Four Tips for Leaving a Legacy of Christian Generosity
by Gary G. Hoag, Ph.D.
On a fly fishing trip this summer, I shared parts of my personal story with my dear friend, John Stanley. That led to the invitation to write this post on the rich inheritance I received. In short, I told him that my grandparents and parents did at least four things to build a legacy of Christian generosity. I offer them freely as four tips for every family to consider!
(1) They told me inspiring stories of my ancestors. Since my childhood, I watched shows every Christmas season, and my favorite one has always been the movie, It’s a Wonderful Life. At a young age, I learned that that movie was based on the real-life generosity of people like my great grandparents, John and Edna Pease Hoag.
John and Edna built up multiple business that put a lot of people to work during the first part of the 20th century. In so doing, they amassed great wealth. What makes their story so interesting is that gave it all away to save their town during the Great Depression. They were heroes, and they were my grandparents! Their peers were so grateful that they erected a monument in front of City Hall in Rocky River, Ohio (a suburb of Cleveland), so their legacy would inspire future citizens.
I learned John and Edna would often say, “Our wealth is like a cup. God filled it for us to have something to enjoy and share.” Over the years I heard more stories of how God filled their cups, again and again, to have resources to enjoy and share, over and over. When our children were 12 and 13 years old, my wife, Jenni, and I took them to see it (photo above).
(2) They backed their words with works. My grandparents and parents used intentional language and backed their talk with their walk. As I grew up, they repeatedly said, “We want to teach you what it means to be a Hoag: when God blesses us with resources, and the church or ministries have financial needs, we get to give.”
They would then make a gift according to their ability to a project. They often keep their giving a secret to the public but they often told us what they did, not to toot their own horn, but to teach us “what it means to be a Hoag.” I probably heard and saw a dozen examples before it stuck. Don’t assume your children or grandchildren are paying attention!
(3) They taught me how to give. When each grandchild turned 21 (there were six of us and I was the youngest), Grandma Hoag (because by the time I hit 21, grandpa had passed away) with the aid of my parents, gave me $10,000 worth of stock and said, “Set up a brokerage account and show us the balance a year from now. If you squander it, you will never see another dime.” Their aim was to teach me about dividends, stock splits, capital gains taxes, and charitable giving.
A year later they gave me another $10,000 in stocks and said, “You may use some of these funds to buy an appreciating asset like a home someday, but please also use part of the stocks for your giving.” They taught me that I could give more by giving stock that had appreciated rather than cash. These were lessons best learned by experience. The shares of stock helped my wife and me buy our first home, while also teaching me how to minimize taxes and maximize charitable giving. That’s all the money they ever left me. They gave it while living to help us get a place to live and to learn how to give.
(4) They gave me the best biblical inheritance. In the world, money solves all our problems, which is why people stockpile it, put their hope in it, and think a boatload of it is the best inheritance. God’s word says something different. Verses like Proverbs 13:22 say that “a good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children” and Scripture defines inheritance much more broadly. In the Bible, inheritance is best linked to three things: a place (“land”), a trade (“work”), and a deep faith (“Christ”). So good people, from God’s perspective, give an inheritance worth far more than money.
My grandparents and parents used a popular maxim to help my young brain learn to grasp my biblical inheritance. I also think they chose it because I liked fishing. They said, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach him how to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” On our family land, they taught me how to work, earn a living, and to use the funds I earned according to God’s purposes: for living, giving, serving, and loving. They also taught me that life was not found in money, but in Christ. For me, learning how to fish, was about learning how to live, give, serve, and love as a follower of Christ. In teaching me how to live and work along with what to believe, they gave me the greatest biblical inheritance of all.
Ever been fly fishing? If you want to know more, perhaps book a day of guided fly fishing with my son and me like John did. Or perhaps these four tips just make sense? Like angling, you really only get good with practice, so I suggest you try these four tips. Tell stories, back your words with works, teach your children and grandchildren how to live and give while you are alive, and give them a biblical inheritance. Do this and you too will leave a legacy that will shape generations after you!
Read my book, Connected for Good: A Gameplan for a Generous Life, to discover stories of others who have overcome discouragement and become generosity champions.