Following Jesus after Camp

Summer is here! And that means students from all over the country will be attending church camp. New friends, crazy games & competitions, times for worship, bible study & prayer – all this combines and intersects with the work of Jesus in students lives and create an incredible experiences. Thousands will make decisions for Christ over the next few weeks, but what does that mean? How will they move forward in their faith when they go back to their ordinary lives? That’s what this post is about.

The decision to follow Christ is not just a decision. It’s a commitment. I would say this decision is like a wedding. (and I believe I can show that Jesus likens it to a wedding too, but that’s another post.)

Before Miranda and I got married we lived separate lives.  We lived in different homes. She had her job and bank account and I had mine. Although there were some who had in common, we had our own sets of friends. Our own habits and routines, our own lives. We were separated. On our wedding day, we stood before almost everyone we knew and proclaimed the decision that we had made – a decision which was a clear reflection our relationship. From that day forward, we were choosing to live differently. . . . . to live “with” each other. . . . . to live together.

This is what the decision for Christ is. It is a reflection of the relationship you have with Him. It is a decision to live “with” Him. . . . . to live together with Jesus.

At our wedding the pastor asked us a few questions. You probably know the questions.

He said, “Steve, will you take Miranda to be your wife, to live together in a holy marriage?  Will you love her, comfort her, honor and keep her for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, and forsaking all others, be faithful only to her, for as long as you both shall live?”

Notice how the questions are worded. “Will you take. . . . .” Will you love. . . . .”  In our pre-marital counseling, the pastor explained that the answer to those questions would simply be, “I will.”

What would have happened if I had said, “I will,  if I feel like it?”

The crowd would have gasped and Miranda probably would have slapped me across the face. “If I feel like it” isn’t a commitment.

The correct answer is simply “I will.” There are no ifs. When we make a commitment, we are saying that we’ll do whatever it takes to make it happen. We’re willing to make sacrifices and do the right thing even when things look bad. I will choose to act in love for Miranda even when she treats me bad –  even when I don’t like her – even when things are tough. Love is not a feeling. It is a choice. Jesus didn’t feel like going to the cross. He chose it in spite of how He felt. (Remember, how He asked God if there was another way, but then committed to God’s will? Check Mt 26:39) “In sickness and health, for richer or poorer,” no matter what, Miranda will receive my love. I will choose to love her. That is commitment. There are no ifs.

Our relationship with Jesus is like this too. If we want a real relationship with Jesus our answer is also, “I will.” Unfortunately, I see people adding many “ifs.”

– I’ll spend time with Jesus if I don’t have to get up early.
– I’ll go to church if my friends are going to be there.
– I’ll do what He asks as longs as it doesn’t cost me something.
– I’ll read the Bible if I have time.
– . . . . if it won’t be awkward.
– . . . . if I can still hang out with my old friends.
– . . . . if I don’t have something else going on.

NO!!! The answer to the question is a simple, “I WILL.” If we’re committed to Jesus, we must make time. We must be willing to put Him first. We must make sacrifices. We must be willing to follow Him even when it’s awkward or uncomfortable.

Church camp is great in many of the same ways as a wedding. Miranda and I had an incredible wedding. The people who surrounded us mean the world to us. That day we hung out with friends. We laughed. We read Scripture. We cried. We worshipped. We prayed. We ate. We danced. And then we left. Our family and friends threw stuff at us as we ran to our cars. Miranda jumped in her car and I got in mine and then we drove off and went our separate directions.

. . . . . . . Hold up.

. . . . . . Wait.

You did what? Separate cars? Separate directions?

NO – of course not. We rode off together in one car and began our life together. There’s sort of a crazy story, but we actually had a friend who drove us. The commitment that we had just made was starting and from that day forward, we have been together. Scripture says that the two of us “became one” that day, and since then, our lives have never looked the same. It’s been 17yrs and our commitment has grown over time. It’s a beautiful relationship.

Unfortunately, I think church camp decisions for Christ often look the other way. Students have incredible experiences at camp and decide to follow Jesus and live differently, but they don’t really understand the commitment side of it. The church camp experience has offered them all the things my wedding did:  Friends. Laughter. Bible Study. Worship. Tears. and incredible joy. Students begin a relationship with Jesus, but on the last day of camp, they leave in separate vehicles.

Charles Spurgeon (Mark 4 Commentary) says, “There are many more, whose religion must be sustained by enthusiastic surroundings. They seem to have been baptized in boiling, water; and unless the temperature around them is kept up to that point, they wither away . . . the religion that is born of mere excitement will die when the excitement is over.”

Friends. Don’t let this be you. Don’t leave camp in your car. Get in Jesus’ car and let Him drive you home. Allow Jesus to be in control. Remember that if you have committed to following Him, then you are “one” with Him. He also gives you the Holy Spirit to empower you to make the right decisions. Recognize that He is always with you. Allow Him to shape your daily schedule and calendar. Find time – be intentional about doing all the things you did at camp. They will deepen your “oneness” with Him.

– Hang out with Christian friends
– Study Scripture
– Worship
– Sing
– Pray
– Laugh
– and find ways to serve others.

I understand that none of these things is probably as easy to find as it is at church camp, but they are all important in deepening your relationship with Jesus. Your relationship with Him IS absolutely worth it. The effort you put into these things is a reflection of your commitment to Him – that means that your effort in making these things happen is actually an act of worship. By working behind the scenes to deepen your relationship with Jesus, you are honoring and valuing Him and that is what worship is all about. The effort alone will draw you closer to Him.

Oh – and by the way. You’re not alone. God has given us the church (His people not the building) to help us. Find someone else to help you with these things or to walk you through the process of starting your relationship with Jesus. It could be a friend or someone more mature in their faith. Youth ministers and youth leaders usually love this sort of thing too so they’re usually easy to ask. There are also some great books that can help. Here’s one from the guys at YM360: New: First Steps for New Christ Followers


PS – I just spent an incredible week of Church Camp with a bunch of really fine people!  Although I spent more than 20yrs in ministry, this was my first time back with them in over 10yrs.  It was great! Everyone was wonderful! Shout out to:

      •  The YM360 staff (rec leaders, bible study leaders, drama team, administrative team, and I’m sure there are others I’m missing)
      • the band (Logan Walter)
      • the speaker (our own pastor, Chad Poe)
      • the Louisiana College staff who housed and fed us
      • the youth leaders and volunteers who brought their students

God used this team to stretch our students in their spiritual lives. He used them to draw them closer to one another and to help them see the bigger picture of the body of Christ outside their own church walls and even into other parts of the world. God used this team to strengthen relationships in people who have attended church together for years, but have never really spoken to one another. God used this team to convict us of sin, to direct us to the forgiveness found in Jesus, and to begin to think about new ways of living in light of the Gospel. Thank you for serving. Thank you for allowing God to use you.

Our students won the volleyball tournament!

 

Arrows – Be Brave

Steve’s Word:
I am very blessed to have my children. God has shown immense and undeserved favor to me in bringing my kids into my life. I feel humble and inadequate for the task of raising them to know Him and to bring Him glory, but by His grace, empowered by His Spirit, I will. Notice, I did not say “try.” Yoda says, “Do or do not. There is no try.” And that is very appropriate here. “Trying” is not good enough in this monumental endeavor. It’s not enough to “try” to raise them as God has called. I must “do.”


God’s Word: 

Psalm 127:4 – Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them.

Steve’s Word:
According to this verse, my kids are my arrows, but what does that mean? What do arrows do? Answer: They are launched into the world by the archer (the Father) in order to advance His army into enemy territories. It is my prayer that their young lives will be spent “becoming” arrows and that as they grow, they will be launched into the world to “take ground” from the enemy so that God’s army can be advanced. The arrow’s purpose is to help Him with His purposes for His Kingdom and His glory. Arrows also go into dangerous places – enemy territory. They take risks for a greater purpose and penetrate the darkness with light. Arrows are aimed at specific targets, not just thrown out randomly. The archer “plans” his shot. God is a skilled archer, He has a plan and is able to place you in the exact place He needs you to be.

My children are the only arrows I have and I pray that they will be all of these things. It will take bravery, but they are children of God who I pray will be empowered by the Spirit of God when one day they choose to honor Him and give Him their lives.

God’s Word:
Romans 8:31b – If God is for us, who can be against us?

Psalm 45:5 – Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king’s enemies; the peoples fall under you.

Famous Words:
“With God, you are stronger than your struggles and more fierce than your fears. God provides comfort and strength to those who trust in Him. Be encouraged, keep standing, and know that everything’s going to be alright.” – Germany Kent

“Playing it safe is risky. The greatest risk is taking no risks.” – Mark Batterson

“You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.” – Khalil Gibran

“Life is like an arrow. The farther back you are pulled, the farther forward you will end up.” – Unknown

“A single arrow is easily broken; a quiver of ten is not.” – Japanese proverb

“Jesus didn’t die to make us safe, but to make us dangerous.” – Mark Batterson

“You must not only aim right, but draw the bow with all your might.” – Henry David Thoreau

“Courage is contagious. When a brave man takes a stand, the spines of others are often stiffened.” – Billy Graham

Personal Story:
I haven’t had the pleasure of launching my children out into the world just yet, so the only story I can tell is about some of my students from when I was in youth ministry. One of my greatest joys is watching my ex-students who have grown up and continued to follow Jesus into their adult lives. I have old students who have done mission work all over the world. Off the top of my head I can think of students who have served in Egypt, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Liberia, Scotland, South Africa, China, and Thailand. I have also been able to download sermon podcasts from some of my old students who are pastors. Others have been involved in youth ministry, music ministry, church planting, and other local church ministries. I can think of at least 15 of my ex-students who have served in ministry in a full-time role. There are countless others who are serving in other ways. I even have connections with a couple of my old students who are living out their faith in Hollywood. One is in the modeling/acting world and another is a musician. Both travel all over the world regularly and share their faith in each of those places.

One of my favorite things is when there is some sort of event that brings these people back together. A couple years ago, we got to attend a retirement party for our friend Jon Godbold and we had the chance to see and catch up with a lot of those students. It’s truly a joy for me to watch how they are serving the Lord and to know that God was working among us during our times together to lead them to those places. If that’s how I feel about ex-students, I can’t imagine how great it will be to watch my own children grow into the people that God has planned for them to be. I’m excited to watch as they are launched into the world and take ground for His kingdom. As the verse says, I am blessed to have some arrows in my quiver.

Not the Place

You may see a group of cabins and a firepit, but I see people too. . . . friends gathered around that fire singing songs and sharing some of the deepest parts of their lives. The sound of that door springing open unleashes thoughts of 80’s hair bands blasting through a jambox and floods my heart with joy and the emotions I experienced in those cabins. I can smell the wind as it carries laughter through the trees, and in spite of my attempts to describe it, you will never be able to hear that laughter. And how could I blame you? You weren’t there.

I love being in certain places. There are places that conjure deep emotions for me and some that make me feel light and free. Each of these places is filled with memories.

As much as I try, I have found that I can’t really ever go back to those places though. I mean. . . yes. . . I can be in the same space and I can enjoy being there and remembering, but it’ll never quite be the way I remembered it. What I remember is not just the place, it’s the people who were with me and the circumstances around my life that shaped the way I experienced that place. Even if the place has by some miracle stayed the same, the people and circumstances around my life have changed and so I experience it differently.

David Wilcox says, “The measure of that place is the pleasure on your face.”

It’s not the place that makes it special – it’s the people and it’s God. What makes certain places stand out and become memorable to us is God’s hand stirring our hearts and guiding our thoughts/emotions as we interact with others in the space that we’re in. (By the way, even if you’re alone in the space, God is still with you.)

 

Reclaimed Wood – Reclaimed Hearts

Reclaimed Wood Fireplace at my House

I clutch the head tightly with the claw and strain to pry the nail out of the flesh leaving an open wound. Sometimes it splinters even more. The bent nails must be hammered from the opposite side in order to be removed. Reclaimed wood is rough, marred, scarred, scratched, discolored, beaten, and weathered. It’s not very pretty. However, when used in the right context, it can be beautiful. The scars give it character and tell a story. It has rich history. The wood cannot reclaim itself. I must do the work.

My heart is the same. God has been reclaiming my heart piece by piece since the day I chose to follow Him back in 1985. Like the nails that must be hammered from the opposite side, He works from the inside out. It’s a painful process. He is hammering, ripping, tearing, and prying out the damage that I’ve done to myself with my sin. It hurts. It’s not an easy process and sometimes I recognize new splinters in the painful ways that my sin had affected me without my knowledge. The Holy Spirit convicts me and He opens wounds within me, but then Jesus offers healing and has already provided the salve by covering my sin with His own blood.

Like the wood, I am rough, marred, scarred, scratched, discolored, beaten, and weathered. However, when I submit and let God put me in the right context, I become beautiful. I cannot do this on my own, but in His hands, I have character, a story, and a rich history that He can use for His glory. I become His creation as He molds me into His likeness in spite of my sin and in spite of my wounds. I am His and that makes all the difference.

Invisible

If you had the power to be invisible, how would you use it? What would you do?

Give yourself a moment to come up with an answer before you continue reading….

Got it?

Determine a real answer for what you would do.

….OK?

Alright.

Character is exemplified by what you do when no one is looking. What does your answer say about your character?

I asked my woodshop students this question at school yesterday. I heard the same kind of answers all day long (All 7 class periods). They would:

1.) Steal things.

2.) Go to concerts, games, amusement parks, or flights without tickets.

3.) Stalk celebrities or watch them inappropriately.

4.) Listen in on private conversations from their friends.

My students had fun with the question and laughed about how cool it’d be to have that power. For the first few classes, I laughed and had fun with them too. However, as the day went on, I began to realize that no one seemed to be thinking in generous ways. No one seemed to care about the needs of others or about doing the right thing. No one wanted to hide from the bad guys and be a hero. I mean… How great would it be to secretly deliver a gift to someone and then watch their reaction?

In their answers, the power of invisibility was simply a license to get away with selfish behaviors.  I’ll ask the same question again. “What does this say about our character?” Who are we when no one is looking?

In the Scriptures, (Mark 12:42-43) we read about an little old lady who gave a small amount of money to God’s people, but it was everything she had. She was invisible and her gift was invisible, but it was this action (what she did quietly behind the scenes) for which Jesus commended her.

Who are you in the quiet? When no one is looking? Are you giving or selfish?

 

He died. I sighed.

(written in Dec 2014)

It’s a week before Christmas. There’s lots to do. I’ve been working all week and finally get to come home. I’m so ready for the holidays away from students – away from work. I’m tired. As I drive home, I start to get excited about being home, being with my kids, having good family time.

I walk through the door and notice the lights are off. My bride is asleep on the couch and my kids are snuggled up beside her watching Mr Bean. They start talking to me and it disrupts Miranda’s sleep. I “shhh” them, but it doesn’t last long. I can tell they’re going to be talkative now that I’m here, so I get up and gently help Miranda to her feet and walk her to bed so the kids can be themselves without disrupting her.

I spend the next hour with kids bouncing up and down on top of me while we watch more Mr Bean. I try to relax and read a little, but the kids keep interrupting. I know it’s important to listen to Kesleigh telling me which coloring book picture is her favorite, but I really just wanna rest. I need a little “cave” time. When Miranda gets up, she sighs and says she wishes I could have gotten Kasen a haircut before we go see Santa tonight. She hasn’t been very subtle with her hints at taking him for a haircut for the past 2 weeks. I even took him one night earlier this week, but the wait was too long. I also remember that she had asked me to go to Best Buy to check on getting a phone for my mom, so I decide to try and get these things done before the 5 o’clock crowd is off work. Kasen and I leave right away, but when we arrive, we’ve still got an hour wait. I go to Best Buy and get the information we needed and then return to Supercuts. We timed it well, ’cause they called Kasen’s name from the hour long list just a few minutes after we arrive.

By the time we’re done, it’s time to meet Miranda and Kesleigh at the mall for dinner and Santa pics. We have a great time and the wait for Santa wasn’t bad. After that, we go driving around town to look at Christmas lights and stop to get the kids a McDonalds shake and then head to BrewNBake for hot chocolate for Miranda and I. The kids are getting restless in the car. They were downright annoying in BrewNBake and continued to be that way once we arrived home. I try to watch a tv show to unwind a bit, but I find myself hitting pause on the remote ’cause I can’t hear. Arguments over who is gonna take a bath first and whining about not being able to find the toothpaste lid – these are normal activities in our house. I’m tired of it. Miranda is tired of these things. I love my kids, but it’s definitely time for bed.

Finally, the kids are down and we’ve both kissed them goodnight. Now I can watch……wait, I still gotta call my mom about the phone. Oh, and get those contacts out of my eyes. Well, I’ll watch for 10 minutes and then do those things. As soon as the 10min are up, I get the contacts out and call mom. The whole time I’m talking, Miranda is correcting me. I don’t have the details quite right, but the gist of my message was the same. If she wanted to be so involved, why did she want me to call in the first place? OK – I hand the phone to her and she handles the situation with mom, masterfully. She’s good.

Now I can finally settle and rest….huh? Oh, you want me to come look at the stuff you bought people for Christmas?? I say “OK,” but I must have said it with some sort of sigh or frustration. Miranda is now mad and explains that I’ve taken “all the fun” out of it for her. She’s right, I shouldn’t have responded with a frustrated tone. I hate that I made it “not fun” for her ’cause she really does enjoy shopping and finding deals. She loves when she gets to show off her purchases and is proud of her work. She does a great job and I love that she takes care of it, ’cause it’s so much easier for me. I shouldn’t have acted that way. I’m the husband who is supposed to “die” for his bride. In our marriage, I’m in the Jesus role and am called to love her as Christ loves the church. He died. I sighed…….I sighed. I know, you may say it’s not that big of a deal. You may say, “Steve, you did so many things right. You died to your own stuff lots of times throughout the day.” Maybe, but Christ died completely, and I didn’t. I’m called to love like He does, but I failed tonight.

LORD, please forgive me. Teach me to love like you. Teach me to be fully present with my children and not just listen half-heartedly to Kesleigh’s stories about coloring books or whatever topic she is currently ranting about. Help me to put down my devices and “do” with my kids – and with Miranda. Give me more patience or a higher tolerance for “annoying behaviors.” Show me how to train my kids away from those behaviors. Give me wisdom to recognize the subtle ways I react ’cause Miranda picks up on them all and I truly want to communicate my love for her in all my actions. LORD, make this season special and help us all to encounter You in each experience – with each family, with each other, in travel, in meals, in gift giving, and in all our interactions with each other. AMEN.

50 Things to do at Christmas (revised for 2018)

Everyone should experience these 50 things sometime in their lives during the Christmas season. I have already experienced some of these, but some are things I hope to experience.

50 Things to do during Christmas:

1. “A Christmas Story” marathon.

2. Sit in Santa’s lap for a picture. It still counts if you cry your way through it.

3. Adopt a child (or 2 or 3) from the “Angel Tree” at church, buy gifts for him/her, and deliver them.

4. Cut down your own Christmas tree.

5. Decorate a Christmas tree with ornaments that have memories attached to them. Never waste your time making the tree look pretty or having matching ornaments.

6. Sleep way more than you should.

7. Cut and decorate Christmas cookies with colored icing, sprinkles, red hots, etc. (Or just eat the ones your Aunt makes.)

8. Build a fire in the fireplace (yes, even if it’s 80 degrees outside) and read the Christmas story as a family.

9. Let the kids unwrap one gift on Christmas Eve, but make sure they get that same gift every year so there’s still no surprise.

10. Be intentional about spending some time reflecting on Emmanuel (God with Us) – Jesus. Here’s something I wrote about Him. Consistently Emmanuel

Miranda, Kasen, and I – 2007

11. Participate in a live nativity.

12. Spend at least 100 hours placing exactly 6 colored stars on tree cookies made of green tasteless dough which you will sell to the nearest Christmas Tree Farm to make $$ for Christmas gifts. (This was for you, Laurie.)

13. Go Christmas caroling.

14. Be surprised when someone kisses you under the mistletoe.

15. Attend a candlelight service with your family.

16. Incur some kind of injury Christmas afternoon as you play with your new toy. (“You’ll shoot your eye out kid.”)

17. Give a memory to someone. Experience something together.

18. Unwrap “the ball” with your family. (It’s a tape ball with small gifts wrapped inside. The ball gets passed around a circle and you get to keep what you unwrap. You keep unwrapping until the next person rolls a 6 with a pair of dice.)

19. Watch the greatest Christmas movie ever made: Die Hard

20. Leave cookies out for Santa. Eat cookies left for Santa.

That’s me with the beard!

21. Dress up as Santa Claus so that a child believes at least one more year.

22. Instead of buying gifts, give $$ to your favorite charity.

23. Go to the trouble (in spite of the traffic) to take the kids to see some spectacular Christmas lights.

24. Go on a hayride.

25. Obtain an injury and get frustrated as you ignore the instructions and attempt to assemble the things Santa left your kids.

26. Take family pictures.

27. Re-gift. Or use gift cards to buy gifts for others.

28. Watch the eyes of someone you love as they open a special gift.

My dad played football with us every year at Grandma’s house.

29. Play football in the yard with the whole family.

30. Put pumpkin pie on your shoe, pretend you came in from outside, and then when someone notices the “poop,” wipe it off with your finger and eat it. (My brother’s idea – and it was hilarious! My grandma is the one who noticed.)

31. Use an advent calendar where you get to do something (Ex: eat a chocolate, hang an ornament, etc.) each day leading up to Christmas.

32. Arrange for your children to play “Jesus” in some sort of local Christmas production. Bonus if you are Mary and Joseph.

“Behold the Lamb of God” 2018

33. See Andrew Peterson’s “Behold the Lamb of God” Christmas production (or at least listen to the recording each year.)

34. Wake up way too early as your kids anticipation gets the best of them.

35. Secretly open a gift, seal it back up, and then act surprised on Christmas morning.

36. Display a nativity scene in your house and teach your children about the characters. (One year, my 3-yr-old son Kasen, told the Christmas story with our nativity. http://stevecorn.com/2010/12/kasen-tells-the-christmas-story/ )


37. Watch the “Nativity Story” movie.

38. Use baby powder to leave footprints from the fireplace to the place where Santa left the gifts. (But make sure you make the footprints go back too – my parents missed that last part.)

39. Count the number of Jesus figurines you can find at grandma’s house.

40. Ask your grandma/grandpa about how they remember spending Christmas as kids.

41. Eat monkey bread.

42. Enjoy a “White Christmas” and do some sledding, have a snowball fight, or build a snowman.

My dad skied with leukemia! December 1996

43. Take the family skiing over the Christmas break.

44. Take the family to an old barn and read the Christmas story there among the animals and smells.

45. Bluebell Peppermint Ice Cream – it’s only made during the holidays.

46. Search the sky for Santa’s sleigh.

47. Get stranded due to icy/closed roads in some random west Texas town on the way to a ski trip. End up having to sleep with the animals ’cause there is “no room at the inn.” (It was Quanah, TX and the people of First Baptist Church were very gracious with their gym. They even let traveling pets sleep there.) Here’s a post about this experience: No Room at the Inn

48. Drive all over the country trying to see all your relatives and in-laws on Christmas Day.

49. Snack on Homemade Chex Mix, peppermint bark, and peanut clusters.

50. Celebrate Emmanuel!!! (Jesus = Emmanuel = “God with Us”)

Things not to do:

1. Get so busy trying to do the things on this list that you forget #50.

Worst Dad

Kesleigh told me I was her “Worst Dad.” She went on to explain that her other dad was God. I guess that means I’m OK with being her “worst dad.” Maybe that should even be my goal? Keep propping up God and showing her how great He is so that I sort of fade into the background of her life. Wow….it’s hard to say that, but that’s truly what I want. I want her to be so in love with Him that I’m secondary. I want her to know that in Him, life goes on and she can find everything she needs with or without me.

Presence

The word “love” has been hijacked by our culture. It’s misused all the time. We “love” certain foods and as culture defines it, “love” changes with our emotions. This is why divorce is accepted and rampant. Even with all the talk about it and obsession with it, we don’t know what “love” is.

When Jesus left the earth, it was his “presence” that He expressed to us, not his love. I wonder, “Is presence the full expression of love? Jesus presence on the cross in our place – His presence in our sin.” The people who have the strongest marriages our our world are those who have been “present” with each other the longest. When my own marriage is at it’s best, it’s when we are fully “present” with each other. The closest relationships I have in this world are those people who I have been with the most – That includes both family and friends. Maybe “presence” is more important than love? (Probably not, but considering the way our culture has defined love, maybe this is a better way to think about it?)

I wonder what our world would be like if we started valuing “presence?” Would our marriages last longer? Would we put down our cell phones more and be with the ones we’re with?

In times of grief, Jewish people “sit shiva.” They just make themselves present with those who are mourning. They aren’t expected to say anything or do anything – simply “be” with each other. This is an example of valuing “presence.”

In his story “The Places Outside the Maps,” Doug McKelvey speaks of a man who has gone through many struggles and says of him, “It had never been answers he had sought in his sufferings, but presence, and that presence was here and was itself the thing that had always stood – from the foundations of the world and even before and even after – in the place that answers could not. Before the questions had been asked, the presence had already been given.”

I’m really just asking questions today. This idea was thought provoking for me.

What do you guys think?

Better to Give?

“It is more blessed to give than receive.” These are words that we hear often during the Christmas season. However, whenever I hear it, I usually have this little “cringy” sort of thing in the back of my neck. (No. “Cringy” isn’t a word, but it’s the perfect adjective for my feeling.) Here’s why I feel this thing:

James 1:16-17a – “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”

Ultimately, Jesus is the only giver. We can’t be givers ourselves, unless we have received from Him first. We must first be receivers before we can become givers. Anything I can give to someone else, well…anything that’s worth giving, in some way first came from Jesus himself. Maybe this is also part of why He made this statement. He understood that anyone who is a giver has already received from Him. We become “more blessed” when it all comes full circle and we begin to reflect who He is as the giver.

Psalm 23:1 – “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.”

If we are in Christ, we are given all that we need. There’s nothing we need that He will not provide. This is the meaning of the phrase “shall not want.” It means He will provide and we can live satisfied and confident that we will be given all that we truly need. As people who have all that we need, we are in the perfect position to share. . . to give. When we realize that most of our stuff is just stuff and the things we truly need can not be taken away, it becomes much easier to give. Not only is it easier to give, but giving actually becomes a natural expression of the love we have for others. We also begin to reflect the character of Christ to others as well. At that point, we also become more grateful to Christ for all that we have been given and ultimately, we worship and glorify Him. 

 

So, I’m in agreement with Jesus. “It is more blessed to give than receive.” But I’d like to point out to the world that we can’t give until we have first become receivers of the greatest gift in the world – Salvation in Jesus Christ. That alone is the greatest blessing, but we become EVEN MORE blessed when we begin giving to others out of this abundance. Our primary position is one of “receiver” and then our goal should be to become a “giver.” Or maybe the better way to say it is that our primary position should be to “give” good gifts understanding that the only way to do that is to receive from Christ first?

What do you guys think?

 

PS – I don’t think this has any real bearing on my previous thoughts, but it’s interesting to me that these words of Jesus (“It is more blessed to give than to receive.”) are not recorded in the Gospels. They are recounted by Paul (Acts 20:35) as he speaks to the Ephesian elders. There are many things that Jesus said which are not recorded in the Gospels themselves, but this is the only one which is referred to by Scripture itself.