I recently read of the plight of “370,000 . . . ordinary middle-class people” forced to rummage “in stinking piles of rubbish for rotten cabbage leaves.” Hundreds of thousands of people in the country were scavenging for food while members of the political upper crust were “enjoying lavish parties and gourmet cuisine.” The article revealed unjust conditions and the failure of governmental leaders to do the right thing to help their people.
Photographer Oliver Curtis’ exhibit Volte-face (“about turn”) interacts with iconic landmarks—only his images capture what’s found in the opposite direction. So, when he arrived at Stonehenge, he turned 180 degrees before taking his pictures, capturing images that are typically ignored. Curtis says the photos “send [our] gaze elsewhere and . . . favor the incidental over the monumental.”
We can take for granted the idea that any money loaned to someone should be paid back with interest; this is seen as normal. Secular culture often judges things on a purely functional basis, whereby acquiring wealth and even gaining at the expense of another is simply the way things are. In contrast, God has always judged things from a “heart perspective.” What’s the motivation behind our actions? Are we fueled by desire for our own gain, or by compassion, love, and a desire to glorify God?
A UK survey revealed that 96 percent of the generous donors surveyed gave to charity because they wanted to give back to society and tackle inequality. And 71 percent said they gave because of their faith.
I opened a letter from our mortgage lender and, instead of a bill, found a check! Our escrow account had accrued a surplus, and the bank had sent us a check for the amount. The previous month had been overly busy, and I had been unable to take on any freelance work during those weeks. But we strived to remain faithful in our giving, and now God had provided. I was holding a check with a value that exceeded what we had lost due to my inability to work more hours.
The term “free spirit” fits my son Seth as comfortably as his secondhand, graffiti-splattered jacket and 15-year-old jeans. Now in his early 20s, he truly stands out due to his eclectic style, but he also possesses an incredible work ethic and a heart the size of the Sahara.
The Giving Pledge,” formed in 2009 by billionaire founders Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, is a campaign to encourage the world’s wealthiest people to give away most of their cash to help others. Buffett himself is taking the lead and plans to donate 99 percent of his wealth by the time he dies. This is an incredibly generous act! But it’s interesting to note that his present worth is $72.3 billion, meaning that if he gives away 99 percent of his wealth, he’ll still have $700 million remaining.
It’s likely that during Jesus’ day, just a few hours walk from where He gave His Sermon on the Mount, stood the great theater of Sepphoris. The governor of Galilee, Herod Antipas, had turned the hilltop town into a cosmopolitan center full of markets, synagogues, public baths, and temples. It boasted paved streets, frescoed walls, and beautiful mosaics.
Last Christmas I read an article from a religious thinker I admire. She attempted to make the case that we should avoid the exuberant celebration of Christmas—particularly gift-giving. Her familiar complaints? The consumerism and hustle and bustle of the holidays. As we take an axe to consumerism or greed, however, we must not unwittingly also take the axe to joy. In the next few days, you’ll likely give someone a Christmas gift that feels at least a little lavish or unnecessary. You may receive one as well. I believe this mirrors the generosity of God. Certainly, joy doesn’t require expensive gifts. But joy does provide for a gregarious and generous posture toward others.
In my corner of the world, one of the most popular Christmas practices is to decorate one’s home inside and outside. Many put up real or artificial pine trees, adorn them with all sorts of colorful ornaments, and top them off with an angel or star. Some string up enough lights on the outside of their houses to illuminate a small city. Others simply hang evergreen boughs over their windows and doors.
Not long ago, two newlyweds kissed their honeymoon good-bye. They also purposely did not plan a wedding reception to celebrate their union. Instead, they used the money they would have spent on themselves to selflessly help people in each of the 50 states in the US. In Arkansas, they gave gifts to sick children. In Utah, they aided victims of domestic abuse. In New Jersey, they donated clothing to a homeless shelter—and so on.
In November 2014, a couple asked a waiter named Carlos for a dish that wasn’t on the menu. As former restaurant workers themselves, they were impressed by him and how he fulfilled their recipe request. The man asked Carlos what he would do if he had the money and time he needed. “I work two jobs. I don’t really have time,” he replied. He did, however, let on that his car needed a $1,500 repair job. Later, Carlos found a $1,500 tip on the table. He said of the generous couple, “Thank God for you and for what you’ve done. . . . It couldn’t have come at a much better time, so I’m eternally grateful.”
After I moved to Africa, a couple living in the US contacted me and said, “We’d like to make a financial contribution to help you with your ministry in Uganda.” Because my job at the time didn’t require that I raise funds, I thanked them but declined their generous offer.
On October 31, 2003, 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing off the North Shore in Hawaii. Bethany survived, but she lost her left arm and more than 60 percent of her blood in the assault.
After Nelson Mandela’s death at the end of 2013, many stories surfaced of his genuine concern for others. In 1950s Apartheid South Africa, Mandela once saw a white woman standing beside her broken car in Johannesburg. Approaching her, he offered help and was able to fix the car.