Reflections: A Personal Journey of Generosity with Matt Farmer

Across the country, NCF’s team members are some of the brightest, most passionate experts in charitable giving. We do what we do because we share your biblical view of generosity, and that inspires our work every day. We know that everyone is on their own personal journey of generosity. We’re here to help you along your journey, and we take that honor seriously. 

As NCF team members, we’re often motivated by what we’ve experienced on our own journeys of generosity. This month, Matt Farmer, NCF Heartland vice president and relationship manager, is sharing his story. Matt’s journey includes letting go of his inner G.I. Joe, a condo sale better than any Black Friday deal, and lessons from selfish seagulls. 

Matt, what does biblical generosity mean to you?
God is the first and most generous giver, isn’t He? He models generosity for us, from the creation story in Genesis to John 3:16 where we read, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son …” (NIV). By extension, Jesus is the “chief of generous givers,” to steal language from Gordon MacDonald, former chancellor of Denver Seminary. Jesus “was rich, yet for your sake He became poor” (2 Corinthians 8:9 NIV). And thirdly, God owns it all. We just steward the assets He’s entrusted to us.

With those verses as the backdrop, how does biblical generosity look different than, say, philanthropy? 
The difference is that we are motivated by a God who has already been generous towards us, and we are conduits of the same generosity we have been shown. Jesus himself tells us “it is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 NIV). So if God owns it all, everything that we are and everything that we have is already His, and we are stewards to what He has entrusted to us. That’s a far different motivation than just being philanthropic. It should mean that Christians are far more generous, particularly financially, but really in every way—our time, talent, testimony, influence. 

Generosity is an incredible apologetic for a watching world. When Christians are cheerfully and sacrificially generous, it models the self-sacrificial generosity that Jesus modeled. That’s compelling, and hopefully it encourages the question “Why?”. Why would someone be that generous or make that type of decision around their generosity? 

What or who has helped shape your beliefs around generosity?  
I read Randy Alcorn’s The Treasure Principle right when it first came out in 2001. The treasure principle is this: You can’t take it with you, but you can send it on ahead.  This idea of investing in the eternal instead of the temporal completely transformed the way I think about generosity. Dr. Craig Blomberg, my professor at seminary and prominent New Testament scholar in general, has written a lot about possessions, wealth, and generosity. Taking classes from him, watching the way he lived, and reading his writings was incredibly influential on me in my younger years.  Also, a quote from Martin Luther has stuck with me over the years. He wrote that there are three conversions necessary, conversion of the heart, the head, and the purse (usually last). That used to be true for me—I was a believer, but I had a G.I. Joe-style Kung Fu grip on my finances. When I began authentically and sacrificially releasing my resources, it changed my experience of His abundant generosity and what it means to trust Him and in His provision. 

Matt, tell us about an early experience with generosity.  
Two stories come to mind. The first was when I was 25. I had recently been cut from a brief stint in the NFL and returned to active duty in the Air Force. I was living in an apartment with a couple college buddies in New Jersey and leading a men’s Bible study. One of the older guys in my study approached me and asked if I had thought about buying a house. I was a young officer and Air Force assignments tend to only be a few years before you move, so I had been weighing whether it made sense to buy or not. He was about to get married, and he and his fiance wanted to sell me her condo for about half of market value as a way to bless me in my pursuit of my first “home.” Not only did they sell it to me at a reduced price, they helped me renovate and update it so I could make it my own. It was an unbelievable example of generosity on their part, and it created an opportunity for me to pass along their generosity. I sold the condo a couple of years later to a young man I mentored (who was about to get married), also at a reduced price as a way to bless them entering into marriage together. Two key things happened on the back side of that sale: I knew in an experiential (and not just theoretical) way what it means to be more blessed to give than receive. And, despite a reduced price sale, I was still able, by God’s grace, to give a substantial gift (the most I’d ever given up to that point) to an organization that had shaped me and my understanding of how God was at work in the world.    

A few years later in 2006, I traveled to Africa with World Vision. Life was never the same after that trip—and never will be. By that time, I had already discovered my heart for the poor and marginalized, but that experience jolted me with an understanding of how truly privileged I am. I try to continue to look at my life through that lens, and it reminds me again and again that all that I am, and all that I have, is His. 

Wow! What life-changing examples of generosity in action. How do you continue to live out generosity in your daily life? 
My wife and I use Jesus’ words in Acts 1:8 as a framework for how we implement some of our generosity. Jesus is speaking with His disciples and tells them they “will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (NIV). With that in mind, we deploy our financial and physical resources locally, regionally/nationally, and globally to the causes we care about and charities we love.  We long to see all of KC (and the world) flourishing, so we invest in our local church and organizations working to move the needle toward that end. Our hearts are also particularly drawn to causes that empower the poor, marginalized, and oppressed (Proverbs 19:17 NIV).  My wife Jenna is a speech pathologist for children with special needs and is passionate about her work, so we feel like God has invited us to invest here, as well. 

How are you leaving a personal legacy of generosity? 
Our hope is that we exemplify a lifestyle of what our friends at Generous Church call “whole-life generosity – an overflowing life released to God for others.” We try to live open handedly so that our kids not only hear us talk about generosity, but see it lived out through our big and small decisions and actions. Our kids are seven, five, and two and love the movie Finding Nemo and giggle at the seagulls who only speak one word, “Mine!”. We use those silly birds to remind them (and ourselves!) that we are stewards, not owners. Nothing we have is “Mine!” Everything we have and all we are belongs to God. We try to model spontaneous giving, so we carry supplies in our car for when we see folks that need food or water, or we will buy someone’s groceries behind us in line. In these moments, we get to remind our young boys of the “Why?” behind our generosity, so it’s increasingly clear to them “Why?” when we “encourage” (and sometimes force:)  them to consider ways to be generous with the little they feel entrusted with. We also own a small rental property business and work hard to emphasize “people over property” (and even profit, at times) in our decision-making and thinking about how to leverage our assets for generosity. 

Jenna and I are also squarely in the middle of conversations about leaving a financial legacy and navigating what it looks like to make decisions about wealth transfer and transition. If anyone finds themself here, too, I’d love to talk about it with you.