The Life-Changing, Life-Long Gift


It’s Christmas time! Well, almost. Here in the US, after our Thanksgiving Day, it seems most people turn their attention to Christmas. Music, decorations, and of course, gifts.

Interestingly, the best gift I ever received wasn’t really a gift—not in the sense of someone buying me something special and wrapping it in holiday paper or topping it with a bow. I didn’t receive it on December 25 either. In fact, it isn’t even something you receive. It’s something you do.

I imagine some people might be thinking of various giving activities that would be appropriate at Christmas time. Ways to help the needy, the less fortunate. Ways to bring Christmas to those in convalescent hospitals, to families of prisoners, to prisoners themselves.

These are all wonderful things, and they might well be life-changing to some degree, but the gift I received, or didn’t receive, wasn’t anything like that.

Rather, as I may have mentioned in this space before, I had a principal early in my teaching career at our Christian school, tell the entire staff that we ought to be spending time in the Bible every day since we were teaching the Bible.

Sure, yeah, of course. We all had Bible as our first subject of the day, and why wouldn’t we want to familiarize ourselves with the material we were teaching? It made perfect sense to me.

I also had a teacher friend who became a model for me. Some years earlier she had started the practice of reading through the Bible every year. By the time I discovered this, she’d been through the Bible, like ten times.

Wow! That seemed so . . . formidable, but also desirable. So I started out. I wish I could say it was easy sailing, but it wasn’t. I had starts and stops, frustration, even some boredom where I had to bring my wandering mind back from all the other things on my plate. I had guilt and questions about my motives, but slowly, bit by bit, I had the roots of a habit–a life-long, life-changing habit.

Now, all these years later, I can’t think of one other thing that has made a greater difference in my life. God’s Word simply has revolutionized the way I view the world.

I don’t know that my principal realized what a great gift he was giving. After all, the reasoning behind his statement to us was utilitarian–you can’t teach what you don’t know. But there’s a greater truth there–you can’t live what you don’t know, either. And you also can’t love Who you don’t know.

Simply put, the Bible shows me God.

Day in and day out, I see how God interacted with people in history–how He formed them, loved them, warned them, redeemed them. And oh yes, I see that all those recorded relationships are meant to inform me about my own relationship with God.

No greater gift.

I was reminded of this some years ago as I was driving home from church. Joni Earkson Tada had a short radio spot that aired on Sunday here in the LA area, and that week she talked about how she and her husband had been reading through the Bible in a year. She challenged her listeners to do the same.

How cool, I thought. Someday someone else is going to look back and say, Joni changed their life because she gave them the greatest, most life-changing gift of all.

The gift, of course, isn’t really the challenge. The gift is the doing. And the continuing to do.

My friend who had read the Bible at least ten times? She’s still at it. She’ll change things up once in a while to keep looking at the text anew. Sometimes she’ll read back to front or in a different version from her norm. But she’s there, day in and day out, meeting with God in the pages of His book.

How could spending that much time with God NOT change a person? What a great gift!

Apart from some minor editing, this article first appeared here in November 2012.

Published in: on November 27, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Comments (1)  
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Why Christmas Can Be Hard


Christmas presentsIn the best of times, Christmas can be hard. For me, when I was teaching, there were Christmas programs to rehearse and then to attend while “monitoring” a host of lovely junior highers. All in a day’s work. But so was practicing and coaching my team in a Christmas basketball tournament, buying and parceling out Christmas goodies to give to my homeroom, decorating the room and hanging Christmas bulletin boards.

Then there were Christmas church programs, gifts to buy and wrap for my family, decorations in my home, a church party, a school faculty party.

And that’s when times were the best. In truth, they weren’t always that good. There were occasional colds, progress reports that happened to fall the week before vacation, problems with travel plans, stormy weather.

In short, Christmas time is far from restful. Add in the fact that Christians often receive admonitions to “keep Christ in Christmas.” All the busy-ness and we are supposed to incorporate worship. In fact we are supposed to make all the other things serve worship.

It can be hard.

Worse yet is losing someone you care about, or relational problems, long distance moves, marriage break-ups.

In all this, I’m convinced that God doesn’t want the remembrance of His Son’s birth to be a source of despair or doubt or fatigue or sadness. He is a God who prescribed lavish celebrations for His chosen people as part of their worship of Him. He is a God who promises feasting and parties for those who come to Him. He is a God whose Holy Spirit produces, among other things, the fruit of joy and peace.

Add to this the fact that He gives the gift of grace and forgiveness, so we do not have to earn right standing with Him (as if we could anyway). Rather, what He wants is our joyful, grateful response—the pure exhilaration at finding ourselves unshackled from sin and the overflowing appreciation poured upon the One who broke our bonds.

Our exhilaration and appreciation can come out in all the things we do at Christmas time. We can decorate and do Christmas programs, shop and wrap, party and perform, all in light of God’s great gift. We love because He first loved us. We serve because He served us. We sacrifice because He first laid down His life for us.

If we are mindful of what God has done for us, if we do not look at Jesus as a perpetual baby wrapped in swaddling clothes, if we have responded and are responding to His greatest gift, then our Christmas may be hard, but it will be the kind of hard that has purpose. Like training for the Olympics, only better.

And in the end, we’ll be preoccupied with looking to God and will forget to check to see how hard things are for us today.

Do you not know? Have you not heard?
Has it not been declared to you from the beginning?
Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?
It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
And spreads them out like a tent to dwell in.
He it is who reduces rulers to nothing,
Who makes the judges of the earth meaningless.
Scarcely have they been planted,
Scarcely have they been sown,
Scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth,
But He merely blows on them, and they wither,
And the storm carries them away like stubble.
“To whom then will you liken Me
That I would be his equal?” says the Holy One.
Lift up your eyes on high
And see who has created these stars,
The One who leads forth their host by number,
He calls them all by name;
Because of the greatness of His might and the fnstrength of His power,
Not one of them is missing.
Why do you say, O Jacob, and assert, O Israel,
“My way is hidden from the LORD,
And the justice due me escapes the notice of my God”?
Do you not know? Have you not heard?
The Everlasting God, the LORD, the Creator of the ends of the earth
Does not become weary or tired.
His understanding is inscrutable.
He gives strength to the weary,
And to him who lacks might He increases power.
Though youths grow weary and tired,
And vigorous young men stumble badly,
Yet those who wait for the LORD
Will gain new strength;
They will mount up with wings like eagles,
They will run and not get tired,
They will walk and not become weary. (Isaiah 40:21-31)

Published in: on December 16, 2015 at 6:53 pm  Comments (3)  
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Christmas Presents


christmas-gifts-2-1121740-mChristmas presents have been the bane of my existence. When I was a kid, I looked forward to Christmas morning like every other kid, but I hated that first day back to school when the most popular question was, “What did you get for Christmas?” My family wasn’t rich or upper middle class or really not very middle, middle class. Consequently, Christmas presents were often things like socks or underwear or pajamas.

I remember a puzzle or two and a few books, maybe a board game. There were probably other toys that have slipped off my radar because they were not particularly to my liking. This, you see, was in the days before kids told parents what to buy them for Christmas.

I had an Aunt Mary who I didn’t know. She and my uncle had divorced and I don’t remember ever meeting Aunt Mary, but with regularity she sent a box of Christmas gifts—usually strange things, to my way of thinking. But once she hit a homerun, as far as I was concerned. She gave me a pair of “lounging pajamas.” That’s what the packaging called them. In reality they were a kind of silk sweats—more comfortable than I’d ever enjoyed before. I’d have worn them all day, every day if my mom had let me.

But I was talking about how Christmas presents having been the bane of my existence. As an adult I discovered that giving the right present was a lot harder than it seemed. With my siblings moving away and my nieces and nephews growing up outside my presence, it was my turn to guess at what they might like. The fact that I can only remember one present that hit the sweet spot and was really right, shows how often I missed the mark.

All that being said, I went Christmas shopping today and had fun doing it. But the present I bought isn’t for someone in my family or even for someone I know. It isn’t even going to be from me. In essence, I’m standing in the gap for a parent, an adult who is incarcerated and unable to buy her child a gift.

My church is involved in a program called Angel Tree which gives us the opportunity to give a gift to a child who would otherwise have little at Christmas. And we do so in the name of the parent. In that way, the child/parent bond is strengthened, and the kid gets to open something special on Christmas.

The thing I noticed most about this gift is that it feels more like giving than anything I’ve experienced with Christmas presents before. I mean, I’m not getting a present back, and I’m not getting a thank you card the day after or a hug and smile on Christmas morning. In reality, more than any other Christmas present, this one is not about me. It’s purely about a little guy away from him mom, getting a little something that can give him a glimmer of hope.

And I love it. I get why Santa Claus does what he does. 😉

Sorry if I horrified anyone not expecting to read the words “Santa Claus” on a Christian worldview blog. But think about it for a second. If you could afford it and had the means to pull it off, wouldn’t it be a blast to give unexpected, and perfectly fitted, gifts to a bunch of children who were in need?

Of course Santa Claus isn’t real, but the idea of him—the generous spirit this fictitious character embodies—is something that is appealing. Who doesn’t love being a secret pal or an anonymous donor? There’s something special about that unadulterated, no-strings-attached giving.

I think we love Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol in part because Scrooge at last embraced a generous spirit and found joy in doing so. It’s not just that his giving met the needs of many others. It’s that Scrooge himself relished the giving, not the getting or hording.

Is that the “true meaning of Christmas”? Not by a long shot. But let’s face it, Christmas presents occupy a lot of our time, thought, and effort this time of year. It’s not a bad thing to think about how we can do them better.

Perhaps that includes giving a gift to an unsuspecting individual without signing your name.

Published in: on December 5, 2013 at 6:23 pm  Comments (1)  
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The Life-Changing, Life-Long Gift


It’s Christmas time! Well, almost. Here in the US, after our Thanksgiving Day, it seems most people turn their attention to Christmas. Music, decorations, and of course, gifts.

Interestingly, the best gift I ever received wasn’t really a gift–not in the sense of someone buying me something special and wrapping it in holiday paper or topping it with a bow. I didn’t receive it on December 25 either. In fact, it isn’t even something you receive. It’s something you do.

I imagine some people might be thinking of various giving activities that would be appropriate at Christmas time. Ways to help the needy, the less fortunate. Ways to bring Christmas to those in convalescent hospitals, to families of prisoners, to prisoners themselves.

These are all wonderful things, and they might well be life-changing to some degree, but the gift I received, or didn’t receive, wasn’t anything like that.

Rather, as I may have mentioned in this space before, I had a principal early in my teaching career at our Christian school, tell the entire staff that we ought to be spending time in the Bible every day since we were teaching the Bible.

Sure, yeah, of course. We all had Bible as our first subject of the day, and why wouldn’t we want to familiarize ourselves with the material we were teaching? It made perfect sense to me.

I also had a teacher friend who became a model for me. Some years earlier she had started the practice of reading through the Bible every year. By the time I discovered this, she’d been through the Bible, like ten times.

Wow! That seemed so . . . formidable, but also desirable. So I started out. I wish I could say it was easy sailing, but it wasn’t. I had starts and stops, frustration, even some boredom where I had to bring my wandering mind back from all the other things on my plate. I had guilt and questions about my motives, but slowly, bit by bit, I had the roots of a habit–a life-long, life-changing habit.

Now, all these years later, I can’t think of one other thing that has made a greater difference in my life. God’s Word simply has revolutionized the way I view the world.

I don’t know that my principal realized what a great gift he was giving. After all, the reasoning behind his statement to us was utilitarian–you can’t teach what you don’t know. But there’s a greater truth there–you can’t live what you don’t know, either. And you also can’t love Who you don’t know.

Simply put, the Bible shows me God.

Day in and day out, I see how God interacted with people in history–how He formed them, loved them, warned them, redeemed them. And oh yes, I see that all those recorded relationships are meant to inform me about my own relationship with God.

No greater gift.

I was reminded of this on Sunday as I was driving home from church. Joni Earkson Tada has a short radio spot that airs on Sunday here in the LA area, and this week she talked about how she and her husband have been reading through the Bible in a year. She challenged her listeners to do the same.

How cool, I thought. Someday someone else is going to look back and say, Joni changed their life because she gave them the greatest, most life-changing gift of all.

The gift, of course, isn’t really the challenge. The gift is the doing. And the continuing to do.

My friend who had read the Bible at least ten times? She’s still at it. She’ll change things up once in a while to keep looking at the text anew. Sometimes she’ll read back to front or in a different version from her norm. But she’s there, day in and day out, meeting with God in the pages of His book.

How could spending that much time with God NOT change a person? What a great gift!

Published in: on November 28, 2012 at 6:17 pm  Comments (2)  
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