Archives For generosity

On January 26, 2016

How to Happy: Lottery Fever

“It is the decided opinion of all who use their brains, that all people desire to be happy.” -St. Augustine

how to happyI’d like to start an series today called “How to Happy”  that will run occasionally over the next several months, it’s a series that’s based on a conversation I’ve found myself having over and over with friends and church members and other pastors. And it’s basically all around this one really big idea;

Everyone wants to be happy, very few people actually are.

Why is that? We have more resources, more money, more toys, better living conditions than any generation in the history of humanity.

We’ve got it all, but we don’t have happiness.

I’m doing this as an occasional series, because I’m in the process of reading a lot of St. Augustine who lived a long time ago, and dedicated a lot of his life to asking this specific question: How does a person find happiness, and from what I’ve read so far, all his answers will surprise you.

The Affluenza Disease

I’m writing this post on the Wednesday morning of the Powerball Lottery pick. It’s up to 1.5 Billion dollars and almost everyone I know is talking about. Lots of my friends have a bought a ticket, made bargains with God about what good they would do with the money, and some have even asked me to pray for them to win it.

But I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.

In 1978 there was a study done that interviewed 22 different lottery winners and 29 different people who had been paralyzed by tragic accident. And this study found that 6 months after both of these life changing events the paralyzed people (many now quadriplegics!) were happier than the lottery winners!

When Jack Whittaker won $315 million dollars 14 years ago, he thought that his life was set, and that he would be able to sit back and enjoy it. And at first, he did what everyone says their going to do with their winnings. He gave millions to different charities, he started his own foundation. But then when people started stealing from him, when his house was broken into, he began to questions all of his relationships, and he began to become much more protective of what was his.

Image from

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5 years after he had won over a quarter of a Billion dollars, he told reporters “I wish I’d torn that ticket up.”

There are so many stories about this, and I’m sure that almost everyone knows them, but for some reason we ignore it.

On writing this, something like $400 million dollars worth of lottery tickets are being sold a day in the USA, every gas station you go into is filled with people (the clerks I’ve talked to say this is the busiest they’ve ever been), despite the next to impossible chance that you can win, and the near certainty of the destructive nature of what winning would do to your actual life.

We live in a time and culture where it is becoming more and more obvious that our wealth has some extremely negative side effects. From the judge who recognizes that a teen who grew up with excessive privilege had an “affluenza disease” to the rampant rise of heroin use among well to do suburban kids, we should be noticing that the American dream isn’t just not all it’s cracked up to be, it’s deeply cracked.

The Good Life

Jesus says two things that I don’t think Christians believe anymore. And they both have everything to do with your money.

At one point Jesus is approached by a man who is in a tug of war of greed with his brother. They’re fighting over their inheritance and maybe it’s because the guy has heard Jesus talk so much about money, he asks Jesus in front of everyone to talk to his brother about why he should share his money.

I think this is so funny. This guy wants Jesus to preach about generosity…to his brother. As a preacher I get this, most of the time when we hear sermons, we say to ourselves, “I wish my wife/husband/friend could hear this, she’s the one who really needs it.”

But Jesus sees through this guys request and he immediately replies,

“Watch Out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed. a person’s life doesn’t consist of the abundance of their possessions.”

The word Jesus uses there is the Greek word “Zoe” It means the life that is true life, the life of joy and peace, the kind of life that everyone is after. And Jesus says that kind of life doesn’t come from having more stuff.

But Jesus uses stronger words than that, When He hears this guys requests, He basically shouts out “Watch Out!” It’s a warning Jesus uses 6 other times in the Gospels, and every other time it’s when He’s warning people about religious false teachers.

I think He’s doing the same thing here. Because that’s how money works, it’s a false teacher. It makes promises it can’t keep, and it sets us on a life trajectory that slowly squeezes the life out of us.

The other thing Jesus says is something I’ll bet everyone in America has heard, it’s become cliche, a truism that we pay homage to in our culture but rarely in our wallets.

Jesus says “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”

Did you know that the word blessed is really the Greek word for happiness? Does that change this idea for you at all? Does it make better sense of your life experience?

Jesus isn’t just referring to random acts of kindness (but those are great!) Jesus is talking about there are two ways to organize your life, you can organize your life around receiving or you can order your life around generosity. And while everyone thinks happiness comes from getting more and more, according to Jesus happiness comes from giving what you have away.

No less that 3 articles were in the New York Times last year confirming this radical idea. That people who give generously, regularly and sacrificially are much happier people. That giving generously is good for every part of your well-being.

Compare that with the fact that the average American will spend 35% of their life’s income on interest, and currently is at least $10,000 deep in consumer debt.

These are people like you and me, people searching for happiness. And chances are a good percentage of these people believe in Jesus, but apparently don’t believe like Jesus.

Churches make the mistake of throwing Dave Ramsey at this problem, trying to help get people out of debt, but that’s like putting a bandaid on cancer, because the real problem is that we are fighting against our own happiness. We are like a dehydrated person drinking buckets after buckets of Coke.

The real question is Jesus right or not, and only someone who has given his ideas a try can answer that.

So as the dust settles from the Lottery fever this time around, as some person finds themselves with more money than they can imagine, and the rest of us find ourselves with worthless losing tickets, here the question to really wrestle with.

Is the thing that’s missing in your life really a thing? According to Augustine what makes us happy really isn’t a what, it’s a Who.

In Augustine’s words “Jesus is the Bread of Life awaiting our hunger.”

What that means is that God is not fighting against your happiness, God is the very source of your desire for it.

And St. Augustine found this out by dedicating his life to finding out how to happy, and then finding his happiness was really a pathway back to God.

But before we go there, ask yourself this question.

Are you happy?

Don’t you want to be?

“It doesn’t feel like Christmas until someone gets pepper sprayed at Target.” -Jon Stewart

I’ll get back to this video.

For over a thousand years Christians have observed this time of year as a season called “Advent.” Now I grew up in a church that was suspect of all things Catholic (I wasn’t allowed to be friends with girls named Mary). But this is not just a Catholic idea, Christians from all the traditions have celebrated Advent, and even if it is new to you, I think that Advent might have a word to bless you.

Advent is just the Latin word for “Coming” It’s the idea that Jesus came into the world, and that he will one day soon come into the world again.

Advent is about the longing that is in every human heart, a desire, an ache that we all share for things to be different…to be better. The season of Advent is where we name the brokenness in our own hearts, and in the world.

At the heart of Advent is the recognition that something is missing.

And this is the difference between what Americans call Christmas and the Advent season. Every year for Christmas we wait and anticipate for Christmas morning and family gatherings and gifts.

And every December 26th we tend to feel a little let down, because we realize what we should have known all along.

Something is missing that can’t be wrapped up with a bow.

And Advent says that something isn’t a thing. It’s a Someone. Jesus is coming to the world.

I read an article the other day about how American’s new religion, despite what any survey says, really isn’t “none’s” or Mormonism or Evangelicalism. It’s shopping. The article points out that the dominant activity for this “Holiday season” really isn’t visiting a church or temple for worship or prayer. It’s standing in lines and camping out at stores for their doorbuster deals.

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We have all heard a million times that money can’t buy you happiness. But that’s kind of wrong. The thing that we forget about money is that, at least according to Jesus, money is not just some neutral commodity. It is a principality and power, and it can be used for great good or great harm.

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On March 29, 2010


So last night Leslie and I spent time hanging out with a small group of people from our church that we had hung out with a few times before. We all knew each other individually, but we were drawn together corporately last year to go to a conference with a very specific purpose.

The Conference was called “Generous Giving” and as you can probably guess from the title, it was about helping people learn how to view their resources from a different perspective.And the way they did that wasn’t by flowcharts or financial piecharts…but with stories. Continue Reading…

On December 22, 2009


I know between all the family gatherings and Christmas parties this time of year that not many people are surfing the internet…including myself. But I’m coming up on the end of one my New Year’s Resolutions to post a blog at least once or twice a week, and I’m looking forward to doing it again next year. So in order to not ruin a streak that’s lasted a year, here’s a Christmas post I wrote a few years back. And from our family to yours:

Merry Christmas. Continue Reading…

On October 27, 2009

Wheel of Fortune

There is a dangerous theology that is quite popular right now. It basically says that if you give to God than God will give more back to you. This way of thinking about God can reduce him into that cosmic E-trade in the sky. This theology tends to be preached by people who are asking you to give to their particular ministry/church/program so that you can be rewarded by God.

This idea has been around since Job’s friend. It’s called the Health and Wealth Gospel, and it couldn’t be more dangerous.

But the reason it is dangerous is because is partially true.

Before you start to think that I am drinking the Olsteen Kool-aid let me clarify what I mean by that.

Leslie and I just got back from a 3 day conference called Generous Giving. It was my third conference to be at within 14 days (I’m conferenced out) but I am so glad that I went. We got to hang out with Ruth Haley Barton, Chip Ingram and Fernando Ortega. We listened to Barton talk about generosity as a spiritual discipline that God uses to instill faith and deep joy in Jesus-followers, or Ingram talk about generosity as a first step toward incarnational living.

But the best part of all was the testimonies of the people doing it. One after another we heard from people who had given sacrificially. Like this one guy who had given over $100,000,000 in his life. He could have lived in a palace, but he chose to live off a very modest income to give to people who didn’t have as much.

We heard from person after person who had given sacrificially and the common denominator was a deep joy.

And here’s where the Health and Wealth gospel misses out.

See the partial truth of this preaching is that God does want us to give generously. But not for the sake of tricking him into giving us more.

The assumption under that way of viewing the Scriptures is that getting more is the best that could happen to you. And so they teach generosity for the purposes of eventually hoarding. But the truth is that when some people give stuff away they stay broke.

I’m reading about the Medieval world right now. And one of the most surprising things is how they generally thought about possessions. They had a metaphor for fortune that showed how fickle they viewed it.

It was the wheel of Fortune.


They said that this wheel constantly was turning, and that the fastest way to live a miserable life was to put your hope and trust in what you owned, or your government (this is one reason that Arthur’s legendary table was round). Because they recognized the instability of the things we have come to put the most trust in. They knew sometimes the wheel would move up and create a happy ending, and sometimes it would create a tragedy.

Think about the irony of this. We call these people primitive, yet if they were to have lived through the last two years they would have been trying to explain things to us.

They had a metaphor to explain this deep truth, and we use it to market a game show that teaches the exact opposite.

The wisdom of God does tend to go against common sense often. But never as much as here.
One speaker this weekend said, “Generosity is to love as thunder is to lightning.” Which means if you want to know how well you love, just look at your bank statement, or your day-planner. Are you generous with your life? Is your life oriented around values that you are willing to die for?

So here’s a question: Have you ever known people who embody this? Generous with their money, time, resources? If so, What did their example do to you?

On July 14, 2009

The Danger of Distance

I just finished writing a teaching about the Rich, Young Ruler for the weekend, probably one of my favorite and least favorite passages of the Bible. It’s my favorite when I’m talking about other people. But it’s getting harder and harder to make it about somebody else.

The same week that I was chewing on this story, we discovered that we have foundation problems on our house, our roof needs to be repaired, and our ceiling just started caving in.

We have some housing issues to say the least.

So I’m living in these two worlds for the last week. One is the word of Jesus to this man to sell what he has and be generous. And the other is the crumbling of my little empire. And then this week something interesting struck me. A roof problem is a rich person problem. Having bad foundation is a rich person problem.

I’m grumbling about the stuff that I have that is falling apart, skipping right over the recognition that I have this stuff. That’s the problem with being rich. We rich people don’t consider always know we’re rich, we compare ourselves to the person who has a little bit more than us, not the majority of the world who barely has a portion of what we have.

So last week I have this profound realization where I am mowing and preaching in my head, and it struck me. I’m probably as rich as the Rich, young ruler was.

He lived in a time, and place of oppressed people and deep poverty. So rich was a relative term for them. He probably had quite a bit of stuff, but I bet it’s not as much as we thought.

This is kind of indicative for us of how I/we read the Bible. It doesn’t matter how many times I hear a preacher say that the Rich man was probably a good guy, we would have liked him, made him an elder etc. I still try and demonize him in my head.

And the reason I think that I/we do this is profound.

It’s because we want distance.

If we can just separate ourselves from this guy, than Jesus isn’t talking to us.

If there is one thing I have learned from teaching and preaching, as well as just personally following Jesus it’s this: the implications of the gospel are dangerous, and not always popular.

So we develop these hermeneutical loop holes to prevent us from really listening.

Remember what the Israelites tell Moses when they first meet God on the mountain. They say, “Moses, you speak to us, but don’t make us get close to Him, or we will die.”

Keep us at a distance.

Which I think may just be the unspoken request of many pulpit committees. Keep us informed but don’t get us too close.

I like the way that Soren Kierkegaard says this:

“The matter is quite simple. The Bible is very easy to understand. But we Christians are a bunch of scheming swindlers. We pretend to be unable to understand it because we know very well that the minute we understand, we are obligated to act accordingly.Take any words in the New Testament and forget everything except pledging yourself to act accordingly. My God, you will say, if I do that my whole life will be ruined. How would I ever get on in the world? Herein lies the real place of Christian scholarship. Christian scholarship is the Church’s prodigious invention to defend itself against the Bible, to ensure that we can continue to be good Christians without the Bible coming too close. Oh, priceless scholarship, what would we do without you? Dreadful it is to fall into the hands of the living God. Yes, it is even dreadful to be alone with the New Testament.”

The truth is that I am the Rich, Young Ruler. And you might be too.

And maybe that recognizes that is the first step to hearing the words of Jesus again. Not just as something that was said thousands of years ago to someone else. But something that Jesus is saying, right now, to us.

I know that following Jesus can be dangerous. That has always been true.

But maybe the greater danger is in keeping a safe distance. We can fool ourselves into thinking that what it means to be a Christian involves only pew-sitting, and 10%. We can trick ourselves into thinking the abundant life happens just an hour a week and then wonder why God doesn’t seem very real.

But the person who never steps out in faith, never takes a step closer, might never learn the joy that comes from watching God squeeze a camel through the eye of a needle.