Generosity as Art
Credit card debt that is over due 60 days or more increased in January, 2009, to record levels according to a report by the CFA Institute. For many living in New York there was no need to read about this in an report—all they had to do was look in their mail. So, is now the time to talk about generosity? Absolutely. It’s also an excellent time to discuss stewardship, but in actuality, generosity comes first.
As we survey the narrative arc of the Bible—Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration—let’s start with our redemption. At the end of each sermon by Redeemer pastors we are reminded of who Jesus is and what he has accomplished in our behalf. Whether we are Christians or curious about Christianity, this is the central reality we must wrestle with time and again.
When we read accounts in the Gospels, then, of Zaccheus (Cf. Luke 19) and the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet (similar accounts in all four Gospels), we find that an encounter with Jesus, the Living Gospel, produced extreme generosity. (It doesn’t always; we’ll get to that in a minute.) This is scary. It is frightening to think that if I encounter Jesus on his terms, then I might find him to be such a treasure that my earthly wealth (such as it might be) is demoted to second place—or lower—and I find I want to bless others by giving as freely as Jesus has given to me.
It certainly scared away the rich young man of Matthew 19. And Judas despised the woman’s act of anointing Jesus, because he himself was a thief; as treasurer of Jesus’ ministry, he stole from the checking account. They, too, encountered the gospel, but they found comfort instead in the known, the measurable. Therefore, we must encounter the Living Gospel each week—each day—to feed on our justification.
As we live out the gospel then, being generous with all we have and all we are, we can better understand stewardship. We learn that God, as Creator, is the Owner of everything, and we have a duty to manage the resources he has put us in charge of in a way that is in line with his priorities and not our own. Because of the Fall, and to avoid the idolatrous hold money can have, we need to give it away systematically and sacrificially, for our own good as well as the good of others.
As generous people who are also good stewards, we can be agents of restoration in New York. First, we can create a counter-culture of sharing and wise financial stewardship. As we actively love one another by living lives full of the fruit of generosity, those outside the church will recognize that we follow Christ (John 13:34-35). Likewise, as we give our treasures and talents (creating new businesses and non-profits, and practicing gospel-shaped habits in the workplace) to our communities, we restore the city.
American writer and the “voice” of The New Yorker, E.B. White, once wrote, “The city is like poetry: it compresses all life, all races and breeds, into a small island and adds music and the accompaniment of internal engines. The island of Manhattan is without a doubt the greatest human concentrate on earth, the poem whose magic is comprehensible to millions of permanent residents but whose full meaning will always remain elusive.”
What will you do this month to add a verse?
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