Have you ever “given up” something for Lent? We see Lent as great opportunity to release ourselves or give ourselves up to benefit others. We're looking at Giving Up & Giving Out - practicing the kind of heroic generosity the very first Christians were known for. Despite significant persecution they made significant sacrifices to ensure others had what they needed. So much so that because of the impact of God’s love - their community is described as “having no needy people among them!” That's what a hero is after all - someone who willingly gives up or sacrifices the comfort of their own life in some way to benefit another. Heroic Generosity is an opportunity in simple ways to express our love for God, take risks, spend ourselves on others, showing what His kingdom is like and that it is near!
Thanks to our friends at 40acts - each day during the 40 days of Lent we'll post an idea/action to help you live out God's love. The actions are designed to be simple daily generous challenges which range in style from roll-up-your-sleeves and get-your-hands-dirty tasks, to more relational, encouraging, world-focussed or reflective acts. Each one is designed to be able to be performed in one day, although some you may want to take into several days – there are no hard and fast rules! Life and circumstances are different for everyone and so our abilities, finances and schedules are flexible. Pace yourself. We know there will be days when completing the action/idea – for whatever reason – will be difficult. Please don’t feel demoralised if that happens to you. With that in mind you’ll find three different ideas for how to act heroically:
GREEN: these ideas/acts take five minutes or less, and will usually be free (or really cheap!) to complete.
YELLOW: a little more challenging than the green ideas/acts, but these won’t take more than fifteen minutes, or a couple of bucks.
RED: for those who love to push themselves – take your generosity habit to the next level.
Pick and choose how many of each colour you’d like to do throughout the challenge – you can even do all three each day if you want - go for it! See what generous opportunities come your way today as you prepare to live in generous community and get ready to open yourself up to what God has in store for you. Have fun and live out God's love!
Picture this: you’re looking at buying a shirt, and happy to find one that so cheap. It happens to most of us. But, ever wonder why it's so cheap? As we continue growth in living generously - considering others before ourselves - we’re getting thoughtful about our threads. What’s the history behind our clothes and what makes ethical clothing generous?
“Be under obligation to no one – the only obligation you have is to love one another…” (Romans 13:8 GNT)
When it comes to clothes - I like T-shirts and in particular cheap T-shirts. I've never really thought about what's involved in producing them or more importantly who is involved. A $5 T-shirt is win for me. But, I read a story the other day from someone who works in the fashion industry and it opened my eyes to the ethics involved.
When we buy clothes, there’s much more to think about than simply the cost to our wallets. Everything we buy has a meaning. It’s a decision that can affect everything from the economy to the environment to perhaps someone’s life on the other side of the world.
Some brands have 80% profit margins which means that the other 20% has to include the cost and testing of the fabric, the trims, the packing materials, the freight and then the manufacturing price. And somewhere in that 20% is the wage of the person that is making the garment for you.
When I pay $5 for a T-shirt, how much do I think the person making that T-shirt is getting paid after all the other costs have been factored in?
So perhaps next time you need or want an article of clothing, perhaps save up and buy one from a brand that you know pays enough for their factory workers to have the quality of life they deserve. Or you can always buy second-hand at charity shops, or websites like eBay.
Jesus taught us to love our neighbours as ourselves and, more than that, as he has loved us sacrificially. As we know from the story of the Good Samaritan, ‘neighbour’ means more than just the people we live near. We have a duty to care for even those we have never met.
Be aware it is about supply and demand. If consumers want something, the retail world responds to that. If we demand good-quality, ethical products, the higher cost to us can mean a lower cost to someone else’s life.
Green: Research places that are ethically sound in the clothing they sell. Start a list of places you’re happy to shop for clothes, and consider avoiding places that aren’t clear about their production ethics.
Yellow: Do an inventory on your clothes. Sort through them and donate anything you don’t need.
Red: When you need or want something new, buy ethically instead, and get a new habit started.
Ask yourself who are the people that support your everyday life – the list may be a surprisingly long one. The postal worker, parcel deliverer, bus or train driver, checkout assistant, sanitation worker: it's so easy to take them for granted. Let's turn the spotlight on those who are busy in the background and still needed to go about their jobs, even in this time of social distancing. Our message? We notice you, we thank you, we respect you.
'"Why have we fasted," they say, "and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?" Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.' (Isaiah 58:3 NIV)
On a normal weekday morning, before we were all asked to stay at home, many of us are usually running along in the 'rush hour' as millions of people streamed to work, to school or headed to stores to shop. At the same time, we may not have noticed the surprising number of people moving in the opposite direction. Who are they?
These are the people who have just finished their night or morning shifts and are going home, or onto another job. There is a 'hidden army' of workers who quietly keep our country moving – our cleaners, security guards, sanitation workers and couriers to name just a few.
When you got to your office or school each morning, you'll notice that someone cleaned and emptied the garbage the night before. Often their invisibility works against them, but these 'hidden workers' are critical in so many ways and this current health crisis has impact on them emotionally, physically and economically.
In today's verse, the prophet Isaiah draws the attention of the worshipping congregation to a group of people whom they appear to have discounted: the people that serve them daily. How can you expect God to listen to your worship songs whilst you fail to offer basic respect and dignity to them?
Our hidden work force are ordinary people who we may have overlooked in our own "rush hour" of life. How can we reconnect with the hidden workers who serve us? Let's show honour to those who usually serve us. How can we ensure that they are treated more fairly? Generosity also – sometimes – needs to work its way out through acts of justice.
Green: If you do need to go to the grocery store today, make a point of saying a big thank you to everyone who serves you. Look them fully in the face as you do, affirming their importance to you.
Yellow: If you know you're expecting a delivery, leave a thank you note or a treat for the delivery driver. Give a hand written note to the bus driver.
Red: Who do you know that usually works in the background and has put themselves at greater health risk to do their job and serve us or maybe it's someone whose lost income in this current COVID-19 crisis? How can you offer encouragement, support or help for them during this time?
In the Old Testament, people presented the "first fruits" of their harvest to God in gratitude for his provision. It was choice produce; in short, the best they had! In our communities this morning - social distancing has created a whole new perspective on how we might share what we have with those around us.
What is the "first fruit" you could give to someone else that reflects your gratitude for God's provision to you?
Offering our very best doesn't mean we always offer the same thing. It's being sensitive to the moment. I maintain the very best gift or "first fruit" we can ever give someone is our time.
An announcement was made yesterday in Ontario by our Chief Medical Officer that those 70 and older should stay home and self-isolate to protect themselves during this COVID-19 health crisis. Today we can offer our very best by considering the more vulnerable people local to us that are most impacted by the announcement yesterday and may feel greater isolation than they did before as they wonder how they will get what they need. The "first fruits" you have - the best you have today might be your availability to ask and mobility to provide.
Action For Today: Can you check in on an elderly neighbour or friend and just ask if there's anyway you can help them avoid going out for groceries or supplies. You could even add an extra treat to the basics to surprise them. Or maybe drop a gift of food at your neighbour's on the way back from the store as an out of the blue complete surprise!
As Jesus said, ‘Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me – you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:40 MSG).
Maybe this season of Lent is challenging your idea of what generosity is. You've undertaken some of the daily challenges and are growing in your sacrificial heroism. I'm sure there are days when the Green option is a significant step in your learning curve of generosity. Thank you for giving up your comfort in some way! Keep going and growing as you being the reality of God's love and hope in practical ways to the world you live in.
Regardless of which challenge you undertook - you listened to the prompting of God's Spirit to step out and had to lean on Him in faith in those moments. Today we’re looking at going that extra mile to change someone’s life. What can you do to lavish generosity on those who need something or maybe ask you for something? Matthew 5:40–42 presents us with the challenge to consider going further than we're asked - that if we’re asked for our shirt, we give our coat as well, and if we’re asked to go one mile, we should go two.
Today we want to consider where your generosity could go beyond even where you've grown in this month. I read a story of a gentleman who heard God's voice telling him to give away one of his Kidneys. Now as challenges go - the colour of that one would be a very deep deep red! It was certainly a step beyond for him and clearly not for everyone. But he listened to the leading of God's spirit and investigated the possibility to donate. After being thoroughly screened to ensure he was in the right mental and emotional state to donate - he was unable to due to the physical risk from a previous surgery.
However, the fact remained, God asked him to give a kidney and he was obedient to him. He shared that the experience taught him it’s more important to obey God than to understand why He asks us to do something. He recognized afresh that our Creator God has a perfect plan and whatever the future holds - He can be trusted.
“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Romans 15:13 NIV)
Action For Today: There’s only one action today. How far can your generosity go? Is there anything else you can do?
What would be on your wish list when choosing a friend? A good sense of humour? Having similar interests? How about someone who keeps their word? It's easy to say, 'I'll pray,' or 'I'll be there,' and then completely forget to do it. What might you have promised in the past that you can follow through with today? Or what new promise can you commit to? Keeping a promise sends a powerful message: you matter to me.
"The Lord himself goes before you and will be with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged." (Deuteronomy 31:8 NIV)
A few years ago a friend and neighbour mentioned he was planning to run the Scotiabank Marathon. I mentioned that I'd always had it in the back of my mind to run a marathon one day. By back of my mind I meant - "distant, distant barely even there" back of my mind and he said I should do it. I said I didn't think I had it in me to actually accomplish it though but he said "I'll help you and we'll do it together." And for the next 4+ months he would meet me every day and we would run together early each morning or late at night. And in September of that year - I completed the half-marathon. He kept his promise to me and helped me accomplish the marathon.
That reminded me that God has promised us so many things simply because we matter to him and he loves us dearly. Sometimes it may be challenging to keep a promise we make, but he has already assured us that we do not need to fear as he is always with us (Isaiah 41:10).
There is so much joy in a promise from the Lord because he will always fulfil it. God has promised us that he will be with us along our own individual race. He will help us to get to the finish line and when we get to the end, we will look back and see how far he has taken us. We will say, 'Wow, God really kept his promise. He is good.
Green: Is there someone who you told you'd pray for about a specific need? Write it down and pray morning and evening for a week; then get back in touch with them and ask if anything has changed.
Yellow: Ask a friend or a member of your family if you've forgotten to do something for them that you promised. Make sure you put reminders into your phone or calendar if you can't fulfil it at the moment.
Red: What new promises could you make today? You could commit to check in with your neighbours regularly, to meet (virtually) with your church to pray for the current situation and for each other, or even make promises to yourself and your household as to how you will think, act, or speak while in self-isolation.
Imagine you're making your acceptance speech at the Oscars. Who would you mention as the people who have made the most impact on your life? The ones you could say you owed it all to? Grab a pen and paper and start making that list.
"Thank God for this gift too wonderful for words." (2 Corinthians 9:15 NLT)
One of the first things we teach our children is to say thank you.
It's funny that we can use those same words whether someone has just passed us the ketchup, given us a ride somewhere or given us a precious gift. Life gets busy and so although I'm pretty good at saying thank you for small gifts or acts of kindness, I don't always take the time to express gratitude for when people have blessed me in deeper ways.
If someone asked you to think of the best gift that someone ever gave you - you might have difficulty narrowing that down, but I'm guessing you might more easily remember the best gift givers rather than the gifts themselves. Most likely what they gave wasn't material gifts, but they gave their time and energy when it was costly to them.
Showing gratitude communicates how much we value the giver of the gifts we receive, and like a muscle in our body, the more we use it, the stronger it gets. Showing gratitude is also contagious. When someone spends time showing their appreciation to us, it sparks something inside us that wants to do the same.
So take some time out today to say thank you, to really say thank you to someone.
Green: Go through your contacts list and send a quick text to those who bless your life by being in it. Mention one thing you are particularly grateful to them for.
Yellow: Which teacher, pastor, youth leader or former boss had the most impact on you? Find out how to contact them and say thank you for shaping your life through their kindness.
Red: If you could repay the favour, how would you do it? Perhaps that person used their skills, networks or resources to help you – how could you do the same for them in the future?
Have you ever thought that your life may be the only Bible that someone reads? Sharing your story could kick-start someone's own journey into a relationship with Jesus or encourage them to keep going when they're struggling. This may be a time when more people than usual are open to talking about faith, so be intentional in your conversations and see what opportunities open up.
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life". (John 3:16 NIV)
I grew up going to a church gathering every Sunday. Sometimes we drove and if my father was working a Sunday shift that day, my mom would walk the 1.5 km to the church building with my brother and I. Rain or shine. It was there I met some incredible people who shared Jesus with me. As I grew - I learned more about Jesus in many ways - and one very impactful way was thru the stories of the people who were walking thru life with Jesus personally. They shared how they had experienced His love in the midst of everyday life - whether those days were rainy or shiney.
The Christians that God placed in my life showed me that Jesus was good. Then they showed me that He was alive and real, and he was excited for me to know him.
Christians all have a story to tell about how we met Jesus and how our relationship with Him impacts our lives. It's a story connected to others. It's a story that belongs to all the Christians who loved us enough to tell us about Jesus. What's your story?
Green: To build your confidence, start by sharing your story (some people call it a "testimony") with a Christian friend. Don't be afraid to practise. You'll soon get better at it.
Yellow: Ask God to make you aware of opportunities to mention how Jesus is your friend with the people you do life with - whether they are Christians or not.
Red: Listen to people as they talk ... if you pay attention you'll hear their life journey embedded in their stories. Where there's a point of connection - share about how your friend Jesus has helped you on your life journey. Watch their reactions, and gauge your conversation accordingly. Know when you've said enough or could carry on with more.
Today's the day for getting out your trumpet and making a noise about someone who's gone above and beyond recently. They say bad news travels fast but let's challenge that - and use feedback forums and online review sites as a way of shouting 'Well done!' and 'Thank you!' from the cyber rooftops. Small scale, large scale, pen, phone or computer, individuals or organizations, you choose.
"Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up." (Romans 15:2 NIV)
I once worked making customer service calls at a car dealership. It was an eye opener for me. Sometimes I felt invisible. Just one more voice at the end of the phone. Often, the only time I'd feel seen was when something had gone wrong. Maybe you can relate to that feeling of questioning your own value and worth.
In contrast, I remember a co-worker at the time giving me a pat on the back and a word of encouragement and it meant so much to know that she had noticed things that I had overcome. When someone sees something in you, maybe a skill they don't have themselves, or maybe something you've never even realized you're good at, it spurs you on to keep going.
The Bible says that some of us have the gift of encouragement (Romans 12:8), but encouraging others is something we can all do with just a little bit of effort. When others serve us quietly in the background we can choose to see them as a reminder of Jesus, who came to serve and not to be served. Then we can ask ourselves how we can show a bit of Jesus back.
You may never know what someone is going through and how a word of encouragement can brighten their day. Maybe they've just done four straight shifts and are trying to keep their family afloat. When you encourage others, you can't necessarily change their situation, but you might just help change their perspective.
Green: Take the time to fill in the surveys they have on your shopping receipts. Those few minutes spent praising the person who served you will make their day and might result in them getting promoted.
Yellow: Write an email or letter to someone in your workplace, neighbourhood or church who consistently volunteers to go above and beyond, and show your appreciation for them.
Red: Check out a website for a store you frequent and encourage them out of the blue. Maybe someone assisted you or was particularly kind or they exceeded your expectations. Whatever made the difference, return the favour and make a difference to them in your gratitude.
“Gracious words are a honeycomb, sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (Proverbs 16:24 NIV)
In these unprecedented days of social distance and self-isolation - most of us are viewing the online/digital/social media world differently than we did just a couple of weeks ago. Perhaps with a lot more intentionality to engage with real conversation and connection. That's a good thing as we watch people sharing encouragement and reaching out to get in touch with friends to make them feel loved.
Proverbs 12:25 (TLB) says ‘a word of encouragement does wonders.' The New Testament uses the word for ‘encourage’ (parakaleo) 109 times in total – convincing us of how vital it is for us to encourage and be encouraged. Hebrews 3:13 reminds us to ‘encourage one another daily’.
But what if we took this even further than our immediate reach, past the friends and family we ‘do life’ with, to long-lost friends – people who influenced our lives, but with whom we now have only distant contact? Maybe a teacher from our past or a former neighbour, youth leader, camp counselor or pastor who made a positive difference in your life. Imagine the effect on them if you contacted them or posted about them, telling them of an impact they had on you, which they’ve probably never imagined.
Make it your aim to serve some up some sweet, healing words today! Thank you to those who are setting an awesome example to me personally!
Green: Scan through your inbox – the phone inbox and the (dreaded) email inbox. Who haven’t you replied to?
Yellow: Got a friend you can feel yourself losing touch with? Take what might be an awkward step, and reach out on Facebook messenger or email or phone and say hi.
Red: Draw up a list of contacts who might appreciate an out-of-the-blue catch up. Text or call one a day this week.
Laughter is the best medicine, says so right in the bible – "A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones." (Proverbs 17:22). How often do we see laughter as a gift to be given?
In his book "The 15 Revolution" - Paul Scanlon challenges readers to engage the world on a daily basis, lift their faces out of their phone screens and see if they’re willing to inconvenience themselves by giving 15 minutes of their time to someone, to make their day. God lavishes his attention and love on each and every one of us. Today, you can do the same. It’s easy, habit-forming and transformational, and it could change a life.
Arthur Ashe said, ‘Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.’ The Bible says ‘the world of the generous gets larger and larger’ (Proverbs 11:24 MSG) and it is so true.
Action For Today: Whether you think you’re a comedian or not, share something today that will make someone smile! Share a joke, or a funny story - maybe one where you embarrassed yourself. Post a funny picture on social media ... your aim is to make someone laugh or smile in some way!
Mental health awareness has thankfully moved to the forefront in our culture thanks to the courageous efforts of many who have shared their stories. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association in any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness. That means we will ourselves or we either know or will meet people who are struggling privately with debilitating symptoms. It's an even more important topic at this moment when many people are isolated and feeling alone. Today is all about opening our eyes, ears and arms to those who need us.
"Don't copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think…" (Romans 12:2 NLT)
Our health and wellbeing is rarely static - it's always in motion - we are either moving towards health, or we are slipping away from it. This applies to our physical, emotional and spiritual health, but is especially the case with our mental wellbeing.
When it comes to supporting others struggling with their mental health, there are things we can keep in mind to better understand their perspective. Remember that they are not choosing for their soul to be downcast. They desperately want joy and peace and to be living life in all its fullness, but that part of them is hidden under a cloud of hopelessness. Understand too that you can't fix it for them, and appreciate that they feel totally alone and can't see how anything could change. They feel hopeless, useless and worthless and each of these thoughts cause them to spiral down deeper into their soul being downcast.
So, in addition to praying for them, how else can we help?
1. We can love them where they are. Not trying to fix them. Just "be with" them which means empathy rather than just sympathy.
2. We can help them think from a different perspective. Someone suffering with their mental health might use language like 'always…' or 'never...' By reflecting 'always?' or 'never?' back as a question, we can challenge a perspective in a gentle but impactful way. (Don't try this without establishing empathy and trust first.) Using 'often' and 'sometimes' instead of 'always' and 'never' enables perspective shifts that can transform black and white, or binary thinking, into shades of grey, and hope.
3. We can help others hope when they can't. Most of us are not always equipped to solve other people's root-cause problems, but we can help practically with symptoms, and we can inspire courage and confidence. We can believe for them and show them we see something in them that they don't see!
In this way, we can help transform their thinking to spiral up. We can offer hope.
Green: Watch this 3-minute YouTube video by Brene Brown that will help you understand the difference between empathy and sympathy. Think about why empathy is so much harder, but so much more helpful, and pray for who you can share empathy with.
Yellow: Reach out to someone you know who is suffering mental ill-health. Ask if there is something practical you can do, or if they would like some company - even digital company. Often, those who are unwell find it hard to express what they need. Always tread carefully so they don't feel overwhelmed.
Red: Consider running an Intentional Health course in your church. This link is to a course in Britain but perhaps you can resource something like this in our area.
Bookmark the link for future reference. This act is even more important at the moment when many may be struggling with exacerbated anxiety and depression. Let's make sure we're checking in with those who are alone or whose mental health may be affected.
We're experiencing afresh the reality that sometimes life throws up obstacles that come between our generous intentions and our actions. Even in the least opportune times, we always have opportunities to give. How can you be generous today, from right where you sit?
Green: Send someone an encouraging and positive text or handwritten note.
Yellow: Use your computer or phone to be generous. Give online to a cause. Encourage some friends on a messaging app. Get on your stewardship account, and put aside generosity money.
Red: Pray. All day. Whenever you can. Even when you’re hurting, or needing a break, focus on others. It sounds easy, but it’s not.
“For I am the Lord your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, “Do not fear; I will help you.” (Isaiah 41:13 NIV)
Today we’re looking at our larger community and focussing on larger local needs during this season. Many social services are feeling significant effects of social distance and isolation as food banks struggle to keep up with needs. Let’s be the ones who’ll rise to that challenge. Imagine if people talked up your neighbourhood as a place where people are kind.
Green: Start a conversation via text, phone or email with friends and neighbours about how to get involved and support those serving the marginalized and needy in your community during this time of social distance.
Yellow: Contact a local foodbank - Caledon Community Services, or Regeneration Community Outreach to name two and find out how to best support and help. Spread the word on their needs and the opportunity.
Red: If possible for you - pick up items the foodbank is in need of and drop it off. Many stores are now offering online ordering and curb side pick up. It's possible to still give in hands on ways and still maintain wise social distance.
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37–39 NIV)
"Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up". (Galatians 6:9 NIV)
The Gospels are peppered by encounters with those who experience isolation and exclusion: the man healed at the pool of Bethesda, dependent on others to access the healing waters; the woman who had spent her savings on trying to cure a long-term health condition; a woman caught in adultery whose partner was not held to the same standard. I'm sure you can think of other stories that resonate with you, too. At times, rather than being seen in their uniqueness, each person may instead have been seen as a problem.
There is a temptation to see the problem rather than the person. In reality, regardless of our presenting needs, all of us are a mixed bag. We are a blend of skills, flaws, blessings and challenges. Perhaps there's a reductive tendency in all of us, when confronted with difference in others. It's a response I've heard referred to as 'Fix or Distance'.
When we see the problem rather than the person, our response might be 'Fix' (e.g. this needs fixing and I can do this to solve the problem) or 'Distance' (e.g. this is too much; this is something I've never encountered before; move away!). We might find ourselves responding with 'Fix or Distance' towards those whose choices or behaviour we don't understand. This is a natural response when encountering difference and complexity, but Jesus offers a better model.
Jesus models something more than 'Fix or Distance' by seeing the whole person.
He moves beyond the presenting issue by offering a way back in for each one. These examples show healing and restoration, yet each results in a chance to move back into community, having experienced exclusion from it.
What might it look like for us to be communities which move beyond 'Fix or Distance' to see the whole person?
In our current COVID-19 situation today, more than ever, we're going to have to be creative to offer an act of generosity. Be imaginative. Be kind. Be the church. Continue to be safe, continue to be generous.
Option For Today:
Find out the needs of those around you and, if you are well and able, see what you can leave outside somebody’s door. It could be someone needs something from the drug store, or another might be running low on a particular item of necessity, maybe it's buying a pizza for a family who are stuck in isolation, or a simple note of encouragement. If you can't get out, make time for a phone call, or an email to connect with friends and loved ones.