When I was a little girl I adored my daddy. This happy-go-lucky, accordion-playing man who geeked out to Star Trek episodes and Polka cassette tapes was my idol. He played “library” with me, let me give him “makeovers,” and sang me to sleep each night. Letting me ride shotgun every time, he used to take me to the bakery every Saturday to get an iced cookie, then we’d spend the morning running errands together. I saw him as the funniest, friendliest, smartest guy around.
During this flashback, an epiphany came to me. I realized why Jesus said we must become like little children to inherit the kingdom of Heaven. When a little girl says she’s going to marry her daddy one day, we generally do not label this declaration as perverse. Rather, we find the innocence of the remark enduring. She simply adores her daddy and speaks out of her innocence.
As children, we develop notions about love and life that are left untainted by heartbreak and experience. It is only later that we become a more calloused individual, building defenses around our heart. We barricade ourselves, so it is hard for us to get hurt. In doing this, we keep our souls from being penetrated. And, even with all our knowledge of God- that he will never leave us nor forsake us- we’re afraid to open ourselves up to him.
I love this passage in Psalm 107:15,16:
Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.
When he pours out his love, the gates and bars over our hearts break. We become as innocent as children again. This is the place when we become free to love God, love others, and love ourselves. This February is the month of love, but the love of a little girl for her daddy is the purest love of all. It’s innocent, carefree, and contagious. So, let’s all try to be like little children this month and watch our relationship with God grow.
It’s Christmas morning, and the sunlight pouring through the bedroom window wakes the children. With tossled hair and squinty eyes, they run downstairs anticipating the surprises Santa has left for them. Witnessing this stampede, their parents look at each with coffee in their hands and smile. Little do the children know that their parents stayed up all night wrapping each gift that sits under the tree and each present that hangs in their stockings. In fact, their mother took a second job this year to make sure they could buy presents and pay bills during the holiday season. It was a tight month, but they sacrificed in order to provide their kids with a memorable Christmas. Truly, these acts were not the result of a materialistic heart. These parents simply love giving to their children.
It is natural to want to bless those you love, and this Christmas season giving is expected. Although it can be a stressful time of juggling financial responsibilities, most find joy in giving to others. God loves to give to us, too. In fact, he cares more for us than we could ever care for our children or our spouses, and he desires to meet our wants and needs. According to Matthew 7:11, giving brings God the same joy we feel when we bless our children.
Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
Never feel selfish going to God with your requests, and never feel like he doesn’t care about them. Whether a loved one’s salvation or a bounced check, he cares. Abraham used a word to describe God in Genesis 22:14 that translates to Jehovah-jireh, “the Lord will provide.” God’s very nature is to provide for us! Be comforted this Christmas season knowing that God wants to bless you in many ways- ultimately, with the realization of his best gift to us: the birth and sacrifice of his son, Jesus. Merry Christmas!
So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What should we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
…The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar. -Leviticus 6:9
I’ve seen a dozen times. In fact, I’ve dealt with the same issue when I first came to Christ. Our church sent us (the youth group) to conferences featuring dynamic speakers and passionate worship. We came home changed and “on fire” for God. Several weeks later, though, the effect fizzled out. I became puzzled wondering why I didn’t feel the same as before. It seemed so easy to find God’s presence in those services. After awhile, I learned that conferences and retreats are an easy way to encounter God, because the mood is already set (lighting, music, speakers, isolation from distractions). Although I’m grateful for these getaways of renewal and spiritual growth, easy doesn’t always last. When I get home from an amazing conference, I have bills to pay, a house to clean, a job to work, school to attend, etc. Basically, life is waiting at my doorstep. Where do I find God in the reality of my life? Further, how can I submerge into God’s presence with dated songs, pitchy singers, and fluorescent lighting? There must be a way to find God when the mood is all wrong. You may have seen this coming, but the answer has less to do with the outside and everything to do with the inside.
You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. –Jeremiah 29:13
Through clutter and confusing emotions, we must simply seek him. He promises in Jeremiah that we WILL find him IF we seek him with ALL of our heart. That is a promise. In other words, he never meant for our fire to fade. As Leviticus 6:9 says, we must keep our fire burning continually. Sin must be sacrificed. Distractions must be sacrificed. Thoughts must be held captive. Everything inside us must remain on the altar for him to purify and transform. I love this bridge from Hillsong United’s “Hosanna,”
Heal my heart and make it clean
Open up my eyes to the things unseen
Show me how to love like you have loved me
Break my heart for what breaks yours
Everything I am for your kingdom’s cause
As I walk from earth into eternity
Take a minute and listen to the song, and see how it beautifully describes the process of sacrificing our hearts to God.
If you’ve had an encounter with God, don’t let your emotions dictate your devotion. The very nature of God (as seen in Hebrews 12:29) is that he is a “consuming fire.” If our fire is not burning bright enough, it can only mean that we are not growing closer to God. God cannot change, but our distance from him can. The closer we grow to him, the more consumed we are by him.
Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’ –Hebrews 12:28, 29
Below are just a few characteristics of fire. Analogy anyone?
1. Fire needs to be fed in order to spread.
2. Fire consumes waste; burns out impurities in gold and silver
3. Fire gives off heat; produces energy
4. Fire can start with something as small as a match
…let your light shine before men… –Matthew 5:16
…there should be no poor among you, for in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess as your inheritance, he will richly bless you, if only you fully obey the Lord your God and are careful to follow all these commands I am giving you today. -Deuteronomy 15:4
Many see the Old Testament law as a nitpicky list of don’ts birthed from a primitive society. However, if one delves deeper into the context of ancient times, he will see a social structure promoting purity and promising overwhelming blessing. There are hundreds of decrees outlined for the good of God’s people, but as I was reading Leviticus and Deuteronomy the other day, three God-given commands caught my eye.
- 1. Every seven years, Israelites canceled debts owed to their brothers. -Deuteronomy 15:1-6
Imagine America’s relief if that law was in effect in our nation today! This command had obvious freeing benefits to those financially bound.
- 2. Every 50th year (the year of Jubilee), Israel freed slaves and all properties reverted back to the original owner. -Leviticus 25:8-13
This protected people who had lost their inheritance or sold themselves into slavery.
- 3. During harvest time, leftover sheaves were left ungleaned in order that foreigners, orphans, and widows could gather. -Deuteronomy 24:19, Leviticus 19:9,10
We see this demonstrated in the book of Ruth when Ruth gleans Boaz’ field. Without this law in place, Ruth and Naomi likely would have starved to death as they were widows and Ruth was a foreigner with little money.
Through commands like these, God created a system free from poverty. This system, as stated many times throughout the Old Testament, was contingent on obedience. When disobedience occurred, the system became unbalanced. Unfortunately, we witness this occurrence many times in the Bible. In fact, a constant theme of Christianity in general is man straying from God’s original intent, thus creating his own flawed system.
Still, I can’t help but think what the world would look like had Israel been a completely obedient nation. Is it even possible for a contextually appropriate equivalent to develop in modern times?
What would America look like if we used simple commands like the three above to serve those in need?
Therefore I command you to be openhanded toward your brothers and toward the poor and needy in your land. -Deuteronomy 15:11
Time published an encouraging article for Americans at the turn of the new year. Despite all of the upcoming 2012 stress (elections and economy woes), it reports that our country is more generous than we may realize. In a worldwide charitable giving study, the U.S. ranked #1 in giving personal money and time to organizations and strangers.
Article author, Elaine Chao wrote,
The ranking cannot be dismissed as simply to be expected of the richest nation. The Foundation’s survey report concluded that ‘the countries whose populations are the most likely to give are not necessarily the world’s most affluent.’ Of the top 20 nations in giving, only five are in the top 20 of economic wealth.
In other words, the amount of cash in your pocket doesn’t determine your ability to give. Although the U.S. may be an abundantly wealthy nation, Americans are personally feeling the effects of a harsh economy. Regardless of their situation, though, they have continued to bless others. Yes, the “giving season” is considered over, but don’t let the spirit of charity die in our country. Maybe a few of us are short on cash or short on luck, but we all have something to contribute. Do you have time or talents to give?
C.S. Lewis said,
No one can settle how much we ought to give. The safe rule is to give more than we can spare.
Make the whole 2012 year your season to give! Think of someone you can bless today.
Neither one of my thumbs is green. I’m horrible at gardening, and I despise it like I would an arch nemesis. No, it isn’t relaxing to crawl about on all fours and pull up weeds. No, it’s isn’t rewarding to water my plants and watch them blossom for three weeks. No, it isn’t invigorating to spray chemicals into the ground while mosquitoes suck my blood. There is no satisfaction in this work for me.
So, I have neglected my garden. At first, my negligence wasn’t noticeable- just a few baby weeds and dead leaves here and there. Then, the baby weeds grew into monstrous prickly plants, and the dead leaves became dead flowers that became an entire graveyard of plants. Trust me, it’s a mess. I guess you could say when I look at my neighbor’s perfect garden I’m green with envy.
We’ve all heard that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, yet we’re programmed to believe the opposite. The concept of the American dream, which emphasizes accumulating possessions to attain happiness, seems to be the norm. We’re told with big dreams and hard work there is no limit to what we can achieve. For many Americans, success is measured by the house they live in or the car they drive. But, what about Christians? Should a follower of Christ be defined by their possessions?
In Matthew 6:19-21, Jesus said,
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.’
Wow! Jesus’ words seem to contradict the dream we’ve been taught. I’m not saying it’s a sin to desire a comfortable life for your family, but an accumulation of “stuff” cannot fill voids in our lives, and it certainly cannot give us an eternal life.
Ever notice how Jesus talked about the poor all the time? Jesus understood our humanity. He knew that we place too much value on transitory things. That’s probably why he talked about the poor so much. According to the American Dream, the poor can often be an example of failure. But Jesus points to the poor to educate those seemingly more fortunate. If we all had less to lose, maybe we’d be more eager to follow Jesus. After all Jesus reminds us in Matthew 6:21 that
‘…where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’
Depending on the location of your treasure, that can hurt. Take a minute to do inventory of your treasure. Is your heart on Earth with things that will pass away, or in Heaven with Jesus who will reign forever? God spent time searching out your heart, so search for your treasure, and turn your heart back towards him.
It doesn’t take a sociologist to make an assumption about society. Wherever you were raised or currently reside has a major effect on your worldview. I live in Elizabeth City, North Carolina: a slow-moving harbor town whose epicenter of gravity boasts a Wal-Mart and a small university (honorable mention: the new Chick-fil-A). However, before I moved to this area around the end of my high school career, I lived on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
This area is what I’d call upper middle class suburbia where my friend’s moms were trophy wives, and our neighbor down the street had a six-car garage. Still, our neighborhood was older and not as kept as the newer subdivisions and gated communities. Our house was built-in the 60’s when our orange carpet and mismatched wallpaper was apparently popular. We always joked that we lived in the “ghetto” part of town, which is telling since our neighbor had such a palatial garage. In a nutshell, our home’s cosmetic blast from the past was the most exposure our neighbors ever got to the needy. In fact, whatever condition families were in, they were expected to keep up the persona of “Oh, I’m great! How are you, Mr. Jones?” Therefore, when conversations arose about the less fortunate I was privy to such phrases as,
Don’t give a homeless person money, because he’ll spend it on drugs and alcohol.
All those people on welfare are just trying to live off of the government!
If those people stopped being so lazy and got a job, they wouldn’t be in the situation they’re in now.
I still hear this in Elizabeth City. You don’t have to shop on Rodeo Drive to have this misconception, but I think it’s time we shift our worldview a little bit. Here’s something I found very interesting about all those “lazy” people on welfare.
The Institute for Social Research took a sample of 5,000 families who used some type of federal assistance and traced what happened to them over the span of 10 years. This study has been ongoing since 1968, and new families are chosen every 10 years to study.
The myth is that this welfare population doesn’t work and that they just live off of the government. The reality (and the conclusion from the study) is that the persistent welfare poor who rely solely on government assistance and continue to have generations of family on welfare is such a small percentage that an official percentage doesn’t even exist. So, what many think is the majority is barely even the minority!
Less than 50% received some sort of welfare for a temporary time of one to two years (over the 10 year time frame) returning to self-sufficiency.
Over 50% work part-time or full-time while receiving government assistance.
I hope everyone is still with me. This means that the former perception of those on welfare alone is wrong. Many people are struggling in this economy to find jobs or are struggling to provide for their families on the income they receive. If they do go on welfare, the average time that they stay on welfare is only one to two years.
Hopefully, this makes you stroke your chin for a second and think about the type of person who requires financial assistance. No matter where you’ve come from or where you are now in your life, it’s important not take everything you hear at face value. It’s easy to brush off those in need when you perceive them as shady con artists trying to scam the system. Start looking at that beggar on the street as your neighbor or that guy at the soup kitchen as your cousin. In this tough economy, it may be a little easier to do that.