In our adult Bible class Sunday, we were studying 1 Corinthians, specifically Paul's instruction to the churches in Corinth and Macedonia. The two churches were quite different--one parish was more wealthy than the other. Paul took this opportunity to tell the "richer" church that they should learn how to give more generously like the "poorer" church. This started a discussion amoungst members of the class, but especially by two men who had been born into poverty (in this case, Africa and India) and then had moved to Hong Kong. Both of these men said that when they were poor and had to literally rely on God for food and other daily needs, sharing with those around them and giving to the church was not difficult, in fact, everyone just lived this way and by in large they were quite happy. Now that they have had some manner of success, living in Hong Kong making good money, they struggle more with tithing because there are so many other bills to pay and families to care for. Why is it harder to trust God when He blesses us with more, they wonder? And yet neither of them think the answer is moving their families back into poverty.
While we were on our trip over Christmas, our family, kids included, couldn't help but feel the harsh contrast of the cushy life on a cruise ship and the grinding poverty in the countries we were visiting. During the trip, as a family we were reading the book Crazy Love, by Francis Chan, (great book, by the way), and he too was stressing how hard it is to really love God when materialism gets in the way. As I have reflected on all of these thoughts and events lately, I 'd like to share some observations.
I have noticed that several friends I have who were born poor in countries where severe poverty is still common place (India, Vietnam, Africa) don't have negative attitudes toward the wealthy or the poor that Americans tend to have. They don't feel all this guilt now that they have more. They also don't think that if wealthy people just stopped being wealthy,somehow the poor would suddenly have "enough." Indeed, they accept that fact that there really will always be poor people. They also tend to focus on the spiritual needs of the poor over the physical needs, emphasizing the importance of the soul, all the while sharing what they have. They innately understand that overall the world is a better place today than it was before industrialism. There are medical breakthroughs, well-digging equipment, and other technolgy that has changed lives for the better, and it all happened because someone, somewhere had the money to create it. One friend I know who preaches around the world to some of the poorest relies on some of his richest friends to get there. He doesn't begrudge them their money for a second and knows that God has blessed them so that they can bless others, including him.
I, on the other hand, look at all I have and feel all this guilt. I know I am not alone on this. How much is too much? What do I give and what do I keep? Am I sinning if I am living comfortably when so many don't even have clean water and basic food? What does comfortable mean? There is a big movement afoot right now amongst evangelicals to "live like Jesus;" to sell their stuff, give up their good job, make less and give all but their basic necessities to the poor. While I think you should most certainly do this if God convicts you to do so, I wonder if that is really the only answer. If everyone becomes destitute, will the world be better off? One man in Chan's congregation sold his McMansion, gave up his lucrative job, and moved in with his parents. Really?? Why is it fine for Mom and Dad to work to support you, but not to support yourself? Hmmm? Kids, take note: ask your parents for their input before you decide that this is what God wants!!
But for me? No real answers, just thoughts. You only have to read the "about me" section to know that making a lot of money has never really held much appeal to me, and yet I still struggle in finding a proper balance. Mike and I have seen the blessing of the Lord in so many ways as we have commited our financial lives to Him over the last 20 years. It will be interesting to see how He leads over the next 20.
I'm curious to hear your thoughts. I've talked to enough people to know that I am not alone...