Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Expensive Gifts

About twenty-five years ago, I received a gift that changed my life.

From the start of our marriage, Trish and I had been in missions work. We now had two small children and had just moved to Nashville to join the Christ Church staff (all three of them!). We moved into the Elysian Fields apartments on Nolensville Road, and arranged our very sparse furniture into eight hundred square feet on the third floor. I know; I should have been thankful that I didn’t have to carry much furniture up those three floors. But my mind was elsewhere.

The church had already begun to grow and I was teaching Bible studies every week in Brentwood and Franklin. The people in those Bible studies were all considerably more affluent than any group I had previously served, and I was a bit intimidated. So I often parked my old car down the block from all the nice cars and walked to the Bible study.

I’ll confess that I once got into my car after leaving one of these beautiful homes and sat at the wheel feeling sorry for myself. I wondered out loud to God why I was raising my children on the third floor of an apartment complex while others were living in these fine homes. However, I immediately felt that the Spirit of God was displeased with me for being angry about my lack of finances. So I asked for God’s forgiveness and thanked Him for providing a warm house for my healthy children.

Some months later, after the Sunday night service, Jim Enoch approached me and asked me to sit down on the pew. “I need you to clear your schedule this week,” he said, “I am going to take you to look for a house.”

‘But Jim,” I protested, “I don’t have any money. Also, I have lived for years outside the United States; so I have no credit history.”

He pushed my protests aside with a wave of his hand. “God has spoken to a couple in our church” he replied. “They are going to pay whatever it takes to get you into a house. They told me they want you to pay the same payments you are paying now after all the transactions are finished. And they said that I am to help you chose any house you want.”

I was so taken aback by his words that I didn’t know what to say for a few minutes. I finally got out something to the effect of “No, I won’t choose this house. I might either ask for too much or settle for too little. You and this couple can find the house; we will be grateful for whatever you choose.”

That’s how we bought our first home. It was at 581 Whispering Hills, just a couple of miles from the church.

What a thrill it was the first time we drove our car into the garage – into our own garage!

That one lavish, out-of bounds generous gift, gave us a financial foundation. It allowed us to raise our children. We sent them both to good schools. Year later, we even sent ourselves back to school!

Every financial blessing in our lives since has been tied in some way to that one surprising gift.

I can also tell you this: we have lived in several houses since then. However, no house has been so precious to us or has been more appreciated.

Oh, the couple that gave us that gift. They have never mentioned it to us – not ever. Every time the gift has surfaced in conversation with them, it has been because Trish or I have reminded them of the gracious thing they did for us so long ago, and thank them for all the fruit it has produced.

I deeply appreciate that financial gift, of course. Even more importantly though, I am thankful for how that gift taught me the nature of generosity. That gift taught me what a gift can do to transform lives.

This past Sunday, as I asked everyone to think about making a lavish, out-of-bounds-kind-of-gift this year to someone or to some cause this year; I had in mind the gift that changed our lives. When I asked everyone at our church to make this the year that they would do something so spectacular and unexpected that their gift would touch people for generations – I knew what I was talking about.

I don’t know what people will do with that sermon. I don’t even know yet what I will do with that sermon. However, I do know what such a gift can accomplish. I also know by experience that people really are blessed in order to be a blessing and when they abandon themselves to generosity, great goodness flows into the world.

All three of my grandchildren live in homes that their parents own. All three are being well educated because their parents value education. All three live in safe, warm and loving environments. To a great extent, all this has happened because one couple, who at the time barely knew me, decided to make a contribution that would change our lives.

I cringe when I think that I could have squandered the opportunity. I could have so mismanaged the gift that their good intentions could have been entirely wasted. Such things often happen. We hear about them all the time and they makes us cautious about giving. So I certainly could have added one more story to prove that it doesn’t pay to try to help people. Given my level of financial knowledge, it surprises me that I didn’t do that.
Thanks to my church, who believed that teaching people how to manage money is a Biblical part of discipleship, I avoided the worst mistakes. I steadily built a financial foundation that has already proved strong enough to touch two generations. Our next step is to make our financial structure strong enough to raise the next generation to come. We are working on that!

Anyway, this blog is really a prayer of blessing. I want God to bless my benefactors. In this economically challenging time, May God remember what they did for us. May He prove to them the truth of His word, “he who gives to the poor, lendeth to the Lord.” After twenty years, the interest on the money they paid back then would be very considerable now. I think this would be a great month for the Lord to pay them back! Perhaps He will.

In the meantime, I hope to influence us all to be out-of-bounds-generous. Perhaps we do not have the ability to buy someone a house. But could we buy them a car? Pay a year’s tuition? Buy them a great suit? Buy a computer? Could we send someone’s child to a good school for a year, or pay to get their teeth fixed?

As I learned twenty some-odd years ago, the world is full of opportunities to do good. Every few days I recall how one couple made a strategic investment in my life. I have thought about it more times than I can count. When I do, I shake my head and wonder: how could anyone do something so wonderful, without attaching any strings except for the love that has continually poured from their family into ours for over a generation?

May God remember. May He repay in full. And may He teach me to be as kind and as generous as that one precious couple – our own personal Magi!


~*Miss Kelly J...*~ said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bradley said...

Pastor Scott,
First, warm and heart-felt greetings from Phoenix! My wife and I think of you often and are grateful for the time we were given with you here. An expensive gift? Perhaps not in a monetary sense, but the value has been unmeasureable. The example you set through both struggles and victories has given us the knowledge that regardless of what we face, God will see us through and that His grace is sufficient.
Peace Always,
Brad and Krisette Hawn

Beatrice Blount said...

To say that gifts are equally the same is one issue. To say that they have the same impact is another issue.

This would be like saything that 'sin is sin', which people use to mean that all sin makes us equally fallen from grace. However, my daugher lying about eating the candy is NOT the same as murder. Though both are acts of defiance of God's law, they subject the sinners to very different things.

In Christ there is no male or female, but I am pretty sure that doesn't mean the same thing to humans!

And of course this is a plea for people to be more giving! If more people gave gifts that impacted greatly (and this is not just finanically speaking) then life could be altered and changed for the better for many more people. I'm pretty sure that's what he was saying.

Marilyn M. said...

Indeed "the world is full of opportunities to do good." One could also be a bit creative and just think of the more "everyday" things that really do make a BIG difference in the life of an individual who is working hard just to keep his or her head above water. Here's a link to a story ( in pdf) someone sent to me - the tires, the Christmas presents, the employer who gave this lady a chance with 6 little people in her care... Are all very good examples that might help to get our creative ideas flowing - especially for those of us who "think" that we may not be able to help because we don't have much money our own selves, It is really not about "what we have" so much as it is about "how we make use what we have."


Merry Christmas and Happy New Years!