Thursday, January 1, 2009

Generosity - The Big Give

by Tracy Nunes

I know what it’s like to give, then sit back proudly and give myself a pat on the back for how spiritual I am. I know what it’s like to forget my motivation for giving in the first place. This happened to me during the 15 years my family sponsored children through Compassion International, usually two at a time. We began with earnest intentions and enjoyed seeing the money give the children a chance to survive and the opportunity to know the Savior. We exchanged letters and sent Christmas gifts. After a while, I noticed that I thought about them most when I balanced my checkbook, and notated the automatic withdrawal from my account. We had their pictures on our wall, and guests to our home would often comment about them. It felt good, but deep inside I knew I had lost the heart of why I was doing it.

My heart was unsettled, and I asked the Lord to reveal whatever needed to be changed in me … I just wasn’t expecting there would be so much! My heart towards giving was not the “abundance” intended for me. My cup was overflowing alright but not with good things! God began by showing me scriptures that demonstrated how the Savior responded to the needs around Him. Jesus loved the poor, spoke to them, and performed miracles amongst them, more than any other group of people. But, His clear and resounding message was that there is a greater poverty than the material, there is a greater hunger than the rumble of stomachs, and there is a greater shelter than a roof over our heads – the shelter of the arms of Christ. Jesus never looked over or around the needs in front of Him, but He always saw them through the light of eternity.

When Mary poured the extravagantly expensive perfume over Jesus’ head in adoration, and in unknowing preparation for His burial, Judas protested that it was a waste and that the money could have been given to the poor. Jesus rebuked Judas saying, “Leave her alone. Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time. But you will not always have me.” (Mark 14:4-7 NIV) Mary honored Him and put Him first.

Besides showing me scripture, God answered my prayer by giving me the humbling opportunity to be on the receiving end of generosity. I was blessed by some unexpectedly needed help. Through these experiences, and others, I have learned that giving must be an overflow of God’s Spirit in my life, and not an outward attempt to appear spiritual. As I seek Him, God will give me the vision and heart for the people I am led to give to. He will show me how to make my life, heart, home and resources available to be used as He directs. Food, shelter, clothes and medical supplies must be given with the Hand of our Savior and with the goal of reaching their eternal souls through their earthly needs.

The call of the world and the demands of a daily schedule will always challenge these principles for me. I get frustrated with myself because I seem to need remedial instruction more often than I would like. There can sometimes be a Judas mentality lurking beneath the surface. There will always be something new to learn or a greater depth to reach in an area I thought was mastered. It will help me to maintain my focus if I remember to keep no account of what I have given to people, to expect nothing in return and to be as discreet as possible when giving.

Increasingly, the Lord reminded me to pray for the children we sponsor and to always remember that the blessing is in giving and in honoring the Lord, not in the recognition I receive for it. As I follow these principles I will not only fulfill the Great Commission but, as I obey His ways of giving, I will be blessed with a deeper walk with Him. When I give, Jesus will be loving people through me and they in turn will see Jesus and not Tracy.
Proverbs 31 Ministries is a proud partner of Compassion International. If God is leading your family into a deeper experience of ministering to the poor this year, consider sponsoring a child. You’ll have the opportunity to know your sponsored child through letters and photos, and will make an eternal difference in his or her life. Click here for more information:


by Heather Goodman

Inspired by Oprah and a love for books, book clubs are peppering neighborhoods, churches, and libraries. Book clubs can be a way to delve deeply into books chapter by chapter, or they can be an excuse to get together over a common interest. Beginning a book club with a distinctive Christian flavor, whether you use books by Christian authors or secular authors, gives women the opportunity to see Christian themes in a new light and to evangelize to a neighbor who shies away from attending a Sunday morning service.

Starting anything new can be intimidating, especially when you have laundry to be done, kids to be bathed, and dinner to be fixed. These seven tips help women who have a love for books, and a love for other women put their desire into practice.

1. Set the guidelines. Reading and discussing one book a month allows women to come when they’re interested in a specific book without feeling pressured to commit. Doing a couple chapters a week requires a group more dedicated both to the book and to each other. Determine if you want to read fiction, nonfiction, or a mixture, if you will do it on your own in your home or through an organization, such as your church, library, or PTA, and if it’ll be a mixed gender group or women only, intergenerational or age-specific. Each option has its own pros and cons. I approached my church about starting a monthly fiction book club under the Women’s Ministry. We agreed that it would be a great way to get women of different ages intermingling.

2. Start with a core group. Find a couple of friends for a "test" month before you get the word out. I asked three women in my church for my test month. Word spread, and we had eight women at the first month, one of whom I'd never met before. Starting with a core group gives you room to learn together and get comfortable with one another and your interactions.

3. Choose books for the next four months with the test group. Have suggestions ready, but remember a book club isn't about making everyone read the books you like, but to share your favorites together. Letting go of this aspect, gave me the pleasant surprise of discovering new authors I would have otherwise skipped over.

4. Find local authors to speak to your group or authors willing to do a conference call. Connecting writers and readers invigorates both. This is easier than you think because authors enjoy this aspect. At my first author appearance, I worried that the group would be scared silent. Not so! They couldn't wait to ask questions, give kudos, and even tell the author what didn't work for them. The author had a great time getting to hear feedback—as writers, too often, the only feedback we get is a computer glare and professional reviews.

5. Advertise in local venues. I decided to start my group through the women's ministry at church, so we announced it through church forums (the website, the Sunday morning bulletin). If your church or women’s ministry has an e-newsletter, check into adding your book club to it. Post flyers at your library. Announce it at your PTA. A friend of mine created a “movie trailer” advertising their book club, and the church showed it during announcements. Be ready! Our first month after announcing it, we had 20 people show up. Women are hungry for books and for connection, and God uses what we offer Him to reach others for Him. We outgrew my house and some months even split into two groups.

6. Have discussion questions ready. These can often be found online through the author’s website or in the back of the book. If not, take the time to put together your own questions. Questions should generally be open-ended rather than yes or no. Hint: If fiction, focus on character motivation and what can be learned through the story. If nonfiction, focus on main points, challenging areas, and even questionable statements made by the author. Often, a group of women together won’t need encouragement talking, but you want to be prepared. You may choose to email the questions to the members ahead of time.

7. Enjoy! Whether your group takes a more serious look or uses the book club as an excuse to laugh together as a group of people who love books, have fun! I’ve met new friends and mentors through my book club. They’ve stretched my perspective and my imagination.

A Cup of Cold Water

by Sharon Sloan

“If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is My disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” Matthew 10:42 (NIV)

The fiendish heat wave was in its seventh day. Local news reporters were urging residents to stay inside in air conditioning as the air quality was so poor. One particular evening after dinner, the oppressive heat eased up just a touch, and we decided to brave the outdoors. I sat on our front porch while Joshua and Gabrielle played contently in the front yard with some neighborhood friends.

A distinguished-looking man with a friendly countenance walked at a purposeful pace down the sidewalk. Quickly observing an aide assisting him with campaign literature, I knew he must be a hopeful politician seeking support in the upcoming elections.

As he strode up our driveway and reached out his hand to shake mine, it was clear his body was struggling with the stifling heat. As his brow glistened with large beads of sweat, his breathing was noticeably labored. His once crisp and perfectly-ironed shirt was now wrinkled and soaked with perspiration. The visitor’s efficient greeting was an effort to politely keep cadence so he could complete his neighborhood campaign and find necessary relief from the heat.

All the children had kept playing during this brief encounter, but Joshua had been taking notice.As the man was walking down our driveway towards our neighbor’s home, Joshua said, “Mommy, that man and his helper look very hot. I was just thinking I would like to give them some cold water. He has wet spots all over his shirt, and cold water would help him.”

My heart rejoiced in Joshua’s compassionate and responsive heart. He genuinely cared and discerned the condition and needs of our unexpected callers. Joshua was loving in actions and in truth. “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” 1 John 3:18 (NIV)

As my husband and I spend these precious parenting years in the trenches, our desire is to train our children how to apply 1 John 3:18 and be mindful of the needs of those God has placed in our paths. We prayerfully trust the Holy Spirit to gently nudge our children’s hearts and fill them with the joy and peace that accompanies obedience. All around us are opportunities to love with actions that bring honor to God.

Ever since the children were small toddlers, we’ve walked around our cul-de-sac together to bring morning papers from the bottom of neighbors’ driveways up to their porches. On trash collection mornings, we often would bring the neighbors’ empty trashcans up to their garage doors. Now, when our children see a newspaper or an empty trashcan, they take action instinctively on their own. Though they are young, they can serve the Lord in useful and significant ways. “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity.” 1 Tim. 4:12 (NIV)

Some other ideas may include leaving a home-made card or a little gift at the door of someone hurting or needing encouragement. At Christmas, small gifts can be purchased for other children whose parents may be struggling financially. Sponsoring a child through Compassion International and having your children pray for and write to that child is a beautiful way of awakening your child’s heart to the needs of others. For Easter, through Samaritan’s Purse Ministries, musical stuffed lambs that play “Jesus Loves Me” can be sent to children in third world countries. As we respond in obedience to His leading, these acts of kindness stir children’s sensitivity and prime their hearts to be actively looking for ways to serve others in their family, neighborhood and around the world.

“And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” Hebrews 10:24 (NIV) A few years ago, we were inspired by another Christian family in our community who put love into action. So, following their lead, for our birthdays that year, rather than receiving birthday gifts for ourselves, we requested new library books for a Christian school in New Orleans that had been devastated by Hurricane Katrina. In total, our little family received almost 200 new books for the school after we had celebrated all four of our birthdays.

This year, our birthday ministry outreach was by theme. Joshua chose basketball, and Gabrielle chose a theme of flip flops. Their party guests brought gift cards for footwear and new basketballs for Rock Ministries of Philadelphia, which ministers to at-risk young men of Philadelphia’s inner city. Gabrielle’s guests generously gave more than $400 in footwear gift cards, and Joshua’s guests donated 30 new basketballs for these young men at Rock Ministries.

Seemingly small expressions of kindness can soften hearts and bear eternal fruit. As we love others with actions and in truth, He is faithful to bring forth a harvest. When we extend His love and kindness to others, they can see His perfect love, salvation and provision. Our rewards blossom in our soul as He fills us with His joy and peace.

As Joshua served our visitors bottles of cold water for their journey that evening, his reward was a personal treasure in his heart between himself and our Heavenly Father. “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of Mine, you did for Me.” Matthew 25:40 (NIV) With a pure heart, Joshua had served our Lord and King a cup of cold water. He was loving with actions and walking in the truth of God’s Word.

Indeed, there is no greater joy for a Christian parent. “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4 (NIV)

Sharon Sloan and her devoted husband, Jim, live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania. They have two precious children: Joshua (8) and Gabrielle (6). Sharon is a She Speaks! Graduate and has had devotions published through P31 on-line devotions. A paralegal by profession, Sharon now works part-time at her church as an administrative assistant. She leads a P31 Gather & Grow group in her home. Sharon is passionate about encouraging others in their personal walk with the Lord. The Sloans invite you to visit them at: Please share how God has led you to love with actions so we can all spur one another on!