Monday, December 1, 2008

Hope Through Giving

Giving. When we think of Christmas do we think about giving? Let’s be honest, most of us think of “getting”. I would love to GET a gift certificate to my favorite clothing store. I would really, really love GETTING my Nikon dream camera for Christmas. Our son wants to GET a video game, and our daughter hopes to GET toy horses. We think about things we might GET for Christmas, don’t we? I know I do.

But what about the GIVING? One of the greatest scenes in the Christmas story is the arrival of the Magi, bringing gifts to GIVE Jesus. Although the commercialized view of this event is rather off in timing, what is important to “get” from this story is that the visitors brought gifts to honor the King.

We can also honor Jesus when we give of ourselves, because He gave us SO MUCH. John 10:28 “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” There is no greater gift than that which we have received freely from Christ, and because of that we are to love Him with all our heart, mind and soul. When we love we want to serve, and that is what God has called us to do this advent season. This week's scripture challenge word from Faith Sisters is "GIVE". Think about this word, and look it up in your concordance.

Please think about how you might give of yourself this advent season, if you have not already done so. I’m not referring to the time you sacrifice to go out and shop for gifts for family and loved ones, but in serving those you do not know. There are so many opportunities – whether it be ringing the bells for the Salvation Army, participating in a Giving or Impact Tree that many churches and communities offer, volunteering at a local food shelter or help center…so many ways to give - could be one hour or life changing! And you can do it after Christmas - giving has no time constraints!

When our church first presented the Advent Conspiracy I had to give some thought as to how we could participate as a family. Now that I work retail I have had very little free time in November and December. As far as spending less…well, my family has had a very modest Christmas since I began working at a church 8 yrs ago. We established a 3 gift tradition for our kids – to correlate with the story of the Magi. One gift always includes books, and one is something they ask for as long as it is well under $100. Our extended families began a name exchange many years ago – so as far as spending less, we already were spending well below the average U.S. household (the figure for which blows my mind!).

We couldn’t spend much less, but we certainly did want to GIVE to very special causes this season. When I explained to our 6 yr. old, enjoying a nice clear glass of water, that there are children in the world who have no clean water to drink she was quite surprised. Even more so when I told her they did not have toilets, washing machines, and bath tubs. It was a good teaching moment, and she has talked about it several times since our initial conversation.

As a family we wanted to raise money to help build new wells in Peru. 24,000 children die every year because of unclean drinking water. This is one of the mission outreaches that Blackhawk Church is collecting for. The other cause we wanted to give to is McKallies Home of Future and Hope, an orphanage in Malawi, Africa of which we have had heart connections with since the first brick was laid. We needed to be creative, and decided to make Apple Serving Trays (a project posted about a month ago and since sent to Paper Crafts for publication) to sell to family and friends. We had orders for six trays.

My one weekend off in November was set aside to make the trays. As you can see - it was a family affair. Both kids and my husband all helped with the prep and priming of the trays. I took over on the artistic painting and adding in the patterned paper and ribbon – and completed the project on Monday. The trays turned out beautiful, and almost all have been delivered. The kids will actually be the ones counting the money and dividing it up between product cost, Peruvian wells, and McKallie’s home. We want them to see the fruits of their labors, and when the pitchers are passed in church on December 14th I want them to be the ones who put their love offering inside.

The love offering brings HOPE. Hope to children who drink from rain puddles and dirty rivers. Children whose parents have died of aids, and rely on the orphanage for survival and education. This, in my opinion, is really what GIVING is all about. Sure, we can give loved ones a new stuffed animal, slippers or a video game – we get a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. But that feeling doesn’t last all that long - I am not giving thought to the slippers or game I gave come January.

However, GIVING HOPE to impoverished children – this is something I will remember, and so will our children. Psalm 37:21b reads: “The righteous give generously…” We are not a wealthy family, but we are rich in Christ. We live to please Him, and follow in His ways. We cannot give $100s but we can give of our time, and did so to help make a lasting impact. I so look forward to the day when Pastor Chris tells us how many wells were built in Peru through Advent Conspiracy giving.

A bit about the gift tag above – it was created so that those receiving the trays might know why the tray was made, and perhaps cherish it more for the impact it helped make than its function. Perhaps they will even visit the web-sites and give an additional sum to our family’s chosen cause. The tag is a hybrid project, using patterned papers by Susan Blanton downloaded from Kjoi Studios. The “children border” was created by photographing The Little’s chipboard border by Magistical Memories, removing the background and shrinking The Little's it to fit on the tag. I totally loved the look of the border, and by leaving the chipboard raw one can just imagine children from all over the world of different nationalities and color.

Did you watch the new video I added to my blog? I apologize if the video brings tears. I honestly set out to look for a wonderful Christmas song, “Hope is Born Again” by Point of Grace, but came across this video by Sara Groves. It moved me so much, and it is such a reminder of the ABUNDANCE we have. I hope that it moves you as well, and inspires you to give the gift of hope this Christmas.

Hope is the expectation of fulfillment - it is something all Christ followers have. In a world that seems hopeless in many ways, those with Christ in their hearts have peace and joy, because of the knowledge that this is only one step in the journey. We can bring hope to others by giving, and showing the love of Christ so that others may come to know Him through our actions. I leave you with this scripture from Matthew 10:8b: “Freely you have received, freely give.”


scotirish said...

I have read of many churches celebrating Christmas with Pageants that include an actual baby portraying the role of 'baby Jesus'. Our first child Ruth, was born December 12th, 1981 and was chosen to be 'baby Jesus' for our church's (Reba Place Fellowship) Christmas Eve service. Last year, our grandson, Charlie, born on Oct. 19th 2008, was chosen, also at Reba Place Fellowship. But in prison no such ritual exists.

I wasn't even thinking about babies being in Christmas plays back in 1972. This was yet another year in prison the difference being this was my first Christmas as a christian. The Christmas service held new meaning for me as we sang the traditional Christmas Carols bringing with it a hope for a new life with a redeemed future. Christian volunteers were apart of our service at the U. S. Medical Center for Prisoners in Springfield, Mo.

As our service wound to completion a cry was heard. The faint whimpering of a baby. My first thought was that I wasn't hearing what I thought I had heard. I had been in prison for many years and had never even seen a baby inside of a prison (not counting my infrequent times in the visiting room.) But there it was again, a baby crying. Someone, a volunteer, had brought their baby into the service wrapped in a blanket unnoticed by the guards. I then thought, there was our 'baby Jesus'.

The parents of the yet unknown child were the children of an older couple (Lloyd and Nita Colbaugh) who had only a few years previously began their ministry to the prison. Even the great-grandmother (Mom Carter) was a volunteer and had played a significant role in my own conversion, telling me that God had a plan for my life.

Life would go on and the incident of 'baby Jesus' coming to prison would fade to a memory, until the baby grew up and now is known throughout many countries far and wide as acclaimed singer/songwriter Sara Groves.

I hope this story adds to your appreciation of the life of Sara and her family.
John C Thomson

Sue said...

What a beautiful post!! Wish there were more "givers" like you!

I've tagged you on my blog. Hope you can play along.