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Sermon illustrations

Charity

Born to Give

Investor T. Boone Pickens talked about how good it feels to give. He said, “I was put here to make money so I could give it away.” I heard a nearly giddy Warren Buffet, then the second or third richest person in the world, say he once wondered why he’d made billions of dollars. Then he said he’d discovered the reason: so he can help many people. Buffet created the Giving Pledge, which at this writing has been signed by 156 billionaires who’ve joined him in committing to give away most of their wealth. Bill Gates said, “I’ve accelerated my philanthropic plans.

Melinda and I are convinced that there are certain kinds of gifts—investments in the future—that are better made sooner than later.” He also said, “A fortune…is best not passed on to one’s children. It’s not constructive for them.”

Actress Angelina Jolie said, “If I decide to go visit a school in the middle of Kenya, or Russia, the kids will be excited. That’s better than having an Oscar….When I’m in a refugee camp, my spirit feels better there than anywhere else in the world…they don’t know who I am. I am useful as a woman who’s willing to spend a day in the dirt.”11 Sharing about her humanitarian work, she said, “Second to my children, spending time with refugees and other persons of need around the world has been the greatest gift.”

Randy Alcorn, The Treasure Principle, Revised and Updated: Unlocking the Secret of Joyful Giving, Multnomah, 2017.

Existential Brokenheartedness

In this short excerpt, pastor and author Austin Fischer describes a surprising dynamic that sometimes occurs in the life of a Christian: believing so strongly in a loving God that one cannot fathom the depths of the world’s suffering, and if not dealt with, can actually lead to a loss of faith:

Christianity sows seeds of celestial charity in our hearts, and those seeds can mutate into an existential brokenheartedness on behalf of the suffering world. The radiance of divine love can morph into a tumor that destroys faith. Christian faith creates a love so fierce that it can accidently subvert faith in the name of love in the face of savage evil.

In other words, it is often those with deep faith, firmly grounded in the love of God, who find their faith languishing in the shadows when faced with creation’s ceaseless pain: “The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering of the world.

Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Giving Away What Wasn’t His

When 67-year-old carpenter Russell Herman died in 1994, his will included a staggering set of bequests. Included in his plan for distribution was more than two billion dollars for the City of East St. Louis, another billion and a half for the State of Illinois, two and a half billion for the national forest system, and to top off the list, Herman left six trillion dollars to the government to help pay off the national debt.

That sounds amazingly generous, but there was a small problem—Herman’s only asset when he died was a 1983 Oldsmobile. He made grand pronouncements, but there was no real generosity involved. His promises were meaningless because there was nothing to back them up.”

Source: The Chicago Tribune, June 13, 1995.

A Little Girl and The Founding of World Vision

In 1947 huge crowds came to hear a thirty-two-year-old Californian preach at mass evangelistic rallies throughout China. Although Bob Pierce had no knowledge of Chinese language or culture, his message of American old-time religion was warmly received, reportedly reaching tens of thousands and even converting twenty members of General Chiang Kai-shek’s personal bodyguard. But despite these impressive results, Pierce’s trip to Asia would be most remembered for his brief encounter with a single little girl.

In Xiamen, Dutch Reformed missionary Tena Hoelkeboer invited Pierce to preach to four hundred girls at her school. When one of her students, White Jade, informed her father that she had converted to Christianity, he beat her and threw her out of the house. Hoelkeboer was distressed at the prospect of taking on yet another orphan and demanded of Pierce, “What are you going to do about it?”

Deeply moved, Pierce emptied his wallet of the five dollars it contained and promised to send the same amount every month. When he returned to the United States to report on his evangelistic exploits, Pierce told the story of White Jade in churches across the United States. In 1950 he founded World Vision in order to sponsor more needy Asian children like her. By the turn of the century, World Vision had become the largest privately funded relief and development NGO (nongovernmental organization) in the world, and White Jade’s story continued to be used both in advertising and in recounting World Vision’s history.

Even at the time of this writing, White Jade remains central in defining World Vision’s identity and approach for its employees and donors. Because of its deep rhetorical resonance and staying power, Pierce’s encounter with White Jade and Hoelkeboer might possibly be the single point at which North American Evangelical Christians began to reprioritize compassion for the poor.

Soong-Chan Rah and Gary VanderPol, Return to Justice: Six Movements that Reignited our Contemporary Evangelical Conscience, Brazos Press, 2016.

The Miser

A notorious miser was called on by the chairman of the community charity. “Sir,” said the fund-raiser, “our records show that despite your wealth, you’ve never once given to our drive.”

The man replied, “Do your records show that I have an elderly mother who was left penniless when my father died?

“Do your records show that I have a disabled brother who is unable to work? Do your records show I have a widowed sister with small children who can barely make ends meet?”

“No, sir,” replied the embarrassed volunteer. “Our records don’t show those things.”

“Well, I don’t give to any of them, so why should I give anything to you?”

Landon Parvin in Leaders, Readers Digest, May 1996, pp. 67-68.

The Monk and the King

Saint Aidan was an Irish monk who later became bishop of Northumbria (Northern England and Parts of Scotland) in 635. He also founded the famous monastery at Lindisfarne. There is a story told of his friend and King, Oswin, who ruled a province in England and who gave the bishop an expensive horse as a gift. Soon after receiving the gift, a beggar approached Aidan and asked for money.

Aidan did one better, dismounted from the steed, and promptly gave the man the horse, along with all its costly trappings. Eventually this reached the king’s attention, who promptly scolded the generous bishop: “Why did you give away the horse that we specially chose for your personal use when we knew that you had need of one for your journeys?

We have many less valuable horses that would have been suitable for beggars.” Aidan responded, saying “Is this foal of a mare more valuable to you than a child of God?” The king thought about his friends words and abruptly cast his sword aside, got on his knees at Aidan’s feet, and begged for forgiveness. 

Stuart Strachan Jr., Source Material provided by Clifton Fadiman, Bartlett’s Book of Anecdotes.

An Odd Soccer Game & the Founding of Compassion International

Compassion International’s story strikingly parallels that of World Vision. Compassion traces its roots to 1952 when a Swedish American traveling evangelist named Everett Swanson found his way to Korea, where, according to his figures, thirty thousand South Korean troops responded to his message of salvation. On one early morning walk Swanson noticed sanitation workers gently kicking small piles of rags that lay here and there on the sidewalk. To his horror, Swanson soon realized that the piles of rags were homeless children, and the sanitation workers were gathering the bodies of those who had died overnight.

When a missionary colleague asked him, “What do you intend to do about it?” Swanson took the challenge as a divine calling. Two years later Swanson initiated a sponsorship program that enabled Americans to provide shelter, care, and Bible lessons to Korean orphans. As he promoted the program during his evangelistic travels, the number of orphan sponsors grew steadily.

The tally jumped more quickly when, in 1959, Swanson began to publicize his work in national magazines like Reader’s Digest, by the following year ten thousand orphans had been sponsored. In 1960 Swanson also undertook “Operation Long Underwear,” which provided six thousand children with warm winter clothes. Inspired by Matthew 15:32, the organization was renamed Compassion, Inc. in 1963.

Two years later, Swanson passed away. The fact that Swanson, a successful evangelist but not a nationally recognized leader, could garner such a significant response by himself was indicative of stateside Evangelical willingness to become involved with ministries of compassion if given the opportunity.

Soong-Chan Rah and Gary VanderPol, Return to Justice: Six Movements that Reignited our Contemporary Evangelical Conscience, Brazos Press, 2016.

Struggling with Charity

On the fifteenth of each month, Alicia has thirty dollars withdrawn from her checking account to sponsor Belyse, a beautiful, brown-eyed girl from Kenya, who then gets school and a hot meal each day. Alicia’s job is a grind at the moment. Belyse’s photo on her fridge has become deeply important to her, almost like an icon.

Pulling out milk for morning coffee, she pauses to quickly pray for Belyse, but also that through Belyse God would give her own life more meaning. But she’s read the small print. She knows her money doesn’t all go to Belyse, which makes sense. But it means even this straightforward bond is manipulated.

She feels distant from the help she is giving—like she’s watching it on TV instead of being part of it. She consumes justice. She picked Belyse by scrolling through photos, like picking a new pair of shoes off Zappos.com. She feels both more connected to and yet further from love because of this relationship.

And then there are the other relationships she has to block out. She lives in Brooklyn, where she works for a tech startup. Just today she walked up the stairs to her apartment shuffling through junk mail appeals from a wildlife fund, a local domestic abuse shelter, a medical relief organization that works somewhere parched and poor, and a local political group.

That’s not to mention emails that sneak past her filtering system and urgent Facebook posts from friends. Who can carry this weight of the extinction of a species, abused women around the corner, fixing cleft palates and a political movement to save democracy? Can I really make a difference? she asks herself.

Taken from Slow Kingdom Coming: Practices for Doing Justice, Loving Mercy and Walking Humbly in the World by Kent Annan Copyright (c) 2016 by Kent Annan. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

What would you give?

Father O’Malley, the parish priest, was giving a sermon about charity. He said, “In our world today, some people have so much while others have so little. We must give of ourselves and our worldly goods to help the less fortunate.”

He said to Tommy O’Toole, “If you had 10,000 pounds, wouldn’t you give half of it to the poor?”

Tommy said, “I would that, Father.”

The priest continued, “And Tommy, if you had a great wealth of jewelry, wouldn’t you sell it and give half to the poor?”

O’Toole replied, “Indeed, I would, Father.

The priest said, “And Tommy, if you had two pigs, wouldn’t you give one of them to your neighbour next door?”

Tommy said, “No.”

The priest said, “And why not, my son?”

To which O’Toole replied, “Now Father, you know I have two pigs.”

Source: Unknown

See also Illustrations on GivingMoneyStewardship