Regifting: 3 Gifts Worth Giving Again

Let’s face it. Every Christmas we get that gift we know we won’t use. Before we completely rip off the paper, we know who’s going to get it next. Thestreet.com lists the following as the top ten gifts most likely to be regifted: candles, picture frames, gift baskets, perfume, fruit cake, wine, cookbooks, bath soaps, books and (drumroll please), pajamas (really?).

If you know Jesus, he has given you 3 gifts you should regift. As a matter of fact, you may need to wrap them up today and give them away. Christmas isn’t the only time to do that. You can give these again and again all year long.

Grace

John, writing about his best friend and the Messiah, said, “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16 ESV) Charles Spurgeon said: “Nothing but the infinite can ever satisfy me; I am such a great sinner that I must have infinite merit to wash my sin away; but we have had our sin removed, and found that there was merit to spare; we have had our hunger relieved at the feast of sacred love.” The grace that found you in your sin, drew you in, washed you clean, and put you in God’s trophy case is worth regifting.

Forgiveness

He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (Colossians 1:13-14 ESV) Toward the end of his life, John Newton, former slave trader and ultimate author of that old hymn, Amazing Grace, said: “Although my memory’s fading, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” Who has hurt you, wounded you, slighted you? Will you give them the forgiveness that was freely, at a very high cost, given to you?

Patience

Maybe this one surprised you. Patience is not on most people’s short list. Thankfully, it’s on God’s. Peter, who knew very well the patience of the God who once called him Satan, wrote:  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. (2 Peter 3:9 ESV) Who grates on your nerves, pushes your buttons, stretches you to your limit–almost every time. Ask God for the grace to be patient.

Regift. Today. Don’t wait. Seriously.

Will You Choose to Hear the Bells?

Last night after an amazing First Wednesday worship service, Greg and Jackie Stewart sent this to me from their devotional (Glimpses of God’s Grace, Donahue):

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was no stranger to the sufferings of war. During the Civil War near the Christmas of 1863, he found out that his son had been injured in battle. How could he bear being so far away from his son on Christmas Day when he desperately wanted to be at his side to help and comfort him?

In spite of his despair, Christmas bells penetrated his sorrow and made him aware of God’s gracious love–a love that could be with him and his son at the same time. As he listened to the chimes, he penned the words to “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

Till, ringing singing, on its way,
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime, a chant sublime,
Of peace on earth, good will to men!

No matter how many wars are fought, no matter how many battles are lost or won, God is near, helping, comforting and guiding those who trust Him. There is no limit to His powerful healing and grace. There is no measure to his love. Perhaps the greatest lesson to be learned during such troubled times is that Jesus truly is our Lord of lords, our Prince of Peace.

So I have a new tradition (started it about 5 years ago actually). Every Christmas I google this Youtube video. Yesterday, in the middle of a hectic day, I stopped to listen to the bells. Since 2010, almost 49 million others have done the same! Maybe it will bring peace in the midst of your chaos.

Ero Cras

I am no Latin expert, not by a long shot.  However, one of my favorite Christmas carols is “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.”  Consider the first verse:

Oh, come, oh, come, Emmanuel,
And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to you, O Israel!

The outline for the entire hymn dates back to a thousand years ago. A week before Christmas,  Monks would chant poetic verses to commemorate the arrival of Jesus. In the 1800s John Neal took those chants, turned them into a song and called it “Oh, Come, Oh, Come, Emmanuel.” The significance of the Gregorian chants are their names for Jesus: wisdom, Adonai (Hebrew name for God), root of Jesse, key of David, dayspring, King of the Gentiles, and Emmanuel.

If you take the first letter of these words in Latin, and read them backward, they spell “ero cras,” a Latin phrase meaning, “I will be present tomorrow.”

That’s the point of Christmas. Christmas is a promise that God will be present tomorrow. Belief that God will be present in all of our tomorrows makes today more bearable. We worry about tomorrow. We fret over the unknown. What if you had a choice: you could either know all of your tomorrows or you could have God with you in all of your tomorrows. You couldn’t handle knowing all your tomorrows at once. The weight of the suffering and the anticipation of the joy would overwhelm you. Having God with you through all of them–that enables you to enjoy today and anticipate tomorrow.

For today, thank God that He is the God of tomorrow.

Hope that Dispels Darkness

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2 ESV)

Isaiah spoke of this before it happened as if it already had. It wasn’t wishful thinking on his part. God’s promises are as sure as the air you breathe, the ground on which you stand, the earth on which you live. Paul, addressing Titus referred to the God who “never lies.” When God speaks, it will happen. We call this hope.

Hope is not wishful thinking; it is confident expectation because God is trustworthy. Paul wrote to the Corinthians:

For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee. (2 Corinthians 1:20-22 ESV)

This Christmas as you ponder the reality of Christ’s birth remember that the God who gave His Son has given us two surefire guarantees. One is mentioned above–his Spirit. Christ, through the Spirit, lives in our hearts as a guarantee of things to come. The Spirit guarantees you will never be alone. Though you do not know the future–you are never alone as you face it.

The second guarantee is Christ Himself.

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (Romans 8:32 ESV)

This is a classic greater to lesser argument. If God would give his most prized possession, will he not also give us every other lesser possession? If God will meet our greatest need, will he not also meet our lesser needs?

God the Father sent His Son.

On this Christmas day stop to thank God for sending His only Son…and giving you everything else you will ever need. Deep darkness dispelled. Light dispersed!

Enough For Today

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not. (Exodus 16:4 ESV)

The people grumbled against God. They were hangry. Have you ever had a child who got angry when he got hungry? Israel did and God replied. His answer was a shower of bread, Fatz rolls raining down from heaven–Sister Schuberts descending from the sky (okay I’m getting carried away now). What’s interesting is that the raining down of bread was a test!  How was daily bread a test?

In the evening quail came up and covered the camp, and in the morning dew lay around the camp. And when the dew had gone up, there was on the face of the wilderness a fine, flake-like thing, fine as frost on the ground. When the people of Israel saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. And Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat. This is what the LORD has commanded: ‘Gather of it, each one of you, as much as he can eat. You shall each take an omer, according to the number of the persons that each of you has in his tent.’” And the people of Israel did so. They gathered, some more, some less. But when they measured it with an omer, whoever gathered much had nothing left over, and whoever gathered little had no lack. Each of them gathered as much as he could eat. And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over till the morning.” But they did not listen to Moses. Some left part of it till the morning, and it bred worms and stank. And Moses was angry with them. Morning by morning they gathered it, each as much as he could eat; but when the sun grew hot, it melted. (Exodus 16:13-21 ESV)

God rained bread and they had enough for today. Whoever gathered much had nothing left over. Whoever gathered little had no lack. Why? God provided enough for today. Then they doubted. They doubted God’s ability to provide what they needed for that day. God clearly instructed them not to store it. Tomorrow a fresh rain of fresh bread would fall from heaven. When they stored some, it bred worms and stank!

Enter Jesus born in Bethlehem. Micah called Bethlehem as the birthplace (5:2). How fitting. Bethlehem means “house of bread.” Jesus was the bread of life:

So they said to him, “Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’” Jesus then said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst. (John 6:30-35 ESV)

He is enough for today. Lean in on him this Christmas eve. He will give you all you need to get through the difficulties and joys of this day. And tomorrow morning he will be waiting when you wake up. With fresh bread of His presence in hand, he will feed you tomorrow.

He is enough for today.

Presents or Presence?

The Lord answered, “I will be with you, and you will strike down all the Midianites together.”  Judges 6:16 (ESV)

God promised Gideon His presence.

I know this is a goofy play on words, but it is true.  Often we seek God’s presents more than His presence.  We want what God can give us without a deep relationship with the God who can give us those things.  We seek solutions when God wants to give Himself.  We seek strategy before we seek Christ.  The result is a plan engineered by us–waiting for God’s stamp of approval.

God usually doesn’t work this way.

One reason is that we tend to foul things up when we plan and then invite God.  We operate from a limited perspective.

Second, and perhaps most importantly, we lose the opportunity to hang out with God.  We lose the opportunity to commune with Him.

Revelation 3:20 is a powerful invitation:  Behold I stand at the door and knock.  If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into him and eat with him, and he with me.  While this is often used in the context of unbelievers, it is really for wayward believers in the Laodicean church.   The thought of Jesus knocking on the door, not because He has a plan to change the world (which He does) but because He’d like to have dinner with you…or supper as we say in the south.  Wow!

Which are you seeking?

Presents?

Presence?

The People That Walked in Darkness

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone. (Isaiah 9:2 ESV)

Last night Hannah came home and announced that the sky was showering meteors! Immediately she and I went outside and stared up into the sky…and saw nothing. Well we saw stars like normal. So we came back in, googled it and headed out to a dark spot. We went into the darkness to see the light!

We loaded up (11 pm) in the Honda Pilot. Wendy, Hannah, Trent (and his two friends who spent the night) and I headed to a dark spot and waited. In the darkness we waited for the light. We peered into the sky to see falling stars. The sources of these meteors is as striking as the meteors themselves. Here’s what wired.com had to say about it:

Although most meteor showers happen when Earth passes through a path of debris left by a comet, the source of the Geminids is a 3-mile-wide asteroid-like object called 3200 Phaeton. When it was discovered in 1983, it looked like any other asteroid. But further observations using NASA’s STEREO spacecraft over the last few years have revealed that 3200 Phaeton has a tail like a comet. It’s now called a rock comet—yet another in-between object that seems to be part asteroid, part comet.

Imagine it–3 miles of light. The meteors came through; the light penetrated the darkness. We were in awe of the splendor and glory of God’s creation.

Imagine 400 years of darkness. 400 years of longing for God’s voice in the midst of the darkness. 400 years of silence. And out of the darkness piercing light erupts–like a shower of meteors out of a 3-mile-wide asteroid. Read the story of Jesus’ birth. The resounding refrain is light! Angels with glory shining around them. A star guiding magi from the east.

God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) but at Christmas he condescended to become one of us. Light penetrated the darkness. John said it succinctly, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”

Jesus is light worth waiting for. He is the meteor shower of all meteor showers.

Bold Requests of God

Come, thou long-expected Jesus,
Born to set thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

Born thy people to deliver,
born a child and yet a king,
born to reign in us forever,
now thy gracious kingdom bring.
By thine own eternal Spirit,
rule in all our hearts alone;
by thine own sufficient merit,
raise us to thy glorious throne.

This favorite Advent carol has six bold requests. Charles Wesley revealed his deep longing for God when he penned the words. I challenge you to make these same requests your own:

Come thou long expected Jesus. Do you really want Jesus to invade your space? To call your heart His home? To become your boss? To be Lord of all of your life? Ask Him. I dare you.

From our fears and sins release us. What is your worst fear? Your greatest temptation? Do you believe He can set you free from it? Do you believe he can break the chains of sin that bind you?

Let us find our rest in thee. Are you weary? Tired of the rat race? Frustrated with the hectic season called Christmas? Tired of trying to keep up with your neighbors, outdo your coworker, impress you relatives? Rest in him. Jesus himself said, “Come to me all who are weary and heavy burdened and I will give you rest.”

Now thy gracious kingdom bring. Jesus taught us to pray, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done…on earth as it is in heaven.” What kingdom thwarting habit are you practicing? Who has been reached through your obedience?

Rule in all our hearts alone. This is a bold request. “Jesus, rule…alone!” No one else. Nothing else. No selfish ambition. Just Jesus.

Raise us to thy glorious throne. Jesus, change us from the inside out. Replace hopelessness with hope. Fill our emptiness with your fullness.  David talked about this in Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the LORD; he inclined to me and heard my cry. He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure. He put a new song in my mouth, a song of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:1-3 ESV)

Notice when David was raised to God’s glorious throne–after he patiently waited.  If you are in a pit, put your hand in his and let him draw you out and raise you to his glorious throne. He’ll change your tune! (my paraphrase of “he put a new song in my mouth.”) Then many will see and fear and say, “What happened to her! What’s up with him!”

Today, pray those six requests of Wesley’s old hymn. The next time you sing it, be careful what you ask for!

What a Day that Will Be

Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work. (Psalm 62:11-12 ESV)

Once. Twice. This is a play on words. David is saying, “God is speaking loud and clear but we easily miss his voice.” Elihu, the young man who gave Job good advice (compared to the bad advice from his three friends) said this, “For God speaks in one way, and in two, though man does not perceive it.” (Job 33:14)

Here’s my question for you: What is God saying to you? How many ways has he said it to you? How many times has he repeated himself? When are you going to listen?

Here is his resounding message in Psalm 62: power belongs to God. In other words He can do anything. Your problem doesn’t catch him by surprise. Your worries don’t trip him up. Your fears don’t frighten him. Power belongs to God. Do you get it? Will you hear it this time?

And that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. What if God were powerful but not loving. He would be a despot, a tyrant. We would run in fear of Him. An omnipotent God who isn’t love would be a terrorist. Power is his.  But also steadfast love is his.  And this makes him just. For you will render to a man according to his work.

God can do anything.

God loves you no matter what.

God sees your faithfulness…and will render to you according to your work.

Perhaps you feel unnoticed. Like a nobody. A failure. A mistake. You don’t see any good coming from your work. You’ve prayed and seemingly heard nothing. You’ve taught your son or daughter and they haven’t listened.  Take heart. The God who has power and steadfast love is just. One day…keep waiting…He will make all things right.

Advent is a reminder that the world waited for the loving, powerful God to invade their space. And He will again invade our space. If you are his, one day He will return in power and love for you.  Then He will sweep you off your feet and into His arms. The groom will embrace His bride.

What a day that will be.

All Before the Almighty

Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah (Psalm 62:8 ESV)

Waiting is more bearable when you trust the person you’re waiting for. Psalm 62 is all about waiting…waiting for God, longing for Him through the ups and downs of life. Advent is about waiting–400 years of silence separated the Old Testament prophets from the angel’s announcement that the Messiah was on his way.  Imagine a world without your favorite podcast, your Christian music stations, or a stirring worship service. Would you still trust God if you didn’t hear His voice?

To a longing soul the silences of God are almost unbearable. What do you do when God is silent? How do you react when silence is as thick as the darkness around you? David says, “Trust.” Trust in him at all times.

All means all. Webster adds, “the whole, total amount, quantity or extent of.”

In short, all means “all.” Trust in God at all times. This may surprise you but sometimes it is hardest to trust God when things are good. We are prone to think we accomplished something, we figured it out, we made it happen. We trust ourselves instead of God. Sometimes we trust others instead of God. We think our spouse can fill the emptiness, our friend can fill the void, or a new relationship is all we need.  At times we trust other things instead of God. We rely on our bank account, our success at work, our academic achievements.  Often we trust our health instead of God. We feel invincible, as if nothing can happen to change our current status.

None of these is ultimately trustworthy. Money fails. Health wanes. Friends disappoint. Work wearies.

It’s almost as if you can hear the pleading in David’s voice when he says, “O people; pour out your heart before him.” When God is silent, don’t stop praying. When your praying seems ineffective, pour out your heart before him. Don’t substitute others or other things. At all times pour out your heart before the Almighty.

Why? Because God is a refuge for us. He is a safe place. He can handle your cries. David also said…

You have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalm 56:8 ESV)

God counts your sleepless nights.  God bottles your tears. God journals your fears.

O, people pour out your heart before him.