Gifts

Content Blog Title (1).png

Imagine getting a present. In fact, imagine getting a lot of presents. Imagine a whole Christmas tree with dozens of presents underneath it and every single one of them is for you. You run up and you start to open them, and they are full of things that give you joy and things that bring you hope and things that bring you knowledge and things that encourage you and things that make you wealthier or more powerful or whatever it is that needs to be added to your life to make you better.

It is a happy scene - you and your Christmas tree and your presents. Now I want you to pause the scene, and zoom out. I want you to zoom out, and as you do, you'll see you're in a nice living room in a nice home. But now that you've zoomed out this far, if you push play again, you will start to hear some sounds beyond your wrapping paper ripping. Zoom out further, and you start to realize that your Christmas tree is in the middle of a war zone. You notice the rubble. And the fires. Over there is a makeshift hospital where people are moaning and crying. Men with guns are trying to kill each other and desperate mothers are crying for the children they may never see again.

Your house, your living room, your Christmas tree is in the middle of a war zone.

Now that you know that, you have two choices.

You can either take all these presents you've just opened and hide them - shut the windows, close the blinds, lock the doors, and don't let the outside know what you have so they don't ask for it. Keep it for yourself.

Or you can take your gifts and go make a difference with them. 

Rewind the scene for me, if you will. Dig back through some of that discarded wrapping paper that your presents were wrapped in. Find a tag. To: You. From: God.

These gifts are your callings, and your callings come from God. To be a mother or father, employer or employee, teacher or student, leader or follower. These are amazing gifts, and when we receive amazing gifts we are excited to open them up and find out what they are. What are the callings that God has given you - and what will you do with them? How will you use them and fulfill them and grow in them? How will they surprise and delight and satisfy you?

Romans 12:1 | Offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to the Lord. This is your spiritual act of worship. 

- Pastor Kent Reeder

Compete

Content Blog Title.png

There are hundreds, if not thousands, of groups to which you can donate in the midst of a disaster relief project. Some are massive organizations with complex processes. Some are simple groups with a singular focus. 

This is a good thing, because the devastation that a disaster brings demands a wide-ranging, multi-pronged approach. It is the best way for humans, who are limited by their imperfection, to cover all the bases. It's an inverted version of "divide and conquer."

This is a bad thing, too, when it is approached or considered wrongly. When you see a lot of different entities working within the same arena, it is natural to start to make comparisons, which then lead you to turn helping into a competition - which it most certainly is not. That being said, it is quite frankly very human to do this, because the world around you is comparison based: marketing demands comparison, and marketing is what develops the content that assails your senses and informs your biases. Unfortunately, requests for donations to a cause end up seeming an awful lot like marketing (which makes sense - it's the way to get attention), leading you to respond to them like you would to marketing.

So, what do you do? How can a person like yourself avoid the natural tendency to turn even charitable causes and philanthropic endeavors into a competition? (A competition in which, by the way, everyone is going to lose.) 

It's not simple to do, but it is simple to understand.

Don't make it about you. 

It makes sense, at least a little. It's how you started this journey. You (hopefully) weren't planning to donate "for yourself." You were looking into donating in response to what you'd heard other people were going through. You wanted to pitch in, help make a difference, and do unto others. Then you started to take a closer look, and you decided you didn't want to waste your money, to seem foolish in your giving, to be the one who backed the wrong horse - and suddenly it was all about you. 

Those people who are in need, the ones whose lives have been forever changed by forces outside their own control, they're the ones who inspired you to want to help in the first place. Their plight, their stories, their pain - focus on these, and the competition of it starts to fade away. 

But not completely.

Right? Because when your donating is focused on those affected, there are still measurable, comparable facts that seem a lot like competition. You can still measure, you can still compare, the number of people who are getting help and the amount of help they are getting. And if you're honest, you know that the moment competition becomes part of this, people start to lose - and there isn't room for losing in responses to tragedies like this. 

So, don't make it about you. Simple to understand, hard to do.
Even harder? Don't make it about them. (Wait, what?)

Make it about Jesus. 

I'm not saying you should send Bibles to hungry people who need beds. I'm not saying that you should give to a local congregation to help fix a regional catastrophe. I'm not even saying you should give exclusively to faith-based relief organizations. I'm saying, instead, that your donating will win if you make it about Jesus. 

When your donating is about Jesus, the competition, the comparison, and the one-upsmanship all fade away. So do any temptation to give up or become cynical or procrastinate in your giving. In Christ, there is no room for these - not because he's demanding and has an impossible standard, but because he is the opposite of those temptations. He is the one who could win all competition and yet made himself the lowest of the losers. He is the one with the positive outlook because he knows that sin, evil, death, pain, and catastrophe have been defeated. He embodies and empowers hope because there is no need for despair when the generous and merciful Christ is your focus. 

He is the winner of all competition who has never held a trophy, because he gave it to us to share with others.

Bring your donation to the cross of Jesus. Hold it out to him, and listen as he says to you, "Use this to share my love, would you?" Turn around, and invest it, quickly and carefully, not for you, not for them, but for him. If we could all do this, we'd do as well as imperfect humanity possibly can.

There is no best donation - until, in and through Jesus, all donation is made best.

1 Peter 4:10-11 | Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. 

- Pastor Kent Reeder

Vital

It is vital for Christians to engage in acts of considerate service toward one another. 

Not just good. Not just nice. Vital.

These acts of service don't have to be programmed. It isn't "vital" for Christians to volunteer for the local food shelf or hospice house or transitional living facility or pregnancy counseling center or thrift store. There are good, but not the same as what's vital. It's also isn't required that people do acts of selfless service through their local congregation. Again, a good thing, but not the point of considerate service.

Organizations and drives and events are a means to an end, and it is this end that makes serving your community (a.k.a. community service, though those words in that order have somehow been transmorgified into something that sounds like a punishment) so important. 

Selfless acts of considerate service prove your soul is alive. (And a living soul is vital.) 

Apples and ears of corn don't make their respective stalks alive, but if they aren't happening those stalks lack life. They lack vitality. 

Anyone who makes the argument that economic success, happiness in the family, contentment with your lot in life, or physical health are the fruit of having faith in what Jesus has done is stopping short of the real point. Those are all signs of God's goodness in life, sure, but they're not the things that make life life. 

If you're interested in life that is truly alive, "be rich in good deeds" and "be generous and wiling to share." These are proof of life - and without proof of life, what are you?

---

1 Timothy 6:17-19 | Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share. In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life. 

Better than One

We mostly hear the words "a cord of three strands is not quickly broken" (Ecclesiastes 4:12) at weddings. They're well-used in that context. 

But they're part of a much bigger picture of community. Imagine a person who accomplished a lot, but had no one on whom to spend it or with whom to share it. They'd really only have one option: keep working. This would be a miserable option, because they would be working for nothing, but at least they'd be doing something. 

But having someone else (friends, neighbors, relatives, etc.) makes it all worth doing. You have partners in celebration. You have beneficiaries in work. You have support in difficulty. 

At Illumine, we particularly like to apply this way of thinking to our Community Service. Having outlets, whether through the Non-Profit of the Month or the Free Yard Sale or something you've found to invest in personally, outlets that allow you to take advantage of the wealth of knowledge, resources, and love that Christ has given into your stewardship makes life make sense. Looking at the world through the lens of generosity and seeing that it binds us to others and gives us friends on this long road of life helps us see servanthood better.

"Two are better than one, because they have a good return for their work: If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!" (Ecclesiastes 4:9-10)

-Pastor Kent Reeder

Organizations

People can accomplish more when they work together than when they work alone. Even the most fiercely independent have to admit that they depend on the people who know how to do what they don't. Where did your clothes come from? Your computer? Your car? Your education? We, each of us, depend on others, and when we work in community we accomplish more than if we go it alone. 

When a person attends a church, they, too are taking advantage of the power of cooperation. Music, decor, preaching, building, scriptures - you wouldn't have these if people who weren't you didn't help. Together, we accomplish something valuable and greater than ourselves. 

This is true on an organizational level, too. Multiple organizations accomplish more together than they do alone. That's why Illumine is part of the WELS. It's why we partner with organizations like Project Hope. It's why we invited On Eagles Wings and about a dozen other organizations to be a part of our human trafficking seminar in March. 

The greatest application of this cooperation principle, of course, comes in being saved. You could be fiercely independent about it, but you'd fail. You need Jesus, because he gives you victory over sin. In all honesty, it is a bit of a misnomer to call it a cooperation, because Jesus does all of the work and you receive the benefits. That's why it is crazy when we get it into our heads that Jesus' gift of salvation is only for me and him to know about. He puts us together in churches so that we who have been saved by his work and grace can remind each other, lift each other up, encourage each other, and learn from each other. 

It's important that we remember - this is the purpose of the church. Connecting people to and through the gospel is the reason the church exists. When this stops being the goal, we're no longer organized. But when gospel connection is the goal...things can really get accomplished.

1 Corinthians 12:12 The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ. 13 For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, slave or free—and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. 
14 Now the body is not made up of one part but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” it would not for that reason cease to be part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would the sense of hearing be? If the whole body were an ear, where would the sense of smell be? 18 But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. 19 If they were all one part, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, but one body. 
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!” 22 On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and the parts that we think are less honorable we treat with special honor. And the parts that are unpresentable are treated with special modesty, 24 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. 26 If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it. 
27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.

-Pastor Kent Reeder

Hold Your Own Free Yard Sale (Free Resources!)

On Saturday, October 11th, Illumine hosted a "free yard sale." The concept for these is simple: gather donations, put them out on tables, and charge nothing. It's easy to do, (and therefore just as easy not to do.)

There are, of course, 10,000 things that can go wrong. The weather is a factor. Greed is a factor (can be on both sides - donating or receiving.) Publicity is a factor. Having tables is a factor. Time. Volunteers. Coordination. All things that complicate. 

But honestly, just as many things can go right. Volunteers can be activated and empowered. Donors can start to develop that godly-stewardship addiction. Kids can learn generosity. Needy moms can clothe their newborns. College kids can afford some furniture. Parents can sign up for Mornings with Mommy. The community can see your facility. The community can see your heart for them. Families you haven't seen in a while might return. Members of other churches might marvel at the generosity. Some folks might even donate money for the items they receive, which you can then plug into more charitable work.

I lied. Way more things can go right than wrong!

To help anyone who is considering a sale of this sort, here's Illumine's handy list that should clear the path to a great day. 

3 Months Out

  • Choose a date.
    • Pay attention to "yard sale season." Pick a day that is big for yard sales. If you don't know when that will be, talk to one of the yard-salers in your congregation.
  • Recruit an event coordinator.
  • Pray for the event's success.
  • Develop promotional materials. (Here's a poster template.)
  • Advertise to potential donors.
    • Offer to pick things up if needed. It helps, and it gives somebody with a truck a great way to serve.

2 Months Out

  • Pray for the event's success.
  • Distribute posters to local businesses. 
  • Create Facebook/social media event. 
  • Schedule "side events" that will not only bring people in, but help people stay.
    • Have activities for children. Definitely.
      • Coloring
      • Sidewalk chalk.
      • Recess-type games.
    • Consider live music.
    • Consider inviting food trucks.
    • Consider a bounce house.
  • Plan any decorations. 
  • Plan any food. (Coffee = MUST)
  • Order signage.

1 Month Out

  • Pray for the event's success.
  • Begin collecting donations (if you haven't yet.)
  • Offer other yard sales the chance to donate their leftovers.
  • Do another Facebook ad buy.
  • Recruit volunteers to staff the sale.
  • Recruit volunteers to set up the stuff the night before.
  • Recruit volunteers to deliver large items the day of the sale.

2 Weeks Out

  • Pray for the event's success. 
  • Get into the Newpaper.
  • Redistribute/distribute more posters (don't forget schools/universities.)
  • Print flyers for the congregation to hand out. (Here's a sample.)
  • Assess donations. Ask for more.
  • Plan out sale layout.
    • Outside is recommended, simply for visibility. People stop at yard sales.
    • Questions to consider:
      • Where will hangup clothes go?
      • Where will books go? (Especially in bad weather.)
      • If someone wants to donate, where will they put the cash?

1 Week Out

  • Pray for the event's success.
  • Begin organizing donations.
  • Last call for donations.
  • Canvass low-income neighborhoods with flyers.
  • Design/print/stuff anything you're going to hand out to those who shop.
  • Schedule newspaper ads.
  • Call local radio stations.

1 Day Out

  • Pray for the event's success.
  • Organize the donations into categories. 
    • Kitchen, decor, infant, men's clothes, women's clothes, garage, seasonal, etc.
  • Prep the bathrooms. 
  • Prep the food/beverage stations.
  • Put up decorations.
  • Prep information collection cards, just in case someone wants to join the email list.

Day Of

  • Put out donations.
  • Put out signage.
  • Put out handout materials.
  • Pray the whole day, closing with thanks.

Post Sale

  • Donate everything that's left over to a local thrift store OR keep it until the next Free Yard Sale.
  • Followup with people.

Remember, it's just as easy to do as it is not to do. Proverbs 19:17 | "Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord."