Generosity Trademarks the Kingdom of God

Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to the wind: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8) His point was that, just like the wind, you can’t physically see the Kingdom of God, but you can see its effects. You can see the marks of where it’s been. I believe generosity is one of the key marks of the Kingdom of God.

As Christians, we should be the most generous people on the planet.

As Americans, as a country, we probably are. I don’t have exact figures (or any figures) in front of me, but I know our government, which is becoming less and less Christian all the time, still gives away billions of dollars in foreign aid every year. America is one of the most, if not the most, generous countries on the planet. This is the mark of a country that was founded on Kingdom of God principles.

And it’s not just the government. Some of the most effective aid organizations in the world were founded by and are run by American private citizens. Crisis Response International (my personal favorite), Not for Sale, Mercy Ships, Goodwill, The United Way, just to name a few, are amazingly effective charitable organizations providing help across the world where it’s needed most. They provide dollars, medical supplies and services, food, rescue, and labor for rebuilding after disasters (not to mention the Gospel). They have their roots in the Kingdom of God and their generosity is making lasting impacts around the world.

That’s great, but what about the rest of us? Can we be generous right here at home, every day?

I think we can. For example, waiters and waitresses should be fighting to work Sunday afternoons, when the Christians come for lunch after church. We should be the biggest tippers on the planet. (If you’re in the restaurant industry, please leave a comment about whether this is so or not.) A standard tip is 18%. I tip at least 20%, honestly because the math is easier, not because I’m being generous. I compute 10% in my head by moving the bill’s decimal point, double it, and round up. I’m working on tipping 30%, because I want to be generous. It’s hard though, because it gets expensive. Generosity is sacrificial, that’s why it marks the presence of the Kingdom of God.

Janet and I recently experienced an amazing weekend of generosity. We went to a writer’s conference, Tribe Conference 2017, in Franklin, TN, just south of Nashville, that exemplified this concept. Tribe Writers is a program founded and run by best-selling author Jeff Goins that teaches creatives how to get their message out there (and make a living at it) in this amazing new digital renaissance we’re living in. This was the first time Janet and I attended the annual conference.

What an amazing experience! I’ve been to lots of professional and personal conferences, and I can honestly say Tribe Conference 2017 was the most generous conference I have ever been to.

Every single speaker (and breakout session leader) gave away something of value. Not just run-of-the-will lead-magnets that you expect to give away, but premium products either free or at significant discounts. Some made exclusive content just for the conference attendees on hidden pages on their websites. Their generosity was really overwhelming.

Mr. Goins brought a young writer, Natalie Brenner, on the stage to tell the story of getting her book, This Undeserved Life, published. It’s her story about how God shows up in the middle of grief. Her book gives Christians permission to grieve, which is really important because unfortunately I know stories when the church has not.

The book just recently came out, and she’d sold a few hundred copies. Mr. Goins asked everyone there to buy her book, on the spot, which practically all of us did (Janet and I bought two). He doubled her book sales in 60 seconds, and put her on track to becoming a best-selling author. It was definitely a class act. He didn’t have to do that. She certainly didn’t expect it and was floored. It was a blessing to watch the effects of unexpected generosity.

(Yes, the link he gave us to buy the book was an affiliate link, meaning he got a small commission. But those proceeds were used to buy Natalie’s book for anyone in the room who couldn’t afford it, so he funneled it back into book sales for her.)

This was not a Christian conference. It was about writing, marketing, and platform building. But the generosity of the team, the speakers, Mr. Goins himself, and the attendees during the conference was unbelievable. Everyone, speakers and attendees, would stop to give you personal help on wherever you were stuck—the technology, the writing, whatever. Although not overtly Christian, it was obvious that many are Christians, because their generosity overflowed. The mark of the Kingdom of God.

Disclaimer: Janet and I are in the Tribe Writers Pro program, a mastermind group that has helped us significantly in building our platform. However, none of the links in this post are affiliate links. We’re getting no monetary value from telling you about Tribe 2017. It’s just our most recent example of seeing unexpected generosity in action. It was really an amazing experience seeing Kingdom of God principles play out in the marketplace.

The big take-away here is this. Their over-the-top generosity made us want to go again next year. We were proud to be part of such a giving community. Everyone wants to hang out with generous people. Generosity makes the gospel attractive. People may argue with your theology, but they can’t argue with the help or the undeserved kindness you’ve given them. It’s why Jesus said, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

Generosity is love with skin on it.

What about you? Have you benefitted from extreme generosity? Have you given it? How can we be generous in the everyday stuff? Tell us the story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share on social media if you think this post would bless someone else.

What to Do when the Pain Won’t Go Away

None of us want to admit it, but we all have it. Or have had it at some point. Emotional pain that just won’t go away. Sometimes we think we’ve stuffed it, but then – bam – something seemingly innocent happens and it all comes crashing back.

Daniel was so past his divorce. He’d made his peace with it. Until he went to his nephew’s wedding. Emotions he thought were long gone were really only hiding. They rose up and slammed him out of nowhere. He drank way too much at the reception. And every night after that.

Melanie was over her abortion, or so she thought. No one knew, and she’d moved on. Until her best friend invited her to her baby shower. And it all came crashing back. She went and put on a happy face. No one knew she was dying inside. But she was.

Sometimes we can’t even begin to stuff it, and we just learn to live with it. Or better put, survive with it.

Lisa cannot remember a time when she wasn’t battling depression. She lives in a box, behind a mask, trying desperately to keep the outside world at bay, to stay in control. Where is the joy all the other Christians have? Are they just faking it, too? Or is there something wrong with her? She suspects the latter. She desperately hopes this next relationship will fix it all. Again.

Somehow we learn to cope. Maybe we self-medicate. Maybe we control. Sometimes we put on a face and pretend, hiding the real me. We’ve coped with it for so long we think it’s normal. But it’s not. Although it’s very common, just coping forever is not healthy.

God has something for us so much better than coping. He has a new-normal for us, without the pain. It’s called healing. But how do we embrace it? How do we move into that place?

The short answer is, Be the buffalo not the cow. Dude, what are you even talking about? What to bovines have to do with deep emotional pain? I’m glad you asked.

When there’s a thunderstorm on the plain, buffalo and cattle both panic. Both herds stampede, and you don’t want to be in the way! But there’s a major difference.

Cattle take off running away from the storm as fast as they can. If the storm’s coming from the west, they stampede east. This is the obvious, no-brainer thing to do to avoid the storm. The problem is, they’re running the same direction as the storm’s moving, and the storm always moves faster. So it eventually overtakes them anyway. And since they’re running the direction it’s moving, they actual maximize their time in the storm.

On the other hand, buffalo run straight at the thunderstorm. So if the storm’s coming from the west, they stampede west, right into it. This seems really dumb at first glance, but it’s actually brilliant. Since they’re running the opposite direction the storm is moving, they minimize their time in the storm. And they get rewarded with the yummy, just watered, fresh grass on the other side. Bonus!

Most of us run from our pain, like cattle running from a thunderstorm. But avoidance just maximizes our time in the pain when it catches up with us, and it always does.

John Sanford, founder of Elijah House Ministries said, “We need to embrace the fireball of pain.Wow. Seriously, dude? Yeah, seriously. We need to go where it hurts, not avoid it.

Ok, you sold me. How do we “embrace the fireball of pain?”

I’m glad you asked. There’s 3 steps to start this process.

1) Start the journey with God.

Be honest. Don’t hide it or pretend it’s not there. Honestly tell God how you feel. It’s ok to hurt. It’s ok to not feel joy. Read the Psalms. Many of them are written from places of extreme pain. They are examples of God meeting people in the middle of extremely painful circumstance, doubt and fear. For a start, look at Psalms 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 13, 17, 22, 28, 40, 120, and many, many more.

What gets scheduled gets done, so schedule time to pray and meditate each day with God, even if it’s just 10 minutes during a break. Stopping, unplugging, and getting alone with him, even if just for a few minutes, makes a huge difference.

2) Start the journey with someone else.

You don’t need to tell everyone everything. But you need to tell someone everything. So often the pain’s power over us is rooted in shame. Shame protects itself by isolating us. We think we’re the only one. But we’re not. Often, sharing our pain with someone else breaks the shame and that’s 80% of the healing right there.

So often we the church do such a disservice to people by forcing them to either hide their pain or face our rejection. I know someone who, in a vulnerable moment, shared the pain in their life. They were actually told by their Bible study leader at church, “Well, Christians are supposed to be joyful, so if you’re not feeling joy, are you even saved?”

What rubbish! Jesus does not deliver us from pain, he delivers us through it. He never promised we wouldn’t have trouble in this world (in fact just the opposite, see John 16:33). He promised us he’d be there with us in the middle of it. So we should be there for each other.

If your church shames you for having pain in your life, find a different church. There are many churches out there that get this right. Find someone you trust that you can share your journey with, and who is willing to share theirs with you. You’ll find that, no matter how perfect they look, they have pain in their life, too.

3) Recognize the season.

Healing is a season, it doesn’t happen overnight. The season can be weeks, months, years, or even decades.

Sometimes, for whatever reason he alone knows, God doesn’t heal at all. I know some very strong Christians, men and women of deep intimacy with the Lord, faith and power, who have battled depression their whole life. It doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them or their faith. It means God is choosing to use that for his glory in their lives (see John 9:3). He is meeting them right there in the middle of it, just like he did the Apostle Paul, who, by the way, he also didn’t heal (see 2 Corinthians 12:7-9). So if this is you, you’re in good company.

I can’t promise God will eventually heal your situation. Often he totally does. But I can promise God is always good, and will meet you in the middle of it.

Personally, a moment of vulnerability here, I still struggle with self-hatred. But I’m getting stronger and it’s a lot weaker than it used to be. I’m learning how to not agree with it and instead agree with what God says about me. Jesus has been my deliverer in the middle of it. And continues to be.

So what about you? Where do you come down in all this? Tell us your story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share if you think this would bless someone else.

Why Your Negative Past Is Key to Your Awesome Future

Have you ever been paralyzed by your past? Have you ever wanted to do something that made your heart leap, but then dropped the idea because your past disqualified you? Maybe you were an addict or had an affair. Maybe it was an abortion or divorce. Fill in the blank for you.

The truth is, not only can God forgive and heal your past, but your past is actually key to God’s calling on your life. There are two important points here.

First, our past doesn’t derail God’s calling on our life.

But we can derail ourselves. Sometimes we sabotage our own destiny.

“I can’t write that book because I dropped out of college!”

“I can’t lead a marriage Bible study because I’m divorced!”

Sometimes our sabotage is subtle, unconscious, and just under the surface:

“I don’t deserve a healthy relationship after what I’ve done!”

But the good news is our past does not disqualify us from our future for one big reason. That’s not how God sees us. Check out this story.

Ok, so we’re in Damascus, first decade AD. A Christian named Ananias is out watering sheep, or doing whatever they did back then, when God shows up in a vision and calls him by name.

Ananias thinks this is awesome, until Jesus says, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He’s praying and I’ve given him a vision of you restoring his sight.”

Now Ananias thinks, “Snap, not so awesome.” He answers, “Lord, I saw this dude on Jerusalem Today. He was going house-to-house, dragging off Christians and throwing them in prison! And he’s come here to do the same thing! Look, I’ll show you on my iPhone. I’ve got it on YouTube right here.”

Ok, now this is where it gets interesting. Here’s what the Lord never said:

  • “Wow, I hadn’t heard that! I guess I picked the wrong guy. Must be a mix-up in the front office.”
  • “Thanks, Ananias, you really saved me from a big blooper there!”
  • “I sure am glad you’re on my team, Ananias! Way to be on the ball!”

Nope. Instead, the Lord gets a little testy with Ananias: “Go! Don’t you be talkin’ ‘bout my servant like that! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their Kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.”

Ok, I took some creative license here, but you can read the real story in Acts 8:3 and 9:1-19.

Here’s the thing: Everything Ananias said about Saul was completely true. And the Lord completely ignored it. Instead of arguing with Ananias over Earth’s truth about Saul, the Lord responded with Heaven’s truth about Saul. “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their Kings and before the people of Israel.”

Earth’s truth defines us by what we’ve done. But Heaven’s truth defines us by our calling, and that’s how God sees us. Heaven’s truth trumps earth’s truth every time, which is why your past doesn’t disqualify you. You are not what you’ve done.

When we agree with Heaven’s truth, admit the wrongs in our past, and turn from them so we don’t practice them anymore, like Saul did, that’s called repentance. Repentance totally blows our past away so it has no more power over us.

Second, our past is key to God’s calling on our life.

Back to Saul, soon to be the Apostle Paul. God knew the most challenging controversy in the first century church would be the confusion over whether Gentile converts had to be circumcised and keep the whole Law of Moses or not. There were some very persuasive Pharisees who became Christians and insisted they did. God felt otherwise, but who could stand up to the legalistic and opinionated Pharisees and logically make God’s point to the contrary? Certainly not some uneducated fishermen who could barely read or write!

What God needed was somebody who was himself circumcised on the eighth day, a Hebrew of Hebrews, somebody zealous for the Law who knew it as well as or better than the Pharisees causing all the trouble. If fact, God needed an ex-Pharisee.

Enter the Apostle Paul. He’s wasn’t just an ex-Pharisee, but an exceptional one. He studied under Gamaliel, the greatest Rabbi of that day. He excelled way beyond his peers and was extremely zealous (Galatians 1:14, Philippians 3:4-6). Paul could run circles around the other Pharisees with the Law. He was perfect. Paul’s past was key to God’s calling on his life.

After we repent and go through a season of healing, like Paul did, our past can be key to our future. We have authority over what we’ve been rescued from.

Dropped out of college? You’ve acquired real-life wisdom that makes you perfect to write that book.

Been divorced? You’re perfect to lead that marriage Bible study. You know where the traps and pitfalls are.

Had an affair or abortion? You’re perfect to lead others through the healing you’ve received. You know the pain they’re feeling.

And when you set others free from what you’ve been set free from, that’s revenge. Sweet revenge. Make the enemy sorry he ever messed with you! Make the devil need therapy! Woof!

So what’s Heaven’s truth about you? The Lord has a mission for you. Do you know what it is? It’s connected to your past. You are his chosen instrument for, what? Fill in the blank for you. What’s the passion that rises up in your heart when you think about it. Your past does not disqualify you from it. Your past is actually key to it.

Does this possibility make your heart leap? Does it resonate? Tell us your story in the comments or shoot us an email. And please share on social media if you think this would help or inspire someone else.

[Note: This post was inspired by Graham Cooke’s Living Your Truest Identity 3-CD audio series. I highly recommend it. This is not an affiliate link; we get no commission if you click the link or buy from Graham.]

Wonderfully Disruptive Spiritual Technology

I have a friend who had a dream. People were standing in lines waiting to go somewhere, or get into something. Many lines, straight and orderly. Very polite, very systematic. But then some people came along who created quite a disturbance by pulling people out of the lines. They were very adamant about convincing people to get out of the lines. It really upset the systematic flow of things, and made many people in the lines very angry.

The people causing the disturbance were Christians. Because at the front of the lines, where everyone in line was waiting to get to, were demons throwing people off a cliff into hell. Some Christians were snatching people out of the demon’s hands as they were throwing them over the cliff. Some Christians were even diving off the cliff after people. The Christians were creating quite a disruption to the nice, neat system. They broke it.

The Kingdom of God is like that. It’s disruptive. It upsets the apple cart wherever it goes.

Remember when AOL owned the Internet? We’d all sit for 5 minutes waiting to get online, listening to modem tones, and were happy if the program didn’t have to redial. AOL was the best dial-up Internet service provider in the world. They owned it. Nothing could de-throne them. Except a different technology. DSL and then cable came along, and AOL was dead in a few years.

Remember when we all had landline phones in our houses? I grew up with an egg timer next to the house phone, so we could limit long-distance calls to 3 minutes. Then came cell phones. Now most people no longer have landlines, and many young adults don’t know what “long-distance” even means.

How about TV? ABC, NBC, and CBS used to be the kings. Now they’re all paupers vying for crumbs from the tables of Netflix and Apple TV. New technology changes everything.

Look at how Amazon’s revolutionizing the retail markets. They’ve crushed the brick ‘n’ mortar bookstores and other retail markets. Cyber-Monday is majorly eclipsing Black Friday. And now they’re going after supermarkets. Enjoy Giant and Safeway while you can—here comes Amazon Fresh.

None of that is bad. It’s actually hugely better. I, for one, don’t miss modem tones one little bit. I love my iPhone. And I’m looking forward to Amazon Fresh delivering my groceries to my door in a few years with a drone. It’s just what happens naturally when new technology changes everything.

The Kingdom of God is like that. It changes everything wherever it goes. The old spiritual technology is called religion. The new, disruptive spiritual technology is the Kingdom of God. It overturns the religious apple cart wherever it goes. Literally. Jesus actually physically flipped over the religious tables in the temple (see John 2:13-16 and Matthew 21:12-13).

If you dare to believe Jesus and chase the passion he’s put on your heart, it will change everything. People will think you’re crazy, but you’ll be in God’s immediate family (Matthew 12:46-50). You’ll find yourself in a perfect storm, but Jesus calms the storm (Mark 4:35-39). You’ll get attacked by poisonous snakes, we all know them, but they will have no power over you (Acts 28:3-6). A thousand will fall at your side and ten thousand at your right hand, but it won’t come near you (Psalm 91:7). Quite the adventure!

I am transitioning from a very stable, 30-year career as a successful software engineer to a risky future as an author, blogger, life coach, and online content provider. Am I nuts or what? But I can’t let go of this passion to share with the world the healing God’s given me.

How about you? How has God disrupted your life? Share it with us in the comments or an email. And if you think this would bless or challenge someone else, please share it on social media (convenience buttons below).