Stewardship

Silver

Luke 12:15-21

15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”

Given the title of this entry, on the heels of the recent Rio Olympics, you might guess that I plan to talk about one or more of the athletes or events comprising those games. But you would be incorrect. The title here actually refers to silverware. Silverware that has, for the past six years, been gathering dust in our attic. Silverware that, in spite of each piece being in a plastic sleeve (a few of which have actually melted), somehow retains the smell of said dust and the other elements one finds in a Texas attic. I’m talking about 15 tablespoons, 5 large serving spoons, 6 malt spoons, 6 dinner forks, 13 salad forks, 2 butter knives, 2 serving forks, 2 pickled watermelon forks (yes, that’s a thing), 8 teaspoons, 2 slotted tablespoons, 12 personalized teaspoons, 1 pie spatula, and 2 ladles.

However, having recently moved to a new house and added about a thousand square feet to our domicile, I’ve been trying to get some of that stuff out of the attic and into the kitchen. The problem is, we were already overrun with silverware (except for the malt spoons, which actually would have been useful for us over the years).

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And surely someone must need all of this silverware and have a use for it. And here I am, saving it for a rainy day that may never come. Going through it all, I felt a lot like that guy in the Bible, who hoarded his stash of grain, and built an extra “attic” (okay, it was a barn) just to hoard all of his stuff.

Well, in my conviction, I have so far gathered up about 7 big boxes of not just silverware, but also other things that we just plain don’t need—and that might truly be a blessing to someone else. I have to confess, I still have a long way to go. But I’m making progress. Because, at the end of the day, stuff is just stuff. And if we let our stuff own us, we’ve lost a very important battle.

So, would you join me in changing your focus? In pursuing the riches of heaven? In giving to those in need? In trusting God to provide for you in your own time of need? In being a good and faithful servant and steward of the resources God has entrusted to your care? In properly recognizing the fleeting nature of not only our stuff, but our days on this earth as well (Psalm 90:12)? In adopting a spirit of generosity? In resisting the pressure that society places on us to always be striving for more and better? I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea. I can say for certain that I do. And I pray that God would help us all to learn to value the right things, and to store up our treasures in heaven, “where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal” (Matthew 6:20).

Jesus…DOES

James 2:15-17

“Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food.
If one of you tells him, ‘Go in peace; stay warm and well fed,’
but does not provide for his physical needs,
what good is that? So too, faith by itself,
if it is not complemented by action, is dead.”

I have a brother in need. He’s not my brother because we share the same parents, or the same last name, or the same political ideology, or the same faith. He’s my brother because the same God who created and loves me created and loves him. Now his name could be Tim, or Bob, or Joe, and his need could be for a place to sleep, a job, a car, or a hot meal. But today, his name is Steve, and he happens to need a kidney transplant.

His story found me through social media, but one thing that stood out to me most was the outpouring of sentiment that his story elicited. In response to his need, his friends sent him good thoughts, positive energy, prayers, and cyber-hugs. But no offers to actually help him, or to tangibly meet his need. Now, to be fair, I don’t know these people. Perhaps they’ve been disqualified from donation. Maybe they are kidney recipients themselves, or are also waiting on transplants of their own. But these comments reflect a common occurrence in our society, namely, that many of us would rather send someone a heartfelt emoji than take action on another’s behalf.

This tendency is not limited to our day and age. Even back in the Bible times, people were keen to offer well wishes to those suffering, rather than to recognize their own ability to help and to accept that responsibility. Think about the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). While a priest and a Levite passed by a man in need, a Samaritan (of no relation whatsoever) stopped to help—even going above and beyond that which common decency would have dictated. Jesus commended this third stranger, and instructed his listeners to do likewise. Also consider James 2:15-17, wherein we see that well wishes are likened to faith without action, and therefore dead.

Please don’t misunderstand me. Prayer is a crucial component in our relationship with God and in our relationships with others. But sometimes—I dare say often—God chooses to answer prayers through the ACTIONS of His people. We will, of course, not always be in a position to meet the needs we observe in the world. But maybe the next time we feel compelled to send someone good vibes, we could at least consider the possibility that God wants us to ACT on those intentions, and to be Jesus’s hands and feet to a world (or a friend or a neighbor or a stranger) in need. And in this particular case, it just so happens that I have a spare kidney—perhaps for just such a time as this.

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Littler Minutes

Last night, just before a had fallen asleep—and only seconds after Chris had drifted off—came the familiar sound of one Laredo Jade, whimpering from her bedroom, “Mommy…Mommy.” I went to her and asked her what she needed. “I just need you to hold me,” she answered as she wrapped her arms tightly around my neck and rested her head on my shoulder. Usually she demands that I hold her while I’m standing up, but last night, she agreed that we could lay on the couch together. After shifting around a bit, she got comfortable laying on my chest (and tummy and legs, because let’s face it, at her age she takes up quite a bit more space). Then she fell asleep, and then I fell asleep. But before I did, I thought back to a post I’d written in June of 2014, entitled, “Little Minutes.”

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Psalm 39:4-5

“LORD, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days;
Let me know how transient I am. Behold, you have made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing in your sight; Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah.”

As I was lying in the hotel bed with Tijge, he took my hand and held it as he drifted off to sleep. I was reminded of a habit that we had briefly gotten into a few weeks before. He would lay down and go to sleep, only to wake up at around midnight—at which point, he would sweetly ask, “You want to lay by me a little minutes?” Of course I do. Well, invariably, I would fall asleep and end up spending the rest of the night with him.

At one point, Chris expressed concern that this might get to be too much of a habit. Probably, I reasoned inwardly, but then I thought about the day that would no doubt come—sooner rather than later—when I would no longer be able to comfort him; when I wouldn’t be “cool” enough to be seen with, let alone to lay or snuggle with. And then I will miss these nights, and I won’t remember the midnight wake-up call, or his tossing and turning, or my stiff back and neck. I will only, and very fondly, remember those few extra minutes with him each night.

Little minutes, indeed.

——

Yep, that’s still about right. Different day. Different kid. Same stiff neck. Same little minutes…except they keep getting littler every day.

 

Higher Aspirations

There was a popular song that got a lot of attention last year. I heard it for the first, second, and third times on various morning shows on which the band (The Wanted) was performing. And it was catchy. It was. I bought it, I listen to it, and often I sing along. But if I really listen to the lyrics, I find myself challenged. They read:

 “When my time is over, lying in my grave
Written on my tombstone, I want it to say,
‘This man was a legend, a legend of his time.
When he was at a party, the party never died.’”

Really? You want that to be your legacy? That you were the life of the party? I feel like we can do better. We can hope for more. We can aspire to more. If I could choose what I would be remembered for, the list would look something like this:

 

  • Loving God
  • Loving my family
  • Serving others
  • Inspiring others
  • Caring for and giving to those in need
  • Forgiving those who have wronged me
  • Making a difference in people’s lives

 

I could go on, but it would take a long time for me to get far enough on the list that I would add “being the life of the party” to it. I guess what I’m trying to say is that we all have a purpose on this earth. And I think that for each of us, that purpose is big and meaningful. It will look different for you than it will for me. And sometimes, each of us may feel unsure about what that purpose is. But I think that, if we are going to find that purpose, we need to have higher aspirations than the world has for us. We must refuse to settle for anything less than our life’s calling. With New Year’s upon us, now is a great time to reflect on what having higher aspirations might look like for YOU. And then make your resolutions accordingly. I know I will.

Happy New Year, everyone!

 

For Granted

Luke 12:19-21 

“And I will say to my soul,
‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come;
take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.’”
But God said to him, “You fool! This very night your soul is required of you;
and now who will own what you have prepared?”
So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

 

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On Tuesday afternoon, it was 65 degrees and sunny here in central Texas—a perfect day for a walk. We took one of our regular routes and passed a car that is often parked outside of a house that we walk by. It reminded me of a similar walk past that same car that we took shortly after returning home from our summer visit to Minnesota.

“I want the top down on that convertible,” Tijge had declared. His comment made me think of how I can probably count on one finger the number of times I’ve seen a convertible with the top down in Texas. Not so in Minnesota. Even over a short visit, I would need many more hands than I have to count the number of convertibles with their tops down. Shoot, if it hits 50 degrees and it isn’t raining, you can pretty safely wager that my dad will have the top down.

So why is this? I mean, in Texas, we have arguably much better weather for a good bit of the year than they do up north. Sure, the summer sun gets a little too hot and a little too strong. But what about the fall, winter, and spring? In essence, it seems like people here take for granted the nearly ever-present option to put the top down. So they don’t need to do it today. They can put it off indefinitely, really. In Minnesota, they know that, in just a few short weeks, the top will go up and stay up for the next nine months. So they don’t take it for granted.

This same phenomenon helps to explain why people who live further from their families often spend more time with them than those who live nearby. It explains why, when we think to send a note of encouragement, we put it off until later. It explains why, when it occurs to us to do something nice for someone in need, we pawn it off on someone else. We figure, Hey, I can always do it some other time. But according to Luke 12, this isn’t the case. I’ll bet that Luke understood the parable of the rich fool better than most. As a physician, he must have often seen injuries and illnesses take lives quite unexpectedly. So we are never guaranteed tomorrow. Period.

In the traditional sense, to take something for granted means to use, accept, or treat it in a careless or indifferent manner. But what if we think about that phrase from another perspective? “Granted” can also mean bestowed, conferred, given, or granted as a privilege or a right. What if we started seeing those things that God has granted us for today as a priceless and treasured gift, or as a sacred trust to manage and care for? When I look at the phrase this way, there are a few things I want to start taking for granted. How about you?

Test Me in This

Malachi 3:10

“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.”

Isn’t it intriguing how God can speak to different people in so many different ways through a single message? Our pastor, Brady, just finished a sermon series on stewardship, entitled, “For the Love of Money.” Malachi 3:10 states that there is exactly one realm of our lives wherein we are invited, and even encouraged, to TEST the Lord our God. That one realm is stewardship. And throughout my life, I’ve taken God at His word, and have given Him the first fruits of my efforts. And no matter what I’ve faced, God has delivered. I have never had an expense, expected or otherwise, that I haven’t been able to pay. I can’t say that there has always been anything leftover afterward, but there has always been enough.

So needless to say, I didn’t expect this series to speak very loudly to me. But, on the last Sunday of the series, God spoke to me. And actually, it was the benediction that first caught my attention. Our missions pastor mentioned how help was still needed in setting up for and tearing down after the Compassion Mobile Experience over the weekend (http://www.compassion.com/change/default.htm?referer=134089). “Maybe you have some extra time that you could give,” is what he said. But in my mind I thought, Well, I don’t have extra time. I don’t have enough time to do all of the things that are on my plate as it is. But that thought triggered another. During the sermon, Bracdy had challenged college students to give to the church, addressing the common ‘moral’ objection that many of them have to giving their parents’ money—money that isn’t technically theirs. But Brady suggested that the same moral conviction doesn’t come into play when it’s a matter of buying a case of Red Bull, or a coffee, or a sorority t-shirt (#Lawyered). So I reflected for a moment on all of the things that I would make time for: exercise, coffee with a friend, Dancing with the Stars, and on and on.

And I heard a still small voice saying, “Test me in this.” And I did. I signed up to help with both the setup and tear down. And God rewarded me. I got to meet a great group of people on the Compassion event staff, and I got to serve in a way that was uniquely suited to my gifts and passions (and those opportunities are hard to come by). For me, that would have been enough. But now I can also say that I am almost caught up with my other obligations. In fact, I’m probably closer to caught up than I’ve been in months. Granted, I had to skip my workout for a couple of days, and I had to work all weekend (I caught most of the highlights of the Baylor game on instant replay while multitasking). But, as is always the case, God was faithful. He passed the test with flying colors—and was there really any doubt that He would?

So, how about you? When you hear that still small voice, will you listen?