Friday, December 31, 2010

Fast Food Freebie

Ali’s eyes went wide with surprise once again as she told me what had happened to her the night before. She pulled up to the window to pay for her supper at the local McDonald’s only to be told that the bill had been covered by a lady in the other drive-thru lane, a woman who merely wanted to wish her a Merry Christmas and give her a small card bearing the name of a local church.

It took her a minute or two to gather herself before she was able to grab her bag of food and move on out of the way. Genuinely shocked but pleasantly surprised, she immediately called her boyfriend to tell him about the blessing she’d received. She told him it was only seven dollars, but honestly, who does that kind of thing in December, with the economy bad, money tight, and everybody hanging on to the few dollar bills they’ve got to bless their own families with at Christmas? The impact of that simple gesture was still clearly visible as she told me about the incident at work the next day.

I smiled as I listened, excited to hear the story of a woman who had discovered the secret to living above her means. That last four-word phrase bears a negative connotation in the worldly economics of our everyday lives. In that frame of reference it means living in a style beyond what one can afford financially, and generally ends in financial ruin and heartbreak. Yet in Kingdom economics it has a totally different meaning and outcome, a description of living in the abundance, blessing and favor of God, a place we all long to be. Ali’s benefactor left us some clues as to how to get there.

It begins, of course with a relationship with God. While there are many people who make their fortunes on their own, we can’t live in the blessings of God without first believing that He exists and then understanding that He loves each of us individually and longs to fill our lives with His gifts and the good plans that He has for us. A true indication that a divine connection has been made is the change in our hearts and mental attitudes, a shift from thinking only about ourselves to suddenly focusing on the needs and welfare of others. Money then is no longer a treasure to be hoarded but rather a tool to use in helping those around us discover the wonder of God’s love, as well.

Secondly, we reap what we sow. We can’t gather in a harvest without first planting seed. God’s ways are not our ways and so His Kingdom principles often make no sense to our carnal minds, yet in God’s economy we gain by giving what we have away. If we want financial blessings to follow us, we have to first be obedient to what He says to do in the area of tithing and sowing financially into the lives of others. Yet the principle works far beyond our finances into all other areas of our lives as well. Whatever we need becomes ours when we first sow a seed for the same in the life of somebody else.

Thirdly, the woman expected results from her actions. She didn’t necessarily expect to see them herself, but she knew they were the inevitable outcome of the action she took. The whole reason I’m writing this today is that I saw the impact of her gesture in three areas in the life of my friend. The first was that a testimony was shared. Ali was so impacted by the gesture that she couldn’t stop talking about it, even twenty-four hours after the fact. It brought inspiration to those who heard it, creating in them a desire to repeat the action themselves, thus multiplying the effect of the original gift. And lastly, it led to a spiritual connection with God. While not a regular church-goer herself, Ali told me that it made her want to visit the church named on the card, if only to look for the woman and thank her. Yet who knows what might happen in her own spiritual life as a result of walking through those church doors? Perhaps the price of a soul might be that seven-dollar fast food freebie, transforming the original generosity into a truly priceless gift.

I can’t remember now if it was something I saw on a magazine page I flipped in passing or on a website I visited, but somewhere this past holiday season I came across four words that stuck with me because their meaning when used together changes depending on which word is accented in the phrase. It’s simply this: Pass on the gift. And the whole point of the ponderings above boils down to a simple choice we make multiple times every day. You see, all of us have received so much to be thankful for, and daily God gives us the opportunity to return the favor, to bless others as we have been blessed. Most of us will never receive a free meal at a restaurant, but the Christmas season just past reminds us that we’ve each been given a Gift that more than any Happy Meal will reveal to us the joy to be found in the love of God. And now we’re faced with a choice. We can pass on that Gift - simply ignore Him or openly reject Him. Or, having eagerly accepted the love and salvation that He brings, we can pass the Gift on in ways that are as unique as we are, following the leadings of the Father who loves us and the Holy Spirit who directs us.

In my mind’s eye I picture Ali at the fast food restaurant as a smile suddenly lights up her face, her hand closes on the bag of free food and then grabs her cell phone to begin spreading the good news. And therein lies a three-point prescription for making 2011 a truly happy new year: believe, receive, and then simply pass it on.

“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given…”

(Isaiah 9:6 KJV)

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Priceless Present

Her groceries bagged and back in her cart already, the customer noticed that there were no other shoppers in line behind her and stole a minute to chat. Eagerly she reached into her purse and pulled out a photo of herself and her then hours-old husband on Christmas Day nine years earlier.

Washed all over again with new-bride excitement, she told me that she hadn’t been looking for a spouse when they started dating. He’d never been married, but she had been there and was done with that, a painful divorce having left her with negative feelings on the subject. They just wanted to have some fun together. But one thing led to another, and eventually when he asked her to marry him, she said yes. Still in no hurry to run to the altar, they began making plans slowly and methodically for a wedding at some future date.

Or so she thought. Apparently he’d been thinking about the matter more than she, and after a day of shopping together two days before Christmas, their laughter still fresh on their lips, he suddenly suggested they just run off and get married the next day. Instead of this endless searching for just the right present, why not just be their Christmas gift to each other that year? Thinking he was still joking around, she joined in the game, told him to show up at noon the next day and they’d do it. They laughed some more, kissed goodbye, and she went to bed that night without giving the idea another thought.

A pounding on her door more insistent than any alarm clock woke her the next day. Half awake, she opened it to find him standing there, flowers in his hand and a huge grin on his face. “I’m taking you at your word,” he said, reminding her of the promise she’d made the day before. He rushed her to get ready, saying they had a marriage license to pick up, a preacher on standby, and little time to spare. Her head in a daze, she did as she was bid and changed her status from “single” to “spouse” that very day. In the photo she held out to me I saw two wide-eyed newlyweds, still a little breathless from the events of the day before, holding each other tightly as they stood on her mother’s doorstep and announced “We’re married!” at the family Christmas celebration the next day.

Don’t you know we’re standing in her shoes? Many of us likewise weren’t looking for the love of a lifetime when suddenly it burst upon us. Jesus entered our everyday lives and wooed us with His love and kindness, His faithfulness, forgiveness, and the joy of the time we spent together. Eventually we took Him up on His proposal to enter into an eternal commitment to Him, to become the future Bride of Christ. He promised to return for us and went to make His preparations for what we assumed was a very distant date. Amazingly we likewise have fallen asleep, forgetting that He said He’d surprise us like a thief in the night to take us at our word that we’d be ready and waiting whenever He chose to come. And now time is knocking at our door, reminding us of His soon arrival to claim His promised Bride.

I looked at the photo one more time before handing it back to her, and then watched as she tucked it carefully back in her purse. She carried it with her because she was looking for a frame to place it in so she could give it to her husband on Christmas as a reminder of the day they promised to be each other’s gift.

Can’t we do the same? Let us likewise carry the love we have for Jesus in our hearts and actively look for ways to frame it in deeds of kindness, generosity and mercy toward others this holiday season as a way to be the gift to Him that no amount of money can buy. As we prepare our hearts for the arrival of the Christ child this Christmas let us remember that our Groom is likewise on His way.

Be ready when He comes.

“While the bridegroom tarried, the all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom comes!… And they who were ready went in with him to the marriage, and the door was shut… Therefore watch, for you do not know either the day or the hour in which the Son of man comes.”
(Matthew 25:5,6,10,13 MKJV)

Monday, December 6, 2010

A Slot For Your Soul

Thanksgiving was not about turkey, taking naps, or touchdowns on the tube for me this year, wonderful though all of those things were. Rather, my driveway was full and so was my heart, and for that I gave thanks.

The gravel entrance to our home has a large extension on the side, a turn-around area so that cars parked in the garage can be backed out and pointed towards the road before heading that way. As each of our sons started driving and eventually acquired a car of his own, the space was widened so that their three vehicles could fit at the end of it side by side.

The driveway thus became a barometer of how things stood in the house whenever I came home from wherever I’d been. One glance to the left as I pulled into the garage gave me a good idea of who I might find lounging on the couch inside or foraging in the fridge for food. I especially loved the sense of satisfaction that came over me when I arrived home from a late shift at work and watched my headlights bounce off of three shiny bumpers in turn, indicating that my boys were all safely home. But soon their bedtimes outdistanced mine, and I came to realize that cars in the drive merely meant they hadn’t left yet for the night’s activities. Instead of counting heads in beds in the mornings I’d just peek out the window and count cars in parking spots to reassure myself that all was still well in my world.

So it was difficult for me when the silver Civic and the black truck took off this fall, bearing portions of my heart to distant states for months at a time. The remaining Accord looked a little lost and lonely in that vast expanse of gravel, but the empty spots inside and out of the house were indeed occasionally filled with the noise and laughter of visiting friends who rejoiced that at long last they didn’t have to park on the grass! Still, the change made us look to a Thanksgiving reunion with special anticipation. While the many holiday photos posted online pictured feasts on tables, friends in the kitchen and at least a few family members snoring away on living room couches, so my simple snapshot of three cars in the driveway spoke of a grateful heart filled to overflowing once more.

Early on in the holiday planning it had seemed impractical for my youngest son who now lives in Florida to drive such a long way for just a short holiday, and so he planned to stay and celebrate with family friends in the area. But his brother couldn’t bear the thought of his not being home and offered to buy him an airline ticket himself, despite his own limited resources. In the end his father paid the price to bring his son home.

Surely we shouldn’t let Thanksgiving go by without remembering that our spiritual Brother and Father have done the same. So desperately did Jesus desire that we all gather at the table for the future Feast that He willingly gave all He had to make a way for us to get there. In the end God Himself paid our travel expenses with the life of his Son. And now He wants you to know that there’s a parking spot in Heaven with your name on it, a place reserved just for you…a slot for your soul. And more anxiously than any earthly parent waits for their child to arrive is your heavenly Father looking and longing for you to fill it.

Make it safely Home.

“…I go to prepare a place for you…so that where I am, you may be also.”

(John 14:2-3 MKJV)

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