Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.

Do you ever read a scripture that has on steel-toed boots — a pair that steps on all ten toes?

For several months, one such scripture traipsed around after me as I recalled Jesus' instructions about giving. He had watched as contributors made sure they had an audience when they gave to the needy. Jesus caricatured them as hypocrites with trumpets announcing their alms so they could be "honored by others." Jesus said that those self-absorbed horn-tooters had only one temporary reward — the praise of men.

The Son of Man taught his followers:

When you give to the needy, don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that your giving may be in secret (Matthew 6:3-4).
God knows motives and pretenses, and he notices when we choose to forego the praise of men instead seeking our Father's approval:
But then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you (Matthew 6:4).

"To be honored by others... to be honored by others... to be honored by others."

Jesus' words washed and washed while they cleansed and cleansed. These words encouraged me to keep quiet about good deeds. The more the Lord's words soaked into me, the more trash surfaced from my heart. I began to notice ways I managed to get good deeds noticed. That's when a red kettle experience caused an even deeper look at my trumpeting.

As I walked into a store during the holiday season, a red kettle bell-ringer stood at the entrance. Each time I entered a store where the tripod held pot kettle sat, I gave a small amount. Believe me, I don't shop often, so what I dropped in wouldn't have counted as a tax deduction. The bell ringers usually smiled, then gave a hearty thank you. I liked that. Made me feel good — sainted and Santa-ish.

On one such giving spree, I poked the folded bill into the rectangular slot. However, as I gave, a man leaving the store stopped and reached for his wallet. The bell ringer turned toward him and didn't see my donation. She rang the hand bell and turned warm eyes toward me, I felt compelled to point to the red pot and say, "I just gave."

Couldn't let her think a miser had passed by, could I? Then I felt sick to my stomach inside the store. I was embarrassed that Jesus saw that. Why couldn't I have simply smiled and wished her a good day? Why couldn't I give in secret and let God alone see?

The red kettles are back!
Since that time, the Lord has revealed to me other times when I mention helping the needy. In casual conversations rattling off schedules of busyness, it's easy to tell about a pot of soup, a card written, a visit to the hospital, a batch of cookies given, or a dollar dropped into a kettle.

One year of my newspaper columns, Jeremy Taylor's (1613-1667) nineteen rules for humble living became the platform for the articles. I thought, wrote, breathed, and prayed for humility to take hold — for humility to overshadow my showy nature, to move me to the background. No more gloating. I repeatedly said to myself, "Don't pat your own back." I longed to take my cues from my brother, Jesus, to embrace his pure motives of pointing people to our Father.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving (Colossians 3:23-24).

Breaking bad habits takes work. I know that our Righteous God roots for us and helps us through the Holy Spirit. God also spotlights Jesus' selfless nature to refine his servants. Life remains a lesson-in-progress and as my friend, Jan Tickner, fondly says, "The Lord's taking me on one more lap around Mount Sinai." Amen, Jan. I'm right behind you repenting and making one more round, prayerful that self is at the tail of the parade this Christmas season.

The red kettles are back, and they are stark reminders that my heart will always need holy adjustments. Bell ringers, this December, I'm on red alert, for God has promised to enable and reward all secret givers.

I'm making laps and learning... learning when I step back, Jesus steps forward.