As we approach thanksgiving we are looking at what it means to GIVE and I have identified four ideas that are fundamental in helping us understand why we give, how to give more, what happens when we do give and how to encourage those around us to give. Those four ideas are Generosity, Inspiration, Vision, and Effectiveness. Last week we learned that the more we give – the more we receive. The more generous we are with our money, possessions and time, the more we receive those things that money can’t buy like happiness, health and a greater sense of meaning and purpose in life. So while money can’t make us happy, giving it away can and the more we give the better off we are.
The question that the book The Paradox of Generosity and our look at giving last week didn’t answer is why people give in the first place. What breathes life into our generosity? What influences us to take those things God has given to us and freely give them away? In a tight economy with an uncertain financial future – why give away our money? When we are already too busy, why volunteer more of our time? While giving might end up helping us feel better in the long run, we usually don’t just wake up one day and decide to give our lives away – something inspires us. The word inspiration means influence or an action that causes us to do something. It’s the motivating force behind what we do and how we live. It’s what breathes life into our actions and helps us do things we might not normally do. Most people who are generous and have embraced a lifetime of giving have been inspired in some way and many times their giving is then an inspiration to others.
While I can’t say that I planned it this way, it is very appropriate for us to be talking about inspiration today because in two days we will be celebrating Veterans Day and in many ways our nations Veterans are an inspiration to all of us. Men and women who have been willing to sacrifice time with families and time spent building their careers so that they could serve our nation and the cause of freedom around the world inspire us to give back to our communities. The giving of our veterans from generation to generation should be an inspiration for us to give our lives in selfless and sacrificial ways.
But it’s not just Veterans who inspire us, it’s all kinds of people. The greatest influence on our giving and our greatest inspiration to live generous lives comes from the example of generous people we have seen give. We are inspired by the people who have given in ways that have touched us and we are influenced by role models that have shown us what it means to give. Who has inspired you in life? Who has shown you what generosity looks like? Who challenges you to give more of your time, energy and money to causes larger than yourself? In my life, 2 of those people have been my parents.
Last week as I thought about how generosity makes us happier and healthier two very specific people came to my mind – my Mom and Dad. My parents are both in the earlier 80’s and while they have each had to battle some health issues during the lives, today they are healthy and happy. They also have a strong sense of personal fulfillment and purpose in their lives and it’s clear to me that much of this comes from lives of giving. My parents have given freely and abundantly of their time and money my entire life and so last week I could clearly see that they were generous people but I wondered how they got that way, so I asked them what made them generous. I wanted to know what influenced them to embrace a lifestyle of giving. What inspired them.
My mom was pretty clear that her inspiration came from her family. Her parents gave generously in many ways. My Mom shared that her father was involved in helping raise money for the United Way and the Community Chest in Hartford, CT. During WWII he worked with the Citizen’s Service Corp. which sent people out into the country to solve problems and keep industry and community activities going while so many men where overseas. My Grandfather acted as an advisor and mentor to many of these young men, and he took an interest in their lives and even invited some of them into their home while they were serving in the area.
My grandmother was also an active volunteer in many areas. She served on the Board of Education and worked to get a phone installed into the local school house. She helped a door to door salesman open a grocery store during WWII because the man couldn’t get gas rations to keep travelling. She volunteered with the Red Cross during the war folding bandages, knitting sweaters, scarves and caps and also recruiting others to knit. She taught school students how to knit squares for afghans that were then given to the wounded service men and women.
So the inspiration for my mother to give was watching her parents give. She saw how much they gave, she saw the meaning and purpose it brought to their lives and she learned the value of giving back to the community. My mother was inspired by her parents and so throughout her life she has given her time and energy to all kinds of activities from the church to the school where she worked as a teacher and to the community at large. Today she still volunteers at her church and in her community and she says the reason she does is because it was what she learned – it was the atmosphere in which she grew up. Many of us could tell a similar story. What inspires us to give is the atmosphere in which we grew up. Watching others give and seeing what giving has done in the lives of our parents or grandparents moves us and influences us to give.
My Dad’s reflections on giving were a little different. While his parents were faithful to their church and helped out many in their extended family, volunteering in the community wasn’t something he saw a lot of growing up but it was the environment in which he worked. As a minister, my Dad was expected to be involved in community activities so he joined the Kiwanis and served on the board of the local Red Cross. He was the head of the local Juvenile Detention Center Chaplaincy Program and was the Chaplain for a local Nursing School. So my Dad learned to give his time and volunteer through his own calling and career as a minister but then he said something I found interesting. He said, “most of my professional work has been in places that are heavily dependent on volunteers and I came to understand their importance to our mission. And, it seemed like they were really enjoying it.”
Some of the inspiration in my Dad’s life of generosity came from seeing others give their time and money to the work that was important to him. Working in areas that relied on volunteers all his life, my Dad knew that in retirement he wanted to give back and he has. Today he drives for meals on wheels; works with habitat for humanity and helps serve meals at a soup kitchen. While all of this volunteering brings him personal satisfaction and helps keep him going, he also said that giving his time is really a matter of personal stewardship. Giving is a way of being faithful to God. He echoes something that we try to say here often, our giving to God is really just our giving back to God what he has already given us. We are being good stewards of the gifts of time, money, possessions and gifts God has given to us.
So in my very non-scientific survey of 2 people, what inspired them to give was watching and learning from others who gave and from reflecting on what it means to be faithful to God – who gave us all we have and was willing to give all he had for us. Why this is important to me is because what inspires me to give and what motivates many of us to give our time and money is watching and learning from others who give and reflecting on what it means to be faithful to God who gave us all we have. We are most often inspired to give by the stories and the lives of generous people. So who has inspired you? Can you tell their story to others and learn how it is they have shaped your lives and your giving? It’s important to understand how generous people inspire others and who has inspired us because as we follow their example – we in turn inspire others.
In every church I have served there have been generous people who have inspired me to give and who have taught me lessons on what it means to give freely and abundantly. I hope and pray that in some ways I am learning to follow their example. In Altoona there was a woman I stopped to visit one day as she was recovering from an illness. It was the first time I had been in her home and I very quickly realized that she didn’t have much to live on. It was almost noon and on her stove was a small pot of soup which was her lunch and she invited me to share it with her. As I looked around I realized she didn’t have much more to eat, but she insisted I stay and she divided that little pot of soup between two bowls and we had lunch together. Edna taught me that no matter how much or how little we have, we can still give. It was humbling and yet a powerful lesson I continue to try and follow.
In Lewisburg there was a couple that helped look out for a two older women in the church who had little or no family. They not only visited them faithfully, but they helped them when it came time to move into nursing homes. This couple gave a lot of their time to help walk these two women through some really difficult situations and illnesses. No matter what came along, this couple was there for them and they never expected or wanted anything in return. Larry and ClaraEllen taught me that giving our time sometimes means being willing to get deeply involved and even messy in order to help others. Giving to others calls for commitment, dedication and sacrifice which can often extend for years.
Today I want to tell you about the inspired giving of a man from this church. Alan Blakeslee was a very quiet and unassuming man who usually sat 4 or 5 rows back on the left side. He was kind, gracious and faithful to the church throughout his life. Alan died last summer and I have to say that I have never been as surprised at a funeral as I was at Alan’s. While we all knew Alan as a quiet and gracious man, when the people he worked with got up and spoke about him they shared a very powerful story. Alan was a creative genius. He didn’t look at situations and see limitations, he saw opportunities. Alan worked at ChemCut most of his life and created all kinds of tools and machines. His coworkers talked about all the patents he held because he invented things that others thought were impossible. In fact, after Alan invented something at work people came to him and said that what he invented couldn’t be done. His reply was, no one told me that – so I went ahead and did it.
Perhaps the greatest invention Alan made that he should have gotten a patent for was a machine that would stir chex mix while it was baking in his oven. Apparently Alan loved chex mix but didn’t like taking it out of the oven every 10 minutes to stir so he built some kind of a stirring machine and installed it in his oven. I don’t know about you – but I would consider buying something like that.
What we want to share with you today is the story of Alan’s generosity. When Alan died he gave away over half of his estate. He gave 30% to the Cancer Center at Mt. Nittany Hospital, his wife died of cancer many years ago and it was a way for him to honor her. He also gave 17 ½ % of his estate to two churches that were both important to him. One of those churches was Faith Church and so a few months ago we received $450,000 in a trust to be invested and used over the next decade or more to help improve our church buildings and grounds. Alan was an inspire man who used his creativity, gifts and skills to move his company forward and now his generosity is going to help move forward this church forward.
Alan was inspired to give and while he wouldn’t have wanted a big deal made over his gift, we share the story of his generosity today as a means of inspiration. If what influences us to give is watching and learning from others, then we need to share the stories of how other people give. The giving of others cannot be a reason for us to stop giving, we can’t say that because Alan has given generously to Faith Church that we no longer need to give. That would be like looking at our Veterans and saying that since they served the nation with their lives, we don’t need to. What we need to do is allow Alan’s generosity to be an inspiration to us. How can his giving inspire us to give? How can the story of his generosity spur us on to be generous with what God has given to us?
Seeing people’s generosity inspires us and sharing stories of generous giving has always been something that inspires others to give which is why Jesus pointed out the giving other others and wanted their stories shared. In fact, Jesus told a story about one person’s generosity that just might be responsible for more giving throughout history than any other single story and Jesus told the story so that others would be inspired to give, that story is found in Luke 21:1-4.
Jesus lifted up one woman’s Generosity as means of Inspiration. She was willing to give and by sharing her story Jesus is inspiring us us to give. When we are willing to give in simple and generous ways – without seeking reward or recognition – God will use us to influence others. We have been inspired by others, may our lives of truly generous giving now inspire others.
G.I.V.E. ~ Inspiration
1. Where do you tend to find Inspiration and why?
• People in your life
• Stories about others
• Hands on activities
2. Name 2 people who have shown you what Generosity looks like? If you are able, ask them how they learned to be generous and what inspired them to give. What can you learn from them and apply to your own life?
3. In what ways could your giving be an inspiration to others?
4. Opportunities to GIVE during this season ~ and beyond:
• Pack a shoe box for Operation Christmas Child.
• Donate canned sweet potatoes for the food bank Christmas boxes.
• Invite people to join you at the Essence of Joy concert on November 30.
• Volunteer your time to help with the Essence of Joy concert on November 30.
• Set aside time to help with the Christmas Dinner (sign up’s will start soon!).
• Provide food or money for the Christmas Dinner.
• Set aside a gift now for our Christmas Eve Offering that can help the people of Sierra Leone.
• If you are able, consider making a gift to Faith Church that will support God’s mission into the future.