As I waited in line for my premium priced mocha, I noticed a basket on the floor with a sign that read, “End domestic violence. Donate a roll of paper towels.” My first thought was outrage that the coffee shop actually believed something as evil as domestic violence could be ended with paper towels. I wanted the sign written to better reflect the truth – something like “Care for victims of domestic violence by donating paper towels.” Evil won’t end until Jesus returns and I could take this post in that direction, but I won’t.
Here’s another thought from that sign. It’s easy for me to pay $5 for a coffee, throw a roll of paper towels in the bucket and go about my day feeling good that I gave back in some way. Especially at Christmas when I am feeling more generous. Maybe I would feel less guilty for spending $5 on a coffee even. Maybe I would feel better that I had chipped away at the evil that exists or the injustice of this life. I can walk away feeling like I did something. It feels good to help. And donating paper towels is easy for me.
Is there a side to this I should be aware of I wonder? Does the ease with which I serve the world make me less compassionate to the needs right in front of my face. The ones I have some kind of connection to and know the histories of?
You see when I serve a homeless man, I feel immediate compassion for him. I don’t know his history, his mistakes and failures, his story. I can’t judge him. I simply feel compassion for his circumstances despite his history. Sadly, when I know the history of the people in my very own life, I tend to focus on their choices and path rather than allowing myself to feel compassion for where they are right now.
God doesn’t treat me that way. Did Jesus treat people that way? No. He felt compassion and offered mercy and forgiveness.
One Christmas when my children were very little, I wanted to do it all. I wanted to help every way imaginable. Our kids were little and didn’t need much, so we had the funds to adopt a family in need. We provided Christmas for a family of 5. We packed shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, we provided a gift through Angel Tree Ministries, we sent an extra gift to our sponsored Compassion child. Basically, everywhere I saw an opportunity to bless someone in need, we did it.
While all of these things we did were fine and wonderful, they were easy for us. It was easy for us to meet the physical needs through these ministries. It felt good to do something tangible. To see in some small way the impact of our gift, of our sacrifice whether it was time or money. I thought I was modeling to my children the “true” meaning of Christmas. I was. But I had only scratched the surface.
To unwrap the gifts of Christmas, the true gifts of Christmas, should we look within our families, our neighborhoods, our circle of friends? Not instead of serving the world. But in addition to.
Aren’t there deep needs within arms reach? The ones within our very own families, churches, neighborhoods, and communities?
Don’t mistake what I’m saying. I’m not saying we should focus on our own and not help the world. If you know me at all, you know that is not what I would say. But I, for one, sometimes become a bit tunnel visioned. Sometimes I just see the one thing I’m focused on and miss what is screaming for my attention.
The greater sacrifice might not appear so great in the eyes of the world. But are we performing for the world or serving the Maker of the World?
The world recognizes when we go on international mission trips and serve in a soup kitchen. But God recognizes it all. The mission trips and soup kitchens and the ones that the world doesn’t see.
It’s easy to serve the ones we don’t have to do life with. There is no history, no hurt, no misunderstandings.
The harder ones to serve are the ones God has placed in our lives, in our own families even. The ones we have histories with….good and bad. The ones who aren’t so easy to love. The ones who don’t find us so easy to love. The ones who have messed up big time or have been on the receiving end of our big mess ups. These aren’t easy to serve.
Christmas is hope. Christmas is love. Christmas is peace. And Christmas is joy.
Offer love to one you don’t think deserves it. One who has hurt you and disappointed you. Has God not done that for us?
Offer love to the one you have hurt that you are unsure if they’ve forgiven you. Or you are insecure about your standing with.
Offer peace to one who disturbs your peace. Has God not done that for us?
Offer peace to the one you have been the cause of disruption in their life.
Radiate the joy of Christ to the one who is weighed down with regrets, bitterness, or unforgiveness. Has God not done that for us?
When you do these, hope shines through.
The world needs us. We need to serve the world. But those that God has placed in our lives are there for a reason. We need to serve them too. It is harder for sure. To serve God’s kingdom, we must be open to the easy and the hard. We must be open to the ones we are sent out to serve and the ones He has brought to us to serve.
For a wonderful message on the biblical priorities of mercy, listen to this. Christmas is a season we are more open to serving and loving. May we seek God’s direction to the ones He wants us to serve this Christmas. It may not look as radical as the world recognizes, but God may use it for a radical work in the hearts of his children.