December 17, 2010
When most of us who know Jesus think about Christmas, we think of God making the greatest sacrifice, giving the greatest gift, sharing the greatest love, in sending His Son, Jesus. God did all that in delivering His great love gift to earth. Our part is to spread the news that this love is free for everyone. At this season of the year, I know you work especially hard as you give of your time, your strength, and your health to spread Jesus' love. It's a sacrifice and it costs you, but you do it because you love Him and you love those who need Him.
Christmas is a special time of year for giving so that others can come to know Jesus and His love. But you don't limit your sacrificing to Christmastime. You give all year round--many of you have sacrificed for years on end, a lot of you for decades. We're only human, so it's not usually easy to give, especially when it's to our own hurt. Yet you aren't dissuaded when the sacrifice goes deep. When you see a need that will require a special level of giving, you are willing to give what you can, even when it costs you a lot.
You live the Bible verse, "Do not withhold ... when it is in your power to act." You have also acted even when you felt like it wasn't "in your power" to do so, and you didn't feel that you had the means. There have been many times when you have given to your own hurt; you have helped a "fainting" brother or sister when you didn't have anything to spare; you've given your last penny to someone in need or to help God's work; you've tithed when you thought you couldn't afford it.
As we all know, the Lord doesn't always reward our sacrifices with quick, dramatic results. Sometimes we don't see results at all, or we don't realize that the blessings that come our way are a direct result of something that we gave, or some sacrifice that we made. We don't always connect the dots, but we can always know that somewhere and sometime God is going to reward us. He is fair. He is good. He will not allow you to give more to Him than He gives to you.
Giving is His nature, so there is no possible way that He could stand by and let us give out of our meager resources and not give back abundantly out of His great resources. The saying that "You can't outgive God" is very true, and many of you have proved God's Word, and have received His blessings as a result of your giving.
Here's a beautiful Christmas story, by Anne O'Neil, on this theme. It reminds me of you, dear Family--you who have given and given and given again.
Five brothers, one truck, and me; it was quite a dilemma in my young mind. I was the eldest child in a family of six children, with five boisterous brothers at my heels. My parents, now deceased and gone on to their heavenly reward, bless their souls, were godly and raised us in a home filled with laughter, love, and prayer. Money, however, was often short. Ever since I can remember, principles like sharing, faith, trust in God, and giving were often-practiced virtues. "All too well-worn," I often brooded to myself. As if having a large family and a low income weren't enough, my parents made a habit of helping other less fortunate families.
Back to my dilemma ... Christmas rolled around too soon that year. Times were difficult, and Dad and Mom hadn't been able to set aside much money toward the yearly treat of colors and lights and special desires fulfilled. We had a nice pine tree, which Dad and the boys had chopped down and brought home. We had food, our home was warm, and we had health, but there was no money for gifts, or at least not enough for all six of us children.
One day, coming home from work, Dad had spotted a beautiful shiny red wooden truck on sale. It was just right for the boys, a gift they could enjoy together. He could probably scrape together enough money to pay for it, but he certainly wouldn't have any money left to afford a doll or any other girly gift for me. So that was how I came to be presented with my dilemma. Dad and Mom left the choice up to me. They wanted to give me a gift, and if I would agree to let what money they had go toward giving the boys this gift, they would save up to get me something later. They knew it would be disappointing for me to have no gift on Christmas Day. I'm sure under normal circumstances they wouldn't have asked it of me, but I think they must have seen this dilemma as an opportunity to teach me about the joy of giving.
Somehow, in spite of a few sad tears, I mustered up the courage to tell them to get the truck for the five boys. When Christmas Day arrived and I saw the joy on my brothers' faces as the truck zoomed back and forth, chased and pushed and cuddled, I realized that I had been given the best gift--a chance to make my siblings happy.
As the years passed, though, I grew weary of all the sacrifice and slowly forgot the joy I had experienced that Christmas morning long ago. As I grew into adulthood I lost sight of the value of my parents' happy, sacrificial giving that went beyond what I thought should be expected of them or what I thought was fair. It took a special experience in my life to fully understand this priceless lesson.
By the time I was out of high school and had begun working, I was weary of the thought of living in meager circumstances. I determined to build a comfortable life for myself and to worry about my own needs instead of the needs of others.
Before I knew it, I was raising two children of my own. My husband held a steady job and we lived in a small but cozy home. I was frantically learning the art of juggling meals, caring for crying toddlers, cleaning up spills and broken glass, and nursing bumps and bangs. My little boys were my pride and joy, and I was determined to give them everything they needed.
I didn't forget my Christian upbringing entirely. I did have faith in God. I prayed and read the Bible, and tried to be a good Christian example as my parents had been, yet I was determined that my needs and my family's needs must be my main concern. Once we had what we needed, then I would worry about caring for others. If we had extra, I would definitely share that, but not to our own hurt. I took clothes and toys that the boys had outgrown and gave them to poor families. I knew in my heart that there was more I could do; maybe there was more that God wanted from me, but I wasn't ready to go that far. I didn't want to give that much. I was afraid of the hurt. I was forgetting the joys. I was forgetting the fact that I had never lacked for anything important while I was growing up. God had always cared for us, and always provided enough. Little did I know that Christmas that year would hold some valuable lessons for me and for my family.
As the days of summer faded, so did my plans for prosperity and financial security. My husband was let go from the job where he'd worked for nine years. His company was downsizing, and in one short day our lives began to swerve out of our control. Our savings would tide us over for two to three months, but if he couldn't find a good job by then, we would be in a tough spot.
My upbringing had honed my skills of living with less. This almost instinctive reaction immediately kicked in. I began to reduce spending and guard every bit of our precious reserves. I was determined to make the money last as long as possible so that my husband wouldn't feel too much pressure. Every day he went out to look for work. Some days he got temp jobs that helped to extend our lifeline inch by inch, but the hope of prosperity was slowly slipping from our grasp. We tried not to despair, we tried to pray and remember our faith, but slowly the days drained our finances. My boys were three and five years old, so I couldn't get a job myself.
Whenever I was met by a need or request from others, I would shake my head sadly, telling myself that if we were better off, I'd gladly help. The once familiar concept from my youth that "you can never outgive God" was long forgotten.
Five brothers, one truck, and me; it had been quite a dilemma in my young mind.
Christmas was just around the corner when a knock on the door brought back those long-forgotten memories. My youngest brother had come to visit and brought my boys a gift he had dug out of the attic of our parents' home where he still lived: the once shiny red truck. My mind was flooded with memories of that Christmas: the tears and the smiles and the warm feeling of deep contentment that I now realized I hadn't felt in a long time. My brother sported a toothy grin as he handed the well-worn truck to my eldest. "Robbie, this truck brought your five uncles so much happiness that I thought you might enjoy it too." Then he hugged me and rushed out, late for work.
My thoughts were still being pulled back to those memories of that Christmas long ago as I drove to the local grocery store later that afternoon to buy what things we'd need for our Christmas dinner.
On the way I passed by the home of the Thomas family. Dave Thomas had worked with my husband and I had met his wife a few times at the local park. Dave had been let go a month earlier than my husband, and they had four small children. He too was looking for work, but his wife was barely holding up. Things had been tough for them, and with four kids they hadn't been able to save much even when he was working.
I felt bad for them, I really did. But how could I take away from what would be the food for my two sons in order to help them? How could I give them what we needed? It had been three months now since my husband had lost his job, and our savings were nearly gone. Yet, without a doubt the Thomas family was worse off than we were. We could somehow manage to skimp for a few days and help them out. I weighed both sides, with my mind moving swiftly back and forth, trying to decide between my heart and my head. I was in turmoil as I entered the store and distractedly roamed about, trying to decide what to do. My eyes landed on the toy shelves, and I spotted a bright red truck.
Slowly it began to dawn on me that the spirit of giving of that Christmas many years ago had survived the test of time; it was still in my heart. I had a chance to find that contentment once again. I couldn't shake the memories of that red truck going back and forth, and how it had made everything else feel right inside. I thought of how happy Robbie had been to receive the truck that morning, and here I was, presented once again with the chance to give a little more than I thought was comfortable, to give even though it hurt me personally, and to dip into what I thought I needed.
Somehow, I found the strength to make the right decision, and as I shopped that day, I carefully picked out twice as much as I would have bought for our family. As I arrived at the checkout, it dawned on me that we had only four mouths to feed, but the Thomas family had six. So I slowly moved over some of what I had intended to buy for my own family into the second pile. I paid quickly, not wanting to change my mind. On the way home I stopped just around the corner from the Thomas' house. I could see Mr. Thomas in the backyard watching the children play, and I could hear his wife humming a hymn in the kitchen as she fixed their supper. Being careful to not be seen, I quietly carried the boxes of food one at a time to the porch, setting them down silently beside the front door. Then, giving a sharp knock, I dashed behind some nearby large bushes where I could peek out but not be seen.
I heard Mrs. Thomas call to her husband to please answer the door, as she was busy. It took a minute, but soon the door opened. There stood the figure of a man. He walked with a slouch, and the lines of despair were visible on his face in the afternoon light. The look turned to shock, then disbelief, and then a smile crept across his face. He bent down, shaking his head slowly as he gathered up the two boxes of food. Then he began looking around to find who had put them there. Finally he turned and hurried back into the house, and I heard a resounding, "Oh, my Lord!" echoing from Mrs. Thomas.
The contentment had returned; it was more than worth the sacrifice. I slipped back to my car and headed home. That night when I prayed, I felt like my prayers were being heard. I felt a contentment in my heart. I felt peace of mind, and I knew without a shadow of doubt that we would be okay.
One week later, my husband came home with the happy announcement that he had found a job. He was overjoyed as he hugged the boys, and then hugged me with tears streaming down his face. I finished preparing dinner, and as we sat down to eat, with the initial excitement now settling, I asked him where he was working and how he had found the job.
He grinned, happy to tell me the story. "Remember Dave Thomas, who used to work with me? He's married and has four kids. Surely you remember them, Hon." He paused as he took another bite and waited for me to respond. I nodded, unable to say anything ... as my heart began to beat harder.
"Well, he got hired a few days back. They've had a rough go, much tougher than us. He told me that last week, he'd reached the point where he couldn't go on. He started looking for work a whole month before I did. He'd paid his bills and bought the last box of milk he could afford that morning. Then God just dropped them a couple boxes of groceries 'right outta the sky,' he says. Imagine that, Hon!"
I could feel tears welling up. I nodded with a feeble smile, and my husband continued. "Well, those groceries gave him a surge of faith and strength. He said he stood there thinking that if God cared enough to do something like that, then He must care enough to give him a job. He recalled a sign he had seen the day before for a new food distributor. He went right out and applied for a job there and was accepted. At his new job a few days later, his boss told him they were still hiring, and he remembered me. He was parked outside our house waiting for me to come out this morning, and took me with him to meet his boss. You know what I kept thinking of as I came home today, Hon? God bless the person who gave them those groceries; unbeknownst to them, they dropped blessings right outta the sky into our lives as well."
Tears were now streaming down my face. My husband stared at me in bewilderment, not understanding where the tears were coming from. Then he reached out to hold me. "I thought you'd like that story," he said, his voice trailing off quizzically.
My tears were ones of joy as I realized that you really can never outgive God. When you give even when it hurts, then God has a new opportunity to give you a blessing. It took me a minute before I could bring myself to reply to my husband. "I do, I do. I loved that story. The thing is, Honey, I bought those groceries."
 Proverbs 3:27 NIV.
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