This past Sunday I preached on generosity as a part of our “The Road to Character” series. Each week we’re focusing on someone in Biblical history as well as someone in modern history with a particular virtue that moves us further down the road. For Generosity, we looked at Barnabus from the Book of Acts and Warrick Dunn, an ex-NLF player who has helped hundreds of single-parent families become first-time home owners (you can watch the sermon here if you missed it, along with the first sermon in the series on Faithfulness – scroll down to “Archived Services”).
In preparing for sermons, there is always stuff that ends up on the cutting room floor, material that is applicable but doesn’t make it into the sermon for one reason or another. For this particular sermon, a speech I found by author Stephen King fits that description. Although not a Christian, King identifies himself as someone who believes in God, and he has some strong words about why giving away resources is so important. Here’s part of what he had to say in a commencement speech at Vassar College in 2001:
A couple of years ago I found out what “You can’t take it with you” means. I found out while I was lying in a ditch at the side of a country road, covered with mud and blood and with the tibia of my right leg poking out the side of my jeans like a branch of a tree taken down in a thunderstorm. I had a MasterCard in my wallet, but when you’re lying in a ditch with broken glass in your hair, no one accepts MasterCard.
...We come in naked and broke. We may be dressed when we go out, but we’re just as broke. Warren Buffet? Going to go out broke. Bill Gates? Going out broke. Tom Hanks? Going out broke. Steve King? Broke. Not a crying dime. All the money you earn, all the stocks you buy, all the mutual funds you trade—all of that is mostly smoke and mirrors. It’s still going to be a quarter-past getting late whether you tell the time on a Timex or a Rolex....So I want you to consider making your life one long gift to others. And why not? All you have is on loan, anyway. All that lasts is what you pass on....
Imagine a nice little backyard, surrounded by a board fence. Dad—a pleasant fellow, a little plump—is tending the barbecue. Mom and the kids are setting the picnic table: fried chicken, coleslaw, potato salad, a chocolate cake for dessert. And standing around the fence, looking in, are emaciated men and women, starving children. They are silent. They only watch. That family at the picnic is us; that backyard is America, and those hungry people on the other side of the fence, watching us sit down to eat, include far too much of the rest of the world: Asia and the subcontinent; countries in Central Europe, where people live on the edge from one harvest to the next; South America, where they’re burning down the rain forests; and most of all, Africa, where AIDS is pandemic and starvation is a fact of life.
It’s not a pretty picture, but we have the power to help, the power to change. And why should we refuse? Because we’re going to take it with us? Please. Giving isn’t about the receiver or the gift but the giver. It’s for the giver. One doesn’t open one’s wallet to improve the world, although it’s nice when that happens; one does it to improve one’s self....A life of giving—not just money, but time and spirit—repays. It helps us remember that we may be going out broke, but right now we’re doing O.K. Right now we have the power to do great good for others and for ourselves. So I ask you to begin giving, and to continue as you begin. I think you’ll find in the end that you got far more than you ever had, and did more good than you ever dreamed.
Wow. That reads like a sermon. All you have is on loan…We have the power to help…Giving isn’t about the receiver but the giver…You’ll find you got far more than you ever had. It’s interesting that this perspective comes from one who isn’t a follower of Jesus, doesn’t have Christ as Lord of his life, and yet understands well the value of giving and generosity. In fact, in some ways he is further along in his understanding than many Christians.
We have an additional reason to give – a Kingdom reason. Our giving allows us to place our trust not in our stuff but in our Savior, to let go and have faith that God will honor our obedience and our heart for others. When we give, we are revealing a God who gives, a God who cares, a God who loves. We have an opportunity to make a Kingdom difference and have an eternal impact on our world through our resources, all the while learning how to let go and lean on God. As Paul says...
May we live this kind of life as we seek to love God’s people and make a difference in God’s world. See you on Sunday as we take another step on the Road to Character, the step of Integrity.