Might Never Top That One

We had only been married several years when PR31 decided that she was going to try, without telling me, to get me the best possible Christmas gift she thought I would be able to dream of. One day, it hit her. She knew something I would love because I had owned it at one time.

Flashback Scene… It was the spring of 1995. Angela and I had just gotten engaged, and I suddenly realized that as we graduated college and got married, I would need money. So, I did what any sane college student would do… I started selling anything I owned that wasn’t nailed down or wouldn’t be needed in married life. This included a significant portion of my massive collection of 1980’s Christian rock cassettes. It was hard to part with some of them. In particular, I had every Petra tape made to that point, and I sold them as a set to my friend, Chris. I don’t recall how much he gave me. I just know it was hard to let them walk away.

Back to the story… Angela remembered how much stuff I sold so that we could start our life together. And she remembered those Petra tapes. Somehow, she got me talking about it one day, and I relived for her selling them to Chris. That’s all she needed.

She secretly hunted down an email address for Chris… this was before social media existed… unless you count chat rooms. She got in contact with Chris and asked if there was any chance he still had those tapes. He laughed, and told her, “You won’t believe this. I’ve moved three times since then, but I’ve never unpacked the box they’re in, and I know exactly where they’re at.”

Jackpot! She told Chris that she would pay any reasonable price he asked plus shipping cost, but he laughed and said that she could have them because he had never really wanted them in the first place. He just wanted to help me out. She gave Chris our address, and he sent the tapes.

Since we were going to be with family for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day, we opened our gifts a day or two before we left. We sat in the living room of the double-wide parsonage and gave our gifts to each other till there was just one gift left under the tree. PR31 launched into a speech that sounded more like a disclaimer… “I wanted to get you something special, and I think you’ll love this, but it may not be anything big. If it’s not, no big deal.”

I had no clue what I was about to open. I didn’t know how to prepare myself. Slowly, and more carefully than normal, I removed the tape and wrapping paper. I opened the small cardboard box, and pulled away the paper packed around the gift. Then my jaw dropped, and tears filled my eyes just like they are right now as I type this story.

I couldn’t believe it. These were not just replacements of the very tapes I had loved over the years. They were my Petra tapes! And not just some of them. All of them!

I fumbled around through the tears with some, “How did you…” and “I can’t believe this!” As PR31 told me all she had done to get the tapes, I realized what an act of love this was. She thought of my likes. She thought of something I sacrificed. She went to all that effort. And then God worked a miracle to let Chris have the tapes, know where they were, and be willing to part with them. It was one of the times in life when I felt the most loved.

Those tapes may have been the best Christmas present I ever got… outside of God giving the gift of His own Son, Jesus, that first Christmas. If they’re not, they’d sure be hard to beat. But it wasn’t about the dollar value… it was about the love invested through care, time and effort.

What if we all tried to live out that kind of love this Christmas? Not just with the gifts we give each other. I mean, what if we really considered what mattered to others? What if we went out of our way to do something special… something we knew would mean a lot to someone else?

Better yet, what if we tried to live out that kind of love all year long, and not just at Christmas? Maybe we can’t do something that special for every person we meet every day of the year. But maybe we could once a week… or at least one time each month. And how much more love would be people sense in their lives if they “opened a box” like I did one day, and realized how much we really care about them? Well, I can tell you. In fact, I just did.

A Promise For Giving Tuesday

Today is the day. More important than Black Friday. More valuable than Cyber Monday. Today is Giving Tuesday!

Over the past week, many of us feasted. Many of us traveled. Many of us bought items at special sale prices.

Today, across this wonderful nation, we have the opportunity to focus our collective attention on contributing… donating… giving. We have the opportunity to make a big difference with even a small gift. We weren’t willing to miss out on deals… now let’s make sure we don’t miss out on donating.

Some will give to organizations. Others will give to ministries. I’d like to suggest that we could even give to individuals. Many will give money, but perhaps you don’t feel like you have any extra money to be able to give. Then why not give of your time and talents?

Each of us can, and should, do something. What if everyone gave to someone today? How different would our world be by midnight? Not sure what you can give? Here are some ideas:

– Offer to babysit for busy parents who just need time to go grocery or Christmas shopping by themselves.

– Rake or mulch leaves for an elderly friend.

– Give a gift card for coffee to a college student to be used as they study for finals.

– Make a donation of simple hygiene products like toothpaste and soap to a local foster care organization.

– Take a meal to a shut-in.

– Pay for the coffee or meal of the person in line behind you at the fast food place you stop at.

– Find out something that a missionary in another country loves but can’t get while they are away from home for years at a time, and send it to them in a care package.

– Give one of the volunteer pastors at your church a gift card to Walmart.

– Give a blanket to someone who is homeless.

There are so many people around us who have needs. I’m not saying we have to match what we spent over the past week. I’m just saying we should give something.

We don’t just have to look up the big, well-known ones online and input our credit card number or text a number to donate $10. We can make a difference in the lives of someone we know or someone whose path we cross today.

You know, we don’t always have to get a receipt for tax purposes. Someone is keeping better records of our generosity than the IRS. God offers a pretty amazing promise in Proverbs 28:27 for those who take this to heart… “Whoever gives to the poor will lack NOTHING.” (Emphasis mine)

I, for one, plan to find a way to give today. As I write this, I don’t know who… or what… or how… I just know that I plan to give. And I hope you will also!

True Servants

The people behind me in this picture really get what the Apostle Paul meant when he wrote in Romans 12:1, “That’s the most sensible way to serve God.” I had the privilege of watching them serve their community with a free Christmas Market craft fair, complete with free food. Then they invited the community to come watch a Christmas movie at the local theater, which they had sponsored. At the end, they handed out small tokens as a reminder of the movie, and they thanked everyone who came for the privilege of getting to offer this for them.

There was no sucker punch. They are the staff and volunteers from a local church in the town where I’m visiting. Yet no one stood and preached a sermon. At least not a planned spiritual speech with an invitation to respond. Instead, they laughed… and loved… and served… and helped… and gave… and bought stuff for sale at vendors’ booths. I saw them help sweep up the theater with the employees after the movie. I saw them clean dishes and put away tables and chairs so the maintenance person at the church wouldn’t have to. And they smiled the whole time they were doing it.

They didn’t give to get something in return. They simply gave. They simply loved. They simply served. No wonder their community loves them and turns to them when they have a need. They hear the sermons being preached by these folks’ actions louder than any spoken from a pulpit.

I’m so glad I was here tonight. I go to bed inspired. Inspired to live my life like them when I wake up tomorrow. Inspired to truly give… truly love… truly help… truly serve. Inspired to make a difference that makes a lasting impact.

#goal

People’s ideas of success vary greatly, and so I cannot be a success to everyone.  But I can be of value to each person.  If God lets my path cross theirs, then I have within me the ability to be of value to them.  It may be with a smile… or a hug… or help with schoolwork… or advice about dating… or how to have eternal life… or helping them break through writer’s block.  I can be of value.

The key is two-fold:

1) Be sensitive to God’s voice as He directs your steps.  If He nudges you to do something for someone, or say something to someone, do it.  He will always make you of value to others.

2) Ask people what you can do to help them.  You may have the knowledge… or the skill set… or the tools… or the wisdom they need to accomplish their dreams.

Forget trying to please people… and instead just try to help them.  Value trumps success.

Lessons From An Elf- Part 3

I have been called gullible… naive… sheltered… innocent… too trusting… and the list goes on.  I get it.  It’s just the way I have chosen to live.  I choose to believe the best in people till they prove me wrong… and even then I believe there is hope for them to change.  Maybe that’s why I enjoy the movie Elf so much… because that’s the way Buddy the Elf goes at life.

As part of the Elf code of culture he is taught, he treats every day like Christmas.  He wakes up with joy… having worked some during the night to put smiles on the faces of those around him the next day.  He is generous… with his time and his possessions.  He is kind to everyone he encounters.

I suppose that’s why some people call this the most wonderful time of the year… because we all treat each other better.  (My personal reason is because of the increased focus on my best Friend and Rescuer, Jesus Christ.)  At Christmas, we often set aside offenses… we cut people some slack… we give more… we smile and wave more… we eat together more… we slow down a little and make memories.

Why can’t we treat every day like Christmas?  Why can’t we remember the real reason for the season and live in light of that?  Maybe we can’t afford to give expensive presents every day, but we can give some of our time to be with our family… or serve someone less fortunate.  Maybe we can’t keep up the Christmas decorations year-round (though I wouldn’t complain or get tired of them), but we can added extra little touches to everything we do to trim them with excellence.  

The point is, we CAN treat every day like Christmas… if we will.  Scripture points out that the same Holy Spirit who came upon Mary, enabling her to become pregnant as a virgin,  will come upon us and help us to live out love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.  And there is no law against living like that.  No one will stop you from being kind… or generous… or thoughtful… or joyful.

People may call you some of the things they call me… or Buddy the Elf… but you’ll enjoy life a lot more, and so will those around you!  So, let’s start today, and… treat every day like Christmas!

Keep The Lamps Bright

In doing some research recently, I came across some info on Wikipedia about “lamp trimmers.”  These were people who served on board ships before electrical lighting was used.  They were specialists who would go around the ship every few hours to make sure the oil lamps were all burning brightly, since the only light under the deck of a ship was what these lamps provided.

These folks were skilled at knowing just how to trim the wick to make it burn the brightest and the longest.  They knew just how much oil to keep in the lamps so that they would not run out, but would not burst into flames if they got knocked off and broke.  In other words, they made it their life’s work to provide light for others.  And they did it consistently, faithfully.

We live in a world much like those levels under the deck of the old-time ships.  And we should be those who commit themselves to making sure we provide light in the midst of darkness.

Light gives hope.  Light shows the way.  Light reveals.  People in our lives need light.  Let’s be lamp trimmers.

The 58th chapter of the book of Isaiah in Scripture challenges us to help those in need, saying that not only will we turn the darkness into light by doing so, but that the Lord will also bless us bountifully for our efforts.

It doesn’t take much to bring light to someone’s darkness… a kind word… a thank you note… buying them a coffee or a meal… sending them an encouraging text… congratulating them when they have done well what they do… helping them when they are busy and feeling overwhelmed.  It doesn’t have to be overdone, just like the lamp trimmers didn’t overfill the lamps.

We can trim lamps at home… at work… at church… at the gym… at the restaurant… at school… online… anywhere.  And you know, as we provide light for others, we also help light our own path.

So, from the early outset of this week, let’s determine to be those who bring light to the darkness of anyone we possibly can.  Trim on!

Abundant

Abundant, full, overflowing… That was my weekend.  Fun with family.  Enjoyed ministry at two different churches in two different states.  Safe travels.  Good food.  Hung out with old friends, and made new friends.  Needs met in a variety of ways.

As I look back over the weekend, I just think to myself, “How great is it to be God’s kid?!”  When I read John 10:10, this weekend is the kind of life I feel like Jesus was describing.  A life full of joy, love and peace.  Who could ask for more?

I know we all go through challenging times, but when we choose to be chosen by God as His very own children, He brings us into the life He designed for us… one of abundance, fullness and overflow!

Just One Drop?

I grew up in a suburb of Houston, TX.  I still have family there.  My wife has family in the Houston area.  I have lot of friends across South Texas.  And what Harvey has done to their homes and churches and businesses… is heartbreaking.

One friend shared an article from the Washington Post about how many trillions of gallons of water have rained down on the Houston area as part of the storm.  The numbers are staggering, mind-boggling.  And there could be more, though I pray there is not.

And I am overjoyed to see people begin to band together to begin the rescue and recovery effort. I encourage everyone who can to give… to go serve, helping to clean up and restore… to encourage those who are living through this disaster that they are going to be alright.

Some people feel like there is no use for them to try to help in such a massive situation because they feel like they can do so very little.  But something leapt out to me as I thought about that this morning… This crazy big storm was made up of individual drops of rain all coming together at the same time and the same place to make a significant impact.  And while those bazillion drops of rain created this disaster, our “drops” of love, hope, generosity and service could add up together to make a positive impact.

Your one “drop” matters.  Don’t withhold it because it seems small.  Together, all of us can do something to make a difference!

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