Gifts We Bring: Materials
The Critical Nature of our Material Gifts
In January 2006, after the completion of my first semester of seminary, I had the privilege and opportunity to take a trip to Ghana, West Africa. A benefactor who believed in heart ‘n hand mission trips set up a fund to offset travel costs for seminary students. The belief was in the crucial understanding that our true praise and gratitude can only be expanded through an expansion of our beliefs and faith in God. This expansion and broadening of our beliefs occurred through the experience of another people, another culture and another experience of worship.
I can attest to the expected outcomes of that benefactor. My own understanding of God and of the importance of praise and joy expanded exponentially through that trip. I experienced a land and a people that on first glimpse, seemed to have much less than I. Running water, toilets and paved roads were at a premium. Our host would say when we would show up at another rest stop to find a hole in the ground with no running water anywhere in site to wash, “Ghanaians know how to live with water or without. Either way, they make do.”
Thus, maybe you can understand my own narrow perspective, coming from a place where offering your material gifts was taught more as a job, a responsibility, an expectation of your loyalty, almost a rule or responsibility to the church. “If you are a good Christian you will tithe 10% of your income.” In my black and white, analytical brain, well, giving became my job, so to speak. My duty. My responsibility.
In Ghana, giving has nothing to do with duty, responsibility, rules or expectations from others. Giving has everything to do with praising God for God’s abundance. Let me repeat that. Giving has nothing to do with duty or responsibility; but everything to do with Praise, Gratitude, Joy and Compassion for God and God’s offering of abundance to them.
Enacting this belief came during the time of offering. The time of offering was not a time for the basket to be passed by each person, handed off to the next in the row as it made its way from front to back so that each person is potentially obligated to put something into it. The baskets are at the front of the space; at the altar area where one praises God. And the enactment of the offering doesn’t stop with placing the baskets at the front. The next part entails loud, joyous drumming and singing…….and dancing.
Instead of row by row that basket quietly moving among the people, here, the people loudly and enthusiastically get up and sing and dance to the altar to offer their Praises to God for the abundance of what they have. For making it through another week and having the opportunity to Praise and Worship one more time. The quarters and dollars and fifty-dollar bills get deposited into the baskets as they Praise God for God’s faithfulness, love, grace and compassion.
Offering our material gifts as Praise is critical to our own faith development. Giving out of a belief of abundance deepens our Joy, expands our perspective and releases the grip of fear and scarcity so many of us live under.
Last Sunday, I mentioned that my trip to Texas was not what I have expected nor intended it to be. Like a handful of you, deb and I owned a third vehicle, a pickup. A Toyota Tundra, V8, extended cab, with a regular bed pickup. These come in quite handy at times. Firewood, lumber stores, bulk loads of compost, and let me be honest, that V8 engine could move down the road. It also had 250K miles on it and it was two-wheel drive. We left it initially behind because of a host of reasons. That was one of my main intentions of my trip last weekend. Tow truck number one got it to a dealer so that the valet mode could be engaged so that it would start with the new battery that I had purchased for it, believing that it was a battery issue.
There were a handful of Texans in my immediate circles who know us and their disbelief that we would consider moving this vehicle to North Carolina did not deter me one bit from making this decision. “It’s a two-wheel drive pickup.” “You’ll get more for it here.” “What if it doesn’t make it on the long journey?” All naysayers!
You might can imagine my incredulity when, driving through the rolling hills of Central Texas, going 72 mph under a glorious blue sky and 60 degrees outside, listening to Krista Tippett interview Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh through my earbuds, the surprise when all of sudden a hard ‘thunk’, and the immediate spray of gravel all around the cab caused me to yank out my earbuds, grab the wheel tightly and move off the road as the front of the pickup tilted to one side.
Praise for no traffic other than myself on the road.
Praise for the two different pickups pulling over to offer their assistance because when the front wheel falls off and rests under the frame – that clearly is not a staged event of distress.
But the real praise comes in the situation 4 hours later after tow truck number two and the repair. When the mechanic replies to my inquiry of the other side, “Will it make it to the Texas Panhandle and then to North Carolina?”
“No to North Carolina. Yes to the Texas panhandle.”
And, then his reply to “Would you like to buy this truck?”
Decisions are incredibly hard for us. We can argue and see the blessings and curses of all sides. The truck was paid for. The engine was good. It didn’t use any oil. The gas mileage was still pretty good. It could move down the road…when the lower arm assemblies didn’t fail.
When Martin Franco saw this stranger’s provisions of a vehicle for his soon to be college student as abundance, his praise appeared.
When I saw a stranger’s willing to pay cash on the spot in Dublin, Texas, a one stop light town, praise erupted. The decision of where and how to sell was made. Easy. Praise and Gratitude erupted. Abundance appeared from nowhere.
When you give out of your Praise and Gratitude, when you make offerings to others and to this church out of your Praises to God and your Gratitude for what you have already, Abundance appears.
We see. Our eyes are opened when we give out of our Joy, our Praise and our Gratitude. We wake up and notice that life and all that it is, Is More than we could ever have imagined.
Eph 3. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth, ……. Now to the Creator who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to God be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.
Praising through our material gifts gives honor to something we cherish. Praising focuses on what makes gifts and blessings possible in the first place, an abundance that is compelling in its own right; life itself. Praise glorifies.
Because you have given abundantly, and I hope out of praise and joy, your Council saw an opportunity to be good stewards of this Praise and Joy. They approved monies to be spent for a new and much more efficient heating and insulation system. Those bills we paid with the children earlier, they will go down month by month providing more abundance after the capital costs of the new heating system are paid.
As we understand the true nature of our impact on the environment and our relationship with it, we are in awe, and wonder for what it provides us. I would beg you to see with eyes and hearts of Praise and Joy that in more ways than we can imagine, we have the abundance to replace a heating and insulation system so that we can live more in sync with the Earth.
The material gifts that you offer out of your own praise to God for this community will again and again return multiplied in more ways than you can imagine. When we live out of a spirit of generosity and abundance, praising God and dancing for joy, our eyes, our minds and our hearts will be able to more fully grasp the expansive of ….what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
Those Ghanaians understand the power of praise, dancing out of joy and the abundance our eyes can see when we give our gifts of materials in praise and honor and glory to the One who provided it. May it be so for us.