FULLY ALIVE!

Your life will be as bright as the noonday sun. Job 11:17


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Gift Giving

Gift giving has long been a subject for studies on human behavior, with virtually everyone weighing in from anthropologists to economists and psychologists to marketers and, of course, the gift recipients. Not at all surprising,  gift giving is a complex and revealing part of human interaction, telling us much about both givers and receivers while often defining relationships and interactions and strengthening or weakening bonds with family and friends.

Personally, I love gift giving!  Now some family members will tell you that I love shopping, but it actually isn’t the shopping that I enjoy; it’s the gift giving.  Not just any gift, but the right gift. The perfect gift.  The “you know it was picked out just for you” gift.  Like the actual Hollywood script of the about-to-be-released Star Trek movie that I gave to my then fiancé.  Or the logo that I commissioned and then had embroidered on shirts for my Sweetie.  And surely the pearl earrings and manicure for a student worker about to go on her first professional interview.

Psychologists tell us that the giver often reaps the reward, experiencing deeper joy and greater happiness than the recipient.  I can attest to the truth of that finding.  Sometimes I can hardly wait for someone to open their gift.  Like that logo and those embroidered shirts; they were intended as a Christmas gift, but I found myself giving the box to my Sweetie and begging him to open it about two weeks before Christmas.  I just couldn’t wait to see his surprise and, prayerfully, the delight in his eyes. (NOTE:  He did not disappoint.  Smile.)

To pick out such a gift, you have to know the person and you have to care about the person.

This is the heart of our Heavenly Father.  He knows us (Luke 12:7, Matthew 10:30 ESV); He loves us (Romans 5:8, 1 John 4:16, John 3:16), and as Mark Batterson writes, “He can hardly wait to keep His promises.  He can hardly wait to perform His word.  He can hardly wait to answer our prayers. And, when we simply take Him at His word, He can hardly contain His joy!”  Our Father gives us good and perfect gifts (James 1:17 ESV), including wisdom (James 1:5 ESV), salvation (Ephesians 2:8 ESV) and eternal life (Romans 6:23 ESV).

Isaiah 11:2-3 (CEB) identifies seven different spirits or gifts: “The Lord’s spirit will rest upon him, a spirit of wisdom and understanding, a spirit of planning and strength, a spirit of knowledge and fear of the LordHe will delight in fearing the LordHe won’t judge by appearances, nor decide by hearsay.”  Paul identifies nine specific gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-10:  1)Word of Wisdom, 2) Word of Knowledge, 3) Faith, 4) Gifts of Healing, 5) Working of Miracles, 6) Prophecy 7) Discerning of Spirits, 8) Divers (or different) kinds of Tongues and 9) Interpretation of (different) Tongues.

Just as we choose gifts for our friends and family, God gives His gifts as He sees best.  All we have to understand is that He withholds no good thing” from us (Psalm 84:11 NLV) He has “appointed first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, the ability to help others, leadership skills, different kinds of tongues.  All aren’t apostles, are they? All aren’t prophets, are they? All aren’t teachers, are they? All don’t perform miracles, do they?  All don’t have gifts of healing, do they? All don’t speak in different tongues, do they? All don’t interpret, do they? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30 CEB).  The answer is, “No,” because He calls us individually and uniquely and while He gives gifts to all, He also gives special gifts to each of us based on who He has called us to be.

Sometimes our gift giving goes awry.  Wrong size.  Hated color.  Stirred allergies.  Sometimes motives aren’t pure.  Occasionally things arrive broken or defective, and sometimes gifts just aren’t appreciated. God’s gifts are good.  God’s gifts are perfect.  God’s gifts are free.  God’s gifts are eternal.  But we have to claim them.  The gift in the box is no good.  Receiving a gift means untying the ribbon, opening the box and peeling back the tissue.  How would you feel if you knew deep within that you had purchased just the right gift for a friend or family member but when you gave it to them, they simply admired the wrapping paper and the bow informing you of their intent never to open it?  Where’s the joy?  How can there be squeals of delight?  What would be the purpose?

THIS WEEK spend time considering the unique and special gift God has for you?  Every spiritual gift is a reflection of God’s nature that He planted within you.  Your gift reflects God’s design and direction for your life.  This is not a gift that you want to leave unwrapped!  Opening it will bring you great joy and deep satisfaction.  You may want to spend some time engaged with this short Bible Study:  Why God Gave You Gifts found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/biblestudies/w/why-god-gave-you-gifts.html.


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I Don’t Want to Forgive

Have you been hurt so deeply that you feel trapped by the pain, yet there is something deep within you that refuses to forgive?

At times it seems there are two forces pulling at you, kinda like those cartoons we’ve seen of characters having an angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other.  That angel whispers the Scriptures into your ears – “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).  “Bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Colossians 3:13).  “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…” (Luke 6:27). “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12:19). “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (Matthew 5:44).  “Do not say, “I will repay evil”; wait for the Lord, and he will deliver you” (Proverbs 20:22).

That devil on the other shoulder is whispering, too.  “Don’t forgive them; they don’t deserve it. Don’t you remember what they did to you?”

The angel whispers all the more…,”Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless…” (1 Peter 3:9).  And the devil ramps up his whisperings, too…, “What you need to do is get even.  If I were you, I’d get them back!”

Forgiveness is hard.  It’s even harder when you don’t really want to forgive.  Yes, you want to empty yourself of all that bitterness, and you want to enjoy a close relationship with God (because in case you didn’t realize it, bitterness and refusing to forgive separates you from God).  But deep down within, you crave vengeance.  You just want to even the score somehow, pay them back.  After all, that’s what they deserve!

Confession.  I have held bitterness toward a certain “them” and “they” in my heart for quite some time now.  I said that I forgave, but I didn’t.  I thought for a while that I had, but I haven’t.  I was sure that I wanted to, but I don’t.  I don’t want to forgive them.  Oh, in my head I do; I know right from wrong.  But the awful, cold, hard truth is that in my heart, I don’t want to forgive them.

I realized that today when I had an opportunity to celebrate “them.” To praise “them.”  To congratulate “them.”  I didn’t want to do any of those things.  Rather, I wanted to remind “them” of their evil, their spite, their prejudices and their mean-spiritedness.  But therein lies the rub.  I couldn’t remind them of any of their shortcomings and faults without being reminded of my own.  Dang.

And so today I realized, fully realized what I already knew in my head.  Forgiveness is not really for “them.”  It is for me.

You see, by refusing to forgive, I imprisoned myself.  I shut myself away in a lonely, desolate and miserable place where I played and replayed the videos and recordings of all that they had done wrong.  Meanwhile, they went about their lives – happy, laughing, enjoying.  I am sure that they haven’t spent one minute thinking about what has robbed me of peace for more than a year now.

Today, I decided it’s time to be released from prison.  I forgave.  Once, for all and for always – with the help of the Holy Spirit!

As children of God we are commanded to forgive.  It really is not an option, but God will not rush us.  He’ll let us linger and languish in the prison of bitterness as long as we desire.  When we come to our senses, we understand that He empowers us by His Spirit to forgive just as Jesus forgave when He looked down from the cross at His false accusers, the naysayers and the soldiers who had beaten and whipped Him and now cast lots for His clothing.  Amidst all that, He said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).  Surely, I can forgive those who hurt me, and I did.

Here’s what we can be sure of – What God commands us to do, He empowers us to do by His Spirit. And that includes forgiving just as Jesus did!

THIS WEEK break free of any prison of unforgiveness that has you bound.  “As those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you” (Colossians 3:12-13).  Identify your shortcomings and seek the Lord’s forgiveness for those then, if possible, reconcile with your offender.  If you cannot reconcile because your offender is not ready, know that you have done what the Lord has required of you, and go in peace (Romans 12:18). 


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The WhatIfs

Shel Silverstein, long one of my favorite poets, penned a poem entitled WhatIf.  It begins, “Last night, while I lay thinking here,
some Whatifs crawled inside my ear and pranced and partied all night long and sang their same old Whatif song:  Whatif I’m dumb in school?  Whatif they’ve closed the swimming pool?  Whatif I get beat up?  Whatif there’s poison in my cup?  Whatif I start to cry?  Whatif I get sick and die?”

Instead of breaking up the late night party, we join in, serve refreshment, turn the music up and add our own lyrics!

Our grownup version tends to go more like this:  Whatif I can’t pay my rent?  Whatif all my money’s spent?  What if my spouse decides to leave?  What if my children begin to deceive?  What if the doctor gives me a cancer scare?  What if I lose all my hair?  What if my house is taken away?  What if I die and this is my last day…?  What if my child is born with defect?  What if my teenagers are in a wreck?  And so on…you know how it goes.

I challenge you to change the tune completely and consider these lyrics:  What if God is, as His Word says, in control?  What if God is omniscient?  What if God is omnipresent and is with you wherever you go (Joshua 1:9)?  What if God has a plan for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope (Jeremiah 29:11)?  What if with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26)?  What if God’s Word does not return empty but, rather, accomplishes His purpose and succeeds in the thing for which He sent it (Isaiah 55:8-11)?  What if in His hand is the life of everything (Job 12:10)?  What if God is faithful and will provide (1 Corinthians 10:13)?  What if nothing is too hard for Him (Jeremiah 32:27) and what if you can do all things through Him (Philippians 4:13)?  What if God will strengthen, help and uphold you (Isaiah 41:10)?  What if all that seems to be meant evil towards you God means it for good (Genesis 50:20)?

What if you stopped worrying and started trusting?

Silverstein ends his poem, “Everything seems well, and then the nighttime Whatifs strike again!”

When the Whatifs strike you, strike back with the Word of your Lord!  Stop worrying.  Start trusting.

THIS WEEK take captive every thought (2 Corinthians 10:5) including your whatifs!  Replace each with a promise from God.

The Whatifs:  A Silverstein Poem   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=plxOibb0L0s


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Something to Worry About

Yes, last post I wrote that worrying was for the birds, but as I continue to reflect upon the teaching of Matthew – and all the Scriptures, I realize there is something that you should worry about.

Your focus. That you have it wrong.  Your thinking.  That it’s misguided.

Admittedly, my own focus and my own thinking may have been off, too.  While I wrote that worrying was for the birds, was I making too light of it?  When we look at the teaching of Matthew 6, we are told several times not to worry.  Specifically, in Matthew 6:25 (CEB) we read, “I say to you, don’t worry about your life…”  Verse 28 asks, “Why do you worry about clothes?” and verse 31 says, “Don’t worry and say, ‘What are we going to eat?’ or ‘What are we going to drink?’ or ‘What are we going to wear?”  And if we missed or misunderstood any of those, verse 34 makes it crystal clear, “Stop worrying about tomorrow.”

Whether you read the Common English, New International, King James or some other translation, the teaching is the same.  Whether your Bible tells you not to worry, not to take thought or not to be anxious, the command is the same.  No translation offers suggestions; they all offer edicts.  Directives.  Decrees.  Commandments.  And this is where and how we get off base with our thinking and our focus.

Let me be clear.  Worrying is not just problematic.  Worrying is wrong.  Worrying is a sin.  At the risk of offending some readers, I will be bold.  Worrying is a sin just like stealing, killing and adultery.  OMG you say.  But if we disobey God’s word, we sin.  Hmm, you wonder.  Don’t just take my word, let’s consider examples.  Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:2-3).  Lot’s wife (Genesis 19:7 and Luke 17:32).  Jeroboam (1 Kings 12:25-33).  Jonah (Jonah 1:1-3).  While you are reading, read 1 John 2:3-6 which cautions us, “Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. He who says, ‘I know Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him.”  Can it be any clearer?  If we do not keep the commandments of God – not just the ten, but all the commandments of His word, we sin.

And worrying is not somehow a little or a lesser sin.  That’s more of our “misthinking.”  Adultery is a BIG sin.  Stealing is a BIG sin.  Murder is a BIG sin.  Worrying is a little sin.  A cute sin.  A “I can’t help myself, and anyway we all do it” sin.  As my pastor says, we think people go to hell for the BIG sins and, perhaps, to an air conditioned hell for the little sins.  No. Sin is sin.  If you’re thinking otherwise, I caution you; your thinking is misguided.

Matthew 6:33 (CEB) tells us that we should “desire first and foremost God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.”  In other words, our focus should be God, His kingdom and His righteousness rather than worrying about our lives, our clothes, what we will eat or drink or about tomorrow.  Further, Matthew teaches, when God is first, all those things will be ours, too!

THIS WEEK reassess your thinking and your focus.  What are you choosing to worry about?  Understand that worry steals your strength and buries your blessings.  Search the Scriptures for examples of those who worried and disobeyed God and those who cast their cares upon Him.  Decide which group you want to be associated with.