I can’t deny it. I simply love the BBC’s award-winning series ‘Race Across the World’. Previous episodes have proved compulsive viewing but this latest production, which sees five intrepid duos battling it out in a race across East Asia, is proving extremely compelling given the fact that we have family living in Japan.

The inter-relational dynamics are fascinating of course, particularly between Alfie and Owen with one wanting to experience ‘everything the race throws at them’ while the other ‘only has eyes for the finish line’. But it’s been especially encouraging to see them all trying to adapt to local cultures.

My wife and I can readily identify with that challenge. I will never forget the day I was told that if you’re in Japan you mustn’t eat while you’re walking for example, and waiting in an orderly queue did prove a bit of a culture shock to begin with too. We did our best to fit in though, and hopefully we are far better people for the experience.

All this got me thinking about the church because even the most cursory reading of the New Testament makes it clear that Christians are called to be a counter cultural movement. This will have all sorts of implications of course, but none more so than when it comes to generosity.

It seems to me that generosity should come naturally to us because we have been created in the image of a generous God.  Stinginess and selfishness are symptoms of a sick, rebellious world that doesn’t believe that there is a God who can supply all our needs, a God who can set us free from worry and the longing for more and more. A God who can set us free to give as He gives. No one understood this better than the apostle Paul who tells us that God loves cheerful givers.

Sadly, the world does associate the church with money but so often for the wrong reasons. It may be an appeal for funds – for a building or a TV evangelist’s ministry for example. If only we were known for our generosity. That would definitely bring a smile to God’s face.

I’m sure my friend Tom (not his real name) did that. He was so generous that my wife and I quickly discovered that we should never tell him we liked something he owned because it would immediately become ours!  As you might guess, we thank God for him every time we remember him, and we never cease to be challenged by his willingness to share whatever he had.

Indeed, Tom would have had no problem identifying with the writer who said: “Nothing offers so practical a test of our love for Christ or for others as does our attitude towards money and possessions. Nor does anything so test our claims to have been delivered from this present evil world. The world asks how much we own; Christ asks how we use it. The world thinks more of getting; Christ thinks more of giving. The world asks how much we give; Christ asks how we give. The former thinks of the amount; the latter of the motive. To the unconverted money is a means of gratification; to the converted a means of grace.”

So come on folks, let’s give God something to smile about.