Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Yours Generously

In my previous posting, I have argued that the oft-used phrase: ‘Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin’ is something that has been overused, overstated and in dire need of a major overhaul. It is something more easily said than done. The best it has done is to force an intellectual truce or a verbal armistice. I assert further that ‘loving the sinner’ is unconditional, and it is not helpful to tie it to ‘hating the sin’ in such a way that that ‘loving’ and the ‘hating’ are to be uttered in one and the same breath. Instead, I propose an alternative toward accepting one another as Christ accepted us, so that God can be praised (Romans 15:7).

In the New Testament, Jesus’s desire to do good, colours all his actions. The NIV translates the adjective (αγαθος ) ‘agathos’ in Matthew 20:15 as ‘generous.’ It can also be translated ‘good.’ Together with 'ego eimi' (εγω ειμι), the (I AM), it reads I AM GOOD or I AM GENEROUS. The works of God cannot be separated from the person of Christ. It captures the works of Jesus that arises out of the character of God. It is the essence of God’s goodness that leads to the generous acts. In that passage, Jesus shows us that he is able to summon the overwhelming power and resources of God to issue edicts of goodness to the world. In the light of the discussion of loving the sinner, will God love the man who sinned only rarely MORE than the man who committed 100 sins? God chose to give the same reward to all who worked for him, regardless of their start time. Martin Luther consistently argues that we are saved by faith through grace instead of good works. The path to any goodness in us is faith through grace from God. In his preface to his commentary of the New Testament, Luther writes:
“Faith is a living, daring confidence in God’s grace, so sure and certain that the believer would stake his life on it a thousand times. This knowledge of and confidence in God’s grace makes men glad and bold and happy in dealing with God and with all creatures.” (Martin Luther, Faith & Freedom: Invitation to the Writings of Martin Luther, ed. John Thornton et al, NY: Vintage, 2002, p95)
Jesus was able to do good works because of his steadfast faith in the heavenly Father. All good works flows from this unshakeable belief. The working out of such wonderful deeds emanates boldness, joy and happiness. No grudging feet dragging. No complaining attitude. True faith is evidenced in good works. Jesus’s ability to show generosity stems from a thankfulness to God, and the desire to glorify the heavenly Father who gives faith through grace. I like the word ‘generous.’ It showcases a goodness that is delightful externally and warm internally. Audrey Hepburn, the English Emmy award winner gives a brilliant illustration of generosity.
“You will discover that you have two hands. One is for helping yourself and the other is for helping others.” (Audrey Hepburn)
This simple statement expresses very well what it means to love self and to love neighbour. Whether it is the left or the right hand, it is the heart that moves the limbs to help. Another Englishman, the remarkable WWII UK prime minister, Sir Winston Churchill offers another great statement on generosity.
"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." (Winston Churchill)
This is the strange paradox. We become better people not by grabbing stuff for self but giving things away to others. Generosity is a Christian virtue that if practiced more, will touch more hearts than years of mere tract distribution to meet a quota. Such charity is more effective than hellfire-and-brimstone forms of preaching that strikes fear into the hearts of the unbeliever. Decisions made out of fear will fail to see the light of love. When we give of ourselves to the good of others, we are living in faith. When we welcome people from different walks of life into our community, we are recognizing in them a person made in the image of God. When we generously offer others the benefit of the doubt, we allow space for people to open their lives up to us so that we can understand each other more.

Generosity Does Not Mean Affirming
When we welcome another person of a different sexual orientation into our midst, it does not necessarily mean we agree to their lifestyle of choice. Stanley Grenz, on the gay issue, puts it very well in suggesting: “Welcoming but not Affirming.” This is less confrontational. We can welcome believers who are gay into our fellowship, yet not affirm their behaviour. This may be difficult for some people as they find it impossible to detach the ‘sin’ from the sinner.

A generous HAND means that one is willing to give away the extra coats in our closet, or the best meals we have cooked. A generous EAR enables us to listen more intently even though it may mean we lose the opportunity to speak our mind. A generous EYE helps us to see matters and various issues from another party’s standpoint more willingly. Even though one may smell something fishy, a person with a generous NOSE will control self and seek ways to bring the truth of the matter out in love. A generous LEG is ever-ready to run the extra mile, beyond the standard requirements or obligations. A generous MIND is open to the different viewpoints, and allows dissenting views to surface in the spirit of conversation and grace. A generous FACE gives an authentic smile that reassures the other person(s) that it is ok to agree or disagree. Gregory Jones, a professor at Duke Divinity School says it well.
“We can learn to be generous regardless of our situation in life. Indeed, I have encountered generosity both in spirit and in sharing resources among the poorest of the poor as well as the richest of the rich. I have discovered that the two kinds of generosity are often linked: those who are generous with their time and energy, those who have capacious hearts and hospitable spirits, are also generous With their resources. Similarly, those who are stingy financially tend to be rigid and bitter in their relationships with others.

How can we help people learn to be generous? One key way is by intentionally teaching certain practices, especially in families. A familiar problem in family foundations is that children and grandchildren often lack the generous spirit of the founding family members and want to clutch onto the resources for themselves. We must help children cultivate both the habits of giving and the interior dispositions and capacities to sustain those habits over time.”
[Jones, L. Gregory. 2007. "Be generous." Christian Century 124, no. 20: P33.]
Generosity can be transmitted to our next generation. Happy is the family that produces generations of generous people. Behind a generous person lies an intricate family practice of bountiful favour extended to one another. One need not have big wallets in order to do big things. One can be poor financially, but rich in heart. All it takes is a generous heart, extensive enough to hold the love of people inside, with care oozing continuously on the outside. Incidentally, the heart is a very strange organ. A heart has 4 lobes and it pumps blood physically only to the body of one person. A person can give blood via transfusion or by donation at a blood bank. A generous heart can pump limitless love. It can move mountains of emotional debt that is accumulated by years of selfishness and stingy living. How do I know? Ask Zacchaeus, the tax collector (Luke 19:1-10).
A Story of Generosity
A wise woman who was traveling in the mountains found a precious stone in a stream. The next day she met another traveler who was hungry, and the wise woman opened her bag to share her food. The hungry traveler saw the precious stone and asked the woman to give it to him. She did so without hesitation. The traveler left, rejoicing in his good fortune. He knew the stone was worth enough to give him security for a lifetime. But a few days later he came back to return the stone to the wise woman.

"I've been thinking," he said, "I know how valuable the stone is, but I give it back in the hope that you can give me something even more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me something more precious. Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone. "

Author Unknown
In the example of welcoming people with gay/lesbian sexual orientation, if we practice generosity of the heart to love these people through welcoming but not necessarily affirming, we pray that they will be more attracted to the God of love. No longer will they simply ask for sympathies for their homosexual tendencies. No longer will they accuse conservatives of being homophobic. No longer will they be constantly bickering about the law and the gospel. Instead, they will desire Christ, so much that they are willing to choose a non-homosexual lifestyle in the spirit of "Give me what you have within you that enabled you to give me the stone."

May God raise up people with generous hearts, that the kingdom of God will prosper abundantly.



Jackie Bolen said...

Hey Conrad, long time no talk! I hope you and your family are doing well.

While I agree with almost all of what you said, I disagree with the last paragraph where you say, "...Instead, they will desire Christ, so much that they are willing to choose a non-homosexual lifestyle..."

I think Christians do indeed need to be much more generous with those that are different, whatever form that takes. But I think that the premise that a non-homosexual lifestyle is better (or more "right" in God's eyes) than a homosexual one is fundamentally wrong. I think a loving, committed, monogamous homosexual relationship is basically no different from a heterosexual one of the same sort.

And as long as this flawed kind of thinking exists in the Church, the more gay people will be driven further and further away from it, perhaps never to return.

YAPdates said...

Hi Jackie,
Great to hear from you again. My family and I are well. Thanks.

In the spirit of generosity, just as one party cannot force the other, one cannot prevent another from HOPING that one day, people will agree. I do not remember saying 'better' or 'more right.' Maybe you have read these words accidentally into my posting. My main point is to desire Christ so much even at the cost of becoming 'willing.'

Your disagreement is noted. Hope you have learnt the art of making yummy kimchi in Kimchi-land.


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