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True North verses Magnetic North Giving

Picture of Greg Stier
Greg Stier

Maybe you’ve heard that phrase “true north” batted around and wondered what the difference was between true north and magnetic north. I always have. What I discovered through a little googling is that true north is just that — true. True north points toward the North Pole, the most northern part of the Earth. But, because of the magnetism created by the Earth spinning on its axis, the magnetic poles do not align perfectly with the true poles. So, although our compasses are drawn by these magnetic poles to point north, they do not point to true north. That is why you find magnetic north with a compass and true north with a map.

This illustration makes a fun, interesting and somewhat convicting analogy into the way that we tend to demonstrate generosity and the way that we are called to give. In the same way that there are two “norths” there are two types of givers, magnetic north givers and true north givers.

Our sinful, selfish internal compasses naturally point to the magnetic north created by the spin of the world’s axis of lies. Magnetic north giving comes either out of guilt (i.e. Sally Struthers standing beside poverty stricken African kids with flies on their faces saying “For just pennies a day…”) or with the idea that when you give you, not only make a difference, but feel better about yourself. It points to the benefits that come to you right away: good feelings, nice things getting done, sense of satisfaction, tax write off, tv preacher “100 fold blessing”, etc. Think TV preachers or The Jerry Lewis Telethon or Firefighters with a boot at an intersection.

Magnetic north giving may be out of guilt, obligation, pride or selfishness but it is never out of God’s brand of love. Sadly, I’ve seen magnetic north giving empasized in churches across the country. The often abused 10% obligation (aka “the tithe” aka “the Old Testament rule” aka “the rod that many pastors use to exact a tax from the people of God in spite of the New Testament principle of grace giving”) is just one example of how this brand of givng can quickly devolve into something less than God intended. Magnetic north giving is worldly giving for worldly reasons. It is the kind of giving that makes God gag and the kind of giving that we should avoid.

When Warren Buffet made a commitment to give the majority of his 44 billion dollar fortune away to philanthropic causes he said, “There is more than one way to get to heaven, but this is a great way.” Sorry Warren, but your gift is a big, piling steam of horse manure to God. He sees why you gave, not just what you gave and the trumpets that sounded when you made your commitment and gave your first gift to The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave away your magnetic north mindset. You can’t buy your way into heaven or give your way into the heart of God.

What is true north giving? While Magnetic North can only be found with a compass, True North can only be found with a map. So we are not going to depend on our fleshly internal compass to drive our giving efforts. Instead we are going to look to the Word of God, our map, to find out what True North Giving is all about. Specifically we are going to look to the words of Jesus in Matthew 6:1-4,

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

True north giving is giving to the right things (taking care of the physical and spiritual needs of others) in the right way (privately not publicly) for the right reasons (to be applauded by God not men.) 2 Corinthians 9 reminds us that this kind of giving should be done with a cheerful (literally “hilarious”) heart and should be done proportionately to the amount of reward in heaven we want to receive. If we choose a small percentage of our income to give we will receive a small reward and vice versa.

When I was the preaching pastor of Grace Church we were approached by many capital campaign groups who wanted us to use their services to raise money so that we could build a building. The reason that we as pastors never used them is because central to every one of these campaigns was the idea that people would make a pledge, get up and share with the congregation how much they had given to the building fund and then challenge everyone else in the congregation to join them in their level of sacrifice. Of course, this sounds more like the Warren Buffet school of philanthropy than the school of discipleship with Jesus. We pastors could never reconcile the words of the capital campaign salesman and the words of Jesus not to let your left hand know what your right hand was doing.

Finally, after 20 years of growth, Grace Church is building that building and guess what? They are doing it through grace giving! Nobody is going to have a brick or a building named after them. Nobody is getting up to brag under the pretense of sharing a testimony to encourage/guilt people into giving more. And everyone is being pretty hilarious about it in the process. Way to go Pastor Rick! Way to go elders! Way to go Grace Church! Way to go all grace givers!

True north giving comes with some powerful benefits. Jesus makes this clear when he told his disciples,

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:19-24

Jesus is telling us that true north giving aligns our hearts for kingdom causes (“where your treasure is, there your heart will be also”), opens our eyes to a kingdom perspective (“if your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light”) and deepens our commitment to the King of kings (“You cannot serve both God and money.”) Everytime we make a gift let’s ask ourselves if the result of the gift we are making is going to be our eyes being more open to the kingdom, our heart being more aligned for the kingdom and our knees being more bent to the King.

Let’s refuse to give like the world does. Sorry Jerry Lewis, but we must allow the map of God’s Word to drive our giving and not the strong pull of our magnetic depravity. If we choose to give to the Telethon it will be because we love God and therefore love the unloveable. But don’t count on us giving you any giant checks publicly with the sounds of trumpets blaring and people clapping. Our giving will be so secret our left hands will wonder what just happened. We’ll get a longer, louder standing O in heaven.

And let us all remember that the ultimate gift was the gift of Jesus, God’s indescribable gift to us. When Jesus died on the cross he paid the price for our sins in full and hrough simple faith in Him we have the gift of eternal life. We don’t work for it. We can’t buy it (sorry Warren.) And, once we have it, we give back to him passionately our lives and money, not out of guilt or obligation (or a compulsary Old Testament tithe mentality) but out of gratefulness and joy!

Let us laugh! Let us give! Let us let the map of God’s Word drive us to True North Giving!

Unlikely Fighter

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