Christmas is a season for giving but some refuse to give to those they see as undeserving of their gifts; those who, like the prodigal son, have wasted their money. Why should we give to those who've had their chance and blown it?
Another church once joined with the one where I was the pastor in helping a needy family. The husband and father had just been released from jail where caring men from both churches had become acquainted with him and now were eager to help him and his family. Their concerns were shared by both churches and together we supplied food, clothing and lodging for these impoverished ones who assured us that they would soon be able to make it on their own.
As time passed and little progress was made in moving these people to self-sufficiency, I became discouraged; doubting that this man was really trying to find employment. Finally seeing our efforts as poor investments of our time, effort and money I voiced my concerns to the pastor of the other church. His response to my small faith has been unforgettable: "It is better that they fail us than that we fail them," he replied.
This older and wiser minister had been looking at our giving from a better perspective than mine. He had remembered that we are all unworthy of God's love and yet are the recipients of it. The failure of this floundering family to measure up to our expectations wasn't his primary concern. He just wanted to be sure we were doing our part.
God gives on the ground of mercy rather than merit. Unlike him, I had been focusing on the shortcomings of those in need. In spite of our weaknesses and tendencies to failure, God meets us where we are.
When poor choices have brought people down, we need to reach out to them, doing what we can to lift them up; especially at Christmas. We're celebrating a birth in a manger, not a mansion.
Shall we look down on people because they don't measure up to our expectations?
Shall we Scrooge our way through Christmas, holding tightly onto what we have lest it fall into the hands of those we think aren't worthy of our giving?
Not if we're to follow the example of our Lord. In spite of our failures, he keeps forgiving us, and we should be quick to do the same.
In a brief but powerful article titled, "My Eternal Preference," an anonymous writer sums up the importance of loving the undeserving as follows:
"When we are given our rewards, I would prefer to be found to have erred on the side of grace rather than judgment; to have loved too much rather than too little; to have forgiven the undeserving rather than refused forgiveness to that one who deserved it; to have fed a parasite rather than to have neglected the one who was truly hungry; to have been taken advantage of rather than to have taken undue advantage; to have believed too much rather than too little; having been wrong on the side of too much trust than too much cynicism; to have believed the best and been wrong than to have believed the worst and been right."
Well said, unnamed one. Your love for others must please the one who loves us all.
Roger Campbell is an author, radio broadcaster and newspaper columnist from Waterford, Mich.
He has written more than 20 books and has had articles published in most major Christian magazines. He was a pastor for 22 years and has been a guest speaker in Alaska churches from Anchorage to Homer.
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