Investing Time and Honor

As I recently painted the Christmas story, I thought how the wise men heard of Jesus’ birth and desired to seek him out and honor him with gifts. Then they not only honored him, they protected him from Herod, by not telling Herod where he was, because they realized Herod wanted to harm him. They knew Jesus was to be honored. Even though I feel there were more than three wise men, I depicted three of them bearing the gifts of worth, which were gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were lavish gifts bestowed upon a king of all ages. I want to focus on the fact that they put great effort and traveled many miles to witness that this ruler had been born. They invested time as well as luxurious gifts. They saw that a child had been born that wouldn’t be a typical man, he had a purpose to fulfill. His purpose was far above any purpose you or I have and he drew crowds everywhere he went as he grew older.

But in that same vein, how often do we overlook others in this world that we come in contact with each day and ignore their purpose in life? How many times do we wish we didn’t have to deal with lines in the stores or the person we have to call to arrange some event, reservation, or to buy something? How much time do we give others? Sometimes a simple sentence of encouragement is all a person needs to hang onto to make it through the day. Sadly, a negative phrase or sentence can have the reverse and harsher effects. Or perhaps there’s a family member who we don’t accept? But that person or those people also have a purpose in life, just like Jesus did, and just like we do. It isn’t just to service our needs or be a thorn in our side, God put them on this earth with a destiny. Are we helping them fulfill their destiny by honoring them as an individual? What gifts do we bring to them? I’m not talking physical gifts, I’m speaking of charitable gifts. The gifts we freely give to our friends. It’s easy to engage with our friends, to offer kindness, to fix a cool drink for them or offer food they like. It’s easy to converse, because we have things in common, but what about people we don’t know or haven’t taken the time to become acquainted? Do we leave them with words of encouragement? Or do we leave them wishing they’d never been born? Do we treat them with honor or impatience? We can make or break others. Words can uplift or they can destroy.

Proverbs 18:21 The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences.

What about our family? Are we esteeming them or do we bring them words of derision? Do we act happy to see family members we haven’t seen in a while, or do we act like they’re a burden? Is it their character flaw that we see, or is it our own shortcoming that gets brought out when we’re around them and makes us feel exposed? I’ve been around people like this and I had to reassess myself and make adjustments in my own attitude because there was nothing wrong with them, it was their shining example that shone on my lousy attitude. Once I corrected, things were so much better. I was able to see that my outlook was the culprit in the relationship and they’d done nothing wrong. I was just offended that they had exposed my weakness.

Another weakness some of us have is in giving and receiving. When and if we buy gifts for family birthdays or for Christmas; do we purchase the first thing we see, or do we put thought behind it and buy things to honor the recipient? Because a gift given without love, is a gift without life. It would be better to offer love, and be empty-handed than to offer a gift given without love. It’s equally bad to give a gift only in recompense for a gift they’ve given. People know when gifts are sincere and when they are not. They also know when strings are attached, neither are correct. We should give expecting nothing in return and we should give from the heart, not out of duty! When we rush out at the last minute to compensate for another person’s gift, it isn’t heartfelt. I personally would rather leave empty handed and be genuinely thanked for a gift I’ve given than to be given a gift that I don’t need or won’t use, because there was no forethought by the giver.

Can you imagine the wise men buying things along the way or in a rush for Jesus? Or can you imagine them coming back to remind him one day about the gifts they gave and asking him for a favor or some compensation? Yet how many times do people do this? No, their gifts were given from a pure heart, with respect and honor. They were offering and worshipping a baby who had never given anything to them, but they knew the relationship they invested in would give them great rewards. Think about that for a minute… the wise men were investing. How many of us invest these days? Whether it be time, love, kindness, sincerity, or honesty; what do we truly and freely give?

We only get out of a relationship what we put into it. If we dismiss a person as insignificant then they will be insignificant in our lives. But if we see them as valuable and worthy, they become valuable and worthy, even if only to us. You only get what you expect, nothing less. And sometimes it has nothing to do with the other person and more to do with our perception and acceptance of them. Jesus can only be Savior to those who accept him as Savior. But the clerk at our local grocer or our family member will never be cherished if we don’t value them. Let’s try to at least offer kindness, acceptance, honor, and humility to those we come in contact with each day. And in this season of giving, with family members around, let’s go out of our way with them by putting their needs above ours. Give gifts of love, honor, and respect. Show them they’re of value and have a purpose. If we are following the Holy Spirit, this should come easy by evaluating them through Christ. He didn’t hold any sins against them and neither should we.

2 Corinthians 5:16-20 So we have stopped evaluating others from a human point of view. At one time we thought of Christ merely from a human point of view. How differently we know him now! This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun! And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!”

Time Well Spent

The first year my husband and I were married, he was helping pastor a small church, plus teaching and administrating their Christian school. During that year, we didn’t have many funds. Most of the students’ families did not have the money to pay their tuition, but it was a need in our community and still is. Through God’s provision and the generosity of others, we never went without having our needs met. We never missed a meal and we managed to keep a roof over our heads. Sometimes we lived on beans and rice, anything in our pantry, or what Jonathan refers to as ‘COW’ (cream of wheat). We passed on all the little luxuries that most people take for granted, like going out to eat or buying things we liked, but didn’t truly need. Both of our vehicles were paid for, so we didn’t have any car payments. We still own the same cars, an ’04 and an ’07 model. Our cell phones were not smart phones and we were on a pay-as-you-go plan. Most of the time, we only had one cell phone between us. We never subscribed to cable or satellite TV and still don’t. Jonathan installed an antenna in the backyard that his father had given him and hooked it up to our TV for local stations. We picked up internet at hotspots. Because of a health condition, I have not been able to work outside the home. But that is another story, which I’ve written before. You can read it here if you’re curious: “Peace.”

By the world’s standards, we were poor, but by God’s standards, we were rich! What we did have was time, and we’ve tried to use it well. Many times we spent ministering to people at the church or helping out our family by offering assistance in whatever way we could that didn’t require money. We planted flowers, flowerbeds, and did landscape work for those who didn’t have the ability and we traveled with people during difficult situations to help out emotionally and physically. We helped take care of a brother who had undergone massive surgery. I’m not saying this to brag, but to share that our perspective on life, was and still is different than many people. We don’t do it for rewards, but we do it out of caring hearts. We happily give of our time to help others and to assist those we love and care for. For our ‘luxury time,’ we explore areas nearby us, by hiking in the woods or camping. We enjoy the scenery around us. We grow a vegetable-herb garden, which keeps our grocery bill down. We can and freeze vegetables, make jellies, and share our abundance. I make gifts at Christmas, and we make food for special events. We send e-cards or call to let others know we love them. During that lean first couple of years, we bought individual cards for others at Christmas. While we stood in the aisle, searching for the perfect cards, we saw cards we wanted to give to each other, but couldn’t afford. So we started a tradition of showing those cards to each other, to express our love and we would savor the moment; then we would put the cards back. Now that my husband is back in engineering, we have the ability to give monetary gifts on occasion, but we still like to peruse the card aisle and show each other cards that we don’t purchase that have ‘just the right verse’ to express what we feel towards each other. And we still like to bless others with our time and our cooking whenever possible.

A few days ago, as I was shopping for craft supplies at Hobby Lobby, I decided to look through the anniversary cards, because our anniversary was coming up. I found a card, but decided not to buy it, but to take a picture with my phone and share it with my husband. It captured perfectly what I feel about the man God put in my life. I would gladly pay the price of the card, but if you want to know where you can purchase it, because it says what you feel about your spouse as well, they have it in the card department at Hobby Lobby. I just wanted to remember our tradition in this way and I did buy another card while I was there. This is the card:

Happy Anniversary!
Happy Anniversary!

Some of my favorite family memories are when we’ve sat around the table after dinner and sang songs or made jokes, and always our vacations, because we were/are together as a family, away from all the distractions. Even times we’ve gathered together to celebrate the life of those who have passed before us, have been precious, because we were together supporting each other, through the sorrow. During those times, we found comfort and joy by the fond and similar memories we shared. I loved hearing the stories as a child and I still do as an adult, even when the stories don’t include me. I remember the hours spent together with my grandfather on the farm, growing vegetables was time well spent, because it was our time alone and I could ask him questions about life, and believe me, I asked questions galore! But my favorite times spent with my grandfather, who was a gentle giant in my eyes, were sitting in their huge front well-maintained yard on any fresh summer evening, off an old country road, that was once well traveled, under huge pecan trees, with my grandmother’s prized red roses waving in the breeze behind us, their scent was heavenly! My grandfather stood an erect, shoulder-back, 6’4″ tall, with broad shoulders, strong arms, and had a stylish crew cut, with hazel green-blue eyes that twinkled behind his glasses and usually wore a smile. He was well-tanned from years of working on the farm that he paid cash for. He didn’t believe in buying anything on credit and I heard that lecture often. “Anything worth having is worth waiting for.” There we sat, with me in my little handmade dresses or short sets that my grandmother lovingly and skillfully sewed, many times without a patten, because of her skill and frugality, not because of lack. My grandfather usually dressed casually in his seersucker, untucked, box-hemmed shirt and khakis, in the afternoon and evenings, off this road which had been bypassed by a major highway, but was once the main thoroughfare from Tulsa to Muskogee.

As we sat in those old metal lawn chairs, under the shade of the massive pecan trees, we guessed the color of the next car that would go by, which were few and far between. He carried singles, tens, twenties, fifties, hundreds, two-hundreds, and five-hundred dollar bills in his wallet, not because he loved money, but because he had grown up during lean times, when his family didn’t have money for shoes for the six boys in the family and because he didn’t trust banks. He had lived through the great depression, the bank collapses, non-insured banks, and the dust bowl. My grandfather would quiz me about which president was on what monetary value and if I knew the answer, he would show me. I was always astonished by the variety of bills he had! He was a wealthy man by worldly standards but he didn’t flaunt it or dress to show it, he was humble and to me he was far wealthier because he spent time with me. He usually was one of the first to help out someone else in need. As we sat there under the long lush nut-laden branches, wafting in the breeze, he quizzed me on history, presidents, politics, science, nature, weather, faith, and anything else he thought I should know. He would tell me stories of how he and his siblings (10 kids in all) traveled by conestoga from MO to TX to OK; looking for work. He told me about the jobs he’d worked over the years and about how he dated my grandmother. Many times, we sang silly songs when there weren’t any cars, with me giggling at my grandfather’s dry wit. On lucky nights we went back out after dinner and cranked ice cream or had ice cold watermelon from the garden and watched the fireflies twinkle in the night sky – those were the days we didn’t have any electronic devices, distractions, or ‘Google.’ Those memories remind me, what do I want to be remembered for? Do I want to be the one who gave lavish gifts and seemed to care little for others, always busy and defending my lack of time? Or do I want to be remembered as someone who listened and devoted my time and energy by interacting with others?

My encouragement for today is to make sure we have time for our family and friends. To me the most valuable gifts are those that come from the heart and involve time, either set aside in each other’s presence, in making the gift, or in doing something for someone they can’t do but would like to be able to do. Another valuable gift is to spend time teaching others skills they want to learn, which we know. These are useful gifts that last and are appreciated. When someone invests their time, it says they feel the other person is valuable. Let’s put down our phones, turn off our TVs and video games, and just enjoy other people’s company. Let’s Interact with each other. Above all, let’s spend time with our Father, but not just in prayer. Let’s spend time in worship, thanking him for all he has created, the abilities he has given us, and the sacrifice he made for all of us. Let’s reflect on the life of Jesus, by reading the Bible. Let’s think of the 33 years that Jesus spent on earth because he Loved us — that is a chunk of change that can’t be measured in Benjamins or McKinleys! Thirty-three years of Jesus’ life, mostly spent in ministry, and then he was rejected by those closest to him at the end of his life on earth. Who have we rejected in our life that we might need to make amends with? Who have we neglected spending time with because we ‘can’t find the time’? Who have we shut out? Let’s put aside our petty grievances and realize that time doesn’t go on forever in this life. Yes, we have eternity, if we have committed to God, but what have we invested with those around us? Have we given them our time and energy or have we spent it in self-driven pleasures or ways to make more money? Have we appreciated the things they’ve done for us? Have we shared Jesus with those around us, not just by talking about him, but by expressing his love? The luxuries will not stay with us when we die, but the memories of time well spent, will stay in the hearts of those we leave behind.

Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you. Don’t curse them; pray that God will bless them. Be happy with those who are happy, and weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with each other. Don’t be too proud to enjoy the company of ordinary people. And don’t think you know it all! Never pay back evil with more evil. Do things in such a way that everyone can see you are honorable. Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone. Romans 12:9-18 NLT

As Jesus and the disciples continued on their way to Jerusalem, they came to a certain village where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. Her sister, Mary, sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he taught. But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her.” Luke 10:36-42 NLT