Monday, December 23, 2013

Seeing Past the Bottom Line

Christmas is the time of year when we more readily put others before ourselves and generosity blossoms more freely in our hearts.  I feel this swelling overflow as I spend several afternoons baking small loaves of banana nut bread by the dozen.  I wrap each aromatic wonder in festive red with silver curling ribbon, then give them away just to bring a bit of joy to another, to say how glad I am they're part of my life.

You won't find my husband participating in this annual Christmas bake-off...not, that it, unless you count eating a loaf or two by himself.  Although he is normally a frugal man, he does enjoy blessing others in his own way.  Usually, that involves cooking labor-intensive dishes for our extended family on Christmas Day and New Year's Eve.  Tonight, he wanted to make a couple trays of sandwiches for an after church fellowship.

As seems to happen every year, we disagreed about how many and what kind of sandwiches to make.  His logic was good--that this was just one way to give back and bless others at this time of year.  He wanted to do so lavishly, with ham, roast beef, and turkey from the deli.  But with one of my part-time jobs being cut for at least the upcoming spring and maybe even the summer semester, I couldn't see past the bottom line. 

Three pounds of meat, three loaves of bread, cheese slices, mayo....  Fifty dollars.

We buried our disagreement over the cost and breadth of the project, and he made the sandwiches as he saw fit, all as a gift to our entire church family.  But in our hearts, it was still a sore subject we had simply buried so we could enjoy the Christmas Eve service.

My husband--not me--got it right.  After placing the sandwiches on the tables for fellowship, he came and lay a Christmas card in my lap, one that had been left in our church's seasonal "post office."  What lay tucked inside the card almost led to a pre-service meltdown in the church pew-- an unexpected gift to us in the exact amount we had spent hours before on the sandwiches.

Fifty dollars.

In my focus on the cold facts of our finances, I had forgotten a truth I have learned so many times before and apparently still need to be reminded of--you can't out-give God.

Paul speaks to this truth of being generous with what we have: "whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that having all sufficiency in all things at all times, you may abound in every good work....He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God" (2 Cor. 9:6-11).

Many use this verse to preach a prosperity gospel.  Yet, such a gospel is false and incorrectly transforms Christianity into a what-I-can-get-from-God religion instead of a true Christianity which is concerned with what I can give to God who is worthy, no matter what He gives.  Still, time and again, I have found that what I sow in others' lives, I always seem to reap when I least expect it and in unexpected ways.  I may not reap riches, but I always seem to have "sufficiency in all things."

Since the above verses directly follow a passage encouraging the Corinthians to send money to those Christians suffering in Jerusalem, Paul was definitely speaking of sowing financially in others' lives. However, I don't believe that meaning is to the exclusion of "sowing" in other ways.   When we sow our time, our talents, and any other bit of ourselves for the benefit of others, we will also reap a bountiful harvest.

This close to Christmas, the tendency is now to turn inward and focus on just ourselves and our families, to feel like we're done with giving to others.  Still.  Give of yourself this week.  Give generously.  Not for anyone else.  But as a way to give thanks to Him for all He's done through the one single act of sending His only Son to earth for us.   

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