Part 1: The Early Years
There are some things that are easy to say yes to like homemade dessert, a ride home, and a chance to hear an elder talk about the things that matter most. It’s especially easy when that elder is Frank Butler, board member emeritus with the Faith and Money Network. For years I’ve been hearing that Frank is a living, breathing saint, but to be honest I thought that was an exaggeration – until I met him. After listening to him talk about the power of priorities, possessions, and relationships, I realized that description was accurate. In these difficult days, we need the witness of elders, like Frank, to encourage our journey—being light and salt along our way.
When I asked him about his spiritual beginnings, and what influences were present for him, Frank talked reverently about his family and the way in which they modeled wonderful lives for him. His faith was greatly shaped by his mother, who right from the beginning, lovingly schooled him in daily devotions, night time readings and prayers. “I don’t recall getting tired of it,” he said. “I did it because I loved my mother.”
Frank wove together his childhood stories like a man seeing his life as a gift. He told me that he would “never forget being a junior in high school, and reading Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:34, ‘Worry not for tomorrow…’ the scripture that shaped my theology.” That experience was a revelation for him that helped him orient his life. His faith was bolstered and buoyed by an experience that came to compliment this scripture passage, and which has guided him all these years.
“As I had been taught, I did my devotions before bed. One night, during those prayers, I felt a palpable sense that Jesus was in my room. I’m not sure what words could describe it, but he spoke right to me. My heart was calmed. It took away the fear I had of the future.”
Having worked with young people for many years, I’m always drawn to the way in which formative childhood experiences can turn a life in a specific direction. Frank’s life direction was inextricably drawn towards a sense that his life was to be lived for today, not tomorrow. How he viewed money, was at the heart of his “be here now” belief.
For Frank, giving freely was something he was born to do. A charism. A gift. A calling. His heart was set at such an early age. “With every job I had as a kid, whether it was washing bathrooms at home, delivering magazines and papers, or being a soda jerk, the first 10% went into the collection plate each Sunday.” This early practice led him on a lifelong search to see just how deep his giving could go.
Around this same time Frank read Lloyd C. Douglas’s book, Dr. Hudson’s Secret Journal. It emphasized the power of giving. He read that giving was a great energizer and source of great joy, and that giving in secret, rather than doing it for praise, was the most special way to give. “So I decided to try it out myself,” he said. “Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, there was an ad in the paper about a fund drive for less fortunate kids in the area that kept a running tally of the list of contributors and the amounts they gave. I was 15 years old, and said, alright Jesus, I don’t need to worry. So I wrote a check for $1.27 with a note saying that I wanted to make this gift anonymously. I wrote it for that odd amount so I could recognize it if it ran in the paper. What a magical moment to see my donation a few days later, and for it to have been done in secret.”
That experience filled Frank with the passion to continue giving in that way, a practice he has continued throughout his marriage to Ruth. During the early years of their marriage, when money wasn’t plentiful, they built their budget around a tithe of 20%. As new young members of their well-to-do church community, they filled out their first pledge card, and dropped it in the collection plate on pledge drive Sunday. Later that afternoon, Frank received a call from the head of their church trustees asking him if he’d be willing to run the pledge drive for the following year. Quite taken aback, Frank replied, “What?! You gotta be crazy! Why me?” “Well Frank,” the trustee said, ”your family’s pledge was the largest that was given.” Frank told me that he couldn’t remember the nudges back then, but he said to himself, ‘Why not?’”
To be continued . . .
This article will conclude with Part 2 – Two Teachers Arrive. In the meantime, ask yourself: What influenced your giving during your childhood and teenage years, and what impact has that had on your giving today?
Jim Marsh, Jr., Bread of Life Church
Board member of Faith and Money Network