Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Are you leaving God’s gifts unopened?

Have you ever left money on the table? I don’t mean literally. Sure it’s possible to walk out of your house and leave a wad of cash sitting on the kitchen table (yes, I’ve done it). But what about figuratively?

I didn’t understand that was even possible until I discovered a little something grown-ups like to call a 401K. I’m very fortunate to have a job that provides a 401K for me, along with matching contributions at a really competitive rate. The first time I heard someone talking about “leaving money on the table” was in discussion on how much of a percentage to automatically contribute from a bi-weekly paycheck to my 401K. Because my company matches a certain percentage, the 401K people encourage us to put as much into the account as possible… otherwise we won’t be getting the most advantage out of the amount the company is willing to contribute. You’re leaving money on the table.

It’s the same when you don’t haggle over the price of something. Like in a Mexican market some place. Normally folks will charge you way more than what the item is actually worth, expecting you to haggle the price down. If you don’t, you’re leaving money on the table because you’re giving away money that the seller might have been willing to live without.

It’s not a smart thing to do. But I’m pretty sure it happens fairly often.

So what about leaving a gift unopened? Have you ever done that? Has someone ever given you a gift that you didn’t open? Imagine Christmas morning, sitting around a tree stuffed full of presents and nobody opening them. Imagine a birthday party where you don’t open your gifts.

Would that be awkward or is it just me?

Today’s verse is John 14:27.

Chair on the lawn - Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

Chair on the lawn – Glen Eyrie, Colorado Springs, CO

I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Did you know that God has given us gifts? He’s given us all sorts of gifts, too many to name. The trouble with many of them is that they’re gifts we can’t open yet. They’re promises that haven’t come true. It’s like knowing that Christmas is coming and that someone is going to get you a gift, but you haven’t seen it yet.

But the biggest mistake Christ-followers make is thinking that all of God’s gifts are like that, when they aren’t. God has given us many, many gifts that He wants us to open now! But for some reason, we’re just letting them sit in the corner.

A good example? Peace. God has given you the gift of peace. Did you know that?

What is the gift of peace? It’s the ability to stop worrying. It’s the reassurance that God is in control. It’s the guarantee that even though life may suck right now, it won’t always, and that God is strong enough to bring beauty out of ashes.

Peace. Peace of mind. Peace of heart. It’s priceless. Invaluable. And if you believe in Christ, God’s already given it to you. Is that a gift you’ve opened yet?

I’m not sure what it is about peace that is so hard to grasp. I struggle with peace a lot because I’m just a control freak. I want to know everything about everything so I can control every possible detail, whether I’m capable of it or not.

But the more I control something, the more I worry about it. The more I worry about it, the less peace I have. And the less peace I have, the farther away from God I grow because I convince myself that He doesn’t care because if He cared, why doesn’t He help me?

Vicious cycle.

A foolish, vicious cycle.

God has given you peace. Period.

But just because He gave it to you doesn’t mean you’ve automatically accepted it. You have to choose to accept it. Just like you have to choose to accept a gift. Just because someone gives you a Christmas present, doesn’t mean you accept it. Just because you open a Christmas present doesn’t mean you’re going to keep it. You might take it back to the store and return it.

That’s the trick with a gift. Its mere existence doesn’t mean you use it. You have to choose it.

God won’t force you to accept any of His gifts, but if you won’t take them, what’s the point of Him giving them in the first place?

So the next time you’re worrying about something, remember that God has given you the gift of peace, and it’s your choice whether to accept it or not.

Drawing water from a well in Se'tul, Peten, Gutemala

God won’t let your well run dry

Facing an unknown future is hard enough when you know where your next meal is coming from. Imagine facing it without that knowledge. How much more difficult is life when you aren’t sure if you’re going to have enough to live on? Clothes to wear? A shelter to sleep in? If you’ve never had to live with those questions, it might be difficult to imagine it, but there are people all around us–and not just in foreign countries–who face those questions every day.

Times are tough for everyone. Even people who have the finances and resources to survive are threatened with job loss and propane shortages and high taxes. And so many of those people would be generous if they had enough to share. Are you one of those people? The ones who would give what they have to help someone else if it didn’t jeopardize your own security?

How do you reconcile being generous as God has asked us to be with our current financial state? Can it be done? I think it can, as long as we remember where our financial security comes from. It’s not our job and it’s not our own resources. We have what we have because God has given it to us in one way or another, and if you look at it that way, how can we refuse to help people who need it?

Drawing water from a well in Se'tul, Peten, Gutemala

Drawing water from a well in Se’tul, Peten, Gutemala

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 9:8-11.

And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. As the Scriptures say, “They share freely and give generously to the poor. Their good deeds will be remembered forever.” For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you. Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve experienced this. God has provided for me in so many ways I can’t begin to number them, and it never ceases to amaze me how I can have everything I need and most everything I want and still have enough to share. It happened again just recently. I’ve been praying because I knew I had some extra expenses coming up. I always do at the beginning of the year. And I just didn’t see how I was going to make certain things happen financially, but I had decided that I wasn’t going to worry. And that if God wanted it to happen, He would work it out.

Surprise, surprise. He did. In His own way, of course. On His timetable. According to His plan. Not mine.

The hardest thing is taking that first step and committing without knowing for sure. I mean, you can know for sure that God will provide for you; you just won’t know how. And sometimes He’ll turn everything on its head. Most of the time He doesn’t do what you expect Him to do. But He always keeps His promises. You just have to trust that and keep moving forward even if you aren’t exactly sure what you’re going to find on the other side.

Don’t grasp and cling to your possessions. Don’t hold on so tightly to your finances that you can’t see the needs of other people. And if you have the opportunity to help someone, do it. It’s not an accident God brought them into your life. There are no accidents.

Be open. Be willing. Don’t be afraid to help others. Don’t be afraid to invest in other people. Ask God about it before you do it, yes. But if He says to do it, don’t hesitate. Don’t make excuses. Jump in with both feet and give what you have. God won’t let your well run dry when you’re using it to bless other people in His name. On the contrary, usually you’ll end up with more than you can handle,

A gifted church

What makes a church? Well … that’s a strange question. Mostly because a church wasn’t originally supposed to be a singular entity. All churches were supposed to stand together, united, as one body. In ancient cities, like Corinth, there weren’t twelve different churches. There was one. Just like in Ephesus, Philippi, Antioch, etc. There were no denominations. That’s why you’ll hear ministers refer to the Church in Corinth or the Church in Antioch.

The Church is supposed to be one, united force. In America, the concept of a church is different than what it was in the Bible. In America, a church is a building with beautiful statues or stained glass windows. Or, depending on denomination, it’s a modern complex with high-technology and stadium seating and McDonald’s in the lobby.

But that’s not the Church. The Church isn’t a building. The Church is people. If the building were to fall down or blow away, the Church would still stand because the people yet remain.

Nowadays, especially in American Christianity, the Church has entered the realm of tradition. It’s something we do because our parents did. It’s something we suffer through because it alleviates our guilt. It’s something that is performed for us instead of us participating in.

Some churches operate under the belief that they exist to keep their members happy. Some churches operate like a country club, welcoming only the people who fit their defined mold of what a Christian should look like and rejecting (politely) the people who don’t. Some churches operate like a zoo, keeping their members under lock and key. Some churches operate like party with no adult supervision, with wild chaos and noise and no direction or goals.

Some churches care about their communities and work to see people come to Christ. Some churches only care about their own needs, although they donate a little bit of money to a good cause every Christmas. Some churches only care about putting on a good show and are willing to sacrifice the truth to keep their numbers up.

But which one is right?

I don’t know if I have the right to determine that. But what stands out to me is what makes a church effective. And it doesn’t matter how big a church is or how few people attend or where it’s located or how good it’s music is or how talented its pastor is. What matters is if everyone recognizes that anything good in the Church comes from God.

Today’s verse is 1 Corinthians 1:4-5.

4 I always thank my God for you and for the gracious gifts he has given you, now that you belong to Christ Jesus. 5 Through him, God has enriched your church in every way—with all of your eloquent words and all of your knowledge.

I think it’s so funny that Paul starts this Book of the Bible off with praise. I think he wanted to soften the blow of following chapters. Because 1 Corinthians is a scathing letter to a church that had lost its senses. The Church in Corinth had been making some very very foolish choices.

What stood out to me this morning was how Paul pointed out that the enrichment of the Church of Corinth was a result of the gifts God had given its people when they accepted Christ. Whenever someone accept Christ and receives the Holy Spirit, God gives that person a Spiritual Gift. Some folks have more than one. But every believer has a gift, and that gift is designed to serve the Church. It may be an obvious gift, like preaching. It may be a serving gift, like hospitality. It may be a quiet gift, like prayer. But every believer has one.

And it’s essential that those gifts be used in the church. But more important that using those gifts, it’s important to remember where those gifts came from.

I have the privilege of attending the most awesome church in the world. My church is my family. It’s my second home. And I know people say that all the time, but I mean it. There are few places where I feel at home, and my church is one of those places. But what makes my church awesome isn’t our beautiful building. It’s the people. And what makes those people so gifted is God and the power of the gifts He’s given them and their willingness to use their gifts AND their understanding that those gifts aren’t their own doing.

My church is a gifted church, a blessed church. And the only reason it has remained blessed is because no one is seeking the spotlight and no one is trying to be more important than someone else. And no one has forgotten where our blessing came from. God has drawn people from all over the place, people with gifts that defy explanation. The talent base at this church is unreal. But all it would take for everything to fall apart is for us to forget that God is the One who brought us here.

There’s nothing special about what happened at my church. There’s no secret formula, and there’s no magic words. What happened to us was we decided to take God at His word and love people and give Him the credit for anything and everything that happened.

The Church is here to point toward Christ, to lead others to Christ and to encourage other believers to keep going. And I don’t know if we can really judge what makes an effective church, mostly because what the Church is here to accomplish can’t be seen with human eyes. It’s true that some church have a higher ratio of gifted people in attendance, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that a church will be “more effective” because of it. Because all it takes is forgetting.

When God doesn’t give us what we want

Why is it when we don’t get what we want when we want it we lose our patience with God? Why is that? Are we just impatient people? I know that’s the case with me. In my mind, if God has promised to give me something, there shouldn’t be a waiting period.

And when God doesn’t give us what we want when we want it, we start thinking that He doesn’t care. And that He’s a liar. Because there are so many verses all throughout the Bible that talk about how God provides and how God gives good gifts to His children.

Like today’s verse. Today’s verse is Romans 8:32.

32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else?

Well, if you read the entirety of Romans 8, you’ll see just what God has given us. He’s given us His Spirit to help us survive this broken, messed up world. He’s given us hope. He’s given us love. And He’s given us a family–a relationship with Him and with other people who believe in Him. And when the end comes, we will go to be with Him face-to-face.

Jesus is God’s most precious gift, and He gave us Jesus. It was God who sent Jesus to the cross for us. It was God who punished Him for our sins.

So if God was willing to sacrifice what was most precious to Him–why wouldn’t He give us anything else? Especially if we’re being careful to do what He’s asked us. Yet time and time again, when He calls us to go somewhere and we ask Him for something, many times He doesn’t give it to us.

So why?

And I’m not even talking about things that are bad for us. These are things that would help us. Financial support. Good health. Supportive friendships. Food to eat. Why wouldn’t He allow us to have those things if we are doing what He’s asked us to do?

It’s a good question.

But then, here’s another good question. Would you give a loaded gun to a three year old? Or would you give a child some powerful medication and expect him to know when to take it and how much to take? Would you let a five year old drive your car alone? 

Those are all facetious, of course. Any thinking adult wouldn’t put that kind of responsibility on a child. Guns and medication and cars can all be used for good, but you have to know how to use them. And children don’t necessarily understand that. And if you don’t know how to use those good things, they can cause bad things to happen.

And I personally believe that is the reason God doesn’t always give us what we ask for. He could definitely do it. But what would happen if He gave us the things we wanted when we wanted them? It would be too much. And we wouldn’t know how to use what He’s given, and it would overwhelm us.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I’ve wanted some things that wouldn’t have been good for me. I’ve wanted some things that would have made me leave the path He put me on. I wanted some things that if He had given them to me, I might have left Him.

But I also want some things that would bring honor and glory to God. I want some things that definitely won’t make me rich but have the possibility to lead more people to Christ. So why is He waiting to give me these things?

The only explanation is that I’m not ready. Or the time isn’t right. Or He still has some work to do on what I want.

I don’t know why we weak, puny humans have the idea that we know what’s best for us. It’s probably pride. Maybe misguided spirituality. Usually religion. In any case, it comes down to whether or not was trust God to do what is best.

God didn’t spare even His own Son. So of cousre, He’s going to give us everything. But it will be in God’s timing and not our own. And isn’t that better? I mean, after all, His timing is perfect because time means nothing to Him. He knows what’s coming. He knows what’s been. He knows what is. So isn’t it better to trust He really does know what He’s doing?

So if you’re waiting for God to give you something, don’t lose hope. And don’t be impatient. Because when God does decide the time is right, you’ll get everything you’ve asked for and more. So much more than you can imagine. And it will mean so much more to you because ten years later you’ll be able to look back and see why God did things the way He did. And you’ll be thankful you didn’t give up.