Wednesday, August 20, 2008

What about generosity?

Not much has changed since Jesus watched a rich man and a widow give their offerings at the temple. We still think generosity has to do with the amount given rather than the amount left, Jesus disabused us of that notion.

However, in the intervening 2000 years we've still managed to find ways of reducing and minimising the force of his teaching. We too easily identify ourselves with the poor widow and not often enough with the rich man. There are a host of reasons for that, no doubt, many of them will have the appearance of legitimacy. It is legitimate to save for your future or your children's, it is legitimate to invest into homes, businesses, family times, hobbies and to ensure that rising prices are taken into account but because a majority in our churches are likely able to do all of those things, that in itself must mean we must see ourselves in the position of the rich man and not the widow.

The widow was vulnerable and defenceless, they and orphans because of the insecurity of their position, receive special favour and protection from God. An elderly widow was often amongst the poorest of the poor. From this situation she was willing to give. Generosity had found a new poster girl and an unlikely one at that.

In the last half century many writers have challenged Christians about our attitude to money and we haven't really taken much notice. Evangelicals in particular find themselves in a strange position - their giving is often far above average, (because they've become attached to the principle of the tithe) but sometimes far below the spirit of generosity. It seems odd to me that levels of giving would remain static while standards of giving rose dramatically. Somewhere along the line we saw that an old testament law favoured us more than a new testament principle and opted for the former. Jesus warned us that wealth is deceitful.

But the issue of generosity while never being less than the impact on my wallet goes much further, it reveals the condition of my soul. In my own life, I've noticed it is often the things I do without thinking that reveal to me how selfish I am. An unexpected gift comes in and I think about spending and rarely sharing, I easily entertain myself with things that count for little while missing the chance to act significantly. The reason is that I have become well conditioned in thinking of myself and not thining of anyone else (God included) before myself seems alien to me. It's an effect of the fall that we hide from God by making ourselves the centre of our attention.

My hope for my baby son, is that I can introduce him to the greater joy of giving before he figures out the lesser joy of receiving. If you asked children which is best giving or getting, how many would answer giving? But giving IS the greater joy, giving back to the one who gave to us, giving to others to bless them or provide for them, giving releases me and frees me and changes lives. Why do I not give more?

So I'm increasingly coming to the conclusion that a simple life for me isn't just about reduing my carbon footprint, but something my heart needs. I want a richer life and that means giving. I want to be like Jesus and that means giving, I want to be blessed by God and that means giving. So I don't want to work out how to live on less but work out how to give more.


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