Thursday, December 21, 2006

The season for sharing?

I think it is.


However, when I think about the idea of “sharing”, I believe that it goes further than just giving out presents. I think it has less to do with giving out Xbox 360s and Ipods, and more to do with providing for those who are in need.

After I finished my finals (I can just smell a 4.0 now!), a few classmates and I decided to do some volunteer work for a couple of days at a local food bank. We’ve been doing varying things throughout the year; so this time was really no different. The tasks we did were pretty menial; mainly sorting out donations and making care packages. Though the work was pretty basic, I think that we all shared a sense of satisfaction that came with giving of ourselves; even if only a little bit. But I still couldn’t help but think that I didn’t really do that much.

Not too long ago, I read an article about the top ten charity donors in the world. On that list were philanthropists like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Gordon Moore. These folks – at no surprise – were all billionaires and were more than capable of giving what they did. In fact, people of this stature are not only in a position to give a lot of what they have, but to give most of what they have.

Under each person’s bio, there were a series of questions they were given. When asked why they don’t give most of their fortune away to charity (most billionaires can afford to give away 99% of their fortune and still live insanely comfortable), most of their responses were interestingly similar. They all indicated that they don’t give away everything so they can use what they have left to create more money and continuing giving over the long term.

This raises an interesting question; one that I’ve subconsciously thought about for a long time: How can we give to those who are in need if we don’t have much to give in the first place? How can we reasonably expect to give of ourselves if we’re swimming up to our necks in debt, we’re morally bankrupt, or bombarded with our own issues? Are we really in a position where we can make a difference in someone else’s life?

I think there’s a lot we can learn about taking care of ourselves before we can reasonably expect to bless others. Ephesians reminds us to “…labor, working with [our] hands the things which are good, so that [we] may have something to give to him who needs.” (4:28). In that respect, I think that taking cues from ministers who preach about prosperity and financial blessings can be good for us. For the record, I’m not talking about those cats who are all about money, money, money; and who pimp the Bible for their own personal exploits (those are the people that I think Timothy 6:10 clearly warns us about). Instead, I’m talking about people like Jabez; who specifically asked God to give him stuff (and a WHOLE LOT of it) for the sake of doing God’s will for others.

I guess what I’m wondering is: given our call to help ‘the least of these, shouldn’t we make an effort to pursue the material blessings that are out there? Perhaps the bigger question is: can we promote God’s true gift to the world (Jesus, the Perfect Lamb) without promoting physical and material gifts?

Your thoughts?

- ACL

21 "Insiders" spoke their mind. Join in...:

saved_sinner said...

Hello Andre,

Although I haven't commented lately, I still read you blog avidly. I assure you that I haven't fallen off the planet.

Some of the questions you ask can be answered by one of your posts from a while back. In it, you shared the story of the woman with the two copper coins. She gave everything she had.

saved_sinner said...

For some reason, I was cut off. Let's try this again.

Some of the questions you ask can be answered by one of your posts from a while back. In it, you shared the story of the woman with the two copper coins. She gave everything she had.

I can't blame you for feeling like you can do more, but sometimes more isn't about quantity, its about quality.

Good post, as usual.

KC said...

As long as you're seeking blessings for the sake of blessing others, I don't see the problem.

Its funny that many people shun the Prayer of Jabez because they think its selfish. To me, it's the best kind of selfish - the selfish that comes with nothing but good intentions for others.

Nice post, Dre.

Kim said...

Andre,

this is a great post! Every year I (me and my family) plan to sponsor a family for the holidays, with the hopes of teaching the kids the importance of giving and compassion to those that are less fortunate. But every year it just doesn't come to pass, beacause of all of the excuses (lack of funds, lack of time etc...), but then I look under the Christmas tree and I see all of the waste! Board games that will be played only a couple of times until the pieces are lost forever, games and toys that will soon lose interest in a couple of weeks, over extravagant gadgets (ipods, video games)

I'm very ashamed to say that my goal is for the kids to have a "good Christmas" with lots of presents under the tree. Regardless of the fact that the presents only represent wasteful spending. There are so many kids that won't have a decent meal on Christmas. I really worry about the message I'm sending to my kids about the meaning of Christmas, life for that matter.

What message am I sending out to the world about my self as a Christian? I did not help one person this holiday season.

Thanks for the post, I have some praying to do.

JJM said...

Hey Dre.

Obviously, the answer to your burning inquiries would be "yes"; it's OK to pursue God's abundance gifts to bless other people. But one of the problems that come up is that for many people, it becomes more about the gift...and that's it. Once it solely becomes about the blessings, that's when you have those $$$-hungry ministers you mentioned who get caught up in their own greed. They then reconcile their greed with the pursuit of God's blessings. It gets worse when the infect their congregations; teaching them to basically support the minister's greedy aspirations.

I hope I'm not being too pessimistic here (if I am, I got it from you!), but many of these "blessing" ministers spend more time talking about asking and expecting the blessing, and less time on how to use the blessing for others.

The H.C. said...

Hey Dre,
I'm a big believer in helping those in need. I worked for a while for GCAA and NIP and was suprised at the degree of poverty I saw, also the misfortunes that God had burdened some of the people with. Sure I also saw a lot of scammers, but they were way in the minority of people we served. And most were incredibly gracious. I would recommend it as a learning experience for everyone. I stumbled upon this article in one of the periodicals we get down here and found it online. You might find it interesting. Now keep an open mind, it COULD be true. http://www.philanthropy.com/free/articles/v19/i04/04001101.htm

Diane said...

Andre, I think it all comes down to this: If you only have one cookie, and you meet someone who doesn't have even one cookie, are you willing to halve that cookie and share it with the one in need? It doesn't matter how much or how little we have, we can find ways to share.

It's not about amassing huge fortunes to give obscene amounts of money. If God blesses you that way, of course you're obligated to share your wealth.

But what about skills, talents or time? If you have time going to waste, use it to help others. Help put a roof on an elderly person's house, mow their yard, take them a box of groceries. Take them a pie and sit down and TALK with them. Give them the gift of fellowship and relieve some of their loneliness.

There is always a way to bless others by giving of yourself, even if you have no money or you're having trouble meeting your own needs. I promise you, if you look around, God will open your eyes to needs around you that YOU can meet.

Be prepared, though. When God does start opening your eyes to the needs around you, it may make you uncomfortable and take you out of your comfort zone. But the rewards will be more than worth your time and discomfort.

BTW, are you still going to Nawlin's for Christmas? Another example of giving of yourself....

Andre, I want you to know that I treasure our friendship, my brother. God truly blessed me when He led me to your blog, I really believe that. You challenge my thinking on so many levels. As the Bible says, Iron sharpens iron. Thank you for being my friend.

I wish God's richest blessings upon you this holiday season, Andre.

Love,

Diane

Andre said...

@ Saved: Hey Rob. How have you been lately, my friend? Good to see you.

I understand the idea of giving deep from our bowels. I guess I'm curious to what extent that needs to happen. For instance, my sister and I are going to New Orleans to volunteer for Katrina victims. But, with the $$$ that it'll cost for us to get there (and the debt that I'm likely to incur), would I be better served at donating some other way?

@ KC: Interestingly, many people at my old church had the same philosophy about Jabez; stating that he was selfish. But when I read Bruce Wilkerson's book, I started buying into the church's argument less and less.

@ Kim: What's up man? I don't think you should beat up on yourself that much. The fact is: there is a social expectancy placed on people during the holidays. It especially gets bad when children are involved. When your kids hear about all the great things their friends' parents got them, they expect the same. It creates a cycle of perpetruity where Christmas becomes equated with 'getting stuff'. Adults do it too. Every dollar spent at the mall is a dollar that can't be spent to bless those in need. Not to the "I'm buying my mother a robe because she needs it" extent; but to the "I'm donating to a homeless shelther so somebody can have a place to eat" extent.

@ JJM: Nowadays, it's really hard to tell which ministers are sincere with their message and who's out to get the almighty $$$. That said, I don't necessarily fault people for giving money and themselves toward the church and the ministry. I just think that there's more to our calling than tithes (which keep the churches lights on and the Pastor's wallet fat). I think our ministry goes beyond four walls of a church and to those who NEED it.

@ HC: That's the point I was trying to make. Sharing, to me, goes beyond buying our friends and family crap they'll only use a couple of days in the year (one of the reasons why I was annoyed when people at my church would pass out personal gifts to each other AT CHURCH). The church, likewise, spends its money and resources on nonsense that does nothing by make it look good. Rather than focusing their energy and resources on the poor, voiceless, and marginalized people in our society, we give to our friends, family, and other selfish endeavors. Then when it comes to blessing others, we're 'suddenly' out.

Thanks for sharing your experience. Your link, by the way, didn't work.

JJM said...

I hate to keep beating a dead horse (unless, it's not dead yet.) but I don't think that enough attentino is being paid to the dangerous teachings of many (not all, but many) religious people when they convince people to hold off on their generous works for others until their 'blessing' comes. Unlike the woman with two copper coins, she gave the last of what she had WHEN she had it.

Now, before you grill me on that, I KNOW that not every minister teaches that message, but enough of them do to raise some red flags. Certainly that's the idea from opponents of the church. They think (and it's true to some extent) that many churches encourage you do give everything you have (at least a good percentage of it); as long as you give it to the church "Just send the money" is what they say instead of saying "Use that money you would've given to the church and buy a few homeless people a lunch".

I know I'm going off on a tangent here. I apologize for that. But I think we should uncover the crap before we deal with the other issues.

The H.C. said...

I'll try again, how about this one. www.philanthropy.com/free/articles/v19/i04/04001101.htm

The H.C. said...

Crap. Didn't work again. I'll see if I can find it elsewhere. sorry

Cynthia said...

As long as you avoid becoming like many ministers (my God! Especially like the ones here in Atlanta) that make their message more about show and less about ministry.

People like that bother me out.

KC said...

I don't know about you guys, but I listened to sermons about abundant living from T.D. Jakes and I'm still broke. I want my money back or I'm calling the S.E.C. on him.

green eyed girl on planet earth said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andre said...

@ Diane: Thank you for such a spirited response. I'm sorry I missed you, I must've logged off right when you were replying.

I agree with your assessment. But to use your analogy, I guess my big question would have been "If I only have the one cookie for myself and to bless others, shouldn't I ask God to bless me with a whole cookie factory so that I can bless as many people as possible, while also taking care of myself?"

I suppose that the ultimate point of this post was to put myself and others on notice that God put us on this planet not only to serve Him; not only to serve ourselves, but to also serve others. When are resources are limited to do, why not call on God for more?

You raised an excellent point about our service for others extending beyond the financial. I think I focused on monetary/material stuff so much because that's the message being programmed into people's heads every year around this time. "Buy me this, I'll buy you that." "Let's rush to the malls and buy crap." "Let's have so many presents under the tree that we can't see the ground." But very seldomly do I hear "Let's take the money we would've spent on buying crap for each other and use it to feed others."

I'm sorry to say, but my sister and I had to postpone our trip to Naw'lins. I dropped the ball on registering on time with at least one of the TEN different organizations we identified. We were able to book a time later in January. While we were a little bummed that we can't go for the holidays, we're still doing it. I'm also going to New Orleans for spring break; as a part of volunteer project sponsored by UM-Flint. But it IS refreshing to hear that so many people are involved that we actually HAVE TO make reservations! That's a good thing to hear about. I'll keep you posted on new developments.

Thanks Di, for being a true friend and a great mentor to me over the year. Like you, I think that God has allowed the power of the Internet to give us the opportunity to cross paths. For that, and the boatloads of encouragement you've given me; I'm thankful!

Have a blessed holiday!

Andre said...

@ JJM: J, I get your point. I don't think you're beating a dead horse. I agree with you. I think that messages about abundant living should include teachings about how to allow our abundant living to work for others as well. Essentially, we look to serve others as well as ourselves (and our church).

No argument here.

@ HC: Patiently awaiting that article...

Sigh! Leave it up to a University employee to let me down. :)

@ LOL @ "bother me out". I love it! I'll have to use that one.

You're right about what you said, though. While I'm sure it doesn't apply to every minister, there are quite a few who make it bad for all the others. Once I found out that a certain minister (I won't name names) had a frickin' Starbucks and ATM machines in his church, I was done.

@ KC: You gotta be careful, homie. Some of that teaching is false advertisement. It won't be long until ministers start coming out with infomercials...

Anonymous said...

Andre,

You make a pretty compelling argument here. But according to Luke 12:13-21, I'm inclined to think you're wrong about the pursuit of wealth. When a man came to Jesus seeking resolution to issues about an inheritance that his brother refused to share, Jesus basically stayed out of it. Jesus then tells a parable of the rich fool; who has a large storehouse for his harvest who wants to build a larger space for a larger storehouse. I'm sure you know how the rest goes.

The point is, seeking more than what you need is something Jesus clearly looks down on.

Andre said...

@ Anonymous: Thank you for your insight. However, I don't think you completely get my point or the point of Jesus' parable.

First, when Jesus "stayed out" of the discussion, He did so for specific reasons:

(1) If you read the entire chapter up to that point, Jesus was in the middle of teaching when this guy interupted Him to resolve a legal dispute. Imagine some guy jumping up during your pastor's sermon demanding him to get involved with his divorce.

(2) The man DEMANDED Jesus' service as an mediator. Who among us would have the testicular fortitude to tell Jesus what to do?! Not me!!!

(3) When Jesus asked the man who made Him judge and divider, He wasn't questioning His role as Lord and Judge of us all. He was questioning the guy's motives. The guy already had a good idea of what he wanted. He was just looking for somebody to vouch for him. Who better than Jesus? Instead of going through the appropriate institutions of that time to resolve his issue, he wanted to get Jesus to join him team. Jesus made it clear that His role was to minister to His people, not to judge the petty and materialistic issues of some money-hungry man.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way:

The parable of the rich fool is used to people who are foolish with their wealth. When it came to (perishable) harvests, the rich man wanted to collect his bounty and store it for a 'rainy day'. Once his storehouse became too large, he wanted to build a larger one, to store more crap. If you notice, the man wasn't building a DISTRIBUTION center; where he collected his harvest and distributed it to those who needed it. He kept it all for a rainy day. HIS rainy day...

That's why Jesus blasted the rich fool. It was the man's greed that was his downfall. So, back to my point; pursuit of wealth is NOT a bad thing if you plan to use it for the benefit of others.

Thanks for your comments!

Joslyn said...

Hey Andre,

I'm inclined to agree with you. I was once told that "we all live our lives for someone else." Every movement in America has not ONLY affected the people directly involved, but those for several generations after. :)

Anonymous said...

"Perhaps the bigger question is: can we promote God’s true gift to the world (Jesus, the Perfect Lamb) without promoting physical and material gifts?"

When we have Jesus in our lives, we don't need the material things of the world. Our message should be about the WORD, and nothing else.

"What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?"

Andre said...

@ Jos: "we all live our lives for someone else."

Wise words. As much as many of us run away from it, our lives go well beyond what we do for ourselves.

The way I see it is simple: God is like an investment broker. He invests His assets in us (blesses us) so that He can see a return on it (measured by how well we use His blessings to benefit others). Jesus made that perfectly clear in the parable of the talents. Thanks for your wisdom.

Merry Christmas to you. I would've gotten you a gift, but I think you've already gotten it (Mrs. Yarb...). Ha!

@ Anonymous: "When we have Jesus in our lives, we don't need the material things of the world. Our message should be about the WORD, and nothing else."

Dude, I got rent to pay.

Besides that, those who are poor in finances are likely to be poor in spirit as well (though not always the case). It's hard to convince people that the "...Earth is the Lord's, and the fullness thereof..." when they're sleeping on a park bench. But by us being living, breathing examples of how God can bless, we become better representatives of Him. That being said, why would you NOT want to do a whole lot for others? If it's because you don't have sufficient resources, that's when we pursue those things. Again, the whole purpose of pursuing big things is not for ourselves, but for others.