A Time to Give and a Time to Keep

In a Jewish wedding ceremony, a groom would suddenly come for his bride during the night; no one knew when to expect him. With this in mind, Jesus paints a picture: Ten young females, five wise and five foolish, waiting to attend the wedding. They carry lamps to light their way when they go to meet the bridegroom. Some of them think to bring extra oil.

They all wake up to the news he’s on his way! The dopey ones (whose oil has run low) say: “Let us have some of your oil!” but the others realise there may not be enough to go around, so they’re refused. Off they go to buy some more oil and while they’re gone, the bridegroom arrives and the feast starts without them. They’re too late!

Maybe you never do this, but I’m a writer. I like to imagine different scenarios. What if one of the girls, out of love for her friend, pipes up: “Yes, here. You take my lamp; I’ll go and buy some more oil” … What would happen? She would miss out on the wedding.

* * *

This story shows me there are some things we have to do for ourselves. Let’s take that oil as a symbol of faith in Jesus. We can’t rely on somebody else’s faith to give us right standing with God. It’s no good saying: “I’m a member of this church group,” or: “I come from a Christian home.” When you stand before God, it’s your light He’s going to be looking at.

Maybe you think it’s impossible to give too much, but be careful not to do so much for others that you disqualify yourself. I’ve heard of people going into something on-fire for God, but then they’ve suffered because their dedication to the task has overtaken their desire for Him. A. W. Tozer cautions against becoming so engrossed in the work of the Lord and forgetting the Lord of the work. It’s important to acknowledge God, to remember that He gave us the ability, and to let Him refresh us and give us a heart of wisdom so we can serve Him more effectively.

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Letting Go

I remember someone once describing the Christian life as offering God a blank piece of paper. This has seemed extremely negative to me – this offering of blankness, as though I’m offering nothing, and yet God made me the person I am, I argue inwardly; gave me abilities, emotions and desires. People write about the dream God’s placed within us, but what if it’s our dream? Of our flesh? And what God really wants from us is nothing?

What if it’s only in letting go of our dreams that we make space for Him to fill us with His dreams? “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11); my favourite verse, but to get to that means giving God everything we are and everything we hope to be. This would be fine if we all knew we’d have an Isaac-moment: That moment where Abraham put his son Isaac on the altar to be sacrificed, as instructed, and God’s angel basically said ‘It’s ok, you don’t have to anymore. I just wanted to see if you were willing’ … but will we do as Abraham did? Will we trust God with our lives? Will we do the things He asks us to? Hand over the things He asks us to give Him? Maybe it’s only in letting go of old aspirations that we can grasp true life.

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

Linking up with Tuesday at Ten

A Story That’s Stuck

I’ve been having a chat with a friend on Facebook today that ended up being about tithing. It reminded me of a story I read years ago that’s always stayed with me. I couldn’t find it anywhere online, so thought I’d blog it. I hope I’m not breaking some copyright law! It came from “Daily Walk with God” by Herman W. Gockel, and it went something like this:

A man earned £10 a week. He gladly tithed his income, giving £1 a week to the church.

He advanced up the career-ladder, gaining several promotions, until one day he turned up at his pastor’s office. “What seems to be the problem?” his pastor asked.

“Well, you see, it’s my tithing. I can no longer afford it. I now earn £10,000 a week and frankly, it’s too much!”

After a pause, the pastor looked at him and said quietly: “We could always pray and ask God to reduce your income to £10 a week.”

Makes me want to thank God for the money in my bank.

Inspired by Jeferson

I wonder about the tiny boy, standing there in the picture. As he makes his way home from a day at the Compassion centre, shirt sticking to him in the humid air, what’s he thinking? Other children’s faces have shone as they’ve torn open their letters, some of them having joined the group almost a year ago, just like him. One girl gazes in wonder at the animals and butterflies on her brightly-coloured stickers. In spite of his sadness, he smiles as he holds a pack of his very own. What a generous sponsor, giving her enough to share with her friends.

The house comes into view. His toddler-brother asks about his day in excited Spanish. The boy leans down to show him the stickers. His face lights up, but soon he’s telling the older boy: “I’m hungry.”

They enter the house together. His brother finds a place to stick the stickers while he prepares a meal. Much later, their father will be home. He might have stopped on the way to buy a few necessities, or to huddle in the warmth of one of the bars with others who share his plight. The boy only vaguely remembers his mother’s presence; he doesn’t know where she is now. He thinks of the kindly neighbour who sometimes brings them food, wishing his mother was like her. “You’ll understand one day, son,” his father says whenever he asks, too tired at the end of a long day to go into details, and the boy doesn’t press him. He’s tired too. He wraps the thin blanket tighter as his eyes close in the darkness.
* * *
That’s what I see in my mind’s eye as I think of this motherless 8-year-old, in desperate poverty of family, not to mention his physical poverty. Perhaps that’s why my favourite item in Compassion’s gift catalogue is the gift of caring for a waiting child. When children are registered with Compassion, the quest starts to find them a sponsor, so they need their picture taken. Perhaps they don’t own a pair of shoes, but I’ve never known Compassion to photograph a child barefoot. I have every confidence they’d want to make provision for these children until such time as they have a sponsor. If people give generously to you this Christmas, perhaps helping Compassion to care for a waiting child is one way you could give something back.

Just a thought.

Refreshing

“The generous will prosper; those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed” (Proverbs 11:25).

 

This verse has always spurred me on towards doing good.  It’s a great reminder that when you give to others, far from losing out (as the world would have you believe), you actually gain from it.  When you refresh others, you’ll be refreshed yourself.

 

I don’t know how that refreshing will look for you, but personally, God has met my financial needs; He’s put just the right people in my life at just the times I’ve needed their encouragement …  I know I’ve mentioned Kelly before on the blog (a songwriter in the US):  We’re not in-touch so much now, but 2006 was a very difficult year, and the words to her songs a real Godsend (my favourites aren’t on YouTube, sadly).

 

Can you see God in the middle of your difficulty?  My prayer is that you’ll look back one day and see how He supported you, and if you’re going through a hard season at the moment, this is a place where you’re free to comment if you want to.  I’m happy to chat.

We Live … He Gives

“The Lord does not let good people go hungry, but He keeps evil people from getting what they want” (Proverbs 10:3).

 

“Good people will be remembered as a blessing, but evil people will soon be forgotten” (Proverbs 10:7).

 

“Good people are rewarded with life, but evil people are paid with punishment” (Proverbs 10:16).

 

“Evil people will get what they fear most, but good people will get what they want most” (Proverbs 10:24).

 

There’s a common theme here:  How we live affects what He gives.  We can’t be complacent and say that just because once twenty, forty, eighty years ago we put our faith in Jesus, we’ll be ok.  We have to walk out that faith; choose good over evil; live for Him every day.  Are you ready to be a Christian – a genuine follower of Christ?

Don’t Put God to the Test

There’s a lot in Proverbs 3.  Today these verses made me think:  “My child, do not reject the Lord’s discipline … The Lord corrects those He loves, just as parents correct the child they delight in” (Proverbs 3:11-12), probably because I had just read Jarrod Cooper’s latest post, which talks about being correctable.  He says some people can’t handle correction, so they call it rejection … but God disciplines those He loves.  Are you accepting or rejecting God’s discipline?

 

And a verse I don’t seem to have noticed before is this one:  “Whenever you are able, do good to people who need help” (Proverbs 3:27).  I like that phrase – ‘Whenever you are able’, because it confirms what I’ve always thought:  That God doesn’t expect us to give beyond our means.  There are verses about a church who gave beyond their ability (2 Corinthians 8:1-5), but I believe that was the exception, not the rule for all of us.  Besides, if we do that with the wrong heart-motive, aren’t we in danger of putting God to the test?  “I’m giving beyond my ability; therefore You have to provide”?  Actually, God doesn’t have to do anything; He doesn’t even have to put up with us.  The things He does, He does because He loves us.  He sees us not just as people to put up with, but the apple of His eye.  Aren’t you glad?

The Languages of Angels

Speech/language/words.  This week’s prompt from Kirsten gives me an excuse to tell you something I’ve just picked up on.  A bit of background:  I’ve read “The Five Love-Languages” before.  I didn’t see anything wrong with a single person reading a book about marriage, because I thought the lessons I learnt from it could be helpful in other relationships, such as friendships.  The author obviously agrees because he’s now written editions specifically for men, single adults and parents.  I haven’t read those, but the book “God Speaks Your Love-Language:  How to Feel and Reflect God’s Love” intrigued me.  I thought:  How can we express our love to God in the language of physical touch, when He’s not physically present with us?  So I read the book, and the small-group study guide at the end pointed me to 1 Corinthians 13:

“I may speak in different languages of people or even angels” (verse 1).  I wondered:  If God speaks our love-language, is it possible that angels speak the five love-languages, too?  Suddenly, into my mind came these examples.

* * *

Words of Affirmation:  These were spoken to Gideon.  “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior!” (Judges 6:12).  The angel Gabriel also used them when he visited Mary.  “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God” (Luke 1:30).

Quality Time:  In Genesis 18:1-22, angels spent quality time with Abraham before their visit to Sodom.  He even washed their feet and gave them a meal!

Gifts:  In 1 Kings 19:5-8, an angel came to Elijah with gifts of bread and water at a time when he was weak and tired.

Acts of Service:  Hebrews tells us that angels are serving spirits, and they served Jesus in the wilderness when He’d finished being tempted by the devil.  In one of my favourite books, “Appointment in Jerusalem”, an angel carries Lydia’s toddler to safety.

Physical Touch:  In the garden at Gethsemane, an angel strengthened Jesus.  In my other favourite book, “The Shaming of the Strong”, an angel calms five-year-old Amelia when she’s lost in a storm.  An angel appeared to two of my friends when they were struggling financially.

* * *

Can you think of Biblical or modern-day examples of angels speaking the five love-languages – words of affirmation, quality time, gifts, acts of service, or physical touch?  Have you ever thought which of these makes you, or someone close to you, feel most loved?

Giving Is … No Reluctance

I don’t like dried fruit much, but my exceptions are mince pies and Welsh cakes.  I recently came across some delicious mince pies!  I decided to buy 2 dozen – 12 for me and 12 for church.  Friends and I’ve shared these mince pies, to the point where I only have a quarter of mine left.  I contemplated only giving the church 1 packet.  They’d have donations from other people as well, wouldn’t they?  But as I thought that, suddenly the Bible-story of Ananias and Sapphira came to my mind:

 

“Ananias and his wife Sapphira also sold a piece of property.  But they agreed to cheat and keep some of the money for themselves.

 

“So when Ananias took the rest of the money to the apostles, Peter said, ‘Why has Satan made you keep back some of the money from the sale of the property?  Why have you lied to the Holy Spirit?’

 

“Three hours later Sapphira came in, but she did not know what had happened to her husband.  Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, did you sell the property for this amount?’

 

“’Yes,’ she answered, ‘that’s the amount.’

 

“Then Peter said, ‘Why did the two of you agree to test the Lord’s Spirit?  The men who buried Ananias are by the door, and they will carry you out!’  At once she fell at Peter’s feet and died” (Acts 5:1-3, 7-10).

 

They could have given God however much they wanted from the sale of that house.  Others had sold property specifically so the money could help those in need.  No doubt this looked impressive.  Maybe Ananias and Sapphira wanted the kudos that went with that kind of giving, but they were reluctant to part with it all, so they kept some back for themselves and lied about it, and died for their wilful deception.

 

Giving is no reluctance, and I knew I didn’t want to show any.  These mince pies are the best shop-bought mince pies I’ve ever tasted, and why shouldn’t my church have the best?

Giving Is … How we Respond

I’d like you to think about the story, the true story, of ten men who had leprosy.  In Jesus’ time, this was a very serious disease; there was no treatment for it.  People with leprosy were declared ‘Unclean’ and sort of quarantined – put in an area away from everyone else.  Just before Jesus entered a village, He came to the place on its outskirts where the lepers were, and He told them to show themselves to the priests.  People with any form of skin disease would do this, and the priest would decide whether their condition had improved, but this time was different.  On their way to see the priests, all ten men were completely healed, but only one of them came back to Jesus.  The Bible tells us he shouted praises to God, bowed down at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him (Luke 17:15-16).  And Jesus asked:  “Why was this foreigner the only one who came back to thank God?”

 

Do you see?  Our response to what we’ve received can be a gift.  When you think of Jesus leaving all the glory of heaven to come into this world, knowing His purpose was to die on a cross to take our punishment for the things we’d done wrong, how do you react?  He didn’t hold onto selfishness; He didn’t hold onto what He could have been; He put all of that down – for us; He gave His everything for us.  In response, will we give Him full control of our lives – of all that we are?

 

And let’s come back to finances again:  I don’t know where you live this Christmas season, but maybe you’re like me.  Maybe you have a roof over your head; clean water at your fingertips; enough food to eat; the clothes you need to keep warm; a church where you can meet together to read the Bible and worship God.  So when you see others who don’t have those things, what’s your response?  Well, here’s how you could respond.  As you read that little list, which of those things were you most grateful for:  Was it the house you live in?  Then why not consider providing emergency shelter for a child and family ($50)?  If it was clean water, you could help build water reservoirs for children and their families ($23).

 

As I’ve said before, I know Christmas can be a difficult time of year.  Compassion want to use their gift catalogue this month to raise money for children in poverty, and I want to help them.  They tell me nobody knows my audience like I do, but to be honest, I don’t know every one of my readers.  (I’d love to get to know you better, so please, always feel free to comment.)  I don’t know who’s going to stumble across this post, and I don’t know what their financial circumstances are, so I’ll just leave you with a question.

 

Giving is how we respond.  Remembering what we’ve already said this month about giving cheerfully and using what you’ve got, will you search your heart and think what you want to do about Compassion’s gift catalogue?  Are you happy to pass it by, or will you bless somebody else, as a thank-You to God for all that He gives?