So last night Leslie and I spent time hanging out with a small group of people from our church that we had hung out with a few times before. We all knew each other individually, but we were drawn together corporately last year to go to a conference with a very specific purpose.
The Conference was called “Generous Giving” and as you can probably guess from the title, it was about helping people learn how to view their resources from a different perspective.And the way they did that wasn’t by flowcharts or financial piecharts…but with stories.
A few times a day they had people stand up and give their testimony about what God had done in their lives through being generous. And one of those people with a story was a guy named Stanley Tam. He was over 90 years old, and had one of the best stories ever.
About 5 decades ago, Stanley Tam had been a resourceful entrepeneur. He started a plastics company creatively titled “The United States Plastics Company” and it was doing well. Sure, it only made an annual income of a quarter of a million dollars, but back then that wasn’t that bad. And that’s when Mr. Tam made one of the biggest decisions of his life, He decided he didn’t just want to be another businessman looking to get ahead in the world, and so he legally transferred 51% of the company to God.
Try figuring out the legal paperwork for that.
Stanley began to give over half of what he made toward Kingdom purposes. And everyone was shocked, business men don’t normally do that. Most board of directors like the Senior partner to be, you know, visible. But that’s not where Stanley Tam stopped.
Because a few years later, Stanley got convicted that he was being a bit too selfish with his 49% and so he gave the remainder to the Lord as well. Making himself, the founder, a salaried employee of the company he had the vision to begin. Now if that doesn’t impress you, rest assured meeting Stanley wouldn’t help. He’s a feeble man who doesn’t command attention. He speaks in a barely audible voice with kind eyes, and a gentle spirit.
And when they asked him to tell how much he had given away in his lifetime, at first he didn’t want to. Then he quietly said into the microphone these words.
100 million dollars.
Later we found out that he hadn’t taken a raise in over 30 years, he and his wife raised his four daughters on a lower-middle-class income when he could have lived like a Rockefeller. But I doubt a Rockefeller could have smiled like Stanley. Because you should have seen his eyes light up when he talked about what he had seen God do with his life. The poor people who ate, the missionaries who were sent, the ministries that were funded. Those were Stanley’s investments, and they were doing quite well.
Leslie and I have spent the last few days doing taxes getting ready for April 15th. I know of no quicker way to make me depressed. I get tired head very quickly when we are doing this, so Leslie winds up having to do most of it, which she loves (sarcasm).
But last week I was reading a book that had a quote from Gary Thomas that has helped me see the redemptive value of taxes:
“Thinking about eternity helps us have perspective. I’m reminded of this every year when I figure my taxes. During the year, I rejoice at the paychecks and extra income, and sometimes I flinch when I write out the tithe and offering. I do my best to be a joyful giver, but I confess it is not always easy, especially when there are other perceived needs and wants.
At the end of the years, however, all of that changes. As I’m figuring my tax liability, I wince at every source of income and rejoice with every tithe and offering check-more income means more tax, but every offering and tithe means less tax. Everything is turned upside down, or perhaps, more appropriately, right side up.
I suspect Judgement Day will be like that.”
I think he’s on to something.
These are the stories that inspire me the most. When people decide to be stingy toward themselves so that they might be generous toward others. Maybe it’s because these are the people who really get it. They understand that when Jesus says blessed are the poor, he’s not just saying something that sounds pretty for personalized china. He’s pointing to the reality of how things already are in the Kingdom of God.
Because God already owns it all anyway, and when we let him, He still can take our relatively small resources and do really big things. And you’ll never have more joy than when you watch thousands eat from your 5 loaves.
Because in those moments, we are in tune with the Kingdom of God.
In those moments, Heaven can come to earth.
Just ask Stanley Tam.