What’s In It for Me?

1 Corinthians 13:3

Give only in love.

A couple of years ago, somebody I know had a car problem. Without her car, she couldn’t get to work. Without getting to work, she couldn’t buy food for her kids. Without buying food for her family–she’d be at my house with her kids all the time. My decision to pay for the auto repair was easy. Sure, it cost me, but it kept her annoying kids out of my kitchen!

Just to be clear, I’m not serious. Actually, in the past few years, We’ve had this sort of situation arise several times. Our money passed over the counter someplace when we had absolutely nothing to gain from the exchange. When your own children have needs, you almost have to help them, right? But with friends, you can say no. At least I can say no. I’m pretty good at it.

But in the case of the auto repair, I knew that this person would almost certainly never be able to pay me back. She wasn’t going to get back on her feet and take that job as CEO at Cerner.  She wasn’t even going to bake me really amazing chocolate chip cookies. I couldn’t use my gift as leverage to gain her cooperation later. I couldn’t even brag about it. Instead, I’d just listen to her say “thank you.”

Giving motivated by love is really the only sort of giving there is. When we give for some other motivation, we’re really buying something. I got nothing for paying that mechanic, but I have not missed the money in the intervening years.

  • Do you ever give with a motivation other than love? What motivates your giving in that case?
  • Have you experienced a blessing after giving that was clearly driven by love?
  • Ask God to open your eyes to the opportunities for generosity that He has in mind for you.

I’m Too Smart to Be Loving!

1 Corinthians 13:2

Think your thoughts in love.

I’ve been teaching college English for almost thirty years. In that role, I’ve dealt with thousands of students and gotten to know a large gaggle of very brainy people. One of the things that I’ve noticed along the way is that many students point to some high-school teacher as their inspiration. “Why,” I ask myself, “do they look those mere secondary teachers rather than to their professors, colleagues of mine who have lot of letters after their names?”

There’s an old saying that people “don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” It’s an old saying because it contains a good measure of truth. How can my student value Mrs. Winklestein from the math department at Shawnee Mission Somewhere over my calculus-slaying colleague, Professor Brainiac? It’s easy.

This same thing plays out in my ministry to kids. As I sit and watch our small group leaders with their kids gathered around, we don’t see the children gravitating toward the people who could win a trivia-night contest. The kids don’t care how much we know, but they care immensely–and they can tell immediately–if we genuinely love them.

Just a few week ago, one particularly challenging boy shouted, “You hate me!” He was just saying it to get a rise out of me, but it cut me to the quick. Call me stupid, if you like, but please don’t call me a hater. Hopefully I won’t earn the title.

  • Do you ever let your knowledge in any area of life get ahead of your love in that area? What effect does that bring about?
  • Can you think of a situation in which you would want to deal with someone who is knowledgeable and unloving?
  • Ask God to show you the plays where your knowledge or expertise outstrips your love and to fix that imbalance.

Talking Turkey?

1 Corinthians 13:1

Speak your words in love.

You’ve probably heard the stories about the Pilgrims and their encounters with Massasoit and company, about the first Thanksgiving and planting corn with fish carcasses in the soil. You know the stories.

And you’ve probably heard that some of those stories aren’t quite right the way they’ve been passed down, that the Pilgrims didn’t sit around wearing buckles on their shoes and eating a traditional Thanksgiving dinner.

I’ve recently read a good bit about those early European imports to what would become Massachusetts, so I’ve heard the stories and the counter stories as well. There’s enough complexity and confusion in this matter to keep historians arguing for generations, but I have gleaned one intriguing truth.

When those English Pilgrims first showed up at Plymouth and first encountered the Native Americans–okay, except for the very first time when they all shot at each other–the Pilgrims treated the Natives with something like love. The leaders of the group were devout Christians, and they understood Christ’s emphasis on loving others–friends and enemies alike.

The words spoken by those first arrivals, despite mistakes and exceptions, were generally spoken against a backdrop of love, and that helps to account for the peace that persisted for years between the English and Massasoit’s people.

Unfortunately, those love-backed words did not persist. Eventually words began to flow against a backdrop of greed and mistrust and racism. We can’t fix that today, but we can do our best to speak our words in love.

  • When was the last time that you spoke words that were not rooted in love? What were they rooted in?
  • What results do you obtain when your words are not spoken in love? Consider a specific example?
  • Pray this week that God will help you to make love–even for those difficult to love–the basis of all your talk.

Keep the Fires Burning

Judges 2:7,10

Pass the passion for Christ to the next generation.

Hans tended the fire. A man who was definitely not from my generation, Hans Petersen, died some ten-plus years ago, and at his funeral I was struck by something. Early in his life, Hans determined what God had called him to do. Then he just kept doing it. For years. For decades.

Hans was a deacon for something like 40 years. He volunteered at City Union Mission for a similar length of time. Nearest and dearest to my heart, Hans taught fifth-grade Bible Study for 40 years. Think about that. It is entirely possible that Hans taught not only the children of some of his early fifth-grade boys but even their grandchildren as well. I’ve been teaching college English for 30 years, but they pay me for that!

What kept Hans going? Nobody would have faulted him if, when he got into his 60s or 70s or 80s and decided to hang up his teacher hat. If he had taught for 25 years solid, he would still be an impressive servant, but something kept this man going.

Things changed dramatically in those four decades. Kids changed. America changed, but Hans kept teaching.

Today, as I work with children, I’m thrilled to see Hans’ grandson taking up the torch. A legacy of faith has moved from one generation to children and grandchildren and then great-grandchildren.

If the fire is worth kindling, then it is worth preserving and tending as long as our lives endure.

  • How would you evaluate your success at passing on your faith to your children or grandchildren? If you’re not there yet, how can you prepare?
  • What other younger people can you share Christ with? How can you be a discipler across generations?
  • Ask God to open opportunities for you to build and maintain the fires of faith around your life, for as long as you have life.

Is Hindsight 20/20?

Ecclesiastes 7:10

Wear your glasses to look back.

Recently, I stepped on the campus of my alma mater, William Jewell College, for the first time in several years. I’d been near the campus several times in the last decade, close enough to see the improvements that had been made to some of the buildings, but I hadn’t actually set foot in any of them.

You know, in my day, that stout building on the west side of the quad was the Curry Library. Now it’s just Curry Hall. I walked in to discover that the various library accoutrements were gone. Honestly, the ground floor was pretty sparse. “What have you done with the library?” I yelped to a lady standing behind what used to be the library circulation desk.

“They moved it downstairs,” she said, smiling.

In my day, the stacks of that library filled the entire second floor of that building. Now they’re crammed into a claustrophobic, low-ceilinged space that used to house a warren of faculty offices.

In my day, the library would have been bustling with students. Now, a couple of student workers were the only others in the space. It was sad.

William Jewell is still a fine school. I’m sure they haven’t jettisoned books as they’ve downsized their physical library. It’s just different. Some changes are for the better; some for the worse, but we tend to see changes from what we liked as uniformly bad. Sometimes we remember the past in inflated terms. Sometimes it is just our taste.

And yes, sometimes things actually were better in the old days. But that’s not the point. The point is living today.

  • What are some things are definitely better than they used to be? What things are clearly worse?
  • Can you name some changes that, while not clearly better or worse, just don’t suit you? How do you adapt to those?
  • Pray that God will help you adapt to the bulk of changes in your life while trying to improve the changes that are clearly worse.

…and my lungs and limbs and all the rest of me.