What Do I Need for Christmas?

The GiftAs I ponder the wonderful giving opportunities on December’s horizon, I wonder about all the things I already have.

My wife is following an idea this year to provide each of our children four gifts:

  1. Something they Wear
  2. Something they Read
  3. Something they Want
  4. Something they Need

Nice jingle, eh?

Each year it never fails…I lose myself thinking about all the stuff I own and all the things my children already have.

Christmas SweaterSomething They Wear
Sure, my kids have not mastered the art of folding their clothes neatly, but usually their drawers are difficult to shut because they are completely overflowing!

My own closet is packed with pants and shirts I don’t actually wear on any consistent basis. My wife gets upset because all my favorite shirts have holes in them. But the other ones don’t fit quite right, being too large, too small, too scratchy, too tight. Why do I keep them around?

Something They Read
Don’t even get me started on books. We have books. And we also have four nearby libraries we raid on a regular basis. Do we need another book in the house? (Whenever I ask that question, my wife gives me a look which makes me realize, yes, clearly we do. Apologies in advance, dear wife…)

Something They Want
What do I want? I mean, what do I want that fits into the category of I-haven’t-yet-bought-it-for-myself-and-it’s-within-a-reasonable-price-range. Because, let’s face it, if it’s within a reasonable price range and I really want it, I’ve probably already purchased it for myself.

My kids want…video games and LEGOs. And LEGO video games. My littlest son wants character figurines from his favorite video game.

Something they wantDo we usually want things that are good for us? The winning stocking stuffers are usually not pecans, apples, and boiled eggs. Usually they include lots of cocoa, butter, and sugar. Maybe that’s just at my house.

Something They Need
We must define “need” in order to clearly grasp this one. If you ask my children, their “needs” are actually wants. To be honest, it’s not just the children. What do I need? I need to get my truck a new radiator so I can drive it again. I need to finish putting down laminate flooring in my house (that one may not sound like a gift, but in a weird way it is). I need…

Let’s break down needs. Necessities. Air would qualify. Food qualifies. Clothing qualifies. As to the quality of those items, I don’t need the top of the line of any of those things. We eat a lot of organic food, but that’s actually a luxury. I only actually need one or two changes of clothing to live.

I have everything I need, and I always have.

PeacefulWhat I Really Need
After thinking through these four items, what do I come away with?

God has richly blessed me with physical things. I don’t just have what I need–I have much more than I really need. Must folks really have a healthy 401K? Must they live in a four-bedroom house in at least an average neighborhood? Most of the world doesn’t live this way. Why should I think I must live this way? If God has blessed me to live this way, I will praise Him! And if He chooses to take it away from me, praise Him! He will still give me what I need.

What I really need is to know Him and His Son Jesus. That’s where true life is. It’s not in all the stuff I listed above. That stuff comes and goes, ebbs and flows, but Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13.8).

What I really need is contentment–to be happy with what I have.

“Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?'” (Heb. 13.5-6)

“Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.” (1 Tim. 6.6-10)

Content people are grateful. Discontent people are complainers. If you and I can take this mindset of contentment (I have all I need) into the Christmas whirlwind of joy, cheer, and merchandising, we will experience peace amidst the chaos. Doesn’t everyone long for peace?

I pray for a peaceful month in which we all center our lives on Him who makes life worthwhile.

We Just Want Peace…Don’t We?

Hatred QuoteI’m not seeing a whole lot of peace out there right now. Even so-called “peaceful protests” are really the result of unrest. Why the protest in the first place? Because folks are irritated and discontent.

Guns and the bombs reveal a whole new level of unrest. So far the city of New Orleans has had 69 murders in 2016. The last two were on the 5th and 6th of this month. We are number 7 on a most murders per capita list for this year. Birmingham, AL, is number 25, and Baton Rouge, LA, is number 29.

Makes me want to move out into the country. Probably no crime out there, right?

Unfortunately, where you find people you find crime. Anger, covetousness, greed, envy, jealousy, lust, and other passions control so many. When those passions spin out of control, the fireworks start and men engage in irreversible actions.

Islam claims to be a religion of peace. Why, then, is there such violence among them? Why does most of the mass violence on this earth right now result from followers of Islam? There seems to be little peace among them.

Sister HugsWhy is there so little peace in our cities? Men want to avenge themselves when others look down upon them and belittle them. Men want to take from those who have. They don’t believe the other person deserves all that wealth–so they steal and sometimes murder. Men feel the color of their skin has something to do with rights. Some feel they have more rights than others while others feel their rights are suppressed and trampled upon.

We are so sophisticated. We are so mature. We know what should and shouldn’t be. With gun or club or fiery speech we stride confidently into battle to fight for our rights, to gain honor over the enemy, to trample the hated oppressor, to get even with the man who keeps us down…TO WHAT END??

What is the purpose of all this violence? If we think this violence creates peace, Satan has completely sabotaged our thinking! How upside down are we? “War is hell,” said William Tecumseh Sherman, and as one of the major Civil War army generals for the north, he knew! Remember Sherman’s march to the sea, as his army left a swath of complete devastation and ruin in its wake?

I understand that God created governments to protect their nations with a standing army and to wield the sword against evil-doers. I get that. But violence at the individual level makes me sick.

One day the God who actually has the RIGHT to destroy evil will come in judgment upon every evil in this world. He’ll take care of it all. But until then, He gave us the example of Jesus Christ, His Son, who, rather than come off the cross to squash the spitting, mocking haters in the crowd (which He easily could have done), hung on the cross until He died.

Peaceful BabyJesus didn’t come to destroy but to save lives (Luke 9.51-56). What a wonderful world we’d have if everyone was concerned about saving others! Christ cultivates this mind in His disciples, and those who truly follow Him become conduits of salvation and peace. We become more like children as we mature in Christ. All those given over to the hardness of their fleshly hearts around us think maturity is about control, violence, demanding their rights. And Jesus calmly teaches self-control, peace, and giving up rights. Read the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5-7. Read the gospels. Read the epistles. It’s all in there.

We need men and women with the tender hearts of children.

“Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Jesus in Matthew 18.3-4

Trying to Grasp the Wind?

HurryIt seems like life is getting more and more hectic. Not mine, specifically, although I reckon could easily trim out a bit of excess, but this world is rushing madly about, busy with things and stuff.
On the one hand, it’s good to be busy. The devil plays around with our leisure time. But on the other hand, the devil also enjoys watching us waste our time as we hurry and scurry doing nothing particularly constructive or productive.
Praise the super-successful business mogul. Clap for the sports hero. Sigh for the girl singing on the X-Factor.
Shuttle the kids off to school to learn how to write, read, build, discover. Rush them to band practice, football practice, their first job in the hamburger joint. It’s not enough that they get by in life; we want them to thrive, excel, become truly great, leave their mark. So we push.
Do we ever stop to think WHY we push them? Why do we push ourselves? Why do we rush about attempting to achieve great things?
WindSolomon did exactly this. He holds the world record in the “super-successful” category because he had virtually unlimited resources and a drive to discover, build, and thrive. Solomon diligently searched for thrills, meaning, and happiness–but when he paused to reflect, he realized he had just been grasping at the wind. Frantically, he tried everything he could think of, but nothing truly satisfied. “Vanity,” he penned in his journal. “Emptiness. Striving after the wind.”
 
I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind. (Ecclesiastes 1.14)
 
And I set my heart to know wisdom and to know madness and folly. I perceived that this also is grasping for the wind. (1.17)
 
I said in my heart, “Come now, I will test you with mirth; therefore enjoy pleasure”; but surely, this also was vanity. I said of laughter—“Madness!”; and of mirth, “What does it accomplish?” (2.1-2)
 
Then I looked on all the works that my hands had done
And on the labor in which I had toiled;
And indeed all was vanity and grasping for the wind.
There was no profit under the sun. (2.11)
Therefore I hated life because the work that was done under the sun was distressing to me, for all is vanity and grasping for the wind. (2.17)
City StreetSad man! Because he was wise, he reflected and meditated on his life journey. Many of us don’t pause in the hustle and bustle of our days and weeks–we just spin our wheels and never look back. But Solomon looked back, searching for the reason why he had spent his energies and time the way he had. When all was said and done, after he had philosophized for twelve tough chapters, Solomon found his conclusion. Perhaps some would have committed suicide by the time they had meditated on the realities of life the way Solomon did–but Solomon found an anchor, a reason for living:
Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter:
Fear God and keep His commandments,
For this is man’s all.
For God will bring every work into judgment,
Including every secret thing,
Whether good or evil. (12.13-14)
Jerusalem MarketplaceThe answer to life is not in discovering your unique passion, becoming the best at your trade or talent, or hoarding boatloads of cash. No, the secret to life’s meaning lies in something quite outside this world! Man’s duty is to fear God and keep His commandments. If this is our aim, everything we do in life suddenly becomes pregnant with meaning, from the words we use with our families to the business decisions we make at the office. Suddenly every word, thought, and action holds eternal significance because we realize there actually is a judgment day coming in which God will reveal every secret thing! We ought to live in light of eternity, in light of judgment, in light of God! Since He exists and He watches and He commands, we should listen and obey and conform to His way. Imagine that–the creature obeying his Creator. What a concept.
Why rush about? Why achieve things? Why push ourselves? If it’s not for God, there really is no good reason to do any of it. It is vanity, a grasping after the wind, and it will all disappear in the twinkling of an eye. All this earth stuff will grow old, rust, rot, and perish. So will our bodies. But WITH God there is no such thing as vanity or emptiness! All has meaning. Praise Him!

Superstar Suicides and the Secret to Happiness

ElvisOver the years, an astounding number of intelligent, gorgeous men and women have committed suicide.

  • Maralyn Monroe overdosed on barbiturates and was found dead in her bed clutching a telephone receiver on August 5, 1962.
  • The king of rock ‘n roll, Elvis Presley, overdosed on prescription drugs on August 16, 1977, and died of cardiac arrest.
  • The king of pop, Michael Jackson, overdosed on a cocktail of antidepressants and pain killers and died on June 25, 2009.
  • Robin Williams was found on August 11, 2014, hanging by a nylon belt with wrists partially slashed after having dosed himself with antidepressants, caffeine, and a drug for Parkinson’s disease.

Robin WilliamsThe world loved (and many sill love) these icons for their ability to perform, entertain, shock, and amuse. All were top of their game, making headlines, and amazingly successful as this world counts success.

What went wrong?

Obviously drugs were a major factor in each and every case.

But why the drugs? These were not illegal drugs; they were prescription. After brief consideration, you may easily observe that these women and men were not happy with their super-successful lives! In fact, we might conclude they were actually not successful in life.

These folks were, evidently, seeking happiness in all the wrong places. They did not find joy in their beauty, sexuality, money, or fame–yet upon those things it seems they centered their lives. They built upon a shifting foundation of lies.

From where, then, does true worth and abiding happiness come?

Happy KidsActual joy and peace can only come from the presence of the one true and living God, Yahweh! Notice Psalm 16.7-11, especially verse 11:

    7   I will bless the LORD who has given me counsel;
         My heart also instructs me in the night seasons.
    8   I have set the LORD always before me;
         Because He is at my right hand I shall not be moved.

    9   Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
         My flesh also will rest in hope.
    10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
         Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
    11 You will show me the path of life;
         In Your presence is fullness of joy;
         At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

It saddens me to think of all in this world who are so far away from true spiritual blessing. How gracious God has been to me in showing me this path to peace, for I surely don’t deserve it. To be allowed into God’s presence boggles the mind, doesn’t it? For Him to forgive our sins and give us the opportunity to experience the fullness of joy and everlasting pleasures, does it not fill you with inexpressible delight, humble thanksgiving, and the motivation to serve Him forevermore?

Happy ChildrenSo spread the gospel, the good news of our Savior, who makes it possible for us to approach God’s throne of grace (Heb. 4.16), because millions of fellow men and women are searching for their lives’ meaning. They won’t find it in themselves, in their friends, or in their fans, and they certainly won’t find it in those pills they pop every day to mask their pain and depression.

Jesus has the words of eternal life (John 6.68-39), and He has commissioned us to spread it. Let’s get to work!

Jeremy and Judy: A Parable

Kitchen RemodelJeremy has a strong desire to please Judy, his young wife. From time to time Judy lets Jeremy know there is something he can do for her which would make her happy. Or, more often than not, she let’s him know what is making her unhappy, and he then feels an obligation to fix it for her. Jeremy believes his job as husband is to make his wife happy, and when she’s upset he feels failure.

When Judy complained about her kitchen (“it looks drab…this refrigerator is such a beast…don’t you wish we had more updated cabinets?”), Jeremy drew up a plan to fix it for her. He went out on a financial limb to purchase a sweet new refrigerator on a new Lowe’s credit card. He bought the materials to reface the cabinets with sanding, painting, and new hardware. For over a month now he’s been working nights and weekends to make her kitchen something she can be proud of.

This evening Judy comes home, a downcast expression on her face.

“What’s wrong?” Jeremy inquires. Clearly his wife is not happy; what can he do for her?

sadwoman-164299_640“I don’t know,” she replies. “I was just over at our neighbor’s house, and you should have seen her kitchen! Why can we never afford anything like that? They have this refrigerator that looks like it came out of a science fiction movie, stone countertops, dutch oven, shiny chrome everywhere. Everything is so…big and perfect. I just wish sometimes we could have something that nice.”

Jeremy stands before her, his hands still raw from hours of sanding cabinets. Something inside him deflates; a light dims in his eyes; a fire smolders. In silence he thinks of the toil, sweat, blood, and money he has been pouring into this kitchen. For Judy. Perhaps he has been naive, thinking his hard work could make her happy. Five minutes ago he was anticipating Judy’s delight and praise at the progress he’s been making. Now he doesn’t feel like even looking at his handiwork, let alone continuing his labor. He feels failure because he doesn’t make enough money to give Judy what she wants.

As I think about Jeremy and Judy, I wonder how God hears our complaining. We sometimes sulk, “Lord, Bob has such a great life, a new car every couple of years, a gorgeous house. How come You haven’t blessed me like him?” We even compare our husbands, wives, kids, and parents to other families!

ComplainingWhat does complaining do? It destroys! It crushes spirits. It spreads discontent and reveals a complete lack of appreciation for what God has given. Never does complaining accomplish anything positive. This is, I expect, why God inspired Paul to write the following:

Do all things without complaining and disputing, that you may become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world…” (Philippians 2.14-15)

Israel complained about their lack of water, their lack of food, their lack of nice food as they followed God’s leading in the wilderness. God eventually killed many of them because of their complaining (1 Cor. 10.6-11). In essence, they were telling God, “We don’t like the way you provide for us. We don’t appreciate Your leadership.”

There is power in complaining–power to destroy. What has God given you? Is it not enough? Do you deserve any of it, anyway? Why should we expect God to give us exactly the same things as another has? “It’s not fair!” we challenge. Does that not call God’s integrity into question? In fact, He has been more than fair with every one of us. Relish what you have, and don’t sweat what you don’t. If you don’t have it, you don’t need it. What you need is Jesus Christ beside you–and that is all.

Do You Choose to Be Blessed or Happy?

Happy KidsDo you live in a first-world country? If so, you probably have been spoon-fed a definition of success and happiness that not only is anti-biblical but is outright destructive to your real happiness!

What is the American dream? Don’t we all just want the freedom to do what we want when we want, to indulge in our favorite entertainment, to land the perfect high-paying job, to drink our coffee on the back porch in peace, to enjoy the hobbies closest to our hearts, to marry whom we wish, to retire at a young enough age that we can spend the last half of our lives relaxing and playing? Does that sound about right?

How self-centered, sad, and short-sighted!

Exactly who sells this dream? Doesn’t the government, promising to give whatever we desire, guaranteeing our health, granting security in our old age, making sure food is on our table, etc.? Why do we buy in to this dream? Obviously we have fallen to the notion that government can actually accomplish what God has promised to do–fulfill our every need.

Poor FeetBut they can’t take care of every need. In fact, the government really comprises a frenzied mob of sinful, fallible, power-hungry individuals who are just as in the dark as their constituents. Yes, God ordained government for a purpose (Romans 13.1ff), but providing all our needs is not its purpose! Government is not God.

Government’s definition of “blessed” is not God’s definition, either. For the world, “blessed” means having lots of stuff or at least enough stuff to make you happy. The world equates being blessed with being happy.

God, on the other hand, divorces the concepts of blessed and happy, rather telling us to consider ourselves blessed even when we are not happy! Blessed are the poor, the hungry, those who weep, those who are persecuted for Jesus’ sake. True, Jesus told His disciples to “Rejoice in that day and leap for joy” when they were hated, excluded, reviled, and had their name cast out (Luke 6.22-23), but this kind of rejoicing can only come when the disciple completely trusts God’s promises of future blessing. We don’t feel like rejoicing when we are persecuted, when family turns against us, when neighbors mock us, when friends laugh at our convictions, when we are thrown in prison for Jesus’ name’s sake.

We don’t feel happy, but we know we are blessed–because Jesus said so, and we trust Him.

Imperfect BeautyDo you want to be blessed with your hope set on awesome promises of future glory? Or do you want to just be happy now? If you choose immediate happiness, you walk among a large crowd, because the majority seek immediate gratification. But Jesus clearly pronounced “Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6.25). In fact, even if you pursue immediate happiness, you will not attain it. It’s a pipe dream, a carrot the devil dangles before the face of every stupid ox of a man, and we follow as if going to the slaughter, lowing as we go.

God designed us to be happy, but not by following the devil’s carrot. Everlasting happiness is a proper goal, and we can have it if we agree with God as to how to attain it–by faithfully walking with Him through this messed-up life.

Forsake worldly happiness, for it will only bring ruin. Choose rather to be blessed, and eternal happiness will come!