On a weekend in which we wrestled with sub-human acts across the globe, in the Good Shepherd Worship Center we focused on what it means to be a human being.
Specifically, I tried to make a connection between the feel good generosity event known as Operation Christmas Child and the less-sexy-though-more-notable habitual generosity known as … tithing.
Along the way, we learned a knew vocabulary word (which I suspect may double as a pick up line next weekend) and landed at this bottom line:
Giving is not your duty. It’s your design.
I realized not long ago that I have been doing something TOTALLY WRONG for my 25 years of ministry. Wrong approach, wrong tactics, wrong motivations, wrong results. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Other than THAT, I guess you could say my life has been a success! Except, of course, for being all wrong about a vital part of what it means to be a pastor and lead a church in all my years of being in ministry.
And what is this things I’ve done wrong all this time? Well I’m not going to tell you NOW! You gotta wait for it. But this experience we are about today with the Operation Christmas Child boxes and the children around the world really helps crystallize much of it for me. And on top of that, I get to teach you a brand new word. So it’s just a pile on of excitement before you get to find out how your preacher is such a decades-long screw up.
Because this really is shaping up to be a tremendous day. We’ve emphasized, we’ve reinforced, we’ve cajoled, we’ve promoted, and now you all will in all likelihood bring forth a massive, record-breaking harvest of shoe boxes. And we’ll send gifts and Gospel Opportunities to children all around the world. It’s the kind of large scale project at which the people of Good Shepherd excel and for which they (you!) have become known.
And it’s sort of funny. This project is the kind of generosity that is relatively easy to promote. I don’t sense a lot of reluctance on your part. The scope is vast, the people who will benefit are so vivid, and the impact is both radical and tangible. So again, instead of pushing you to do something you don’t want to do, as if it is your DUTY, we are instead making space available that allows you to do EXACTLY what you deeply and desperately want to do. And the awkward realization for me as been that when we approach . . . oh, I don’t know . . . the more routine, less sexy subject of regular giving, of church generosity, we/I take such a different approach. We very much appeal to your sense of duty. We tell jokes about how church treasurers are the strongest people on earth because they’re the ones who can squeeze juice out of a lemon when no one else can. We cajole, urge, persuade, guilt you into doing something that deep down you resent. And some of you who resist that approach, who enjoy this or any church without contributing to it or to God, shrug your shoulders and say, “well, I’m only human. I’m just a little greedy, I guess.” Which is EXACTLY THE WRONG understanding of what it means to be “only human.” And I realize my getting-it-wrong-for-25-years fuels that.
Now: to show you what I mean – and to finish my 25 year confession – I need to teach you a brand new word. You ready? It’s peri choresis (AV). This is a word the ancient fathers of the church – I’m talking about the hermits who lived in the desert and prayed 12 hours a day – used to talk about the Trinity (F, S, HS). Peri means AROUND and choresis means TO GIVE / TO MAKE ROOM & it was used back in the day to describe the eternally delicate balance within the Godhead (Muslims & Trinity?). That the F, S, & HS are in a state of perpetual generosity, constantly giving and making room for each other. It is a mutual dance, really, where the three-in-one God is always giving space to and making room for himself. It is a vivid way of picturing how God is a Community Of One. It is his own DNA embedded into himself. That God’s nature and God’s internal relationship is one of eternal, perpetual, and abundant giving.
Well, you’re likely thinking, “that was interesting – fascinating, actually – and thank you for teaching me that new word! I’m gonna use it at Coyote Joes! ‘Hey baby, wanna perichoresis with me?’ But what does this have to do with me? And what does it have to do with YOU, TD and the way you told us you were gonna tell us how you’d been wrong for so long?” Well that’s a great question!
Because I have a great answer. And it comes straight outta Scripture. Look at Genesis 1:26-27:
26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
It’s so interesting – in the other religions from the ANE, the gods created people to be their servants. People are there at the disposal of the gods. In Genesis – which is written on so many levels as an Oh yeah! to neighboring religions, people are created in God’s image and likeness. Being in the image of God (or, imago Dei) demarcates people from animals as we’re the only ones for which this is true. And the image of God here shows that we alone in all creation of the divine imprint on our soul. That in the realm of cosmos, when God wanted to reveal himself, he created the Grand Canyon, yes, but moreso he created you and me & said: “that’s what I’m like.”
We have God’s character embedded & designed into our DNA. It’s not imago Satan which means we would naturally be takers, deceivers, and schemers. It IS imago Dei, which means guess what?! The perichoresis that characterizes God defines us as well! We’ve been wired this way! This is who we are, who we long to be, and this is why I’ve been going at ministry wrong for the past 25 years! I’ve been appealing to your duty when I should have been lifting up your design. I’ve been trying to get you to overcome your reluctance when I should have reminded you of your genetics. I’ve been sowing obligation when I should have been arranging celebration. I’ve had you trudging when I should have had you dancing! Perichoresis is God’s nature which means that giving and generosity is the most natural thing about you as well!
Here’s the deal: Giving is not your duty. It’s your design. See, the reason this feel so good, so right today, with the OCC boxes is that for many of you this is the first time you’ve had a taste of who your really are in years. It may be the first time in your entire life. You’ve kept your true nature hidden all these years, locked up, out of sight, obscured. Maybe by my teaching in which I’ve encouraged you to grit your teeth and overcome your natural reluctance to give and just to do it anyway. I now know: hogwash! You don’t have a natural aversion to giving! You have a natural attraction to it! Why? You’re made in the image of God who has the perichoretic dance at the center of his being. And you do too! You’re not naughty by nature! You’re generous by nature. Because Giving is not your duty. It’s your design.
Perhaps cultural forces have been getting in the way. You’ve been seduced by the acquisitive mindset and have fallen for the lie that you are what you have. Perhaps you’ve got some inner brokenness or you were subjected to some false assumptions early on. Whatever it was, your real nature of generosity has been obscured and your false nature of greed has dominated. Well, let today be that first reminder to become more of who you are! Giving is not your duty. It’s your design.
See, I used to look at money & giving sermons – good Lord, we started 2015 with Beyond – and think of them in terms of persuading. Now I know it is a matter of unveiling. DO AN UNVEILING OF SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL HERE; A PAINTING PERHAPS??!!! Unveiling that the same PERICHORESIS that makes God tick makes you tick! It’s your heartbeat! The blood flows with generosity! That’s why I’m sort of obsessed with the idea that the good vibes you feel from today’s RIP with OCC morph from an event into a lifestyle. From a project to a habit. From something special to something with oat bran regularity. Because ultimately I want you to be more of who you are! I want you to embrace your design and flourish in it! I don’t want you to “discover who you are” – God already did that for you! I want you to be more of that good, Godly design within. Giving is not your duty. It’s your design.
I observe myself with some amusement sometimes. The older I get, I don’t grow OUT of nearly as much as I lean into. My idiosyncracies get MORE pronounced: the pens I use to write, the food I eat at every meal, the routines I have at the Y, the Ginger Ale I gotta drink, the car I must have clean. The older I get I just become more of who I’ve been all along. For better AND worse!
Well how about you and your generosity? Every one of you is getting older. Every one. See that? You just got older. How about you embrace that “aging” to become more of the giggling giver God has already declared and designed you to be?
And that grand, glorious design is why this headline makes perfect sense: GIVERS LIVE LONGER (AV). You know what that means? If you keep hiding and obscuring your true nature, you’re speeding your own death! In a sense it’s suicidal! It’s kind of the opposite of Oral Roberts who about 30 years ago told a TV audience that if he didn’t get $13M that weekend he’d die (he did, but much later). No, this is the opposite . . . if you don’t start giggling with generosity you are so violating your own nature that it is slowly but surely killing you from the inside out. That’s why WITHOUT FAIL generous people are delightful and greedy people are miserable. Without fail. And who could question THAT? When you quench the spirit of God inside you you’re suppressing the love of God beyond you. You’re dying when you should be dancing.
Some of you might be thinking, “but I don’t FEEL it yet? Can I just wait til I do?” Well, maybe. But be very sure of this: “the Lord loveth a cheerful giver” as Scripture says, “but he also taketh from a grouch.” It’s OK to do something before you feel it. And realize that every step you take towards greater generosity is a step into your design. You have a heavenly architect and sometimes that way you have subcontracted your own life has not been built according to specs!! But if you go from zero giving – and something tells me we have A LOT of those – into percentage giving, that’s a step into your design. If you go from occasional giving into WEEKLY giving, that’s a step into your design. If you go from 5% into that historic standard of 10%, that’s a major step into your design. Julie and I started our married lives at that 10% some 31 years ago, have increased it to beyond that, and have never missed what’s not ours. Why don’t we miss it? IT’S HOW WE ARE WIRED. Giving is not your duty. It’s your design.
And speaking of that heavenly architect / human subcontracting theme, it’s tempting to think as you look around here, “they have it made. Construction, tech, whatever they want, they can afford.” Nope. It’s all a stretch. A faith filled stretch. A prayer saturated stretch built on the idea that people will live into their divine design. Every gift counts, every dime matters, and we want to give you ample opportunity to celebrate the design you’ve got. Not as a have to. As a get to.
(People were invited to smile as they walked past (and hopefully used) the Giving Baskets.)