Sunday, November 29, 2009

Gift-giving exposed...

(In a post this past summer, I wrote a little about the Five Love Languages, as written about by Gary Chapman in The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts.  I explained how I found myself wondering if they apply to our relationship with God. This is the sixth of what turned out to be nine posts as I explored this topic.)
Love Language: Gifts
It seems appropriate that I am getting to this love language just as the holiday gift-giving season launches itself. You see, even though gift-giving is an ancient method of expressing esteem and establishing a relationship, the commercialism of today's society has unfortunately warped and twisted the meaning of this love language until its meaning has been almost completely lost. I'm afraid that those who do not speak this love language seriously underestimate its potential value. Consequently, those who do speak this language are unintentionally hurt and left feeling guilty because they care about gifts more than "Christian society" says they should value mere things.

Watching my son has given me a new appreciation of this love language. You see, he doesn't know that many people today feel obligated to buy gifts for different occasions. He still has the childlike innocence that enables me to see the value of gift-giving the way God intended it.

My son receives each gift as though it was given with the same love that he gives gifts with. Most gifts he receives are "just what he always wanted!" ...even if he never thought of wanting that particular thing. I used to think that it was just something he said, but as I watched him treasure each gift, I began to see that he was sincere in that statement.

You see, what he always wants is an expression of love. And for him, a gift is a way to hold onto someone's love for him. It is their love made tangible. Christmas and his birthday are when people allow their love to change from mere words to something that he can see and touch and treasure.

When he gives a gift, it is an expression of his love, and the more he loves you, the more special he wants that gift to be. And for him, gift giving is a privilege. He would be hurt beyond measure if he overheard you say that the gift he gave you was meaningless, purchased only because the season demanded it. Perhaps that's why you gave your gifts, but that's not why he gives his!

So my plea, on behalf of my son and others like him, is this: If gifts mean nothing to you, please do not make the mistake of thinking that they should mean just as little to others. Perhaps they mean a lot to one of those you love most in the world. And God created them that way, for He is a gift-giving God!

What about God's gifts? Are they given out of obligation? Has society demanded that God shower us with gifts? Of course not! Yet God has given us gifts that eclipse anything we could ever dream of giving.

He is a gift-receiving God as well, for He said, "I was hungry and you gave me something to drink. I was thirsty and you gave me drink. I was naked and you gave me clothing." Then He said something amazing. When we give gifts to others, we are simultaneously giving those gifts to Him.

Think of that! That gift you saved so carefully for or worked so hard to make for your loved one... you gave that gift to God as well. What about that gift you snatched up because it was the cheapest thing available? That one was for God, too. Ouch.

Am I saying that we have to heed the call of advertisers and spend thousands on Christmas? Absolutely not! It is not the monetary cost that expresses love, but the sacrifice of thought. That's why a gift of roadside flowers picked out of love means so much more than a thousand-dollar TV set given out of obligation. Heed the call of your gift-giving God and put thought and love into every gift you give, for you never know when God might use that gift to minister His love to someone who desperately needs it.

But back to God's gifts.

God's gifts to us come in two categories: the physical and the spiritual. The spiritual gifts were all given through the physical gift of Jesus. He was indeed the most magnificent gift God could have ever given us. Think of it! The God who created the universe, gave Himself! How can we do any less than gift Him ourselves in return?

But what spiritual gifts did Jesus bring down with Himself?

I mentioned a number of the spiritual gifts in my last post, for they are what God has filled that table spread in the wilderness with, only a few of which are listed in Psalm 23. I'd love to go into detail about just how powerful and great these things are, but it would take the whole Bible to show the length of breadth of them! So I'll settle for a list with references. He has given us:

Peace (2 Thess. 3:16, Rom. 15:13, Phil. 4:7, Rom. 14:17, Eph. 2:14-15, Jude 1:2, 1 Pet. 1:2, 2 Pet. 1:2, 2 John 1:3)

Mercy (Jude 1:2, 2 John 1:3, Ex. 33:19, 2 Sam. 24:14, Matt. 18:33, Mark 5:19, Luke 1:78, and all of Jesus' miracles)

Grace (1 Pet. 1:2, 2 Pet. 1:2, 2 John 1:3, Ps. 84:11, Prov. 3:34, Zech. 12:10, John 1:16-17, Acts 15:11, Acts 20:24, Rom. 5:15-20, 2 Cor. 9:8, Eph. 3:8, 2 Tim. 1:9)

Joy (Rom. 15:13, 1 John 1:4, 2 Cor. 8:2, Ps. 16:11, Ps. 45:7, Is. 61:7, Jer. 31:13, Matt. 25:21, John 15:11, John 17:13, Rom. 14:17)

Truth (John 1:17, Ps. 25:10, Ps. 138:2, John 8:32, John 15:26, 2 Cor. 11:10, Gal. 2:5)

Freedom from sin and everything that comes with it (John 8:32, Rom. 8:21, Gal. 5:1, John 8:36, Acts 13:39, Rom. 6:7, Rom. 6:22, Rom. 7:24-25, Rom. 8:2, Rom. 8:21)

Rest and Security (Ex. 34:14, Ps. 91, Is. 30:15, Is. 32:18, Is. 63:14, Jer. 6:16, Jer. 50:34, Ez. 34:15, Matt. 11:28, Heb. 4:1-4)

Wisdom (Job 38:36, Ps. 51:6, all of Proverbs, Acts 6:10, Eph. 1:17, James 1:5)

Love (this whole series)

And then there's every gift of revelation He gives us, which is the only way we can fully comprehend the fullness of every one of these gifts. And these are only small sampling of the spiritual gifts He gives us.

What about the physical gifts He gives us--gifts that I, at least, often take for granted.

Our children are a gift from God. (Ps. 127:3) The more joy they bring me, the more I realize just how amazing this gift is.

Our spouses. Those who have been through divorce or who are in a difficult place in their marriage right now might not feel that this is much of a gift...but it is sin that messes up marriages. Marriage the way God intended it is a marvelous and mysterious gift, for it is a symbol and a picture of His relationship with His body. (Eph. 5:31-33)

Music. This is a big one for me, for I cannot imagine my life without music. Music is actually very complicated--mathematical correlations between sounds determine what sounds good and what does not. And God could have created this world without the ears to hear it, or the voices to sing along with it. He could have kept the knowledge of musical instruments from mankind.

Sunshine, mountains, oceans... Seriously. What if God had created us to live on a planet like Mars, barren and dry and monotonous?

Color. He could have made the earth in black and white.

Laughter. Think of the laughter of a child, or that hour you've spent with your best friend. What if God had never given you that?

The ability to savor a delicious meal. I know lots of people for whom this is one of life's great joys.

Life itself. As I learned when my mother died, every day is a gift from Him.

I know there is so much more, but this post has gotten long enough. But I hope that this list affects you as it does me...filling my heart with thanksgiving and my mouth with praise. For He is so good to us!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Enough time...

If you haven't noticed from little things I've shared here or there...my family loves deep conversations about God. That's what happens when your dad comes from a family of 9, where most are computer engineers whose dinner conversations revolve around the workings of computers, their affect on the world, physics, and more topics that generally fly over my head...and your mother was a people-loving, Bible-studying, talkative Christian. You end up with five kids who, at any given moment, are generally ready and willing to turn the Bible inside out, discussing something.

This can be a problem when we try to understand the things of God with our natural minds. (It's impossible.) But I love it when God steps in, orders the conversation, and gives one of us a revelation like He did yesterday.

So yesterday morning, I was chatting with my youngest brother (online, since he's half a world and, ironically, half a day away on a military base), and he mentioned how he was reading in Genesis where Noah's descendants are listed and how strange it was to think that Noah's son, Shem, outlived nine generations after him. In fact, I just now figured out (though my brother mentioned something about this yesterday)...at the time of Isaac's birth, every single grandfather between Abraham and Shem was still alive. Yet something obviously changed then, for every last one of them died during Isaac and Jacob's lifetime. (Although I never realized, 'till now, that both Seth and Abraham saw Jacob's birth. Or that Isaac was still alive when Jacob died in Egypt.)

But back to yesterday morning. As my brother applied his brilliant brain (he can keep up with my dad better than I can) and his memory of history to this scenario, and he started tossing facts at me.

The Roman empire lasted 600 years... less than a lifetime for Seth, Noah, and many before them. The Roman empire suddenly seemed much less impressive.

Abraham and Sarah had trouble believing that they'd have children, even though Seth hadn't had his first son 'till he was 100...and he was still alive and able to tell them so. I wonder if they talked with Seth--or any of the eight generations between them--about it?

In less than 400 years, one family had spread out over the world and separated enough to form the mighty city of Ur...the country of Egypt...the Indus Valley civilization. And each developed their own religions. Evidently Noah's family took the commission to "fill the earth" seriously. Too bad they didn't remember the God who gave that commission.

Someone who witnessed the flood was still alive when the Pharaohs began setting themselves up as gods. I can imagine what Seth thought about that.

For 800 years during the Dark Ages, the world changed very little in Europe. I never really realized how strange that was.

The last 200 years, technology has changed the world more than the last 2000 combined. In fact, we've come to expect the world to change with every year that goes by.

Then my brother said, "It gives you a new appreciation for how time moves." For that's what we were seeing...that time appears to speed up and slow down. It's not as constant as we think.

It made me think that our fixed idea of Time might not really be all that realistic. We think time never changes. We believe the second is based on something having to do with an atom, that a year is based on the earth's rotation around the sun, and that those things can't change. Yet the Bible says He made the sun stand still and moved a shadow backward.

What if God's been messing with Time all along, and we're clueless? What if both the rotation of the earth and the oscillations of protons and neutrons speed up and slow down at His command?

Or what if Time is tied to God's heartbeat, speeding up when He's doing things, and slowing down when He is at rest? After all, He spans the universe with His hands, and breathes out stars.

After my brother and I signed off, I continued reading where I'd left off in Isaiah the day before. I anticipated the discovery of something having to do with Time, since it seemed that God had led our conversation there...and sure enough, I did.

In Isaiah 48:3-5, God talks about things that He commanded and declared long ago, yet were not fulfilled until, "Suddenly I acted, and they came to pass."

But then, in verses 6-7 He said that He was proclaiming something new "from this time." He said these new things "are created now and not long ago!"

Instantly, I saw that I've somehow come to believe that God was controlled by Time. That because He knew everything that ever has or ever will happen, His actions were limited to what He has always known He would do, even when He knew He would change His mind.

But now I see that He is much farther outside of Time than I can even begin to comprehend. At any time He wants, He can turn the past, present and future (even as He knew it) on end, flipping Time itself inside out.

All those Star Trek episodes that were concerned about preserving the space time continuum...now I see that God's never been concerned about that. If He gives Time a twist that sends it off into a new direction, He can do that...and the Bible will still be just as true in every word because it is His word and came from His dimension outside of time.

It was then, as I was contemplating all of this, that something else struck me.

How often do we decide against praying or reading our Bible because we don't have time? And how often do we fail to start something God asks of us, because there does not seem to be enough time to complete it?


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How foolish and shallow-minded we are! And how little we trust our God! He holds Time itself in His hands. If He has asked us to do something, He is capable of bending, twisting, speeding up, or slowing down time to suit His purposes and complete whatever He desires to do through us. He is more than capable!

We serve a very, very powerful God. I, for one, see that I need to start trusting Him with the time He has given me, for He can multiply it or subtract it as He chooses.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

My heart's tuning fork...

How is it that a song you've heard dozens of times...a verse you've read before...a story you know by heart...can suddenly touch something in your spirit? Suddenly, without anything done on your part, you're drawn into His throne room, seeing things you've only ever dreamed of before, knowing that your heart and your life is even now being changed, feeling the touch of your Maker and Restorer.

I am under the awe of that right now, yet again because of a song.

Those who have followed my blog for a while have probably noticed that learning to hear God's voice has been a recurring theme for the last year and a half. If you read my makeover story, though, you'll notice that this journey began eight years ago when I realized that God actually talked to me, amazing fact that this is!

In February of this year I posted that I was hearing His voice more than I ever have, and you'll notice that this year was full of posts that touched on this.

But I never shared what God told me, and it wasn't 'till today that He gave me the words that crystallized how this works in my life.

He told me that, if I wanted to hear and recognize His voice the way I claimed I wanted to, that I needed to get in His word more often. He pointed out how I recognized His voice more easily when I'd been His word more frequently. Yet when I allowed distractions to distance me from His word, my hearing grew dim as well.

And it's true. I've seen it all year long. This past month, I have found myself in awe at how I am now hearing Him. I suppose that, after so many years of begging, I'd begun to wonder if my request would ever be granted.

But it's so simple. Just as most musicians need something that holds a perfect key to tune their instruments to, so my heart needs something to tune it. Only then will it know what it's listening for.

I am sure that this is different for everyone. I've known Christians who could easily recognize God's voice from the time they first got saved, while many others who accepted salvation as children have the same struggle I have.

All I know is that Jesus is, once again, my answer. For He is the Word of God, and that Word is my heart's tuning fork.


And that is why this song has touched my soul today. It's on the same CD as the last song I posted. The words start out:
Standing here, in Your presence
Thinking of the good things You have done
Waiting here, patiently
Just to hear Your still small voice again
...and my heart sings because I am learning just how precious that is...precious enough to invest my time to gain.

And then the music changes, and the keyboardist in me recognizes that the notes that are played here are inspired. They portray the simple power and beauty of that still small voice. And the words change to the awe-inspired acknowledgment of who this God is who speaks to us of mysteries and truth and beauty and power and of everything that is Him:
Holy
Righteous
Faithful to the end
Savior
Healer
Redeemer and Friend


The chorus is quite simple:
I will worship You for who You are
I will worship You for who You are
I will worship You for who You are
Jesus

And the bridge:
My soul secure
Your promise sure
Your love endures
Always...


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I will worship You for who You are...
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