Give Them This Gift

I started writing this blog post yesterday morning, and I published it.

I’m not sure I was ever 100% happy with it, and then an unexpected 5:30am alarm went off this morning.

From a new phone.

Not the phone within my reach. It was my Christmas present still in the box that I synched last night.

This upgrade was just in time, too, because my current iPhone is limping along. A new one comes out…and mysteriously my old one starts glitching?

So, I had to get up, go across the room, turn it off…and by then I might as well make coffee and talk to Jesus.

I need His help. I always need His help.

The alarm from the new phone was my Proverbs 31 Ministries app, First 5 Devotion, so I took that as a sign that none of my other alarms carried over but the one that leads me to the Bible.

As I’m scrolling and settling in with my coffee and Eggo waffle, I came across this FB post from one of my favorite authors. I felt I had a confirmation for my blog subject, but also had some serious revisions to make:

I love Christmas. I start decorating around Veterans Day because I want to enjoy it longer.

*Here, I began to delete some mundane Christmas decorating information from yesterday, and decided to start editing with more honesty.*

I don’t love the financial stress this time of year seems to cause everyone…seriously, almost everyone I know worries at some point.

This Christmas is going to be smaller as far as gifts, and I personally wasn’t able to contribute to others like I have before – and like I want to do. I really, honestly love to give.

Hard Lesson? I can’t fix everything for everyone. My sweet Savior doesn’t allow this Baptist girl to win the lottery – because I’d probably go around breaking open cocoons before the butterflies were ready to emerge.

Hook me up to a lie detector test…but it feels so amazing to give rather than to receive. Not that I’m not grateful for my new, working iPhone, but when I see a need…oh, I just want to fix it.

The Lord is trying to teach me how to refine and use this desire so I don’t constantly rush ahead of Him.

One thing I don’t think I could ever fix is family drama during the holidays. Anyone with me on this?

Sigh.

Does any of this sound familiar?

“Well, I’m not going to their house because SHE’S going to be there and you know what she said to me last time.”

“No, honey, I don’t care for your mom’s attitude and I will retreat to the bedroom while she’s here. Let it be awkward. I don’t care.

“Their children are so annoying. The house is full and I don’t have enough Xanax to make it through the whole day at your grandparents’ house.”

“Why do we have to visit so many people this month? Let’s just stay home and FaceTime them.”

“I don’t know why we have to stay at your family’s house longer than mine.”

Now, before you get mad at me for making fun of these very real family examples…let’s stop, reprogram our mind, and think the name of Jesus.

Jesus.

By the age of 12 we know HE KNEW he was the Son of God when he stayed back at the temple and Mary and Joseph thought they lost him (I’m sorry, but I think that’s funny they thought they lost the Messiah.)

What do we read about Him all through the beginning of the New Testament?

Friends…he went to people. He met with both the undesirables, strangers, ordinary people, and various leaders – and customized his message based on what they needed to hear.

He didn’t take gifts – He was the gift. They just didn’t realize it yet.

Some needed compassion. Forgiveness. Restoration. Hope.

Others needed stern warnings, blunt correction and to have their tables knocked over.

This doesn’t mean we bust in and let Cousin Marco have it because he took the weed eater from Granny’s house and never returned it. Or worse, someone in your family could actually be caught up in a great bondage of sin and you just don’t want to deal with it.

I know, I know…there are situations where you’ve tried countless times to help and you have reached your limit with a family member or friend. Please don’t give up praying for them.

My question to all of us as we approach this season with either joy or dread…does everyone have Christ this Christmas?

Let’s forget about money, extra groceries, who is going to clean up and all the ways I think the enemy would love to distract us from a day he could not stop.

The birth of Jesus, the One who would crush our adversary. He knows just how to make it stressful enough that you don’t enjoy or have a clear mind to let the absolute peace sink in – that we are not empty-handed with our friends, neighbors and families. We have a gift to share.

Those around you? At your table? At the Christmas party? At the busy house that gets on your nerves?

Does that person who you can’t stand at holiday gatherings need the peace and love that heals their wounded, bitter soul?

Do. They. Know. Christ?

He’s not a baby. He’s God in the flesh. Part of a Holy Trinity…so incredibly powerful and supernatural our human brains can’t comprehend it.

He’s the spotless Lamb who came into this world to die for our sins and salvation, and it doesn’t have to wait until Easter lunch if you know someone who needs Him now.

They may not be here at Easter. YOU may not be here by then.

You know why? Because a 7th grade boy is dead in my community this week. He never made it to Christmas 2017. I work at the school where he attended. I’m not a teacher, so I don’t know all the students, and the tragic details aren’t necessary here.

It’s not a secret though. It will be in the paper, and grief counselors have been made available to our children.

He is gone. This 12 or 13 year-old-boy. Parents are grieving. Friends are devastated. Teachers and administrators are broken-hearted.

My 39-year-old brother, my little brother, died February 25. 2017.

My husband lost a best friend, and an aunt, uncle, and then just in September – his dad. 2017.

Another student, a girl, from my town, committed suicide in April. 2017.

A mom/friend took her own life in February. I had stood next to her at countless football games. The day before she died? It was my birthday. I had stayed home sick, suffering from depression, broken leg, and contemplating my own troubles in life. 2017.

People. Are. Hurting.

There are so many ways the Lord could prompt us to help, but have we forgotten about His most important message?

Free gift? You’ve heard it advertised in stores and in churches, but what does that really mean? From the spiritual standpoint?

Well, no one wants to think God “sends anyone to hell,” and this is where I will lose some of you.

“He’s a loving God. I’m a good person. Those fundamentals want to make me walk an aisle or something. I know God.”

Did you know the Bible says even the demons believe in God? What makes us different from them if we just believe He exists? The know He’s real because they were in heaven with him before a third was cast out with Lucifer after he tried to ascend higher than the Great I Am.

So, are we are believers? Or followers?

Why is it so awkward to talk about heaven and hell? We are all in a Six Flags line with a wristband indicating which direction we will take at the end – the fast line or the “hellish” long one, it’s almost politically incorrect or even rude to bring up hell.

What was the purpose of Christmas if not to save us from hell?

God doesn’t send people to hell. This whole Christmas holiday? He sent us Son to SAVE us from hell. Our fallen world, our sins from birth, our very nature condemns us to hell, but He gave us a lifeline.

He gave us salvation. He gave us a way to spend eternity with Him in heaven.

It’s a terribly, awkward subject…after someone dies and you actually aren’t sure.

I can’t and won’t speak for any of these people that left us in 2017, or what they believed, except for my own brother.

I know he accepted Christ at a young age, but the fruit of his life wouldn’t have really reflected Jesus for the last 20 years.

He wasn’t a terrible person, and the kindness spoken about him from his friends during the funeral – I never knew about. He just didn’t go to church, talk much about the Lord, and lived a normal, earthly life going to work, and just doing what he wanted. He was the person that perhaps knew me better second to my own husband. We had been through a lot in our lives, and there’s no one that understood the last 40 years like Jeremy.

My grandfather is a preacher. So, most people assume everyone in our family is saved.

Saved. This is not a church term. It isn’t a denomination term. It is a Bible term.

Please don’t let that throw you off from the TV crazies who are always yelling about being “saved.” I shudder to think what words they might hear on the day of judgment. I honestly do. Even people who I try not to hate…even God doesn’t want eternal damnation for anyone.

Back to my brother and grandfather though… My Pawpaw and my dad took my brother’s death very hard. My grandfather was the worst. Jeremy was the last Simpson male, so this family line has ended. Even though our family is absolutely screwed up through divorce and other drama, I do believe most of us are saved, get convicted of our sins and repent, apologize and try to change.

I think Jeremy’s death scared my grandfather. Because we really just saw Jeremy on holidays, and I don’t think his complacent life was worrisome to anyone because he was only 39. My grandfather, even with his own shortcomings, has shepherded thousands to the Lord. I couldn’t even guess at the number over a 60-year ministry in mostly rural towns of Alabama and Georgia.

But, what about his own grandson? His only grandson? He wept. Bitterly. It broke me. He told us at the funeral that he cried out and begged God to please give him a sign that Jeremy was in the bosom of Christ. Pawpaw said he did.

I, personally, cannot think about this. I am unable to open that door in my brain and recap the millions of conversations, the most recent texts and phones calls I had with my brother, and let me thoughts go any further. He was sad. He was troubled. He was also going to bars and partying – and those people loved his blue eyes, and his fun, sarcastic, infectious humor (very much like a white, Fresh Prince/Will Smith). The messages on my phone show me there were two Jeremys that I only discovered after his death.

I can think of two people, at this very moment, on 12/20/17, who I have no idea if they died tomorrow would I be at peace that they were in heaven…”in a better place,” we so often say. I don’t know.

Do they know the real Christ of Christmas? Have I point-blank asked them? One, is a family member for 30 years. Three decades have passed and I don’t know? Yet, I teach Bible studies myself and write this blog and share cutesy Instagram verses and there’s a family member who I can’t ask about Jesus?

I can buy a hundred gifts over the years, but not bring up the greatest gift I could share with someone?

Is it because I’m afraid of the answer? He grew up Catholic, was an altar boy, but I’ve never heard him mention God in all the years I’ve loved him.

Just like in every denomination, some people might take it for granted that a ritual, a class, a baptism secures their salvation.

It doesn’t. There’s nothing that secures it but your own heart and mind. There’s no paper proof, no photograph from dedication day that proves anything about our salvation, except the fruit of the Spirit, perhaps, that bears witness to our changed heart. Even then, some people are quiet. You never see what they do, so even that isn’t 100%.

I think we have to ask.

“Oh, our whole family was Methodist, attended every week their whole life.”

“We come from a long line of Catholic or Baptist heritage. Did you know great-grandad Johnson donated the land for the building?”

“We sprinkled you as a baby, so of course you’re going to heaven.”

Did you know other people, other family members, no matter how awesome or dedicated they were, can stand in for Jesus in your own life? I can’t ride the coattails of Mawmaw and Pawpaw’s service to the Lord and think I’m automatically included because “it’s in the family.”

I guess between the twinkling lights, the glow of family photos, the decorations that I love…it hit me today that we can’t allow those things to be a cover, a cloak, for what’s really happening this weekend.

Don’t just tolerate your people. Whoever they are. After you read this, close your eyes, pray, out loud, even if it’s weird, and ask God to let you see others through His eyes this week.

We aren’t walking down dusty roads to a woman at a well, but there’s someone caught up in sexual sin just the same. Maybe it’s infidelity, pornography, or just promiscuity.

We aren’t sitting down for a meal with Matthew, the tax collector, but there are those controlled by the love of money, or lack of money just the same.

We aren’t having four friends lower their companion through a roof just to get close to us, but there’s someone with cancer, an illness, a physical restriction, who needs prayer, helping and someone to hold them up just the same.

This next example might be the most relevant, sadly… as we don’t have a parent running to us, begging to heal a child from a demon spirit, but there are still those children and adults today, gripped in fear from depression and anxiety, from a mental illness, who are crying helplessly inside a soundproof box, just waiting for someone to rescue them from the chains that hold them back from freedom.

Who are these people? Are they the grumpy ones that get on your nerves? Would Jesus have passed by out of annoyance? Or would He have walked up to them, made eye contact, smiled, possibly taken their hand, and prayed with them?

The saying, sometimes the most unlovable people need love the most? Jesus knew that. He knew we were all dead in our sins…our so-called righteousness like filthy rags, and He stopped and talked to us anyway.

He knew once a person knew the truth, they could change. He changes us from the inside out.

And even though my insides are much like the animated film, Inside Out, where anger, joy, sadness, diva, and crazy panic man fight for control, a new character steps in to the control room.

If you know the saving grace of Jesus…if you’ve felt the peace that passes all understanding…if you’ve wept, face down on the floor as you cried out to the Lord, don’t keep it a secret.

Imagine we are all on the same playing field. Some of us are huddled together reviewing the amazing plays our Coach gave us, but some of the team just came from the locker room, and they didn’t get a copy yet.

Some of them might be jealous, angry or resentful, so they head to the other side of the field to talk about you. Others, just walk on over to see what they missed.

Then, there are those who just turn around and go back in the locker room because they don’t know which group they belong to on the field.

Leave your group. Go after the others. Explain the confusion to the angry ones. They weren’t excluded on purpose.

Wrap your arms around those that went and hid. We didn’t mean to make them feel left out like they didn’t belong.

If we don’t, there’s another team who will recruit them. With lies, deception, twisting the Word, until they don’t even recognize the truth anymore.

Enjoy the turkey, desserts, laughter, aloe socks and fellowship this week. Chill out about the traffic. This should not be a surprise to you. It’s okay if someone’s new boyfriend or girlfriend show up with spikes in their ears, nose and tongue.

Once we all have on the helmet of Salvation from Ephesians 6 – we look the same on the field.

If we really want Christ back in Christmas, then we need to tell others who He really is.

Guilty,

Keysha