Most of us are familiar with Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol. We can recite backward and forward the tale of how the experiences of Ebenezer Scrooge with the three ghosts force him to confront his self-absorbed existence and cause him to realize that the true joy of life is serving others.We read the story of Scrooge’s “rebirth” with a sense of warm contentment that we’re not at all like him. We understand the “spirit of Christmas.” Or do we? While we spend days shopping for that special gift for someone “who has everything,” millions around the world don’t have a clue what Christmas is—they’ve never experienced the hope, love, or generosity that God brought to earth in Christ.
Let’s look at some facts:
According to the National Retail Federation, Americans spent over $486 billion on holiday shopping during November and December last year. That’s an average of over $1,600 per person!
By comparison, total charitable giving (which included the disaster relief funds for victims of the Indian Ocean tsunami, the Pakistan earthquake and the Gulf Coast hurricanes) for the entire U.S. population during 2005 was $260 billion (just under $900 per person), according to charitynavigator.org.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with the generosity we show toward our friends and family—the Christmas season is one of the few times of year when most Americans take time to think of others—but the numbers above give us a stinging perspective.
What would it look like if Christians stopped thinking about giving as a portion of their income and started seeing it as the purpose of their having an income in the first place? What if we, like the widow of Mark 12:42-44, gave not out of our wealth but out of gratitude for the immeasurable gift of life Christ bestowed on us?
It seems that the Western church has an acute case of myopia in this regard. We seem too often focused only on our own problems and programs instead of on the larger mission of Christ. I would submit that one of the surest ways to solve your church’s problems (financial or otherwise) is to stop worrying about them and focus instead on what God has called us all to do—making disciples, both at home and abroad. Giving away our comfort in order that the world may know Christ is perhaps the greatest form of generosity.
When church members in one of the wealthiest nations on earth are giving less than one nickel out of each dollar of their income to the church, and churches, in turn, give less than three per cent of what they receive to missions (according to Empty Tomb—a church research group), something has gone terribly wrong in our thinking.
Gene Edward Veith pointed out, in his October 22, 2005, column in World magazine, that if all the churchgoers in America actually gave ten per cent of their income to their churches, it would produce over $150 billion in additional offerings—substantially more than enough (by official estimates) to provide food, clean water, and a chance to hear the gospel to practically every person in the developing world!
When the church as a whole (there are many exceptions among local bodies) treats the making of disciples as only a thin slice of the ministerial pie rather than as the foundation of the church, are we saying “Bah! Humbug” to the unbelieving world? I would challenge you to take this message to your churches. Challenge them to begin to think biblically about their use of resources. Challenge them to see the great commission as our daily marching order instead of an abstract marketing goal. Challenge them to let this be the first Christmas that they really seek to understand what it means to give like Christ gave.
What better way to wish the world around us a truly “Merry Christmas” than to introduce them to the ultimate Gift-Giver by meeting their needs out of the bounty of His blessing?
By Justin Lonas