Geraldine Brooks won the 2006 Pulitzer Prize for fiction for her novel March. Her love for books was nurtured by a woman named Althea Glasby, a friend of her grandfather’s. One day Geraldine’s grandfather mentioned to Miss Glasby that his little granddaughter loved to read. From that day forward a parcel arrived for Geraldine every birthday and every Christmas. Each parcel contained an expensively bound, lavishly illustrated edition of a book carefully selected for Geraldine. Inscribed in the front cover of each, in flowing script, were these words, “To Geraldine, with love from Althea Glasby”.
Geraldine Brooks never met Althea Glasby. She has no idea what inspired this woman to start sending her the books. But this is what she had to say, “I have no idea what this woman spent so much time and thought on a child she didn’t know… Whatever the reason, I wish I could thank her in person. I wish I could tell her how those books shored up a love for the written word that grew over time into a career and a calling. I would like to give her one of the books I’ve written, nice, hardback first edition. The signature wouldn’t be as fine and fluid as hers, but in my own pedestrian scrawl I would say thank you, for the gifts that helped to lead me to a life in books.”
Source: story details in McCrindle, The Power of Good, Hybrid Publishers 2011
A highly successful businessman was once asked to make a substantial donation toward an urgent charity appeal. The businessman listened to the case presented then said, “I can understand why you approached me. Yes I do have a lot of money, and yours is an important cause. But are you aware that I have a lot of calls upon my money? Did you know my mother needs 24 hour nursing care?”
“No we didn’t” came the reply.
“Did you know my sister is struggling to raise a family of eight on her own?”
“No we didn’t” came the reply.
“Did you know I have one son in a drug rehab clinic and another doing voluntary work overseas?”
“No we didn’t”
“Well, if I don’t give them a cent, what makes you think I’ll give it to you?!”
The modern Australian way is to spend, spend, spend, to the very limits of your income and then some more!
A few hundred years ago the great preacher and evangelist John Wesley showed us another way. Wesley lived in economically uncertain times, yet from humble beginnings he became so well known that his income eventually reached 1400 pounds per year. In 2001 this would be the equivalent of earning around $300,000.
So what did he do with all this wealth? Did he tithe it? No. Wesley went way beyond tithing. He disciplined himself to live on just 30 pounds of the 1400 pounds he earned every year. He gave away 98% of all he earned and lived on just 2%!
Wesley once preached a sermon on Luke 16.9. In it he spelled out his philosophy: money is a tool that can be used for great good or great ill. “It is an excellent gift of God” he claimed, “answering the noblest ends. In the hands of his children, it is food for the hungry, drink for the thirsty, raiment for the naked: It gives to the traveller and the stranger where to lay his head. By it we may supply the place of an husband to the widow, and of a father to the fatherless. We maybe a defence for the oppressed, a means of health to the sick, of ease to them that are in pain; it may be as eyes to the blind, as feet to the lame; yea, a lifter up from the gates of death! It is therefore of the highest concern that all who fear God know how to employ this valuable talent; that they be instructed how it may answer these glorious ends, and in the highest degree.”
He went on to spell out three simple rules which can guide us: gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can.
Wesley lived out these principles, on another occasion remarking: , “If I leave behind me ten pounds…you and all mankind [can] bear witness against me, that I have lived and died a thief and a robber.”
Source: information about Wesley reported in Christian History Newsletter, November 30, 2001. Wesley’s sermon on Luke 16.9 can be accessed at http://gbgm-umc.org/umhistory/wesley/sermons/serm-050.stm
Every year children across the world eagerly await the arrival of that jolly fat, red man Santa Claus. But is he real? Well, in a way, yes he is.
The Santa Claus story begins around 200 CE, with a sailing ship caught in the grip a terrible storm outside the Turkish port of Myra. As cargo was being thrown overboard by a crew desperate to stop their ship being overwhelmed by the storm, someone remembered a man of God was on board. Perhaps he could help. “Nicholas, Nicholas” went the cry. And from his cabin emerged a man with a white beard, Nicholas. Holding the rail he prayed for God’s mercy. His prayer was apparently answered, for the storm died down and the ship limped into the port city of Myra.
Upon reaching dry land Nicholas made his way to the nearest church, intent on giving thanks to God for the safe passage of the ship and her crew. Unbeknown to him a group of elders were gathered in the church, seeking God’s will as to whom should be appointed bishop of their city. The white bearded Nicholas was the answer to their prayers. As bishop he wore a long red robe and became known as the “Bishop of Miracles”, for there were many reports of amazing answers to his prayers.
During his bishopry Nicholas was disturbed to discover many young girls were sold into prostitution if their parents were too poor to afford a marriage dowry. As he was from a wealthy family Nicholas struck upon a plan of action. He launched it one December 6th. Under the cover of darkness he secretly moved around the town, dropping small bags of gold coins through the window of homes where there was a little girl but a family too poor to afford a dowry. From that time on Nicholas would follow the same practice every December 6th. Families were elated to save their daughters from slave prostitution. It is said that one year when Nicholas reached through a window, the bag of coins fell into a stocking hanging by the fire to dry – the source of our Christmas stocking tradition.
It was not until the year of his death that people discovered who the mystery benefactor was. Five hundred years later Nicholas was made a saint by the Catholic church – thus our talk of “Saint Nicholas”. As his story spread so did attempts to imitate his kindness. In the twelfth century French nuns began imitating him by taking bags of fruit and nuts to poor families every December 5 – what became known as “St Nicholas’ Eve”. In Russia St Nicholas became a patron saint and was celebrated every Christmas. In England he was given the name “Father Christmas”, in France “Papa Noel”
In Holland St Nicholas was known as “Sinter Klass”, “Sinter” meaning “Saint” and “Klass” for “Nicholas.” Elsewhere those with broken English heard the story of Saint Nicholas dropping coins through windows onto the hearth and developed the into the idea of the gift-giver coming down the chimney, landing in the cinders of the fire below. So for some he became “Cinder Klaussen”.
Then in 1822 Clement Moore wrote his famous poem, “The Night Before Christmas”, in which the Dutch Sinter Klass became Santa Claus. He probably drew (whether directly or indirectly ) from the poet Washington Irvin who had published a book about a Dutch colonist’s dream in which St. Nick came riding over the tops of trees in a wagon in which he brings yearly presents to the children.
Thomas Nash was a cartoonist for Harpers Weekly. He began drawing pictures of the figure described in Clement Moore’s poem. He gave Santa Claus the red robes and white beard of the original St Nicholas, and decided to make his Santa plump and jolly. The final stage in Santa’s evolution came when Coca-Cola had what is now the definitive Santa image drawn up for an advertising campaign.
So is Santa real? Yes he is…or was. And every Christmas we do well to hear his story and imitate his acts of generosity.
Source: reported in Austin Miles, “Santa’s Surprising Origins”, posted at Crosswalk.com news service December 20, 2001
Blaise Pascal was an influential French scientist who lived in the 1600’s. He was something of a genius. For example, at the age of twelve, even before he had received any formal training in geomoetry, Pascal independently discovered and demonstrated Euclid’s thirty-two propositions. I don’t even know what Euclid’s thirty two propositions are, let alone demonstrating them! It’s no surprise then that as an adult Pascal completed important works on mathematics and experimental physics. He even gave us buses. Noticing a crowd of people all headed in the same direction to work he came up with the idea of the bus and in 1662 helped form the very first bus company.
Pascal was also a devoted Christian. He wrote books on grace and the life of Christ as well as other Christian works.
Through all this Pascal realised that his faith, though intensely personal, could not be merely individualistic. His love for God drove him to love for the poor. “I love poverty” he said, “because he (Christ) loved it. I like wealth because it gives a means to assist the needy.” Increasingly Pascal deprived himself so that he could give more. He sold his coach and horses, his fine furniture and silverware and even his library in order to give to the poor. When he received an advance of 1000 francs for his bus he sent the money to the poor in Blois, who had suffered from a bitter winter. He then signed over his interest in the company to the hospitals of Paris and Clermont.
When Pascal died at the age of 39 on August 19, 1662 his funeral was attended by family, friends, scientific colleagues, worldly companions, converts, writers, and the back of the church was filled with the poor, each and every person there someone Pascal had helped during his life.
Source: reported in Charles Kummel, The Galileo Connection (IVP, 1986)
Oswald Golter was a missionary in northern China during the 1940’s. After ten years service he was returning home. His ship stopped in India, and while waiting for a boat home he found a group of refugees living in a warehouse on the pier. Unwanted by anyone else the refugees were stranded there. Golter went to visit them. As it was Christmas-time wished them a merry Christmas and asked them what they would like for Christmas.
“We’re not Christians,” they said. “We don’t believe in Christmas.”
“I know,” said the missionary, “but what do you want for Christmas?” They described some German pastries they were particularly fond of, and so Oswald Golter cashed in his ticket, used the money to buy baskets and baskets of the pastries, took them to the refugees, and wished them a merry Christmas.
When he later repeated the incident to a class, a student said, “But sir, why did you do that for them? They weren’t Christians. They don’t even believe in Jesus.”
“I know,” he replied, “but I do!”
Alan Barnhart is an American businessman who owns and runs a business valued at $250 million
When he was at University he poured over the teaching of Jesus and was struck by Jesus call to generosity and his warnings about wealth. He was determined that when he went into business he would not allow any financial success he might enjoy to become a source of spiritual failure.
When he and his brother took over their small family business, Barnhart Crane and Rigging, they set incomes for themselves that would enable them to support their families in a modest middle class lifestyle and agreed that anything the company made beyond that would be given to ministry, particularly ministries in the developing world.
In their first year they were able to give away $50,000; in the second year $150,000; and by 2005 they were giving away $1 million a month. They have also placed 99% ownership of the company into a trust that will ensure that when they have departed, all proceeds from the firm will continue to be invested in ministry.
Alan doesn’t regret the decision to limit his income. He, his wife and his children have been able to visit the projects they support and see the impact in people’s lives. Alan says that giving is fun!
Inspired by the teaching of Jesus on wealth, Alan Barnhart took a simple decision that revolutionised his life and enabled him to practise generosity.
Source: generosity.com and Barnhart, “Profit with a Purpose” in The Generous Business. A Guide for Incorporating Giving at Work.
There was once a farmer who grew award-winning corn. Each year he entered his corn in the state fair where it won first prize. One year a newspaper reporter interviewed him and learned the farmer’s strategy for growing winning corn. What was it? Simply this: the farmer shared his seed corn with his neighbours.
“How can you afford to share your best seed corn with your neighbours when they are entering corn in competition with yours each year?” the reporter asked.
“Why” said the farmer, “don’t you know? The wind picks up pollen from the ripening corn and swirls it from field to field. If my neighbours grow inferior corn, cross-pollination will steadily degrade the quality of my corn. If I am to grow good corn, I must help my neighbours grow good corn.”
The lesson for each of us is this: if we are to grow good corn, we must help our neighbours grow good corn.
Source: reported in James Bender How to Talk Well (New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1994)