Dear Salvation Army, Expressions of Christmas Distribution…

distributionIt hasn’t happened yet…but, “Santa’s Workshop” is in full swing as presents and other gift items are placed on folding tables where our Sunday School class usually meets and are now being carefully sorted by a precious few volunteers.  It sort of feels like a big build up to a crashing finale’ in an orchestra piece.  The triple fortes are being played and soon the timpani will come exploding in the rallying final note that is held out, emphasized and controlled by the conductor’s raised hands…I’m waiting for the signal, the final “cut off”, the conclusion.  It all culminates and concludes here.  All the hard work, the radio spots, the television minutes, the rushing from place to place in order to drop off angel tree tags only to return numerous times to retrieve bags, boxes and ornately wrapped (even though year after year we ask for “unwrapped gifts”) presents.

Sometimes it seems a far cry from a small infant who was born into our world and placed in a feeding trough for animals.  Sometimes, I can kind of see a glimpse of the nativity from our chapel from here.  Sometimes, I wonder if this is as vital as we make it out to be, or if we’re missing the point…and by “we’re” I mean both you and me and those who receive such services.

flashbackBut…Flashback from last year…
I saw Jesus.
I glimpsed His smile in a mother who’s cheeks were wet with tears because we could help her make ends meet this Christmas. -Times had been hard for her.
I glimpsed His caring eyes as parents came to our Social Worker and gave her a thanks laden card that said “you matter and without you here we would not have had a Christmas this year.”
I glimpsed His nail scared hands in the numerous voluntary services those who had come to give of themselves and of their time to this Christmas cause.  In these simple gifts of services I saw a servant Jesus stooping down again to wash the disciples feet – how humbling such acts can be to behold!

I recall Jesus’ words to His disciples when they were squabbling over who would be the greatest disciple in the kingdom and Jesus cuts them off and says, “…whoever wants to be first among you must be the slave of everyone else.” (Mark 10:44)  Sometimes I think this ministry is anything but “greatest work”, it is hard laborious, back breaking work.  It has some rewards in this world, but notoriety and fame is certainly not a part of that.  Sometimes living out this expression of servant demands far more than we’re willing to give.

Thankful and Thankless…
Not everyone will receive these gifts with grace.  Some, with great pride will look upon such an offering and refuse it because it is beneath them.  Some will scorn these works and the efforts put forth hour after back breaking hour by priceless volunteers because it doesn’t meet their standards.  Yet, as infrequent as it occurs, a few will come having worn the bruises of this world, and with eyes welling up and choking back the weary restrains, say “thank you!”.  These few make it worth while, not that we are looking for their gratitude, but it does help to know that an impact on our community has been made.  It does help to feel productive for the Kingdom.  No, perhaps souls were not won at some kind of “Toy Shop Mercy Seat”, but perhaps a seed of generosity, grace and love was planted here.  Perhaps such acts of mercy will cultivate a loosening of the soil around hardened hearts.

And…as they go from that place, with bags of toys, clothing and food, children’s lives will be altered.  Perhaps a glimmer of hope will be found.  Perhaps this simple expression of love with spark a child-like interest in the Divine.

These Aren’t Just Toys…toy story
This isn’t about the blockbuster movie series “Toy Story” where toys will come to life.
This is about something more, something deeply heartfelt, some sort of of personal/spiritual contact with another soul who is searching.  This is not just about toys and physical needs being met…this is something more.  This can be about something more if we can look past the tired eyes, the weary bones and herculean Christmas effort.  Yes, it can be a sin to overwork ourselves.  Yes, it can be wrong if we misplace the true meaning of Salvation born in a manger.  This can be about so much more than just providing gifts at Christmas…but the question remains what will we make it to be?

lineNot Just Another Production Line…
I’ve been to Walmart, Target, Bestbuy and other market places this holiday season.  I’ve seen the madness.  I have witnessed the rush to get the perfect present.  I too have stood in those check-out lines, waiting impatiently for my turn.
BUT…when families and individuals come to The Salvation Army,  who are in need, we cannot treat them like just another number in a long line of other “customers”…they are people!  There is dignity in grace.  There is compassion in calling on names rather than numbers.  Can we change this persona?  Can we make it personal?  Can we become something more than just another production line?

It’s coming…and as we provide these basic human services  to those who are in need at our distribution, will they see Jesus in us?  Can we share that hope?  It may sound like lollipops and rainbows here, but the reality is what we do matters and we can truly make an impact for the Kingdom!

Are you ready?  
Something more for our Army world to ponder today.
To God be the glory!

nativityIsaiah 9:6
For unto us a Child is born,

Unto us a Son is given;
And the government will be upon His shoulder.
And His name will be called
Wonderful, Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Thanks-Living

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“I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus.  For in him you have been enriched in every way–in all your speaking and in all your knowledge.” (1 Corinthians 1:4-5)

My friends, we shouldn’t need a specific holiday to remind us that we ought to be thankful…but it doesn’t hurt!  Thankfulness should be second nature to a Christ-follower, and yet it is often easy to take the blessings, that we have been given, for granted.  The challenge for us is to learn the discipline of simplicity.  What is simplicity?  It is the discipline of letting go of our hunger and craving for more “stuff”.  It is letting go of our lusts for possessions, affluence, popularity, recognition and power.  These things are called mammon.  What is mammon?  Webster’s dictionary even describes it with a biblical context: “material wealth or possessions especially as having a debasing influence <you cannot serve God and mammon — Matthew 6:24

Richard Foster explains this issue: 

We really must understand that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic. It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality. We crave things we neither need nor enjoy. ‘We buy things we do not want to impress people we do not like.’ …It is time to awaken to the fact that conformity to a sick society is to be sick.” (Richard J. FosterCelebration of Discipline: The Path to Spiritual Growth)

Stuff, in essence, can become our god.  It can consume us, making us ungrateful and blind to the truth.  We can become lost in our “stuff”.  Possessions and things aren’t inherently bad but it depends on how we use them.  

Richard Foster had more to say on this topic: 

Jesus Christ and all the writers of the New Testament call us to break free of mammon lust and live in joyous trust…They point us toward a way of living in which everything we have we receive as a gift, and everything we have is cared for by God, and everything we have is available to others when it is right and good. This reality frames the heart of Christian simplicity. It is the means of liberation and power to do what is right and to overcome the forces of fear and avarice.” (Richard J. FosterFreedom of Simplicity: Finding Harmony in a Complex World)

The key to the discipline of simplicity is…well discipline.  Do you really need that cell phone upgrade?  Do you really need that new car?  Separate your wants from your needs.  Thanksgiving isn’t about getting more stuff to make you happy.  It should be about appreciating what God has already given to us and utilizing these tools for His glory!  That doesn’t mean that we can’t enjoy life or become obligated to a boring existence.  God created us to enjoy life and more importantly to enjoy His presence in life.  

Are you experiencing life through thanksgiving?  Do you have time in your day to just stop and say thank you to God for all of the awesome gifts and blessings He has given to you?  Don’t wait for specific holidays to recognize your need for thanksgiving.  Celebrate “Thanks-living” every day, because after all, each day is a gift from God!  

 “No duty is more urgent than that of returning thanks” – Saint Ambrose

Life is precious…use it wisely!  

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