The Unexpected for the Undeserving

Each one must do as he has made up his mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that you may always have enough of everything and may provide in abundance for every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:7 RSV

Do you want to increase your joy this Christmas season? Try some “hilarious giving.”

The term came to me from radio preacher Charles Swindoll when he said that the Greek word translated as “cheerful” in this passage is “hilaros”—obviously connected to our English word, “hilarious.”

“Be,” he said, “a hilarious giver”—meaning one who gives above and beyond, who is unexpectedly generous.

Writer Ann Voskamp, in her wonderful book, “The Greatest Gift,” refined the idea for me. During the Advent season, she and her family did all kinds of crazy, unexpected things, like:

  • scattering dollar bills up and down the aisles in the Dollar Store.
  • buying coffee for people in line at Starbuck’s.
  • giving the clerk at the grocery store extra money for the person behind them.
  • taking flowers to all the folks at a nursing home.
  • over-tipping the waitress when they had lunch.
  • making cookies for the local firemen.

You get the idea. I did, too. Right now, I have an envelope in my purse, waiting for the opportunity, that Nudge from God that this is the person to bless, that this is moment to spread His love and joy.

At this season, we’re also asked to give to all kinds of worthy charities. I do some of that, too, and it’s certainly appropriate. But I get more fun out of giving immediate, unexpected gifts to people I don’t know. They may need the gift; they may not. They may spend it foolishly. That’s not mine to decide.

But in this dark, crazy world we live in, who doesn’t need a blessing, a touch of “hilarious giving?”

Paul promises God will provide blessings for givers. It’s true. I’ve found the one who ends up with the most hilarity is…me!

God loved the world—and me—so much that He gave us His Son to be born among us as a tiny, helpless baby, laid in a feeding trough, raised in a remote village among common ordinary people. To live as one of us. To die to save us from ourselves. I will never, ever understand it, but I believe it’s true.

At Christmas, God gave the unexpected to the undeserving.

I have no choice but to do likewise.

FATHER GOD: What fun we have, looking for folks to bless! Thank You for Your amazing love…and the chance to pass it on. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Joy in a Parking Lot

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine: but a broken spirit drieth the bones. Proverbs 22:17 King James Version

 

Friday morning. As I climbed out of my car at the grocery store, I noticed a young man in an orange vest, collecting carts into the space next to mine.

“Morning,” I mumbled, as I looked for my list and my bags.

“How do you do?” he responded, with a nod and big smile.

I hadn’t heard such an old-fashioned, formal greeting in many years…and told him so.

“They tell me I’m an old soul,” he answered, the smile lighting up his face. “You know, I love meeting people and I just love customer service.”

Wow, I thought, here is a job—collecting carts in the parking lot, bagging groceries and helping people to their cars—I would consider one of the most boring and menial I could think of. Yet he was doing it with joy.

I walked into the store smiling.

And to my delight, he stood ready at the checkout stand. I told him he was the most cheerful “bagger” (that’s what we used to call them) I’ve ever met. The checker remarked he was a delight to work with. We had a great conversation on the way to my car.

His upbeat, friendly attitude lifted me and bubbled over to everyone else I met—a little girl walking out with a big birthday balloon, the people in the next store. My day, my whole outlook was renewed.

The writer of Proverbs was right: his merry heart did me good like a medicine.

For the week had been a little on the tough side for me. Monday saw a flare-up of the allergy symptoms I’d battled with all summer, though I’d taken such care to avoid the milk and eggs I can’t have any more. I felt discouraged, yes, and more sorry for myself than I wanted to be. By the end of the week I’d recovered some perspective but my spiritual bones were still a bit dry around the edges.

So that young man and his merry, cheerful spirit was just what I needed. If he can find such joy in such circumstances, I thought, so can I.

Everyone wants to make a difference in the world, to make their lives count. We think to do that we must do big things on a big stage.

But last Friday reminded me how much small things matter. We can make the difference we long for in the parking lot of a grocery store.

If we bring the right attitude.

FATHER GOD: Thank You for that young man in the parking lot. Cultivate his joy in me. Amen.

To be published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” October 28, 2018.

The Rhythms of Grace

Come to me. … Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly. (Jesus) Matthew 11:28-30 The Message

               Ah, a gorgeous September afternoon—warm, but not hot, air clear and golden in the long light of autumn. My dog and I were walking the trails of our favorite dog park. She trotted ahead of me, alert and happy, tail wagging, hair shining in the sunlight.

“Look at her,” whispered the Voice. “Isn’t this all you wanted when you adopted her two years ago?”

My heart smiled in response. “Yes, of course!”

You may remember my Misty, the rescue dog who arrived on the plane from Texas, a terrified bundle of fur. Coaxing her back into life, teaching her to trust us, has been a long process, testing our patience and commitment. There were many times I wondered if she could ever become what we called “a real dog.”

Now I think she has—mostly.

I can walk her down the road on leash without her cringing in terror. She naps at our feet, rides in the car calmly, has adapted to our RV. And she positively blooms in the dog park—greeting people and other dogs politely, walking with me on whatever trail I choose, staying at my feet when I rest on a bench. It has become her “happy place.”

But she’s not perfect, like those rescue dogs on TV. She doesn’t always come when we call. She still tries to hide when I get the leash and offer to take her on a walk. And she has her “PTSD moments,” when she spooks and runs for no reason we can understand.

I’ve been wondering: should I try to “fix” these last remnants of her old problem?

“Do what I do with you,” the Voice went on, “Accept her and love her just as she is. I gave her to you to develop your patience, compassion and mercy. You’re not perfect. It’s unfair to demand perfection from anyone else…even a dog.”

And yes–the same principle applies to the imperfect people we live and work with every day. God puts these folks in our lives for a reason. Sometimes, they are to be sandpaper, rubbing off our rough spots. They balance our weak areas, crucify our selfishness. None of this is fun, but it’s good for us.

Our job is not to change them but offer God’s unconditional love.

Lighten up…and leave the rest to Him.

LORD JESUS: Is this what you mean by the “unforced rhythms of grace?”

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” September 23, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

The Anchor

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. Hebrews 6:19 New International Version

               I just saw anchors at work—twice.

The first time was during our recent fishing trip off Vancouver Island.

On our last morning, we headed out to a bountiful spot, seeking ling cod. The ocean seemed calm, like poured grey silk in the dawn light. Our fishermen dropped their lines, only to find that, underneath, the ebb tide, strengthened by the full moon, was pulling us away to sea.

So we lowered the anchor. Though the tide stayed strong all morning, twisting the boat about so much it snarled the fishing lines together beneath us, the anchor held. Then waves, forerunners of a coming storm, began to build. Our boat rode up and down over rolling hills of water taller than she was. Again the anchor held—so strongly that the captain had trouble pulling it up when it was time to leave.

Little did I know, as we pulled safely into the harbor and prepared to leave, a storm of grief and sorrow was breaking at home.

When we drove out of camp far enough for service, my cellphone pinged; I stared in horror at the screen. Old friends had lost a daughter and grandson in a horrible boating accident on the Yellowstone.

My heart broke. Their grandson was nearly the same age as the boy I’d been laughing with on the boat, just as bright, full of life and precious as he. I’d known their daughter as a little girl, saw her bloom into lovely womanhood. A floodtide of sorrow, doubt and fear broke over me. My faith lost its footing in the unanswerable questions: “Why them? Why now? Why didn’t You…?”

“I am the resurrection and the life,” whispered the Voice. “whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25)

Ah, yes. I’d let the storm blind my vision.

This sin-haunted world breaks our hearts, leaving us suffering, bleeding, questioning our faith in the goodness of God. We will all die…some of us way too soon and way too suddenly. We can never understand why; that path leads only to futility and despair.

BUT…because of Jesus, death is not the final word. We have life everlasting in the world as God meant it to be. These two, even now, are dancing in fields of glory.

That is our hope, our anchor, firm and secure–no matter how high the waves or strong the flood.

And that second anchor will hold us all the way to eternity.

DEAR JESUS: Thank You for defeating death for us. So even in sorrow, we have hope. Amen.

First published in “Bozeman Daily Chronicle,” August 19, 2018.

 

 

 

The Gift of Kindness

Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. Ephesians 4:31, 32 NIV

I heard a lovely story recently.

A little boy had been eagerly looking forward to the delivery of his family’s new refrigerator. Why? Because his parents told him it would arrive in a big cardboard box—a box he could convert into a wonderful fort where he could play with his friends.

But, to his immense disappointment, when the refrigerator came, there was no box. It had been removed at the store.

The delivery man, however, drove all the way back to the store, got the box and brought it back.

Why? “Because every kid should have a fort if he wants one.”

Simple human kindness. We have far too little of it these days. The air is so full of what Paul calls “bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander…and malice” that I hesitate to put my head out the door.

But we’re not the only people who’ve ever lived in a dangerous, hostile world. The believers Paul wrote to faced serious persecution and even death. Paul, himself, was to pay the ultimate price for his faith.

Yet he commanded his readers to be “kind, tenderhearted and forgiving.” Why? Because anger never overcomes anger. The only one who wins that warfare is the Devil. In Romans, Paul tells us to “overcome evil with good.” (12:21)

We are people of faith. We say we believe in a God of love and justice. After we pray for His peace and blessing, let’s act on those prayers. Like the delivery man, let’s seek to do acts of kindness daily, no matter how insignificant.

  • Wave somebody into traffic ahead of you
  • Open a door for someone
  • Listen with all your attention to a person who’s trying to talk to you…even if you don’t think they’re important
  • Forgive others’ mistakes…and your own
  • Apologize
  • Refuse to take offense
  • Bring a co-worker a cup of coffee unasked…especially if you’re not getting along
  • Smile and be friendly to that overworked clerk at the store or the post office

Just after I wrote this, I had to call someone about an internet issue. Time to practice what I’d been preaching. (Isn’t that just like God?) I took a deep breath, extended patience instead of my usual irritation. I hope the person I spoke to had a better day; I know I did.

As the song (“Dream Small”) goes, “These little moments change the world.”

FATHER GOD: Show me where and how I can be kind today. Amen.

First published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle, July 15 2018.

 

 

 

 

God’s Creation; My Faith

On the glorious splendor of Your majesty and on Your wondrous works I will meditate. Psalms 145:5 Amplified

The other evening, I saw a sight that amazed me. Low hanging clouds caught the rays of the setting sun, streaking the whole sky with bands of bright red, clear to the eastern horizon. I’ve never seen a sunset in the east before. Wow.

“The heavens declare the glory of God,” wrote the Psalmist David, “the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” (Psalms 19:1) As a man who spent many a night under the wide clear skies of his desert home, David saw that glory a lot.

We do, too.

In the wonder and beauty of high spring in the mountains, God’s glory shines everywhere around us. The grass so lush and green it glows. The riotous color of the flowers and the blooming trees. Baby animals romping in innocent glee. Rivers swollen with life.

All creation shouts God’s praise.

That’s why I love the new song “So Will I” by Hillsong United. Don’t just listen to it, good as that is, but try to watch the video version available on Youtube. For, as the song plays, you see God’s glory unfold: the Hubble pictures of the universe, the night sky full of stars, northern lights, the ocean breaking on a beach, snow-capped mountains, rock formations of the southwest, flocks of birds in flight, whales leaping, animals of Africa, hummingbirds, schools of tropical fish like jewels in the sea.

I’ve been blessed to see all these wonders, but to watch them, one after another, like that, lifts my heart to worship…not the creation, but its magnificent Creator. As the song puts it, “The sum of all our praises still falls shy.”

But there’s more.

“On a hill You created/The light of the world/Abandoned in darkness to die.”

Jesus. The Son of this same God who created 100 billion galaxies by His word came to our little speck of a planet to suffer and die for us—you and me. To redeem our sin and failures.

And then:

“If You left the grave behind You so will I.”

The words sing the amazing hope, the precious promise of my faith. As Jesus lives forever, so will I. And all this beauty and wonder will be mine again in Eden re-created, the world made new. (Revelation 21:5)

Why? Because of “a work of art called love.” This same magnificent creator-God loves us—you and me. I can’t understand it; I can’t explain it. It’s as deep and mysterious as the universe, itself. All I can do is believe.

And receive.

FATHER GOD: Your creation, Your promise, Your love: I bow in worship. Amen.

First published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle, June 10, 2018