Generally, I like to get up early when it is still dark, before the sun starts to peek its face over the horizon. This is most likely a holdover habit of mine from years of rising early so I could get to my office and be prepared with assignments and work details before my construction crews arrived. But rising early also means that I need a cup or two of caffeine to jumpstart my motor and put the sparkle in my eyes…unlike my kids, who seem to start the day at full throttle as they blaze down the hallway towards the kitchen.

The other day I was at the breakfast table still prying my eyes open when my daughter bolted around the door and announced that Christmas was in 25 more days. It struck me how I hadn’t even given Christmas a second thought and here she was with the official countdown. Of course she and her brothers, as well as probably every other kid on planet earth, are aware of exactly how much time remains until we hit the chaos of Christmas morning—when homes are filled with shredded wrapping paper and children’s smiles as they embrace their newest treasures…because Christmas to kids means PRESENTS!

Most everyone I know loves to receive a gift, and we also like to give them. But when Christmastime rolls around, many people become conflicted about gift-giving.  The other day a friend expressed how she wants to give a gift to someone, but she also knows if she does that the person will probably respond by feeling bad that they don’t have a reciprocal gift for her. She just wants to give…without any strings attached and with pure generosity.  Most people want to be thought of as generous, as a giving person, but sadly we often do give with ulterior motives or with strings attached.

My coworker, Dustin, told me a personal story that really drove this point home for me. It was about a time when he was riding in his brother Austin’s car.  Dustin noticed a container of gum in the center console, so he asked Austin if he could have a piece. Austin said, “Of course, go ahead and help yourself.” Dustin grabbed a piece, rolled down the window, and tossed the gum out the window. Like most people would, Austin immediately protested, “What the heck are you doing?”

“I thought you said I could have a piece of gum?”

 “I did…but not so you would toss it out.”

 “But you gave it to me, so wasn’t it my gum? Why does it matter to you what I did with it? Once you gave it to me you were down a piece of gum no matter if I ate it or threw it out.”

 “Well, but…still…it just doesn’t seem right…

 “Or did you give me the gum with strings attached?”

 Of course it isn’t necessarily wrong to give because we anticipate a need and we want the gift to meet that need. We give hoping that the gift will be stewarded properly. But Dustin made a great point with the gum. Often we give with strings attached. Strings like giving because of how it makes “ME” feel. Or, giving so others won’t think bad about me if I don’t give. Far too often, our giving is contaminated with impure motives and reasons. Jesus addressed this when he told his followers,

And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Luke 6:34-36 (NIV)

Let’s learn to be generous people; giving people; people who give with no strings attached.