Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Giving Giving Gone

I once read something that, although I may not agree completely with it, has caused me to think.

The author had an illustration of a cliff.  The bottom of the cliff was labeled “NEED”.  On the top of the cliff, he had several people standing, from extremely close to very far away.

His question was, “How far away from need are you?”  

The context of the book was that in the USA, most of us do not live very close to need.  The farther away from need you live, the more luxury and comfort you have.  It wasn’t a bad thing, but an observation.  He said that although we may experience hard times, very few of us live in fear or the presence of starvation, dying of thirst, hunger related illnesses, lack of sanitation, no shelter, or danger.  He then made the statement that the American Dream is to move farther and farther away from need.

I tend to agree with this. Then the bombshell dropped.  What do you think about this?

He said that the farther away from need that you are, the more difficult it is to give sacrificially.  We can give generously, but not really sacrificially.  Giving up a comfort is not a sacrifice. Reducing luxury is not a sacrifice.  A sacrifice entails true pain and/or death.  

Sacrificial giving means that we may just fall over the cliff because of it.

Consider Bill Gates, or some other multi-billionaire.  He gives 200 million to charity.  Is this generous?  Absolutely. Was it sacrificial?  Well, after giving the 200 million he still has 60 billion dollars and at a 3% return he is making 1,800,000,000/year in interest alone.  Was that a sacrificial gift?  I don’t think so. Generous, not sacrificial.

How about a person making $200,000/year.  They give a $50,000 gift to the Kingdom.  Is it generous?  Yes.  Was it sacrificial?  The problem is that they cannot purchase their new Lexus until next year…sacrifice of simply giving up a luxury?

A family has an income of $35,000 and $7,000 in the bank.  They give $3,000 to mission work.  Was it generous?  Yes.  Sacrificial…you may be starting to think so….I believe it is getting close.

The problem is that we view limiting our luxury as a sacrifice.  We also think that because we make $50,000 and spend $49,000 that we have no money to give.  We have no money to give because we are constantly seeking to move farther away from need and into more luxury.  

Now consider a person living in abstract poverty, for example a man that I have done ministry with.  He is homeless (we built him a home).  He is a pastor but his church is poor and does not pay him.  He works as he can doing construction, but does not have a full time job.  His family of seven had 20 pounds of potatoes with no other food.  They have not eaten meat in over a year.  I go to his house, and upon leaving he insists that I take six eggs with me to give to a poor family that we are sharing Christ with.  This is the only thing apart from the potatoes that he has.

Was that generous?  Yes.  Was it sacrificial?  Yes.  Why?

Jesus gave us an example.  A rich man gave a lot of money (generous).  A widow gave two cents.  Jesus said that the widow gave more than the rich man, because she had given all that she had while he merely gave out of his wealth.  In other words, limited luxury versus approaching need.

The author’s point is that while generous giving refers to the amount of the gift, sacrificial giving places us in the proximity of need.  He concludes that North American Christians, as a general rule (there are exceptions) do not understand sacrifice.  We give out of our abundance (and we are wealthy by world standards—spending what you earn does not mean that you are not wealthy).  We rarely approach need.

I tend to agree….but am not sure.  What do you think?  


Rich said...

Yes, I think I tend to agree with it. I especially like his take on the American dream being to move farther and farther away from need. Generally we want to avoid other people's needs which are hard and messy and hurt us and move toward our own wants and desires. In the US we generally have that right and ability and so we take it. In ministry I've felt this more and more. Pastoral ministry isn't a place for avoiding need.

Rich said...

Oh, another thing... I once heard of a church that got its world missions strategy from Rom 5:20: "where sin increased, grace abounded all the more." They decided to find a place where sin was increasing and especially bad and minister there. That led them to miraculously successfully plant a church in a war refugee camp populated by muslims. Pretty amazing what God can do when we go toward the problem!

Seth Powell said...

Great post, Joe! Very true. We have somehow gotten the idea that a tithe or offering are the limit to our giving and that by participating in this practice we can be proud of ourselves. However, scripture tells us that we are no longer our own, but were bought at a price. We have to learn the difference between a servant and a slave. Paul, John, and James all referred to themselves as "slaves of Christ." We aren't servants who can clock in, clock out, come and go as we please. If we are truly bought by Christ, we are fully do his bidding, not our own. Our resources (money, time, etc) are his, not ours, for the purpose of his will, not our will. Our giving "sacrificially" is an abandonment of our flesh "along with it's desires," and a complete submission to Jesus, not just with our minds, but with our time, our money, our stuff, our everything. Sacrificial giving is giving that requires true trust that God will supply our needs in accordance with his will for our lives. "My help comes from the Lord" not my job or my savings account. We don't like to contemplate sacrificial giving because then we have to think about what it means to be a "friend to the world" and whether or not our love this world and it's luxuries fits the description of this verse... I'm guilty and grateful for his grace which not only covers this sin of mine, but also works in me to conform me to the image of Christ and is the tool God uses to work in me "to will and to do good works."