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.

Wheat almost ready - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Who needs a paycheck?

I’ve been praying for my neighbors because we are hovering on the edge of one of the most amazing harvests I can ever remember. The wheat has never looked so beautiful. The photo for today comes from a week or so ago, and since then most of the fields around my home have turned almost completely golden. There’s no sight like it on earth.

Now if we can just hold on for a few more weeks with no major storms, no major floods, Kansas could have a very good year. And about time too. It’s been a while since we’ve had a good harvest in these parts.

I think farming and writing are very similar in some ways, especially when it comes to harvests. Because in both professions you can pour your heart and soul into what you do and never see a positive financial return. You can farm and farm until you’ve planted acres and acres of every crop, and (at least in Kansas) one bad storm can wipe it out. It has nothing to do with your dedication; it’s just life.

Writing’s the same in some cases. I realized the other day that I’ve been writing for almost 20 years, and I have yet to see an actual return on any of it. Granted, I only started letting some of that writing out into the public eye in the last five years. But still. If you run the numbers, you can get discouraged pretty quickly. And then you stumble into a verse like today’s?

Wheat almost ready - Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Wheat almost ready – 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.”

How does that work? I can honestly tell you that I’ve worked my fingers to the bone writing since I was a child. My dream since childhood was to be a published author. And I haven’t cut corners. At all. I’ve never expected a free ride, and I’ve dedicated every free moment to it. Even my vacations have been an opportunity to pursue writing.

So according to this rule, the rule of sowing and reaping, I should get back what I invest. And I should get back more of it. This is a law of nature that God created when He made the world. Newton figured it out too; for every action there is a reaction. Cause and effect.

So where does Jesus get off telling me this today?

Farmers plant fields and harvest crops, unless you live in Kansas. Then, generally, you plant crops and harvest dust. Much like writers write books and harvest disappointment when no one wants to buy their work. Am I wrong?

I’m only being partially facetious.

I would be right, yes, if Jesus were only talking about financial returns. I can’t really speak to farmers because I don’t farm (unless you count weeds), but when it comes to writing there is something more satisfying than being paid for your work. And that is when your work touches someone else.

No, I haven’t published a novel yet. But you’re reading this blog post, aren’t you?

No, I haven’t received a financial return on anything I’ve written, but I didn’t really start writing to get rich and famous. I started writing and telling stories because it was an outlet where I could share what God has done in my life. And so much more important to me is communicating that truth to other people, whether it’s in blog posts or articles or short stories or novels. And maybe I haven’t written anything that’s made money. And maybe I never will. But if you count up the people I’ve been able to share my story with through words, that vastly outweighs a paycheck of any kind.

I’ve invested 20 years of my life in writing, in learning how to tell stories, in sharing what God has taught me through words. And I can tell you, the returns I’ve seen, while not financial, are greater than what I originally invested. I’ve given my life to writing, and I’ve watched God take that and make it into something bigger than what I could have imagined, not only being a blessing to people but encouraging others to start sharing their story too. And that’s worth more to me than almost anything.

So whatever you’re doing in your life today, remember that the whole principle of sowing and reaping applies. It really does. It just may not pay off in the way you’re expecting. If what you’re doing in your life honors God, you will see a return. That’s a promise. So don’t give up.

Who needs a paycheck anyway, right? … Like I said. Partially facetious. =)