The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith -- A story of 2 men: Which 1 do you want to be?


I've known some great givers in my life. I can't tell about some of them because they are still living. They would be embarrassed if I called them by name. God blessed them, and they blessed others by their generosity. But I would like to tell you about a great giver and a man who could have been a great giver.

My stepfather, Lawrence, was a great giver. Lawrence came into my life when I was eight. He married my mother, who had been widowed. I knew Lawrence was generous when he bought me milkshakes that my mother wouldn't allow me to have, mostly because she couldn't afford them.

I remember every Sunday Lawrence writing out a tithe check. This was a step of faith because we only got about eight checks a year from selling oranges and cattle. Yet Lawrence trusted that God would provide. In our home church, when the preacher needed a new car, Lawrence would talk to a couple of other church members, they would come up with the money, and the preacher would get a new car. The preacher also got a side of beef and a new suit every year for Christmas. But Lawrence was not generous with just money.

When our cousin Willard was done picking watermelons from his field (usually about 200 acres - which is a big field!), Lawrence would take the truck and me and say, "I hate to see those watermelons go to waste. Let's go get a couple." A "couple of watermelons" would turn into 77 piled on the back of a Ford pickup. We would stop at every widow's house in our community of Lemon Grove and drop off four or five melons.

Lawrence would see young ladies come to church dressed in old clothes, and he would arrange for them to shop at the Red Apple. The girls never knew where their new clothes came from. Lawrence saw needs, and he wanted to meet them because he knew God had blessed him. He was like a mainline pipe that brought resources to other pipes so God's work could be done.

I knew another man who could have been a great giver. His genius was making money. He started with next to nothing and built a business empire. But there was still an emptiness in his life that his wealth couldn't fill.

God had begun to work in his life, and he had returned to the faith of his childhood. He made the decision to join our church and then offered to take me to lunch. Over lunch, he asked me about tithing. I explained it the best I could. Tithing, I told him, was giving 10% of your income to God. Doing this simple spiritual discipline showed you put God first in all areas. You were using what he had given to you to bless others.

Knowing his wealth, I told him that God had probably blessed him with all his resources so he could begin to know the joy of giving. There were people whose lives would be forever changed by his generosity. He looked uncomfortable and changed the subject.

A few months later, the rich old man suffered a stroke and passed away. When he died, he had given nothing to God's church, to the work of Jesus. Whenever I think about that man, it breaks my heart. He died with his fortune intact and his gift of giving unused. Sometimes when I am at the cemetery doing a funeral, I walk past his grave. "What a waste," I think. He could have done so much for so many.

Which man do you want to be?

The Rev. Dr. Clay Smith is the lead pastor of Alice Drive Bapist Church in Sumter. Email him at