Challenge 71: Confront for Forgiveness’ Sake

This weekend I rose to the challenge. Not a challenge from my husband to do something around the house, not a challenge from a friend to conquer some long-time feat but a challenge from the Lord to carry out His word to reconcile a relationship. My friend and I weren’t estranged but there was a conflict, an issue that she had with my way of parenting, and though she never came to me directly I knew she had an issue. Her issue seeped out in conversations, and I wanted to shout “Say what you really want to say, why don’t you!?” But that would have been immature, attacking, and asking for a bigger problem that didn’t have to be. It would have also been easy for me to say, “She’s the one with a problem with me; she should come to me” and just wait for that to happen. But sometimes this won’t happen, even though it should.

And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone” (1Thessalonians 5:14—NIV). Though the first command says to “warn those who are idle,” my friend, who thought my husband and I don’t provide my eldest with enough structure to combat his lack of diligence, wasn’t going to warn me of our idleness because “I didn’t want to offend you. Parenting is a touchy subject.” Because I know my friend doesn’t like confrontation, I knew I had to confront her. Even though she abdicated her responsibility, I, too, had a responsibility to fulfill.

So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24—ESV).

The offering referred to here is the burnt offering, the one regulated in the Old Testament to be offered to atone for the sin of the one bringing the offering. So for the New Testament believer, this verse is saying that God will not receive you to forgive you if you know someone has something against you and you haven’t sought reconciliation with that person. So though my friend should have come to me, I was still obligated to go to her. Going to her was good for my emotional and spiritual health, and confronting those who should, but don’t, confront you is good for your emotional and spiritual health too.

Remember, we don’t just get to abort people or think they don’t deserve our love. God’s love demands that we confront them for our sake and theirs. When we confront them, we position ourselves for God to forgive us and we allow them to follow God’s command to confront (also see Matthew 18:15-35). Reconciliation with man is the way to proper fellowship with God.

Take a Risk Challenge: With grace confront someone that you know has a problem with you but has avoided confronting you. The results of reconciliation and fellowship with God come from confrontation, truly a radical act of love.

Challenge 70: Choose God’s Way to Love Them

They knew they were right where God wanted them to be—in relationship with each other, but they were ready to bail. They didn’t tell each other this but they told me individually just days apart that the relationship was too hard. They didn’t want to deal with confrontations, taming the flesh, hurt emotions and facing the truth. They didn’t want to “be stretched,” though they each knew this was God’s way of molding them and helping them reach new heights in love, maturity, and faith in Him. They didn’t want to risk the comfort of their lives, the predictability of their space. They just wanted to remain safe. Continue reading

Challenge 69: Stop Abortions

Harriet Tubman

Harriet Tubman


I wanted to make this blog post solely about Harriet Tubman, the black “Moses,” the one who risked her life and freedom for the freedom of enslaved blacks. She led them through the Underground Railroad, a path of freedom with safe houses from the south to the north in the United States of America and Canada. Some folks on the Railroad were too afraid to be free, got tired of running and thought about going back to their slave masters, risking the freedom of others. When this happened, Tubman, who carried a gun, threatened to kill them. She was willing to get rid of that person who endangered all the lives around him. But the more I thought about what God was impressing on my heart to share today, I know that this is about Tubman, her willingness to kill whoever got in the way of others’ physical freedom.

Today I challenge believers in Jesus Christ to kill what is getting in their way of spiritual freedom, that thing that has caused you to abort people and relationships that God intends for you to have so that others might be free. Even if you think you are spiritually free and love everybody, I want you to read this. You may find areas where you need to grow and may find something to help you guide others along the way.

The rise in bed was like that of a Jack ‘n’ the Box, sudden and surprising. This happens to me frequently when God has something urgent He has to tell me. But this was a Sunday and I’ve found that, for whatever reason, I don’t usually get the Jack ‘n’ the Box arousals on Sunday. I popped up yesterday, a little discombobulated, eyes searching for something, some reason why I was up at 4:30 a.m. and hearing in my head “Spontaneous abortions are not the way to go.” Somehow I knew this phrase went beyond taking life in the womb so I kept listening: “We live in a world that advocates abortion, the dismissal of life on demand. We not only do that with babies in the womb but also with people. We throw away people in marriages, friendships, workplaces, churches, volunteer organizations and everyday conversation. We are not a people called to abort but to give birth, to give life to those we encounter. We have to work on being counter cultural in this area. We have to stop having intercourse with the illegal forces of darkness that require that we abort. We kill everything that we encounter because that soul tie with darkness ties us to dark ways. Like the Christian who fornicates with a prostitute, we become one with darkness. When we become one, we follow after darkness, pursue it with great passion, and beg for more interaction, more intimate interaction, and the cycle of human intercourse with supernatural spirits begins. We can break this cycle if we denounce our allegiance and announce our desire to walk in the light.

And what concord hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?’” (2 Corinthians 6:15).

Belial is a name of Satan and it means wicked, worthless. Infidel means unbelieving, and particularly refers to those who refuse to believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Belial is in this earth “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” but Jesus came that we might have “life…and have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Belial opposes what Christ has done, seeks to do the opposite of what Christ has done and seeks to get us to do the same, to be like an infidel. This is why the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians asks the rhetorical questions “…what concord (agreement; harmony) hath Christ with Belial? Or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel?” He is saying that there is no harmony between Christ and Belial and a believer has nothing in common in matters of faith with an unbeliever. When we become intimately involved with Belial—who is the prince of the power of the air and the god of this world, we produce his seeds: “sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these” including destroying people and aborting relationships (Ephesians 2:2; 2 Corinthians 4:4 and Galatians 5:19-21). Our intimacy and eventually our production of unrighteousness happen when we continually immerse ourselves in the ways of the world, particularly by going to worldly places and listening to and watching worldly music, TV shows, movies and concerts. Like children we can’t believe have gotten so big, who look so mature, even though we know we have fed them and taken the time to nurture them in other ways, we grow up in the ways of Belial before we know it. We begin to reason and otherwise act like characters on our favorite shows and begin to accept the worldly reasoning and behavior of others. We find it easy to perform the acts of the flesh listed above, even if only in our minds.

But God came so we would have life and not just life but abundant life. One way to live an abundant life is by shining forth God’s righteousness and having enough to give to others. But when we have intercourse with the world, we instead find it easy to stop interacting with people because they offend us. We resort to the ways of the world with our easy dismissals. They stabbed us in the back or maybe spoke badly about us on more than one occasion and we don’t want them around. I am not saying make yourself the object of someone’s sick hatred, but we must remember God’s command to forgive others 70 times seven and our jobs of being light (Matthew 18:22). And there is no reason to be light if there is no darkness around us. And we cannot be the light we were made to be if we are filling ourselves with darkness (Luke 11:34).

I have a friend who used to write people’s names and numbers in her phone book so when they offended her, she would simply erase their contact information. Her process of erasing people from her life, aborting them, is now easier with us having cell phones. With just a click of a button or two, we can delete people from our phones, symbolizing to us that we have aborted them from our lives. Consistently aborting people and relationships is not the way of Jesus. He constantly interacted with unbelievers and believers who forgot the power they had as believers so they acted like unbelievers (Think of Jesus’ 12 disciples). We, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can stop abortions. The spirit of abortion may be prevalent in our world, but “greater is he that is in you than he that is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Let’s stop being intimate with Belial and producing seeds of unrighteousness. We are children of the light and must walk in it.

Take a Risk Challenge: 1) Think about the places you go, your trusted counselors and the media you ingest (books, TV shows, music, movies, the Internet and reading materials) and determine if you are getting more from these than the people and things of God. 2) Examine how you have aborted people and relationships and earnestly seek the Lord to see if your actions were His will. 3) Feed your spirit so you won’t follow your flesh and abort those you normally would. These are radical acts of love.

Challenge 68: Walk in Your Strength

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

Ida B. Wells-Barnett

For the last few months, about four to be more exact, I have watched out my kitchen window this black plastic bag blow in the wind as it hangs from a bare tree branch high in the sky. This bag, the thin, flimsy one you get from the beauty supply store, has weathered wind, rain and snow storms and is still hanging high, is still on display for all to see. It has not been ripped from the bare branch, hanging on to seemingly nothing but withstanding nonetheless. I think this bag is there for me. As I wash dishes, fruits or vegetables, get a glass of water, prepare meals or some other necessary but mundane task, I have to look out the window to see my wonder. I wonder how it flew so high, how it got stuck and how it hasn’t yet been ripped away. My wonder is strong and resilient, no match for a storm, and hangs and blows to remind me I can go on.

I, made in the image of Christ and strengthened and directed by His Spirit, have everything I need to push past the mundanity, to stand square against adversity, pray through calamity, speak out against perversity, claim my sanity and know it is well in my soul. God, I believe, gave me this bag as a reminder of who I am and throughout the years has given me and all of us souls to remind us of who we are and what we can do. As we celebrate Black History Month, I reflect on the black souls who have fortified me when I think about their life contributions. One of my favorites is anti-lynching crusader, journalist, and suffragist Ida B. Wells-Barnett (1862-1931):

One had better die fighting against injustice than to die like a dog or a rat in a trap.” – Ida B. Wells

This quote glibly expressed Wells’ drive to fight for what was right in spite of the odds against her. Watch the video here and be inspired to (continue to) make it your business to fight injustice wherever you believe God is calling you.

Take a Risk Challenge: This week, in addition to fighting injustice on your battlefield, remind someone of who they are and encourage them to use their strength to fight injustice. Walking in strength and fighting injustice truly are radical forms of love.

Challenge 67: Take Time to Teach Black History

fire-hose-in-birmingham
Early in elementary school I didn’t like seeing newsreels of black folks, my folks, being hosed with water and hit with fists and hateful words. This time made me sad and mad that white folks could hate black folks because they weren’t white, that laws supported and encouraged more hate and my people had to fight for basic God-given rights that humans had the nerve to try to alter. I can now put my feelings into words, but when I was a child, I just knew how I felt. Though my well-meaning teachers, who taught us black history beyond Black History Month, would often seek to end the late 20th century Civil Rights Movement segment on a high note by having us sing “We Shall Overcome,” my angst would remain. I could not see any overcoming, only hating and fighting, and I was not moved. The only reason I didn’t harbor my angst because I lived in a home and attended schools that celebrated black history. As a result, I never questioned if black was beautiful. I simply knew that it was because my daddy said so.
daddy
My caramel-colored daddy with the eternal afro was a history professor and made sure my siblings and I knew the history he taught his students. And he applauded Mrs. Tinsley, my 4th grade teacher, who made sure we knew about African kings and queens and other great figures that supplemented his teachings on people like Renaissance man Paul Robeson, blues singer Bessie Smith, singer and actress Ethel Waters and surgeon Daniel Hale Williams. Learning about these black contributions to the world had me reading on my own to find out more. Though my mom would often say, “People are people are people,” her way of expressing that skin color shouldn’t color our love or create hate toward a certain group of people, my daddy held firm to his hatred for systemic racism, which he often targeted toward white people. I know my mom’s ability to see people and not just race helped to curb my black militant leaning, but I have never shirked my vocal or physical expression of being black and proud.

I have taken for granted my long-time knowledge and feelings and naturally have shared with my sons, but last week, when reading a news article my 11-year-old said he didn’t know who the Tuskegee Airmen were, I felt I had failed in my teaching. I know that at 11 my oldest son may not know everything that I know about black history, but I have to be more intentional about imparting this knowledge to him. I have tried to walk the fine line of truth with hate and pride on either side. I have wanted him and his brothers to know the history, its glory and goriness, without causing them to fall into deep pride or hate. Not always knowing how to do that has caused me to not teach as aggressively as I believe I should. I have not tapped into the greatest power in the universe—God in me—for direction on this. After seeing I needed help, I have asked the Holy Spirit to help me teach my sons what they need to learn, how they need to learn it and when they need to learn it. I will use to anchor my black history lessons my perpetual teaching that from the blood of one man came all nations of men so they know greatness resides in us all and, because of the fall of man, sin resides in us all (Acts 17:24-26; Genesis 3). I know to love them is to teach them and that includes black history, not just in February, Black History Month in the United States, but always.

As my daddy would say to his all white classes where students would lament about having to learn about blacks and Native Americans, “When are we going to get to American history?”: “Black history is American history” and we know that it is also world history. History is the stories of all peoples. Therefore, we all need to know black history for our better individual and collective selves. There is no truth and love in erasure for comfort’s sake, only deception, oppression and delusion. No one can fully live without trying to fully love, and teaching—then living—the truth helps us to do that.

Take a Risk Challenge: Go beyond your comfort zone and teach black history to someone else. If you need to begin with you, teach yourself so you can teach another. Teaching history of a consistently marginalized people is a radical act of love.

Challenge 66: Love Patiently

woman-with-a-suspicious-look

My 6 year old loves omelets. If he could eat one every day, he would. Last week when I agreed to make the semi-labor intensive treat, he kept asking me, “Is the omelet ready yet?” “No, Nathaniel. It will get ready quickly once I begin cooking it, but I have to first prepare the ingredients so I can cook the omelet.” It frustrates me sometimes that this is our constant conversation. He asks for an omelet. I clean and chop the ingredients. He asks is it done. I explain the preparation before the cooking. And then I sigh. But as we went through another round of this last week I saw that Nathaniel is like we are with God.

We have been waiting for our ministry or job promotion, a spouse, a financial breakthrough or some other promise we believe the Lord has for us and we. can’t. wait! We want what’s ours now. Yes, God has promised us something, but we still have to go through the preparation process before we get it. We may have to learn to speak gently, be faithful to assignments, submit to authority or mature in some other way. He wants us fully equipped so we can fully appreciate the promise. Otherwise, our promise, just like an omelet with missing ingredients or undercooked, just won’t be fulfilling. If we receive our promise before we are ready our life won’t be what God intended.

Sometimes God uses us in someone else’s preparation process. In this instance, it may be the process of being broken from the bondage of not knowing how to receive love. The person has been wounded so often for so long, she doesn’t know what genuine love is. We have to continue to extend ourselves, and ignore the lack of gratitude, the suspicious looks, and the refusals to accept our love offer so she gets a picture of what unconditional love is. She needs to witness patience and faithfulness beyond the pages of Scripture. She needs to see love in action. We may have to alter the way we show love, like send the person a token gift remotely, if her rejection becomes too much, but we likely have to press on. We may be the one person God has chosen to help someone finally get her breakthrough. If we stop, the person may remain in the bondage longer than she has to. Remember we are ambassadors of Christ, reconciling folks back to God and His love design (2 Corinthians 5:20-21). We don’t know how God may use us. We just need to be available so He can use us.

Take a Risk Challenge: This week pray for God to reveal to you the person who has rejected your kindness to see if this is the one He would like you to be integral in helping break the chains of rejecting love. Helping someone freely receive love is a radical act of love.

Challenge 65: Love Sacrificially

MLK and quote

Love is an action word. You’ve probably heard that many times and know that people love you by what they do and not just by what they say. We know this to be true when we look at God the Father and what He did for humankind: “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). The action God showed was giving. He didn’t, however, give lightly but sacrificially. We are called to do the same.

I have been meditating on our call to sacrificial love after my husband’s sermon yesterday, “A Fasted Life.” He told us that as Christians we are not just called to abstain from food and other habits during a fast, which is common for churches (and individuals) this time of year, but all our lives should be that of sacrificing something for the greater good. Jesus left the perfection of heaven to come to sin-filled earth; he clothed his glory and took on human flesh, with all its trials and tribulations; and he didn’t demand the respect due him but instead walked in humility (Philippians 2:4-8). He gave up his rights so that others could have the right to eternal life; he died so that we might live (1 John 4:9).

As we are called to “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus,” let us sacrifice for love just as Jesus did. We have to believe in love so much that we are willing to die for love: die to our emotions, die to our comfort, die so that others might live. We should want others to have the security of physical and financial blessings; the comfort of emotional support; the direction from wisdom; a soul that is well; and above all a spirit that is saved. We must allow the Holy Spirit who has filled our hearts with love to use us to fill others’ hearts with his love (Romans 5:5).

So today, as we celebrate the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the great American leader of love, let us examine our lives to see how we can actively sacrifice on behalf of others to embody our spiritual and cultural heritage. We, others, and our world will be better as a result of our love.

Take a Risk Challenge: This week pick at least one way to sacrifice on behalf of others by either 1) providing for their physical or financial security; 2) comforting them emotionally; 3) directing them with wisdom; 4) helping to anchor their soul (mind, will and emotions); 5) sharing salvation through the gospel of Jesus Christ or 6) doing something else that comes to mind. Whatever sacrifice you choose is a radical act of love.

Challenge 64: Don’t Hoard

Family Sledding

Before the temperatures in Detroit reached arctic cold last week, our family went sledding. I made sure all the children were layered in sweats and snow pants, but the jogging jacket that my youngest had on seemed a bit thin. So I made him wear a knit sweater about a size smaller than he normally wears. Someone had given us the sweater but, seeing that it was not his size, I had planned to give it way. When he put on the sweater I knew we had to keep it. The arms on this designer sweater came down past his wrists. Not having many sweaters that he can wear to church I told him to take off this nice fitting sweater so he could wear it on Sunday. He didn’t want to take it off, but I had my mind fixed. I already knew what he could wear to church so that eliminated my later guesswork. He begged me to let him wear it, pleaded with rapid-fire intensity as I glanced in his closet and immediately saw at least two other Sunday outfit options. I gave in. I was depriving the boy of such a joy because of what was easy for me. While it’s true that my husband and I did an annual purge of items in our office (two garbage bags of stuff) and packed a small bag of clothes to give away, I don’t consider myself a hoarder. What I do looks nothing like the picture below, but I know how to keep things, like that sweater, back. I wanted to hold on to that sweater, keep it at my finger tips so I had no outfit guesswork, though that guesswork would only be a few seconds.

hoarders29

Too often I hoard—my time, my way of giving to others, my advice—and only give what is easy for me. If more is required of me, I fight hard, if only in my mind, to withstand giving something else because giving something else will take more work for me. Are you like that? I didn’t want to give Justus the best I had in the moment because it was going to cost me later. When we hold back our best for those who need our love we may only see how giving so much will cost us later. We forget that we belong to Jesus, the one who paid in full the cost for our salvation, which included the price of our sanctification, living lives pleasing to Him. He is capable of giving us “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20-NKJV). If He gives us the best and we share that with others, surely He can give us better to share with another. Holding back deprives others of what may be the best for them and doesn’t give us opportunity to see Ephesians 3:20 at work in our lives. We are saying that we know what’s best instead of trusting God to give us what is best. Don’t hoard. Doing so may cause you to withhold love and to cause love to be withheld from you.

Take a Risk Challenge: Give your best in time, talent or treasure to someone you know you have withheld from. Doing so is truly a radical act of love.

Challenge 63: Love Despite the Offense

Offense

Last New Years’ Day I got hit with news I never thought I would hear. I was told I would no longer be a contributor to a ministry that I had come to love. I was devastated. While I knew the ministry was undergoing some structural changes, I didn’t think I would be asked to stop contributing before the changes were complete. Not only did a professional relationship end but that severing marked what I believed was the end of the solid friendship I had formed with the ministry leader. On the first day of the New Year I received a blow that could have made or caved in my entire year. I had to make a choice.

Don’t you know a blow came my way on the first day of this year too? I was on a phone call when I went to visit relatives. I had returned the call to one of my former mentees who’s trying to get her life back on track and has reengaged me in that process. I wanted to spend quality time with my family so I made the call in route to their home and was finishing up the call as I entered their home. As soon as I got off the phone one of my relatives began to berate me, saying, “Who do you think you are? A movie star? You think you’re so important that you have to be on the phone? You can’t say hello?” My mouth just dropped. How did he get all of that from me being on the phone? I could have been on the phone with someone in a really desperate situation that I needed to tend to or doom would surely come. Though my former mentee was not in such a delicate state, I felt talking to her for a few minutes so I could spend the rest of the evening with my family who loves and knows me (so I thought) so they would understand. His words told a different story, an old story.

My relative had longed viewed me as an educated woman who didn’t know how to handle domestic affairs or anything else outside of the professional realm. One day when I shared with him a meal I cooked and helped my sons with some guy stuff he said, “Oh, you can do that too and that?” He had singularly pegged me and surprised when I didn’t meet his expectations of me. But after having to take him to a series of doctors’ appointments and make calls to his various doctors to get information and check on appointments, his heart softened toward me. He began to greet me warmly and initiate conversation with me beyond inquiring about my latest professional venture. For the last eight years we have had a demonstratively loving relationship. So when he judged my motives for being on the phone, I flashed back to more than eight years ago when I gave too much time to wondering why he thought like he did about me. Like last year, I had to decide if I would allow this blow to make or break my entire year. I chose the former both years.

I knew the enemy was coming hard after me to throw me off in the moment and for my entire year off. Why else would an unexpected blow happen on the first day of the New Year? We have heard the saying, “How you start is how you finish,” but we know this is not always true. Though the enemy started strong in attacking me, I wasn’t going to allow his weapons formed against me to prosper the entire year. In fact, the Bible declares that no weapon formed against us shall prosper and that every tongue that rises against us in judgment God will condemn (Isaiah 54:17). Sometimes the weapons and tongues seem like they are prospering because we have allowed them to continue to beat us and eventually defeat us. We surrender to the pain, disappointment, anger, frustration, or insecurity. We allow the weapons, the words, to define our position and point us to a destination never meant for us. We wallow in self pity and despair and believe we can never do or be who God has called us to. When we get this way, unable to love ourselves enough to say enough, we have difficulty loving others. The command to love others as we love ourselves requires great self love. When we decide to believe God and not allow life’s challenges to negatively define us, we are perfectly positioned to love ourselves and give love the way others deserve because God requires us to.

This year (if you haven’t already) when you get disappointing news or an attack on your character I want you to know 1) this is a weapon that is formed against you but it won’t prosper; 2) you have a choice how you will respond to the blow; and 3) the weapon can definitely make you stronger (Romans 5:3-5).

Last year, I asked the Lord to show me why the severing from the ministry I contributed to was necessary. Over the months as I sought Him with great desperation and passion, He revealed that I worshipped my position and the friendship that I had formed. Those things needed to be taken away so I could focus on Him, the only one that I should worship. So this year when my relative attacked me, I remembered last year, knowing what Satan meant for evil, God meant for good. I asked to Lord to show me if there was any truth in what my relative had said. Understanding that my relative, for whatever reason, still wants to define me though he has seen who I really am helped me conclude that he is just going to have to work out his problem with me. I will not fret over his words and never let them define me. Make sure you conclude the same when others attack you. God will definitely help you.

“Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour. Stand firm against him, and be strong in your faith. Remember that your Christian brothers and sisters all over the world are going through the same kind of suffering you are. In his kindness God called you to share in his eternal glory by means of Christ Jesus. So after you have suffered a little while, he will restore, support, and strengthen you, and he will place you on a firm foundation” (1 Peter 5:8-10—NLT).

Happy New Year! May 2014 be a year of conquering offenses, using them for your good and God’s glory!

Take a Risk Challenge: As you recommit to loving others in a radical way this year, I urge you to remember that offenses will come. Though they come, we must allow God to do His perfect work in us through them so we can love ourselves in order to love others. This week, take time to examine an offense toward you and see how God intends to use it for your good and the good of others.

Challenge 62: Give in the New Year

Giving

After opening more than ½ dozen Christmas gifts from that many family members, my 5 year old wanted to know “When are we going to get some more?” and my 4 year old asked “Where’s my train?” And I was stunned at their rude audacity, ungrateful sons of mine acting like they ain’t been taught nothing good about giving and receiving! Even though we teach them throughout the year and did so right before they could open gifts, we witnessed their ingratitude about some gifts they received and their insatiability. They didn’t always say thank you and the two youngest were looking for more, though they hadn’t even played with what they got. Seeing my 4 and 5 year olds forget their manners, which really is a reflection of their hearts, showed me just how important our continual teaching about giving is. And the lesson is for adults, too.

Children are still learning to withhold their expression of inappropriate dissatisfaction, and many of those children become adults who have yet to learn this. But some of us adults cover up for others our ingratitude, but God still sees our hearts. I want you to ask the Lord to search your heart to show you where change needs to take place regarding your giving. Some of us already know we have a tendency to be selfish but have yet to take steps to give as God gave. We know that Jesus tells us to follow His example and when we do, we are obeying the two greatest commandments—to love God and to love others as ourselves. Because Soul Delights aims to help you have a healthy body and soul—mind, will and emotions—I am sharing what I shared with the children before allowing them to open their gifts. As the message came to me, I was also convicted about what I need to do, not just during Christmas but for every day of my life.

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life: (John 3:16).

John 3:16 is the Christmas season verse because it speaks of God the Father’s great love for humankind demonstrated by sending Jesus to die on the cross for our sin. God sent a part of Himself—God in the flesh—to be the perfect sacrifice that was required to atone for our sin. He gave the world Jesus. John 3:16 is the reason for the Christmas season and every season of our lives. This verse teaches us the importance of giving, a lesson that we all need to continually embrace.

Give to others—God gave the world the best that heaven had. God the Son came to earth—Jesus, God in the flesh—so that those who put their faith in Him might have eternal life. Though too many of us look to what satisfies us right on earth, we forget (or don’t know) that the afterlife is eternity and we need to focus on the blessing of being able to be with God for eternity. We may have already confessed our belief in Jesus, but our actions fail to show our belief. Often we fail to give the gospel of Jesus Christ to others so they too might have eternal life with Jesus. Even before giving folks the gospel, we need to give them our time, talent and treasure as sacrifices that display our love for them. These possessions, precious commodities to us, are our best, and we are required to give our best.

Give up for others—Sometimes it’s hard to give our best to others because we have yet to give up something for others. Some of us need to give up an attitude that says, “They don’t deserve this.” We may need to give up the feeling of “I don’t want to do this.” And then there are those of us who need to give up our rigid schedule so we can give to others. I find that my bad attitude, selfish desire or uncompromising time usually prevails when I don’t keep in the forefront of my mind Jesus’ sacrifice of being born to die. When I fail to have Jesus’ sacrifice in the forefront of my mind, constantly there to remind me of just how greatly He gave and that nothing I have to give even compares, my attitude warms, my feeling diminishes and my schedule changes. I give up so I can give to.

Give in to God—Sometimes we have a bad attitude or desire or an unwillingness to change our schedule to hold our ground against someone who may have hurt us, used us or otherwise did us wrong. We have vowed to never give them (or, sometimes, anyone else) another chance to do what they did to us. The person may be out of our lives, but we still cling to what we believe will shield us from pain. Now our not giving to others because we won’t give up for others has solely become a fight against God. Our vow now determines our interactions instead of the Holy Spirit determining our interactions. We are now fighting against what God wants and holding fast to our desires. Fighting against others is tough, but there is no match when we fight against God. It’s inevitable that we give in. We must surrender to God’s will, knowing that His ways are not our ways and His thoughts not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8-9). He can mend our broken hearts and free our captive minds so we don’t obsess about what might happen to us (Isaiah 61:1-3). When we give in, we can give up and we can give to.

As we wind down 2013 and look for abundance in 2014, let us give to others after we give up for others and give in to Jesus. He is the reason for the seasons, every one in our lives.

Take a Risk Challenge: This week identify what you need to give up and how you need to give in so that you can give to others. This process is a radical act of love toward others and yourself. Happy New Year and may 2014 be filled with radical acts of love.