Monday, July 25, 2011

give

you know the generous grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.  though He was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by His poverty He could make you rich
~2 corinthians 8:9~

giving is the language of Love
~Bible commentary~

last night at the home group i am part of we studied 2 corinthians 8 & 9 and discussed the topic of giving.  [as a disclaimer up front before i continue, the musings that follow here are not exclusively my own but rather the product of discussion in fellowship] as followers of Christ we are called to give, not commanded, but called.  when we accept the gift of salvation, and believe in our heart that Christ is our savior and the son of God, our heart naturally transforms, making us instinctively want to give as He gave so graciously to us.  Christ gave the greatest sacrifice, His life for the sins of all mankind...so how could anything we struggle with giving to others even compare?

often times, as we all discussed [and i know i personally struggle with this] it is hard to determine how much is 'enough' to give...i mean if we look to the story of the widow giving her very last coins [mark 12:41-44] it seems that we are called to give up everything we have...but if our heart is bitter in the giving, how does this glorify God?  as we discussed this we came to agree that determining how much is 'enough' to give, is really case specific, and something that you will know through prayer and seeking the Spirit's guidance.  as modern westerners i think we are so often fixated on definitions, formulas, and clear-cut answers..."3 steps to successful giving"...slaves to comparisons and rankings...but our God is a relational God, and He is much more interested in the quality [not quantity] of giving, invested in the heart behind the giving. 

the leader of our study read from his Bible commentary that "giving is the language of love" that struck me as the most authentic understanding of what giving truly is meant to be.  the motivation behind giving is a hope to glorify God and a desire to share His love with one another.  and if we prayerfully approach giving with this in mind, it will become clear how much is 'enough' to give and when to give this 'enough'.

at the end of the night we answered the question "why do we give?"  and that may sound like a simple question, but it actually inspired a good discussion.  with all our possessions, money, time, and talents [for "richness" is not merely based on dollars and physical ownership alone], we ought to be open handed to God, ready to give those things up if called to do so.  that image of being open handed convicted and humbled me, for i realized how often i cling to certain things in my life, my time especially, out of a lack of faith, a lack of trust, and a fear of the unknown.  but, giving frees us from becoming chained, enslaved, to other gods: the god of success, the god of pride, the god of selfishness, the god of contentment, the god of comfort, the god of security...and it is not that our God does not want us to have success, contentment, or comfort...because He does...but He has the full perspective on our life, and to cling, tunnel-visioned, to such things creates barriers between us and God, will sidetrack us from living a more fulfilling and freeing life that brings glory to the one who gave it all for us.

reading a bit over what i've written, my thoughts seem a bit convoluted and the rhetoric not easy to follow, but it was a great evening of fellowship and wrestling with what the Word means and how to truly live it out in our daily existence.

ultimately what i took away from those two chapters in 2 corinthians and the discussion that followed is that if we give ourselves to God first it will become clear what we are to give, how much we are to give, and when to give it...and this enables us to joyfully come open handed with all we have [in time, money, possessions] to God, freed [at least in that moment] from enslavement to lesser things, communicating the intended definition of giving: the language of love.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

wonderful

i'm gonna see the world. italy, greece, the parthenon, the colosseum. then i'm comin' back here to go to college and see what they know. and then i'm gonna build things. i'm gonna build airfields, i'm gonna build skyscrapers a hundred stories high, i'm gonna build bridges a mile long...


you know what the three most exciting sounds in the world are?...anchor chains, plane motors, train whistles.


each of us has a vision, an imagining of what our ideal life would be in the present, in the future. yes…even those among us that champion themselves to be ever “living in the moment” or the ultra-glass-half-empty type who claim to have no ambitions, cannot completely ward off day dreams and hopes for a “perfect” existence.


the way we each develop an idealized life reminds me of the film “it’s a wonderful life.” [STOP HERE if you don’t want plot spoilers]. meet george baley. the text book example of lofty ambitions, who dreamed of traveling the world, living abroad, and building things to make a memorable impact. his life was to be one great adventure with constant variety, everything that was far away and different from the tiny-why-even-put-it-on-the-map beford falls [actually, in greater honesty, i rather wish bedford falls existed…seems like my kind of town].


but alas, george's dream life never materializes, although he attempts to force it into existence several times. but, each time some sense of obligation and responsibility to be self-sacrificing gets in the way. george reaches an all time low when his uncle billy looses a huge deposit of money, which, if not recovered, will result in the family business [the building & loan], which george had sacrificed all his dreams to maintain, being bought out by the detestable, money grubbing, mr. potter who has all but spat upon the grave of george’s beloved deceased father. george contemplates suicide and proclaims to the Heavens the sentiment that had been murmuring in his mind for a while: "i wish i had never been born." he thought his life such a disappointment, so painful, that he wished he'd never lived it, longed to be erased from the lives of all those near and dear to him. what follows is george seeing what the world would look like, how the lives of all near and dear to him would be, if he indeed was never born.


in my senior year of high school if found myself in a class titled ‘the theory of knowledge.’ among other things, each student was required to lead one class discussion. having recently watched the film [its family tradition to watch it at least once a year…usually more], i decided to formulate some sort of discussion topic centered on the film [not only because it is my favorite movie of all time and believe everyone should see it, but also because it would allow me to show a film in class…and what high school student wouldn’t love you all the more for enabling class time to become cinema time? if facebook had existed then i’m quite certain i would have had 30 friend requests that evening]


i posed the question, "would your life still be wonderful if it does not turn out as you plan?" when I penned it, i felt vainly proud of my cleverness in integrating the film title into a discussion question, and it was timely topic too since we were all dreaming of what our college life would lead us to.


i knew so little then how much this very question, Spirit-inspired though i then knew not, would come to flavor my life


although i have not yet logged as many life experience points as george had in the film [he was a career man with a wife & three kids by the end], my own idealism had echoes of his. i too had planned on a life lived abroad [working with the state department rather than george's dream of being an architect], moving from place to place, jet setting, befriending and living among people of various cultures. i wanted to not only see things all over the world, I wanted to know them intimately. i felt i had found my own destiny, did all but declare it aloud to God...but as is often the case , as soon as we think we've with-out-a-doubt found our way, most times without prayerfully consulting God on the matter, God rips the carpet out from under us to cause us to fall back into His arms. this often is the only way to thwart our best efforts to go down a path that is not meant for us, and that will ultimately not yield as fulfilling of a life because it won't allow us to glorify His name as much as the path He has lovingly designed for us for.

once i finally saw what God was showing me about myself, that i was not meant for such a life, but one more simple, that would allow for deeper relationships, foster a greater ability for Him to use me as a vessel for His love in the lives of others, i was thankful for it but also made anxious by it. an identity crisis [for lack of a better word] descended, which caused me [and is still causing me] to cling to Him in order to stay afloat. and thus far my leaning upon Him has caused me to remain in my own bedford falls. and i in no way regret staying. in no way regret discarding the far-and-away life i dreamed of. i've had many fun excursions and a million otherwise un-notable memories with a great group of friends that are invaluable to me. i would not swap such a gift for the world. the relationships i have with them, grown deeper each year with every joy and hardship we’ve born together in fellowship, are my greatest treasure on earth.

what george realized, i have realized too: life can indeed be wonderful even if it does not turn out as you planned. in fact, i think it turns out to be more wonderful. if, as i am ever learning to do, you focus more on the present, chase after serving God where He has sent you, placed you for that particular chapter in your life, and then wait and be patient for what comes next [not my strong points as a chronic planner], then your life will become more wonderful than you could have imagined, could have planned on your own with your limited [human] perspective. once george renounced his wish to have never been alive, he realizes how blessed he is in bedford falls because of the relationships he's had there. as an observer, you can see how much his sacrifice and kindness made the lives of those around him wonderful, so it all comes full circle.

so that question i so smugly posed to my class has followed me ever since. it has influenced the way i give advice, contributed to the re-forming of my perspective on life, and caused me to more consistently appeal to God on the choices which are shaping my future. i may not have the wisdom of a lifetime yet, but God has revealed this much to me which i put my faith in: the wonderful life is obtainable, if we seek after God first. sometimes this will allow our idealized life to coincide with God’s plan for our lives, but often times it will not. it may not always lead to happiness, but it will always foster greater joy and an greater ability to bring glory to our Creator.


strange, isn't it? each man's life touches so many other lives. when he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?