Tag Archives: joy

You don’t have to pay for me

As the ushers passed the offering plate, a young child being taken to church for the first time watched the proceedings with intense interest. As the ushers approached her pew, the little girl said to her father, “Remember, Dad, you don’t have to pay for me. I’m under five.”

I’m at that age now when I look for discounts. I may not like standing in line behind someone with a fistful of coupons, but I seldom go to the store without checking to see if I have any. Who doesn’t like a bargain? I don’t want to think of myself as cheap, but I don’t mind being frugal.

While I don’t equate cheap with frugal, there is one thing that bothers me – church on the cheap. There are some chilling words in the last book of the Old Testament. Through His prophet Malachi, God had a case against His own people: “The Lord of Heaven’s Armies says to the priests: ‘A son honors his father, and a servant respects his master. If I am your father and master, where is the honor and respect I deserve? You have shown contempt for My name!’” Later in the book, God also had stern words for the people: “You have wearied the Lord with your words.” God wasn’t satisfied with cheap.

We know our God is generous and gracious, bountiful in His blessings. We also know that the proper response to His goodness to us is not simply measured by an offering plate. We have too long associated stewardship with our financial resources alone. The One who owns the cattle on a thousand hills (Psalm 50:10) isn’t wringing His hands over what we give. He knows there is much more at stake.

Does my life reflect a grateful, joyful stewardship? Am I looking for spiritual discounts or going deeper in my walk with Him? Malachi’s narrative is a bridge to the New Testament. The prophet Elijah in the person of John the Baptist would come to prepare the way for the Lamb of God. God was preparing to invade a broken, dark world with the light of Christ. He has given so much. How will we respond to His overture of love?

From the creation of the first humans, God offered a partnership to those He entrusted with His world. He has made us trustees of our time, talent, and treasure. There is great joy in faithful stewardship!

One little letter

They sound the same. They are spelled the same … except for one little letter.

Mourning and morning. Mourning is about grief, about the recognition of loss. You cannot love without loss. That’s where the one little letter comes in.  “U” stands for each of us because each of us has known and will know what it means to lose something that or someone who matters. The “u” can also refer to us. Grief can drive us apart or bring us together. We may mourn privately but our healing usually comes in community. We can be overwhelmed by our personal sadness but we can also be surrounded by those who will bear our griefs with us.

And yet there is more. How does mourning turn to morning? We are approaching Holy Week. In order to arrive at Easter we have to pass by the cross. The blackest day in history calls us not to pass by, but to linger and mourn – mourn the death, mourn the devastation of sin, mourn our responsibility. But we cannot linger long because Sunday’s coming.

On the morning of the third day, the power of sin and death and evil was broken. In the morning the stone was rolled away. In the morning the perfect sacrifice who suffered a cruel death left the grim reaper in the dust. In the morning He turned mourning to joy.

Within the span of a few days, the deaths of two remarkable women named Debbie have given us reason to mourn. Our hearts are broken for the families who have suffered loss. But we are people of hope as they were women of faith. Our mourning will turn to joy because of that morning two thousand years ago. One little letter … For God so loved “u” that He gave His only Son. Mourning turned to morning.

Givers and Takers

I have to admit I don’t remember being on the cradle roll. I actually started going to church before I was born in Tampa, Florida. I don’t remember much about the early days of my new church here in Atlanta. I remember Mrs. McClelland and Mrs. Webb. They worked in the nursery for at least 100 years. I remember sitting in Mrs. Webb’s lap, the most comfortable place in the world. I remember learning how to read music and play handbells as I was growing up. My minister of music (music director in those days) now lives at Lenbrook with his wife. Whenever I see him, I remember how he encouraged me to love music. I remember Sunday School teachers and RA leaders and a man named Bobby Ward who led the activities ministry and taught me the fundamentals of basketball.

I remember the difficult transition to yet another new church in 1966. As a teenager, leaving the familiar behind was hard. I made new friends in a youth group who made room for me. I remember singing in the first youth musical. I remember youth camps where I first realized God was calling me to ministry. I remember my first church job, an opportunity to serve and coach and teach. I remember a church that blessed me and started me on my way to the pursuit of theological education.

Why should you care what I remember? I’m not done. I remember a church that loved my parents and allowed them to love them back. I remember how church members tended to my parents as life became difficult with tough health issues. I remember a church that ministered to my family when they each exited this world for the next.

Here’s my point. At all the pivotal moments of my life, the church showed up. I took a lot of things from those experiences because I was given so much. There have been many times when the church gave to me.

I know the Church and the church have taken some hits lately. I know our church is struggling as life has become difficult with tough issues. I also know that this is not the time to back away or desert her. She needs us now more than ever. I have taken a lot from the church in my 65 years. I want to give to see her continue to show up when people need her.

My family and I have been blessed by the generosity and grace of many faithful stewards. This Sunday morning, Kim and I will be privileged to return our pledge to tithe and to make offerings during the coming year. I invite you to joyfully join me in blessing the church.

I have never given to a budget. I have given to express my gratitude for blessings received and to show determination to support the ministry of God’s people. We have work to do for the Kingdom’s sake. Our time, talent, and treasure become the measurements of devoted followers of Christ who understand the sacred trust God has bestowed.

I am a cheerful giver because I have been given so much!

Transcendent

Arnold Palmer died yesterday. For many too young to know or remember, he burst on the scene when television was finding its legs. He wasn’t just good at golf; he turned it into entertainment for a horde of people who couldn’t tell the difference between a putter and a driver. His charisma created a persona that transcended the game. Someone said, “He made golf cool.” There may have been better technicians of the game, but his “aggressive risk-reward approach” to the game won him fans the world over.

Not too many people transcend their sport or business or discipline. You could say that Tiger Woods was one such person, but he has fallen off his pedestal. He has never looked like he was having any fun. Arnie had so much fun that legions of fans became his army, cheering him on at golf tournaments around the world.

Arnold Palmer wasn’t bigger than life just because he could play golf. Almost by force of will, he connected with the powerful and the common. He brought people together. When receiving the Congressional Gold Medal, he joked that finally there was something that the House and Senate were able to agree on. He offered golf tips to presidents and members of the galleries. One of his tips: “I have a tip that will take five strokes off anyone’s golf game. It’s called an eraser.”

In a day when life is so serious and complicated, it is inspiring to be influenced by someone who is in love with life. Joy is contagious. Perhaps that’s why it was so easy to pull for Arnie. He knew when to be focused and determined, but he could also be in the moment, sharing a laugh with fellow players or fans.

You and I may never have the same platform that Arnold Palmer occupied, but we can choose to live life with optimism and joy. As Christians, joy comes standard. Let it show. Spread it around.

 

What if?

It happened on June 24, 1935. Four young people were double dating. The young man who was driving tried to take a curve going too fast. He lost control. The car flipped several times, ejecting three of the passengers. The fourth was pinned under the car. The others survived their injuries. She didn’t. Elizabeth Wilbanks died that night. She was 17 years old. She had just graduated from high school.

The boy she was dating that night was the driver of the car. He was Jewish. Why should that matter? These young people lived in Anniston, northeast Alabama … in the ‘30’s. A young Baptist girl was dating a Jewish boy in the Deep South. You would have thought there might have been a scandal. No. The community rallied around the young people and the grieving family.

Elizabeth’s older brother by two years was a student at the University of Alabama. His parents got word to him; he needed to come home. Something terrible had happened. It wouldn’t be the last time. Thirteen years later, he would receive another summons. His younger brother was in the hospital in Anniston. He had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. He was 24 years old when he died.

He lost both siblings in his young adult years. In between their deaths, he served in the 90th Division of the US army in the European Theater from 1943 to 1945. He came home with a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star. A lot of his buddies were left behind.

Life is full of “what ifs” – you take the left fork instead of the right; circumstances develop that force your hand in unexpected ways; young lives are cut short; dreams are altered or shattered. Misery happens to all of us sooner or later. Our broken world serves up a great deal of pain and heartache. How do you live with the “what ifs” of life?

I wish I had all the answers. Even with the consoling help of Scripture, we can be overwhelmed by the “what ifs” we ponder. The young man who lost so much in those years had two amazing parents. After all, they had lost two children and fretted the loss of their oldest in war. They didn’t approach their sorrows and fears with blind faith. Instead, they practiced a willing trust that didn’t demand all the answers. They chose to live with hope. They laughed and sang with joy, a joy that sustained them when their hearts were heavy. Their surviving son learned well. He also chose to live with optimistic, joyful faith. He modeled that faith among those he loved and served. If he had lived, he would be 100 on July 16. We don’t mourn his death; we celebrate his life – full of faith, hope, and love. He was my dad.

The Measure of Wealth

Late in his life, Paul wrote two letters to his protégé, Timothy. While much of the content of these personal letters addressed Timothy’s leadership challenges, Paul could have been writing an op-ed for the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. He gave an accurate assessment of human nature and the inevitable outcomes of misplaced priorities.

In his first letter, he urged his son in the faith: “Tell those who are rich in this world not to be proud and not to trust in their money, which will soon be gone. But their trust should be in the living God, who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment” (1 Timothy 6:17).

Isn’t it ironic that those who really want to be wealthy are some of the most miserable people on earth? Many spent most of their careers climbing the corporate ladder only to find that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall. John D. Rockefeller once said, “The poorest man in the world is he who only has money. The only question with wealth is, what do you do with it?”

Paul had the answer: “Tell them to use their money to do good. They should be rich in good works and should give generously to those in need, always being ready to share with others whatever God has given them” (1 Timothy 6:18).

What do with your wealth? Most of us might respond: “What wealth?” I have not known many truly rich people in my life, but I’ve known a number of wealthy people … people who trust God “who richly gives us all we need for our enjoyment.”

Jesus told us to invest in the eternal: “Store your treasures in heaven … wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be” (Matthew 6:19-21). What do you think He meant? I don’t think He meant to be so heavenly minded that we are not any earthly good. I believe we make investments of our time, talent, and treasure every day. We are good stewards, knowing that the Owner of all things deserves and demands an accounting. We give of ourselves and our means out of joy and gratitude. We are blessed – a privilege bound to a responsibility that promises an abundant life!

 

Habits

Habit: a repeated action that becomes automatic

That is one way to define behaviors that become a part of our routine. Habits, both good and bad, are hard to break once established. Some you wish you never started; others you are glad you did.

Growing up, one of the habits we developed had to do with preparing for Sunday. On Saturday night, certain things were just done. Clothes were selected (usually by mom, including dad’s) and laid out, offering envelopes were filled, check marks were made in the appropriate boxes, and envelopes were placed in Bibles. Evening prayer always included asking God to bless our church the next day. Early to bed and early to rise. We never had a discussion about whether we were going to church. Since dad served on the church staff, that matter was already settled!

But it became more than habit or obligation. Growing in faith came to mean something more significant. It began to matter. It was good to see friends, to learn lessons, to participate in worship, but there was more. Over time, habit turned into yearning. As years passed, faith became personal and powerful. Coming to know a gracious and generous God touched a deep place inside.

Why do we come? Why do we serve? Why do we give? Our time, talent, and treasure should be given out of joy and opportunity, not habit or duty. “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord’” (Psalm 122:1).