Archive for September 30th, 2006

The Paradox of Generosity

Saturday, September 30th, 2006

Today’s scripture: Galatians 5:19-25 & Luke 6:36-38 (NRSV) (The Message)

As you read, consider: What might God be saying to me? Summarize your thoughts in a sentence or two before reading on.

My thoughts (Jeff Miner):

When you die, how do you want to be remembered?

My Uncle Ernie was an angry man. In his will, he instructed my Aunt Celia to put on his tombstone: “What are you lookin’ at?”

Come on, laugh! It’s funny — or at least sort of.

Anyway, back to the subject. When you die, how will you be remembered? Each one of us has a unique persona — a cluster of attitudes that characterize us. When I think of my Mother, for example, I think of an incredible cluster of consistently beautiful attitudes. By contrast, when I think of my now deceased Golden Retriever “Turkey” — don’t ask how she got her name — I think of a self-centered being who was quick to anger (even though I loved her dearly).

When people think of you or me, what persona comes to mind?

All of us need work; and that’s fine, because the New Testament is all about transformation. When we invite the Spirit of Christ into our lives, we enter into a process of gradual, but radical, transformation. The passage we are now studying, Galatians 5:19-25, describes what the end product is supposed to look like: a persona characterized by nine key attitudes, which are often called “the fruit of the Spirit.” Today’s fruitful attitude is “generosity.”

Am I a generous person?

Here’s a way to test where we are on the generosity scale. Picture yourself walking into a room full of people — maybe it’s a cafeteria or Sunday church or a family reunion. Pick your setting, then imagine walking into it. Now, take a moment to imagine what you’re thinking and feeling as you walk into this group of people.

What you are thinking will tell you a lot about where you are on the generosity scale. When you enter that group of people, is it all about you or all about them? Consider two examples. Person A walks into church on Sunday and thinks: “I don’t want to talk to anyone; I’m just not in the mood. I want to sit down and lose myself in prayer about all the difficulties of my life. Oh, look, there’s Joe – the world’s greatest hypocrite. I hope the songs today are the kind I like. I wish we could skip the offering.”

By contrast, Person B walks into church on Sunday and thinks: “Goodness, all these people – each one a precious creation of God. I wonder if there’s someone here I can bless? Part of me wants to sit down and lose myself in prayer, but that can wait for a quiet spot in the worship service, for now I’m going to dare to sit down near someone, smile, say hello, and see if that leads to a conversation that blesses. Oh, look, there’s Joe – his shortcomings remind me so much of me. Maybe I should sit next to him. I hope the songs today bless him. I hope my offering today helps someone who really needs it.”

Which person do you want to be? Which person do you think is getting the most out of life? Jesus sums it up this way, “The measure you give will be the measure you get back.”

Thought for the day: As you enter some specific situation today, practice being generous. Intentionally try to move through that situation with less focus on self and more on others — and see if that doesn’t make the situation much better — not just for others, but for you. This is the mystery of the Gospel: it is in dying that we find life, it is in giving that we receive. Mark 8:34-35.

Today, let’s join together in prayer for: those we know who are in transitional places in life. Who do you know who has lost (or started) a job, or has started school, or is in a new relationship, or is dealing with a breakup? Change — whether good or bad — is stressful. Ask God to give that person strength, and wisdom, and peace.

We encourage you to include a time of prayer with this reading. Use the item above as a starting point, or consider the guidelines on the How to Pray page.

"Be still, and know that I am God." Psalm 46:10
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