Do you remember cooties? Both the toy and the imaginary disease girls or boys had in school. No one wants “cooties.” We are scared of them. We are fearful of the unknown and unseen. Many of us have been pushed into “cootie” giving, or Fearful Giving.
In 2000, my wife and I were in Italy for our ten year anniversary. While we were there, we visited one of these fabulous old cathedrals. Upon seeing a beautiful copper door, we asked the tour guide, “What’s this cooper door all about?” He replied, “Oh! That is the door of atonement. The church opened that door three years ago for twelve months.” I further inquired as to what that meant. The tour guide replied, “Well, the church opens this door every fifty to seventy years, and then when you walk through the door and put an offering in, your sins are forgiven.” What? My sins are forgiven by walking through a door and giving an offering? If my soul’s forgiveness was determined by the amount of money I give, I’d be in trouble. If I owed one dollar for every secret lustful thought, every unkind word, and each ungrateful complaint, I’d owe God trillions of dollars. Here was organized religion offering fear as a motivation for giving. They threatened that if you didn’t give an offering and go through this religious ritual, you would spend extra time in purgatory. I remembered hearing how the door had been open three years ago and thinking, “Wow! I guess we missed it! We weren’t there in 1997!” I told my wife we should have celebrated our seventh anniversary in Italy. If only she’d listened to me, we could be forgiven by God right now. Do you see how this system appeals to fear?
When someone coerces you with pride and fear, your heart is just as coerced, and you feel just as much of a begrudging obligation to cooperate and give.
There are lots of Fearful giving techniques. There is the “put your hand on the screen” and send the televangelists $1,000 or you won’t get healed fearful giving. There is the selling of indulgences lest you get thrown in hell cootie giving. There is the “everybody stand up walk forward and drop in a check” method. You fear not being the only one to give. You fear being the only one with Cooties still seated while the real generous people give. But it’s all fear. Fear of consequences. Fear of appearance. Fear of God’s anger, etc.
Paul contrasts Fearful giving from Gracious Giving too.
7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you
Imagine, giving out of a purpose. Our of your heart. Not “grudgingly” (cootie giving) or “of necessity” (mechanical)… but out of grace knowing that God loves a cheerful giver. And here Paul hints at the real type of giving… it flows from the reality of God’s grace abounding to you. We looked at three toys representing three types of Ungracious giving, so what does gracious giving look like?
II. ONE TYPE OF GRACIOUS GIVING
So, what is the one type of Gracious Giving? And What Does This Have to Do With Christmas? Perhaps you are here today and have been turned off many churches because if seems like they are always talking about money. You are skeptical about a minister talking about money around Christmas. You are waiting for me to twist your arm. Guilt you into giving, etc. When we began our church years ago, we did a survey and found that most people thought church was irrelevant and only talked about money all the time. One of the reasons we don’t talk much about money or even take up an offering is because we know that begging for money is a negative stereotype. But, stay with me today, because I want to show you that what you’ve been turned off by (Mechanical Giving, Dress up Giving, and Fearful Giving) turns God off too. Real Giving. Real Generosity is something that everyone wishes for. Something everyone wants and needs in their heart.
God wants something for you, not something from you.
Paul says, This is grace. This is the message of the Bible. This is the real meaning of Christmas. And Paul says, God.. Jesus Christ, was rich. He lived in Heaven. He was comfortable. He was in paradise. He was around the greatest foods, the greatest sites, the best music. And yet, God left the riches. He turned His back on all He had. And “for your sakes” become poor. He came to earth. He was born to a poor family. He was born to a middle class craftsman. He was born in a manger full of animal dung. He was visited by the lowest of the low, the shepherds of the day. The poorest and most marginalized of the society. Shepherds were so low on the totem pole that they weren’t reliable in a court of law. Jesus never owned a home on earth, though He owned the universe in Heaven. Jesus was poor (1). He was from Nazareth, a village of between 200 to 2,000 people, about 7 km. away from Sepphoris, a city of 40,000. And He would have gone through the process of socialization which anyone does who lives in a village under the shadow of the big town. He is described as a tekton or manual worker (“carpenter” in many translations). A tekton was at the lower end of the peasant class, more marginalized than a peasant who owned a small piece of land. A tekton belonged to a family that had lost its land” (2) . The problem was that the Jewish authorities insisted that the tithes were still paid, and these could amount to around 20% of agricultural income. But the Romans added their own heavy taxation system on top of this. Farmers had to pay a 1% land tax, plus a 12% crop tax on produce, as well as various other custom, toll and tribute taxes. For those who wished to be obedient to the Government as well as the Jewish law, there was a total taxation of around 35%. Those who could no longer pay their taxes to Rome lost their land, and a tekton was one in this class. It has been noted: “Some peasant who were forced from their lands turned to carpentry as a profession” So Jesus was Himself marginalized, the poorest of the poor [perhaps because of paying all the required taxes and not being dishonest], in one of the poorest corners of the Roman empire.
One final toy to represent how Grace Giving Works. Grace is like Play-Doh. The more that comes into the center of your life, the more it works out into every area of your life. Have you heard about the Play-Doh Hair Salons? You push the Play-Doh inside of them, then you push the level and what’s on the inside flows out. The play doh creature’s hair grows. Their look changes. But it’s an inside out transformation. This is what Grace is like. When you taste God. See Him, Push Him down inside you. God’s essence flows out, it comes out. It affects your giving, your attitude. Your patience. Your humility. Every part of your life changes as grace flows out. You become a Christmas person because Christmas dwells in you.. You look generous on the outside because you are generous on the inside. This is grace giving. In October, I read a book called, In Search of God and Guinness. It is the story of Arthur Guinness who started both the Guinness Beer Company as well as the Guinness Book of World Records. He was deeply impacted as a business man and giver by his faith in Jesus Christ. He lived during the times of John Wesley (a famous Christian speaker who founded the Methodist church movement). Arthur was shrewd. He is known for one of the most genius business deals of history. He negotiated a lease for the property in Dublin where Guinness Beer is in the amount of $45 pounds a year… for 900 years. A 900 year lease for $45 pounds a year. He viewed his whole company as a way to bless others graciously the way he had been blessed. At that time, since water was contaminated, he wanted a nutritious drink for the common man. He was bothered by drunkenness that resulted from gin and whiskey, so he developed his grain based beer which would be an alternative, that did not have the high alcohol content of liquor. At that time no one realized that the reason liquor and beer did not make you sick was because they were boiled. As part of his “blessing to others,” he did something that was unheard of in his day, and today for that matter, he had two doctors on staff at Guinness and offered free health care and dental care to all his employees. He was deeply bothered by the poverty in the city and its affect on children…so he poured money into the Sunday School Movement which reached primarily poor children in Dublin and gave them a path toward a moral education. When the great potato famine struck, his family stepped in to help entire cities in Ireland. There is a tombstone erected in a small town thanking him for his generosity. It says: Arthur Guinness, the Generous Giver and Beer Brewer who was deeply motivated by His understanding of God’s grace through Jesus Christ.Mama Maggie Gobran Founder and CEO of Stephen’s Children Ministry was a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. I heard her speak last August at a leadership event. Mama Maggie Gobran led a comfortable life in Cairo. She was a Christian from a prominent Egyptian family, she taught computer science and lectured at Cairo University. But following a conviction from God, she started a ministry to serve the poor in her city. A Nobel Peace Prize nominee this year, Mama Maggie has spent 20 years serving the poorest of the poor. She finds children who live and eat amongst the trash in Egypt. She has developed systems to educate them, house them, and teach them about the grace and love of Jesus Christ. The children she helps love her dearly, give generously to help others like she has… They can’t even imagine the wealth Mama Maggie once had. They can’t even imagine her sacrifice. She gave up her rich, comfortable life to come and dwell among them.
Now, I’m not saying that any of us have to do this. What I am saying is, the Message of the Bible is that the same God, who was richer than we can imagine, the God who was happier, more comfortable, and more blessed than we can ever know… Left his riches to come and dwell among us… Jesus says, that he did this so that…
that you through His poverty might become rich.
Here is where the message of Christmas and grace is so powerful. There is a richness that God offers you that can never be taken away. When you ask Christ to be your forgiver and leader. He comes into you. He forgives you of all your poverty and red ink, and indebtedness toward God. He adopts you into his family. He makes you an heir. You are in God’s will. If his son ever dies, you get full inheritance to everything God the father owns. Jesus died… And when He died, anyone who chooses to align themselves with Christ becomes an heir to all the riches of God. And no one can take them away. No one or anything in this life can take away the riches that really matter. Soooo….
Give Generously Out of Grace
First, look deeply into the well of grace. Think about what I am saying. If it is true, it changes everything. God left it all for you. To secure a permanent future for you forever. Now… if that’s true. You need to “grab that deal.” That is the Christmas wish that all of us need to take. Once you have taken it… You will respond from your heart by Giving Generously and Graciously. No one will need to make you feel guilty.
Against the backdrop of a Christmas season encrusted with self-centeredness and materialism, churches have a tremendous opportunity to crack open the hearts of people in their community through humble acts of generosity and sacrifice that truly reflect the attitudes of Jesus. These counter-cultural expressions of giving and caring can capture the attention of even the most cynical skeptics, as I personally found out when I was an atheist and working as a reporter at The Chicago Tribune. More than 30 years later, I still remember the simple but profound Christmas lesson I received from a poverty-wracked family living on the hardscrabble West Side of Chicago. In Lee Strobel’s new book, THE CASE FOR CHRISTMAS, the Tribune newsroom was eerily quiet on the day before Christmas. As I sat at my desk with little to do, my mind kept wandering back to a family I had encountered a month earlier while I was working on a series of articles about Chicago’s neediest people. The Delgados — sixty-year-old Perfecta and her granddaughters Lydia and Jenny — had been burned out of their roach-infested tenement and were now living in a tiny two-room apartment. As I walked in, I couldn’t believe how empty it was. There was no furniture, no rugs, nothing on the walls — only a small kitchen table and one handful of rice. That’s it. They were virtually devoid of possessions. In fact, eleven-year-old Lydia and thirteen-year-old Jenny owned only one short-sleeved dress each, plus one thin, gray sweater between them. When they walked the half-mile to school through the biting cold, Lydia would wear the sweater for part of the distance and then hand it to her shivering sister, who would wear it the rest of the way.
But despite their poverty and the painful arthritis that kept Perfecta from working, she still talked confidently about her faith in Jesus. She was convinced he had not abandoned them. I never sensed despair or self-pity in her home; instead, there was a gentle feeling of hope and peace. I wrote an article about the Delgados, and then I quickly moved on to more exciting assignments. But as I sat at my desk on Christmas Eve, I continued to wrestle with the irony of the situation: here was a family that had nothing but faith and yet seemed happy, while I had everything I needed materially but lacked faith — and inside I felt as empty and barren as their apartment. I walked over to the city desk to sign out a car. It was a slow news day, with nothing of consequence going on. My boss could call me if something were to happen. In the meantime, I decided to drive over to West Homer Street and see how the Delgados were doing.When Jenny opened the door, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Tribune readers had responded to my article by showering the Delgados with a treasure trove of gifts — roomfuls of furniture, appliances, and rugs; a lavish Christmas tree with piles of wrapped presents underneath; carton upon bulging carton of food; and a dazzling selection of clothing, including dozens of warm winter coats, scarves, and gloves. On top of that, they donated thousands of dollars in cash.But as surprised as I was by this outpouring, I was even more astonished by what my visit was interrupting: Perfecta and her granddaughters were getting ready to give away much of their newfound wealth. When I asked Perfecta why, she replied in halting English: “Our neighbors are still in need. We cannot have plenty while they have nothing. This is what Jesus would want us to do.” That blew me away! If I had been in their position at that time in my life, I would have been hoarding everything. I asked Perfecta what she thought about the generosity of the people who had sent all of these goodies, and again her response amazed me. “This is wonderful; this is very good,” she said, gesturing toward the largess. “We did nothing to deserve this — it’s a gift from God. But,” she added, “it is not his greatest gift. No, we celebrate that tomorrow. That is Jesus.”