Generosity


I have a generous friend. I mean, really generous. If someone is in need, her first instinct is to give. And not just a token amount of giving. Really sacrificial giving.

Funny thing—among western Christians today, many would think of her as reckless, not saving for a rainy day as the Bible instructs. But wait! The Bible does not instruct us to save for a rainy day!

Instead, the Apostle Paul, going through Macedonia and Greece, was collecting money from various churches in support of believers living in Judea because they were experiencing great need. Consequently, Paul’s counsel to the church in Corinth was this:

this [giving to the Judean believers] is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; (2 Cor. 8:13-14)

Sadly the tendency in our current Christian circles seems to be more self-help than reliance on God to supply through the generosity of other disciples of Christ.

Please don’t misunderstand: I do think Christians are generous, but it seems as if we are more concerned about foreign missions and the urban poor than we are about needy believers. We support Bibles for Latin America—a really good thing—wells for Indonesia, food and water for a drought-stricken country in Northern Africa. Further, we give to Christian radio and to our missionaries and to our church.

As a group, Christians are generous, generous people.

Perhaps what we need most is a Paul who will tell us about the needy Christians we can empty our savings to help. Because it seems to me, we more often than not are giving of our surplus, our extra, some amount that won’t affect our current life-style.

True, Paul did say the Corinthians weren’t giving “for their affliction,” but I take that to mean, in comparison, they weren’t to go hungry so that the Judeans would have plenty to eat.

He introduced the whole subject of giving by telling the believers in Corinth what the believers in Macedonia were doing:

for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. (2 Cor. 8:2, ESV)

Out of their poverty, they gave.

I don’t know about you, but they put me to shame.

And here’s an interesting tie-in: my church is reading through Exodus together. Yesterday and today we read about the people of Israel bringing gold and silver and wove cloth and all the stuff needed to construct the tabernacle. In fact, they brought so much, at some point Moses had to tell them to stop giving—there was enough, and more than enough of the materials needed.

All this giving came after the incident with the golden calf. With Moses away, the people decided to stray. They convinced Aaron to help. He fashioned an idol and they jumped in with feasting and dancing, and not in a worshipful way to their sovereign God who had just miraculously freed them from Egypt.

As a result, God, through Moses and the priests who stood with him, severely disciplined His people. Thousands died. Moses met with God again, and He revealed Himself, promised to go with the people, renewed the covenant He had with them. Part of what He told Moses about Himself was this: “The LORD, the LORD God, compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness and truth . . . who forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” (Exodus 34:6b)

When Moses returned to the people this time, the glory of the LORD shone on his face. He declared to the people the things that God had told him.

Afterward, they gave. The people were not thinking, I’d better keep back this bit of gold because I might need it later. They were not thinking about themselves at all.

My conclusion is this: the more the people realized who God is, they more they were willing to give. And, they did not look at their own circumstances but at what they had that they could give to supply a need.

My friend thinks like that: What do I have today that can help this person in need?

My tendency is to think, but I might need this tomorrow so I’d better not give it all.

Ironic since I’ve been the recipient so recently of the abundant generosity of so many who helped me through my medical crisis.

I have to wonder if perhaps, instead of thinking about God forgiving so generously, I’m not falling into the entitlement trap—God has to come through. Or maybe the “that’s for people who have a healthy savings account” mode of thinking.

I know we can’t give to every needy cause that comes our way. I mean, every radio program I listen to on Christian radio is “listener supported,” and hardly a week goes by that our local station doesn’t have someone telling us about a wonderful project needing our support that will help needy people.

So maybe there’s a little, “I can’t do it all, so I won’t do any” mindset.

Maybe there’s a little bit of callousness from one more collection for earthquake/fire/hurricane/tornado victims. Certainly in our information age, we know about all the needy people in the world in a way no other people knew before.

But in spite of all these factors, God’s word challenges me to be generous—out of my poverty even, in response to who I know God to be, for others in need. Which others? I guess He’ll show me if I ask Him.

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Published in: on July 11, 2018 at 6:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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The Cost Of Loving A Neighbor


The_Good_Samaritan007Once upon a time “roadside assistance” consisted of some kind stranger stopping to help a person in need. I grew up watching my dad pull over to help a needy motorist with a flat tire or to give him a lift to the nearest gas station.

Once when we were crossing the desert (The Great American Desert, somewhere between Los Vegas and LA), my sister called for my dad to stop the car. She’d seen a little boy on the side of the road, she said. The “little boy” turned out to be a young man, but he was indeed out in the desert alone. With some hesitancy my dad agreed to invite him to join us.

Those were, in fact, changing times, when hitchhikers might actually be robbers or worse. The common wisdom had shifted. Motorists were to be wary of strangers. Someone who looked like she was in need of help might actually be bait for nefarious schemers planning to take advantage of kindhearted people.

More and more, “kindhearted people” began to disappear.

Now it is news when a stranger acts selflessly on behalf of someone in need, when a “finder” doesn’t turn out to be a “keeper” but a “returner” instead.

What society seemed to discover was that there was a cost to helping others. Not only were fewer and fewer willing to pay the price, we actually had public service announcements warning us not to try to be heroes. Don’t try to stop the robber or pick up the hitchhiker. Let the professionals handle it. Because getting involved is costly.

Then came the day when Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York with thirty-eight witnesses ignoring her screams for help. She lived for fifty minutes after the first attack. A more recent retelling of the event suggests that only fourteen people actually witnessed the attack and that several phoned the police, to no avail. Still, the horrific event stirred people’s conscience and had them asking whether we had become too disconnected from each other.

Some have even referred to the case as the antithesis to the Good Samaritan.

Which is precisely the point.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the question, Who is my neighbor? The story revealed that the hated Samaritan who went out of his way, spent his own money, risked his own life, made himself religiously unclean, was in fact the one who acted like a neighbor to the mugging victim.

Loving a neighbor costs. Sometimes in rich western societies, it’s easy to throw money at hurting people. Certainly money can be a help to someone who can’t pay the rent or who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. But I wonder if that isn’t the easy out. We can write a check and don’t have to get our hands dirty or our schedule disrupted.

The fact is, the needy person might not be a random stranger, but the person across the street. The help might be weekly visits to a lonely person or doing grocery shopping for someone elderly. It might be volunteering to mow a lawn or to take on the watering. It’s hard to think about adding someone else’s needs to our own already overly busy schedule. How can we possibly love our neighbors as we love ourselves when we really don’t have time to do all we know we should be doing in our own family? After all, love costs, and sometimes the price just seems too high. After all, those people across the street are strangers . . .

Published in: on August 14, 2015 at 6:00 pm  Comments (4)  
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Giving And Receiving


offering_plateA friend and I were talking about giving and receiving the other day. Not an exchange of gifts like at Christmas, but generously sharing from the abundance of our wealth with those in need. And those in need receiving what they’ve been given.

I’ll admit, I think I’ve been on the receiving end more often than the giving. When I was a kid, both my parents taught in Christian schools, and we were poor. There were months that the college where my dad was employed, couldn’t make payroll. I don’t know how often this happened, but I remember one occasion when someone left a bag of groceries on our porch.

Later when we moved to California, we children benefited from “hand-me-downs” from some of the other faculty, as I had from my older sister for a number of years.

As an adult, I received support from family and friends during my three-year short term missions experience in Guatemala.

Recently I’ve received money more than once when I needed it for odds and ends like rent and food, the gift of a brand new Kindle from writer friends and a used iBook computer—such valuable tools for a writer. Then there is food. One friend has regularly shared tomatoes from her garden or oranges or left over dishes from church gatherings. My former neighbors used to give me bread and tortillas from his work. Another family gave me plates of food when they didn’t use everything they’d prepared for a church get-together. In the past two weeks two other neighbors have given me plates of food.

And there’s been more. It astounds me a bit because I’m sure I don’t look like I’m starving! These people are sharing out of their abundance and because of their generous spirit. It’s an incredible blessing.

The thing is, that’s the way God wants the Church to work. Paul explained to the body in Corinth:

For this [sharing with others] is not for the ease of others and for your affliction, but by way of equality—at this present time your abundance being a supply for their need, so that their abundance also may become a supply for your need, that there may be equality; as it is written, “HE WHO gathered MUCH DID NOT HAVE TOO MUCH, AND HE WHO gathered LITTLE HAD NO LACK.” (2 Cor. 8:13-15)

The truly amazing thing is that the person or church group who receives is not, in reality, the one who benefits most. Paul made this clear to the Philippians when he was commending them with sharing with him when he was in need:

Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account. (Phil. 4:17)

When Paul reminded the Corinthian believers of their promise to give to the famine-stricken church in Jerusalem, he established some principles of giving:
* it should be bountiful

So I thought it necessary to urge the brethren that they would go on ahead to you and arrange beforehand your previously promised bountiful gift, so that the same would be ready as a bountiful gift and not affected by covetousness. Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. (2 Cor. 9:5-6)

* it should not be spontaneous but thought out and planned for according to each person’s ability to give
* it should be with a cheerful heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:7)

Paul’s admonition builds to a crescendo, a tipping point: you promised to give, so plan on giving. Do so lavishly, not because you have to but because you enjoy giving. God will supply for you all you need so you can give to the needs of the saints. But more so, your giving will be an occasion for those believers to give thanks to God. And it will build unity among the Church because those who receive will be filled with warm feelings for those giving and will pray for them.

How cool is that! Receivers actually create an opportunity for givers to be blessed, to profit through God’s rewards and the receivers’ prayers. AND the occasion of receiving heaps thanksgiving on God.

And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that always having all sufficiency in everything, you may have an abundance for every good deed; as it is written,
“HE SCATTERED ABROAD, HE GAVE TO THE POOR,
HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS ENDURES FOREVER.”
Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness; you will be enriched in everything for all liberality, which through us is producing thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only fully supplying the needs of the saints, but is also overflowing through many thanksgivings to God. Because of the proof given by this ministry, they will glorify God for your obedience to your confession of the gospel of Christ and for the liberality of your contribution to them and to all, while they also, by prayer on your behalf, yearn for you because of the surpassing grace of God in you. (2 Cor. 9:8-14, emphasis mine)

Both giving and receiving are part of God’s plan. It produces equality but the spiritual benefits and the glory God receives can’t be calculated.

Published in: on October 23, 2014 at 5:51 pm  Comments (1)  
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Christmas Presents


christmas-gifts-2-1121740-mChristmas presents have been the bane of my existence. When I was a kid, I looked forward to Christmas morning like every other kid, but I hated that first day back to school when the most popular question was, “What did you get for Christmas?” My family wasn’t rich or upper middle class or really not very middle, middle class. Consequently, Christmas presents were often things like socks or underwear or pajamas.

I remember a puzzle or two and a few books, maybe a board game. There were probably other toys that have slipped off my radar because they were not particularly to my liking. This, you see, was in the days before kids told parents what to buy them for Christmas.

I had an Aunt Mary who I didn’t know. She and my uncle had divorced and I don’t remember ever meeting Aunt Mary, but with regularity she sent a box of Christmas gifts—usually strange things, to my way of thinking. But once she hit a homerun, as far as I was concerned. She gave me a pair of “lounging pajamas.” That’s what the packaging called them. In reality they were a kind of silk sweats—more comfortable than I’d ever enjoyed before. I’d have worn them all day, every day if my mom had let me.

But I was talking about how Christmas presents having been the bane of my existence. As an adult I discovered that giving the right present was a lot harder than it seemed. With my siblings moving away and my nieces and nephews growing up outside my presence, it was my turn to guess at what they might like. The fact that I can only remember one present that hit the sweet spot and was really right, shows how often I missed the mark.

All that being said, I went Christmas shopping today and had fun doing it. But the present I bought isn’t for someone in my family or even for someone I know. It isn’t even going to be from me. In essence, I’m standing in the gap for a parent, an adult who is incarcerated and unable to buy her child a gift.

My church is involved in a program called Angel Tree which gives us the opportunity to give a gift to a child who would otherwise have little at Christmas. And we do so in the name of the parent. In that way, the child/parent bond is strengthened, and the kid gets to open something special on Christmas.

The thing I noticed most about this gift is that it feels more like giving than anything I’ve experienced with Christmas presents before. I mean, I’m not getting a present back, and I’m not getting a thank you card the day after or a hug and smile on Christmas morning. In reality, more than any other Christmas present, this one is not about me. It’s purely about a little guy away from him mom, getting a little something that can give him a glimmer of hope.

And I love it. I get why Santa Claus does what he does. 😉

Sorry if I horrified anyone not expecting to read the words “Santa Claus” on a Christian worldview blog. But think about it for a second. If you could afford it and had the means to pull it off, wouldn’t it be a blast to give unexpected, and perfectly fitted, gifts to a bunch of children who were in need?

Of course Santa Claus isn’t real, but the idea of him—the generous spirit this fictitious character embodies—is something that is appealing. Who doesn’t love being a secret pal or an anonymous donor? There’s something special about that unadulterated, no-strings-attached giving.

I think we love Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in part because Scrooge at last embraced a generous spirit and found joy in doing so. It’s not just that his giving met the needs of many others. It’s that Scrooge himself relished the giving, not the getting or hording.

Is that the “true meaning of Christmas”? Not by a long shot. But let’s face it, Christmas presents occupy a lot of our time, thought, and effort this time of year. It’s not a bad thing to think about how we can do them better.

Perhaps that includes giving a gift to an unsuspecting individual without signing your name.

Published in: on December 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Cost Of Loving A Neighbor


The_Good_Samaritan007Once upon a time “roadside assistance” consisted of some kind stranger stopping to help a person in need. I grew up watching my dad pull over to help a needy motorist with a flat tire or to give him a lift to the nearest gas station.

Once when we were crossing the desert (The Great American Desert, somewhere between Los Vegas and LA), my sister called for my dad to stop the car. She’d seen a little boy on the side of the road, she said. The “little boy” turned out to be a young man, but he was indeed out in the desert alone. With some hesitancy my dad agreed to invite him to join us.

Those were, in fact, changing times, when hitchhikers might actually be robbers or worse. The common wisdom had shifted. Motorists were to be wary of strangers. Someone who looked like she was in need of help might actually be bait for nefarious schemers planning to take advantage of kindhearted people.

More and more, “kindhearted people” began to disappear.

Now it is news when a stranger acts selflessly on behalf of someone in need, when a “finder” doesn’t turn out to be a “keeper” but a “returner” instead.

What society seemed to discover was that there was a cost to helping others. Not only were fewer and fewer willing to pay the price, we actually had public service announcements warning us not to try to be heroes. Don’t try to stop the robber or pick up the hitchhiker. Let the professionals handle it. Because getting involved is costly.

Then came the day when Kitty Genovese was murdered in New York with thirty-eight witnesses ignoring her screams for help. She lived for fifty minutes after the first attack. A more recent retelling of the event suggests that only fourteen people actually witnessed the attack and that several phoned the police, to no avail. Still, the horrific event stirred people’s conscience and had them asking whether we had become too disconnected from each other.

Some have even referred to the case as the antithesis to the Good Samaritan.

Which is precisely the point.

Jesus told the parable of the Good Samaritan in answer to the question, Who is my neighbor? The story revealed that the hated Samaritan who went out of his way, spent his own money, risked his own life, made himself religiously unclean, was in fact the one who acted like a neighbor to the mugging victim.

Loving a neighbor costs. Sometimes in rich western societies, it’s easy to throw money at hurting people. Certainly money can be a help to someone who can’t pay the rent or who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. But I wonder if that isn’t the easy out. We can write a check and don’t have to get our hands dirty or our schedule disrupted.

The fact is, the needy person might not be a random stranger, but the person across the street. The help might be weekly visits to a lonely person or doing grocery shopping for someone elderly. It might be volunteering to mow a lawn or to take on the watering. It’s hard to think about adding someone else’s needs to our own already overly busy schedule. How can we possibly love our neighbors as we love ourselves when we really don’t have time to do all we know we should be doing in our own family? After all, love costs, and sometimes the price just seems too high. After all, those people across the street are strangers . . .

Published in: on April 11, 2013 at 7:02 pm  Comments Off on The Cost Of Loving A Neighbor  
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What The Bible Says About Promotion


Truth be told, the Bible doesn’t directly address the subject of promotion. Nevertheless, I think I discovered a principle that applies. It’s called generosity.

When people generously give, whether it is of their material wealth, their time, their ideas, their work effort, or whatever else it might be, people respond, usually by telling others. Or, more accurately, by praising the individual to others.

I think there is a fine line between genuine generosity and the kind of tit-for-tat promotion that smacks of “bought and paid for” buzz. And I found an example of that fine line in a real Old Testament account.

I’m referring to Joseph. Twenty-eight or -nine year old Joseph, by this time. He was still in prison and had just interpreted the dream of a fellow prisoner, the king’s cupbearer. According to the dream, the man would be reinstated to his job in three days. And Joseph asked a tit for a tat.

Tell the king about me, he said. I’ve been kidnapped and besides I am no criminal, yet I’m languishing in this prison. I’ve helped you, now please help me.

But the cupbearer forgot.

Maybe intentionally, at least in the beginning. After all, he had just returned to the king’s good graces and undoubtedly didn’t want to start back to work asking for special favors. Day after day slipped by and no mention of Joseph.

Until the king had a dream.

Now the cupbearer had a reason to mention Joseph. Not for Joseph’s sake, but for the king’s. No tit for tat here. The cupbearer had a chance to help the king because … who knows, maybe he wanted nothing more than to help the king. Maybe he was hoping for a tat in return.

The point is, Joseph’s bargain making didn’t bring about his release. His generosity did.

Well, of course, God actually did. And it was in His perfect time. If Joseph had been released earlier because the cupbearer came through, perhaps he would not have been in position to help his family or be reconciled to them.

But Joseph stayed in place, by God’s decree, until the time was right. Until the time when he could provide the interpretation of the king’s dream, the advice about what to do in light of the revelation, and the wherewithal to pull it off.

He himself later told his brothers God had sent him ahead that he might provide the means of deliverance for his family. In other words, that he might become a type of Christ, the Redeemer.

Because of Joseph’s special place in history, I can’t say that self promotion was wrong because it didn’t work for him. Rather, it just wasn’t what God had in mind for Joseph.

And that’s the real lesson I learned here. I may think I know a good way to work things out, and it’s not wrong for me to try it, but the most important thing is for me to be and do what God calls me to, and trust that He will take care of spreading the word in His perfect time.

This article was originally posted in August 2008 under the title “Biblical Promotion

Published in: on August 2, 2012 at 5:45 pm  Comments (2)  
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