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.

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.

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.

The Leech List

How do you deal with people you just do not like? Are there certain people you purposefully avoid, duck into a corner when you see them coming? They are leeches in human form – people who literally drain the life out of others. Those who only want to talk and never listen; those whose problems are the only ones that matter and expect everyone to be in crisis with them. People who never see what they are doing wrong but always see what others are doing wrong. People who never give and only take. People who only want what you have to offer to them. That one person who literally believes the sun rises and sets on his time-table. That person who believes she is the center of the universe and everyone else revolves around her.  I bet some names of some folks are popping in your head. They are certainly popping in mine.

So, how do you ‘love’ those leeches; the ones who suck the life out of you? Does God really expect us to love them too?

Paul wrote in Romans 7:21-25, “So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

I read a quote the other day; it said, “Forgiveness is accepting you are just like other people.” Do you know that you too get on someone’s very last nerve? Hard to imagine, but its true. So do I. While we compile our list of leeches, someone else is compiling his or her list of leeches and your name and my name is probably on their list. See, it really isn’t about us. And it really isn’t about them. It’s about our Creator and He wants us to love and cherish one another.

Jesus Christ didn’t just die for you and your tennis buddies. He didn’t hang on that cross for just me and my best friend. He didn’t accept those stripes on his back for just the athletic types. Those nails in His hands didn’t go through just for the thin and beautiful people. That crown of thorns on His head, it didn’t press into His forehead for just the educated people or the people who attend the big church on the hill. He died on that cross for every last one of us – leeches and all.

Who are you avoiding? Maybe it’s time to stop avoiding and start loving. Who are you judging? Maybe it’s time to stop pointing fingers. Who do you dodge when you see him coming? Maybe it’s time to start walking towards him and stop running.

Today, talk to God about the people you put on your leech list and while you are at it, talk to Him about how to get your name off someone else’s leech list. We are all uniquely and wonderfully made; maybe we need to learn to see people as God created them to be.

Our faith or God’s faithfulness?

Whether it is financial, relational, or physical, we are often in the middle of a battle. When we are there, our faith in God’s delivering power may be the very element. He is trying to teach us. We know God honors faith; and Jesus challenged us to maintain faith and a willingness to put our trust in Him regardless of the situations of our lives.

Hebrews 11:6 – “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”

Matthew 17:20 – “He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’”

Yet, there are times in our lives when God is teaching us other lessons.  Sometimes the emphasis isn’t upon our activity, but God’s.  Often the focus isn’t our faithfulness but God’s showing His faithfulness. Sometimes, the focus is on someone else, and God uses our circumstance to teach lessons others need to learn.

In the end, we learn to rest in Him, whether by difficult times, joyful occasions, storms, droughts, sunny days, or prosperous events. The manner in which our lives have been designed and molded forms us in God’s purpose and plan for our personal lives.  In short, we become the people God intends us to be as we respond in faith regardless of the situation. We come to a point where we see His purpose for our lives fulfilled. And in each situation, God wants us to see His faithfulness.

One of my favorite Bible stories is a story of ordinary events, typical humanity responding to circumstances of life. As with our lives, the events of this story mold the lives of the persons involved. It is a story about people like you and me, facing life circumstances and finding God’s faithfulness in the midst of life.

A famine strikes the land of  Israel and a Hebrew family, Elimelech, Naomi and their two sons, move to Moab in hopes of finding better conditions. Moab, a nation on the east side of the Dead Sea, was just next door geographically but was light years away philosophically, religiously, and morally. While there, the sons marry two women from Moab, Orpah and Ruth. Tragically, Elimelech and both the boys die; Naomi and her two daughter-in-laws are left as widows in a land foreign to Naomi. She decided to return home to Israel. Orpah, one of the daughter in-laws, returned to her family in Moab; but, Ruth, the other dauther-in-law, committed to stay with Naomi.

Ruth 1:16 – “But Ruth replied, (to Naomi) “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.'”

Ruth and Naomi returned to Bethlehem together. They were accepted by Naomi’s family there. A prominent land owner named Boaz noticed Ruth and asked his workers to be kind to her and her mother-in-law. He left extra grain for Ruth to pick up, glean, in the fields. Boaz took Ruth as his wife, bought Naomi and Ruth out of debt, and provided the two ladies with loving care. The result was provision in their lives though they had both been widows.

Sometimes the focus isn’t on our ability to demonstrate faith, but God’s loving faithfulness to us in tragedy. The story of Ruth and Naomi demonstrates God’s interest in our lives. Simple women living in Godly ways are noticeable to God. All He requires is a willingness to serve Him as our God. Just as He cared for the details of their individual lives, He cares for all the details of our lives.

You may be in a situation through no fault of your own; it may simply be tragic circumstances. Be assured God will show His faithfulness to you. He will restore, renew, and care for you. Trust in His faithfulness.

Move that bus!

There was a popular show on television a few years back. A team of demolition workers, construction workers, decorators, architectural designers would come together and transform a person’s home in a week. The family would be sent on vacation and return to their home, no longer looking like it used to look, totally transformed – in a week! A large bus usually sat in front of the house and people would gather around and the family would yell, “Move that bus!” Emotions ran high as the camera crew would capture the moment of realization when the family saw their new home for the first time.

A friend of mine remodeled his home recently. He laughed because his kids had the idea the home would be finished in a week – like they do it on TV. He told them, “No. It takes much longer than that. We don’t have the ability to do what they do on that television show.” His daughter was discouraged because she had believed it would be like that.

Dave Earley in his book Living in His Presence writes, “There is no such thing as spiritual transformation. It is an ongoing process of ever-increasing glory. Our character is transformed little by little, a bit at a time.”

2 Corinthians 3:17-18, “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”

When we come to know Christ, the Bible tells us we are “new creations” or that we are “born again.” John 3:3, “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”

2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone,  the new is here.”

Like infants, we have a lot to learn! Your walk with Christ is an ongoing learning experience. It doesn’t happen over-night. The transformation does not happen in a week either. Christianity is about studying the word of God. It’s about making mistakes and learning from them. It’s about repenting and turning in the other directions. New Christians are as vulnerable as an infant would be if left unattended. God is teaching us every day, molding us, and making us into the people He needs us to be.

If you know a person who is a new Christian, make it a point to encourage him in his walk. If you feel stagnant in your relationship with God, join a Bible study and learn His ways. If you feel frustrated that you are not where you need to be in your relationship with God, talk to Him about it. He is always there. He hasn’t gone anywhere – you have!

Remember, God is the Creator. Every second He is shaping you in ways you cannot imagine. He is forming you into the beautiful being He knows you can be. What He needs is your full attention to the project.

Like the blink of an eye

A complex anatomical device, the human eye is a remarkable, architectural wonder of our body. It gives us the ability to see by refracting light and producing a focused image that stimulates a neural response. It is probably one of the most protected parts of our body by eyebrows, eyelashes, eyelids, and blinking. Our reflexes involuntarily react to anything that threatens our eyes, from dust particles to flying objects.

In every day life, we use references to the eye or pupil to indicate characteristics of our lives:

“She is the apple of his eye” indicates the importance of one person to another. “The movie was a real ‘eye-opener’ for me” indicates that we learned something from an experience. “Keep your eye on the ball” indicates caution in focusing on detail. “He really has an eye for it” indicates a person’s ability to do something well.

The eye is also an indicator in wisdom or ignorance:

“I see what you mean” expresses understanding. “Hind-sight is 20/20” is an expression used after something happens in our lives; if we had just known a particular thing, we could’ve changed the outcome. “He turned a blind eye” expresses when someone ignored something. “Due to an oversight” is used when we forget something. “To oversee a project” is to be in charge of it.

Psalm 17:8, “Guard me as you would guard your own eyes. Hide me in the shadow of your wings.”

We are like ‘eyes’ to God and He guards us with great care. He is as protective of His people as we are of our eyes. In Zechariah 2:8, “For this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘After he has honored me and has sent me against the nations that have plundered you – for whoever touches you touches the apple of his eye’ -“ In those words, I feel the protection of God. I feel the wall of fire around me; I feel the power of His reflexes; I know I am protected from evil.

We are given a divine guardianship. Think today on God’s protection of  you.  It is far more than you could ever imagine. Understand that wherever you go, He is with you. In a 16 hour day (the time you are awake) you will blink probably an estimated 15,000 times – that’s around once every five seconds. Consider as you move around throughout the day, God is covering you like a blink of the eye.

As a young boy my grandmother would tell me, “God will always rescue you, Michael, either here on earth or in the heavens. You do not ever need to be afraid.”

The God-line

I recently reviewed statistics indicating the average American salary. The graph showed the people in America who are considered wealthy, middle-income, poverty, and below the poverty line. I wonder if God has lines; not for wealth, of course, but for Christians.

There are many of us who live below the God-line. We do not want to stand up for what we know is right by God. We compromise to oblige society. We don’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers. Society teaches us political correctness, and in order to comply, we substitute the teachings of God to ‘get along’ or ‘prevent conflict.’

I want to be well-above the God-line; but, it comes with interferences. Jonah is the best example to me in the Bible of one who wanted to love God, wanted to do God’s work, wanted to be a prophet, but he wanted to do it his way and not His way. I wish I could talk with Jonah. His excuses would probably sound a lot like the excuses I hear today. ‘Times have changed.’ ‘Everyone’s doing it!’ “We have to say the right words because Christianity isn’t really in right now.’

Do you have an excuse? Some of you may know the story of Jonah. He literally ran from the opportunity God was giving him because he saw it as an interference in his life; an inconvenience; a thorn in his side. Jonah ended up in the belly of a fish. Where are you right now?

What opportunity is God presenting to you that you are believing to be an interference? What excuses are you making to remain below the God-line? What voice do you use to speak to others — yours or God’s?

Today, ask God to show you how to take the interferences of your life and make them opportunities for Him. Ask Him to give you the courage and the heart to step above that line and start living His word. The choice is yours.