Saturday, January 03, 2009

"The Greatest Gift" by Shane Stanford

I am the unlikeliest of televangelists. I never aspired to being on television (I wanted to be a writer) and apparently missed the "TV Ministry" booth on Senior Career Day that explained the various tasks involved.

To make matters more interesting, I don't look like the average televangelist, who is tall, distinguished and larger than life or so profoundly "different" that they almost appear cartoonish. No, I am the "plain" televangelist with a receding hairline, wrinkles under my eyes, and a propensity to butcher the consonants of important words at just the wrong moment. But, don't feel sorry for me, I knew the gig and all its issues when I took it.

However, one of the aspects of running a television ministry for which I was most unprepared was the amount of time we spend raising money and developing donors. It is certainly my least favorite part of the job, although the Lord has and continues to provide wonderful supporters. And, media ministry is much more cost effective in terms of the amount of money spent per person reached for the Gospel. Still, it is very expensive. Thus, the task of raising money never ends, and we spend a significant amount of time dealing with financial issues.

Therefore, it is easy to become unwittingly concerned with developing large gifts. This is not to say that we don't spend a significant amount of time or effort thanking and connecting to every donor, but media ministry in general, no matter how frugal or how well managed, requires a significant volume of consistently large amounts of resources available. And, truthfully, large donations make fundraising easier and less time intensive, thus, providing more time for other aspects of the ministry including production, serving, worship, etc. As the officers on Dragnet say, "these are just the facts".

Needless to say, I am not crazy about fundraising whether large, medium or small donations, and would prefer to spend time teaching and creating new ways to proclaim the Good News.

And, yet, sometimes, the Lord uses even these things we enjoy the least to teach the best lessons.

During the last weeks of any calendar year, The Hour experiences its greatest level of contributions-much like other churches and non-profits do. Donations of all sizes arrive from various sources, and it is an incredibly important time, especially since the first three months of the year are the opposite, oftentimes the worst of months, financially.

We are grateful for, but also incredibly reliant on these gifts for a successful ministry year.

However, this past December, we received a gift that may be the most significant donation we have ever received, not because of its size but for what it taught each of us.

The gift was from Ms. Vera, a 92 year old resident of a small town in central Mississippi. She has been widowed for nearly 25 years, but still lives alone in her meager house near town. She has no children, but a nephew visits and takes care of the various tasks and business she has. His work schedule prevents a lot of "chit-chat", and thus, Ms. Vera spends a great deal of time alone.

Ms. Vera loves television, especially on Sunday Mornings. She is unable to attend church, and, although her favorite show is Wheel of Fortune (a point she makes emphatically), she never misses watching The United Methodist Hour.

Ms. Vera says The Hour is her "church family", although she is quick to remind us that she is and will always be a Baptist. But, she likes our message each week, the Bible Study by the "older fellow", and, especially, the "young cute man" who "sings so well". Ms. Vera "goes to Church" with us and says that each Sunday program is a blessing.

This year, Ms. Vera decided to give us a gift. Instead of tithing to her Baptist church, she sent her tithe to us at The Hour. Now, she has no retirement and lives on a modest, monthly Social Security check that doesn't cover the basic expenses. Her nephew "supplements" her income and pays the balance of her bills, has her groceries delivered and then gives her a spending allowance for each week. But, Ms. Vera is a tither and no matter what "she doesn't have", she writes her tithe check faithfully each week. And, so, the final week of December 2008, Ms. Vera tithed to the United Methodist Hour. We received her check, written in labored handwriting for the amount of $6. Yes-six dollars.

The check was accompanied by a note that said this was a special gift; that we should not get used to it because she planned to start tithing back to her local church the next week; and, thus, we should use it to do something "special" for the ministry. She finished the note by thanking us for meaning so much to so many.

Deep down, I knew this $6 represented more than just a gift, but it was a sacrifice for Ms. Vera. For her, every penny mattered in her humble life, and, here, she had decided to give us 600 of them.

I folded Ms. Vera's note and put it into my wallet, so the next time I was complaining about bills or worrying about donors, I would be reminded of Ms. Vera and of what God's provisions really look like.

Ms. Vera's gift reminds me of Jesus' words to His disciples when they encountered the widow at the Temple. The widow's gift inspired Jesus and reminds each of us that it is not the amount that matters, but the heart. "She has given more than any of the rest of these" Jesus said.

Sure, as they did when Jesus spoke them, His words remain strange to a world consumed with materials things and goods. God's propensity to "under-whelm" His critics is legendary. But, for those who "really get it" in the economy of God, a six dollar donation is no less profound than stables, mangers and crosses made of wood. No one would call their impact "under-whelming"...

Therefore, as we say goodbye to 2008 and welcome 2009, I would like to say "thank you" to our friends of The Hour like Ms. Vera who make what we do possible. Your gifts make a difference, no matter how large or small. Your heart is what brings value to our efforts, and we are humbled by them each and every time.

Thus, in this television ministry, you won't find fancy cars, big houses, or fine jewelry. You wont' be particularly impressed by our facilities or furnishings. And, you most certainly wont' be in awe of my wardrobe or even my polished delivery.

But, I can promise you this. NO gift will ever be unappreciated or missed or taken for granted. NO week will go by when we don't think about those like Ms. Vera who watch our program to find company, direction or hope. And, NO person, program, place or potential will ever mean more to us than the God whose message of Good News we proclaim.

These gifts are sacred trust. To live out our mission any other way--- well, Ms. Vera wouldn't stand for it.

Happy New Year!

Be Salt and Light--- no, really, YOU MATTER!


"Shane Stanford's life is an example for all to follow--- He has a unique way of writing that touches the very soul of the reader. I have gained strength from his words. God had a hand in our paths crossing. I am a better person for meeting Shane--- I feel blessed by our encounter--- I am so grateful that Shane has allowed me to be a part of his journey."

Deanna Favre
Author of the NY Times Bestseller, Don't Bet Against Me


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