Meeting Together or Not

Church sanctuaries remain empty after ten weeks of restrictions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. In some places, drive-in church services are happening, just like when I was a kid and went to Herbie the Love Bug at the drive-in movie theater. But where I live, we are still in the “red” zone, which does not mean we are within twenty yards of the endzone. For us, the endzone seems a long way off. As long as we are in the red zone, we cannot meet together for worship.

I’m concerned about my fellow Christians. It seems some are becoming discontent, grumbling and complaining about the rules of isolation. In Pennsylvania Dutch, we call that being gretzy. I understand and have been a little gretzy myself. I don’t agree with the arbitrary nature of closing businesses and organizations, and the fear being propagated. But this week I was convicted about my attitude.

There are a handful of churches who are meeting despite the governor’s orders. The primary reason given for violating the order is that the church is “commanded to meet together by God.” They cite Hebrews 10:25, “not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” The problem is context, which indicates that the church was not forbidden to meet, but that some members were choosing not to meet.

This section of Hebrews 10 is really about encouraging one another. When the book of Hebrews was written, that would have been difficult to do without meeting in person. But today it is fairly easy to encourage someone via a phone call, a video chat, a Zoom meeting, or even good, old-fashioned snail mail. Sure, meeting together, being face-to-face, offering a hug of encouragement would be preferable. But in the age in which we live, there are alternatives. This exhortation is about being committed and intentional in encouraging the members of their church family.

And how do these churches balance this verse with the whole of Scripture? Where does obeying civil authority come in? “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Romans 13:1) They would counter with Acts 5:29, “…we must obey God rather than man.” But again, the context of that statement was the apostles being told they could not preach in the name of Jesus. We are not being told that. Preaching the Gospel, witnessing, praying, Bible study, none of it has been prohibited by our government. And then there is the rest of Scripture – patiently enduring suffering (2 Corinthians 1:6), loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, being a light, rejoicing when persecuted (Matthew 5). Above all things, Christians are to be known for their love, which does not insist on its own way (John 13, Colossians 3, & 1 Corinthians 13). You would have to do some Simone Biles-level gymnastics to balance all of Scripture against a verse or two taken out of context.

So, what about meeting for worship? Is the point of a worship service to gather people together or to worship God? There is something necessary about corporate worship which builds up the body of Christ. And we shouldn’t neglect it when we can be together. But it isn’t necessary to be together physically to worship God. Jesus told the Samaritan woman that true worship is not about where it takes place, but the heart of the worshipper. Right worship of God is done in spirit and in truth. (John 4)

If we are gathering because we “need to get back to church,” are we making worship about us? If our source of comfort and contentment comes from meeting together, have we made meeting together an idol?

I’m going to take that even a step further. If we are willing to violate an order because we want so much to have something that we don’t have, isn’t that the very definition of coveting? Are we fueling discontentment in our lives by longing for what was and not being content with what is? Now we’ve got coveting, discontentment, and idol worship. They don’t belong in the life of a Christian. They need to be repented of and forsaken, not fed and nurtured.

What does God really want from his church? “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8) Right now we can accomplish those things by waiting patiently for the time we can meet together for worship. We find much more in Scripture about waiting, patience, and longsuffering than about defying the government. I have not cultivated longsuffering in my life, proven by my reaction when the light turns green and the person in front of me doesn’t hit the gas.

COVID-19 and the subsequent shutdown did not happen outside of God’s sovereignty and goodness. Individual churches may close permanently, but the Church, the Bride of Christ, will not. “The gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Let us redeem this time of waiting. Let’s learn new ways of communicating and “meeting together.” And, most importantly, let us reflect Jesus to a fearful, impatient world.

Our Isolation Anniversary

This is the week we were supposed to be in Italy, celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary (May 25). We had it planned. Had the dates and the villa in Sicily. We hadn’t pulled the trigger on the flights because they were much more expensive than we had hoped. We were waiting to see if they would go down. They probably have gone down. A lot. I haven’t checked.

Our first trip to Italy, 2015

Our second choice was going to be an Alaskan cruise. Doug is not interested in going on a cruise even a tiny bit. But I have always wanted to do the Alaskan one and thought I could convince him because Stephen Curtis Chapman is hosting one that happens to be over my birthday. It was the perfect storm: favorite musician, 35th anniversary, my birthday…enter COVID-19. That swirling and gurgling sound coming from the bathroom is my one and only shot of a cruise going down the toilet.

Oh well. Instead of spending a week in an exotic place, we have spent the last two months at home together. With elective surgeries being cancelled, Doug’s hours were cut in half, and he had zero on-call hours. We were able to spend most of our days together, organizing the basement, taking long walks and scenic drives, and giving lots of foot massages. It has been fabulous! I am looking forward to retirement, if this was any indication of what that will be like.

We’ve “eaten out” a lot more than we normally do. In an effort to support our local restaurants, we’ve ordered take-out every weekend from at least five different restaurants. It’s good we’re taking longs walks together every day, since we’re “eating out” so much. When we started walking, I was doing about a mile a day. Now we are up to almost four miles a day. On our walks we’ve met more of our neighbors, talked over some really deep stuff, and explored more of our neighborhood, all while holding hands. Our walks often end by sitting on the front porch sharing a little bit of Merrymead ice cream.

Nope, this week wasn’t what we had planned. We haven’t visited Sicilian villages filled with overflowing window flower boxes and quaint trattorias, sampling the gelato at every chance. The last few months haven’t been what we would have planned. But it has been a time of increased spiritual growth, physical strength, and emotional connectedness that we otherwise may have missed.

Most importantly, our love for one another has deepened. I feel for those who have been completely isolated during the shutdown. It has been such a blessing to go through this time with the love of my life. I’m looking forward to things getting back to normal soon and especially seeing our kids and grandkids in person. But for now, I am completely content spending my time with the one person who has meant the most to me for 35 (plus) years.

Power Source

My sewing room has turned into mask-making central. The elastic I ordered online never arrived, so I needed to make tie-on masks. Some people preferred them anyway. They don’t put any pressure on your ears, which is especially helpful for hearing-aid and eye-glass wearers. The only problem with them is they take about four times longer to make than their elastic cousins.

By the time I started making masks, I didn’t think many people would still need them. Most people are more on top of things than me. But as it turned out, when I let it be known I could make masks for family, friends, and neighbors, orders for nearly 100 masks filled my newsfeed! I pulled fabric from my embarrassingly extensive stash and got busy.

My sewing machine was humming along, making mask after mask. I noticed after being at it for a while, my leg was stretching farther for the foot pedal. Sometimes after being away from my machine, when I returned to restart mask making, I couldn’t reach the foot pedal at all. How had it walked so far away during my last sewing session? And how hadn’t I noticed that I had pushed it so far out of reach? I would peek under the table to locate it, hook the cord with my foot, and drag it back into place.

The foot pedal was a very important part of my mission. Without it, mask making would take even longer, maybe too long to complete 100 of them before the mask-wearing mandate was over. The foot pedal powered the sewing machine. I would be in trouble without it.

One day, while lassoing the foot pedal once again, and wondering again how it had gotten so far from my foot, I thought of how sometimes I move away from the source of power in my life, God Himself. Sometimes I drift away from Him, other times I push Him away. I’ve tried to run my life on my own, but it was a futile effort, making little progress in the things that matter.

Jesus painted a word picture of being our power source. He said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:4 ESV) Abide means live in or dwell in, much like we are all abiding at home right now. The fruit of my sewing machine’s power source these last few weeks has been over 100 face masks. The fruit of being plugged into Jesus are things like strength, love, peace, contentment, joy, and so much more.

So, every time my foot reaches for my sewing machine’s foot pedal, I think about how I need to reach out to God. Every day. It made mask making a genuinely spiritual-growth experience. And it’s not over. Someone who procrastinates more than me just asked if I could make just one more. Sure, I can. I just need to make sure my power source is in place, and off I go.

Uncertainty

I’ve sat down at my computer several times today to write this blog post. If I had a typewriter, there would be a lot of crumpled pages in and around the trash can. I thought I knew what I wanted to write, but each idea fell short. What would be best for this week? A funny anecdote? A serious reflection? A hopeful exhortation? Nothing felt right. Maybe I should just write what I’m feeling.

We are all going through a strange time in our history. Most of us haven’t experienced anything like this before. I don’t really know what I’m feeling. It isn’t fear. It isn’t worry. It definitely isn’t hopelessness. I think it’s uncertainty. I like having all my ducks in a row, and I don’t know how this pandemic will play out. I’ve read so many contrary opinions from the “experts.” But the truth is, no one knows.

In the last two weeks, three close friends have lost loved ones. Two more are not expected to live through the week (none are virus-related). Their families can’t hold services for them now and can’t have visitors. I’m a hugger. Everything in me wants to hug my friends or at least be by their side. But I can’t get within six feet of them. My only choice is to turn hugs into words, which for me right now, fails to express my love and desire to comfort them.

Today has been especially uncertain. My husband left for work this morning where he will be helping in the ICU instead of his normal job in the OR. It left me feeling a little nervous. Then I got word this afternoon that one of our family members has tested positive for COVID-19. Those feelings of uncertainty mounted. How will these things work out? Sometimes I want God to pull back the curtain and show me the plan, especially the ending. But where would my faith be? It would be in what I can see and not in the God who holds it all together.

In these uncertain times, I need to ask myself, “Do I really trust God for all things?” Usually I can figure out how things are going to go. But these last few years have taught me that life can change on a dime. I have learned to trust God with every little thing so when the big things come, it is second nature. I heard Veirdre Jackson say at a conference recently that she could run in the thin air of the mountains because she trained hard in the valley. The air is feeling thin right now. It’s hard to take a deep breath. But, thankfully, I have had a lot of time training in valleys. I know where my hope lies and who holds the future. If this is more of a training valley for you, take one step at a time and trust God for the next.

“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1 ESV)

Not My First Pandemic Rodeo

It occurred to me today that this is not the first time I have been isolated at home due to a world-wide health crisis. In 1977, I got the flu. At that time, it was called the A1 Asian Flu, later called the Russian Flu. It almost exclusively affected young people under age 23. Because of a similar flu outbreak in the 1950s, most adults were immune to it (let that be encouraging to y’all right now). My doctor told me I was the second person in the US to get it and had the worst case. I’ve always had a competitive nature.

I was 13 years old, starting eighth grade, when I got sick in the fall of 1977. I missed about two months of school prior to Christmas break. In January 1978, I was feeling better, except for severe pain in my back. After a hospitalization and more testing, doctors discovered the virus seemed to have eaten away the discs in my thoracic spine. They felt that immobilizing my spine would allow the discs to heal.

In February 1978, I entered the hospital to have a body cast applied. Really, it wasn’t a full body cast, it was a body jacket. It started with a large neck brace, extending down onto my chest and covered with a plaster cast. The cast was applied from my neck to my hips, hence, “body jacket.” A very nice nurse washed me up, spending a good amount of time using warm water to gently remove bits of plaster from parts of my body that didn’t need it. I stayed in the hospital for a week under a heat lamp to dry the plaster. I could bend at the hips, but not well. My arms were free. I could move them but not lift them completely over my head. This made washing my hair tricky, but once at home, I figured out a pretty efficient system using the kitchen sink sprayer.

Since I had already missed so much school time and was supposed to move as little as possible, I went on homebound studies. I could have visitors, but I couldn’t play. In fact, I got in trouble one day when my Spanish teacher arrived and saw me playing catch with my sister. I didn’t think it was a big deal, but everyone else did (except my sister—bless her heart for taking me outside to do something).

I spent most of my days watching soap operas. Because my cast damaged the furniture, there was one chair I was allowed to sit in. Sleeping was tough. The cast would pop up in the front and dig into my back. Of course, I couldn’t shower. And I rarely left the house because people stared. It was not a good time.

May 4, 1978 finally arrived—cast removal day. I was so excited and terrified. Cutting off a cast that is around one’s neck is scary. Once it was off, I felt so free and light, except my head, which seemed to weigh about 50 pounds! My neck muscles had atrophied over four months of no use. I actually had to use my hands to hold my head up. But my time in isolation was over.

I lost a year of school, being with friends, and playing outside—all without internet or cell phone, talk about isolation. We can do this. Hold your heads up, friends. This time of world-wide pandemic and isolation will be over soon.

“But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the one who lifts my head.” Psalm 3:3 NASB

Finding Trouble One Step at a Time

Some of my favorite childhood memories involve singing in our church’s Junior Choir. I love to sing, but it wasn’t just the singing I loved. Saturday morning practice was a time to be with friends, and we engaged in as much fun and shenanigans as we could get away with (not much has changed at choir practice).

Since I was the shortest choir member, I was assigned the shortest choir gown. Even so, it was a little long for me. Most gowns hit just below the knees or mid-calf. Mine was more formal, almost floor length. To avoid the spectacle of dozens of kids tripping up the four steps at the front of the church, our director taught us to gather the front of our gowns in one hand and lift them a little as we approached the steps.  

But one day, I didn’t lift my gown quite high enough. As I negotiated the first step, my foot caught the hem of my gown. But I couldn’t just stop. Someone might notice my misstep. I figured if I went up the next step with the left foot, the right foot would release the gown, and all would be well. Unfortunately, my left foot caught more of the gown. It pulled on my neck, bending me slightly forward. Another step, more gown under my feet, more bending. There was no way to get it out from under my feet. But I had to keep going. There was only one more step. Then I would be on flat ground and could fix the problem. But that last step was too much. I had nowhere to go but down. Hard. After rolling around for a few seconds, I was able to unhitch my feet from the gown. With a little help from the director, I popped back up and took my seat in the pew, hoping no one noticed.

Of course, everyone noticed. It was hard not to with a kid on the elevated chancel area rolling around in a bright red gown. At least, being the shortest, I was at the back of the line, with only the director behind me, so there wasn’t a domino effect. I tried not to make eye contact with any of the other choir kids. But I knew they were laughing. Our director, sitting next to me, was trying stifle her giggles, but she was struggling.

You better believe when we got up to sing, I hoisted that gown high enough to make it impossible for my foot to catch any of it. From that day on, I always over-gathered my gown when going up or down steps. I still do it when I’m wearing a longish dress. Thankfully, our choir doesn’t wear gowns anymore.

At times, we don’t realize how much trouble we’re in until it’s too late. But sometimes even when we know we’ve made a mistake or sinned, we keep going, thinking we can fix it ourselves. Maybe it’s not something sinful. Maybe it’s something like depression or anxiety or some fear that paralyzes us. Things tend to have a snowball effect, and soon we’re in too deep to get back on our feet.

Most of us have to come to the end of ourselves before we stop destructive behavior and make a change. God is always there waiting for us to give up our feeble attempts to make things right and extending His mercy and grace. God also gives us friends, counselors, and doctors when what is affecting us is beyond our control. These, too, are expressions of His mercy and grace. When we fall, no matter how hard we land, we are never alone in our struggles. Maybe we need to just stop and ask for help.

“I waited patiently for the Lord; He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.” Psalm 40:1-3 NIV

Picked Last but Chosen First

Do you remember lining up as a kid in Phys Ed or recess, waiting to be picked for a team? If you were like me, you dreaded that time. You’d push your back against the hard brick wall of the school and act like you didn’t care. But really you hoped against hope that you weren’t picked last. How humiliating.

I was often picked last. I think it was because I was always the smallest kid in the class. Granted, being picked last for tug-of-war made sense. I would just dangle from the rope. But I was pretty good at other things. I was super-fast. My short little legs could really move—a skill cultivated running from big bullies. Anything that involved running fast, I was your girl.

But even with my successes, the next time teams were picked, there I was, last again. No matter how I had proven myself before, this was a new day, and I was still the runt. I hung my head in shame and slowly walked to the team unlucky enough to get me.

In the scheme of things, being picked last for a game isn’t the worst thing in the world (it just seems that way to a kid). As I got older my skills improved, although my height didn’t. I was rarely picked last anymore. But the feeling of humiliation was never far from me.

As a homeschool mom, I was involved with a group that met for different activities, including Physical Education. I was often put in charge of that (and almost never in charge of Art, with good reason). One day after our official time together, the kids were playing while the moms chatted and made plans for the next group meeting. I watched as one of the older boys lined up the kids to divide them into teams. A cold chill crept down my spine. Looking at the kids against the wall, I was sure which one would be last, and I felt for her.

But that older boy picked the first couple for each team (the older kids), and then broke the rest of the kids evenly in groups. The kids on the right, went to Team A. The kids on his left, Team B. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The kids joyfully ran to their teams. No one was chosen last. No heads were hanging. They were chosen as a team. And they were thrilled to be part of their team. What wisdom this boy had shown.

Did you know when it comes to God, if you are His, He chose you before you were even born? He didn’t wait to see your skill set or how well you performed. He chose you to be on His “team” before you ever took a step or even a breath. More amazingly, He chose you while you were his enemy and put you on the winning team. Who does that? Only someone who loves you unconditionally and was willing to humble Himself to save you.

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will… (Ephesians 1:4,5 NIV)

A Safe World?

I spent the past few weeks working on issues surrounding Child Sexual Abuse (CSA) for two different organizations. While I welcome those opportunities, sometimes the burden of talking about the ugliness of CSA gets a bit heavy.

So, when I recently read at least half a dozen Facebook posts claiming “we never had to worry about our safety when we were kids. We could walk around our neighborhoods, ride our bikes, and play at the park until suppertime without fear,” I thought, Really? The thing is, I grew up in the same era, and I was not safe walking the three blocks to the park. And, even though they didn’t know it, neither were they.

As elementary-school-age kids, a friend and I would hurry home on winter afternoons, grab our ice skates, and head off to the ice rink at our local park. We usually walked from school to her house, then to my house, then to the rink, all within a few blocks of each other. Donning our snow pants and skates, we’d hit the ice and spend about two hours skating around the oval rink—trying new moves, jumping onto a “snap the whip” line, diving onto the ice just to see how far we could slide.

It was a great time with lots of laughter. At five o’clock it would be time to go home. We’d tread to the park entrance, feeling like our skates were still on our feet. Then we parted ways, she would go straight, and I would turn left to get home.

A sex offender lived across the street from the park. I don’t think my friend ever knew he was there. She probably walked past, still giddy from our skating adventures, feeling no fear. I would walk past with rising anxiety, hoping not to encounter him. With my heart pounding and eyes darting, happy thoughts of an afternoon of winter fun melted away.

Winter was a safer season than the others. Spring and Fall, he was more likely to be outside. I don’t know if he really enjoyed gardening and yard work that much, or if he was outside looking for kids (or victims) coming from or going to the park. Summer was the worst. He didn’t just hang out at his house. He spent a lot of time at the park’s swimming pool, trolling for victims.

No, the little girls at the park or walking by his house were not safe. Although, most of them never knew they were in danger. For some of us, our lives were forever damaged, a piece of childhood lost forever. And because of the silence, secrecy, and shame associated with CSA, most victims never told anyone what was happening. That is how non-victims can be ignorantly thankful they grew up when the world was a “safe place,” blissfully unaware of the danger that lurked in their neighborhoods and the fear and pain some of their closest friends endured.

So, did they really live in a world where kids could walk around their neighborhoods, ride their bikes, and stay out until suppertime without worrying about being harmed? Fortunately, for them, that was the world as they knew it. I wish it had been the same world for all of us.

The man who abused me died a few months ago. A known offender is dead—our world is a little safer. Or is it? There will always be another to take his place, shattering the safe world of select children. Offenders may never be caught, but they, too, are wrong if they think they are safe. God is just.

“Behold, at that time I will deal
    with all your oppressors.
And I will save the lame
    and gather the outcast,
and I will change their shame into praise
    and renown in all the earth.” Zephaniah 3:19 (ESV)

After-Christmas Jesus

Photo by Jeswin Thomas on Pexels.com

I missed the after-Christmas sales due to illness the last few weeks. I was hoping to pick up some small containers for next year’s batch of champagne truffles. But I missed it. I walked into Walmart yesterday, and there was no sign of Christmas. The clearance racks of wrapping paper, lights, and decorations were empty. The “seasonal” aisle was full of Valentine’s Day candy. Christmas had disappeared. Except for a few red and green storage bins, it was as if Christmas had never been there at all.

For most people who celebrated Christmas just two weeks ago, their homes are a lot like Walmart. Christmas has been put away. Since Thanksgiving, homes were decorated with colorful lights, festive wreaths, and a spotlight on white wooden cutouts of Jesus in a manger. But they’re all gone. And I wonder, as they pack baby Jesus away, if it will be the last time they will think about him until it’s time to get him out of storage next Christmas. Like the Walmart shelves, lives are devoid of the one whose coming was so joyfully and elaborately celebrated. But the celebrations are over, the Christmas music silenced, and life is back to normal. Unfortunately, “normal” for so many means life without Jesus. 

I too have packed away our manger scene, which has graced our dining room buffet for 35 Christmases. The creche was handmade by Doug and our boys in 1997. I know this because it is dated and signed by the artists. I carefully wrapped baby Jesus, Mary, Joseph, a shepherd with his sheep, the donkey, and a camel with its two wise men (one wise man and an angel were casualties of our last move). But already I look forward to next Christmas when they’ll come out again. Until then, I’ll joyfully celebrate Jesus every day, not the baby in the manger, but the Son of God who came to give abundant life to those who believe. And I look forward to when Jesus comes again in the flesh, not as a baby, not unpacked and dusted off. The next time he will come as Lord of all in power and glory. It will be something to behold!

His first coming was humble and quiet. The only excitement was the angels’ announcement of his birth to some shepherds. But his second coming will be with a trumpet blast that all on earth will hear. Then things will get last-minute-Christmas-shopping crazy! Those who have looked forward to his coming will rejoice. Those who tucked him away with the tinsel will have regrets. But all will bow. What will you do with Jesus after Christmas?

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” Philippians 2:9-11

My Cup Overflows

Ice avalanche on the way!

It seemed so simple. Put the water bottle under the ice dispenser, push the button, and ice would fill the bottle. But nothing in my world is that simple. I pushed the button, but nothing happened. I pushed it again, still nothing. Maybe it wasn’t working. Time to get help. You may have guessed I wasn’t staying at the type of hotel that had a concierge. I asked the young man at the front desk, “Does the ice machine work?” He said it did. We stared at each other for a long moment before he said, “Let me try it.”

As I followed him, I noticed his left arm was withered. And his left hand was missing fingers, leaving his one finger and thumb in an odd position. As he coaxed the machine to spit out ice, he used the withered arm and hand. Odd, I thought. You’d think he would use his “good” arm, but maybe he is left-handed. He tried a few times using my method (as per the instructions) with no luck. Then he pushed the button and held it in until the ice chamber filled with ice. Oh, I get it.

The only problem was the ice chamber was about 8” wide by 6” high. There was no way all that ice was going to fall nicely into my water bottle, which had about a 3” opening. He shoved the handle of the ice chamber, and CRASH! Ice avalanche. My cup was not just filled but overflowed onto the shelf and continued onto the floor. Now I knew why there was a large towel on the floor in front of the machine. Even the guest room’s ice buckets wouldn’t be able to catch all that ice.

Initially, as this unfolded, I thought I would have a cool story about a man with a withered hand. But once the ice filled and overflowed my water bottle, my thoughts switched to another verse in Luke (ironically just a few verses past the story of the man with the withered hand). As I picked up the ice from the floor and emptied enough from my bottle to make room for water, my mind went to Luke 6:38 (NIV) “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”  

This verse is talking about being generous with our money. When it comes to giving back to God through the local church, missionaries, and other ministries, God promises He will bless us. It’s one of the few areas that He tell us to test Him. “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the Lord of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.” (Malachi 3:10 ESV)

In our first year of marriage, we had a tiny apartment, a baby on the way, and one income. But we made giving a priority and put God’s challenge to the test. When we had financial needs, we never stopped giving. We asked God to meet our needs. Sometimes we received an unexpected gift, but usually, Doug would get overtime. He often joked I needed to stop praying—he was exhausted. But we kept giving, and God always met our needs even when the budget said there was nothing left. And more often He provided a blessing avalanche – pressed down, shaken together, running over, more than we could have asked or imagined.

My challenge to you – don’t let this time of year be your only season of giving. Trust God, give generously, and prepare to catch all the blessings that will pour down.