Being Generous in Every Way | Advent

We have a Christmas card delivery box at our church, a central station for Merry Christmas wishes and Happy New Year greetings.

Instead of us all buying stamps and mailing cards to one another, our church’s missions group sets out their own church post office hub.  We leave our cards for  each other in the boxes and give the money we would have spent on postage to a missions offering instead.

My kids love checking our “mailbox,” the slot that holds all of the cards in it for people in our church with last names beginning with J or K.  I usually only have to check the box once a season.  They stay on top of card delivery.

Years ago, someone spoke a few gentle words of truth to me about those cards and the boxes, about the giving and the receiving.

She brought  to my attention a name, one person in our little congregation who loved checking the box, but didn’t often find a card addressed to him.  He so eagerly checked that Christmas card box every single Sunday.  Always with hope.  Never showing disappointment or sorrow over the cards he didn’t receive.  He rarely walked away with a card, though.

It is because of my friend’s loving reminder to truly show love that I address his card first every year when I write the names on the envelopes.  I do not want to forget or neglect to give and love someone whom God so loves.

And this has been on my heart this year at Christmas.

Most  of us as moms seek out ways to teach our children that Christmas is more about  giving than getting.  I’m in the thick of it.  With four kids ages 6 to 15, I’m right in the middle of this training season, to keep Christmas about Jesus and His love.

For years, I’ve had my kids hunt through the gift catalogs from World Vision, Compassion International, and Samaritan’s Purse, choosing what they felt passionate about giving that year:  Soccer balls, malaria nets, goats, chickens and ducks, blankets,  Bibles,  school kits, and more.  They had  to  do extra chores through the fall months in order to raise the money they would give to their chosen cause.

We pack boxes with Operation Christmas Child.

We send our sponsored children a Christmas gift.

Two years ago, we started a reverse Advent box, adopting an idea I had seen online.  We start with an empty box and we pick a local charity to give to.  Every day in  December, we put an item in the box to donate to our chosen charity.  Last year, we collected hygiene items.  This year, we’re collecting wipes, onesies and other baby items for moms in need.

The ideas online are endless.  Random Acts of Kindness Calendars.  Volunteering at homeless shelters.  Ringing bells for the Salvation Army.  Toys for Tots.  Caroling at nursing  homes.   And many more.  We have so many ways to engage, so many opportunities to  focus our hearts and minds on giving during the Christmas season.

But this year, I feel the challenge more than ever to make it personal. 

I tell the Christmas story to preschoolers most years and as I do, I remember the simplicity and the beauty of the nativity.  I see how God chose an ordinary young woman and a poor carpenter.  How He announced the news to lowly shepherds.  How He drew in wise men from afar.

The poor.  The outcast.  The foreigner.

This is who God chose to use at Christmas.  This is who God invited to worship.  This is who God drew in to be His witnesses, to  see what He was doing.

Others missed it, sleeping silently, crammed into every possible accommodation in Bethlehem, totally unaware that “today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:11).

So, our family keeps up the giving traditions.  We fill our reverse advent box for moms and babies we do not know.  We pack shoeboxes for kids we will not meet on this side of heaven.  We send gifts and pack gifts and gather and give for people in need who remain nameless to us.

But there are also people I personally know who could use a Christmas card with their name on it this year.

There are people I personally know who could use some homemade cookies because no one else will be baking for them this Christmas.

Kindness from a distance and giving from afar can be so much “easier” and more “comfortable”  than the vulnerable act of loving the neighbor we know.

May we find ways  to do both.

“You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God”  (2 Corinthians 9:11 ESV).

Much More Than We Deserve

For those reading Lisa Harper’s book, Stumbling Into Grace, along with my small group, today’s devotional will match up with her fifth chapter: “Cat Appreciation Day”

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“My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.”
Luke 1:46

The Christmas lists have begun in our house.  My kids spot fairy costumes and toys, games, and crafts at Wal-Mart and suddenly they’re pleading and begging.  My response is nearly automated, “Maybe that’s a good thing to request for Christmas!”

My kids know they’ll have presents under the Christmas tree this year because we love them and we enjoy giving them good gifts. Unlike Santa’s treats, our gift-giving doesn’t depend on whether they accumulated enough nice points and avoided the naughty list.  The gifts we give them are gifts of grace.

Just like God does for us.

It’s so easy for us to blur the lines between grace and works.  It’s easy to slowly forget just how incredible this unreasonable and abundant grace of God’s really is and to start drifting ever so slowly into working, doing, serving, and earning God’s affection and blessing.

Not that there aren’t consequences for behavior.  Sometimes we lose out on God’s best for us simply because we didn’t follow His commands in the first place.

But sometimes blessing is more than just avoiding the pitfalls of bad choices. Sometimes God chooses to rain down good gifts on His children simply because He loves them.

There are times, though, when we’re searching, searching, searching the sky for any sign of showers of blessing.  Maybe we’re even toting an umbrella around in hopes for a drop of grace or two.  But we feel overlooked instead.

Worse yet, sometimes it looks like others are receiving so much.  And then the jealousy kicks in because we’re too busy watching the weather patterns in other people’s yards.

Jeremiah felt the same way when he asked, “Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” (Jeremiah 12:1).  Job asked, “Why do the wicked live on, growing old and increasing in power?” (Job 21:7).  The Psalmist wrote, “How long, LORD, will the wicked, how long will the wicked be jubilant? (Psalm 94:3).

This was probably Hannah’s struggle on a daily basis.  Her husband loved her, but it was his second wife, Peninnah, who had all the babies.  While Hannah prayed continually for a son, she remained childless.

It just didn’t make sense.  Hannah was a righteous woman.  She prayed faithfully and worshiped God.  All this while Peninnah purposely “provoked her severely, to make her miserable” (1 Samuel 1:6).

Well, that just doesn’t seem right and certainly doesn’t seem fair—does it?

And it’s true.  We don’t always understand the whys and wherefores of when God blesses, who God blesses, how He blesses and why.

In Psalm 37, though, David tells us, “Do not fret because of those who are evil or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither away, like green plants they will soon die away. Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture” (Psalm 37:1-2).

In other words, don’t spend time worrying about others. You just worry about you.  Trust in God.  Obey what He tells you.  He’ll take care of what you need.

God did finally give Hannah the desire of her heart.  Maybe it was because of her persistent prayer or the pain that she poured out on the altar before Him.  Maybe it was because she vowed not to keep the blessing for herself, but instead to turn over the promised son to the service of the Lord.

Or maybe, as she says herself, it was because “by strength no man shall prevail” (1 Samuel 2:9).

You see, Hannah was humble.  She knew that any blessing she received from God was just that—a blessing, a gift, not something she deserved because she prayed hard and long enough or went to church often enough. 

“For by strength no man shall prevail,” she said.  That means it’s never because of our strength, effort, or ability that we get anything.

It’s always because of His grace.

In her prayer, she reminds us of the same principle expressed in 1 Peter 5:5-6: “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, ‘God opposes the proud but shows favor to the humble.’ Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.”

Hannah says, “The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to the grave and brings up.  The Lord makes poor and makes rich; He brings low and lifts up.  He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the beggar from the ash heap, to set them among princes and make them inherit the throne of glory” (1 Samuel 2:6-8).

Mary had this exact reaction when Gabriel told her that she was chosen by God to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah!  It was the greatest honor any woman could receive, but she knew it wasn’t about her.  It was about Him.

She sang:

“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
   of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
   from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
 he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
   but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
   but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors” (Luke 1:46-55).

Sometimes we begin to feel that we deserve God’s grace, that we’ve earned good gifts from Him or have merited His favor. It’s the sneaking influence of spiritual pride and deep down we begin to think God owes us something.

But Hannah and Mary remind us that God loves a humble heart.  He enjoys blessing those who receive His gifts with true gratitude and who respond with praise, thanking Him for His mercy, for His grace, and for giving us much more than we deserve.

Heather King is a wife, mom, Bible Study teacher, writer for www.myfrienddebbie.com and worship leader.  Most importantly, she is a Christ follower with a desire to help others apply the Bible to everyday life with all its mess, noise, and busyness.  To read more devotionals by Heather King, click here.

Copyright © 2011 Heather King