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Posts Tagged ‘Giving’

It is the season of Saint Nick and he is everywhere.images-3

So, Santa is everywhere at this season of the year, and he is not new, and not North American. The story of Saint Nick goes back to the fourth century. In various times and his name has been Sinterklaas, Father Christmas, Père Noël and Saint Nicholas.

I admit that, as a Christian parent, it is not always an easy thing to try to empathize the birth of Christ, while at the same time all the world around me shouts of Santa Claus. It is a very difficult thing to try to teach of the greater value of the eternal gifts that Jesus brings while Santa Clause brings Barbie and Lego. Hubby and I have agonized over how to deal with Santa Claus in the life of our family.

When speaking with a teacher friend recently, she shared what she had been dealing with in her kindergarten classroom; two children who did not believe in Santa Claus, and whose mission it was to cast all those who did into a fiery pit. I have to say, her experience confirmed for me that the middle ground perspective on ‘the Claus’ that hubby and I chose to take was a wise one!

For us we chose to neither encourage nor discourage the belief in Santa Claus, just like we neither encouraged nor discouraged the belief in the Tooth Fairy, Easter Bunny, Narnia, Secret Garden, or Fairy Tales. Those magical things, places and people take us to delightful, wonder-filled fictitious escapes into our imaginations that help us to grow and develop with with ability to dream.

But, Saint Nicholas was not a fictitious character, he was a very real person.

Saint Nicholas was a Greek Christian bishop in modern day Turkey in the 4th century. He was known for giving extensively to the poor, to children. His most famous gift is believed to be to a family with three daughters. The family was terribly poor and had no financial way to provide dowries for their three daughters of marrying age. Such a situation could result in these three young ladies being forced into slavery, prostitution. The story goes that Nicholas reached his hand into a window of the house, leaving enough money for the three to have dowries to marry. The story further goes that the money fell into stockings that were hanging by the window to dry … yet another rational for the tradition of Christmas stockings.

Although Nicholas was never officially canonized (the process that the Roman Catholic Church utilizes to recognize it’s saints), the day of the Feast day of St. Nicholas (December 6) continues. Much more can be read about Saint Nicholas.

To believe in him is delightful childhood, to know of the God-loving man behind the beard is essential for the imagination to take root, and blossom into putting that faith into our own works of love for others.

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“What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?
Can faith save him?
If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them,
“Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,”
but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?
Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.”
Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!
But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?
Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar?
Do you see that faith was working together with his works,
and by works faith was made perfect?

And the Scripture was fulfilled which says,
“Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.”
And he was called the friend of God.
You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only.
Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works
when she received the messengers and sent them out another way?
For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
James 2:14-26

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Not until I met my hubby did I become familiar with the Old English Poem, turned song, “Christmas is Coming.”

It is not known how long ago the words of it were penned, but it is believed that the music was composed by Edith Nesbit Bland (The Railway Children, novel writer) in the late nineteenth century.

“Christmas is coming,
The goose/geese is/are getting fat,
Please put a penny
In the old man’s hat.

If you haven’t got a penny,
A ha’penny will do,
If you haven’t got a ha’penny,
Then God bless you.”

Believed to be written during a time a prosperity (as the goose/geese are getting fat), it is a reminder to give to the poor if you have the means, and if you are not able to give even a ‘ha’penny’ to give your blessing.

But what is the value of a blessing? Have you ever taken the time to say, with a smile on your face, a simple ‘hello’ to a lone elderly lady or gentleman? Or to a child in a shopping cart? Or … to a person who appears to be homeless?

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I remember so clearly (may I never forget) the time my daughter and I saw a homeless man, with his cart, just sitting on the grass of a business one evening. We decided to go to the nearby grocery store and get him a few fresh food items (milk, fruit, a sandwich). When we returned with the food, I asked her to take them to him. She returned to the van with tears rolling onto her cheeks, “Mom,” she said, through sobs, “he said, ‘God bless you’ to me. I thought I was the one who was blessing him.”

“If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you.”

Our understanding of the Christmas season is one of excesses … excessive food, excessive spending, excessive busyness, and so on. This short, simple poem reminds us of the origins of this CHRISTmas season … it is one of giving. Christ was not born into this world to enable excesses. He, as a child, God’s own son was GIVEN as the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6-7). He came as an act of giving, as an act of blessing.

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7ee97921ff712da3685331b1bc56d6a1One day a verse was read and the words ‘freewill offering’ stood out to me like neon lights in the black of a night.

What is a freewill offering?

According to my research, it is what it says; a gift of money, time or resources that is given without being forced, without the receiver even knowing that it would be given.

So, if you stay late after work to help a customer, a student, a patient … you have given a freewill offering.

If you put cash in your ‘offering’ envelope, above and beyond your normal ‘tithe’ … you have given a freewill offering.

If you make your dinner, and double the recipe, and take it to the house of a neighbor … you have given a freewill offering.

But, the concept of there being a freewill offering also indicates that we are expected to give, without choice (free will), a certain amount first.

That means we are expected to give of our time, our money, our resources.

Expected giving …

That means that some part of our whole (our whole bank account, our whole waking hours, our whole life) is not, nor has ever been our own.

It is expected that we give to our governments (“So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” Matthew 22:21), and for those of us who are followers of Christ, we give to His work, in both (not one or the other) our time and our physical resources.

And after all that ‘expected’ giving, then we give from our own free will.

To do so as a group would mean that, like the Israelites whose “hearts were stirred” to give to the tabernacle (Exodus 35), we might need to be told to stop giving.

They received from Moses all the offerings the Israelites had brought to carry out the work of constructing the sanctuary. And the people continued to bring freewill offerings morning after morning. So all the skilled workers who were doing all the work on the sanctuary left what they were doing and said to Moses, “The people are bringing more than enough for doing the work the Lord commanded to be done.” Then Moses gave an order and they sent this word throughout the camp: “No man or woman is to make anything else as an offering for the sanctuary.” And so the people were restrained from bringing more, because what they already had was more than enough to do all the work.” Exodus 36:3-7

Imagine if we lived in such a way that our freewill giving exceeded the needs!

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With the start of the Christmas season being underway, here in North America, it is difficult to not think about all that fills the season. For the next few weeks, my blog posts will be directed towards this festive season.

My hubby has introduced me to so much Christmas sub-culture that I was unaware of before. And, since meeting him, when I think of Christmas the first thing that pops into my head is the following poem he taught me:

Christmas is coming, the geese are getting fat
Please put a penny in the old man’s hat
If you haven’t got a penny, a ha’penny will do
If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!

This little ditty is known as a poem, and a Christmas Carol, but more frequently as a nursery rhyme. The author’s name is unknown. In the late nineteenth century, the music for the song was composed by Edith Nesbit Bland. It’s simple rhyme scheme makes it easy to remember, and it’s message is one which is timeless, and so it has been easily handed down for well over one hundred years.

The language of the poem takes me to the time of Ebeneezer Scrooge, perhaps during the Industrial Revolution (late eighteenth to mid. nineteenth century), when child labor and beggars or every age were a norm. I have in my mind a picture of a weathered old man saying this rhyme with a Cockney English accent, while holding out his tattered hat to passers-by.

The words of this well quoted verse remind us of the approach of the season that is indicated, not just by the calendar, but also the girth of the geese. They are fattening up for the seasonal feasts. I wonder, though, if perhaps the unknown writer was thinking more about our girths? And how fat with wealth we are? Because the following line states, “please put a penny in the old man’s hat.”

This poem was written before social services, before old age pension, before any state run social assistance. The old who never had money to put aside when they were younger and working were either taken in by family, or lived on the streets. Today, there are still people on the streets, or one pension cheque away from it. And we should never be so gullible as to think that the helps we have today will always be here for us (or our children). In this time of economic woes in countries near and far, the future is not easy to forecast for any of us.

So, give to those who are in need! You and I have plenty! We have been given much!

And, as the next verse states, it doesn’t have to be a large amount. Give, not from your great wealth, but from your heart and with an attitude of gifting. Much like the the story of the gift of the widow at the temple. She gave her two last coins, which were really almost useless, but they were all she had. You do not have to give a large amount (of course … she only had two coins, and she gave both … she could have given one, and kept one … just sayin’).

And then the last verse ends the plea for help, with “If you haven’t got a ha’penny, then God bless you!”

Speak to untouchable, unclean, ‘unbeautiful’ people. Greet older people with a smile, hold a door for them, say ‘God Bless you’ to them. You might make their day, their holiday season one of hope.

God bless you, as you enter into this season.

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