The Gifts we Give

So much of this time of year is devoted to spending money on gifts for everyone. But how many people have stopped to think about why? Is it fun to give gifts? One hundred percent yes! It’s one of my favorite ways to show I care for someone. But why do people choose a celebration that is supposed to be about Jesus to make it about everyone else? Think about it. The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion. What?!?

Let’s not forget that it was Jesus who received gifts upon His birth. It wasn’t humanity, but the Savior of humanity that was honored. As we celebrate the birth of our Messiah, throughout this fall and winter season, let’s keep it about our Messiah. The last thing kids need is to be showered with presents. Materialism is an enemy of the soul. What our kids need is to love Jesus. What our family members need is to love Jesus. That’s the greatest gift. Think about what one person can do for the cause of Christ with $700 rather than buying stuff that has zero eternal significance. Or what one nation could do with a half a trillion dollars. Americans could provide clean drinking water to the entire world in one holiday season. Just one. We could provide a billion kids with a free education in impoverished nations. Those are causes worthy of honoring our Savior.

Celebrating the birth of Christ is celebrating the greatest gift, which has already been given. God became flesh and dwelt among us. We already received the gift. It’s our turn to give the gifts back to Him and to raise up our children to love and honor Him with their lives. I love giving things to my kids. I really do. And I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t get gifts. But why, for a celebration that is supposed to be all about Jesus, do we make it about anything other than Jesus? Let’s give the gifts of love, self-sacrifice, and service to those in need. Let’s devote our heart to Jesus as our gift to Him. He gave all of Himself to us. Now it’s our turn.

Peace in Christ, our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, and Almighty God!

The Gifts we Give

So much of this time of year is devoted to spending money on gifts for everyone. But how many people have stopped to think about why? Is it fun to give gifts? One hundred percent yes! It’s one of my favorite ways to show I care for someone. But why do people choose a celebration that is supposed to be about Jesus to make it about everyone else? Think about it. The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion. What?!?

Let’s not forget that it was Jesus who received gifts upon His birth. It wasn’t humanity, but the Savior of humanity that was honored. As we celebrate the birth of our Messiah, throughout this fall and winter season, let’s keep it about our Messiah. The last thing kids need is to be showered with presents. Materialism is an enemy of the soul. What our kids need is to love Jesus. What our family members need is to love Jesus. That’s the greatest gift. Think about what one person can do for the cause of Christ with $700 rather than buying stuff that has zero eternal significance. Or what one nation could do with a half a trillion dollars. Americans could provide clean drinking water to the entire world in one holiday season. Just one. You could provide a billion kids with a free education in impoverished nations. Those are causes worthy of honoring our Savior.

Celebrating the birth of Christ is celebrating the greatest gift, which has already been given. God became flesh and dwelt among us. We already received the gift. It’s our turn to give the gifts back to Him and to raise up our children to love and honor Him with their lives. I love giving things to my kids. I really do. And I’m not saying that kids shouldn’t get gifts. But why, for a celebration that is supposed to be all about Jesus, do we make it about anything other than Jesus? Let’s give the gifts of love, self-sacrifice, and service to those in need. Let’s devote our heart to Jesus as our gift to Him. He gave all of Himself to us. Now it’s our turn.

Peace in Christ, our Prince of Peace, Wonderful Counselor, and Almighty God!

Spiritual Homes

Have you ever stopped to ask yourself why you go to church? Or why you go to small groups? I used to. And I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. We need to understand why we do things, especially as important as church. And we need the answers.

I used to be among those who didn’t always see the value of going to church. I’ve said my fair share of statements like, “you don’t need to go to church to be a Christian”. I never experienced church how it was meant to be experienced. I never found a place that felt like home. They were all so distant, methodical, cold, monotonous, and the like. Relationships were hard to come by and getting connected was not easy to do. It didn’t fee all that different from going most places. Most of the time it was far less rewarding. That’s sad to say.

The other problem I had, besides the churches that I went to, was a lack of knowing why God wants us in “church” in the first place. A huge gap in many people’s lives, who give up on church, or go “church hopping” is that they don’t know why they’re there in the first place. I fully admit that some churches are just hard to be in. Jesus addressed seven churches in the book of Revelation, which can also be seen as types of churches in all eras, most of which did not receive good marks. With the exception of those churches that are not good environments to be in, we can all do ourselves a huge service by understanding why we’re there.

Now, I still believe that a person does not need to be a member of a church to be a Christian. At least not the way that the western mindset thinks of church. But we are commanded to not neglect meeting together and encouraging one another. However that may look for you. Whether it’s a home church, a Bible study small group, you and a friend or two getting together, or an organized church gathering, it’s important. That’s because God knows that we need each other. We need a spiritual home to unpack our lives and establish our spiritual roots. We need a safe place. We need relationships that are healthy and can help keep us moving forward towards Christ.

A 2 hour trip to a building once a week just can’t cut it. Especially when the other 166 hours of the week are spent out in the harsh environment of the world. Also, if those 2 hours are spent singing a handful of songs, listening to a sermon, making some small talk, and then going about our day, then we aren’t getting the meaning of church. Perhaps that’s why so many lose heart and lose focus. Or maybe didn’t ever gain the right focus in the first place.

Church is, and always has been, a place for relationship. The primary relationship that needs to be fed is between us and the God we worship. Heartfelt worship is certainly one way to do that. Hearing from Him through His word and teachings can also help tremendously. But those are all things we can do on our own. And we should be doing those things every day on our own. But corporate worship is powerful. Whether it’s you and a friend or a congregation of thousands, multiple voices lifted to heaven is amazing. We need to be helping one another to understand the word of God and holding one another accountable in our pursuit of Christ. That, we cannot do on our own.

The other relationship that is important about church is the one we find in a friend. We have so many people at our church who we consider more than a friend. We consider them our family. They aren’t by blood. In fact, one a few are related to us. But they are closer than most of our family members. They know us more deeply. They’ve been there for us, and us for them. We pray together, serve together, sing together, and simply do life together. That is what church should look like. That is what is missing for so many, and what was missing for me for most of my life.

Church is a place where we should be pouring ourselves out every bit as much as we’re getting filled up. Church is not a department store where we go to find what we are in the market for. Yet that’s how so many treat it. We can’t go into church asking what we can get out of it. If we do, we’re lost before we ever walk through the doors. It’s not about our entertainment or satisfaction. It’s about relationships. And those only thrive when they are a two way street. Why should you be gathering with other believers? Because we need one another. Desperately. And our relationship with Yahweh only suffers when we decide to go it alone. Let’s worship together, learn together, and grow together. If that is truly what you want in life, God will open the door. Because that is what God wants for you.

God bless brothers and sisters. And may you find deep and meaningful relationships with other believers. And may your relationship with your Savior be more fruitful than ever! Shalom.

White noise

Life is so full. Full of cares and concerns, responsibilities, obligations, and the like. There’s work time, play time, and down time. When I was single, I thought life was busy. When I got married it seemed even busier. Add children to the mix, and time becomes one of the most precious commodities. But no matter how busy life is, it seems like we always find time and ways to distract ourselves.

In a media-driven world it seems altogether too easy to create white noise in our day. Stopping to check ESPN scores, news updates, the social media feed, likes and shares, video games, movies, Netflix, or a quick stop on YouTube for short videos. All of these simply amount to us creating distractions for ourselves. We’re drawn to these things because they are easy and they matter very little. We can escape the weightier matters of life through these other mediums. We can “check out” for a bit. Some might view it as regrouping. After all, some of life’s responsibilities are just too heavy to carry.

I am as guilty as most when it comes to making time to escape. But my goal is to fill that time escaping in more profitable ways. I want to feed my emotional, spiritual, and physical health in that space. It’ll be hard. I’ll have to fight so many urges and temptations. But in the end, if I’m successful, it’ll be so worth it. For me it’s drawing, playing music, working out, and writing that fill me back up. But what fills me the most, is time alone with Jesus. Praying, studying, and journaling. He is our ultimate source of strength and regeneration. He is the vine that provides the necessary nutrients to our souls. There is no greater escape we could make than to escape with Jesus. Then we can return to life’s matters fully equipped with His spiritual strength to face whatever the world throws at us.

“Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength. Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted; but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” Isaiah‬ ‭40:28-31‬ ‭ESV‬‬

May His peace and strength grow in His children so we can face the world full of joy and courage. God bless loved ones.

Divine Embrace

Lost in the moment in treasure’s embrace. The concerns that once flooded my mind vanish, without a trace.

My heart is overwhelmed by loves great call. How long has it been? I couldn’t recall.

Since the power of love had carried such force. What I felt was so beautiful, no fear or remorse.

It grasped my attention and broke down my walls. It was as the pure light which illuminates all it befalls.

My heart was so light yet my eyes filled with tears. For a few short moments, I had no problems, no fears.

I couldn’t escape, but why would I want to? I held on a little tighter, what else could I do?

As I stand in worship, life’s memories are before my eyes. Thankfulness in my heart continues to rise.

At times I am silent, I can’t muster my voice. And at times I can’t help but lift praise and rejoice.

The weight of this moment I couldn’t comprehend. But one thing I knew, I didn’t want it to end.

For the love of the Father has set me free. I may be holding my little girl, but God you’re holding me.

*A while back at church my daughter Anna and I were together for worship. She wanted to be held and I had no problem fulfilling that request. In the middle of worship, while I was holding my then five-year-old little girl, I was completely ambushed by God’s love. I’m not sure if that’s the right way to put it but that’s how I felt. It was out of nowhere. And extreme emotions overtook me. I was captivated all over again. God used my immense love for my daughter to remind me of His even greater love for me. It was a cherished moment that I’ll never forget. The words of this poem cannot fully express how I felt. But it’s at least a small glimpse. I hope you’ve all felt overwhelmed by His love for you. If not, that’s my prayer for you. God bless brothers and sisters.

Toxic Fears

This is the third and final post in the series about certain toxins that humanity is plagued with. In the last two posts I shared my journey of mind games and poor word usage that have not been profitable whatsoever. But through my struggles in these areas, I’ve grown and become more aware of how to focus my thoughts and use my words as a life-giving agent. Today’s post is all about my fear.

I’ve been afraid of not being able to provide for my family. There’s no way around it. It has terrified me at times that my children and wife will not have all that they need. I’m not talking about wants or the menial pleasures of life. I mean their needs. I’ve been afraid of losing my loved ones, especially since I’ve lost two people extremely close to me in the last six years. One of the greatest fears I’ve had to tackle is the fear of something bad happening to my kids. Growing up I can’t remember being afraid of anything. Since having a family of my own, the fears have crept in. It’s like the more you have, the more room there is for fear. Being on my own I was care-free. Now with a wife and three kids…not so much.

I’m also a believer that it doesn’t have to be so. A family doesn’t have to open the door for fear to rule in my heart. To each of my fears above, God has spoken words of affirmation and promise. God has reminded me that Hs is ultimately the one who has been and always will be the one providing for my family. He’s also comforted me through my loss so that I can rest in the life to come, not this temporary existence. Me, and my loved ones, are living for that life to come, not for this one. Death is only the beginning and He has numbered all of our days. As far as my children go, God’s love for them far exceeds my own. He’s watching over them. He’ll give me wisdom and I can rest in that God is sovereign over my kids’ lives.

In the end, in what ever area we fear the most is where we value the most and trust God the least. I need to value Him above all things and people. His mission needs to be my mission. His kingdom and righteousness should be my aim and the rest will fall into place.

As always, here are some verses that have helped me along my journey. I hope they can be a help to you. Remember, these are paraphrases and what I felt God speaking to me through His word. I would encourage you to look up the passages yourself to read them in context and their entirety.:

Isaiah 26:3-4 tells me to keep my mind and focus on God and that’s when I will experience peace.

Isaiah 41:8-13 says that God has done great things on my behalf as He did for Israel and He is the one who upholds me. Because of that, there is nothing I should be afraid of.

Philippians 4:6-9 says that through prayer, giving thanks, and staying focused on good things God’s peace will be with me.

2 Timothy 1:7 tells me that God’s Spirit is within me so I already have power and love and sound mind.

John 14:27 is Jesus’ promise that His peace has been given to me.

Psalm 23 is a beautiful picture of being in harmony with God which brings peace in all circumstances.

Luke 12:22-34 treasure the kingdom, trust the King, and tend to others. That’s the mission of peace.

In the grand scheme of things, the only reason I fear is when my faith is lacking and my short term memory lost kicks in. God has a flawless track record in my life. There is no reason to not trust Him. It’s really the consequences of living in a fallen and broken world that we fear. And it’s hard to imagine that great of love that can overcome it on our behalf. But that’s exactly what we have in Jesus.

Brothers and sisters, if you battle with fear, draw closer to Him. He is the calm in your storm, just as He has been in mine.

Take it in

Life is good until it isn’t. A change that comes in a moment.

Hearts once leaping in exaltation now sunken in deep despair.

A smile now a lifeless expression.

Time unshaped by gratitude is lost for no one’s gain.

Unaware of how good it was, walking aimlessly.

What matters most is directly ahead, often missed for what lies beyond.

From now on it’ll be different.

The meaning of life comes more into view.

Prayers become more earnest as helplessness takes control.

A peace floods the soul like a warm embrace on a cold dark night.

How is there strength when the world is undone?

A Savior’s love overwhelms despair. Piercing the darkness, that glimmer of light.

Hope grows with each new day. I will make it after all.

From now on it’ll be different.

Time can slow to soak in each moment before they pass into memory.

Petty differences shall pass into oblivion.

Eyes look more longingly now upon those we love.

*This poem is dedicated to those who have experienced the earth-shattering moments. The sudden loss of a loved one. The diagnosis. Pain that turned everything upside down. I hope you too have experienced that amazing peace that our loving God provides, especially in the hardest moments. If not, that is my prayer for you. You are loved more than you know. This is a celebration of that love that has rescued so many from the depths. Peace in Christ loved ones.