"I can do all things by a verse taken out of context."
I know how to get along with little, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need.
I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.
I prayed Philipians 4:13 daily, believing that I could leap tall buildings in a single bound through Christ. Glad I never tested that premise.
The offending sweatshirt and the offending message (and, yes, it offended me for a minute or two) prompted me to read the chapter. Click the top verse above to read the context. Paul mentions getting along in plenty and in little. He didn’t leap tall buildings in a single bound. Vipers bit him and enemies beat him. Some days, he didn’t eat. In fact, he thanked the Philippians for support. It’s obvious he wasn’t bragging about his superhuman accomplishments.
Instead, Paul says Christ carried him through every circumstance. He can’t pray away trouble outside the will of God. But he adjusted, through Christ, to life’s surprises with contentment.
Usually I consider context. And I will remember this. Read the chapter.
The second lesson from my misstep: small ministries matter. A sweatshirt? Come on.
The restaurant ministry
A group from the church met for lunch (before the pandemic). Our server carried more than her tray. She appeared near delivery: her baby weeks away. We sat talking when one member went to meet her as she walked toward us. He carried her tray to the table. The group discussed her pregnancy, asking her due date and other pleasant questions. She didn’t wear a wedding ring. We didn’t care.
The man mentioned the name of our church and invited her. Then we took an offering and gave her a nice tip. No one preached. They simply treated her as though she had value.
We need not give $100 dollar tips. We have to live. But a nice tip of 15-20% helps a single mom or hard-working student. The group can give $15 or $20 dollars for a $100 meal—possibly $3.00 each. And when you place your tip on a folded bulletin from your church, you do mission work.
Servers earn less than $5.00 an hour in my state. Laws need changing. That man or woman survives on tips. Want to give to the poor? That server with the tired eyes belongs to the working-class poor.
Too often when a server sees a group of people hold hands and say grace at their table, she or he expects, Oh no. No tip there. When we don’t tip or we scold the server, our witness for Jesus disappears. Poor service is poor service, but we can point it out with kindness. Do we want to explain to Jesus why we ignored such a simple chance to turn someone to Him? Or even turned someone away from Him?
We give to missions in foreign countries. We may slip a five to the homeless. Why not include those who strive to support their families with honest work?
A tract and a dollar.
In 2006, I wrote Escape from the Prison System. Finding the Narrow Door. It chronicled prisoner salvations. A young woman left prison to live on the streets, sharing drugs with her companion. One day, a man handed them a tract and a dollar. That evening, they read the tract from beginning to end, and Jesus saved her. One in 1000 people (if that) respond to a tract, but that one person matters to the Lord.
She found work and quit drugs, one less homeless person: one more win for society. Plus future children raised to know Christ.
So. Have you worn any good sweatshirts lately? Left a bulletin with $5.00 laying atop after a restaurant meal? Given someone a tract?
Small ministries matter.
Dear Lord, help me remember, everything I do reflects You.
Cartoon by John Cullen, nellucnhoj.tumblr.com
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