Outrageous Generosity

I recently came across a new author and speaker, Margaret Feinberg. I am currently reading one of her books, The Organic God. When I first discovered her, an audio file on her website caught my attention, entitled “Outrageously Generous.”

Fienberg states that in Malachi 2.11, God says he loves the temple. In John 3.16, the Scriptures say God loves people. However, there is only one place in the Scriptures that say precisely what God loves: 2 Corinthians 9.11 …

“God loves a cheerful giver.”

Feinberg says, “I want to love what God loves and I want to be what God loves.”

Why does God love a cheerful giver?

When we give cheerfully, we reflect our outrageously generous God. We join him in the act of generosity. Not just as someone who collects, but by becoming someone who distributes to others.

Feinberg continues:

When I was young I helped at home with chores and sometimes helping out Mom at her office. I had no job outside the home, so I was dependent on my parents for spending money. When the weekend approached and I wanted money to do something fun, I had to go to Dad and say, “I need ‘x’ amount of dollars.” And Dad would always respond, “How much do you need?” Feinberg would reply with the exact amount needed. If it was for a movie, “I need $7.50.” Feinberg never considered needing some extra for a snack during the movie or to do something following the movie. If she had extra left over from the week before, she may say she only needed $5. Her dad always responded by giving her more. If she asked for $5 she got $10. If she asked for $10 she got $20. Whether he could afford it or not, he always gave more.

In this, Feinberg received a generous demonstration of God’s love and his generosity. We serve a God who doesn’t just give what we ask, he gives us so much more.

Feinberg confesses that despite such generosity, there are times that she is tempted to hold back. Rather than living openhandedly, she says, “I tend to hold on.” And to this end Feinberg refers to the story of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt in Exodus 16.

When we can’t put it into words, we can’t even express those things we desire, we cry out to God, and he gives them to us in abundance. Indeed, our God is outrageously generous!

HealthFlex HealthMiles Challenge Recap

As I wrote in mid-July, there was a big HealthMiles challenge open to the members of HealthFlex, the health insurance plan of The United Methodist Church.

In all, more than 2,800 participants logged more than 709,581,760 total steps during the 29-day challenge. The challenge sponsors set a 30,000-step daily limit, and a number of us shot for the limit each day. In the end, 17 of us finished in a tie with 870,000 steps.

The top three finishers were determined in a random drawing. I was not one of the three (who will receive $100, $75, or $50 for first, second, and third places). The other 14 of us will get $25 (along with the rest of the top-50 finishers).

There were 33 teams (31 conferences plus the General Board of Pension and Health Benefits and one college) in the team competition. My team/conference, which averaged 273,228 steps/person, finished 8th.

As I said at the beginning, I simply wanted to see what I could do. I didn’t really intend to do 30,000 steps a day for 29 days in a row. I thought I’d start out with 30,000 on the first day and see what the competition looked like. I knew it was going to be tough when 50+ people uploaded 30,000 steps the first day. From then on, I took it one day at a time!

My biggest challenges were mental (constantly tracking my daily progress and keeping myself moving) and, of course, time. The biggest thing that helped was getting up earlier and starting the day with a 60-90 minute walk, racking up 7,500 to 10,000 steps first thing in the morning. I also used this time for prayer and planning. It was a great way to start the day!

Beyond that, it was a fairly normal but very active day. There were a few days (especially toward the end) where I was finishing my day with a 30-45 minute walk to get those remaining 3,000+ steps (a sign of getting tired?). Overall, though, I felt pretty energized. It was probably the adrenaline!

The toughest day was the 28th day of the 29-day challenge. We had to leave for Pittsburgh at 4:30 am for a 9-hour continuing education event. We spent about 6 hours on the road to and from Pittsburgh. I knew that didn’t leave much time for sleep!

I got up at 3:00 (on 4 hours of sleep) to walk for (only) 45-minutes. I walked at the Mellon Arena when I could (which wasn’t much). When we got home, and after Ethan went to bed, I walked for about an hour and a half to get my 30,000 steps for the day. I think I finished around/after 11:00 pm. Then I had to get up a few hours later for the final day of the challenge!

Well, in the 8 full days since the challenge ended, I’ve held myself to 12,000 – 15,000 steps a day with one day over 20,000. Soon, I’ll get back to aiming for 16,000 – 20,000 steps a day.

During the challenge, I thought a lot about the theme of “running the race,” the commitment to “keep moving forward,” and the utter importance of “finishing well” (which happens to be the topic of tomorrow’s sermon, my first since the challenge and a few days of vacation).

Please & Thank You

In the last few weeks, some of Ethan’s favorite words/phrases, surprisingly enough, have been “Please” (pronounced “peas”), “Thank you,” “Excuse me” (pronounced “scoos me”), and, to a lesser degree (or at least more recent), “Sorry” (pronounced “sar-you”).

Ethan has been using “please” the longest. Awhile back, Ethan learned to add “please” to “more” when he wants more food (he now uses it for other things besides food). And because we like to hear him say please, it works most of the time! 😆

When we give Ethan something or do something for him, he’ll often respond with “Thank you.” We like to hear that, too. Sometimes, though, when we ask Ethan to do something or not do something, he stubbornly refuses to comply. But as soon as we take a step toward him, he’ll smile, comply, and say, “Thank you” (which is what we say to him when he does comply) all at the same time.

While we taught him to say “Excuse me” after something like burping, he somehow picked up on using the phrase when he got in someone else’s way or needed to get by someone else. A few days ago, Ethan met another toddler at the top of a playground slide and said, “Excuse me.”

First, Ethan is a fast, intuitive learner, so he picks up on stuff very quickly. We’ve never had to hassle him to say “please” or “thank you.” And I hope he’s picked up these phrases because he sees those around him modeling them. As we often say, some things are better caught than taught.

Transformational Leadership

I have been thinking about “transformational leadership” in terms of three keywords: Character, Culture, and Perseverance.

(1) Character
Our character is our foundation. It involves our spiritual/devotional life, our connection to God. This is who we are, and who we are is foundational to what we do. Transformational leaders seek to build strong Christ-like character both in their own lives and in the lives of others (i.e., discipleship).

(2) Culture
Developing character impacts the culture of the organization. Transformational leadership involves shaping/re-shaping the culture of the organization, not just making surface-level changes. Change must ultimately take place in the hear or it won’t be real/lasting change!

(3) Perseverance
Developing character and shaping culture takes a lot longer than simply enacting and implementing changes. Because lasting change does not happen overnight, transformational leaders must be committed to the task for the long haul.

My challenge as a Christ-following leader has always been timing. If it were up to me, I’d like for transformation to happen quickly, but I realize that’s not wise to move too quickly. We work with people who are at different stages in the transformational process. I want to go fast enough to not lose early adopters (people who are ready to move forward) but slow enough to not lose the late-adopters (people who need more time before moving forward.

Not included here are never-adopters, that small percentage of people who, outside of a Damascus Road experience, will never go along with any change. We simply can’t allow God’s mission to be held captive by people who will never move forward.

Transformational leadership requires transformed Christ-like character, a focus on shaping church culture, as well as the perseverance/endurance needed for the long journey ahead!

It’s a Girl!

babygirlwillisJPGWe announced 3 months ago that we are adopting again. Last Wednesday, we received a referral of a baby girl from Korea — up to two months earlier than expected!

On Friday, we met with our caseworker to receive and review a packet of info including a description of the child, family history, medical information, several photos, as well as the acceptance paperwork we must complete and submit.

Baby Girl Willis was born March 5, 2009. She weighed 7.4 pounds at birth and 16.3 pounds at 4.5 months. She was born 19.6 inches long and has grown to 26 inches.

A foster family is caring for Baby Girl Willis. Her foster family includes an 8-year-old boy, which should give her some sibling experience (but it will be a whole new experience for Ethan!). She is described as being “rather gentle and she likes to be with others.”

Now that we know her Korean name, we can start looking for American names that have the same meanings as her Korean name.

While this certainly brings back memories of the first referral nearly two years ago (see It’s a Boy!, one of this blog’s most popular posts to date), Ethan certainly adds a whole new twist to the experience!

Our caseworker showed Ethan the photos of his future sister before she showed them to us. It was fun to watch (and video) — it was a good/positive reaction, albeit a clueless one, perhaps! (see photo below).

One big difference between this referral and the first is that with Ethan’s referral we struggled with whether or not to post a photo on our blog. Looking at our blog now, you might not know how much we struggled with that initial decision 🙂 (then, we ended up posting one of the six we received).

Now, the next step is to complete the final/acceptance paperwork and wait for all the legal pieces to come together so that we can go to Korea to pick up our baby girl. Travel to Korea is expected to take place in about 3 to 4 months … just in time for Christmas!

2009 Fair Vespers Prayer

Iwrote a prayer for the Clearfield County Fair Vespers services, which took place this evening. The prayer was a response to Jesus’ prayer in John 17. Here’s the prayer, along with words from John 17 that I was specifically responding to (the parenthetical statement, “Make us one,” was a response by the congregation) ….

Quotes from John 17

  • I brought glory to you here on earth by completing the work you gave me to do (4).
  • Now I am departing from the world; they are staying in this world … protect them by the power of your name so that they will be united just as we are (11).
  • … the world hates them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. … keep them safe from the evil one. They do not belong to this world any more than I do. Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world. (14-16, 18).
  • I pray that they will all be one, just as you and I are one … And may they be in us so that the world will believe you sent me. … May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me (20-21, 23).

O God, how awesome — how awesome, indeed — it is to think about what you are up to in the world! What you have already done in the world is simply amazing. And nothing compares with the gift of your son, whom you sent into the world, not to condemn it, but to save it! For that, O God, we are extremely grateful and eternally indebted to you! Lord, in your mercy, (make us one).

O God, you have revealed yourself to us and everything we have is a gift from you. You have given us your message. Help us to faithfully pass on your message to the world. Help us to reveal you to the world so that they, too, will know that you are God and that you are the hope of everyone on earth. Lord, in your mercy, (make us one).

We are your body, Lord, the people you have called out from the world. We ask you to protect us by the power of your name so that we will be united just as you are united, God, Three-in-One. Lord, in your mercy, (make us one).

Keep us safe from the evil one. Protect us from division — division caused by those among us who are more interested in their own agendas and building their own kingdoms than in building your kingdom. Keep us safe from the evil one, O God, so that we will be united in building your kingdom! Lord, in your mercy, (make us one).

O God, it’s quite an astounding statement Jesus made, that we do not belong to this world just as he doesn’t belong to this world. We do not belong to this world any more than he does. You have set us apart, called us to be a holy people, and you send us into the world in the Spirit of Jesus Christ, to restore people to right relationship with God! Lord, in your mercy, (make us one).

But God, this is such an awesome task that you’ve called us to, and we acknowledge that we cannot do it without you. Make us one, O God; may we experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you are God and that you love them as much as you love your own Son, Jesus Christ! Lord, in your mercy, (make us one).

And when we come to the end of our time, may we be able to say, as Jesus did, that we have brought glory to you by completing the work you gave us to do! Lord, in your mercy, (make us one).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy spirit. Amen.