Monday, March 17, 2008

The Big Giveaway

I like Oprah. I know there are a lot of members of the Christian community who don't like her and think she's New Age. I don't know if she's New Age. She says she's a Christian. I have to believe her.

I like the good she does for humanity. I like that she gives bookoos of her money away to help people. She changes people's lives. She raises awareness. She encourages action. I like that very much. I watch her show often. She has achieved the incredible, and she inspires me to move forward with my goals.

But I'm not sure I like her new show, The Big Giveaway. Something about competitive giving. It doesn't sit quite right in me. Something about giving for all America to see. Giving to win.

It's not only that Jesus' words keep running over in my head.

"1 Be careful not to do your 'acts of righteousness' before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. 2 So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. 3 But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6:1-4)

Who knows how much money Oprah, personally, (not Oprah, the T.V. producer), gives away that nobody sees? I don't know. I can't, shouldn't, judge her life for what I see on T.V. I won't.

It was something she said today. And something Simon Cowell said today, on her show, that got me thinking.

Yesterday I heard a sermon by Tim Keller (here we go's just too good, people!), and part of what he said was like this:

When Nicodemus came to Jesus that night, Jesus told him he must be born again to enter the kingdom of God. Meaning that, all those moral, outstanding, upstanding, deeds he did as a Pharisee (for he was a very good, kind Jew) meant nothing in regards to the salvation Jesus offered. Jesus said, that despite all of that, Nicodemus must be born again. A completely new life. Not a life born of flesh from the pain and suffering and blood of his mother in labor, but a life born of the Spirit...born from Jesus' pain and suffering blood of the cross. A life given to him, not something he could produce.

So what is sin, really? In all of Nicodemus' good lifestyle, what was it that kept him from the kingdom of God? It was, and is, man's completely self-centered idea of himself. Of his existence, his worth, his future, his meaning, his esteem. Jesus was saying that nothing Nicodemus did could excuse him from this state of sin. So when we do something good for the self-centered reason of being good, of winning points for the sake of righteousness, of thinking we are wonderful, of thinking we are more loved by God, better, SELF-righteous, we miss the mark. We misunderstand Christ. And we are not one step nearer to the kingdom of God. To God, himself. Because it's CHRIST'S sacrifice that saves us.

SO! Back to Oprah. Her guest today was Simon Cowell, the American Idol guru, and T.V./record producer. He talked about who would win this season. He showed off his new girl that won in Britain, and his ventriliquist that won America's Got Talent, and then he gave $165,000 to a family whose three year old daughter is receiving chemo and radiation for cancer. He wrote a check for $165,000 to pay off their mortgage. Here's the conversation that took place after he gave the money away, in more or less words:

Simon: I feel really good.

Oprah: Yes! Giving Makes You Feel Good!!

Simon: Yeah, I do. I feel really good.

Oprah: Giving Makes You Feel Good! That's the Point!

Simon: It took me forty something years to realize that and I credit you, Oprah, for bringing it to light.

Oprah: Me? When did you first figure it out?

Simon: Today. Today I can say: I'm a guardian angel now.


Giving Makes You Feel Good. That's the point. I'm a guardian angel now.

That bothered me. It seems that the American idea of giving, as stated here on the Oprah show, is meant to give yourself a little boost. To esteem yourself. It's about what you get out of it. After all, doesn't the Bible say, give and it will be given unto you. You reap what you sow. Feeling good is natural, isn't it? Did Jesus feel good when he raised Lazarus from the dead? When he fed the multitudes and healed the sick? When he died on the cross? Or should it feel bad? Should it feel like bearing your cross? Like being crucified with Christ? Like a sacrifice?

Thoughts welcome.


Amy said...

Wow. Well, I don't know. I mean admittedly, I feel good when I give, too. And I think there's something to that....sometimes we hoard and then we give and realize that it doesn't hurt it's actually liberating and we can help someone.

But I think more than how we feel, because it doesn't always feel good, is the why. If we give just to feel will get old fast. That's not enough to sustain a continued life of giving. That's not enough to give when it hurts and doesn't make sense. You know, like when someone asks you for your coat and it's freezing outside.

So sometimes, I think giving feels good, like a self pat on the back or when you can see the difference it makes. But other times I think we give because Jesus gave and gave it all and we want to be like Him.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure 99% of the time, all of us, Christians included and maybe especially Christians, give with at least mixed motives if not outright self-interest. That said, the impact of the gift is not diminished on the recipient because of my poor motives and too-high valuation of myself. Giving is probably one of those baited hooks of the Christian life. Jesus knows exactly how hard it is for us to keep ourselves out of any equation. He never said it would be easy and he never said that we'd always get it right. But just like every other sin that we work towards killing off, the sins of self take time. Along the way, we'd damned well better be sure to heed Christ's words and be generous with ourselves, our money, our time, our possessions, our talents, and our lives.

Julio said...

I think Giving should be the result of loving others, ¨God so loved the world the he GAVE his only begotten son...¨ and love is not self-seeking.

Popcorn said...

Sometimes I try to hold myself accountable for how many times I turn conversations back to me, I, mine, I think, I went, I saw, my this, my that...and I get embarrassed in front of myself at how utterly often I fall victim to the urge. As hard as I try to be other centered, my mind wanders back to my "me-hood", my wretched affinity for my "me-ness". FancyP it's appalling. So, if I gave away 165,000.00 I would no doubt wallow in how it made the great me feel out of pride. I'm ashamed to admit that I have to constantly swim against that tide. Ideally we should die to self and at all times remain focused on how an event or a statement affects the other person. Ideally we should give to others in secret so self won't be glorified. This is something that I have to constantly work on and pray about.

Seth Ward said...

It is certainly amazing how close we are at all times to turning something good into to a tool for self adoration.

I think Jesus knew this better than anyone and that's why he told us HOW to give, pray, and serve- in secret, or as secret as you can.

I think the intentions are good there, and it certainly might inspire people to do good things, but I hope that people don't think that good things= big piles money or a new swing set, even though those things can and do make a difference. Someone simply sitting with a dying person is much more valuable to the dying soul than all the cash in the world.

I need to be reminded that even the smallest and most anonymous acts of kindness have an endless echo, not just the ones that involve celebrity and tennis courts and cameras and giant wads of cash. And most times, it is the smallest gifts that come with the greatest sacrifice, and again Jesus shows us that those rise high above the public gestures of grandeur in love and service and are closer to His heart.

However, when I see someone like Simon Cowell give away some money for the first time, I can certainly rejoice...

Because a good deed will always be good. But God wants both parties to be moved closer to him by the deed, not just the recipient. And maybe he was, but it seemed that it turned back towards himself. I hate to be so critical of something so kindhearted. I do believe that what he did was good, even great. It is only the exhibition that makes me feel uncomfortable, but if that's the price-tag for that little girls treatment, then I'll take it, and so will she. I think though, that for any giver, the gifts you will treasure the most, and for the longest, are the ones that no one knew you gave.

At first, you'd think that it is no fun. I mean, at least we can take some joy from the recipient, right? Nope, not even that. It is something that cannot be understood or explained until you try it, and then you get it.

The Aimful Wanderer said...

Giving is big business in America. Think of all the shows that based on the premise of rich people giving money away. The Big Giveaway lets us commoners in the on the action without actually having to give anything ourselves. (I think. I've never watched it, but that's what I've gathered.)

I think shows like that are silly all around because they always have impossible premises. How many of us can pay off someone's mortage or remodel a home or give an entire studio audience a free hybrid car? But we could surprise that homeless guy begging for change with $20 bucks. Instead we walk on by as if we're really going to apply that dollar to pay off the new 50" TV we just bought so we can watch Oprah give cars away to people who probably already have them.

FancyPants said...

"But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, 4 so that your giving may be in secret."

In secret from the public? Or both the public and the recipient?

Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing...

How is this possible? Figure of speech? Surely, right. So what does he mean?

Popcorn said...

I think the spirit of that verse is not to flaunt our giving. The right hand should not let the left hand know to prevent the whole self from becoming puffed up with pride over the "good" it just performed.

MamasBoy said...

Call me a cynic, but I think Oprah is primarily giving money away in order to make more money. She has built an empire around being liked by others. This is just one more way to build herself up in the eyes of people and make more money. Same with Bill Gates. He didn't start giving money away in large sums until the justice department started investigating his company for squelching competition and forming a monopoly. It makes me wonder if the two weren't tied together.

I think Jesus wanted us to give money away with neither the recipient or public knowing. However, that is sometimes impractical. Also, many (like myself) daily forgo this in order to obtain the tax deduction when giving to a charitable organization. I've even found myself wondering at the end of the year if I gave too much to individuals and non-tax deductible causes when I saw how much it hurt my tax return compared to past years. When receiving is tied to giving it starts making me uncomfortable, and makes me wonder if my motives are any better than Oprah's. Also, I think the tax deduction can have a detrimental effect because it forces charitable organizations to track donors and can lead to the favoritism that James and Jesus decried in the NT. It is clear from the story of Ananias and Sapphira, that giving in the early church was not completely anonymous and that this may have led to envy and jealousy. It makes one wonder if the people A and S envied had been highly praised or received favorable treatment because of their giving? Clearly God didn't think was an excuse for what they did and there is no condemnation in Scripture for the non-anonymous nature of gifts to the apostles, so I tend to think that Jesus does not expect total anonymity to be the norm. Still, I wonder.

I'm not about to make my giving completely anonymous, but Jesus' words make me uncomfortable sometimes. I know that my giving leads to receiving, and I wonder how displeased our Lord is with that?


FancyPants said...

I can't really speak for Oprah's motives. I know she's in the business of making money, and that she has alot of it. But as far as what her show (The Oprah Show, not The Big Giveaway) gives...I don't know...I would assume she uses revenue from the show to give away to people. Is she held accountable in the same way she'd be held accountable personally? I don't know. Is the show, in that manner, any different than Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, The Price is Right, Wheel of Fortune? They give lots of stuff away, just for solving puzzles and answering questions. Is it OK for a show to give away just to give away? And not to just any old shmuck who can run down the aisle or spin the wheel, but to a family truly in need?

Just thinking out loud here.

This Southern Belle said...

Interesting discussion. I worked in non-profit development before I stayed at home and dealt with large-sum donations pretty regularly. It was impossible for me to judge donor's intentions, but their words and actions seemed to vary from very intentional to humbling to self-aggrandizing.

I've shied away from Oprah's TV Show or The Big Giveaway, because it turns me off for the same reasons. However, I've often wondered if God uses her as a way to speak to people's hearts and prompt them to asking themselves the big questions in life (which might eventually lead them to Him). A question that I'll only know the answer to when I see Him. So, I try to take what she does at face value, because there is no way for me to judge her calling or intentions.

Rob said...

We are created in God's image and he's a giver. We don't really have a choice but to feel good when we give. I think God meant us to feel good when we do lots of things.

I also think that sin is taking a good thing God did and twisting it a little. Most of the time that means making it "all about me." Probably the same thing with giving.

We're not very good at predicting what will make us happy. First, we think that we'll be happy if we have a lot of stuff. We soon figure out that doesn't work too well, then we think giving things to people will make us happy. That doesn't work either, because we're still focused on ourselves. We're only truly happy when we're doing what we were created to do... loving God and loving each other.

Giving is a side effect, not the main purpose. As long as we're focused on the giving and not the person we're twisting a good thing.

FancyPants said...

I just found out that her show's actually called, "The Big Give." NOT the "The Big Giveaway."


Susanne said...

I agree with Rob:
"As long as we're focused on the giving and not the person we're twisting a good thing."

We're all human, and it's natural to feel good when we give and help someone. But when I've been led to give because God has shown me a great need someone has, any amount that I give does not seem like enough. I'm glad I helped, but I always wish I could give more. I think it's easy to feel great about giving when you don't identify with the people you're helping. You give a little money and you're done. Pat yourself on the back. But when you really have a heart for those in need, you could give a million bucks and you would still want to give more. And I agree with Seth that giving our time can be so much more valuable than giving money/things. God has been telling me for some time that I need to visit nursing homes more often. I need to take my kids and let them visit with the people there as well. Thanks for such a thought-provoking post!