Generous to a Fault

Oklahoma State University received the largest single gift ever given to an NCAA athletic program: $165 million. Alumnus Boone Pickens, after whom OSU's football stadium is named, wrote the check.

Pickens is quite the philanthropist. He's also made large donations to several medical institutions, Katrina relief efforts, and the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library Foundation. His gift to Oklahoma State represents about 10 percent of his $1.6 billion net worth.

In a Daily Oklahoman story, the school's regents chairman called Pickens "John the Baptist." Daily Oklahoman columnist Berry Tramel wrote that "Pickens is more messiah than messenger." Pickens is being lauded for his generosity, which is to be expected. His gift will greatly help many people and contributes to the greater good. It's wonderful news all around (unless you're another Big XII Conference school). I applaud Pickens for his willingness to share his blessings with others.

But this whole thing is tainted. I say that because it's another sign that anonymous giving has gone the way of the wishbone formation. TV spots show NFL players interacting with children; NBA players are shown reading to a class; baseball players are shown giving kids batting tips. The leagues love to play up athletes giving of their time, energy and wealth.

That's great, but advertising one's charity smacks of self-promotion. People crave positive recognition, and being charitable is a quick way to achieve that. So it becomes about the giver instead of about the gift or those it helps.

I'm not saying folks like Pickens are giving purely for selfish reasons. I don't doubt that he truly wants to see OSU's athletic program, and the school as a whole, improve. I'm not questioning the motives of those who enjoy devoting time to helping children become better people. But why is it necessary others know the giver's identity? What does that add to the gift?

Nothing, of course. It only adds to the giver. It adds prestige and respect, and most important, it makes the giver appear "good" in the world's eyes. And when you're trying to achieve goodness apart from Jesus, good works is the natural avenue to that end. It's a fruitless exercise, and a lot of people are going to be disappointed someday when they find out it didn't earn them any favor with God.

We should not rely completely on other humans for provisions. Humans can serve as God's tools for such, but tools should not bring glory to themselves. They instead should consider themselves honored to be used by a gracious, all-loving God.

Christ demands humility of us, and that cannot be achieved by the Pharisaic approach. Good deeds should be seen, but not the hands that perform them. In fact, a distinction should be made between good deeds and loving deeds. No deed that involves selfish interests can be truly loving, no matter how generous or "good." Loving deeds are products of true faith in Christ, and nothing else.

We could not possibly give in greater measure what is offered us by God — salvation that brings about eternal change. It's a gift that's worth a lot more than Pickens or anyone else could afford.

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