Have you finished all of your Christmas shopping this year? If not, you still have about a week to find that perfect gift. Not that anyone would forget and shop on Christmas Eve or anything like that. Maybe you are not doing the gift thing this year, or just where you have to. Did you have the opportunity to participate as a Secret Santa at work, or maybe you have done a white elephant or Chinese gift exchange. Regardless, there are plenty of opportunities to give, whether it be low-key or over the top with giant car-sized bows…Tis the Season?
Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. II Corinthians 9:7
Why do you give gifts at Christmas? Is it a family tradition, the excitement of opening something unexpected, are you trying to impress someone, or is it because of the wise men? To be honest, I have struggled a little more each year, not with giving, but with asking for things. We do a gift exchange with my wife’s family, and I am asked to submit a list of things I would like, and all I could come up with this year was a dog toy and a few CDs I’ve liked. It’s not that I don’t like receiving gifts – I do – but I feel I already have too much stuff, and adding more to the pile isn’t helping. For me, a bigger challenge is to find some unique gifts for friends and family that I think they will like instead of anything they can go out and buy on their own. There are several movements to do less gifting and have more meaningful traditions during Christmas.
Every man shall give as he is able, according to the blessing of the LORD your God which He has given you. Deuteronomy 16:17
Besides Christmas gifts, it is also that season for end of the year donation appeals from various not for profit ministries, missionaries, and even your dear old college alma mater who would like to put your name on a building. Maybe you look over your finances for the year and say “I’ve done pretty decent this year, maybe I will spread the wealth a little.” Maybe you only give to the same organizations you have always given to or just your local church. There are many good websites that can help you evaluate the effectiveness of many NFP organizations. How do you decide?
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
In the midst of all the giving this year, let us not forget the best gift of all. The gift of forgiveness, hope, and life offered in Christ. It actually costs us very little to share this gift with others as it was freely given to us. So, why would anyone turn this gift down? I had this discussion with several members of a women’s bible study this past week. Several ideas were offered including many thinking that there must be some strings attached, they didn’t think they needed it, they didn’t understand this gift, or they didn’t want to give up fill in the blank to become a believer. But when we fully understand the value of this gift, why would we not gladly receive it? There were many who walked and talked with Christ who turned away from him. Why would we be surprised this is still happening? Was there ever something you regret not getting when you had the chance?
Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. Matthew 16:24-25
So, as you give and receive this Christmas Season, keep in mind these material things pale in comparison to the Greatest Gift. Even so, we can still use those things with which the Lord has blessed us to bless others. Seeing the smile and surprise on someone’s face when you bless them with a gift is a great feeling. Let us continue to have that same spirit of kindness and generosity throughout the year, even if the person receiving it doesn’t know it was from you. Because, in the end, none of it belongs to us anyway.
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17
Blessings in Christ,
All of us recognize need for change. We see it in our world, our country, our state, our schools, our churches, our families, and even in ourselves. Often times we blame the president, our boss, the principle, our parents, our kids, or even God. Rarely do we want to admit that we chose our job, we chose to stay in this country, we could homeschool, we could go to another church, we could have married someone else. We all want change and want to pass the buck for why it isn’t happening on someone else. The truth is, what is wrong in my world is me. If I want to see change in my family, it starts with me. If I want to see change in my church, it starts with me. The hope for our nation, our children’s future, our churches, our families is Jesus in me.
2 Corinthians 5 16 So from now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come:[a] The old has gone, the new is here! 18 All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19 that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20 We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21 God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Our story begins when we look up and see Jesus not just as another man but as God’s single method of redemption for us. We then make Him our Lord and Savior. We then get a new identity in Christ not of sin but the righteousness of Jesus. This leads us to look in. When we look up and see how amazing God is, we look in and see the gap between us. This leads us to repentance, turning away from sin and looking for Jesus to continue to save us from our destructive patterns. In this new light of who Jesus is, looking up, looking in responding in repentance, we must look out. Now Jesus has given us the ministry of reconciling others to Him. Think about what that says… Jesus gave us the ministry of reconciliation. He did not want to do ministry for us but ministry with us! Now we see the world not holding their sins against them. We are not called to isolate ourselves from the world but to see through the lens of Christ, not holding their sins against them but calling them to a place where they too can look up.
So vital men, today should you have a conversation where you look up? Should you look to see Jesus as you never have before, full of awe and wonder? Today should you have a conversation where you look in and see where you need to walk in repentance in light of who Jesus is and the new identity you have in Him? Or should you have a conversation where you look out, and tell someone they too should look up as you have?
Vital men revival begins in YOU! Change begins in YOU! The hope for our nation, our schools, our families, our children’s future, our churches begins in YOU as you LOOK UP, LOOK IN, AND LOOK OUT! Be vital…
Recklessly, obsessively following Jesus
Happiness is much different than joy. We often pursue the ability to feel happy–because it gives us warm fuzzies and sometimes fills a void. How we find happiness is subjective. For some, it comes in doing an activity, being with certain people, or receiving particular needs.
The achievement of happiness is subliminally fed into our society through images and conversations. Advertisements will tell and show you what could make you happy. Daily conversations will remind you of why others are happy or unhappy, and why you are, too.
But even when we are happy, we can still be lacking joy. Happiness is momentary. You can be happy, briefly, and then it fades. It’s like the smile that opens and closes all within the same moment. That’s because happiness is the satisfaction of the quality of something or someone.
Being happy isn’t bad, but it isn’t going to fill you either. That’s where joy comes in.
Joy is a foundation deep within us that needs no additions from the world. It is satisfied with what it has, needs nothing more, and contains a right relationship with the Lord. It isn’t fleeting, it doesn’t waver, it is a steady base that can be visited at anytime and is felt in every movement.
The world likes to tamper with joy. It wants to uproot the foundation, smother it so it can’t be felt or found–it does all it can to distract us from its purity. At times, happiness does just that. Because we feel happy we find more ways to be happy, and we think we are “good to go.” Little do we know, the happiness that we often feel is only a distraction from the foundation of the problem–we aren’t full of joy, God’s joy.
To obtain true joy, we must be firmly planted in the Lord. This is something we often think we have, but underneath the surface, are we able to claim that our relationship with Christ is where it needs to be? Hypothetically, it never will be. But in the moment, where you are at, are you right with God?
It’s hard to have joy when you aren’t. In fact, the world seems dark and hopeless. You may feel moments of happiness, but it may not last long; and it’s all because at the root of it, joy in the Lord doesn’t exist.
Joy is synonymous with rejoicing–the ability to bring forth praise, the awareness to feel happy, both exhorted when good or bad is present. Psalm 71:23 notes, “My lips will shout for joy, when I sing praises to you; my soul also, which you have redeemed.” This Psalm also speaks to God being a refuge and the many ways God is a helper. We, too, must be aware of what God is doing for us, that we may rejoice in him and have right relationship with him.
Happiness is good, but joy is better. The best comes when we can feel these at our core, bursting out of the right relationship we have with God, confidently striding forward no matter what we encounter.
Psalm 37:23 The Lord directs the steps of the godly. He delights in every detail of our lives.
I always enjoy watching the Christmas movie, It’s A Wonderful Life. In the movie you will find George Bailey staring into a river thinking all is lost. The thought of embezzlement or prison is more than he can take. His uncle had misplaced the money at the bank. The uncle frantically looks for it. He lost it and has to tell George. George and he back track his steps with no avail. George is panic stricken and goes home and makes an even greater mess. I like what his wife does here, she doesn’t give up, she calls people to pray for her husband.
George walks out not knowing what to do. Goes to the local bar and finds no answers and heads for the river. There in his brokenness he starts talking with God. Clutching a life insurance policy in one hand and holding on to the guard rail in other. He’s praying, wondering, weeping, does my life even matter? I’ve asked that question before in my brokenness, and many of you have as well.
George meets an angel in that GracePoint moment. The angel gives him a chance to see what life would have looked like if he was never born. He sees the impact his life made, not only for him but other people. A brother dies because he wasn’t there to save him. Then the brother wasn’t there to shoot down the enemy who was about to let his plane crash into a ship which saved hundreds of lives. George gets a glimpse of his ordinary life of staying the course being a devout husband, father, brother, and a President of a local Mortgage Bank.
Many times we see our lives as insignificant. Asking the question, did my life really count? I think the enemy tries to break us here. All he wants for our lives is to kill, steal, and destroy. Men, we were created for more than that. Our lives count! Do you believe this? If you don’t, get back on your knees, and ask the Holy Spirit to help you see.
I have a man who is working for me who has a full plate. He is currently building a house for his family, his wife has just found out she has epilepsy, and his sister has brain cancer and will possibly pass away before this Christmas leaving a husband and two teenage boys. What a load to carry.
I’ve prayed with this man and told him to let me know if there was anything I could do. He calls me up weeping and thanking me for caring and for praying for his sister. What do you do in moments like this? There are no answers, only trusting in your faith and holding on to grace.
It’s always at a bedside that you will get asked the question, “Did my life count?” Did I live life to the fullest? Men, it’s in caring and loving people that gives us the answer to the question. I will never forget the night at my greatest despair that I asked Jesus if he could do any good out of the mess I made. Now, here I am.
Gentlemen, that is how I started in men’s ministry. Looking for a GracePoint in my life. Lord help my life count. What about you today? Are you needing that GracePoint in your life? That is how Vital Men a forged, through the struggles of life and allowing Jesus to lead them. This is the place we experience a truly wonderful life in Him.
As I close today, let’s remember who we are in Christ. Men with a destiny. Men impacting other lives. Men impacting our families. We all only have one life to live, choose to live a wonderful life. Like George Bailey, a community joined together and helped him. He really had a wonderful life. Stay the course.
Strength and Courage,
His coat had a sheen to it that caused it to glisten when it caught the sunlight just right. Tipping the scales at 8 pounds, it was clear that this rabbit was well fed. Hoppy always had fresh bedding. He always had a full supply of hay and pellets. He always had clean water. Hoppy’s rabbit hutch was more than just a cage, measuring some 6 feet across, two feet deep, and two feet high. It sat elevated some four feet off the ground. The frame sported pressure treated lumber. His ‘house’ along with a series of ramps and platforms featured the finest Red Cedar. Rubberized heavy-gauge wire had been coated provided security from whatever may try to get in from the outside. Hoppy was living the good life.
And why not? Hoppy was owned by the grandparents of six-year-old Gracie Lou. He had been in their possession since the little girl’s birth, his existence other than to bring a little more joy to her life, was to provide additional incentive to have her visit more often. Gracie Lou loved Hoppy. She loved nothing more than holding him, scooping him up as he hopped away, and attempting to carry him all over her grandparents’ farm from one play area to the next.
Truthfully though, Hoppy didn’t share the same sentiments for young Gracie. Remember, Gracie was just six, and before too long her grandfather noticed that if left unsupervised, the little girl would forget the proper way of holding and carrying Hoppy around. Instead of scooping him up under the belly and cradling him gently in her arms, Gracie Lou would instead reach down and pick Hoppy up right by his head leaving the rest of his body to dangle below. Gracie’s grandfather always quickly rushed to the rabbit’s aid and upon rescue would explain softly to his granddaughter her mistake. He would then march Hoppy back to his hutch as the poor rabbit would nearly leap out of his arms to return to his safe haven.
As Christians, many of us have most likely faced moments of frustrations with all of God’s rules and seemingly regulatory commands. “Thou shalt do this, thou shalt not do that, do, don’t, do, don’t…” as the list seems to go on and on. We voice our discontent through prayer or even aloud to others trying to understand why in the world God wants to have us on such a tight leash. Why would he want to keep us locked inside a cage, keeping us from all of life’s pleasures?
It may be that our Lord’s commandments along with parables and proverbs that we’re provided in scripture, aren’t necessarily designed to keep us from enjoying life but instead are meant to keep us from harm. Our loving god wants nothing more than to protect His people, and He’s provided us an outline for making that so. Like Hoppy’s large rabbit hutch, we may feel that with God’s commands we’re restricted from exploring everything that’s in this world, but the reality is that everything that’s in this world is restricted from exploring us too.
2 Samuel 22:3-4 [NLT]
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my savior;
3 my God is my rock, in whom I find protection.
He is my shield, the power that saves me,
and my place of safety.
He is my refuge, my savior,
the one who saves me from violence.
4 I called on the Lord, who is worthy of praise,
and he saved me from my enemies.
Men, just like Hoppy couldn’t return to his cage soon enough when something had him by the head, we should run to the comfort and safety that God’s commands provides. No matter our circumstance or how far we may have drifted off course, our confessions and repentance allow us to get back inside the fortress. Turn to your refuge, and He’ll provide you the strength.
Set a Fire Down in Your Soul,