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“He created him; male and female…Then God blessed them…Then God saw everything He had made and indeed it was very good.”  Genesis 1:27.28, 31

“These things I have spoken to you to you, that in Me, you may have peace.  In this world you will have tribulation, but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world.”  John 16:33

“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” John 10:10

Dear readers, this intended to be a slightly shorter post (I can hear the applause coming across the internet 🙂 ).  For being an instructor and facilitator as long as I have been; I know that no one can be forced to learn.  In the same way, no one can be forced; first, to make a decision and second should they decide to decide, what choice they decide, which can be influenced, can not be completely forced.  Ah, that free will thing.

So it is Dear Sisters and Brothers, if you are reading this and decide to continue on; no one can argue that you are indeed alive.  Your heart is beating, your lungs are taking in air and your brain synapses are firing.  So the basic, bottom-line questions is: How do you see your life? Is your (and my) life a gift from God?  Is it a burden (perhaps placed on us by God or not)?  Is it a curse?  Do please understand two things.  First, I’m asking you to think, not just about your circumstances concerning today; but how you truly see your life in total.  Second, this is not a purely academic or fuzzy, nebulous exercise.  For how you see or define your life is how you will behave toward yourself, toward God, toward others.

So (and again briefly) let’s explore this question.  First, scripture tells us in the beginning; that all God created was good, indeed very good.  God did not create us to be burdened or even cursed.  Yet we rebelled.  Surely at that point, God cursed us, turned His back on us, levied burdens on us too tough to bear.  God did not curse Cain when he slew his brother Abel.  Yes Cain was sent away but God swore to protect Him.  Look how God protected and provided for Noah, Abraham, Moses, Ruth and so many more regular, imperfect people who had faith in Him.

Yet for all that God did for us we could not find it within ourselves to save ourselves and come into a righteous eternal relationship with Him.  Again, He didn’t curse us and turn His back on us.  On the contrary, He sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to do what we could not.  Through His death and resurrection; Jesus Christ allowed us to come into eternal fellowship with our Heavenly Father.  To experience the true gift our life can be.

So how do we respond?  First, like an earthly gift, we can completely reject the gift and the giver, seeing no value in what is being given to us.  Or, we can see that it is a gift, but like that crazy relative that keeps giving us strange and unwanted things, we can politely accept the gift and seeing no value in it, put it way in a closet, never bringing it out or maybe just once or twice a year.  A few, fortunate ones may see the gift for the treasure it is.  Understanding that the giver didn’t just give to us one thing and then step away to see if we’d use it right or not.  No, God everyday, is adding to His gift of life.  God is teaching us, blessing us, leading us and most important of all; loving us.

Dear Sisters and Brothers; our Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ know that we will sometimes mistreat Their wonderful gift of life.  They also know that many will reject not only the gift and the Giver, but will also reject and be jealous of those who choose to accept the gift and be blessed by it.  Yet neither of those things will diminish the lengths that God is ready to go to sustain the wonderful gift He has given.  Today, regardless of your (or my) circumstances, God wants to give you, His Peace, His Joy, His Strength, His Spirit, His Love.  All He demands, all He expects, all He truly wants in return; is that we accept His gift and accept Him who is the giver, as well as He through and by who the gift is given; Jesus Christ.  A fundemental joy, peace and amazement await all who will truly, faithfully accept.

Our Most Gracious Heavenly Father, we give You thanks and praise for the gift of this life that You have given us.  Forgive us Most Merciful Father when we take this gift for granted or worse yet, see it as a burden or curse.  Restore us through Your Love and Spirit we pray, that in living into Your most precious gift, we would live lives of praise and glory to Your Most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“Consider the ravens for they neither sow nor reap…..” Luke 12:24

“Consider the lilies how they grow they neither toil nor spin…..”  Luke 12:27

“Do not fear little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”  Luke 12:32

I would like you to do something for me.  If you are in a place where you can actually look out a window or are outside then that is good (unless you’re in an automobile and need to concentrate on the road).  If not close your eyes and try a visualization for me (again if you’re in a car; keep your eyes open!)  I want you to see a bird.  Look as it hops around or flits from one branch to another.  Next I want you to look for a flower.  Notice the beauty of the different colors and parts that make up the flower.

For this next part it, I want you to use your imagination and it may require you to close your eyes.  I want you to visualize that bird now with a cell phone in one of it’s feet; maybe with a cigarette in it’s beak or a large cup of coffee grasped in its other talon (I know now the image is getting a little weird).   The expression on the bird’s face is concerned with a frown and it is pacing back and forth (if a foot is clear).  Visualize the flower or plant.  Imagine that it is trying to look at all aspects of itself.  It is wondering if its stem looks fat or not.  It wants to make sure that only one side is visible because that is its best side.

I know the portraits painted by the second paragraph are pretty ridiculous for a bird and a flower/plant.  Then we look in the mirror.  For our behavior, the second paragraph is not as much a visualization as it is a memory.  This is how the world says we should act; that should be our perspective.  Like the example of the bird, the world tells us we need to be connected at all times.  We need to be thinking about, more likely worrying about, planning our next steps.  We have to combine as many things at one time as possible.  Let me eat while I surf the web, send a message while I walk outside missing the beauty of the day.  Don’t experience the wonder of flight or the view from the airplane, keep your head buried in your laptop or portable electronic device, stressing over your lack of connectivity.  Like the flower in the second paragraph; what image am I sending out.  Could someone see some characteristic of me that they might think flawed?  How do I hide my perceived imperfections from any prying eyes?

Jesus is never haphazard in His use of language.  He could have said: “Take a look at those ravens or see those lilies over there.”; but He didn’t.  Jesus said consider; and that is exactly what he wants us to do. For Jesus wants us to not only physically observe but to also mentally and spiritually contemplate that which we are observing.  Those ravens, birds, they are going about their business. At some point they are using what God gave them in that wondrous ability to fly.  At other times they are hopping around searching for food.  Ponder that they didn’t do anything in preparation for finding the food.  They did not sew any seed and carefully watch over it as it sprouted.  There was no farmer bird weeding the crop or seeing to its water.  Finally, no flock of birds was hired to go and harvest the grain for its consumption.  Yet God does not punish them for their lack of activity; throwing judgments at them like slacker, stupid or worthless.  No, Jesus reminds us; God feeds them.  Also, consider the lilies or any other flower.  How incredibly beautiful they grow.  Realizing that the beauty is not just singular in nature but a complex mixture of different colors, shapes and textures.  Yet no flower planned its outcome in advance.  No plant spent hours formulating procedures to insure that it would achieve a certain height or position in the field.  No, Jesus reminds us; God decided all aspects of the when, how, what and where and yet it outshines the most exquisite man-made beauty in existence.

Here’s the thing, as much as the gift of sustenance for the birds and the beauty for the plants are gifts from God; of how much more value to Him are we?  Jesus makes it crystal clear.  God knows we also need sustenance.  God knows we also adorn ourselves with clothes and have a desire concerning how they look.  Jesus tells us: “and Your Father knows that you need those things”.  How wonderful would it be only if He supplied those gifts to us freely (which of course He does).  But Jesus tells us, we are of much greater value.  To no bird nor any plant did God give the kingdom.  Yet Jesus Christ tells us directly; the God is pleased; not begrudging, not reluctant, no He is pleased to give us the kingdom.  When Jesus states O you of little faith, it sounds like an admonishment and to a certain extent it is.  Though I also think it is a little of a plea.  A plea to lighten up.  A plea to not be so stressed out.  A plea to not miss the wonders and blessings that God has placed before us because we are too busy trying to achieve the lessor things of the world.

Dear brothers and sisters, may we visualize the reality of Our Heavenly Father’s love for us.  A love that is first and foremost a gift. A gift so unfathomably miraculous that included the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ to bring us into relationship with Him.  May it be that we will consider all these things, then enter peaceably into His Rest.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we thank and praise You for the promises that You have made to and for us.  Forgive most Merciful Father, when we neglect the reality of those promises to pursue the fantasy of our self reliance.  Pour out Your Spirit upon us that we would resist the stress of the world and come to embrace the faithful rest that we will find in You.  That in that rest and confidence in You we would live lives that praise Your Most Holy Name.  In the Most Holy Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you…”  Ezekiel 36:26

“Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”  2 Corinthians 9:15

As with so much in the world; in Christmas time can bring a sense of confusion and befuddlement about the celebration of Christ’s birth.  What about presents and gifts; is it right to do it or is that just a commercialization of the Holy.  To Santa or not to Santa?  Is the time that I spend shopping and thinking about gifts taking away for the spirituality of the Event?

Well the word give is used 500 times in the bible. So it would seem the process of imparting a gift is not an inconsequential concept as far as God is concerned.  So it seems to me, that as in so many things, it is the intent that matters.  As well as if we go back to the whole reason for the season itself, it is to celebrate the gift of our Savior come to earth:  Jesus Christ.

Can gifts and gift giving get in the way?  Can it diminish the focus of the season?  Most assuredly.  Let’s think for a moment about two aspects of the reason for the gift; the easy and the hard.  I’ll start with the hard; the gift of obligation.  You know that type of gift.  It is the gift that we must get for someone.  We must get it; perhaps because everyone else in our social or work arena is getting the person a gift, maybe because it is the generally accepted societal norm to give this person a gift, finally it may be the guilt aspect that they have either already given, or you are certain they are going to give you a gift and will be expecting one in return.  So out you and I trudge.  We don’t want to sacrifice the money, we don’t want to exert the effort, we feel it is a waste of time to be searching for the gift.  We don’t know the person as well as perhaps the fear that our gift will be shown up by someone else’s gift.  Boy I wish we didn’t have this season that causes me to do this every year!  Maybe an exaggeration but those sort of feelings can definitely cause us to lose focus on why the season is here in the first place.

Now let’s concentrate on the easy.  I say easy, not in the sense that necessarily finding the gift is a walk in the park.  But it is the feelings that we have in the process that make something we really desire to do.  We have that special person or people.  They are so dear to us that we can’t wait to venture out to find that special something.  While we may have a budget that may restrain what we are able to do; within that constraint we are going to give as much as we can.  Effort?  What effort?  We are not thinking about the full parking lots or long checkout lines.  No, we rather we are focused on the look of joy that the receiver will have when they open the gift.  Every detail is important.  Not just the gift but also its presentation.  In the must get gift, even if it is not a lump of coal it may sure look like one from the way it is wrapped.  However, with the want to gift, the wrapping is a piece of art in and of itself, with much time spent getting each corner, each seam, just right.  Gift in return?  With the easy, want to gift, there might be some mental recognition that there might be a gift received as well.  But there is no sense of comparison, no balancing of “do you love me as much as I love you” based upon the gift.  Their very presence is present enough.

Which of those two gift intents are most representative of the gift we  received from God in Jesus Christ?  I can find no cosmic requirement that would have obligated Our Heavenly Father to give to us; His Son Jesus Christ.  Was God concerned that all the other gods were giving us gifts so He needed to at least pitch in something too?  There is just way too many ridiculously blasphemous aspects of that statement to spend any time on.  Finally, is there any sense that we, His creation, had given Him so much before, that He was obligated to give His Son to us?  Can we say Sodom and Gomorrah, Bathsheba and many, many more human examples of spiritual failure.

So it is obvious that Jesus Christ is the type of gift of Love.  Now I won’t say that it was easy.  For unfortunately, God was giving His gift to receivers who, for the most part, were not interested or believing that the gift had actually been given.  As a gift; throughout His life, Jesus was going to be ridiculed, ostracized, hated and even condemned by those he had been given to.

So what’s the most important thing about gifts this time of year?  To be receivers.  To understand that each of us has been given the most wondrous gift possible: salvation.  That we should accept this gift in the humble realization that we have done nothing to deserve this and can do nothing to repay it back to the Giver.  That the Gift was given out of Love and Grace and our right response is to receive that Love and Grace, share that Love and Grace with others and to the best of our ability; feel that Love in return to Him.

What’s a Christian to do?  Receive the Love, give in love, live a life of love to Him and to those around us.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we can get so consumed with the mechanics of gifts and giving, especially during this time of year, that we lose sight of receiving The Gift from You, which is Jesus Christ.  Pour out Your Spirit on us putting Love in our hearts that we would be overjoyed by the Grace and Generosity of Your Gift of Jesus Christ to us.  That as we go forth in this season and in all seasons to come in Love and Praise for Your Most Holy Name.  In the name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

“How long will you neglect to go and possess the land which the Lord God of your fathers has given you?”  Joshua 18:3

And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, Jesus expounded to them in all scriptures the things concerning Himself”  Luke 24:27

We are given something.  The thing may be expensive, it may be complex.  In fact the newer and more different it is, the more complex it may be to use, the more fearful we may be to actually go and do something with it.

The children of Israel had been promised a land flowing with milk and honey.  They had been promised that they would live in splendid cities that they did not build.  Plant crops and graze their herds in fields which they had not prepared.  God promised their fathers that He would go in before them, thus allowing them to go forth and conquer.  Their fathers were too afraid to accept the promise, so they died wandering in the wilderness along with Moses.  Their children had more courage.  They believed God and followed Joshua into the promised land.  They experienced the power of Almighty God as time after time, they came up against kings and armies, mightier than they were, yet utterly destroyed each enemy without losing anyone.  So now they had conquered the land.  So what happens now?  Thanking God, they should have gone in and possessed the land as their inheritance as the children of God.  However, for a while they stayed where they were.

Two followers (not two of Jesus’ disciples) are walking to a town called Emmaus.  This is just after Jesus has been crucified and scripture tells us, that in their discussion, they are confused and disheartened.  We hear that they believe that Jesus was a “great prophet” sent from God, but He was killed and some say has been raised from the dead.  Yet these two men are walking away from Jerusalem.  It seems they are walking away from what had been taught, going back to the way things had been, not certain if Jesus made any difference.  Had Jesus not come along and spoken with them, one wonders if their experience following Jesus, seeing His miracles would have made any difference.  Jesus did not allow that to happen.  He patiently explains all of what happened and more importantly why it happened.  They did not realize it was Jesus until He broke bread with them.  What was their response?  To joyously return to Jerusalem.  They could not wait to tell the disciples and the other followers about seeing the risen Lord.

Yeah, Yeah, Doug, you say to me.  Sure, the promised land thing I get; Okay Jesus explaining things right after His resurrection; cool, but what do I do with that?  Can there be a more important question for all us than that?  I don’t think so.  First let’s put some historical context on these happenings; Joshua and the Hebrews entered into the promised land in 1406 B.C.  Jesus was crucified and resurrected in the year 30 A.D.  So, roughly 1400 years difference in human existence.  But the same God, showing immeasurable Love and Power in leading His people.  Why do we think that God would have changed in the next 2000 years?  The answer is He has not.  He is as Loving and Powerful today, will continue to be tomorrow, as he was back then.  Second we have everything we need to see the vision clearly.  They say that hindsight is 20/20.  The bible provides us with several millenia of hindsight with which to grow our faith and trust in God.

Our Heavenly Father is telling each of us; “I love you.  I have a plan, a land for you.  I gave my only son Jesus Christ, to save you!”  We ask:  “Knowing that, what do I do now?”   We have several resources for that answer.  For one we have the bible.  And in conjunction with the scripture but even more powerful, in that He helps to interpret the scripture for us as well as intercede for us; we have the Holy Spirit to guide us.  It seems to this humble soul that what God is asking us to do is to Love.  That Love for Him (the first great commandment) will cause us to trust Him, to rely on Him, to humbly follow and obey Him, to accept joyfully and gratefully the blessings He has in store for us.  Additionally, we are to love each other as we love ourselves (the second great commandment).  When we want to curse another, hurt another, lie about another, judge another; we need to stop and ask ourselves:  “Would I do those same things to myself?”  And if I somehow came up with a twisted answer that says; yes, I like to do those things to myself.  We would go back to Love and ask is that out of hate or love for myself?  The two commandments go hand in hand.  I can not hate one and love the other.

The enemy would have us do nothing.  He would have us deny the gift of God, or say that it is too wonderful and frightening for me to do anything with it.  The gift will most assuredly change me, and I am too comfortable where I am; even if that is in a terrible place.  Take heart, Jesus Christ came down from perfection to a very scary, hate filled, dirty place.  He lived there and ultimately died there.  He did that all out of Love, not just Love for them but Love for each of us.  AND Jesus Christ did not stay dead.  He rose again, and returned to perfection with even more Glory.  But He didn’t leave us.  He said I have a gift.  I want you to come to where I am, forever.  So what do I do now?  How can I help but lovingly follow Him.

Our Most Gracious and Heavenly Father, we resolutely declare that You are the one true God with all Power and Majesty.  Yet we also confess, Merciful Father, that we often do not fully accept or act on the blessings that You have poured out upon us.  We acknowledge that we fearfully shy away from boldly going forth in love proclaiming the victories that You have in store for us.  Help us Gracious Lord, to overcome our earthly fear and come into Your presence, faithfully obeying Your Plan.  That through that obedience, Dear Father, we may completely experience the blessings that You have in store for our lives and we might live to praise Your Holy Name we pray.  In the Name of Jesus Christ we pray.  Amen

Be sure to set aside a tenth of all that your fields provide each year…… Deuteronomy 14:22. Do not give me riches or poverty…………for if riches I may disown you…. Proverbs 30-7

Today, that which is provided to us and what we do about it consumes a tremendous amount of our time and our church’s time.  A church can see its very survival in the amounts given especially when those amounts are far less than 10%.  And the people feel that they are barely making it by needing every scrap to make their ends meet.  Plus what they have comes from titanic daily struggles.  God is the God of all creation, surely he needs nothing from us.

Yet to me, there seems to be some inherent promises in God’s commandment about giving ten percent.  First He expressly says where the 10% is supposed to come from.  It comes from the production of your land.  In this day and time it would come from the outcome of your vocation.  So first and foremost it appears that there is a promise that your land is going to produce.  God’s plan would seem to indicate that He is going to provide.  Do remember that this edict was first given after the Israelites had left Egypt and were heading for the “promised land”; the land “flowing with milk and honey”.  God then as is the case now plans to bless His people. 

So if it is His and His gift in the first place why does He need a tenth of it back?  It is not in His need to receive but in our need to give.  Part of the divine mystery is our ability to disregard God.  To completely live our lives as if He did not matter and that we are masters of our own domain and the builders of our own good fortune.  Sadly that type of living is not only seemingly increasing in our society and thus our penchant to give glory to self made people and those who have seemingly made it on their own without help.  Yet that mindset leads to a life devoid of the ever so needful recognition of where it is that our livelihood comes from in the first place.  Whether we acknowledge it or not, God has seen fit to GIVE to us the abilities and circumstances that allow us to make a living in this world.  Those who choose not to see that feel that they are the sole reason that they have been successful and thus their success and whatever outcomes there are from it belong completely to them.

We need to bring the 10% to acknowledge to God that there is an additional 90% which is ours to keep and to in a broad sense do as we see fit.  God several times goes further to say that even though He is already promising an additional 90% beyond what is being returned to Him; by keeping this commandment He promises even more blessings to come by virtue of that faith.

So there is a danger in our keeping the entire 100%.  We now become not only the rightful owners of all the 100% but lose site of any acknowledgement that there was any other hand involved in our getting the 100% in the first place.  The worst part of the that path is then we can come to believe that, there is no reason to go to God with our thanks or our requests.  God knows what we need, not only materially but most important spiritually.  He knows that our only chance at true life and love is to connect with Him in all things.  Only then can all things work to our favor within His Name. 

Therefore, know that a 100% is coming and is in His plan.  It is not that He asks for the 10th back in as much as He asks for our recognition of His providing the 100%, a more than sufficient amount, in that we are faithfully, willing and indeed joyous to acknowledge Him in that 10% that we return.  All Honor and Glory be to God Almighty.

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