The Complexity of Giving: My Giving Story

On Saturday, someone I know posted a Facebook status asking people why they thought people didn’t give to the church. I was interested in what people might say so I kept going back to the post over the afternoon though I had no intention of answering the question myself. Why, you ask? My answer would have been more complex and might not have fit in the character limit for a Facebook comment. Actually, that’s not true. 🙂 I don’t know what the character limit for a Facebook comment it. I just thought it would help you understand that my experiences with giving involve a story more complex than a Facebook comment.

But, then I saw the sound bites start to come in. “up to their eyeballs in debt” “not agree with church leadership choices” “not connected” “easiest expense to dump when necessary” “We are all selfish.” “amount spend on bricks and mortar and not on helping people” The sound bites went on and on. Now, I’m not saying these aren’t true. Most news reports have sound bites that draw people to listening to the whole report, and with the attention span we all have nowadays, the sound bite might be the most we get out of the issue. This is sad, but it is what it is.

That’s when I heard the promptings from God. ‘Daughter, you need to share your story. People need to know giving to me isn’t a sound bite.’ I argued with God a bit. My story involves a painful part of my past that I would prefer not to revisit. But, as those of us who are believers know, arguing with God tends not to work.

So, in all its glory, here is my giving story.

I didn’t grow up in a Christian home. God wasn’t spoken of in my home, and neither was tithing. If we did go to church, which wasn’t often, it might have been at Christmas or Easter. My parents would hand me a few dollars to put in the offering plate, but that was it.

When I was a teenager, they allowed me to go to church with a friend. I think it was a prompting from God. I heard about Jesus and his unconditional love and grace, and it was amazing to me. I accepted Christ as my Savior not long after. I started learning about the Bible in my youth group and during the services. I heard teaching about tithing and giving too, but it seemed far above me. I was a teenager, after all, and didn’t have a regular income to tithe. It was also not being reinforced at home. So, I continued putting a few dollars in the offering plate at this church and the other churches I went to as a teenager and didn’t think about it anymore.

Then, I went to college across the country from my family. I found a college church and a campus ministry to become involved in. I thrived in college because of this community and made lifelong friends. We were encouraged to give, but community was what was most important. We were college students, after all. This was a precious time for me. Like I have said, I still have relationships with some of these people over thirty years later. We did mission work. We were a part of our community and impacted lives for Jesus. I ended up going to graduate school at the same university so I was in college for six years.

Eventually, though, I entered the real world and started working as a teacher. I was still going to church and still giving, but something changed. It was no longer about the community or serving God. It was about seeing how much you could accumulate. The talk among my friends was who had the newest car, who had the newest clothes or music, or who had a boyfriend. I was still at my college church which I loved, but there was one thing it was missing. Single guys! The message I was getting was that it was time for me to settle down. I decided I needed to try some of the larger churches in town. I went through a couple of boyfriends and then found the man I would eventually marry when I went out for visitation with the church I had started going to. It was love at first sight. He was recovering from surgery, but there was something about his kind eyes, his sarcastic wit, and the way he made me laugh that I was drawn to. He asked me to marry him six months later, and we married a year after that.

For the next few years, we drifted between churches. We were both Christians and wanted to go to church, but we couldn’t find anywhere we felt comfortable. He also had not been raised in the church so neither of us had good teachings about giving to draw from. We also had not had good teaching about community. In particular, I remember one Sunday School class where we were asked when we were going to buy a home with the implication that living in an apartment was not a good thing and that we would not be welcome if we didn’t buy a home. We did not stay at that church.

We moved across town a few months after I found out I was pregnant with my first son. After he was born, we decided we wanted to plant roots in a church, but not one where we would be noticed. We went to a few smaller churches, but then found a bigger one we liked. There were things to be involved with and ways to serve so we became involved pretty quickly. We also started giving more, but we weren’t tithing, and it wasn’t as regular as it should have been. We had our second son, and he was dedicated in that church. Life was good.

But, we started noticing things, little things at first, and then they got bigger. Because, you see, we had moved to one of the wealthier parts of town. We were not wealthy by any stretch of the imagination. The talk at some of our Sunday School class fellowships started to be about what houses people had bought, what cars or boats people were thinking about getting, and where was the best place to get exclusive children’s clothing. My husband and I tried to keep up, but there was only so much we could do. The talk was about the toys and not about Jesus. Oh, we still helped people, but the unspoken implication was that we were better than them. As I think back, it makes me sad that we lost sight of who Jesus was in this church.

Then, it started getting noticed that we didn’t have as much or give as much as other people. The people who gave the most were recognized at our church. It was a competition we had no hope of winning. People would give us the side-eye if we were not wearing the best clothes or not driving off in the nicest cars. Conversations would stop when we walked up. I remember one thing in particular. My husband asked a guy in our class where his jewelry store was–that he wanted to buy me something. The guy replied in a snooty voice, “Don’t bother. You can’t afford anything in my store.” We were in shock and didn’t know what to say.

This was all building to something though–something that would take us away from that community. A family tragedy brought something out of the shadows that had happened a long time ago. It was something that made us unworthy in the eyes of the person who found out. He thought it was necessary for the whole church to know, and we were betrayed. The hurt was unimaginable. We had lost what we thought was our community. Fortunately, my husband found a job in another city, and we moved there not long after.

My first thought upon moving to our new city was to find a new church. I wanted to meet people. We did find one. It was where our older son was baptized. It didn’t take long for the same things to happen again though. People thought they were better than us because they had more and gave more. What we gave wasn’t enough. It hurt me down to the core of my being. We left that church and the church itself for what we thought would be forever. We told ourselves we could be Christians without having a church. This is true, but we didn’t understand what we would be missing out on since we had never been in a true Christian community.

Years passed. We moved to the Midwest and then back to the Southeast. Our kids grew, and we decided to homeschool them. Finally, we moved southwest from where we had been after we had experienced another family death, surgery, and job loss. Finding another church wasn’t even on our radar, but God hadn’t given up on us. My fifteen year old son asked if we could go to church, and a friend told me about one and said we needed to try it. We’re still there, almost five years later. It was so refreshing. No one cared that we lived in an apartment. We were welcomed warmly every single time we walked in the door. And this was with me staying in the background after I had walked in trying to figure out these people and what agenda they had. For the first several months, I just came and participated in the services and figured the agenda would come out soon enough, and we would be hurt again. It didn’t though. My sons made friends, and the trappings didn’t matter. We learned the way God truly meant for us to love one another. I didn’t know how wealthy some of the people were until we actually went to their homes. They were that down-to-earth. No one knew how much other people gave to the church.

Several months passed with all of this staying the same, and my husband and I talked about becoming consistent givers. We had never done this, but we were in a place that was touching our family in miraculous ways so we wanted to try. God blessed us from that first time of giving. Now, I’m not saying we became instantly wealthy. We didn’t. We have gone through heartbreak galore over the last four years–unemployment, multiple hospital stays,  health concerns, and just struggling to believe God and our community wouldn’t desert us again. It was logical. We had been deserted before so there was every possibility it would happen again. We haven’t been deserted though, and I don’t believe we will be even though I relive our pain every year at stewardship time. Sometimes, I flash back to the past when I hear stewardship sermons because of what we went through, and we are giving now.

So, before you reduce someone’s giving to a sound bite, ask them what their giving story is. It will probably be more complex than you think.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

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Light in the Midst of Darkness

I spoke of my depression on Monday and how I felt like I had been walking through darkness and having to put one foot in front of the other without knowing where I was going. Today, I want to talk about how there has been light in the midst of my darkness.

Sometimes, the light has come in tiny wisps, and other times, a bright spotlight has shined at one place along the road to show that God has not forgotten me or my pain. One of those wisps has been at my favorite writing place. We live in an apartment complex near a lake, and one of the many walking trails leads down to the edge of the lake where there is a stone bench. I have spent many hours gazing at the lake as I’ve poured out my heart on paper. It’s an up close and personal view of God’s creation. It’s peaceful there, a feeling I haven’t been able to feel anywhere else recently. I’m not sure if it’s because of the lack of people or just the stillness in the midst of chaos. Maybe both.

The light I see in the sky reminds me of the light spoken of in Scripture. There are so many examples which have encouraged me, but I will only quote a few.

Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Another example comes from 2 Corinthians 4:6. “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.”

Revelation 22:5 was a great encouragement to me. “There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever.”

And finally, from 2 Samuel 22:29. “You, Lord, are my lamp; the Lord turns my darkness into light.”

The last verse brought it all into focus. God is my lamp. Without Him in my life, all I have is complete darkness without the possibility of any light. I don’t want that. Not by a long shot. So, I hold onto God with all of my might and have faith that He will put light in my path just when I need it. It doesn’t mean I won’t have darkness or pain. It means He will walk with me through it.

That brings me to the spotlight God gave me at the beginning of this week. My son turned in an essay assignment for our homeschool. It was his testimony. I read it and started to cry. Even with the mess we have gone through for the last five years and are still continuing to go through, we have made an impact on his life and brought him to a saving knowledge of God. His writing was very deep and personal so I’m not going to share it anywhere, but it was something God knew I needed to read. A spotlight, so to speak, and something to bolster my faith.

I’m grateful for the wisps of light and the spotlights in the midst of my darkness, and I pray that we will all see the light God puts in our paths today as evidence of His presence.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

One Step in Front of the Other

I haven’t made a secret in this blog of suffering from depression. Sometimes, I think I do a better job of writing about it than I do talking about it. The sadness can be overwhelming, as it is for me today, and many times, there is no reason for it. But, that’s what depression is, an illness that people suffer from, not something that people have because they haven’t prayed hard enough.

That’s the reason I’m self-conscious about speaking of my depression and even more self-conscious of asking for help or telling people I’m having a bad day. They think this is something I can pray away, and everything will be okay. It doesn’t work that way. I can’t sidestep it. I have to walk through it. There is a good thing about walking through it though because when I walk through it, God walks with me.

The writers of Scripture talk about this, especially in the psalms. Psalm 23:4 says, “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

Another one comes from Psalm 119. Verse 28 says,”My soul is weary with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word.”

Other parts of Scripture represent my feelings today too. Lamentations 3:55 says, “I called on your name, Lord, from the depths of the pit.”

An additional example comes from Micah 7:8. “Do not gloat over me, my enemy! Though I have fallen, I will rise. Though I sit in darkness, the Lord will be my light.”

I like this example and the example from Isaiah I’m going to quote in just a moment because they represent how I deal with my depression. I have to take one step in front of the other as I walk through it with God by my side. Sometimes, I can’t see the next step because it is so shrouded in darkness. I hurt and don’t understand why I am hurting. But, God is with me, and that is enough so I keep walking.

Isaiah 50:10 says, “Who among you fears the Lord and obeys the word of his servant? Let the one who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on their God.” I do trust in and rely on my God as well so I keep putting one step in front of the other.

So, in conclusion, I covet your prayers today as I walk through this darkness and pray that we will all have the courage to put one step in front of the other with God by our side.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Quit Complaining and Start Doing

There were several titles I could have chosen for this post, and I might end up changing this one before I’m done writing. Two of the others that resonated with me were More Love, Fewer Words and What Christians Stand For. I was inspired by what a friend wrote on Facebook yesterday. There were more words than what are in any of these titles, obviously, but the gist of what she said to fellow Christians is in these five words–quit complaining and start doing.

During this last election cycle, there was a lot of complaining on social media by both sides. A lot of words used on the Internet and in real life that have broken up friendships, families, churches, and ministries. How did it come to this? Are we that entrenched in thinking that we are right or that our thoughts are God’s thoughts that we can’t look at the other side? Are we that focused on looking for role models in the media that we don’t look at the people around us or even look where we’re supposed to look for instruction on how to live? Let me remind you. If you are a Christian, that would be God.

Yes, I think we have become entrenched in our thinking, but I think there’s another reason why we complain. Many of us are lazy in the practice of our faith. Now, I don’t mean everyone by any stretch of the imagination. I know many people who are doing wonderful work in their ministries including the person I mentioned at the beginning of this post. But, many of us are lazy. It’s easier to march and speak against abortion than it is to adopt a child. It’s easier to complain about the homeless than it is to do something about it. It’s easier to distance ourselves from those who are not exactly like us than it is to get down in the trenches and form relationships with them. It’s easier to give money than it is to do anything at all. I could go on and on with examples, but I think I’ve made my point.

In the interest of total honesty, I will admit I have a tendency to be lazy myself. It comes from my sin nature, and it comes out when my mind is not where it is supposed to be which is focused on God.

I don’t want to be lazy though. I want to be the one who spreads hope; I want to be the one who gets down in the trenches and forms relationships; I want to be the one who is the hands of Christ; I want to show the love of my Savior to the people around me. Show more of Jesus and less of me. I think that is the point of what my friend was saying and what I’m trying to say. It’s time for us Christians to be known for what we are for and not what we are against. Praying that prayer for all of us!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Heart Attitudes

If you’re a regular reader of this blog or a follower of my Facebook page, you might have noticed I’ve started using some new hashtags. They include #newseatnewoutlook, #newfriends, #joyofachild, and #fixoureyesonJesus. These come from the way I’ve started my new year in church. It was a simple thing, really. I changed where I was sitting during my church’s worship service. I can’t tell you what that has done for my mental outlook. I’m sitting with people who want me there and who are genuinely excited about me being there. It has helped my outlook, my worship, and everything in-between.

So, on to today’s topic. Yesterday, I was sitting with the wife of one of the other media team people, her son, and her mother-in-law. It was before the service, and we noticed the sign come up on the big screen about help being needed on the media team. We chuckled because, more often than not, both of our husbands are back there during the service. The term media widow was used, and I told her how much I had enjoyed sitting with her and getting to know her and her kids. It was nice to sit with someone who I had something in common with. She told me her husband struggled with asking for help, and it’s the same with my husband. He prefers to do something himself and not ask for help unless it’s absolutely necessary. We are at the point where he has to now because baseball season for our son starts in six weeks. My friend and I finished commiserating just before the service started, and we had a wonderful time of worship with our church family.

Later on, I was thinking of what today’s blog topic was going to be, and I came back to that conversation. ‘Oh, that would be a great story to share,’ I thought. Then, my high horse came tumbling back to earth. ‘Dear daughter, didn’t you ask me for help with your attitudes last week?’ God has a way of speaking right to the heart of the matter. ‘I know your husband has trouble asking for help, but you do as well, only with different things.’

God was right. I do have trouble asking for help especially with my heart attitudes.

How many of us ask for prayer for our heart attitudes? I would venture to say not a lot. It’s easier to ask for prayer when we’re sick or out of work than to ask for these prayers.

‘I don’t like that person because of their politics. Pray that I would love them like Jesus wants me to.’

Or, ‘I know we need to welcome people who are different to church, but I struggle with that. Please pray for me.’

Or, ‘I struggle with talking to some people because they are prettier, or more accomplished or just seem to have it more together in Christ than I do. Please pray for me.’

And here is the hardest one for me. ‘Sometimes I resent being a media widow. I resent never having my husband with me during worship. I know he is doing God’s work, and I rejoice in that, but sometimes, it is just hard. Please pray that more people would help and that the resentment would go away.’

Heart attitudes. We all have them, and we hold them tightly, not letting God carry them for us. My sincerest desire is for others to see Jesus through me, but I know Jesus needs to work on my heart for that to happen.

So, my goal for this year is to fix my eyes on Jesus and let him work on my heart attitudes. It’s why I changed my seat, and it’s why I hope, one day, I will have the courage to approach the people I struggle the most with talking to and ask them to pray for me.

God’s blessings on all of you today!

PS – Church family, my husband and his friend still need help on the media team. I’m not letting him get away with not asking. 🙂

 

Simplicity

Simplicity is our theme on Wednesday nights for this month, and I’ve been thinking about what this means in my life since it was introduced last week.

First, here is the definition of the word. Wikipedia says, “Simplicity is the state or quality of being simple. Something which is easy to understand or explain seems simple, in contrast to something complicated.” I also liked the synonyms I found for the word–clarity, clearness, comprehensibility, understandable, accessibility, and straightforwardness.

For many things in our lives, these words apply. Who, among us, has wanted math or English or science to be more understandable? How about being able to understand how to fix a car so we don’t have to pay someone else to do it? What about reading a recipe? The examples could go on and on of things we would like to be simple and understandable.

Why is it, then, that we make other things so complicated in our lives? From the people we associate with to our jobs to the things we buy, to how we behave, our lives have a tendency to go from one complicated mess to another.

This isn’t unique to modern times though. Jesus had something to say about it in Scripture. From the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42, “As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed–or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken from her.'”

We read this Scripture and think Jesus was harshly rebuking Martha. I don’t think so. I like to think that maybe after He made this statement, He might have invited her to join them and told her it was okay if dinner wasn’t ready for a few more minutes. He wanted people to hear what He had to say.

Isn’t that what we try to do now though? Focus on the complications and the minutiae of our lives instead of listening to God’s words. Satan uses the complications of our lives to take our focus off of God and make us think He isn’t with us in whatever we are experiencing. But, He is with us, no matter what, and I am very grateful.

So, how does that relate to simplicity? In two ways, I think. First, we need to be happy with what we have. There will always be someone who has something better than what we have. If we keep our eyes focused on God, we won’t have the time or inclination to be envious of them. Two, and this one is the most important to me. We need to focus on what we can do for others and not ourselves. The accumulation of monetary assets does no one any good if they are not used to further God’s kingdom.

I have worked on focusing on what I can do for others during the last few weeks, and it has improved my own mental outlook. When I think of how excited someone is going to be because of something I’ve done that has cost me time, money, or a combination of both, a sense of peace comes over me, and I think my life gets closer to what Jesus wants from me.

In conclusion, I think Matthew 6:33-34 represents the ultimate definition of simplicity for me. “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” So thankful for my Lord and Savior who has blessed me abundantly with the simple things in life!

God’s blessings on all of you today!

Praising God

Yesterday, in church, our pastor talked about praising God and celebration. Two things that go hand in hand. Many of the psalms speak of this as well including the text he used. Psalm 145:1-2 says, “I will exalt you, my God the King; I will praise your name for ever and ever. Every day I will praise you and extol your name for ever and ever.”

Many of us don’t do this the way we should. Our problems and our worries take up most of our thoughts, and we try to get rid of them by thinking, hoping, strategizing, and praying about them. But, we miss out on something when we don’t praise God, and I found that out yesterday.

We’ve only had worship service the last few weeks because of the holidays and the icy weather here yesterday so my routine has been a bit different. I came with my husband early for him to help with the media, and ended up playing with the children of the other guy who helps. It has been a true joy to be around small children again. They look at life in a much different way than adults or even teenagers. I ended up sitting with them too. For two of the weeks, I was the official “babysitter” because their mother was working, and the other week I sat with all three of them. I am truly thankful for the friendship I am starting to build with them. Between changing  where I was sitting in the auditorium to do this and sitting with people who wanted me there, my outlook has changed, and I can see more clearly the good God has brought into my life.

I think that’s the point of praising Him. Even when the big things are bad, there have always been little things to praise Him for. Verses 9-10 of Psalm 145 illustrate this. “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made. All your works praise you, Lord; your faithful people extol you.” All. Not just some. Not just the good things. Not the bad things either. All He has made.

So, I was thinking along these lines during the service. The things in my life I could praise God for. And it was a lot more than I thought. At the end of the service, a video filled with pictures from 2016 was shown. All of the special things that had happened at my church during 2016. I had been involved with many of them. Then, I got teary-eyed. This place and this group of people have come to mean a great deal to me in the four and a half years I’ve been here. God used them to bring me back to Him, and my faith has been the strongest it has ever been.Then, our pastor called people who served in different capacities to the front as well as those of us who had participated in the life of our church in 2016. Everyone except the people who worked at the media desk ended up front. We all laid hands on each other, and he spoke a prayer over us. It was very inspiring and did wonders for my heart. I will have to make sure the guys behind the media desk get called up next time though so my husband won’t be able to say he got out of something. 🙂

As I end this post, I want to quote two more verses from Psalm 145. They make a point of saying that we need to share all the ways we can praise God and make sure our children are also praising Him for all the works He has done in our lives. Verses 3-4 say, “Great is the Lord and most worthy of praise; his greatness no one can fathom. One generation commends your works to another; they tell of your mighty acts.” May we all always look to God and celebrate His goodness!

Praying God’s blessings on you all today!