Frivolous Family Vacations? Giving Out of Guilt vs. Giving Freely

We just arrived home from a Disney World vacation combined with Arlene’s writers’ conference. Our two teens and I exercised an eight-day park pass, while Arlene joined us for four days and spent four at the conference. It was fantastic to see Arlene in her writers’ community, and to meet our friends from Faithful.live in person.

Upon arrival, the shuttle driver brought my vacation to an immediate discord of thoughts. His words that evoked my dissonance… “Welcome to Disney where your money magically disappears.”

Yes I/we had weighed all costs and benefits for the three of us to take the trip with Arlene. Certainly Disney is expensive, but for your dollar, no one entertains like Mickey. (If you’re looking to relax rather than seeking amusements, definitely go elsewhere.)

The hotel was also offering a deal for those at the conference. I suppose it would’ve been more prudent to save the money, but we hadn’t had a family trip in over three years.

So with that justification, we went. We had a great time. It was hot enough to melt, but the weather cooperated until the last ten minutes of our final evening, when sheets of rain chased thousands of us from a stadium, drenching us within seconds. We were thankful for the hotel dryers which we utilized late at night before packing.

But the shuttle driver’s words bring me back to a matter that often haunts me. Were we spending money wastefully when it could’ve been saved for “a rainy day” or to give to others?

It’s a reoccurring issue for me (and for others, of course). We can always give more and do more for others, rather than “hoarding” time, money, and energy for ourselves.

What Movie Clip Represents You?

Our pastor once asked us in a small group to show a movie clip that affected us or to which we could relate.

I don’t claim to have done anything monumental in life like saving lives, but I had to choose Schindler’s List where Oskar Schindler was in agony and distress at the end of the movie, because he felt he could’ve saved more Jews from extermination by giving more (in bribes). (Please see the transcript at the end of this article…it is so powerful…or watch the clip).

Guilt drove him into a guilt-ridden, emotional state. While that is more extreme than my angst, I often feel guilt for the comfort in which I live and because I don’t give more to the needy. I know many feel the same.

It also makes me wonder if we’re just playing with Christianity here in the west. We have brothers and sisters elsewhere who risk life, torture, and imprisonment to worship.

The persecuted church is persecuted because they refuse to deny Christ. Our comfort seems horribly non-sacrificial in comparison.

So here’s my confession. I tend to get a bit defeatist and lose hope in the western church. This lack of faith is definitely a weakness…and a sin. Consider this public confession an act of repentance in a journey to change.

I do realize, however, if we have faith in God and believe in His supreme authority (sovereignty), and His plan for everything and everyone (general and special providence), then we need to accept where He has placed us and how He has resourced us, and to walk in the Spirit for guidance.

Giving and Destiny

So let’s deal with this topic of our destiny and its relationship to giving. We’ll mostly avoid the debate on the Old Testament practice (law) of tithing ten per cent of one’s income, other than to point out that Jesus said He didn’t come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Matt. 5:17).

If anything, He connected the law more to the development and outworking of our hearts, revealing standards that reflect love, intentions, right living and justice, rather than rules. We should see the tithe as a standard rather than a necessary practice.

Sometimes it might not be prudent to give as much as ten per cent, but generally we shouldn’t limit ourselves to ten per cent either. Usually we can give far more.

With that qualification, it’s amazing to note that as a young couple, it was committing to the tithe that allowed us to give freely and beyond the tithe, and to quit agonizing over whether we could afford it.

How and Why to Give

The apostle Paul says it in concise terms, that one should give whatever is on his/her convicted heart, and that God loves the giver who gives happily rather than begrudgingly. The only qualification that we should make to the following passage is this: benefitting from giving should NOT be connected to reaping materially, as the phony prosperity preachers of today would have the gullible believe.

2 Corinthians 9 The Cheerful Giver 6 The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

One might think it should be easy to bend our attitudes toward cheerfulness. But often that’s not the case, as other things call for our money, or we resent giving when we might not totally agree with a present direction of our church, or if we learn stories of waste, fraud, and swindling.

However, giving money and service is an expression of worship, so our desire should be to receive God’s love and His delight in us for our willing hearts.

Our other intention shouldn’t be to get blessed, it’s because we already are blessed. Without God, we don’t have permission to take our next breath of oxygen. So give your time, energy, and money because you are grateful.

Model of Giving – Do We Give Like the Widow?

Ask God what is acceptable and He will convict you of what is just right. Everyone who gives with a proper attitude is worthy and their gift is acceptable.

Mark 12:41-44 (ESV) The Widow’s Offering

41 And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. 43 And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Do not broadcast your generosity to the world. Only God knows and needs to know.

Matthew 6:1-4 (ESV) Giving to the Needy (In Secret)

6 “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.

2 “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.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. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

Warning to the Affluent – The Love of Money

The love of money, not money, is the root of all evil. This can apply to the impoverished and sluggard as much as to the wealthy. One can treasure their fifty dollars as much as fifty thousand.

1 Timothy 6:  10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.

However, it is more likely that those with more will struggle more. It is easier to depend on God when you have fewer resources upon which to depend. It is something of which the wealthy need to be vigilant and aware, at least if they care about remaining in God’s will.

Matt: 19 24 Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.

Though we earlier stated that the “tithe” is now a standard not a practice, there is a principle of the consequences of being generous (receive abundant life) versus being miserly (being cursed).

Malachi 3 (ESV) 8 Will man (NSV says “a mere mortal”) rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. 9 You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. 10 Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Prosperity is a Test, Not a Blessing – Poor But Joyful

Often when prayer is offered for collection plates in the western church, a prayer is prayed for a blessing upon the use of the money, and thankfulness is usually given for us “being so blessed.”

Though the intention might not always be there, the implication is that we are so blessed due to our prosperity (and other wonderful things like freedom to worship, health, etc.).

But are we blessed due to our prosperity? Or are we being tested?

I have met joyful Salvadoran Christians living in shanty towns, and I have seen footage of ecstatic underground believers receiving Bibles in China. I have viewed video of the persecuted church in the Middle East worship jubilantly.

I used to show a video to my special education class of African Christians celebrating Christmas. The observation of one of my “learning disabled” boys:  “They’re so poor, but they’re so happy.”

The Last Shall Be First

These examples should give us pause, and consider that the less fortunate are “less fortunate” in money alone. They might already be far more prosperous in vitality, faith, and usefulness to God.

Matthew 19:29-30 (ESV)

29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or lands, for my name’s sake, will receive a hundredfold and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.

A short note to qualify all this talk of giving…though the focus here is monetary giving, obviously one can give of him/herself to help others. Arlene is often first to send meals to those who are moving, or who have suffered loss of loved ones, or in their health, or to play the piano to bring light to seniors at nursing homes. Generally, the purpose of this article was to establish some guidelines for giving financially.

Answer in Giving Freely

So what about it? Was our vacation frivolous or acceptable? Obviously there are many factors which have been offered here.

Thankfully, God has given us the freedom to celebrate as families and as faith communities, with numerous examples of feasts and celebrations in the Bible. The main factors that make it pleasing in His sight are our hearts of gratitude, and our acts of worship in giving whatever we can give with our energy, time, and money.

Walking in the Spirit will allow our consciences to discern what those amounts should be…on an ongoing basis, not just times of individual decisions.

Carrying ourselves with friendliness, generosity, and politeness never hurts His name either, especially in those long and stifling Disney lines, or in cheerfullyleaving tips for deserving and underpaid servers.

Celebrate God’s generosity by giving back whatever you can give. Not out of a sense of obligation, but from a joyful, grateful heart.

Clip from Schindler’s List:  (click to watch)

At the beginning of the movie, we are introduced to “bad” Schindler. He makes a fortune by forcing defenseless Jews into slave labor at his war supply factories. However, somewhere along the way, he begins to take pity on their hopeless situation and focuses on saving the same people he once extorted. He sells his possessions, or gives them away, to “buy” Jews from the Nazis so they will not be killed.

This scene comes from the end of the movie. It is the final hours of World War II. The once powerful man, Schindler, is now bankrupt and on the run. He has spent most of his wealth trying to save the lives of his workers who would have otherwise been killed. Now a fugitive, he faces the group of people he has worked so hard to help.

Worker: We have written a letter…trying to explain things…in case you are captured. Every worker signed it. 

Schindler: Thank you. 

Stern: It’s Hebrew, from the Talmud. It says, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.” 

Schindler: I could have got more out. I could have got more. I don’t know. If I’d just…I could have got more. 

Stern: Oskar, there are eleven hundred people who are alive because of you. Look at them. 

Schindler: If I’d made more money…I threw away so much money. You have no idea. If I’d just… 

Stern: There will be generations because of what you did. 

Schindler: I didn’t do enough! 

Stern: You did so much. 

Schindler: (looking at his car) This car. Goeth would have bought this car. Why did I keep the car? Ten people right there. Ten people. Ten more people. (removing a Nazi pen from lapel) This pen. Two people. This is gold. Two more people. He would have given me two for it, at least one. He would have given me one. One more. One more person. A person, Stern. For this. I could have gotten one more person…and I didn’t! And I…I didn’t! (sobs)