Friday, December 18, 2009

The Season for Giving

Christmastime has always been associated with giving. A lot of people tend to spend more during the holidays in order to buy presents for friends and family alike. Most people would already have planned their Christmas shopping as stores compete to entice customers great and small with holiday deals and bargains. I'm sure the Christmas shopper will have to be overwhelmed by the many options of things to buy for someone else these days.

It's amazing to listen to a lot of people planning to buy a new TV set; or that PlayStation3 bundle for a cool low price; or that new iPod or iPhone on the rack; or maybe that new dress or those expensive-looking pair of shoes  (which are now on sale, of course). Not to mention the toys on this rack and that for boys and girls of all ages.

The staggering economy might not become too obviously felt these days as we rush through the stores to buy our presents to give away. Besides, it's giving something to those who are important to us that matters, right? And we set an example to the younger generation on generosity especially during this time of the year. At least they would learn to give presents to their cousins and friends and classmates in school, right?

Well, I personally don't agree to that at this point in my life. I believe our affluence has allowed even Christians to forget about what it really means to "give". We've come a long way that even if there are  about 159 million people or 77% of America professing to be Christians (according to the 2001 ARIS study), we see a great imbalance of things in our communities. Some families will definitely have a whole lot of presents to open on Christmas morning while some struggle to share a meal together on Christmas day because there was not enough food for everyone. 

I am reading on the book of Acts again and was really fascinated and personally challenged by the way the early believers lived their lives and how they really practiced "giving". In Acts chapter 2:42-45, we can see that the fellowship of the early believers was far from what we see in our community with "believers" today. Here's the picture of what they had before:

"They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. (Acts 2:42-45)

I personally believe that they also had their share of trials and hardships in life but it was unlike the hardship many believers face today. Problems were a lot easier for them to bear knowing that whatever it was they needed, God provided through others who were willing to give. And look at how they gave... these people sold their possessions and goods in order to give to ANYONE WHO HAD A NEED! Has it never occurred to us that the early believers had EVERYTHING IN COMMON? Nobody was wealthier or poorer than the other. Nobody was hungry, nobody was homeless, nobody had a need that wasn't met. There were no needy persons among them! Just read Acts 4:34!

If our professing Christian churches and communities would just return to the biblical way of living as the early christians did, nobody would have to be cold, or hungry, or in need, or in debt in the family of believers today. We have totally deceived ourselves by thinking that when we give presents to our loved ones and our friends and our co-workers we are showing them a christian way of life of being generous. Are we really? The bible tells us that God loves a cheerful giver! How far are we able to give from what we have? $30? $50? $100? How about $1000? or $10,000 if we have it? We've really been so side-tracked today with our christianity. Most of us worry more about an uncertain future in this world by saving up money in the bank or in our 401K's than about our brethren who are REALLY in need today. 

I believe the very reason why the early christians were able to give as they did was because they have totally understood that they were only pilgrims of this world. This life was temporary. Nothing that they have was their own because they knew God owned everything they have. I wonder if the church today will ever be the same as the days of the book of Acts. I wonder if there ever will be a change in the way believers today view life and giving as it was really meant to be.

"For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4)

Now that it's the season for giving, let's really examine ourselves if we are willing to be cheerful givers and give the way the early church did. Are we willing to follow the way giving was really meant to be in the bible? 

May we think about "giving" this holiday season and become cheerful givers to those who

"LOVE must be sincere..." (Romans 12:9)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

JOY to the World!

I can't believe it's December already! This year seemed to have flown by me so fast. It wasn't easy being away from our kids since March of this year, much so being away from them when all around us "begins to look a lot like Christmas". I sometimes can't help but feel sad when I hear Christmas carols and see Christmas lights and decorations knowing that me and my husband, Ryan, will be spending the holidays away from our children. It may be because we've all been so accustomed to the traditions we have during the Christmas season where we find families gathering together for the holiday. Christmas trees decorated with colorful glass balls and yellow lights warm up the scene of the living rooms in houses. Gift boxes will soon line the floor around the Christmas tree and laughter and cheers will soon be shared as a family enjoys the season in each other's company. I know for sure my little boy, Ryan, gets so excited as soon as decorating for Christmas comes up. (Well, they still had their share of excitement back home in the Philippines as they put up their Christmas lights with their "daddilo"/grandpa & "mommilo"/grandma.)

When everyone around starts to get on with the hustle and bustle of the season, I can't help but stop and think if it is really all that matters. I feel sad being away from our kids this Christmas, alright, but somehow it's not just because I can't be there to see their faces when they open their presents. There is something else that stirs me inside into thinking beyond the "Christmas" thingamajigs that we so often focus on during this time of the year. What I want for Christmas this year is something more than what we put out as decorations at home. What I want for my family & friends is something bigger than the lanterns and wreaths we hang out on our front doors. It's something more important that the recipes we are going to use for this year's "Noche Buena". What I wanted was for all of us to look beyond the glitters of the Season and see the very core of this time's celebration. All I want for Christmas is for all of us to step back and ponder on the greatest gift we all could ever have in this lifetime, the gift of JOY. This is beyond the merriment that we put ourselves in as we celebrate the holidays. "Joy to the world!" as we sing it. Have you ever spent a little time asking yourself "Why?" 

"For unto us a child is born, to us a son is given... And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace." (Isaiah 9:6)

"For God so loved the world that He gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." (John 3:16)

"The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. You have enlarged the nation and increased their joy..." (Isaiah 9:2-3)

When the rest of humanity was doomed to destruction as darkness swallows all of us because of the sin that has come into the world and into each of our hearts, God made a way for us to be reconciled to Him. He had to send His only Son, Jesus Christ, to be crucified and to die on our behalf. Why? Because not one ounce of sacrifice and good deed on our part could ever suffice to the requirement of God for the atonement of our filthy, wretched, grotesque sinful nature. The bible tells us "we all have sinned."We all deserve Hell because our God is not only a God of Love, but He is a Just God as well. And because He is Just, He has to hate sin and have sinners like us  face our consequences and be thrown to damnation for all eternity. Yet our God is also abounding in love and with this love He gave His Son, Jesus, to become our way out of the grip of Satan. He was born on earth to become man like all of us and to suffer death like the rest of us. On that cross, He bore our sins and received God's wrath on our behalf. But our joy lies in Jesus' victory over death since he also was God! That is why on the third day He rose again, breaking all the chains of Satan and Death and offering the grace of Salvation to all who believes in Him. Jesus is the only reason for any celebration that has something to do with the Christmas season. Not Santa Claus, not the presents, not Frosty the Snowman nor the lights or the decorations; not even family. 

We REJOICE in knowing that God has made a way for all of us when there seemed to be no way.  JOY, as defined in dictionaries is the emotion of great happiness and contentment. I like it best how the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it. It is "the emotion evoked by the prospect of possessing what one desires." Aren't you tired of running after various things that would satisfy your desires in vain? Listen to what Jesus said in John 15:10-11:

"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete."

We may never realize it, but the only desire of our souls will be to have fellowship with our Maker, our God. The only desire our souls carry is to be reconciled with our Father in heaven. Jesus will give us HIS JOY (which is the fellowship and reconciliation with God) if we obey Him and remain in Him. And with this, our Joy - our source of greatest happiness and contentment and desire in this life, will be complete as we live reconciled with God knowing that we will soon have eternal life with Him through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. There will then be no need for us to struggle and search and grope around this world for contentment. No matter where we are and no matter what our circumstances be, if we have Christ in us, our Joy is complete.

My prayer this Christmas Season is that you & yours will meet with the source of your greatest happiness, contentment and desire.

I wish you and yours JOY, through Jesus Christ, this CHRISTmas season and always.


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