I had a life changing experience on Sunday. I went to a picnic for international UTD students in the middle of a Dallas hurricane. It sounds exciting but all it really means is that I had to put my hand over my potato chips and a brownie flipped off my styrofoam plate and landed upside down on a picnic bench. I still ate it so don’t worry. But that wasn’t the life changing part.
I was playing croquet (and failing miserably) with two students. One student had worn her beautiful black hair down and it was blowing in her face while she continued to destroy me at croquet. True to form, the only thing that I had done with my hair that day was pull it back into a ponytail. So…are you ready? I took down my ponytail and offered her my elastic hairband.
I know, a real Mother Teresa, right? Takin’ one for the team! I expect you all to vote for my sainthood when I die. I can see it now, “Saint Elizabeth, the ponytail holder sharer. She would offer you HER ponytail holder EVEN ON A WINDY DAY.” (The student declined my offer, btw, so my hair was actually blowing in the wind for approximately six seconds.)
There are a few issues with this story: Problem #1- I actually had to build up the nerve to offer it to her. Problem #2- When I did, I mentally gave myself a little spiritual pat on the back. Problem #3- That it even registered on my radar that this would be something I could share with you is troublesome. Seriously, Beth, why don’t you just tell us that you put your trashbag in the dumpster instead of dumping it in your front lawn? Why don’t you just tell us that you ate food off of a plate today? Whoo hoo, go Beth!
I am notoriously selfish about my things. I guess it’s kind of been pushed to the back of my spiritual closet since I’ve been married and Alex doesn’t usually want to borrow my favorite shirt or my hairbrush. I’m not exactly sure where this desire to keep ahold of and control my things came from. While my sister lended all her clothes to friends and never really remembered what was hers or theirs, I hoarded mine. Granted, most of my friends weren’t interested in wearing khaki pants every day until their junior year in high school when they discovered jeans (like someone I know intimately–myself), but still. If someone had wanted to wear a white t-shirt and khaki shorts with a green sweater tied around their waist everyday for six weeks in middle school, I’m not sure I would have obliged.
Jen Hatmaker, whom I’ve mentioned in every post since I’ve read her blog, said something that really stuck with me. (If you’re sick of it already, then you might not want to read anything I write for the next month or the next year. God has really used this lady to wake me up).
“There is something spiritual and submissive about offering the shoes on your feet, the sweater off your back.”
This idea makes me both excited and nervous. Excited because this is the kind of radical, exciting, grace-filled, justice-bringing life that Jesus wanted for His followers. Nervous because…what if I’m wearing my favorite Tom’s when God asks me to do this? I’m fine with going out and buying new shoes for someone but MY shoes? Mine?
I feel like we’ve lost sight of this “sacrificial love” idea. I mean, when I’m defining giving a pice of rubber to someone as a deep personal sacrifice, then obviously my sense of proportion is outta whack. 2 Corinthians 8:9 says “For you know that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes, he became poor, so that you, through his poverty, might become rich.” Jesus sacrificed everything for us- so that we might have a rich life, a new life. I’m sure you can see the connection. Jesus gives His life so that the world can be offered the chance to know God and participate in this life abundant that He brings; Beth offers you a ponytail holder on a windy day. Bada-bing-bada-boom. Where’s the VIP room, Jesus?
The Bible is RIFE with God’s concern about the poor and the responsibility of His followers to do something about poverty. In the Old Testament, God instructs rich field owners not to go over their fields with a fine-toothed comb at harvest-time so that the poor could “glean” from the fields and have something to eat. The purpose for this is equality- “He who gathered much did not have too much and he who gathered little did not have too little” (Exodus 16:18).
I heard somewhere that out of all the Western nations, Americans give the most money. We have a plethora of non-profits, serving everything from dogs to the troops to the hungry. At this point, we might pat ourselves on the back. Good job, America! You have 10,000 times more than anyone else in the whole world and you gave $25 to Save the Animals because you can’t stomach another animal abuse commerical on your $500 TV screen. You slid $1 to a homeless man through a crack in your window lest he touch you with his Hepatitis B hands.
Here’s the issue with our giving- it doesn’t hurt. Sure, we donate clothes, but they’re clothes that we don’t want anyway. It’s either throw them away or give them away. I give money, but it’s rarely, if ever, out of faith. It’s more like, “Hey! We have an extra $100 dollars from our market research study on dog food. Let’s donate $20!”
I’m reminded of this story that is recounted in the book of Mark (chapter 12): Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins.j Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”
When we give things that we don’t need or shouldn’t have had in the first place or we give a tiny percentage of our surplus and then pat ourselves on the back, then we’re missing the point. We have forgotten that following Jesus takes sacrifice and sacrifice hurts. Sacrifice can be uncomfortable and uneasy and painful. But it also results in great love. Remember the old, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13)? To lay down our life for our friends (neighbors, enemies, everyone), then we put their needs before our own. We sacrifice our needs for someone else. This is radical love. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5, Jesus tells us that if someone wants our tunic, then let him have our cloak too. (If anyone wants my tunic or cloak, you’re welcome to it, by the way. Tunics are so last season.) The love that Jesus preaches goes above and beyond what we consider normal and “sane”. The love that Jesus preaches wouldn’t think twice about giving a coat to a homeless person on a cold night or sacrificing their eating-out money so that a single mom can buy food for her family.
I don’t think God is asking you to go gather all of your favorite things and then hand them out to the homeless (or maybe He is, I don’t know you). A homeless man doesn’t necessarily need a mahogany coffee table or designer jeans. God just wants us to be sensitive to His Spirit, and if He asks us to give sacrifically, then He asks that we do it cheerfully. “Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Corinthians 9:7). I know it sounds a little cuckoo to smile as you give your posessions away, but that just hints that the rewards are much greater than the cost. I wouldn’t know yet, but I bet sharing your things with people who need them is addictive.
Sisters and brothers, God is asking us to trust Him. He’s asking us to be faithful about our finances and our posessions. After all, if we agree with the Bible, then we should know that they aren’t really ours in the first place. Life doesn’t consist in the abundance of our posessions. We deserve nothing and in His infinite grace, He has blessed us with more than we need so that we can demonstrate His love to those who have nothing.
I pray that this can be true in my life and in our world today: He who has gathered much does not have too much and he who gathers little does not have too little.