Better than shiny new toys

..an inheritance incorruptible and undefiled and that does not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, 1Peter 1: 4

I know it’s not Christmas, but I can’t help it I’m already in the holiday spirit. ….

What an incredible feeling it was, waking up that Christmas morning and running over to the Christmas tree. I remember seeing it, in its entire splendor, surrounded by gifts, beautifully wrapped in green, red, gold and silver. They were decorated with bows and ribbons, just begging to be opened. I looked through them and found it, a gift with my name on it. Quickly I tore off the wrapping and to my delight; it was a shiny brand new toy. I spent the entire day playing with it and much of that week. However, as time passed, both the shine and the importance of the toy faded away. Fortunately there was always another shiny brand new toy.

As I got older, each toy was more expensive, complicated and of higher technology than the last one. G.I. Joe’s and batmen were replaced with game systems and they were replaced with cameras, computers and cars. However, just as before they faded in importance and had to be replaced. But there have been better gifts than these.

Gifts that never fade and never lose importance, the love of family and friends, the genuine appreciation from someone we’ve helped and the incredible satisfaction of completing a mission are much finer gifts. Yet there is still more.

There are gifts that will last eternity, such as the peace and joy that can only come from knowing Christ, learning to depend and trust in Him. The freedom we experience upon being forgiven, relieved of guilt, and the hope that we attain in realizing the promise of eternal life, are priceless and greater than any gift. This is why Jesus gave us a sincere and loving advice “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.” (Matthew 6:33) Here Christ is promising that all the things we need, will be provided by Him, if we can make living for God our greatest priority.

It’s not easy to set aside all things to make God number one in our lives, but the value of its reward cannot be measured. Often tempted by need or desire we make a priority of things that do not last, money, position, fame or those shiny new toys. But our desire should be for those gifts that do not fade or loose importance and last for eternity.

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A small garbage bag and its reward

He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Luke 10:2

There it was, a small garbage bag left inside the entrance of the church. Everyone entered and stepped right over it. Some noticed it and looked at it, as if it was some strange object never seen before. While others carefully walked over it, afraid that it might go off like a mine. But no one bothered to pick it up. It obviously had the “cudies”. What escaped everyone’s knowledge, except for the person who so carefully placed it, was that below the bag was a single dollar, the reward for whoever would dare pick up the bag and perhaps, if so inclined, throw it away. However this would take a special individual. Someone moved by an extreme sense of responsibility for the house of God, enough to overcome the “cudies” and the stigma of having picked up garbage.

Meanwhile one gentleman stood by, a witness to the whole event. It was he who had placed the garbage bag and its reward. He was the wise experienced pastor, the Rev. Dr. Cecilio Melendez of the international Christian church “The Savior” Incorporated.

Everyone entered the church and took their places. Some prayed, while others read their bibles. Some spoke softly to each other and some quietly waited for the service to start. To the pastor’s disappointment the bag and its reward was still there for the taking. Then the pastor was pleasantly surprised. One young man, Andy, who had passed over the bag like everyone else decided to return to the entrance. He turned to the pastor and said “what is this doing here?” It seems the thought of this bag had been playing in his mind until he had built up enough courage to take action. The pastor smiled but offered no direction. The young man said to himself, but out loud, “well I am going to throw it away.” He lifted the bag, and there it was. “Pastor there is a dollar here, what should I do?” The pastor replied “You picked up the garbage. You earned it. Keep it.” Now, twenty years later, Andy is an official of the church, a member of the board of directors, a Sunday school teacher, director of the men’s ministry, musician and the co-director of the choir. Oh, and he still cleans up whenever it’s necessary.

A sense of responsibility is what is needed. To take action and not wait for it to somehow get done; even if it is something we might consider small. Andy earned much more than a dollar. He showed himself to be a man of both responsibility and action. We would live in a much better world if everyone took such an attitude and simply did their part. There is much work; scripture calls us to tend to the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, and the naked. (Matthew 25:31-46) Scripture calls us to preach the good news and let the world know that there is a Savior. (Mark 16:15, 16) Work we do not lack, but the laborers are still few. If each of us can count on ourselves to complete even the small tasks, then together the greater good would be fulfilled.

Baby hope, an abandoned gift.

Children are a gift from the LORD; they are a reward from him. Psalm 127:3

Recently baby hope was identified. Her name is Angelica Castillo. This was a child believed to have been 4 years old when she was sexually abused and killed. The police also have evidence that she suffered from malnutrition, tied to at table and denied water as well. In truth we really don’t know the extent of the abuse. This happened over 20 years ago, but finally she was identified and the monster guilty of this heinous crime has been brought to justice.  There is much that needs to be said but the first thought that comes to mind is this precious life.

When Jesus was about the country of Judea he helped countless people and on one occasion there were several children that attempted to approach him. The disciples in their ignorance attempted to stop them. Perhaps they thought the master could not be bothered. But Jesus immediately corrected them and said “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”  (Matthew 19:14) These children had humility, submissiveness and a faith that is required to serve God.  Scripture also reveals that children are a great treasure. (Psalm 127:3, Proverbs 17:6)

Instead of being treated like the great gift that she was, Angelica Castillo was abandoned by her father and left in the hands of monsters.  How do we look upon our children now? Are they unwanted burdens, perhaps too costly for today’s economy? Are they a nuisance that often get in the way of our more important endeavors?

Children are beautiful creations temporarily placed in our care by God almighty. They are souls that the kingdom of heaven anxiously watches over. They must be raised with love and care that they may grow to be strong faithful men and women of God.

As for those who do not share these sentiments concerning children I leave this warning. You will meet God’s justice face to face, whether in this life or the next.

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Stuck in a foreign land

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.” Daniel 3:16-18

It takes a lot of nerve to stand up to a King and say No! But these three Hebrew boys had plenty of nerve.  It came from Faith; faith in a mighty God and a desire to be obedient to him.  Well I got some good news.  This same God is alive and well and we can still find our strength in Him.

These men found themselves in a foreign land, ruled by a ruthless king who held all the power.  With just his word you could be put to death.  This same king decreed a law that had everyone bowing to a large statue. Seemed like an easy thing to do to stay alive. All you have to do is bow. But these young men were not about to compromise their beliefs in order to stay alive. They remained obedient to God’s word. Would the king have his way and send these young men to a horrific death!

Often we too are tested.  Pressure from co-workers, family, friends and even our spouses can be relentless.  We know better but it would be so much easier to just give in and get along.  Why not be just like everyone else, even at the cost of disobeying God’s word.  It’s hard to stick it out and be different. It’s hard to be the only one going to church, praying, believing in God and obeying His word.  It can often lead to rejection, isolation, insults or even persecution. But when we can stay faithful we will receive a greater reward.  For Christ is ever present in our lives. He fills us with a peace, a love, and a joy we cannot find in the world.  We also cannot forget that Jesus promises us a great reward in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12) for staying faithful in the face of persecution. Jesus also advises us to lay up our treasures in heaven “where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19-20)

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego understood that a greater reward could be found in staying faithful to God, than in compromising their beliefs, even at the risk of losing their lives. The King was not impressed and was true to his word.  Into the fiery furnace they went. Then the shocker, the three young men and one other were in the furnace and no harm had befallen them. When we are faithful to God, He is faithful to us.

When you feel like you’re in a foreign land and everyone is urging you to compromise, remember great will be your reward for remaining faithful until the end. This reward is no less than a life that never ends; a life with Christ.

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