Have you been inspired by people who make large gifts to worthy projects, large enough to merit your name being listed at the top of the donors?
I have not wanted to make large donations for the notoriety, for if I think for a moment, I would not want to have to continually turn down other requests for other projects. Nor would I want my donations to come with strings that would bind the project for such strings would also bind me.
Once when I received an unexpected inheritance, I split a portion of it among three worthy projects anonymously. I don’t know if my gifts made a significant impact with those organizations, but the giving was significant for me.
When I started this blog, I wrote for others, to attract people to the congregation I serve and to my website. But when I began writing simply for myself, I gained more readers, and greater satisfaction.
It has taken me half a lifetime to realize that it is in giving that we receive and that gifts should not be measured against other people’s gifts, but against how well we have developed the gifts that God has entrusted to us.
“At the deepest level, there is no giver, no gift, and no recipient
. . . only the universe rearranging itself.”
— Jon Kabat-Sinn in Wherever You Go, There You Are.
Everything belongs to the Lord your God,
not only the earth and everything on it,
but also the sky and the highest heavens. — Deuteronomy 10:14 (CEV)
How have you developed gifts entrusted to you to rearrange the universe to advance the Kingdom of God?
The motto on the Great Seal of the United States of America, embossed on every US coin, describes the American conundrum: are we a federation of independent states or a unified people?
While originally used to explain the various nationalities who emigrated to become these United States, and later the union of thirteen colonies, now it seems to describe the question: Are we a collection of people, with strong individual rights? Or are we one people with one purpose, united behind one mission? Is citizenship an individual event or a team sport?
A driver passing me on a quiet country road reminded me of this question. Much of this road has a posted speed limit of 40 miles per hour, but while this road passes through a small town and over a series of hills the speed limit drops to 30. Should the speed we drive be limited by how fast each person perceives they can drive or at least get away with, or should the speed we drive be governed by concern with those who live on the road and who, through their representatives, set those speed limits?
God put our bodies together in such a way that even the parts that seem the least important are valuable. He did this to make all parts of the body work together smoothly, with each part caring about the others. If one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of our body is honored, the whole body will be happy.
Together you are the body of Christ. Each one of you is part of his body.
1 Corinthians 12:24b-27 (Contemporary English Version)
Many decades ago I had served my home town as a volunteer emergency medical technician. In addition to a few hours a week of volunteer service, often in the middle of the night, I had completed hundreds of hours of training, at my expense. The firefighters in our community were also entirely volunteers. In the course of this training we learned of Good Samaritan (see Luke 10:25-37) laws intended to protect volunteers.
Increasingly communities can find fewer people willing to volunteer their time to aid their neighbors. Each year training programs become increasingly more complex, take longer to complete, and more costly to the volunteer. Increasingly volunteers do not complete the training or cannot meet the physical requirements. Or perhaps those might volunteer would rather pay someone else than take those courses and relinquish precious volunteer time.
At a church training event the leader talked about traditional church dinners where members brought casseroles, salads, and pies they had made at home. Older women in her congregation had complained that younger women no longer baked, but had resorted to store-bought items. This pastor and her husband both managed full-time careers and a family. For her, and many of her peers, adding a few items to her shopping cart made better use of her time than an hour or more in her kitchen. For her family, it made cents to pay someone else to cook.
Are we becoming a nation of “Innkeepers,” people providing hospitality for a wage rather than as an act of charity?
Admittedly hiring professionals has significant advantages over volunteers:
Regular and frequent experience teaches much that a few hours of class can only begin to cover.
Paid help can be scheduled more readily and more reliably.
Store bought food is more likely to meet health department guidelines for cleanliness and contamination.
But much is lost as well as we shift from supporting one another to buying a service from a paid employee. How will we maintain connections with our neighbors that will unite us a nation?
Life is a journey, a journey in multiple dimensions, and seldom in a straight line. In life the dimensions have familiar names: Family, health, career, friends, hobbies, faith, and so forth. As we mature, different dimensions claim more of our attention or at least more of our energy, others at times get aside until later or ignored.
Sooner or later people explore dimensions set aside and ask ultimate questions: Is there a big picture? How do I fit into the big picture? Why does evil exist? Is this all there is?
Faith provides some answers or at least different questions. What is God calling me to do and to be? How am I to respond to evil in the world? Where is God in all this?
Faith communities give people with ways to connect with God and pursue answers in the multiple dimensions we call life. I perceive that God has given us a variety of faith communities: congregations and diverse denominations, to meet the diverse needs of diverse people.
We once lived in a house with three steps to ascend the eighteen inches up from the garage to the kitchen. For most of our time in that house those steps were sufficient for us to go inside. But for a few months our daughter needed a wheel chair and those steps became insurmountable for her. So I built a temporary ramp. To save space and costs, I built that ramp four feet long. Although twice as long as the space occupied by the stairs, it was a less than a quarter as long as recommended for wheel chair ramp. For our purpose it was sufficient, although still limiting as to who could push the wheel chair up that ramp. A couple of years later we again needed a ramp. This time I tripled the length of the ramp. While the added length improved accessibility, we still needed to use it carefully. Now I understand why accessibility ramps should have a foot of length for each inch of rise and hand rails. I have come to recognize how merely a one inch high door sill can block some people.
For many people worship and Sunday School are sufficient steps to begin a life long journey exploring life’s dimension of faith. For much of human history church and religious rituals were the major if not the only social media and entertainment. Today social opportunities are virtually inescapable, effectively making the traditional first steps to one’s faith journey more difficult or at least more difficult than alternative opportunities to discuss issues in life’s other dimensions and set aside the faith dimension. Now more than ever people of faith need to imaginatively create alternative on-ramps for those just beginning to consider the dimension of faith in their lives.
Could a baseball team become a spiritual on-ramp? A community service project? What might connect to these ramps?
How might you give access to your neighbors to faith in the one true God?
To those outside the law I became as one outside the law
(though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law)
so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.
— 1 Corinthians 9:21-22