Learning It’s the Giver, Not the Gift that Counts

Grace-InstagramI sent both of my daughters to school today with five dollars in an envelope.  On it, I marked $1 for mom, $1 for dad, $1 for sister, $1 for dog, and $1 for self.

They are Christmas shopping at their school’s secret Santa Shop.

I know they will just buy junk.  It’s their only choice.  What else can you expect from a school fundraiser?  Or worse yet, what can you expect from a dollar?

They begged me all week to let them.  I did everything possible to put it off, hoping it would pass.  Until I began to feel like a horrible, Grinch of a parent.

My daughters are thinking little about the value of the gift.  They are excited for the opportunity to be a giver.

Neither will be able to contain the joy of giving.  I give them less than 24 hours before they beg us to open their gifts.

It happens every year.  They can’t wait until Christmas.  They want to experience our reaction, now.

I can’t blame them.  I was just as bad.

It was a Christmas tradition in our family to make the hour drive to a downtown Columbus department store for their secret Santa Shop.

So many memories.  As soon as you walked in the main door, a trail of reindeer paw prints led you to the Christmas wonderland.  Along the way, you passed the talking tree (my favorite).  You could stop for a visit on Santa’s lap.  It was magical.

At a certain point, parents were off-limits.  They sent you in a kids only shop with an envelop of money marked with amounts you can spend on each family member.  Everything was kid friendly.  The shelves were miniature.  Each section was marked by a dollar amount.  Even the cash register was built at kid level.

You felt like a big person.  Shopping all by yourself.  Walking out with a bag of gifts in nifty gift boxes clearly marked for each family member.

One year, my excitement overtook me.  I was so proud of myself.  I couldn’t even make it out of the store before spilling the beans.

I popped out of the store to quickly tell my parents, “I bought dad per-chume.”  That’s right, I said “per-chume” instead of perfume.

I still remember it, vividly.  It was a small, white bottle of old-spice.  Haha.  I remember taking off the lid and smelling it.

It wasn’t the gift that counted for my dad (and mom), it was the giver.

I’m sure he never wore the cologne other than the one time that I asked him to try it.  He wasn’t enamored with the gift.

He was filled with a deep feeling of love for me, his son, the giver.  He could care less about what I bought.  The joy of seeing me give was enough.

Learning that it’s the giver, not the gift that counts changes how you receive.  

You receive whatever it is with a gratitude that far exceeds the value of what’s given.  You are receiving love, which money can’t buy.

I needed this reminder from my kids this year.  I am not a god receiver.  I don’t like opening gifts for fear of disappointing the giver with my reaction.

Guess I’ve been focusing on the wrong thing.  The joy comes not from what you are receiving, but from who.



Learning a Story of Hope for Family Members Who are Lost

KeepHopeAliveHer husband and father to her children was lost.  Literally, he was missing.

No one knew where he was, what he was doing, or if he was okay.  He wouldn’t answer his phone.  All anyone knew was that he would draw money from his bank account from time to time.

It was longer than a couple days.  It was more like weeks.

She knew it was drugs.  Depression and addiction was getting the best of him.  It had been building to this point for several years.

Here she was, now.  Nearly hopleless.  Wondering if he would survive this bout.

She was sitting in the last row of the sanctuary after everyone else had left.

Her countenance was down.  She looked defeated.

I sat down in the chair in front of her.  Tears were flooding her eyes.  In between bursts of crying, she shared her story.

She told me everything.  How they met.  How many years they have been married.  How many kids they have together.  How he started using.  How much pain she feels.

He was lost.  She longed for him to be found.

Unselfishly, though.  She was less concerned about his responsibility to their home.  She was more unsettled with his safety.

Together, we prayed.

I was directing traffic in a busy parking lot when she brought the good news.

Thank you,” she said.  “Thank you for your prayers.”  

I listened.

“We found him.  He’s been in rehab for 30 days.  He voluntarily committed to 9 more months.”

She explained everything.  How she heard about the Marchman Act.  How she pinged him by his phone.  How his heart is changing.

There is hope for your family members who are lost.

Don’t give up.

God is light.  1 John 1:5  (NRSV)

Your loved one may be walking the dark, completely lost.  Like a searchlight, God’s love is looking for them.

God wants to find them and forgive.  Jesus sacrificed his life for theirs.

If anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and his is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for our sins only but also for the sins of the whole world.  1 John 2:1-2

Praying for your family members and mine who are lost.

I believe redemption stories are waiting to be told.

Can’t wait to hear your story.


Learning to Choose the WHY Behind Church Christmas Events

LOL 2015You know church Christmas events.  Christmas Cantatas.  Children’s Christmas musicals.  Candlelight services.

Christmas events are a given in the church world.  Some are nostalgic.  Some are tradition.  Some are innovative.  Others should have been laid to rest a decade ago.

No matter the variety, every Church Christmas event should serve an underlying reason “why.”

Knowing the “why” is more critical than the “how.”  The “why” drives the “how.”

It works by default or by choice.  You can focus on the “how” without considering the “why,” but it operates the same.  An unspoken “why” will drive it all, whether it is tradition or convenience or finances.

The event serves a greater purpose when the “why” is intentional.

Not every “why” needs to be the same for every church.  

Several “why’s” can be good.  Not any one is superior to all others.

You simply need to settle on the one you believe in most.  Choose it.  Don’t let it choose you.  Then, serve the “why” with passion.

Choosing a “why” for a Church Christmas event will produce stories worth telling.  

Conversations will turn from performance evaluation to emotional connection.  It will become less about what you can draw from the event, and more about the impact it has on others.

I know because I have a story to tell from Highland Park Church‘s Christmas event called Lights of Lakeland.  In it’s tenth year, Lights of Lakeland is an event that attracts over 30,00 people.  But, it’s not about the numbers.  It is about the “why” of leading people to love God and love others.

Here’s our story.

A young family has attended Lights of Lakeland several years in a row.  It has become a family tradition.  The whole family gets together for it.  Grandma and grandpa, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, grandkids, and cousins attend.

Every year they look forward to the experience.  It’s one of those things that put them in the Christmas spirit.  You know, like your city’s Christmas parade or colder weather or Christmas songs on the radio or visiting santa at the mall.

This year will be different.  Since last year, one of the children received a difficult health diagnosis.  He is sick.  Really sick.  It isn’t safe for him to be in large crowds.  Lights of Lakeland is too risky.

Wanting to keep life as normal as possible for him, his parents try something.  They email our church with a request.  Could you provide a way for our family experience Lights of Lakeland with our son without the crowds?

Yes.  We can.  We will.

The email was our first interpersonal connection with this family.  The second was our children’s ministry staff visiting the boy and his family in the hospital.  The third was the night they attended our church for the first time.

They are not church people.  Meaning, they were not leaving another church to attend ours.  Church was not a normal part of their life.

They have decided to give it a try.  They want to know what this Church thing is about.  They are ready to learn about God’s love and Jesus and how it can influence their lives.

And, this year, mom and dad will be volunteering for Lights of Lakeland.

Choosing the “why” behind our Church Christmas event is writing a new story for this family, and many more.  A story worth telling.  

Learning When to Laugh When I Feel Like Crying

Screen Shot 2015-12-01 at 1.02.28 PMYou never want a conversation to start with, “I’m not sure how to tell you this without hurting your feelings, but I thought you might want to know that…(fill in the blank)?”  

I didn’t hear those exact words, but they were somewhere in the ballpark of thought.

Okay, just tell me,” is the only response I can give at this point.  The other option is the torture of trying to guess.

“You know how you said the word “miracle” several times in your sermon?  Well, there were times when it didn’t quite come out most sophisticatedly.  Occasionally, you pronounced it “merr -ical.”  

“Not saying you need to change anything, just wanted you know.”  

I’m hearing this critique over the phone.  I may have wanted to cry, but it was no use.  No one was present to hug or console me.

It may have drudged up old memories from high school speech class.  Specifically, the time the teacher told me I delivered excellent speeches, but…  BUT, if I had any hope of succeeding at a high level then would need to lose my country accent.

It may have taken me back to the day when I attended college in Chicago.  Upon meeting me and having a short conversation, a person asks, “Where are you from?”  Not sure why he’s asking, I probe for context.  “Because you have an accent.”  This was not a compliment.

Upon hearing of my mispronunciation of “miracle,” I may have felt like crying.  I didn’t.

Instead, I accepted it as an opportunity to laugh at myself and invite others to laugh with me.  You know the old adage, “If you can’t beat them, join them.”

Saturday night was the first time I delivered the message and received the constructive criticism.  The next morning, I was set to preach it three more times.  I was confident “merr-ical” would slip out again.

I opened each of the three succeeding sermons the same way.  I invited them to laugh with me at my “Southeast Ohio, Hillbilly” way of speaking.  Either way, the audience would probably laugh.

I gave everyone and myself permission to embrace me for who I really am.  I am small town boy from a humble family who sometimes (even oftentimes) isn’t proper.  We may pronounce it “crick” instead of “creek,” or “warshboard” instead of “washboard.”

The audience agreed though laughter.  This time, though, it didn’t make me feel like crying.  I felt accepted, supported, and loved for being me.

Learning when to laugh when you feel like crying can turn a negative into a positive.  

 God, give us the ability to laugh at ourselves more.  Transform our shame into an honest, liberating embrace of who we are.