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ABUNDANT

generosity


abundant

generosity a devotional written by members of First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge


Abundant Generosity Š2019 by First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Published by First United Methodist Church of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. www.firstmethodist.org All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, stored in a database and/or published in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher. Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New Revised StandardVersion of the Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the USA. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Design: Amy Book Cover Art: Freepik.com


week 1 Of course, there is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these.

But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains. 1 Timothy 6:6-10

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day

LIVING INTO SIMPLICITY

written by rev. jane riecke

VERSE OF THE DAY For we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it. I Timothy 6:7

For many years now, my husband and I have been trying to live more simply. Before we moved to Louisiana from Colorado, we gave away over 600 books and 100 DVDs. We made numerous trips to Goodwill, Arc, and Habitat for Humanity, yet we still managed to fill three U-Haul Trucks to carry what was left to our new home. We have moved many times in our lives, eighteen to be exact. We know how to let go of things, or so we thought. Recently, I started going through some of the boxes we have left over from the last move. I thought, “I can’t believe we moved this stuff!” Apparently we are still learning to simplify our lives. However, when we look at simplifying our lives as a task, simplicity will never happen. Simplicity is more than clearing out a closet or a drawer. It’s more than saying, “Does this (fill in the blank) still give me joy?” Simplicity is a spiritual discipline.

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“Pure, holy simplicity confounds all the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the flesh.” -ST. FRANCIS OF ASSISI Living into simplicity requires practicing simplicity day by day by day. Simplicity is being happy with the things we need and not depending on the things we want. It is recognizing the truth of the phrase “You can’t take it with you.” Simplicity is being content whether we have nothing or everything because our contentment comes from our relationship with God. PRAYER PRACTICE: Dear God, grant me contentment today in what I have and who I am. Amen. THINK ABOUT IT: What changes can I make to simplify my life?

What might I let go of to come closer to God?

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2 day

GRATEFUL

written by tasha whitton

VERSE OF THE DAY You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. Galatians 5:13

The Parable of the Spoons is an old story, sometimes attributed to Rabbi Haim of Romshishok. It has been told many times and goes something like this. Once there was a woman who was nearing death. Her family gathered around her in order to be close when she drew her final breath. As her breathing slowed, her loved ones were surprised when her eyes flashed open and she shared that she had seen a vision. She explained, “I was in a long hallway, and I opened a door on my left. Inside were long tables set with every sort of food imaginable. It was like a crawfish boil with meats and sides and desserts piled high. I moved forward hoping to get a bite of the feast, but then I noticed that all of the people in the room looked shrunken and near starvation. As I looked at them more closely, I saw that every person had a long spoon attached to each arm. So, it was easy to reach the table and get food into the bowl of the spoon, but when they tried to make the journey to their mouths, the food fell off. The faces of each

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person were twisted in an agony of hunger, rage, and pain. I shuddered and moved back into the hall.” Her relatives moved closer, fascinated by her story. She continued, “Back in the hallway, I took the next door to the right and was surprised to see the scene nearly duplicated. Here were the tables and the long spoons, but the faces of the people glowed with warmth, love, and tenderness. How was this possible? At that moment, I watched entranced as a young man approached the table, spooned a serving of jambalaya, and offered it to a child sitting across from him. All up and down the table, people were feeding each other, laughing, and talking.” This story is often used to relate the difference between heaven and hell, but it serves equally well to remind us of the difference between enough and not enough. Have you ever noticed that when you limit your resources to yourself and focus on what you do not have, there never seems to be enough? Do you find yourself grasping for a time when you will have something, getting there, and then realizing that something else is missing? Instead, why not begin a daily practice of gratitude and generosity and see how the way that you think about the same resources changes? PRAYER PRACTICE: Dear God, help me to be grateful for what I have and always see it as enough. Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: Make a list of everything you are grateful for today. Put it somewhere you will see it like on your mirror or desk at work. Add to the list as you think of things throughout the day.

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day

HOW MUCH IS ENOUGH?

written by cherri johnson

VERSE OF THE DAY One thing I have asked of the Lord, and this I will seek: That I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in his temple.

In pondering the question: “How much is enough?”, I keep returning to the inspiring words written by St. Teresa of Avila, the first woman doctor of the Christian Church… “Let nothing disturb you; Let nothing frighten you. All things will pass away God alone is changeless. Patience obtains all things. Whoever has God lacks nothing; God alone suffices.” -ST. TERESA OF AVAILA

Psalm 27:4 (AMP)

In my own journey of faith, I have come to know that life in all its pain and suffering, in all its joy and blessing, in all its changing unpredictability can, indeed, offer us everything we need when we place our trust in the changeless love of the One who first loved us. (1 John 4:19)

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In an unpredictable world where people anchor their identity in the turbulent sea of performance, wealth and accomplishment, the sacred act of contemplating God may seem like a waste of time and energy. However, quite the opposite is true. When we gaze upon the beauty and generosity of God’s self-giving, unrestricted love, God meets us in that place with peace, stability, healing and restoration of body, mind, heart and soul. When we anchor our identity in the changeless One and realize our beloved status, everything else will fall into its proper place. …Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. ~Matthew 6:33 (NIV) PRAYER PRACTICE: Prayerfully meditate on the self-giving love of the One who loves unconditionally. As you pray, open your heart and breathe in Love. Breathe out the gift of peace and generosity as you bless others. Practice this simple breath prayer throughout your day. THINK ABOUT IT: If Jesus were to pull up a chair and speak with you today what would you talk about? What do you think he would say? Can you imagine sharing with Jesus your worries, your fears and your concerns, including how you use your time, energy and money?

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day

BIGGER BARNS

written by bob mann

VERSE OF THE DAY For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

When Cindy and I sold our house recently, we were overwhelmed with the “stuff ” we’d accumulated over 17 years. In anticipation of downsizing, we held a garage-and-estate sale over a long weekend. The experience of seeing people cart off so much of our possessions was strangely liberating. The weekend of the sale, I remember looking at what we had piled on tables throughout our house and carport and thinking, with wonder, “All that stuff that we don’t need was squirreled away in this house?” And, yet, when we moved, we still required two storage facilities for our possessions-and that doesn’t count the two-bedroom apartment where we now live, awaiting construction of our new, smaller house. Living a smaller life for a few months reminds me that I never needed most of what I had. And the storage facilities, while necessary to hold some furniture and other possessions, now make me feel a little like the protagonist of Jesus’s parable of the rich

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fool, who said, “I will pull down my barns, and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.” My desire is for God to help me learn to live a smaller life. I want to start asking, “Do I really need that new thing?” before I buy it. The larger question I want to keep asking myself is, “Am I a good steward of what he has given me? Am I using money to fill up my ‘barns’ or am I using it to do God’s work?” Too often, the answers shame me. PRAYER PRACTICE: Lord, give me the grace to see what I have–and what I want– through new eyes. Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: What do I have that I don’t need? Am I willing to let go of it?

Before purchasing the next new thing on your list, ask yourself, do I really need this new thing? Do I have more stuff than I need or less?

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day

JOY OF CLEANING

written by denise akers

VERSE OF THE DAY To the one who loves us and has set us free from our sins at the cost of his own blood and has appointed us as a kingdom, as priests serving his God and Father–to him be the glory and power for ever and ever! Revelations 1:5b-6 (NET)

I accumulate things and fill up my house... and do I even know what I have in all the closets? A good friend of mine said she revolutionized the way she “kept” things when she read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up:The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing, by Marie Kondo. The book has even spawned a popular Netflix show! I call it the “Joy of Cleaning” book. Because, that is her mantra–put each item you have in your hands and ask–does it bring you joy? If yes, keep it. If it doesn’t, can it bring joy to someone else? If so, give it away. If not, throw it away. I went through this process in my home and MUST have either given away or thrown away eighty large garbage bags full of “stuff ”–and you probably wouldn’t even know it, because it was all things stuffed in closets and nooks and crannies. I am embarrassed by that revelation. I need to ponder the next time I think about buying

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something. Rather than buying more stuff, let me put that money to use for God’s Kingdom. PRAYER PRACTICE: Dear Lord, let me ponder what “enough” is in my own personal life. Help me claim the freedom that comes from letting go of “stuff,” and see the many ways I can support your Kingdom in this World, both with my finances and with my service. Amen. THINK ABOUT IT: If the value of my life isn’t determined by how much stuff I have, how is it determined?

What makes me feel truly wealthy, family, friends, talents, experiences? Name some ways in which you are wealthy:

How might I put my money and my talent to their best use for God’s Kingdom?

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day

ENOUGH TO GIVE

written by sonia fealing

VERSE OF THE DAY He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Romans 8:32 (NIV)

God gave the ultimate sacrifice so that we would better understand the depths of his love for humanity. No other way could we ever understand unless we could relate. God’s plan for the family unit gives us insight to this reality. If you have a child, you probably understand better than most the weight of God giving his only begotten son to be sacrificed. It was indeed intensely a sacrifice. Jesus was mocked, spit on, beaten, his hair pulled, heavy wood beams placed on his back, he was whipped, then hung up high on a mountain for all to see from miles away, his feet nailed, his hands nailed. Can you imagine being a parent and witnessing all of these things happening to your child? Yet God endured the view, he endured hearing the cries and agony of Jesus. How his heart must have ached alongside the heart of Mary. The intensity of the suffering was as tragic as tragedy gets. The Roman guards violated every part of Jesus’ body.

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The last thing they did to him was give him vinegar-like fluids to drink. With this act they not only sought out to mock his suffering but to shut his mouth. Yet not even that worked. Jesus spoke outward his faith until he gave up his last breath. He ministered until his last breath. For that reason alone, nothing I possess deserves more value than my worship of God. Not one thing past, present or to come shall ever be too much for me to sacrifice in honor of my love for God. PRAYER PRACTICE: Most gracious Father who sits on high, we offer you praises and thanksgiving for you have endured much for us. We exalt you and lift your name on high for your grace has been and will forever be sufficient for those of us that love you. In your word, you proclaimed that your power is made perfect in our weakness and that we should boast all the more gladly about our weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on us. We know this to be truth and therefore cling to garments of praise to be worn before you. Amen. THINK ABOUT IT: What sacrifice are you willing to give in response to God’s redeeming love?

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7 day

LOVE OTHERS, NOT MONEY

written by denise akers

VERSE OF THE DAY And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8 (NET)

And God is able to make all grace overflow to you so that because you have enough of everything in every way at all times, you will overflow in every good work. The concept of “enough” is interesting. I recall Judy Foust describing a mission trip she led (one of many!) to Cambodia. She said the kids there were so ecstatically happy to have a can they could kick down the road, whereas sometimes kids in America, with many toys, complain they are bored! When I was young, I recall my parents, Syd and Gail Nelson, giving my brother and me what would seem a VERY strange choice in today’s world – a choice between taking a trip to Six Flags or buying a color television. (This dates me...that black and white TV’s were so common, and it was SUCH a big deal to get a color TV!). That has stuck with me in many ways in my life. My parents never made “things” a goal. They could have long moved into a fancier

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neighborhood, but my parents liked their home and their neighbors, so added a few amenities, but were never showy. They spent their time and money taking care of family and serving in the church. I learned love for family and others from them, and not love of money. I am thankful my husband has that same outlook. PRAYER PRACTICE: Dear Lord, pour out your grace upon me. Help me to see your provision in my life today and everyday. Fill me with gratitude and love for you, for myself and for others. Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: What are the priorities in my life? What comes first?

When I feel exhausted, where have I spent my time and energy? Could I have made better choices about the use of my time?

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week 2 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed

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to him. The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.’ ” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.” 1 Samuel 3:1-10

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8 day

GOD’S VOICE

written by rev. jane riecke

VERSE OF THE DAY Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening. I Samuel 3:9

I took up the practice of meditation over 30 years ago. A very wise, very humble clergyman in Dallas spent the morning introducing about fifteen students to the practice of Christian meditation. Up until that moment, my prayers were always spoken. They were expressions of immediate need, “Please, Lord, help me find the words as I enter this hospital room.” It had never dawned on me that I might want to listen to what God would say to me. I began by shutting the door to my study and quieting myself. Setting aside my list of to do’s and just breathing. It took a long time at first to clear my mind and just listen. Instead of working on the week’s sermon or calling a parishioner, I waited patiently for God. With each breath, I gained peace. With each passing moment, I sensed the nearness of the Holy Spirit. Soon one minute turned into five which then turned into twenty. The silence became a balm to my soul.

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“By turning your eyes on God in meditation, your whole soul will be filled with God. Begin all your prayers in the presence of God.� -SAINT FRANCIS DE SALES My listening for God was filled with many trials and errors. There were long periods that tested my resolve. Listening became a challenge to let go of my expectations and needs and allow God to enter into my life and guide my steps. I still stumble and lose my way, but I always remind myself meditation is a practice, and I try again. I remember God is calling and just waiting for us to listen. PRAYER PRACTICE: Take a deep breath. Let go of everything that has consumed your thoughts, your emotions, and your time. Allow God to fill the emptiness with each breath until only God remains. THINK ABOUT IT: What is God saying to me? In what ways am I intentionally trying to listen so that I might hear?

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9 day

YOUR MONEY OR YOUR TIME

written by bob mann

VERSE OF THE DAY And who is my neighbor? Luke 10:29

There was a skit by the comedian Jack Benny–a famous cheapskate–that I’ve always loved. A mugger confronts Benny on a dark street. “Your money or your life,” the robber says. Benny says nothing. Finally, the mugger demands, “Look, Bud, I said your money or your life?!” Frustrated, Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over!” None of us would have trouble choosing between our wallet or our life. But what if someone demanded, “Your money or your time?” I’m certain my answer would be, “Take my wallet. My time is more valuable.” Most of Jesus’s parables can’t be improved, but his story about the Good Samaritan might resonate more if Jesus had portrayed one passer-by tossing the wounded man a coin. That’s because it’s easy to see a troubled person, stuff a dollar into his hands and move along. It’s more difficult to stop and ask, “How can I help?”

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An act of compassion, like feeding the poor, is emulating Jesus. But Jesus always gave people more than food. He asked them what they needed and shared his healing presence. He gave them his time. My time is what I guard most because I view it as my most valuable resource. My prayer this season is that God would show me more clearly that while he wants me to be more generous with my money, he also desires what I am more apt to hold back–my time and myself. I want to give more of myself to those who are hungry, hurting, homeless, or longing for a sympathetic ear.

PRAYER PRACTICE: Throughout your day take note of the opportunities to say “yes” or “no” and before speaking say a prayer. Lord, put in my heart a desire to be more generous with myself. Free me from hoarding not only my money, but my time and talents. May your Holy Spirit guide and direct me to be intentional about the things I say “yes” and “no” to. Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: Ponder the word no. Say it out loud. How do you feel when you say it? Is it easy for you to say no when people make requests of you, or are you uncomfortable saying it? Now, think about the word yes in the same way. How do you feel saying it?

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10 day

ILLUMINATING THE PRESENCE OF GOD written by karen milioto VERSE OF THE DAY

For every house is built by someone, but the builder of all things is God. Now Moses was faithful in all God’s house as a servant, to testify to the things that would be spoken later. Christ, however, was faithful over God’s house as a son, and we are his house if we hold firm the confidence and the pride that belong to hope. Hebrews 3:4-6

Every morning I exit Interstate-110 and notice the steeple of our church in the distance. In the stretch of road remaining, there are four ramps leading back to the highway and five traffic lights. As I drive, I keep my eyes on the cross atop the steeple before me, considering the connection between my commute and my life as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Just as we travel to and from physical destinations in our daily life, we are all traveling closer or farther from God. Each path we take is unique to our time and space and includes its share of red lights, slowdowns, and roadblocks. As we travel, we are tempted by ramps, luring us away with their promise of a faster and more direct route to the ends we seek. It is easy to get lost, particularly when we don’t know where we are going. As disciples, we are called to live lives that illuminate the presence of God among us. As a church we are given a concrete and physical

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opportunity to do this as the Body of Christ. Our building stands in the midst of a city full people who are going somewhere, and when our doors are open and our lights are on, we have the privilege of being a community that can lead the lost Home. PRAYER PRACTICE: God help us to embrace and respond to your calling to be your physical presence here on Earth as the Body of Christ. It is in His name that we pray, Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: How am I living out the calling to be God’s physical presence in the world?

How am I helping the church illuminate the way for others in the world?

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11 day

THE GRACE OF CHRISTIAN GIVING

written by terry ellis

VERSE OF THE DAY

We brought nothing into this world, and we take nothing out of it. I Timothy 6:7

Next time they pass the offering plate, ask to borrow your neighbor’s wallet. When the trusting soul agrees, take out the money and put it in the plate. It will be so easy! Why? Because, of course, it wasn’t your money. It’s always easier to give when you don’t own whatever you’re giving away. You’ve certainly heard the old joke about the death of a wealthy man. One observer asked “How much did he leave?” The answer? “Every cent.” A related idea is that you never see a U-Haul in a funeral procession. How different our attitude to giving would be if we first realized that we don’t own the money? That idea is presented quite often in the Bible. Again, it was Paul who wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:26, “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.” He was quoting Psalm 24. The notions of tithing, Christian giving, and stewardship simply don’t work unless they’re built on a solid foundation of grace.

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God in grace created everything, even us. We are God’s. God’s commands and directions to give are grounded in the same grace. Paul understood this. In his most extensive treatment of Christian giving he repeatedly used the word “grace” (2 Corinthians 8). Interestingly, the word “grace” in Greek comes from the same root as the word for “joy.” We are each one “owned” by God in the most joyful way imaginable. So, I first give myself to God in joyful obedience and a simple acknowledgment of the truth. Giving of my resources then becomes a natural and joyful consequence. Nothing belonged to me in the first place. PRAYER PRACTICE: God, I give all of myself to You. Repeat this short prayer throughout the day as a way of quieting yourself into offering your whole self to God.

THINK ABOUT IT: What would need to change in your life in order for you to reach a place where you are giving your all to God?

Name something (a relationship, decision, destructive habit, etc.) that you need to trust God with, instead of seeking your own solutions. Offer it to God in prayer. Ask God what he would have you do. During your day look and listen for His answer.

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12 day

MAKE DISCIPLES

written by denise akers

VERSE OF THE DAY Be devoted to one another with mutual love, showing eagerness in honoring one another. Romans 12:10 (NET)

I love our slogan “We are a community of people helping each other grow in LOVE3–loving God, ourselves and others.” However, I have been intimidated by our church’s mission statement: “Our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” I have often wondered what is “enough” for my actions to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Should I be speaking boldly of my faith–and to whom? To people I meet at the church? At work? In the supermarket? I have a special young lady in my life, my Little Buddy in the Big Buddy Little Buddy program. We were matched when she was 7 years old and she will be 16 this November! I bring her to church when her family life schedule permits. The church has sponsored a scholarship for her to go to Camp Istrouma each summer. She has been welcomed into the youth department and really enjoys going. The other day, she told me she wanted to join the church! That very Sunday, the youth

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department was starting a crash course confirmation class, so Kale, our youth minister, got her involved–and she was baptized and joined Sunday, September 26, 2019! That was an awesome day. I–and the church–just loved her enough to bring her to faith. So, what is “enough”? It didn’t take any huge outpouring of my faith and beliefs to my Little Buddy. We would talk casually; I answered any questions she had. It took love, bringing her to church, and the love the church showed her once she got here. Thank you! PRAYER PRACTICE: Meditate on this truth: I am a child of God and that is enough. I don’t have to earn God’s love. I am loved by God, and that is enough.

THINK ABOUT IT: Where do I give of my time and talent and love to help make disciples of Jesus Christ?

Do I know someone who needs encouragement? Write them a love letter today letting them know how special they are and how much God loves them.

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13 day

CHOICES

written by leo honeycutt

VERSE OF THE DAY Be still and know that I am God. Psalm 46:10a

How much is enough? We chase it like chickens because we don’t know. In the 1948 classic Humphrey Bogart-Lauren Bacall film “Key Largo,” seven people are stranded in the Florida Keys by a Category 5 hurricane lashing their hotel at midnight. As if that weren’t enough, gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson) is holding them at gunpoint. Bogart is a disenchanted ex-soldier who saw his best friend killed in war and now faces a thug too cowardly to fight for any cause but himself. Money is Rocco’s only motivation, and Bogart asks, “How much is enough?” Rocco is perplexed. He doesn’t know. Bogart’s soldier challenges, “He wants more, don’t you, Rocco?” “Yeah, that’s it!” Rocco concedes. “More! That’s right, I want more.” Embarrassed at his own shallowness, Rocco barks, “Soldier, do you know what you want?!” In his trademark downtrodden everyman, Bogart replies grimly, “I had hopes once, but I gave them up.”

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At the end, Rocco tempts Bogart with riches like Satan tempted Jesus. But Bogart saw through the hollow promise exactly as Christ exposed the deceitfulness of wealth. Bogart’s disenchanted soldier did the right thing and in the end discovered the riches of love. Happiness isn’t holding onto our treasure, it’s in loving God and loving others. PRAYER PRACTICE: Dear God, help us to align ourselves with your Word so that we know we have more than enough. Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: What treasure do I cling to that I need to release so that I might love God and others more fully?

Take some time today and go outside. Watch the animals—what are they doing? What do they treasure? What can I learn from them?

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14 day

ENOUGH TO RECEIVE

written by sonia fealing

VERSE OF THE DAY

For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have. 2 Corinthians 8:12 (NIV)

Reflecting upon childhood memories, I remembered a moment when we were heading to visit family, and my mother told my sister and me something I will never forget. “When we get there, don’t ask for anything and don’t accept anything,” she said. “I don’t want anyone thinking I don’t feed my children. Even if they offer you something, say no thank you, and don’t stare at anything they offer you.” For a long time after that, probably up into my thirties I had the same stern rule that I held onto tightly. If I was offered something, no matter what it was or how hungry I may have been, I would deny the offer. It wasn’t until I began surrounding myself with circles of faith-filled friends that I was enlightened that receiving was something that one should do with grace and humility. The notion that we are afraid of what others will think about us has hindered a lot of us from experiencing the love of Christ. God uses people to bless people. One person’s

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offering could very well be a God Move. A God Move is when the Holy Spirit moves someone to express goodwill or favor to another person. Acts 20:35 says “...it is more blessed to give than to receive.” The more I grew in ministry, the more I understood and accepted stories like the one about the “Alabaster Box”. In Luke 7:36-39, a sobbing woman enters the home where Jesus is dining. She anoints his feet with oil and tears, wiping them with her hair. The disciples chastised her gift. Her gift was a gift of love for the one who forgave her of her sins. Jesus responded by accepting her gift humbly and graciously. So when we receive, we should always do so humbly and with grace. Allow others to bless you. Though you may not have need of it, don’t block their love, accept and receive their gift with humility and grace. PRAYER PRACTICE: Most gracious Father in heaven, I thank you for every sacrifice made for my salvation. I graciously accept all that you have given in full humility. Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: Am I comfortable accepting help from others? Why or why not?

What does humility and grace look like in practice?

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week 3 Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. Philippians 4:11-12

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15 day

PURE PRAISE

written by rev. jane riecke

VERSE OF THE DAY I have learned to be content with whatever I have. Philippians 4:11

One evening at dinner, a friend’s toddler thrust her hands toward her mother and father, accompanied by a vigorous bow of the head. Her parents were completely perplexed until they figured out what she wanted and joined hands with her. She said, “Thank you, food.” She then looked up with a big grin and finished in with a commanding voice, “A–Men.” Her parents decided their toddler must have learned her new spiritual discipline at their church’s Parents’ Day Out. What they were not prepared for was her enthusiasm. Every dinner she would periodically stop eating, drop her spoon, and thrust out of her arms and bow her head. Each time this happened her parents bowed their heads and took her hands. “Thank you, Mommy. Thank you, Daddy. Thank you, Rascal (the family dog).” Each prayer would close with the same rapturous smile as everyone at the table said, “Amen.” As the weeks went by her prayers grew to include grandparents, neighbors, and

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friends. While the names changed the delight in her face never diminished. “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.” ~Philippians 4:4 In giving our praise to God, we are responding to God’s gracious gifts simply and spontaneously and with unrestrained delight. To learn to live in delight is to learn to be content with whatever we have. To respond in praise and prayer is the very embodiment of having enough in whatever circumstances in which we may find ourselves and rejoicing in gratitude. PRAYER PRACTICE: God, let me always rejoice in you for your unending generosity. Amen. THINK ABOUT IT: What effect does contentment have on your outlook and attitude?

What are you most thankful for today? How can you live in delight and rejoice in gratitude today?

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16

day

ARE YOU CONTENT?

written by terry ellis

VERSE OF THE DAY I’ve learned to be content with whatever I have. Philippians 4:11

My first job was at a little country store that paid $1.10/hour. Twenty dollars take-home was a good week. A friend had a job at Kroger, a big brand grocery store, and took home the astronomical sum of $60 per week. I actually wondered how anyone could spend that much money. I moved up the pay-scale in succeeding years but accompanying that rise in income was the gnawing dissatisfaction that it’s never quite enough. Of course, the mission of our marketing culture is to convince us that we don’t have enough and that our path to being content is through their products. Discontent is a deeply spiritual challenge that distorts our values and focuses our attention on our own limited resources. It’s a self-perpetuating fiction that we can control and acquire our way to contentment. Mick Jagger tried it, but even he couldn’t get no satisfaction. Neither can we.

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By contrast, Paul (the author of Phillipians) learned to be content in every situation. Interestingly, the word for “content” is built on the root word for “self.” Paul found contentment within himself, but not through being master of his own fate and circumstances. In the same paragraph, he also wrote about “doing all things through Christ” (Philippians 4:13) and “God will supply every need” (Philippians 4:19). The unredeemed self is always limited and discontent. In Christ, however, we find peace through His limitless “enough.” The constant, fundamental spiritual challenge is trust. Do I trust God to supply? Can I trust that “enough” is only found in God? Genuine contentment follows. I can then be generous in my gifts and obedient in my tithing. PRAYER PRACTICE: God, help me to trust that You will give me enough that I may live with genuine contentment. Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: Am I content with my life? Why or why not?

What things, people, or situations do you perceive as barriers to your contentment? Take a moment to share them with God. Say each one out loud and directly to God.

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17 day

GOD’S PROVISION

written by tasha whitton

VERSE OF THE DAY

Elijah said to her, “Don’t be afraid. Go home and do as you have said. But first make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son.” I Kings 17:13

As a child, I remember hearing the story of Elijah and the widow of Zarephath and being fascinated by the jar of flour and the jug of oil that didn’t run out. It just sounded magical. To have jars and jugs that never ran out? Those are the parts of the story that I remember being emphasized when I was growing up. God was providing food for Elijah in amazing ways, first by feeding him with ravens and then through this widow. I heard but did not process the word “famine.” In terms of the Bible, famines seem to happen often, but I didn’t have much experience with them. When my daughter was younger, we read through all of the Little House on the Prairie books. In one, Pa spends the day out in the field trying to ward off a plague of locusts, something else I don’t have much experience with, and when he gives up and comes in exhausted, the older girls keep Carrie quiet so Pa can sleep. I turned to my daughter and asked, “Have you ever kept your brother quiet while Daddy rested after a long day?”

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Without missing a beat, she replied, “No, but locusts have never swarmed from the sky and eaten all of our food.” Can’t argue there. In this story, the famine is severe. When Elijah asks for something to eat, the widow says that she is gathering wood to cook the last of her supplies before she and her son lay down and die. She is desperate, and Elijah tells her to make something for him first. Why does she have to put him first? Why can’t she make something for herself and her son and then this strange prophet? Why does God demand our first fruits, our best? Why would we prefer to give God the leftovers? PRAYER PRACTICE: Dear God, I offer you my best–my time, my talents, my resources. Take my best, as only you can, and make it more for the glory of your kingdom.

THINK ABOUT IT: What is your best? How will you offer it to God?

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18 day

SOMETHING TO GIVE

written by greg toney

VERSE OF THE DAY

Jesus said, “If you want to be complete, go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor. Then you will have treasure in heaven. And come follow me.” Matthew 19:21 (CEB)

When I was in junior high school, a friend of mine got a mini-bike. A mini-bike was a cheap, even more dangerous version of a scooter. But it went fast, and we all wanted one too, of course. I asked my parents about getting me one. Why I asked is beyond me because I knew what the answer was going to be. Not only was the mini-bike dangerous, but it also was way overpriced. Another friend of mine talked his parents into getting him one. He eventually wrecked it and damaged his knee pretty badly. Neither kid rode his mini-bike enough to make it worth what they paid. My friend’s wreck showed how dangerous they were. I did not need a mini-bike. I wanted it because someone else had it, and I envied him. But I eventually realized that their parents were trying to buy their children’s love. If Jesus had told me to sell everything and follow Him, I would have replied that I had

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nothing. That was simply not true and still is not true. Growing up, I had a great house in which to live, wonderful parents, home-cooked meals, and eventually I got a used car to drive to school. I got a paper route and could even buy my own gas. I thought that to be complete, I had to have more. But now I realize that I do not need more; I need to give more. PRAYER PRACTICE: Lord, keep us mindful that we have plenty and do not need more, but need to give more. Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: When you have more, do you end up wanting more or giving more?

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19 day

SING PRAISES

written by karen milioto

VERSE OF THE DAY

You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God. 2 Corinthians 9:11-12 (ESV)

As a little girl, one of my favorite moments in our church’s Sunday morning service was the pause between the offertory hymn and the Doxology.You could blink and miss it, so I always held my breath, soaking in the still power of that silence. Then, as the ushers began marching down the aisle, brass plates in hand, the sound of the wood floor creaking with each step signaled me to exhale and spring to my feet as our congregation sang together in unison: Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise Him, all creatures here below; Praise Him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost. What struck me most about this practice was how powerful we were together. My tiny, untrained voice would have sounded weak echoing off of the walls of that sanctuary alone, but when it joined together with two hundred others, the result was electric. The same is true when we join together to live out God’s mission in this world through His

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Church. We can stand together and allow God’s blessings to flow through us, and when we do, we become conduits of His energy and love in this world. PRAYER PRACTICE: God, help us to be conduits of your generosity in this world. Soften us, and make us pliable instruments of your purpose and provision here and now. In Your Son’s name, Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: Where have I seen God’s blessings flowing through myself and others?

Describe a time when you found strength in numbers:

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20 day

GIVING YOUR ALL

written by rev. don cottrill

VERSE OF THE DAY

But strive for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Matthew 6:33

Libby was raised by a devout Christian mother. Her mother and father had divorced due to abuse by the husband/father. Libby’s mother was afraid that the abuse would eventually cause harm to their daughter. Though it was against her personal values, and knowing that she would lose considerable resources (her husband came from a wealthy family), she became a single mother, providing for her daughter on a teacher’s salary. She moved to a new community and became active in her new church. She taught Sunday School and participated in all ways when there was a need. She also tithed of her income as an act of gratitude in response to God’s love. The time for the annual giving campaign came. The church leaders were concerned Libby was going way beyond her ability to give. They wanted to do something to help. They met with Libby and told her how much they appreciated her contributions to the church. They suggested that she consider her work in the church as her commitment,

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and that they would propose that she consider this her contribution in lieu of monetary giving. Libby thanked them for their concerns and their thoughtfulness. “But, you see, I don’t give out of obligation. I give out of gratitude to our God who provides all good things.You see, I can do more with 90% of my funds with God than 100% without God.” PRAYER PRACTICE: Thank you, God, for your gifts freely given. I give back to you as a sign of my love for you and to help promote your work in your world. Amen.

THINK ABOUT IT: What signs of your love promote God’s work in the world?

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21 day

THE GIFT OF GRACE

written by cherri johnson

VERSE OF THE DAY

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:8-10 (NIV)

I have been formed and shaped by the Wesleyan tradition since early childhood. I grew up hearing, “you are saved through faith by grace.” I understood grace to be the undeserved gift of forgiveness given to all who believe, and yet, I always felt there was something more I should do to receive such unmerited treasure. As time moved on, I became more aware of the foundational principles and nuances of the gift of grace. Grace became more intimately knowable and known through seasons of life experience. Grace is the gift of God’s Self as revealed in Christ Jesus, the Spirit of God within the soul, and the divine living Presence in which we live and move and find our essential being (Acts 17:28). Grace is the touchstone for life eternal and unending, relational love. It is another name for the holiness of God. In opening our hearts and receiving the gift of grace in all its shapes and forms, we realize we live and breathe in the expansive loving kindness of One God.

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Counting our blessings moves the heart into praise and thanksgiving, but the gift of God’s Self in all circumstances becomes the heartbeat for fulfilling the Great Commandment—love the Lord your God with your whole being, and likewise, love others as you love yourself. PRAYER PRACTICE: Prayerfully meditate on the following scripture as a means of grace: Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. ~1 Peter 4:10 (NIV)

THINK ABOUT IT: What is a gift or ability you have that could be used to serve God or to serve others?

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22 day

ABUNDANT BLESSINGS

written by rev. jane riecke

VERSE OF THE DAY

God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

Thirty-five years ago I served a little church by the name of Vashti United Methodist Church in North Texas. One of their traditions was their Fifth Sunday Night “Singin’.” I had no idea what to expect until my husband and I attended our first one. The pianist settled into her piano bench, the song leader to her lectern, people started calling out hymns, and away we went on a tour of the old Cokesbury hymnal. The hymns were so upbeat and joyful you couldn’t help but smile as you sang. One of my favorite hymns was “Count Your Blessings” by Jason Oatman Jr. The first verse goes like this, “When upon life’s billows you are tempest-tossed, When you are discouraged, thinking all is lost, Count your many blessings; name them one by one, And it will surprise you what the Lord has done.” Let’s count our blessings. I have the quiet of an early morning in which to pray; a marriage of 41 years; the simple pleasure of a cold iced tea on a hot and steamy

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afternoon; and a loving family, to name a few. But greatest of all, I have the gift of the Father’s unfailing grace, the redemption of my sins, and the guidance and comfort of the Holy Spirit and that is enough. PRAYER PRACTICE: List all the blessings in your life and then offer a prayer of thanksgiving to God:

THINK ABOUT IT: How does the abundance of God’s blessings influence your decisions about money, giving and faith?

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Cultivating Abundant Generosity - A Devotional Guide