Thursday, March 31, 2011

Tithing? and how to be less of a rich fool

Links: my other postings on Lent ; our church's reading plan
In a recent sermon, our pastor pointed out the internal inconsistency when someone says, "Jesus died on the cross to give me eternal life; I'll take that and all the other gifts God gives, but I won't give to His work -- to feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, freeing the captives, proclaiming the good news to the lost."

"I don't get that," he said. Well, here is an area where through personal experience I can say that I do get it. I mean, it's easy to see how it happens. Does it make sense? No. Is it consistent at all? No. But can it happen? Sure it can happen, and you don't have to be an exceptionally wicked person for it to be true in your life. Just ordinary wicked (and selfish) will do.

Because it's easy to deceive ourselves; heck, we want to deceive ourselves because we simply don't want to think of ourselves as selfish, greedy people, as Colbert pointed out last year.

But enough about me. The parable of the rich fool (Luke 12:13-21) came in today's selection from our church's reading plan. This fellow, the rich fool, is -- well, there's no other way to say it -- he is us. He's got some real cognitive issues, uh, sin going on here, which is how I see myself in him:

  1. The ground of a ... rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, “What shall I do?”... (Luke 12:16-17)
    This first line would have been shocking to its first-century audience. If the ground produces a good crop, any normal person would celebrate with his friends and share the bounty with his less fortunate neighbors.

    So how do I resemble this fool? I sometimes forget how important a community is to me. Folly! Solitude is good, but "It is not good" to be alone too much.

  2. “I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my boods.” (Luke 12:18)
    Okay, so I don't have all my money in retirement accounts -- but neither have I given away more than what, 10-20% of my income. I hate to think of myself as stingy, but how many hundreds of millions live (or die) today on less than a dollar a day? An entry-level professional in the United States makes more money than something like 99% of the households on the planet. True, our expenses are higher, so after adjusting... OK, maybe 98% of the households on the planet. I just made that up, but you know it's not far wrong. How much should we give away?
Well, that's not a lot of similarities, but we in the United States are the most individualistic society I've ever heard of -- so much so that we need someone to explain point #1 above to us (at least I did). How did we get that way? One day at a time, over a couple hundred years.

And about not giving -- how do we end up choosing that? Well, we all know that we're "rich" by some definition, but we don't think about that. Instead we think about things we want but don't have, we think about those with more money that we have (there'll always be someone)... and we can turn into this silly caricature of a selfish, spoiled child.

What can we do about it? For money, the answer's easy: give some away. it doesn't have to be a lot, but how much do you think the top 1% income earners (besides you, I mean) should give? If you're giving less than that, give a little more.

For community, here's my plan: when I'm going to some gathering I'm not particularly interested in, I want to ask the Lord to show me what he has for me. Will I learn something from someone? Will someone's character bless and impress me? Can I be a blessing to someone?

And then watch for what he does. Because he's always at work, and if I'm watching he'll show me.

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