"I remember feeling so apprehensive," said Sumner Truax, guest speaker Jan. 11 at Calvin College's annual January Series. "I wondered would we survive this blessing. We were facing some pretty big church challenges. We had a big hole in our budget that was growing in a neighborhood that was rapidly gentrifying. We always had bigger dreams than we could ever fill. There were lots of pressure points around us."
Sumner Truax's church received the financial boon in 2014 when British Columbia-based Onni Group purchased a 309-unit residential development called Atrium Village that was funded by Security Properties Inc., Crane Construction Co. and four churches, including LaSalle Street Church.
$500 each to do good
Each church owned 15 percent of the property, and the sale equated to $1.6 million each out of the $50 million buyout. After a lengthy discussion with the church's board of elders, a decision was reached to use 10 percent of the money to challenge LaSalle's 300 members to use the $500 each of them received for the greater good in a variety of ways.
Even though a great deal of prayer went into the decision to give $500 to each church member, Sumner Truax couldn't initially shake her apprehension.
"I didn't want to be known as the pastor who squandered the money," said Sumner Truax, author of "Love Let Go," a book that explores the connection of human flourishing to generosity. "I was afraid what I was about to do was really unusual. What goes against the norm is really terrifying."
But then the stories began to filter in of how the money made a difference in people's lives: a homeless man who took dispossessed people to a decent restaurant and allowed some to live in his one-room apartment at the local YMCA; a couple who combined their $500 to provide a funeral for a child killed by gunfire; a retired seamstress who paid for her niece's textbooks, the first in her family to attend college; a senior woman living on a fixed income who received financial advice so she no longer needed to cash her $745 Social Security check for $30 at a payday; and an engineer/attorney and his wife who jump started a college fund for student engineers.
Pastors from other denominations also told Sumner Truax of similar "paying it forward" initiatives their congregations launched.
Tapping into a super power
Sumner Truax termed all this community-wide generosity a "super power" that produces tangle benefits for those who give: they're happier, healthier, more likely to overcome depression and tend to live longer
"The benefits of generosity, of a generous life, are demonstrative," said Sumner Truax. "They're reliable and they're authentic and the thing is it's right within our grasp.
"We seemed to be hardwired to give."
It is God Who created humankind to possess this penchant to help others, Sumner Truax pointed out.
Created in His essence
The Hebrew term that relates to be created in God's image as stated in Genesis, means "container" or essence, more specifically, the essence of God.
"God is forming containers, calling them men and women, and in those containers they are going to have some of the likeness, some of the essence of God put in them," said Sumner Truax. "God puts His characteristics in each of those little 'containers.' Then this God of creation hands over His precious creation to His containers and says 'Let's do something with this, now steward this.'"
This is humanity's best version, added Sumner Truax, a far better rendering than what is far too common.
Better than spasm of protection
"Before we got this spasm of protection, of human fear and isolation, there was a better, more encompassing story of community and blessing," she said. "I am convinced the research is confirming generosity is good for us is because generosity is hard-wired into our essential nature. We are created in God's image and God is a generous God.
"When we start to live generously we start to uncover the truth," Sumner Truax added. "We start to rediscover this essential joy that is part of His essence all along.
"The super power of generosity may be good for us but it doesn't mean it's easy."
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