Your spiritual gift is worth more than a plate of cookies

As I’ve stated in many other posts, I love giving people things. I love giving gifts. Birthdays. Christmas. Anniversary. Just because. There’s nothing better than to show up unexpectedly and deliver a present to someone just for the heck of it. Anyone else ever been there?

It’s a great trait to have, sure, but it can be a double-edged sword too. What if you don’t have enough money to purchase gifts? What if you don’t have time to make something intricate and beautiful? Can you still go see people if you don’t bring a gift? Maybe that sounds silly, but that’s one of those silly little fears that pop up at the back of my head. I can’t just show up at somebody’s house or workplace without something give, can I? That’s rude, isn’t it?

What I need to remember (and everyone like me) is that the best gifts you can give aren’t always wrapped up in boxes and ribbons. Sometimes, the best gift you can offer is your time and your perspective on following Jesus.

wood-light-brown-dessertToday’s verses are Romans 1:11-12.

For I long to visit you so I can bring you some spiritual gift that will help you grow strong in the Lord. When we get together, I want to encourage you in your faith, but I also want to be encouraged by yours.

In my life, I’ve never longed to visit anyone to bring a spiritual gift. Have you? This is Paul talking to the Church at Rome, though, so if Paul can talk like this, it’s most likely something we should pay attention to.

Paul is this legendary figure in my mind, so it’s hard to remember that he had nothing. He traveled from one corner of the continent to the other. He didn’t have a home or family. He didn’t have possessions really. So of course he had no tangible gifts to bring people. But what he could bring to share with others was the spiritual gift God had given him.

I don’t take my spiritual gifts seriously often enough. If you’re a Christ-follower, you have one too, and God has given them to us so that we can enrich and encourage the Body of Christ, the Church. So what if you don’t have time to make cookies? So what if you don’t have enough money to buy something nice? The gift of your time and your care and your love is worth more than you might think.

What I also love about this is how Paul states that he wants to visit to encourage the people of the Church at Rome but that he also needs encouragement too. If Paul can admit to needing encouragement, heck–I’m right there with him.

So don’t beat yourself up if you can’t give someone a gift. And absolutely don’t let your perceived lack of something prevent you from spending time with other believers. Don’t underestimate the power of the spiritual gift God has given you. He can use you to bless people ten times more than a plate of cookies could. You just have to let Him.

Advertisements

On the privilege of being poor

I heard a statement once that true wealth is never having to say no to guacamole at Chipotle. I hear that, because I really love guacamole, but wow–it’s pricey.

It’s easy to be wealthy in America. Granted, the definition of wealth varies from culture to culture, neighborhood to neighborhood, family to family. Wealth can either mean that you have a lot of financial assets at your disposal, or it can mean that you have been blessed with the intangibles of life–health, family, friends, faith, etc.

In my experience, most “good Christians” will say they’re wealthy because of all the blessings God has given them, and that is absolutely true. But for a moment, let’s just get real about this. Because money is real, and the struggles we all face with money are real. So shouldn’t we talk about it?

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Little white flower in a Colorado field, Happy Meadows Campground, west of Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are James 1:9-10.

Believers who are poor have something to boast about, for God has honored them. And those who are rich should boast that God has humbled them. They will fade away like a little flower in the field.

I read this passage over and over again the other night, mainly because it just made me smile. The way God sees things is so different from the way we see things. And this passage isn’t talking about being rich in blessings. This is unashamedly talking about finances.

If you don’t have as much money as someone else, be happy. I’m not sure the phrase “boast about” is the best translation. According to the Amplified Version, someone who is in “humble circumstances” should “glory in his high position.” That doesn’t mean you go around bragging about being poor. That’s just silly. But what you are supposed to do is to recognize that God’s trusted you with an awful lot.

It’s hard to even say that you’re poor when God’s given you so much already, but when you don’t have as much money as other people, you have to have more faith. And, honestly, faith isn’t something that everybody has in equal measure. So if you’ve got more faith than finances, you should understand that it’s an honor to live that lifestyle.

But likewise, if you are one of those folks who have a lot of money, you’re not wrong. It’s not bad to have money. It only becomes a problem when you love your money more than you fear God. If you’ve got a lot of money, you should be thankful at how God is humbling you. Because even if you’ve worked your tail off to earn your wealth, you have to be humble enough to accept that it all belongs to God anyway.

In my life, as well as in the lives of most people I know, the part about glorying in my high position in spite of humble circumstances bit is more relevant. I am not wealthy, financially speaking, and–yes–I do sometimes say no to guacamole at Chipotle. But I was okay with that because I’m rich in other ways. I have eternal life guaranteed. I have friends and family who love me unconditionally (which is priceless, because I’m so not worthy of love). I have free, open access to the throne room of God, who created the Universe, and He’s given me permission to ask Him for the desires of my heart. That’s huge!

But I’d never thought of a lack of finances as an honor. That’s what this verse is saying. Isn’t it funny how we silly little humans twist God’s perfect plans all up until they’re unrecognizable?

Don’t misunderstand. We shouldn’t aspire to be poor. That’s not the point. If we aspire to anything, it should be to glorify God. That’s the one thing both poor and rich have in common–recognizing God as the source of true wealth.

So don’t be discouraged if you’re poor. God doesn’t have it out for you. It’s actually the other way around. Being poor is a privilege. Not having the same financial status as others gives you an opportunity to show your faith and share your faith with others.

It’s not easy. But faith never is.

Make Christmas about why instead of what

I am not a parent, but I do know what it’s like to want to make someone I love happy. I love Christmas. I love the cold weather and the warm sweaters. I love the songs and the lights and the decorations, and I love the general emotion associated with the holiday season. Whether people realize or not, the whole world still stops to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.

But more and more, things are started to edge Jesus out of Christmas. And contrary to what many religious people seem to think, it’s not Santa Claus’s fault. It’s ours.

I couldn’t help myself. I heard on the radio today that the Disney Frozen Castle Playset by Mattel was going for nearly $700 on eBay now, because most stores are sold out. I found it on Amazon for $250, in case you’re looking for one. Why would this cheap piece of hinged plastic be worth $700? Well, because we–the American public–are willing to pay $700 to get it for our kids.
frozen_toyset

Don’t get me wrong. I adored the movie Frozen, and I love giving Christmas presents. I love that sense of anticipation I feel when I get to give someone something I know they’ll love. I turn into a giggling idiot on Christmas morning because I’ve filled the underside of our Christmas tree with weird and wacky gifts for the people I love most.

But Christmas isn’t about the gifts you get. It’s honestly not even about the gifts you give. And I’m afraid we’re teaching the next generation that giving and getting is all that matters. Any rational, thinking person can agree that Christmas isn’t about getting. But isn’t about giving?

No. Christmas isn’t about what we can give. It’s about what God gave–His Son. His only Son. So we could be free from sin, confident in the face of death, and live in peace with God.

1174394_46904993Today’s verses are John 3:16-17.

For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.

We give to celebrate that God gave His Son. But we live in a world that tells us to buy everything our children want, and if we don’t, we’re bad parents. We live in a world of Black Fridays and Cyber Mondays, where people trample each other to get the last Tickle Me Elmo off the shelf (so creepy, by the way).

What message are we sending to our children? Heck, I don’t even have children, and I’m afraid of the self-centered nightmare of a world that is their inheritance.

How do you rise above it? How do you keep the focus where it needs to be? How do you do Christmas right, in a way that honors God and helps our children understand the sacrifice that Jesus made for them?

I don’t know. I can’t even claim to know the answer.

Is it wrong to give gifts to your children? No. Absolutely not. Give tons of gifts to your kids. Give them the things they ask for. Give them the But you can celebrate Christmas without being drawn into the materialism of our culture.

Kids learn by example. So if you place a lot of value on the things you buy, so will they. If you don’t appreciate the things you are given, neither will they. And if you make your Christmas all about the things you get or the things you give, they will too.

Instead, in your own heart, make Christmas about Jesus. Care more about what Jesus says and thinks about Christmas and giving and getting than what the world says. And even if you get your kid a crazy expensive hinged chunk of plastic with stickers on it, that’s great! That’s fine! But don’t make Christmas about the gifts. Make it about why you gave the gifts.

The danger in failing to prepare for success

Put yourself in this situation: You’re doing your best to follow God, but you just don’t have the finances or the time to be able to do what He’s asking. So you take a chance. You do it anyway, and you ask God for help.

Then, out of the blue, when you’re least expecting it, God shows up and helps you. Maybe it’s through a friend. Maybe it’s through an organization. However it happens, you get the help you need exactly when you need it.

It’s great right? Right. But what do you do next?

Maybe I’m the only one who struggles with this, but I convince myself that God isn’t actually going to help me. Sure, He’ll help me in small ways that I’ll be able to understand later down the road, but I don’t want to get my hopes up so high that I’ll be disappointed. So what happens when God shows up in my life in a big way?

Yeah, I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do.

So many times, I think we prepare ourselves for failure, but we never take the time to prepare ourselves for success. In the same way, I think we prepare ourselves for God to not show up. So when He does, we stumble and struggle and trip all over ourselves.

1254934_54597353Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.

Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.

God has promised to provide for us. Period. He never leaves us. He never abandons us. That’s His promise. Now, that doesn’t mean His children won’t have to face the consequences of their choices. And it doesn’t mean that you’ll always get your way. But it does mean that no matter what happens in your life, God can turn it into something beautiful. And He will. If you let Him.

I am a proponent of independence. I like being independent. I like being self-reliant. Having to depend on someone else makes me nervous. So I’m all for forging your own path. I hate asking for help or support. I hate admitting weakness. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that. But there’s a big problem you run into when you live life convinced that God won’t show up to help. When God does show up, you ignore Him.

When God prompts someone to do something for you, you write it off as them being generous. When you narrowly miss getting into a horrible car wreck, you chalk it up to the luck of the draw. When all the pieces of your life and your career fall into place just right so you can advance, you just think it’s because you were prepared.

When God shows up in your life, don’t just brush Him off. Don’t just assume it’s fate or luck or that you’ve just been a good enough person to deserve it. Nobody’s that good.

It’s difficult to hope sometimes because God doesn’t always do what we expect Him to do. We expect that He’ll solve problem A with solution B, but instead He solves problem X with solution Y, and problem A hangs around for a little while longer. And it’s only years later that you realize problem A wasn’t really a problem at all–it was just the way you were looking at it.

See that’s how God works normally in my life. He helps me when I need Him, but He keeps me uncomfortable because that’s the only way I grow. And He’s got big plans for me, so I’ve got a lot of growing left to do.

The point is learning how to focus on what God is doing instead of focusing on what we want Him to do. And that’s hard. But the more we keep staring at what we want, the more blind we’ll become to what He’s actually doing around us. And soon the day will come when we won’t be able to see His work at all.

So when God shows up in your life–in a big way or a little way–stop and thank Him. Recognize that it is HIs doing, and ask Him for wisdom to know what you’re supposed to do next.

If you fail to prepare for success, you’ll crash and burn. You won’t know what to do with all the good stuff that’s happening, and eventually you’ll start to see the good stuff as bad stuff. Following God is similar. The more you expect Him not to show up, the less you’ll be able to see Him when He actually does.

How something small can make a huge difference

My first year of college, I went to school in Florida. It was 1,000 miles away from anything familiar, and while I had no doubt that it was where I was supposed to be, I was so homesick I could hardly get through a day without tearing up about something. I got in the habit of carrying tissues in my Bible because I couldn’t get through a church service without crying.

During the time I was there, I was assigned campus parents, who had volunteered to host their adopted kids every so often for dinner or other events. I will never forget the Sunday I went over to their house for dinner. I’d spent that week just aching for home, and the last thing I wanted to do was to go over to some stranger’s house.

I walked in the door of their home, and I remember the wife apologizing for having such a simple meal. When we sat at the table, I know I started crying, because she’d fixed roast beef with boiled carrots and potatoes. It was a meal I hadn’t had since I left home, a meal we had all the time at home, something I’d been longing for all week.

I was thankful for the long-winded prayer so I could get myself under control. I was bound and determined not to need to carry tissues to mealtime too.

It was a simple thing, fixing roast and vegetables for a lonely college freshman, but I still remember it ten years later because it meant something to me personally that went much deeper than just a meal.

small_giftToday’s verses are John 6:5-13.

Jesus soon saw a huge crowd of people coming to look for him. Turning to Philip, he asked, “Where can we buy bread to feed all these people?” He was testing Philip, for he already knew what he was going to do. Philip replied, “Even if we worked for months, we wouldn’t have enough money to feed them!” Then Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up. “There’s a young boy here with five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that with this huge crowd?”
“Tell everyone to sit down,” Jesus said. So they all sat down on the grassy slopes. (The men alone numbered about 5,000.) Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks to God, and distributed them to the people. Afterward he did the same with the fish. And they all ate as much as they wanted. After everyone was full, Jesus told his disciples, “Now gather the leftovers, so that nothing is wasted.” So they picked up the pieces and filled twelve baskets with scraps left by the people who had eaten from the five barley loaves.

This is one of those famous flannel-graph stories. Just about everybody knows the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 with loaves and fishes. In the church, it’s become common vernacular. A “loaves and fishes” kind of story.

Many times people like to think about what it was like to be there, to get to see Jesus multiplying such a simple meal in such a radical way. But I like to think about what it was like to be the boy who gave up his lunch.

The boy isn’t really mentioned in any more detail than what we have, but we can assume he was a young child who was there to hear Jesus speak. Maybe he was there with family. Maybe he came by himself. We don’t know. But we do know that when the disciples started asking around to see what food people had, this little boy offered his lunch to share.

It was a small thing, but God used it in a very mighty way. So much like that simple meal made by a simple housewife in Pensacola, FL. Maybe it was just roast and vegetables to her, but to me it was as piece of home.

What small thing are you holding onto today? Why are you afraid to share it? Do you think it’s too small to make a difference?

Everything we have is small. Everything we do is small. It’s God working in our hearts that’s big. It’s God working in the hearts of others that’s big, and He loves to do it using our small offerings to prove how mighty He is.

Don’t you want a piece of that action? Don’t you want to be able to say that it was your loaves and fishes that God used to help someone in a miraculous way? Well, that won’t happen as long as you hold on to them.

Whatever you have, give it. But don’t give it your name. Give it in Christ’s name. Give it because you believe He can do something awesome with it. And He will.

 

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.

Wheat and blue sky at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Investing

Why does the Church always talk about giving? Have you ever wondered about that? Granted, some churches talk about it more than others. My church doesn’t talk about it very often, but my pastor doesn’t hesitate to stand in front of the congregation and ask, especially if there’s a need. But I know of a church in Wichita that absolutely refuses to talk about money. Ever. So which approach is right? Is it right to talk about money in church?

Well, what did Jesus do? Jesus talked about money frequently, whether it was paying taxes or giving to the poor. Money and finances have always been a point of contention with people, and I don’t think it’s necessarily because people are selfish when it comes to giving. More likely, it’s that people aren’t sure that their money is going to be used well. Or that they just feel like they don’t have it to give. After all, in this current economic climate, who has spare change to give the church?

Wheat and blue sky at Safe Haven Farm - Haven, KS

Wheat and blue sky at Safe Haven Farm – Haven, KS

Today’s verse is Luke 6:38.

Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.

Money isn’t the root of all evil. Money itself is just a tool that we can use to help bring people to Christ. That’s how we should look at our finances. And some people have more of it than others, but just because you have a lot of money (or just because you don’t have much money) doesn’t determine your effectiveness for God.

Actually, many times, the less you have the more effective you can be because you aren’t trusting your money to help you through. You have no other choice but to trust God to help you.

But I’m not going to focus on whether or not you should give. If you are a believer, it’s your responsibility to give, whether it’s to an established church where you attend or if it’s to a personal fund you use to bless others with when God tells you to. Ten percent of your total income belongs to God. That’s a principle that Abraham started, I believe (I need to check for sure, though, but I’m pretty positive).

What people don’t really think about is that the entire concept of giving stems from trust.

Can you trust God with your finances? Think about it. Do you trust Him enough to give Him ten percent of what you earn?

When I was just starting out working, this was a difficult question. When I made minimum wage (back when it was $5.15 an hour) and worked part time, it was difficult to agree to giving ten percent of my hard-earned money to God (through the church that I trusted to use it wisely). And even as a college student, when I had gotten a marvelous $.25 raise, it was still difficult. Ten percent doesn’t sound like a lot until you don’t have money to buy groceries.

But I made a decision back then to give God what He asked for. He’s given me so much, how can I back up and tell Him no with this? And if He really is who He says He is, He can afford me. If I give Him what I’ve earned (that He gave me the strength and opportunity to earn in the first place), that just means that I have to trust Him to take care of me if I don’t have enough to take care of myself. And He’d never let me down in any other situation. Why would He start now?

I can tell you that this isn’t a difficult question anymore. I have always given to God, and He has always given back — more than I bargained for actually and not just in money. In friends. In family. In time. In the intangible blessings that are too priceless to put a monetary value on.

If you don’t think you can do ten percent, do what you can. Just do something. Just trust Him a little and let Him prove to you that it’s not about money. Giving isn’t about money at all; it’s about trusting Him with your resources. And if you want to give but don’t think you can, ask Him. Ask Him to give you something extra so you can.

God’s a better bet than the stock market. If you’re going to invest in something, put your money behind God’s initiatives because they have eternal payoffs. What’s better? Using your money to stockpile possessions down here that you’ll eventually have to leave behind? Or investing in a church that will help people come to Christ, who you will get to spend eternity with together?

Think about it.