Rare Generosity is Spontaneous


Have you ever been so thankful, so grateful, so inspired, that you suddenly wanted to generously give? If your answer is “yes”, I suppose the series of events, stories, pictures, conversations, and prayer creating that moment were incredibly special.

We see something like this in nature when certain materials come together in a rare event. Spontaneous combustion occurs when a mass of material bursts into flame as a result of chemical reactions within the substance, without the addition of heat from an external source. (Source: Dictionary.com)

We also have seen something like this in our giving, but this type of generosity can be rare as well. A situation or opportunity presents itself and something happens inside you. Your heart is moved. You are overwhelmed with thankfulness. You have to respond. Extravagant giving flows from you in response without regard to your wellbeing. You just experienced spontaneous generosity.


This first occurred a couple thousand years ago, when Jacob had a fascinating dream as he saw a ladder to heaven with angels coming and going. Then he heard God cast a vision for him and his offspring and make this promise.

“Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Genesis 28:15 ESV

Jacob awoke from the dream and was so overcome with amazement, worship and thankfulness that he built an altar with the stone he had used for his pillow and pledged 10% of everything he would ever have. He was blown away from the inside-out and He had to give to the one who was so gracious and generous to him.

Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear, so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,  and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.” Genesis 28:20-22 ESV


There was no meeting with his financial advisor, no asking his friends what they thought, no review of his net worth statement. He spontaneously combusted with generosity in response to God’s promises to Him and the rest is history. Now I am not advising to make your financial choices without counsel, quite the contrary, but when God moves you to give, you give. Giving is one of those tried and true spiritual choices that is after God's own heart.

God still makes promises to us today. May God’s promises create this same spontaneous generosity in us in such a way that our overflow of resources be full or worship and thankfulness to the one who provides all we have and all we will ever need.


John Putnam

John grew up on a cattle farm in a small town, went to college at N.C. State, has been married for 25 years and has three children. He is an entrepreneur at heart and led a thriving practice in the financial services industry for 22 years advising high capacity families, entrepreneurs, executives and private businesses. He has his CFP® designation (Certified Financial Planner), has received numerous industry awards and has been internationally recognized as a leader in his industry by the Million Dollar Round Table.

Intentionally Giving

“ To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large, and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter. Hence it is .png

“To give away money is an easy matter and in any man’s power.  But to decide to whom to give it, and how large, and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power nor an easy matter. Hence it is that such excellence is rare, praiseworthy and noble. “ - Aristotle

At eMite we believe in being intentional in giving. What do we mean by this? Intention is defined as giving one’s deliberate attention to an act or thing.  Intention in giving is focusing on the act of giving or more simply: caring enough about your gift that you take measures to ensure it is managed well.  

Intention may be directed toward the type of philanthropy in which a person engages.  A person may be intentional about helping children in need or giving for medical care or helping the elderly.  Intention may also be directed toward the particular organizations receiving a person’s donations or services.  A person may choose to only give to a select few charities of which they are very familiar.  They may only contribute to their church, synagog or mosque.  Or some may only give to organizations that serve in their communities.  Intentionality can extend to the size, type and/or frequency of your giving.  Some people may intentionally choose to give a % of their income.  Others may choose to give at certain times of the year.  Some may give only when they consider their gift useful.

Whatever the intention, we at eMite believe that givers should be intentional in the way they give their Mite.  The reason we hold this belief passionately is because your Mite is so valuable.  Your Mite (that would be your service, money, gifts, time - however you are giving) contains a part of you - your life, your labor, your days.  You work hard to have the life that you lead and the resources you possess.  What a travesty to have that value just haphazardly given away!  Nope, that will not do.  Your gifts need to be valued for what they are and they should be handled as precious treasure.  

At eMite we make sure that your donation is only used to go toward the outreach for which it was donated.  We do not use your Mite in any other way.  That is our commitment to our eMiters and that is how you can know that the impact intended from your donation is in fact the impact that is accomplished.  We will not use your Mite for administrative costs.  We have set up a different method, the Leviticus Fund, in order to fund those necessities.  We will not use your Mite on a failed project.  If we cannot accomplish the intended impact on any individual project we will inform you, as the donor, of this unfortunate circumstance and ask for direction on where your Mite should be directed.  In this manner we feel that proper honor is given to your gift and proper awareness is made to you of its impact.  

That is how we do it here at eMite.  Our intention is to value your Mite, gift, donation, service, to such a degree that you will know it is being used to impact lives.  In doing this we hope that our community of eMiters grows, and givers, from all over the world, have the opportunity to see many giving a little to make a huge impact on our world.  If you are not an eMiter we encourage you to give your Mite today and see for yourself the impact of intentional giving.  

Giving Involves Sharing

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Giving is a social thing. There is no way to giving without involving at least two. No one gives to themselves. Or said another way, how can you give to yourself what you already have?

Giving involves others. According to Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as the author and sage Mark Twain, “To get the full value of joy you must have someone to divide it with.” There is joy in giving and that joy is exponential because there is always someone to share it with.

At eMite we believe in a community of givers. More than just people who give, but people who love sharing the joy of giving. eMite is all about bringing givers together to share their passion helping others in need. We join together as a community to impact the world through giving. That is eMite, and if you are an eMiters, that is you.

If you are not an eMiters, we invite and encourage you to join the fun. Give your Mite and enjoy the community!

Brace Yourself

Today is Thanksgiving and tomorrow is Black Friday. We know the majority of all Americans will be shopping over the long weekend with 20 percent shopping today and 70 percent tomorrow. More than 43 percent will be shopping on Saturday (Small Business Saturday) and another 48 percent on Cyber Monday. The holiday shopping season has begun and the expectations from retailers and online merchants are high this year.

However, it is not like it used to be when retailers were accustomed to the holidays making up 25 percent of their annual sales. In fact, the trend has been steadily declining and today sales in November and December now account for less than 21 percent of annual retail sales at physical stores, and experts believe it will keep dropping. It might not seem like much but those extra percentage points would have translated into an extra $70 billion more in buying for last year.

“There was a mindset even before online shopping,” says Michael Niemira, principal at The Retail Economist, “but this just accelerated it.”

More people are shopping for the holidays all year long now. Heavy discounting has diluted sales, and with big promotions throughout the year, shoppers no longer hold off making their biggest purchases until the holidays. As well, the amount of year-end advertising and promotion has declined as people have spread their buying out over the whole year.

So far, we don’t see similar trends in giving. Consider these statistics:

  • Nearly 30 percent of all annual giving occurs in December.
  • Over 12 percent of all giving happens in the last three days of the year.
  • Almost 30 percent of non-profits raise between a quarter and half of their annual funds in November and December.
  • Sixty percent of non-profits make between one and three contacts with donors in November and December.

The world has changed for retail sales but not so much for charity. We can still expect to be inundated with multiple requests for contributions between now and the end of the year. If you are like me you are already bracing yourself for it.

I love the martial arts choreography in movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. I asked a black belt friend how he hardened his hands for real (not staged) competition. It seemed simple enough. Set up a five-gallon bucket of white rice and punch your hands in it 10-12 times in a row five times a day. When that no longer hurts use a five-gallon bucket of dry beans for several weeks and then graduate to five gallons of sand.

While it takes time to become hardened it is a simple process. My martial arts friend cautioned me, “Be careful. The process is irreversible once the calluses are there….and you could really hurt someone with them.”

Similarly,  I’ve discovered a way to build calluses on the heart – especially this time of year. Plunge your hands five times a day into websites, television, and email coming from nonprofits and ministries. When the numbing is sufficient start on your direct mail stack and auto signed personal letters. When all the feeling is gone move up to repeated plunging into personal visits, phone calls and notes from friends to attend banquets and galas. For the final hardening dwell on all the disappointments, misused gifts, unrealistic expectations and posed pictures of children and women. By then you should have to register your heart as a lethal weapon and be required to warn people before meeting with them.

Is that really what God wants? I believe what He desires instead is for us to resist becoming hardhearted. Two things I have learned that have helped me. First, we can learn from the retail trends and change our giving to be more consistent over the course of the year. Not only would it gradually change the pressure the non-profits feel to produce end of the year campaigns but there would be a valuable side effect. We would see a change in our own hearts as generosity becomes a habit and not a splurge. Second, what I have discovered and heard from others is this: resistance builds heart muscle and not calluses. Constant exposure to irritation builds calluses but the patient practice of giving builds strength. Calluses are dead and hard while muscles are alive and growing. There is no way to avoid the predictable barrage of incoming requests for help – especially in this season. So, focus on the few things that matter most to you and refuse to let your heart, mind, and soul become hardened. Remember, the process is irreversible for hands…but not for hearts.

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Fred Smith

Fred Smith is a graduate of Denver University and Harvard Divinity School. He spent several years as teacher and administrator at Charlotte Christian School and The Stony Brook School before joining Leadership Network, where he served as President for 12 years. Fred is the Founder and President of The Gathering, an international association of individuals, families and private foundations giving to Christian ministries. Fred will tell you his true vocation is that of a Sunday School teacher and it is this role for which he would most like to be remembered. Fred and his wife, Carol, have two grown daughters and a son-in-law. They also have three well-loved grandchildren.

Making Life More

Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get.  We make a life by what we give.”  

We at eMite say “Right on, Mr. Churchill.”  Your life is more than the living you make.  At least it is intended to be.  However, we get so enveloped in the making a living portion of the thing that we forget about the life part of it.  

Think about your life as a trek up a mountain.  You have an idea of what the summit will look like when you reach it but you are starting at the base of the mountain.  Now, you can hike that mountain alone, never engaging any other person on that mountain, asking for help or providing help to others.  It is just you and the mountain to be conquered.  You hike and hike and hike and behold, the Summit!  You sit on top of the mountain and enjoy the view - alone.  Your hike has only involved you.  The blood and sweat and probable tears are all only yours.  You were neither a burden nor a help to anyone else.  You made the summit and you made it alone.  You made a living of hiking that mountain and your life would be summed up in that hike.  You were a hiker - possibly even a great hiker.

Now let’s say you decided to change up your perspective a little.  You chose to share on your hike.  You would engage others, walk with them and talk as you proceeded along the hike.  Oh, you would still have your ideas on the view at the summit, but along the way you desired to do more than simply hike up the mountain.  You wanted to help others on their hike.  You would hike, stop to help, share in a campfire, hike, mend an injury, provide needed equipment on another person’s hike and so on.  What would be your experience at the summit?  Would you be alone?  Of course not!  There would be hundreds, thousands and possibly millions of others who were helped out along the way of your hike.  You may have been a burden at times.  You were definitely a help at others.  Your living was also in the hiking.  But your life would not be summed up in the hike.  Your journey up the mountain impacted the lives of others and your impact would have been felt throughout the mountainside.  You were a hiker - maybe not the greatest of hikers.  But you were an awesome help in the time of need.  You were a companion when someone was lonely.  You were a skillful fire builder for a family who needed warmth and you were a timely nurse when an ankle sprained.

As givers we make life more than simply making a living, and making life more is such a good thing.  

Thankfully Giving


Gratitude is such a wonderful attitude.  It is so good to know someone who is truly thankful.  Of course there is so much in life to be thankful for - the ability to read this blog for instance.  Think about all the things that go into that simple act: sight, learning, the Internet, money, light, an electronic device, hands, eyes, a brain and the list hopefully goes on and on.  

But one thing we seldom think to be grateful for is giving. The act of giving and the ability to do so is infrequently found on the List of Thank You’s.  But should we not be so tremendously thankful for the opportunity to give?  You may say, “What, pray tell, shall I be thankful for in giving away a thing that was once in my possession?”  To which eMite would respond, “Everything.”  The list would go something like this:

  1. The fact that you had something to give.

  2. The impact that your gift made on someone else or even the world.

  3. The exponential impact as that one person impacted by your gift goes on to impact others.

  4. Your life being a little freer of encumbrance.

  5. The balanced priority that your giving has brought to your life.

  6. The fact that your life is no longer measured solely on what you made but also includes what you gave.

  7. That you are no longer alone but that you have someone whose life is touched by you.

  8. The community that you have joined full of people who like you understand now the benefits of sharing what they have received.

  9. That your possession is no longer just stuff but now is a tool you can use to reach out and to change the world you live in.

  10. That your small act of giving is available to grow into into a treasure that is too much to contain.

Giving indeed adds to our life in ways that we simply cannot measure.  To be thankful for giving should be just as natural as being thankful for receiving.  And that is the whole thing right there.  At eMite we believe that it is Better to Give than to Receive.  Be thankful for the better part!

Happily Giving

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Have you ever met an unhappy giver?  Of course, anyone can have a rough patch and get down on life.  But as a general attitude toward living, givers are happy people.  There is something in the act of sharing one’s gifts, blessings, possessions, money, self that make a person joyful.

Benjamin Carson, former neurosurgeon and current Secretary of HUD, is credited for stating “Happiness doesn’t result from what we get, but from what we give.”  

In this simple quote Mr. Carson summarizes a core belief of eMite.  We as human beings seek to fill emptiness with things.  We work hard to receive from our labors the rewards of finer living.  But the accumulation of things will not result in a happier life.  Giving away those things that we accumulate and understanding that, in giving, you are impacting another’s life in a positive way brings about the joy that we seek.  At eMite we believe that adding stuff to our life does not make happiness.  Giving, freely, that stuff that has been added is what brings happiness!  

Now we certainly understand this may all sound self serving with eMite being a charity and all that.  But there is no other way for us to get the message out other than to say it.  Give and you will be a happier person.  See what your Mite can do and you will enjoy it.  We promise.  

How Much is a Mite

How much is a mite? Now that is a great question! The original mite, as noted in previous posts, was 2 small copper coins (about a penny). That was the actual worldly monetary value. But since that donation of 2 copper coins was recognized by Jesus Christ, the most dominating figure in all of human existence, and since the widow’s mite was added as an account in a gospel of the Bible, the most read book in all of history, we think the value of that first mite is obviously of much greater value than what the world put on it.

But here’s the thing, a mite given today is just as valuable as the first one given. From eMite’s viewpoint a mite is as valuable as the love and life that is represented in it. The widow in Mark’s account gave her mite, noted as all she had, out of obedience and love of her God. Likewise, today a person gives their Mite and in so doing offers a piece of themselves, sacrificially without acclaim, to help others in need. How do you value that action? How much is that worth? Frankly we don’t know. We can put a value on things that Mites are used to buy such as water, medical procedures, schoolrooms, blankets, etc. But that is just the value the world puts on those items. How much is a blanket worth when it is given through a selfless act of an eMiter desiring to help the homeless? We don’t know the answer, but we are pretty sure it is a whole lot!

Whatever your gift, whether it is a donation of $1 or $1000, or an act of service to help another, a kind word or a hug when one is needed, that gift, your Mite, is beyond our ability to accurately value. But please be assured that we will treat it as if it were the most valuable thing ever given.


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In our Project 4 - Hearing Aids for Honduras, we had the pleasure of meeting Rodger.  Rodger, a 17 year old Honduran young man, came to one of the medical clinics established for medical outreach to the poor.  Rodger was a fine looking young man, vibrant with a humble demeanor and a bright smile on his face.  Rodger suffered from hearing loss, a condition he had experienced from his infancy.

At the clinic Rodger met Dr. David Parsons, an accomplished medical surgeon and specialist in hearing problems.  For many years Dr. Parsons had participated in these medical outreaches and even established a non-profit for the purpose of providing medical care for people in undeveloped and underdeveloped countries.  One of the services that Dr. Parsons provided at the missionary medical clinic was an auditory checkup to determine if a patient would benefit from hearing aids.  

In fact, Dr. Parsons and those hearing aids, particularly designed for third world conditions, were the reasons eMite went to Honduras.  We wanted to provide eMiters the opportunity to impact the lives of people who needed hearing aids but were unable to afford such devices.  In walked Rodger, a young man who, at no fault of his own, was unable to hear and would, as diagnosed through the check up, benefit greatly from the hearing aids.  We got to see Rodger receive the hearing aids and in such a beautiful moment we got to see him experience hearing for the first time in his 17 years.  He cried.  His mother cried.  We cried!  What an awesome experience!  You can see it too via our Project 4 Celebration Video: https://youtu.be/Bvbba5WQf20   

Those hearing aids that gave Rodger his very first opportunity to hear cost $135.  Less than a Kate Spade Purse!  That is what a Mite can do!  Thank you eMiters for giving Rodger an opportunity he would have never had except that you were willing to Give Your Mite.

Benefits of Giving - #9 Great Legacy

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My father was a wise and successful businessman.  At his level of business he associated with the elites of the corporate world (not the celebrity level, like Gates, but somewhere just below it).  Due to God’s blessing and for God’s glory, my father finished his corporate endeavors by managing several major business turnarounds and creating a large amount of wealth.  At the same time, my father made a commitment to give a significant part of what he made to charity.  

This is where we run into the Inheritance benefit of giving.  My father died a little early as far as I am concerned, but by the time he died, millions of people were impacted by his giving.  Orphanages, medical facilities, feeding programs, educational programs and more were part of the impact that his life produced through giving.  It was fantastic - a dirt poor boy from the U.S. Depression years turned into the funnel of such wondrous benefit and impact on lives around the world.

The ironic thing is, my father’s life of 69 years, with all its incredible events, tremendous providence and amazing successes in business, was celebrated in memorial primarily for its final 10 years - the years of exponential giving and impact.  Experiencing this truth has shown me that the legacy of a person’s giving is significantly greater than the legacy founded in their accomplishments.  No, there is no Des Toal day.  But there are literally millions of human beings around this globe that have been touched by the blessing poured out on his life.  That is legacy, and that legacy won’t fade away.

Interested in legacy?  Start one by giving your Mite today!

Benefits of Giving - #8 Horizon Expansion

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There are so few ways to truly expand your horizon more effectively than giving.  Here is a brief case study:

Judy gave a $2.59 Mite to a project that helped provide nutritious meals for people suffering from malnutrition in Malawi.  When Judy first encountered this giving opportunity she had a vague recollection of a place called Malawi, maybe on the continent of Africa?  

Her donation connected her to Malawi in a distinct way.  She learned that it was a small country in southeastern Africa bordering Zambia and Mozambique.   The country’s population was 17 million people with the capital city being Lilongwe.  Through her studies Judy discovered that Malawi was one of the world’s least developed countries and that foreign aid was extremely important.  The people suffered from a low life expectancy and high infant mortality rates.  Their population was ravaged by HIV/AIDS.

Judy now had an interest in finding nonprofits working in Malawi.  Who was engaged in helping the people with health care and other humanitarian outreach?  After all, Judy recently gave to help people eat some nutritious food, maybe there were other areas she might be able to help affect positively.  She found many large and small organizations working in Malawi and doing good for the people.  After studying the situation and what organizations do the best work, Judy decided to give to a health care provider working with Malawians afflicted with AIDS.  

After a few years of ongoing donations to help the people of Malawi and communications with organizations working in the country, Judy finally decided to visit the country and get hands on with her giving.  Landing in Lilongwe, Judy experienced the sights and sounds of the country that she began studying several years before.  Judy was impacted by the opportunity to assist people in need in a country so far away from her home.  Her giving had opened doors that she had never considered possible, allowing her to share her life in ways that truly touched those in need.  And there you have it - Horizon Expansion through giving.  

Get a wider horizon.  Try giving a Mite today and see what happens.

Benefits of Giving - #7 Enjoyment

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Have you ever seen a mad giver?  We haven’t.  All the givers we know are happy.  They enjoy life and particularly enjoy helping others.  There is something about the act of giving that brings joy to the heart of the giver.  That joy should be reciprocated by an equal joy in the heart of the recipient so that all involved are simply enjoying themselves.  

What a wonderful way to live life - joyous and helping others.  There seems to be a not so secret formula here.  Have some fun today - Give your Mite!

Benefits of Giving - #6 Inspiration

Giving inspires!  Ever read an article or viewed those tear jerker videos about selfless acts done by people to help others in need?  They are simply awesome.  We love watching those.  Each and every one of those accounts show that we as humans are inspired when our fellow earthlings reach out to love on others.  

Heck, we even cry watching those videos where the dog stays with its trapped companion!  Any act of giving is beautifully inspiring.  Give some inspiration today!  Give your Mite and be an inspiration to us all.  

Benefits of Giving - #5 Exponentiality  

Did you ever consider the compounding impact of a gift?  Just consider a Mite.  Say one of our awesome eMiters gave a $5 gift to a project that built a classroom for poor children in the Philippines.  Now, it should be obvious that the single Mite was not responsible for the entire construction of the classroom.  However, that Mite placed with thousands of others did build the classroom!  That is serious multiplication and that single Mite shared in the whole thing!  

But, the math does not stop there.  Let’s say that in the classroom 50 children could be taught and throughout the day there were 5 classes in that classroom.  Then let’s say that the classroom was used for over 50 years to teach those children throughout their school years.  Well that would mean that 5 classes of 50 different children would have been taught per year for a total of 50 years.  So 12,500 children would have been taught in that classroom and over 60,000 different class sessions would have been held in that classroom.  The eMiter would be part of that!

Not done yet though.  Let’s say that every one of those 12,500 children taught in that classroom went out into the world and did something positive, like raising a family, working, living productive lives and helping others, and each one of them positively touch the lives of 10,000 people during their lifetimes.  That would be 125,000,000 additional people affected by the recipients of that eMiter’s donation.  

So $5 impacts over 125 Million people… and counting.  That is exponential!  

Sound like a stretch to you?  Give a Mite and see if our math works.

Benefits of Giving - #4 Relationship

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Giving is a relational activity. In fact, giving is one of the most intimate relations that we as humans can share.

Giving forms bonds between the donor and the recipient. Our giving in modern times is often too impersonal to form much of a relationship, but even in the age where we give through computers there can be shared experiences in the act of giving. These shared experiences are beautiful and contain blessings for all involved.

At eMite we love to share in Giving! We hope that you will join our community of givers and enjoy the experience of giving your Mite as well.

Benefits of Giving - #3 Priority

Giving sets our mind right on priorities. It is easy to get sidetracked in this world by our daily living. We can easily put too much weight on things that frankly do not deserve the honor. Giving takes us back to the point where we focus on what is more important. There is little of greater importance in this world than the human life. When you act in giving to help a life in need, you are aligning your priorities based on what is truly important.

If you are looking for a priority adjustment, give a Mite and see what happens.

Benefits of Giving - #2 Perspective

You are a blessed person. You may or may not believe this statement, but your belief in the statement does not affect its validity. We have a tendency to look at others when reflecting on our own value and on the value of our possession. Unfortunately the others we tend to look at are those who have more stuff than we have. That stuff becomes a filter through which we devalue our own blessed existence.

Giving of ourselves can have a reversing effect on the stuff filter. It is in giving that we see others in need and their need helps us understand that we are indeed blessed. Of course, the act of giving does not in any way change our situation, except maybe to remove some of the stuff we have. But giving does allow us to release some of what we have to aid the relief of another person in need. This action reveals 3 things:

It reveals that we have some stuff that can help others.
It reveals that others have needs, probably greater than our own.
It creates a blessing for recipient and giver to share.

If you don’t believe me, just try it out. Give a Mite and see if you are blessed.

Benefits of Giving - #1 Fulfillment

Everybody from the Huffington Post to Berkley.edu to John Stossel at Fox News have written about the happy benefits found in the act of giving to charity. There are as many qualifiers provided in the innumerable scribbles on the subject, as there are authors on the topic. We will not attempt to further hammer home the neurological effects of charitable giving illuminated by the numerous studies performed in recent years. Ours is a much more elementary level approach - although a tad bit deeper.

At eMite we prefer to characterize giving as a fulfilling action. While others approach giving from the happiness meter, we find this measure to be a bit too fleeting. Happiness comes and goes. But fulfillment is something that, once accomplished, cannot be diminished. You may or may not obtain happiness from fulfillment. But if you fulfill your purpose; you are not able to remove the impact of that fulfillment. It stands eternally.

We propose that Giving, the act of helping others in need, is an essential component in a fulfilled life. There is no doubt that Giving is dependent upon even greater attributes in a person, such as the greatest of all, Love. But as Love brings about Giving, it is Giving that brings the expression of the Love that encourages the act. We hail Love as greatest because without Love our existence is worthless - at best. But it is through Giving that the Love we possess is expressed and it is through that expression that fulfillment is derived in our lives.

The Priest and the Levite - a lesson in familiarity

That old truism - familiarity breeds contempt - is just as real to our giving as it is in any other area of our lives. Remember the last time you saw the commercials promoting an organization fighting against starvation in underdeveloped countries? Did you give? No. Well, I didn’t either.

Now let’s be fair. There are many reasons for not giving to a charity - even if it is to help starving children. It could be that the nonprofit promoting their fight against hunger has a 1 star rating on Charity Navigator and spends over 70% of their total budget on administration. That would be a reason to say no. However, the fact is that the use of starving children in the organization’s promotional ad made it less likely that people, who turned away from it without giving, will give to any other organization serving the starving people of the world.

The more often an individual is exposed to need without reacting compassionately to that need, the harder the individual becomes to need in general.

Early in my nonprofit career I had the opportunity to visit eastern block European countries. Romania was a common destination because we had orphanages that we helped there. On my visits it was not uncommon to check in at the government orphanages to talk with the workers and bring gifts to the children living in these institutions. On one of my first visits to the government run orphanages I had the opportunity to sit down with the director of the facility.

Even today, decades since that meeting, I get tense thinking about our discussion. At the time I met with this individual, the orphanages in Romania were extremely underfunded. They had too many children and nowhere near enough resources. The purpose of my meeting was to discuss ways we could work together. We talked about possibly supplying hygienic products for the children, about food stuff or even potentially converting orphanages over to privately funded organizations. All of my proposals were shut down as unwanted by this director. There was no interest in assistance unless it was in monetary form.

I left that meeting feeling very much like punching holes in things. I just could not understand the attitude. How could an individual directing an institution that was underfunded and understaffed turn down help? Children had to be cared for! How was it possible that money was the only acceptable means of assistance? At the time my answer was corruption, and because of my certainty of that corruption, I did not give any money to the director. It would not go to help the children. But the corruption was only a symptom of the real malady. The real culprit was a attitude of familiarity that developed over years of being exposed to the conditions in the Romanian government orphanages. This person had likely known many children who died in those institutions. Corruption was certainly nothing new, even to the point of stealing food from children’s mouths. It was the way of the world for the director and now because of hardness and contempt it was time to profit off the way.

Frankly, I do not excuse myself from the familiarity malady. Too many times I have overlooked needs that were real because I was used to them. The homeless man on the street, the child dying of cancer, the refugee with no home, I have looked past all of them, and others. But there is hope for me. There is hope for anyone who finds themselves overlooking those in need.

Luke 10:25-37 is one of the most familiar Biblical passages on helping others. It relates Jesus talking about the Good Samaritan. We hear in this story that a man got beaten and left for dead on the side of the road. A priest walking down the road moves over to the other side and walks on by “when he saw” the beaten man. A levite does exactly the same thing when he “saw him”. But a Samaritan, a person of Samaria - of the people who most jews in Israel hated at this time - “saw” the beaten man and had “compassion”. The rest of the story explains how this Samaritan took care of the man, even paying for his lodging. Jesus poses the following question after telling the story: “Who was the neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?”

Most often when we hear this story we focus our attention on the Good Samaritan because that is who we want to be. I would much rather be the hero who helps the one in need than those other “walk on by” guys. But just for a moment let’s look at those other guys, the priest and the levite. These individuals had similar professions. The priest would have likely had a role in the temple. If not directly in the temple proper, the priest would have at least been associated with the temple and other religious institutions of the day. The levite may have also had duties associated with the temple. He could have taught or been a scribe for Israel. In both instances, there is a likelihood of exposure to the needs in their respective communities. The places they went and even the duties they performed would have made it common for the sick, lame and poor to be evident and visible.

What would make a person cross to the other side of the road upon seeing a person in need? What would make a priest, whose direct responsibility is the physical and spiritual welfare of the Jewish people, pass by a person so obviously in need? He saw need and did not respond. I don’t think it was the first time that happened. It’s likely that this priest had done the same many times before. The hand of the beggar was passed by. The lame on his mat was passed by. The poor widow was passed by. So much need and so little response had made a heart grow small and hard.

But - HOPE! There is hope. I know this because Luke explains to whom this story of the Good Samaritan is told. Jesus uses this account to reveal to a “lawyer”, one who was responsible for understanding and interpreting the law, those who are indeed his neighbor. After the lawyer rightly answered the question proposed, Jesus instructed him to “go, and do the same.” With this single statement we can know that there is hope that we might all be like the Good Samaritan. When faced with the needs of others we must simply answer the call. We must have compassion. We must show mercy.

We cannot let the magnitude of the need overcome us. We must answer even when our little seems so very small. We must not allow the corruption of some, who take advantage of the needs of others for personal gain, to stop us. We must answer by seeking out and giving to those who are truly meeting the needs of others. We must not allow familiarity to invade our hearts through mailers, infomercials and multimedia advertising. We cannot give familiarity a place in our lives. We must answer by giving when the opportunity arises. A small gift will do. Just answer the call.

The Product of Giving

It is more blessed to give than to receive. This is an often heard quote from Jesus Christ. The source of this proverb lends to it an eternal validation, but it most certainly can be difficult at times to believe. In our fallen state, in a world that praises, even idolizes, those who by any means necessary achieve the success of great wealth, it is hard to believe a truth that goes contrary to this idolization.

My intent is not to demonize wealth or those who have riches. I understand how immensely powerful riches can be in the hand of an honorable, generous person. The world has been altered for good by such scenarios. However, it seems that the same world is quick to overlook these moments and focus more on the riches themselves, building pedestals for those who attain them by hook or by crook. Based on this attitude it is becoming a reality in today’s culture that it is better to receive than give and in some circles it is better to take than to give.

Thankfully, truth is truth and while few may follow it, it will alway be available to be followed. Jesus’ words on giving are as true today as when they were spoken. It is better to give than to receive and in his letter to the Corinthians the Apostle Paul outlines one of the many reasons why. Paul admonishes his readers to give cheerfully and then states that their generosity will cause the witnesses and recipients of their gifts to “produce thanksgiving to God.” He later thanks God for this truth and calls it God’s “inexpressible gift!” Paul obviously understood the magnificence of God design in giving.

The single greatest accomplishment any person can make is to bring glory to God. God alone is perfect. He is the Maker of all things. He is sovereign over all things. For this reason He is the only being who is worthy of glory. He lovingly and generously shares His glory with His children, but He alone is worthy to receive it. So when we as His creation can cause glory to be given to God, we accomplish our greatest achievement.

This is why Paul refers to this principle of giving as an inexpressible gift. It is in giving that a person converts their personal, worldly, corruptible resources into an eternal glory to God and exchanges something that is going away with something that will never end. Through the transaction of giving we have the opportunity to not only help those in need, positively affecting the lives of others, but as a result of this transaction we produce an everlasting impact as glory is given to God from our actions! It is amazing how God makes such things available to us.

Let us endeavor to see afresh the truths that - Giving is Better than Receiving - and that - there is no greater accomplishment than bringing Glory to God!

2 Corinthians 9:11-12