photo: fsecart, Creative Commons

photo: fsecart, Creative Commons

Some people automatically groan whenever anyone mentions generosity. It tends to be a reminder of all the things we don’t have.

I have always loved the idea of being extravagantly with giving. My favorite stories are the ones of unexpected generosity: a $10,000 tip for a waitress who really needs it; a plane ticket bought for someone to visit a sick loved one; churches meeting people’s needs in a big way. I love those stories.

But no matter how much we all love stories like that, not all of us have an extra $10,000 (or even $1,000) to give.

When your bank accounts aren’t exactly overflowing, the thought of giving something away is almost painful. The first things that come to mind are the bills sitting on the kitchen counter and the scraping that it’s going to take to pay them. Or maybe your kids are about to go to college and every time someone mentions generosity you picture the tuition bill and wonder how in the world you’re going to pay it.

Several years ago, I started to think about generosity differently, and it’s changed the conversation completely.

Yes, I think we should be generous with our money, even if it’s a small amount of the small amount we have. But there are other ways to be generous, other ways we’re rich that other people might be poor.

Here are seven alternative ways to be generous:

1. Time

Time is something we often overlook when we’re thinking of being generous. Maybe you find yourself in a season of your life where you’re far less busy than those around you. I bet the mother of four in your neighborhood or community group isn’t feeling rich in the time department.

How can you be generous with your time in a way that eases her burden a bit?

2. Wisdom

Being generous with your wisdom can take lots of forms. Maybe it’s leading a Bible study for people younger than you or taking a newly married couple under you and your wife’s wing to help them through the first year of marriage. Maybe it’s teaching, or preaching, or even writing a blog!

If you find yourself with wisdom, think of ways you can be generous with it.

3. Affection

While all of us should be generous with our affection, there are people in the world who I think have been given a triple portion of affection.

Have you ever met someone like that?

If you’re someone who has love and affection pouring out of them, make a point of finding people who need it. I can’t think of any better way to be generous than with our affection.

4. Skills

We often overlook our skills because when something comes easily to us, we forget it doesn’t for everybody.

Do you have experience as an electrician, or with building websites, or as a CPA? Not everyone knows what to do with exposed wires, or HTML, or complicated finances.

Think of the skills you have, and then consider how you can use them to help the people around you.

5. Opening Doors

One of the greatest ways people have loved me in my life is by opening doors of opportunity to me.

You can do this too. Look for connections between people you know and make the introduction, pass along resumes, give someone a chance that they might not otherwise get.

Your being generous by opening doors could be the break someone needed to become the people they were meant to be.

6. Forgiveness

This is one of the hardest ways to be generous, but it’s so important. Think about how many times in scripture Jesus told us to forgive each other. Here’s a hint: He didn’t just say it once.

It’s incredibly difficult to forgive people in our lives who have hurt us, but our ability to forgive others directly impacts our ability to receive forgiveness from our Heavenly Father. It’s important.

Learning to be generous with your forgiveness is a challenging task, but one worth pursuing.

7. Story

There’s nothing kinder you can do for someone than to help them know they’re not alone, and one of my favorite ways to do this is through storytelling.

That’s why testimonies are so important, they’re stories of God’s faithfulness to us in times when we needed Him most. When we are able to see His faithfulness in the lives of others, we’re able to believe that He’ll be faithful in our lives as well.

There are lots of ways to be generous that have nothing to do with money, and it’s important to remember that. Although our money is helpful, it’s not the only resource we’ve been given, and therefore not the only resource we can use to help others.

photo: Scott McLeod, Creative Commons

photo: Scott McLeod, Creative Commons

If you’re anything like me, you read the passage about Jesus flipping over tables in the temple and can’t help but let out a whoop. It’s refreshing to be reminded of our Savior acting that way, especially when we, as His followers, often portray Him as a meek and quiet.

But while that passage is a great demonstration of strength and righteous anger, I often see Christians using it as an excuse for plain old, everyday anger.

And if you ask me, this is not what that passage was about.

The thing we have to remember about this passage is who Jesus was angry with. Jesus was angry with the religious people, church people, and He was angry with them for abusing their power and the sanctity of His Father’s house.

Being reminded of that makes me want to whoop a little bit less and makes me wonder what aspects of my life might make Jesus respond to me that way.

It also makes me want to reevaluate the times I get angry and ask myself if I’m following Jesus’ lead in strong, righteous anger, or if I’m just plain old angry.

Before we act in anger, here are three things we should ask ourselves:

1. Are we protecting someone who is being taken advantage of?

Jesus wasn’t just angry; Jesus was protective, and the times we see Him get the angriest were when He was defending someone who was being taken advantage of.

This is something we need to keep in mind.

Righteous anger isn’t the same as anger. Righteous anger is anger in defense and protection and love.

2. Are we certain we have the whole story? 

Often we get angry before we know all the facts. And even more often, situations that make us angry tend to be misunderstandings.

Before we go and flip tables over in our anger, we should make sure we have all the facts right.

We need to make sure to investigate the situation fully before we react in anger.

3. Is our anger culturally biased? 

Like it or not, our anger is often influenced by the opinions and thoughts of others. A great example is culture’s response to Ray Rice’s actions and the subsequent suspension from the NFL.

No matter what your opinion is on the subject, the point is this:

There are lots of people who are angry about the situation and our culture is so saturated with opinions, it’s hard to form your own.

Jesus’ anger wasn’t cultural. It wasn’t influenced by what other people thought or how other people were reacting. Jesus’ anger was counter-cultural and, more often than not, offensive to the way the people around Him thought.

I’m not at all saying that you shouldn’t be angry about the same things other people are angry about, but that you should investigate the reason for your anger. Make sure it’s your own, not just a mirror of the thoughts and opinions of those around you. Sometimes you may line up with the crowd, and sometimes you may find yourself standing alone. Just make sure it’s on purpose.

Anger can be a beautiful thing. It’s a display of love with a heavy dose of strength and ferocity… except for when it isn’t.

When it isn’t, we just need to check ourselves.

We should watch and emulate Jesus’ example, fighting for people He loved, people who couldn’t or wouldn’t fight for themselves. But since we aren’t God, we need to be careful and discerning with our motives and how we act accordingly. Jesus should never be our excuse to be angry.

photo: Danny J, Creative Commons

photo: Danny J, Creative Commons

Did you know that 80% of the Gospel accounts are made up of Jesus either going to or coming from a meal? Many of his miracles surrounded food, his ministry happened around the table, and his first miracle was turning water into wine.

I don’t know about you, but it sounds to me like Jesus may have been a bit of a foodie.

I was taking communion this weekend and was struck by the significance of the last supper. Jesus used bread and wine as the staples of his last evening with his disciples. He used it to symbolize the sacrifice he was about to make. He linked his death and resurrection, the Gospel of our salvation, to something we eat, to something tangible—to bread and wine.

I love the way Leonard Sweet talks about Jesus and food: “The gospel has been summarized as ‘Jesus ate good food with bad people.’”

Eating was a major part of Jesus’ life and ministry, and it should be in ours too.

Here are four things Jesus taught us by how he ate:

1. No one is “beneath us.” 

In Jesus’ time, maybe even more than now, there were certain people you just weren’t supposed to talk to. Jesus’ interaction with the woman at the well is a perfect example. She was a sinner, a woman, and a Samaritan—all things that made her a social pariah for a Jewish man like Jesus.

But Jesus didn’t care what people thought of his choice of friends.

There wasn’t a requirement for who could eat with him, an entrance exam or a pedigree necessary for an invitation to his table. Jesus ate with everyone. No one was beneath him. And the same should be true for us.

2. The table is a great place for ministry.

In ministry, our goal is to make connections. The best ministry happens when a relationship is formed and when people are able to come together to discuss their lives.

The table provides this better than any other place because it facilitates this kind of connection. A meal is a time removed from the busyness of life, reserved for conversation and nourishment—both physical and relational.

Jesus spent so much time eating with people because he knew the kind of connection that happens when people gather together over a meal.

The table should not be overlooked when it comes to ministry. If you want to connect with someone, or get to know someone, ask yourself: what would Jesus do? Invite them over for dinner.

3. Sinners wanted to eat with Jesus.

Jesus ate with sinners, we know that, but the thing we fail to realize is how much the sinners wanted to eat with Jesus.

How do you relate to people outside the faith?

Are you loving them or are you converting them? There’s a difference. Do they feel important when they’re around you? Or like they’re a project?

Often we make it our goal to love people outside the faith, but our “love” comes off as judgmental and full of agenda. There’s a great lesson to the fact that sinners wanted to be close to Jesus. They loved him because he loved them. And it’s only through genuine love and relationship that life-change can happen.

4. Jesus sees people, not status or lifestyle.

Jesus ate with people of all different backgrounds, but I bet if you asked him, he wouldn’t have seen it that way. Jesus didn’t see people classified into where they were from, what they believed, or how they lived their lives. He saw them for who they were, what was inside of them, and that’s how we should work to see people too.

photo: Artotem, Creative Commons

photo: Artotem, Creative Commons

You know you’ve been there—you show up for church one morning, and when it’s time for the sermon, the pastor sheepishly announces he’ll be talking about giving.

There’s an internal groan from the audience because everyone knows how those talks feel. They feel like being hit up for something. Worst case scenario, they feel sleazy. Everyone’s sitting in their chairs trying to remember what kind of car the pastor drives and how many offering plates it took to buy it.

But the thing about God’s Church is we’re supposed to give.

It’s a mandate in scripture and the generosity of the church body is the only way the pastor will have a car at all.

But still, it’s a tricky subject and nobody likes talking about it.

What if there was a way to teach about generosity that didn’t have to do with the church’s bottom line? Yes, we know the offering plates are what keep the lights on in the church, but what if we could talk about it in a different way, a way that didn’t feel quite so logistical or quite so sleazy?

Here are four things I find to be incredible about generosity, things that could change the conversation on giving altogether.

1. It’s a different way to live. 

Generosity isn’t something we do on Sundays; it’s an invitation God gives us for every day of the week and every part of our lives.

In talking about generosity, we don’t just want a 10% tithe. We want our congregations (and ourselves) to be living in a way where we freely give the way we have freely received—whether that be with our money, our time, or our love.

2. It’s contagious.

Generosity is contagious. Have you ever noticed that? One of my favorite examples of this is in the drive-thru line at Starbucks. I drove through the line a few weeks ago and when I pulled up to the counter, the barista told me my drink was paid for by the person just in front of me.
I was taken aback. That was not what I was expecting in my pre-caffeinated stupor. But it was such a nice thing to do, I wanted to pass the favor along to the person behind me. So I told the barista, and she smiled in response. “You’re the 15th car to say that,” she told me.

Yes, when we think about it, every person in that line just essentially paid for their own coffee. But who cares? It’s more fun, and more heart-warming to have someone pay for your coffee and to turn around and do the same for someone else.

Everyone walked away that morning feeling generous and taken care of by a stranger—which is worth much more than a $4.50 coffee.

Generosity is contagious.

3. It’s counter-cultural.

If you look around, you’ll notice most of us feel like we don’t have enough. We spend most of our time trying to accumulate more and the rest of our time trying to figure out how to keep what we have.

Giving away what we have is directly opposed to this idea, but that’s why it’s so powerful. Which brings me to the last point.

4. It reproduces itself. 

The economy of God doesn’t work the way ours does (and thank God, right?). When we give away what we have, when we’re faithful with it instead of holding onto it with all our might, God reproduces what we have.

A pastor friend of mine always says it this way: “nobody has ever starved because they tithed too much.” God just doesn’t work that way.

When we trust God with our money, giving it away instead of holding onto it for fear He wont provide, He does provide. Not only that, He always goes above and beyond what we gave to Him. God wont be out-given.

Teaching about generosity is always a daunting task, but it’s important. It’s important for the survival of our churches, but also for the spiritual health of the congregation.

When we’re generous with the things we count on to keep us safe, we’re placing our wellbeing and our faith in the hands of the one who can truly take care of us. It’s never been about the money. It’s always been about the faith.

photo: Vic, Creative Commons

photo: Vic, Creative Commons

It’s no secret Christians don’t exactly have the best reputation outside (or even inside) the church. Jesus says we should be known by our love, but today it seems we’re known for traits and behaviors that are much less flattering.

I’ve heard Christians referred to as judgmental, hypocritical, pushy, and just plain mean. Unfortunately, the people who call us those things are often correct.

But that needs to change. The world needs the Gospel more than ever and we’re supposed to be the messengers of that Gospel. Turn on the news and you will come face to face with the prevailing darkness in our world. The world needs bringers of light, love, and joy—people to bring life into places that know nothing but death.

People don’t listen to people they don’t like—and our reputations are getting in the way of our ability to share Christ with the people who need him most.

No, being a Christian wont always be popular. The decisions we make and the ways we live our lives are counter-cultural in almost every way. But unpopular and unlikeable are not the same thing.

Here are a few things Christians do that make us unlikable, and how we can curb those bad habits.

1. We insist on being right.

We are people of conviction, people who believe something strongly and fight for that belief no matter what. But all too often, those convictions make us bad listeners.

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who was convinced they were right before you even opened your mouth?

That conversation starts to look a lot more like a monologue.

I’m not suggesting we weaken our convictions, but rather we practice the art of listening and work on understanding. Hearing new ideas doesn’t weaken our own and listening to someone who lives their life differently won’t compromise our integrity.

Instead it will help us connect to someone new and give that person a new frame of reference for the kind of friend Christians can be.

2. We use Jesus as an excuse to be angry or rude.

Rejection is a fear deeply ingrained in each of us, and I think as Christians, we’re just waiting for the moment we’re going to be rejected. So you know what we do? We work to make that happen sooner. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We feel like we have to fight for our beliefs, that we’re going to be challenged or rejected, and so we become headstrong, mean, even rude before anyone else gets the chance.

We site scripture saying, “Jesus was hated so I’m going to be hated too.”

But we forget just who Jesus was hated by: Religious people.

Jesus being hated isn’t an excuse to be rude. Jesus was hated because of his love. And if there’s any reason we’re hated or rejected, I vote it’s love too.

3. We let our agenda be “conversion” over love.

I want to be careful in how I say this, because I am not at all undermining Jesus’ command in the Great Commission. But sometimes we focus on converting people instead of loving them, and that’s where I think we are disliked the most.

I’ve heard people on the receiving end of evangelism compare it to your experience at a used car lot. Someone who doesn’t know you is trying to sell you something—something you’re not sure you want in the first place.

While evangelism is part of our job, and the Great Commission is something we should be working to fulfill, we should be doing it a whole lot more like Jesus did it—through love.

The people Jesus was harshest with were the people who claimed to know him—religious people who were missing the point altogether. Love was always the point, and love is what Jesus showed to the people who didn’t know him, the people whose lives were changed most radically.

We’d find our audience much more receptive, and ourselves much more likable, if we focused on making disciples through love instead of through apologetics.

Being a Christian is a hard balance to walk. 

We want to be true to our beliefs no matter what—even if that comes at the price of not being liked for them. But often I think the opinions of those outside the church can be used as a spotlight, highlighting places in us where we’re missing the mark, or off from where Jesus wanted us to be.

Let’s not compromise ourselves for the sake of popularity, but rather let’s respect the feedback we’re being given, and use it to take a good hard look at ourselves and the way we’re coming across. We’ll be better for it.