The Cusp of Riches

Posted: May 20, 2007 in giving, Missional Church, ranting

My wife, Rochelle and I have been talking and thinking a lot about missional living and radical giving. The world is such that there are people in need no matter where you look and everywhere you turn, which means there are myriad ways to offer gifts to those in need.

Truthfully, I have always struggled with giving. Part of the reason for this has to do growing up poor and feeling as if you didn’t keep as much as you could, then you would run out. Increasingly though, I’m learning that that kind of scarcity thinking is antithetical to the gospel of Christ.

I’m not the only one, though. Many of us have trouble giving, don’t we?

Two weeks ago Rochelle was leading a Bible study from the book of James. The apostle James has a lot to say about taking care of the poor, orphans and the widows, showing favoritism, and pure religion. One of the women in class, who is very generous and very wealthy made a few defensive comments about the rich and giving. But, what Rochelle wanted to say was “Wait, don’t get offended because you’re rich. You’re one of the good ones, you’re one of the few people who are working to get this right.”

And, in my experience with the wealthy folks at my church, that has been largely true. It’s never the wealthy or the poor who have difficulty giving, and even giving to the point of sacrifice. It’s most frequently those of us on the cusp of riches that are most resistant. It’s those of us who aspire to more cash and comfort that always want to be stingy, who want to know where every dollar we give to someone or some organization is going, it’s those of us whose chief sin is lacking trust in God to be faithful and to care for us that secretly hate to give and consider giving a kind of divine stick-up.

Many folks, I’m finding, resent giving. I can tell because they add all sorts of qualifiers to their giving. I’ve seen families in need have to undergo a full-on financial anal probe to get 200 bucks from the church, and I’ve seen people have to account for where every dollar given them by the church . Now, in our highly competitive, capitalists-driven America, we call these questions and qualifiers “accountability.” But is it really?

Jesus says this curious thing in the Sermon on the Mount. He says, “Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.” He adds no qualifiers. He never says that we need to know where the gift goes or if the person is “worthy” or “needy” enough to receive it. I think the Lord is saying, “Your job is to give. Don’t worry about what happens next.”

Interestingly, the next topic Jesus tackles is loving our enemies. Perhaps the two are connected. Perhaps we sense that those who ask of us are somehow our enemy, as if they are taking something from us that we don’t want to give away. Perhaps as we learn to give, we are also expanding our capacities for love–to the point of loving those who are stridently opposed to us.

How might this re-thinking of giving reignite the churches’ vision and mission in the world? How might a church bent on giving without expectation or question help us reflect the Kingdom of God?

  1. Russ says:

    I’ve been one of those “benevolence screeners” in the past, thanks to my background in personal finance. It’s a tough road toward generosity and I think your observation about being “on the cusp” is dead on. Thanks for revealing a truth here.

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