The first time I was nudged by the Holy Spirit to give away a prized possession, I admit to reluctantly obeying. However, I can attest to the overwhelming joy I received when the woman, who was the recipient of the necklace I gave her, began to cry.
For me, it was the start of a lifelong habit to begin paying more attention to that still, small voice to be more generous with my time, my money and my possessions. The necklace I mentioned above was a gift from my sister. On the simple silver chain was a small cross. The woman who had admired it worked at a fast food chain. I learned later she worked two jobs to support herself and her family.
While I treasured the gift from my sister, I know God treasured my generosity more. But, I received a greater gift when I gave the necklace away. It’s a paradox many don’t understand.
According to dictionary.com, a paradox is “a statement or proposition that seems self-contradictory or absurd but in reality expresses a possible truth.” Synonyms, or words that mean the same or almost the same, include contradiction, absurdity, inconsistency and mystery. But that’s the mystery of generosity, at least for those who don’t understand God’s economy.
In an article by Michael O. Garvey, he discusses the “empirical evidence in support of the biblical admonition” that it is more blessed to give than to receive. According to Garvey’s article, a study by University of Notre Dame sociologists revealed “through analysis of measurable data, people who are generous with their money, time and associations are happier, healthier and more resilient than their less generous counterparts.”
Are you a doubting Thomas? Maybe you’re a believer, but you doubt God could ever love someone like you. Maybe you’ve been ridiculed or bullied, struggling with your self-worth.
As a child, were you told you weren’t good enough? Did you become a performance addict with a need to prove you were likable, lovable and valuable? Do you know you’re not alone, today?
Pastor Chip Ingram says, “Many of us struggle with conceptualizing the enduring, sacrificial, infinite, and unconditional love of our heavenly Father. I think this is because we always try to put God’s love into our own human terms—and our terms always fall far short.
“Our human relationships have conditioned us to measure love by ‘ifs,’ ‘maybes,’ and ‘becauses,’” he adds. “‘I’ll love you if you do this.’ Or, ‘I love you because you did that.’”
Watch what God does, and then you do it, like children who learn proper behavior from their parents. Mostly what God does is love you. Keep company with him and learn a life of love. Observe how Christ loved us. His love was not cautious but extravagant. He didn’t love in order to get something from us but to give everything of himself to us. Love like that”—Ephesians 5:1-2 (MSG)
Dressing for a doctor’s appointment, I felt led to slip on a seldom-worn bracelet, a gift from a dear friend. The sparkling jewelry was adorned with the symbol for breast cancer awareness. As I drove to my appointment, the charm dangled from my wrist, reminding me of how blessed I am. My cancer was caught early and my treatment was minimal.
Before entering the doors of the cancer center that hot July morning, I glanced again at the bracelet. A still, small voice said, “Give it away.”
Walking through the center, I searched the faces of those who were there for treatment. I was there for my yearly follow-up exam. Again, I was declared cancer-free.
The comfort of faith
Others were just beginning their journey. Some of their faces reflected fear while a peace surrounded those who, like me, had been declared cancer-free or understood the comfort of their faith. My heart ached for those who appeared lost. I prayed, “God, you want me to give this bracelet away. Show me who needs it the most.”
I searched the faces, praying for the right person to receive the bracelet. I’d almost given up hope, thinking I’d misunderstood God’s direction, when I recognized an older couple seated in the hallway outside one of the exam rooms. I feared one of them had been diagnosed with cancer.
After hugging both, I asked, “Are you okay?”
The video of the speeding car slamming into a crowd of protesters left a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. Three died, including two police officers. More than 30 were injured in a Virginia riot on August 12.
Immediately after the event, people took to social media, pointing fingers. Too many, including Christians, began to assign blame for what happened. First, let me say as a former school teacher that pointing your finger doesn’t solve problems. A relevant adage reminds the pointer that three more fingers are pointing back at you. Jesus reminds us of the same.
Matthew 7:5 tells us, “You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.”
We’re all to blame if we haven’t followed the teachings of Jesus. If we treat others with contempt, we’re mistreating a person created in God’s image. All forms of racism, prejudice, and discrimination dishonor the work of Christ on the cross.
“‘And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’” The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these”—Mark 12:30-31(NLT).
For over 11 years, I’ve sat down at my computer each week to write this column. It wasn’t part of my retirement plan after leaving education in 2005. But God had other plans.
Although I grew up in the church, I didn’t have a personal relationship with God until my late 40s. I’ve never regretted accepting Jesus as my Savior and Lord. There have been times, however, when I wanted to give up. Trials have left me drained but Jesus has sustained me.
When I grow weary and want to quit writing, His Holy Spirit encourages me through the feedback I receive from readers. Writing for His glory is a labor of love.
We can’t love the unlovable on our own.
Love is the answer to the current discord and hate in this world. If we claim to be Christians, shouldn’t our life reflect the light of His love? If we claim to be Christians, shouldn’t we love everyone, even the unlovable among us?
Love everyone? What about the person next door who disturbs the neighborhood by constantly yelling at his children? What about the neighbor who leaves trash scattered across his lawn, distracting from the beauty of the area? What about the grumpy one who never speaks, even when you try to establish a relationship? I admit it’s not easy and I sometimes fail.
Injustice, chaos, violence, strife, racism and fear followed by anger, retaliation and nationwide unrest have come to define our country over the past several months. Beginning with the mass shooting in a gay night club in Orlando, FL, the shooting of a black man in Minnesota and another in Louisiana, and ending with the killing of police officers in Dallas, Texas, we are seeking answers and guidance.
Why does it take a tragedy or a series of tragedies to motivate people to speak out about the problems in our world? My thoughts, however, are, “Why are we just talking about it?”
We can give lip service to these shootings, point fingers and blame others, come up with “feel-good” slogans or we can hit our knees and begin praying.
Peace doesn’t come automatically.
Christian author Rebecca Barlow Jordan wrote on Facebook, “Praying for God’s comfort, love and compassion for those who have lost loved ones, friends, and family members in Dallas, and wherever lives have so senselessly been taken. And praying for a nation gone so far away from God. Praying that we can come back to the One who holds everything in His hand, not in a moment of silence, but through deep, deep, prayerful cries on our knees, prayers of submission, prayers of surrender, and prayers of longing to be a people who shine as lights in a dark world. How we need You, Jesus! Bring us back to You!”
“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”— Romans 8:37-39 (NIV).
Standing on Seventh Street in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the man was holding up a sign. The “Tulsa World” photographer who snapped the photo of him said it was nothing new. It’s quite common to see someone standing on the side of the road holding a sign. In this case, however, the man holding the large sign was not asking for anything. Not food. Not money. Not a job. Nothing.
It was the man’s simple message that drew the photographer’s attention and led him to interview the holder of the white cardboard placard. Written in bold, black lettering were three simple words: Love Never Fails.
When questioned about the sign, he freely admitted suffering from bipolar disorder. He told the reporter he holds the sign while repeatedly reciting The Lord’s Prayer quietly to himself. “It’s selfish,” he said, “because it puts me in a state of serenity.”
He added, “It’s like a mantra.”
No matter what storm you face, you need to know that God loves you.
While some people stop and give him money, he told the journalist that isn’t why he does it. He has a job at a fast-food restaurant and he’s not homeless.
The photo and story, appearing in a December issue of the newspaper, has stayed with me. I clipped and saved it. If you saw the photo, you would see what I see on the man’s face—a presence of peace blanketed over him in love.