Recently I started with a list of things I really, really wanted for Christmas.
- Everything at the Bose store
- The coolest new tablet device
- A 4K television
Then I listed everything I really, really needed.
Yep. I didn’t need a single thing for Christmas. I give bags of clothing I no longer wear to charities every year. We have more stuff in our house than we can figure out how to store. That cool new tablet would only be another distraction. I have a HD television that gives me a remarkable picture. I still want the stuff from the Bose store but Jesus never said this journey would be easy.
So what do I want for Christmas this year? I want followers of Jesus (looking squarely in the mirror as I say this) to take seriously our call to take care of those who have less. Stop here if you want to continue living selfishly.
If someone has enough money to live well and sees a brother or sister,in need but shows no compassion—how can God’s love be in that person? (1 John 3:17)
I remember getting lectured by a blustering believer who was convinced God was judging America because of a particular sin. He tried really hard to get me to agree. Finally I told him something like this.
"I am not smart enough to know how God views particular sins versus others. But I do have a feeling that if He is judging America it might be for the way the American church has squandered the incredible wealth and resources we have been given. We have been given enough to make a difference around the world and we have been selfishly living while denying the power of the Gospel."
He quit talking to me.
An organization called Empty Tomb does some annoying but really valuable research. They are also a very important ministry that God has raised up to be a Nathan to our comfortable and consumer Christianity. In 2012, the latest year for which the numbers are available, church giving dropped to 2.2 percent of member’s incomes, the lowest percentage since 1968. They did the math in a 2008 study that showed what could happen if church members gave 10% of their income.
If Americans who identify with the historically Christian church had chosen to give 10% to their congregations in 2008, rather than the 2.43% given that year, there would have been an additional $172 billion available for work through the church. If those members had specified that 60% of their increased giving were to be given to international missions, there would have been an additional $103 billion available for the international work of the church. That would have left an additional $34 billion for domestic missions, including poverty conditions in the U.S., and this all on top of our current church activities.
I don't know about you but those sad numbers bother me more than the things that seem to exorcise the American church. And the giving percentage has gone down from the pathetic 2.43% of 2008. How about some loud protests and dire mailers over low church giving? Too close to home? I can just hear the Pharisees reading this and saying, "See how easy it is to be hypocritical?"
Regular readers of the humble ramblings know that I am not a guilt purveyor. Giving should not be a grudging obligation. Spend some time thinking about the miracle of God becoming flesh. Meditate on the one way love of God who loved us when we were unlovable. Remember the finished work on the Cross that made you friends with God forever. That list makes it easy for me to give out of gratitude.
If you help the poor, you are lending to the Lord—
and he will repay you! (Proverbs 19:17, NLT)
We are the hands and feet of God to a hurting world.
You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. (2 Corinthians 9:7-8, NLT)
I pray that we will have a generous and cheerful heart this Christmas and beyond.