Yes, today is Black Friday – the day Americans are urged through a massive push of advertising from every source imaginable to buy stuff we don’t need at amazing prices.
True, there’s the idea that we need to buy Christmas gifts for those on our list, and buying those gifts on Black Friday would save us a bit of money.
And then we see deals on stuff we have been looking at but not really considering. “I mean, it’s less than half the regular price! For that, I can afford it.”
You might think I’d head in the direction of asking you to give to a charity instead – or to think of the way-below-minimum-wage workers who make all that stuff. (And ministries like World Vision help people who fall into the latter category – at least a little. China is hostile to most Christian missions, so you’d have to settle for India or Cambodia, both of whom make some of that “stuff.”)
All I ask is that you – and I – take a few minutes to thank God that we live in a place where we have so many freedoms that we have the luxury of buying things we don’t need. And then take a few more minutes to think about how we can share that excess.
I guess I’m looping back to the idea of giving instead of taking.
Compassion is another ministry focused on kids – some of the most vulnerable people in the world. My wife and I have sponsored two kids for several years. One even graduated from the program. For very little money each month,we sponsored him long enough to see him enter his society (in Tanzania) with the tools to support himself and eventually, maybe, a family too.
Black Friday? No. Give Friday.
(Paul Merrill normally writes here every First Friday, but instead of writing in December, he’s writing on the last Friday of November.)
Over and over, I’ve made mistakes that have landed me in a place of having to admit that I am wrong. And it hurts to be seen as weak or inadequate. Our culture fights against being seen as less than a super-strong person with nearly every voice we hear.
Another way we have to butt up against humility is by living in a situation that we know is wrong – but one we can’t change.
Microsoft makes me crazy. Many of the ways their software interfaces work are like being forced to write left-handed – and I’m right-handed. Yet every day of my work week, I use Microsoft software for much of how I accomplish my job.
Jesus lived in a time when the government was less than perfect. And yet he asked his followers to give to Caesar what was Caesar’s – in the books of Matthew, Mark and Luke!
No matter what happens next week in the USA, those of us who reside here will have to live under a government that has policies and approaches to governance that we will not be happy with. But in humility, we need to pray for our leaders, understanding that God has allowed them to be there.
Humility also means correction. When my kid wants to run out into the street while chasing a ball, I have to grab his arm hard to prevent him from getting run over by a car. Similarly, God sometimes corrects me in painful ways.
Maybe God will use a little pain in our lives to make us be more like Jesus. Or to give us opportunities to become people that will help others better deal with their pain.
And maybe I am learning some good things by using Microsoft products – or at least to stop grumbling about it.
Getting bogged down in the grind if daily life is so easy. The stresses of doing our best at work, maintaining healthy relationships, paying the bills, being a better partner, figuring out how to help out a friend in crisis or sometimes just having the energy to keep swimming in the stream of life are all challenging.
Jesus knew that. One of my favorite places in the Bible is Matthew 6. Jesus was talking to a crowd. He knew that worries were part of each of their lives, so he didn’t just narrow his focus on the one person in the group who struggled with worry.
“I tell you not to worry about everyday life—whether you have enough food and drink, or enough clothes to wear. … Look at the birds. They don’t plant or harvest or store food in barns, for your heavenly Father feeds them. And aren’t you far more valuable to him than they are?”
Some of my days seem like they have end-to-end problems. I skate from one small crisis to the next. And I know that my problems are really small compared to so many people in the world! But those worries can still consume me.
So when those minutes, hours or days hit me, I need to step back and remember my Father who loves me. He has carried me this far, and he will carry me through this day too.
I tend to forget a basic truth that Jesus shared in Matthew: “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.”
I grab satisfaction out of getting a thing I can hold, something that works well and doesn’t break. That satisfaction lasts a while, and then that thing becomes just another part of my life. It blends into the background, and I forget the initial thrill.
Worse, even though it’s higher quality than many of its lesser brethren, it breaks. Then it’s either impossible to get it fixed or it costs as much to fix as buying a new one that isn’t made quite as well.
Jesus knew that, even back before my thing was invented. The tax collectors he ate dinner with must have had pretty nice couches. They didn’t want the couches that lesser mortals had – they requested the nicer fabric option with stronger wood frames.
We never read about Jesus questioning their couch choices nor the cost of the fine wine they served. Instead he just relaxed with them and enjoyed the fine meal they offered. We don’t know what paths their conversations followed. I’m sure there were several moments when they thought, “Maybe I need to look a little closer into that part of my life.”
When Jesus spoke of treasures, he was talking to a large crowd of people – not just tax collectors. He went on to say where we should store up treasures – in heaven. I think his dinners with tax collectors were one of the treasures that he was storing up. Matthew, the man who wrote down Jesus’ words above, was a tax collector. Those dinners paid off by creating lasting relationships. And lasting words that we learn from today.