Advent: Give Big

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Day Seven: Cups of Cold Water

And if you give even a cup of cold water to one of the least of my followers, you will surely be rewarded.” (Matthew 10:42, NLT)

I had been sick for days. The flu attacked me. I could barely lift my head off the pillow. I had moved to Kansas City with the girls to complete my Master of Divinity at Nazarene Theological Seminary. Nelson had stayed in Ohio to finish a building project. We knew very few people and had only a few Sundays prior started attending a church. I had no doctor. I wasn’t sure how we were going to get through this.

Then there was a knock on my door.

I pulled myself out of the bed, and padded to the door. I peeked around the curtain and saw a lady from church standing there with a casserole dish, and huge smile.

I opened the door a crack. Told her I was very sick and didn’t dare invite her in. She quickly apologized for waking me, and went on to say someone from church had mentioned how sick I was, so she brought over a “kid-friendly” tater tot casserole that could be warmed up in the microwave. She then issued her second apology: “It’s not much. Just a casserole.”

Maybe to her, but to me, it was pure gold. I thanked her profusely and received her gift. 

We may look at the things we do as small and insignificant—no more than a cup of cold water. But they are life-giving to ones receiving. Paul picks up on this in his letter to the Corinthians: Little is much when God is in it. 

Don’t be concerned about how small your gift may seem to you. That casserole fed my girls for two days. And in two days I was strong enough to get up and make their meals. 

Never minimize the gift God invites you to give. He’ll make it be enough. And bless you in the process.

TO PONDER: Think of a time when someone showed up right on time with exactly what you needed—shared a cup of cold water with you. Ask God to show you how you can pay that gift forward.

TO DISCUSS: What small gifts can you do, offer, give, to someone around you? A cup of cold water may end up looking like a casserole, or a ride to the doctor, or an offer to clean someone’s home. Our gifts of time and talent are just as valuable as the monetary offerings that someone else might give.

PRAYER: God, thank you for the times when someone has shone up right on time with the cup of water I needed. Thank you for the ways you are moving in people’s lives to make those gifts arrive right on time. Help me to respond when you lead me to give, how you lead me to give. Amen.

Advent: Give Big

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Day Six: God Gave

For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.“ (John 3:16, NLT)

You see today’s verse on signs at sporting events. Children earn stars and badges for memorizing it in Sunday School and VBS. Many a funeral message has been drawn from its truth.

Why is it so popular?

Because in one sentence we find out who God is, how much he values us, and the message he wants us to share. 

According to one of the early church fathers, each of us was created with a god-shaped hole, an empty spot only God can fill. The good news is everything we need now and for eternity has been provided by the One who can fill that hole. His love for us is that great. He proves it in the manger…and on the cross…and in the empty tomb.

God so loved the world. All inclusive. There is no person you will ever meet—no matter badly you want to judge their actions—for whom this gift was not given. 

And to receive this gift, all they—we—have to do is believe it is really for us. That God is really for us…all. 

Now that’s good news!

 

TO PONDER: ls there someone in your sphere of influence, where you live, or work, or do business who needs to hear this good news? What keeps you from sharing God’s love with others? Have you asked God to help you overcome whatever is holding you back?

TO DISCUSS: Not everyone is open to hearing this good news. What are the barriers holding people back from believing and receiving? How will you speak this truth, in love, into their lives?

PRAYER: God, imagining the cost of this gift…the immensity—that you love the world! I confess I’m not always that good. Forgive me when I judge others unworthy: because of what they’ve done, or how they live. Help me remember I stood on the outside wishing for this great gift. Show me how to live and love with your great big kind of love. Amen.

Advent: Give Big

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Day Five: When It’s In Your Power to Give

Whenever you possibly can, do good to those who need it. (Proverbs 3:27, Good News Translation)

Many years ago I went to a Cincinnati Reds baseball game with a friend. We had so much fun. When the game was over we entered the slow moving hoard trying to escape the stadium and head home. 

As we moved toward the escalators there was disheveled, dirty beggar with a sign seeking for any donation that could be thrown his way. Our slow inching forward gave me a very sad perspective. The mob split and gave wide berth to the man…and no one dropped anything in his bucket.

Each time I remember this, my heart aches. There wasn’t a person scooting by who lacked the means to help in some way. We had all spent an enormous amount on our entertainment and treats…but we couldn’t help someone else?

Recently, a man who had been released from jail stopped by church for help. I had no cash on hand, but I had a few fast food restaurant gift cards in my wallet. They weren’t full, but between the three, he could probably get a few meals. His gratitude seemed real as he took them from my hand.

Many people hold the opinion that giving in these kinds of situations only enables people to not learn to do for themselves. Maybe. But when we have the means, shouldn’t we give? God has blessed us to be a blessing to others.

TO PONDER: Have you ever been the recipient of the generosity of others? Have you ever felt like you were begging, or depending on the favor of others? 

TO DISCUSS: How we decided who, when, and how to give to those in need? Is God seeking more from us?

PRAYER: Jesus, you had to depend on the generosity of others. They housed you. They fed you. You told us that when we do for others in need, we are doing for you. Help us to see you in the faces and lives of those in need and show us how our means can meet their need. Amen. 

Advent: Give Big

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Day Four: Try and Outgive God

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the LORD of Heaven’s Armies, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Put me to the test!” (Malachi 3:10, NLT) 

Did you know that money is one of the most frequently mentioned topics in the Bible? It is. And that poses a delicate dilemma for pastors: how to bring messages to the folks in the pews that open their eyes…and their wallets.

Why is it so difficult? People don’t like to be told what to do with their money. But even more than that, I think we cling to our cash for a sense of security. Try living without, and wondering if we’ll be able to make the ends meet…or just at each other from a distance. What’s that about?

Fear. Fear that there won’t be enough to pay the bills. Fear of having to go without. Fear of having to do with less.

Our verse today is one of my favorite challenges in scripture.  Set in the context of giving offerings, the message was as difficult to receive to the original hearers, as we find it today. 

TO PONDER: What could you do that would like you were trying to outgive God? Have you withheld your gifts out of fear? Our you more concerned with using your means to increase your sense of security and comfort? 

TO DISCUSS: Accountability enables growth and progress. Is there someone whose help you could enlist in this challenge? What ways has God poured his blessings into your life? Beyond monetary offerings, what ways could you return a tithe of your time and talents to him?

PRAYER: God, you are so generous. Forgive us for giving into the fear of what might be and show us not only how to be wiser stewards of your blessings in our lives—but show us  how we could never outgive you. And help us to know how we can be more faithful and generous. Amen.

Advent: Give Big

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Day Three: Blessed to Give 

And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ (Acts 20:35, NLT)

I remember pouring over the “Wish Books” that came to our house from Penney’s and Sears. Years later, our daughters did the same thing.Watching them page through those catalogues, I began to wonder if it would be easier for them to just cross out what they didn’t want.

Things changed for me when I began to earn an allowance, and was able to purchase gifts for others. I never had much money, but thankfully things cost a lot less.

I’ll never forget the first gift I bought for my brother. I spent less than a quarter on a box of paper clips. I’m not sure why I chose those, but I couldn’t have been more proud. In that gesture a seed was planted—the giving seed. I would rather buy for others. I want to watch them open their gifts. I have been so blessed and I want to pass it on.

Oh, please don’t get me wrong. I love getting gifts. Gifts from family and friends that demonstrate their love and generosity. And while my heart is always touched by a thoughtful gift, giving to someone else still trumps receiving.

TO PONDER: What brings more joy to you during the holidays: giving or receiving? How can you surprise someone this season with an unexpected gift?

TO DISCUSS: There are so many charitable organizations who go above and beyond during this holidays to bless others who are hurting and in need. What organizations would you consider partnering with? Other than a gift wrapped in shiny paper with a bow, are there other ways to give of yourself to bless others?

PRAYER: God, thank you for understanding that we like to receive—but show us the greater joy comes in giving. Giving of our time, our talents, our finances. Help to reach out and bless others, as we have been blessed. Amen.

Advent: Give Big

Day Two: All I Need

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.” (2 Corinthians 9:8, NIV)

Do you ever repeat yourself? As a wife, mom, and grandmother, I repeat myself a lot. I’m not sure it’s always the most effect method of getting my message across—but that hasn’t stopped me.

I love passages in the Bible where words are repeated. Today’s is one of my most favorite. 

Repeating the word “all” over and over in this verse emphasizes the completeness of God’s blessings in our lives. We have everything that we need. This is a true established from long ago (see Psalm 23:1–we have everything we need). 

But God’s blessings are not to merely flow into our lives: we are blessed to be a blessing. We are given so we can give. We will not only do good things. We will ABOUND in them.

TO PONDER: Having recently come through the season of Thanksgiving, you may have your blessings fresh in your mind, but take some time to count your blessings again. Consider some things or occurrences that didn’t seem like blessings at the time, but worked out for the good.

TO DISCUSS: Talk with a friend or family member, write a letter, or send an email thanking someone for the blessing they have been in your life.

PRAYER: God, you are so abundantly generous. Sometimes we take your blessings for granted, or we hoard them unto ourselves. Show us how the completeness of our blessings, of your provisions, equips us to bless—and how we can abound in working for you.

Advent: Give Big—God Did!

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Day One: Giving Cheerfully

“Each of you must make up your own mind about how much to give. But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel you are forced to give. God loves people who love to give (2 Corinthians 9:8, CEV).”

It was two weeks until Christmas. I stood in the doorway of the playroom looking at the toys laying scattered all over the floor. I was not looking forward to convincing the girls that we needed to go through their hoard and decide what toys it was time to let go of. I knew the job had to be done or there would be no room for the toys that were about to come. 

After their afternoon nap, I took them to the playroom and began to describe what we needed to do and why. I was pleasantly surprised that they were so willing. Perhaps it had more to do with framing the task with making room for new more than sharing with others, but either way, they went to work gleefully setting the toys they were done with. 

We put the outgrown toys in a box, and then I invited them to pray for the girls and boys who would be receiving their toys and thanking God in advance for what they would be receiving.

Christmas held new meaning for them…and for me.

As I walked through the days up to Christmas Eve, I was more aware of how blessed I was and what a joy it was to give to others.

TO PONDER: Have you discovered the joy of giving? What have you held onto that you could release into the lives of others to bless them? 

TO DISCUSS: When I think of becoming a cheerful giver, I am always reminded of the process Ebenezer Scrooge went through, changing from his miserly ways to the joy of blessing others. The spiritual implications of this story make it worth taking the time to read the story or watch the movie…or just talk about it with a friend or family member. How can you become a happier giver

of you must make up your own mind about how much to give. But don’t feel sorry that you must give and don’t feel you are forced to give. God loves people who love to give (2 Corinthians 9:8, CEV).”

It was two weeks until Christmas. I stood in the doorway of the playroom looking at the toys laying scattered all over the floor. I was not looking forward to convincing the girls that we needed to go through their hoard and decide what toys it was time to let go of. I knew the job had to be done or there would be no room for the toys that were about to come. 

After their afternoon nap, I took them to the playroom and began to describe what we needed to do and why. I was pleasantly surprised that they were so willing. Perhaps it had more to do with framing the task with making room for new more than sharing with others, but either way, they went to work gleefully setting the toys they were done with. 

We put the outgrown toys in a box, and then I invited them to pray for the girls and boys who would be receiving their toys and thanking God in advance for what they would be receiving.

Christmas held new meaning for them…and for me.

As I walked through the days up to Christmas Eve, I was more aware of how blessed I was and what a joy it was to give to others.

TO PONDER: Have you discovered the joy of giving? What have you held onto that you could release into the lives of others to bless them? 

TO DISCUSS: When I think of becoming a cheerful giver, I am always reminded of the process Ebenezer Scrooge went through, changing from his miserly ways to the joy of blessing others. The spiritual implications of this story make it worth taking the time to read the story or watch the movie…or just talk about it with a friend or family member. How can you become a happier giver?

Advent: Be Honest

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Day Eight: I Don’t Know Him

Meanwhile, Peter was in the courtyard below. One of the servant girls who worked for the high priest came by and noticed Peter warming himself at the fire. She looked at him closely and said, “You were one of those with Jesus of Nazareth.”

But Peter denied it. “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, and he went out into the entryway. Just then, a rooster crowed (Mark 14:66-68, NLT).

I walked past the game room and overheard my grandson talking with his friends. “I just go to church because my grandparents make me.” I was surprised by his declaration of separation since he had recently been to church camp and had talked to me about wanting to be baptized to let others know he had made a personal commitment to Jesus.

After his friends left, I sat down beside him and told him I heard his comment. I asked him why he was now seeming to go back on his commitment.

“Oh, it’s not like that, Mema. I just didn’t want them to make fun of me. They think church is stupid. I want them to like me.” What followed was a conversation about how we can’t have it both ways. I reminded him of the recent Sunday School lesson on Peter, and how Jesus had predicted his denial—and how strongly Peter denied that he would ever do something like that. And the hurt he felt as the rooster crowed.

My grandson’s head hit his chest. He apologized to me, and I suggested he needed to apologize to God, too.

TO PONDER: What a gift Jesus gave Peter that day. Through Peter he was letting us know that we, too, would find ourselves in those situations where we would be tempted to say we don’t know Jesus. Times at school. Times at work. Times when we we’re trying to avoid the uncomfortable judgment of others. Thankfully, in Peter’s life and for us, Jesus offers forgiveness and restoration when let him down. Has there been a time when you denied knowing Jesus? Have you been restored?

TO DISCUSS: What other ways, beside just saying it, do we deny we know Jesus? 

PRAYER: God, living consistently for you is not always easy. Sometimes it’s easier to avoid the scrutiny of others by denying you. I forget that ultimately you still see. In the story of Peter we read that when the rooster crowed for the third time, Peter’s eyes met yours across the courtyard. My heart aches when I sense your disappointment. Help me to find strength and courage to stand up for you…no matter who else’s judgment I may fear. I want to be known as yours. Amen.

Advent: Be Honest

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Day Seven: Have Do More Than Look the Part

The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry. He noticed a fig tree in full leaf a little way off, so he went over to see if he could find any figs. But there were only leaves because it was too early in the season for fruit. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat your fruit again!” And the disciples heard him say it (Mark 11:12-14, NLT).

I remember as a child how difficult it was to get to church without an argument about something. No matter how loud the conversation was, or what we had said to each other, as soon as we were out of the car the bickering stopped, and we looked the part of well-behaved children of perfect parents. 

Appearance trumped reality.

That message was drilled into me. So much so, that before I knew it I was practicing the same thing with my own children. 

Then one morning in my quiet time, I reflected deeply on today’s text. The conviction went just as deep and changed me forever. I also found a book that cemented the need for change. It’s title alone has become a mantra for being real: “No More Faking Fine” (Esther Fleece). 

TO PONDER: How different would life be if we owned where we really are instead pretending to be okay? What would it take to live honestly instead of wearing a mask of “okay-ness”? 

TO DISCUSS: This need for perfection, for looking like we should have fruit, but not doing it, was the reason Jesus cursed the fig tree. Jesus response to the fig tree “pretending” to be a fruit-bearer brought strong words from Jesus. Wearing a mask, pretending to be fine, getting stuck in appearances and expectations, are not what Jesus wants from us. Who can you be really you with—no pretending, no faking fine? Where do you feel that safe? 

PRAYER: God, your word tells me, “you want complete honesty, so teach me true wisdom (Psalm 51:6, CEV).” I confess sometimes I wear a mask, and hide my true feelings from others—and even try to do it with you. Help me to come clean with you…and with others. I want my appearance—the way I live—to reflect you. Help me to live that way today, and every day. Amen

Advent: Be Honest

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Day Six: When No One’s Watching

But there was a certain man named Ananias who, with his wife, Sapphira, sold some property. He brought part of the money to the apostles, claiming it was the full amount. With his wife’s consent, he kept the rest (Acts 5:1-2, NLT).

Many years ago when we were serving as foster parents, we had a young man in our home who was under close scrutiny because of some run-ins he’d had with fire setting in the community. 

One day a neighbor very innocently commented on how she had seen our foster son riding his bike in an unexpected place. Right after that conversation I received a call from our town officer regarding a fire in a dumpster on the opposite side of town. I was able to assure him it wasn’t our boy, because I knew where he was.

When he got home a while later, I asked our son where he had been. He knew I wouldn’t ask the question without already knowing the answer, so he owned up that he had been trying to find where a girl he was interested in lived. He apologized for being somewhere without permission.

I accepted his apology and he lost use of his bike for the rest of the weekend. He gave me no grief for the consequence, but turned back to ask how I knew where he had been. I told him about both conversations I had, and reminded him that someone is always watching.

The scripture teaches us that same principle. We may think we can get away with negative choices because no one is around, but God always sees. And we might lose more than our bike for the weekend when he levies the consequences.

TO PONDER: They say that integrity is choosing to do the right thing when no one is looking. For a building to stand the storms of life it needs structural integrity. To stand firm spiritually, we need spiritual integrity. Remember God is always watching—not just to catch you doing wrong, but celebrating your good and godly choices.

TO DISCUSS: The problem for Ananias and his wife laid in the twisted thinking that could get away from doing right if no one was watching. What they didn’t count on was God always seeing and knowing our choices. We lie to cover our selves and our choices. Can we ever deceive or hide the truth from God?

PRAYER: God, the story of Ananias is not the easiest to read. His consequences seem harsh. Help us to understand this wasn’t just about keeping a piece of the offering. Help us to understand your anger against sin, against deceit, against living the truth. And may all our choices reflect our love for you. Amen.