Tag Archives: giving

Christian hypocrite

Why I am a Christian Hypocrite

My wife and I like to tour open houses. Mostly we come away with a deeper appreciation of our own modest home (there are a lot of weird houses on the market), but there was one a few weeks ago… hoo boy. Three stories. Spectacular panoramic views from every floor. Five bedrooms, a game room,  an office, a gorgeous yard. And the asking price was “only” $2.5 million! I’d be lying if I said I didn’t go home and do the math. (Shocker: we couldn’t afford it.)

But now, in my imagination, it’s 2025. My Christian bestseller is in its third printing, and I’ve got the money for a house like that. I buy it. I move in. I enjoy myself and live in fabulous luxury, leaving undone much good that could, instead, have been done with that money… just one more Christian hypocrite.

Notions of hypocrisy and greed run rife through the modern outsider’s view of Christianity, and not without reason. Our faith calls on us to give, yet only 3% of us tithe and only a quarter give anything. While championing marriage and fidelity, many of us are unfaithful and divorce. We ask for grace when we fall short but give none when others do. I have to stop and ask myself… where have we gone wrong?

I am not going to pretend that I can answer for the misdeeds of all professed Christians, but perhaps there is some insight to be gained simply from examining my own. Do I live up to the teachings of scripture? Do I even practice what I myself preach? And if not, can my faith still have any value?

Not living up to scripture

Jesus requires me to deny myself, take up my cross, and follow him. Scripture assures me that friendship with the world amounts to enmity with God. In the zeal of his faith, John the Baptist moved out to the wilderness and lived on locusts and wild honey.

Obviously, apart from Shane Claiborne, few modern American Christians make such a commitment. Certainly I don’t. My modest house is a fabulous palace by the standards of much of the world. I own enough clothes and shoes to fill a closet. I am never seriously hungry. I have not committed the full weight of my existence my pursuit of Christ’s teachings, and it is reasonable to question whether that proves my faith is hollow.

My only defense is, some is more than none. I am doing my best. We give less than we possibly could, but more than a lot of people, and we do that because we believe the scriptures that urge us to do good in the world. I try to be patient and loving and kind. I’m coming along. I used to be a lot worse at it than I am now, and the Bible gives me a lot of tools I wouldn’t otherwise have.

It is possible to quote passages from the Bible that point to the total commitment it requires, and then to point to the shortfall in my own life as a fatal flaw in my faith. OK. But then what? I am not going to renounce such good as I am doing. I am not going to repent of my efforts to be more Christlike.

Instead, I will live my faith like I live every other area of my life. I believe in Capitalism, and don’t feel I must abandon it because in real life it needs commonsense regulation and a social safety net. I believe in the scientific method even though there are things we still don’t understand. Despite its many flaws, I believe in my country (though this election cycle may not be bringing out our best). There may be many parts of our lives— friendships, family, faith— that, though little and broken, are still good. Yeah. Still good.

To be continued…

Next week: Not practicing what we preach

penny's worth of time

Guest post: The extravagance in a penny’s worth of time

Guest post today courtesy of Mo Morrison, Her blog appears biweekly at http://shakethetree.info/blog.

The widow of Jesus’ day occupies a very different place in society from the religious bureaucracy.  She represents the under-privileged, one of the least fortunate among God’s people.  Throughout the Bible she’s placed alongside the fatherless, the orphan, and the immigrant who owns no property.  Counted among the poorest of the people, we often see her weeping, grieving, desolate and in debt.  The widow’s tragedy is such that with no partner to defend her rights or provide for her needs, she’s vulnerable.

As recorded in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus is sitting across from the treasury watching people as they pass-by, putting their money into the offering-box.  He observes the many who are rich putting in a lot of money, and He also sees a poor widow who tosses in a couple of coins.  Jesus gathers His disciples close and says to them, “I tell you that this poor widow put more in the offering box than all the others.  For the others put in what they had to spare of their riches; but she, poor as she is, put in all she had – she gave all she had to live on.(Mark 12:43-44, GNT)

The widow offers up two small copper coins that scarcely make a penny, but what seems insignificant in the eyes of men, Jesus sees as extravagant.  Jesus is notably impressed by this widow’s offering.  Where many have deep pockets and give out of their excess, offering up what they’ll barely miss, she gives from empty pockets and out of her lack, gives her all.  And though counted among the least in her society, it’s evident that Jesus counts her among the highly esteemed in His Kingdom.

In this sacrificial offering of a poverty-stricken widow, Jesus points out to His disciples a true and living expression of the heart and spirit of God’s law.  Ultimately, His goal is to lead me to the place where He is free, to help Himself, to my whole life.

In this day and age, time is our most precious commodity. As we navigate the busyness of our daily lives, walking in the light of Jesus’ command to “Love your neighbour as yourself,Jesus wants to know He can bank on us to stop and help someone in need.

Jesus wants to count on me putting my schedule on hold should He bring someone in a vulnerable situation across my path.  He wants to depend on my putting another’s distress ahead of the time constraints of my own day.  If it’s going to slow me down and cost me valuable time, can Jesus trust me to preserve the dignity of another living soul?

To the glory of God where no one else sees, praises or can even repay, am I willing to lend a helping hand and boost the family in their stalled vehicle I noticed in the parking-lot, where I just stopped to pickup my dry-cleaning but they’ve come to a grinding halt on a scorching hot day?  Am I willing to lend an attentive ear to the elderly lady in the laundry room as she opens up to unburden her soul and pour out her sorrow, when my laundry is done and I’m ready to exit stage left?  Am I willing to take the young single mother grocery shopping on a Saturday afternoon to save her time maneuvering on the bus with her little ones, when I have a gazillion other things to get done on my day off?

Indeed, in this day and age time is our most precious commodity.  Yet, with the promise of all eternity, our stretch of time here is like the widow’s drop in the bucket.  We are free to spend ours helping others move forward.

May we be found true and living expressions of the heart and spirit of God’s law, fulfilling its original intent. For the whole Law is summed up in one commandment, “Love your neighbour as you love yourself.” (Galatians 5:14, GNT)

The church is after your money

The Church is after your money! Sort of.

My agnostic coworker recently went to church, where he was fine until about the 45 minute mark. That’s when they took an offering. “OK, here we go, I knew it, now they finally get to the real point, it’s a shakedown.” These were his thoughts. He hasn’t been back.

In the “Movementarianism” episode of The Simpsons, Marge escapes the brainwashing compound and flees to the church, but Reverend Lovejoy impatiently taps the offering plate before he is willing to help.

The perception that The Church is “all about the money” is clearly present in our society. Is it true? I would say “yes”, but not in the way people think.

Getting rich

When people get mad at the Church over money issues, it is generally some variation on the theme that church leaders are attempting to personally enrich themselves at the expense of the willing dupes in the their congregations. That certainly happens— who can forget Oral Roberts’ famous “ransom demand from God” back in 1987?

To this, I can only respond with statistics. Among professional careers, pastors routinely rank near the bottom in compensation. A Business Insider article from May put “Theology and religious vocations” as nearly the worst choice from a financial perspective, worse than such notoriously underpaid callings as “elementary education” or “drama/theater arts”. A CNN Money roundup of “Stressful jobs that pay badly” included both “minister” and “music ministry director”. And in 2010, USA Today stated more than half of Southern Baptist ministers need to work a second job to make ends meet.

I would submit that, rare exceptions notwithstanding, there is no rational argument that pastors do what they do for the paycheck. If the church is a shakedown or a con, then it is both the longest-running and the least-successful one in history.

The Bible on money

Yet Christian teaching is clearly very interested in money. Dave Ramsey asserts that the Bible mentions money over 800 times, more than any other single topic.

One dominant theme in those verses is that what we have, here on Earth, is given to us “in trust”, without really belonging to us. Parables like the talents, the shrewd manager, the returning master, the field of treasure, “much is demanded“, “faithful with a little“… all paint the picture that God has left us (a) in charge of his stuff, (b) for a little while, (c) to use for specific purposes, (d) with plans for an eventual audit. How we use our money here on Earth is going to be profoundly influenced by whether we believe that is true.

If the bible is, in fact, the inspired word of God, then its frequent teachings on money represent— not a highly ill-conceived and unprofitable shakedown— but an urgent warning to avoid the trap of “misappropriating funds”. Our society is replete with stories of financial managers who lived fabulously for a time on other people’s money; the day of reckoning is an inevitable part of these stories. It is hardly coincidental that the same concept is an important element of the Christian story.

Mmm… would we call that “giving”?

Many people think of charitable benevolence as “giving”: something we do because we are generous. There are certainly places in scripture that use that type of language, but the picture is not complete if we stop there.

I once heard the story of a janitor, working at Stanford University in the early 20th century when California was still undeveloped. Although one of the university’s lowest paid employees, he lived very frugally, and with his surplus money, he bought land… land in places like Palo Alto and Menlo Park and Atherton. Here’s what home prices are like there today:

$1.3M 400 sq-ft teardown
Yes, this is an actual, current Palo Alto real estate listing

The salient point is, yes, he sacrificed to set aside a great deal of money, but few would say that he “gave” that money, that he did so because he was “generous”. He simply had an idea that he was onto an investment, recognized by few, that would someday have real value. And it is this picture that scripture truly paints for us if we will invest our temporal resources in the things of God, rather than in Earthly things:

  •  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich. (Revelation 3:18)
  • But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. (Matthew 6:20)
  • And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. (Luke 16:9)

Speaking personally, I have found in my life that money comes and goes. There is a very good reason why wedding vows include the phrase “for richer, for poorer”. During the leaner times, looking back, the one thing I absolutely never regretted was the good that I chose to do in the world with the resources while I had them. To me, those times may have been the wisest investments of all.