One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

The best gift you’ve ever received

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever received? Do you remember it? A friend asked me that this weekend, and the answer popped into my head almost immediately. It would have been Christmas of 1992 or 1993, and I remember coming down the stairs to see a beautiful wooden dollhouse, made by my grandparents. It was the coolest thing I ever got, one of those gifts that just means so much because of all the work and care that went into it. I still have it, and someday, if I’m fortunate enough to have a daughter of my own, I’d love to pass it on.

But sometimes the best gifts we’re given aren’t physical. They aren’t the gifts you find under the tree. They aren’t in the boxes you unwrap. They aren’t stuffed at the bottom of a stocking. And I guess if you want to be literal about it, what made that dollhouse so special to me (both then and now) isn’t the fact that it was a dollhouse; it was that my grandparents took the time and effort to make something so beautiful for me.

I honestly think the most amazing gifts we’ve can receive are intangible.

One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

One dove ornament from a matched set hanging on my tree, Haven, KS

Today’s verse is 2 Corinthians 4:18.

So we don’t look at the troubles we can see now; rather, we fix our gaze on things that cannot be seen. For the things we see now will soon be gone, but the things we cannot see will last forever.

I know I’ve posted about this verse before, but it struck me today as I was sitting to write this post that the best gifts I’ve been given in my life are the irreplaceable moments with the people I love. Those moments aren’t tangible. They’re not something I can reach out and touch. I can’t grab it and put it in a box and wrap it up to give to someone else.

But just because I can’t touch it or see it necessarily doesn’t mean it’s not real. On the contrary, it’s more real than the presents currently under my tree.

I try to be thankful for those moments. I try to appreciate them. But I don’t think I can do a good enough job of it.

This weekend my best friend who’s been in England since January came out to my place with her sister. We ended up getting snowed in for a bit longer than we planned, but that was okay. We just made more hot tea and watched more movies and talked more. And I couldn’t help but be absolutely astonished how nothing had changed. A year of separation ocean and it felt like we had just been in the same room a few days ago, like no time had passed at all.

That kind of friendship is priceless. That kind of relationship where someone knows you so well that you don’t have to explain what your heart is feeling–that’s beyond amazing. That’s a gift.

I have been so fortunate in my life to have so many people who I love so dearly, people who have changed me, people who have helped me keep my head on straight, people who’ve pointed me in the right direction over and over again. Parents and friends and teachers and pastors. And no thing wrapped up in a bow with pretty paper could ever mean more to me than a moment with any of them.

Christmas is almost here. People are going to be gathering together soon to spend time as a family or as a group of friends. And believe me, I know the stress of the holidays can be overwhelming, but let me encourage you to take a moment–just a moment–and be thankful for the people in your life. Think what your life would look like without them. Think who you would be without them. And do yourself a favor? Tell them.

Outside of our salvation through Christ, I don’t think there’s any greater gift in our lives than time with the people we love. Make the most of it this Christmas. Don’t miss the opportunity to enjoy the gift your loved ones this year.

Hand-painted ornament given to me by a Sunday School teacher, Haven, KS

A gift worth more than it costs

Christmas is one of those holidays that everybody can celebrate, regardless of wealth or status. Growing up, I knew a number of kids my age whose families were much wealthier than we were, financially speaking. All of those families were extremely generous and opened their homes to my brother and me on more than one occasion. But I remember even as a kid wondering about how nice and orderly and symmetrical their Christmas trees looked.

If you come to my house and look at one of my Christmas trees, the first thing you’ll notice is that there’s nothing symmetrical about it. The ornaments don’t match. They don’t follow a color scheme or a particular theme. Most of the ornaments on my tree are handmade and all of them have sentimental value of some kind, probably because I’m a sentimental person. One of the ornaments I love putting up every year is the one in the photograph today. It was given to me by one of my beloved Sunday School teachers. I was in sixth grade at the time, and it’s one of those gifts that I have cherished for years. And I’ll continue to cherish it because of the relationship it represents.

Those are the best kind of gifts, the ones that represent something. They may not be the most expensive gifts on the shelf, but they mean something deeper than a price tag can communicate.

Hand-painted ornament given to me by a Sunday School teacher, Haven, KS

Hand-painted ornament given to me by a Sunday School teacher, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Mark 12:41-44.

Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two small coins. Jesus called his disciples to him and said, “I tell you the truth, this poor widow has given more than all the others who are making contributions. For they gave a tiny part of their surplus, but she, poor as she is, has given everything she had to live on.”

Our culture would love for everyone to get caught up in the financial strain that is the Christmas shopping season, but I have learned that the gifts people love the most are ones that come directly from the heart. At least, that’s how it is with me. It’s those gifts that people spend time creating or gifts that people expend effort to make possible that stand out to me, that touch my heart in a way that nothing else does. Time is such a precious thing that to use it up for my sake means a lot to me.

When it comes to giving gifts, we need to learn to look beyond the price tag. Like the story recorded in Mark’s Gospel about the widow’s gift. This is one of my favorite stories from the life of Christ. Not everyone would notice a lowly widow dropping worthless coins into an offering box. Such an action would be lost amid the hustle and bustle of the big givers. But the widow in the story gave more than the religious crowd because she gave everything she had. It wasn’t about cost with her; it was about worth. And she believed that giving her all to God was worth it.

How often do we live like that? When was the last time we focused on worth rather than on cost? So many times we talk about counting the cost of following Christ, but do we ever think about what it’s worth to follow Him? My little wooden ornament made by Mrs. Reid probably didn’t cost much, but to me it’s worth more than a whole box of expensive ornaments.

Following Christ can either cost your life or it can be worth your life. There’s a big difference between those two perspectives, and the one you choose will determine how you see God.

Hippos working on their tans - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Walking on porcupines

Have you ever tried to get a picture of a porcupine? Well, if you do, good for you. I’ve never seen a real one. So I have no photographs of porcupines, but I do have hippos. And that will work for today, because I’m not talking about real porcupines anyway. I’m actually talking about friendship.

I don’t think I post enough about friendships. I don’t even know where to start most of the time because I am so overwhelmed and so thankful to be friends with such amazing people.

Our friends determine so much in our lives. And if you have awesome friends — and I mean truly awesome friends and not just popular ones — you should count yourself fortunate.

Hippos working on their tans - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Hippos working on their tans – Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 18:24.

There are “friends” who destroy each other,
but a real friend sticks closer than a brother.

Who are your friends? Do your friends ask more from you than they expect of themselves? Do your friends treat you the way you treat them? Do your friends love God? Do your friends speak truth? Do your friends give you sound advice based in Scripture and tempered with the love of God?

If you have friends like that, you are richer than the richest man in the universe. Because there are “friends” out there who will hang out with you just because they want something from you. There are “friends” out there who need a prop. And even though they may be your “friends” when they feel like it, the day will eventually come when they won’t have time for you. And they’ll drop you like a rock.

I always told myself that I didn’t really need friends, that I could get along just fine without them. And, if we’re being honest here, that’s probably true. But how lonely would life be? How empty would life be? And, truthfully, how much more difficult would life be? If I didn’t have my friends to rely on and blow up on and cry on, life would be much harder than it is now.

Today’s verse just made me think about friendship and what it really is. Because true friendship goes beyond blood. It stretches deeper than DNA and further than a family name. Because we don’t get to choose our families; we choose our friends. And, what’s more important, our friends choose us. And what’s more, true friends keep choosing us even when we have a bad day, even when we’re struggling at work or at home, even when we snap, even when we don’t feel good.

Can you imagine what it would be like to walk through a field of porcupines? Just think about that. It wouldn’t be pleasant at all. They’re volatile and unpredictable, and they’re covered in needles. All it would take is one wrong move, and they’ll let loose a volley of needles that will leave you wincing.

But no one walks on porcupines. I’m sure there’s some kind of fee or fine you have to pay for that. But even though we don’t actually walk on porcupines, we do have to walk through life. And life can have its needles and touchy spots. And so many times through Scripture, God talks about friends and walking. It’s not unusual to see the concept of friendship lined right up with the concept of walking through life.

Why? Well, think about it. What else do friends do but walk with you, even through the most difficult times in your life? That’s what friends are for.

I got to thinking about this verse because of a birthday present one of my friends gave me. Silly socks covered in porcupines! They’re adorable! And they’re bright, and they’re fun! I love them! (So far, I have encountered two things that turn me girly: Bath & Body Works hand soaps and funny, silly socks.)

But beyond the fun of the socks, they just made me think about friendship. Because friendships aren’t forged in the good times. Maybe they start in good times. Maybe they start over a fun conversation or a good cup of coffee. But they don’t get very deep there. To grow a deep friendship, you have to walk through some porcupines, and you have to do it together. And somewhere between needles, you’ll make a choice to either keep walking or turn back.

Don’t get me wrong. You need to determine if the friendship is one that’s worth pursuing. Sometimes turning back is the best decision you can make. But if you turn back on every friendship the moment the going gets tough, you’ll never understand what it really means to have a real friend.

I guess, what I’m saying this morning, is that the closest friendships in my life have come through some amount of difficulty — whether it was through a difficult situation we tackled together or through a difficult conversation we had to have to straighten things out between us. The best friendships you have aren’t just going to happen. Like any relationship, you have to work at them.

So if you have a friend (or friends) in your life who you have walked on porcupines with, be thankful for them. And tell them that you’re thankful for them. You never know when you might not have the opportunity to thank them anymore.

And if you’ve never walked through porcupines, you will. So it might not be a bad idea to find someone who won’t mind walking with you. Just remember that true friendship is a two-way street. And if you’re walking through a field of porcupines with a friend, you’ll both take hits, but you’ll both be there to keep each other going.

Flamingo at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Gifts are for helping each other

What would you do if you saw a giant eyeball rolling around downtown? Or a tongue hopping its way down the street? I would be pretty disturbed. That sounds like something out of a horror show.

But actually that’s something that comes out of the Bible in 1 Corinthians 12, specifically verses 14-17. Actually, the whole chapter is pretty amazing, talking about the different parts of a body and how everything works together and how one part isn’t more important than another part.

Flamingo at the Sedgwick County Zoo - Wichita, KS

Flamingo at the Sedgwick County Zoo – Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 12:7.

A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other.

As Paul talks about in the rest of 1 Corinthians 12, the Church is called the Body of Christ, and we are all members of that Body. If you believe in Christ, you are a part of something bigger than yourself. As it says in 1 Corinthians 12:19 (The Message), “But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of.”

Every part of the Body is important. Every part of the Body is necessary. And if one part isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to, the whole Body suffers or the whole Body isn’t as effective as it could be.

The first part of 1 Corinthians 12 talks about gifts. If you have accepted Christ, the Holy Spirit has given you a gift. It could understanding. It could be communication. It could be compassion. Or any of the gifts mentioned (and maybe some of the ones that aren’t). But no matter what your gift is, you are expected to use it to help the rest of the Body function. That’s why the Spirit gave it to you.

But like any expectation of a Christ-follower, it’s not required. You can sit on that gift all your life and no do anything with it, and nothing bad will happen. Nothing good will happen either, but you’ll be perfectly safe.

But then why did God give you that gift to begin with?

We are here to help each other. The Church is here to spread the Good News to the farthest reaches of the world and the closest corners of our home and also to encourage fellow believers. But if the Church isn’t functioning like it should, how can it do the job Christ has asked of it?

Just like a body made up of just an eyeball would be distressing, a body that doesn’t have an eyeball will be less effective. A body that doesn’t have a tongue has to learn a new way to communicate. A body without hearing has to find a new way to listen. A body is supposed to have all of these parts, and if we’re talking about a real person, yes, they can find a way around it. But this Body shouldn’t have to.

So why are Christians afraid to use their gifts?

I’ll tell you why I am. I’m a perfectionist. And it’s very difficult for me to share my gifts with anyone because I’m terrified that if I don’t get it 100% right, I’ll not only make a fool of myself but I will also make a fool of Christ. So in my mind, it’s safer to just sit quietly in the corner.

Maybe it is safer. But how much of my fear is really valid? And how much of it is our enemy telling me I can’t do it?

Check out verses 4 through 6:

There are different kinds of spiritual gifts, but the same Spirit is the source of them all. There are different kinds of service, but we serve the same Lord. God works in different ways, but it is the same God who does the work in all of us.

If you’ve got a gift and that gift allows you to worship God and lead others to worship God, it comes from the Spirit. And if you keep yourself out of it and if you keep your heart set on bringing God glory, it doesn’t matter if your performance is flawless. It doesn’t matter if your grammar is perfect. It doesn’t matter if your song is pitch perfect. God will be glorified. He’ll be glorified in your perfection (if you can ever achieve it); He’ll be glorified in your lack of it. And that’s what matters.

If other people don’t appreciate your gift and you are obviously using it for God, ignore them. Remember who it’s about. It’s not about you. It’s not about them. It’s about the Church as a whole (which doesn’t mean the grouchy person who always sits in the same pew). It’s about helping the Church function the way it was meant to.

We don’t have a lot of time left, and the Church needs every part working together in harmony if we’re going to reach the rest of the world before Christ comes back for us. If you’ve got a gift and you’re scared to use it, buck up. Get busy. Just do it, like that old Nike commercial used to say. Don’t be afraid and don’t be a perfectionist; both of those things are about you. Do your best, but keep your eye on the target and remember who your gift is about — helping each other.

 

 

Entitlement in blessing

When someone does something nice for you, what is your reaction? Do you expect people to be nice to you and do things for you? So when someone does, do you just act like they were required to do it? Do you refuse to accept someone’s kindness? Are you humbled that someone would be kind to you? Do you run around and tell everyone about it?

I love to watch little kids open presents. They get so excited, and once they have it open and know what’s inside, they’ll usually run around showing everyone.

If someone does something nice for you, generally your first reaction is going to be to tell people about it. Isn’t it? You’ll want to tell your friends and your family and the people you work with that someone you know did something amazing for you.

That’s what I thought when I read today’s verse, 1 Chronicles 16:8.

8 Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness.
      Let the whole world know what he has done.

1 Chronicles is one of those Old Testament books that gets looked over sometimes. It’s a history book, usually used for extended reference with 1 Kings. But it has detail in it that 1 Kings doesn’t, and we can learn things from the Chronicles that we don’t in the Kings.

In 1 Chronicles 16, David and a select group of people are moving the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem. This was a big event. In the Old Testament, the Ark of the Covenant was a symbol of God. It was where He would speak to the High Priest. The Israelites carried it into battle with them. It was a symbol. Not an idol. And it was supposed to be at the center of the Temple, in a chamber called the Holy of Holies. Well for some reason or another (it’s complicated), the Ark needed to be moved back to Jerusalem (I can’t remember if this was the time the Philistines stole it or if it was a separate occurence).

In any case, when David and his people got the Ark back to Jerusalem, David wrote a song. The first line of the song is today’s verse.

When was the last time God did something for you that He didn’t have to do? I bet it was more recent than you think. Did you wake up this morning? Are you able to read and understand the words in this post? Do you taste the coffee you’re drinking?

How much has God done for you just in your early morning routine?

I think we expect God to just do things for us because He’s a good God. But we live in such a screwed up world that the entitlement mentality of our culture has spread to our faith.

God is not required to do anything for us. I mean, He already sacrificed His Son so we could have eternal life. What more can we ask from Him? Yes, He tells us to ask Him for what we need, that we don’t have because we don’t ask. But even when we ask, we’re supposed to have the right heart. And many times, I don’t think we do.

God has done amazing things for us. God is doing amazing things for us, and many times we don’t even realize it. So we don’t thank Him like we should, and we don’t tell others about it either.

So today, think about what God has done for you. Because even the “little” things are bigger than we think, too big for us to accomplish on our own. And once you see the things that God has done for you, tell others about it. Because nothing demonstrates gratitude like telling other people what someone else has done for you.

God helped me wake up this morning. He gave me a life where I have a warm bed and hot coffee to drink. He’s provided me with a job that I enjoy, even though it stresses me out sometimes. He’s given me a car to drive that is still going strong at nearly 121,000 miles. He gave me the ability to write and the hands to type my thoughts down. He gave me a family that’s incredible and friends who help keep my focus straight. He gave me a church that’s out-of-this-world awesome. He’s given me opportunities to do the things I love and help people at the same time. He’s given me everything that I need and many things that I wanted. And the things that I wanted that He hasn’t given me are probably just around the bend.

God has been good to me. Very good. And the least I can do is proclaim that goodness to other people. I want the whole world to know that God has blessed me when He didn’t have to.

How has God blessed you this morning?

Think about it. Thank Him for it. And then tell somebody.