Monthly Archives: October 2011

Those Anonymous Gifts

Yesterday morning I came into my office to find an envelope on the floor that someone had slipped through under the door. It was a card that said, “To Our Pastor” with a moving quote from 2 Corinthians 3:3 and an inscription thanking me for my ministry and for sharing my life. There was also a gift card for a local restaurant inside, too. This time of year is Pastor Appreciation Day/Week/Month. (Honestly, I’m not sure which! It’s whatever Hallmark says it is this year, I suppose.) Regardless of that, after a bruising couple of weeks, this thoughtful affirmation was a timely, gentle balm for a tired soul. Then I looked to see who the card was from so I’d know who to thank. No name. No recognizable handwriting.

At first I panicked a little. “Oh no,” I thought. “This person will have no way of knowing that I’ve received this gift and how grateful I am.” You know. That’s what we’ve been trained to do since we sat in diapers. When someone does something nice, you’re expected to say thank you and if at all possible, return the favor. If you don’t, well, that’s being rude and ungrateful.

This beautiful gift began to haunt me. How can I find out who the giver is so I can give my thanks and appreciation? Maybe I should say something publicly hoping the person would hear. No. Then people might think I’m clamoring for more of this kind of thing for Pastor Appreciation Day/Week/Month.

Oh well… It was time get myself going for worship services anyway. So I let the issue go, still grateful for the gift, even if I was bit uneasy about it.

This morning as I was reading, it occurred to me that the most valuable gifts are genuine gifts, no matter their size or material worth. Genuine gifts are given with no obligatory strings attached. The gift is given, and the recipient is free to respond and do with the gift as she pleases. The giver’s joy comes from dreaming up the gift, preparing the gift, and giving the gift… and that’s it. A grateful response or a good use of the gift from the recipient is nothing more than a bonus to add to the joy. But that’s it and nothing more than that.

Working with basically all volunteers and a staff who could get compensated a lot more working elsewhere, you can imagine I’ve learned how to say a lot of thank you’s. My gratefulness lets the church know that I value who they are and what they do. That’s especially crucial when I ask people to give and serve, often in sacrificial ways.

Nevertheless, I’m sure we’ve all known those people who make us cringe whenever they come around to give or serve. You know what they expect. They want to be thanked in a certain kind of way. Or they have specific outcomes in mind for their contributions.  And if you don’t follow through with the thanks they expect or use their gift as they wish, you’ll most definitely hear about it.

Those are not gifts. Those are forced loans with interest. I’m sorry, but I don’t need any more of those. Do you?

But how often do we plop down a loan with interest into the laps of our recipients while disguising these “gifts” as helpfulness and generosity? What do you expect when you give or do something for someone else?

Then another revelation came to mind: God is the one genuine Giver. Jesus once said,

[God] causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:45)

According to Jesus, God blesses and gives to everyone– to the evil and good, to the godly and ungodly, to the believer and unbeliever. Returning thanks and worship to God is not a condition for receiving gifts and blessings from God. It’s out of tender passion for the creatures he created that God gives to us, desiring us to share in his love and life. But that’s a far cry from the ways we often portray God in our own image: a God who stands there, arms folded with a cross look and furrowed brow, impatiently demanding our thanks, pondering when to cut us ungrateful children off. That’s not the God I know.

When I talk with my atheist or agnostic friends, once in a while I’ll venture to share how grateful to God I am for healing, peace and strength, for patiently loving family and friends, for the ways God comes through for my family and me time and again… and on and on. My atheist/agnostic friends wryly respond, “Well, I have all those things, too, and I didn’t need to ask or thank any god for it.” So true. Do you see how faithfully loving God is to all his children? God gives to his children who not even believe he exists no less than to me.

I suppose the difference for us believers is that in addition to the gifts, we have the joy of knowing Who to ultimately thank as the source of all our blessings and to feel the embrace of a divine welcome. In God, we have the model of true gift giving, of joyfully giving to others with no strings attached.

Obviously, the giver of that Sunday morning card is well on the way of being a God-like giver of gifts. And my soul is grateful.

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Steve Jobs: the Everyman Who Made Genius So Simple

When Steve Jobs came back to Apple in 1996, a company he co-founded and from which he was dismissed 11 years earlier, he inherited an operation in steep decline. At that moment, Jobs became the modern-day equivalent of David going to pick a fight with Goliath. Goliath, of course, was the unquestionably dominant presence of Microsoft embodied in none other than Bill Gates. Without a doubt, Microsoft was the universal standard of the computing world. Microsoft didn’t make computer hardware, but Bill Gates and Microsoft made Windows, and Windows became the way most of the world interacted with computers. Thus, Bill Gates and Microsoft formed the seemingly impervious imperial power of the computing world.

What chance did Steve Jobs and Apple have against a Goliath like that? Well, everyone but hardcore Apple users would have said, “Absolutely none!” while they installed Windows 97 on their PC’s. But little did they know, Steve Jobs had a hard, smooth stone in his slingshot. Right after he wound up and skillfully fired off that smooth stone directly at Microsoft, we began to see the giant lose its monopoly. Goliath had met his match.

The smooth stone of Steve Jobs was this: captivating simplicity. Steve Jobs was an everyman who believed that people really wanted their electronic tools to be cool, sleek, elegant, simple, and yet powerful pieces of technology. And while he began making drastic improvements to Macs, he made a fascinating, risky move to catch the public’s attention. It was the iPod. For most everyone, including myself, this was the first Apple product we ever owned, the first of many more. I remember being amazed at how cool and sophisticated the iPod was. I could have all my music in one polished little flat box that only had one button and a touch-wheel. There weren’t a half-dozen buttons to figure out and push. No complicated menus or screens. A small but beautifully rich display. And I could watch TV shows I missed on it, too! Now how cool is that??

It probably goes without saying that Steve Jobs stunned Goliath, and Goliath has continually tried to strike back, often with little success. (Anybody remember the Zune?? You may be able to find one on eBay… maybe.)

We all know the rest of the story. And I have to admit, I’m not nearly the Apple enthusiast I may appear to be. (Yes, everything you’re reading here was produced on a PC.) But I have been an admirer of Steve Jobs for one major reason. Steve Jobs was a man who knew his strengths and then invested them into a career and into several companies which became wildly successful. Don’t forget Pixar was a Jobs company, too. One could even argue that media giant Disney owes most of its success over the last 20 years to Pixar and to Steve Jobs.

Since his death yesterday, many people have been trying to capture Steve Jobs’ legacy. I believe Steve Jobs’ legacy was his core strength of being an everyman. In other words, he was a regular enough guy to know the kind of technology that people wanted and weren’t getting anywhere else. He harnessed his own and others’ creativity, created products that were nothing short of cutting edge excellence, and then became their passionate champion. Jobs and the people he chose to work with created products they truly loved. Then Jobs became the living billboard of those products with his passion and persona, serving as Apple’s best advertising.

Apple products: simple and captivating. Steve Jobs: jeans and a t-shirt with tons of pizzazz. Together, they made market-shifting genius that shaped an entirely different contour to the computing, entertainment, and communications world. (Jobs also affected the church world, too. “Simple Church”, based on Jobs’ concepts, has influenced many congregations to keep things both deeply authentic and structurally less complicated and cumbersome.)

Steve Jobs was an everyman in another way, too. Like everyone else, Jobs was endowed with unique strengths and gifts. Jobs, however, took the rarely taken step of channeling his energy into those strengths, and we all now live with the results. It’s easy to take for granted that Steve Jobs possessed no formal education in engineering, programming, or computer technology. The Geek Squad wouldn’t have hired him, and you probably wouldn’t have want Jobs to build and program much of anything. But he didn’t need to, and he didn’t waste his time trying to learn how. Instead, Jobs worked with the engineers and programmers to create the products he envisioned. He hired lots more non-engineers and non-programmers and turned them loose in the design phase of Apple products, too. Thus, Jobs didn’t make the mistake Microsoft has made of hiring computer nerds to manufacture products that only semi-computer nerds can fully appreciate and understand while everyone else fumbles through Microsoft error pop-up windows.

In the wake of Steve Jobs passing, his absence will be felt for a long time. But then again, we all can spot and indeed posses Steve Jobs-like genius whenever we singularly live into the strengths and gifts God has given us. People like that are always amazing. We love being around them. Their abilities and passion are a marvel to watch, no matter what they’re doing. There’s pure genius in the God-given strengths of teachers, managers, chefs, entrepreneurs, sales clerks, table servers, analysts, preachers, artists, athletes, or stay-at-home parents. Our strengths are invaluable gifts to God, to others around us, and to ourselves. Fully realized, those strengths are the hallmark of human genius, distinct and powerful because we have been made by God in his image. And there’s no greater genius than God!

Steve Jobs was blessed to know and courageous enough to live through his strengths. To honor Jobs and his legacy, I hope you and I can keep it simple and do the same.

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Filed under Christian thought, Reflections