Until my, probably late twenties, the word “generosity” I thought was reserved for two very special groups of people.
People that were very, very rich – they should be generous because they have a lot. Or people that are very, very holy because they’re so holy God will do special things for them.
I’m serious. So, I mean, it’s not like I wanted to be, like, selfish. I thought I should be moderately generous but, I mean, to be open, lavish, kind. I mean, over the top, being willing every day in every way to just share with people I thought, “If I win the lotto, if I start my own business, if I make it in major league baseball, someday then, you know…” It’s something to aspire to. To be really generous.
But it’s, you know, I’m not Mother Theresa, I’m not Billy Graham, and I don’t have a lot of money. So, you know, generosity would be like graduate level Christianity. Someday, you know, like the few, the proud, the Marines?
Someday, if I get really holy then maybe I’ll be generous. But for right now, you know, I don’t want to be greedy and selfish because that wouldn’t look good and I don’t think God would like it. So I would just sort of like to be a little generous.
And that’s sort of how I looked at things until I met a man named John Saville. Now John, you have to know, he was seventy-five years old, he’d come to Christ in his sixties and had been, gone broke a couple times and lived a life that, in some ways, he thought, boy, he really had wasted.
And so he’d been a Christian about ten years and had this sense of urgency. In fact, one of the things I learned quickly about John is that once a month he wouldn’t be at church because he flew all over the country with Bill Glass, went to maximum security prisons and shared Christ.
Had just this heart to share and love people.
And so he’s seventy-five years old and I’m the pastor of this mini-church, we got thirty-five people. And I’m twenty-eight and I’m the new, young pastor and I’m filled with zeal and not very much knowledge and he’s filled with lots of knowledge and not very much zeal.
And he’s the chairman of the elders. And so I’ve never been an elder, I’ve never been a pastor, I told him I was too young to be an elder but they said, “Well, the constitution says you’re one so you just have to figure it out along the way.” I said, “Okay.”
And so but John and I, sort of, we would go to meetings and once a month I’d see him, I’d see him in church. We had nothing in common. He wasn’t into sports, he owned a CPA firm in downtown Dallas called Saville-Dodgen.
And, you know, it’s just like he was a really nice, neat old guy. He was a little kooky, honestly. You know, I was pretty into you had to be a cool Christian and something good would happen and John would rare back in a meeting, go, “Praise the Lord!” And I would go, “Oh brother, please don’t do that one in public,” you know?
And so it was about a year and John gave me a call and he said, “Chip, I’d like you to come down to Dallas and have lunch with me. I’d like to talk to you.” I said, “Okay, sounds good.”
And he said, “Now you need to wear a tie. Where we’re going to go you have to have a tie. In fact, you have to have a coat.” And I thought, “Oh brother. I own two ties and one coat.” So, okay.
And so I got in my beat up car and I drove down to downtown Dallas, got to the address and it’s an all glass building in with all the other glass buildings and find a place to park and go up, like, the thirty-eighth floor or something.
And the doors open and it’s all wood and, you know, it says, “Saville-Dodgen,” you know, “CPA firm.” Big firm. And they had this whole floor and, “Mr. Saville will see you now.”
And I walked back to his office, “Hey! Chip, how you doing?” He put his arm around me and we walked over to here and we went to this glass elevator and he punched it and it opened and we went all the way to the top floor and it opened and there was this restaurant and then racquetball courts all made out of glass and you could see all over the city and we sat down and someone with a white towel came here and someone with a towel was over here and they gave me a menu and I’d never seen a menu like this because there was no prices on it.
I said, “How would you know what to order, there’s no prices on it?” I mean, it was like very upper, upper, upper. And John said, “Oh, I really want you to get something you’ll really like, Chip. The filet is great here.” And, “Well, thank you, Mr. Saville.” “No, no, it’s John. Come on.” You know?
And so we sat down and we had this lunch and so as we got done with lunch he said, “Let’s get some coffee,” and it sort of cleared out a little bit and John had this little white box and he put it in front of me and he opened the white box and then he pulled out a brownish kind of looking checkbook and he handed it to me and he said, “Open that up.”
And so I opened it up and it said, “Pastor’s discretionary fund.” And he said, “Look at the, look at the stubs in the back.” And so I went to the back and it had, “Deposit: five, zero, zero, zero.” Five thousand dollars.
He said, “Chip, here’s what I’d like to do. I’ve been watching you for a year and, you know, I think I can trust you. I want to have a secret pact, you can’t tell anyone about this.” I said, “Well what’s this all about?”
He said, “I’m not going to live that much longer. And I have a real heart for people that are hurting and people that are poor. And so you, every day, are touching people that are hurting and poor.”
Where we lived it was a little bit of a depressed area out in the rural area of Texas. “And so what I’d like you to do is I’d like you to take this checkbook and I’d like you to put it in your back pocket every day and any time you feel God prompting you to meet the need of a poor person or a hurting person or some sort of ministry that you think would bring joy to my heart and glory to God, I want you to take care of it. And just do it in my name. Just don’t tell anybody it’s me but all I want you to do is…”
And so John had a desire, help poor and hurting people, I had an opportunity. I interacted with a lot of poor and hurting people. And so we made a deal. And then what he said is, “Like, every three or four months I’ll give you a call and we’ll have lunch like this.”
And, I mean, it was a lavish lunch and it was, and I would sit down about every four months and I would tell John stories about what I did with his money.
And early on, you know, you know, like the first, I remember driving back in my little, un-air-conditioned car and thinking, “Oh man, what if I mess up and this is his money and who am I going to give it to and I don’t know when and why.” And I got real uptight for, like, three or four days.
And then I thought, “You know, what the heck? How bad can it be giving people money away?”
And so I remember the first time I was in a grocery line and there was this young mom and, you know, if you ever have been where someone has groceries and they don’t have enough money to pay and they’re trying to figure out, you know, how much, what they should take out of the basket and, you know.
Well, she goes, “I’m really sorry but my husband, you know, he’s kind of on a binge right now and he’s left us and so I don’t have it. I’m going to drive to my mother’s but I don’t have gas and here’s my three kids.”
And, you know, this was sort of like a no brainer and I said, “Excuse me, ma’am. Do you, like, need some more food to go?” And she goes, “Well I…” And I checked it out and it was for real and I said, “You know, why don’t you get your basket and get what you really need.”
And she did and she came back and then I said, “Now you…” And I paid for that and then I said, “Don’t you need some gas? I heard…” She goes, and the Safeway, 7-11 was there and I said, “Well come on over here.” And I took care of that.
And then pretty soon there was someone who was ice cold and it was an elderly couple and they couldn’t pay their electric bill and I took care of that. And, you know, it went from sort of like, “Oh, I’m afraid to mess up,” to “This is fun.” I mean, I lost my keys about twenty times in the first three years of our marriage and so finally right next to where I went out the door there’s a little ledge and I put my wallet, my keys, and John’s checkbook.
And every day it was just my ritual. Wallet, keys, checkbook. And so every day I’m walking around. Can you imagine? Every day I’m walking around thinking, “I wonder who God wants me to bless and love and help with John’s money.”
And it got to be a blast, actually. It was really fun. And you got to see what would happen and then so story after story after story and then John would call and say, “How’s it going?” I said, “Great!” He says, “Well, Chip, praise the Lord! Come on down and have lunch!” So, you know, I’d go down and pretty soon it was like, hey, up the glass elevator, walk in.
“Hey, I’ll see you what,” get Mr. Saville, we would go up. And sometimes we’d have a three-hour lunch and I’d tell him story after story after story and then after a while I noticed that when I gave the money to certain ways with certain people I got a real loud, “Praise the Lord!” And when I did other things it was, “Oh, praise the Lord.”
So I’m not dumb. I started looking to, “I think I’d like to give the money more where it really fires him up.” And three things happened. This was an amazing relationship. I did this for about six, seven years.
And later moved from that little church and John later went home to be with the Lord. But three things happened. Number one, rarely a day went by that I didn’t think of John. Now think of that. I mean, before it was like once a month elders meeting or I might see him. But I never thought of John.
I mean, he didn’t, we didn’t work out together, we didn’t have any common interest. But now that I’m spending his money, every day I’m thinking about John, asking the question, “I wonder what John would want me to do?”
Second thing that happened is I strangely became far more meticulous about balancing his checkbook than my own. I was single for quite a few years before I got married. And I’m a big picture person, I didn’t really like details, and so, and I never had that much money so I didn’t think it mattered.
So if I had four or five hundred dollars and the bank statement come, if it was within twenty bucks, that was close enough for me.
You know? The bank’s probably right anyway.
Well, this was not a good plan for my wife who is not made at all like that. She goes, “We need to know exactly.” “Ah, well, you know, it’s going to take me two hours or three hours to figure out,” because I wasn’t very good at details then either.
So what I realized, however, I couldn’t tell Theresa about this. So I just somehow learned to get very meticulous. I mean, I’m going to give an account to an accountant. Are you kidding me?
I mean, it’s not like, “Well, hey John! You know, I spent about twelve, fourteen hundred dollars in the last couple months.” Or, “You know, I helped people, three thousand bucks. I mean, give or take five hundred.”
I mean that’s not going to work with John so, I mean, I got really good at keeping very clear track.
The third thing that happened and this I never expected is John and I became best friends. Literally best friends. I started going to those prisons with him. We hung out together. As he bought extravagant lunches and I told extraordinary stories of our quarterly celebrations.
And what you need to hear, there was no sense of obligation. There was no sense that we were doing some big, righteous thing. We weren’t martyrs, we weren’t saving the world. It was like an adventure, a celebration of taking someone else’s money and his heart and being his representative and just having a blast.
Does anyone here think there might be a parallel?
See generosity, the genius of generosity first, it has nothing to do with how much money you have or don’t have. Zero. It has nothing to do with how holy you think you are or are not. It has everything to do with understanding God has given us all things: Time, energy, money, talent that belong to Him. And every day is an adventure where He’s bringing people across your path that He wants some of the time deposited in you to go over here and some of the talent to go over there and some of the money to go over there.
And it’s like, and by the way, when you give it out, here’s what God promises: “I’ll make sure I fill up the account.”
Because after my lunches John would never say a word but I’d get my bank statement. So I’d spend two thousand dollars one quarter and maybe three thousand dollars another quarter and maybe only eleven hundred another quarter.
And then I’d get my bank statement and guess what? Boop, five thousand dollars. He would just fill it up. And that’s the way it is with God.
The goal of generosity, the goal with our money and our time and our talent really, His heart is to build a relationship. His heart behind this is not that we just, quote, get things done. It’s not just that we’re generous with our money.
It’s the gateway to intimacy. It’s one of the major ways God connects our heart with His heart.
In fact, here, let me give you a definition of “genius” and of “generosity” and I think you’ll see why I named the series this. The word “genius” is from the root word meaning, “to produce.” To be a genius, actually, it’s to produce something. It’s the personification of quality.
We call someone a genius who has great natural ability for a particular activity. And so Einstein is a genius in physics and Bill Walsh was a genius in terms of offense in football.
Any person with a high intelligence, a high IQ, we call them a genius. The special ability. It’s being wise, it’s being a little bit beyond smart.
Now the word “generosity” comes from a root word, this was interesting, to be generous, the root word comes from “noble birth” or something that’s excellent, generous, having qualities associated with being like a king or a queen or a prince or a princess. It’s to be noble minded and gracious, magnanimous.
It has the underlying… a willingness at every moment of time to share.
The Hebrew word for “generous” literally means, “overflowing with water.” It’s a picture of not just meeting people’s needs but soaking it and overflowing and water being a picture of that which gives life.
The Greek word for “generosity” is the word for “ready, at any moment, to distribute. Ready to share, ready to give.”
To be smart, and you should be smart, you should spend carefully. To be wise, and you should be wise, you should save regularly. But to be genius you should give extravagantly.
That’s what I got to do with John’s money. And it taught me a lot about how God, my father, has entrusted things to me and he wants me to be smart, and he wants me to be wise.
But he wants me to be a genius.
Let me give you four reasons now why it is genius to be generous. Because I’m just going to guess, at least there’s one or two people that maybe have my background and it’s not like you want to be selfish and, heaven forbid, you don’t want to be greedy.
But the idea of being extravagantly genius is like fearful and, like, it might be for someone else.
So let me give you four specific reasons why generosity is, in fact, genius. Number one, generosity changes our lives. Generosity changes our lives. It blesses our lives, it enriches our lives, it makes life better.
The very last words we ever hear in the Bible, from Jesus, are this, and they’re not in the gospels. It’s a quote from Acts where the apostle Paul quotes Jesus and says, “Jesus said, “It’s more blessed to give than to receive.”
The word “blessed” you know what it means? Happy. Welfare. Good. Uplifting. Encouraging. People who give are more blessed even than those who get to receive.
I mean, this is the ultimate win, win proposition. When you give and when you’re generous a good feeling comes inside. Well, guess what? Here’s the win, win. You get a good feeling by giving, the people who receive what you give, they get a good feeling by receiving.
And God says, “When I find people that are liberal and generous, I will fill up their account again. Because I’m looking for people that’ll be a stream. I’m looking for people that I can drop things in the stream and it goes and they can use whatever they need and then it goes on and they love people.”
But a lot of people are a dam. God drops it in and it hits the dam. “Well, you never know. Rainy day, a lot of difficult things, we just…” And so they just keep saving, saving, hoarding, hoarding. And when they, even when they share they kind of share with this, “Well I feel obligated. I guess, I guess if I’m supposed to help out with this…”
But what’s it like when you’re around someone who says, “Hey, I got the bill this time.” What do you, what, people are winsome and attractive and people that are generous with their time. People who say, “Hey, I know you’re moving.” Does anyone like to move? No! “I’ll be over Saturday morning, I’ll help you out.”
What do you think about those kind of people? Those are the kind of people you want to be around. Generous people have friends. Generous people are attractive. Generous people are happier.
What’s the opposite of being generous? Miserly. We say, “Oh, he’s an old miser.” I mean, how many people this year are saying, “I want to be like Scrooge.” I mean, he’s no one’s hero.
Are you ready? The root word for a miser? Same root word as miserable. Selfish, greedy, non-generous people are alone, isolated, and miserable.
Now in Christian circles what happens is we work at appearing generous and can be miserly in our heart. Because we want to appear like we’re caring, we want to appear like we’re generous, we want to appear like we’re loving but real generosity comes out of the heart where you really want to help others.
You’re willing to share knowing that as you give it away, God will take care of you.
Second reason is generosity connects us with others. “A generous man will prosper and he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed,” Proverbs 11:25. A generous, literally, that word “prosper,” a generous man will be fat. It doesn’t mean, you know, like you need to go to Jenny Craig or Weight Watchers but it’s this idea that you’ll prosper and you’ll have more than you need and he who refreshes others, when you give and are kind to others, will himself be refreshed.
When you give and when you’re generous of your time and generous of your talent and generous with your money, generous with your stuff, let people use your car, let them use your house, let them use this. When you’re generous it connects you with people.
I’ll never forget, I learned this in a graphic way. When I was pastoring in Santa Cruz, you know, I had, you know, four kids under the roof and I had to get my part done early and the way I worked it is I just, I just got up real early so I could get my sermon and my time done and we were at a real rapidly growing time and I had a lot of people who were important to me.
So I knew that by eight thirty in the morning or nine when I came in if I didn’t have my work done for the day I was in trouble. So there was a little, it actually called a donut shop but they’d make bagels.
And it was a Cambodian family that came to the States and the whole family did it. And it was sort of a hole in the wall and they would start those bagels, like at three thirty, four in the morning.
And so I’d get there about four thirty and they would put on a couple pots of coffee and there was a little table in the corner and about four thirty I’d get some coffee and I then I would study from four thirty to about eight, eight thirty.
And when I came by usually a then a guy came in, his name was Mike, and he sat and he was a homeless guy. And he sat and he, I guess had enough money for just one cup of coffee.
And if you’ve ever seen people that have done really heavy-duty drugs, I mean, they’re etched. And he was always really, really dirty. And he looked scary. Have you seen people that look scary? And every day he would sit there like this. And I’m, “Hi.” I mean, I didn’t know his name but, I mean, you know.
Just walk by. And he was just in a stupor. And this went on for, like, over a year. And so I’d be in the corner and then, you know, when you’re there at about five thirty these guys would come in, they’d get their coffee, go over the hill. At six thirty a bunch of guys every day they would come. Six, seven they would talk until about eight.
The eight thirty group would come in. It was just my little corner, you know? And one day I just thought, I was actually studying about generosity and I said, “Hey, Mike! Can I buy you a cup of coffee? No, no, no, I mean it. You know, want a bagel too?”
And, you know. And he kind of turned his head and he goes, “Yeah.”
So I got him a cup of coffee, “You take anything in it?” And I brought the…
You know, I’m just thinking, “Maybe he can’t talk.” And so I bring cup of coffee and he didn’t want a bagel. And, okay, great. You know? So much for that. “Hey, Lord, I was really generous.” I don’t know what I was expecting.
And about five minutes later he turned around because people came in and I’d say hi to them. He says, “Your name Chip?” I said, “Yeah.” “Chip, did you see the sunrise this morning?”
And, you know, I didn’t notice. He goes, “Look.” And we were, there was glass next to us. And it was beautiful. I mean, pink, like you just couldn’t hardly imagine.
And then he pointed. He says, “You see that bright star right there?” I said, “Yeah.” He says, “That’s Venus. It’s only going to be like that two, maybe three more days.”
And I don’t know why I said, “Hey, guys!” who were over there, “Come look at this!” And we looked, all these guys, and we’re looking at the sunrise and this star. And I’m thinking, “How does this guy know this?”
And then I just sat down with him, it cost me a dollar and a half to buy a guy… and I found out why and how his children were gone, what he’d been through, where he’d been double-crossed, why he was on the streets, why he slept in the car.
He was a master craftsman. He was actually a very, very smart guy. We actually became friends. In fact, even after I left Santa Cruz when I would come back and visit I would get up real early and go over and there would be Mike.
And I mean the guy would hug me. And it cost me a dollar and a half.