Good News + Good Deeds = Radical Results
When it comes to money – ask the best question ever!
Mark Stier gave me a wonderful gift. An article written by John Gladden entitled “Lifting Spirits.” Gladden writes, “Like many journeys, this one started with a suitcase.” Ted Gup was given a small well-traveled valise from his mother in 2008. This tiny suitcase exuded a dusty scent that was emanating from the old papers nestled inside. The valise belonged to Gup’s grandmother, Minna, who had died three years earlier. Among the treasures inside included family photographs, correspondence between his grandparents (Minna & Sam), a bundle of letters all dated December 18, 1933, a brittled copy of the Repository with a mysterious ad inside and 150 cancelled checks – each for exactly $5 and signed B. Virdot.
Now this mysterious ad was printed one week before Christmas in 1933. 1933 was the heart of the Great Depression. Actually there was nothing “great” about the Great depression except in the size and scope of suffering for people not only in Canton, Ohio, but most of the United States. People were without work, money and even hope that is until this ad appeared! The ad basically said this – An unknown benefactor – B. Virdot – invited families in need to write to him about their plight. In return, he offered financial help and a promise never to reveal their identities or his own. Gup said the letters were gut-wrenching. Most of the letters were from working class people or families who longed to be working… One man wrote, “No, I don’t want charity, I want work, I want to get agoing again. My earnest desire is that I can retain my health & get jobs that I may fulfill my obligations to my children as a parent.” Wives wrote without the knowledge of their husbands, children without the knowledge of their parents. A 14 year old girl wrote, “My father has been dead 2 years ago last October. We would appreciate whatever you give us.” She lived with her Mom and three siblings in a farm building without indoor plumbing or electricity. One man wrote, “I just want to buy shoes for my daughters.” Each of these families, 150 in all, received checks in the mail for $5 – the equivalent of $100 today. Now here’s what Ted Gup came to realize. B. Virdot was his grandfather – Sam Stone. Sam wanted to remain anonymous because those writing the letters were actually his friends and neighbors. And no one would write to him if they knew who he was. These letters gave Ted Gup an opportunity to write book called A Secret Gift. And that’s what his grandfather gave to many people back in 1933 – a secret gift - an opportunity for an emotional release and a practical $5 gift that allowed them to provide a practical gift to those they loved the most. Ted Gup concluded the article by saying, “When you do something good, it tends to multiply and be magnified at the time and across time. The power of small human gestures that are intended to help can’t be overestimated.”[i]
I love stories like that! I love what generosity does to people and for people. The math of that story keeps roaming through my head. 150 families X $5 each = $750. This man chose to give away $750. Its 1933 – money is at an all time low. How can you give away $750? It makes no difference if it’s AD. 60, 1933 or 2010 – you were meant to be a giver. Why, because we were created in the image of God! God is generous. He’s a giver. You were always created to be a giver – not a spender or even a hoarder.
“A teenager is sitting in church, and when the offering plate approaches, he quickly pulls a dollar bill from his pocket and drops it in. Just then, the person behind him taps him on his shoulder and hands him a $20 bill. The teen smiles, and places the $20 in the plate, and passes it on, admiring the man's generosity. But then the kid feels another tap and hears this whisper: ‘Hey, that $20 bill fell out of your pocket.’”[ii]
Can’t you imagine what he’s thinking? “Can I get a refund? I wanted to give $1 not $21 dollars!” He’s what most of us are – reluctant givers. Why is that? I think the Apostle Paul knows. Turn in your Bibles today to Ephesians 5:15. Raise your hand right now if you need a Bible for your very own! Pray: International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church/National Pray to the Lord of the Harvest
Two verses – Ephesians 5: 15 & 16. Paul said this about 1,950 years ago. “Be very careful, then, how you live…” Now I love the NIV – New International Version, but both the KJV and the NAS say this, “Therefore be careful how you walk… The words “walk” and “live” are two English words but one Greek word and they mean the same thing – follow God. Walk with God. Live for God. Moses wrote in Genesis that Enoch & Noah all walked with God. What does that mean? They lived for God! The Apostle Paul is encouraging these Ephesians – to live for God by walking in three ways. They are all found in Ephesians 5. Go back to verse 1. Do you see the word “live”? Paul says – church – the body of Jesus – walk in love. And one - if not the greatest way WE show love to people is to forgive them! Go back one verse – 4:32! Now that’s not the only walk we walk. Verses 3-7 are summarized in verse 8 of Ephesians 5. Let’s read verse 8. There’s the second way we walk. We walk in love and now we walk in the light! The opposite of light is of course darkness. You can’t see in the dark. I’ve been in caves before where it’s absolutely pitch black. You can’t see your hand in front of your face. Then someone strikes a match or turns on a flashlight or flips a switch. Now I can see where I’m going. Spiritual light has two components – truth and morality! Sometimes the most loving thing you can say to a person – maybe with tears is – “Here’s the truth. Your life is out of control. You are far away from God. You think you’re in control, but you’re not. Your choices shout your beliefs. What your beliefs are saying loud and clear is this – I live my life to please me! Me is all that matters!”
Now there’s a word Paul uses to describe people who are selfish and live only for themselves and that word is unwise! Go back to verse 15. Here’s Paul’s third way to walk. Walk in love, walk in the light and walk in wisdom. The Message paraphrases Ephesians 5:15 this way…So watch your step. Use your head.
But sometimes we don’t - we don’t use our heads. Paul tells us in Eph. 5:15 that there are three kinds of people in this world. Let’s find them. (Unwise) – Proverbs describes these people as foolish – mockers and sluggards. (Wise) – a wise person doesn’t have to have superior intelligence or jeopardy smarts – a wise person applies knowledge – they have skill in living and practical insight. Dr. Kenny Boles said, “Wisdom is the ability to see things as God sees them.”[iii] Proverbs describes wise people as righteous and upright. There’s one other person. (Evil) – it isn’t that the day itself is evil. It’s people who have become evil because they do not fear God. Jury described Steven Hayes as “pure evil.”[iv] Are you familiar with Steve Carrell? He played on Even Almighty and the Office. On Lettermen he asked his daughter what was the cool slang word. She said, “that’s so cheese, Dad.” He then figured out she was jerking his chain. I’ve said before. “That’s so wicked!” But I didn’t mean wicked bad but wicked good. Proverbs describes evil people as wicked. Wicked people do not love God and care less about people. So, which one are you? Are you wise, foolish or evil? Take this simple test. Proverbs 9:8: Do not rebuke a mocker or he will hate you; rebuke a wise man and he will love you. A rebuke is a “strong warning with the desire to correct.” Try and correct a foolish person? Who are you to tell me what to do – you little jerk wad! I’ll take care of myself – go look in the mirror. That’s how a foolish person responds to their boss or co-worker or minister or small group friend. But a wise person takes it all in. I want to learn – I want to be more like God – I want to walk with God. I want to live for God. This stuff has got to stop!
I loved reading this book - The Best Question Ever by Andy Stanley. Read it cover to cover in no time flat, because it’s awesome & biblical. Andy Stanley based the Best Question Ever on Ephesians 5:15. And that question is “What is the wise thing to do?” Ask this question all the time for any and all reasons? Should I eat a box of Oreos and a liter of Mt. Dew? Should we go on vacation – what’s the wise thing to do? Should I go party with my friends - what’s the wise thing to do?
Should I get the name “Bambi” tattooed on my back - what’s the wise thing to do? How should I spend my money - what’s the wise thing to do? Do you remember that kid who gave $21 in the offering? Most of us are like him – we’re reluctant givers! I think here’s the reason why. Ron Blue wrote in his book, Master Your Money that there are only five things you can do with your money. Spend it. Repay debt. Pay taxes. Save it. Give it.[v] And they are in order of what most people do with their money. Most of us just like to spend our money – but that’s not the wise thing to do! I used to think the best question ever was – can we make the monthly payment? Now I know the wise question to ask is – do we even need to buy this in the first place? Jesus told us in Matthew 6 to put God first. Which means the order should be reversed. Give it. Save it. Pay taxes. Repay debt. Spend it. Spend it last – are you kidding me? NO – I’m not and neither is the Apostle Paul. Find Ephesians 5:17! What is God’s will when it comes to money? That whatever amount God has given us – allot or a little - we use it wisely – that we be generous! We give it to God to show our love for people. Well, I don’t care! So what! Find verse 18.
I have two gifts for you today. First I have cards for everyone. The cards say, “What is the wise thing to do?” Put this card in your wallet right by your credit card. Or leave it in your car, attach it to your mirror in the bathroom or put it on the refrigerator door! I must draw your attention to the chalkboard. Lesson #3: One mason jar + another mason jar = the love of God. I also have 500 mason jars. I would like you to take just one. Could this become your secret gift for someone this Christmas? Start collecting loose change – do this until one week before Christmas and then give this jar to someone who needs it! Your secret gift to them. But that’s what amazing about generosity – they aren’t the only one receiving the blessing.
[i] John Gladden, Lifting Spirits, OhioMagazine.com/November 2010
[ii] Good Clean Funnies email dated November 12, 2010
[iii] Kenneth L. Boles, The College Press NIV Commentary, Ephesians, 306
[v] Andy Stanley, The Best Question Ever, 93