Saturday, January 25, 2014

Generous for God

Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give. 

--  Matthew 10:8

It's the type of feel-good story that renews our faith in humanity. At least a little bit.

According to a recent article in the Lincoln (Nebraska) Journal Star newspaper, two men entered a local Cracker Barrel restaurant. They then requested the grumpiest server because they wanted to make him or her laugh. The hostess replied that there were no unhappy employees there, so she seated the gentlemen with the happiest one of them all.

The men proceeded to ask their 18-year-old server Tip(Abigail) a series of personal questions as they ate their meals. And what she told them was eye-opening. It turns out that after her mother had years earlier suffered a brain injury in a car accident, Abigail and her siblings were forced to spend years in abusive foster homes. (Their birth-father was an unfit parent and their foster-father is still in prison today.) And while her past was bleak, Abigail's future was on hold because she didn't have enough money to pay her second semester tuition at Trinity Bible College in North Dakota.

Intrigued by her upbeat demeanor, Abigail's customers asked her how she could be so happy in the face of such adversity.

"God has blessed me with a lot of things," she explained. "I'm doing good. That's all that matters to me."

After they finished their meal, one of the diners revealed to Abigail that he, too, once attended Trinity. He then proceeded to write three checks: one to the college for $5,000 (Abigail's tuition), another for $1,000 (for anything Abigail wanted) and another for $100 (a tip to split with the other Cracker Barrel server). It was a remarkable demonstration of generosity.

Celebrity billionaire Donald Trump says that how we treat waiters and waitresses reveals a lot about our character. His advice is simple: "Don't forget to leave a big tip." And there's considerable biblical support behind it. As Christ-followers, our faith grows as we continue to learn God's ways for living in the world and changing it for His Kingdom. It turns out that generosity is one of those remarkable character traits that we should acquire and put into action along the way. This is particularly relevant since we in 21st Century America are all so very rich--at least when compared to most of the planet's population. According to recent data from the World Bank, 1.4 billion people in the developing world (about 25%) live on less than $1.25 a day!

"Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment," the Apostle Paul once instructed his protégé, Timothy. "Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share."

Centuries after Paul was inspired to write those words, Christ-followers continue to be called to be generous with the time, talents and possessions that God gives them. After all, our generosity brings joy to others because we're thinking more about the recipient than ourselves. What's more, our generosity brings joy to God. That's because we become more like Him when we're rich toward others.

And why not? After all, God is the ultimate role model for generosity: 

For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son...

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