Tag Archives: generosity

The Shirt Off My Back

Four bikes were outside when I arrived for our Saturday morning run.

“No one told me that they were riding this morning?” I thought as I walked inside.

I noted the four who wore cycling gear as they greeted me, though several others were dressed to run.

“Hey, no one told me about a ride this morning.” I said, a bit miffed at being left out of the loop.  As I said this, I felt this surge of anger bubble up inside me, not sure where it was coming from.  My voice and actions became more dramatic, nearly shouting, half in jest, half in anger, “Why didn’t you include me in the text message.  Don’t I count!”

The others laughed at my outburst (as I had wanted), but I also realized that I had overstated my case and began to apologize.  Tim, one of the cyclists, said, “You need to take some time to center yourself.”  He was right.

Preparing to race, Shannon is in pink vest

Preparing to race, Shannon is in pink vest

Shannon, also a cyclist, apologized that she had sent out the text invite and used an old thread that did not include me and several others.  I calmed down and said it was okay, especially since I knew Shannon would not do it intentionally.  Shannon is a gracious and generous child of God who gives of her time and energy to help others.  She is a physical therapist who opens her workplace early on Sunday mornings so that our group of runners can do strength training as way to avoid injuries. She regularly travels to Haiti on mission trips and feels comfortable praying for our group.  I consider her a friend.

l525182534As the runners and cyclist prepared to leave, Shannon approached me to see if I had a spare shirt.  It was cooler than expected outside and she needed another layer.  I looked in my running bag and pulled out the only long sleeve shirt I had: my finisher’s shirt from my last marathon.  I teased Shannon that she needed to return it freshly laundered.

After a short prayer, the group headed out the door, cyclists and runners.  I had a great run that morning and headed home prior to the cyclists’ return.  It had been a gorgeous Saturday morning and, after my initial outburst, I was grateful for having a great group of runners to challenge and encourage me.

Later that afternoon, Tim called me to tell me some bad news. During the ride, Shannon had taken a fall.  Fortunately she had a good bike helmet that had protected her head.  Still she had to go the ER where she discovered that she had broken her collarbone.

I texted Shannon that I would be praying for her quick and full recovery.  She texted back that she appreciated the prayers, she was doing all right but that she owed me a shirt, since they had to cut off her jersey and my shirt in the ER.

When I read the text, two thoughts in quick succession flashed into my mind.

The first thought was: “That was the finisher’s shirt from my last marathon.   That can’t be replaced!”

The second deeper thought was, “John, which is more important, a shirt or a friendship?”

Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.  Matthew 25:40


Let God Lead With Generosity

Transitions are tough.  To move to a new town is challenging for us.  To start a new job and to learn new work habits and culture adds to the difficulty.  Yet thousands of people do it every year.  My wife and I did it when we married and moved to St. Paul from Kansas City so that I could start seminary.  I helped my daughter Christina move to Austin, Texas, so she could begin her first teaching job. With patience, wisdom and perseverance people transition to a new life.

The people of Israel had a difficult transition as they entered the Promise land of Canaan.  They had been nomadic sheep and goat herders in their wandering in the wilderness.  Moses, before he died, had a final word from God. In the book of Deuteronomy he instructed the people on how they were to act once they transition to farming.   

grain in basket    When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it,  you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name.
And you shall say, “The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders;  and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey.  So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.” You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Deuteronomy 26:1-2, 8-10

This was the offering of first fruits.  God was teaching the people to practice generosity in their daily living.  The first-fruit generosity was stated as the expectation of God for his people as a response to God’s generosity in giving them the land they now settled and farmed.  Notice why they gave. It was not a payment in order to earn God’s favor.  Rather it was a thankful response to what God had already given to them.

The practice of generous giving is one that our contemporary society can embrace.  Our congregation witnessed such generosity when Inez Oehlke donated her farm buildings and land to the congregation when she transition out of the farm house.   We are ever grateful for her example of generosity.

The Oehlke farm house remains on church property

The Oehlke farm house remains on church property

The practice reminds us to open our hearts and minds towards God’s gracious gifts towards us.  It reminds us that God has given us not only the created world and all its produce, but has given us new life in his Son, Jesus Christ.  God is generous and gracious towards us; can we not be generous toward God’s ministry in the world?

When have you recognized a gift of generosity towards yourself?   When have you practiced generosity?

Lord Jesus, teach to me practice generosity towards others.

Seeds that Bear Fruit

Yesterday was a great day of worship at Resurrection. The youth lead us in prayer, preaching and song. All did a great job, from the sound and video team to the ushers and greeters.  I am especially grateful for our three preachers, Cooper Dillon, Garth Natwick and Ryan Garbe. All three have been active in the congregation for years and they each expressed their appreciation for how the congregation and pastors have shaped their faith. Each declared their faith in Jesus as a dynamic, growing relationship that has grown over many years of participation.

Being the newcomer at Resurrection, I need reminding that a solid foundation has been laid prior to my coming. I tend to live my life in episodes and seasons, seeing only the immediate events around me. I forget that God is weaving a much bigger narrative through the life of this congregation and through the history of the global church. The Holy Spirit has been shaping the lives of the youth and families long before I began my ministry here. It is joy to witness the seeds that were planted bear fruit for God’s Kingdom.

Paul wrote about this in his first letter to the Corinthians as the congregation argued over which pastor had the more lasting spiritual impact,

What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. I Corinthians 3:5-6

The good news of yesterday was highlighted in the generous response of the congregation for our Youth Scholarship Fund. Over $3500 was donated so that eight of our High School Youth can attend the ELCA Youth Gathering in New Orleans this summer. Thanks be to God!

How has your church community shaped your faith?

Lord Jesus, continue to call me back into deeper relationships with all your children, young and old.


Living Generously

The Rock and the Rainbow as Promises of God

Jesus lived generously.  He gave himself easily to others.  When a religious leader asked him to heal his sick daughter, Jesus immediately started towards his home and eventually healed her (Mark 5:21-43).   When Jesus saw the hungry crowd, he took what his group of disciples had and fed 5,000 people (Mark 4:30).  He graciously gave of himself as he blessed little children and invited the rich man to join his school of discipleship (Mark 10:13-17).  Ultimately Jesus gave his very life for all humanity.  Jesus lived graciously and creatively, never fearful of his choices to give.  He has become the rock of our salvation, the culmination of God’s creative promise in the rainbow to redeem the world (Genesis 9:15).

Gracefulness, generosity and creativity are interrelated and form key elements of a Godly character.  Seth Godin, author and speaker, wrote,

Fear.  It creates anger and selfishness.  They sit together, supporting each other, as inseparable as red, orange, and yellow on the spectrum.

Generosity, creativity, and gracefulness are at the other end in a similar cluster.  If you seek to be creative, start by being generous.  Like blue, indigo and violent, they live together.

At which end of the spectrum do you reside?  When have you experienced grace and generosity together?

Lord Jesus, thank for your never-ending spring of life. Show me the path to generosity and gracefulness.