No Other Gods
I dreaded it like a cat and a cold bath. But there it was. Week after bone-jarring week: Worship through Gifts and Offerings.
I squirmed in the saffron pew as frustration dripped off me like August ice cream from a wilting cone. I wanted to "give to the Lord’s work," but with my husband underemployed and unpaid bills littering our desk like ominous paper skyscrapers, how could I?
So it became my Sunday ritual. Anonymous in the shrunken shadows of my back pew, I counted the aisles until the usher approached mine. When he passed the plate to me, I delved into my pocket with an economy of motion that would’ve made a statue proud. As unobtrusively as possible I retrieved my feeble offering. Fist clenched, I slipped my thin slice of silver into the red velvet plate and passed it on, cringing with chagrin.
It was all I had.
It was ridiculous.
Week after week, I hoped no one noticed the dime drowning beneath a sea of Andrew Jacksons and three-digit checks.
One Sunday the words of a missionary friend clawed their way into my conscious mind: "God rewards for faithfulness, not for `success.’"
I wondered if that included dimes.
It was fall, a couple years later in a new apartment and a new neighborhood. No matter how carefully Chris and I scrimped nor how tightly we budgeted, we lacked money for Christmas gifts for our quartet of sons. Not one thin dime. I recalled the words of my missionary friend. And prayed.
A few days later a friend suddenly gifted us with an unexpected, unsolicited cash gift. After all outstanding bills were paid, I retained exactly one $10 bill. Alexander Hamilton never looked so good! I carried him around for months, unspent. I took Alex H. out of my pocket a dozen times a day, multiplying, dreaming, hoping.
Alex H. and I were inseparable and invincible. I could pass a gas station or a McDonald’s and smile as long as Alex H. was with me. I wasn’t exactly kneeling down and venerating old Alex, but sure as night follows day that tattered greenback became my source of security and worship. My private hoard. My god?
It wasn’t that I didn’t hear Him. I just chose to ignore Him. Twice. Three times. Four. But that still, small voice was insistent. Poking, prodding. Until I had no choice. I recoiled in horror as Hamilton burned a hole in my pocket.
Is there any other god before Him?
"No!" I argued with the Almighty. "You don’t understand! If I give this bill to Pastor Wiley, who knows when I’ll see another?! And what about Christmas?" I sputtered. "I can’t give this money away. It’s all I have."
"You have Me" came the gentle reply. How could I argue with that? I blinked back tears as I thrust my hand into my pocket. Retrieving the well-worn $10, I pressed it into Pastor Wiley’s unsuspecting hand without slowing. "Use it wherever it’s needed most" I instructed en route to the nearest exit, Christmas dreams up in smoke.
She knocked on our scuffed gray door a week later. "Do you have four boys who’d like some Christmas gifts?" I’d never seen the pony-tailed teenager before in my life. I managed a nod as my jaw hit the floor.
"Here," she smiled, thrusting two pachyderm-sized sacks into my numb, disbelieving arms, "and Merry Christmas!" Then she was gone.
Kid clothes, new shoes and socks, and a variety of toys and books spilled out of the sacks and onto the threadbare carpeting. At the bottom of the pile I excavated a handwritten note: "Merry Christmas from St. Bonaventure’s!" We didn’t know a soul at St. B’s. It occurred to me that Someone else did.
Two days later a sweating UPS driver knocked on our door. He groaned while depositing a box the size of Mount Rushmore at my feet.
"A package from whom?" I asked, astonished. A friend I hadn’t seen in nearly 20 years had cleaned out her children’s closets "and you popped into my head." The box overflowed with nearly new Matchbox sets, model airplanes, stuffed animals, sleepwear, toy trucks, books and musical games.
Give, and it shall be...
Another day, another package. A homeschool mother from New Jersey sent us a "box of Christmas cheer." We’d never met except via email. Her note explained that her four boys had voted to "adopt" my boys as their annual Christmas project. Weeks of chore and errand money purchased new sweaters, winter jackets, church clothes and books on tape for my crew.
… given to you;
Our bedroom soon resembled base camp at Mount Everest as Christmas "gifts and offerings" towered to the ceiling. "No more, Lord" I finally said.
… good measure,
He wasn’t finished. The next morning we were down to a quart of milk and a few slices of bread. When my boys inquired what we were going to eat, I weakly replied, "I don’t know." We turned to Matthew 6:25-34. After reading the Scriptures, then-six year-old Daniel responded, "Let’s ask God for our breakfast!" He proceeded to ask for "corn flakes" and "grape jelly." Nathan, then-age four added, "and candy, too, please God!"
… pressed down,
Less than an hour later a church friend perched on our porch with five bags of groceries. Daniel dove into an Albertson’s bag and emerged with a box of Kellogg’s corn flakes followed by a jar of grape jelly. Not to be outdone, Nathan pulled out a package of Werther’s candies from another bag and crowed, "Here are my candies from God!"
It was enough for me. But not for Him. Our boys still lacked a Christmas tree. "A real big, green one" Nathan asked, hands folded in prayer, "with lots of nice branches for hanging stuff on."
… shaken together, running over,
The next day we skirted the empty parking lots of our nearby alma mater. The campus was deserted due to the holidays. As I unearthed the baby stroller from its vehicular domain, Daniel and Nathan dashed back to the van hollering something that sounded like, "God found us a Christmas tree!"
I followed the boys, perplexed. Sure enough, next to a dorm dumpster towered a seven foot Douglas fir, still green and fresh, discarded the day before by students who were heading home for the holidays. I made inquiries. "Sure, help yourself" two Maintenance workers grinned as they helped us cram the regal tree into our van and head home.
… they will pour into your lap…
"Where’d all this stuff come from?" Chris asked that evening, incredulous. Resplendent in silver icicles, glass ornaments and twinkling lights, our "big, green" Christmas tree as well as virtually every gift, package, box, candy, toys, clothing, and enough food to "feed the 5,000" had arrived via total strangers.
Give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, they will pour it into your lap.
"Luke 6:38" I beamed. It was my only explanation. Especially when only the Faithful One knew.
For whatever measure you deal out to others, it will be dealt to you in return.
So He did, and I learned that the Most High brooks no rivals in His measure. No other deity, real, imagined or invented, may compete with the one true God who can "pour it into my lap." Not even Alex H.
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