“When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” “Twelve,” they replied. “And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?” They answered, “Seven.” He said to them, “Do you still not understand?” -- Mark 8:19-21
A Red–Letter community, based on the values of Jesus, will take seriously the economy of God’s super–abundant kingdom. They will share good things with others, freely and abundantly. The joy they receive from giving will affect the ethos of the community and a culture of generosity will be created. The ripple effect that goes out from this generous community will be contagious and produce immeasurable results.
“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”
It was Saint Augustine who said, “God is always trying to give good things to us, but our hands are too full to receive them.” Generosity is best understood when placed on a continuum. On the one end is an altruistic lifestyle that believes in the super–abundance of God’s economy and freely gives good things to others. On the other end is a consuming lifestyle that hoards resources with an insatiable desire for more. Red Letter Christians will make an honest assessment of where they fall on the continuum and then make a conscious decision to move toward a more benevolent life.
Thanksgiving has come and gone. Looking back, I think I forgot to say grace before I devoured the turkey. I hurried my way thru “Giving Tuesday without giving a second thought to any of the organizations that popped up in my in box. Christmas is on the horizon and I’ve spent most of my free time decorating the house and thinking about me. So far it's been a "Happy Holiday Season" but I'm reminded that Jesus said, we will be far happier giving than receiving. His words make me pause and wonder, "Would my holiday season be happier if I gave more and received less?"
We see the value Jesus places on generosity by the way he celebrated and encouraged people who acted generously. Consider his reaction to the poor widow who gave all she had as an offering to God: “This poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.” Jesus lifts up the widow’s gift as an example of radical generosity.
Jesus, like the generous poor widow, gave everything he had, including his very life, so others would know the super–abundant love of God. I want to follow the way of Jesus but the truth is, it’s difficult to emulate his radical generosity in a consumer–based culture that’s hyped–up and driven by what Walter Brueggemann calls the myth of scarcity, the false narrative that says there’s simply not enough to go around so we better hoard all we can for ourselves.
In my book, Think Red, I reflect on the radical generosity of Jesus and highlight a few things to consider if we want to resist the myth of scarcity and free ourselves to be more generous.
First: realize generosity is on a continuum. At any time we can decide to take intentional steps towards the generous way of Jesus. Those steps begin with trusting in God’s super-abundant grace and being grateful for God’s good gifts.
Second: affirm the Imago Dei. All humanity is created in the image of a generous, self–giving God, which means our true nature is to give. I believe that’s why Jesus said we are far happier giving than receiving.
Third: be inspired by the generosity of others, especially when generosity is exemplified through people with limited means, like the poor widow. I believe generosity is contagious. When we spend time with others who give abundantly and freely we will discover there is always more. People who are givers, whether they are rich or poor, have learned that in God's economy there is always more - more joy, more freedom, and more grace will be added to the one who gives with a cheerful heart.
Finally: praying and asking for God’s help is always a good idea. The Spirit of God will help us cultivate a generous heart if we ask. Here’s a helpful prayer I discovered in Brueggemann’s book, Celebrating Abundance.
God, whose giving knows no end, make us glad recipients of your generosity. Give us eyes to see and ears to hear and hearts to remember your abundance, that we might share it with the world.
“You’re far happier giving than getting.”
Acts 20:35 MSG
I love it when Jesus uses humor in his stories to emphasize his point. Surely people chuckled when he told the one about the dad who considered giving his children a snake and a scorpion for supper instead of bread and fish! After the laughter died down. Jesus delivered the punch line: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” God’s radical generosity is a constant theme in the stories Jesus tells. We tell similar stories when we share good gifts without reservation.
“If you have seen me, you have seen my father.”
When I look at Jesus, I see extravagant, self–giving love. The apostle John saw the same thing. After spending three years with Jesus, he concluded, “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son . . . to save the world through him.” Red Letter communities that aspire to look like Jesus will chase after radical generosity.
A Red–Letter community that wants to look like Jesus will dream up whimsical ways to bless individuals with mercy and they will create prophetic ways to dismantle systems of oppression. If the challenge seems too overwhelming . . . do something small.
Don’t compare your contribution to others. Don’t evaluate your success by the impact it makes on social problems. Just do the next right thing. Your humble expression of compassion will be noticed by God; it will be a prophetic demonstration of what life is supposed to look like.
One in ten people on the planet do not have access to safe water; that’s more than twice the population of the United States. “Little Ones” are by far the most vulnerable. A child dies every sixty seconds from water-borne illness. When someone shares a cup of pure water with a thirsty child it does not go unnoticed in heaven.
Go BIG or go home! It’s the battle cry of the western world, tempting us all to believe our worth is measured by the size of our resume. Jesus, on the other hand, seems to value small things—things like cups of cold water given to little children and small coins given to God by poor widows. Jesus celebrates and blesses people who hunger and thirst for righteousness. He lifts up the meek and says they will inherit the earth. He loves when people give themselves to peacemaking; those who do, he calls children of God. Jesus values small expressions of righteousness, justice, and peace, over and above grand displays of personal achievement.
According to Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is an invisible reality that modifies the visible culture surrounding it. The parable of the yeast implies that a micro expression of God’s kingdom, done in secret, will alter the world on a macro level. The world is blessed when church folk take a pass on power, position, and privilege, and choose instead to lead beloved communities in the simple way of Jesus.
explores the upside down kingdom of Jesus
and invites the reader to imagine
a community built on
his counter–cultural values.
The scene is the Last Supper; Jesus is pouring out his heart and sharing final instructions with the disciples. He’s not surprised to discover his friends are only half listening. They are distracted by a familiar argument . . . who among them was considered the greatest? Jesus doesn’t rebuke them for wanting to be great, he simply redefines the meaning of greatness by asking: “Who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves?” After a moment to ponder the obvious, Jesus points out: “But I am among you as one who serves.” In the eyes of our competitive, consumer-driven world, the one at the table with the most power and possessions is regarded as the greatest. In the economy of heaven, and in the eyes of Jesus, it is the one who serves.
Larry Stoess is an author, public speaker, and urban church planter. He loves telling stories about how dreaming with God will empower people to make old and broken things new again. Larry and a band of friends founded the Church of the Promise in Louisville's Portland neighborhood; The Table, a pay-what-you-can community café; and Promise Housing Plus, a non-profit construction company. He has written about their experience of dreaming with God in his new book: Think Red.