Monthly Archives: December 2015

The Gift

Don’t know how you think of poor, but one of the ways I think of it is where Beckie and I had one child and were living through days when we sometimes had baby formula and not much else.  It was a time when we’d make it to the next paycheck and have a little feast.  That always made me want to have those who shared our situation over.  We’d call up these friends and suggest we share a joined meal.  They brought something of what they got, since they got a paycheck, and we’d bring what we got.  Together we’d have a meal.  Poverty can go much deeper than that, but it is one of the ways it is displayed.

We were grateful for what was available.  Discovering what was available was always an adventure, but once discovered it made us very grateful.  Making things last became a part of the gratitude.  I am still in the habit of eating pop-corn one kernel at a time.  Even when I scoop up a handful, I still pick kernel after kernel out of the hand holding the pile.

One day we were visiting friends and just gotten to their house, on one side of town, when we got a phone call from a guy from our church.  He needed me to come home immediately.  He wouldn’t tell me why.  He just said that I had to come right away.  So, we excused ourselves and left.  When we arrived there was no one there, but within 2-3 minutes the friend from the phone pulled up in a pickup truck.

When we came out of the house he was waving to the truck.  Coming up alongside we discovered that the entire bed of the truck was filled with groceries.  groceriesThere were two or three bags, big sacks, of flour.  There were cans and cans and mixes, bags and bags of groceries.  Our friend explained that the members of our Sunday School class had each bought an extra bag of groceries along with their own.  A couple of couples that lived and worked on farms had brought in fresh stuff, but all of it came from the class as a surprise.

You might imagine that we were overwhelmed.  Carrying all the food in and filling our cupboards, our shelves and fridge was an amazing experience.  We called up the couple we had gone to visit and had them over for a terrific meal. Two days later we were in that class with about 25-30 other young adults, all married couples in our 20’s.  At the end, when the teacher asked if there were any announcements, I stood and asked to say something.  I shared with the class how great and overwhelming their gift was and what it meant to us.  I shared how it expressed their love and how we’d never forget it.  I shared that we were deeply grateful.

An interesting thing happened… the room grew increasingly quiet and then the heads of people started to go down and I began to feel this odd creepy feeling in my back.  I couldn’t tell what it was at first, but later I believed it to be shame.  I was stuck in a moment of feeling shame for… what?  Not being able to provide?  Being in need?  Or just in the position of receiving?  Whatever the reason, it was tangible and I stopped talking with a simple “Thanks.”

I’ve never forgotten needing.  I’ve never forgotten the creep up my back either.  It’s made me look people in the eye and smile at them if they thank me for something.  It’s made me say, “You bet!” and pat them on the arm.  It’s made me feel like I’m one with them.  We’re in this needful place and we continue to be.  I think that’s what Christmas says.  It says we need someone who walks in the need with us, who looks us in the eye and smiles and shares it.  It says, “You’re never, ever alone.”

I love Christmas.



I was just reminded of an incident that happened a while back and that speaks to the difference between God’s action and coincidence.  It feels like that’s a good thing to consider as we walk into Christmas celebration.  Faith is believing in something unseen.  And at Christmas it feels good to consider in what we put our faith.
The incident took place at the closing of the church I founded in a shopping center.  Nine years after it began we were shutting it down.  It was sad, but it seemed clear that it was the only choice.  We held our last worship service, got our books in order, hauled off all personal items and were left with all the standard “non-interesting” pieces of church- tables, chairs, shelves, small rugs, music stands, desks, platforms… those kinds of things.  We sent out word to area churches that if they needed any of these items they were welcome to come on this particular day and time and take anything they wanted for free.  We set up a small crew to help carry, take down names for those things that were too big to fit into some vehicle and went about the clearing.
I went off for lunch at one point and when I came walking back into our space people were immediately calling me to the phone.  Mark, a pastor friend, was calling to ask about a particular item.  He said, “Geoff, you know that podium you use for preaching, I was wondering where you got that.  I want to get one like it.”
He was speaking of a conductor’s stand I bought from which I preached.  It looked like a music stand but it was plexi-glass and very wide.  directors-standI would have my notes and a book or two and even some other papers on it when I spoke.  I had chosen it specifically for preaching and that’s how it was used through the life of our church.  Now it sat in the midst of all the music stands, just waiting to be carried off in the bunch.

I said, “Mark… do you know what’s happening here today?”

He said he didn’t and that began my story of our situation.  He was stunned, disappointed and left wondering.  I concluded by saying, “So, if you want it, it’s yours.”  We made arrangements to meet because he lived and worked some miles away.  He was starting his own church at that time and had been thinking through what to use as a pulpit when he remembered mine.
It occurred to me, as I pulled it out of the crowd of black music stands that something had happened.  On this random day, at this random time Mark called for this particular stand.  The stand, which was designed for a totally different purpose, had been specifically chosen by me for the preaching and teaching of God’s word.  It was a dedicated instrument.  No one in our place ever allowed it to be used for anything else.  People always asked if it could be moved.  It had become sacred by its use… special.  That day, when everything was sailing out the door, this one item was called for particularly.
What occurred to me was that God laid claim to it.  When I hung up the phone I thought, “God’s saying, ‘You can let all the rest of this stuff go, but this piece… this is mine.’”  It continued and continues now, as far as I know, in that singular purpose – the preaching and teaching of God’s word.
Just a bit of wonder there and it makes me wonder… coincidence or God?  Why would you put more faith in coincidence than God?  Like the Higgs Boson… a thousand scientists stood outside, all night, to get the chance to see the Hadron Collider try to demonstrate this particle was real.  Up to that time they couldn’t see it and couldn’t measure it.  They could only see an effect, a “bump,” they interpreted as evidence.  That’s what we call faith.



I’ve been thinking about clothes recently.  This will surprise a lot of people because I don’t usually.  One of my favorite quotes is from Henry David Thoreau who once wrote, “Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes.”  Thoreau was also the source of the quote by my picture in my yearbook – “I sometimes try my acquaintances by such tests as this; – who could wear a patch, or two extra seams only, over the knee?”  My niece just posted a picture of me with my son and her father and brother from like 15 years ago and I was wearing the same jacket I just had re-stitched at the dry cleaners.

Clothes are not usually a big deal to me, but they’ve been on my mind recently.

I’ve been thinking about clothes my wife and I buy for our grandchildren.  I’ve been thinking about tops I might buy for my daughters.  And my wife just told me that I should NOT buy her clothes this Christmas just because I think she’d look good in them (pretty clear hint on that one).

The reason I’ve been thinking about clothes, actually over the last couple of months this fall, is because I realized I have never bought my family clothes so that they wouldn’t be killed.

Do you think about that?  Do you look at something on the rack and think through whether or not that would cause someone to kill the person wearing it?  Do you live with that level of inherent fear?  I don’t.  I never have.

Not once have I spent a second considering whether this color, style, look would incite violence or encourage someone to take the life of my child or grandchild if they were wearing it.  I am now.  I’ve been thinking seriously about it for weeks.

That’s been the outcome of my considering the stories of black lives being taken that are penetrating our news in a horrifyingly consistent manner this fall.  Imagine (and obviously, some of you don’t have to imagine) that because your child is wearing a certain color or a hood or a particular hat they may be gunned down.

Right now, there’s no escaping the invitation.  And the thing we (the greater majority) are being invited into is not anger, regardless of how angry the people protesting and cursing and shouting may appear.  We’re being invited into fear, a very appropriate sentiment for a season that celebrates the One with greatest power who invested themselves in coming alongside us in our fears.

The next time you handle those new clothes in a store cause yourself to consider whether this would get the one you love or even yourself killed just because you are wearing it.  Enter fear as you watch the news and think, should anyone have to live that way?