man.

When Ruth returned from gleaning with all that grain and leftovers from lunch besides, we can imagine Naomi’s eyes boggling!  In fact, her question in v. 19 could’ve been voiced with a tone of surprise and happy disbelief; “Where IN THE WORLD did you go to glean?”  Naomi realized Ruth could not have done all this on her own and that’s why she asked these questions and hastily blessed their benefactor, even not knowing who it was. When she learned who owned the field, Naomi immediately blessed Boaz again.  She knew her own culture better than Ruth and appreciated the extent to which Boaz helped Ruth!

American Christians’ lack of generosity might not be as shocking if it didn’t contrast so starkly with their astounding wealth. Passing the Plate’s researchers say committed American Christians—-those who say their faith is very important to them and those who attend church at least twice a month-—earn more than $2.5 trillion dollars every year. On their own, these Christians could be admitted to the G7, the group of the world’s seven largest economies. Smith and his coauthors estimate that if these Christians gave away 10 percent of their after-tax earnings, they would add another $46 billion to ministry around the world…one early finding: That estimate of $46 billion in additional giving is unrealistic, not because it’s too big, but because it’s too small. Estimating 10 percent giving for every committed Christian in the U.S. neglects two groups: those who truly can’t afford to give 10 percent (due to illness or unemployment or similar reasons), and those who are already giving more than 10 percent. If you calculate that 10 percent of Christians can’t give because of their financial limitations, most of the rest give 10 percent, and a handful of generous givers continue their current generous giving pattern, committed American Christians could realistically increase their giving by $85.5 billion each year.

<Retrieved from http://www.sermoncentral.com/illustrations/sermon-illustration-michael-mccartney-statistics-givinggeneral-70732.asp on 7/10/15.>\

May our potential for generosity and the extravagant example of Boaz give us reason to be increasingly generous.  May we be gracious as God has shown extravagant