John Beeson

The Bible’s Strange Instructions for Opening the Giving Lock

The gospel and God’s grace to us are not set aside in giving, but God himself, in his grace, is the one with the power to make this grace abound in us. God’s blessings result in good works.[v] And every good work is the work of generosity. In this, we return to Paul’s first reason for giving: it is a grace. Generosity is beautifully cyclical. When we actually cheer as money leaves our wallets, we are a place of delighting as God delights. It is then that we are experiencing the gift God intends to give us, the gift of generosity.

I worked for a few years in development and was trained in best practices for raising money. I was blessed to work for a Christian organization that was committed to raising money in a godly way, but the broader development industry doesn’t have many scruples in doing what they do best: separating people from their money. And they are clever! How does a development professional unlock the giving vault?
Secular Generosity
The secular handbook on getting people to give reveals a lot. There are three universal rules in development:[i]
1)      Appeal to donors’ emotions, not their minds: tell a story that will move them;
2)      Inflate a donor’s sense of importance and appeal to their interests;
3)      Create urgency: donors need to feel as though the need is immediate and significant.
Christian Generosity
The Christian generosity handbook is very different. Having delivered his four strange reasons for giving. Paul is now going to five equally strange instructions for giving in his letter to the Corinthian church. Paul’s instructions contradict the development professional’s handbook at almost every turn. Paul tells us we should give this way:
1)      Thoughtfully
2)      Not reluctantly
3)      Not under compulsion
4)      Cheerfully
5)      Through the power of Christ
Paul explains his instructions this way in 2 Corinthians 9:7-8: “Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work.” It is staggering just how different this is from today’s secular handbook for giving.
Faux Christian Generosity
But shouldn’t we take tithing seriously? The LDS (Mormon) Church takes tithing very seriously. In an official publication, they state that a bishop may move forward with disciplinary action on that member including “information probation, temporarily restricting his privileges as a Church member – such as the right to partake of the sacrament, hold a Church position, or enter the temple.”[ii] That’s a far cry from our evangelical churches today. On the one hand, the LDS Church is to be commended for the seriousness with which they take stewardship and generosity. On the other hand, these guidelines draw very near overturning two of the ways in which Scripture calls us to give: “not reluctantly” and “not under compulsion.”
The Beautifully Strange Difference
Where today’s handbook tells one to appeal to the emotions, not reason, Paul tells us our giving must be thoughtful. Where the secular handbook tells us that any giver, even a reluctant giver is okay, Paul tells us that true generosity requires that there is an eagerness.
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The Bible’s Strange Reasons for Generosity: Show them God!

God withholds nothing from us. As we are conformed into his image, we grow in our Triune God-echoing generosity. When we give, we display the very character of Christ to the world. We, ambassadors of this strangely generous King, display his category-defying generosity in our own generosity. 

Why do we give? The first hit when you Google “why should I be generous?” is this article which lays out four reasons:
1)      Giving frees you from the “burden of materialism”
2)      Giving helps you “to feel better about yourself”
3)      Giving makes you less self-centered
4)      Giving helps make people like you.
Do you find those reasons compelling? Two of them (1 &3) have echoes of biblical truth in them. But 2 & 4 are shockingly empty reasons.
Paul also has four reasons for giving: none of which overlap with this list. Here is Paul’s list:
1)      Give because giving is a grace
2)      Give because it proves your love of Jesus
3)      Give because Jesus first gave
4)      Give because you will be blessed.
Give Because Jesus Gave
Today we arrive at the third reason on that list: give because Jesus first gave. Paul says it this way in 2 Corinthians 8:9:
“For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that thought he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.”
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The Bible’s Strange Reasons for Generosity: to Prove

If we claim to be Christians and are stingy, we need to look in the mirror and ask if we really are Christians. Have we been changed by God’s generosity? Do we really believe the first reason: that generosity is a grace, an opportunity, given to us by our Savior?  

No one argues that miserliness is an admirable character trait. The national convention of Ebeneezer Scrooge urging Americans to be less generous doesn’t exist.
Many perceive one of America’s strongest virtues to be generosity. There is some evidence for this. News reports gushed that over $471 billion was given to charity in 2020, the highest recorded number on record in U.S. history. That’s a huge amount of money. But that number represents a mere 2% of the US’s GDP, which stood at $20.94 trillion in 2020.
2% hardly seems a number to hang on our wall. What about Christians? Unfortunately, we do little better, giving approximately 3% of our income to charity. And fewer than 5% of Christians tithe.[ii] Generosity isn’t graded on a curve.
Most disappointingly is the self-deception of Christians. 17% of Christians report tithing despite the actual number of 5%. Worse still, 10% of those who claimed they tithe actually gave less than $200 to charity.[iii]
The Second Reason to Give
Paul would have something to say about this. In this series, we are exploring the reasons Paul says that we should be generous. The first reason was that giving is a grace; it is a gift offered to us by God.
Paul’s second reason is found in 2 Corinthians 8:8, Paul urges, “I say this [that you ought to participate in the grace of giving] not as a command, but to prove by the earnestness of others that your love also is genuine.”
Paul’s second reason for giving is that our giving proves that we love Jesus.
That ought to catch our attention. The ledger of my giving is the proof of my love of Christ?
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Cactus Spines and Groaning

What is most incredible is that God enters into our groans with us. In the Garden of Getsemane, Jesus “was troubled” and prayed “in agony” to the Father in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt 26, Lk 22). On the cross, Jesus cries out David’s words in Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mt 27:46). He groans for himself and he groans with us.

Spine: that’s the technical word for the pointy things that come out of cacti. Most Arizonans use more colloquial expressions like prickers or stickers when referencing them. Either way, they’re nothing to laugh at. If you’ve lived in the Sonoran desert for any length of time, you’ve used a pair of tweezers to yank them from your skin.
After my parents moved to Tucson, my grandfather visited from Florida. Amazed by the beautiful and seemingly soft “fur” covering prickly pear cacti, he stroked the apparently innocuous fuzz. The prickly pear gifted him with a few hundred spines that pierced his fingertips. He groaned.
Recently I was doing some yard work and got too close to a saguaro’s spine as I tried to weed around the base of the cactus. The spine pierced my fingernail. I groaned.
It has remained lodged there for over two months. Initially located at the base of my fingernail, it was impossible to remove without taking off my entire fingernail. The fingernail itself now holds the tip of the spine against the flesh under my fingernail. It’s a tiny amount of pain, but pain that will not leave. I groan.
There is a surprising amount of groaning in the Bible. In Exodus, we hear the groans of the Israelites in their enslavement, “During those many days the king of Egypt died, and the people of Israel groaned because of their slavery and cried out for help. Their cry for rescue from slavery came up to God” (Ex 2:23). In the days of the judges, the Israelites groaned. David and other psalmists groan throughout the Psalms.
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How to Make your Spiritual Life Purposeful, Part I

We need both the habits and the goal. On the one hand, there is a power in developing purposeful habits that we consistently practice over decades. On the other hand, many of our spiritual habits are without purpose or have lost their purpose. We need habits directed toward a finish line.

What plan do you have for your spiritual life? Where do you want to go spiritually? And how are you going to get there?
My hunch is that most of us don’t have a plan for our spiritual life. Most of us live hoping that we’ll drift into a better spiritual life. But that is a faulty assumption. Have you drifted into losing weight? Or becoming a better father? Or into your Master’s degree?
For some reason, we think that even though we make plans for improvement and we set goals in other areas, it’s not necessary or spiritual for us to set out these kinds of plans for our spiritual walk.
Jesus himself lived an incredibly purposeful life. If you pick up the gospel of John, you see that Jesus is very sensitive to discerning and following God’s purpose for his life. His purpose was not about self-fulfillment but self-giving at the cross. In John 17:1, Jesus prays, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.”
How do we live a spiritual life with such purpose and awareness?
Just as we need a plan to study for a business exam, or to lock in our workouts to lose weight, so we need a plan for our spiritual life. So, what’s your plan? What do you want? How are you going to grow in your understanding of God’s Word? Or how are you going to grow in your prayer life? What current habits do you have? Do they need to be changed to grow? Do you need a shock to your system? Or maybe you need to expand what you’re doing?
We need both the habits and the goal. On the one hand, there is a power in developing purposeful habits that we consistently practice over decades. On the other hand, many of our spiritual habits are without purpose or have lost their purpose. We need habits directed toward a finish line.
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Why Satan Wants You to Think You’re Alone

The power of the belief that we’re alone traps us in shame. It sucks us into the belief that we can get ourselves out of our messes. Break the cycle. Cry out to God. Call your pastor. Connect with a trusted Christian friend. Contact a counselor. You are never alone.

“I’m sure no one has ever told you this.”
“It’s so bad. You are going to think terrible things about me.”
“Everyone would hate me if they knew what I was thinking.”
“There is no one who loves me for me.”
I’ve heard each of these helpless words from people who sat in my office. They are raw, vulnerable, heartbreaking. They reveal people’s crippling loneliness and fears that they are destined to remain alone.
I’ve been there. Discouragement spiraled into depression, and I multiplied my angst by entangling myself in sin. I didn’t think anyone would understand. I was too afraid to ask for help. Lies compounded sin.
Satan Lies
Satan traffics in lies. He wants you to believe that God isn’t good, that you are alone, and that your shame can never be removed. Each is a profound deception. In 1 Peter 5:8, we are reminded: “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.” Don’t be deceived, Peter says; you have to fight to stay out of the enemy’s jaws. There is one who intends to destroy you.
How can we fight the enemy’s lies? It’s no accident that Peter’s admonition to be on guard against Satan comes after his encouragement for elders to shepherd the flock, and his subsequent call to humility. For Peter knows that a humble and unified flock is a powerful force against Satan’s wiles: “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you” (1 Pet. 5:6–7).
Isn’t that peculiar advice? What’s the connection between Satan’s attacks, humbling ourselves, and casting our anxieties on God? Peter puts his finger on a particular vulnerability Satan goes after: our anxieties, which drive us from God and community and toward ourselves.
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Why You Shouldn’t Give Up on the Church

The blue screen of death. We’ve all experienced it. You’re plugging away on a paper or trying to load a website and whammo, your computer is toast. A few minutes and a hard restart later, you’re back up and running, but not without consequences. You might have lost your train of thought or part of what you wrote. Ironically, I experienced the blue screen of death writing this post!
Covid-19 was a cultural blue screen of death. Work, school, and church rhythms were all disrupted, and as a result everything changed. People’s connection to church shifted or ended completely. Nearly every pastor I’ve spoken with affirms lower church attendance today than eighteen months ago.
The blue screen of Covid, it seems, made everyone re-think just how important church is.
A Replacement for Church?
More than a handful decided that other spiritual practices can take the place of church. Jen Hatmaker recently shared about a conversation she had with her therapist where she came to the realization that “church for me right now feels like my best friends, my porch bed, my children, and my parents and my siblings. It feels like meditations and all these leaves on my 12 pecan trees. It feels like Ben Rector on repeat. It feels like my kitchen, and my table, and my porch. It feels like Jesus who never asked me to meet him anywhere but in my heart.”
Others have decided to cut themselves off from church due to their frustration with what they perceive the church to be. This thread of tweets between Laura Chastain and Andrew Novell captures the spirit of those who feel disappointed by the church.
Whatever the stated reason, at its core this exodus from the church stems from a lack of understanding of the true heart, function, and mission of the church.

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