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?

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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.

Advent: Be Honest

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Day Five: Get Caught Doing Right

Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbors. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior, and they will give honor to God when he judges the world (2 Peter 2:12, NLT).

Recently a young woman I know was accused of doing something wrong. Many people heard, and some expressed disappointment. I watched as some people turned away from helping her. But she was adamant that she had done nothing wrong, and that she would be vindicated by the truth. 

It took some time for the truth to be revealed. Days turned into weeks. The slow passage and the weight of others’ judgment could have easily become a discouragement to her. I could hear some of her questions in my mind: “Why bother? No one believes me anyway.” She could have given up..given in.

But she stayed strong. Resolved not to go back, and not to give in to the discouragement. And the truth became known: she had not made bad choices. 

When I learned about the results, I let her know how much I appreciated her faithfulness. We discussed the courage it took to keep choosing the right way while others were judging her as quitter…a failure.

Others may not understand the choices we make, hard choices that go cross-grain to prevalent cultural practices—but God sees…and he will judge you rightly. 

TO PONDER: Think a time when someone has judged you harshly without knowing all the facts. How did that feel? What do you do when faced with choosing God’s way over following the negative choices of others?

TO DISCUSS: Talk with a friend or family member about how they have handled being judged wrongly, or harshly for their faith. Consider ways to encourage one another to stand strong and faithful.

PRAYER: God, this world doesn’t make it easy to remain faithful. Through the media we are bombarded with messages of greed and deceit. People live with the mindset that everyone is doing it. They assume the wrong thing, read negative things into our actions, judge us—and all we want to do is follow you. Help us to live our faith honestly and openly so that we can bring you all the honor and glory. Amen.

Advent: Be Honest

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Day Four: Yes and No

But let your ‘yes’ mean ‘yes,’ and your ‘no’ mean ‘no.’ Anything more than this is from the evil one (Matthew 5:37, CSV).

If there’s one thing our obsession with texting has taught me, it’s the importance of paring down my message. Why use a sentence when a word—or letter—will do? Why take the time to write a complete and coherent thought, utilizing proper grammar and punctuation when “K” will do?

Okay, perhaps our smart phones, as some fear, have pushed us to the edge of a communication demise. But there’s another lesson we can draw from this.

We live in a filibustering and blathering age that tends to want to hide behind our words and excuses. We’ve lost touch with the simplicity and truth of today’s scripture verse.

The simplicity of living a yes or no life. Trimming back on our rhetoric and our need to put forth a front. Living the truth that has come to mean so much to me this year: it is what is…and I am who I am.

K?

TO PONDER: What might need to be removed from your life, your speech, your actions, for others to know to accept you as see you—not needing to try and read between the lines or try to figure out what you might mean but not be saying?

TO DISCUSS: Just as a mirror gives a true reflection, our actions and speech needs to honestly reflect who we are, and what we believe. Find someone you trust and have an honest talk about their perceptions of you and your faith.

PRAYER: God, sometimes we prefer not to really do the hard work of honestly paring back. We hide behind a flurry of words. We look like Adam and Eve, seeking to cover our nakedness. Help us to not to be afraid of the vulnerability of being who we are, and who we are in you. Amen.

Advent: Be Honest

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Day Three: Faith of a Child

Then he said: I promise you this. If you don’t change and become like a child, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 18:3, TCV).

What is the faith of child? Why would Jesus lift up the example of a child to a group of self-righteous and pretentious church know-it-alls? Perhaps because that’s who they were. It’s not how they started out. They were the holy leaders. The ones who pointed the way—but in the process they assumed the roles of God-protectors. Their position and piety could have been a reflection, pointing the way to holy living, but instead they made it nearly impossible.

They had hopelessly lost the way. And in the process, made it impossible for anyone to follow them. 

As I was writing this, I was sitting in a coffee shop. Ear buds in and fully caffeinated. The song, “Wonderful, Merciful Savior,” came into my ears. The words, “we have hopelessly lost our way” played over and over. Then just as I realized what God was pointing out the song changed to a wonderful piano rendition of the child’s song “Jesus Loves Me.”

Coincidence? I think not. Not unlike the Pharisees of Jesus’ day we seem to have lost the gift of childlike wonder and trust. 

Perhaps it’s not too late to turn and become as children again.

TO PONDER: What used to bring you to place of trust and wonder during the holiday season? What would it take to find them again? 

TO DISCUSS: The Pharisees were consumed with being right and protecting God. In the process their lives became consumed with proclaiming rightness, while they sacrificed honesty. Jesus was calling them back to the honest living characterized by child-like faith. What could you learn from the faith of a child?

PRAYER: God, truth is you could have showed up, full-grown, and ready to lead your people. But you came as a baby. Let this season which seems often to be oriented toward children, become for us the daily reminder of your coming as that child, and our need to become as children in our relationship with you. Amen.