In 1888 the Swedish inventor of dynamite read his own obituary: "The merchant of death is dead". His name was Alfred Nobel, a peace loving man who believed his invention would expose the futility of war. His will established five prizes to “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind” – the Nobel prizes.
How would it feel to read our own obituary over breakfast? Many English people are uncertain how to celebrate St George’s day as a symbol of national identity. We don’t want the same uncertainty about our own legacy?
Some will celebrate significant personal or professional achievements; for all of us our legacy will hopefully be rich in relationships, prayerfulness, faithfulness, service - and generosity.
Billy Graham said, ‘The legacy we leave is not just in our possessions, but in the quality of our lives. What preparations should we be making now? The greatest waste in all of our earth, which cannot be recycled or reclaimed, is our waste of the time that God has given us each day.’
We build up treasure in heaven by the wise use of our wealth here on earth. Or as Paul puts it, “You will be made rich in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion” (2 Corinthians 9:11)
The Stewardship Legacy account can make leaving a legacy of generosity easier. To find our more and to read our briefing paper Where there's a Will visit our giving legacy page.
Shakespeare's legacy quote: Mariana in All's Well that Ends Well, Act 3 scene 5
Half of UK working adults do not have a Will; only 21 per cent of people aged between 21 and 35 have a valid Will.
The typical person who leaves a charitable gift in their Will lives around two years longer than those who don’t.
Just 15% of Wills include a legacy to charity
Four Labour MPs have been suspended from the Parliamentary Labour party; Labour’s Stephen Byers admits he said some boastful and untrue things; Conservative John Butterfill admits he made a fool of himself. It raises questions about political lobbying and vested interests of MP’s. And, as Patrick Wintour in the Guardian notes, ‘the true crime of the former ministers is that they look greedy....’.
They are not the first and wont be the last. Elizabethan explorer Sir Martin Frobisher (1535?-1594) was determined to discover the famous north west passage, a new sea route to the riches of Cathay, Asia.
Souvenirs from his first voyage included a captured Inuit Indian (the ‘strange man of Cathay’) and a small black stone which was pronounced to be gold. The 150 Cornish miners and their equipment indicated the motive for his second journey, and his third! Alas, no alchemy could turn Frobisher’s worthless stone into true gold.
Frobisher was disgraced for a time. He had vowed “to make a sacrifice unto God of his life rather than return
home without the discovery of Cathay (Asia)" but his fools gold was turned to gravel to pave the streets of London.
Frobisher’s legacy could have been so much greater. Whatever their other achievements what will be the abiding memory of the Dispatches politicians?
Jesus said, ‘What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?’ (Matthew 16:26) The seduction of wealth is not just money; it is the power, status, respect and influence that are so often the travelling companions of money. But in seeking these things we can lose so much of our true selves.
No wonder Paul challenged the rich not to be arrogant, to temper wealth with service and generosity, to have a set point, a focus outside of self satisfaction (‘lay up treasure in heaven’) if they were ‘to take hold of the life that is truly life’ (1 Timothy 6:17-19). It’s our choice.
Frobisher redeemed his reputation with Drake against the Armada and died of wounds fighting the Spanish. Bits of him are buried at St Andrew’s Plymouth, the rest in St Giles-without-Cripplegate. A Royal Navy heavy cruiser is named for him, HMS Frobisher.
An inlet on Baffin Island bears his name to this day, Frobisher Bay. Here the first sermon and Anglican communion in the New World took place, celebrated by Frobisher’s chaplain Rev Robert Wolfall in 1578
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“Spaghetti can be eaten most successfully if you inhale it like a vacuum cleaner.”
"Tim made it clear that contemplating any form of theft was horrendous, but equally horrendous was the fact that any child of God should be driven to contemplate crime in order to exist."
David Wilbourne, assistant bishop of Llandaff
Rev Tim Jones, caused an unholy row this Christmas past. His sermon suggested that it was better for the needy to pinch an 80p tin of ravioli from national chains (not small family businesses) than to resort to mugging, prostitution or burglary.
This was too much for parishioner Martin Stot who hid in a phone box before throwing 30 tins worth of ravioli from Asda (not a small family business) over Rev Tim. Perhaps a phone call, letter or request for a chat might have been more appropriate!
Published this month, An Anatomy of Economic Inequality, says that the top 10% in the UK are 100 times richer than the poorest 10%. Save the Children recently reported 13% of UK children are living in severe poverty.
Does Mr Stot get quite so angry about this? Do we? Both Rev Jones and his critics agree that stealing is a serious business. But so too is the situation of the poorest in our society and in the global economy. So too are the choices they have to make. Are we straining at gnats and swallowing camels (Mt 23:24)?
The response to the DEC appeal for Haiti has raised around £80million - a remarkable amount which will save and change lives. Those who give so generously want sustainable change not a return to life before the quake. Deuteronomy 15:4 says, 'However, there should be no poor among you...'. Harbouring inequality in an affluent society and in a global economy threatens the peace, security and the righteousness of us all. Generosity is more than charity. It requires that we open our hearts and our minds as well as our hands.
"These are your presents, and they are tools not toys. The time to use them is perhaps near at hand. Bear them well."
Father Christmas. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Ch. 10)
The full Hollywood treatment has ensured that The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe now has cult status, but this was not always so. Lewis himself was unsure and his friend, colleague and spiritual mentor JRR Tolkien, author of Lord of the Rings, disliked it intensely. He felt that Lewis was flirting with allegory and playing with mythology. He especially disliked the arrival of Father Christmas in Narnia.
But it seems to me that Lewis was hinting at something spiritually important. In Narnia, under the white witch it is 'always winter but never Christmas'. Aslan moves, winter thaws and it is no accident that we meet Father Christmas, the mythological figure associated with gift giving.
This side of the wardrobe door, Michael Greenberg died in 1995. Few have heard of him, but to the down and outs on Skid Row, the Bowery in New York, he was known as 'Gloves Greenburg'. Between 1965 and 1993, Greenberg handed out gloves to the needy, seeking out the ones who wouldn't catch his eye, asking only for a handshake in return. Greenberg recalled one elderly man who, after finally being persuaded to take a pair of gloves, asked with quiet dignity, 'do you have these in blue?'.
It is no accident that Greenberg made his gifts between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Our gift giving at Christmas can sometimes be ritualistic, expensive, even worrysome. But at best, our giving and receiving reflects the nature of God himself (2 Cor 8:1-3, 8-9).
And finally, each visit to Goodison Park this Christmas and New Year is a reminder that all good things come in blue! Happy Christmas!
So said Andrew Carnegie, the 19th Century industrialist and fabulously wealthy man. He might have added, ‘until they learn to give’. Carnegie is also one of history's great philanthropists with a legacy of libraries, schools, universities and the lives that they have and continue to change to this day. I guess he smiled a lot.
More recently, secret millionaire Tony Banks was all smiles (and some tears) when he visited Liverpool and stayed in the parish of Christ Church Walton Breck where I was Vicar for 11 years. (By the way, Anfield had crazy moments but the place was not as the programme suggested; the great people were!). Banks, a Falklands veteran and succesful businessman gave £130,000 to various Liverpool projects, including DaisyUK. Most compelling, however, was his time with Lee Sanger, who returned from Iraq with post-traumatic stress disorder. Tony gave Lee the opportunity to be generous himself, handing him £30,000 for the charity of his choice (Combat Stress).
Tony Banks left Anfield having changed lives, including his own for it seemed he found some healing of his own memories. That is what generosity does. It changes the giver as well as the one who receives. But why is this?
Years ago I met a 'bodger' in Shropshire using a traditional pole lathe to turn beautiful wooden pieces. Because pole lathes are powered only by the bodger's foot a bodger must work with the grain of the wood and so produce stronger, more durable pieces. Imagine for one minute God as the bodger and us, the unworked pieces of wood. To give of our time, our talents and our treasure is to work with the grain of how God made us. When we live generously, when our giving means something and costs something we reflect the nature of God himself: 'For God so loved the world that he gave....' (John 3:16).
Not to give is to reject the person God created us to be. Giving and living generously makes us stronger, frees us from the chains of materialism, opens us up to a full life, hope and healing.
"Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience.... and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others while they long for you and pray for you because of the surpassing grace fo God that he has given you." 2 Cor 9:13-14
“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.” Albert Pine
“We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love.” Mother Teresa
"Money is like muck, not good except it be spread'." Francis Bacon
And the small print taketh away!
I consider myself pretty money savvy but I've been caught out more than once by the small print of a credit card agreement! A friend had some money on a balance transfer at 0% and some at nearly 20% from his Christmas shopping. He paid off a good chunk each month - but the money always came off the cheaper 0% rate first, so interest continued to mount up.
It's like a Las Vegas casino: you think you are good but the house always wins! The government has now proposed to limit the tricks of the credit industry trade:
This matters because so much of finance revolves around the relationship between borrower and lender. It's not always an equal relationship as Proverbs 22:7 indicates: 'as the rich rule over the poor so the borrower is servant to the lender'. The lender is rewarded for risk but should not abuse the relationship.
Likewise the borrower should not enter into the relationship lightly. As well as the financial implications, credit also affects the relationship between waiting and wanting. Two years ago my wife and I bought some furniture on the never never. It arrived the following week and two things happened. It was nice stuff but we never stopped to say thank you or paused to appreciate it. There had been a wanting but no waiting, no celebration. Then we looked around and said “What else does this room need to finish it off?”.
A wise relationship with money runs deeper than managing well. That is why Baptist minister Bishop C. Vernie Russell says
“You can’t serve the Master and the Mastercard!”
"Credit buying is much like being drunk. The buzz happens immediately and gives you a lift... The hangover comes the day after." Dr Joyce Brothers
"Credit is a system whereby a person who can not pay gets another person who can not pay to guarantee that he can pay." Charles Dickens
Consultation details (closes 19/1/10)
In debt we trust (Provocative film on credit; 90mins. Stars Bishop Russell!)
Buy Nothing Day (28 November)
blogs by the Stewardship team and selected guest writers.