Now that Christmas is over and a New Year has begun, it’s probably as good a time as ever to turn over a new leaf and talk about giving. That’s right, giving, not getting.
The desire to get things begins at an early age; and Christmas seems to be a time when the young learn very quickly. It’s also a time when some parents watch a disappointing look come upon their children’s faces as the focus shifts from appreciating what they got, to lamenting what they didn’t get.
The traditional Christmas image of the whole family joyously opening presents around a real tree might be overrated in many cases. The reality of the modern Christmas nightmare for many families is more like this: you bought the wrong Xbox game for your 10-year-old son and the clothes you bought for your daughter, the apple of your eye, were only fashionable last year, that's why they were reduced 50 percent—but then again, you do like a bargain! As for the I Phones and I Pads you thoughtfully purchased for them despite their young age—because everyone else in their class has got one—well, let’s not even go there. Your delightful children are now weeping with rage at your ineptitude and hate you for ruining their day. You don't know anything about anything. You are an idiot.
As you ponder over why you even bothered and that your kids have got it all wrong; you conclude that you haven't ruined their Christmas—they've ruined yours. The only possible consolation is that this regretful story of young consumer insolence is being repeated up and down the country.
When parents work, and have little time with their children, they tend to over-compensate for this vacuum by indulging their children. What happens with all this over-pampering and over-indulgence? Children are unable to cope with not getting what they want. When they grow up, these traits grow up with them, leading to an inability to deal with disappointment compounded by an unshakeable sense of self-entitlement.
The Telegraph reported that the UK charity, Mothers’ Union, conducted a study and found that 72% of parents bought gifts from their children’s Christmas lists that they couldn’t afford. Eighty-four percent bought presents at the last minute because they were worried that the pile didn’t look “big enough.” What’s wrong with this picture? Plenty!
Where does the desire to acquire more than we need come from? We all know it is called greed. But what about its origin? No, the Boomer generation did not start this, they just overstuffed the insatiable green monster.
The desire to have things is as old as creation itself. For example, Satan tempted Eve to eat the forbidden fruit (Gen. 3). Not content to eat the fruit from all the other trees in the garden, Eve also wanted the fruit from the forbidden tree too! And the Devil, who was greedy enough to try and usurp God’s authority and take his throne, knew exactly how to introduce the concept of greed. Even Jesus wasn’t off limits for the Devil. The Devil promised him all the kingdoms of the world if he would bow down and worship him (Matt. 4:8). So, let’s make no mistake about it, the Devil certainly knows what greedy buttons to push in our consumer driven culture.
The best thing you can do to teach your child the importance of nonmaterial values is to practice them yourself. In other words, buy less stuff and make sure he or she doesn't hear you whining about how you wish you could afford that expensive handbag or that latest boat you saw on your trip to the mall.
One of the most powerful things we can learn as adults and teach our children is what it means to give. The most unbelieved beatitude in the Bible is: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). The giver happier than the getter? Surely some mistake? That goes against all our intuitions and instincts.
When Israel came into the promise land, they were given some strict instructions on how to avoid greed:
“For when you have become full and prosperous and have built fine homes to live in, and when your flocks and herds have become very large and your silver and gold have multiplied along with everything else, be careful! Do not become proud at that time and forget the Lord your God, who rescued you from slavery in the land of Egypt. Do not forget that he led you through the great and terrifying wilderness with its poisonous snakes and scorpions, where it was so hot and dry. He gave you water from the rock! He fed you with manna in the wilderness, a food unknown to your ancestors. He did this to humble you and test you for your own good. He did all this so you would never say to yourself, ‘I have achieved this wealth with my own strength and energy. Remember the Lord your God. He is the one who gives you power to be successful, in order to fulfill the covenant he confirmed to your ancestors with an oath” (Deut. 8:11-18).
In our selfie world, people need little convincing that they are self-made individuals. They believe that all they are and all they have is the result of their own privileged status or hard earned efforts. There is little room for recognizing God’s power and blessing in their success. And, if they are inclined to give at all, it is often prefaced with a selfish question like, “What’s in for me?”, or “What bang is there for my buck”?
The church is not immune to greed. Brian Kluth, is a bestselling author, speaker, and founder of State of the Plate Research. In his 2016 State of the Plate Report, he highlights the importance for churches to continue teaching generosity as a Biblical value. Did you know:
59% of churches surveyed reported flat-lined or decreased giving over the period 2015 to 2016. (A previous survey from 2013 revealed 53% of churches had an increase in giving that year.)
Only 41% of churches surveyed saw giving increase by 5% or more.
Why is there such a large percentage of churches seeing a decline in giving? I believe it is directly related to a lack of discipleship and teaching about tithing. This starts from an early age. Disciples are people that understand and practice the words of Jesus in Mark 8:34-37, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross, and follow me. . . . What do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul?” In other words, disciples have learned to put things into proper perspective—God first, me last! They also teach the same to their children.
If you want to avoid greed and selfishness, then the Bible has some advice for you. Let me offer some of that advice by contrasting our ways with God’s ways:
We want to serve two masters and have the “best” of both worlds. But Jesus says, in Luke 16:11 "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money."
We want to appear interested in God and hope no one notices our love for material things. But Jesus says in Luke 12:34 “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” In other words, if your greed is not blatantly obvious to you, it will be to others.
We want to let on that all we need is just one more new car or another ATV. Then we will have enough, right? Wrong! Eccl. 5:10 says, “Those who love money will never have enough. How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!”
Did you know storage units are on the increase? According to the Self-Storage Association, the U.S. had 48,500 mini-warehouse facilities last year. Combined, they amount to 2.3 billion square feet of space for lease—enough, in the trade group’s unnerving formulation, to warehouse every man, woman, and child in the country. When our cash and stash increases, we think we should buy bigger houses or rent more storage units. But Jesus says in Luke 12:16-21, “A rich man's...barns were full to overflowing... He thought about his problem, and finally exclaimed, 'I'll tear down my barns and build bigger ones! Then I'll have room enough'...But God said to him, 'Fool! Tonight, you will die. Then who will get it all?' "This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God”.
In this New Year of 2017, why not discover the joy of giving and not just getting? Why not learn what it means to be rich toward God by honoring him and giving him first place in your life? Proverbs 11:24-25 says, “Give freely and become more wealthy; be stingy and lose everything. The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.” Try it!
1. Caroline Presno, Help Your Child Avoid Christmas Greed Syndrome, https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/parenting-your-preschooler/201312/help-your-child-avoid-christmas-greed-syndrome
2. Brian Kluth, State of the Plate Report. http://get.tithe.ly/wp-content/ uploads/2016/ 11/State-of-the-Plate-2016-Church-Giving-Research.pdf
3. Patrick Clark, Hoarder Nation: America's Self-Storage Industry Is Booming, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2014-12-01/cyber-monday-gifts-final-resting-place-self-storage