Monday, December 12, 2011

Define Necessity


I remember reading a Moody Monthly article back in the 1980s.  It was the story of family in need.  The father was laid off his job right after Thanksgiving.  Christmas was going to modest, to say the least.  There were a few small gifts and an envelope or two under the tree.  On Christmas Day, after opening their gifts, one of the children found another sealed envelope.  It contained a sizable check that someone had sent them for Christmas.  Thinking it had been placed under the tree, the mother had actually slid it under the tree skirt.  The check could have made their Christmas even more meaningful, but it had been lost in the trappings of Christmas.

All the things that demand our time during the Christmas season are not bad.  They are like the wrappings and decorations --- beautiful and they serve a purpose; BUT sometimes we can lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas because it gets lost in our busyness.

It usually begins right after Halloween.  The decorations appear in the stores.  The ads crop up reminding us that there are only so many shopping days left.  Then come the trees, the music, the shopping, the baking, the parties, the parades, the traffic, and the traveling.  There's the ring of Salvation Army bucket brigade, the exam schedule for our high schoolers and college kids, the play practice, the choir rehearsals, the church programs, and more.  These are the trappings of Christmas and they can crowd out the true spirit and meaning of the holiday if we don't intentionally set aside time each day to reflect, alone and with our loved ones, on the Reason for this season..

Now a certain amount of commercialization is to be expected.  After all, Christmas is a holiday rooted in the tradition of giving.  The true story of Christmas is about the giving of gifts.  In Matthew 2, the magi -- those wise men from the region we now call Iran -- came to the Christ-child bearing gifts.  It wasn't unusual that such pilgrims would bring gifts for a child of royalty.  With such beginnings, it is only reasonable that we expect some commercialization.  But what has happened is that this sacred holiday has become a secular festival that allows people to be self-indulgent without responsibility.  I'm not talking about the world here.  People who are not followers of Christ are going to live, speak, and act like people who don't follow Christ.  But what about the thousands, perhaps millions of professing followers of Jesus who emphasize gift exchange rather than true giving. 

How many of us will spend money on gifts that recipients don't need or want, yet we give it because we know they will giving to us?  How can we rationalize that while missionaries wait for funding, 30,000 children a day die from hunger and preventable disease, and our neighbors suffer in silence as they undergo foreclosure or have nothing for their kids at Christmas? 

How many of us equate the value of a gift with monetary value?  We will through our leftovers into the offering plate while we go into unsecured debt for Christmas gifts.  When will we begin to teach our children a value system that places people above things?

How many of us will give year-end gifts for the tax benefit or to assuage a guilty conscience rather than giving from a motive of love and joy?

We can recapture the true spirit of Christmas as the body of Christ and as individual disciples.  That Christmas spirit is more than family gatherings, the scent of evergreen, the sound of carols, and the flickering of candles.  That spirit of Christmas is the spirit of selflessness.  It is the spirit demonstrated by the greatest Gift-giver of all.  The apostle Paul put it this way:  Make your own attitude that of Christ Jesus, Who existing in the form of God, did not consider equality with God as something to be used for His own advantage.  Instead, He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a slave, taking on the likeness of men.  And when He had come as a man, in His external form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death --- even death on a cross.  For this reason, God highly exalted Him and gave Him the Name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every know will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:5-11 NLT)

This Christmas, empty yourself.  Push aside some of the trappings, experience the joy of Christ, and selflessly serve someone who can never reciprocate.   For in doing so, you will be Christ-like!     Check this video from Matthew West   

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

God Winks

I headed to McDonald's for a lunch salad about 1:30.  I circled the restaurant twice, but then I suddenly had a craving for Wendy's.  Got my half-salad and a junior bacon cheeseburger (no mayo) and grabbed a table in the corner.  In the opposite corner sat a young woman.  No food or drink.  Just a cell phone and a look of panic.  When I had finished eating, we were the only two people in the dining area.  Our eyes locked and I motioned for her to come to my table.  As soon as she stood up, the tears began to flow.  "What's wrong?" I asked.  "I want to hurt myself," she replied.  Homeless, penniless, abandoned, and afraid, she had reached out to her father in another state.  He wouldn't have money to send for her for another week.  As I write this, she has benefited from the kindness of the ER staff and social workers at our local hospital AND will be Michigan bound in 12 hours. 
During one of our conversations, I told her about circling McDonald's.  "I just felt a tug toward Wendy's," I told her.  She responded, "I was praying that God would send someone to help me."  At that point in the story, Will said, "A God Wink!"  I'd never heard the term, but it seemed to fit.  I could imagine our loving God giving us all a wink and a smile as we realized that He had been working this out.  My encounter with this young woman wasn't a coincidence.  It was a God wink!  

The apostle Paul knew something about God winks.  In Philippians 2:13, he wrote "For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases Him."  (NLT)  After his conversion, he sat in a stranger's home, blind and broken.  Little did he know that during that time, God was instructing a man named Ananias to go to him to heal him of his blindness and baptize him as a believer.  It was a God wink.

Wherever you go, God is working around you.  At work, at school, or in your leisure activities, God will bring people across your path who need what you have to offer.  Like the Ethiopian eunuch and Phillip or Cornelius and Peter or Apollos and Aquila and Priscilla.  In essence, you become the hands, feet, lips, and heart of God for those in need.  But to engage the hands, feet, lips, and heart, you must also have His eyes.
So be on alert for those whom God sends your way.  You don't want to miss a wink!