One of the most clever ways to keep people from doing something important is to convince them that they've already done it. An easy way to do this is to simply and subtly change the meaning of a word. One of the most obvious to me is "Christian", but that discussion will have to wait for another blog post.
I believe that we are in desperate need of redefining generosity. We live in a culture so dominated by consumerism, comfort and personal happiness that almost ANY act of giving is considered generous. With the help of social media, there is no shame in marketing this "generous" act for public recognition. What really gives this movement legs is a prevalent desire in today's culture to be a part of something meaningful. The emerging generation has a great attraction towards charity, social justice issues and generally anything that appears to help others. This has created a seemingly contradictory value system, where in spite of their self centered consumerism, they also want to be a part of things that matter. The marketplace has not missed out on this unusual opportunity. "Consumer Charity" is a prevailing trend in marketing: "buying this product will not only make you happy, but it will help someone else". Sounds like a great deal on the surface, right? A real "win/win" situation! I want to dig deeper into Consumer Charity but I'm going to save that for part 2 of this post. Suffice it to say that both inside and outside the church, giving towards social action has never been more in vogue and I believe the prevailing brand has little to do with what Jesus described as generosity.
Remember this story from Luke 21:1-4?
As Jesus looked up, he saw the rich putting their gifts into the temple treasury. He also saw a poor widow put in two very small copper coins. “Truly I tell you,” he said,“this poor widow has put in more than all the others. All these people gave their gifts out of their wealth; but she out of her poverty put in all she had to live on.”
I was recently watching a benefit concert for the tornado victims in Oklahoma. Benefit concerts always amuse me, as the amount of money raised (if any after expenses) is usually a fraction of what the corporate sponsors and those performing could afford to give themselves if they just wrote a check and didn't show up. At this particular event it was announced that Starbucks is giving $250,000 toward the efforts in Moore. This good news was shared several times during the broadcast, highlighted by a video featuring Starbucks employees working in Oklahoma all wearing very prominent matching green Starbucks t-shirts. "Did they really just say 250k?" I was shocked by the number. Recently I read of one NBA player, Kevin Durant, giving $1,000,000. What was not well publicized is that Durant's donation was later matched by the Oklahoma Thunder Organization, then also by the NBA players union for a total $3,000,000. Although I knew Starbucks' donation was comparatively smaller, I just had to run the numbers to see exactly what 250k means to the green mermaid. In 2012 the company's gross profits were over 13 billion dollars. Yes, that's billion. If, like me, you're not used to working in those numbers, a billion is a thousand million. Their daily profits surpassed 30 million. In the one hour program that promoted their 250k donation, the company generated at least 1.5 million dollars. In contrast, Durant makes a measly 17 million a year. His donation was over 5% of his gross salary. Another interesting fact is that in 2006 Starbucks gave 5 million dollars towards education in... wait for it... CHINA. This also happens to be their #1 growth market. Interesting... (read more here).
My point is not to simply bash Starbucks. They are a secular company and can do whatever they wish with their money, and to be fair they're more giving than most. My greater desire is for us to be aware of the ideas we're being sold and to consider how you and I might have embraced this false generosity ourselves. According to Jesus, for something to be a truly generous act it must be sacrificial. Biblical generosity has to cost us something in a way that we can feel. I don't know that anyone has summed up what this means in our modern culture better than C.S. Lewis:
"I am afraid the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare. In other words, if our expenditure on comforts, luxuries, amusements, etc., is up to the standard common among those with the same income as our own, we are probably giving away too little. If our charities do not at all pinch or hamper us, I should say that they are too small. There ought to be things we should like to do and cannot do because our charities expenditure excludes them."
Isn't that a crazy idea? Our giving might actually limit our luxuries! What can't you afford to do because you want to be more generous? At an average of $4 a latte, Starbucks might be a good place to start. What's interesting is that when we live in such a way, it doesn't just change the lives of others, it also changes us. False generosity doesn't just deprive the needy, it also deprives the giver. When we don't give sacrificially we miss out on a greater measure of heart change and personal transformation, some of which will only come through the path of generosity. Jesus said, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." He also said, "Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me." I want to encourage you today to consider how you might embrace giving in a way that is truly generous and truly transformational. The kind of generosity Jesus talked about. The kind you can feel. Don't be afraid to dream big about your giving. Have some faith! However He guides you to give, He will provide for all your needs. Pray about how you might invest more of your treasure in the things that matter to Jesus, that your heart might be found delighting in Him.