The Power of a Simple Gift – Operation Christmas Child

Operation Christmas Child, shoeboxes

Vicki is hard at work on shoebox gifts.

Operation Christmas Child is an endeavor that is near and dear to my heart.  Not only do I sincerely believe in the power of one simple gift, it also happens to be one of  my wife’s most favorite things.  Anything that brings her that much joy and happens to be an amazing tool for ministry deserves all of the support that I can give it.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about then I invite you to read the  following excerpt from Operation Christmas Child: A Story of Simple Gifts.

A Story from Operation Christmas Child

Not sure that your one shoebox will make a difference?  Read an actual account from Bosnia in 1993 (one of the first shoebox distributions).

 If any American city had experienced a December snowfall of five feet, no school would have been open.  But on that frosty morning in Bosnia, Lejla’s mother woke her, dressed her, and put an old pair of shoes on her feet.  The toes of the shoes were ripped open.  Her father had tried to close them up with steel wire but the leather was so rotten it wouldn’t hold together.  Lejla’s mother wrapped her feet in bags and sent her out into the arctic chill that defined Balkan winters.

A bulldozer had come through early that morning and cleared a narrow path in the road that remained slippery and messy.  Lejla may have been walking toward the school five miles away, but she had no intention of showing up there.  If ever an adolescent was on the brink of giving up, it was Lejla.  To prove it, she purposely detoured into a landmine field where just the day before her best friend had been killed and another friend had lost his leg in an explosion.  Maybe if she walked through the same field she could end her miserable life.  She had no reason to live.  With no coat to keep her warm, maybe she would even die from the frigid temperatures, she thought.  She was tired of being cold, weary of hunger pains, and afraid of the future.

After fourty-five minutes of wandering through the landmine field with no answers and no explosions, Lejla looked into the sky and cried, “God, I hate you for hating me so much and wanting me to suffer like this.  If you think I’m going to live like this, I’ll show you.”  Then she headed toward Sniper Alley with the certainty it promised; a one hundred percent guarantee of being shot to death.  She slipped under the barricade and wrenched her neck up toward the mountain, waiting for the powerful boom to end her misery.  It didn’t happen.

I found myself walking toward the school, disappointed I had survived Sniper Alley.  As I approached, I saw some kids holding boxes and I wondered where they had gotten them.  We had nothing new; even primitive items were scarce.  As I got close, I noticed how bright and beautiful the boxes were.  One of the boys said, “There are people inside giving these away.  You can get one too.”

Why do I need a box? Lejla thought.  I don’t have anything to put in it.  It’s pretty, but it won’t do me any good.  When I walked inside, I saw an older gentleman sitting on the steps.  He jumped up and grabbed a box from the top of the pile and headed toward me.  But I didn’t want any interaction.  I wanted to be left alone.  I was bitter and hateful.  To make matters worse, the man had a big smile on his face and gently said, “I want you to have this.”  I took it so he would go away quickly, but to my surprise the box was not empty.  The heaviness caused my hands to give way slightly.  I took hold, turned and ran as fast as I could until I found a solitary corner and slumped to the floor, cradling the box in my lap.  My heart was racing and my emotions were fragile.  Do I dare hope for what might be inside?  After all, this is a shoebox.  I looked down at my frozen feet, and then with great apprehension, lifted the lid.  Inside was a pair of brand new sneakers.

For some time I sat and cried while lifting the lid and closing it.  The crying had left me weak and quivering.  I felt sick, then happy.  As I drew the sneakers out of the box, my hands bumped into other things.  The shoes that fit perfectly were enough, but more?

I pulled out a twelve pack of pencils.  My entire class of fifty-eight students had been sharing a nub of one pencil all year long, and now I had my very own!  A notebook was there to replace the one I had used for three years, with hardly scribble space left.  Then I discovered erasers that smelled like strawberries – the first smell of anything pleasant that I could remember.  When I clasped a tube of toothpaste, I opened and tasted it.  The flavor was so delicious that I nearly ate it all.  Energized by the thrill, I gathered my new belongings and got home as fast as I could, hoping that none of the kids would steal my box from me on the way.

My mother was stunned when I came through the door and inquired where I had gotten all of my treasures.  “A man gave them to me and said the box was from Jesus.”  I assumed there was someone in America by that name.  That night, I pulled out my new pencil and notebook and wrote a letter to Jesus, telling Him things I had never told anyone.

At school the next day, I found the man who had given me the box and asked him if he would take the letter to America and give it to Jesus.  He explained that Jesus was God’s Son and that He came to pay the penalty for man’s sin.  He told me that Jesus is the One who died for our sins and that if I confessed my sin to Him, Jesus would forgive me and love me as His very own.  The man spoke truth to me and I had no reason to doubt him, for I already knew that He had heard and answered my prayer.  He was real and I knew He had mercy. 

In Jesus’ wonderful way, He reached down from Heaven into a little girl’s frightened heart and saved me, and He used a shoebox to do this miracle in my life.  Today, I may not have the physical possessions that filled my shoebox that day, but I have the most valuable and lasting possession – eternal salvation and assurance that my soul belongs to Him.

To make it sweeter, He allowed me to come to America and personally say “hvala” (thank you) to all those Christians who make the shoebox ministry possible.  I have my own family now and we are privileged to pack fifteen hundred shoeboxes each year.  If only one person finds salvation through these boxes, my life will have been worthwhile.  I am among the one hundred million souls that have been touched by Operation Christmas Child, and changed by the Jesus of Heaven and Earth who reached out to me.

Choose to Get Involved

The power of one simple gift in the form of a shoebox full of goodies is this: it beautifully and simply illustrates a gift given out of love with no expectation of anything in return to someone who has most likely never received a gift before.  In other words, it shows by example just what Christ did for us and opens a door in a child’s heart to receive His love.  This is the message and the ministry of Operation Christmas Child.

If you’d like to participate there’s still time.  Shoebox collection week is November 13th through November 20th and there are drop-off locations nationwide.  Packing a shoebox is easy!  Don’t have time to pack a shoebox?  Each shoebox costs $9 to ship and that is a very inexpensive and easy donation that would sponsor a gift that could save the soul of a child.  Or, you can build your box online through the Operation Christmas Child website.  And please don’t forget to pray that each box is guided by the Holy Spirit to the child who needs it most!

However you do it, choose to get involved.  On that glorious day when you are walking down the streets of paradise you could be approached by another child of God who says to you “Thank you for your gift.  I am here because you chose to give”.  That is indeed the power of one simple gift.

The Introverts Struggle to Serve

introvert, ministry

I am an introvert.  I like quiet places and value solitude and tranquility.  Above and beyond that, however, I love the Lord and His people.

At times, this creates tension.  I honestly believe that God has called every single believer into ministry in some way.  We have all been given gifts that we are asked to use to glorify God and assist His people.  We have also been given the great commission which makes it clear that the responsibility for spreading the gospel belongs to all of us, without exception.

I enjoy reading.  I enjoy watching a movie or a good TV show with my wife while snuggled up on the couch together.  I spend a lot of time on my computer or my Playstation playing games.  Generally these are solo games or games with one or two other people that I know very well and am friends with.

I also enjoy a spirited drive on a curvy back road with the windows down and the sunroof open to better enjoy God’s creation.  The juxtaposition of wild woods, grassy fields and a huge blue sky being experienced through the windshield and sunroof of a sleek and sonorous automobile is one that I value.  And perhaps there is some irony there as well; I’m outside enjoying God’s canvas but I’m sitting in a man-made cocoon that is protected and somewhat insulated from the very thing that I have come to enjoy.

Come to think of it, that sounds a little bit like my life.  God has called me out.  He has chosen me and He has put His mark on me.  I’ve been asked to write and speak His truth and to teach and educate His people.  And yet I find it a struggle to consistently stay out of my self-created bubble of introversion and unchanging solitude.

Is it really supposed to be this way?  Wouldn’t it be easier if I were an extrovert overflowing with energy and enthusiasm?  A type-A personality who was a confident go-getter would assuredly be more useful to God, right?  Sometimes I think this way.

It isn’t that I expect God to turn me in to an extrovert.  I believe that God created us unique as individuals and I am who I am for a reason and a purpose.  But I also know that I shouldn’t use my proclivity for quiet times and quiet spaces to hamper God’s work.  That would be a very grave mistake.

So I find myself at a point in my life where I am praying for clarification and direction from the Lord.  I want to be sensitive to the Holy Spirit and do what He asks me to do and go where He asks me to go.  Writing this blog and teaching for youth and adults at my church are part of that.  But I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit that there were opportunities for meeting with God’s people that I intentionally do not attend because I’m exhausted and would rather be doing something else that is quiet and solitary.

I feel guilty for not going but when I do go I’m usually yawning while my mind wanders and my body slumps as I try to find a comfortable position where I can both stay awake and pay attention.  I feel like a bad Christian but I also know that guilt does not come from God and that there is an accuser who is trying to make me focus on my weakness instead of God’s provision.  Instead I’d rather focus on how great and awesome my God is, how much He loves me and how He is my constant companion and friend.

But the struggle remains and I will continue to pray and ask for guidance and the strength to do what God would have me to do.

Sometimes there are problems that aren’t easily solved by human intervention and that don’t have neat and tidy solutions.  I’m ok with that because my hope and trust remains secure in the Lord and I know that He will guide me in all things as I stay submitted to Him.

A Friend To Whom?

friendship, salvation, ministryI’m concerned about the notion that Christians shouldn’t be friends with non-Christians.  I don’t believe that all Christians feel this way but I think there are certainly some who do, and with good reason.  Just look at James 4:4, for example:  You adulteresses, do you not know that friendship with the world is hostility toward God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. (James 4:4)

At first glance it seems like James is offering us a stern warning about associating with the world.  After all, friendship with the world is hostility towards God, right?  Clearly there has to be a line drawn somewhere in our life that defines that which is Godly from that which is worldly.  But if you look at James chapter 4 closely you will see that James is talking about the Christian who is living like the unsaved; that is a Christian who is ruled by his or her desires and lusts of the flesh instead of in submission to the Spirit of God.  In other words friendship with the world in James’s mind is a heart problem that stems from putting “me” on the throne in my life instead of God Almighty.

But what about 2 Corinthians 6:14-18?  Doesn’t that state the case a little bit stronger that we shouldn’t be associating with non-believers?  Do not be bound together (unequally yoked) with unbelievers; for what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness, or what fellowship has light with darkness? Or what harmony has Christ with Belial, or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?  Or what agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God; just as God said, “I will dwell in them and walk among themAnd I will be their God, and they shall be My people. “Therefore, come out from their midst and be separate,” says the Lord.“  And do not touch what is uncleanAnd I will welcome you.  “And I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,” Says the Lord Almighty. (2 Corinthians 6:14-18)

The key idea here is the phrase “bound together”.  It speaks to something closer and stronger than just an acquaintance or even friendship.  The Theology of Work website explains it like this: “When two animals are yoked together, they must move in lockstep. If one turns left, the other turns left also, whether or not it consents. This is different from, say, animals grazing in a herd, which cooperate but still have the freedom to move separately, and even to depart from the herd if they choose. If two animals—or, metaphorically, two people—are yoked, each is bound by whatever the other chooses to do. Two people are yoked if one person’s choices compel the other person to follow the same choices, even without their consent. A yoking is when either person is bound by the unilateral decisions and actions of the other… To be unequally yoked with unbelievers, then, is to be in a situation or relationship that binds you to the decisions and actions of people who have values and purposes incompatible with Jesus’ values and purposes.”

So now we know not to act like the world (James 4:4) and not to enter into unequally yoked relationships with non-believers (2 Corinthians 6) but where does that leave us in our relationships to those who are lost?

And the master said to the slave, ‘Go out into the highways and along the hedges, and compel them to come in, so that my house may be filled. (Luke 14:23)  First of all, we need to be going where they are.  And practicing avoidance of non-believers is not going to get us there.  The master has commanded us to go out and compel them (compel actually means to “drive forcibly”, believe it or not) to come in to His house.  The master’s house is where his family resides.  It is an invitation to become a son or daughter of the living God and it’s a message He is sending with us to anyone who will receive it.

The righteous is a guide to his neighbor, but the way of the wicked leads them astray. (Proverbs 12:26)  I really like this verse.  How are we supposed to be a guide to our neighbor if we are in hiding and they can’t see what we are doing?  The Bible calls us to be visible and visibly righteous!  That means living an upright life and walking with God on a daily basis in a way that everyone around us can see.  Then, when we encounter those non-believers and get to know them where they are they will see God in us and want to know why it is that we are different.  Can we be a righteous guide to those we exclude and dismiss?  Absolutely not and that is why we must include and invite at every possible occasion. 

Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor.   For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)  One of the best ways to be a witness to someone is to be there for them when they need a helping hand.  Jesus went about meeting the needs of the people and sharing God’s love and that should be our model as well.  If we see someone around us who is “falling” then we need to be there to lift them up and meet their need.  It is our privilege and responsibility as those who have been redeemed.

Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)  Perhaps the greatest evidence that we have that says we should be friends with the lost is Jesus’s death on the cross.  He literally laid down his own life for the lost, they (we!) are that important to Him.  Jesus spent his time with the doubting and the unbelieving, the sick and the needy.  And he did it all with the knowledge that He would one day be given up for arrest and crucifixion by the very people that He was trying to save.  Now is that friendship, or what?

What’s needed from us is a Christlike concern for all people.  If our primary goal is to love everyone like Jesus did then we won’t have to fall back on legalistic interpretations of the Bible that try to enforce excluding others or turning our noses up at their behavior.  No, we shouldn’t be acting like the unsaved and yes we should be careful about the types of relationships we enter in.  Those are a given.  But beyond that we should be willing to go wherever it takes, living visibly righteous lives, ready to meet the needs of those around us and showing the world what it really means to be a friend.

A Different Kind of Stewardship

stewardship,health,ministryI’m not discussing money or finances in this post.  I also won’t be focusing on talents or spiritual gifts.  No, the type of stewardship that I’m talking about today affects all of those things but is also completely different.

Before we go any further, I think we should have an accurate definition of stewardship.  In Christian circles we almost always use it in reference to money matters.  By association, the word has become very finance centered when in reality the definition is much broader.  The Miriam-Webster Dictionary says “the conducting, supervising, or managing of something;especially :  the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care” and I really like that definition; especially the last part.

God has entrusted a great many things to our care but the most precious of those is our very life.  How we care for ourselves, our health and well-being, determines in large part our ability to be a steward in other areas.  I have seen this firsthand in the last few weeks and it can be a hard lesson to learn.

When I am overly tired and not taking care to rest my body and my brain, everything else suffers.  I make mistakes at work.  Simple tasks take longer.  Writing becomes more difficult and my thoughts are harder to grasp.  And I am not the blessing to those around me that I should be.  In short, when I don’t take care of myself the ministry that God has entrusted to me is harmed and He is not glorified.

One of the biggest challenges to anyone in ministry is the challenge of giving of yourself completely to others while also taking adequate time to rest and recharge.  Burnout is a very real problem among those in the ministry and it is precisely because we often take better care of others than we do of ourselves.  And while God has called us to work and to serve He has also called us to be  good stewards of our minds and bodies; one is not more important than the other.  Neglecting either one is just as sinful.

We need to make time to rest.  We must make time to give our brains and bodies a break.  We can start by ensuring that we are getting enough sleep at night; seven and a half to eight hours should be a minimum goal.  And that’s just physical rest.  Mental rest and time for fun is equally important for our well being.  Scheduling vacations and using our off time to recharge our mental batteries needs to be a priority.

How about diet and exercise?  Despite being a discussion that’s probably been heard more often than we would like, it’s still an important part of our overall well-being.  Being a well rested person with a terrible diet who doesn’t get enough exercise is only going to cause us health problems sooner or later.  As I recently discovered through the Daniel Fast, we really don’t need most of the fat and sugar that most of us consume.  Small improvements in the areas of diet and exercise now can help ensure that we remain healthy in the service of the Lord for many years to come.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I have several areas that need improvement in my effort to become a better steward of this life that God has given me.   The Lord needs us at our best each and every day and we can only give Him our best when we’ve properly taken care of ourselves.  Let us encourage each other to take care of ourselves and to be the best possible stewards of this life that God has blessed us with.

 

 

His Call to Good Works

God's call,good works, ministryI believe there comes a time in the life of every born again believer when they become aware of a special calling from God.  This may be a call to literally “Arise and go”  into the mission field or to begin ministering in a different way altogether.  God calls us uniquely because we are unique and what He has prepared for me will be different from what He has prepared for you.  I say this not only because it matches up with what we read in scripture (consider Abraham, Moses, Noah, Gideon, Jonah, Nehemiah, John the Baptist, Paul and especially Jesus Christ) but because it also matches what I have experienced in my own life and in the lives of other believers that I know and respect.

It is important to note that this calling is not the same as the call to salvation.  You absolutely must be born again to hear God’s call.  We are born spiritually dead and do not have the capacity to hear or understand the Holy Spirit until we repent of our sins and believe by faith in Jesus Christ and His redeeming work.  It is only when the Spirit has entered our heart and life and the process of regeneration begins that God can begin to speak to us about the unique task and ministry that He has prepared for us.

And make no mistake, God has prepared a unique task and many good works for us long before we knew Him or were aware of our need for salvation.  Consider Ephesians 2:10 which says “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (NASB)  God loves us so much that not only did He send Jesus to die for us, not only did He plan for us to spend all eternity with Him in paradise, He also began preparing good works for us to do while we were still on this earth.

In regards to God’s call for us, there are exactly three types of Christians.  The first type is the type that does not yet know what their calling is, but they are seeking for it while actively pursuing a right relationship with God.  If you are in this group, then hang in there; keep praying and keep seeking.  God will reward your persistence in His timing in a way that will bless your life and the lives of everyone around you.

The second type of Christian knows that God has called them but is not obeying that call or is ignoring God altogether and attempting to live apart from Him.  If you are in this group then I pray that you would repent and submit your will to Him.  It will be the second best decision you could ever make after the decision to be saved.

The third and final type is the type that has heard God’s unique call and has made the decision to obey.  If you are in this group, then you know what a blessing and a challenge it is and you also know what a great responsibility comes with it.

I believed for many years that I was a “defective” Christian because I had no specific calling.  At a very young age I felt God calling me into the ministry but not in a way that I could work out the specifics.  All through my childhood and teenage years I did what I thought I should do to please the Lord and still no directions came.  When it came time to go to college I thought “finally, this is where I will discover my purpose” but that wasn’t to be the case either.  God did see fit to bring a wonderful woman into my life during that time but I graduated without a clear sense of direction and I began to give up on God ever using me.

I’m now 38 years old and just this year, in 2013, do I now know that God has called me to a unique purpose that was set aside just for me:  To write and speak His truth on this blog and wherever else I am allowed to do so.  The interesting part of that to me is this: Blogs really didn’t come into usage until almost the year 2000, three whole years after I graduated college.  Even had I known about them at that time I did not have the life experience, wisdom, discipline or spiritual maturity to do what I am doing now.

God’s calling came to me at the perfect time and in the right way.  He never gave up on me, even when I tried to give up on Him.  He knew what I was going to need and where I needed to be and He has patiently guided me step by step.  Looking back I can see His hand all over my life even in the times when I thought that I had completely gone in the wrong direction.  God is amazing like that.  He can take our biggest mistakes, our worst failures and our darkest hours and make the most beautiful things out of them.

If you find yourself unsure, uncertain and struggling to find direction then don’t give up.  Even now God is preparing you and the good work that He has for you to do.  Be encouraged, Christian, God’s call is coming.