Monday, November 28, 2011

Giving A Season or A Lifestyle?

Christmas shopping season has begun. Many call this time of year the season of giving. I know from experience that giving gifts to the people I love gives me great joy. But why does giving have to be confined in our minds as just a season or a time between Thanksgiving and Christmas? If it is true that out of thanks comes giving then why can't giving be a way of life?

On the news this morning there was a story about a family on food stamps. There are more and more families on food stamps these days. Often we think of people on food stamps as not having jobs. This is not always the case. Right now there are more and more working families on food stamps. They barely make their bills and struggle to feed their families. There are people out there choosing between electricity and dinner or paying the water bill and getting needed medication.

It occurs to me that our society focuses on people in need of help especially during this time of year. I am thankful that they are not forgotten but why do we only see them at Thanksgiving and Christmas? We are surrounded by them regularly and yet our eyes only see them when it's a holiday. It can be overwhelming at this time of year with Salvation Army bell ringers on every corner, churches asking for money to help hungry children in Africa, Toys for Tots, Samaritans Purse, and the local food pantry. I find myself feeling overwhelmed with the needs out there wishing I could do more and feeling like I can never do enough. God and I have had quite a few conversations about this recently. The question always being " What is it you want me to to do?"

The Bible says this in 1 John 3:17-18 , " But whoever has the world's goods, and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him? Little children, let us not love with word or with tongue, but in deed and truth." We don't just see need at Christmas. I am convinced that we see need weekly and perhaps at times daily. Think about the people in your life chances are you know about some of their needs. What I believe this verse is saying is that if we see our brother or sister in need and we have what they need or are financially able to give them what they need, we ought to do it. If I know that my neighbor is lonely and has no family nearby to help her it does no good for me to say to her, "I am sorry you're all alone. I will pray that God brings you some friends". That is loving in word I am supposed to love in deed which requires action. That means I am to be my neighbor's friend so that she is no longer lonely. If I know of someone who is working hard but doesn't always make enough money to meet their needs and I have money I can use to help them, then I should do that.

There have been many times that I have thought I couldn't help the person in need that God kept bringing to mind because I needed to save money for a car repair, the orthodontist, or vacation. But what is more important? I can't take it with me when I die and I have never had a need myself that God didn't provide for. Often I think we hesitate to give because we are afraid we will need it for ourselves and not have it. This is not true because we can never out give God and He always takes care of us. I may not be able to give to every charity this Christmas season, but I can make giving a lifestyle by using what God has given me to help the people that He has placed right in front of me. I believe that if God makes us aware of a person's need it's so that He can show us how He wants to use us to meet that need.

I want to make giving a lifestyle. To do this it's important to ask God to make me sensitive daily to the needs of others and to open my eyes to every opportunity to meet a need. Finally, I need to ask Him to help me follow through in meeting the needs that He brings to my attention without hesitating. Will you do the same? Think about the opportunities that lie ahead of us to love others this way and in so doing introduce them to the One who gave the ultimate gift and has met the ultimate need of salvation!

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Out of Thanks Comes Giving...

I have been thinking about how different life would be if everyone had a perpetual attitude of gratitude. What if Thanksgiving wasn't just one day a year? What if our lives oozed thankfulness? I know for myself that when I allow my heart and mind to dwell on all that I have to be thankful for as opposed to all that is wrong, I am a more contented and less anxious person. I also can't help but think about the melting together of the words thanks and giving. We often associate them with giving thanks for our blessings. But what if out of thanks comes giving? What if we allow thankfulness to reach down into the depths of our hearts to the point that it overflows and pours out into the lives of others and that is the giving?

What if the holiday of Thanksgiving wasn't merely a gluttonous pause before the Christmas shopping marathon? I believe that if we live a life actively attentive to being thankful for everything God gives us, giving thanks will become a way of living. It will be year round and it will overflow into Christmas in such away that we will not be stressed about what gifts to buy someone out of obligation. Rather, because we are so incredibly thankful for everything God has done in our lives we will be enthusiastically seizing opportunities to give to others not just at Christmas but year round.

Let's think about what that could look like for a moment... Thankfulness for everything that God has given running so deep that I don't want to buy anything else for me that I don't need, instead I want to bless others. Then by blessing others by feeding them, clothing them, loving them, helping them, they become so thankful that they pour out their gratitude into the lives of more people. If the cycle continued this way maybe even world hunger would end! What if thankfulness is the medicine to cure the materialism we are plagued by?

Maybe there are some of you who think you don't have much to be grateful for. Maybe this is your season of trial and sorrow and you can't think of a single blessing. Then thank God for the trials and the sorrows. I know from experience that the trials and the sorrows are the real blessings. I have seen the blessings in such trials as miscarriages, loved ones passing, and job loss. The blessing comes from letting God walk with you through them hand in hand and bring you through to the other side stronger and closer to Him. The blessing is nearly invisible during the trial but it is there. For those of us who are not enduring trials and sorrows right now it's time to show our gratitude by helping those who are.

As Thanksgiving day approaches will you join me in making thanks and giving a way of life? Take the time to thank God for EVERYTHING He has done in your life but not just on one day out of the year. Why not make it an every day habit? Then we can take our blessings and our gratitude and pour them into the lives of others!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Strangers...

I have had some unique experiences with strangers lately. They have occurred at the gas station and the store, usually in moments when I was in a hurry or wanted to be alone. These interactions with strangers have me wondering what God is trying to get at. I know that how I respond to people matters to Him. How I view people that I know and that I don't know matters to Him.

It started with a lady at Walmart a couple of weeks ago. I like to shop alone. I am with my kids all day doing cyber school. Sometimes the grocery store can be a good place to get lost in thought even though I am doing grocery shopping. I am usually not the most sociable person in the grocery store. I have in fact at times hidden from people I recognize because I coveted my alone time or because I was task oriented and wanted to get in and out of the store quickly with the groceries. This time I was in the aisle that has all of the dinner plates and mugs looking for a gift for a friend. Lost in which pattern I thought she would like best, I suddenly find myself being talked to by a stranger. She wants to know what I think about a set of plates she is looking at. I wonder why this matters because I could tell her anything and she doesn't know me well enough to know if I am being honest! I ended up having a nice conversation with her about dinner plates, Thanksgiving, and sales. Then we parted ways.

The next strange experience I had recently was at a gas station. I was in a hurry to get gas and pick up some family members for church. So I prepaid and went to the car to pump gas. A man comes toward me from the next pump over and tells me that his wife just won a small lottery and he wants to be a gentleman and pump my gas for me. I politely say, "No thanks" because he looks a little rough, his wife is no where in sight, and I have my husband's car. My husband is meticulous about his car. All I can think is that if that man scratches the car, I am in trouble! But the man says to me, "Please let me pump your gas. I just want to be a gentleman there aren't many of them around today." So I agree because it seems to matter to him. He pumps the gas and when he's done he thanks me several times for letting him do it and I ask his name and thank him for being so kind. I drove away thinking about what a blessing that was, that someone out there just wanted to be nice. What a shame it was that I let myself be a little scared about it at first. I could have missed the blessing of meeting Ray!

My most recent experience was yesterday. I was shopping for an area rug and couldn't decide between an off white or a slightly darker color. I was by myself and the rugs were on sale but not easy to lift and get into the cart. Just as I am standing there thinking about which one to get a voice from behind me says, "You'd have to be nuts to buy a light colored rug when you live in the Poconos!" I turn around and a man in his sixties points to a different rug and starts to tell me why that is a better rug and offers to put it in the cart for me. Then I get a crash course on pellet stoves from him before we part ways, even though I wasn't looking to buy one! I left the store with the rug he had directed me to. I brought it home and it was really the perfect rug. I couldn't help but think how nice it was that that man cared what rug I was going to buy and helped me.

What I have learned from these three separate experiences is that God seems to want me to make time even for strangers. To look them in the eye and to listen to them even if they look rough, sound crazy, or are interrupting my alone time. People matter to Him and how we respond to them matters to Him. I need to look at these strangers and listen to these strangers the way that I would one of my friends. This makes me think about my responses past and present to all different kinds of people. How did I treat them? What is the response I can give them that most reflects God's heart? When I see someone or am approached by someone who has nothing do I treat them as nothing? Or do I treat them the same as I would the guy living in the mansion on the hill, with the same respect? How do I respond to the person who approaches me and just wants to talk? Do I act like I only have a second because there are so many more important things I need to do? Or do I listen so intently that they feel like I have all the time in the world for them and they matter to me? The truth is that every single person matters to God. He doesn't want us to treat anyone better or worse based on their income, appearance, nationality, age, etc.! He wants us to respond to them the way that He responds to us. How is that? With love. God always makes time for us. He always listens.

I want to encourage you this week to respond to others the way that God has responded to you. Give them your time, your attention, and your listening ear. This is your witness. This is you reflecting Christ's love to others. You may be the only glimpse of Him that they get. Treat them the way He treats you. Remember that He loves you very much and love Him back by loving others.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Wrinkles Have Value?

This past weekend we celebrated my father-in-law's birthday in spite of his protests! He insisted that he is an old man and didn't need to celebrate getting older. Why do so many people feel that way? Shouldn't we want to celebrate the fact that we lived another year? What about celebrating the good things that come with age instead of thinking about all the bad things?

I know, some of you are thinking that I don't understand because I am in my 30's. Maybe you are right. Maybe not! What if like everything else in life age is what you make of it? Think about it... Are wrinkles and gray hair really all that bad? Or are they a physical sign that the person with them has lived some and enjoyed some life? We associate old age with forgetfulness, disease, and not being able to do what we did when we are young. But what if we thought of it differently. What if we thought of it in terms of what an older person can contribute that a younger person could not? What if instead of thinking that the older generation at church are just sitting around, waiting to get to heaven instead of serving, we looked at them with fresh eyes? What if we looked beyond the walkers, wrinkles, and reservedness and saw that they may be serving in ways that have gone unnoticed by man, but not forgotten by God? What if they are your mentors and prayer warriors?

We miss so much when we get hung up on age. We miss it for ourselves and we miss seeing the value in others. We miss the way that God can use the wisdom gleaned from age in other lives, to shape our own. So this week let's see age differently. Why not see it as valuable? Even better why not see an aged person as a treasure worth celebrating?