Woo or Woe

Woo Not Woe

“Mom, is there anybody you won’t talk to?” This was a question my girls would ask when they were young. We’d go into the store, and I would invariably strike up a conversation with someone in the checkout line or parking lot. I never gave it much thought. I just liked connecting with people.

Several years ago I was required to undergo psychological testing as a precursor to a job I applied for. One of the tests came from a book, “Strengths Finder 2.0” written by Tom Rath. It was a very new test at the time.

Not surprising to me, I scored very high in the area of “woo.” Woo is the ability to win others over. It’s about connecting with others and involves the ability to strike up a conversation with anyone. Good trait for a pastoral/preacher type to have.

Jesus thought it was a good trait for all his followers. 

In Matthew 18, Jesus responds to a question posed by his disciples: “Who’s the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” I think they were hoping he would say it was them and not the religious establishment. Jesus turns, however, and picks up a child. Not what they were expecting—or even able to comprehend.

The disciples and followers of Jesus were constantly taken aback when his teachings and behaviors didn’t match up to their desires for the Messiah. He wasn’t what they were looking for … but exactly what they needed. 

They were focused on themselves, their plans and dreams, and wanting to distance themselves from others—so they would come out on top. Jesus was about reaching out to others, about loving the unlovely, about connecting with the disenfranchised. This was his mission before he even arrived (for background check out Isaiah 58 and 61, and Jesus’ first sermon in Luke 4).

Jesus’ response to their “greatest” question contained some strong words of warning. Each one began with ‘woe.’ Woe unto those who are so caught up in themselves that their behavior causes anyone to stumble. Woe unto those whose selfishness and self-serving behavior drives anyone away.

For Jesus the better behavior would be a wooing behavior—a drawing behavior. The kind of living and loving that is welcoming and warm. 

I don’t know about you, but I find that behavior as rare as a sunny day in Ohio recently. Our lives have been inundated with a divisiveness that is far from wooing. We live in a time when offering a cool cup of water, a tender word, and a moment of connection would go a long way to bring someone into the fullness of the kingdom.

These days we need less ‘childishness’ (self-seeking) and more child-likeness (open and trusting). I know I don’t want to be on the receiving end of Jesus’ ‘woe.’ The world watches and wants a whole lot more wooing from those of us who claim to follow the ways of Jesus. 

Let’s get wooing. 

Wading in Puke

The weekend before this one just past my husband and I took turns with the flu. Kindly, he went first. Not so kindly, he made a couple unsuccessful trips to the bathroom, leaving behind a very unpleast mess to clean up. He managed to spew on every wall and fixture.

Fast forward to this past weekend. Saturday night our thirteen year old grandson went to bed early, complaining of a queasy stomach. He made one trip to the bathroom, seemingly emptying his belly completely, he flushed away, and put the lid on the toilet down (as is the rule at his house). The problem came when on his second trip he could not get the lid up quickly enough or even have time to turn and aim for the sink or tub.

May I just say, I have never seen such a mess, in either quantity or dispersement. And I have no words for the smell.

Then, I was awakened Sunday morning by one of dogs wretching off the foot of our bed. He made a rather thorough mess of things, too.

All I could think was, “Really, God. I need this, why?”

This morning, after dropping my grandson off at school, I headed to my favorite coffee spot and writing place. I no sooner had my coat off when my phone rang. Sigh. The grandson. What did he forget this time?

When I answered the phone, I knew I was on speaker—I could hear the laughter and noise in the background. Through laughter my grandson finally asked “Mema, legit, did I puke all over the bathroom this weekend?”

“Yeah, buddy, it was the worst puke I’ve ever cleaned up.”

“Thanks. See…” And the line went dead as hysterical laughter broke out.

Only a group of 13 yr old boys could enjoy a story like that and be congratulatory. He was so proud of himself. And for one moment I forgot how awful a mess it had been to clean up.

I will confess, I was laughing, too. I quickly texted his mother and let her know what a hoot her son was. She responded right back a message filled with laughing emojis. He had been bragging to his gamer friends about the event as well.

The whole thing reminded me of a conversation I had with Eddie Jones (writer and CEO of Lighthouse of the Carolinas at a writers conference. I was telling him how much I appreciated his books for middle grade boys. He waxed a bit philosophical, and then said making sure each story included farts, puke, and practical jokes was his ticket to success. “You have to know your audience.”

So, dear audience, what can we take from this gross, yet for some hysterical set of circumstances. I can think of three things.

First, puke happens. It’s not pleasant in the moment, but we always tend to feel better when it’s over. Sometimes we need to let the roiling fear, anger, or grief out to feel better and be able to move on.

Don’t take yourself too seriously. The laughing group of thirteen year old boys reminded: you can even laugh about the grossest stuff of life. There will always be enough sadness to go around, but learning to find the humor is a solid way to pull yourself out of the downward spiral sadness tries to suck us into.

And remember to thank (profusely) the person who has to clean up your mess. Over and over my grandson apologized to me. And over and over I tried to assure him that I knew he didn’t plan on the mess. I believe his contrite and sincere apology was what enabled me to laugh after his verification phone call. His previous appreciation for what I endured in the extensive clean project enabled me laugh along with him and his buddies instead of thinking that he was making fun or laughing at me.

Who knew you could learn so much the negative consequences of the stomach flu?

But really, I think I learned enough to satisfy me for a very…very long time.

Advent: Give Big


Day Eight: Go and Sell All…And Give

Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” (Matthew 19:21, NLT)

One day a well-to-do young man came to Jesus. He wanted to know what good deed he needed to do to guarantee eternal life. In the conversation that followed the man was quick to point out his perfect keeping of the Law—I assume he was pretty proud of himself and expected Jesus to give a free-pass into heaven.

I wonder if Jesus was smiling…stifling a laugh at his arrogance and pride…and his self-absorbed confusion about what was truly important. The purpose of the Law is to make sure that we are loving God supremely and caring for our neighbor. To point out how clearly confused the wealthy man was, Jesus gave him an instruction that struck at the heart of his problem: he hadn’t done either requirement. 

Truth for the rich young man was that his amassed wealth was his god, and he wasn’t willing to part with it for anyone…even if it meant missing heaven.

Some of the saddest words in scripture (in my opinion) are attributed then to this man: he went away sad.

This Advent season we have looked into the scriptures to see  the “good thing” we need to do. We have thought about how God values small things. In a time when bright lights, sweet treats, cozy parties serve to cover our real need, we have taken time to focus on God’s valuing of honesty.  Finally, we have pondered the greatness of God’s gift in his son, our savior—and his invitation to be cheerful generous givers.

My prayer is that we have learned what “good thing” we have each needed to address, that we have made sure God is supreme, and our neighbor is cared for.

Because I don’t want any of us to go away sad.

PRAYER: O come, o come, Emmanuel. O come let us adore him…and share the joy he wants to bring to our lives, and to the world. Amen. May it ever be true. Make it true precious God. Make it true.

Advent: Give Big


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


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


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


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.