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Tuesday, 29 January 2013

The Weak Things of the World

   Nobody wants to be thought of as weak.  We go to great lengths to present ourselves as strong and competent to the people around us.  In conversations we highlight our recent accomplishments.  In Christmas letters, we boast about the things we have achieved.
   I wonder if we go to these lengths because we know deep down that we are weak.  We are unable to meet our own standards.  There are things in our past that we would like to forget.  We are human, and we mess up.
   Being weak is nothing to be ashamed of.  In fact, the apostle Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 1:26 that “God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.”  When His awesome power is at work in weak and foolish human beings, it brings shame to the ones who keep pretending they have it all together.
   I’m reminded of a man named William whom his contemporaries would have seen as weak.  He struggled throughout his life with depression, but God turned this weakness into strength by giving him words of poetry and the ability to set these words to music.  William Cowper (1731-1800) wrote a hymn I greatly treasure entitled “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”  Two of its verses are as follows:

            You fearful saints, fresh courage take;
            The clouds you so much dread
            Are big with mercy and shall break
            In blessings on your head.

            His purposes shall ripen fast,
            Unfolding every hour
            The bud may have a bitter taste
            But sweet will be the flower.

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Room for Special Needs

  When my family was looking for an elementary school for our children to attend, we visited two private schools with the name “Christian” in them.  One of the factors that tipped our decision in favour of the school where our children still attend was the attitude towards students with special needs.  It was clearly a priority to provide support for children with special needs, and there was a room and staff devoted to a quality resource program.  Although our children did not appear to require this kind of support, we were grateful that it existed because you never know what might happen in the future.  We recognize that all children are made in God’s image; when that reality is embraced in our schools, all those present are enriched.
    All students have something to contribute.  Our composting program this year has two special needs student involved.  One of them reminds the others on her team that it is their turn on Wednesdays.  And, on the other side, a gracious sixth grader offered three of her lunch hours to assist a special needs student who wanted to participate in the Grade 5 Scrabble® Tournament.  This helper did not take over, but quietly helped place the tiles and gave guidance on the proper spelling of words.  It’s wonderful to see this mutual support taking place as children grow and mature.

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Missing Prayers

   When I started using a prayer journal published by Barbour Publishing, I didn’t notice right away that it was missing something rather important.  It had sections for "new prayer requests," "ongoing prayer requests," answers to prayer" and "praises" but no room for "confessions." 
    When I was growing up, my dad would frequently include the request that God “keep sin far from us.”  But was I really taught that I needed to confess specific sins to God each day?  Not really.  In distancing ourselves from the Roman Catholic practice of confessing to a priest, maybe we Protestants started skipping any kind of confession.
   Well, that was not true of a relatively unknown believer named Samuel Ward, who was born in 1577 and lived in Britain. This man had a tender conscience and recorded his shortcomings in a diary.  While his name may be unfamiliar, he was the youngest member of the team of translators that prepared the King James Version.[1]
    After reading about Samuel Ward and hearing a sermon at a church I was attending only as a visitor, I began a notebook alongside my “prayer journal” for recording my own confessions.  By writing them down, I was forced to think back to ways I had offended God or the people around me.  I searched out what I had done wrong and ways I failed to do good, and brought them before the One who could forgive me.  Whether we record them or not, making confession to our Lord Jesus is an important part of our relationship with him.  When we become so familiar with him that we gloss over our faults in our push to have our requests granted, we will find a coldness settling into our spiritual lives.

[1] See July 19 devotion in On This Day in Christian History by Robert J. Morgan, 1997.

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Two Lessons from East to West

    I’ve always been open to learning whatever I can from different cultures.  Sometimes traditions from other places and times can help us see our lives in a whole new light.  What I’ve learned about the way birthdays are celebrated in Asia has been very helpful in this regard.
   When a baby is born into a Chinese family, he or she is already considered to be a year old.  The time of gestation is rounded up from 9 months to one year in an acknowledgement that this little person has not just begun to be at the time of birth.  All the time in the mother’s womb is valued and considered important.  How have we let this slip away from our consciousness in the West?  We all know that we were once a child, an infant, a newborn.  We need to remember that every single one of us was also once considered a mere fetus, embryo, a collection of cells.  Life is precious at all stages.
    In Korea and in at least some parts of China, a celebrant really ponders the day of their birth.  People take the time to acknowledge their mothers who gave them life on their birth date.  I never recognized before I heard of this practice how Western birthday celebrations completely gloss over the day of one’s birth but focus on the number of years we have progressed since then.  In the West, the one who gave the gift of life is often overlooked as gifts are showered on the one who has a birthday.  Next month I will be adding this distinctively Asian tradition to my birthday celebration.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Counter-cultural Giving #5: Initiative

This is my last post in this series about giving, but it is certainly not the last word.  Almost daily we receive telephone calls asking us to donate to various causes.  Solicitations may also come in our mailboxes or inboxes.  One of our instincts is to resent these requests and become hardened to them.
   I do not suggest we say, “Yes” to everyone who asks for our money.  We do need to be discerning since some causes are more worthy than others.  Instead, we can be the kind of people who give before we are asked.  By setting aside an amount in our monthly budgets for giving, we can be prepared for any requests made of us.  As well, we can tell the agency asking for our dollars that we have already given our monthly allotment to another cause.  When we say, “No,” it will not be out of stinginess or hard-heartedness.
  Some people may find it helpful to match their giving amount to another line item in their spending budget.  For example, giving away an amount equal to the electricity bill can remind us how powerful our gifts will be in the lives of others in need.  Another family may choose to take the amount usually spent on eating out as their giving guide.
   The Macedonian churches are cited in 1 Corinthians 8:4 as having “urgently pleaded with us for the privilege of sharing” their resources with the needy.  I’d like to be known as a person who takes initiative when there are clear needs and does not sit back waiting to be asked.

Monday, 7 January 2013

Counter-cultural Giving #4: More than a Fad

   Sometimes giving becomes a fad in our culture.  The phrases “pay it forward” and “random acts of kindness” are jazzy and capture the public’s imagination to do something nice for people they do not know.  Because these forms of giving are considered random they appear to be easy to tack onto your already busy life.  Excitement is created as we celebrate Pay it Forward Day on April 25 and Random Act of Kindness Day on February 17 or November 9th (depending where you live).  The irony, of course, is that what had been called random is now planned or expected.
   Counter-cultural giving is more than a fad like this.  It is present every day of the year and is motivated not by a cool concept but by a loving heart.  To be consistent and sustainable, our giving needs to be rooted in God, whose generosity to us is beyond measure. 
   One of my nieces in Alberta recently felt led to organize a Random Acts of Kindness Party with and for her friends.  They gave out oranges, chocolates, gift cards and cash to community workers as well as unsuspecting strangers.  This outpouring of giving did not come about because it was trendy but because God had first given love and the capacity for caring to my niece and her friends.  When her party ended, it was neither the beginning nor the end of her lifestyle of giving.  citrus,dining,food,fruits,oranges,Photographs,produce

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Counter-cultural Giving #3:Two Hands

   Many times when we give there is a type of kickback that comes or that we expect.  It can be the simple words of thank you letting us know that our gift has been received and accepted.  Other times, there is a card or letter or a tax receipt.  When I went door-to-door on my street collecting donations for the Heart and Stroke Foundation one year, a neighbour told me he would rather donate by buying one of their well advertised lottery tickets, presumably because there was a chance he would get something out of it.
   When we give in order to get something back, however small, we are missing out on one of Jesus’ principles of giving.  He says, “But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret.  Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you" (Matthew 6: 3-4).
   When I assemble all the paperwork for my income tax, it is hard to live out what Jesus says.  When I have to add up all the figures, my left hand is all too aware of what my right hand has been doing.  By claiming my giving on my taxes, it does open up the opportunity for me to give even more when I receive a tax refund.  Even so, it is good for us to give anonymously when the situation presents itself.  One December when we were establishing ourselves after moving to a new city and dealing with the upheavals of a career change, our family received a card in the mail containing a large amount of cash but no signature.  This has been an example for us to bless other families while remaining anonymous.

Thursday, 3 January 2013

Counter-cultural Giving # 2: Two Shirts

   For the follower of Jesus, giving is something that increasingly characterizes our lives.  In a culture that grasps, accumulates and spends money to store and insure possessions, holding our stuff with open hands will stand out.
   People who came to John to be baptized wanted to turn their lives around, turning them towards God.  They asked him how that would look practically.  The austere John did not miss a beat: “The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same” (Luke 3:11).
   Whenever we have more than we need, there is an opportunity to give.  Everybody needs to decide before God what constitutes “need” in our lives, but it would seem that most of us have duplicate items we could part with.  Sharing our food can involve inviting someone who is alone to eat with us—there will be plenty to go around.  People who have no food may not be knocking on our doors, but we know agencies that reach out to them. 
   One year the school where I work presented a giving challenge.  Paraphrasing John’s word tunic into shirt, we challenged students from Kindergarten to Grade 8 to go through their closets and give away one T-shirt they already had to the needy.  In some ways this was supposed to be “easy”—it did not involve going to the store and spending money—but some younger students found it particularly difficult.  One boy was attached to every one of his T-shirts, and giving one away felt painful.  Giving away what is clearly mine is counter-cultural.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Counter-cultural Giving # 1: Two Pennies

   January is an odd time to write about giving.  Many people are dealing with the consequences of overspending after giving extravagant gifts for Christmas.  Charities concentrate their appeals in the last month of the year since Christmas is associated with goodwill and concern for the less fortunate.  It doesn’t hurt that gifts given before the end of the year have tax benefits for the donors.  What’s given in December can be recouped, to a certain degree, when income tax returns are filed a few months later.
   But what if we want to be counter-cultural in our giving?  What might that look like?  How would it set us apart as followers of Jesus in a world of selfishness?
   Counter-cultural giving begins with the heart.  It is not about amounts.  A common excuse for not giving is that we cannot afford to give.  Our personal expenses are great and our incomes too small.  What if there isn’t enough to take me to the end of the month?
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    Jesus startled his followers (and us today!) by suggesting that a poor widow who gave an offering of two copper coins gave more than the wealthy because she gave all she had.  When we give to God, having faith that he will provide for us, it has a powerful effect.  It is something my family has experienced again and again.  When my husband went back to school eight years ago, we had to cash in some of our retirement savings in order to pay our bills.  We considered this our income and continued to tithe (give 10%) to God up front.  We never lacked the things we needed.