It’s likely that during Jesus’ day, just a few hours walk from where He gave His Sermon on the Mount, stood the great theater of Sepphoris. The governor of Galilee, Herod Antipas, had turned the hilltop town into a cosmopolitan center full of markets, synagogues, public baths, and temples. It boasted paved streets, frescoed walls, and beautiful mosaics.
Last Christmas I read an article from a religious thinker I admire. She attempted to make the case that we should avoid the exuberant celebration of Christmas—particularly gift-giving. Her familiar complaints? The consumerism and hustle and bustle of the holidays. As we take an axe to consumerism or greed, however, we must not unwittingly also take the axe to joy. In the next few days, you’ll likely give someone a Christmas gift that feels at least a little lavish or unnecessary. You may receive one as well. I believe this mirrors the generosity of God. Certainly, joy doesn’t require expensive gifts. But joy does provide for a gregarious and generous posture toward others.
In my corner of the world, one of the most popular Christmas practices is to decorate one’s home inside and outside. Many put up real or artificial pine trees, adorn them with all sorts of colorful ornaments, and top them off with an angel or star. Some string up enough lights on the outside of their houses to illuminate a small city. Others simply hang evergreen boughs over their windows and doors.
Not long ago, two newlyweds kissed their honeymoon good-bye. They also purposely did not plan a wedding reception to celebrate their union. Instead, they used the money they would have spent on themselves to selflessly help people in each of the 50 states in the US. In Arkansas, they gave gifts to sick children. In Utah, they aided victims of domestic abuse. In New Jersey, they donated clothing to a homeless shelter—and so on.
In November 2014, a couple asked a waiter named Carlos for a dish that wasn’t on the menu. As former restaurant workers themselves, they were impressed by him and how he fulfilled their recipe request. The man asked Carlos what he would do if he had the money and time he needed. “I work two jobs. I don’t really have time,” he replied. He did, however, let on that his car needed a $1,500 repair job. Later, Carlos found a $1,500 tip on the table. He said of the generous couple, “Thank God for you and for what you’ve done. . . . It couldn’t have come at a much better time, so I’m eternally grateful.”
After I moved to Africa, a couple living in the US contacted me and said, “We’d like to make a financial contribution to help you with your ministry in Uganda.” Because my job at the time didn’t require that I raise funds, I thanked them but declined their generous offer.
On October 31, 2003, 13-year-old Bethany Hamilton was attacked by a 14-foot tiger shark while surfing off the North Shore in Hawaii. Bethany survived, but she lost her left arm and more than 60 percent of her blood in the assault.
After Nelson Mandela’s death at the end of 2013, many stories surfaced of his genuine concern for others. In 1950s Apartheid South Africa, Mandela once saw a white woman standing beside her broken car in Johannesburg. Approaching her, he offered help and was able to fix the car.
When I see the moon at its thinnest stage, I sometimes think of a passage I read in Flannery O’Connor’s A Prayer Journal. The writer composed these poetic words for God: “You are the slim crescent of a moon . . . and my self is the earth’s shadow that keeps me from seeing all the moon . . . I do not know you God, because I am in the way. Please help me to push myself aside.”
During my last year of high school, I saved up my money in order to buy extravagant gifts for my family. When Christmas came, I blew the whole $1,100 on my parents, my sister, and my grandparents. I imagined that—with college looming—I might never have the chance to be as generous with my money again.
When my twin sister and I were 5 years old, we began counting the money we had in our piggybanks. It turned out that one of us had more than the other. To our young minds, this just wasn’t right. So, we decided to balance our accounts by helping ourselves to our mother’s money!
Edward Kimball was a Sunday school teacher determined to win his class to Christ. A young Dwight Moody would fall asleep during his lessons, but Kimball remained resolute and even met Moody at the shoe store where he worked and urged him to give his life to Christ. Kimball left the store thinking he’d failed miserably, but because of that encounter, Dwight Lyman Moody did commit his life to Christ, and he became one of the most prolific preachers of his time. Moody’s conversion and ministry places him in a select group of influential evangelists who were used by God to bring millions to Christ: Frederick Brotherton Meyer, J. Wilbur Chapman, Billy Sunday, Mordecai Ham, and Billy Graham.
Redwood trees can grow to incredible heights—some reaching more than 375 feet! Yet most redwoods have a shallow root system that typically burrows less than 10 feet into the ground.
While I was helping to organize donations of clothing for a church event, I paused to touch a cashmere sweater’s soft grey cloth. When I realized it would fit me, I considered the possibility of owning it—for free! Volunteers were allowed first dibs on the donations. Cashmere is an expensive fabric, and although I have enough sweaters, this one was calling my name. After some inner turmoil, I finally offered the item to a fellow worker, who joyfully accepted it.