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Charity Began at Home


"Dear children, let us stop just saying we love each other; let us really show it by our actions."

John 3:18 NLT

My mom dropped a dollar in the collection plate at church each week. But this was not the total of her giving. Before the offering began, she rifled through the spare change at the bottom of her purse in order to let the three kids in on the act. A quarter for the oldest, a dime for me, and a nickel for the youngest.

Even at a young age, I could understand the wisdom of this investment. So much for so little—the three-story cathedral, ornate altar, numerous employees, an unlimited supply of doughnuts in the fellowship hall after service. All this for a buck-forty a week.

It was magical, mysterious, and mystical—just like church was supposed to be. When the lesson came around about Jesus pulling the coin from the fish's mouth, it made me feel downright biblical. (Mom's purse was even shaped a little like a fish.) We never held out much hope for seeing a bona fide miracle happen in our midst, but this multiplication of the coins and dollars was good enough.

Not that our family could not have afforded to be more charitable. We lived in the suburbs and Dad had a professional career. He wasn't a church-goer, so maybe Mom thought that she shouldn't rob Dad to pay St. Paul's. Or maybe it just didn't seem necessary. Somehow the church continued its mission, the community food pantry remained well-stocked, and the doughnut supply never dwindled.

It was that childhood perspective that made me appreciate the radical change in my parents after they committed their lives to Jesus. But it went well beyond the money that they now generously gave in response to needs.

Mom developed the habit of becoming friends with some very down-and-out women, paying their bills, taking them to church, even inviting them to live in her home for months at a time. In many cases there was little payback for her investment—one committed suicide, another returned to witchcraft. But to this day, at age 84, she still recieves letters from a lady who claims that her life was eternally changed by my mom's kindness.

Dad became a frequent sight at several area youth ministry houses, rewiring electrical circuits, repairing washing machines, and even teaching other young guys tricks of the trade. When he became bed-ridden with cancer, he would frequently ask about the health of his former work associates, so we could pray at his bedside for people he felt were more needy.

It's the picture of their later years that has given me the best glimpse into what Mathew 8:10 should look like in the church. "Freely you have received, freely give."

I know the American church has seriously dropped the ball in this area in recent years. But I find it difficult to point my finger or complain. I have received too freely from God to accuse or to accumulate. Now is the time to give.

December 31, 2004 | Permalink

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