Giving Is … Offering Yourself

Thanks for joining me for this “It’s About Giving” series, and I want to say a big thank-you to Compassion Bloggers for the idea.  I’ve really enjoyed thinking what I associate with giving and what we can learn from the Bible about it; I hope you have too.  This will probably be the last blog I write for 2012, so thank you very much for reading this year.

We had communion at church today.  I wasn’t expecting to, and I love communion, so it was a nice surprise.  Jesus tells us to take communion in remembrance of Him, and this time of year, I’m remembering the beginning of His earthly life more than the end of it.  As the bread was passed around, “In the Bleak Mid-Winter” was played on the keyboard.  The verse that came to my mind, we missed out when we sang it later, but I’ll share it here:

Enough for Him, whom cherubim
Worship night and day,
A breast full of milk,
And a manger full of hay;
Enough for Him whom angels
Fall before,
The ox and ass and camel,
Which adore.

Angels adored Jesus that first Christmas; shepherds adored Him; wise men adored Him …  The writer of the carol obviously thinks, and I would agree, that even the animals adored Him.

I can’t say this thought is my own, but it’s from a sermon my friend preached a few years back.
Do you know that as well as gold to symbolise His kingship, frankincense to point to the fact He was God, and myrrh to signify His death, the wise men gave another very important gift?  Their worship.  “They entered the house and saw the child with His mother, Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped Him” (Matthew 2:11).  One of my favourite writers, Sharon Jaynes, says the sacrifice they made to go on their long journey to find Jesus was also a gift.

Giving is offering yourself.  So whether it’s the gift of a long journey or our adoration, let’s offer ourselves to Jesus in 2013 and beyond.  Are you with me?

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Giving Is … Rescue

I’ve just started reading a 2-year devotional called God’s Story … for my Life.  I’m about 2 weeks into it at the moment and loving it.  I get an E-mail every day with a Bible-reading, then they give us something from that reading to think about.  If you’ve read the Bible awhile and some parts feel familiar, I’d really recommend this way of taking a fresh look.

We’re onto Genesis 13-14 at the moment, all about Abram (he wasn’t Abraham then), and his nephew Lot.  I’m sad to say that much of the time, Lot doesn’t get very favourable things written about him.  Because he was given a choice and took what appeared to be the best piece of land, he’s called greedy, and yet later in the Bible, Peter very clearly says he was an upright man, greatly troubled by the wickedness of those around him (2 Peter 2:7-9).

So as I read today’s verses, I focused not on Lot, but on Abram – his uncle:  When Abram heard that his nephew Lot had been captured, he mobilized the 318 trained men who had been born into his household.  Then he pursued Kedorlaomer’s army until he caught up with them at Dan. There he divided his men and attacked during the night.  Kedorlaomer’s army fled, but Abram chased them as far as Hobah, north of Damascus. Abram recovered all the goods that had been taken, and he brought back his nephew Lot with his possessions and all the women and other captives” (Genesis 14:14-16).

What impressed me was Abram’s willingness to rescue.  Even though his nephew had chosen the fertile land instead of leaving it for his uncle, Abram wasn’t bitter about that.  He didn’t think:  “Ah, well here he is, getting what was coming to him” – no, he went into the battle and rescued Lot.

Are we like that?  When we’re going through a dry season and not seeing any fruit from the way we live, when people aren’t looking at our lives and telling us they’d like to know this Jesus we follow, how ready are we to help those who appear to have everything materially, but their spirits aren’t alive?  Do we leave them to their own devices, or will we go into the battle and rescue them?  Prayer is a big part of that battle.  So is being ready to talk to them about Christ – not in a “Jesus is the answer, what’s the question” kind of way, but sensitively.  Respectfully.  Thoughtfully.  If you were faced with their situation, what would Jesus have to say about it, and how would that help you?

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“We gave bread to the poor, but we did not ask sufficiently why the poor had no bread” – Bishop Kallistos Ware.  I love this quote.  In 2013, let’s not just throw food or money at the problem of poverty; let’s play our part in stamping out the root cause.  Compassion do what they can to educate the children in their centres and get them into employment, to break the cycle of poverty.  Trussell Trust food banks give food for so long, but also talk to clients and try to help them not to become dependent on a food bank.  Those are just two of the organisations you could partner with.  Will you do your bit?

Giving Is … No Reluctance

I don’t like dried fruit much, but my exceptions are mince pies and Welsh cakes.  I recently came across some delicious mince pies!  I decided to buy 2 dozen – 12 for me and 12 for church.  Friends and I’ve shared these mince pies, to the point where I only have a quarter of mine left.  I contemplated only giving the church 1 packet.  They’d have donations from other people as well, wouldn’t they?  But as I thought that, suddenly the Bible-story of Ananias and Sapphira came to my mind:

 

“Ananias and his wife Sapphira also sold a piece of property.  But they agreed to cheat and keep some of the money for themselves.

 

“So when Ananias took the rest of the money to the apostles, Peter said, ‘Why has Satan made you keep back some of the money from the sale of the property?  Why have you lied to the Holy Spirit?’

 

“Three hours later Sapphira came in, but she did not know what had happened to her husband.  Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, did you sell the property for this amount?’

 

“’Yes,’ she answered, ‘that’s the amount.’

 

“Then Peter said, ‘Why did the two of you agree to test the Lord’s Spirit?  The men who buried Ananias are by the door, and they will carry you out!’  At once she fell at Peter’s feet and died” (Acts 5:1-3, 7-10).

 

They could have given God however much they wanted from the sale of that house.  Others had sold property specifically so the money could help those in need.  No doubt this looked impressive.  Maybe Ananias and Sapphira wanted the kudos that went with that kind of giving, but they were reluctant to part with it all, so they kept some back for themselves and lied about it, and died for their wilful deception.

 

Giving is no reluctance, and I knew I didn’t want to show any.  These mince pies are the best shop-bought mince pies I’ve ever tasted, and why shouldn’t my church have the best?

Giving Is … T I M E

Do you remember my post at the end of 2011?  I wrote about 4 of my favourite days, and most involved spending time with friends.  Friends are so important, aren’t they?  Maybe they’re thoughtful and encouraging; maybe they have a sense of humour and make you happy; maybe some inspire you to be courageous like never before.

 

I delivered a Christmas card once, to friends round the corner from where I lived.  I sat on the sofa; chatted to them, then I said:  “I’d better go.”

 

My friend said:  “Come in the kitchen and talk to me while I get tea.”

 

As she finished preparing tea, more visitors arrived.  When they left, I stood up to leave too.  Her husband said:  “Sarah, you’re stood up.  You can stay and have something to eat if you want.”  A card-delivery that could have taken 5 minutes took 6 hours!

 

Giving is time, and their unhurried hospitality really blessed me that Saturday 2 days before Christmas, but do you know Jesus is blessed in the same way when we spend time with Him?  Why else would He think Mary’s sitting at His feet was better than Martha’s slaving away in the kitchen (Luke 10:38-42)?  He was on His way to Jerusalem, where eventually all His friends would desert Him, and here was someone taking the time to sit at His feet.  He loved it, and He loves us.  Like our friends, Jesus has encouragement for us, and if there’s anyone who can really inspire courage in you, it’s Him.  Will you take a few minutes out of your days, particularly in this busy season, to spend time with the Friend whose birth we’re remembering?

Giving Is … How we Respond

I’d like you to think about the story, the true story, of ten men who had leprosy.  In Jesus’ time, this was a very serious disease; there was no treatment for it.  People with leprosy were declared ‘Unclean’ and sort of quarantined – put in an area away from everyone else.  Just before Jesus entered a village, He came to the place on its outskirts where the lepers were, and He told them to show themselves to the priests.  People with any form of skin disease would do this, and the priest would decide whether their condition had improved, but this time was different.  On their way to see the priests, all ten men were completely healed, but only one of them came back to Jesus.  The Bible tells us he shouted praises to God, bowed down at the feet of Jesus and thanked Him (Luke 17:15-16).  And Jesus asked:  “Why was this foreigner the only one who came back to thank God?”

 

Do you see?  Our response to what we’ve received can be a gift.  When you think of Jesus leaving all the glory of heaven to come into this world, knowing His purpose was to die on a cross to take our punishment for the things we’d done wrong, how do you react?  He didn’t hold onto selfishness; He didn’t hold onto what He could have been; He put all of that down – for us; He gave His everything for us.  In response, will we give Him full control of our lives – of all that we are?

 

And let’s come back to finances again:  I don’t know where you live this Christmas season, but maybe you’re like me.  Maybe you have a roof over your head; clean water at your fingertips; enough food to eat; the clothes you need to keep warm; a church where you can meet together to read the Bible and worship God.  So when you see others who don’t have those things, what’s your response?  Well, here’s how you could respond.  As you read that little list, which of those things were you most grateful for:  Was it the house you live in?  Then why not consider providing emergency shelter for a child and family ($50)?  If it was clean water, you could help build water reservoirs for children and their families ($23).

 

As I’ve said before, I know Christmas can be a difficult time of year.  Compassion want to use their gift catalogue this month to raise money for children in poverty, and I want to help them.  They tell me nobody knows my audience like I do, but to be honest, I don’t know every one of my readers.  (I’d love to get to know you better, so please, always feel free to comment.)  I don’t know who’s going to stumble across this post, and I don’t know what their financial circumstances are, so I’ll just leave you with a question.

 

Giving is how we respond.  Remembering what we’ve already said this month about giving cheerfully and using what you’ve got, will you search your heart and think what you want to do about Compassion’s gift catalogue?  Are you happy to pass it by, or will you bless somebody else, as a thank-You to God for all that He gives?

Giving Is … Using What You’ve Got

What does it look like to give Biblically in today’s culture?  We looked yesterday at Biblical giving, so let’s think about the second part.

 

How are you when it comes to modern technology?  Mainly I’m thankful for the people God’s placed in my life – the family; the friendships, but if you were to ask me what thing I treasured most and would struggle to do without, I’d definitely say my computer.  For me, modern technology has made it so much easier to give.  I haven’t forgotten someone sent me a card to welcome me when I first started at church.  Before the Internet, if I’d wanted to do that kind of thing, I would’ve had to ask someone to write the card; write the envelope …  Now I can just send an E-mail.  If I want to buy a Christmas present, I can go on a website and look at different things myself; I don’t have to rely on walking round a shop with someone and them spotting the exact thing I’m looking for.  Sometimes I don’t know myself what I’m looking for until I find it!

 

Maybe you preferred giving before all this modern technology came in.  Does it take away the personal touch?  I’ve read several posts about how handwritten letters and kids’ drawings are more special to people than E-mails, but I’ll tell you I know more about my extended family and how to pray for them since being on Facebook.

 

I think giving through our computers can be as personal as we want it to be, and here’s a challenge for you:  I’ve challenged myself with this one too.  You know all those verses in the Bible about how important our words are – “Do everything without complaining or arguing”, “If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other”, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue”?  You have an ‘Online tongue’ as well.  When you comment on Facebook or E-mail another person, you’re communicating to them what’s in your heart, and God can read those comments.  I’ve got a friend in South Africa.  As she lives 12 hours away and we’ve only met online, she doesn’t know anybody here, and it can be so easy to talk negatively about someone.  Doesn’t have to be much; just a couple of sentences, and I’ve felt really bad afterwards.  I wrote to her once that I thought I had opened my E-mail mouth more than I should.

 

Giving is using what you’ve got.  If you’ve got money, how about using it for the good of others, maybe through donating to Compassion or another organisation you feel drawn to?  And if you have a computer, why not use your online voice for God’s glory?

Giving Is … Cheerful and Free

Compassion have asked the question this week:  What does it look like to give Biblically in today’s culture?  What comes to your mind when you put the Bible and giving in the same sentence?  If you’re a Christian, maybe you think of tithing – giving 10% of your income to God for the upkeep of churches, so they’ll carry on being able to share the good news of His love with the world around them.  That was one of my first thoughts, along-with this verse:  “God loves a cheerful giver” – 2 Corinthians 9:7.  I think that’s a great verse, because it reminds me what’s most important to God – not our money, but our hearts.  Remember the rich person who gave a bit of his wealth, and the poor widow who gave all she had to live on?  That’s what impressed Jesus – that she was willing to give all she had, to make herself totally dependent on God.

 

When I think of people in the Bible and their giving, it inspires me.  Just look at Esther – how she laid her life on the line to save her people:  “If I perish, I perish” – Esther 4:16.  Or David, saying goodbye to his friend Jonathan:  “Then they kissed each other and wept together – but David wept the most” – 1 Samuel 20:41.  Or think of Jesus, sweating drops of blood at Gethsemane, or on the cross:  “Into Your hands I commit My spirit.”  All these people gave their everything (in Jesus’ case, even to His last ounce of strength).  Although Esther could have been discouraged, David could have been distant, and Jesus could have prayed to His Father for angels to rescue Him, they were determined.  Once their minds were made up, there was no hint of them withholding anything of themselves.

 

When I write to my sponsored children, I tell them about some of the problems we have here in the UK.  If you’ve got a family-member who doesn’t know Jesus, and it makes you sad because you wish they had a Friend to turn to, why not tell your sponsored child and ask them to pray?  How can we expect people to open up and share about their lives if we’re holding back from talking about ours?  Let’s give freely, regardless of their response.

 

Or are you looking for a fun way of giving?  I read somebody else’s blog about gifts to Jesus at Christmas, but I know Christmas can be a difficult time of year, so if your heart’s not in it, please don’t click on this link.  But if you think you’ve never given a tangible gift to Jesus at Christmas-time before and you’d really like to, Compassion’s gift catalogue would be the place to choose one.  God certainly has a heart for the poor, so anytime you help a child or family in poverty, you’re doing it for Him.

 

Giving is cheerful and free.  Are you giving that way – to God and to others?

Giving Is … Doing Good

I suppose one of my associations with giving would be the Bible-passage at the end of Matthew chapter 25, where Jesus talks about the sheep and the goats.

 

“The people of all nations will be brought before Him, and He will separate them, as shepherds separate their sheep from their goats.

 

He will place the sheep on His right and the goats on His left. Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘My father has blessed you!  Come and receive the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world was created. When I was hungry, you gave Me something to eat, and when I was thirsty, you gave Me something to drink.  When I was a stranger, you welcomed Me, and when I was naked, you gave Me clothes to wear.  When I was sick, you took care of Me, and when I was in jail, you visited Me.’

 

“Then the ones who pleased the Lord will ask, ‘When did we give You something to eat or drink? When did we welcome You as a stranger or give You clothes to wear or visit You while You were sick or in jail?’

 

“The King will answer, ‘Whenever you did it for any of My people, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did it for Me’” – Matthew 25:32-40 (Contemporary English Version).  I’ve seen a church prepared to organise a dinner for homeless people and wash their feet; I know of someone in hospital – a patient herself, and yet she’ll talk to others she doesn’t know, taking care of their needs when nurses aren’t around … and tonight I’ve just read about my favourite organisation, yet again doing good in the midst of despair.  You probably won’t be surprised I’m talking about Compassion.

 

Do you sponsor a child in Haiti?  If not, maybe you’ll want to after reading this story.  To summarise, a team from Birmingham went out to Haiti to see first-hand the poverty there.  The writer says:  “This was not a place for cameras and photographs, as to take photographs would have been an invasion of their dignity. …  I wanted it to be a living photograph imprinted on our minds and hearts …  We heard the constant sound of a baby screaming, a child coughing relentlessly, and another crying with hunger.”  That really hit me.  If you’re a sponsor, next time you pick up one of your child’s letters, try to imagine those sounds in the background – a crying baby; a sick child …  That could be their reality every day.  Doesn’t it make you think how important your words are?

 

The writer goes on to talk about Compassion giving food and water to children and their families in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, but that group from Birmingham gave something very important too:  Themselves.  Knowing people cared enough not just to look at their situation but to come right into it must have made a huge difference to those children.

 

Giving is doing good.  What does that look like for you?  Compassion works with local churches to make sure provisions get to those who need them.  Would you consider being a part of that?  Perhaps you could search Compassion’s gift catalogue to see how you could help.

Giving Is … Taking Risks

Part of a series for Compassion Bloggers.  They’ve asked us to think this month about the tastes, colours, and associations we have with giving.

 

‘Tastes?’  And into my mind came the story of when King David was hiding in the cave of Adullam.

 

“One time the Three Warriors went to meet David among the rocks at Adullam Cave.  The Philistine army had set up camp in Rephaim Valley and had taken over Bethlehem.  David was in a fortress, and he said, ‘I’m very thirsty.  I wish I had a drink of water from the well by the gate to Bethlehem.’

 

“The Three Warriors sneaked through the Philistine camp and got some water from the well near Bethlehem’s gate.  They took it back to David, but he refused to drink it.  Instead, he poured out the water as a sacrifice to the Lord and said, ‘Drinking this water would be like drinking the blood of these men who risked their lives to get it for me’” – 1 Chronicles 11:15-19 (Contemporary English Version).

 

Sitting at home thousands of years later, I can see David’s motivation:  He felt that water was so precious, drawn at the risk of men’s lives, there was only One worthy to receive such a treasure, but imagine being one of the three who’d brought it!  I wonder if they were God-fearing men who understood his act of devotion, or whether any of them felt cheated – that they’d risked their life, only to see the king pouring away their efforts.

 

Giving is taking risks.  For these loyal subjects, giving to their king meant putting themselves in danger.  For David, giving to God meant risking their disapproval, and don’t forget they were warriors.  If you’re hiding in a cave and three of the mightiest men who were on your side suddenly turn against you, you’re in trouble!

 

What risks have you taken for God lately?