Time published an encouraging article for Americans at the turn of the new year. Despite all of the upcoming 2012 stress (elections and economy woes), it reports that our country is more generous than we may realize. In a worldwide charitable giving study, the U.S. ranked #1 in giving personal money and time to organizations and strangers.
Article author, Elaine Chao wrote,
The ranking cannot be dismissed as simply to be expected of the richest nation. The Foundation’s survey report concluded that ‘the countries whose populations are the most likely to give are not necessarily the world’s most affluent.’ Of the top 20 nations in giving, only five are in the top 20 of economic wealth.
In other words, the amount of cash in your pocket doesn’t determine your ability to give. Although the U.S. may be an abundantly wealthy nation, Americans are personally feeling the effects of a harsh economy. Regardless of their situation, though, they have continued to bless others. Yes, the “giving season” is considered over, but don’t let the spirit of charity die in our country. Maybe a few of us are short on cash or short on luck, but we all have something to contribute. Do you have time or talents to give?
C.S. Lewis said,
No one can settle how much we ought to give. The safe rule is to give more than we can spare.
Make the whole 2012 year your season to give! Think of someone you can bless today.
Neither one of my thumbs is green. I’m horrible at gardening, and I despise it like I would an arch nemesis. No, it isn’t relaxing to crawl about on all fours and pull up weeds. No, it’s isn’t rewarding to water my plants and watch them blossom for three weeks. No, it isn’t invigorating to spray chemicals into the ground while mosquitoes suck my blood. There is no satisfaction in this work for me.
So, I have neglected my garden. At first, my negligence wasn’t noticeable- just a few baby weeds and dead leaves here and there. Then, the baby weeds grew into monstrous prickly plants, and the dead leaves became dead flowers that became an entire graveyard of plants. Trust me, it’s a mess. I guess you could say when I look at my neighbor’s perfect garden I’m green with envy.
We’ve all heard that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, yet we’re programmed to believe the opposite. The concept of the American dream, which emphasizes accumulating possessions to attain happiness, seems to be the norm. We’re told with big dreams and hard work there is no limit to what we can achieve. For many Americans, success is measured by the house they live in or the car they drive. But, what about Christians? Should a follower of Christ be defined by their possessions?
In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus said,
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
Wow! Jesus’ words seem to contradict the dream we’ve been taught. I’m not saying it’s a sin to desire a comfortable life for your family, but an accumulation of “stuff” cannot fill voids in our lives, and it certainly cannot give us an eternal life.
Ever notice how Jesus talked about the poor all the time? Jesus understood our humanity. He knew that we place too much value on transitory things. That’s probably why he talked about the poor so much. According to the American Dream, the poor can often be an example of failure. But Jesus points to the poor to educate those seemingly more fortunate. If we all had less to lose, maybe we’d be more eager to follow Jesus. After all Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:21 that
‘…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
Depending on the location of your treasure, that can hurt. Take a minute to do inventory of your treasure. Is your heart on Earth with things that will pass away, or in Heaven with Jesus who will reign forever? God spent time searching out your heart, so search for your treasure, and turn your heart back towards him.
It doesn’t take a sociologist to make an assumption about society. Wherever you were raised or currently reside has a major effect on your worldview. I live in Elizabeth City, North Carolina: a slow-moving harbor town whose epicenter of gravity boasts a Wal-Mart and a small university (honorable mention: the new Chick-fil-A). However, before I moved to this area around the end of my high school career, I lived on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
This area is what I’d call upper middle class suburbia where my friend’s moms were trophy wives, and our neighbor down the street had a six-car garage. Still, our neighborhood was older and not as kept as the newer subdivisions and gated communities. Our house was built-in the 60’s when our orange carpet and mismatched wallpaper was apparently popular. We always joked that we lived in the “ghetto” part of town, which is telling since our neighbor had such a palatial garage. In a nutshell, our home’s cosmetic blast from the past was the most exposure our neighbors ever got to the needy. In fact, whatever condition families were in, they were expected to keep up the persona of “Oh, I’m great! How are you, Mr. Jones?” Therefore, when conversations arose about the less fortunate I was privy to such phrases as,
Don’t give a homeless person money, because he’ll spend it on drugs and alcohol.
All those people on welfare are just trying to live off of the government!
If those people stopped being so lazy and got a job, they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in now.
I still hear this in Elizabeth City. You don’t have to shop on Rodeo Drive to have this misconception, but I think it’s time we shift our worldview a little bit. Here’s something I found very interesting about all those “lazy” people on welfare.
The Institute for Social Research took a sample of 5,000 families who used some type of federal assistance and traced what happened to them over the span of 10 years. This study has been ongoing since 1968, and new families are chosen every 10 years to study.
The myth is that this welfare population doesn’t work and that they just live off of the government. The reality (and the conclusion from the study) is that the persistent welfare poor who rely solely on government assistance and continue to have generations of family on welfare is such a small percentage that an official percentage doesn’t even exist. So, what many think is the majority is barely even the minority!
Less than 50% received some sort of welfare for a temporary time of one to two years (over the 10 year time frame) returning to self-sufficiency.
Over 50% work part-time or full-time while receiving government assistance.
I hope everyone is still with me. This means that the former perception of those on welfare alone is wrong. Many people are struggling in this economy to find jobs or are struggling to provide for their families on the income they receive. If they do go on welfare, the average time that they stay on welfare is only one to two years.
Hopefully, this makes you stroke your chin for a second and think about the type of person who requires financial assistance. No matter where you’ve come from or where you are now in your life, it’s important not take everything you hear at face value. It’s easy to brush off those in need when you perceive them as shady con artists trying to scam the system. Start looking at that beggar on the street as your neighbor or that guy at the soup kitchen as your cousin. In this tough economy, it may be a little easier to do that.