Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
Who we are, who we’ve become as a person, is an accumulation of all the choices we have ever made in our lives. It is our decision to be a generous person or not be a generous person. We get to decide if our generosity is enough to satisfy ourselves, or if it’s enough to satisfy the recipient. And we also can decide if our generosity is extravagant.
What does “extravagant generosity” really mean? We hear that term from time to time. But do we fully understand its meaning?
Let’s start with this: We should strive to emulate Jesus Christ. As Paul said, “put on the cloak of Christ.” When we do that, it becomes easier to practice extravagant generosity.
“We can see Jesus’ generous nature through the scripture stories about his life and ministry. We learn through them that generosity is often rooted in receiving, not just giving. Jesus has shown us his tremendous capacity for receiving. We become whole when we receive Jesus Christ and acknowledge through our living that all we are and have is from God. It is through our receiving of God’s love and grace that we have the capacity to share what we have.” (Becoming a generous disciple. Six principles to live by, 2004. Community of Christ, p.5)
I read somewhere a great definition of giving; and that there are really three levels of giving. First, there is tithing – that is what we give as a requirement. Second, there are offerings – that is what we give that is above and beyond our tithing. And third, there is sacrificial giving – that is when we actually give something up, and go without, so someone else can benefit. How often do we reach the third level of giving? How often do we reach that type of extravagant generosity?
“Generosity spills out of the heart, not the pocketbook. Generosity is the disciple’s natural response to God’s unconditional love revealed in the ministry of Jesus Christ.” (Danny A. Belrose sermon, a power to receive great things.)
Author James Moore tells the story about an old fashion picnic. He writes: Do you remember when they had old fashion picnics? It was before air-conditioning. They said, “We’ll meet at the Sycamore Lodge in Shelby Park at 4:30 on Saturday. You bring your supper and we’ll furnish the tea.” But you came home at the last minute and when you got ready to pack your lunch, all you could find in the refrigerator was one dried up piece of baloney and just enough mustard in the bottom of the jar so that you got it all over your knuckles trying to get to it. And there were just two stale pieces of bread. So you made your baloney sandwich and wrapped it in wax paper and put it in a brown bag and went to the picnic. And when it came time to eat, you sat down at the end of the table and spread out your sandwich. But the folks next to you – the lady was a good cook and she had worked all day and she had fried chicken, and baked beans, and potato salad, and homemade rolls, and sliced tomatoes, and pickles, and olives, and cheese, and to top it all off, she had two big homemade chocolate pies. And they spread it all out beside you and there you were with your baloney sandwich. But they said to you, “Why don’t we put it all together?” “No, I couldn’t do that, I just couldn’t even think of it,” you mumbled embarrassedly. “Oh, come on, there’s plenty of chicken and plenty of pie, and plenty of everything – and we just love baloney sandwiches. Let’s put it all together.” And so you did. And there you sat – eating like a king when you came as a pauper. (James W. Moore, 2003. If God has a refrigerator, your picture is on it, p.88-89. Dimensions for Living, Nashville)
The point here is this: We bring a little, and God brings a lot. In his amazing grace, He say’s “Let’s put it all together.” That’s extravagant generosity. If we will only accept it in faith, God has a banquet for us when we are hungry. God has healing for us when we are hurting. God can satisfy the hollow emptiness within us. God can make the wounded whole.
We know that God is extravagant in his giving, but how do WE become extravagant in our giving? Jesus told the parable about the mustard seed in the Bible: “He put before them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in his field; it is the smallest of all the seeds, but when it has grown it is the greatest of shrubs and becomes a tree, so that the birds of the air come and make nests in its branches.” (Matthew 13:31-33, NRSV)
You see, generosity is the effect of the Spirit working and growing within us. God uses our generosity to help change lives. God uses our extravagant generosity to help change the world. But we must be willing to receive that Spirit, and allow that mustard seed to grow and blossom into its full potential of a large tree where birds (our neighbor) will find refuge.
Want a perfect example of extravagant generosity? Think of the Easter story. How more generous could Jesus have been, than to give his own life for you and me? Through Christ, God is trying to change the world. Through you and I, God is trying to change the world. Through the lives of others, God is trying to change the world.
“God calls us as disciples of Jesus Christ to be generous in all our relationships and commitments. God gives and loves graciously. We receive. God provides “enough and to spare” (D&C 101:2f). God shares in abundance “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Luke 6:38). As disciples, if we love God, we are grateful and we share with others. We should strive to be generous. Share the good news of God’s great generosity through witnessing and giving of ourselves and our resources. Tell others about Jesus Christ and what the church means to us. And acknowledge that all we are, and all we have, is a gift from God.” (TE 231, Stewardship: An old path made new, 2005. Community of Christ, p. 65)
“The only person you are destined to become is the person you decide to be.”
How extravagant to you want to become? There is a mustard seed planted in each of us. It’s up to us individually to decide how big we want that tree to grow.