Experiencing God’s Presents  

Posted by Jarrod Spencer

Christmas has always been one of my favorite holidays. Honestly, it has been that way for selfish reasons—to receive presents. I remember as a child eyeing the various gifts under the tree and wanting to look at them, shake them, and envision what might be inside. I liked to count how many I had to open, too. Opening them couldn’t be long enough. Seeing the pile dwindle away was bittersweet. I enjoyed the presents I received, but at the same time I wanted to open more and more and more. All that happened, typically, the evening of Christmas Eve. Then, came Christmas morning, when you woke up to more presents and a filled stocking.

As I have grown up, the desire to have the gifts did not change. I still look forward to seeing my name on packages, the size of the present, wondering what item(s) might be tucked away inside, and wondering how many presents there are for me. It is what so many people look forward to when it comes to Christmas time.

Oftentimes we talk about wanting to experience God’s presence. So, to associate the homonym, “presents” in the phrase, may sound kind of unusual. However, if you think about it, He gives us a lot of presents in life. It may be the small things that He has given us — ability to walk, talk, breathe, or material things. Or it could be some less taken-for-granted things — family, friends, house, or health. Even, moving on to the bigger things — Jesus, Holy Spirit, and salvation.

I want to draw your attention to a specific Bible verse, from I John 3:1. It reads, “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” Re-read the first eleven words again. That phrase is almost a question, one that is encouragingly rhetorical. The love that God has given to us is so great that it is practically unfathomable. In my years in ministry I still do not completely understand how great the love of God is for despicable sinners like me. The things I’ve done, things I’ve thought, and words I’ve said should not be allowed to enter into the pure presence of God. I, like all, “have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. But the good thing is there is a present to open that is around each turn in life. A present that I have the pleasure of opening on a daily basis.

Another humbling part of I John 3:1 is that this “love” is “lavished”. Of all the versions I’ve looked up, this is my favorite word. Lavished to me conveys the thought of overabundance or being showered with love. It is being given so much love that it just overflows. The love is “a lot” of love. God has “laid it on thick” with His love. It is amazing! The love has been lavished on us to the point of being able to be called “children of God”. We can be identified with God. Pure God will consider us His children…amazing isn’t it?

I John 3:1 has always been one of my favorite verses describing the love we receive from the Father. As we have been given a lot of love from Him, we should take great pleasure in knowing that God is a giving God. Not only is He a giving God, but He gives and gives and gives. The fact that He gives so much should make Him “great” to any and every one! How “great” is that! The presents He gives are overflowing in number! They are being lavished on us. We can just keep opening present after present of His love this holiday season...and all of 2011!

Have a great holiday season as I hope this verse is one that provides encouragement to you as you reflect on the lavished love we receive from Him!

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Letting Your Holiday Lights Shine  

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It is a great time of the year…Christmas. For some it is about Christ. For some it is about gifts. For some it is about family. You may like all three.

This is one of my favorite holidays. I enjoy all that goes along with the holiday. I enjoy building up to “the big day”. I enjoy putting up lights outside on the house and lights on the trees. I enjoy seeing my wife flex her design muscles and transform our house into a winter house of wonder.

As “the big day” is almost upon us, here is an interesting quote of what Christmas should be about…

Christmas is not in tinsel and lights and outward show. The secret lies in an inner glow. It's lighting a fire inside the heart. Good will and joy a vital part. It's higher thought and a greater plan. It's glorious dream in the soul of man."  ~Wilfred A. Peterson (The Art of Living)

One great part of the season is how people tend to be a bit more joyous this time of year. The fire that is inside which brings out a warm joy is very contagious. To think about the greater plan that is found in the holiday will lift many people during the season.

Keep the light shining this holiday season! You never know who will need to see your light to lift them up!

 

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The Package: Arrival  

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I just checked a tracking number prior to writing this post. I am awaiting the arrival of a package that has Christmas gifts for both of our kids. We lucked in to a good deal and it is supposed to be here the middle part of this week. My anticipation of this and other gifts to arrive will be heightened as the week continues.

When this package arrives I will be excited. I look forward to being able to give them away to my children…even if one is too young to enjoy the receiving of their gift. I wonder if God ever thought of this when He was planning out giving up Jesus for us?

Sunday, we looked into Jesus’ arrival, as He is our “package” whose arrival we were anticipating. Here are some applications to choose from to use this week…

  • Open It Up ~ The natural action following receiving a package is to open it up. I really enjoy the mystery of Christ. The depth of His life and God’s Word are mind blowing! Take time to “open” Him up and discover what’s inside!
  • Show It Off ~ We are generally very excited about what we have received. If you’re like me you like to show it off. If it is clothes/hat/jewelry, wear it right away. If it is a game, you play with it soon. As you receive Christ, take time to show what He’s brought to your life to others.  Maybe he’s brought patience or forgiveness to your life – those are good things to “show off” to others.
  • Appreciate It ~ It can be tempting to put what we receive to the side after it has lost its luster. However, the more we see it and are using it the more we appreciate it. May we be renewed with our appreciation of the Package, that being Christ!

This Package is the greatest “presents” we’ll ever receive!  Now, let’s open it up, show it off, and appreciate it long after the season passes!

Merry Christmas!

 

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Better to Give than to Receive  

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It is not a secret that one of the reasons I enjoy the Christmas season is to receive gifts from people. However, from an early age, I heard the phrase “It is better to give than to receive. Hmmph!” “I don’t think so” would have been my typical response. I wanted any gifts for me! 

Though I didn’t enjoy that phrase, there still is truth to it. As much as I enjoy opening gifts, I enjoy buying and giving gifts to others, especially my immediate family. I enjoy watching my wife and kids open up the presents that I bought for them.

With the season and spirit of giving upon us, here is this week’s quote…

Unless we make Christmas an occasion to share our blessings, all the snow in Alaska won't make it 'white'.  ~ Bing Crosby

The things we have to give are not always about presents. You can share your smile, a hug, a compliment, a batch of baked goods, a note of encouragement, a long needed visit, a good attitude, extra change, and the list could go on.

Help make someone’s Christmas a “white” Christmas this year by sharing the blessings that God has given you, with others!

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98 Days Away…“Let the Chains Fall Away”  

Posted by Jarrod Spencer

Each year during the last week in March, I have the privilege to go and hear a vast array of speakers at a great spiritual workshop called The Tulsa Workshop. One of the staple speakers is Jeff Walling. He draws a crowd and does not disappoint.

This year, his classes are titled:

· Two Men and a Father: How an Ancient Parable Changed My Life

· I'm so sure!  Defending Your Faith in Today's World

· Meet my Dad: How Jesus Introduced God

Make plans to come this year’s Tulsa Workshop and “Let the Chains Fall Away”…www.tulsaworkshop.org 

I hope to see you on March 23-26, 2010!

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The Package: Waiting  

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I am in the middle of waiting on God. Which, I would presume many are in a similar situation. I am waiting to see how certain situations work out. Maybe they will be a “no” or maybe a “yes” by the time it is all completed. However, in the middle of it, it is a “not at this time” answer.

God is truly amazing and “His ways are higher than my ways” and I say, “thank goodness” to that. I duff things up enough in my own life, I am glad that I have Him to be the constant in my life that never “duffs”.

How God deals with the distance between a point A and point B may surprise us sometimes. It may not be linear and/or it may be filled with several additional points of stop offs in the middle (i.e. A1, A2, A3,…)

Sunday we discussed waiting, from the point of view of waiting for a package. Hypothetically, the concept of the series, thus far, is…we order the item and we wait for it to arrive. What do you do in the waiting? That is a key part of this lesson. As we explore that, here are some applications to choose from to use this week…

  • Hopeful in the Waiting ~ Waiting on someone to show up can be frustrating. You may give them the benefit of the doubt initially but as the minutes continue you realize they are not going to arrive. Sometimes, we treat God like that. If He doesn’t show up in our time frame, then we start to doubt that He is going to. In any given situation, He may not show up, like you prefer. However, our preference is not His. May we submit to His timing and remain hopeful in our times of waiting.
  • Serving Him in the Waiting ~ When frustration sets in, the desire to quit increases. If you think you cannot get a bolt loosened, you may want to quit. If you are not getting the playing time you think you deserve, you may want to quit. If you are not getting the answers from God, you may want to quit. To continue on through the waiting process is important. May we serve Him while we wait for the answers.
  • Worshiping Him in the Waiting ~ Waiting can be a very positive experience, depending on your perspective. Waiting enables time to pray, evaluate yourself, write a note, make a visit/phone call, read the Word, to get things done you have been putting off, etc. There are all kinds of ways to use our time of waiting. Each one can be used to worship Him. Let’s use it to our advantage but for His glory!

While you wait, may you utilize the time by doing things for Him!  The package is coming!

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Where Do You Stand?  

Posted by Jarrod Spencer

A country song that was released several years ago had a line that went “if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.” I was listening to country music a lot during that time and I liked the truth found in that line.

Where we stand in various situations in our life will make the difference in the future of our lives. Each place we stand we have the choice to go in one direction or another.

Sometimes, that place where we are standing is not about an issue of right or wrong, but rather it is a different type of issue. To find out, click here to read this week’s quote…

The ultimate measure of a person is not where they stand in moments of comfort and convenience, but where they stand in times of challenge and controversy.  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

I will admit that this quote definitely has defined me at certain times in life. I, presumably like you, have had situations where they were not particularly comfortable. I know it probably impacted my outlook and mood – for the negative.

This quote is something that I can easily relate to and it has been something I have been working on since I realized I can be negatively impacted by standing in the wrong place during times of challenge.

May we take the challenge of this quote and decide to “take a stand” in the right places at all times, even in times of challenge, controversy, and inconvenience.

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It Cannot Come Soon Enough!…The Tulsa Workshop  

Posted by Jarrod Spencer

Here is a sneak peek into this year’s Tulsa Workshop…I love this Workshop…it is a real boost each year! These are some of the classes for leaders, but in the coming months, there will be more posts about classes for all ages!  For more information go to www.tulsaworkshop.org

Here are a few of the classes for church leadership:

Kevin Skidmore......For the Mission-Minded Only: How to Peg Proper Focus

Shane Coffman/Gary Bruce.....For Worship Leaders Only:

Will Spoon and Friends: For Children's Ministries Only: How to Enhance a Vital Work Pt.1

Kevin Skidmore.....For the Mission-Minded Only: How To Keep the Soul Winning Fires Burning!

Don McLaughlin/Al Maxey: For Preachers Only: How to Move Deeper Into the Word

Rick Atchley/Terry Rush: For Preachers Only: Lessons We've Learned (and Some We Are Still Learning)

Will Spoon and Friends: For Children's Ministries Only: How to Enhance a Vital Work Pt.2

Memorial Drive Elders: For Elders Only: How to be Shepherds and Like It  Pt. 1

Memorial Drive Elders:  For Elders Only: How to be Shepherds and Like It  Pt. 2

MARCH 23-26.....GET YOUR LEADERS READY....TO BE HERE!

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The Package: Ordering  

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I long for the days of childhood where I was able to go through the “Wish Book” (Christmas department store catalog) and look for the toys I wanted. I knew I wouldn’t get al those toys, but it was fun to look at them to see what toys I wished I had or hoped I’d receive. I would guess that there were a few of the years that my parents ordered a toy or two that I’d picked out. They were probably so excited to give it to me and see the look on my face when I opened it.

This time of year is busy with ordering. UPS hires extra help during the holidays to compensate for the extra demands placed on them from people ordering. (I would guess other carriers do the same) I know of a guy who used to work for UPS and he would sometimes get home as late as 9:00 PM, then turn around to go back the next morning. Long days!

Sunday, we focused our attention toward the idea of a “package”, specifically on the ordering of a package. Here are some applications to choose from to use this week…

  • The Reason ~ When you order something there is a reason for ordering it. We do not order for just any reason. Even if the reason is “you want it” there is still a reason. To order this package is no different. There must be a reason. The “reason” may be difficult to recognize, which is why many people do not order this package, they pass by it in the “Wish Book” set of options. Evaluate if there is a reason to need this package in your life…the reason should be separation from God (aka sin)…is that in your life or has it been…if so, you’d better order this package!
  • Multiple Choice ~ When you are shopping for a paper shredder, there are various choices. Number of pages shredded. Strips vs. pieces. Credit card and CD able. Speed. Basket size. The list goes on. When it comes to this package people will have certain requirements. When-it-is-convenient option. Let-me-do-my-own-things option. Give-it-all-up-for-Him choice. You can determine if this package is worth it to create the third option in your life. The others are simply said in a “I’ll dabble in it” rather than “I’ll live it”.  You can choose, but you might want to evaluate it closely.
  • Ordered Package ~ Just as there is a reason for ordering the package, the package itself is selected just for that need. When we are separated from God because of our sins (Isaiah 59:2) that is a good reason for ordering this package. It is just what you need to get you back into that relationship with Him!  Take advantage of it and “order” the Package!

This package is the best thing for all of us. It is the “gift” we didn’t ask for that was simply the most perfect package ever!  I remember getting walkie talkies and exclaiming “How did Santa know I wanted these”, because they were not on my list. The short answer regarding this question, He simply knew. God knows what we need!  That’s why He provided the solution, found in “the package”.

Enjoying the “package” that God provided!

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Ideas for Christmas Gifts  

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There are less than 25 days till Christmas, maybe you’ve purchased a gift or two…maybe you’re one of the few that is done with purchasing your gifts. If you are still searching for gifts to give here are a few ideas:

Christmas gift suggestions:
To your enemy, forgiveness.
To an opponent, tolerance.
To a friend, your heart.
To a customer, service.
To all, charity.
To every child, a good example.
To yourself, respect.
~Oren Arnold
Whether you are looking for a gift or not, these are good ideas to give people throughout the season. Give them freely. Give them often. Give them over and over. Give them to strangers. Give them to enemies. Give them to friends. Give them to family. Give them to bosses. Give them to co-workers. Give them to your employees. Give them, give them, give them!  No matter what you do, just give them!
Enjoy the season of gift giving!
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