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Scripture invites us to give our firstfruits, not our fourthfruits.

A few years ago, a copier was donated to our church. I can imagine the process that brought it to us: Another congregation, frustrated with its finicky copier, wanted to buy a new one but felt guilty about junking something that still worked. So they gave it to us. We are a poor church, we can’t afford new things, and we were grateful. The copier makes copies most of the time, but you have to be careful not to leave the paper in the feed tray overnight, not to put too much paper in at once, and also to keep your batches small. Any missteps will strand you in the copy room, desperately opening and closing Door A.

One evening as I watched an already worn-out elder struggle to get the ten copies she needed for our council meeting, I started to ponder. Someone’s good impulse brought the copier to our church, but there is something uncomfortable about it, too. Donations like this seem kind but sometimes add further burden to people who are already weighed down. More importantly, they often don’t reflect the generosity of our God. If the “least of these” are Christ in our midst, as Scripture tells us, then why are we giving them our castaways?

I am one of the pastors of a small rural congregation in Michigan. Twenty years ago, our community set out to welcome the wounded—to hold space for those who felt excluded from other churches—and we’ve done just that. But our work is difficult and often painful.

My first pastoral visit to a member of the congregation happened in a behavioral health unit, where one of our deacons had been hospitalized. She has dissociative identity disorder, sometimes referred to as “multiple personality disorder.” One of her alter-egos had slit her …

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