A SEASON OF GETTING OR GIVING?

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. [John 15:12 (ESV)]

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. [1 John 4:18-21 (ESV)]

santaThe National Retail Federation estimates that Americans will spend between 727.9 and 730.7 billion dollars on Christmas gifts and merchandise between November 1 and the end of the year. If they’re correct, we’ll have spent nearly $95 for every one of the 7.7 billion people on earth (most of whom won’t get any of those purchases). It’s ironic that a day set aside to honor the birth of Jesus, the Savior who sacrificed His life for us, has become a frenzied season of obtaining and consuming.

While this clearly is a season of indulging, let’s also make it a season of giving. Some of us make our giving decisions by asking, “What’s the least I can give while still honoring God?” Others ask, “What’s the most I can give without changing my life?” A very few, however, simply offer what they have. When a young boy offered his lunch, Jesus fed a multitude. When a poor widow shared her one serving of flour and oil, three people ate for three years. When a farmer shared his sack of grain and loaves of bread, Elisha and one hundred hungry men ate to their hearts’ content. The boy, widow, and farmer offered what they had, not what remained after they’d eaten their fill and, instead of having less, everyone had more.

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis suggests that the real obstacle to giving could be fear—the fear of insecurity. We’re afraid that, if we share what we have, we might not have enough later. What if the stock market crashes, we lose our jobs, need long term nursing care, or outlive our money? Lewis points out we must recognize that fear for what it really is: temptation. Worry is one of the enemy’s favorite weapons!

Jesus told us to love one another in the way He loved us and that was unqualified sacrificial love on the cross! Being saved by God’s grace doesn’t free us from obedience to His command. Our knowledge of God’s perfect love should dispel all fear—not just about judgment or eternity, but about today and the days after this one. What we give is between us and God but we must never let fear enter into the equation. “In God we trust” is written on our currency. Do we really trust Him? If we do, why do we have such trouble sharing our assets with His children? Let us trust Him and obey.

Not, how much of my money will I give to God, but, how much of God’s money will I keep for myself? [John Wesley]

Teach those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which is so unreliable. Their trust should be in God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment. Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and generous to those in need, always being ready to share with others. [1 Timothy 6:17-18 (NLT)]

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SACRED

And yet, O Lord, you are our Father. We are the clay, and you are the potter. We all are formed by your hand. [Isaiah 64:8 (NLT)]

What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, “Stop, you’re doing it wrong!” Does the pot exclaim, “How clumsy can you be?” [Isaiah 45:9 (NLT)]

turk's cap lilyI used the Lenox bone china that belonged to my mother and some of the stoneware that belonged to my husband’s grandparents at our Thanksgiving dinner. While the Lenox was special ordered from the city’s finest department store as a wedding gift in 1938, the stoneware was purchased in 1929 at the local five-and-ten-cent store. The ornate gold-rimmed Lenox is translucent and elegant; used only on special occasions, it still looks new after eighty years. The stoneware is opaque, less formal and meant for daily use; having been used every day for more than forty years, a few pieces are chipped or stained. When compared, people might think the Lenox more valuable than the stoneware, but they’d be wrong. Both are equally precious because they tell the story of generations gathering together for good food and fellowship and both sets of china served their specific purposes well.

As I laid out the plates for our holiday dinner, I thought of Isaiah’s words using the metaphor of God as a potter and us as His clay. Do we get to complain that we’re not fancy china with gold trim? Do we feel short-changed if we’re pottery instead of porcelain? We shouldn’t; God created and designed each one of us perfectly for our specific purpose. While our general purpose is to glorify God, each of us has been given a special way to accomplish that goal with our unique personalities, talents and gifts. Some, like the busy Martha, are as practical as Corningware and designed for everyday use while others, like her sister Mary, seem as impractical as the gold-rimmed Lenox that should be hand-washed. All of us, however, are special and, unlike my china, we’re not part of a set. No one else has the exact same pattern; we are one-of-a-kind limited editions!

Although the word “sacred” is usually used in a religious context, anything that is set apart is said to be sacred. For example, motherhood is a sacred calling, Wrigley Field is sacred territory to Cubs’ fans, and, for many, a roast turkey is sacred to Thanksgiving dinner. Something that is sacred can also be said to be consecrated to or belonging to God. In both uses of the word, we are sacred beings. We belong to God and He has set us apart for a specific purpose. As we celebrate our sacred uniqueness, we should be aware of everyone else’s uniqueness, as well. If we have a divine purpose, so do they; if we are sacred, so is everyone else we meet! If God’s thoughts about me are precious, so are His thoughts about my neighbor. Moreover, it’s not just my name that He’s etched into the palm of His hand—everyone’s are!

As we move into this holiday season and deal with the challenges of traffic, crowded malls, long lines at the grocery, short-tempered wait staff and sales clerks, difficult and demanding customers and bosses, meeting impossible deadlines, and the other demands that accompany Christmas, let us look at one another with the eyes of Jesus—eyes that see the sacredness and beauty of each individual, even if they have a few chips or are a little rough around the edges!

Sympathize with each other. Love each other as brothers and sisters. Be tenderhearted, and keep a humble attitude. Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will grant you his blessing. [1 Peter 3:8-9 (NLT)]

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CHRISTMAS IS LOVE

mourning dovesLove never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, Doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, Isn’t always “me first,” doesn’t fly off the handle, Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything. Trusts God always, always looks for the best, Never looks back, but keeps going to the end. [1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (MSG)]

I just received my first Christmas card and letter. While reading about the family’s year of stellar accomplishments and fantastic vacations, I was reminded of my all-time favorite holiday letter. Several years ago, a friend reported that his eldest boy had founded the Young Entrepreneur Club at his high school and was in the process of patenting an investment model based on quantum economics. The middle child had received an award from the Nevada Humane Society for his efforts to find homes for dogs deserted in the desert and the youngest boy had designed a Lego-themed online game and been granted a summer internship at Legoland in California. Amazed by his sons’ achievements, I read on. In the next paragraph, when I read that the boys’ mom had become a cheerleader for the Lingerie Football League, I finally realized the letter was all in fun. Indeed, in the last paragraph, my friend continued with a more accurate depiction of his family.

Remembering his letter got me thinking about the Christmas cards and letters we receive and the social media postings we see. Sometimes they’re no more accurate than my friend’s tongue-in-cheek missive. We’re led to believe that everyone else’s children and grands are future Olympians or Nobel Prize winners, that it never rains on vacations, families never disagree, everyone else’s child is on the honor role, they all entertain like Martha Stewart, pipes never break, toilets never back-up, nobody has any debts, and the family photograph didn’t require hours of preparation and several retakes!

Granted, none of us want to read the gruesome details of someone’s surgery or bout with shingles but let’s never make the mistake of comparing our lives to holiday letters or social media “reality.” It’s not the awards, triumphs, possessions, gourmet meals, or holidays that hold a family together; it’s love.

It’s love that endures a partner who snores, toddler temper tantrums, teen-age angst and rebellion, and gets us through a diagnosis of Parkinson’s or Alzheimer’s, dirty bathrooms, harsh words, and the loss of a job. It’s love that helps us survive flooded basements, the in-laws, sleepless nights, dirty diapers, piles of laundry, muddy floors, broken arms and broken hearts. Love is what helps with homework, spends hours sitting on hard bleachers cheering a child who plays for three minutes, and forgives the forgotten anniversary or the over-drawn checkbook. That’s love teaching a boy to ride a bike, caring for a handicapped spouse, emptying bedpans, saying “No,” to an addicted daughter, refusing to write a child’s book report for him, waiting up for the high schooler, and grounding him when he’s late. It’s love that doesn’t complain about a scorched shirt, getting hopelessly lost, or a misplaced key. Love attends dance recitals and grade school band concerts, sits for hours at a hospital bedside, and patiently listens to the same story the umpteenth time.

While none of those things are Facebook or holiday letter worthy, they are far more important. As this holiday approaches, let us remember to look further than the cards and letters, decorations, Christmas tree, music, and gifts. Let us remember Christmas is about love: a God who loved the world so much that He gave His only Son so that all who believed in Him would not perish but have eternal life!

Christmas, my child, is love in action. Every time we love, every time we give, it’s Christmas. [Dale Evans Rogers]

Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions. [1 John 3:18 (NLT)]

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LITTLE THINGS WITH LOVE

Feed the hungry! Help those in trouble! Then your light will shine out from the darkness, and the darkness around you shall be as bright as day. [Isaiah 58:10 (TLB)]

food bankWhile tucking toothbrushes, dental floss, Band-Aids, and soap into shoeboxes already filled with pencils, notebooks, markers, tee-shirts, and toys, I thanked God, not just for the privilege of giving, but also that basic items like these are not a luxury in my world. In many parts of the world, however, they are! For example, our pastor just returned from Cuba where a sample-size tube of toothpaste costs the equivalent of $5 and is so sparingly squeezed that it lasts a family of four one month. The gifts he’d packed in his suitcase were simple drugstore items such as toothpaste, feminine hygiene products, and pain relievers, but the people who received those basics were as appreciative as if he’d delivered a treasure chest of gold and diamonds.

Dwight Moody once told of a man at sea who was ill and confined to his cabin. Hearing that a sailor had fallen overboard and not knowing what he could do to help, the man picked up his light and held it against the port-hole. Upon hearing that the sailor had been rescued, the man returned to his bunk. When walking on the deck after his recovery, this gentleman met the fellow who’d fallen overboard that night. Recounting the frightening episode, the sailor said he’d been sure no one would see him in the darkness as he desperately tried to stay afloat in the churning waves. But, just as he started to go down for what he was sure was the last time, a light from out of a port-hole shone on him; finally seeing the drowning sailor, a man caught his hand and pulled him into the life-boat.

Our pastor’s suitcase of basics and the clothes he and his wife left behind in Cuba can’t stop the blackouts, ease the nation’s food shortages, or shorten the queues waiting for a bus or a few gallons of gas. The Samaritan’s Purse shoeboxes our church filled won’t change governments, provide jobs, or feed the hungry. The meals packed for food banks, clothes donated to resale shops, gifts purchased for strangers whose names hang on a giving tree, food served at a homeless shelter, change dropped into the bell ringers’ buckets, checks written to the Salvation Army, or the animal purchased for Heifer International won’t solve the world’s problems. Nevertheless, while we can’t change the world, we all can do our part to change the world for someone, even if it’s just with a toothbrush or a tube of toothpaste!

“Let us take the torch of salvation and go into these dark homes and hold up Christ to the people as the Savior of the world,” said Moody as he finished his story of the light in the port-hole. “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love,” were the words of Mother Teresa. Few, if any, of us will pull a drowning sailor from the sea and we’re not likely to win a Nobel Peace Prize for our humanitarian efforts. Nevertheless, in our own small ways, we each can make a difference by shining a light for those in despair. Let us be the light that brings Christ’s love into the world!

You are the world’s light—a city on a hill, glowing in the night for all to see. Don’t hide your light! Let it shine for all; let your good deeds glow for all to see, so that they will praise your heavenly Father. [Matthew 5:14-16 (TLB)]

Eternal life is in him, and this life gives light to all mankind. His life is the light that shines through the darkness—and the darkness can never extinguish it. [John 1:4-5 (TLB)]

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WORLD KINDNESS DAY

Don’t ever forget kindness and truth. Wear them like a necklace. Write them on your heart as if on a tablet. Then you will be respected and will please both God and people. [Proverbs 3:3-4 (NCV)]

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. [Leo Buscaglia]

world kindnessThe mission of the World Kindness Movement (WKM) is to “inspire individuals and connect nations to create a kinder world.” Having no political or religious affiliations, the WKM is an international coalition of like-minded kindness NGOs (non-governmental organizations typically set up to address a social or political issue). Since its introduction in 1998, “World Kindness Day” has been observed every November 13. The purpose of this day is to “highlight good deeds in the community because kindness is the common thread that unites us all.”

When I looked at one kindness NGO website, it asked participants to pledge a good deed for today. Another site, hoping to make kindness a norm, made a series of suggestions, not just for November 13, but for every day! They suggested things like sharing a compliment or letting someone merge into your lane with a smile and a wave (and I don’t think they were suggesting using your middle finger in that wave). Other sites’ suggestions for Kindness Day included extra big hugs, three random acts of kindness, writing a thank you note, spending ten minutes cleaning up a park or playground, sending flowers to a friend, wheeling out your neighbor’s trash bin, visiting with someone who’s lonely, hiding a love note in that special someone’s purse or pocket, providing donuts to your co-workers, and bringing cookies to a neighbor. In this day and age, I’d be rather cautious about those extra big hugs unless you’re absolutely sure they’d be welcome, but the other ideas are all good. What bothers me is that we seem to need a day dedicated to kindness and a list of ways to do it. As Christians, shouldn’t kindness be the norm? After all, kindness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and we all should be bearing His fruit!

While working on this devotion, I came across a recent “Pearls before Swine” comic (by Stephan Pastis). In the first frame, Pig is adding the 37th hash mark to his whiteboard list of “Badness in the World.” In the next frames, he’s seen walking into the city and then down a dark alley where he gives money to a ragged man sitting by a trash can. In the final frame, we again see Pig’s whiteboard. While it still has 37 marks in the “Badness” column, a “Goodness” column has been added. Pig confides to his friend Goat, “I’ll even this thing yet.” “Good for you, Pig!” I thought, “We can make a difference.”

Curious about the comic strip, I did a little research. Pig’s creator, Stephan Pastis, describes him as a “gentle, sweet and naïve soul…a bit slow-witted…a living rebuttal to those people who say that swine are intelligent animals.” Based on his description of Pig, I don’t know if Pastis was encouraging acts of kindness or was saying that only the dim-witted think they’ll ever be able to change the world!

Perhaps I’m being as naïve and gullible as Pig, but I truly believe that kindness can make a difference. As individual Christians, while we may not be able to change the world, we can change the world for someone. Moreover, when we work together, we can help change the world for many! When Jesus told us to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, He also told us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. [Mark 12:30-31] In short, He told us to be kind—every day and in every way. We don’t need to make a pledge to do a good deed today; as the hands and feet of Jesus, we should be doing good deeds all day, every day! Let’s put some more hash marks on Pig’s “Goodness” list!

Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours. [Teresa of Avila]

We show we are servants of God by our pure lives, our understanding, patience, and kindness, by the Holy Spirit, by true love, by speaking the truth, and by God’s power. [2 Corinthians 6:6 (NCV)]

God has chosen you and made you his holy people. He loves you. So you should always clothe yourselves with mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Bear with each other, and forgive each other. [Colossians 3:12-13a (NCV)]

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A ROOT OF EVIL

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. [1 Timothy 6:10 (NIV)]

red clover“He’s the ultimate solipsist – the guy who’d burn the world down to light his cigarette. He’s not cruel, particularly – although he’s capable of cruelty – he’s just so focused on his own goals and his own needs that nobody else exists for him.” That’s how Mike Carey, author of the graphic novel series Lucifer, describes his main character. I admit having to look up “solipsism” to learn that it’s the extreme preoccupation with self and the indulgence of one’s feelings and desires. A self-professed atheist, Carey went on to say, “I think total self-absorption is probably the root of most evil that we meet in the world.” While he may not believe in God, I think Carey has a good handle on the root of much of the world’s evil: self! Satan just loves to make us think of ourselves as more valuable and worthy than anyone else.

“Hold it,” you say. “I thought money was the root of all evil!” A careful reading of Paul’s words in this often misquoted verse tell us that’s not so. The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil but it is not the only root of all evil. After all, money hadn’t even been invented when Eve ate the forbidden fruit! Focusing solely on herself, however, she thought of her desire as more important than obedience to God and his one rule. Self-absorption, not money, caused the fall. While Eve didn’t destroy the world to light a cigarette, she brought evil into it simply to satisfy her own curiosity.

There seems to be a lot of self-absorption going around nowadays and we’re all guilty! How many times do we act as if our opinions are the only ones that count, our words are more important than the words of the person with whom we’re speaking, or our needs are more pressing than those of the people around us? We want the best table, the closest parking place, the fastest line, the biggest piece of pie, the order at all costs, and the largest commission. If someone goes without, too bad for them; they should have been better, faster, or tried harder. We don’t care what kind of day the teller at the bank had, bother to look at the face of the sales clerk, or acknowledge the special-needs bagger at the grocery. Our dog can poop wherever he wants, we can water our lawns on water-restricted days, and recycling takes too much effort. We can carry full bottles of water when we start our walk, but find them too cumbersome to carry once they’re empty. We don’t pause to open the door for the bag-laden woman and we impatiently push ahead of the elderly man with the walker. “Ten items or less” doesn’t apply to us nor do slow zones by schools. Our thoughts are so important that we can text while driving and use our cell phones at restaurants and theatres. Where we’re headed is far more important than where anyone else is going so we can cut off drivers and honk at anyone who dares to be slow starting when the light changes.

Father, forgive us for being selfish when we should be selfless.

The difference between a good person and a bad person (and each of us, naturally, is a little of both) is really very simple at bottom: The good person loves people and uses things, while the bad person loves things and uses people. [Sidney J. Harris]

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. [Philippians 2:3-4 (NIV)]

Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? [Mark 8:34-36 (NIV)]

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