anonymous A few weeks ago, Wanda and I got an anonymous gift.  We were pretty blown away.  We didn’t deserve it in any way.  Someone simply loved us enough to help make our life a whole lot easier.  We are humbled.  We are grateful.

If you are the gift-giver (and you are a visitor here), this is my place to tell you “thanks” and that your generosity has made a difference…not just in our area of need, but in our hearts, as well.

Anonymity is rare these days.  We live in an age where it seems like just about everything is played out publicly.  No doubt the bad of the world is given the front page.  Pain and suffering and crime and fear sells.  But we don’t stop there.

Though not as prime time as disaster and terror, goodness will get some play, also.  Especially around the holidays.  We stage photo-ops at soup kitchens.  We celebrate the donations for Toys for Tots and Angel Tree.  We keep track of how much money we collect for Advent Conspiracy and promote it to encourage even more giving.  We boldly teach it is more blessed to give than to receive.  All good.

But there is something pure and godly about anonymous giving.  All of us should have a healthy dose of not letting our right hand know what our left hand is doing.

The deep desire each of us have to be recognized for the good we do is a common struggle.  To simply do good or do the right thing, without being noticed, feels like a letdown.  (I won’t even touch the frustration we feel when someone else gets credit for the good we have done!)  The joy of participating in unnoticed, anonymous kindness just doesn’t give the buzz of satisfaction that being noticed does.  The private awareness of help rendered or aid given lacks the thrill of public celebration.  It’s just not the same.

That’s what makes anonymous giving so very good for us.  Learning to be satisfied with the “rightness” of the action is part of the maturing process.  To participate in the silent background of the joy of another person is the stepping stone to true humility.

And humility is the beginning of integrity.

And integrity is a necessary ingredient of honest worship.

And worship is when we only care that God is pleased.

It is not necessary that every gift we give and every act of kindness be done anonymously.  Sometimes letting our light shine needs to be part of the process.

But all of us need some anonymity in our giving.  Where will yours be this season?

Game Changers…#13

13(This is a recurring series of the fifty events that shaped the course of my life and the person I’ve become along the way.  It was actually supposed to recur weekly, but somewhere along the way, life happened.  Welcome to my world… and my therapy.)

It’s pretty interesting to reflect back on my childhoodfifty years later!  I identify and evaluate my experiences from a completely different point of view than I did when I was living it.  Looking back, I lived a really simple and uncluttered life.

My dad was a carpenter and my mom stayed home to take care of me.  Because I was an only child, I got a lot more attention and stuff than I would have, if there were siblings to divide up the spoils.  There was not an abundance of money and possessions, but I never missed a meal and I never really had a need go unmet.

When I was around ten, my folks bought me a brand new bicycle for my birthday.  It was a Huffy Stingray, with  a banana seat.  Huffy StingrayI was the envy of all my friends.

I had reached the pinnacle of neighborhood cool.

My parents really had no business buying me a bike like that, but my dad, in spite of his shortcomings in the intimacy arena, loved to give extravagant gifts to mesometimes when there was no logical way to fit it into a limited family budget.  He was just that way.

The week I got my bike, I started riding it down to our community Boy’s Club, where me and my friends would spend hours playing ping pong, kickball, and hanging out like young dudes have always done.   One of the guys who hung out with us was really, really poor and usually got made fun ofeven by some of my friends.

One day, after the other guys had left, this kid was checking out my bike and telling me how awesome it was. Sadness gripped me.

So I gave it to him.

Yup.  In my heart, I knew he would probably never have a chance to have something that nice, so I wanted him to have it.  I don’t remember all the details, but I still remember watching him ride off, as I turned around to walk home with a really happy heart.

My dad’s heart wasn’t quite as happy as mine, when I told him what I’d done.  It was my dad’s special gift to me and he wanted me, his only son, to have it.  So my dad did what good dad’s always do.  We hopped into his pickup truck and went to retrieve my new bicycle.

But not before we stopped at the store to buy my little friend a new bike of his own.

Generosity and compassion don’t fall far from the tree they grow on.

The Best

we need each otherhow do you move from being selfish to unselfish?  what does it take to become a person who willingly and compassionately puts the needs and interests of others above your own?

why is the path from self-centeredness and self-absorption such a perilous journey that ends in failure for so many?  i don’t know.  what will inspire us to invest in each other for the good of the kingdom and the world?

i know that authentic servanthood is a gift from god.  we can’t simply “will” our way to genuine love and gracious living.  left to our own determination, we will fall miserably short.  nothing but a complete change of heart that comes from the presence of god’s spirit taking up residence inside us will do.

but the words of others help.  a lot.

there is a book that i have read and re-read faithfully for over 35 years.  it’s a book that i turn to for inspiration and to be reminded of the way i need to live my life.  it is one of the five most important books i have ever read.  it’s called “we really do need each other”, by reuben welch, a church of the nazarene pastor and scholar.

the book is amazing.  it’s powerful and life-giving.  the author paints a picture of a life fully surrendered.  it’s a book you should buy and begin reading once a year for the rest of your life.  you will not be the same person after reading it.

here’s the short excerpt that read at the end of the teaching time this past sunday.  be moved.

sometimes i wonder what are we saving ourselves for.  now i don’t like this anymore than you do…it’s just that i happen to believe the bible means what it says about some of these things, even though we don’t like them.

i’m thinking of a man who all his life long saved and saved and saved and held back…you know…don’t loan and don’t borrow.  that’s the life slogan:  don’t loan, save, take care.  and all of his life he worked and saved and i guess he made it.

and do you know what he did when he was about sixty-four?  yeah…he up and died…that’s what he did.  and all of the saving, keeping, holding, making, making, keeping, holding and saving of his life was down the tubes forever.

now i’m not talking about economics.  i’m talking about a lifestyle that seeks to preserve and save and keep for what?

i hate to tell you this, but i found out over in the computer science department that according to the latest statistics, the death average is one hundred percent!  and you know, we are going to die…we’re just going to die.  i thought i’d leave you with that cheerful word.  we’re just gonna die.

you know, we want to save ourselves and keep ourselves and hold ourselves back…as though the highest goal in life would be to look good in our caskets.

it’s no special blessing to come to the end of life with love unshared and selves ungiven and activities unactivated and deeds undone and emotions unextended.

it’s not an encouraging thought…especially at my age in life…but i have the feeling that when a person is middle-aged, he ought to be about half used up.  and when i read this passage (that jesus gave his life away for us), i keep asking myself this question:  “what am i saving myself for?  isn’t it god’s intention that when we come to the end of the line, we’re just about used up?”

words to live by.

Money talk. It’s never easy.

money stackyears ago, when wanda and i were just a young couple, we were challenged to live our lives with a sense of purpose. we were taught by people we admired and respected, to be open to living our lives for something greater than our own pleasure and comfort.

i remember one of the first (of many) times we heard tony campolo speak. back in the late 70’s, he was a christian “radical”…a political activist…a pastor…a college professor…an author and speaker. he still is today. before tony came along, i had never met a church leader that lived very far outside the traditional, conservative christian box i grew up in.

tony did. and the words he spoke that day rocked us…and though we didn’t follow his footsteps exactly, we took them to heart. deep to heart.

in a humble and unassuming way, he said between his pastoring, teaching and speaking, he probably made over $80k per year. in 1979! that would be easily 5-6 times that amount today… but it wasn’t what he “made” that was so shocking. it was how he chose to use it.

he said that some years earlier, before he started to make that kind of money, he and his wife made a decision about how much they needed to live on…to pay their bills and live a happy and healthy lifestyle for them and their young family. they determined that number was about $30k.

so they made a decision. they wouldn’t change their standard of living…even if they made more money. their thinking was, “why should making more money change what we decided our standard of living to be?” wow. that seemed so counter-cultural. so different than the american dream.

everybody i knew…including my own family…instinctively lived exactly the opposite. making more money was your ticket to raising your standard of living. it was your right. it was your divine right. it was what you were supposed to do with god’s “blessing”.

but tony pointed us to another option. another way of living. something that seemed much more biblical.

why not pick a standard of living…as low as you can, yet still enough to still live happy and comfortably…and then use the rest of your money (god’s money) on things of nobler purposes? why not live on a little less, so that more could be invested directly into god’s kingdom purposes? it made sense to us. and it’s how we’ve tried to live our lives the past 35 years.

it’s also why “tithing” doesn’t make sense to me. well…that and the fact that it was old testament taxation of the jews that is no longer required in the new covenant. here’s how it challenges my sensibilities:

if a family is living on $30k here in 2013 united states, it’s not easy. and “requiring”…or even expecting…them to give 10% of their income to the church could place a serious burden on them and their family. $250 a month is a huge amount to them!

on the other hand, if a family lives on 300k per year (what’s left over after taxes), a “tithe” of $30k per year to the church shouldn’t (i hate that word) place an undo burden on this family. they ought to be able to live comfortably on $270k, don’t you think? especially if they had made a decision to lock in their standard of living at, say…$175k per year. that would free up 125k per year…of god’s money…to be used on god’s things. amazing. why would they limit their giving to just a tithe?

how we spend most of the money we have (after taxes) is our choice. it’s nobody else’s choice. and we can always choose to spend less on ourselves and more for a greater purpose. always.

friends, i know this is not an easy discussion.

Passing the hat

passing the hatwhether you call it passing the hat…the plate…the bucket…the bag on a stick…or the fancy little five-dollar black ikea baskets we use at north point these days…we live in a culture that is familiar with asking for money.

it’s not just the church.  it happens all over the place.

…a teacher gets sick or a poor student needs some new school supplies, and the faculty of that school is quick to solicit donations from their fraternity to meet those needs.  how?  the hat is passed.

…a teammate or colleague needs to make an emergency trip to another state for a family illness, and their tribe rises up to provide the resources for that unexpected and unplanned trip.  how?  the hat is passed.

…a weather catastrophe leaves a community devastated, and people who have no connection but hearts of compassion, respond with genuine generosity.  how?  the hat is passed.

…heartfelt gratitude for a job well-done prompts the spontaneous desire to show it, in the form of a gift from those who were touched.  how is the gift generated?  the hat is passed.

we all give to those projects and needs because we believe in them…or because our hearts have been motivated…or because we experience some kind of personal connection.

or we just feel guilty.  but that’s another post.

so what’s it like for you when the “hat-plate-bucket-basket” is passed in front of your nose on sunday mornings?  what’s going through your head and heart?

what’s your motivation for relinquishing some of your hard-earned cash money?  are you more likely to give a larger sum of gift, if there is a gut-wrenching, human need story attached?

…or is it sufficient just to know that your church family has an electric bill that needs to be paid this week…and a mortgage next week…and salaries the following week…and you want to be counted on to do your part?

Maybe I’m too dumb to know any better…

i was thinking about writing about my favorite pizza toppings or the new mumford and sons CD tonight.  i hadn’t decided which one.  but then i started doing some reading and stumbled on this article entitled, “Four ways to boost your church’s year-end giving”.

i should have stuck with pizza toppings.

the author gave some ideas for getting people to give more money to the church at the end of the year… especially with their end-of-the-year bonuses.  now i’m all for people giving money.  it’s a good thing.  personally, i’m pretty much speechless when i think about the sacrifices people make so i can do what i do.

you can read the article, if you want to.  it’s nothing you’ll hear me say or write.  there’s nothing wrong with it.  it’s just not what i think about.  it’s also another reason (in the long list of reasons) why i’m not getting invitations to write for church leadership journals any time soon.

however, if i were asked to write something about church finances tonight, here would be my article:

“how to keep your church from obsessing about money”

1.  learn to live within your means.  everybody else in life has to learn to do it.  why shouldn’t the church?

2.  raise up church leaders who are content with simple personal lifestyles.  simple, godly leaders who are content with what they have and have learned to say “enough is enough” on a personal level, will be inclined to lead their church family with the same simple faith.

3.  stop convincing yourself that “good ministry” takes more money.  baloney.  good ministry takes good people who want to honor god with their lives.  these kind of people have a knack for figuring out how the ministry get done.

4.  teach people to give money out of gratitude for the mercy and grace of god.  guilt doesn’t work.  pressure creates enemies.  legalism destroys passion.  even “need” can be deceptive.  we give because god loved us first.  any other motive confuses the issue.

5.  make sure that the needs of people are never ignored.  i have two words for curing the “end-of-the-year” giving shortfall:  advent conspiracy.

6.  don’t ever get in a hurry to buy something costly.  americans have an infatuation with owning stuff.  big stuff.  that attitude is in the church, also.  big purchases almost always suck the life out of a family…especially when the purchase is outside the budget.  proceed carefully.

7.  beware of starting to believe that you…er, god…deserves something better. i don’t mean any disrespect when i say this:  but our king was born in a stable.  he identified with the poor and disenfranchised.  he was not drawn to princes and the powerful.   he doesn’t deserve better stuff.  nor do we.  he deserves our allegiance.

8.  don’t apologize for making people aware of financial need…but don’t wear people out.  start cutting back.  then cut back some more.  that’s why #7 is soooo important.

9.  don’t assume that falling short of your budget needs indicates your people have a giving problem.  it may be a budget problem.

10.  stop confusing “faith” with “i want”.  we are called to live by faith and not by sight.  the problem is “our sight” is always getting us into situations where we are “forced” to live by faith.  this happens too frequently with our finances.  we need to be people of faith.  but maybe our faith could be directed at higher priorities if our “sight” would stop getting us in financial messes.  just sayin’.

this is not the end-all of truth about church finances and giving.  it’s complex.  it’s layered.  our relationship with money will always be a battle.  so stay in the battle!

and you can be confident we will pass the buckets this sunday.

Marriage Tuesday

here’s a marriage tuesday curveball…

you’ve got to make time for others.

…and i don’t mean separately.

i realize when you get married,  you have had years of developing the “single” lifestyle.   you’ve been used to doing things your way…on your time schedule…with your money…for your own pleasure.   marriage definitely delivers a blow to that way of living!

…and for the record,  i’ve never understood the idea that men and women still need to have a weekly “guys night” or “girls night”…where you go out and act like you’re single again.   gimme a break.   once in a while?   yeah.   i buy it.   but not all the time.   you’re married!

no.   the “others orientation”  is something different altogether.   it’s making time to give yourself to people.   to enter into their stories.   unselfishly.   not for your own benefit,  but for their good and well-being.   not for any payback.   not to get something in return,  but freely.

unselfishness is like the grease that keeps the marriage mechanism moving smoothly.   giving to others enlarges the heart and makes room for more love…not less.   when we live a life of seeing what others need and extending grace to them,  we move ourselves out of the way.

and that’s where our marriages really begin to deepen.

marriage,  by it’s design,  can become self-centered.   instead of giving and serving and pouring out our best for our partner,  we can easily become demanding.   living side-by-side…all the time…can grow a demanding spirit.   we can develop a set of expectations…stated and unstated…that become the litmus test of our love for each other.

over time,  it can become easy to take each other for granted.   we develop routine.   kids and jobs and chores and finances and extended family can suck the joy and emotional energy out of our relationship and leave us with nothing more than a shell…an existence.

and a bizarre form of self-centeredness:   apathy to our partner.

i don’t have all the answers to this problem,  but i can tell you what works for me and wanda.   live a life of giving to others.

let serving define you.   invite others deeply into your life.   don’t settle for relationships of recreation.   push for something with substance.   risk putting yourselves in places where others need you.

i believe one of the greatest gifts we ever gave to our boys was teaching them they weren’t the center of our world and there was always room for others.   parenting…just like marriage…is not an exact science,  but i figure that anything we can do to keep the world from revolving around us is a good thing.

and the effect of making room for others on our marriage?   it refines us.   it rubs off the bristles of a me-first mentality.   it deepens our orientation to love with patience.   it stretches spiritual muscles that develop atrophy,  if all we do is think about our tight little family circle.

love is meant to be given away.   it’s how god made us.   the more we give,  the more we have to give.   love is not like gas or food.   it doesn’t run out.   it replenishes itself.

try it.  i dare you.