How to Give a Good Gift

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Last fall my wife and I found ourselves in the best financial situation we have yet seen.  We both had steady jobs.  We were on top of our bills.  Our needs were more than provided for and our “want” list was at an all time low.

Then I got paid a $3000 paycheck for coaching Cross Country.  As we mulled over how to split it between gifts, savings, paying off debt, Christmas and other things, I got a card in the mail from NNU asking me to help contribute to a scholarship for Track and Field.

We gladly gave an amount to the scholarship and doing so was a point of pride.  It was the first time I was able to give back to the school and since graduating I have longed to help the school as much as it helped me.  When I gave a meager amount to that scholarship, I promised it would be the first of many meager amounts, and one day hopefully some not so meager amounts.

I bring all this up to go on the record and state that nothing that has happened at NNU the last couple weeks and few years will change my support for the campus.  I still plan on giving my time, money and compliments to the school.  I still plan on encouraging my parishioners to give their time, money and compliments to the University.  I will still support my children if they choose to attend there.  Whether Tom Oord goes or stays and whether Alexander goes or stays, no matter who goes or who stays I will continue to give good gifts to NNU.

I bring all this up to say that a wrinkle in the recent situation has to do with monetary gifts.  I know that we have not confirmed the names of anybody who has threatened the university with decreased giving because of Tom but we have confirmed the existence of them.  Moreover, several professors and administrators have said that regularly in NNU’s 100 year history someone will only offer to give a gift if certain professors are terminated.

I do not think those people understand what a good gift looks like, at least from Scripture.  When Scripture calls us to give, we are called to give in the way of the cross, a free, unrestrained, non manipulative gift.  If the gift is misused, we are still blessed.  If the gift is squandered, we are still blessed.  If the gift is rejected, we are still blessed.  Scripture is quite clear in that regard.

In fact, the Apostle Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians that “God loves a cheerful giver.”

That word “cheerful” makes me curious.  That adjective is out of place when you think about it.  It should be “God loves a grateful giver” or “God loves a gracious giver.”  Instead, Paul chose “cheerful.”  That is quite weird.

But then I think of two people in my life, my friend Dustin and my grandmother.  Dustin grew up in a very bad household.  There was verbal and physical abuse, manipulation and even spiritual degradation.  Then he moved across the country to live with his grandparents and that is when I got to know him.  I fell in love with the kid immediately.  He was the most incredible friend I had ever made.  My friends in high school and youth group rallied around him and showered love on him in the form of full access to our social gatherings.  We even elected him Prom King!

At the end of the school year, Dustin showed up to school with a bag stuffed full of very expensive presents for all of us.  He danced a little jig down the hallway, grinning from ear to ear as he handed out these gift wrapped gold watches, jewelry, expensive video games and the like.

The scene shocked us.  His younger brother surprised us further by saying that Dustin had never spent more than $1 on a present before.  He had spent hundreds on us.  Dustin was not giving these gifts to manipulate us or to coerce us.  I don’t think he even knew why he was giving us the gifts.  I think he was just so happy (maybe, cheerful) to have such an amazing group of friends that his right hand did not know what his left hand was doing as he threw those watches and necklaces out.

We should learn how to give like Dustin gave, not because we want control or manipulation or power but because we are cheerful and we want to join God by giving rain to both the just and the unjust (see the Sermon on the Mount).

Awhile back my grandma started going to a church in town whose presence in our community was less than stellar.  They were a mean and hostile community but they took care of older people better than anybody else.  So it happened that while my grandma was attending that church, she sold my grandpa’s cabin for $250,000.  She paid the tithe to the mean, hostile church.  I complained and she told me quite sternly, “I did not give that money to that church.  I gave it to God and if they use God’s money for sinful aims, God will probably hold them accountable.”

I repented quite quickly because my grandma knows how to give a good gift, better than even me.

With all this said, I really struggle at the thought that any NNU alumni or supporter would even want to give money manipulatively or with ulterior motives.  I think the reality these types exist illustrates a spiritual failure in our congregations.  As a pastor, I note that we have not taught or modeled the giving of good, cheerful gifts so we create situations that put unbelievable pressure on the administrations of our universities.

May we all do better, including myself.

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