Giving what we cannot keep to gain what we cannot lose

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.  1 Peter 1:3-5


“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.”
-Jim Elliot

 

Eternity has been on my mind lately.

Among the pile of books that I am currently reading is Money, Possessions, and Eternity by Randy Alcorn. In addition to being an excellent read, it is profoundly changing my thinking . . . . profoundly! He speaks boldly of this world.

“Someday this upside-down world will be turned right side up. Nothing in all eternity will turn it back again. If we are wise, we will spend our brief lives on earth positioning ourselves for the turn.”

I have been a Christian for thirty plus years. Every time I have given money to a mission organization, supported a child living in poverty, sacrificed for my family, or loved and offered hope to someone in need, I considered it an act of obedience. Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior and He has commanded me to love and give sacrificially.

Even though compassionate plays into it, my attitude toward these practices has been, “I have lost something for the benefit of another” (money, time, etc.). I thought of it as my loss. Making sacrifices for God is what we are supposed to do. It is the right thing to do.

“ . . . . and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”   Luke 14:14

Most Christians think of serving, sacrificing, and giving as losing something. If we give $100 to the children’s hunger fund, than we now have $100 less than we did before. We are losing something, so that someone else can gain. It is the selfless thing to do.

But . . . is it really selfless? Is it really a loss?

What if we aren’t really losing? What if we are actually gaining when we sacrifice for others?

What if I was actually gaining whenever I lost something for Christ? What if I was actually receiving something whenever I gave something away? What if everything does have an eternal reward?

What if eternity is perfectly just?

Sacrifice is defined as, the surrender or destruction of something prized or desirable for the sake of something considered as having a higher or more pressing claim (dictionary.com). What if there was a higher and more pressing claim in eternity?

For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.   2 Corinthians 4:17

If every good thing that I do either gets a reward that I cannot keep here on earth, or a reward in heaven that I can enjoy for all eternity, that changes everything!

Eternity changes everything!

“View the present in light of the future; see time in light of eternity; look beyond sacrifice to reward; bear the cross while anticipating the crown.”
-Randy Alcorn, Money, Possessions, and Eternity

 

Is it selfish to focus and take joy in our future treasures in heaven? Maybe it is. However, the one thing that we are allowed to be selfish about is storing up treasures in heaven.

railway to sunny horizonBut store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.   Matthew 6:20

We tend not to think with an eternal perspective. It is all about the here and now. Most of us would say that we believe in eternity, but don’t really understand what it means. Eternity seems like some abstract idea that we can never fully grasp. The concept is hard to wrap our brains around.

If we did believe in eternity in heaven, and took it seriously, our lives might be drastically different. Our priorities might change. We might think differently about our time, money and treasures. The things that we worry and stress about now might fade away into the distance.

As the hymn goes . . .

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim
In the Light of His glory and grace

Money and how we spend our time doesn’t just affect the here and now. It affects eternity. And, if we are thinking about eternity, there really should be no limit to our generosity.

Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.  Malachi 3:10

Gone are the days when we were fixated on these concerns.

Do I have enough? and,
How can I get more?

Focusing on eternity causes us to ask these questions instead.

Am I doing enough for others?
Am I being generous enough? and,
How can I give more?

When we are living for eternity, we are truly free. We can have freedom from the worries of the here and now.

So, it is almost December. Christmas is coming. Sometimes I think that there isn’t any time when Christians resemble the world more than at Christmastime.

What if we viewed Christmas in light of eternity? Would we do anything differently?

It all comes down to, do I want my reward now to enjoy for a short time and then lose it, or do I want to wait and enjoy my reward eternally in heaven? When we look at it this way, it’s a no brainer. If we delay our gratification there is a huge payoff! And the payoff is guaranteed . . . . we all die eventually!

Are we willing to give up a little of what we love so much about Christmas to store up eternal treasures in heaven?

What we usually do at Christmas time:

  • Run around frantically shopping for giftsStriped New Year's Ball With A Red Tape.
  • Decorate our homes in the Christmas spirit
  • Give and receive presents from friends and family
  • Throw parties with our friends and neighbors
  • Listen to Christmas music and enjoy Christmas concerts
  • Participate in a live nativity scene or go caroling
  • Tell the story of baby Jesus
  • Eat a Christmas feast and gobs of Christmas cookies
  • Spend time with family around a Christmas tree in the warmth of a roaring fire
  • Watch A Charlie Brown Christmas, The Grinch Who Stole Christmas, Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman

None of these things are wrong. I love the sights and smells and warm fuzzy feelings of Christmas as much as anybody. I love being with my family. I love a roaring fire in the fireplace and the smell of cookies in the oven. I am not saying that we shouldn’t do these things.

What I am saying is . . .

Why would we forfeit eternal treasures for just these things? Eternity with God in heaven will probably have these wonderful Christmas things times 100 . . . maybe times 1,000,000! And we will get to keep them forever!

What I am saying is that the fun, ‘Christmas-y’ things shouldn’t be the only things that we do this Christmas season. We need to help the poor and serve others. We must focus on blessing others this Christmas more than we expect to be blessed ourselves. We always need to be caring for others. Not only because Christ commands it, but also because Christ will reward it.

If we are celebrating Christ’s birth, how can we celebrate it any other way than to ‘do unto the least of these’?

And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”  Acts 20:35

If we are serving the poor and oppressed, we can still enjoy the other stuff while at the same time being expectant of our future treasure. But when we skip over the commandments of Jesus to celebrate Christmas ‘our way’, we are being ‘of’ the world not just ‘in’ it.

Christmas can be a huge distraction from His mission. If you are like me, it doesn’t take much to distract me. Wave shiny objects in front of me and I am gone –Squirrel! So, we must see beyond the lights and the tinsel. Our focus must remain on Christ and His mission even during the Christmas season.

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many   Matthew 20:28

As disciples of Christ, we put Him above all. And putting Christ above all requires that we put others above ourselves. This is how we are going to store up treasures in heaven.

As we look toward the coming holiday, how can we ‘store up treasures in heaven’ with our money, gifts and time?

child living in Mondesa slumWhat if we took what we normally spent on Christmas and gave it to the poor?
What if we gave all of our gifts to people that we will never even meet?
What if we gave gifts to orphaned children halfway across the world?
What if we gave it all to the downcast and lowly?

There are many things we can do. You don’t have to give 100% of your Christmas budget. Maybe think about what you could do without. Try giving a portion of what you normally spend on each other for Christmas to the homeless in your city . . . just a portion. And, see how God blesses you, and next year give a little more.

Here are some other ideas . . .

  • Take a portion of what you normally spend on each other and give it away instead
  • Spend part of your holiday handing out food at a bread pantry
  • Invite an elderly neighbor, or someone who doesn’t have family to Christmas dinner
  • Celebrate Christmas simply so that you can give more money to those in need
  • Hand out blankets to the homeless
  • give money to the bell ringers for The Salvation Army outside of the grocery store
  • be generous in your tipping

God, I pray, make me better than I am without You. Make me more like You. I give everything to You, Abba Father, because YOU are everything. Teach me to be humble and live a life of simplicity. Help me to separate myself from the materialistic things of this world. Change my nature to be more like yours. When people look at me, I want them to see YOU, Jesus.

Embracing weakness; when I am weak, then I am strong

“The Christian often tries to forget his weakness: God wants us to remember it, to feel it deeply. The Christian wants to conquer his weakness and to be freed from it: God wants us to rest and even rejoice in it. The Christian mourns over his weakness: Christ teaches His servant to say, “I take pleasure in infirmities; most gladly will I glory in my infirmities.” The Christian thinks his weakness his greatest hindrance in the life and service of God: God tells us that it is the secret of strength and success. It is our weakness, heartily accepted and continually realized, that gives us our claim and access to the strength of Him who has said, “My strength is made perfect in weakness.”

Andrew Murray, Abide in Christ

I lead a women’s’ bible study with three other ladies at my church. When I agreed to co-lead this bible study I knew that it would be far out of my comfort zone.

Leading groups and public speaking are not my thing. Talking in front of thirty or so women would just about make me throw up. And it has . . . . just about.

Being a stay at home mom for the past 15 years has been great for my kids, but not so great for my confidence. Frightened and stressed young business woman biting her fingers,Staying home often means that you are not out growing your career, not refining your people skills daily, or gaining confidence in various social settings. You aren’t practicing things like running meetings or giving presentations. For me, those areas are definitely weak.

So, why did I agree to do this, you might ask? There are two reasons.

One, is that I believed that God wanted me to. I have found that saying no to God is generally a bad idea. He is good and wants the best for us. When we say no to God, we are missing out on our best life.

And, two, I knew that God didn’t need much from me to do a good work through me.  

Knowing that I couldn’t do it on my own forced me to rely on Him. And, I have found that most of the wisdom God wants to give us can only be acquired outside the boundaries of our comfort zone. And if that is where I receive His wisdom, then that is where I wanted to go.

I come up painfully short when it comes to most things in life. But, I know that I can give God whatever I have, even my weakness, and He will add Himself to the equation. We don’t have to be enough on our own, because He is enough. I am so much better with God than I could ever be on my own!

My weakness + God = God’s perfect power

I am very aware of my weakness. I often pray when I am in difficult situations that God would make me better than I am . . . . better than I am without Him.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.      Psalm 28:7

We are imperfect creatures. Sometimes we are incapable of being loving and selfless. And that is when the power of the Holy Spirit rests on us and allows us to do what we can’t do in and of ourselves.

Often in relationships I have to ask God to make me better than I am. I am an introvert, therefore, relationships and social situations are hard for me. But I can give Him my weakness, and He gives me the ability to be kind, giving, selfless, and loving. These are things that at times, I can’t do without Him.

It’s amazing how far just being willing and available to God will take you. Being willing is half the battle. And surrendering our will to God is what He desires.

Surrender your heart to God, turn to him in prayer, and give up your sins— even those you do in secret. Then you won’t be ashamed; you will be confident and fearless.  Job 11:13-15 (CEV)

Most Christians are uncomfortable with the concept of weakness. We value the strong, just as the world does. Look at our churches and see who the leaders are. They are usually the strong, eloquent, scholarly ones who exude strength, not those embracing weakness.

We have it backwards. We put those who are strong and powerful in high esteem. Yet, God clearly shows us that He values weakness. His power is made perfect in weakness.

We all have weaknesses. And it takes true courage to admit that we do. Why are we embarrassed or ashamed about our weaknesses when we all have them?

“Never let them see you sweat!” They say.

I say, ‘why not?’

God is the only omnipotent one. God has no weaknesses, He is all powerful. We are human and do have weaknesses . . . . all of us do.

There is a big difference between the words, weak and weakness. We all have weaknesses, but in Christ we are certainly not weak! We can wield great amounts of strength and power through the Holy Spirit. And, more power than we could ever experience on our own.

However, when we are following Christ, we may appear weak to unbelievers.

  • We may not stand up for ourselves if it doesn’t glorify God
  • We might not fight back when something is done to us, or fight at all
  • We might turn the other cheek
  • We might not trample others to get ahead
  • We might experience weakness, frustration or despair
  • We might give our money away
  • We might put ourselves below others

If you call people who do these things weak, than you are calling Jesus weak.

Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. Mark 10:43-45

We have to remember that Jesus was counterculture, and if we want to emulate Him, then we too must be counter culture. That may mean that God is calling us to do things that will make us appear weak to the world. But we know the truth. We know that we are strong in Christ.

Humility and weakness go hand in hand. One must be humble to acknowledge one’s own weakness. And, it is only with humility that you can you embrace it.  

Embracing weakness is not the popular thing to do. And those who do will find themselves on the road less traveled, the narrow path. And they will likely find themselves there alone.

But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  Matthew 7:14

Choosing to embrace humility and weakness can lead to difficult places. It can lead to embarrassment and ridicule. It leads to the spaces outside your comfort zone. It leads to places that may make you look unimpressive and weak to others.

He calls the foolish, the weak, the lowly, and the despised things of the world. And He does great things with them.

God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.  1 Corinthians 1:26-29

Even Paul had weaknesses . . . Paul! Paul is one of my heros, not in spite of his weakness, but because of it.

I truly believe that most of us have a ‘thorn in the flesh’ just as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 12. This is one of my favorite scriptures.

Therefore, in order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.  2 Corinthians 12:7-10

Two things stand out to me from this scripture.

  1. Everything that God does is for our good. If we have a thorn in our flesh, then we need it to be there. Paul needed it to keep him from being conceited.
  2. God uses our weaknesses, maybe even more than our strengths. We need to be willing to be weak . . . so that Christ’s power may rest on me  (vs. 9).

Most, if not all, of the people that God used powerfully in scripture had significant weaknesses. Paul was one of many.

Moses didn’t speak well.

Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.”  Exodus 4:10

Naaman, a great king, was a leper.

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.   2 Kings 5:1

  • Cartoon man holding a dumbell.   Abraham was very old
  •    Samson couldn’t resist women
  •    Jonah ran from God
  •    Naomi was a widow
  •    Peter denied Christ
  •    The disciples fell asleep
  •    Martha had anxiety
  •    Rahab was a prostitute

The key to being great in the kingdom of God is not a lack of weakness. Surrendered weakness is a strength.

We aren’t enough in and of ourselves. If we can acknowledge our weaknesses and need, God can use us greatly. Weakness is part of the human condition. There isn’t a man or woman alive that doesn’t have a weakness. Only those that acknowledge their weakness can be great in the Kingdom of God.

“Lord Jesus, you embraced your cross to redeem the world. Help me to embrace the crosses in my life — the hardships, struggles, disappointments, pain. Only by recognizing my own weakness, can I discover your strength.”

  -Author Unknown

What are your weaknesses? I would love to hear from you!

Where Does My Help Come From?

I woke up several days ago in a fog. The motivation to get out of bed just wasn’t there. My brain protested consciousness as I blinked my weary eyes open. The extra hour of sleep from Daylight Savings didn’t seem to be helping. The bright sunlight made me squint as I slid my way out of the covers.

Ugh! It’s Monday!

I managed to get myself dressed and even worked out. That should clear my head, or so I thought. Nope. I came downstairs to an empty and eerily silent house. I sat at the computer and stared at all the things I had open from the night before.

As I stared at the words in front of me, my mind was blank. I couldn’t write a single word. Then the thought hit me. Everything that I have written so far, this book, is all garbage! How can I begin to talk about the things of God? WhoStressed man profile vector am I?!!

My head was a jumble of thoughts. So many things to do. Today was the day that I had time to write. The pressure was on.

Crickets.

Ok, Plan B → coffee. Over the river and through the woods to Starbuck’s and back I went! Yes, I’m a Starbucks snob, don’t judge me!

Back at home with a warm, frothy cup of happiness in hand, I confidently sat down at the computer. This was going to do it, yes, the juices will be flowing now.

And, I sat, and I sat. Waiting, waiting. . . .  aaaany minute now. With an impatient sigh, I drummed my fingers on the desk.

Nothing brilliant did come from my hand that day. Shocker! Not one poetic sentence, not one brilliant thought, not one project completed. The words just weren’t there.

The Holy Spirit moves when He moves. Who am I to try to force His hand? God has given me something to say. He has given me a message to share. And I have said from the beginning that if they are not His words, than I don’t want to write.

It is on these frustrating days that the enemy takes notice of me.

“Ooooooo . . . opportunity,” he says. “Let’s kick her while she’s down.” And, Satan’s arrows start to fly.

I often fight discouragement. The enemy knows how to push my buttons, he knows where he can get a foothold in my life. He knows how he can be most effective with me. He is cunning and subtle and ruthless.

I am of the sort that has always battled the demons of discouragement. They seem to  be ready at any moment to take me down. We all have our demons, as they say. And, this was mine.

Down, down, down, into the ground he pounds me.

Would my platform ever get off the ground?
What if the words stop coming?
What was I thinking when I thought that I could write a book, much less sell it?!
I can’t do this, I just can’t!

Satan likes to play with me. Discouragement is his toy of choice. He hands it to me and I just take it. I am a fool for believing the lies if even for just a moment. I am such an easy target. He knows it. I know it. God knows it.

When I was younger, I never thought very highly of myself. I didn’t have a lot of encouragement during my adolescent/teenage years. I don’t remember hearing a lot of

“it’s going to be ok”
“you can do it”
“hang in there”

It’s an unfortunate byproduct of divorce.

When a family unit dissolves, the kids tend to lose their cheerleaders. I very much did. And when you don’t have cheerleaders growing up, you believe the lies of the enemy, you are easily decieved. I have been easily discouraged my entire life.

How do I make sure that discouragement doesn’t stop me from loving God and doing Kingdom work in my life?

What do I do when the big ‘D’ is heavy on my back?
Where does my help come from?

Waterfall in the forestI lift up my eyes to the mountains—
where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—
he who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, he who watches over Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—
the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day,
nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm—
he will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going
both now and forevermore.
-Psalm 121

Where does my help come from? It comes from the Lord. It comes from above and all around me. God is always with me, reminding me that I am His, reminding me that I am deeply loved. And, He reminds me that I am a daughter of the King!

Discouragement and fear are not of God. He doesn’t deal in those emotions. He brings good news! And, He commands us to be courageous.

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”   Joshua 1:9

When I am discouraged, if I am still and listen, I can hear my Father’s still, soft voice.

Lean in, I hear Him say.

Lean in to Me when the storms rage around you
Lean in to Me when fear and discouragement grip you
Lean in to Me when the silence nearly crushes you
Lean in to Me when your mind is a mess
Lean in to Me when your heart is broken

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes,
the oil of joy instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.
They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.  Isaiah 61:1-3

So when you are beaten down and discouraged, lean in to God, and know where your help comes from.