Of Ringing Bells and Red Kettles

paul-nordman-kettleSince childhood, I have admired the volunteers who “ring the bell” for the Salvation Army throughout the holiday season. So when given the opportunity to “adopt” a red kettle for a day, I invited some friends and family members to sign up for a time slot, and together, we joined “The Army” for a day-long tour of duty. We’ve continued this new tradition for about five years now, and what a blessing it has proven to be! So join me today for a glimpse from the other side of kettle and bell.

Ringing the bell is yet another sobering lesson in not judging a book by its cover. Admittedly, I’ve had to set aside any inclination to “predict” who will give and who will not. I’m usually wrong and just as often humbled.

My favorite moments? That’s easy—watching parents teach their children to give. You can see the entire play transpire: the family huddles up, the parents point out the route, Mom or Dad hands off the donation, and the kids carry the gift across the goal line with a celebratory spike. Way to go, Mom! Thank you, Dad! And congratulations, kiddos, for you’ve just learned more than you know!

The funniest moments are when the toddlers, who have yet to take on the burden of concealing their thoughts, blurt out something like, “Mommy, why is that man over there ringing that bell?” A red-faced mother picks up the pace, shushing her little herald along the way. I smile.

Occasionally, someone will approach with that weathered look of experience, giving voice to a far-off gaze of recollection: “I remember when I had nothing and the Salvation Army was there for me.” These most grateful people never fail to drop another “thank you” into the kettle.

Perhaps the saddest thing about tending the bucket is when people avoid eye contact because of guilt feelings for not giving. There are all sorts of reasons for not donating to a particular cause or in a given moment. I personally walk by many red kettles without contributing. If you choose not to give for whatever reason, here is my suggestion—greet the volunteer with a smile and a hearty “Merry Christmas.”

But the most humbling moments are when people put money in the kettle, then look me in the eye and say with all sincerity, “Thank you for your good work.” Outwardly, I say, “It’s my pleasure.” But inside I’m thinking, “Wait a minute! You are the one who just gave of your means to help someone else! Thank you!”

Thank you, indeed. May you have a merry and meaningful Christmas Season!

If You Build It

baseballField of Dreams is an imaginative film about Ray Kinsella, an Iowa farmer who becomes inspired to plow under part of his crop and build a baseball field in its place. At points along the way, he hears these words from the great beyond: “If you build it, they will come.” So in the middle of nowhere, he creates a beautiful ball field—well groomed, handsomely striped, and brilliantly lit. It is, in a sense, something arising out of nothing.

The world we live in is the ultimate something-from-nothing occurrence. “In the beginning, God created,”1 starts the book of Genesis and the Bible that contains it. Only the unseen God was present, and from Him proceeded everything we do see . . . and hear and smell and taste and feel. How could matter possibly emerge from non-matter? We don’t know. But it did.

We often muse over the “how” of creation, but what about the “why”? Why such stunning beauty, intricate complexity, and orderly precision? The Bible answers that it had everything to do with something called, “glory”—God’s glory. He made everything not to establish His greatness, but to display it in ways that delight. We behold His beauty in vistas too grand to describe, and we hear His song in waves rhythmically lapping upon the sands. His touch is felt in breezes that embrace us, and His assuring power peals across thundering skies.

Yet God is most intimately displayed in those who set aside their own convenience to tend to someone else’s need, “everyone who is called by my name, whom I created for my glory, whom I formed and made.”2 Even the hardest of hearts are moved at selfless acts of kindness, even if only for a moment.

As the movie ends, a steady stream of headlights converge upon the “field of dreams,” bringing people from wherever they are to experience it. So also, God has built everything to reflect His glory, that we would see Him as He is and come to Him.

Lord God, we see you in the splendor that surrounds us and in your Spirit who indwells us. Grace me not only to see your glory, but to display it, as well, that this life would be pleasing to you and a blessing to others. Amen.

1 Genesis 1:1, 2
2 Isaiah 43:6b, 7

[See today’s Scripture in Genesis 1:1-5.]

Creed and Deed

[Read today’s Scripture in Matthew 7:24-29.]

knowing-doing-gapAre you familiar with the “knowing-doing gap”? It is a common phenomenon in which people talk about an issue, perhaps learn a lot about it, but don’t do anything about it. Many meetings close with participants somehow thinking that, by discussing an issue, they’ve actually done something to address it, even though their contemplations never even approached a resolution, let alone an action step!

Wisdom has no knowing-doing gap. Knowing what is best and not doing what is best is really pretty silly. “Foolish,” we might say. It’s the opposite of wisdom. Solomon knew this. When God told the king in a dream to ask for whatever he wanted, Solomon requested “a discerning heart,”[i] for he needed understanding and insight to distinguish between right and wrong as he governed Israel. Wisdom to Solomon was for a purpose beyond mere knowledge; he knew understanding as something to be applied.

Jesus knew it, too. His Sermon on the Mount was wisdom from God concerning forgiveness, enemies, fidelity, possessions, judgment, faith, and several other life challenges. Then concluding his instruction, He specifically cautioned against any knowing-doing gap: “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. . . . But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.”[ii]

Wisdom is both creed and deed; it is acting on what we know to be true. In fact, the apostle James said that if we hear the word and don’t do the word, it eludes us. If, on the other hand, we apply what we come to know, we are blessed.[iii] His simple advice? “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”[iv]

[i] 1 Kings 3:9
[ii] Matthew 7:24, 26
[iii] James 1:23–25
[iv] James 1:22

Today’s blog is an excerpt from: Christ in Me. Paul Nordman. Copyright 2016. Used by permission. All rights reserved.