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A Lenten devotion

Day 23: Monday, April 4

Please read and reflect on Luke 6:38.

Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

In this passage from his Sermon on the Plain, Jesus referred to how grain was sold in the markets of the day. The seller could simply fill up the basket, hoping there was air between kernels so you wouldn't get quite as much as you bargained for. But in Jesus' image, the seller squashes in as much grain as possible, shaking it to eliminate the air and make room for more. And even then, it's running over. Poured into your lap. You have to imagine the kind of outer robes people wore, with a fold over the belt that could be used as a big pocket — sort of a first-century reusable shopping bag. When you give, you receive in abundance.

Jesus isn't telling us, like TV's preachers of prosperity, that the best way to get more money is to give some away. And he's not giving investment advice here — give money to your stockbroker and you're guaranteed to double your investment.

There is indeed a tendency to get something tangible back when you give a gift. Have you ever been just a bit dismayed to receive an unexpected Christmas present? Because then you have to come up with something to give back. Give and it will be given to you. Invite people over for dinner, and they'll feel obligated to come with a hostess gift. Is that what Jesus meant?

I believe Jesus is talking about more than this. This passage comes in the context of lessons that defy the conventional wisdom. There must be something unexpected here. Give, and it will be given to you. What do you receive when you give? One study found that generous people tend to live seven years longer. I expect it's because generous people know the joy and contentment of making a difference in their communities, making a difference in the world.

I've seen the satisfaction on the faces of community leaders when the project for which they've volunteered so many hours finally comes to fruition. I've stood with some of our college's donors when we've dedicated the science lab they've made possible or celebrated the faculty chair they've endowed. I've seen the joy and satisfaction of directing their money not to some private luxury but to help others. And my wife and I have found that same satisfaction in our own volunteering and philanthropy.

Why do we find such satisfaction in our giving? Because God made us this way. We are created to be loving and generous. Jesus knew this. The conventional wisdom might have been, as it seems to be today, to get as much as you can and save it or spend it on yourself on your family. But Jesus preached contrary to the conventional wisdom, because he embodied true wisdom. "Give, and it will be given to you — good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap."

I'm a practical guy, so I wanted to offer you a few tips to help make your giving especially meaningful. Because the practice of giving time and talent is covered in the section on serving, I'm going to focus on giving money. Here are some things I've learned both from my own experience and from encouraging others to give. You might say it's about how to maximize your return.

• Make giving a family affair. Teach your kids to be generous when they're young, and when they're older, help them establish the habit of philanthropy.

• Remember the Biblical standard: Tithe at least 10 percent of your income to God's work. You can work out whether that's 10 percent to your congregation, or whether that figure includes the greater work of the church such as LSSI, disaster relief and Lutheran colleges. Either way, if every Christian did this, our churches and our benevolences wouldn't be facing the budget problems they cope with every year.

• When you're thinking about funding community initiatives, remember that early money is like yeast. Jesus said the kingdom of God is a growing thing, like yeast that increases the volume of the dough. Well, money given in the early stages of a campaign inspires others to give — and that really increases the dough!

• When possible, make your gift undesignated. Often, basic operations are the hardest to pay for, because people want to give to some very specific project. That can tie the hands of the organization, especially if needs change later.

• Make an estate plan, and include your church and the organizations you love the most. It's especially helpful if you let them know they're in your will, with or without a number, because there are formulas that help predict how much they can expect to come in each year from the total number of will commitments. Again, you can't take it with you, and do your kids really deserve all that?

• Don't wait for an organization to become perfect before you're willing to give. Thank God that "while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom. 5:8.) The same goes for churches, which will always have their foibles. But God didn't wait to pour out his grace until people were without fault.

• However you give, be sure to be generous. As God showers gifts of grace upon us —  claiming us, gathering us, equipping us and sending us — our use of those gifts to the benefit of all reflects how highly we value them. And what better expression of our gratitude for the gifts of God could there be? To set such gifts on a shelf, collecting dust, would not only be ungrateful, it would keep us from the great joy of using them. By using them... by sharing them... we give proof to the words of our text.

Lord of all, thank you for the abundance you have poured out into my lap. Inspire me, Lord, to show my gratitude through my own generosity. In the name of the Giver, Amen.