Posts Tagged ‘Giving’

HomelessIt is the most natural thing in the world to be self-centered – from the time we enter the world completely dependent on others (yet focused only on our needs), to the time we draw our final breath (most likely still clinging to what we want). It’s natural. But not everything natural is good.

As I observe the world around me this Christmas season, I see the usual uptick in charitable activity – bells ringing beside buckets of coins at store entrances, more volunteers than any of the other 11 months of the year at homeless shelters and elsewhere, Christmas baskets given for the needy, and angel trees with names of those who can use a little boost from other generous, kind souls. That is all good, and I am grateful for giving hearts that make a positive difference in the lives of others at any time of the year, but especially around Thanksgiving and Christmas.

You and I both probably know some remarkable people who live their lives as models of generosity – not just during December, but year-round. It’s just the kind of people they are. Some that come to my mind are my parents and grandparents and some dear souls I’ve known from churches I’ve been a part of through the years. I like to think I’m the giving type, but compared to some others I’ve seen in my life, I know I have a long way to go.

It’s no easy transition to make from that perfectly natural self-centeredness to one that takes more pleasure in focusing on others. Consider just a few scenarios that illustrate what I mean…

  • Someone is talking to you with the expectation that you are listening, but your mind is wandering about other things, perhaps about what you’re about to say, but maybe about things far removed from the conversation. How do you shift your attention back to the one talking?
  • You’re approached on the street by someone asking for spare change, but you’re in a hurry, you don’t want to get involved, you don’t have any change or small bills, and you don’t want to part with the larger bills you just got from the ATM. Do you get involved or just shake your head “no” and walk away?
  • Your child or grandchild approaches you with something he/she wants to do for a few minutes, but you have a long list of things you were hoping to get done before bed. What do you do?
  • A coworker asks for help with a project and your own to-do list is just as long for work as it is for home, but you’re the best person to help. Will you put in those overtime hours to help others succeed and not just get your own work done?
  • Your spouse has had a hard day or week and could use some tender loving care. Do you come through or do you just carry on as usual?

Being other-centered isn’t natural. In fact, it’s hard. Very hard. It takes time. It’s inconvenient. It costs you something – effort, time, money, emotions. But it’s worth the price. It makes us more of who we were put on this earth to be. It makes a real difference in the lives of others, leaving our world a little better than we found it.

Moving toward other-centeredness is a continuous effort. We won’t arrive at the final destination this side of heaven, but it behooves us to keep working at it.

How other-centered are you? What can you do today to move one small step in that direction?

A Life Well Lived

Posted: December 16, 2013 in Behavior
Tags: , , , ,

A-Life-Well-LivedI attended the funeral today for a wonderful, sweet, giving, godly, 94-year-old woman from my church. Her equally kind and faithful husband preceded her in death several years ago. I greatly admire their whole family – their closeness, example, faith, and their love for each other.

As I sat in the service today and listened, remembering interactions in years past with this great couple, it struck me that every remembrance – every remembrance without exception – of this man and woman is a good one. Never did I see anything but love and graciousness from either of them. Never did I hear an unkind word from their lips. In life they were a model for others to emulate, and in death their memory is a challenge to be a better person.

When people like these two saints pass from this life to the next, it serves as a reminder that lives can be well lived, but to do so is the exception rather than the rule. Each of us considers himself good, but to whom do we compare ourselves? We can always find others whose behavior is less admirable in some ways than our own, leaving ourselves with an inflated sense of goodness and pride. But it is when we look to those rare, exceptional models that we realize how far we have to go to become all that we might.

Today I am thankful for these two examples of grace and faith, for their lives well lived, and for the challenge their example is to others, including me. May the God who transformed them do the same in all his children.

PieSome of the best days of my life – past and present – are days spent with my parents on their farm in Winchester, Kentucky. We moved there when I was in sixth grade. I live about 90 miles away, so at best I get there once a month to spend a day. It is always a good day when I’m there. I should be there far more often than I am.

I’m writing this at the end of the day September 30th – my dad’s 79th birthday. I wish you could know my dad. He’s a great, great man which is only fitting since he’s been married for 60 years to a wonderful woman, my mom. They are kind, generous, funny, active, hard-working, salt-of-the-earth people. If you are a guest in their home, you will be treated right. You will definitely be fed until you just have to refuse any more.

A couple of weeks ago I spent a day of my vacation there. As expected, the food was plenteous, but I knew that would be the case. I was somewhat prepared by eating light the day before the trip. The first meal came within a couple hours of arriving. Various snacks and bottomless Ale-8s to drink were readily available between meals. Evening saw another full meal with bigger portions than anyone ever really needs.

At the end of the evening meal, Dad cut me a piece of pie. Well, it was more like 2-3 pieces of pie – a Dad-sized portion. When he put it in front of me, I remarked, “That’s crazy!” I won’t forget his response as he walked away: “That’s not crazy. That’s love.” And he’s right.

We all have our ways of showing love for others. One of the precious lessons of life is to be able to recognize such love in whatever form it takes when it comes your way. We are different in how we express our feelings for others. Some are more verbal than others. Some do little acts of kindness. Some do periodic big things for those they love. Many do a combo of all the above. Whatever unique ways your loved ones have of showing love, I hope you recognize it when demonstrated, and I hope you return it in a way they recognize as well.

Some ways of showing love may not make a lot of sense to others, but that’s OK. They only have to make sense to the ones giving and receiving it.

That’s not crazy. That’s love.

MoneyI heard with disgust this week of yet another celebrity spending an exorbitant amount of money on a wedding, this time $7 million.  While that is only a drop in the bucket compared to the estimated $34 – $70 million spent for Prince William and Kate Middleton to wed last year, it is still grotesquely obscene in my opinion to waste so much on so few for so short a time.  In fact, I even find the average wedding cost of $28,427 to also be absurd.

This post, however, is not a rant about wedding costs.  I could just as easily be talking about buying very expensive cars, homes far larger than is needed or a host of other items.  The things purchased are not the point.  My point is about wise, responsible use of resources, and nobody can convince me that such extravagance is ever appropriate regardless of the occasion or who is involved.

Some will surely retort, “But it’s my money and I can spend it however I want!”  That, my friends, is where I beg to differ.

I realize that not everyone reading this post shares my Christian beliefs, so understand that my objection stems from my faith and my understanding of biblical stewardship.  All that we are and all that we have belongs to God.  “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).  We do not own anything – a point proven when we breathe our last breath and see just how much we get to take with us to the life to come (zero).  We are stewards of what is entrusted to us for as long as God gives us life and breath, and it is our responsibility to manage what he has entrusted to us responsibly.

There are just too many needs in the world for those who have much to recklessly spend what they wrongly consider to be “their” money any way they wish.  There are untold numbers of people with no homes, no food, inadequate opportunities for work, little education, and other life-limiting circumstances that can be changed if others will only do so.  And, for my fellow Christians concerned about the spread of the gospel, that isn’t going to happen if we spend extravagantly on ourselves.

This is not about the world’s 1 percenters being bad or evil because they have achieved great financial success.  It is about the responsibility of each of us to be a steward of what God has given us, regardless of how large or small that amount may be.  (By the way, if you live in the United States, you’re pretty much in the world’s top 1% economically, so stop pointing the finger at the top 1% of that top 1% since you’re in the world’s top 1% yourself.)

My views on this are not politically motivated and, in fact, I am a very conservative person with strong Libertarian leanings politically.  For me to in any way suggest that what people earn is not their own seems to go against the grain of my political core.  The difference, however, is that there is a huge distinction between (a) the government taking from the “haves” and giving to the “have nots,” and (b) individuals voluntarily sacrificing their own opportunities for extravagance in order to extend a helping hand to others and make a positive difference in the world.  The latter is what I believe people with a healthy, biblical sense of stewardship will willingly do in a desire to love God and other people more than themselves.

It’s been almost a year and a half since I went to China and experienced the joy of worshiping with fellow believers who do not earn in a lifetime what I earn in a year.  Yet, they were incredibly generous, gracious and giving, going out of their way to prepare wonderful meals for us and hosting us in ways far better than we deserved.  I recall the impact of being able to distribute Bibles to fellow believers there who would otherwise never be able to afford one.  I was humbled when told that the average Bible would be shared by five people and would likely be instrumental in three of those five coming to the faith.  The cost of those Bibles?  About $2-3 each.

So when I see a wedding that costs $7 million, I translate that in my mind to about 3 million Bibles shared by 15 million people with maybe 9 million coming to faith from the impact of God’s Word.  On the scale of my mind I see an extravagant event on one side of the scale (whether it’s a $7 million wedding or buying a $5 cup of coffee) and an eternal change in someone’s life on the other side of the scale, and I can’t help but mourn at the loss of potentially life-changing good that could be done if and when we value others more than ourselves.

I’m not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone.  I have my own ways I spend money that I could easily do without – from eating out to my tech toys to driving to work when I could take the bus, etc.  Growing in my understanding of stewardship is an ongoing challenge.  For example, last year after the China trip, I cut back our cable subscription to the bare minimum $15/month package that gets us 21 channels.  I could do without that, too, of course, if I chose.  I stopped buying $100 pairs of running shoes in favor of $30 pairs from Walmart that last just as long and feel every bit as comfortable.  Between my wife’s 1996 van and my 2001 car, we’re approaching 400,000 miles between them.  We’re not model stewards by any stretch, but at least we’re aware of the biblical model and attempt to live reasonably as people who believe that “our possessions” really aren’t ours – they are God’s, and we are to manage them responsibly while giving generously and sacrificially to others and for the work of God’s kingdom.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church, “I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.  I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound.  In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:11b-13).  It seems to me that the mistaken culture of greed, hoarding and extravagance must be called out, not because it is uneven distribution or because everyone is entitled to equal amounts of possessions (they aren’t), but because a lifestyle of extravagance and self-centeredness is unscriptural.

“But it’s my money and I can spend it however I want!”  No, it isn’t yours or mine.  It is God’s.  You and I are stewards of it for a short while, and we will all give an account to him one day for how we managed it.

The Millennials

If you’d like to better understand the Millennial generation, also known as Gen Y – those born approximately between the years 1980 and 2000 – then I suggest you read the book The Millennials: Connecting to America’s Largest Generation by Thom Rainer and his son Jess Rainer.  Thom is a Baby Boomer while Jess is a Millennial.  I admire the collaborative effort they put forth in writing the book.

But before I say more about the book, let me explain a few reasons for my interest and possible bias toward both the generation and the book.

First, I”m a 56-year-old Baby Boomer with two sons who are Millennials born in 1980 and 1983.  I spent a number of years doing college ministry seven days a week with Millennials.  I wore with pride (and still do) the name “Blue” assigned to me by some of those college students, a name taken from the old dude who hung out with the younger crowd in the movie Old School (whose manager in real life was, coincidentally, named Jeff Ross).  Part of my inclination to the Millennial generation may just be some of the values we tend to share in spite of the age difference, although we certainly differ in some significant ways, especially theologically.  Still, for whatever reasons, I like this generation a lot and I enjoy being with them.

One reason I am predisposed to appreciate the book is because Thom is an acquaintance from having attended seminary with him in the 1980s.  We weren’t in the same degree program and didn’t hang out together, but my wife typed up Thom’s PhD dissertation in those days with our suitcase-sized, 30 pound, cutting edge IBM “Portable” PC.  But, I digress.

For the reasons above as well as the relevance of the topic to my work and church, I was eager to read the book.

A word of background about the authors… Thom is now president and CEO of Lifeway Christian Resources and has been highly involved in research on many subjects in his current and previous roles.  He has written numerous books and is well respected, particularly in the evangelical Christian denomination we have both served for decades.  Co-author son Jess Rainer is also in Christian ministry.  While they do not hide (nor should they) their evangelical Christian perspective in the book, they go above and beyond to objectively analyze the research results of the 1200 Millennials studied.  The group consisted of Millennials born between 1980 and 1991 – older Millennials.  The results can be trusted as accurate for the population studied and any speculation that groups interviewed or results published are skewed to support a predetermined agenda on the part of the authors would be woefully incorrect.

It is no surprise that generations as a whole take on different characteristics than previous generations.  Everyone reading this post can likely contrast his/her generation with that of their parents or grandparents, identifying broad, generally correct differences.  At the same time, it is obviously wrong to assume that all members of any generation are alike in any, much less all, areas of study.  I only need to spend a little time with my Baby Boomer peers to realize that we run the gamut of beliefs, values, motivations, and lifestyles.  The same can be said for Millennials.  There is also truth, though, in the fact that patterns and trends emerge when studying generations.  One characteristic that may have been true for 60% of Boomers might only be true for 20% of Millennials, for example.  It is important to keep these big-picture realities in mind when reading the book.  It is vital to resist the temptation to paint all Millennials with the same brush just as it would be wrong to do the same with Boomers or any other generation.

That said, what about the contents of the book itself?  Glad you asked.

Given the study of 1200 Millennials, the book addresses a variety of topics in its eleven chapters, beginning with an introduction to the generation.  The first chapter, “Meet the Millennials,” sets the stage with some quick claims about the majority of Millennials who now make up the largest generation in America, surpassing Baby Boomers (those born between 1946 and 1964) in quantity.  These general characteristics of Millennials include:

  • They are the most educated generation in American history.
  • They are marrying much later in life, if at all.
  • 65% of them cohabit prior to marriage, compared to just 10% in the 1960s.
  • They are a more diverse group than previous generations with minorities making up 40% of the total.  This diversity is assumed, expected, and valued.
  • They want to make a difference in the world, not focusing as much on self as on how they can make that difference.  They are impatient with people or institutions that impose what they consider to be unnecessary barriers to positive change.
  • They are a hopeful generation.
  • They do not define greatness as other generations might.
  • They are very relational, typically having strong ties with friends and family, including their parents whose advice they seek and respect.
  • They are willing and able learners, eager to have mentors.
  • They look to religion much less than previous generations.  While a majority claim to be “spiritual,” a very small minority consider any type of spirituality really important in their lives.
  • They are not workaholics.  They seek a better work-life balance than their predecessors.
  • They are “green” in that they think and act intentionally with environmental concerns, though not to the extremes some may imagine.
  • They are communicators anytime, anywhere, with 70% saying the cell phone is vital to their lives.  Texting is their primary means of communication.
  • They are financially confused and tend to turn toward the government for help.

Given the opening overview points above, the remaining chapters then do a deeper dive into these characteristics, sharing the research results and sprinkling the chapters with a generous number of quotes and anecdotes from the interviews.  Subsequent chapters focus on a Millennial’s perspective, family, openness and diversity, motivation, the workplace, their role as mediators, their connection with media, money, religion, and then a final chapter geared toward the church and how it needs to respond to this generation.  A postscript section summarizes many of the book’s findings and challenges the reader to be thoughtful and intentional in working with Millennials.

I found the book to be very worthwhile, informative from a research perspective, unbiased in its analysis of data, carefully written so as not to dwell to a mind-numbing degree on research numbers, and for me very practical in that my workplace has a growing population of Millennials and my church wishes it did.  Since the book was published in 2011, some of the stats such as the number of subscribers to social networks will jump out as very outdated, but there is no way around that in printed publications that have been around even one year, much less two, especially given the time involved between research and publication.

There is no shortage of articles and resources related to Millennials.  A Google search will yield more than anyone could read in a lifetime.  In just the past few days, my personal, normal, daily routine of looking at resources from people I follow on Twitter and elsewhere has produced the following resources with no search effort on my part:

My generation of Boomers is large, of course, but we’re now entering retirement at the rate of 10,000 Boomers per day while the even larger Millennial generation is making up more and more of the workforce.  Yes, Boomers will probably be able to go to their grave watching reruns of Andy Griffith, M.A.S.H. and other staples of their earlier years.  We’ll be able to find radio stations with songs from our youth, toys we grew up with, and more because there are still enough of us around to demand them.  We’ll be self-centered enough to keep thinking the world revolves around us even when it doesn’t.  But it is critical that those of all generations understand, get connected with, and learn to live, work, play, serve, and (maybe) worship with Millennials.  Reading this book will be a good start.

As Thom Rainer and Jess Rainer write in their closing words:

“Are we ready for the Millennials?
We better be ready.
They are already here.
Here come the Millennials!”

I, for one, am glad.