Giving, Not Performing…

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Last week we concluded chapter 5 in our study of the Sermon on the Mount. Chapter 6 begins with three passages which go together because Jesus is providing clear direction away from institutionalized religion and into a very private faith. I somehow missed this vital point as a brick and mortar pastor. This should be of interest to a very large portion of our world. This will be a bible study you will never here from the local church.

As I revealed in chapter 5, Jesus’ sermon was probably not very popular with many in the local crowd. If I’m true to the text, then chapter 6 will not be any more widely received by the religious mind today than it was in chapter. As you’ll see, Jesus is not a fan of institutionalized religion and those who are embedded in it’s power structure are not fans of his subversive teachings. The modern religious mind cannot escape a glaring and yet very fair critique of its weekly “big show.” Be it Friday, Saturday or Sunday, far too many attend religious services thinking they are righteous, sometimes even “holier than others” and Jesus exposes this hypocrisy.

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.“Thus, when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:1-4 ESV)

The Greek word recorded here is poiéo (perform, make, construct, do, work) referring to our dikaiosoúnen (righteousness). Jesus will use three examples of righteous deeds (giving, praying, fasting) to prove that true righteousness is not performance art to be displayed in front of others, but belongs in the kruptoi (“crypto”/hidden/the dark). Consider how it must have felt for the original audience to hear Jesus repeatedly refer to the “hypocrites in the Synagog.” An accurate and modern contextualization of this would clearly be Jesus talking about “church going hypocrites. Jesus is deconstructing the cultural container of doing righteousness (institutionalized religion) and trying to get us back to the heart of what it means to be righteous (private faith).

For some people, the motivation for doing righteousness is the approval, validation and recognition of others-its really our motivation for everything. What is Jesus saying about dressing in fancy clothes, volunteering to serve, writing big checks (gifts), and giving our time, not because we want to self-empty (kenosis), but because we want to self-fill? Do you just go along with the pressure of the crowd when the offering plate comes by? Do you feel pressured to give? When you do, do you feel a sense of pride? Do you expect a receipt at the end of the year?Do you need credit for your giving?

Jesus reveals that giving like this is only giving to oneself. Selfish giving bears the reward of vanity and acclaim. For some souls, that is more than enough. Socially, that’s a big reward, spiritually it means part of you is dead inside. When this truth began to dawn on me when working in the Sunday Church delivery system, I was sorely dismayed at how predominant this kind of giving was. Here is a simple test. How many of you would still give to the church if the church was no longer tax deductible? Behind it is the heart that wants credit for being generous. Is it any wonder, so many churches suffer lack? How long can you go to your church and give your money to others in need before your church comes down on you? Try re-alocating your “tithe” to those in your sphere who are in need. What do you think is going to happen?

The correction is to give in such a way that you are not giving thought to the outcomes. “Do not let your left hand know what the right hand is doing.” Be completely moved by the impulse to give and then just give right where the need is. Our giving is to be “in secret” (én tōi kruptōi/ in the hidden/in the darkness). Giving should be done so that no one knows it came from you. Give in such a way that you desire no credit, acclaim, recognition, or accolade for it. It matters nothing if there is a tax deduction. It should be enough that God “sees” (blepo- look, to see, ongoing inferred, to see deeper than the surface/clothing).

A vital point here is that giving is a one-way personal compulsion of love, where God moves on your heart within that secret place, not a bi-directional corporate transaction. Modern religion, just like the synagog in Jesus day, tries to centralize (control) the giving by having everyone give to the church and then the church offers programs for the needy. This corporate model is steeply embedded in our psyche and guilt reflex. What would happen if people in the church followed Jesus advice and, rather than giving corporately, began to selflessly give to those in need within their spheres of influence?

Would the pastor have to get a job just like you? Would the building loan go into default? Would the loss of staff, a jumbotron, and a coffee bar be detrimental to the city? Jesus model of the church would be just fine, the American model for churchianity would be in peril. Do we want the father who sees in secret to reward us in secret, or do we want everyone in town to see what a success our religious project is? Who are we trying to impress with our buildings, nice music, and all our seeker sensitive accoutrements? It’s only necessary if we are trying to impress people, because God sees and Jesus is no more impressed now than he was with the temple built by Solomon. Sit with this for a minute.

Church as a business skims billions of dollars every year from citizens with very little of it going toward programs and services. Most charitable giving at church pays for staff, buildings, insurance, music, parking lots, etc… This shifts the burden of caring for the marginalized in our society to the government and increases the tax burden on citizens. What would our cities look like if hundreds of billions of dollars were utilized to put toward those most in need instead of our religious ego projects?

At my last post in church ministry I gave roughly $250,000 to the “ministry” during our stay there. A fifth of this went to a now defunct missionary fund that helped build an orphanage in Africa that isn’t even being used. The rest went to paying for staff and our cool downtown historic building. Millions went through this small church over the years and there is little to show for it. It is but a single example of a widespread reality. Guess how many programs we had for the poor? Zero. How big was our non-existent food bank?

On the elder board I was a proud tither and even prouder I could go beyond the 10% of my gross. Only the big givers were “qualified” for leadership. I believed this was the reason God blessed my income. When I left I was afraid that perhaps the gravy train would end and I’d lose my job or something. When I stopped giving corporately it was a short ride to leaving the church. I think you will find the same thing to be true. Today, my tax preparer has less formal deductions, but we are 100% connected to our giving and we can do so in private. Knowing that we give from he hidden place has allowed us to experience the true reward: God’s presence. Imagine that, Jesus was trying to free people into God by subverting corporate giving. He’s still doing it today.

You see, the reward for giving is not the giving nor the recognition for the giving. The reward for giving within the hidden is that God sees (blepo). Not having to prove anything to anyone with my giving means that it is no longer a performance. I’ve become free. Are you? Is your pastor? Maybe its time they go and get a job like all of us. Knowing that God sees is all the reward I need. Perhaps this is the path to true righteousness. This is what it means to be merciful, when our eyes move out into our world and we touch the hurting places with our love and our resources. Mercy is not dropping a check in an offering plate. We are challenged to give completely to those things that compel us into love and righteousness, not just keeping some church afloat out of guilt, shame, or giving performance.

Isn’t freedom of the soul the reward we are all really seeking? So why do we care so much about what others will think? Maybe it’s time we stop performing and become hidden.

5 thoughts on “Giving, Not Performing…

  1. This comment is a reply to one of your earlier posts to which comments are already cut off. In this post you said that atheists (no capital) choose not to believe as if we were deciding to pick a penny up off the ground or not. Like it depends on mood or cirvumstance rather than deep thought and inspection of how the idea of gods relates to life.
    Dear sir, I have never met such an atheist, nor am I one such. It takes years of thought to accept that atheism is the only real choice. We, and I humbly speak for others when I say this, do not take up atheism easily. People such as you colour our thinking from the day we are born, before we even get a chance to find out who we are or what we believe on our own. God is forced down our throats and into our innocent minds. We learn to fear before we are even fully alive. And we learn to hate before we know how to love.
    You think it is easy to overcome such brainwashing, to go against what we are told to believe? Believe me, it was one of the hardest decisions of my life. But it was also the most freeing decision in my life. To truly think for myself, rather than just thinking I was believing for myself, rather than believing for those who told me what to think, was like coming out of a cave into the light. The cave of religion. The light of reality.
    Did you notice any science in any of that? I did not. Science was not a factor, it was merely asking myself what is inside of me, and what was given to me from outside of myself. There are no gods inside of me, which I hope you will someday learn to respect. As you said, there is all kind of diversity in this world, and the most diverse is the ability to think for oneself. If you try, and still find a god inside of you, good for you. And if you try, and decide there is no god inside of you, that is good too.
    I no longer hate others, not for any reason. I try to respect whatever anyone is, or believes. But I do get upset when people try to tell me that because I do not believe as they do that I am somewhow deficient, or fooling myself. My thoughts are clear. My motivations are without hatred. I can love everyone on this world, or anyone on any world. I love every living being I meet. Not just humans, but every life that exists. I believe in life above all. But I do not believe in any being who cannot or will not show his/her/its face to me. And that means I do not believe in any gods. Period!
    Please, stop telling lies about people you do not even know, people who think differently than you do. I give you the respect I believe you deserve, why cannot you give me the respect I deserve? I might not be part of your micro group, but I am part if yout macro group. I am alive, same as you. Does that not mean anything to you?

  2. Greetings Rawgod! First I want to thank you for you listening or reading and especially for taking the time to share your comment. While I’m not 100% sure of which post you are referring to, I did want to reply to your comment which I hope will benefit both of us as well as any readers.

    Typically, when I refer to Atheism, I do so as an alternative belief system in the same way that mainline religions are also alternative belief systems to each other. While there may be no deity at the forefront of the Atheist’s mind as there would be with a Muslim, Jew, Christian or other, Atheism nonetheless requires its followers to have faith and trust its truth claims in the same way that other religions do. In this way, you and I are not different. We are also not unlike all other faith systems in the world and science in that we are striving to apprehend and apply the truth “as it is” instead of “as it is for us.” This is the arduous process of spiritual growth, maturity, evolution, rise in consciousness, or whatever framework that you prefer. We are more similar than dissimilar.

    If you listen to my podcasts or read my blogs enough, you’ll begin to discover that our journey’s have similarities. Also, you’ll notice that while I subscribe to biblical Christianity, I in no way subscribe to all the claims made by modern “Churchianity”, nor any institutionalized religion. I’m particularly fascinated with the teaching of Jesus not because they align with modern Evangelicalism, but precisely because they don’t. His “Gospel” was to liberate all comers (literally everyone) from the prison or hell of religion, as well as every other institutional power that would captivate our heart and imprison us in a fake ID.

    I share your decision to leave institutional religion and as I have done so, I (and I’m assuming you too) have been thrust into a desert of exile because those who are framed and named by their institution of choice really resent those who break free of its grasp. I hope you know that I completely validate your decision to leave and to find a new framework that didn’t shove religion down your throat and where you were required to think and believe for yourself instead of follow the herd as so many do. You got out! I’m thrilled. Be cautious you are not sucked back into yet another institution by another name.

    If you are as open minded and free to think independently of institutionalized religion as you say, then you must be free to think outside of the institutionalized framework of Atheism. The fact that your blog is all about “Spiritual Atheism” points to the fact that you recognize that as an “Atheist” you still haven’t forsaken one’s “soul” or “spirit” or “spirituality” as a whole. If I understand you, then it is clear that you accept things such as “soul” or “spirituality” as real. In other words, you fully subscribe to non-physical based reality or another word for that is “spirituality.” I couldn’t agree more with you if this is your position. However, you must realize that embracing a worldview where reality includes both physical and non-physical reality necessarily means that you do not actually subscribe to atheism which by definition says “no-God” or” no-non-physical reality.” I work with many scientists, physicians and researchers who because of this tension, hold tightly to empiricism, but in reality wonder about that “something more” which is not empirically definable. They know its there, but don’t know what to call it.

    So it seems, you and I are not so different. I offer those in my audience, many of whom share your conclusions, a way to process the non-physical reality without a framework and without the requirement for a religion. I’ve done this by proving that the Bible and the work of Jesus was actually trying to free us from religion all along, but because of our low-consciousness and stubborn hearts, we retreated right back into institutional power and when we did, we bought the container and forgot about the contents. I do this because so many of us come from or are still stuck in a religion and won’t trust the way out if it isn’t biblically based. When people get out by throwing out the bible or sacred texts, they haven’t really got out, they usually just went back into something different.

    I hope you’ll continue to listen and journey with me and all these others. I believe in the end of our pursuit for truth, that if we are truly humble students of it and are willing to yield our lives to it, in the end we will ultimately find ourselves in the same place, though via truly diverse paths. I’m ok with that.

    Thanks again for your post and I look forward to reading more of your work.
    Peace to you.

  3. “the institutionalized framework of Atheism”

    This is an enigma inside of a paradox to me. Being an atheist, I know of no institution of atheism. Your choice to capitalize it, or wherever you got the idea to do this, is faulty. To be clear, there us no capital A Atheism, no framework of atheism, and it certainly is not institutionalized. I will admit that some have chosen to be, or appointed themselves to be, spokespersons for all atheists. This has not come from atheists themselves, but from some people’s need to be self-important.
    Atheism has nothing to do with believing in no non-physical reality unless the atheist him or herself decides that is what it means to them. It is one of the beauties of atheism that each person believes as they choose to believe. In fact, the word believe does not really suit what an atheist thinks. Depending on where they are in their progression, whether they know it or not, atheism is just an understanding of the universe or the cosmos. We understand the universe, whatever it eventually turns out to be, to be something natural, not something necesarrily created. As you appear to think, from the words you choose to use, some superior or supreme being you call god created our universe, possibly even the cosmos. That is your right to think that, and it makes sense to you. To atheists, it makes no sense.

    So to say I should take care not to fall into the clutches of some fantastisized framework of atheism is impossible. The only framework I have is one designed inside of me, understood by my reason, and projected only upon my own life. How can I fall into the clutches of something that does not exist. For the most part, this is how I understand most atheists to feel. We are armies of one, individuals who cannot imagine being under the authority of anyone who claims that authority to themselves. We are the only authorities of whom we know to be us.
    As far as your above broadcast/blog post is concerned, I cannot read it without many apprehensions and doubts. What you say works for you, I do not doubt that. But first one has to believe in a god, next one has to believe in a bible as being the word of god, and third one has to believe this god sent his son down to Earth to die on a cross for us. To speak only for myself now, that is a framework I cannot find anywhere in me, not then, not now, not ever. I have searched myself, my mind, and my spirit for virtually 70 years now, and none of this is inside me anywhere. It makes no sense to me in any way, shape or form. So if nothing about god, the bible, or a son of god makes sense, or even attracts my reason, none of the rest can either. But this is just me.

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