Last week my friend John and I competed in a fishing tournament in Hayward, Wisconsin. That's John holding a top-ten size fish he caught the opening morning of the three-day competition. The story that follows is one I've told before, but I love the story so much and the truth it illustrates, I want to share it again.
When someone tries to give you $20, you take it, right? Not my friend John. Last week, John and I entered the 16th Annual Lake Chippewa Musky Hunt, a three-day fishing tournament for really big fish. As part of the event, there are several opportunities to win door prizes, everything from fishing rods and reels to gift cards, food, and clothing. At the closing ceremonies, each of the 200 entrants has a shot at winning the grand prize, a Polaris four-wheeler, by having his name drawn from a jar.
Early in the evening and as a door prize, John won a Musky Hunt logo vest, but the extra-large size was two sizes too big, and well, John’s personality wasn’t all that interested in the vest.
John thanked the hosts for the door prize and made his way back to his seat, chirping along the way that he had no use for it. I told him to sell it, that some guy at the event would gladly pay him for it. Just then another fisherman approached John and offered a twenty-dollar bill for the vest. John refused the money, instead, handing the vest to the man for free. The would be buyer offered his money again, and, again, John refused. In the end, the stranger walked away with both his $20 and a new vest.
To be clear, had John accepted the money that would have been fine to do. Simple and honest business transactions do not displease the Lord, but John views money and stuff a little differently than so many others.
Meet My Friend John
John came to Christ in college after a mostly gospel-less upbringing. I met John in Midland, Michigan, and have known him for more than twenty years and for the majority of his Christian life. He’s just a guy in the church, one of many, working Monday to Friday as a chemical engineer.
In his ongoing sanctification John is one of the most generous men I’ve ever known. John loaned his new van to a friend to go on vacation while his own infant son was close to death. He’s given cars to Christian school teachers, all the meat from a deer hunt to a needy family, and access to his land to hunt from deer stands and property he works to maintain. Only God knows how much money he’s given to the support of his local church, to missionaries, to poor families, and to so many others. Giving away the vest instead of taking the money was completely consistent with the pattern of John’s life. But there’s more to the story after John gave away his vest.
The Grand Prize
The tournament awards prizes to the top ten finishers, with the first place fisherman winning a $2000 Cabela’s gift card, but that’s not the big prize. The four-wheeler is the big prize and is the last event of the evening. Each contestant has an entry number he carries over year after year. John is number 50. I am number 51. A few years ago, number 52 won the grand prize. We were oh so close!
The MC of the event really builds up the grand prize giveaway. Every year she reaches in and pulls out the winning ticket, teasing the audience with her announcement. Last Saturday night she called out, “The winning number is less than 100.” She then said, “It’s less than 60.” John looked at me and I at him with huge grins on our faces, two school boys holding out hope that one of us was the winner.
She then said, “It’s higher than 49.” We had goose bumps. Then she called my number, “It’s lower than 51.” That wasn’t what I wanted to her, but it meant my friend won. “Number 50!” she cried. John and I jumped and hugged. Immediately the thought came to mind, “John gave away $20, and God gave him a four-wheeler.”
Not Prosperity Gospel
I reject and hate what is called the prosperity gospel. It is an unbiblical belief that says financial blessing is the will of God for Christians, and if Christians will “sow the seed” of a monetary gift, then God will open the windows of heaven, pouring out on the giver much more money than he gave away. It was the doctrine of Oral Roberts and is the doctrine of Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyers, Joel Osteen, Paula White, and many others. It is heretical, unbiblical, and predatory teaching. God never promises to make anybody wealthy if they will give what they have. When the poor widow gave her mites, she remained a poor widow (Mark 12:41-44).
Yet the Bible has much to say about giving away our money or possessions with the expectation of blessing. For example Jesus said, Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Luke 6:37-38). What was Jesus promising? Not financial riches. Jesus was promising the blessing of God on generous people in whatever way the wisdom of God distributes His blessings, but there is no promise of more money, more health, or more affluence.
To be sure God owes a debt to no man. As wisdom says, He who has pity on the poor lends to the Lord, and He will pay back what he has given (Proverbs 19:17), and He who has a generous eye will be blessed, for he gives of his bread to the poor (Proverbs 22:9). When we are generous, God gives back to us in whatever manner He thinks best. Generosity is a godly trait that God’s people should develop. It should be on display in our tithes and offerings, in our assistance of needy people, and whenever we have the opportunity to do good.
Have you noticed how miserable stingy people are? Have you observed that generous people are joyful people? Making a tight fist around your money and your stuff can wear you out just like making a tight fist around a rope will wear you down. Stop clinching your hand around your money and your stuff. Sure, you’ll keep your money and your stuff, but you will miss out on the greater blessing of God.
I am convinced God poured into the lap of a generous Christian man a great gift. John exchanged a twenty-dollar bill for a four-wheeler. The difference is John didn’t know ahead of time he was doing this nor was that his motivation. He was just being generous because that’s what Christians are. They are generous just as their God is generous. John never thought, “Maybe if I give this guy my vest, God will give me a four-wheeler.” That’s a version of the prosperity gospel. The Christian gospel is Freely you have received. Freely give (Matthew 10:8).
You’re So Lucky!
Do you believe in luck? Nearly all of us say flippant things like, “You’re so lucky” or “If it weren't for bad luck, I’d have no luck at all.” Again, do you believe in luck? I do not. I believe in a sovereign God who’s “got the whole world in his hands.” When John won, somebody said to me, “He’s so lucky!” No, He. Is. Not. Luck had nothing to do with it. God had everything to do with it.
I believe every verse in the Bible. So when James writes, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father (1:17), I believe that. John’s winning of the four-wheeler was a gift from God to John.
I do not know if God would have given John the four-wheeler had John not given away his vest. Here’s what I do know – John lives a generous life, demonstrated once again when he refused the $20 and gave away his vest, and God liberally gave to a generous man a great gift.
John opened his hand allowing another to have what was in it. God put into his open hand something John never expected.
Why Not Me?
Admittedly, I wish the MC would have called out, “Number 51” handing me the keys to the four-wheeler. Like John, I too would have yelled out, “Praise the Lord.” But I am glad God didn’t give it to me. Instead, God gave to me a much greater gift. He gave to me the most powerful example I’ve ever witnessed of Christian generosity and God’s giving back to one of His own. I witnessed give, and it shall be given to you. God taught me in high definition it is more blessed to give than to receive.
John and I have fished in this tournament for the last seven years. Until two years ago John proposed a deal – If either of us won the four-wheeler, then we would sell it and split the proceeds. Though John lives on a hobby farm, he declared he had absolutely no use for a four-wheeler. I disagreed with his opinion, but John can be…strong willed.
A year ago John changed his tune and began to tell me how he would use the four-wheeler were he to win it. Our years’ long deal was off.
Now John has his four-wheeler, and he will use it like he’s dreamed of using it, but I guarantee that will not be its only use if John stays true to form. When he becomes aware that he can serve somebody else with the use of his new toy, he will. Should he discover that his four-wheeler can benefit somebody else, he will gladly lend it to him. Should the Lord take it away from John, I expect John to quote Job, The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord. Then I expect God to pour into the lap of His generous servant a greater gift.
Christian friend, be generous and remember God loves a cheerful giver.
As always I welcome your feedback and any ideas you might have for an upcoming Lunchtime Musing.