Giving It All Away

I thought I would share the notes I prepared before leading my small group meeting last week. As usual we only made it a fraction of the way through the content I’d prepared. I’d much rather that happened than we ran out of things to say! This is not much more than some passages of scripture and some questions to discuss. Maybe you’ll find it useful in thinking through the subject yourself, or sharing with others.

It’s sometimes difficult to talk about money, even amongst friends. Why that should be is an interesting question in itself. To help us see things in a slightly different light, and to break the ice somewhat, a couple of days before we met I asked my friends to take a look at this web site: http://www.globalrichlist.com/

Does this put your financial situation into perspective?

Matthew 19:16-22 (NIVUK)

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?’ ‘Why do you ask me about what is good?’ Jesus replied. ‘There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.’ ‘Which ones?’ he enquired. Jesus replied, ‘“You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honour your father and mother,” and “love your neighbour as yourself.”’ ‘All these I have kept,’ the young man said. ‘What do I still lack?’ Jesus answered, ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’ When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

How would you react if God said these words to you?

Then I played a podcast called “Rejecting Riches” from the BBC World Service radio show “The Why Factor” – http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p02jhfpp which can also be downloaded from this page: http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/whyfactor (See 14 February 2015).

We spent the rest of the evening discussing issues raised by this programme. Some bullet points to comment on:

Alan Large – Lottery Winner

  • Didn’t need the money
  • It was too much – a curse – people calling from all over the world asking for handouts
  • Gave it all away to family and charities

Chen Shuchu – Taiwanese Vegetable Seller

  • Grateful for help given by others when she was young
  • Only spends a few dollars on herself
  • Gives the rest away

Chuck Feeney – Duty Free Shopping

  • “All you can really do is count it”
  • Will give away all his fortune before he dies (within 10 years)

John Pedley – Businessman / Christian

  • St Augustine “Find out what God has given you. Take what you need. The rest is required by others.”
  • Sold everything, moved to Uganda, built a health centre
  • Now runs a fruit farm, gives away 90% of profits to health and education projects
  • The futility of his rich life
  • Why does he do it? Not to redeem himself. Not to make himself feel better. Believes in a God of justice.

Other thoughts

  • The drowning child analogy (mosquito nets)
  • What are the rights and wrongs of playing the lottery? Do they change if you resolve to give away all your winnings to charity?
  • Tithing – is 10% too little, just right, or too much? What is in your heart when (if) you tithe?
  • How is your attitude to money affected by personal factors such as your age, work, and family situation?
  • Where does altruism come from? Biological imperatives? God? Both?

Acts 4:32-37 (NIVUK)

All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all that there was no needy person among them. For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need. Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Would you like to live like this? Is it even possible in modern society?

Acts 5:1-11 (NIVUK)

Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’ When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’ ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘that is the price.’ Peter said to her, ‘How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.

What is your response to this passage?

Ananias and Sapphira tried to deceive the apostles. How would events have turned out if they had been honest about what they were keeping?

A final thought:

1 Timothy 6:6-10 (NIVUK)

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

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Gavin Peacock Talks About His Faith

I don’t listen to BBC 5 Live very often. It’s a news and sport radio station in the UK, and I was only listening for traffic reports, so it was a pleasant surprise to hear this on the station last Friday night. It’s a short piece about ex-footballer Gavin Peacock, introduced by Dan Walker, and also featuring John Hartson and Jonathan Northcroft at the end.

 

I think all Christians will recognise parts of their own story in what Gavin says. He speaks very eloquently about the way Jesus changed his life. He ends with a reference to scripture, 1 Timothy 6:10,

For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Equally interesting is John Hartson’s brief testimony. When I first heard him use phrases like “you don’t have to be a church-goer” and “the big man upstairs,” I felt slightly uncomfortable, thinking “no, he’s got it wrong.” But no he hasn’t, because going to church certainly isn’t what saves us. And if using non-churchy language about “the big man” helps get the good news across to people who would otherwise be turned off by Christian talk, so much the better.

Use It or Lose It

When my shower gel most recently ran out, I decided not to buy another bottle.

No, I wasn’t embarking on a pungent new ‘back to basics’ personal hygiene routine. Instead I started using the many mini-bottles of shower gel that I’ve picked up from hotels over the years.

The purpose of this post isn’t to discuss the morality of taking home ‘consumables’ from hotel rooms – that question has been dealt with quite thoroughly already, right here. The simple fact is that I had a lot of spare toiletries that I was holding onto ostensibly for an ‘emergency’, but in reality they were just taking up storage space.

I’ve always had a weakness for hoarding. In my teens I subscribed to news magazines like Time, Newsweek and The Economist, and I held on to back issues. I thought that one day the articles in there would provide fantastic background material for my creative pursuits – writing songs, short stories or novels. This was before the Internet made research rather less challenging than it used to be.

Well a time came when I moved house and didn’t have room for all those magazines, so I reluctantly took them to the city’s waste disposal centre. I don’t think they even had recycling facilities back then, so hundreds of magazines probably ended up as landfill.

I’ve had similar clear-outs over the years – a lot of CDs, a few clothes, and many little gadgets, tools and so on that might have one day come in useful. That day never came.

Every time I’ve disposed of, or given away, something I’ve hoarded, there’s been a small pang of regret just beforehand, and quite a heavy sigh of relief immediately afterwards. Almost like I’ve been released from invisible chains.

I could tell you a similar story about money, but that’s an interesting one that deserves its own post, so for now I’ll keep a hold on it. (Or is it keeping a hold on me?)

This morning after I’d finished my shower I thought about Job’s words (in Job 1:21),

Naked came I out of my mother’s womb,
and naked shall I return thither:
the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away;
blessed be the name of the Lord.

And it’s true that everything we hold on to physically can be taken away, by theft, by accident, or by natural disaster. And even if we hold on to it for the whole of our lives, as the saying goes “You can’t take it with you.”

As Paul wrote to Timothy (1 Timothy 6:6-10),

But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

The other scripture that came to mind as I was contemplating the shower gel was Jesus’ famous instruction in the sermon on the mount (Matthew 6:19-21),

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

It can be very difficult sometimes to let go of things, even when you’ve convinced yourself they have no real value. Whether it’s selfishness, or fear, or some other emotion or lie that has you bound, the pull can be powerfully persuasive, and the consequences terribly destructive.

I know I haven’t completely conquered my hoarding habit yet, but as in so many areas of weakness, I keep striving to improve. One day at a time. One step at a time. That’s the journey.