During the ten years I spent working for various radio stations, I saw these scene numerous times. After all, radio stations try to bribe people to listen. They offer money, prizes, and all sorts of excitement just ot keep people listening or to get them to show up at a radio station event. Often those events brought out some real gems.
I had been at this new car dealership for about an hour and a half with free hot dogs, drinks and balloons for the kids. The guy at the grill had gone through all the hot dogs on hand and since the appearance was almost over, he didn't go out to get any more. Then a man walked up to me at the radio station van. He wasn't shabbily dressed or anything, but he smelled like he hadn't bathed in a few days.
The man said, "I wanted to get a couple of hot dogs."
"Sorry, but we're all out," I explained.
"But you said on the radio that if I came down here you'd have free hot dogs, and I want mine!" he countered.
"Um, if you listened, you know I said 'while supplies last' when I was talking about the hot dogs. We had a whole bunch during the last hour and a half, but now we're all out. Sorry about that."
It was at point the man started shouting at me about me telling him lies and him wanted what I promised him. Eventually he stormed off.
That scene happened for a hot dog, for a t-shirt, and for an album or cassette (it's been a few years ago). I was yelled at for giving someone the wrong size free t-shirt, for giving away a tape the person already had. Some people really appreciated the free gifts. Others felt cheated by receiving something for free.
I realized back then that being given something for free didn't mean a person would appreciate the effort. It would be easy even for me to complain about a free gift. I've received birthday and Christmas gifts that I didn't like, maybe because it was the wrong color or it just didn't suit me. I probably wasn't very appreciative that someone gave something to me as a present.
I was having a discussion last week about this very phenomenon. Do most people appreciate a gift received? What about a benefit received from a church or a service organization? What about from the government?
Our church typically collects money in a fund and then gives it to people we know are in need, whether they are part of our congregation or not. There are plenty of stories of people needing $300 desperately, then our check for exactly that amount is enclosed in a card. God works miracles through us, and the recipient understands that and is truly grateful. From my understanding of Scripture, that's one of the things a church is supposed to do.
While debating whether or not a government should be giving things away, I tried to play things out in my mind. I've got to admit, I've rarely seen any appreciation for a government check. I've seen plenty of people angry when the check was a day late, though. It seems like a "regular gift" can quickly deteriorate into an expected right.
In my area there are many people out of work. Around one in ten people in this county are jobless, many recently losing positions due to plant closings or other issues. While not every displaced worker does this, a large majority of them plan to remain on unemployment as long as possible. They are not even considering looking for another job until the unemployment checks have all but dried up.
"I've got 18 months of benefits coming? I'll look for work in about 18 months... not before."
They do not appreciate the benefits. They consider them something they deserve. Some of those folks are simply getting what they paid in... for a while. But they want to get paid for doing nothing. Again, not everyone, but more than I would have thought.
I know farmers who own ground they do not farm. The government pays them not to use that land in some sort of federal program. They get paid for doing nothing, much like a welfare payment. Is that right? Does it fit with a Christian worldview?
My observations lead me to believe that this isn't how Christ would have us operate. The New Testament tells us that every person who is able should work. The church takes care of the widows and orphans. I think there is an important distinction there. When the church (or for that matter a private, secular social agency) provides, there is more appreciation from the recipient. Their heart is in it. When the checks come from a faceless entity, it's too easy to feel entitled to them rather than thankful for them.
But I'm not simply griping about people who get free benefits. Some of those government benefits come from me. Now I realistically don't feel any too wonderful about giving that money when I don't have a choice in the matter. The Lord loves a cheerful giver, right? And I have no problem giving. But when it is simply taken from me, my heart isn't in it.
With all that, I wonder if the current way our government does things is more like giving us all a cardioectomy -- taking our hearts out of the whole process. I don't want my gift taken forcibly and the recipient feels like it's not a gift, but an entitlement. No heart.
I want those who need taken care of to be taken care of. But by the same token I don't want them like the guy demanding a free hot dog or the guy complaining that his t-shirt is too big. Maybe that's foolish on my part. But I do know that I want my heart to be in every gift and sacrifice I make for someone else. Anything else is simply going through the motions.