Monday, April 4, 2011

Be Cheerful in Giving

TITLE: Be Cheerful in Giving
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 4 April 2011

In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35)

MAIN POINT: Giving is not about what we do with our wallets. It's about how we respond to God in our hearts.

On Sunday, I watch how contestants in the hit reality show, Apprentice, praise one another in good times, and bicker among themselves in bad times. Strangely, the more controversial and breakdowns among the team members, the higher the viewership. Bad news sells volumes. Controversies help ratings. By making them more ‘realistic,’ real people are placed in ‘real situations’ in order to simulate a real environment. The dreaded words of each show are:

  • "You're fired!" (in the Apprentice)
  • "I'm sorry that you've been eliminated from the race." (from the Amazing Race)
  • "You have been eliminated." (from shows like Survivor, American Idol

1) Survival of the Selfish
In a quest for more authenticity in their programs, TV networks are investing lots of money into reality shows. After all, people simply love to watch themselves, or representations of themselves. Shows like Survivor reminds us about living in a dog-eat-dog world, where everyone tries to upend one another in the law of the modern jungle. Only the fittest survive. This formula has been exploited in may other shows. The Amazing Race, the Apprentice, American Idol, Survivor, and others are some of the prominent examples of how one team or person is eliminated from the competition each week. The last man/woman standing will win the coveted million dollar prize. Winners are also guaranteed prominent media coverage and an instant leap to stardom. In all of these staged competitions, the reality that the producers are trying to inform the audience is this:
The reward is so attractive, that ends justify the means.
The winner takes it all. The loser has to fall,’ are the words from a famous song popularized by ABBA, the Swedish rock band in the 80s.

2) Grabbing the Grub

In the 60s, there is an American game show called “Supermarket Sweep.” In one part of the game, couples are free to grab as much stuff as possible in the supermarket within a set amount of time. The winner is the one who manages to grab the most high value stuff before the horn sounds. At the end of the game, contestants are allowed to keep what they have taken.

I know that some people who watch shows like these will envy the contestants. Yet, I find that shows like these bring out the worse in people. The human being in its present condition is a spiritually sick person. The Germans have a word for it: “Schadenfreude.” Basically Schadenfreude is used to describe our human tendency to take some pleasure in the misfortunes of others. John Portman traces the source of Schadenfreude to four sources.

Low self-esteem, commitment to justice and loyalty, responses to the comical, and dispositional malice, these four are the principal antecedents of Schadenfreude.” (John Portman, When Bad Things Happen to Other People, NY: Routledge, 2000, p42)
Portman suggests that the reason why people generally gets interested in the misfortunes of others is because they themselves are constantly caught between ‘worry’ about their own needs, and the need to 'release' through finding solace in other people's misfortunes. Just think about your child coming home with a report card of C’s and D’s. Check your feelings when you learn of a neighbour’s kid coming home with all F’s. Watch your dissatisfaction with your child slowly diminish into a pity-like expression of interest in your neighbour’s kid. This is a symptom of Schadenfreude. One’s worry about one’s kid gets ‘released’ into the satisfaction of knowing that other kids are worse off. Isn’t this a symptom of how sick our society has become?

3) Redeeming the Sick

The doctrine of sin is one of the most important teachings in the Church. The Great Augustine of Hippo in the 4th Century tells us of how sick we are.
These are the kinds of wickedness. They spring from the lust for domination or from the lust of the eyes or from sensuality - either one or two of these, or all three at once.” (Augustine, Confessions, Book III.viii.16)
It is because of this human condition, that Augustine reminds us that by ourselves, we cannot think clearly or behave appropriately as long as we are in this sick condition. The world tells us that all people basically try to be good. Nearly everyone begins with good intentions. As far as good behaviour and ethical practices are concerned, everyone agrees. However, when the rubber hits the road, when the stakes are high, when the fear of losing out gets heightened, all bets are off. It’s everyone for themselves.

This scenario plays themselves out in the Apprentice, at the Boardroom. Pressed into a corner, the contestant will fire bullets in many directions to avoid the dreaded words: “You’re fired.” Teams in The Amazing Race will strike below the belt through deception just to inch ahead of the next team, to avoid getting eliminated. In Survivor, individuals scheme to outwit and outgun one another until there is only one survivor remaining. The key reason for such behaviour is because there is only one prize, available to only one winner. Many contestants. Many competitors. Only one prize.

4) Grace Unlimited

Knowing that by ourselves we are limited, why do we then limit ourselves further? Instead of living a life that resembles a ‘survival of the fittest’ mentality,’ why not adopt ‘an appreciation of the Humblest man on earth?’ Our Lord Jesus, despite his celestial royalty, and universal might, chooses to humble himself to go to the cross. He gives and gives and gives. Without reservation. Without resistance. Without regret. Through his act of love and compassion, he frees mankind to give the entire human race a way out of our sick condition. He gives of his time to the needy. He gives of his love to his people. He gives of his life to all the world. Even to this day, Jesus continues to give of his presence.
“. . . And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matt 28:20b)
In reality shows, there is a prize limited. Winners are limited. Opportunities are limited. In Christ, there is grace unlimited. In giving, we live out this grace unlimited. It is because giving is such a significant part of Jesus’s ministry, that it ought to be the mark of each and every disciple of Christ. Christlike giving is shown through cheerful giving. A life that displays ‘grace unlimited received,’ comes out of a generous heart. A big heart will not be easily distracted by small concerns. A generous heart will look for means to expand and give rather than to cutback and grab.

5) Giving Cheerfully

Let me end with the kind of reality show that I personally prefer. It is called 'Secret Millionaire.' This week, Gary and Diane Heavin decides to spend 1 week in a poor neighbourhood in Houston, Texas. Surviving on $6.50 per day for a week, they use the time to visit three non-profit organizations, to understand their needs and challenges. No one knows their true identity until the last day. Before they leave, the Heavins pay one final visit to give each organization a surprise. First, they praise the hard work and sacrificial service of the people there. Second, they confess to each non-profit management that they are actually ‘secret millionaires.’ Finally, they give away tens of thousands of dollars to each organization. With gaping mouths and unbelieving looks, the management and the people in the various care centers cried and hugged the Heavins. The millionaire couple gives away a total of $410,000. Cash.

I must admit. I cried when I watch such philanthropy. While ‘grabbing the grub’ reality shows generate excitement and controversies, demonstrating Christlike-giving tugs the heart, and generate warmth and love unlimited. Watching ‘Secret Millionaire’ immediately gives me a hint of how living Christlike on earth can look like. The question for me is: “Do I have to be a millionaire in order to give cheerfully?

No. Only one thing is needed. Christ in our lives. The rest is how we RESPOND to Christ's love. We do not need to give only to Christian causes. God’s giving is unlimited, just like how he waters or gives sunshine to the whole earth, without regards to language, race, or religion. Giving is universal. We can give also in a non-financial manner. We give when we serve others in Church or elsewhere. We give when we listen to a broken-hearted individual. We give when we exercise patience in the midst of traffic congestion. We give when we pray for one another. When we obey the promptings of the Spirit, chances are we are called to give more than to receive. One WWII martyr once said:
No one has ever become poor by giving.” (Anne Frank)
Ditto. Those of us who live in grace are in many ways 'secret millionaires.' Therefore live graciously. If Christ can give his all, should we as his followers not do likewise?

Thought: “God gives you money because he wants to see how you handle it.” (Leigh Anne Tuohy)

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