Publication: One-to-One, Autumn 2013
Giving and Receiving
Autumn is in full swing and that means that Christmas is coming soon! This is my favorite time of year. I love the cooler weather, the wild colors in the trees, and the times to gather with friends and family.
Here along the Gulf Coast, it’s a great time for seafood. This was the time of year when my late Grandma Simpson would pull out the big gumbo pot and load it up with fresh crab, shrimp, and oysters, along with a rich dark roux, and some okra and onions. Our extended family would gather around the table for feasting, fellowship, storytelling, and laughter. Sometimes, my Uncle Riley and Aunt Mikki and Uncle George and Aunt Carolyn would come to town. Uncle Riley would go to the seafood market and join Grandma in the kitchen for a serious seafood throw down.
Sometimes, we would visit Texas at Thanksgiving, and Uncle George would put a turkey in the smoker … or the fryer! He and Grandma would be teasing and kidding each other while each worked their culinary magic in the kitchen. We loved it when the parents and grandparents had cooking duels. All of us grandkids and cousins were the winners!
Grandma loved her family, natural and spiritual. She selflessly served all of us, both at home and in the church, and she loved doing it…that is, she drew great joy from blessing others. My wife, Susanne, reminds me so much of her. Susanne is the hardest worker I know, and does so much to serve others. In the more than 28 years we’ve been married, I’ve been amazed at how much she does every day to bless our extended family and to serve behind the scenes in our church and also through CSM.
My Grandma loved to quote the Apostle Paul from 1 Timothy 6:6, which says: “Now godliness with contentment is great gain.” She certainly lived that verse. Grandma loved simplicity and found her joy in the Lord, His people, and her family, rather than in having lots of “stuff”.
This is something worth considering with Christmas just around the corner. Of course, retailers and advertisers have been telling us for months now about Christmas—not to celebrate Jesus— but in frenzied attempts to whet our appetite for more stuff and to rev up our shopping motors. While I love to give (and, frankly, to receive) Christmas gifts, the truth is that I don’t really need the latest gizmos and whatnots in order to truly enjoy the season.
CHRISTMAS IS NOT YOUR BIRTHDAY
I heard one Pastor tell his congregation, “Christmas is not your birthday!” Even if your birthday is December 25, the reason we actually celebrate Christmas is because of the birth of Jesus. Christmas giving, therefore, should reflect His priorities, rather than simply serving our selfishness. Now, perhaps you think that I am simply a Grinch who dislikes toys, Santa, tinsel, Christmas trees, silver bells, and carving the roast beast. Nothing could be further from the truth! I’m as jolly as the next guy, and maybe jollier, from Thanksgiving all the way through to the National Championship game. But I would remind you that, according to Dr. Seuss, it was the Grinch himself who thought that Christmas was all about material things, until he learned a beautiful lesson that it was about so much more.
Thank God, for many families, Christmas means more than worshiping at the altar of consumerism. As you plan your family events, budget, and giving during this season, think back on what Paul told Timothy, his son in the Lord, concerning the blessing of contentment. This is a great time to impart truth to our children about Who Jesus really is and what worshiping Him is really all about. I would suggest a few ways that we can do that …
What a great time to spend together with family around the biblical Christmas story and singing together about the newborn King! If your kids see you experiencing the joy of God’s presence and Word, they will hunger for these and seek them as well. Just as we shape our children’s natural appetites for food, so also can we shape their spiritual appetites. We can teach them to crave more “stuff” or we can teach them to find contentment in the Lord and what He has provided.
Worship is all about priorities. Jesus said in Matthew 6, “Wherever your treasure is, there will you find your heart.” He called us to seek Him first, and reminded us that He would take care of the rest. Whatever your past traditions have been, or whatever new ones you would like to create, make sure that the center of the season is Jesus.
During this season, take a portion of what you might would have budgeted for giving within your family, and instead use those funds to bless a family who does not have much; or, sow into your church or into a mission.
One of the most meaningful moments for me last year was having opportunity to personally give to a lady who called me one evening at the church office and told me about her grandson who lived with her. She said her family had no resources to give him things he needed, much less special Christmas gifts.
My wife and I prayed about it, and we felt the Lord wanted us to do something personally to bless her. The Lord told us an amount of money to give to her, though she had not asked for money. When I told her what I wanted to do, she wept for joy. And, so did I.
Then, I asked for her family’s address so that I could bring the gift; when she told me, I thought it sounded familiar. When I arrived, I was amazed that it was the house that had belonged to a man who had pastored and discipled me many years ago. In 1981, there had been a fire at my pastor’s house, and I had worked with many others to help restore it. It was a house where I had been blessed and had been a blessing. Now, here I was, 30 years later, standing on that same doorstep, able to bless another family living there. My heart was so full … I think “it grew three sizes that day!”
I think of my sister, Charlyn, and brother-in-law, Enrique, and the daily ministry they do via Hidden Treasures in Costa Rica to reach many children there. I think of teams working in the hardest places of the world to rescue women and children out of the slavery of human trafficking. I think of local missions who feed and shelter those with nothing to eat or no place to stay. We do not lack for opportunities to give to worthy ministries.
Some ministries receive second-hand items for re-sale or for distribution to the needy. One great Christmas idea is to seek out opportunities to “de-clutter” and simplify our own lives by giving some of our abundance away to others. Whatever you do and however you do it, find ways this year to give to those who cannot pay you back … and the Lord will repay you in far greater ways than you can ask or imagine!
In addition to sharing money or things, consider sharing your time this Christmas. It could be at your church or in some mission. It could also be inviting someone into your home to share in the joy of the season with your family. Many of our family Christmas celebrations have been greatly enriched by receiving guests into our home. I feel the presence of Jesus the strongest when I am sharing Him with others…His life, His kindness, His resources, His love, His Good News.
I’ll never forget times leading our local church youth group, including the holiday season, where we would visit a homeless mission and bring food, present music and testimonies, eat together, and even play basketball together with the men there. The key is engagement; to personally be able to look someone in the eye and communicate to them that God values them, and so do you.
Jesus volunteered to go on the greatest and longest mission journey ever when He stepped out of glory and eternity and into the mortal body of a helpless baby in a manger in a poor country in a troubled time. We join with the mission of Jesus when we step out of our comfort zones and extend “joy to the world.”
LET THERE BE PEACE ON EARTH
Peace on earth starts at home. It starts in our hearts. Jesus came as the Prince of Peace. It is His rulership in our hearts and homes that brings His peace and joy. To be able to cease from our striving for “more, more, more” would surely bring great rest to our souls, not to mention our bank accounts. To be content with the blessings that God has given to us and to thank Him for it, is to make room for Him to do more in and through us.
I still miss my Grandma, and so many of my other loved ones who have gone on to be with the Lord. But I thank God for the eternal legacy of truth they left to me. I’ll be thinking a lot about that this Christmas … with great gratitude.
Scripture Reference: 1 Timothy 6:6, Matthew 6