GIFTED

There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same LORD. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. I Corinthians 12:4-6

 

One of my favorite children’s books is Frederick, Leo Leonni’s story of a little field mouse who might be perceived as a lazy, do-nothing. Throughout the summer all the other mice are toiling diligently, preparing for winter. They are gathering food and storing it to sustain themselves throughout those long months. But as Frederick’s friends pass him by carrying heavy loads of grain, he is peacefully sitting on a rock looking about and absorbing the rays of the sun. Frederick suggests that he, also, is preparing for the winter although his efforts are not obvious to anyone else.

After months of hard work, the fierce winter and cold winds drive the little mouse community into their underground refuge. Stashes of seeds and grains are brought out, and everyone shares. Suddenly, someone remembers, “Frederick, what did you gather for the dark winter days?” And little Frederick, whose dreamy eyes have baffled them all, begins to describe the marvelous colors and sights he has gathered, the wonderful words, and paints his lovely pictures of the sun and the beauty of nature all around. As he speaks, the grayness of the long winter dissipates, and his poetry carries them through the harsh reality above ground.

We, too, need to look around to find the Fredericks in our midst. They are those who, no matter how difficult the circumstance, can always be depended upon to remind us to think about and to remember those things that are beautiful, pure, true, honest (Phil 4:8). They remind us of God’s promises and his presence with us. They may not always be in the forefront of the latest church project or community volunteer program, but they’re watching all the time and storing up God’s faithfulness to remind us during our dark days.

God has spread his gifts widely and has given each of us a role in his Kingdom. We’re not to judge nor measure another’s worth by our initial perception. God needs worker bees and those who are readily noticed for their energies, but he also needs Fredericks who take time to sit, to meditate, to wait, and to watch God at work. We need those Fredericks who, in our winter days, lift our spirits to see and hear and remember God’s goodness.

Identify the Fredericks in your life and keep them close at hand.

 

Father, thank you for those in my life who continue to speak of your beauty, your mercy, your love, your grace, and all things that cheer me onward. AMEN.

HUMBUG

 

I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.      John 15:11

 

This Christmas season, I’ve seen something I’ve never before witnessed. Doesn’t mean it hasn’t been there before, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it: People not enjoying Christmas. I’m not speaking of people who’ve suffered loss of some sort; I’m thinking of people who just don’t seem to be able to access the joy that’s come to the world.

 

I’m part of at least two different communities. In one I’ve learned that a handful of people have withdrawn from times of sharing and prefer to carry on as if this is not a wonderful time of celebration and remembrance. With the assistance of some Christmas elves, we’ve made certain that everyone knows that he or she in that community is loved and cared for. Lest you think there are Scrooges amongst them, none of these folks is financially stressed. Something else precludes their celebration.

 

The other group of which I’m a part does have a Grinch (or maybe two). Will that temper my reaching out in love? Why should it, as long as I’m gentle, sensitive, and thoughtful? We can give without loving, but we can’t love without giving. And that doesn’t just mean material items.

 

Just look at Jesus’ gift catalog:

 

• At a wedding where he was a guest, his mother pointed out the need for wine. To avoid shaming the family, Jesus provided a sommelier’s dream, the best wine anyone had ever tasted. Jesus gave happiness and honor to the family.
• In an encounter with an outcast woman at an obscure well, Jesus probed deep enough to find her heart’s longing. He gave her forgiveness and respect.
• At Bethesda Pool Jesus touched a lame man and gave him healing and a new life.
• In other instances, Jesus brought a son back to life and returned him to his mother; he gave an adulteress a second chance and offered her forgiveness; he caused a blind man to see and gave him a Savior; he fed people who had no access to food, meeting their physical and spiritual needs; he forgave his fearful and faithless disciples and gave them eternity. And he gave us himself.
• Jesus gave because of love, and he continues to give us everything we need “for life and godliness.” And have you noticed that all of his gifts have come from his heart?

 

There are gifts that each of us has that don’t cost a penny. They may require time and creativity, but they are vehicles for us to express Christ’s love and the true “reason for the season.” No need for humbugs—if we know Jesus. He gave us the greatest gift and brought joy to the world.

 

Father, cause us to initiate an explosion of love and joy this year as we celebrate your Son’s glorious Advent. AMEN.

CELEBRATING THE DAY

This is the day which the Lord hath made; we will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24 (KJV)

Today we celebrate Martin Luther King’s Day and honor him for his contributions to our civil rights. But did you know that January also has designated days to recognize our Pharmacists, our House Plants, National Pie Day, and National Puzzle Day, among others? And the church calendar has feast days named for the saints of the church.
My friend Susan always celebrated First Fridays. She held open house on the first Friday of every month around the calendar. It was a multigenerational event with anyone and everyone invited to have lunch and dine on the numerous culinary treats that Susan relished preparing. The gathering was informal and so warm that everyone loved to drop in.
I just learned about Tuesday Presents. My friend Kay said they are undeserved, no-occasion gifts that are given on Tuesday “just because.” Kay said they are a special way of showing love. Among her Tuesday Presents, my friend says she counts her family and friends, grandchildren’s accomplishments, college acceptance letters, and most particularly, our Savior Jesus Christ.
In reflecting on all these ways that we can celebrate the day and the days, I add the verse from Psalm 118. Today, this day, is the day the Lord has made. And with it come all the blessings we have as his children, those “just because” reasons to rejoice. God made this day and gave it to us. Let’s take advantage of that and be glad.

Lord, thank you for all the “just because” gifts you provide out of your profound love to us. May we rejoice and give you great joy in return. AMEN.

DON’T FALL BACK

There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.  Luke 21:25

 

 

Really, I’m not a sensationalist, but when one of our staff directors walked into my office to share Luke 21:25 with me, I was amazed.  Not only at what the verse said but at the numbers of the verses themselves.  August 21 was the total solar eclipse of the sun, and Hurricane Harvey made landfall between Port Aransas and Port O’Connor, Texas, on August 25.  Coincidence?  Thought provoking?  “…signs in the sun, moon and starts…anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea.”

But what else have we seen?  We’ve watched as strangers launched their private boats, as neighbors went from door to door, as vehicles loaded with food and water and supplies all converged to touch those affected by Harvey.  Did you see the caravan of university eighteen-wheelers headed to the coast filled with goods for evacuees?  Did you see the line of buses that our schools sent to help relocate people?  Our churches sent numbers of supplies and volunteers to help.  In fact, there have been so many material donations that we’ve had to ask people to stop for the time being.  We’ve run out of room to store all the gifts that have sent.

Crisis can sometimes be a wonderful thing when it brings out the good in us.  And it should always bring out good in us if we’ve been practicing loving our neighbors long before the crisis occurred.  Now we have Irma battering Florida and possibly the east coast.  And there’s talk of Jose and others…  There will be many opportunities for all of us to reach out—to go and help, to write a check, to pray.  We’re hearing that it won’t be a sprint; we’re dealing with a marathon.

Will our citizens stick around for the long haul?  More importantly, will we as Christians be around to help our neighbors until the healing is done?  It’s easy to respond when the hype confronts us in every news broadcast and Tweet.  But the long run will distinguish us in our commitment to loving our neighbors as we love ourselves.

So far, we’ve all been proud of the way Texans have responded to the crisis on the coast.  How long will it last?  How long will we pray and give and volunteer?  We’ve started out well.  My mom had a hand-penned notice on her kitchen bulletin board that was a constant reminder from Watchman Nee, that wonderful Chinese saint, preacher, and Bible teacher:  “Don’t fall to a lower level.”  God has begun to stir our hearts to get out of ourselves.  Let’s not get tired but keep at it and not fall back.

 

 

Father, we pray for all those affected at home and abroad by natural disasters.  Help us  to use the resources you’ve given us to minister to the healing of those who have lost so much.  Thank you for this opportunity to bless the hurting.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

BLESSING THE CHILDREN

And he took a child and put him in the midst of them, and taking him in his arms, he said to them, “Whoever receives one such child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me, receives not me but him who sent me.”  Mark 9:36

 

 

SHE BELIEVED IN ME.  She saw something that I couldn’t recognize, and she acted on it.  I was seven or eight years old, and she invited me to be her assistant teacher for our primary Sunday school class.  Because she asked me, I shyly accepted.  And so, Sis. Reed (that’s what we called older ladies in our church) provided a platform by which I would discover and hone my gift for teaching.  After all these years, I’m still at it.

Then there was “Sheltie,” an older man in our small church who mentored all the youngsters and loved each of us.  He, too, encouraged me to serve and even took me with him to visit the high school class he taught.  He believed in me, and I knew he cared about me.  I think all of us in the younger crowd felt the same way.

My husband had a long and distinguished career in law and on the bench and liked to talk about a teacher in high school who challenged him at the end of a semester saying, “Young man, you can make something out of yourself.”  Being a first-generation American, not many folks had taken time to encourage his talents.  Peter listened to her, set his course, and never looked back.

Some of us have children; some even have grandchildren; and we all have young lives around us who are looking to us to believe in them and encourage their wildest dreams.  We can become mentors or introduce them to those who will, and we can provide resources and experiences that will stir up the gifts God has placed in them.  The greatest investment we can make is in shaping and influencing a life to fill that spot reserved for him or her in the Kingdom.

Here’s a whole summer ahead of us.  What little one can we spend time with… read to… teach in VBS… affirm?   (I really wish I could thank Sheltie and Sis. Reed for the gifts of themselves.  Some day I plan to.)

 

 

Father, open our eyes to see the treasure of the little lives around us, and use us to bless them in your name.  AMEN.

SURPRISES

And let fall also some of the handfuls of purpose for her, and leave them…  Ruth 2:16

 

 

I love surprises—the good kind.  And, actually, the difficult ones make us dependent on the Lord and add spice to our days.  Today I had a good surprise.  The mailman left a package on my front step, something I hadn’t ordered.  I brought it inside and discovered that my daughter had sent me a little gift.  It was a surprise for no reason at all other than our mutual love.

Have you ever had those surprises, handfuls on purpose, dropped in your path by the Lord just because he loves you?  A card comes from a friend you’ve longed to see.  You experience unusual courtesy in your routine of daily errands.  Someone thanks you for a past kindness during a difficult time.  You find something you thought you’d lost.  In your devotional reading a word or phrase says exactly what you need…

We can overlook and be blind to these small things or we can open our eyes each morning in anticipation of the “handfuls of purpose” that God drops on our paths.  It’s quite lovely to discover little tokens of good that remind us of his love and special care—as if we were his only children.

And think of the joy we can bring to someone else by scattering little handfuls of purpose along his or her way.  Little unexpected gestures of kindness and love.  Signs of our love and God’s.

 

Father, open our eyes to see you before, behind, and around us blessing and loving us.  Help us to be generous in sharing our tokens of love that others may see and know the love of our Father who is in heaven.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

GIFTS

…Unto one he gave five…, to another two, to another one; to each according to his several ability…

 

One day a rather humorless CEO called in his three top managers to discuss his upcoming trip.  As they sat around the massive mahogany table sipping French pressed coffee, the CEO began barking his instructions.  To the first man, he said, “I’m having our financial officer direct deposit $5,500,000* into your account.”  To the second woman, he said, “The financial officer is depositing $4,500,000* into your account.”  And to the last person, he said, “You will be receiving $1,150,000*.”  He continued, “I’ll be out of the country for quite a while, and you are to invest these funds. When I return, I expect all the funds with a profit.  Is that clear?”

Each of the managers contemplated how best to follow their CEO’s directive.  The first two were more comfortable than the last.  Finally, the day of reckoning came.  The boss came home and called the managers back to his office.  Again, they were all seated around the mahogany table drinking their specialty coffee when the CEO began, “Now tell me what you did with my money.”  The first manager said, “I put it all in equities and made five times as much.”  “Great work,” the boss replied.  The second manager replied, “I invested your funds in bonds, and I realized twice as much as you gave me.”  “Good thinking,” said the CEO.  The third nervous manager said, “I knew you were a hard-nosed financier, so I took the money and locked it up in my desk.”  At that, the boss was infuriated.  “You knew that I’m a shrewd investor and yet you took the money entrusted to you and locked it in your drawerFor all this time?  Go get that money and divide it between your two co-workers.  YOU’RE FIRED.”

Of course, this is a contemporary re-telling of Jesus’ Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25.  It is not instruction for how to handle money but rather how to handle the gifts that each of us is given.  (For lists of those gifts, see Romans 12:3-9, Ephesians 4:2-12, I Corinthians 12:1-31, I Peter 4:10, 11.)  The gifts are given to us to bless and strengthen the Church, those brothers and sisters we have in the Lord.  And while we’re at it, they can be used to attract what one writer calls pre-Christians.  In false modesty, don’t downplay and underestimate what God has placed within you.  Your gift may be something that not everyone will see or notice or it may be something that must be done with an audience.  Whatever it is, you are unequivocally told to use it.  You may never know how significantly your talent touches another life, but obedience is the mandate.  If you choose not to exercise, or to hide, your gift, the whole Church (not the institution, but the Body) will suffer.

Take time this week to prayerfully determine what special gift God has placed in you.  Take it out of the drawer and dust it off.  Then begin to use it for God’s glory, the blessing of his people, and your gratification.  Not my words—God’s.

 

Father, in all honesty, you don’t need us, but you’ve chosen to include us in your great Church.  Embolden us to present to you those gifts you’ve given us to use as you will.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

 

 

*These funds are conversions based on the average U.S. manager’s annual salary in multiples of 1, 2, and 5.

MY TIME

My times are in your hands.  Psalm 31:15  (NIV).

 

My graduate advisor was a time management consultant.  He gave us so many helpful ideas about time, but there are two things that really stuck with me.  First, time is an equal opportunity commodity—everyone has exactly the same amount, no more and no less.  Secondly, we cannot manage time; we manage ourselves in relation to time.  So these two little truisms pull the rug out from under our excuses for procrastination:  I just didn’t have time or I’ll do it when I find the time.  As if someone else has more time than we do…

Typically in our church year, we are called to look at those resources of which we are stewards:  time, talent, treasure.  Curiously, we seem to understand that talent and treasure are God’s, and we are his stewards.  But when it comes to time, we take ownership and thoughtlessly speak of my time and parse the way we expend this trust.  We guard our time and dare anyone to impose on it.  Even God should not presume to infringe of this personal possession.

So we spend our time indulging ourselves in whatever manner we choose, but it really doesn’t matter how innocuous the activity if it diminishes God’s calling on our lives.  We can spend hours in mindless personal entertainment (as opposed to re-creation) and feel empty and restless rather than refreshed and satisfied.  Or we can daily, prayerfully ask God how we should expend the moments and hours he’s given us for his purposes.  While we all have the same amount of time allotted, that time is finite and can joyously be invested in his Kingdom for eternal purposes.

What if we were to dedicate time to God as intentionally as we give him the talent and treasure he’s entrusted to us?  Would we stop guarding it and daring people to infringe upon it?  Might we find, just as treasure tends to be, that it is multiplied even as we freely commit it to our heavenly Father to use as he pleases?

I think it’s worth a try.

 

Father, at the start of this day, we commit these next twenty-four hours to you to use for your glory.  Give us the discipline to embrace and prioritize our responsibilities, enjoy the leisure you provide, and not waste a single minute of your precious gift. In all that we do, help us to glorify you.  In Jesus’ name.  AMEN.

POLYANNA FOREVER

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. Romans 8:28 (NIV)

I got a fun gift for Christmas that put a huge smile on my face. Being known as Polyanna among some of my co-workers for my belief that good will be in or come of all things, I was given a book. It’s not a religious book, but I love the idea: Evidence the World is Basically Good (A Logbook for Optimists). I have exercised poetic license and used a Sharpie to revise the title, which now reads Evidence God is Always Good. And I am already recording my observations.

Our Ugandan friends love to exchange greetings, and a popular one in church goes like this:

Pastor: God is good.
Congregation: All the time.
Pastor: All the time.
Congregation: God is good.
Together: Because that is his nature.

That’s essentially what Paul is telling us in this reassuring verse. In other words, as we close this year, we can look back at mistakes, problems, or hardships of the past year (or years) and hand them over to God with anticipation for his redemption. In fact, those very concerns that could otherwise have finished us can become a spiritual investment for future growth. How will his Spirit work to transform me through this learning? We can embrace failure, even regard past personal sins as reminders of how much we need God’s keeping power and how insufficient we are without him. This is just another opportunity to actualize humility and his grace.

And throughout the coming year, we can trust God to work in our lives as we abide in him, serve him, and love him. Ahead of us lies glorious possibility as we move into the New Year with Christ.

Father, in your presence is fullness of joy, and there are pleasures forevermore at your right hand. Thank you that you have the power to transform circumstances and situations so that good does come from them. You can even change us for good through the circumstances. We look forward to what you will be doing in 2016. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.

THE BEST GIFTS

…they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Matthew 2:11 (NIV)

It’s that time of year—when we’re all thinking about the gift that will bring a smile to a co-worker’s face or warm the heart of a loved one.

I fondly remember when my children were small and excited to do their Christmas shopping. We went to the five-and-dime store so they could make their secret purchases with money saved from their tiny allowances. And every year, my son would sign his card to me with, “Love always.” All of those little gifts—nutcrackers and angels and wooden figures—became the basis for a rather large collection that fills the secretary desk in our central hallway every Christmas.

When my daughter went away to college and got a part-time job, she came home bringing me a Christmas gift in a jeweler’s box. I opened it to find a delicate gold ring with a miniscule diamond. The note said, “This was the biggest diamond I could afford to buy for you. Love…”

These gifts from another time are among my greatest treasures, not because of their material value but because they came from my children. To me, they represent precious hearts who gave sacrificially to express their love.

I wonder what my Father think about my gifts? Does he cherish them? Do they show him how much I love him and that I’m giving him my best? Or am I trying to squeeze worship in with everything else that occupies me at Christmas-time? Can I turn off the TV or put aside the paper or my current interest to spend time with him? Am I giving him my finest or does he get the leftovers of my time, my attention, my energy, or my love?
Father and giver of all good and wonderful gifts, I love you with my whole heart. But I need your help. There are so many distractions and chores that draw me aside. Please, stay at the forefront of my thoughts, my words, and my actions so that everything that flows from me reflects my love for you and yours for me. Help me to bless you more this year than ever before. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.