Saturday, April 20, 2024

Who Gets the Glory? No, Really...

How often have you driven past a guy holding a cardboard sign and turned away/glared/felt guilty or handed him some money, all the while wondering if you did the right thing.

I tend to help women over men. I will stop for a woman stranded on the road.  Having grown up in LA during the time when serial killers were making the news nightly, I will not just drive by someone who is vulnerable.  

But sadly, women are used to lure people to help them, while an abusive man is standing by, knowing people's compassion will win the day and he will grab whatever she brings in. 

Sometimes, you feel it's a no-win situation.  What will they spend the money on? Drugs, alcohol and whatever they are using to numb themselves--are we contributing to their demise?   Once, I offered to take a woman grocery shopping.  She stayed outside with her son, and I went and bought groceries. I brought them to her and I gave her son a little stuffed animal. I felt I had done the right thing--but the doubt always remains.

I have brought water to people stranded in their cars on a hot day; I talked with an anxious motorist until she was calm enough to drive away, and I bought water and bread to a mentally ill man who was wearing a sweater on a hot summer day and who was attempting to walk along the highway that was going into the mountains. 

This list is not untended to impress you; it's my way of saying I just don't drive by with a guilty conscience every time nor do I help every single person I see. 

When I do, I pray it's the right and safe thing to do.

When I encounter someone, I ask over and over, "Spirit, is this what You want me to do?"  If I don't get a clear directive, I pray for the person and keep driving.  The Spirit is very clear; my niggling doubts are not from Him, and I also don't want to act from guilt.

Guilt is a powerful tool to get people to act in ways they might not otherwise consider.  The people who stand begging for a "job" have many things going for them: (1) a torn piece of cardboard indicating they are so down and out they had to scrounge in a dumpster just to get a sign (2) the sign says "God bless," indicating you are serving God if you give them money and they are really grateful for it (3) they are desperate for any show of human kindness, so they will wave and smile at you (4) the goal isn't a job but money, but their "willingness" to work means they want you to know that they aren't just begging (5) they are there "spontaneously," being as desperate as they are, despite picking locations that are strategic--such as intersections where you can't talk to them, get their story and find out if they have sought out services (6) have they actually applied for a job, or are they implying that no one will hire them so they have to beg?

Not a flattering picture, is it?  And yet, it must work, for there is no shortage of people every day out there, sign in hand and asking for money. 

As Christians, how are we to handle the "giving to the poor" thing?

Jesus is not asking us to give everything we have to the poor; He is not advocating indiscriminately giving them money, for we may be assisting the person to pursue sin. He isn't asking us to ignore the plight of the poor or have distain for them. He is asking us in these verses form Matthew 6:1-4, to have the right motivation as we give. The right posture.  The right heart.

What does He say? 

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.  So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matt. 6:1-4)

Hmmm.  So these verses seem to indicate that there were those who made a big show of their philanthropy.  Hmmm.  Why would people do that?

Wait a minute, Rabbi Jesus!  You said earlier that we are to be salt and light, and that we should shine our light, so others will see what we are doing, and praise God because of that!  Oh.  The praise and focus is on our Father, not in us.  We are just the candle.  God is to be praised because of the light. Oh.  Got it now.

Is there a modern equivalent?  


Instead of looking at our big church with all of its programs, and admiring it, it is better to ask:  What is God doing in my church?

Instead of putting a teacher or pastor on a pedestal and admiring him or her, it is better to ask:  What is God doing through this person?

Good deeds are good deeds, and benefit the recipients, but in the Kingdom of God, good deeds should point to God.

We, Christian or not, grow prideful when people focus on us or on our church--its programs, its worship team, its influence in the culture--but we forget one important thing when our eyes are on the tangible:  Who gave us the resources, talents and knowledge to do these things in the first place?  

In the parable of the talents, it was the master who gave the men the money--although the amounts were different, the master expected the men to use the talents to benefit the master. 

Instead of, "Wow!  Look at what those men did with the talents!" our response should be, "What a wonderful master who knew his servants so well that he empowered them to go out and increase what he gave them!"

Jesus is asking His listeners to remember who gave them the resources in the first place and the opportunities to disburse them:  God.  So, trumpeting your giving and making a big show of your generosity is contrary to the silent but sure working of a person in the Kingdom of God.  If you don't get any acknowledge or praise, so what?  Your Father will reward you, and that's way better than anything man has to offer.

God reminds the children of Israel, before they enter the Promised Land, how easy it will be for them to forget Who provided for them to enter in the first place, and how He made all this abundance possible:

"When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you.  Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God, failing to observe his commands, his laws and his decrees that I am giving you this day. Otherwise, when you eat and are satisfied, when you build fine houses and settle down, and when your herds and flocks grow large and your silver and gold increase and all you have is multiplied, then your heart will become proud and you will forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. He led you through the vast and dreadful wilderness, that thirsty and waterless land, with its venomous snakes and scorpions. He brought you water out of hard rock. He gave you manna to eat in the wilderness, something your ancestors had never known, to humble and test you so that in the end it might go well with you. You may say to yourself, 'My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.' But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your ancestors, as it is today." (Deut. 8:10-18)

"When you are satisfied..." That is the key element here.  No longer were the people faced with insurmountable challenges: being enslaved, wandering in the wilderness with its poisonous denizens, lacking food and water, and just surviving day to day. Now, the people are settled in, with prosperity and creature comforts all around them.  But, beware when arrogance begins to settle in:  Look at what we've done!  We are so amazing that we were not only given this land but we made it into what it is today!  Go us!

Humans are not very good at taking God's blessings in the good times and turning them into praises.  We are satisfied, thinking that our prosperity and satisfaction comes from something we did, forgetting way too quickly that it is God Who gives us the abilities and the resources in the first place. Oh, we are very quick to call on God to rescue us from things we cannot do, but once we can do something, our focus narrows down to us. 

Giving to the needy is a noble thing.  Looking and praying for opportunities to help others is a part of God's kingdom. 

But we must first praise God for giving us the resources to give away.  

We need to praise God for inspiring us to give and the wisdom to know who to give to and how much. 

At the center of the Kingdom of God is God, not us.  We are happy servants, wanting our Master alone to receive the glory and praise. 

His joy about our obedience is reward enough.  

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...