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03 October 2008

Fasting to Please Ourselves?

Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast.
    Shout aloud! Don’t be timid.
Tell my people Israel of their sins!
    Yet they act so pious!
They come to the Temple every day
    and seem delighted to learn all about me.
They act like a righteous nation
    that would never abandon the laws of its God.
They ask me to take action on their behalf,
    pretending they want to be near me.
"We have fasted before you!" they say.
    "Why aren’t you impressed?
We have been very hard on ourselves,
    and you don’t even notice it!"

"I will tell you why!" I respond.
    "It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves.
Even while you fast,
    you keep oppressing your workers.
What good is fasting
    when you keep on fighting and quarreling?
This kind of fasting
    will never get you anywhere with me.
You humble yourselves
    by going through the motions of penance,
bowing your heads
    like reeds bending in the wind.
You dress in burlap
    and cover yourselves with ashes.
Is this what you call fasting?
    Do you really think this will please the Lord?

"No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
    Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
    Let the oppressed go free,
and remove the chains that bind people.
    Share your food with the hungry,
and give shelter to the homeless.
    Give clothes to those who need them,
and do not hide from relatives who need your help.

"Then your salvation will come like the dawn,
    and your wounds will quickly heal.
Your godliness will lead you forward,
    and the glory of the Lord will protect you from behind.
Then when you call, the Lord will answer.
    'Yes, I am here,' he will quickly reply..."
- Isaiah 58:1-9 (NLT)

Fasting to please ourselves... It strikes me that this is communicated in the statement that was made to me by a friend recently (posted about it here originally): "I think [Christians are sometimes] trying to convince the other person that they are also a Christian."

How far does our club mentality go? Sometimes Christ-followers seem so scared of being absorbed by what's been called the "social gospel" that they intentionally don't engage in it. The call of the Scriptures is not to place everything into that type of mentality, but that it should be an integral part of who we are.

God hasn't just been faithful to His people in America. He's been ridiculously gracious to us -- blessing us like we don't even begin to deserve. Jesus told His followers to give as freely as they have received (Matthew 10:8), and He wasn't talking about money. He also said, "And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return." (Luke 6:33-34, NLT) -- we should give without expecting anything in return.

Here comes today's controversial blog post zinger. I don't know if it's something that I have a big problem with, but it honestly bothers me. I wonder if it typifies a wrong type of mentality. When we give money to our local church fellowship (which I recommend, support, and participate in), why is it that we keep a record of it so that we'll be sure to get credit for charitable giving on our taxes at the end of the year? I've been told that it's naïve to suggest that we shouldn't do that, but I take joy in retaining some of my naïveté and child-like faith.

What do you think?

7 comments:

Leroy said...

If we give (money, time, etc.) for the sole purpose of getting a benefit (tax benefit for money, community service hours on our resume, etc.), then there is an attitude problem.

If we give from the heart, then any received benefit will be an "oh by the way".

It can be a 'bad' circle though...give from the heart, receive a benefit, see the benefit then change our reason for giving.

How about this question...would you still give if you ('you' in general, not 'you' Dean) didn't get something out of it?

Tony M said...

I think Leroy has it right, and his question "would you still give?" is spot-on (sorry, was listening to Irish music on the way into work today). One other comment I have:

"Give to Caesar what is Caesar's, and to God what is God's." [Jesus speaking]

So... is it then wrong, if the government says "you don't have to pay taxes on your charitable giving," to accept that? But I definitely see the point - like Leroy said, it's a matter of the heart - the attitude, the motivation. I personally don't keep track of what I give to a church (to a thrift store, yes); if the church sends me a record at the end of the year, great. If not, that's OK, too.

I wonder, though... is it wrong to try to motivate people by, "Remember, in order to count for this year's taxes your gifts must be received by December 31" (said from a pulpit)?

Tony M said...

Also, thinking more about it, I think Jesus was specifically approaching the attitude behind the giving with his comment.

Eileen said...

Dean - I thought that was a good question... I had just read this on the Dave Ramsey website the other day....

Is it right to count my church tithes on my tax returns?

You gave the money to the church. You were biblically obedient in that. The Bible also tells us to be good managers of our money. It does not diminish the sanctity of your gift to take the tax deduction. It is a way to manage the rest of the money. Take the deduction.

Later when you get your income tax refund, remember that this is money that you've already tithed, although you're certainly welcome to devote some or all of it back to the Lord as additional thanks for His blessings.

Just an interesting thought... but doesn't everything in our Christian walk break down to a "heart" matter and/or the motivation of the heart. This applies to all aspects of our lives... even our finances... We are called to be good stewards/managers of what God has given us... to me that means that if there is a tax credit available to us because we give that means its "ok" to take it... not because I am being "greedy", but because I am trying to be a good/wise steward of what God has blessed me with in order for me to be a blessing to others.

Christy said...

This post totally did not go in the area I expected it to. I thought it was about fasting for selfish reasons. My bad.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes working it into our tax deduction can help us see if we're doing the 10% (or whatever amount) of all incomes (rental properties, home sales, etc.) ???

Dean Lusk said...

Great perspectives all around! I think Leroy's comment early on encapsulates things well:

"If we give from the heart, then any received benefit will be an 'oh by the way'."

I think that today's post (10/5/08)meets this one somewhere. We should never give expecting anything in return.

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