Happy “Blanks” Giving!

Thanksgiving is next week, and I’m still wrestling with this whole topic of giving. Not so much with the topic of “Thanks” giving. For sure I was horrible at giving thanks in my twenties, but I hope I’ve grown a bit in the gratitude department over the years.

Mostly, I’m grappling with “Fill-in-the-Blanks” giving. You could fill in the blanks with just about anything. Giving of _____ (time, money, possessions, control, empathy, encouragement, etc…).

Two weeks ago, I talked about “Pranks” giving. I wondered if Jesus was joking when He said that giving to the poor, hungry, thirsty, sickly, naked, or homeless stranger was equal to giving to Him. But I’ve yet to find the verse in the Bible in which He says, “Gotcha! Just kidding!” (See Matthew 25:34-40)

Last week, I talked about “SELF” giving. The apostle Paul claimed to have found the secret to being content in every situation. Even in extremely difficult situations. Paul followed Jesus in an active life of giving, and I’m convinced his actions played a large role in knowing the “secret” of true contentment. (See Philippians 4:12)

This week, I’m still grappling, and yet, more than ever, I’m okay with not feeling like I have all the answers. Does that make me a “Happy Grappler”? (Try saying that ten times fast.) As much as I just love knowing the answers, I have found that at times, being asked the right question reveals a deeper and longer-lasting truth than being given the right answer.

So here’s me, sharing a few of my latest questions with you, in hopes of us all becoming more hungry for the answers found in God’s word—answers about the way we should give, and about the Way who gave us His all.

Something to share?

“Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” (Ephesians 4:28 NIV)

Paul gave these instructions for Christian living in the same context where he reminded the Ephesians that they were created to be like God in righteousness and holiness (v24). He tells them to stop doing the obvious wrongs, like lying, stealing, slandering, and staying bitter and angry at people. He also tells them to be sure to do the obvious good things, like encouraging others, showing compassion to others, and forgiving others.

But in the middle of it all, he tells them (and us) to do something useful with our hands. The Greek word for that is kopiaó, which means “to toil, to grow weary, or to labor until worn-out.” Okay, that one may be a little less obvious to those who maybe didn’t grow up with hard-working parents who daily modeled “toil” for their kids like mine did. But here’s the part I never noticed before. Paul actually tells why the Ephesians (and we) should work hard:

“that they (and we) may have something to share with those in need.”

He didn’t say:

so you can stay out of debt, or

so you can meet your monthly budget, or

so you can get a tax credit.

No. We are to “toil” so we may have something to share with those in need.

Now I know plenty of people who have taken on extra side jobs before, just to make ends meet or to be able to have nicer things. But do you know anyone who has taken on an extra job on the weekends just so they can feed more starving children, or help the single mom buy a reliable car, or help a homeless guy pay his medical bills?

And why would it be so important to God that we have something to share?

Could it be that in “toiling (until we’re worn out) to have something to share”, we might understand more deeply the heart of a God who had absolutely everything He needed in heaven, yet He created humans to share His love with us forever and ever?

Even those kind of people?

Here is another passage I mentioned two weeks ago, that has left me with more questions than answers.

“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’” (Matthew 25:37-40 NIV)

What questions could I possibly have about this passage, right? I mean, of course we should feed the starving people around the world. Of course we should partner with organizations that build wells and provide clean drinking water. I give all kinds of clothes to Goodwill, so no one should be naked. As a pastor on staff at a church, I regularly visited people in the hospital.

But there are two other types of people on the list.

People who are a lot easier to pass on by.

“When did we see you a stranger and invite you in?”

Wait. Invite you in? Into my home? Into my space? Into my comfy routine? Just for lunch one day, right?

Jesus, are you one of the 100,000 kids in the United States foster care system waiting to be adopted?

“When did we see you…in prison and go to visit you?”

I’ve known fellow Christians over the years who go do “prison ministry.” I think that’s an amazing ministry, and I’ve prayed about giving it a try, and I pray God will call more and more people to give in this way.

But here’s where my thinking has taken me lately, and has caused me to question. People who are in prison have usually made some horrible choices to land them there. We may not personally know many people who are behind bars, but we all know lots of people who are not in a literal prison cell – people who are in bondage because they have made (and continue to make) horrible decisions.

Do we “visit” them as well?

How can we best “visit” the friend or family member who is “imprisoned” with an addiction?

How should we help the one who continues to make horrible financial decisions and is now losing their home?

How do we best “visit” the teenage girl at church who is in bondage to her eating disorder or her need to have a boyfriend?

How do we do “prison ministry” on the 20 year-old who can’t seem to hold down a job and is stuck because he has no clue what he “wants to be when he grows up?”

How do we help and care for someone without enabling them?

A more honest question: Is my so-called “concern” for enabling them really a mask for my greater concern of being majorly inconvenienced by them?

How would Jesus give to them?

Dear Lord, Teach me how to give like You do. Make me more eager to give of my time, money, possessions, control, comfort, empathy, encouragement…my life.

“…Freely you have received; freely give.” (Matthew 10:8 NIV)

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