What Gifts are the Very Best Kind of Gifts to Open?

We all like opening gifts, and Jesus pointed out that we also enjoy giving good gifts to someone we love: “Or what man is there among you who, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!” (Matthew 7:9-11, NIV)

Right after he instructed his followers to ASK (“Ask, Seek, and Knock), Jesus spoke confidently of the fact that the Father gives good things to those who ask Him. I don’t know about you, but I personally have asked God for a lot of things that I didn’t get. (Ok, so maybe they were utterly selfish things, or maybe I was trying to make a deal with God to avoid consequences, but I asked and did not receive. So does that mean Jesus was lying, or that he just didn’t know what he was talking about? Or did it perhaps mean that I had absolutely the wrong perspective on gifts, and on how God gives?) I know the Bible teaches that God loves to bless His children with gifts, but is that really true? I do know the Bible uses the word “give” 1433 times, and that’s a LOT. But how many of them have to do with God’s gifts to us?

Read the creation account. God GAVE creation to man. In Genesis 9:3 God said, “Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you. I have given you all things, even as the green herbs.” The Lord told Abram, “Arise, walk in the land through its length and its width, for I give it to you.” (Genesis 13:17) Read all the “gives” in the Bible, and I think you will find that God has been pretty consistent about giving. Paul echoes this teaching about God’s generosity, and He extends it beyond creation or even a promised land into another realm: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God.” (1 Corinthians 2:12, NIV) Paul says that God has given us his Spirit so that we can recognize the things he has given to us. Put on your spiritual glasses for a minute. Make a list of the things God has given you.

We almost always start with material things—and I’m not saying that they are not indicators of God’s generosity—but I’m also not sure that material comforts and money are that important to Him either. (For some reason that makes me think of Tevya singing “If I Were a Rich man” in “Fiddler on the Roof”. He talks to God about material blessing and says, “I realize that it’s no sin to be poor; but it’s no great honor, either.” Tevya thought that perhaps God’s plan would not be disturbed by making him a rich man, but still discovered God’s presence in his own humble circumstances…)

So try to set material gifts aside for a moment and reflect on just the Spiritual blessings that God has given us for free: His Son. His Spirit. Access to the throne of Grace. His Presence. Prayer. Fellowship. The New Covenant. Perspective. Love. Wisdom. The Word. Adoption into His family. Resurrection. The hope of Glory. I could go on, but hey, it’s YOUR list. What has God given you? How generous has He been? Perhaps the true depth of His generosity can be measured by the costliest gift. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32, NIV) Ask. Seek. Knock. Receive.

Which of you would give your child a snake and not a fish?
And who would give a rock when it is bread for which they wish?
If you, being evil, give good gifts to those you love,
Then how much will your Father give you more from heaven above?
It is not just material things, or opening some presents,
But basking in your Father's love and being in His presence.
If He could give His son for us, it's very clear to see
That we cannot out-give the Father's generosity.

 

To buy my latest book, Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go to: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473160023&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle edition, go to: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473160023&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Gifts: It’s Quite Possible That the Best Gift Ever Was Given on the Worst Day Ever

“If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11 ASV) There are a couple of thoughts that jump out of this verse. First of all, if you are a parent or grandparent (or an Aunt or Uncle, or a passionate pet owner who loves a furry family member!) think about how much you love your child.

Over the course of a lifetime, there are numerous gifts that you give them, whether it’s at Christmas or birthdays, a wedding or graduation, or even when teeth fall out…There are countless small sacrifices you make, from giving them the last piece of cake, to going without that new car or washing machine in order to pay tuition. There is the gift of time, the many gifts of teaching them to eat with a spoon, to use a potty, to ride a bicycle, to read, to imagine, and to dream. Have you ever stopped to think that when God calls us His children, He thinks about us in all of those same ways?

Perhaps because we see God as omnipotent and self-sufficient, we tend to minimize the idea that He really actually sacrificed anything to give us gifts. After all, He is GOD. But when you start with the cross, the very real weight of God’s Fatherly love for us should surround us like a hug. It surely cost the Living God dearly (in ways we cannot fathom) to suffer the separation of sin and condemnation in our place, and to experience the death that was meant for us. Real death. Real cost. Real Grace.

And there are countless other ways that God’s gifts to us must cost Him something. Imagine what it’s like to be omnipotent. Now imagine God giving free will to his wayward kids. He didn’t HAVE to; he could have created beings without choice, without the option to reject you or hate Him. But instead He created potentially disobedient, willful, deceitful, selfish beings who pursue false and lesser gods. Throughout every generation of men, God has dealt with children who ignore his gifts while they play with the paper and the trash…Has God quit being passionate? Stopped being jealous? Is He sitting in heaven watching us on cosmic TV eating popcorn, the wheels set in motion as He passively watches our rebellion play itself out? NO!!

He is our Father, still loving us, giving us daily gifts of love and wisdom and comfort and possibility. Our Father in heaven is engaged with us DAILY, just as we should be engaged with Him. And His gifts are incessant, immeasurable, constant, and real—even when most of us ignore most of them most of the time. Oh sure, we acknowledge mountains and flowers and sunsets from time to time, but we take so many things for granted, things like breathing and family and relationships, like our capacity to experience  love, and peace and joy…All of those things are gifts that God gives us because He is our Father, gifts that we fail to recognize or appreciate. Over the course of a lifetime, God has given you many gifts. Have you opened them? Do you appreciate them?

Secondly, let’s talk about the nature of God’s gifts a little bit. I have sometimes thought, “Wait a minute! God doesn’t always give me what I ask for! I’m having some rough times, and life isn’t always easy or smooth. Maybe God has withheld his gifts from me.” Then it occurred to me. Perhaps God’s economy in giving gifts is different than mine… Maybe a trial that stretches me is actually a better gift than something that gives me temporary satisfaction. Maybe difficulties that call me to seek God ARE the gifts that he is actually giving me while I sit around waiting for some reward, or comfort, or beneficial circumstance. Maybe the ultimate gift, other than grace, is the Father’s comforting presence when bad things happen. Perhaps the bad thing is the good gift. That kinda makes sense. After all, the worst thing ever for God was the best gift ever for me.

 

I look around my world and see 
The things which God has given me,
From mountains' grandeur on the heights,
To stars that bathe the sky at night.
A thousand countless gifts each hour:
The delicate beauty of a flower,
The marvelous canvas of the sun
Who paints the sky when day is done.
The glorious leaves that turn each fall!
Amazing presents, great and small,
So many, I can't count them all!
Yet God gave me capacity 
To see them, or choose not to see...
Just look around. What do you see?
If you can't feel His presence,
Start by looking at His presents.



 

To buy my latest book, Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

 

When You are Given Gifts: Receive them. Open Them. Give them Away.

When you are given gifts, you usually get excited about opening them. You probably don’t think of giving them away. Paul, however, says that’s exactly what you should do:

“We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.” (Romans 12:6-8, NIV)

Gifts, says Paul, are given to each of us according to grace. Not the “tear open the wrapping paper” kind of gifts, and not necessarily the “this is your gift, for only you to enjoy” kind of gifts, but the “I am giving this to you so that you can give it to others” kind of gift. Our flesh loves to celebrate giftedness itself, and we make much of talented musicians and athletes; Grace loves to make gifts useful by humbling them in service to others. Right after Paul says that we are all part of the body of Christ, and we all belong to each other, he exhorts us to utilize what we have been given on behalf of others.

He presents this as an “if-then” kind of process, which really has two steps. First, determine what your gift is. Paul declares that we all have different gifts, given to us spiritually “according to the grace given to each of us.” There are gifts listed in 1 Corinthians 12, Ephesians 4, and 1 Peter 4, and they are all focused on “others”, not on “Me”. In context, he is saying that these gifts are bestowed on each believer as part of the body of Christ in order to serve the other members of the body. And here in Romans Paul basically says, “If you have been given a gift, then use it.”

So ask yourself the question: what have I been gifted with? A spiritual gift is not necessarily a talent (although it could be related), and not necessarily something you are accomplished at; it is really more a quality that other believers see in you even when you don’t always see it in yourself. If you aren’t sure, pray about it, and then ask some fellow believers close to you what they feel your gift(s) might be. You might be surprised by the answers you get.

Secondly, whatever gift you have been given, USE IT. 1 Peter 4:10 says, “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms.“ Being motivated by grace puts a whole different spin on receiving a gift: Open it. Use it. Give it away.

 

God's given something to everyone
To enrich our lives, to create some fun.
These gifts aren't meant to be just enjoyed,
But are given to us to be re-employed!
When you can do something and others it lifts,
You've probably discovered your spiritual gifts.
As we open them up we should give them to others,
To build and encourage our sisters and brothers.
If Paul was still preaching among us, today,
He'd look at our gifts and here's what he'd say:
Your gifts are not gifts 'til they're given away!

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Regifting May Seem Socially Unacceptable, But It’s Really OK in This Case

There was a humorous Seinfeld episode about regifting, the practice of taking a less desirable gift that you received, keeping it new in the box, and then giving it away to someone else. You hate to think that the gift you picked out for someone and hoped they would enjoy would become the object of regifting! You also hate to receive a re-gifted item, right? The whole thing is awkward because it involves rejecting and reusing a gift, and in a small circle of friends it can prove that “what goes around, comes around!”

Well, the Apostle Paul had another take on that, and it’s worth considering:“There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:4-7, NIV) Everybody likes to get gifts! They are a small mystery, wrapped in festive paper. We weigh them, shake them, and hold them in our hands with delicious anticipation. We get to take a moment to savor them and wonder what they are. Gifts are a way that someone says, “You are special”, and who doesn’t like to hear THAT more often?

Here in 1 Corinthians 12, Paul says that EVERY ONE of us has been given gifts: “the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” In yet another small way, the Christian life flips conventional wisdom upside down: we are not given gifts to enjoy selfishly, we are given gifts to BENEFIT OTHERS. Paul compares us as members of the Church to a body, where every part plays a role in its health and function, and where every one of us matters. As humans, we tend to exalt certain spiritual gifts (up-front stuff like teaching, preaching, or leading worship) and minimize others (behind-the-scenes stuff, like administering, or serving); but every part of the body contributes, and every part shares equally in the accomplishments and edification of the whole. (And yes, that means that the guy who sets up chairs, and the woman who greets folks at the door are just as important as the Preacher in God’s eyes…) If you haven’t discovered your Spiritual gift(s), then do some study, get some wise counsel, and identify what God has given you. Usually, a good indicator is when other believers feel blessed by something you do. If it edifies someone else, it is a spiritual gift. If it results in self-importance, or pride, or ego inflation, then chances are it’s not. Then it’s time to apply the regifting principle. Once you think you know about God’s gift, you have a re-gifting assignment every day: Open your gift. Give it away. It’s what gifts are for.

 

There are occasions when everyone's hopin' 
That there are some presents which they get to open!
I see all the gifts wrapped up under the tree,
And I always hope some are wrapped up there for ME!
But Paul had a much different take on the season:
He said that we each receive gifts for a reason.
Our gifts are not given for fun, or for play,
But we get them so we can go give them away.
Paul said that spiritual gifts are uplifting,
And those kinds of gifts are ok for regifting!
Discover your spiritual gifts and then shift them
Because they're designed so that you can re-gift them!

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Gift that keeps on Giving: Who Says Christmas Only Comes Once a Year?

Christmas is all about giving and opening gifts! It is a tradition that goes back to the gifts of the Magi, which were presented to Jesus as a young child sometime after he was born. Some folks relate it to Saturnalia, a pagan Roman festival which pre-dated the birth of Christ, and which was supplanted by the Christian celebration of Jesus’ birth. Since people gave each other small gifts during that winter festival, the custom was appropriated by early Church Fathers. (Although some Christians today refuse to celebrate because of those early roots, but I say, why let the devil have all festivals? It’s ok to celebrate the birth of Christ and give gifts!) Which gift will be your favorite this year?

We commemorate the actions of the Magi in Matthew 2:11: “And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh.” Gifts are a wonderful part of our Christmas celebration. But as you open your presents today, remember that there are gifts, and there are GIFTS: There is the gift of life. There is the gift of love. And then there’s this: “For the wages of sin is death; but the GIFT of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 6:23, KJV). “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves. It is the GIFT of God, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9, KJV). “But the free GIFT is not like the offense. For if by the one man’s offense many died, much more the grace of God and the GIFT by the grace of the one Man, Jesus Christ, abounded unto many.” (Romans 5:15, NIV) “For God so loved the world that he GAVE his only begotten son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16, KJV) No matter where you are and no matter what your circumstances today, never forget that Christmas is not about toys or things. It’s about new life. And it’s about a new KIND of life. To me, eternal life is an attitude that not only transcends time and space but it begins here and now! I like to think it is what Gus McCrae meant in “Lonesome Dove”: “It ain’t dying I’m talking about, it’s living. I doubt it matters where you die, but it matters where you LIVE.”

This year, don’t limit Christmas gifts to a single day. Celebrate it all year long! Embrace life wherever you are. Live with an awareness of the gifts that matter. Don’t get so caught up in your new iPhone that you miss the greatest gift of all! Merry Christmas!

A Christmas Rhyme
Sing Hosanna, peace on earth! Celebrate the Savior’s birth!
As Angels sing, Rejoice with them! This baby, born in Bethlehem,
Made every earthly power shift, and offered us His matchless gift.
Give “Peace on earth” and spread “Good Cheer”! But tell me, if this isn’t clear:
Since Jesus showed that “God came near”, why celebrate just once a year?
In winter, summer, spring, and fall, open the greatest gift of all—
At home, abroad, at work or play—Celebrate Christmas every day!
Whenever you recall this rhyme: it’s Him, it’s you, it’s Christmas time!

 

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Magi: There’s a Reason why They call Them the “Wise Men”

“After they [the Magi] had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route. (Matthew 2:9-12, NIV) Most Nativity scenes show 3 wise men at the manger, and Christmas lore is rich with images of and legends about them. The Magi are a fascinating part of the Christmas story, with their camels and trappings and gifts, and they deserve some study because of their place in the series of events spoken of in Matthew. They are mysterious figures, thought by some to be kings of Persia, or possibly Zoroastrian priests who studied the stars as part of their religion. It has also been suggested that perhaps they descended from Jews who had been exiled to Persia but rose to positions of prominence, (think: Daniel, or perhaps Esther and Mordecai) which might explain their familiarity with OT prophecy about the Messiah. We sometimes forget that the ancients had clearer views of the night skies than we do (no city lights to cloud their view), and plenty of time on their hands (no sitcoms or prime time TV to distract them). The average shepherd probably knew as much about the position and movement of the heavens as some current astronomers do, and the Magi grew up studying the stars religiously. Trivia facts about them: 1. Nowhere does the Bible mention only 3 wise men; there are 3 gifts, brought by Magi. 2. It is highly unlikely that there were 3 guys traveling on camels. With gifts of such value, there had to be a group large enough to protect itself, and they probably had some soldiers or cavalry with them… (Might why Matthew says “Herod was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him”. A large party of armed men made folks nervous in those days.)

3. They didn’t make it to the manger. At the time of Christ’s birth, they were probably approaching Jerusalem to talk to Herod. 4. Lots of folks have tried to associate the star with a known astronomical event, and there may have been one initially; but at the end, since the star rose and led them to the child, it is likely that it was a unique manifestation, such as God’s radiance in the Shekinah, that provided guidance for the last leg of their journey. 5. They saw not a baby, but a young child (clear difference in the original Greek), and came to a house, not a stable. Jesus was weeks if not months old when they presented their gifts… 6. The tradition of our Christmas gift giving comes at least partially from the gifts of the Magi. Like them, we should bring what we have and lay it at the feet of Jesus! 7. Joseph isn’t mentioned here, which doesn’t mean he wasn’t around, just that he wasn’t mentioned. (He is around later when Jesus is 12 and they find him teaching in the temple). Finally, after seeing the young boy and worshipping him, they returned home by another route. My BSU Director Glen Norris used to teach the version of the Bible that said, “They went home another way.” He always maintained that anyone who really meets Jesus, and truly worships Him, will be fundamentally changed by that experience, and go home “another way”. So the wise men not only took another route, they became different types of men, fulfilled by faith and encouraged by events. As result, they went home with new perspective, new motivation, and new direction. My Christmas prayer is that our world could open the true gift of Christmas and do the same thing. As you reflect on the origins of Christmas, may you, too, be wise…

(Even though the Magi may have been accompanied by cavalry, there were probably some camels along, and it is entirely possible that the tradition of camel transport still makes sense. So that is where this poem came from…)

The Camel

Slow he rises! Hideous, hairy: hollowly he plods his course,
His hump-backed and misshapen body carries its express remorse.
Glaring eyes with bushy eyebrows--stinking, spitting ugly beast!
Of all mankind's domestic creatures, he must be the very least.
Men for centuries have mocked him: used, abused him without care-
Silently he bears their scorn, ungainly walks the earth aware
Of comfort in his secret: "Fools! These men will never know
That once I heard the baby's cry, saw where the star did go,
And brought my Magi bearing gifts, and watched them bowing low."

 

To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread