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His Body, My Choice

His Body, My Choice

This spring I was asked to prepare the Ash Wednesday sermon for the Brookside Campus. Ash Wednesday is a beautiful tradition that reminds us we are dying and the cross is our only cure. Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’ are the words spoken over each of us as we receive ashes.

I didn’t expect the concept of mortality to hit me very profoundly, but during my preparation, I was in the thick of relentless pain. My feet had totally betrayed me and decided to become weapons of torture every time I walked. So, as I wrote a sermon about the fact that our bodies are breaking down, my physical therapy, foot braces, and steady diet of ibuprofen reinforced that message.

A New Generosity

But then God did a new thing in my heart (as he always seems to do when I least expect it!). The afternoon of Ash Wednesday, I had rehearsed my talk for the last time, and I thought I’d take a breather and check some texts and social media. There on Facebook was an update from a dear, lifelong friend who needed a kidney transplant, and she needed it soon.

Everything in me said, “I need to do this!”  God had just impressed upon me through the sermon prep how temporary our lives are—that our bodies are not our prize, but eternity is. I felt him saying that although I struggled with pain, I had been forgetting the millions of other ways my body does work. One of those ways was having a rock star kidney that my friend Mollie could desperately use. Considering eternity opened up a new freedom to live with more generosity in how I use and see my physical body.

Choices

I have a choice on how I will use this body while I have it. Will I spend my energy cursing it for all the ways it breaks or doesn’t fit my standard of appearance/size/shape, or will I thank it? Will I accept that my physical body is the primary way God uses me to deliver his love to others— whether that’s through physical closeness (A wave! Smiles! Laughter! Hugs! Snuggles!), or through words (written or spoken) that bring life and goodness to others? If I don’t, I’m missing out on a very tangible blessing and a way that God has designed me to bring his light to the people in my space.

Will I see my body as something I have absolute rights over that must be defended at all costs or as something that, like Jesus, I am called to sacrifice – even my bodily rights – out of love for others? Is it my body, my choice, or is this the Lord’s body, which he has entrusted me with, loving me enough to give me the freedom to choose how I will use it? As we ask that question, let’s not forget that the freedom we have in Christ, is freedom not to serve myself, but freedom to love and serve others (see Galatians 5:13-14), just like Jesus did.

Jesus was also entrusted with a body – he was called Emmanuel – God with us. This “with us” nature makes him like no other God: all powerful and expansive while also as a friend who “sticks closer than a brother”. Christ was physically present on earth; he taught, touched, healed, hugged, and loved real people. Ultimately, he would end up using his physical body as a means to purchase our salvation on the cross. God clearly sees bodies as integral to his redemptive work in the world! 

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. – I Corinthians 6:19-20

Life to the Full

During the process of deciding to donate a kidney, I had dozens of opportunities to back out. The transplant process is designed well to ensure that donors do not feel pressure or coercion to donate an organ (which is great!), so at every turn, I had to choose again – do I want to make this sacrifice, or not? 

Trust me, I seriously considered all the “cons”: an invasive surgery with four nasty scars to prove it, dealing with pain and the side effects of being on heavy medications, recovery time, inconveniencing my co-workers, needing to ask (and graciously receive) help from my network of people, and putting a pause on my fitness routine. But, there was one item in the “pro” column that overshadowed them all: Mollie gets to live life to the full and see her kids grow up and grow old with her husband! That would mean Mollie gets to continue to choose to use her God-given body to bless people as she has done for years, whether that’s as an ENT physician assistant who cares deeply for her patients, or the children she treats in a Kenyan clinic each time she travels there to serve, or the kiddos in desperate situations she and her family foster. The choice was easy: if I choose to give this body away, God’s work can be multiplied in the days we still have here on earth.

Giving Thanks

Clearly, organ donation is not the path for all of us! You don’t need a major medical procedure to learn to love and appreciate all that your body is capable of. There are so many more easily accessible ways to pause and consider how you and your physical body can bring a little bit of the kingdom to someone else. 

Think about how you are using your energy today. How much of it is spent on your personal goals? Is there anything left for anyone else? Does some reordering need to happen? 

Your job, home-ownership, or parenting are excellent places to reconsider your body as a tool for generosity. What would not get done if you physically were not there? Your daily activities keep the ship afloat, so give thanks! Are there places we can reframe some aspects we might dread? Such as driving the kids from one activity to the next, collaborating with a chronically difficult co-worker, or how quickly a cleaned up house destructs into a mess yet again? 

These tedious or challenging spaces are actually opportunities to use your body to bring God’s joy, beauty and mercy to others, by simply being willing to do them. Next time you start one of these dreaded tasks, invite the Spirit to join you, using your body as the avenue to be the ‘kingdom come’ to those you do it with or for.

Let’s thank our God-given bodies and recognize them as holy spaces, where the Living God dwells, and let’s do it beginning today. Paul says it best in Romans 12:

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. – Romans 12: 1-2

A Tool of Generosity

And to not leave you hanging, the kidney transplant procedure for Mollie and me is complete. I’m writing this while on medical leave with a good amount of healing yet to come, but on all accounts, it was a successful surgery. Mollie’s kidney function soared from only 14% to 93% shortly after surgery! We felt God’s presence and promises in what I can only describe as a worshipful experience. 

My body is His body, and what a freedom it is to affirm it as a good tool of generosity even when it has flaws. The day of perfect, redeemed bodies will come, but until then, let’s use what we have to give ourselves away!

A few additional resources have helped me see my physical body not as a project to fix or a trophy, but as an instrument for beauty:

Breaking Free of Body Shame, book by Jess Connolly 

Your Body is Not Your Masterpiece, article by Glennon Doyle

How Does the Church Value Them Both?  

How Does the Church Value Them Both?  

I have always admired much about the life and legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. A couple of years ago while in Atlanta for a conference, Liz and I carved out an afternoon to visit Dr. King’s longtime faith community, Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was baptized, ordained and served as co-pastor with his father until his tragic assassination in 1968. Standing in the historic sanctuary, the words of Dr. King pressed into my mind and heart. Dr. King said, “The church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic of the state, and never its tool. If the church does not recapture its prophetic zeal, it will become an irrelevant social club without moral or spiritual authority.” [1]

Dr. King’s insight as to the church’s timeless role in the world has guided my understanding when it comes to the church speaking out on injustice and compelling moral issues. While Christ Community has sought to avoid any hint of partisanship or political co-opting of the local church by any party, we do not abdicate the proper and right role of being the conscience of the state when the cultural moment calls for a graceful, but prophetic word of biblical truth.

In the midst of our grief for the unborn, we are called to share Christ-like love for every person…. With great compassion, we recognize the unique challenges and difficulties unplanned pregnancy often brings, especially for the mother. We care deeply about those impacted by unplanned pregnancy…

 

Image-bearers of Christ

Legalization of elective abortion-on-demand [2] is not only a moral issue, but also an issue of justice that compels the church to lovingly, but boldly speak up as the conscience of the state. The arguments, justifications, obfuscations, and massive economic gains of the elective abortion-on-demand industry are powerfully similar to the legalized slave trade in our nation’s past. Then and now, we are called to defend the lives and rights of our fellow image-bearers of Christ.

Looking back at the evils of the slave trade we are shocked and ashamed that it was culturally and legally legitimized. We are incredulous that a nation, as well as many churches and Christian leaders, could so willfully be blind for so long. We currently face the evil of legalized elective abortion, which destroys the life of an unborn child, a person made in the image of God. Dr. King and his niece, Alveda King not only prophetically spoke out against the evil of slavery and racism but also about the evil of abortion. Alveda King declared “How can the dream survive if we murder the children. Every aborted baby is like a slave in the womb of his or her mother.”  

It is hard to imagine what Dr. King would say had he lived to see an estimated 63 million [3] babies aborted following the Roe v. Wade decision in 1973. What would he say to learn that the babies aborted in this country are disproportionately minorities? We cannot ignore the explicitly racist and eugenic roots [4] of the abortion industry. The impact on the Black population is well documented on both sides of the issue. Where are the Dr. Kings in our nation today? As Edmund Burke said when he called out the perils of passivity and indifference in the presence of evil: “All it takes for evil to triumph is for good people to do nothing.”  

This [Value Them Both] amendment would not ban abortion outright. Instead, it would overturn the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that mandated a “right” to abortion and thus permit our elected state representatives to enact limits on abortion.

 

Affirmation of Life

Holy Scriptures are authoritative for Christ Community not only in doctrinal matters but also for all of life. The Scriptures give us moral clarity and an unwavering commitment to the sanctity of every human life from the moment of conception. If we view the Holy Scriptures as an authoritative and guiding moral force, then we can see from the earliest chapters of Genesis that the Holy Scriptures speak with consistent clarity about the intrinsic value of every born and unborn image bearer of God. In Psalm 139, David declares, “For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.” The prophet Jeremiah declares the revelation of God saying, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you, before you were born I consecrated you.…” The Scriptures prohibit the premeditated taking of another human’s life, declared unambiguously in the Decalogue, ‘You shall not murder.”

Both morally and scientifically the unborn are human persons with rights and any human reasoning of viability, ensoulment or other justification for an unborn person to be destroyed is arbitrary. Every human life, from the moment of conception, shares the same human rights, the first of which is the right to life. Our society rightly protects other young children, adults, and senior citizens. Are we unwilling, under the cover of legalized legitimacy and the right to choose, to protect the precious and vulnerable lives of the unborn who are given no voice? Who could be more vulnerable and in need of protection than an unborn child? The moral goodness of a society is best seen in how it protects and cares for its most vulnerable people.

In addition to the Holy Scriptures, advances in science and medicine continue to affirm the life of the unborn. We now know that the unborn child’s heart begins to beat a few weeks after conception — her body, along with sections of her DNA are unique and distinct from her mother’s. By 12 weeks, the child is fully formed. She has arms, hands, fingers, and toes. Many of us have seen this on an ultrasound. Yet in the second trimester, dilation and evacuation abortion (called “D&E,” or dismemberment abortion) is still lawful and performed in Kansas, by tearing the child’s body apart and removing her from the womb piece by piece. These truths are painful and difficult to hear, but we cannot turn a blind eye from the science of life in the womb and the grim reality of elective abortion procedures. Euphemisms obfuscate the moral and scientific truth.

In the midst of our grief for the unborn, we are also called to share Christ-like love for each and every person affected by unplanned pregnancy and abortion, including those who have chosen abortion. With great compassion, we recognize the unique challenges and difficulties unplanned pregnancy often brings, especially for the mother. We care deeply about those impacted by unplanned pregnancy, and we recognize the many wounds that legalized abortion on demand has had on so many. The church is to be a people and place for healing and hope for each person, including those who have chosen abortion. As the hands, heart, and feet of Jesus who welcomed the little children to himself we want to provide support for women who find themselves in the challenges of an unplanned pregnancy. And we do so with love, grace, and generosity.

Neighborly Love

What does neighborly love require of us? As a church we avoid partisanship or endorsement of any political party or candidate, and we welcome people into our church body of any (or no) party affiliation. However, in matters of moral injustice, we continue to speak biblical truth and work toward ending injustice. The church’s response to abortion is to be the vocal conscience of the state. How will we respond as Christians and people of good will? Who will stand up and give voice to the voiceless?

The overturning of Roe v. Wade at the federal level does not change the state abortion law in Kansas. The law in Kansas, as pronounced by the Kansas Supreme Court, currently gives less protection to the unborn than Roe v. Wade ever did. Kansas residents have the opportunity to be salt and light by addressing (through the August 2 vote) the possibility of a future of virtually unrestricted access to abortion from conception to delivery.

Prior to 2019, Kansas was one of the most pro-life states in the country. But in 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court issued a ruling that gave protection to what was termed an “inalienable” right to abortion in the Kansas Constitution. In other words, the court declared an almost limitless right to abortion in Kansas — one even stronger than the “undue burden” standard from Roe v. Wade. This ruling went beyond Roe v. Wade to remove protections from the unborn. Kansas Courts have used this ruling to strike down a ban on dismemberment abortions. [5] [6] [7]

Because of the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling, the rest of Kansas’ pro-life laws protecting the unborn are at risk, including restrictions on abortions up to the moment of birth. The 2019 ruling provides the legal framework to strike down pro-life laws once they are challenged in court. As the abortion industry continues to bring lawsuits challenging pro-life legislation — as it did with the dismemberment abortion ban — Kansas’ laws limiting abortion will continue to be struck down under the law set forth by the Kansas Supreme Court. This puts the unborn of Kansas in greater peril now than ever. Misinformation about this issue is rampant and we must not be distracted or deceived by lies that seek to make Kansas a legalized abortion-on-demand destination for our nation.

Every Kansas law with abortion limits has always safeguarded medical intervention for women who may experience things like ectopic pregnancies, septic uterus, miscarriages, and other health issues.

 

We must be informed and discerning 

Support for the Value Them Both amendment would reverse the Kansas Supreme Court’s abortion decision. This amendment would not ban abortion outright. Instead, it would overturn the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that mandated a “right” to abortion and thus permit our elected state representatives to enact limits on abortion. Every Kansas law with abortion limits has always safeguarded medical intervention for women who may experience things like ectopic pregnancies, septic uterus, miscarriages, and other health issues. The Value Them Both Amendment does not in any way prohibit these exceptions.

If passed, this amendment to the Kansas Constitution will allow democratically elected representatives to determine abortion law in Kansas, not the Kansas Supreme Court. The amendment would effectively undo the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling that enshrined a false “right” to abortion in the Kansas Constitution. If passed, the amendment would also protect the pro-life laws that already exist in Kansas, which are at risk of being struck down by courts in light of the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling.

Be the Church

For such a time as this, we are called to be the church. Through programs and partners, such as Advice & Aid and CarePortal you can come alongside and help women and their families make educated decisions. These partners offer various programs and counseling options that bring emotional, practical, and spiritual support to what can be a very stressful situation.

Please pray, be informed, get involved, and make your voice heard on August 2. Visit ValueThemBoth.com to learn more about the amendment. In this challenging and sobering cultural moment, let’s remember Dr. King’s compelling words, “The church must be reminded it is not the master, or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state.”  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

1 A Knock at Midnight, June 11, 1967

2 Every Kansas law with abortion limits has always safeguarded medical intervention for women who may experience things like ectopic pregnancies, septic uterus, miscarriages, and other health issues. The Value Them Both Amendment does not in any way prohibit these exceptions.

3 The Guttmacher Institute and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The CDC publishes yearly, but relies primarily on voluntary reports from the state health departments. The Guttmacher Institute contacts abortion clinics directly for data but does not survey every year. Because it surveys clinics directly and includes data from all fifty states, most researchers believe Guttmacher’s numbers to be more reliable. Their numbers yield an estimate of over 63 million. [source NRLC.org]

4 https://www.nytimes.com/2020/07/21/nyregion/planned-parenthood-margaret-sanger-eugenics.html

5 Appeal No. 114,153: Hodes & Nauser, MD, PA et al. v. Derek Schmidt, et al. April 26, 2019

6 https://www.ksrevisor.org/statutes/chapters/ch65/065_067_0009.html

7 District Court of Shawnee Hodes & Nauser v. Norman, 2011-CV-001298, December 3, 2021

Ways to Avoid Becoming Terrible at Christmas

Ways to Avoid Becoming Terrible at Christmas

I love Christmas. But I hate how easily Christmas can deform us. What do I mean? 

I really love Christmas. I sing Christmas songs in July. Our family seems to have a thousand traditions jammed into December. We are one of those families who wear matching pajamas on Christmas Eve. I don’t think I’ve ever had the thought, “Well, that was too many Christmas carols in worship.” I love the smells, the bells, the sweaters, the peppermint everything…I could go on. 

But I find myself often disturbed by who we — Christians — become around this time of year. Children throwing tantrums because they didn’t get the toy they wanted. Adults throwing tantrums because they didn’t get…the toy they wanted. Debt skyrocketing. Patience running thin. Depression rates increase. Family fights are the norm. It’s the hap-happiest season of all…!

Why? Partly because we’ve replaced the shared longing for Christ in Advent with the materialistic lusts of Christmas. More than that, our rhythms and idols are heightened during holy days (aka holidays). In a culture with extravagant wealth when compared historically and globally, we tend to leverage that wealth toward meeting our deepest needs of security, safety, meaning, and belonging rather than looking to Christ. This time of year can easily become the heightened worship of materialism, and so it should be no surprise that at this time of year we get more of materialism’s fruits: hurry, selfishness, isolation, and loneliness. 

Now to the key question: how do we fight this? How do we recenter our longing for Christ and His desires in a way that brings change in us for the better this Advent? The answer lies not just in a surrender of the heart but also in a change of practice. The apostle Paul reminds us that grace propels us to walk into good works (Ephesians 2:10). So what do we do?

Here are three practices that the Holy Spirit can use to help reorient the Christmas holy day into being a day that makes us more whole. 

#1 Read the Christmas Story from the Bible and Talk about It. 

When Christmas morning rolls around, we can tell ourselves that we’ve outsourced the telling of the Christmas story to a movie or a previous sermon at some point in December so that we feel like we’ve checked that box. 

What’s Christmas morning about? Is it the shredding away of the wrapping paper to find our dreams met in the items around us? Or is it centering on the Christ child once again? 

What if we put away the phones, the apps, the slideshows, and just get out the good ol’ Bible. Grab coffee and open the book. Gather around it with others or alone and read of God come to us. 

Don’t rush it. Sit in it. Ask questions of this critical moment in history. Ask God to give you a deeper appreciation or a more rich understanding.

Remind yourself that God is the greatest gift given to humankind, and allow Him to relativize how much the gifts under the tree are to satisfy our deepest desires. 

Now, I hear the pushback. Gabe, that may be fine if you’re single or married without kids. But you don’t know my kids. You’re right. I’ve got three kids under the age of 8 as I write this. I know the questions that go through our minds as parents: What if they start to have a distaste for the Bible because I require them to sit through a reading and engage? What if it ruins the day? What if I lose my temper? Can’t we just relax on this day? Geez?! 

Materialism wants us to focus on instant gratification and avoid discipline. The gospel calls us to gracious parenting with our eyes set on who the children are becoming. I want us to call our children to know the Scriptures and know the Jesus who is at the center of all this. And just because they don’t look as engaged at first when reading the Christmas story as they do when they open presents, that doesn’t mean they won’t be more grateful for those times 10 years from now. 

Think about what you want your kids to say to their kids? What you want your spouse to say about you at your funeral? What if they said, “They always brought us back to God’s word. They didn’t want me to miss the greatest gift of all. I wasn’t always grateful for it, but they wouldn’t let me give my heart to stuff that wouldn’t fill my heart.” Can you imagine? 

So very practically, here are some of the traditional texts to engage with on Christmas:

  • Matthew 1:18-25. This is the passage of how the angel came to Joseph to tell him to stay with Mary even though she was pregnant with a child that wasn’t his. 
  • Luke 1:26-38. This is the passage where the angel comes to Mary and tells her she is to have a child. 
  • Luke 2:1-21. This is the classic passage of how Jesus was born and the shepherds came around the manger. 
  • Matthew 2. This is also a powerful passage of the foreigners (the Magi) who came to find Jesus, and how Jesus quickly became a refugee. A powerful reminder just how similar those early situations are to today.
  • Revelation 22:1-8. This is not as traditional in present day Christmas celebrations, but this text captures our advental longing for Christ’s second coming and the beauty of His coming presence. 

#2 Invite Others into Your Christmas Holy Day.

We can idolize the nuclear family in  western. In other cultures, extended family and even neighbors were included in holy day celebrations. Idols always destroy the vulnerable. Always. And some of the vulnerable in our culture are those who are single, whether young or older, and away from family. 

It’s fascinating that at the first Christmas, Mary and Joseph weren’t alone with Jesus. The shepherds joined them because God invited them (Luke 2:16). And throughout the gospel narrative we see again and again that Jesus himself defines the most important place of belonging not as the nuclear family but those who do the will of the Father (Matthew 12:50). Now this is in no way an excuse to exclude or avoid those who are related to us in a natural way (1 Timothy 5:8), but it is to expand our boundaries of belonging and inclusion. 

So on this Christmas, yes, call your grandma, but what about calling your Christian sister too? I’m not about making your Christmas day hectic, but maybe there’s one person you can reach out to who is in your life because you share Christ? Maybe they chose singleness like the apostle Paul encourages us to (1 Corinthians 7:7), or maybe singleness and isolation was a result of painful exclusion (James 1:27, 1 Corinthians 7:15). Regardless, we are made for community, and the church is to be the family of God in a very real sense. Who can you reach out to include this Christmas? 

Each Christmas there is someone Allie and I invite into our home that we hear is without a community on Christmas, and it is always better because of it. We don’t make any real adjustments. We just invite them into our lives to do Christmas with us, and it makes our Christmas day more beautiful. Try it out.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t add the importance of gathering with the church community around Christmas. It’s always fascinating to me that during a holiday centered on the beauty of Christ and His body, the Sunday after Christmas is one of the least attended Sundays in the year. I get there are reasons like travel and so on, but one important step in caring for the vulnerable around the holidays is to show up at church. We need each other, and if we don’t show up there – at our worship gatherings – we leave so many feeling even more alone when we need each other the most. 

#3 Be Radically Generous with Your Words. 

I don’t know how many times I have read the card on their presents for my kids, but they can’t even focus because their sights are set on the toy that is yet to be revealed under the wrapping paper. With such an emphasis on stuff during Christmas, we forget that some of the most powerful forms of generosity have to do with our words toward and for one another.

I recognize you need to figure out your rhythm with your family, but what if there was a part of Christmas day – maybe it’s even after the giving and receiving of the physical gifts – where each person shares something they are grateful for about the person sitting next to them? If you are a married couple, maybe you intentionally set time aside to speak your delight over one another?

I know, I know. Some folks are giving me the “you’re crazy” look right now. That just sounds hoaky, right? But why? We need to hear this from each other (1 Thessalonians 5:11). We need to hear from those closest to us that they are grateful for us. That’s even more important than whatever thing is under the tree. What if this year you did that for each person with you on Christmas morning? What if this year you just modeled the way? 

Let’s Become Better Together

Those are 3 practices that if we leaned into them during and around Christmas, the Holy Spirit would actually strengthen our bonds, encourage our faith, and train our mouths to anticipate Christ’s second coming. 

My hope is not that everyone does these exact three things. My hope is that this has given you a more biblical imagination for what God can do in and through you this holy day. It doesn’t have to be chaotic. It doesn’t have to be deforming. Christmas can be a time to give life, to form life, and to invite more into a shared life with Christ, if we are willing to allow our practices to communicate Christ at the center of Christmas once again. 

From all of us at Christ Community, Merry Christmas! 

Giving and Receiving

Giving and Receiving

One of my biggest struggles around the holidays is deciding who I should buy gifts for. Of course I will purchase gifts for my family and close friends, but what about coworkers, neighbors, and friends who are not particularly close? Cynically, I find my gift giving calculus for those individuals on the fringe of my social circle depends on whether or not I expect them to give me something. If I believe they will, then I get them a present to save myself the embarrassment of having nothing to offer in return.

A few years ago, a coworker unexpectedly gave me a gift. In response, I insinuated that I had been planning on giving her a gift at the staff Christmas party the next day. That evening I searched my house for something I could give her and ended up regifting a bag of coffee my wife had received from her workplace. I was struck at how I would rather lie and scrabble to put together a lame, last minute gift than receive a gift with nothing to offer in return. In the end, although I had given a gift, I was anything but generous.

Have you had a similar experience? Do you ever struggle to simply receive from another person without the need to immediately reciprocate? This struggle seems to reveal a lack of trust in the other person or a sense of pride in myself. I either don’t believe that the gift is truly without strings attached, or I want to have earned the approval of the other person to be worthy of the gift. Giving to manipulate someone else or as a means to curry favor is not genuine generosity. This negative view of giving and receiving can restrict experiencing authentic relationships with others and even with God. I find that I can only give what I have received. As much as I might want to be a truly generous person, if I interpret others’ gifts through a grid of mistrust or pride and not let myself experience the generosity of another, I won’t be able to be authentically generous with those around me.

One story that always convicts me of my challenge to receive well is the story of Naaman’s healing from leprosy (2 Kings 5:1-19). In it, Naaman wants to give Elisha lavish riches in response to his healing, but Elisha would not accept a thing from him. As the commander of the army of Aram, Naaman must surely have known how reciprocity for political favors worked and so did not want to remain in Elisha’s debt. Moreover, as one of the richest and most important men in the kingdom, to receive a gift like this must have broken down his pride. The entire narrative seems to emphasize the humbling journey Naaman embarked on by listening to his servants, being healed in a simple manner (merely washing in the Jordan river), and then being unable to use his immense personal wealth to pay for the healing. This finally breaks through to Naaman when his final request to Elisha is granted. He receives a bag of dirt from Israel so that he might pray to the God of Israel while still kneeling on Israeli soil upon his return to Aram. The only acceptable response to this lavish gift of healing is worship and an ongoing relationship, not actions growing out of mistrust or pride.

This kind of grace that breaks down our pride and builds trust can be seen even more clearly through God’s gift of Jesus for our salvation. I like how starkly the New Living Translation puts it in Ephesians 2:8-10 “God saved you by His grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things He planned for us long ago.” 

God’s acceptance of us because of Jesus is not a gift we can earn and take credit for, nor one that manipulates or coerces us. Recognizing this free gift for what it is fosters worship and an authentic relationship with God. Of course, as with any good friend, we will naturally want to give gifts back to God.

Experiencing this genuine generosity from God, that expects nothing in return, will naturally lead us to be the kind of people who give without such expectations. However, this must not be from a posture of pride or mistrust, but from intimacy and thankfulness. 

As we continue through another holiday season of presents and gifts, let us focus and reflect on the true gift of Jesus that we receive without needing to pay Him back. Let’s be comfortable with receiving gifts, even when we have nothing to offer in return. Allowing ourselves to be a recipient of authentic generosity may empower our own authentic generosity toward others.

Three Small Ways of Giving to Make a Big Impact

Three Small Ways of Giving to Make a Big Impact

I look forward to each January as a time to reflect on the past year and look for ways to grow in the new year. While New Year’s resolutions often get a bad rap, the idea of reflection and refocus is useful when looking to improve physical, financial, or spiritual health.

If you are looking to improve your spiritual or financial health by increasing your generosity in 2019, here are a few suggestions for getting started.

1) Rejoice in what God has given you.

Take time to look around you, what are you thankful for? What blessings are you surrounded by daily that are easily overlooked? Rejoicing in your present will lead you to bless others in your future.

2) Regularly give.

The best way to build a new habit is to do it regularly. This is true with exercise, prayer, eating healthy, and also with giving. Christ Community’s new tool, the Gyve app, allows you to set up recurring gifts on a schedule that fits your life. You can set up monthly, weekly, bi-weekly, or bi-monthly gifts. It is easy for giving to get lost in all the busyness of life, so setting up a recurring gift makes generosity a priority.

3) Round up.

Much like at the store when you are asked to ‘round up’ your total and donate to a charity, the Gyve app also includes an interesting feature called Round Up. This feature, when linked to a bank account, debit card, or credit card, allows you to ‘round up’ all your purchases to the next dollar, and you can designate giving your “change” to Christ Community.

I have been using this feature for several months and have found that it makes me more aware of my church as I go about my daily life. When I was grocery shopping last week, I found myself smiling at the checkout when I thought about my extra 64 cents being sent to Christ Community. It will be exciting to see how this little rounding up makes a difference over the year.

The extra funds collected through Round Up will be put toward reducing the church’s debt related to our building projects. We will provide a quarterly update on the impact of our combined round-up giving as a congregation.

For those who participated in giving last year, your 2018 giving statements will be arriving in the mail soon. I challenge you to use those as a way to reflect on the past year and refocus on finding ways, big and small, to grow in the next year.

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Charitable Giving Under 2018 Tax Reform

Charitable Giving Under 2018 Tax Reform

Are you interested in maximizing the tax benefit of giving to the church?

April 15 may be months away, but now is the time to do your planning. The U.S. tax code encourages charitable giving in several ways and it makes sense to utilize these if possible.

On December 22, 2017 the President signed legislation known as “The Tax Cuts and Job Acts.” This legislation made a number of changes to the federal tax code that had an impact on both corporate and individual taxes. This legislation was sweeping in its breadth. There were changes to tax brackets, exemptions, and itemized deductions.

Whether or not we have already seen the impact, we will all feel the effects when we file our 2018 return.

So what does that have to do with giving to my church?

For many of you, these tax changes will have no impact on your giving. However, if you have itemized your deductions in the past, you should be aware of the changes made to this portion of the law and how they might affect you. We do not want to give tax advice. Nor do we want to tell you how to structure your charitable giving. However, if the following are true, you may have an opportunity to save some money on your taxes:

  • You have given assets to a charitable organization in 2018 (including the church)
  • You have typically itemized your deductions rather than using the standard deduction on your income tax return
  • The sum of all deductions (charitable giving, state and local taxes, property taxes, mortgage interest, medical expenses, etc.) could be in the range of $10,000 to $40,000

Bunching Your Contributions

If all of those statements are true for you in 2018, you may be interested in a new strategy known as “bunching.” The term “bunching” appeared on the financial scene early this year and refers to the potential combination of multiple years’ worth of donations in a single year to maximize the tax benefits. The total of the gifts can be the same over two or three years, but the giving is “bunched” into one year. This is sometimes done through a donor-advised fund.

If this concept is intriguing, the following charts may help explain.


Double-up on tax-deductible contributions in alternating years to achieve the larger itemized deduction in those years.

This strategy is not for everyone as our personal situations vary widely. Christ Community appreciates every single gift and desires to be sensitive to everyone.

If you think a donor-advised fund might make sense for you or you are interested in learning about other strategies to maximize your charitable giving, consult a qualified financial advisor.