That was my mother's pointed response that silenced me. She had concerns about my safety in Guatemala and I had been giving her doses of Paul. To live is Christ and to die is gain really wasn't helping her as I quoted it. She knew enough Bible to tell me she didn't need her child quoting it at her. She said that she shouldn't have to endure watching us go through hard times, or see us in danger. I made the fatal error of stating, "even Mary, the mother of the Son of God had to watch her son suffer, why should you expect to have it any better?" That's when she hit me with, "Well, you sure aren't Jesus Christ."
I know that to be oh-so-true. Life has demands, and God has given me a calling. Living in the Kingdom of God means that the stuff of the world has to be yielded over. Fully. Completely. Daily.
So how do we let go of our stuff? For the Shepherd family, it was a simple recognition that it just didn't matter. It wasn't worth missing out on the plan that God was calling us to follow. Cognitively we knew this, but living it began with a great deal of difficulty. We struggled for months about what we needed to get rid of, realizing that we needed to reduce our possession to what could be carried in 15 suitcases. The only way to begin... was to just do it. I passed out a large black garbage bag to each family member and kept one for myself. The instruction was simply, "Fill it up. We're each going to fill one of these every single Saturday until we're under our limit."
We have to be fools for Christ. I took a lot of criticism from family, friends, and acquaintances. We sold a few items, but most of it we gave away. We believed that our missionary journey had to begin right where we were. A tornado had ripped through Kentucky, and we made contact with a family who had lost everything. They now dine with our wedding dishes.
Giving some things away really was painful, but seeing the tears in the eyes of lives that were being restored was worth far more than a few plates in a cabinet. Author William Willimon calls this "a different rationality". Yes, this is true. Once you learn the benefits of letting go, you see the great joy that is ready to be grasped with your newly open hands.
This then is the "why and how to be a generous giver."
Our kids are going to grow old and tell some pretty crazy stories. These stories are shaping them now, and I hope it shapes them in good ways. The day we gave away all our dishes came very suddenly. It was phone call during dinner. We said, "yes." There was a knock at the door with fifteen minutes. As the lady stood in our kitchen and Kellie was boxing up dishes, I was in the dinner room shoving my children's food off of the nice plates onto paper plates. To say I had their attention is an understatement.
We learned something that day, the why and how to be a generous giver simply is not something we choose, it is who we are. We don't get to pick the most convenient time, or the least important items to our days. We are called to be obedient when the need is in front of us. God's timing isn't our timing, but it is always the right timing.
I recently read the Methodist rite of ordination and I am blown away by the required responses. "I do so trust," "I do so believe and confess," "I am so persuaded, by God's grace," and "I will, God being my helper". This really is it. Stewardship is not what we do, it is who we are. I do so trust, believe, confess, am persuaded, that my identity is wrapped up in this following of the Son of God, and so, I will live it out, by the power of the one who has saved me.
My mama was right, I'm not Jesus Christ. He is the one who has chosen me.
Willimon, William. Calling and Character: Virtues of the Ordained Life. (Nashville, Abingdon Press) 2000.
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