Jesus, Marriage, Personal Finance, Religion

The Supernatural Experience of Giving

In Matthew 26:11, Jesus makes a profound statement: “For you always have the poor with you, but you will not always have me.” (ESV)

I have been thinking recently about the intent of his statement. Was it a guarantee that no matter what happens and no matter our good intentions, poverty would always exist? Was it simply an invitation to those present to hang out with Jesus instead of poor people? Or was it a description of the way things are and, digging deeper, a subtle invitation to help change it, to live in light of a greater reality?

I am having trouble finding anything written by frugality bloggers on the subject of giving. From a couple brief searches on a few well-read blogs, I found a couple bloggers who wrote about doing a bit of charitable giving during the holiday season. I saw one blog post that mentioned giving around $2,000 over the course of a year. I don’t think it’s that people don’t give … just that there isn’t as much written about making regular giving part of your monthly budget.

I don’t know where everyone stands in terms of faith, but our Christian faith compels us to give generously. The standard is about 10 percent of our income, a principle based on the Old Testament idea of tithing. The 10 percent figure denoted a sense of ownership, a sort of acknowledgement that one’s income (or harvest?) was the result of divine action.

I don’t think there is a hard and fast amount one should give, but I do believe that there is something completely supernatural about giving away that which you earned. I also think 10 percent is a good baseline, though I acknowledge that not everyone will reach it. It’s completely countercultural to not spend every dollar you earn, but to flat out give it away empowers you in a new way. It frees you from the hold money has on you, from the feeling that your funds control you rather than the other way around. Giving also calms the fear that arises when you think about your financial state of being, especially when you are in debt.

When we were first married and more than $30,000 in credit card debt, we still gave regularly to our church and sponsored a child in a less developed country. Some months, we may have neglected our tithing (especially if we didn’t make it to church that first week of the month), but on the whole, it has been a regular part of our financial lives since the beginning of life together.

There are certainly folks out there who feel like every dollar you have beyond the bare minimum you need to survive should be going toward debt or savings to keep you out of debt. Others seem to think that charitable giving should come in if and when you have met your own family’s needs and then that such giving seems to be sort of a logical means to an end (i.e. a tax write-off or perhaps some sort of emotional payoff, almost as if altruism is selfishly motivated).

I can’t speak to anyone else’s motivations, but I can share that for us giving is a necessary act that arises from living in light of a different and truer reality. Christianity is not only about personal redemption from a sinful state of being but also about redeeming a broken world. Generosity is part of living under the reign of Christ.

This year, I want to increase our charitable giving. We currently give 10 percent away. The majority of that money goes to our church, but we also sponsor a child through Compassion International (child sponsorship has a proven track record of effectiveness in changing a person’s life) and we support a friend who is a campus ministry leader at the University of Texas at Dallas where Brandon went to college. Those things are our baseline. Brandon got a raise and he’ll begin seeing that increased income this month, so I want us to adjust the baseline amount accordingly and then increase our monthly giving.

Jesus, Marriage

For richer or poorer

Today, Brandon called me at work to remind me of something that happened shortly before we were married. He was listening to the radio in the car this afternoon and there was a story on about Panera Bread Company. It brought back a memory of us going to eat dinner one night when we were newly engaged. Looking back, it’s hilarious and really it just warms my heart to think of how far the Lord has brought us in our marriage, but at the time, it was so stressful!

Since we didn’t live together or live that close to one another, we continued to date all through our engagement. We had to get creative with how we spent our time. Most of our dates consisted of Taco Bell, but for Christmas, Brandon received a Panera gift card. Since we didn’t have much money, we saved gift cards for nice dates. We still do, in fact. So, we went to Panera for dinner one night. We figured out that soup in a bread bowl was the cheapest thing we could each get that would still suffice for dinner and be almost completely covered by the $10 gift card we had. Brandon ordered potato soup, and I ordered vegetable. Sadly, when our dinner arrived at the table, the broth from the vegetable soup had soaked into the bread rendering it inedible. I had about half the soup that Brandon received. He felt so sorry for me that he insisted on ordering me something else, but I said no because I knew we couldn’t afford it.

So, shortly after Brandon and I got together, we had a conversation about debt. We were already on a path toward marriage. We discussed getting married after a month. We were engaged in two months and 23 days. Sometime between discussing marriage and actually getting engaged, I asked Brandon a really uncomfortable question. I noticed that when we went out, he made a lot of charges on his American Express card. I come from a family that has struggled financially, and I had watched my parents use consumer credit in a negative way for many years. It didn’t sit well with me that he used his credit card so often unless he paid it off each month. So, I asked.

It was a really painful conversation. I wasn’t without fault; I also misused credit cards. However, Brandon really did not want to admit to me the level of consumer debt he had. It took a full 24 hours for the truth to come out and for both of us to admit how much credit card debt we had between the two of us. Together, we had accumulated around $30,000 in consumer debt prior to marriage. That’s why our tragic dinner date at Panera was so sad. We wanted to go on a date but we couldn’t afford anything fancy. We were being so careful to save gift cards for date nights and to use coupons when we could to save on dates (remember, we weren’t married yet), but watching me eat a half a soggy bread bowl full of mushy vegetables was more than Brandon could handle. He was wracked with guilt because I was still kind of hungry and because he had so much debt. Today, he reminded me of that dinner.

Looking back, I see so clearly how the Lord has worked in our marriage to bring us closer to one another. I told my Bible study group last week that when I look back on the first year of our marriage and how the Lord helped us pay off our consumer debt, the math doesn’t even make sense to me. Our fated date at Panera was sometime in February or March of 2008, just a few weeks after we got engaged. We got married in October. I lost my job in November and was unemployed for a month. But, by our first anniversary in October 2009, we had paid off all our debt. I’m still not sure how it happened and have no explanation for it other than Jesus. It was also around this time that we heard Matt Chandler preach a sermon from Luke 10 that included our verse, Luke 10:42. Again and again, the Lord reminded us that he is our good portion.

I guess I don’t have too much reflection on this topic. Just the sweetness of the memory. It’s sweet to me that we were so saddened by a lousy bowl of soup. That bowl of soup made us feel so poor, but it also gave us another small opportunity to lean into each other and into the Lord’s provision to care for us. It’s hilarious now that we were so sad about the soup and about the debt because of how far we’ve come and how much closer we are today than we were then.

If you have ever struggled with financial sin, you know it is not easy to fully rely on God to care for you. You begin to see security in the amount of money you have in your bank account. There is a fine line to walk between hoarding and being a good steward of the resources God has given you. We still walk that line, occasionally worrying about finances even though he has given us so much and helped us overcome our financial sin. It’s difficult to not take pride in the fact that we paid off all that debt or to find a sense of security in the bank account balance. God continues to remind us that HE is taking care of us rather than the other way around.  If this is your issue, know that God is glorified when we are satisfied in his provision and care.

I am so grateful. Thanks be to God.

Jesus

Maundy Thursday

Today is Maundy Thursday. As such, it’s the day we remember Jesus’ washing His disciples’ feet and instituting a new commandment (from the Latin: mandatum) to love one another. This means it’s also a great time to share what I observe to be a little bit of comedy in Scripture, evidence (at least to me) that our Lord has an excellent sense of humor.

John 13: 9-10: “Simon Peter said to him, ‘Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” Jesus said to him, ‘The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except his feet, but is completely clean. And you are clean, not not every one of you.”

I realize Jesus was using this short exchange to subtly imply that he knew who would betray him (and this is where the rational comes from that Jesus washed Judas’ feet, too, since no where does it say Jesus washed all the disciples’ feet except Judas).

I love what Matthew Henry’s commentary says about the whole passage: “Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, that he might teach us to think nothing below us, wherein we may promote God’s glory, and the good of our brethren.” In his response, Jesus shows Peter and the others present (and us by extension) that those who truly desire to be cleansed will be cleansed by calling Jesus Lord.

But! I also think our Lord was gently teasing his friend Peter, saying basically, “Dude, you’ve already had a bath and don’t need another one.” And these glimpses of his humanity make me love him all the more.