642) It is ‘Miser’-able Being a ‘Miser’

From The Paradox of Generosity, by Eric Metaxas, December 1, 2014, at:  www.breakpoint.org

       Science confirms what faith tells us:  Generosity and happiness go hand in hand.

     We’re all familiar with our Lord’s words that it’s “more blessed to give than to receive.”  As it turns out, this maxim is not only true as a matter of faith, it’s empirically true, as well.  This is the subject of a new book, The Paradox of Generosity:  Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose, by Notre Dame Professor Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson, a doctoral student at Notre Dame.    

     The book is based on research from Notre Dame’s “Science of Generosity” initiative.  As Smith and Davidson write in the introduction, “By grasping onto what we currently have… we lose out on better goods that we might have gained…”

     One such good is happiness.  We often hear that “money can’t buy happiness.”  Whether most Americans actually believe this is debatable.  What isn’t debatable is that generous people are more likely to describe themselves as “happy” than people who aren’t generous.

     For purposes of their research and the book, the authors define “generous” as giving away ten percent of one’s income.  People who do this are nearly half again as likely to say that they have a strong sense of purpose in their lives.  The same holds true with what they call “neighborly” and “relational” generosity.  People who volunteer are significantly more likely to have a strong sense of life purpose compared to those who don’t.

     As Smith and Davidson write, “Giving money, volunteering… being a generous neighbor and friend… are all significantly, positively correlated with greater personal happiness, physical health and a stronger sense of purpose.”

     That’s why they can claim that “by failing to care for others, we do not properly take care of ourselves,” and that “It is no coincidence that the word ‘miser’ is related to the word ‘miserable.’”

      Think about the most famous literary miser, Ebenezer Scrooge.  As his nephew Fred tells his guests, “his offenses carry their own punishment.”  Scrooge made himself miserable in this life and he still had Hell to look forward to.

     As Smith and Davidson document, generosity is the remedy to the human tendency toward what they call “maladaptive self-absorption.”  A friend of mine, who suffers from mood disorders, has found that when he feels most anxious or depressed, praying for others and performing little acts of kindness and generosity makes all the difference in the world.

     This shouldn’t come as a surprise.  We humans are made in the image of God, who, in His very nature, is relational and all-giving.  What should come as a surprise is how few people actually practice generosity.  Notre Dame found that that “only 2.7 percent of Americans give a 10th or more of their income to charity, at least 86.2 percent give away less than 2 percent of their income and nearly half give nothing.”

     Sadly, as our society has become less Christian, it has become less generous.  And less happy.

———————————-

C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity:

     Charity– giving to the poor– is an essential part of Christian morality: in the frightening parable of the sheep and the goats it seems to be the point on which everything turns (Matthew 25:31-46).  Some people nowadays say that charity ought to be unnecessary and that instead of giving to the poor we ought to be producing a society in which there were no poor to give to.  They may be quite right in saying that we ought to produce this kind of society.  But if anyone thinks that, as a consequence, you can stop giving in the meantime, then he has parted company with all Christian morality.  I do not believe one can settle how much we ought to give.  I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.  In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little.  If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say they are too small.  There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them.  I am speaking now of ‘charities’ in the common way.  Particular cases of distress among your own relatives, friends, neighbors or employees, which God, as it were, forces upon your notice, may demand much more:  even to the crippling and endangering of your own position.  For many of us the great obstacle to charity lies not in our luxurious living or desire for more money, but in our fear– fear of insecurity.  This must often be recognized as a temptation.

******************************************

Proverbs 19:17  —  Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.

Acts 20:35  —  (Paul said), “In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said:  ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

II Corinthians 9:6-7  —   Remember this:  Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.  Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Romans 12:13  —  Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.

******************************************

Almighty God, all that we possess is from Your loving hand.  Give us grace that we may honor You with all we own, always remembering the account we must one day give to Jesus Christ, our Lord.  Amen.

430) Feeling Sorry for the Wealthy (part two)

        Christ Healing the Blind Man, Eustache Le Sueur, 1652

     (…continued)  Mark 10:46-52 tells the story of Jesus healing a blind man.  The man’s name is Bartimaeus, and in that society being blind also meant being poor, forced to live by begging, as it says in verse 46.  But Bartimaeus knew enough about Jesus to cry out for him when he heard he was passing by.  Verse 47 says that he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.”

     In that one plea, Bartimaeus is already saying a great deal.  In the previous chapters Jesus has been meeting all kinds of people and getting all kinds of responses.  He is listened to, questioned, challenged, and criticized.  He is followed by some, rejected by others, and no doubt ignored by many.  But here is a blind man who immediately SEES; he sees Jesus for who he is, the Son of David, the King, and sees his need of him, pleading “Have mercy on me.”

     Bartimaeus is not afraid to publicly proclaim his faith.  We might not be as eager to talk about our faith in public.  People might take it wrong, they might be offended, they might think you are being self-righteous.  Religion is a good topic to avoid in polite conversation.  You might be criticized or look down on if you get into it too much, and this man was.  Verse 48 says, “many people rebuked him and told him to be quiet.”  But this man is desperate.  He doesn’t care what the crowd says to him or about him.  The verse goes on to say that he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me.”     

     Jesus hears Bartimaeus and asks that he be brought forward.  Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?”  Bartimaeus replied simply, “Rabbi, I want to see.”  And then Jesus says, “Go, your faith has healed you,” and immediately, says verse 52, the man received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.  

     Of all the many people around Jesus that day, it is the blind man who ‘sees’ most clearly.  In fact, it is because of his blindness that he is more aware of his desperation than many of the others who met Jesus.  Others had seen Jesus do miracles, but they wanted to debate Jesus on where his power came from and by whose authority he did such things and whether or not he should heal on the Sabbath and so on, trying so hard to see everything that they missed what was most important.  Bartimaeus was not interested in any of that.  He was desperate, and all he wanted to do was make his plea to Jesus and cling to him.  His desperation became his strength, and he was praised for his faith.  He, like the believers in Pastor Manuel’s church in yesterday’s meditation, knew he needed God.

     We can be thankful that we are not in desperate economic circumstances like those in Pastor Manuel’s church.  And if we have our eyesight, we can also be thankful.  We do not want to live our lives in desperation, and if have been blessed enough to be able to make ourselves secure and comfortable, that is something to be thankful for.  Tough times come and go for everyone, but we do what we can to build in stability and peace as much as we can.  We want that, but at the same time we have to realize the danger to our soul and spirit that comes along with safety and security and well-being.  One of the devil’s oldest and most effective tricks is to use God’s own blessings to lead us away from God.  The more God blesses us, the more we can be tempted to feel secure enough to not need God; and this can become an even worse blindness than the physical blindness which afflicted Bartimaeus.  Jesus once asked, “What does it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?”  To put it another way, it would be far better to endure for a few years the grinding poverty of Pastor Manuel’s people and keep your faith alive unto death, than to gain the whole world for a few years and lose your eternal hope.  There is no long term security for anyone except in God.  Desperation reminds us of that in ways that we might forget when times are good.

     Why did church attendance increase all over the country after the 9/11 attack on America?  Because people were reminded that life is short and uncertain, and this world is a dangerous place.  Why did church attendance then decrease again after a few weeks?  Because people soon forgot that.  Church attendance is of course not the only measure of a people’s faith and spirit, but it is an important indicator, and, it is a weekly reminder of our eternal soul and that we need God.

     One more important thing.  It has been the experience of many people that when they most desperately need God, God seems far away.  We can see this even in the Bible; most certainly in the Psalms, and also in the Prophets and in the Epistle’s, and even in Jesus himself.  In becoming a man, Jesus emptied himself of all divine power, says Philippians chapter 2.  So, in times of need he had to pray to God for help and support.  And when did he need such help more than when he was on the cross?  And his heavenly Father did not then seem very close to Jesus, for some of his last words from the cross were, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”  That is how it can feel for a believer, even when he or she most desperately needs God.  But then one must simply continue to cry out, like Bartimaeus; even when the Savior cannot be seen, even when all looks hopeless, even when, for a time, it seems like there will not be a response.

     Yet in our crying out to God we are closer to God than we are when we are comfortable and our every need is meet and we are not looking to God at all.

**************************************

Mark 10:46-52  —  Then they came to Jericho.  As Jesus and his disciples, together with a large crowd, were leaving the city, a blind man, Bartimaeus (which means “son of Timaeus”), was sitting by the roadside begging.  When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  Many rebuked him and told him to be quiet, but he shouted all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”

     Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.”

     So they called to the blind man, “Cheer up! On your feet! He’s calling you.”  Throwing his cloak aside, he jumped to his feet and came to Jesus.

     “What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus asked him.

     The blind man said, “Rabbi, I want to see.”

    “Go,” said Jesus, “your faith has healed you.”  Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.

**************************************

Hear me, Lord, and answer me,
    for I am poor and needy.
Guard my life, for I am faithful to you;
    save your servant who trusts in you.
You are my God; have mercy on me, Lord,
    for I call to you all day long.
Bring joy to your servant, Lord,
    for I put my trust in you.

–Psalm 86:1-4

429) Feeling Sorry for the Wealthy (part one)

     Manuel is the pastor of several small, very poor congregations in rural Honduras, the second poorest nation in the Western hemisphere.  Todd is the pastor of a large and wealthy congregation in Baltimore.  In the 1980’s, Todd and Manuel were roommates in college.  A while back, Todd went to Honduras to visit Manuel.  Todd could not believe the poverty, the poor housing, the meager incomes, the poor health care, and the lack of food.  Todd was feeling sorry for Manuel and how he had to live and minister in such desperate circumstances.

     It came as a great surprise then, when they were visiting one evening Manuel said to Todd, “You know Todd, I feel sorry for you.”

     “What?,” said Todd, “you feel sorry for me?  How can that be?  You’ve been to America, you know how well we live there.  I feel sorry for you and your people because you have such a struggle even to live.  But me, and the folks in my congregation, we have more than enough of everything.”

     “Yes,” said Manuel, “I know; and that is why I feel sorry for you as a pastor.  It must be very difficult to be a minister under those circumstances.  Your people can buy whatever they need.  They can even buy most of what they want.  I would imagine that it is very easy for many of them to forget that they need God for anything.  I suppose in your sermons you have to find all kinds of ways to convince them of their need for God (someday at least), and remind them of their need to pay some attention to God.”

     “But here,” Manuel continued, “nobody forgets they need God.  When we pray, ‘give us this day our daily bread,’ we mean it.  We might not know where our next meal is coming from.  We don’t take anything for granted.  And I don’t have to remind my people that someday in the far distant future when they get sick or die they might need God.  Illness and death are always all around us here.  And I don’t have to tell my people why they should take hope in and look forward to the joys of heaven.  That is the hope and promise that is central in their hearts and minds.  They know that they cannot look forward to a bigger income or a newer house or leisurely retirement here.  None of that is in their future here in this life.  But when they sing about their home above with Jesus, they mean it and believe it.  That is their real and true hope.”

     “So I do feel sorry for you and respect you, Todd,” concluded Manuel.  “It must be very difficult to minister among those who can solve so many of their problems on their own, and whose every hope can be met by their checkbook and credit card.  In this short and uncertain life we all desperately need God.  But when people already have so much of everything, it is easy to forget that.”

     Most people in Pastor Manuel’s church are in desperate circumstances and cling to their faith for hope.  Most people in Pastor Todd’s church are not, and for many of them, faith can be put on the back burner until needed (or forgotten).  Actually, as Manuel said, in this short and uncertain life we are all, always in desperate need of something or someone greater than ourselves.  But, when things are going well we can become blinded to that fact and ignore God, and, in time, even let go of faith completely.  (continued…)

****************************************

Matthew 6:19-21  —  (Jesus said), “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Psalm 20:7  —  Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.

Psalm 25:1  —  In you, Lord my God, I put my trust.

****************************************

Two things I ask of you, Lord;
    do not refuse me before I die:
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
    give me neither poverty nor riches,
    but give me only my daily bread.
Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
    and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
Or I may become poor and steal,
    and so dishonor the name of my God.

–Proverbs 30:7-9