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The Telegram
  • Shayne Looper: The reorienting power of generosity

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    A photo of a restaurant bill receipt has been flooding the Internet — especially atheist sites. The photo shows a receipt for a member of a party of 20, which included an automatic gratuity of 18 percent.

     

     


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  •   A photo of a restaurant bill receipt has been flooding the Internet — especially atheist sites. The photo shows a receipt for a member of a party of 20, which included an automatic gratuity of 18 percent.   The diner apparently thought that a “gratuity” should be freely given not forced — it’s hard to argue with that — and so she crossed out the tip amount ($6.29) and wrote in the space above it: “I give God 10 percent. Why do you get 18?”
    Above her name on the signature line on the receipt she wrote, “Pastor,” and in the space provided for declaring an additional tip she emphatically penned a “0.” Now I would like to give this pastor the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps the food was cold or the service was poor, although the server claimed, “They had no problem with my service, and told me I was great.” Still, we may not have heard the whole story.
    But even if we give this pastor the benefit of the doubt, the claim she seems to be making — that giving to God exempts a person from giving to others — is simply wrongheaded. As a pastor she, of all people, should know that. Generosity is one of the clearest marks of an authentic Christian. Just flip through the pages of a Bible; you will find the call to generosity everywhere.
    Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Likewise, he told his followers, “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.” And it was Jesus himself who said: “It is more blessed to give than to receive.”
    St. Paul sang the same tune, encouraging his readers to “excel in this grace of giving.” He went on to tell them that “God loves a cheerful giver.” He further urged Christians “to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.” This theme is so common in the Bible, both Old Testament and New, that it is impossible to overlook. It occupies such an important place that Dallas Willard can write, “Giving and forgiving are of course central to the divinely restructured life.”
    The Christian’s generosity finds its source in God’s own generosity. This truth is apparent in the Bible’s most familiar verse: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son ...” God is a giver; it’s part of his very nature. Generous giving has the power to reorient us. When a person’s own needs serve as his or her primary point of reference, the virtue associated with giving will be self- denial. But the practice of generosity changes that orientation. Giving becomes a joy, not a duty, and its virtue is found in contributing to the welfare of others.
    Page 2 of 2 - Not everyone has money to give, but everyone can give something. When a diner cannot afford to give a tip, the server’s kindness and attention becomes a gift to the customer. It is always possible to give — service, kindness, a smile — something. This is why the pastor’s note on the restaurant bill is at odds with Christian practice. Giving to God doesn’t exempt a person from giving to others — quite the contrary; it frees a person to give. Confidence in the giving God releases people fro their fears and self-protection so that they can, like him, give generously. Christians believe that God not only gives gifts to us, he gives himself — a gift that “makes us participants in the movement of his own generosity,” as Justin Borger writes in his book, “God So Loved, He Gave.” We then learn from experience what God has always known, and we can hardly believe: it really is better to give than to receive.   Shayne Looper is pastor of Lockwood Community Church in Branch County, Mich.
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