Give.

For the Christian on the DONE side of love, the question is not ‘How much should I give?’ The question is, ‘How much do I dare to keep?’

Give. 1 Corinthians 16

1 Corinthians 16:1-4

Give as you have been given.

and

As you have been given, give.

and

Give as you have been given.

and

Advertisements

Grace. The ‘Why’ of the Incarnation.

As everything, He became nothing so that we could have everything.

DSCN3047

Nearing the end of our Upside Down Christmas series, we’ve tackled who Jesus is, touched on the when and where. Today we addressed the most important question. Why?

Jesus is God’s creative expression of Himself, His ultimate biological sculpture. Grace is the reason for the incarnation.

Before we go much further, what is ‘incarnation’? Incarnation is physical manifestation. In biological context, it is conception and birth. In spiritual context, it is the crossing of realms from supernatural into natural. In Christianity, it is both. Jesus, as a physical extension of God, was physically born. He became human while remaining God.

Why lower Himself to a human level? Grace. What is grace? Grace is defined many ways, based on context. Spiritually speaking, it is a virtue of God which provides for human sanctification. It is through grace that we are inspired to generously serve, to be gracious, to one another. Boiling it down, Jesus is incarnated by grace to provide an example for us to show grace.

Grace is an over-used term in modern “Christian” circles, not because it is an attribute that should be limited but because its actual definition has been so diluted that the word is misused. Grace is not synonymous with apathy, it is the apathetic’s antonym. Some will throw the word grace around when arguing the “proper” Christian position on certain, controversial social issues. Grace, without understanding is grease, creating a slippery slope of incomplete theology and leading people deeper into chaos.

Properly defined, grace inspires us to forgive people. Grace is the ability to let go of the past. Grace is our motivation to generously serve strangers.

Being a gracious person is not as easy as flipping a switch in you head. Being gracious is more than doing good things, it’s also keep your motivations in check. When your acts of generosity are limited to those whom you deem “deserving”, you are no longer being gracious. When you serve to build your reputation, you are separate from grace. When you are so frustrated by a lack of gratitude from the ones you are serve that you stop serving, you are bankrupt of grace. Motivations are more important than to God than actions. To understand grace, we must fist understand ourselves. God is not looking for obedience alone, He is concerned with our hearts and our intentions. Until we recognize how bad we really are, we will never recognize how good God is or grasp the concept of grace.

┬áToday’s drawing is an image of incarnation, grace, and an ignorance to grace. The positive space shows several figures with their arms raised in worship. It is a rare occasion when I raise a hand in worship. For one, I can’t draw above my head well. Unless I am so moved that my body language speaks through movements like raised arms, I feel an awkwardness about physical expression, as if I’m not sure my motivations are pure enough to raise my hand. The figure on the right shares this uncertainty, with one hand raised and his attention directed below.

The negative space brings another dynamic into view. The white space the figures appear to worship wraps around either side of the page and back under the drawing. As the shaded area separates, a figure with arms laying outstretched toward the worshipers. This figure is the Christ, manifested in physical form but still fully God. The outstretched hands support the figures spiritually and physically. Of the figures, only the self-conscious character on the right notices this support. This figure includes a highlight on its face, an detail I included to imply he sees Christ. The others are all shadows, implying they are in darkness. Worshipers n darkness? Is this possible? Unfortunately, it is. Worship is only worship if it is expressed in genuine love. Your motivations matter.

If this Christmas is a season where you’re feeling lost in the bustle or a little depressed among the seemingly happy crowds, start giving. Don’t go emptying your bank account or washing car windows at stop lights, unless you feel so led. Start simple. Take a box of cookies to your neighbor. Call that friend you’ve lost touch with. Volunteer at a soup kitchen. Spontaneously start singing Christmas carols in the food court. Will it be awkward? Probably. Will it be easy? No, if it were easy, everyone would do it. Will it be worth it? Definitely. Doors to serve people on significantly deeper levels will begin open and you will find that the more of yourself you give, the more you are filled in return.

The parts of our life we will hold most dear are the parts we gave away. – Donald Miller

Spare change and forethought. How I made two new friends at the recycling center today.

On today’s agenda was taking our accumulated plastic, aluminum, glass, and cardboard to the local recycling centers (two stops because one takes plastic and aluminum conveniently but not glass or cardboard, go figure.) I can tell spring is coming because this morning is warm enough to bring out some individuals from our homeless community.

Risking the raised eyebrows from my readers who lean towards cynicism, I’m writing this to tell you about a “Bob Clyde moment” that today’s recycling experience held because of some spare change and forethought.

Bob Clyde was the campus minister at the Baptist Student Union at East Carolina where I was an active member for My five year collegiate career (yes, I realize that’s one year more than it should have been). Bob is among the top influencers in my life, right up there with my parents and extended family. Of the many things he taught us BSUers, he shaped my worldview to look for Jesus in every individual as a matter of instinctual habit, not forced dogma. Today God provided one of those opportunities.

A little more background before we get into today’s events. What happens to the spare change that accumulates in your pockets or the console of your car? After reading the book ‘Under the Overpass’, I was inspired to keep this annoying pile of money that is rarely utilized anymore in a change organizer on my dresser. As we are able to fill a few rolls, I take the rolled coins to our local Wendy’s and purchase gift cards in $5 increments which we then keep in our family vehicle. These cards are designated for giving. Friends, strangers, when someone asks for money or at completely spontaneous moments when we’re feeling generous, we reach for a card.

As I got out of the van today to exhume the mass of paper packaging material and clicking glass bottles, two gentlemen were speaking to the driver of the car about ten yards begin me. These guys were middle aged and of stereotypical homeless appearance, ragged clothes, wiry hair and dirt caked under their fingernails. I grabbed the last two Wendy’s cards from the center console of the van and slid them into my jacket pocket as I exited. As I dumped the last box of glass into the trash can marked “Clear Glass Only”, the younger of the two men shouted out to me, “Are you going to keep that box?”

My opportunity was at hand. The box became the springboard for the conversation that ensued.
The younger man’s name was Bill, AKA Wild Bill to his friends, I didn’t get the older man’s name. I asked Bill if he had any use for the box. He said no, but that he could help me throw away my load of cardboard for a few dollars. He went on to explain how he’s applied for countless jobs and keeps a stash of resumes’ in his back pack; an attempt to sway any suspicion on my part that he was a free-loader, I’m sure (convicting moment number 2). I pulled out the two gift cards and handed them over to the gentlemen, explaining their value and encouraging the to enjoy a warm dinner tonight, no help throwing out my trash required. With grateful inflection, Bill’s friend exclaimed how far two $5 cards would go at Wendy’s and asked directions to the closest one (a convicting statement in itself).

That’s when Bill noticed the large scar on the right side of my head. A scar left by a surgeon’s scalpel. The scar which I proudly wear as a reminder of the day God used a team of doctors to relieve me from 23 years of a moderately controlled seizure disorder. 20 pills per day, 30 seizures per month reduced to zero in six hours. Bill moved closer to inspect the evidence of my old wound and, emitting a strong odor of stale alcohol, asked to hear the story. I retold my testimony of dealing with unpredictable seizures and the risky surgery to possibly remedy the disorder in an abbreviated form since my youngest was snoozing in the back seat of the van. One segment I was sure NOT to omit was the value of this scar as a reminder of God’s presence, mercy, and provision in my life.

Offering my blessings and best wishes to their job prospects, I returned to the van and pulled forward to the cardboard dumpsters. Bill and friend stood aside to pocket their take from our interaction. As I unloaded the last of the cardboard, I watched Bill approach another car, soon followed by his buddy, asking for spare change in return for any help he could offer. I drove off thinking to myself, “I needed to buy more cards.”

I’m not sharing this to brag about some generous accomplishment. My hope is that my experience will encourage you to see people as God does, children in need instead of people with an agenda. I also want to inspire you to get creative with your junk change. Some may argue that giving to panhandlers is a form of enabling addictions. Many who live on the street are enslaved to chemical dependencies and use the money they are given to feed those addictions. I’m fairly confident both Bill and his friend struggle with alcoholism based on the strong stench of their breath and clothes. At the end of the day though, God’s measure of our love for his children is in the fact that we give, not in our ability to judge where needs are most honorable. Once the gift is given, it is the recipient’s responsibility to use it properly. That’s the beauty of giving gift cards, they can only be spent at the assigned location and, in the case of Wendy’s cards, only on food.

With a little spare change and a little planning, today’s trip to the recycling center brought me two new friends who saw the gospel’s impact on my life and will eat at least one warm meal today.

What could you do with your spare change?