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How God Gives

I was helping out a few years ago at “Christmas Cheer,” the Salvation Army’s annual event whereby disadvantaged families in Central Ohio receive groceries for their own holiday feast and a toy for each child in the home. There was the good-natured chatting with the steady stream of folks—engagement is my favorite part of the evening—and plenty of excitement about Christmas. At one point, a man came through the line, accompanying a friend but not filling a cart of his own. A certain resignation contoured his face as he explained to me, “I’m homeless. I can’t take anything because I have no place to keep it.” Who knows how this man got to such a point—addictions, mental illness, exploitation, a series of poor decisions? But this was poverty.

God cares for the poor. His heart is with them and his actions are for them—mind, body and soul. Writes the apostle James to Christian believers, “Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom he promised those who love him?”1 This is not to suggest poverty itself is a means to heaven, rather faith is, and for many, coming to the end of our own means is the beginning of reliance on God. Could there be a more earnest plea of “Give us this day our daily bread”2 than when uttered from lips of those who have none at all? Then how does God answer these petitions of the poor?

He says “yes” through people. And not just those with means, for like the widow who put into the temple treasury all she had, two copper coins,3 those who have the least are often the most generous with what they have. God will indeed “deliver the needy who cry out,”4 and when we so pour ourselves into others, we do so not only to them, but to Christ himself. For He will one day say to some, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink . . . Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”5 This is a promise; it will happen. So, whether you give to the poor directly or through a ministry you know to be responsible and effective in helping them emerge from poverty’s grasp, do so eagerly, joyfully and expectantly, for the day comes when we will stand as one before Him who unites us in Himself—Christ Jesus, our Lord.

Father, give me an undivided heart, that my love for You would blossom in generosity toward others. Lead me in Your ways in heart and in action. In Christ I pray. Amen.

1 James 2:5 ESV
2 Matthew 6:11 ESV
3 Luke 21:1-4
4 Psalm 72:12
5 Matthew 26:35, 40

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Warriors Do This

My friend Dan got up to stretch his legs a bit, walking up the aisle toward the front of the plane before turning around to head back the other way. On the return trip to his seat, he noticed a man reading a Bible. “There’s a warrior,” Dan said to himself. A few paces later, he saw a woman also perusing the pages of Scripture, and he thought, “And there’s a warrior.” Coming upon yet another passenger with an open Bible, he repeated silently, “And there’s a warrior.” As he sat down again, Dan savored the encouraging reminder that “with all the bad news and chaos in the world, there’s still goodness and faith all around us.” Indeed, the church is everywhere. Added Dan, “And these believers were taking time to strengthen themselves in the Word.” Warriors do this.

Praying for Colossian Christians, Paul likewise celebrated the power we gain in maturing in the wisdom of God and in the knowledge of His will. Listen to the passion in the apostle’s petition: “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience . . .”1 We grow in our understanding of truth, so that we may bear fruit and gain strength. We gain strength, in turn, so that we may mature in patience and perseverance. Warriors need this.

Then if we are warriors, there must be a war; and if there is war, there must be an enemy. Indeed, both exist, and it is crucial that we see them clearly. Paul calls us to arms: “Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand . . .”2 Like it or not, we are in a battle, but who is our foe? Continues Paul, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”3 We fight not the people of the world, but “the ways of this world.”4 We stand not against “those who are disobedient”; but against “the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in [them].”5 He is our enemy—we stand against him and fight for every person whom he would oppress. We are warriors, and warriors do this.

Father, fill us with wisdom and knowledge of Your will, that we would be productive in Your kingdom, grow in our knowledge of You, and be strengthened with all power for spiritual battle.6 In Christ we pray. Amen.

1 Colossians 1:9b-11
2 Ephesians 6:10-11
3 Ephesians 6:12
4 Ephesians 2:2a
5 Ephesians 2:2b
6 Colossians 1:9-11

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When Others Speak of Us

Early in my career, I represented my employer to agents who sold insurance for our company in Northcentral Ohio cities and towns. Most of them were a generation older than me, many in business before I was born. As business owners, they valued their autonomy and exercised their authority; I could attempt to influence their actions through persuasion, but could command nothing. Leaving an agent’s office one day after a particularly difficult discussion, I thought to myself, “I can do this job with thin skin [overly sensitive to criticism] or I can do it with thicker skin. My experience under one approach will be far different than under the other.” As I walked to my car that day, I made a life-decision not to be thin-skinned—no longer would I subject my sense of wellbeing to the whim of others. I have never regretted it.

Most of us are easily influenced by what others think of us, and what they say to us or about us can be troubling—it can “get into our head.” Such was the case with David. Fleeing his own son, Absalom, and hearing what the people were saying about it, David raised the matter before the Almighty, “Many are saying of my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.’”1 Public opinion weighed on Israel’s king, just as the thoughts and words of others weigh on us today. Then how we respond is crucial, for the proverbial, perilous ditches border both sides of the path. Do we retreat into isolation, disengaging from society—our silenced views and opinions in tow—and losing all effectiveness? Do we instead capitulate to critics, compromising our convictions to gain the conditional applause of others? Jesus warns us against such an exchange—truth for acceptance: “Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.”2

After laying his complaint before God, David confessed with his mouth what he knew in his heart to be true: “But You, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the One who lifts my head.”3 He chose neither ditch, but walked the road that crested between them. Worldly ways will always tempt us to worldly responses, but wisdom is found in God. He is the One who defines us. He is the One who declares our worth. It is He who accepts us in Christ and sustains us all the days of our life. Our confidence is in Him. We are loved. We are free.

Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe. — Proverbs 29:25

Father, thank You for Your faithfulness. When I am tempted to react to rejection of any kind, draw my thoughts and heart to You, for You sustain me always. I know this full well. In Christ I pray. Amen.

1 Psalm 3:2 NASB
2 Luke 6:26 ESV
3 Psalm 3:3 NASB