Giving the Difference

“[North American Christians] are the richest people ever to walk the face of the earth. Period. Yet, most of us live as though there is nothing terribly wrong in the world. We attend our kids’ soccer games, pursue our careers, and take beach vacations while 40 percent of the world’s inhabitants struggle just to eat every day. And in our own backyards, the homeless, those residing in ghettos, and a wave of immigrants live in a world outside the economic and social mainstream of North America. We do not necessarily need to feel guilty about our wealth. But we do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it. There is simply not enough yearning and striving going on.” 

– When Helping Hurts, by Corbett and Fikkert, page 27

When I first read these words months ago, they shook me. I haven’t been able to get them out of my mind. (Thanks a lot, Corbett and Fikkert!) We do need to get up every morning with a deep sense that something is terribly wrong with the world and yearn and strive to do something about it. I have woken up almost every morning with this phrase reverberating around my sleepy brain.

Part of it might be due to the fact that ever since I was little, a Bible verse with a similar theme has stuck with me: “To whom much has been given, much is required” (Luke 12:48). Even though we didn’t have a lot of excess, I knew that owning a home and a car, being born into a family with two loving parents, and living in a free country meant that I had been given MUCH.

But it’s not just that one verse or this one book. There are dozens of verses calling us to lay down our lives for our brothers, visit the prisoners, care for the widows and orphans, feed the hungry, and clothe the naked.

There’s 1 John 3:17: “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

And Proverbs 3:27-28: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it, when it is in your power to act. Do not say to your neighbor, “Come back later; I’ll give it tomorrow” — when you now have it with you.”

Oh, and Isaiah 58:6-11: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter — when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.”

And if that isn’t enough, Tim Keller, Andy Stanley, Francis Chan, and my own pastor Alan (among others) throw their own convictions and interpretations into the mix. There’s Tim Keller’s book Generous Justice. Andy Stanley’s sermons about how what we are aware of (whether TV commercials, our neighbors, or the needs around us) influences our actions and purchases. Francis Chan giving up his nice lifestyle to move into an apartment in an impoverished community. My Pastor Alan preaching just last month about being sympathetic to the pain in the world rather than escaping into luxurious living. Oh, and these are just the ones that have hit my consciousness the hardest – I am sure you are already naming off more books and examples in your own head!

I guess what all of this boils down to is this… There’s a lot more to salvation that happens in between “praying the prayer” and dying – and a lot of it has to do with serving other people. It’s not all about getting my own life all fixed up and holy-lookin’. Not about making myself feel less guilty. And not about staying as safe and comfortable as possible while still managing to tithe and support a Compassion child. It’s about laying our lives down for others.

Here comes the issue for me. See, I don’t always need to be as thrifty as I am – we are very fortunate to have little debt and decent incomes. So I really could spend a little more and it wouldn’t be a problem. But being aware of the reality of abandoned kids and imprisoned Chinese Christians and hungry families in third world countries… well, it motivates me to live modestly. Why, you ask?

Oh…

Well…

Because I subconsciously believe that I am somehow doing something right by spending less just because I am aware of the needs of others. Like that is somehow helping.

*Sigh*

I don’t think I’m usually quite this dense. But on this one… I tricked myself into thinking that just the awareness of the problem was enough. I’m trying not to splurge (too much). I know about all of those hurting people, so I’m going to be careful not to spend as much as I could potentially spend. So I’m cool, right?! We’re good here?

I suppose that you could argue that taking a vow of poverty does move you up on the scale of saintliness. But other than that… What was I thinking? It doesn’t matter. The point is, me spending less doesn’t do anything to relieve anyone else’s poverty or suffering.

Unless… [insert light-bulb moment]… Unless I give away the money I save by making/redesigning things myself rather than buying them new!

I can see a few drawbacks to this idea.

One, I’m not supposed to let my right hand know what my left hand is doing, and I am certainly not supposed to brag about how much money I am putting in the box at the temple (you know, the widow’s mite and all). However, I live in a culture where is enough is never enough. Our plates keep getting bigger, our houses more elaborate, and our beauty rituals more expensive. And one thing I don’t get to witness much is generosity in action. We copy each other’s recipes, house decorating plans, vacation ideas, and clothing brands, but maybe we could do a little more copying each other towards holiness, too?

Two, giving away money doesn’t solve all problems, and there are lots of ways to serve and love others without giving away money. True, but sharing our resources (including money) can make a big difference! Just ask my missionary friends who spent months and months raising support before they could leave the country. Or my friends who have to raise close to $40,000 to adopt a child. Or any non-profit organization that doesn’t receive government funding and relies solely on donor contributions. Having (or not having) money makes a difference!

Three, this seems like a silly idea. Why not just give as you feel led? Why tie it to something as trivial as your home decor and craft projects? Well… I will still “give as I feel led”, too. But sometimes true heart-change-obedience follows a stilted-forced-decision. And sometimes in order to make sure that we do the things we care the most about, we have to build routines and habits into our lives to make sure they happen. Like back in college when my friends and I designated the path to our dorm as the “thankful sidewalk” where we would say out loud what we were thankful to God for. Or the Family Fun Night that our family does *every Sunday night. *more like every other

Finally, the difference between my cost and what the retail cost would be is a superficial calculation. But fortunately, that’s not the point. The point is that I want to be obedient to God’s call to care for those who are suffering. As Corbett and Fikkert say so well, “You see, what is at stake is not just the well-being of poor people – as important as that is – but rather the very authenticity of the church’s witness to the transforming power of the kingdom of God. Hence, the North American church should have a profound sense of urgency to spend ourselves ‘in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed.’ (Isa. 58:10)” – When Helping Hurts, page 16

Okay, so here’s my decision, world: Over the next year, whenever I post a thrifty craft or renovation project, I will calculate how much money I saved by making it myself, and then I will give the difference between my cost and the retail cost away to someone or someplace where it can… make a difference!

(As a disclaimer, I used the first-person to write this, but my hubs is totally on board with this decision. And actually, he was born generous and is always on the lookout for ways to give. I, on the other hand, have to beat generosity into myself. Maybe someday I’ll be able to claim generosity as a character trait of my own… until then, I’ll have to keep making symbolic habits for myself.)

Okay, here we go! If this blog goes silent and I “forget” to post any new projects for a few months, just tap me on the shoulder and tell me that “there is simply not enough yearning and striving going on”! That should get me back on track.

Oh, and I will be sure to tell you where the difference-money is going… you know, just in case you want to pitch in, too!
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2 thoughts on “Giving the Difference

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  1. I realize this post is old, but cool. How did it go? The making and being generous to make a difference? I guess I am even more curious about what has happened since then. I am always fascinated by the process people go through on their road to what I call “being a world changer,” or bringing God’s kingdom here. Thanks for sharing your story with us!

    Liked by 1 person

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