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.

 

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.

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.

Messing up the Cosmos

1 Corinthians 13:5, “It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.”

I spoke to a young man recently searching for his soul mate. He gave me very specific characteristics he wanted in a mate. “The perfect woman for me,” he began and somehow my mind drifted off into 1 Corinthians 13 – the LOVE chapter. I’ve read it thousands of times at weddings and read it thousands of times more in marriage counseling sessions. There is nothing easy about love; but even tougher is living without it.

“I mean, how do you know if you are marrying your soul mate?” he asked. I realized I had left our conversation and quickly attempted to pick up where my mind exited.

I gave him a comical description I recently heard of the whole soul mate dilemma. “Do you realize,” I started, “if you choose the wrong person, let’s say for the sake of argument, and you do not marry your soul mate, then whose soul mate did you marry?”

The fellow stepped back a moment and crossed his arms. “Well,” I continued, “then the person whose soul mate you married will then marry the wrong soul mate because you married her.”

“Makes sense,” he nodded.

“Soon, the person whose soul mate you married, who married the wrong soul mate, who married the wrong soul mate, is forced to marry the wrong soul mate. Before long you are completely responsible for throwing off the entire cosmos all because you chose the wrong person. I don’t think God would entrust our ability to choose a soul mate for this simple reason.”

The young man laughed, “I never thought of it in that way. I was only thinking about myself and my soul mate.”

“Exactly. And LOVE is not self-seeking,” I answered. “You find the person who you can be the perfect mate for. Stop looking for the person who is perfect for you.”

The simple answer to love is to be who you need to be for someone else and stop insisting people be for you what you need them to be. Honor people. Treat people with respect and of value. Stop seeing what you can get out of a relationship and start seeing what you can give to the relationship.  When you have a conflict, pray with the person about it; if that isn’t possible, pray for God to help you resolve and forgive. And when someone hurts you, give it to God and move on. The lists piling up inside you are doing you no good. Don’t keep records of wrong, move passed them.

Today, pray about how you love people. Ask God to help you in your relationships. Honor God by loving the people around you as He asks us to do.

There’s no denying Whose you are

Acts 17:28, “…in Him we live and move and have our being.”

Some time ago my son David called me. He had run into an old friend of mine and the first words out of my friend’s mouth to David were, “Boy, there is no denying you! If you aren’t Mike Franklin’s boy, I’ll buy you dinner!”

David laughed on the phone later with me, “He actually bought me lunch anyway!”

I’m proud my son is similar to me, and I’m also proud he is the type of man I want people to relate to me. As we hung up the phone, I thought of God. God must be everything in our lives. As we go throughout the day, we need to ask Him what He thinks we should do. The decisions we face, the conflicts, our direction, the people we meet – any and everything – we need to bring before God. In actuality we should hear, “Boy, there is no denying you! If you aren’t God’s boy, I’ll buy you dinner!”

Several weeks ago I was traveling home from Serbia and I encountered a young man serving as a missionary. He hadn’t been home in two years and was feeling apprehensive about reconnecting with his family. As I listened to his story and heard not only the struggles but the miracles of his work, he told me his parents were not Christian; in fact, his entire family thought him to be a religious nut. He smiled sheepishly at me, “That is the last thing I am.”

“What?” I quizzed.

“I’m not religious. Religion predetermines what God wants me and you to do. No, God has written on my heart what He wants me to do.”

He attributed his salvation to his neighbor who was a mechanic. As a young teenager, his car broke down. He didn’t have any money so he asked his neighbor for help. The deal was, the neighbor friend would fix his car at no cost, if he would help him and listen about Jesus. “It was the best deal I ever made.”

What about you? How do people identify you? How do you want them to identify you?

In Him we live and move and have our being.”

To truly be “His” we need to pay attention in all that we do. Listen to our inner conscience and what He tells us to do.

Throughout the day today, stop and connect with God. Ask Him if there is anything He specifically wants you to do. Strive, as I am striving, to hear the words, “There’s no denying Whose you are!”

The whole path

Psalm  143:8, “Let the morning bring me word of Your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in You. Show me the way I should go for to You I lift up my soul.”

This morning as I prepared for my day, I thought of this verse. I thought of the words and the importance of putting our trust in God each and every day. The very first words that come from our mouths as we open our eyes should be these. There are times in our lives when we can only see the next step and sometimes, it is difficult to see even that; but God can see the whole path. He knows what’s up ahead and He will faithfully guide us through the terrain as long as we allow Him to do so.

King David lived through tumultuous times. At the time he wrote this scripture, the surrounding nations were after the blood of God’s people. During this time period and even today, Israel was constantly threatened by the countries around it who were eager to conquer the land and destroy its people. But David relied on a Warrior far more powerful than the current threat of the day. He knew God had the bigger picture, the whole blueprint. He knew in Whom to put his trust.

This morning, try it. Memorize this verse and commit to quoting it every morning as you start your day. Each day, God’s love for us is new and fresh. He is completely sold out to us. And His love is unconditional, borderless, never-ending. Openly profess that you put your trust in Him. This means ‘whatever’ happens in your day, you know God is with you. Whatever fire you need to walk through, He’ll walk through it with you. Whatever storm you need to ride out, He’ll ride it out with you. Whatever decision you need to make, He’ll help you make it. Whomever you need to see, He’ll make sure you meet with them. If you do not need to see them, He’ll make sure you don’t.

You simply need to lift up your soul to Him.

Yes, No, or Wait…

Matthew 7:7, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.”

The other day I sat in the stands at a ballgame and found myself simply listening to the noises around me. Voices cheering; voices protesting; voices communicating; voices announcing; voices selling and buying; they ran together and blended to the point that I could not distinguish one voice from another. As I looked around, I realized the people filling the stadium seats were minuscule compared to the number of people in the world. I imagined the prayers of people floating up to our Heavenly Father; pleas for mercy; requests for forgiveness; cries for help; praise and thankfulness; and somehow, He hears them all.

I’m often asked if I believe God answers prayer. I know He does – not always in the way we wish He would answer and not always in the time frame we’ve chosen. Sometimes He says, “No” to our requests. We may understand later why He answered No or we may never understand. Sometimes He answers, “Yes!” It may take a while or it may be a quick answer. At other times, He has us “wait.” In waiting, He delivers an answer that usually makes more sense to us.

Garth Brooks wrote a song called “Unanswered Prayers.” He says, “Sometimes I thank God for unanswered prayer. Remember when you are talking with the man upstairs. Just because He doesn’t answer, doesn’t mean He don’t care. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”

I’ve also experienced times when waiting was the answer. It seemed difficult to understand until when the answer was delivered, I realized if it had happened when I wanted it to happen, the outcome would not have been the same.

And then there are the wonderful times when we ask, and God answers just as we asked or maybe even better than we expected. Sometimes, He can answer our prayers beyond our wildest imaginations.

We serve a God who can hear all those voices as if He is listening one-on-one at the altar. We serve a God who can give one man a word to deliver to 1000 people and every one of those people hear a personal message, spoken directly to them. We serve a God who wants good for our lives.  I don’t know how He does it, but then again, if I knew, He wouldn’t be God, now would He?

Today, as you spend time in prayer with God, thank Him that He hears your requests. Rejoice in His power and might. Know that He hears your heart and knows what is best for you.

Running with horses

Jeremiah 12:5, “If you have raced with men on foot and they have worn you out, how can you compete with horses? If you stumble in safe country, how will you manage in the thickets by the Jordan?”

Most of us want God to use us in some capacity. We want to feel valuable to society. The majority of the people I know are striving to do ‘something’ with their lives that makes an impact.

I remember in the fourth grade I didn’t do my homework. I was just coming out of a long fun summer and the routine of school and homework hadn’t quite settled in with me. My teacher walked around the room with a red pen. We were to put our math assignment on our desks and she would put a big red check on the papers that were complete. I had nothing to put on my desk. The night before, I made the decision that math homework was a waste of my time. I needed something harder.

When she came to my desk, and there was no paper, she stopped, “Michael Franklin, where is your homework assignment?”

In the most convincing argument I could muster, I answered, “It was all review. I want to work on something harder.”

She did not respond and continued on to the next row. I wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or worried. After class, she instructed me to stay after school.

Sometimes God has simple task for us to do, on a regular basis, for Him. We may long for something more important; but, He wants us to do this or that faithfully and with a cheerful heart. Many of us refuse to do it. We think our time can be better utilized. We think we have a better plan.

Really?

After school, I found myself sitting in a desk waiting on my teacher. On the board was line after line of a math problem. I’d never seen such work. It was a problem in Linear Algebra, one I could easily do while studying mathematics in college, but in fourth grade, it looked like a foreign language. My teacher came into the room and asked, “Have you solved the problem?”

“No, Ma’am! I don’t even know what those symbols are!”

She pulled out her Bible and read the above scripture to me. Jeremiah 12:5. And I understood.

God is always preparing us for something just up ahead; but we can’t get there if we aren’t willing to do the steps needed to be victorious. See, God is a winner and through Him, so are we.

If you want to run with horses, then start running with men. If you want to go into other territories, then start living right in your own.

Too busy living it

Psalm 35:9, “Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD and delight in his salvation.”

Take a moment today to stop and enjoy life. We are all moving on the fast track. Schedules are filled to the maximum with appointments and activities. We are so busy doing our list that we do not even realize if we actually like what we are doing.

When is the last time you stopped to notice which bird in your yard was chirping so beautiful. Do you even listen to them for any length of time? What about the stars at night, or the flowers blooming, or a butterfly passing by? When is the last time you really looked at your children? Noticed their eyes?

Time stops for no one and it is moving quickly.

Yesterday, I was running late for an appointment but as I was leaving the building, I noticed two children in a nearby park, playing.  It was their laughter that caused me to stop. I leaned up against my car and simply listened. The voices reminded me of my children many, many years ago. Oh, how I miss that sound! I can remember coming home and hearing the kids in the yard and how they would drop everything and come running toward me.

Don’t miss your life because you’re too busy living it. God created so many splendid things for us. Take the time today to really notice what is around you. Refresh yourself. Taste your food. Listen to the sounds surrounding you. Touch those you love. Rejoice in the God who gave it all to you. Fill your spirit with Him.

Today, delight in the God of your salvation.

Running on Empty

Tonight as I left the church I am privileged to serve, I noticed my gas gauge – EMPTY. If you are like me, going to the pump hurts. $3.50 a gallon isn’t fun in anybody’s wallet. As I pulled in to pump number 6, I recognized a face I hadn’t seen in a while. A young man who I used to see quite regularly at church. He tucked his head and hid behind a camouflage ball cap. I called out to him and inquired how he had been.

He smiled and shook his head, “I’m ok.”

“I haven’t seen you at church in a long time. I hope you are attending another church? I’d sure hate it if you missing out on church, ” I responded.

“No, sir. Just taking a break.”

He hurriedly finished pumping his gas and fumbled for his keys. I could tell he didn’t know where they were and he was in a panic.

“Then you are empty, aren’t you?”

He paused for a moment, “No. I just filled up.”

I went around to help him look for the keys. We looked under his truck; rechecked his pockets; in the seat; before finally, I thought, maybe he left them on the counter inside when he went in to pay. His face brighten, “I did. I remember setting them down. ” He thanked me and as I turned to go back to my car he asked, “Pastor, what did you mean by empty?”

There are consequences for ignoring God. He wants to bless us. He has a plan for our lives to prosper us and not to harm us. (Jeremiah 29:11); but some are missing out because they have chosen to ignore God; to be too busy for God; to justify their absence from God; to take for granted His goodness. How tragic to allow one’s heart to become hardened or inattentive toward God.

What about you? Is your God tank running on empty? When is the last time you prayed to God? When is the last time you read His word or worshipped Him in church? Maybe its time for you to check your gauge. You wouldn’t want to run-out.