A few weeks ago, I calculated the price of a piece of gum before offering it to my friends. I only wish I was being dramatic. Granted, this is no run-of-the-mill Wrigley’s. It’s a party of Sweet Cherry and Island Lime, almost like chewing on a Sonic Limeade.
Despite the minty freshness, my attitude left a bad taste in my mouth. Mostly because as I’ve worked toward this generous spirit thing, I can see what a complete and utter failure I am. I desire to live with hands outstretched, but continuously return to my habits of grasping and reaching.
In my struggle toward a more generous spirit, I have to wonder what I’m striving for – is it just writing checks to a church or organization? Because I doubt it. I believe it has something to do with my heart. I believe that God wants me to count the costs of following Him, yet I’m not sure He meant the gum I would chew along the way.
This morning I read from Ephesians 5:1-2 (The Message).
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that. (Emphasis mine)
We’ve been taught this, yes? Christian and secular alike, we’ve heard the preaching that “it’s not just in the getting but the giving.” So we’re supposed to give. I think Christians tend to believe we have a corner on the giving-market but we’re dead wrong. In fact, I think we tend to be living backwards of what Jesus preached.
Have you ever looked at a church balance sheet? I’ve seen several. Do you know how many special “funds” exist within the church pocketbooks? Nothing short of 89. Okay, I totally made up that number. But when Great Aunt Edna dies, people firmly believe that money cannot go toward paying the pastor or sending kids to camp but instead needs to be used toward something more noble. Like another plaque. Or banner.
As the past few weeks have proven, with the Great Compassion International Scandal of 2014
, we also believe giving to organizations and charities isn’t just about the good work the organization is doing, but also about every viewpoint we carry, even if not expressly written our creeds or preached by Jesus. (For those unfamiliar because you gave up social media for Lent, when Compassion International announced it would begin allowing for the employment of gay persons, over 10,000 monthly supporters dropped their commitments to fund food, education and basic needs for a child oversees. Yup. Way to go, Christians
I don’t advocate for giving to groups expressly created to support causes I don’t jive with, like White Supremacist groups
for example (omg, I had no idea I would stumble into a list this long. Clearly we have a problem here.) And when Dave Ramsey
tells me to “tell your money where to go” I totally get that – let me be in the driver seat rather than materialistic strivings.
Yet as I look at the teachings of Jesus, my heart begins to break for the larger picture of Christianity and how we just don’t get it. At the end of his life, when days on earth were few, Jesus took the opportunity in Matthew 23 to unleash some harsh words for the religious leaders – a series of woes to the Pharisees. One of them in particular (23-24) jumped out at me:
“You’re hopeless, you religion scholars and Pharisees! Frauds! You keep meticulous account books, tithing on every nickel and dime you get, but on the meat of God’s Law, things like fairness and compassion and commitment—the absolute basics!—you carelessly take it or leave it. Careful bookkeeping is commendable, but the basics are required. Do you have any idea how silly you look, writing a life story that’s wrong from start to finish, nitpicking over commas and semicolons?
(Oh, my dear friends. How long will it take us to realize how often we are the religion scholars and Pharisees? If you’re a person who studies the Bible, you more likely to be a Pharisee than a fisherman, so perhaps we should pay attention to those words more carefully.)
I think our American Spirit has infected our Generous Way. We tend to love expecting ROI. We give when it suits us, not when asked. We respond when convenient (like the end of the tax year, perhaps?), not when needed. We live with such control over our lives that we exert it into the people and causes around us, which I believe changes what was intended as a work of love into a conditional transaction.
And Jesus expressly said to let go of that. Let go of the need to control. Let go of the expectations. In fact, in the sermon on the mountainside (Matthew 5:42), Jesus said to give to the one who asks of us and not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.
This seems like poor financial advice in terms of setting yourself up for a great retirement plan, but that’s what you get for listening to financial advice from a homeless preacher. But this vagabond also reminded us that where your treasure is, there your heart is also. Perhaps he had bigger dreams than a nice house in the suburbs with a full 2-car garage (though those things can still co-exist). He could have been dreaming about a Kingdom come where generous hearts authentically loved others and our giving was an evidence of that.