Living generously

“I will gladly spend for you everything I have and expend myself as well.” – 2 Corinthians 12:15a

What do you think of when someone talks about generosity? Probably we anticipate we are about to be asked to part with some cash. But, there’s a lot more to living generously than giving money.

Peter and John give us a great example of that (Acts 3). They saw a man on the Temple steps who’d been lame from birth. People carried him there every day so he could provide for himself by begging. When approached for alms, Peter said, in essence, “I don’t have any money, but I have something else I can give you, ‘In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, walk.'” Peter gave this man a gift of far greater value than a few coins!

What does it mean to live generously? Sometimes it does mean giving money. And we need to do that willingly and often. At other times, we may need to give something else. Maybe our skills to lend a hand to someone who needs help. Maybe it’s a listening ear. And, sometimes hardest of all, it means being generous with our love for those who are hard to love and forgiveness for those who have wronged us.

Generosity has more to do with attitude than with cash. Living generously frees us from the burden of accumulation and allows us to travel lighter, to be less self-centered and more compassionate. And, somewhere along the way, joy creeps in. Maybe today is a good day to look around and see who needs our generosity – financial, spiritual, relational, or merciful. Then, let’s open our hearts and our hands!

“The noblest thing a man can do is just humbly to receive, and then go amongst others and give.” – David Livingstone

 

#generosity

Cleaning Up

“I dwell in a high and holy place, and also with him who is of a contrite and lowly spirit.” – Isaiah 57:15b

Sin is a dirty word. We don’t like to talk about it. We don’t like to acknowledge sin may be a problem in our lives. So we hide it or ignore it. I do that, too, sometimes, but am beginning to see my sin as God does:

  • He hates my sin, but he loves me.
  • He’s not surprised when I sin. He knows my frailties.
  • My sin grieves God, partly because of how it damages me.
  • God is holy and cannot look on sin, so my unconfessed sin is a barrier between me and God, between me and answered prayer, between me and the blessing God wants to give me (see Isaiah 59:1-2).

Maybe we should begin looking at our sin in a whole new way – not as something to hide, but as something to be acknowledged, something from which we can be freed. It’s like working in the garden all day, coming in hot, dusty, and sweaty. We can ignore our condition or we can get in the shower. Which is better?

All God asks is that I recognize my action or attitude as sin, then confess and receive forgiveness and the strength to overcome. The joy of confession is that my relationship with him is fully restored, my prayers are heard, and my life is blessed. Confession is not a bad word. It is cleansing, restorative word – something we should not turn from, but should run toward. It’s like a nice, warm shower!

“Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.” – Jerry Bridges

Just a Whisper

“For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you.'” – Isaiah 41:13

Have you ever stood by when a young child has what we call a “meltdown”? This often happens when a special-needs child responds to frustration by becoming out-of-control, usually thrashing around, and crying out.

Therapists tell us the best way to respond is to put your arms around the child, often from behind to hold them as still as possible. Then begin to whisper in their ear. They instinctively will want to hear what you are saying, so will quiet down as the still, small voice calms their fears and frustrations.

Spiritually, we are all special needs people. And sometimes, we have our own version of a meltdown. We become frustrated and panicky, feeling everything is out of control. We may not physically thrash around and cry out, but internally we can feel we are drowning in anxiety, anger, and/or fear. Does that ever happen to you? If it does . . .

Guess who is standing behind you? Putting his arms around you? Whispering in your ear? You are God’s dearly loved child and you are having a meltdown. Now just calm yourself so you can hear his quiet, gentle voice. He will assure you all will be well, tell you he loves you, and let you know nothing is out of control for him.

So when you feel the stress building, stop. Calm yourself. Listen to his whispered promises and reassurances. Remind yourself that, with God, “All will be well, all will be well, all manner of things will be well.”*. You can trust him.

“In your brokenness and imperfection, God whispers three words: You are mine.” – Margaret Feinberg

 

*Julian of Norwich

#allwillbewell

The Best Gift Giver

    “If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” – Matthew 7:11

Don’t you love to get gifts? And to give them?

Both giving and receiving gifts seems to be pretty important to God. When the Tabernacle was being built, He asked people to bring gifts that could be used to make the structure and the furnishings. He referred to many of the animal and grain sacrifices as gifts to Him. The Magi brought gifts to honor Jesus’ coming to earth. Paul gathered gifts from churches to help the suffering Christians in Jerusalem. Cornelius was commended for his gifts to the poor.

We see that humans can give generously, but, by far, the greatest giver is God Himself. Let’s think about God’s some of amazing gifts to us:

Creation: We look at it, learn about it, enjoy it.

His Word: It’s our privilege to read and meditate on it.

Jesus: And, through Him, eternal life.

Forgiveness: Guilt, sins – gone, paid for, erased.

Life: We breathe, behave, and relate because of this great gift.

Second chances: This is a gift some of us open over and over again!

Prayer: Communion with our Creator, Savior, Friend. Don’t let this one get dusty!

Family, friends: The joy of community, a gift from the Trinity.

Holy Spirit: Joyfully responding in amazement to God living within us.

That’s quite a list, but God’s not done giving gifts yet – some of them are especially selected for you or me. Let’s look for them and, then, respond in thanksgiving always!

 “When it comes to life, the critical thing is whether you take things for granted or take them with gratitude.” –G.K. Chesterton

#thanksgiving #giftsfromgod

It takes both.

“If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on  him, how can the love of God be in him? – 1 John 3:17

He was a friend from years past and had moved away. Now he was back with his bride and we were reconnecting over our dinner table. As we ate, he put his hand to his face and winced. Finally, he explained he had had tooth pain for a few days and it was getting worse. He feared it would take a dentist to make it better and they didn’t have money for that, so he was praying for a cure.

As they readied to leave, my husband and I told him we, too, would pray about his tooth. As we closed the door behind them, looked at each other, both thinking the same thing: What had we just done? We had a brother in need in our home and all we did was offer to pray. We regretted our less-than-God-honoring behavior and in the morning, lined up a dentist to help our friend.

We were brought face-to-face with the truth that God often expects us to do more than pray. James puts it this way, “Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, ‘Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it?” (James 2:15-16)

I’m a big believer in prayer – there are many things only prayer can do. But, much of the time, praying is not enough. Praying and doing go together in God’s plan for our world. God is teaching me how to do both better.

“If you can’t feed a hundred people, then feed just one.” – Mother Teresa

 

 

 

There’s a better way.

“. . . by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” – Hebrews 10:14

How are you doing on your quest for perfection? Have you overcome that bad habit? Are your praying enough? Are your relationships in order? Are you eating only healthy foods? Do you do enough to help those in need?

Stop! There’s a better way.

Over many years, I’ve learned that, in spite of almost-heroic efforts, I’m not able to perfect myself. That will come as no surprise to those of you who know me! Along the way, though, God reminds me He’s the one who brought me into His family in the first place. He’s the one slowly changing my character to reflect His. Transformation is His work, not mine. My job is to relate to Him: talking, listening, learning, cooperating, submitting. That’s what He expects of you, too. When we do that, His message back to us is something like this:

When I called you, I knew who you would become. I also knew the mistakes you would make along the way – sinfulness, rebellion, bad habits, weaknesses. I never expected you to be perfect, so stop believing you can be. And never forget that My love for you does not depend on you. I love you just because you are Mine – even on your worst days.

God looks on His children with merciful eyes. We are weaker than we want to be. We will fail. When we do, He responds to our cry for forgiveness, cleans us up, and sets us back on the path. He will make us holy, but it’s going to take awhile yet!

“Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us the ‘Beloved’.” – Henri J. M. Nouwen

Intersections

“Stand by the roads, and look, and ask for the ancient paths, where the good way is; and walk in it, and find rest for your souls.” – Jeremiah 6:16

A few years ago, Tim Elmore posted a blog about helping today’s students find purpose in life beyond what they see in movies. He cited surveys showing students’ primary goals were becoming famous and/or rich. Elmore questioned such aspirations and suggested we should help young people find something truly worth living for, saying, “Real purpose emerges when our strengths intersect with the world’s great need.”*

Maybe that’s something we should consider, too. As we look around, we realize there are huge needs in our neighborhoods and around the world: hunger, homelessness, war, disease, loneliness, lack of opportunity, mental illness, personal conflicts, and under-education. Which of these problems has God given us strengths, skills, or insights to help solve?

Then, as Christians, we know every person’s greatest need is relationship with God through His Son, Jesus. How much of our lives are consumed with responding to that need? I sense that the more of ourselves we give to introducing people to the One who can meet the deepest longings of their hearts, the more meaningful and satisfying our own lives will be.

We pray “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done.” What are you and I doing to help accomplish God’s will in our world? Maybe today we could ask Him where our strengths intersect with the great or small needs He is showing us. When we begin to serve others in God’s ways, we find another truth: When our obedience intersects with God’s purpose, joy happens!

“The mystery of human existence lies not in just staying alive, but in finding something to live for.”  – Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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*Tim Elmore at growingleaders.com, November 6, 2013.