I've been wondering lately how often I can't see the needs of others over my excess? Do you ever wonder that? Americans suffer from the disease of excess. Where once abundance was a blessing - to be shared with all around - now, it has become a curse that blinds and lulls us into complacency. Our large homes overflow with things and we surround ourselves with stuff. In the end, worthless, meaningless stuff. When I stop to think about how much stuff surrounds me and I begin to peel the blinders off, it makes me want to hyperventilate. It just too much.
Our ancestors lived on far less, with much less, and survived this life. Somewhat content too, I might add. I'm pretty sure that I can go without that extra coat that's on sale.
I can't help but ponder how our excess affects our giving? Can I see over the mound of stuff accumulating in my garage to see my neighbors' needs? More to the point, had I denied myself one (or all) of those purchases that now sit in the garage, how could that money have helped another family live? Eat?? Build a home that is not made of scraps from the dump??? If we had taken one less trip or vacation, how could that money have benefited another instead of it always being about me??
My church has been talking a lot about giving as of late, specifically in the form of tithing. A great topic yet one that has a potential squirm factor to it. As we've been digging into this worshipful act, it got me thinking, though. Is tithing the only way we are called to give?
We are commanded to give a tithe, no doubt. That is a spiritual discipline each Christian ought to be practicing. Our tithe helps support the church, both locally and globally through the mission work they support. But is that it?? We are called to be cheerful givers but this is usually tied into a tithe sermon. Should we not be cheerful givers in all things? All areas of our life?? and in all circumstances?
In accepting God's amazing, wondrous gift of salvation and grace, neither of which we deserve, a joyous transformation should occur that must remain our ever-present focus. Christians have cause to celebrate! We have cause to be happy and joyous, despite our circumstances, because He has done great things for us! Out of this joy and desire for others to know it too, comes a heart wanting to give. If we are nothing else, we should we should be liberal givers! With the good news; with our tithe; and with our resources. We should never be stingy with the overabundance we have been blessed with!
If we have an abundance of food, and have needs directly around us, share it. If we have excess clothing, knowing there are those in need of clothing near us, give it. Don't withhold it. Don't store it up for yourself later. Don't be stingy!
"…the righteous gives and does not hold back." - Proverbs 21:26
I've said this quote from the book "7" before but it bares repeating...
"How can I be socially responsible if unaware that I reside in the top percentage of wealth in the world? (You probably do too: Make $35,000 a year? Top 4 percent. $50,000? Top 1 percent.). Excess has impaired perspective in America; we are the richest people on earth, praying to get richer. We're tangled in unmanageable debt while feeding the machine, because we feel entitled to more. What does it communicate when half the global population lives on less than $2 a day, and we can't manage a fulfilling life on twenty-five thousand time that amount? Fifty thousand times that amount? It says we have too much, and it is ruining us." - from "7: an experimental mutiny against excess"
I know where I need to make changes and I look at the church, as a whole, and wonder when will our leaders and the body of Christ make changes too? I've attended mission trips and outreach events over the last 15 years of being a Christian and have watched the church hold on to their supplies and resources with a white-knuckled grasp that is downright disturbing. I mean think about it. We invite the community into our digs, or even better, we travel to them, with lots of supplies, food and resources to help carry out said mission trip or event, and then become stingy. No, that child can't have an extra craft to make. No, we should keep the extra food for ourselves, for later. No, we can't allow teens to have more pizza than what we allowed (not knowing there may be a need there).
"If a brother or sister is without clothing and in need of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and be filled,” and yet you do not give them what is necessary for their body, what use is that?" - James 2:15-16
"If you have two coats, give one away (or to the poor, in some translations) and anyone who has food, should do the same." - Luke 3:11.
I love that this verse starts with an already simplified number - two. Yet, for most Americans, we tend to have four, five, six, ten coats. And that's not per family, folks. Often times, that amount is for one person in the family! Also, I think it's pretty safe to say that we could insert other words where coat is and we'd be hitting the nail on the head with where our giving should be.
If you have two pizzas, give one away.
If you have two VBS craft supplies, give one away.
If you have two blankets, give one away.
If you have two cans of green beans, give one away.
With this verse alone, we get both an example of giving (basically, cutting in half our excess or our abundance to share with others) but also it speaks to how much we should have to begin with. It didn't start with 10 coats; it's stating that if we have TWO then we must be living well and in abundance so give one away to another who needs it more than you.
I totally agree that Christians need to remain faithful to the discipline of tithe and give to the church in this way. Yet, I truly believe the discipline of giving is so much more than giving of our tithe. It is giving of our belongings. It is giving not only out of our excess but from a place of sacrifice as well. For it is much easier to give out of excess than sacrificially, as Jesus points out -
"And He sat down opposite the treasury, and began observing how the people were putting money into the treasury; and many rich people were putting in large sums. A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which amount to a cent. Calling His disciples to Him, He said to them, “Truly I say to you, this poor widow put in more than all the contributors to the treasury; for they all put in out of their surplus, but she, out of her poverty, put in all she owned, all she had to live on.” - Mark 12:41-44
Sure, we could save the extra food or extra clothing for a time when we might need it in the future but where is our faith in God's provision for that future, if we're already providing for ourselves if that hour of need comes??
"He who gives to the poor will never want, but he who shuts his eyes will have many curses." - Proverbs 28:27
Giving is so much more than about tithing. It is a lifestyle. An act that is breathed in - from the ultimate gift we were given by Him. Then, breathed out to our fellow man as a witness of what He has done in our life. Giving should come flowing out of every portion of my life and yours. I want to be aware of the needs around me and remember that I live in a culture that encourages excess and is distracted by possessions. I want to live differently. I want to live more like Jesus - Giving freely and walking through this world without being consumed or distracted by possessions.