Tag Archives: generosity

Something is Missing #2: Black Friday

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas until someone gets pepper sprayed at Target.” -Jon Stewart

I’ll get back to this video.

For over a thousand years Christians have observed this time of year as a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you,  I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.

Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.

Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better. The season of Advent is where we name the brokenness in our own hearts, and in the world.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts.

And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.

Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow.

And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone. Jesus is coming to the world.

I read an article the other day about how American’s new religion, despite what any survey says, really isn’t “none’s” or Mormonism or Evangelicalism. It’s shopping. The article points out that the dominant activity for this “Holiday season” really isn’t visiting a church or temple for worship or prayer. It’s standing in lines and camping out at stores for their doorbuster deals.

Each year we hear about people being killed by the stampede as Wal-Mart opens their doors for the waiting masses. And I think it’s important to remember that unlike stampedes in other parts of the world, these are all people who aren’t rushing for food for their starving children. We don’t really need anything…except more. Continue reading Something is Missing #2: Black Friday

Money Does Buy Happiness (just not the way you think)

I love TED. This video is done by Michael Horton, and his premise is that we have all heard a million times that money can’t buy you happiness. That’s wrong. And I agree with him. He’s a professor of business at Harvard University, and he is spot on. The thing that we forget about money is that, at least according to Jesus, money is not just some neutral commodity. It is a principality and power, and it can be used for great good or great harm.

This is at the heart of the counter-intuitive nature of the Kingdom of God. There is a powerful bent to serve ourselves. So we spend and spend and accumulate more and more, and we are more miserable than ever. This is the secret of the Kingdom Jesus’ preached. It’s not that God doesn’t love rich people, or that God is secretly on the side of socialism…it’s that God knows what we tend to forget. The promises that our “stuff” makes, are impossible to keep.

That T.V., that bigger house, that newer car, may serve a purpose, but it will almost always leave you feeling a little less full of life than you thought.

Just this morning, I was driving to work thinking about this. We give a fair amount to church, non-profits and individuals, but really our giving is disproportional to the amount we have. That is, we give just enough to feel good about being generous, without the sacrifice that is needed to actually become more generous. I was rolling all of this around in my head this morning, and had a few ideas about what our next steps should be. We have cable in our home, way too much cable in fact, we have more channels than anyone could ever watch. And let’s be honest, there’s only so many reality tv shows about people making cakes competitively that a person can stand.

But that’s kind of indicative of our culture. Whenever we have “extra” money our natural bent is to expand our lifestyles. So we eventually have jobs we don’t like to buy junk we don’t need.  And it all promised to make us more happy, but for some reason it all feels so empty. But the way of Jesus is very different than that. It says that the more you share your resources and means with others, the more satisfied and content you are with life. The more you sacrifice, the more you realize that it was no sacrifice at all.

I’ve noticed the difference between money our family spends to be generous to others, and the money we spend on ourselves. There is a sense in which the money we spend internally has a very short-lived life-span. We spend the money on the movie tickets…and then 2 hours later that’s it. We rarely reflect back on that wonderful time we went to Red Lobster, but generosity….that’s something that we will talk about forever.  Continue reading Money Does Buy Happiness (just not the way you think)


So last night Leslie and I spent time hanging out with a small group of people from our church that we had hung out with a few times before. We all knew each other individually, but we were drawn together corporately last year to go to a conference with a very specific purpose.

The Conference was called “Generous Giving” and as you can probably guess from the title, it was about helping people learn how to view their resources from a different perspective.And the way they did that wasn’t by flowcharts or financial piecharts…but with stories. Continue reading Taxes


I know between all the family gatherings and Christmas parties this time of year that not many people are surfing the internet…including myself. But I’m coming up on the end of one my New Year’s Resolutions to post a blog at least once or twice a week, and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year. So in order to not ruin a streak that’s lasted a year, here’s a Christmas post I wrote a few years back. And from our family to yours:

Merry Christmas. Continue reading Christmas

Wheel of Fortune

There is a dangerous theology that is quite popular right now. It basically says that if you give to God than God will give more back to you. This way of thinking about God can reduce him into that cosmic E-trade in the sky. This theology tends to be preached by people who are asking you to give to their particular ministry/church/program so that you can be rewarded by God.

This idea has been around since Job’s friend. It’s called the Health and Wealth Gospel, and it couldn’t be more dangerous.

But the reason it is dangerous is because is partially true.

Before you start to think that I am drinking the Olsteen Kool-aid let me clarify what I mean by that.

Leslie and I just got back from a 3 day conference called Generous Giving. It was my third conference to be at within 14 days (I’m conferenced out) but I am so glad that I went. We got to hang out with Ruth Haley Barton, Chip Ingram and Fernando Ortega. We listened to Barton talk about generosity as a spiritual discipline that God uses to instill faith and deep joy in Jesus-followers, or Ingram talk about generosity as a first step toward incarnational living.

But the best part of all was the testimonies of the people doing it. One after another we heard from people who had given sacrificially. Like this one guy who had given over $100,000,000 in his life. He could have lived in a palace, but he chose to live off a very modest income to give to people who didn’t have as much.

We heard from person after person who had given sacrificially and the common denominator was a deep joy.

And here’s where the Health and Wealth gospel misses out.

See the partial truth of this preaching is that God does want us to give generously. But not for the sake of tricking him into giving us more.

The assumption under that way of viewing the Scriptures is that getting more is the best that could happen to you. And so they teach generosity for the purposes of eventually hoarding. But the truth is that when some people give stuff away they stay broke.

I’m reading about the Medieval world right now. And one of the most surprising things is how they generally thought about possessions. They had a metaphor for fortune that showed how fickle they viewed it.

It was the wheel of Fortune.


They said that this wheel constantly was turning, and that the fastest way to live a miserable life was to put your hope and trust in what you owned, or your government (this is one reason that Arthur’s legendary table was round). Because they recognized the instability of the things we have come to put the most trust in. They knew sometimes the wheel would move up and create a happy ending, and sometimes it would create a tragedy.

Think about the irony of this. We call these people primitive, yet if they were to have lived through the last two years they would have been trying to explain things to us.

They had a metaphor to explain this deep truth, and we use it to market a game show that teaches the exact opposite.

The wisdom of God does tend to go against common sense often. But never as much as here.
One speaker this weekend said, “Generosity is to love as thunder is to lightning.” Which means if you want to know how well you love, just look at your bank statement, or your day-planner. Are you generous with your life? Is your life oriented around values that you are willing to die for?

So here’s a question: Have you ever known people who embody this? Generous with their money, time, resources? If so, What did their example do to you?

The Danger of Distance

I just finished writing a teaching about the Rich, Young Ruler for the weekend, probably one of my favorite and least favorite passages of the Bible. It’s my favorite when I’m talking about other people. But it’s getting harder and harder to make it about somebody else.

The same week that I was chewing on this story, we discovered that we have foundation problems on our house, our roof needs to be repaired, and our ceiling just started caving in.

We have some housing issues to say the least.

So I’m living in these two worlds for the last week. One is the word of Jesus to this man to sell what he has and be generous. And the other is the crumbling of my little empire. And then this week something interesting struck me. A roof problem is a rich person problem. Having bad foundation is a rich person problem.

I’m grumbling about the stuff that I have that is falling apart, skipping right over the recognition that I have this stuff. That’s the problem with being rich. We rich people don’t consider always know we’re rich, we compare ourselves to the person who has a little bit more than us, not the majority of the world who barely has a portion of what we have.

So last week I have this profound realization where I am mowing and preaching in my head, and it struck me. I’m probably as rich as the Rich, young ruler was.

He lived in a time, and place of oppressed people and deep poverty. So rich was a relative term for them. He probably had quite a bit of stuff, but I bet it’s not as much as we thought.

This is kind of indicative for us of how I/we read the Bible. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear a preacher say that the Rich man was probably a good guy, we would have liked him, made him an elder etc. I still try and demonize him in my head.

And the reason I think that I/we do this is profound.

It’s because we want distance.

If we can just separate ourselves from this guy, than Jesus isn’t talking to us.

If there is one thing I have learned from teaching and preaching, as well as just personally following Jesus it’s this: the implications of the gospel are dangerous, and not always popular.

So we develop these hermeneutical loop holes to prevent us from really listening.

Remember what the Israelites tell Moses when they first meet God on the mountain. They say, “Moses, you speak to us, but don’t make us get close to Him, or we will die.”

Keep us at a distance.

Which I think may just be the unspoken request of many pulpit committees. Keep us informed but don’t get us too close.

I like the way that Soren Kierkegaard says this:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly.Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

The truth is that I am the Rich, Young Ruler. And you might be too.

And maybe that recognizes that is the first step to hearing the words of Jesus again. Not just as something that was said thousands of years ago to someone else. But something that Jesus is saying, right now, to us.

I know that following Jesus can be dangerous. That has always been true.

But maybe the greater danger is in keeping a safe distance. We can fool ourselves into thinking that what it means to be a Christian involves only pew-sitting, and 10%. We can trick ourselves into thinking the abundant life happens just an hour a week and then wonder why God doesn’t seem very real.

But the person who never steps out in faith, never takes a step closer, might never learn the joy that comes from watching God squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle.