This whole topic of "Astonishing Generosity" has stimulated a lot of story-telling in the comment sections. Please check them out. They are great.
Also, after speaking some more about "Astonishing Generosity" in church this weekend, two different people left me a copy of the front page of the L.A. Times Sports section. It told the story of a friend who gave $5 million dollars to USC so that the basketball court could be named after his friend Jim Sterkel. Sterkel, who played for USC for two seasons in the 1950's was no basketball star. But it was as a father, dad and friend that he excelled. At least, enough for a friend to want to name the basketball floor after him. A life of generosity inspiring a legacy of generosity. (Note to SCPC friends: This is my topic this coming Sunday!)
I told two stories in my sermon from my own life. You can read the whole sermon here, but here are the stories.
When I was just starting out into ministry, one of my friends named Steve took a look at my wardrobe and without any request from me, decided that he wanted to help me out. I was in my first ministry job and was making $518 a month. My wardrobe consisted mostly of "501" Levis and free T-shirts that had been given out at different youth events. But Steve knew that I often needed to go to churches or meet with people to raise money for the youth organization, so one day, he took me to downtown LA to his tailor, helped me pick out a gray two button suit and paid for both the suit and the alterations. It was my very first suit. No fanfare, no big deal, just a genuinely generous act from a friend who wanted to support me and my new ministry.
I think it was easy for me however, to assume that Steve’s generosity was a result of his resources. I think at the time, I assumed that ALL generosity was a result of having a lot of stuff. Steve was older than me, he had a corporate job and a company car and owned his own house. Of course, he could afford to be generous and someday, I said, when I have more resources, I will be to. Generosity is a result of abundance. At least that was the lesson I “caught”.
Around that time however, I also traveled to the Dominican Republic to speak at a training seminar for youthworkers in evangelism. But as excited as I was, I was also feeling a bit sad. For the trip came over the weekend of my 22nd birthday. And I was in a strange country, with people whom I didn’t know, who spoke a language I couldn’t understand. I spent most of my time, when I wasn’t speaking, feeling pretty out of place.
The night of my birthday, I was awakened at midnight by the sounds of the whole group of youth workers standing outside my door, singing a song that they had spent hours writing in honor of my birthday. Then, in broken English they sang a rousing chorus of “Happy Birthday”. I was stunned and honored. I stood in the doorway in my boxer shorts overwhelmed and a bit embarrassed. But so incredibly touched by what I was receiving. It was beautiful, sensitive, caring and so incredibly generous.
As I reflect on that act of generosity it is now very apparent to me that generosity, true generosity, especially astonishing generosity, is not a matter of a huge bank account or an abundance of resources, but instead of a huge heart and an abundance of compassion. And that was true for Steve, too. Looking back now over 20 years of friendship later, I realize that the true gift he gave me was not that he bought me a suit, it was HOW he bought me the suit. I never once felt patronized or demeaned because I couldn’t afford it, I didn’t feel indebted or shamed because I was on the receiving end of a generous gift, instead with great sensitivity and genuine delight, Steve and my brothers and sisters in the Dominican Republic just gave to me.
If you want to add any of your own, please do in the comments sections. Heck, they just make me feel good and according to N.T. Wright it's world-changing stuff.
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