To Give is to Live
Up is down. Down is up. The high cost is cheap. The cheap cost is high. First will be last. Last will be first. The least will be greatest. Jesus preached an upside down value system, opposite of conventional wisdom. Jesus taught a wisdom that calls us to surrender our lives to God, live for him, and serve others. It is in giving that we truly find life. To give is to live; and, turn it around, to live is to give.
In 1920 a Methodist layman gave $100,000, which was a great deal of money then, to start a Methodist college in Liberia, Africa. By 1940, 20 years later, the Liberian college had grown and was meeting the educational and spiritual needs of many Africans. The college decided to hold a special 20th Anniversary celebration and thought it would be appropriate to thank the benefactor. But, the Board of Missions had difficulty finding him. When they did, he refused to see the representative. He was now broke. He had lost everything in the depression of 1929.
But, the school insisted he come, and he was flown to Africa for the gala event. As the benefactor, now bankrupt, walked through the campus, admiring the buildings, meeting the happy, hopeful students, his heart swelled with joy, and he said to the college president, "The only thing I have is what I gave away.”
To Give is to Live is the theme of our finance campaign as we seek pledges to do God’s work through Wesley Church in 2009. Today, the Pony Express takes off. You will be given a packet in the next several days, or it will be mailed to you.
Jesus said, Matthew 16.25, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.” The world calls Jesus ridiculous. How can you find by losing? Don’t you find by keeping, by holding on to what you have? Someone has said, “Getting the best out of this world is a little like holding a wet bar of soap: it will slip away from us if we hold on too tightly!
Losing your life for Jesus, to give is to live doesn’t mean living without money, goods, recognition or any of the things that bring pleasure and satisfaction. What “to give is to live” means is that these things can’t be your goal. If you put wealth or security or happiness as goals, you will lose life. Happiness is too elusive. It slips out of your hand like a wet bar of soap. Joy is a gift from God. To give is to receive God’s gift of joy.
Nor does “to give is to live” mean putting yourself down or disliking yourself. Jesus said, “Take up your cross.” Taking up your cross means refusing to be your own central concern. It means living for Jesus, finding your place in God’s unfolding plan and playing your role well. Taking up your cross means giving your life to others for Christ.
We get the full meaning and enjoyment out of this life only when we cease to make it our ultimate pursuit. By de-emphasizing the temporal, we get not less of it, but more. One of life's ironies is that we gain some things by giving them up.
I learned the wisdom of “to give is to live” years ago. While attending college, when I was 18-years-old, I was appointed pastor of two rural churches. A few months after I started, I encouraged Sunday School teachers to participate in a teacher training class in the next town. To further encourage them, I offered to transport some of them. So, I would leave the campus on a Wednesday afternoon, drive out into the country, pick up several teachers, take them to the class, and then return. One Wednesday I saw that the car needed gas. I checked my wallet and discovered that if I put gas in the car, I wouldn’t have money for food, until I went home on Friday evening where my mother would feed me! Two days without food, and you know me and food!
I deliberated and decided that I had given my word, I had taken responsibility to see that my Sunday School teachers received training. I decided I would give my money to God’s work and purchase gas. That evening as I delivered the teachers back to their homes, the last one out of the car, the one with the most children, the one whose husband bought day-old bread to save money, handed me a dollar! I stretched that dollar into food for two days. And, I learned an incredible lesson—to give is to live, to lose your life is to find it, to do God’s work ahead of your needs, trusting in God, leads to the assurance that God will take care of you, and bless you with indescribable joy .
We now have the opportunity to underwrite our church’s ministry with our pledges. To give is to live. Perhaps you are asking, how much do I give? What does God expect? We are not in the dark. The Bible has a plan, a simple plan, a plan that works. God lets us keep 90% of what we have to meet our needs, and give 10% to do God’s work. Simple, practical, hard to do? Perhaps, but the reward is life, life in Christ, joy.
The biblical tithe is giving 10% back to God. I have often been asked by those considering tithing, does tithing mean 10% of my income before or after taxes? 10% of gross or 10% of net? I don’t answer the question, because it is an individual decision. I am not concerned with legalism. Our United Methodist understanding of the gospel is not legalistic. We are not under law, but under grace. As Christians seeking to grow ifrom spectator to disciple, our response to Jesus is love, not duty; gratitude, not "oughts". Legalism asks: what is my duty? Love asks: what is the need? Legalism asks: how little can I give and still get by? Love asks: how much can I give?
To give is to live! Saddle up! The Pony Express rides again.
© 2008 Douglas I. Norris