Advent: Think Small

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Day 7: Sowing Seed

We don’t typically think of planting around Christmas. It’s too cold where we live. But God may have other ideas—He might see it as the perfect time for planting.

What seems like a lifetime ago, my husband and I planted our first vegetable garden. We had no experience other than those moments in Sunday school, when wide-eyed children plant marigold seeds, hopeful flowers will appear in time to wow their moms on Mothers Day. 

So we dug in the dirt, droppped the seeds in the ground, and waited. To our surprise we had more beets, carrots, and summer squash than we knew what to do with! Pickled beets for everyone!

God’s word is like that. We plant the seeds of the word. Seeds like love and grace. Story seeds. Seeds that tell about Jesus: his birth, his life, his death and resurrection. Then we wait—and hope.

The apostle Paul explained this process to the Corinthian believers: “I planted. Apollos watered. But God made it grow (1 Corinthians 3:6).” Our job may be to plant, or sow the seed—to tell the story. Or our job may be to tend the garden—to provide plant food and water to help the seed to grow. But all the growth comes from God.

Have planted any seeds lately?

TO PONDER: I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to grow anything. I came up with lots of excuses. It wasn’t enough to just have the seeds. I needed to make sure they were planted. What keeps you from sowing seed? Are you helping the seeds of faith to grow, in yourself or others?

TO DISCUSS: Where is your spiritual garden? Whose life has God invited you to sow seed into? Are you ready to water others? How can you be more ready.

PRAYER: Seeds are such small things, God. Yet you call us to plant seeds, words of faith, words of hope, into the lives of others. Help us to be faithful this holy season to be aware of where we can be planting for you. Amen. 

Advent: Think Small

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Day 6: I’ll Take a Side of Crumbs

I watched in amazement as the Thanksgiving crowd devoured the spread on the dessert table. As they dispersed, I realized there was nothing left for me—just crumbs

My daughter walked up to me, a smudge of frosting betraying her part in the feeding frenzy. “Mom, I’m sorry. We didn’t think about you.”

I wiped the frosting away, and smiled. “That’s okay. I like the crumbs.” Then I reached for a spoon and began to scoop up the remnants of carrot cake and cream cheese frosting.

Later, while I was scraping the dishes, getting them ready to wash, I came on the cake plate—and I remembered the earlier conversation. How often do I settle for the crumbs? We usually think of that in a negative, limiting, settling way. But a woman came to Jesus one day and those around were disgusted with her presence. She was a foreigner…a Gentile. 

She came right up for Jesus and begged for a healing for her daughter. Jesus picked up the disgust around them and played along. Why should he give her anything? The spiritual food he was sharing was meant for his people. But she reminded him even the dogs were entitled to crumbs.

Eating the crumbs had become my way of enjoying what was left and watching my family enjoy the rest. For the woman, anything she could get from Jesus would be enough.

This holy season, what is our “enough”? Can we appreciate the moments, the gifts, the time with family and friends? And most of all will we find enough in the manger?

TO PONDER: Have you ever settled for less than you wanted? Have you ever had to persist in your faith journey when others doubted or gave up? 

TO DISCUSS: Psalm 23 paints a picture of God as our all-providing shepherd. One of the verses declares his provision is completely adequate: we have everything we need. Is there a difference between our wants and needs? Do we have everything we need?

PRAYER: God, you loved us enough to be born here on earth. Show us how much that is. Help us to persist in our love for you…and always find you to enough for our every need. Amen

Advent: Think Small

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Day 5: Zacchaeus Was a Wee Little Man

The door slammed as my young grandson ran past me to his desk in the office. No hello. Just a blur oozing distress.

I followed him to the office and stood in the doorway. Before I could ask, out it poured. One of the boys in his class called him Zacchaeus all day. Then to add insult, the boy would walk by his desk and whistle the Sunday School song, “Zacchaeus was a wee little man…”

Our grandson was clearly behind on the growth chart. All his peers were head and shoulders beyond him. And by law, because of his size (not his age) he was still sitting in a booster seat in the car.

My heart ached for my little man.

“Honey, did you know that song was about Jesus inviting himself to Zacchaeus’ house? Zacchaeus climbed that tree so he could see. He was determined to not miss out on seeing Jesus. And Jesus rewarded him by going to his house that day.”

He looked up, and we went on talking about the things that matter to Jesus. How it isn’t about outward appearance—even David learned that: “But the Lord told Samuel, ‘Don’t look at his appearance or how tall he is, because I have rejected him. God does not see as humans see.Humans look at outward appearances, but the Lord looks into the heart.’ (1 Samuel 16:7)”

Tears gone, and with a new resolve, my grandson shared, “So when he sings that song tomorrow, I should just sing along and thank him for the reminder—I may be short, but I’ve got big heart for God!”

Yep. Remember: it’s all about the heart!

TO PONDER: In a world that values stature and looks, the stories of Zacchaeus and David remind us that what really matters is that our heart is for God. Have you ever felt badly about your looks? In Psalm 139, David states that we are fearfully and wonderfully made—inside and out!

FOR DISCUSSION: When God examines our heart what does he see? Are there feelings or actions that we need to remove so God can be even nearer to us?

PRAYER: Creator God, you made me. And you know my heart. Forgive me for not always valuing how I’ve been created. Help me to love you more and more. Help me to not let anything stand in the way of seeing you each and every day. Amen.

Advent: Think Small

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Day 4: Widow’s Mite

I smiled a mother’s proud smile as I watched my daughter put a quarter in the offering plate. I knew the money was the last of her money, earned the hard way—working to pick up apples before her father mowed the lawn.

Gathering for lunch with friends, the conversation drifted to a discussion about a large gift that had come from a wealthy church member’s estate. Everyone around the table expressed their appreciation and joy for the money and what it could be used for.

Everyone, except my young daughter. 

She excused herself from the table and disappeared into another room. Suspecting something was wrong, I followed after her. I found her standing by the open front door, tears streaming down her face. She was quick to explain how sorry she was that she could only give such a small amount—sure that God was displeased with just a quarter.

Quickly, I moved to her side and began assuring her how God loved her gift. I reminded her of the story of the woman who gave her last mite—all that she had—and how Jesus praised her for giving so generously.

The truth took a moment to sink in, but she slowly turned, and with a smile let me know she got it. “It’s all about giving what you can, isn’t it?” 

Yes, that’s what is about.

TO PONDER: The widow gave generously…sacrificially. What sacrifice could you make this Advent and Christmas season to bless someone else? Think outside the box—it’s not always about money.

FOR DISCUSSION: Coupon books have always been a hit for kids who want to give when they don’t have money. But giving isn’t just for kids. As a family make a list of practical ways you can bless others.

PRAYER: God, in this season of extravagance, teach us how to give and give…and give some more. Teach the joy of giving, especially when it may not seem like much to us. Show how to bless someone else. Amen.

Advent: Think Small

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Day 3: Fishes and Loaves

“Mema, why do you always put so many things in your tuna salad?” My grandson asked as he poked at his sandwich, turning up his nose at the pieces of egg.

I chuckled remembering how I asked my own mother the same thing. I fondly responded with her answer, “All those extra things make the salad go just a little farther.”

The next day in Sunday School, the sermon was about Jesus feeding the multitude with  five loaves and two fish.

As we sat to eat lunch, my grandson was quick to offer to pray, “God, thank you for turning a kid’s lunch into so much food…and not using any egg to do it.”

I have always marveled at how Jesus was able to use such a little amount of food to feed so many. Imagine it: 5000 men and all the women and children. And when it was all over the disciples gathered twelve baskets of leftovers.

Nothing was wasted that day. God demonstrated powerfully the amazing things he can do with our meager offerings. And he didn’t have to add anything to get the job done.

TO PONDER: What is there in your life that you could bring to God to use for his Kingdom? What things have you been holding back for yourself? What would it take to surrender it to him?

FOR DISCUSSION: At Christmas we tend to focus on what we’re going to get: presents and sweet treats. What could your family do to bless others? It could be something you already have, or even the gift of time.

PRAYER: God, we bring you our “lunch”—the things we have for you to use to bless others. Show us how to not waste anything in our lives. Amen.

Advent: Think Small

Day 2: Five Smooth Stones

He took his shepherd’s stick and then picked up five smooth stones from the stream and put them in his bag. With his sling ready, he went out to meet Goliath (1 Samuel 17:40, Good News Translation).

I couldn’t believe I left my tennis shoes back in my dorm room. This was the most important match I faced, and my team needed me to win to place first in the tournament. There I stood facing my opponent with no shoes.

Quickly one of my teammates began to unlace her shoes and offered them to me, and while they were a close fit, they weren’t mine. They pinched in places where mine didn’t and were more of a distraction than if I had played barefoot. I lost the match, but I learned a valuable lesson.

On the bus on the way back to the school, the coach looked at me. She could see the shame and frustration I was feeling. She came back to my seat and asked me if I knew the story of David and Goliath. I shrugged my shoulders and mumbled a half-hearted yeah. She didn’t let my lack of interest or enthusiasm dissuade her from what she saw as an excellent teaching moment.

She explained how Goliath had taunted and ridiculed the Israelites, shaming them and their God. Still no one wanted to take on the giant. David, had been sent to check up on his brothers and was incensed at the abuse being spewed from the giant. He decided to take him on.

King Saul, in an attempt to make the fight more fair, tried to put David in his armor. I think there was more than just protection being offered. Perhaps Saul knew there really was a chance David could win and being dressed in the King’s armor would make him look good. The problem was the armor didn’t fit—like my teammate’s shoes and David knew it.

He thanked the king and went with what he knew: his staff and his sling, readied with stones from the creek. The simple things that had been his comfort and protection while out watching the sheep would be what he would rely on to defeat the giant.

And defeat him he did! 

I got what the coach was saying. Her words had little to do with forgotten shoes and everything to do with trusting God with the talents and gifts he entrusted me with. 

I never forgot my shoes again. And I carry a smooth stone with me wherever I go.

TO PONDER: What are the giants you are facing? What tools has God prepared for you to use to defeat those giants?

FOR DISCUSSION: If you were to choose five stones to help you remember the gifts God has given you, what would those stones be? 

PRAYER: God, thank you for the gifts and talents you have given me to use in facing down the giants in my life. Sometimes I feel so small and can’t even image how or if you’ll use me. Help me to be ready. Help me to trust you. Show me my five smooth stones. And though I am small in the grand scheme of things help me to do great things for you. Amen.

Advent: Think Small, Be Honest, Give Big

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Invitation

Many times this part of a book is called the “introduction.” I’ve decided instead to make mine the “invitation.” 

Why you ask?

Oh, I’m so glad you did.

We live in a time when bigger is assumed to be better: bigger homes, bigger cars…bigger paychecks. Unfortunately, I’ve seen much more dissatisfaction, disappointment, and disillusionment when bigger doesn’t bring better—when more doesn’t result in greater  happiness. 

Many years ago I had the privilege of serving as an interim pastor at a Mennonite church in Ohio. In an effort to help me understand the congregation several members encouraged me to find a book they felt explained their choices and focus in life. The title was “Living on Less, And Liking It More.” The title not only intrigued me, but challenged me. 

Three “tenets” of the Church of the Brethren include continuing the work of Jesus: peacefully, simply, together. Sandwiched there in the middle laid a concept ready to pounce on the faithful and push them into brand new territory.

Does God care about small stuff?

What does it mean to live simply?

How much is enough?

Do I really need all this stuff?

Thinking about Advent helped me arrive at a “simple” answer: Yes.

As we journey to Advent, we’re going to look some of those small, seemingly insignificant things and consider how important they are to our God. 

I’m inviting you to think anew on the spiritually small things of life to gain a new understanding as to why God chose to begin his redemption plan with a baby.

But not just small things matter to God. 

We’ll also be considering how important being honest is—especially when it means being vulnerable. God is concerned about honesty and sincerity in our faith journey. And coming as a baby demonstrates his willingness to be vulnerable. Can we do less?

Finally, we will also accept God’s challenge to give big. After all God gave us the greatest gift of all, Jesus. 

So, join me: think small, be honest, and give big!

Think Small Day One: Faith of A Child

Then he said, “I tell all of you with certainty, unless you change and become like little children, you will never get into the kingdom from heaven (Matthew 18:3, International Standard Version).

My teeth were chattering as I held up my arms one more time coaxing my little girl to jump in the pool. To her the water looked too deep. And maybe Mommy was playing a trick.

I tried one more time. “Trust me, precious. I won’t let anything happen. Give it a try. Jump. I’ll catch you!”

Finally a different look replaced the fear that had been keeping her feet glued to the cement at the pool’s edge. With a giggle of abandon she leaped in the air and right into my arms.

The trust my daughter expressed in that act has defined my relationship with God. I may be reluctant initially, but I have learned to trust my heavenly Father’s arms—his promise to catch me.

When Jesus looked at the crowd of religious experts and told them they must change and become like children, I think in part he was referring to the same kind of trust. But even more, he was inviting them to leave the solid footing of their religious stagnation, rules, and self-absorption and find a new way of living in faith—of trusting in him.

As we move more deeply into this Advent journey will you trust God to teach you a new way to experience the age old story of Christmas?

TO PONDER: What parts of the Christmas story have become so familiar they’ve lost their mystery and power to change you?

FOR DISCUSSION: No matter our age, we can consider new ways to trust God. What can you do as a family and as individuals to move to a new level of trust in God?

PRAYER: God, I am so excited to see you anew, with fresh eyes and a trusting heart. Forgive me for the times when I doubt your love—your promise to catch me. Show me an area of my life where I can have greater “child-like” trust. To your honor and glory. Amen.