***NOTE: I really did write this week's article on Tuesday night. It's a great story about a rock that found a friend of mine, but in order to make it extra special, I'm holding off on that one until I can add something to it that will really make it worth the wait. (You'll see when it finally comes to your inbox). Until then, please enjoy the brand-new Christmas article below.
GIVE by Keith Giles
Several years ago I found myself out of work and standing in food lines at our church pantry to get Groceries for my family. It was the most difficult test of faith in my life up to that point. Honestly though, I wouldn't change a thing if I could because it was during that year and a half of testing that I discovered that God really did see me and love me and that He was active in my life. I also learned that God is more concerned about who I am than He is about what I do for a living.
In fact, much of what I learned during that time transcends any sort of knowledge you could ever glean from a book or a sermon. There are certain spiritual truths that can only be experienced. They must be "caught" and not "taught".
Out of this ordeal I developed a heart for others, especially those who are poor and in financial distress. Over the years God has continued to create a heart of compassion in me, sometimes in ways I have not been aware of until much later.
Just in the last few weeks many of us from our Mission House Church have had many opportunities to serve people in need around us. Both as a group and as individuals. I'm honestly so proud of each of our members for the many ways they've taken the time to share the love and compassion of Jesus with the least and the lost here in our community.
Some in our group have really stepped outside their comfort zones and radically shared the love of Jesus. One woman, a single Mom trying to take care of her little daughter, gave a ride to a prostitute who was looking for a ride home one cold night. She took the time to tell her that everyone needs to be forgiven and that none of us are really "good". Another Mom took a blanket with her as she ran her errands this week because she knew that God wanted her to give it to someone who was cold and on the streets this Christmas. Her daughter spotted a homeless veteran who was in a wheelchair and missing a leg. They were able to bless him in a very practical way.
As a group, we've had the honor of purchasing gifts for a family in need and to take a collection for a homeless man who needed a place to stay this week.
Honestly, I am so thankful to God that our vision to start a house church with a heart for the poor and an open hand for those in need has been fulfilled. God has allowed many of us in this group to use our tithe to help people who are really in need. For me, this is so much more significant, and Biblical, than using our offerings for new carpet and sound systems and staff luncheons.
Biblically, the Church never took an offering for itself. It always gave to help and serve the poor, the widow, the orphan and those who were in need.
When you can connect your offering directly to people who need real help; when you can sincerely make a difference in someone's life by your giving; there is meaning and spiritual weight that just doesn't compare to dropping a check into the plate as it passes by. Most are unaware of where their gift or their tithe really goes, and if they really could see where most of it went they might think twice about giving as much the next time.
Today I went over to the motel and paid for one week at the motel for Robert, the elderly homeless man who our offering had been taken for last night. He and I talked about his health and about his options for the future. He was honestly moved by our willingness to help him, even though most in our group had never met him before.
As I prayed with Robert, I was overwhelmed with the sense of the presence of God and His heart for the poor and the forgotten. God is close to those in pain. He is near to those in need. He cares for those who are overlooked and forgotten in our community; the homeless veteran, the prostitute, the lonely motel manager estranged from his family, and the single Mom trying to purchase Christmas gifts for her children, and still buy groceries for the week.
I am reminded of the Christmas, several years ago, when a local church had adopted our family for the Holidays. I was out of work and doing temporary work, which was barely enough to cover our rent an a few groceries. That year we had so many boxes of presents around our little tree that you could almost not see the tree itself. I remember that my sons received present after present, mostly from these kind people, and how we also had received hundreds of dollars in gift cards to help us purchase groceries and clothes and gasoline for the uncertain months ahead.
It was the best Christmas we'd ever had, and it was all because of the goodness of God..and His people.
As I was leaving the motel today I told Pete, the manager of the motel, that as far as I was concerned, helping people like Robert was my Christmas present to myself. In fact, I believe that from now on I really don't want to bother with buying more "stuff" for my family (we already have more than we can use), but instead I'd really like to spend Christmas focusing on helping people like the families at the motel, and people sleeping on the street. You know, people who really need all the things that we enjoy in abundance and take for granted?
Over the years, our family has adopted a saying of sorts that we usually utter when we pray together as a family. It goes something like this; "Thank you Lord for making us rich in all the things that matter...and a lot of other stuff that doesn't. We have all that we need for today, an even more on top of that." This has helped us gain perspective on how blessed we really are.
"Freely you have received, freely give." -JESUS (Matthew 10:8)