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About this series
The Genius of Generosity
Lessons from a Secret Pact Between Two Friends
What's the secret to being truly smart when it comes to managing your finances, possessions and your very life? The Creator of all things invites you to enter into deeper levels of generosity with Him, so you can become wise in your giving and generous in living. When we begin to grasp God's extravagant love and generosity toward us, we begin to be generous toward Him and others in His kingdom. The result: our generosity becomes a visible expression of our love for Him.More from this series
I want to share a little part of my journey. I was very fortunate after I came to know Christ personally to have a bricklayer and an organization that was really helpful at teaching you to meet with God and not just go through the motions but really understand that He wanted to talk to you in the morning.
And I was a pretty slow learner. It was really hard to get up and learning to pray was pretty hard for me. I was a little slow there too.
But after a couple years and began to develop some really good habits and began to grow spiritually and then later I, after I graduated from college I found myself teaching and coaching basketball and then running a discipleship ministry on a college campus.
And I lived behind the bricklayer. We both went there together to launch this ministry and there was a garage apartment so I had two roommates that I was discipling. And so I’m a school teacher, imagine this, making a thousand dollars a month. It was a while ago but it was not much money even back then.
And I had a little Volkswagen, green Beetle, do you remember those? It was my very first car. I bought it used. And it just ran like a little top.
And so little by little I was beginning to learn and so I learned to give the first portion of my income and this group was great, they weren’t legalistic. They said a tenth is a good place to start but if you want to go a percentage below or above, make sure you keep your heart in the right place.
And so as I began to grow my OCD, workaholic tendencies that I grew up in, they sort of shifted into my spiritual life and I thought to myself, “If ten percent is good I don’t have many expenses,” and they were teaching about proportional giving.
And not for all the right reasons but I decided, “You know what? I’m going to double it and I’m going to go twenty.” You know, the few, the proud, the Marines, the Ingrams.
And I’m pretty proud of myself. And if it slipped out that I was giving twenty percent of my income, that sounds like a lot. But if you’re only making a thousand dollars it may not be all that much. But it sounded good.
And so I did that for a while and then I thought, “You know, I have only my expenses,” were, like, a hundred and twenty or fifty a month. And so I still had margin and saved a little bit of money, kind of learning the basics of give, save, and invest a little. And investing real small.
And so twenty percent was good and God kept blessing. So I’m going thirty. And so I was giving thirty percent of my income away and I’m coaching and teaching and unfortunately the Pharisee in me was growing. More and more I thought, “If you give ten percent, God loves you this much. If you give twenty percent, I bet He loves you this much and, man, go thirty, who knows?”
And I was in this performance orientation where I was learning to give but I was not at all generous.
And so I’m driving my little Volkswagen and I had a little commute of about forty minutes where I coached and taught and so I’m in my little green Volkswagen and it’s early in the morning.
And I hear this voice, literally, in my head, and I don’t know much. I’m a pretty new Christian so I don’t know when it’s God or when it’s the Holy Spirit, what’s going on. Or whether I’m having an illusion.
So I hear this little voice in my head say, “Chip, whose car is this?” And I’m thinking, “I don’t know where that’s coming from.” The next morning driving to work, “Chip, whose car is this?” Third morning. Fourth morning. I realized I think this might be God.
And I didn’t want to answer because I thought He might have a plan for it other than the plan I had because I’d recently married Theresa and we were going to pack everything that we had and go to Dallas to go to seminary.
And so she had a car and I had a car and hers was newer and nicer and so I’m going to sell this little car but the gas prices had started to go up and the value just skyrocketed. It was worth more six years later than when I bought it.
And so every, I was actually thinking, “I bet I can get this for it,” and then the next day I would drive, “No, I bet I can get this for it.” And then even before Craig’s List, “I bet I can get this for it.”
And so as my greed inside my mind over here is working and, “I give thirty percent,” and I was a godly, godly man, of course. God, like, morning number five He says, “Whose car is this?” And I say, “Well it’s yours, Lord.” “Oh, good, Chip. I’m glad you know that. Because you know Nancy, the girl in the ministry?” “Yeah.” “Well you know how she’s going to go with Wycliffe Bible Translators and she’s going to go to a remote tribe there in Thailand?” “Well yeah.” “Well you have two cars, right?” “Yeah.” “How many does she have?”
And I thought, “This is not good. This is going in a totally bad direction.” And I said, “None.” And He said, “Well she’s going to be traveling all over America to raise support and translate the Bible for those people. I want you to give your car to her because you have two and she doesn’t have any.
You know like one of those verses you memorized that, 1 John where it says that if you know someone in need and you have more than you need and you don’t give it, how can the love of God be in you?”
And I’m thinking, “I wish I wouldn’t have memorized that one.” And I’ll be honest with you it was just one of those times where reluctant, reluctant. And so of course I tell Theresa and she goes, “Oh, that’s great!” “Thanks, dear.” You know?
So eventually this is not, I want you to hear, you can give without being generous at all. I’d begrudgingly, out of obedience decide, okay, I’m going to give my car, It’s Yours, God. I understand it. I’ll do it.
And so I’m out in the garage and I, this was the day, this will date some of you but in the old days they didn’t have nice stereos in cars and you could buy these stereos and I’d saved up and you put them in your car and then you can unlock them and pull them out.
And so, and so I’m out and the doors of the little Volkswagen are out and I’ve got my knee down and I finally I’ve got it all out of there and I pull it out like this and Theresa walks out and she goes, “What are you doing?”
And I said, “What do you mean, ‘What am I doing?’” She goes, “What are you doing?” I said, “I’m getting the stereo out of my car, God said the car, He didn’t say the stereo.”
And many of you men who are married, do you remember this pose? And you’re just shamed into, “Oh, you think the stereo goes with the car?” I stuck it back in there.
Now, if you’ll open your teaching notes, there’s some real truth from these stories that I want you to get. And I’m really a little embarrassed to share those but I want you to know that you can give but not be generous.
When I told you early on this is not about money. Money is always probably the most pressing symptom. But I was giving thirty percent of my income and I wasn’t generous. I gave it begrudgingly.
In fact, I sat down earlier this week and I wrote down my motivations and what was going on in my heart.
Giving is an action. Generosity is a matter of the heart.
See you can give and not be generous but you can’t be generous without giving. When I was giving I was self-righteous, I was proud, I had a works orientation, I thought God was going to do better for me if I could give more.
I was negotiating with God. I felt superior when I heard of other people and what they gave I thought I was better than they were. I was rigorously religious but relationally challenged.
So what I want you to know is that you can actually give and totally miss the boat. See stewardship is not an obligation to fulfill but an opportunity to seize.
Now from a strict theological standpoint it certainly is an obligation and we’re going to learn why because of who actually owns what’s been entrusted to us.
But what I find is is that when I hear the word “generosity” I think of adventure. I think of joy. I think of something winsome. When I see generous people I want to hang out with them. They’re the kind of people that life’s exciting.
When I hear the word “stewardship.” Are you a good steward? That word has a lot of emotional baggage with it. I’ve heard a lot of sermons that as soon as people start talking about stewardship it feels heavy like you’re spending too much. You’re not giving enough. You could be doing more. You don’t measure up. That sounds like getting poked in the eye with a sharp stick.
And what I think is we’ve got a lot of misperceptions about stewardship and what the meaning of it is because it’s a beautiful word too.
I learned about stewardship from John Saville. He was that mid-seventies man and I was a twenty-eight year old young pastor and he brought me down to his office and he owned this company, CPA firm down in downtown Dallas and if you remember he gave me this checkbook.
And it said, “Pastor’s discretionary fund.” And he put five thousand dollars in it. And for five years I put that in my back pocket every morning and I walked around and my only goal was to figure out who had a need that John Saville wanted to meet and I was his steward.
It was his money and all I, I just played Santa Claus for five years. I mean, way better than Santa Claus, it was God. Loving and caring and writing a check to get a bus ticket back for some young run-away teen.
Or writing a check that someone gets their electric bill paid or an elderly couple that had their house infested with all these rodents and time after time after time.
And then I would go down and have a lunch and then we would laugh and John would lean back and go, “Praise the Lord!” And I would be embarrassed. And I was a steward and it was a blast! It was an adventure.
And what I want you to understand is when we start talking about the smartness or the genius of generosity it’s having the same attitude with what God’s given you that I had with John Saville.
It wasn’t my money. I wasn’t uptight about where it went. I mean, I had to give an account for it. And I wanted to make him happy. And we did become best friends. But when I gave it away I wasn’t worried like, “I’m not going to eat today or not,” it’s his money.
And every time after we would meet it was an amazing thing. I’d get a bank statement and he would just fill it back up.
So what you need to see, here’s the bright idea. The bright idea is stewardship is the path. That’s a path. We are stewards and we’ll talk about it and why.
But generosity is the adventure. Generosity is a whole new way of living and it’s way beyond money and it’s even way beyond your time and way beyond your talents. It’s like this winsome, amazing adventure where you start walking around with this breakthrough concept.
Everything I have is a gift to me from God. And I’m His money manager. It’s like my life is like a checkbook and God fills it. And He’s given me time and talent and brains and opportunity and people and friends and every single thing I have is a gift from Him.
And what He wants me to do is spend it or invest it or use it in a way that pleases Him and as we do we become best friends.
And as we do I get the joy of watching his resources flow through me and loving people. That’s the breakthrough concept. The genius behind the in-depth relationship I enjoyed with John Saville is what God wants for you and me and every single follower of Christ on the face of the earth.
Now, what I learned, even when I was giving thirty percent of my lavish income that I was getting is that I didn’t believe God owned it all. That’s when life really changes.
See I was giving thinking it’s mine and I’m better than people because look how much I’m giving. Well, wait a second. If a hundred percent of it is God’s and God says, “I’d like thirty percent of it or twenty-two percent of it or nine percent of it or a hundred percent of it,” it’s His, right?
So you don’t get any brownie points for just giving it where He says to give it. But when you begin to understand, a hundred percent, not just of your money but all that you are and all that you have is His, it completely changes…instead of Him having to pry it out of your hands and you feeling all this anxiety and being uptight about this and about that and how you’re going to do it and the guilt.
All of a sudden you realize, “Wait a second, this is Yours. Where do You want Your time to go today, Lord? Where do You want the money entrusted to me? Where do You want these relationships to go? How do You…?”
In fact, notice what the Scripture says. I actually put them right in your notes. It says, “The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” Do you live in the world? So, you’re the Lord’s. It says, “The world, and all who live in it.”
Later in Haggai he goes, “‘Silver is Mine and gold is Mine,’ declares the Lord Almighty.” Deuteronomy 8, “Remember the Lord your God for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth.”
I mean, it’s almost like God was thinking that some of us would be saying, “Well, yeah, you might say it’s all Yours but I work really hard for it.” And He goes, “Yeah, well, who gave you the brains, the talent, and the opportunity?” “Oh, yeah, that’s right. Thanks.”
Even your body, it says, “You are not your own, you were bought with a price,” 1 Corinthians 6:19 and 20.
The summary here is what I call, this is the principle that has secret power. I call it the Oikonomia principle. Oikeo is the Greek word for “house.” You can almost hear the word, we get our word for “economy.” Literally the word has to do with being a steward. It’s translated of being a guardian. It’s translated of being a manager.
It’s the picture of, you remember in the Old Testament Joseph. We’re in Potiphar’s house. He put him over everything. He put him over his household workers, he put him over his money, he put him over his crops. The only thing Potiphar said was, “Hey, I’m married. You take care of everything else. I entrust it to you.” That’s this word.
And the Oikonomia principle simply stated is, “All that we are and all that we have belongs to God and He has temporarily entrusted to us to manage according to His wishes.”
That’s a big thing to swallow. I mean, think about if you actually, if that went from an intellectual, “I don’t even know if I agree with it,” to an intellectual, “I agree with it,” to a, “I really believe this is true.”
Now can you imagine what that would do? Everything I have and everything I am belongs to God. And He’s temporarily entrusted it to you to spend, invest according to His wishes. With the promise that He loves you and He’s good and He’s kind and what He really wants is to work in you and through you as He directs those things so you accomplish His purposes.
This phrase or this word or this concept of the Oikonomia principle is way, way beyond money. Notice in Psalm 90: Our time is a gift from God. If you’re married, our spouse is a gift from the Lord. Your property, in Luke 16, is a gift from God. Your spiritual gifts, it says they’re given by grace, they’ve been entrusted to you. They’re a gift from God.
God’s truth, it says the gospel itself is a mystery entrusted to us. People in your life, Acts chapter 20, God gives people in your life that they’re entrusted to you, they’re a gift. Some of them they’re a gift that you watch over them and you’re responsible for and others they’re people that they’re just a gift that He wants to enrich your life. But you steward friendships and you steward people.
Every good and perfect gift, everything you have, just in case we missed something, James 1:17, “Every good and perfect gift comes from above, from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.”
Every good thing that ever comes into my life, the hand of God is behind it to express His love and concern for you. And even your physical body. I mean, one of the strongest motivations for whether it’s right eating, or exercise, or what you put in your mind is that you’re not your own, you’ve been bought with a price.
So this isn’t your body that you’re deciding what to do with. This is God’s body who says, “Now will you take good care of it? Because I have a great plan for you.”
And so at the heart of it, notice the passage there at the bottom, 1 Corinthians 4:1 and 2. Here’s the responsibility of a manager or of a steward. “Let a man regard us,” the apostle Paul says, “in this manner as servants of Christ and,” here’s our word, “stewards of the mysteries of God.”
And then in the next verse he gives the number one priority with God of a steward. “In this case, moreover, it is required of stewards that one be found,” say it out loud with me, “trustworthy.” Circle it in your notes, will you?
This is the issue. This is the issue in your life. God has given you time and talent and people and money and opportunity and leadership. You live in a time of history that is pregnant with possibilities.
And He decided, from eternity past, to place you and me at this time, in this place, with this group of people, with what you have, and He’s got a plan for you. And what He wants you to do is say, “Lord, I want to fulfill that plan entrusted to me, I want to be found trustworthy. I want to spend my time, my money in a way that I realize it’s really not mine. It’s Your time, it’s Your money, it’s Your opportunity. And I want to honor You in it.”
And here’s the thing, as we do that God’s promise is He’s a heavenly Father, He wants the very best for you.
And so the real issue, when it comes to this, the real issue is trust.