I allow myself to get roped into all kinds of things. I'm not always good at saying "no" when I should, and I end up serving on boards, committees and organizations that I really don't have time to spare. But, there are some things that I have said "yes" to that bring me great joy. Being the High School Sunday school teacher at First United Methodist Church is one of those that I actually volunteer for, and I have no problem with continuing my service.
Last Sunday, the young adults and I discussed gifts, tithes and sacrifices. I pulled examples of how sacrifices originated in the Bible, how Abraham was called to make a supreme sacrifice, and how Christ was God's ultimate sacrifice for the redemption of man.
And then, I challenged the kids to think about how they make sacrifices in our modern world. We talked about helping out on a project rather than going somewhere with friends. We talked about offering clothes that no longer fit to someone who had very few clothes. We talked about making extra food and offering to a classmate, being sure to explain that "We made more than we can eat and I wondered if you might want to take some off our hands."
I challenged the youngsters in my class to find a way to make sacrifices going into this extended holiday season of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's. I suggested that they find things that meant a great deal to them that they could give as gifts (their tithes), such as time, surplus goods, or even extra money they had received.
I explained to my students that, even when we're at our worst and have our greatest number of needs, we are still so much richer than many others. The sacrifices we choose to make don't really require that we give up so very much; but, they can make huge differences in the lives of others.
Perhaps it was just coincidence; but, while I was working on this column, Nancy from Mason Bank brought in the information necessary to begin work on the 2013 Santa's Helpers. She explained that many people had, in prior years, brought in toys or clothing for the program; but, that limited just who could receive the gifts. This year, the Santa's Helpers are asking for cash donations. That cash will be converted into gift certificates which the recipients can then use to purchase food, clothing or toys, all of which will be appropriate to their ages and their circumstances.
There are still ways to "gift" your old toys and clothing, just in more direct, one-on-one encounters. For Santa's Helpers, donations of cash will guarantee that families have exactly what they need this Christmas.
And then, there is paying it forward. This is the concept of receiving a gift or kindness from someone, and then passing it along to others. In the movie of the same name from a few years ago, each time someone received a gift or kindness, they were urged to repay it threefold. If someone helped you, then you would help three people. The idea is an inverse pyramid,,, growing as it goes along.
When I was in Boy Scouts, we were encourage to do one good deed every day. That could be as simple as helping someone with their packages to get to their car. Or, it could be climbing a ladder to clean out gutters for someone who no longer climbs as well as they once did. Those good deeds required a sacrifice - of time, of energy - but they paid big rewards. And not just for the recipient.
When you give a gift, willingly and cheerfully, your heart is also rewarded. At Christmas, we often become bogged down in how many gifts, and how nice they are. But, compare the feeling of receiving one very nice gift to giving something dear and special to someone who really needs it,,, and there's no comparison.
So, as I challenged my Sunday school students, I challenge all of us. Find the sacrifice you can make for the people around you. Give that gift willingly and with no reservations. And urge the recipient to simply pass on the giving and the caring.
It’s all just my opinion.