The Season of Giving?

I’ve always been fascinated by the television crews who go out on the street and ask every day people, living every day lives, questions. I don’t know, I guess I’ve always wanted to do it too. So, I decided to go into areas where people do not know me and propose this question, What does the Season of Giving actually mean?

My first stop, Race Track in Gainesville, Georgia; perfect spot to find an answer to my question. I pulled up next to a guy in an F250 and started filling up my tank. “Sir, could I ask you a question?” I began. (It didn’t seem as smooth as the television guys, but it was my first shot.)

“Sure,” he responded, spitting tobacco juice to the side of his truck.

“What does the Season of Giving actually mean?”

“Christmas,” he said, quickly and a matter-of-factly.

I realized I needed to rephrase my question. “Can you give me an example of what the season of giving means?”

“Santa Claus,” he answered.

I decided to drive further up the road to a McDonalds off I-85. There were two older ladies having lunch, and they seemed please to answer anything I asked. “Can you ladies give me an example of what the season of giving means?”

“Gifts. Every year I bake cookies for families in my neighborhood and church,” one answered.

“For me,” the taller, more serious looking woman responded, “It’s time with my grandchildren.”

At The Home Depot, a man answered, “Jewelry for my wife. She expects it every Christmas and I work for it all year-long.”

In the Mall parking lot I heard:

“I don’t really think about needy people being necessarily poor. Like, needy people could be people who need attention. So, I try to spend time with lonely people.”

“Time when you focus on others and not yourself.”

“The season of giving is about finding the joy of the holiday.”

“Getting toys and lots of them…”

“I’m not really into Christmas, but if I were Christian, it would be about giving to other people and not about getting from other people. That’s why I’m not really into Christmas.”

“I’ve been hoping all month my parents get me PlayStation 4! Yeah! That will definitely be the true season of giving.”

“Christmas parties, family gatherings, greeting cards, and packages.”

“It’s the season FOR GIVING. Get it? Forgiving others.”

There were some workers – a construction crew – taking a lunch break just outside of downtown Atlanta. “In Mexico, in our village, we used to go from house to house. We would bring food and our neighbors would offer food. It was a time of celebration for Mother Mary and the Christ child.”

“It’s about remembering why Christ came to earth and thanking Him for coming.”

And my favorite answer, which came from a little girl at Chic-fil-A, “‘For God so loved the world, that He GAVE His only Son…’ That’s it! That’s Christmas in a package, tied up with a bow.”

So, what does “the Season of Giving” mean to you? Maybe we all need to stop and think about it and start implementing what it means to us.

 

A bird’s eye view

Yesterday the mall was crowded with Christmas shoppers: moms with strollers; teenage girls dressed in the latest fashion; couples walking hand in hand; people of all shapes, sizes, and colors. I tried to imagine what God must think of all the commotion for the Birthday of His Son. Blinking lights adorned the trees and images of elves and Santa lined the long corridors leading from store to store. Giant oversized wreaths hung on every pole and snowflakes hovered above my head, swaying gently as I took it all in.

What happened in Bethlehem the night of Christ’s birth was quite different. A young, ordinary girl from an ordinary family housed the Savior of the world in her body. A humble carpenter, her husband, would be the King of all king’s earthly father. It doesn’t seem to fit the purpose of His birth, does it? Bethlehem, unaware of the ordinary girl, her carpenter husband, and infant son, slept while the Lord of life; the Lord of all came into the world. Born in a stable, with animals on a bed of straw, He came to be with us; to relate to us; to save us from death’s grip.

Angels announced the glorious moment to shepherds, men who lived isolated from society with sheep in fields. Men who wreaked of animal smells witnessed the Heavenly host singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom He is pleased!” Luke 2:14.

How differently we celebrate the birth today in comparison to the night that changed the world forever.

As I hitched a ride on an extremely tall escalator, my bird’s eye view scanned the wonder of all the decorations. How glorious it all looked from above. Reaching the top, I noticed an older man in a wheel chair, slumped over sleeping. His legs were covered with a worn but comfortable looking quilt. One of his slippers peaked out from under the bottom of the blanket, and a lady dressed in a snowman Christmas sweater sat beside him, chatting about all the splendor of the day. At first I thought she was on the cell phone, but as I observed further, I realized she was talking to him. Occasionally, she grabbed his hand as she described all that was around him. She wiped the droll from his mouth with a handkerchief she took from her bag. He shifted slightly and tilted his head back and she gently kissed his forehead.

As I approached her, her steel blue eyes caught mine. I took the chair next to her and learned her husband had a degenerative disease that left him incapable of moving, even speaking, but his cognitive brain was fully functioning. Talking with her almost seemed rude because I knew he could understand fully. She described how much he loved Christmas but the nerves in his eyes no longer aloud him to see. I gave her a break and started to detail all that was around us. Her lips curled up in a thankful smile. I told him of the decorations, the people walking by, children laughing, some protesting from too much stimulation, packages piled high in the arms of people, and the different faces that I saw. I described a father with a young boy on his shoulders eating a gooey cinnamon roll. When I glanced over to look at him, I realized tears flowed down his face. His wife quickly explained their only son died many years ago in Vietnam, at Christmas; and yet, it was the couple’s favorite time of year.

I spent a great deal of time with this couple. Their lives were not ideal; but, even in his agony or her daily sacrificial care, they found joy in the season. They found hope in the lights. They found faith in the meaning.

I challenge you to do the same. For some of you, this time of year brings wonderful memories; for others, it is a struggle to get through each day. God came in human form, not in the grandeur of what He deserved; but humbly, so that we might all find purpose and meaning in the day of His birth.

In the arms of God

Psalm 16:7-10, “I will praise the Lord, who counsels me; even at night my heart instructs me. I keep my eyes always on the Lord. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken. Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will rest secure, 10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, nor will you let your faithful one see decay.”

The other day I sat down at my computer, determined to write a Psalm, like David, to my Lord and Savior. It didn’t turn-out well. David had such an ability to use just the right imagery and say just the right words to speak wonderful praises to God and to fill our hearts with love for Him. My Psalm seemed quite shabby in comparison. There is such solace in his words to our Father.

This morning I am searching for a way to praise God as never before because my body is secure; I am confident He will not abandon me. Maybe it is my age, but I am realizing more and more the depth with which God loves us. He is not this Being who created us and left us to be. He is intertwined in our daily existence; more so than we could ever imagine.

I have a friend who designs buildings all over the world. He actually is the architect for commercial structures. Some of them are so amazingly breathtaking that I just want to stand before them and take it in. I asked him once if when he drives by them does he stop and get out and stare. Does he look at them and say, “Wow! I can’t believe I did that.” His response surprised me. He said, “You know Mike, God gives me images, visual pockets of how the buildings will fit into the structure of the city. When I drive by them I actually say aloud, ‘Wow God! That is a really good one!'”

Even in our occupations; our education; our health; our children; our friendship; our day-to-day tasks; God is there. We cannot be shaken because He’s got us with His strong right hand. No matter what our earthly life dishes out to us, the Creator knows how to fit us into the structure of His plan and purpose. Let your tongue rejoice and your heart be glad today because you rest in the arms of God.

Just take a breath!

Romans 5:1-2, “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.”

Have you ever had a relationship with someone and you brace yourself for his or her attitude toward you? You never know if he or she is mad at you or glad to be around you. It’s like checking a weather barometer. Before you get around him or her, you want to know where the gauge is on that thing.

A couple came to me for help years ago. I remember he told me before he came home from work, he called the children to assess the barometric pressure of the home. I ask him what he meant and he explained, “I needed to know how to prepare to meet my wife. Was the weather inside the home calm or was it storming like a hurricane? I had to be prepared.”

With God, we don’t have to worry. I am God’s and He is mine. It means, anytime I go to Him, He is the same. Our relationship is there. Some of us take that for granted. We think because we have a relationship with God, secured by Jesus Christ and His commitment to us on the Cross, we are good to go! Remember, it’s only the beginning. Once we’ve established we want a relationship with Him, is the moment we have to start working to grow the relationship with Him.

How often when you pray is the conversation one-sided? Do you ever stop to hear God or are you rambling on and on like that friend who pops up on your cell phone, and you grimace because you know, you won’t get a word in edgewise. Sometimes I wonder if God is whispering to us, “Take a breath! I want to tell you something.”

This morning as you go to God in prayer, stop for a moment and let Him speak to you. Clear your mind of what you want to say and let Him talk and breathe life into you.

Put away the machete

John 10:1-4, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.”

This morning as I type this devotion to you, I’m thinking of the words, “he goes on ahead of them…” I know God is an intricate part of my day. I ask Him to control who I meet with each day. I ask Him to help me as I speak to others and put the words He wants to come from my mouth. I pray for His guidance in decision-making and His ability to love others unconditionally; but today I’m focused on that particular group of words. “He goes on ahead of them…”

Isn’t it a comfortable feeling to know someone is blazing the trail for you? The feeling that there is someone up ahead taking in the issues; covering the difficult parts; preparing the way? The reality of it all is most of us really don’t believe that. After our prayer time, some of us shower, get the kids to school, walk the dog, maybe jump on the treadmill or go to the gym. We start our work days with coffee and fruit. We open emails and answer texts and somewhere about mid-morning we have totally forgotten Who is making our path. We’ve forgotten because we are making our own. Does that describe you?

I remember hiking with my children, and we came up to a cave. My daughter grabbed my hand and whispered, “Daddy, you go first.” She wanted to know everything was OK inside that cave. If I went first, she would follow because I would never lead her into harms way. If something bad happened, she knew I’d get her out of there. My daughter knows, I’d kill a tiger with my bare hands for her. That’s how God is for us – only so much more. And when we take control of our day; when we pass Him on the trail; we open ourselves up for trouble.

Today, put the machete away. The trail you’re cutting is going nowhere. Stop trying to make your own way and let God lead. Use God’s GPS for a change.

Hell shakers

One morning last week I jumped out of bed, literally shaking the floor boards under my feet. Connie joked with me exclaiming, “Mike, I think Hell shook when your feet hit the floor!”

While I know she was teasing me, it made me think. Hell should shake when my feet hit the floor. Satan should worry that I am awake and ready to start my day focused on the Lord; changing lives; benefiting God’s Kingdom. I want Satan to say, “Oh no! Mike Franklin is up again spoiling my plans!”

How many of us wake up to prayer? Of those who do, how many of us pray about ourselves? Humans are very self-centered beings. We focus on the here and now and most of our focus is upon our needs, desires, and wants. Satan knows if all we are worried about is ourselves, he is going to have a pretty good day.

But, what if we changed it around. What if we focused on God and His wants and desires? What if we started the day asking Him what He wants us to do? Hell would start shaking with fear.

God has called us to be movers and shakers for Him. There is 0 unemployment in Christian service – there is always a job for someone – always – and when we put our attention toward His Kingdom – can you imagine how different our lives can be?

Today, pray about God’s plans for your day. See how different the day can truly be.

Are you robbing God?

Malachi 3:8-10,”“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. 9 You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me. 10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it.”

It is hard to imagine that we could rob God – the Creator of the universe – the King of kings – the Lord of lords – is there anything we could steal from Him that He couldn’t have at His disposal? The answer? Yes! His ability to bless you.

Many misinterpret this verse. They think it’s all about giving money and that God is angry when we don’t give – on the contrary. God doesn’t need your money because it is His anyway. When you fail to tithe; when you fail to give of your time; when you fail to serve Him, you rob Him of the opportunity to bless you. Like any good Daddy, He wants to give you the moon; but, it comes with a stipulation. You have to be faithful in what He has already place in your care. If you cannot be faithful with a small amount, He knows you will not be faithful with a large amount.

Be faithful in tithe, in time offerings, and in service offerings. Do not deny God the opportunity to bless you.

Are you hungry?

Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”

Most of us do not know what it is like to be truly hungry. We’ve probably been thirsty after working in the hot summer Georgia sun all day, but being hungry is uncommon to most of us. This verse uses the physical sensation to help us to understand the depth of hunger and thirst He expects us to have in pursuit of righteousness. He’s not talking about someone who kind of wants righteousness, He’s talking about someone who is seeking righteousness in almost desperation.

I remember being in Haiti several years ago and being around people who had not eaten in a week. Their stomach’s ached with the pain of emptiness. A teenage boy bent over in agony because the pain was unbearable. I’ve never experienced that kind of hunger, but I’ve seen it. The yearning for food overwhelms the brain. The mind can think of nothing more than finding food to fill the stomach. It is this desire Jesus is talking about but it isn’t a desire for food or water but for God.

When Jesus speaks of this hunger and thirst for righteousness, it is about an insatiable desire to please God, to honor Him, and to be close to Him.  It is about an all-consuming passion which burns within us to be filled with His presence. Just as one would search out food and water in desperation to survive, so should we search out God in order to live.

2 Timothy 3:16-17, “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Do you realize, your thoughts and actions directly affect your relationship with God? Without the Word in our lives, we cannot function. It is similar to going three days without food or water. Could you work? Could you take care of your family? Could you even communicate with people? Three days without food or water would definitely leave you weak and lethargic. How then do we think we can function without the Word of God – the nourishing food of our soul?

Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

When we put God first, seek Him first, we can’t help but be hungry for Him. Blessings follow those who want more than anything to please God. Reflect today on how you can put God first above all else in your life.

Blessings for doormats?

Matthew 5:5, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

Ahhhh! the humble…the meek… the world will run right over them, correct? They are doormats! Wimpy, pitiful folks who cannot take up for themselves much less others.  They probably need the blessings of God, pitiful little creatures. Is that what you are thinking?

Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Is this what Christ is talking about?

There are great and tremendous blessings for those who are meek and humble because their inner strength relies on God and not the world. God wants us to be humble and meek so much, He declares we will inherit the earth!

When our strength comes from our dependence on God and not upon money or power or ability, God blesses us. It is our faithfulness in a God who will right the wrong; heal the sick; judge the wrong-doer; provide; give us direction; give us hope; that brings us to this blessing. Being meek shows the world we know who is in control and we rely on Him.

The word Paul uses for humility is not exactly the word used in Matthew 5:5, but I believe the idea is the same. Humility is defined as “the selfless regard for the needs of others over your own.” Jesus was the ultimate example of humility because He put us above Himself in suffering and dying on the cross for our salvation.

Being meek and humble doesn’t mean we just sit back and let the world pass us by for fearing of stepping in front of someone. It isn’t what we do in our lives; it’s all about how we do it and for whom we do it. God wants us to be active and participate. He wants us to excel in life. He wants us to have victory. It is how we excel and who we give the glory to that counts.

Confidence in God to do in us and through us what we could not do otherwise is the blessing of meekness. Ask God today to work through you. Give Him all honor and glory. Experience God’s blessings when you do.

Lifting the burden of death

Matthew 5:4, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Often we interpret this verse to mean “mourning” as in grieving the loss of a loved one. No doubt; when we lose someone we love, God comforts us; but mourning here also refers to the grief we feel for our sinful acts. It is a loss of fellowship with God – a separation of our relationship to Him. There are blessings in our conviction over the sin we committed. The blessing comes in the pardon of our wrong doing. Redemption comes because we seek God’s forgiveness; we mourn because we have wronged Him and by His blood we are made clean again.

Jesus was also referring to the sins of the world. Anytime we feel the depth and pain of sin, whether it be our own actions, someone else’s, or the malicious acts of a nation, the sorrow draws us closer to God. In our pain and grief, He extends His hand toward us.

2 Corinthians 7:10, “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death.”

There have been times in my life when I asked God to forgive me for something that I did wrong. The attitude in my heart was almost nonchalant – I’d done something wrong, I’d asked for forgiveness, I’m done, right? What I was missing was the true meaning of this verse. God is very grieved when we lie, cheat, judge, steal, hurt others, have addictions, and any other mode of sin. He is hurt by it. When we casually make requests for forgiveness, it must grieve Him even more. The seriousness of sin is eternal damnation – it is no joking matter – and yet, at times we do not understand the seriousness of sin.

Jesus is saying to us, we are blessed when we understand our sin and we mourn over the separation that occurred between us and God when we sinned. This true repentance will bring to us the comfort of God’s forgiveness.

Today, search your heart; ask God to show you areas of wrongdoing to which you need to apply “Godly sorrow.” Sometimes we may need to ask God to give us a sense of sorrow over the sin we’ve committed and for which we are asking His forgiveness. We may need to feel the hurt we have put on others by our actions. We may need to understand how much we’ve hurt God by our sin. It is a privilege when we experience the true sadness for our sinful acts; the burden of death is lifted from us; we are redeem.