All posts by tunemyheart

Mark Browning lives on 60 wooded acres in the Greater Bates City, Missouri metropolitan area. For over a quarter of a century he has been wed to the lovely Penny with whom he shares four children and four grandchildren. In his spare time, he teaches English at Johnson County Community College in Overland Park, Kansas.

Hoops Generosity

Acts 4:36-37

Be an encourager by being generous.

It was just a couple of days past that I returned home from children’s camp, so my mind is still caught up in a swirl of songs, messy games, and chaotic mealtimes. This morning, though, as I think about this idea of generosity, something completely different pops into my head: basketball.

I think it was Wednesday afternoon during “hang time” (aka free time) that I went looking for the boys charged to me. Somebody suggested that they had headed to the gym. When I arrived, that’s where we found most of them, playing a game or shooting individually.

“Hey Mr. Mark,” some kid yelled. “You want to play us? Adults versus kids!”

Did I want to play? I’m not much of a basketball player when I’m in shape and I’m certainly not in shape right now. Did I want to play? I wanted to get some rack time, plus I had writing that was overdue. Did I want to play? In a word, no!

But I stepped in and I played–badly–for about twenty minutes. For twenty minutes I shared that court with Antonio and Cliff and Josiah and Alex and a shifting cast of others. And having given that time, I feel richer for it. I could see a difference in those kids also.

A person does not have to give at the level that gets your name on a building at a university in order to be encouraging. We just need to keep an open hand.

  • In what ways do you find it difficult to be generous? In what ways is it easy?
  • Have you ever been encouraged by the generosity of another? Reflect on it for a moment.
  • Pray that God will give you opportunities to encourage through a generous spirit and make you aware of them as they come.

 

When the Best Tool is a He or She

Mark 2:3-5

Work with others to connect people to Christ.

During the years that I lived in the hinterlands, I accumulated a pretty good array of tools, some of which I kept when I moved back to town and some of which I sold. There is a twenty-foot extension ladder that makes me really tall. There’s a chainsaw that makes me a wood-cutting animal. There’s a half-inch drive socket set (with a breaker bar) that lets me grab hold of just about any nut or bolt and give it a powerful turn.

My personal favorite, and one that did not make the move to the ‘burbs, was a forty-year-old Kubota tractor. That single piece of equipment allowed me to mow pretty much anything less than an inch in diameter. It made me really strong, able to lift and carry all manner of heavy stuff. I liked that tractor.

Sometimes, however, the best tool for a job, the essential tool that cannot be replaced, is another person. As powerful as that tractor was, I never did figure out how to use it to pull a car out of a ditch while also steering the car. I certainly couldn’t use it to do tasks I didn’t know how to do.

Look at the story of the friends in Mark 2. In the verses listed above, the word “they” appears five times. When we throw in “their” and the mention of “four men,” we see that this group effort was definitely recognized.

Within the church and beyond its boundaries, we need to work together in order to help others connect with Christ. In that way, we can be a tool in God’s hand.

  • Are you a naturally introverted or extroverted person? How does that show up in your missions efforts?
  • When was the last time that you worked with one or more others to help someone create or strengthen their connection to Jesus? How did that cooperative effort help?
  • Pray that God will show you the fruitful teamwork that He has in mind for you.

Not Just Churchy Compassion

Mark 2:3-4

No really–have the compassion to connect others to Christ!

A number of years ago, I went to Windermere as a cabin counselor for children’s camp. Since I’m headed off to children’s camp today, my history in that endeavor is on my mind. One day during that long-ago summer, one of my boys came to me and announced that he had prayed to receive Christ–on his own–at the hilltop chapel overlooking the camp. Honestly, I don’t remember how I responded to that news, but I’d like to think I was properly celebratory.

It was several years later, when that ten-year-old had become an older teen, that he took his own life. I’m not sure what difficulties, what pains, what obstacles led him down that road. Honestly, I had very few dealings with him after that camp.

Was he really saved or did he just say something that would please church people? I don’t know, but that’s perhaps why the matter sticks in my mind. If I really cared for this kid, I would have maintained the connection. If I really care for him, I would be much more certain whether his experience was genuine. But I didn’t follow up. I don’t know.

We say things. “I’m praying for you!” “Just trust God to work it out!” We say things–churchy things–but sometimes we don’t back those things up with actions. Sometimes we fail to pray–or to pray enough. Sometimes we are supposed to be part of the way God works that problem out.

I don’t feel as if that boy’s death is lying at my feet. But I do know that I should have been more of a friend, more of a connection for him than I was.

  • What sort of “churchy” things are you guilty of saying and not acting upon?
  • What people’s connections to Christ should you not only initiate but maintain?
  • Pray that God will open your eyes to the genuine compassion that will help others build a strong connection to Jesus.

Four Bored Friends?

Mark 2:3-4

Have the compassion to connect others to Christ.

For decades, Sunday School curriculum for children has included “teaching pictures.” These are typically very nicely rendered paintings that are then printed and distributed to teachers all over the country. One of these pictures that I recall from my childhood portrayed the friends lowering the paralytic into the house where Jesus stood teaching.

What strikes me about my memory of this picture is how uninvolved the friends looked. They seemed as bored as a bunch of suburban guys out mowing their grass. “Okay, after we finish lowering this guy through the hole in the roof, we’ll head over to my house and watch the game,” their faces seem to say.

I mention this because these guys had to have some powerful motivation. What would it take for you to not only carry your friend across town but to climb up on the roof and then tear up the house in order to gain access? Were these guys related to the paralyzed man? Did they know him before his illness? Was he just a great friend despite the disability? We don’t know, but they must have possessed deep feelings for him.

Who would you stick your neck out for in order to bring them before Jesus? Whose salvation means more than your dinner or your vacation or your hobby or that game you’ve been planning to watch? Who would you carry onto the roof?

  • Who was the first person that came into your mind to bring before Jesus? Why?
  • Do you feel as if you possess the sort of compassion that the four friends possessed? What keeps you from having that?
  • Pray that God will soften your heart and fill it with compassion for those who don’t know Christ.

Give it Away

Acts 2:44-45

Commit yourself to Giving.

Can I brag on my wife for a minute? A few months ago, Penny took on a part-time job at the church. Yes, it might be your tithe dollars that are funding her paycheck. Every two weeks, she receives a check. Unfortunately, to the best of my knowledge, she is not squirreling it away to buy me a 1965 Corvette.

Actually, I know what she’s doing with the money. We discussed it and agreed. Every two weeks, she deducts the cost of a tank of gas and the tithe amount for her check. The rest of the money she takes from the ATM.

Does she buy shoes? No. Clothes? No. Spa treatments? Not that either.

What Penny does with the bulk of her pay is to give it away. She already tithed on it, but she gives most of the remainder away. If somebody needs a car repair, she’ll pay for it. If a family in her class has a money crunch, she’ll discreetly pass them some cash. She’s so discreet that most of the time even I don’t know what she’s done with the money.

What’s wrong with this woman that she doesn’t want to buy shoes or knickknacks for the house? She seems to have discovered that by giving, she gains. It’s a weird truth, but it is a truth.

When we commit ourselves, like those early Christians, to giving, we wind up richer in the now and in eternity.

  • Have you experienced the blessing of giving? What is the most recent time you did that?
  • Would you agree that when you are generous, God is faithful to provide what you need? Have you ever seen the opposite be true?
  • Ask God to open your eyes to the sort of generosity He would determine for you.