Monthly Archives: January 2014

Real Change: Sermon Excerpt

“Real change in my attitude and actions begins when I change in a healthy way what I think and believe about my relationship with God”

You see the key to real change begins in my heart and mind—it begins in my relationship with God. I cannot really change in a positive and healthy way without have a healthy relationship with God.

Let’s look at how John preached this message in this interesting chapter of his early ministry. Matthew begins by pointing out that John began his ministry in a very unlikely place. Instead of hitting the big city, John began his ministry preaching “in the wilderness of Judea.” In other words, he started out in the middle of nowhere.  So why did God have John start his ministry in a place that most people would not have expected him to start? Let me suggest that John knew something about human nature. He knew that the people who really wanted to change would go anywhere and everywhere to seek what they were looking for. John’s strategy revolved around “desperate people.”

I suspect one of the reasons we don’t see the kind of real change we say we wants may be because we are not really desperate—we are not really hungry. We want the kind of change that will not really cost us anything. We want it to be quick and easy. Could it be one of the reasons most churches are filled with believers who struggle in their faith is because we have strived to lower the bar and to make things easier rather than harder?

Strangely when the crowds around Jesus began to swell, he would raise the bar and call for greater commitment until the point that most turned away, but those who were really hungry and thirsty for righteousness stay and were transformed from the inside out. I suspect this is what John was up to by calling people out to the wilderness. Rarely does real change happen on the mountain tops of life, but rather out in the desert—in the wilderness.

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Marriage Still Makes “Cents”

Over the past couple of weeks it has been my pleasure to witness first-hand the wonders and the mystery of marriage. On the front side I joined in the festivities as our own Drew Cook tied the knot with Veronica, his lovely bride, and God performed the miracle of the “two becoming one” in His presence.

At the other end of the journey, I stood over the grave of Clinton Wolf, who loved and cared for his wife Joann for over sixty-years. Their love born during their days as college sweethearts lasted through all the twists and turns life could throw at them, yet nothing could separate what God had joined together.

At weddings, I must confess my heart is still stirred by the romance and emotions of it all. My mind races back to seeing Robyn standing at the end of a long aisle, dressed in white, coming to-ward me to be my bride. Honestly, her dad did not look all that happy about her marrying a Baptist preacher boy, but the glow on Robyn’s face captured my heart for good.

At the funerals of lifelong loving partners, I am inspired to never ever give up or give in. My marriage is worth fighting for—even if it means fighting with Robyn on occasion, seeking to find common ground, and a healthy relationship. Sadly, I must confess too often my own selfishness rears its ugly head in the midst of us “talking nervous” as Kalie, our oldest daughter, used to call it.

This week, Kathleen Parker, of the Washington Post, wrote an article that has captured the attention of people across our nation. Parker entitled her article: “To Defeat Poverty—Look to Marriage.”

In a wonderfully written essay, Parker acknowledged and pointed to the incredible benefits of marriage in its own right. She noted how the research on the “war on poverty” has revealed the striking reality that a good, strong, healthy marriage protects couples and families from the downward death spiral of poverty.

In her argument for the age old—traditional view of marriage, Parker made the following observation: “More to the point, we know that being unmarried is one of the highest risk factors for poverty. And no, splitting expenses between unmarried people isn’t the same. This is because marriage creates a tiny economy fueled by a magical concoction of love, selflessness and permanent commitment that holds spirits aloft during tough times.”

Who would have ever thought you would find the Washington Post on the same page as Moses in the opening lines of the book of Genesis? I love her description of marriage which states: “marriage creates a tiny economy fueled by the magical concoction of love, selflessness, and permanent commitment that holds spirits aloft during tough times.” I think her words would make the Apostle Paul smile.

However, those who know marriage best know without doubt that this kind of love, selflessness, and commitment finds its root in the presence and power of God in the hearts and lives of the husband and wife. In fact, Paul pointed out that marriage works best when both partners are filled with the “Spirit” whose fruit includes: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness and self control.” It appears God knows what He is doing and we would be wise to follow His direction for real solutions to real problems.

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Sermon on Human Trafficking: “The Buying and Selling of Souls”

So how much is a soul worth? I mean if you were going to buy and sell people—human beings—how much would they be worth on the free market? If you take the natural elements in your body Datagenetics calculated that your body itself would be worth about $160.00 give or take. However, one the bright side, if you want to sell of the parts of your body piece by piece to the medical industry according to Wired Magazine your body could be worth up to $45 million, but there is one big catch—you need almost all of your body parts to stay alive, so if you go through with this get rich quick scheme your children will actually be the ones who will get rich, so you might want to rethink your plan.

On a much more serious note, it is hard to imagine putting a price on a human being created in the image of God, but during the dark days just before the Civil War slaves were being bought and sold at the slave markets in the South for somewhere around $800-$1,600. Those sounds incredibly cheap, but mark that price up to today’s dollars, the average plantation owner was investing around $130,000 per slave. At those prices, you get a sense of why the South fought so hard to keep control of this market. You see the American slave represented a huge part of the infrastructure of the industrial/agricultural complex of the Deep South. They were the heart and soul of the plantation economy.

To end slavery our nation under the visionary and determined leadership of Abraham Lincoln fought the bloodiest war of our history. On battlefields like Bull Run, Vicksburg, Lookout Mountain, and Gettysburg and countless other encounters Johnny Rebs and the men and boys dressed in Yankee blue fought and died by the hundreds of thousands. During the Civil War 558,000 men and boys gave the full measure of devotion and died for what they believed in. To give some perspective 405,000 G.I. died during World War II.

You would think at that kind of cost, our nation would never allow even a hint of slavery to continue, not only within the borders of our nations, but in the world. Yet today, the ancient price of slavery is alive and well. According to an article in the Los Angeles Times, the “Walk Free Foundation” of Australia estimates there are 29.8 million slaves today based on their survey of 162 nations. India leads the way with an estimated 13.9 million, and China ranks a distant second with 2.9 million. This modern-day slavery takes on many forces from human trafficking to force labor.

Sadly, the United States and Mexico find themselves on the list of nations with modern-day slavery. However, the forms in our two countries would be much different, much less obvious, but no less sinister. The U.S. Justice Department estimates 17,000 people may be bought and sold in the United States, most of them women, and sadly a large percentage are children. Many are runaways who find themselves willing to be treated as property for survival, and a large percentage of smuggled into our country illegally especially to be used in the sex trade industry.

Those being smuggled into our country are of special interest to us here on the border since our city in many ways is the “head of the snake” as we sit dead center in the middle of the I-10 Slavery highway. Boys and girls are practically smuggled into the United States for human trafficking each week across one of our international bridges where their “owners” jump on I-10 and head East toward Houston or West toward Los Angeles to deliver their goods.

Sadly some of them even stay here to be exploited. Less than two years ago, a massage parlor just over two blocks from our church was shut down by ICE agents to set free some young women who were being trafficked. I still remember the day of the raid, because the agents staged the raid out of our parking lot. I remember arriving at the office after going to the hospital and seeking several SUV with armed men dressed in black getting ready to make a raid. When I heard the news of what they were up to, it broke my heart to think that young women were being exploited in the shadow of our church.

If you live East Side you may be aware that this kind of criminal activity has been busted a local hotel near Yarbrough where young girls from Juarez were lured with promises of good paying job at fast-food restaurants in El Paso. In another sting, men presenting themselves as music executives lured young girls into the sex industry by promises to make them stars. As you can see the typical trap is a “lie” of a better life for a desperate young woman or boy.

I must admit after researching this topic, I wanted to take a shower. The underbelly of our society haunts me. Yet, as a biblical scholar, it does not surprise me. Sadly, even though we were created in the image of God, through our sinfulness and rebellion, we have created a sad state of depravity. In fact, some Reformed theologians speak of what they call “the total depravity of man.”

Recently I had the opportunity to teach a class for Howard Payne University on the book of Revelation. I must confess I entered this endeavor with a bit of trepidation. I did not then, and to not now consider myself to an expert on the book of Revelation, but I experienced what often happens to a teacher a great learning curve. One of the things that struck me about this amazing and mysterious book was the theology. John did an incredible job of presenting important theological truths in the bold colors of the images of the book.

As you may be aware, the book of Revelation came into existence after the Apostle John had an amazing encounter with the Lord Jesus on the island of Patmos. During this vision, Jesus opened his eyes to the future and more importantly to the spiritual struggles in the world around him. John found himself on Patmos as a punishment for his preaching of the gospel, and like many believers of his day was suffering physical persecution for his faith. So in the midst of his suffering, the Lord pulled back the curtain to show him the struggle of the soul of the world on a grand scale. He opened John’s eyes to the “big picture.”

In the book of Revelation, there is a city that represents everything that is wrong with the world today. The Revelation chooses to use the symbolic name “Babylon” to describe this evil city set in direct opposition to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of God.  In a real sense “Babylon” had declared war on God and the Kingdom of Heaven. Babylon also revealed where sin and selfishness would lead any nation at any time in the history of the world, when that nation or city took its eyes off of God.

I suspect for those who read the letter of Revelation in the first century, the natural interpretation of this symbolic city would have had to be Rome and the decadent Roman Empire. In the 18th chapter, you find the great whore of Babylon falling under the judgment of a holy God. No longer would the capitol city of evil incarnate rule and reign. God was going to shut it down. God was doing to put it out of business. The people who loved Babylon, watched in horror, as she melted away right before their eyes.

In a very intriguing passage, John describes this scene, and his description stirred my heart this week as I considered the situation we are facing today. He wrote:

“When the kings of the earth who committed adultery with her and shared her luxury see the smoke of her burning, they will weep and mourn over her. 10 Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    you mighty city of Babylon!
In one hour your doom has come!’

11 “The merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her because no one buys their cargoes anymore— 12 cargoes of gold, silver, precious stones and pearls; fine linen, purple, silk and scarlet cloth; every sort of citron wood, and articles of every kind made of ivory, costly wood, bronze, iron and marble; 13 cargoes of cinnamon and spice, of incense, myrrh and frankincense, of wine and olive oil, of fine flour and wheat; cattle and sheep; horses and carriages; and human beings sold as slaves.

14 “They will say, ‘The fruit you longed for is gone from you. All your luxury and splendor have vanished, never to be recovered.’ 15 The merchants who sold these things and gained their wealth from her will stand far off, terrified at her torment. They will weep and mourn 16 and cry out:

“‘Woe! Woe to you, great city,
    dressed in fine linen, purple and scarlet,
    and glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls!

 At first glance on the things that strikes you from the images is the fact that the destruction of Babylon will come so suddenly. One moment she appears invincible the next she will be consumed in flames. In other words, a nation or empire may appear to be indestructible, but if that nation or empire lays its foundation on evil and the exploitation of people, it will fall and its fall will be sudden and complete.

However, the point I wanted us to see this morning is the insightful description of Babylon at its best and worst. Babylon lured the kings of the earth into her chambers by offering the riches of the world. As the merchants at the World Trade Center stood and watched in horror, they witnessed the destruction of the riches of the world. What a list you see there. You see everything from the finest of gold and silver, to spices, to valuable wood, to horses and carriages, but don’t miss the end of the list. John points out that Babylon buys and sells “human beings”—men and women, boys and girls.

To paint the picture in even darker colors, he literally wrote they bought and sold the “souls” of human beings. It was not just their bodies, but their souls that were on the block. To drive home the point of the decadence of this dark city, note that the human beings were at the end of the list. Any good Jewish and ancient writer learned to list things from best to worst, most valuable to least valuable. Do you get the picture in Babylon the souls of men and women were at the bottom of the list—practically worthless in comparison to gold and silver.

In Jesus’ day, He confronted the fact that poor desperate people were considered practically disposable. In Matthew 9 as Jesus moves through the towns and villages, Matthew wrote:

 36 When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.37 Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38  (Matthew 9:36-38 NIV)

 I must confess this is one of my favorite texts because I am deeply moved by Jesus and His compassion. When Matthew wrote the people were “harassed and helpless” the word he used for helpless could practically be translated “disposable.” In other words, the people who moved the heart of Jesus were worthless to practically everyone else. When a nation moves away from God, people become of little value. Much like much of the electronics of today, we don’t repair televisions and dvd players, we just throw them away and get new ones. People today are being disposable.

Over the break I read the book “The Big Short: Inside the Doomsday Machine” by Michael Lewis about the recent economic disaster of the subprime mortgage and credit crisis just a few years ago. In the book he pulled back the curtain to reveal how the big Wall Street banks sought to make a huge immediate profit on the backs of the poor by loading them down with debts they could never pay, and selling them houses they could not afford and would eventually lose. These multimillionaires could care less about the lives of the poor and middle class who would suffer the burden of the greed. I could see Babylon all over the story.

We live in a day when the rich keep getting richer, and the poor keep getting poorer. Alarmingly history time and time again warns nations and empires that if you build your empire on the backs of the poor there will be a day of judgment and it will come suddenly just like the crash of the financial markets in 2007-2010.

In these vivid verses in Revelation, Jesus reveals to John that heaven will not sit back and watch this kind of treatment of human being with indifference. God will get involved, and ultimately the great city of Babylon will fall and will be consumed by fire. In the days of John, Rome for all practical purposes appeared to be invincible, but it fell. It died from the inside out. Every great empire that took its eyes off God fell. You want to know the mark of a nation that has sold out to the lie of Babylon—what how that nation treats the people on the margins. If it uses people like property and buys and sells the souls of men and women, boys and girls, that nation or empire will burn one day. You can write it down.

Clearly if you are in this room this morning you stand in direct opposition to the values of the great whore of Babylon. You, like your Father in heaven, treasure every man, woman, boy and girl created in the image of God, but what can we do about the plight of the people—especially the desperate people.

It starts by caring enough to get involved. Pay attention, if you see a young girl who is dress provocatively and seems to be under the control of an older man make not of where she lives, and pass the word on the authorities. Most victims of human trafficking live where they work. They rarely if ever travel alone. They rarely speak for themselves. They live in fear. Here on the border, probably their “owners” or “pimps” have threatened them with turning them over to the authorities, or worse their families to the cartels. They have drugged them and abused them. They need people who care enough to get involved. Open your eyes, and pay attention.

On a more practical level let’s slam the front door to the problem by helping those around us who need help. Get involved with our children’s and youth ministries. Participate in Upward’s basketball. Be a volunteer at the after school programs in cooperation with our Downtown Church Connection or go out the Machuca Apartments and join our apartment ministry team. You may not be able to stop this dark reality but you can make a difference in the life of a child. As you get involved, please be sure to share Jesus.  I believe the gospel of Jesus Christ is the only real hope for our society and for those trapped on the margins. When someone is born again, nothing is ever the same. Get your hands dirty, be prepared to get your heart broken, but get involved and share Jesus. We can change the world.

You have probably heard the classic story about the man who was taking a walk along the beach one early evening and in the distance he saw a boy stooping down, picking up something, and hurling it back into the ocean. He imagined the boy was chucking rocks into the ocean, but as he neared the boy he realized he was actually tossing starfish back into the ocean that had washed ashore.

The older man thought he would teach the boy a lesson since the beach was littered with hundreds of starfish by saying, “Son, look around there are hundreds of starfish on the beach and if you could imagine that this beach represents hundreds of other beaches along the seashore. There is no possible way you can save all these starfish.”

The boy frowned and reflected on the wisdom of the old man for a moment, and then bent down picked up a starfish and tossed it in the ocean. He then turned and smiled saying: “I made a huge difference to that one!”

 I love the way Mother Teresa the champion of the poorest of the poor used to say it:

“If you can’t do great things do little things with great love. If you can’t do them with great love, do them with a little love. If you can’t do them with a little love, do them anyway. Love grows when people serve.” 

 I don’t know about you I don’t want to live in Babylon, I want to live in El Paso. Let’s get busy loving—love can change the world.

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Swish

The “swish” made by a basketball ripping through the cords of the net has to be one of the best sounds in all of sports. As a boy growing up, I worked for hours trying to perfect my skills so I could hear that wonderful sound over and over again.

I must confess God used basketball in my life to help me grow up to be the man I am today. My limited but memorable basketball career helped to shape my character by forcing me to come to grips with my own limitations by teaching me to deal with criticism and to experience the power of encouragement.

In the driveway of my suburban childhood home, I spent hours shooting my rubber basketball. Though I appeared to be playing by myself, in reality in my mind, I imagined myself playing in Madison Square Garden against the Knicks or in Rupp Arena against the mighty Kentucky Wildcats. I counted down 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 before I would leap and take the last second shot to win the game. If I made it I celebrated, if I missed I was obviously fouled and would get two free throws to win the game anyway. To be frank, I don’t remember my won-loss record, but I am sure I won many more than I lost—remember this was the ultimate “fantasy basketball.”

I idolized Los Angeles Laker Jerry West, and without doubt my favorite coach was the legendary John Wooden of U.C.L.A. I just knew I, too, would grow up to be a basketball star if I worked hard enough. How-ever, I did have one slight problem. When I went out for the 7th grade basketball team at North Oaks Junior High, I did not exactly have the statue of your typical basketball star. I stood 5 feet 1 inches tall, and a muscular 150 lbs. Instead of “deep and wide,” I

was more “shallow and wide.” In fact, one of my first coaches quizzed me about whether I was going to play basketball or “be the basketball.”

Let’s just say I did not get off to the best of starts. However, God knew even in my disappointment of not making the team there were important lessons to be learned.

Two years later, while playing a pick-up game in gym class as a freshman, Coach Stephenson, the freshman coach, pulled me off to the side and suggested that I try out for the team. I must admit I was shocked and surprised. I followed his advice and amazingly made the team! That invitation and his confidence in me was one of the turning points of my life.

You never know how one word of encouragement or one simple act of kindness can be the catalyst for amazing change in the future of a child.

To my knowledge Paul never coached basketball but he gave great advice when he wrote: Do not let any un-wholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (Ephesians 4:29 NIV) 

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Imagine an Angel on a Mission to Nazareth (Sermon Excerpt)

I want to challenge us to use our imaginations for a good and holy purpose. I want the Holy Spirit of God to transport us to a world beyond our wildest dreams—the full color world of the presence of God in the heavens. I want to take you to a courtyard just outside the throne room of God Himself where the highest ranking angels in the Kingdom wait orders from on high.

Let’s go back say some two thousand years, just months before the deployment of Jesus to planet earth. Yes, you heard me right, I believe the Bible teaches that Jesus was “deployed”—He was sent into battle—when He was conceived in the womb of Mary—God invaded His own creation to take it back. Jesus came on a rescue mission—if they entitled them back in those days in the war room of heaven I suspect it was called “Operation Christmas Hope”—this suicide mission was the last hope of the world and God knew it—and Jesus willingly chose to do it.

Back to the courtyard, Gabriel has just stepped out of the throne room with an ashen look on his face. Michael, one of the mightiest and fiercest angelic warriors of all, sees him and begins walking with him. Michael opens the conversation saying, “Hey Gab, what wrong? You look like you just wrestled with death itself.”

Gabriel shook his head, and said, “It’s happening, Jesus is being deployed.” Michael smiled and clapped his hands exclaiming: “Finally, how many squadrons of angels are we deploying—do I need to go call together the commanders?” “No” Gabriel shouted, “He is going alone.” “What do you mean it is going alone?” inquired Michael adding “He cannot take that risk—he cannot go down there by himself. Does he not understand how evil those people are—does he not realize they will kill him.”

Gabriel stops with a stunned look on his face, “That’s exactly it…Jesus is going down there to be killed—murdered—executed–on  a cross as a human being.” There is a long silence, Michael scratches and head and then his chin, “I don’t understand. Does the Father know this? There has to be something wrong.”

“Yes, He knows—the Father is the one sending him, and Jesus volunteered to go” replied Gabriel. “The only hope for the salvation of the planet and the people rides on this mission” he continues. “So where are you going now?” inquires Michael.

“I am going to Nazareth?” answers Gabriel. “Where in the world is Nazareth?” quizzes Michael. “Nazareth sits out in the middle of nowhere in the backwaters of Galilee” answered Gabriel. “Why Nazareth?” asked Michael. “Jesus’ mother will be from there?” Gabriel responded. “Jesus’ mother?” interjected Michael—at this point Gabriel put his arm around Michael and said, “Walk with me—I’m in a hurry, but I will give you the details on the way.” Two stunned and amazed angel walk away together trying to get their minds around the impossible—God sending His one and only Son into the world to save us from ourselves—to save us from our sins.

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Imagine the First Christmas Day in Heaven (Sermon Excerpt)

Let’s break out our Christmas imaginations again this morning. Go with me to the court rooms of heaven on Christmas Day. As Mary labors to bring Jesus safely into the world nestled on a blanket in the hay, the herald angels blow the trumpet calling together the celestial hosts for a final briefing before deploying the angels on their part of “Operation Christmas Hope.”

Let’s imagine Gabriel calls the angel host to order, as Michael scans the rolls and rolls of angels making sure all the commanders are in their place. Once silence falls on the multitude of angels, Gabriel speaks:

“Merry Christmas! (Of course merry Christmas was first shouted in heaven!) This is the day we have all been waiting for. Today Jesus will be born in Bethlehem and the Father will be sending us to announce His arrival on planet earth in style! Now I want the herald angel to step forward so I can give you the message from on high. I don’t want any slip ups. I want the message delivered word for word from the throne of God to His creation.”

A herald angels steps forward and Gabriel hands him the message. The angel opens the document and begins to read it out loud for all to hear.

He reads: “I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

The herald angel looks up and says, “Sir there must be a mistake.” Gabriel replies “What do you mean son?” “Are you sure the last line reads properly…it says ‘this will be a sign to you—you will find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in manger. Sir that must be a mistake is Jesus really going to be place in the feeding troth for animals?”

Gabriel nods saying, “I know son, that is unbelievable, but that was the only place available for him. I was watching when they arrived in Bethlehem and there was no place for them in the inn—they could only find shelter in the stable.” The herald angel shakes his head, and requests permission to speak. “Sir, do they not realize who He is…do they not realize Jesus is the Son of God?” Gabriel pats him on the shoulder and says, “Not yet, son, not yet.”

Then He turns his attention to the host of angels, and announces that as soon as the herald finishes his announcement he says, “I want you to light up the night sky with the glory of God and I want you to shout at the top of your lungs ‘Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace goodwill to men!’ Rock their world I want this to be a night the world will never forget…there will never again be a night like tonight, and do it right….glorify God with all your being.” With one voice the host of angels shouted, “Yes, sir…Glory to God in the highest!”

 

Gabriel was about to walk away when the herald angel inquired, “Sir, you forgot to tell me where are we going…I assume you want us to go to the Temple in Jerusalem. You want us to announce it to the high priests and all the priests worshipping in the courts of the Temple right?” Gabriel shook his head, “No, son, go to Bethlehem—look at the bottom of your orders—you are suppose to go to a band of shepherds just outside of the city keeping watch over the flocks tonight.”

Again the herald angel asks permission to speak and Gabriel nods. “Sir, I don’t want to speak out of turn and I know this high above my pay grade, but that does not make sense. I can see sending us to Rome and putting Caesar in his place and Jerusalem makes sense, but shepherds…common ordinary shepherds. Sir, why shepherds? What can they do and besides who would ever believe them?” Gabriel again pats the young angel on the shoulder and says, “Son, trust God…He always knows what He is doing. You just go follow orders, and I promise you that you will be amazed.” “Yes, sir” the angel answers and with a salute and he turns and departs in a flash of light with the entire heavenly host following behind him.

For those of us who are lovers of Christmas we have read this story over and over. I wonder if it has gotten to be old hat for us. Have we lost some of the mystery and the wonder of the story because we believe we know it so well? This week as I reflected on the impact of Christmas on the heavenly courts it struck me how they must have been just as much in shock as we were the first time we grasp the nature of this amazing story of Christmas hope.

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Keep on Giving

A young mother stands in a long line at Wal-mart around four p.m. on Christmas Eve. Her basket bears a number of small toys and gifts obviously for toddlers and small children. In addition, she has loaded in a few luxury items like a quart of eggnog and Christmas cookies, but as she waits she appears to be counting her cash against her purchases to make sure she has enough.

At one point, she reaches into the basket and takes out a small toy and places it on the rack of magazines and candy. There just isn’t enough money to go around. As she counts her currency again to finalize her count, and older gentleman steps up and smiles. He leans over and whispers, “I hope this helps your family have a merry Christmas” while he slips a one-hundred dollar bill into her hand. As quickly as he appeared he disappears into the crowded store.

The young mother stands there speechless. A tear creases her cheek as she looks around to say thank you, but her “Christmas angel” is gone. Her lips turn up with a smile and she reaches out and takes the “lost” toy back from the magazine rack and places it back in the basket. Christmas came early, even before Santa Claus had time to make it from the North Pole to her apartment.

God, our Father in heaven, gave the first and best Christmas gift of all wrapped up in swaddling clothes and lying in a manger. The wise men traveled from afar and after worshipping at the feet of the toddler Jesus opened their treasures of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Who knows maybe the little drummer boy really did play a concert for the infant king? Christmas equals giving.

In the book of Acts, Paul shares his heart with his dear friends in Ephesus before his departure for Jerusalem. He sensed deep down in his soul that this would probably be his last time to talk to his companions.

Interestingly, his final comments revolved around a statement of Jesus uttered only from the lips of Paul and not found in the four gospels. Paul declared:

“In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ” (Acts 20:35 NIV)

 Jesus nailed it. Giving beats getting any day of the week, and twice on Tuesday! Several years ago I overheard a press conference with Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Community Church in Orange County California. He spoke about the addiction of “greed” in our American culture. At that point, Warren pointed out to the secular media that the only antidote for greed is “generosity.”

Let me encourage you to be generous this Christmas. Generosity appears at Christmas in all kinds of shapes and sizes. For some of us who have far more than we need, we need to give freely and widely. For others of us who struggle to make ends meet, our gift may be time, a listening ear, a hug, a smile, or a whispered prayer. All of us can give this Christmas, so let’s get caught up in the spirit of Christmas by giving just like our Heavenly Father does.

 

Giving will cost you something of value, but what you will receive in return will be priceless. Merry Christmas!

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