Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Give Something

My friend and mentor, Howard, is one of the most generous people I've ever met.

I'm not exaggerating in the least.

He's got a good job, makes some good money, lives a modest life, and gives extravagantly.

In our years of friendship, he's only ever let me pay for one meal. On a whim, he invited us to join him and his fam for one-night in a 5 star resort on the beach - and gave us the good room. He bought an iPad for a buddy, just cuz, has taken multiple families on rad vacations; he builds schools in the Philippines, and I can't even begin to imagine how much he's actually given to charity, the church, the needy & missions.

He gives his money, his time, his talents. He gives 110% to his job, and still found time to get his PhD, in his spare time. He gives of his home, of his advice, of his prayers. He gives so much to his children that I can't even talk about it, because there are always new surprises in store for them.

He'd be the first to tell you that he's not perfect, that he's a sinner saved by grace, that he's not been a good person for a lot of his life, has hurt a lot of people and that any good in him is because God has changed his life, but I can attest, from personal experience, that that man no longer exists. I've never met him. His wife has told me about him. His children remember him. But I've never met him. God has truly changed him, lavishing upon him undeserved grace upon grace. And I've gotten to be on the receiving end of him trying to give some of it back.

He is passionate about giving, about stewardship and about leadership.

And he's been an inspiration to my wife and I.

I'm on a journey - one that I hope leads my wife and I toward being better, more generous stewards of the money God has entrusted to us. Because to whom much is given, much will be required...and we've received so much from the Lord.

Here are a few principles of giving that I've learned while travelling this road.

1) Give according to the need. Not according to your ability. If you're presented with a need - a friend who needs a loan, a child who needs sponsoring, a cause that needs funding, or a gift that needs giving - the first thing you need to do is look to God in prayer, not look to your bank account in pragmatism. It's entirely possible that God has chosen you to provide for that need, even if you think you can't afford it. If you feel the Spirit of God (not the spirit of guilt) is leading you to fulfill that need. Do it. Do it big. And trust that He in turn will provide for your needs. (Mt. 6:28-34)

2) Make sure your house is in order, before you try and clean someone else's. There are exceptions to this rule (see above), in which God will lead you to give out of your lack. However, usually, you can be certain that God's will for you in managing your finances is first to fulfill your obligations. If you're giving to fund wells in Africa (something I really want you to do), but you're late in paying your electric bill, or digging yourself into credit card debt at the same time, you've got it backward. If you've got a contract with AT&T for your cellular service, then I can guarantee that God's financial will for you is to pay your bill. Fulfill your obligations AND give generously. If you can't do both, you may need to reevaluate what you're financially committed to, but you need to pay your bills, and get out of debt at soon as you can. (Mt. 5:33; Rom. 13:7-8)

3) Give cheerfully, not reluctantly out of obligation or compulsion. That's straight outta scripture, y'all (2Cor. 9). If you're giving out of guilt or shame, obligation or compulsion, then you're missing the mark, again. God doesn't need your money. It's not like He's unable to provide for the needs of his people without your help (read Mt. 6 again). Giving is something we do out of the overflow of gratitude we feel toward the grace of God in our lives, and love for his people in need. You should be thrilled to give, not only to your brothers and sisters in need, but to those outside the church, as well, as a witness to the loving grace of God, who gives lavishly to all without expecting anything in return. If you're being chintzy, giving pocket change, when you could be giving more, out of either faithlessness, or fearing it'll take away from your ends, then you've got some self-examination to do, my friend. Beg that God would give you a heart that joys in giving, and provide you with the means to give ever more. 

4) Give more this year, than you gave last year. My friend Dave the cop, recently told me that a few years ago, he and his wife started counting how much they gave away, and committed to start giving away more every year. I love this principle. It's a great way to begin. Don't give haphazardly. Give with a plan, with a strategy. Keep track of how much you give this year, and try, as far as it depends on you, to give more this year than you did last year. 

If you're not currently a giving person, let me challenge you with this, and ask you, is it because you're not able, or because you're not willing?

I asked Howard to share with me something he's learned about giving. This was his response:

I have often wondered why so many Christians lack the life abundant Jesus spoke of in John 10:10.  As I learn more about stewardship, giving, and living a life from God’s resources, I am convinced we don’t experience the joys of abundant life in Christ because we are not generous people.
 Or, as we told our 18 year old daughter before she left home,  
“You get somethin’, you give somethin’.”

So, what have you got to lose?

Or, more importantly, what have you got to give?

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