Giving and the Holidays

It’s about a week till Christmas and everyone is in a veritable frenzy of activity. A brief look at my Facebook newsfeed reveals the parties, shopping, exams, and other things people are trying to get done so they can enjoy themselves come that special day. One thing that is hardly ever mentioned however is the topic of money. And I’m not just talking about all the gifts that are being bought. This time of the year is vitally important for charities of all stripes who are desperately trying to meet their bottom lines before the year is out. People are most generous this time of year and of course you can make sure you get that nice tax break if you write your checks in time. As someone who has raised a small, if significant sum of money over the past three years to fund my time overseas as a missionary, I can say money is a dicey subject. As a Christian I think it is even tougher to deal with.

Firstly is the idea of tithing, that is giving ten percent of all you earn to some  type of charity, or commonly, your church. This rather basic Biblical, Christian concept of giving  is surprisingly not well known or ignored in my experience. I remember a few years back explaining tithing to a good non-Christian friend of mind. He couldn’t wrap his mind around it. 10%? of every paycheck? That is a lot of money! I forget what he thought might be appropriate but he was probably thinking that 1-3% would be more tolerable. Christians are expected to give a larger piece of their money than many in society. I realize many secular folk give much more than 10% and many Christians simply don’t tithe, but this has been a big part of my experience so it bears mentioning.

Secondly, is the number of people who are asking you for money. Around the time I started fundraising for my year in South Africa, it seemed like tons of my Christian friends were getting into short-term missions as well. It seemed like every month I was getting a new letter or email for someone’s trip. Some of these people were just acquaintances, but many were close and dear friends. I really wanted to support them all in doing something meaningful and also similar to what I was doing, but how? You can’t give money to everyone right?

Recently there was a good op-ed in the NY Times about giving and how to be careful of shady organizations that use more money for overhead than whatever their “work” is. Each major religion was singled out but it was especially troubling for me to see big “Christian” organizations misusing peoples funds.

My first major point of this entry is being charitable need not mean being stupid. Do your research. Give to organizations, ministries, and people who you trust and care for.  My second point might seem a bit contradictory but it hit home for me so I think it is worth noting. Best advice I ever recieved about giving is as follows,

“Just once give money away without forethought. Just do it without any planning or concern or care.”

Now again, I don’t think the point of this was to be stupid and unwise with your money. Supporting a bad charity or group does nobody any good. However I think the underlying point is incredibly sound. The work of charities, organizations, ministries, schools etc. is vastly more important than my own material well-being. To be able to live without a constant thought or care for money I think is an incredible blessing and very difficult for those of us living in the relative wealth and comfort of America. I know I am not there yet by a long shot. But if I could leave you with one thing this holiday season it is this: the money you give away will do far more good than any amount you keep over the course of your life.

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays and have a blessed New Year!


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