Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

You can afford generosity in God’s name

Stingy people aren’t much fun to hang around. If you don’t know any stingy people, count yourself fortunate. They’re exhausting.

I am fortunate to know many, many generous people, but that doesn’t mean I’m surrounded by wealthy folks. Whether you are stingy or generous, it has nothing to do with how much money you have.

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

Tubs of homemade pork tamales made by a Kekchi village to feed us, Esfuerzo II, Peten, Guatemala

Today’s verses are Matthew 25:37-40.

“Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

Some of the most generous people I’ve ever known haven’t been wealthy, at least by what the world would call wealthy. I’ve known some who invited me over for dinner, when they didn’t know where their next meal would come from. I’ve known others who relied on God’s provision from paycheck to paycheck in order to feed their families, but they never hesitate to offer what they have to help someone else.

Generous people humble me, and more than anything they make me want to be generous too. And I’ve learned something about generous people. Because I’ve known a lot of them. They all have something in common.

None of them have anything.

If you ask them about their house, they’ll tell you they don’t own a house. God owns a house and let them use it in His name. If you ask them about their possessions, they’ll tell you they don’t have possessions. God has blessed them with the things that make life easier, and they get to make use of them to help others in His name. The same is true of their finances. Everything they have is God’s, including their money. God is just trusting them to manage it in His name.

Have you ever tried to live that way? Looking at your house, your car, your money, your everything as though it truly belongs to God and He’s just letting you borrow it? Would that change your perspective on the things you call your things? Would that lead you to take better care of the things God has given you? Or would you worry less about them?

If nothing else, it should make us second guess how we use our things.

But what happens if you open your house to strangers and they tear it up? What happens if you give money to someone and they let you down? Believe me, I feel those questions. I come from a school of thought that you’re supposed to be responsible with the things you have, and I don’t think that’s wrong.

But what’s more important? Doing what God says or taking care of things that don’t even belong to you?

God has given us everything we have, and as Americans, we have a lot. I don’t think we really understand how much we have until we leave the country. The areas of Mexico and Guatemala that I’ve been in have been among the poorest I’ve ever seen—and also the kindest and most generous.

Does it make sense for Americans to cling to what doesn’t even belong to them?

Before you decide to favor your things over the people around you, take a moment and really talk to God about it. Yes, we’re supposed to be wise, and I do believe God gave us brains for a reason. But don’t ever let concern for things get between you and doing what God says is right.

No house or car or paycheck is worth that.

When you open your doors and your home and your heart to others, God is able to reach others with His love through you. You get to be an extension of God, welcoming people and loving people and helping people.

Don’t worry about the expense. Remember, God gave you the means to obtain what you have in the first place. If He wants you to have it again, He’ll give it to you.

Don’t lose the opportunity to be Jesus to someone because you’re afraid to lose something you don’t even own.

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.

 

Opportunity is an open door

What is opportunity? Have you ever taken the moment to think about it? It’s those common words that sometimes I’m not sure I actually know the definition of. Sometimes it’s the words you say all the time that you don’t know what they actually mean.

For me, I’ve always defined opportunity as the chance to accomplish something. Come to find out, that’s kind of what it actually means. So it’s nice to know my vocabulary is still hanging in there. But think about that. The Chance to Accomplish Something. Even including the word chance gives it an entirely new meaning. Because if you have to have a chance to accomplish something, that means you will encounter other times when you don’t have a chance.

Opportunity is a time when you are in a position to do something. It could be anything. Something huge and life altering. Something small and personal. Whatever. But one thing won’t change: Your opportunity doesn’t stick around forever.

You have a chance to do something at that moment, and if you don’t seize the moment, you might lose it. And you might never get it back.

Today’s verse is Galatians 5:13.

Open gate at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburg, Scotland, UK

Open gate at Edinburgh Castle, Edinburg, Scotland, UK

For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don’t use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love.

If you’ve made that all-important decision to follow Christ, every day you wake up is another opportunity. God gives us all sorts of chances to do all sorts of amazing things in a day’s time, but the question is, are we paying attention? Are we taking advantage of the opportunities God gives us?

I wish I could say I did. I wish I could tell you that I always jump at the opportunities God sends my way, but I don’t. Sometimes I hide from the opportunities He gives me because I’m afraid or because I’m relying on my own strength and knowledge. And that’s not how we’re supposed to live.

Say you’re walking down the street, and the person in front of you drops money. That’s an opportunity. That’s your chance to accomplish something. But what you accomplish is up to you. If you want to serve yourself, it’s your opportunity to steal, to knowingly take something that doesn’t belong to you. But if you want to please God, it’s your opportunity to help someone else and maybe even tell them about your faith.

That’s what opportunity is. It’s keeping your eyes open and seeing the open doors God has given you every moment of every day and choosing to walk through them for His glory and not for your own.

In America, we have freedom to do many things that other countries only dream of. We aren’t limited (generally speaking). We can roll out of bed one morning and decide to start a business, and if we have the finances or the credit to be able to do it, we can do it. Do you know how rare that is for other people?

But just because you have the freedom to do whatever you want doesn’t mean you can use it to do what is wrong. That’s where we slip up. We think because we’re free that we can do anything and everything. And maybe there’s truth to that, because you certainly can do whatever you want. As a Christ-follower, you can break every rule you can think of, and if you truly belong to God, He won’t cast you out. He won’t protect you from your consequences either. But you are free to do whatever you want.

So Paul is encouraging us to love each other instead of fighting with each other. You can use your freedom to do whatever you want, but why spend it hurting others? Why use your freedom to destroy relationships or ruin your physical health? Instead, use the freedom you have–make the most of your opportunities–to do good for others, to help others, to serve others in the name of Christ.

Those are the opportunities you should be taking. Those are the chances you should be seizing.

So the next time you see the open door of opportunity in front of you, what are you going to do? Sure, you can serve yourself. That’s what most people will do anyway. But if you really are a Christ follower, and you want to see Him do something amazing in your life and in the lives of other people, take that opportunity to serve someone else. Focus on someone else.

If you have the opportunity to help somebody, take it. And do it in the name of Christ. You’ll be amazed at what happens in your heart and in the hearts of the people you’re helping.

Pines and cedars along the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Don’t fear your troubles

When you’re going through a difficult time, do you find it comforting or annoying to talk to someone who has been through the same experience? Maybe it depends on the person and maybe it depends on how they talk about it, because in many instances I love gleaning wisdom and advice from someone who has walked a similar path. But in some instances it grates on my nerves to have someone telling me they know exactly how I feel.

Generally speaking, though, when I’m down or at a loss for words, I really appreciate having someone close who knows what I’m going through. And I hope that I’ve been the kind of friend who can offer advice and encouragement to others who are experiencing troubles similar to what I’ve weathered.

Pines and cedars along the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Pines and cedars along the road at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are 2 Corinthians 1:3-4.

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

There are no accidents in our lives. Like I posted yesterday, God has a plan for everything, so that means no coincidences. The place we work, the people we meet, the circumstances we encounter–it’s all a part of something bigger, and there’s a reason for it.

The difficult part is remembering that fact in the thick of it.

Life has trouble. Life has lots of trouble, and each of us is going to hit bumps and potholes that jar us and trip us and send us tripping over our own feet. We’re going to get scrapes and bruises. We’re going to stub our toes and break our nails. We’re going to face sadness and discouragement and depression and fear.

But none of that will kill us. At least, it doesn’t have to. And if you choose not to let those circumstances be the end of your life and instead choose to see them as stepping stones, your life will be so much better. And then, something amazing happens.

One day, you’ll be talking to someone you thought you knew, and you’ll discover that they’re getting ready to go through the same things you did. Those same things in your life that taught you how good God is and how faithful and how awesome. Those same things that helped your faith grow so big and so strong that nothing can shake your trust in God.

You’re going to find people all around you who are going through the same things you did. Maybe not exactly the same, but the emotions will be the same. The fears will be the same. The results will be the same. And then you’ll have the opportunity–the responsibility–to reach out and tell your story. Because if God can be faithful to you, He can be faithful to anyone.

And I promise there is nothing in the world that can compare to sharing your story with someone else and watching their faith and relationship with God grow as a result. In that moment, you become so much more than just a child of God; you get to be a real, tangible part of what He’s doing in other people’s hearts.

So don’t scorn the trouble in your life. Don’t run away from it. And don’t get angry at God. He’s going to help you through it, and after He does, you’re going to know Him so much better than before. And then, you can help other people get to know Him too.

Because what else is the Christian life about if it’s not introducing people to Christ? And how better to do it than to tell the story of how you faced the impossible with God at your side and made it through?

 

Linda Reazin's wonderful toffee made every year for Judgement House, Wichita, KS

Look for the chance to do good

Why is it so much easier to criticize someone than it is to praise them? Have you noticed that? It’s a lot easier to find fault with someone than it is to recognize them for something they did right. Maybe that’s because I’m a perfectionist.

But then how does that explain the strange urge people seem to get when they sit around in groups—to point out anything and everything that’s wrong in their personal situation or in the world in general? Am I alone in noticing that the negativity in our culture seems to be spiraling out of control?

So how do we, as Christ followers, deal with that?

Linda Reazin's wonderful toffee made every year for Judgement House, Wichita, KS

Linda Reazin’s wonderful toffee made every year for Judgement House, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Galatians 6:10.

Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith.

Have you ever been in a situation where you have the opportunity to do something nice for somebody else? I think we all have. But how many of us have done it? How many of us have seized that opportunity?

It’s easy to talk about being nice to others. It’s not as easy to actually do it. Being nice to other people takes effort, especially if you’ve had a bad day. But the Bible clearly says in more than one place that we need to be kind to each other, and it’s not just talking about Christians being kind to Christians. Christians need to be kind to nonbelievers. Christians, we need to be kind to everyone.

As followers of Christ, we are called to do good. What does that mean? Do good. If it will help someone, if it will make someone smile, if it will show God’s love to someone, do it. And when are we supposed to do this? Well, if you take Scripture literally, right up there it says whenever you have the opportunity.

Whenever you have the chance to do good for someone, do it. And I love how Paul emphasizes the part about doing good to other believers. Sometimes other believers are the most difficult to be kind to. But the way Christians treat each other is supposed to show the world that we’re different.

So be on the lookout for someone you can be kind to. Keep your eyes peeled for someone you can help. You can hold doors for people. You can help people carry groceries or take their cart to the return bin. You can smile at someone in line. You can speak kindly to the stressed-out college student in the drive-thru. You can watch for the opportunity to be an encouragement to someone else.

If you do that, if you spend your time looking for the opportunities to do good, you’ll find you don’t have time to give into the negativity. And soon you’ll find that you don’t want to. And the more time you spend being an encouragement, the more likely people around you will pick up on it too.

Negativity may be contagious, but the best way to fight it is to look for opportunities to brighten people’s lives.