Christmas in July (theme)

Pile of gorgeous gifts

 

If you really want to make some Christmas memories, pick a theme!

There are lots of reasons that gift-giving holds such great appeal for us, and of course not all of them are particularly redeeming. Retail bullying, the noose of empty tradition and multiple applications of guilt often drive our gifting choices, but there is another way to frame it…

Simply put: Gift giving can be fun!

When believers choose to focus on Jesus at Christmas, our giving of gifts and sharing of life take on deeper meaning than the contents of the packages underneath our tree. A Christ-centered Christmas ought to free us up to celebrate – we are God’s kids, after all! – and to generously spread our family’s joy in any way the Spirit moves. Including the giving of gifts to the people we love.

Not only will theming your gifts make shopping less tedious and potentially less costly, but the memories created as your gifts are opened and shared will build community and connection between friends and family in a way you’ve not experienced before.

Choose a theme that makes you smile, laugh or gets those creative juices flowing!

Choose a theme that says something about you – your focus for this Christmas, your values and causes, the way you like to spend your money and your time.

Beginning now – with months in front of you to git ‘r done – the options really are (almost) endless!

Think brainstorm as you make your way through the ideas that will be rolled out during this Christmas in July! And please let us in on your own gift-giving themes by using the reply option below each future post!

 

 

 

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Can You Keep a Secret? L4L.16

BEST FRIENDS

Image by JohnGoode via Flickr

The WORD

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.” Matthew 6:1-6 (New International Version)

Try reading this text again, this time replacing the word ‘hypocrite’ with ‘pretender.’

This word ‘hypocrite can also be translated as ‘stage player’ or ‘actor.’

It’s almost as if Jesus is grooming a team of covert operatives for the Kingdom! By teaching His followers to give in secret and pray in secret, the appropriate follow-up question from this text appears to be,

“Can YOU keep a secret?”

The APP

There’s a troubling little word that surfaces in religious circles and is often seen as a negative: Piety.

Wikipedia defines piety in these terms:

‘Piety can be either genuine, in that it springs from spiritual piety, or false, in that it is an attempt to exhibit the signs of piety for their own sake, or for some other reason, (such as propitiation or public esteem).’

What Jesus is describing to His listeners in Matthew 6 is the false kind of piety that is staged by someone who seeks public recognition for what ought to be a private expression of faithful commitment between Father and child. When they put themselves and their deeds on display, Jesus tells us that these thespians are rewarded with the attention they seek. What they fail to receive, however, is the reward of a God who is looking for secret-keepers, not exhibitionists, to participate in the work of His Kingdom.

Now, it’s important to note that the secret-keeping Jesus is advocating here is NOT a secret society kind of hush-hush that makes insiders and outsiders in a cliquish sort of way. Rather, it’s as if Jesus is asking whether our personal connection with God Himself is, well… real.

Really real.

Are we doing what we do for God only, or for what we stand to gain from appearing to be connected with Him?

It’s also as if Jesus is asking “Can you keep a secret” – not FROM ME, but WITH ME?

Is there anything quite as intimate as a secret shared? Whether between BFF’s (ask your daughter what that means), lovers or close family friends, a secret shared between us has the power to knit our lives together in ways that nothing else really can.

In this context, what if prayers were like pillow talk? Those quiet, intensely intimate discussions shared in private places, beyond the meddling eyes of the watching world. Maybe this is what Jesus meant by praying behind closed doors.

When we are in love or so connected to another that we find ourselves doing everything in light of that relationship, the most important thing for me to do is to make you happy! When what matters to YOU matters to me SO MUCH that I want nothing more than to see you have your heart’s desire, I’ve figured out what it means to practice secret giving. No one else needs to see what I’m doing. In fact, no one else will probably understand the value of what I’m doing! Only you. I do it all for you.

The question, “Can you keep a secret?” has implications for those of us who seek to live off-stage in a world full of performers. The way we answer this question answers a host of other questions as well; questions like:

Can I trust you?

Is our relationship as valued in your eyes as it is in mine?

Can I show myself to you? Can I reveal more of myself to you?

Do you value what I value?

Do I matter to you?

Quite literally, may our answer to these questions be a resounding “YES” today!

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An Equation for Prosperity L4L.13

Deep down inside we all love math T-shirt

Image by Network Osaka via Flickr

The WORD

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full—pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Luke 6:38 (New Living Translation)

What picture comes to mind as you read these words?

“Give, and you will receive. You will be given much. Pressed down, shaken together, and running over, it will spill into your lap. The way you give to others is the way God will give to you.” (New Century Version)

Right or wrong, the illustration that I see upon reading these words of Jesus comes right out of my family’s Spring Break trip. To Las Vegas. I see someone (hopefully me!) seated at a slot machine, only it’s the old-fashioned kind where you actually use coins, and she’s hit the JACKPOT! Pouring out of the machine is a river of quarters, and she’s having to use her lap to catch them because they’re coming out so fast.

Now, what Jesus is referring to is of course NOT a gamble, but a guaranteed jackpot!

When we give to others out of our abundance and giftedness, unlike my usual experience at the slot machine, we receive. Jesus says we will receive our gift, returned to us in full. We will be given much. The way we give is the way God will give to us.

One of my study resources (The Spirit Filled Life Study Bible) says it this way:

“There is a universal law of divine reciprocity. You give; God gives in return. When you plant a seed, the ground yields a harvest. That is a reciprocal relationship. The ground can only give to you as you give to the ground. You put money in the bank, and the bank returns interest. That is reciprocity.”

The difficulty comes in, however, when we want something for nothing when it comes to the things of God.

The APP

Think about your prayer-life for a moment. How often are our prayers filled with requests? How balanced are our pleas for help with praise for the help we’ve already received? How many times do we pray for God to do something in a situation where there is something that WE CAN DO to help?

Have you ever thought that maybe God is waiting on you to answer your own prayer before He steps in?

We regularly pray, “God, come to the rescue!” while failing to rescue those who are right there in front of us, within arm’s reach. If this idea of divine reciprocity has any credence, and if Jesus was serious about our giving triggering God’s giving, I’ve got some serious evaluating to do – of my thoughts and actions.

Think about your investments for a moment. Not your financial investments, but your time, talent and passion investments. Maybe even grab your calendar and consider what your time and energy commitments say about your Kingdom investments.

Be cautioned: this could easily turn into an exercise in “works,” which is not the point! Your salvation is established in the work of the cross, in Christ’s own investment in the Kingdom. Your calendar can’t affect what has already been done on your behalf – a gift given to rescue YOU that simply cannot be repaid. Don’t even go there. Keep tracking with me…

You don’t receive a bumper crop without planting and tending to your garden, right?

And you don’t receive a return on your investment without first investing your resources.

If your life feels empty and your prayers seem to get lost in space, maybe it’s time to think literally about what Jesus is saying here. After all, if physical prosperity begins with investment, it sounds as if spiritual prosperity works much the same way. Pay attention to God’s Spirit (it’ll be that still, small voice – so listen carefully). Look at your abundance and the gifts that you’ve been given.

Unused and under-invested, your time, energy and resources may be YOURS, but what good does that do in the Kingdom of God?

God is looking for reciprocals that He can work with to further His Kingdom in this world.

Now, I’m not a mathematician, but I’m all for claiming truth where I find it. Thinking of reciprocity in this way is going to literally blow your mind.

Reciprocal Numbers: Mathematics describes a number or quality that is related to another by the fact that, when multiplied together, the product is ONE. (For example, 4 and ¼ are reciprocals.)

Read that a few times and let it sink in.

God is looking for a relationship with us where, when we offer up our unique qualities and gifts to be multiplied together with HIS generosity and power, WE BECOME ONE. One with Him in service. One with Him in action. We become ONE with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

In our one-ness, we share fully in all of His riches and blessings and abundance, because we are… ONE. Together.

Reciprocals.

In the world’s system, the return for our investments is ours – to deposit, use or reinvest as we see fit. In this Kingdom formula, God guarantees a return. And this return gets caught up in the product itself, producing unity and creating an overflow of blessing that can’t be contained as it spills over into our laps, into our lives, and into the lives of others.

Now that’s an equation that makes sense to me.

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