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*Special thanks to Shila and Pragna for their encouragement and inspiration*

The Qualifier

Jeramiah 29 -13: "You will seek Me and find Me - WHEN you seek Me with all your heart".

This very familiar passage of scripture that has been quoted by multiple millions of Christians over the ages clearly indicates God’s promise and His “qualifier”. One statement declaring two thoughts from the Writer being completed by injecting the emphatic, “WHEN”. The important “HOLY HYPHEN” that completes the heavenly thought.

Our God is emphatic! Otherwise He would have said: “You will seek Me and find Me when you seek me in any way you so choose”.

Well as we all know, He didn’t say that and for a very good reason. His promise isn’t a gift card from Walmart! God is keenly aware that the most profoundly valuable experience a human can ever have is “finding” his or her Creator, personally and intimately!

It’s the ultimate game changer of life! Therefore, the emphatic WHEN as the qualifier, is equally heaven’s indicator of worth! It’s certainly not intrusive small mindedness on God’s part as some might think!

So, the “terms and conditions” involved in this spiritual transaction are clearly set out by God. God’s promises never leave those “small print loop hole surprises” to be discovered at a later date! Our Creator is a promise keeper, so we can be assured there will be no reneging on His part. His dealings with His creation have always been ultra-transparent, leaving no chance of misunderstanding or mis-interpreting His words.

To confirm the point: Jesus, when speaking to His listeners was crystal clear regarding the terms and conditions of following Him. “Pick up your cross and deny yourself or you are not worthy of Me”. That’s as clear and concise as a person can be! Again, Jesus knew His already established worth, thus His value was never in question. Therefore, the response from those in attendance wasn’t dictating His worth but rather their own! In short: Jesus was saying: You decide whether you are or aren’t worthy of Me. My goodness, how frequently we get that reality backwards! It has never been about Jesus being worthy of us folks. The thought itself is ludicrous!

So, the only question that remains to be answered is: Do we complete or compete, with this heavenly promise by either voluntarily activating our choice in the matter, by signing off our consent to the terms and conditions or do we try to counter offer our terms into the proposal, thus negotiate a “shared supremacy” arrangement with God?

Sounds silly I know, but without being quite that obvious, we do think those types of thoughts at times. “My terms” Lord, being lived out with a “reasonable”, according to me, inclusion of You. I’d like a contingency paragraph written into our agreement that addresses my desire for “veto rights” when I sense your leading is getting a little too radical for my personal taste. After all Jesus, I am doing You a favor by acknowledging You at all. As You know, most don’t. Doesn’t being better than most count?

That’s a description of religion folks, not reality. Would you say: I turned the shower on but didn’t get in, does that count as getting wet? More scripturally stated: While in the boat we watched Peter walk on water. Does that make us “water walkers”? Jesus would say: No, just “dry observers”.

Finding Jesus as promised in our scripture reference is radiantly and experientially real! That truth is very uncomfortable for the one who wishes to keep the cards of their lives close to the vest in a neat and tidy religious mindset. I understand that. Walking in the reality of Christ can get very messy. Better said: Wonderfully messy!

Our Lord was neither neat, tidy, or religious. He didn’t have a drop of religious blood running through His Holy veins. He was as real as it gets and invites us to be equally so in Him. The Son of God will never accommodate being made or portrayed as a religion. He simply wouldn’t fit! The man-made labeled boxes that would be necessary to accommodate His magnitude would be far too small to hold Him! The grave couldn’t, so what chance of success would a man-made box have regardless of the amount? Man-made boxes are for man-made Gods folks! Something to keep in mind when investigating alternatives to reality.

Could it be, we don’t really want to find God “on His terms”? The bible describes that as having “a form of Godliness”/religion. More clearly stated: “This is how I want God to be, therefore I will create and worship Him as such. Then it’s His responsibility to conform to me”. Let’s be honest folks, the human condition reeks of over inflated pride-fullness and blatant arrogance with the created dictating to the Creator on a regular basis. It’s a historically documented fact, our natural leanage is not toward humility. Society as a whole perceives humility as weakness. Self-promoting through self-exalting, is encouraged as the path to success in our world. Stating the obvious: That truth isn’t new! It’s been so forever and unapologetically so! Pride-fullness disqualifies apologies to God as being relevant.

So it’s no wonder our approach to God can be horrifically distorted in the light of Who He is. In our minds, we can actually create a scenario whereby WE are the valuable commodity with God being relegated as the fortunate recipient of our attention. That’s if we pay Him any homage at all, once our Sunday’s have concluded! Honestly, could that way of thinking be more galactically backwards, within the reality of heavens order?

I believe those who are “half hearted” habitually, casual, “Sunday Seekers”, can sub-consciously be operating on this premise without seeing it for what it is. Illegitimate! This mindset can easily be disguised in the recesses of our hearts as being something it isn’t by Satan, who is not in the slightest bit intimidated by our church attendance, but is frightened to death when we translate our Sundays into a 24/7 lifestyle! You see, he is under the impression that every day but Sunday belongs to him. So we would be seen by him and his legions as encroaching on their territory if we were “real” on say: “Mondays”. Thus a threat! Thus to be feared!

I’m aware that “illegitimate” is a very harsh descriptive and one that should be used with the utmost of sensitivity, but if our opening scripture reference is true, the “premise” spoken of is an illusion of one’s own making! An illusion that can be comfortably worn over time with the wearer unaware that they’re wearing it! Satan is insidiously coy, always introducing himself to out thought life as a friend. To be clear: The term “Illegitimate” is in reference to the “thought” not the “person”.

You see, it’s GOD because He’s GOD, who sets the terms and conditions of relational intimacy with Him. If we think in any way otherwise, we are seriously delusional! Hopefully, “that truth” imparts worth to the embracing of the used “harsh” descriptive.

What Happened To Grace

As to not be misunderstood as “legalism/earning God’s favor by performance”: God “is not” looking for “perfect seekers”. If that were the case, we’d all be automatically disqualified. His promises are a response to “whole hearted seekers” who will do so on His terms. Those “two” are profoundly different, the latter being most doable from our perspective as a lifestyle. If it weren’t so, God wouldn’t have made it a qualifier. His greatest desire is intimacy with us. The bible states: We were created by Him and for Him. Why would God request something that we “can’t” do, thereby making impossible, the very thing He so desires?

So, how does grace factor into all of this? Are we dismissing that “can’t do without” ingredient in our everyday needed provision? Are we back-tracking on its biblically described sufficiency? No, that would be tantamount to committing spiritual suicide while further promoting US as the more important half to the whole. Just to consider ourselves as an equal half, reveals the arrogance we’re capable of. We have never, ever, initiated nor earned anything we have been given from heaven’s provision. We are no more than responders to that which has been given, BY GRACE! The gift of relational intimacy with God is available to all, BY GRACE! But GRACE is not also responsible for opening the gift!

In practical real-life terms that we can all relate to: When I turned seventy the outpouring of love from the many involved was frankly overwhelming. I’m still living off the glow of the day! But there’s one gift in particular I want to highlight as an example of what “grace” is.

My favorite seventeen year old lady named Neha, who is Shila’s younger daughter, presented me with a present that needed a huge bag to insure its safe transport. From scratch, she had made me a card of her own creation. Oh, this wasn’t just any card thrown together at the last minute. There was serious time invested in this project! It was huge and included every book cover I’d written, carefully copied, cut out, and pasted with meticulous attention to detail.

Neha even included a hand-made sketch of her impression of “yours truly”. An impression that was amazingly accurate! Perhaps not flattering but accurate. When you’re seventy, humility is a very important inclusion in your life if you plan on keeping it real! I’ve concluded that admitting “it”, in advance of being told “it”, makes “it” much less painful. LOL.

Inscribed in the card: “Happy 70th birthday! I hope the years to come are as memorable as the ones that have passed”. Followed by all four of this motley crew of mine with their expression of: “Thank you for always being there for us, with lots of love”. Wow, deliciously beautiful don’t you think? What an “over the top” expression of love for me! Who would have been able to not be overwhelmed by it? Not me for sure!

So there I was sitting at the table that had been prepared for me, BY GRACE, with gifts of love and food galore. Shila even got me some “anti-aging” lotion just to confirm Neha’s accuracy in her sketch. Thank you Shila for connecting the dots and equally confirming the wisdom of my aged humility!

Now for a few “hypothetical” unlikelihood’s: Let’s just say, I refused to open any of the gifts my loved one’s had so generously invested themselves in. Let’s further say, I didn’t eat a morsel of the vast array of delicacies that were so lovingly prepared by Shila for the feast, which included my all-time favorite: “Shila’s spectacular version of Potato Salad”. Leaving that inclusion absent from the menu would have been second only to blasphemy as a sin! It’s that good and I love it that much! Let’s say, as we continue to ponder the impossible, that I didn’t bother listening to my “main man” Aman’s version of “Happy Birthday” which he strummed so very skillfully on his ukulele. A mini-concert of sorts that served as my greeting as I was escorted into Shila’s home of unexpected surprises by the lady herself. All four being present was the first! I honestly had no expectation they would be there, not by choice, but rather scheduling problems. These are very busy people but thankfully not too busy to attend the celebration. Let’s finally say, the soprano angelic tones of Shila’s, Nikita’s and Neha’s vocal stylings, with Aman doubling on the baritone, that accompanied his expert musician-ship, had been ignored by me. Now, let’s say, that which I “hypothesized”, wasn’t fiction but rather factually true:

Here’s the GRACE question answered? Would my loved one’s GRACE have been diminished by my lack of a “whole hearted” response to their GRACE? Absolutely not! Only I would have been negatively affected by “my choice” of “emotional absenteeism” at the birthday celebration. But regardless of me, the loveliness of their GRACE would have shone through as brightly as initially intended. You see, GRACE received changes us, we don’t change it!

And so it is with God. He gave us the gift of his Son BY GRACE. Our response is our responsibility but in no way does it negate nor alter His GRACE. An amazing GRACE that has been (past tense), etched in stone by its Creator God, from the beginning of creation and for eternity. Jesus, being the heavenly pedestalled true gift of Christmas, “graciously” came to earth for the sole purpose of paying a sin-debt He didn’t owe because we had daunting “arrears” we couldn’t pay.

“Well, we didn’t ask Him to do that”, you could rightfully say, and in saying so, you’d be correct. Thus GRACE: The profound meaning of the word? Receiving that which you don’t deserve while avoiding that which you do! Free to all, but not free to God! It wasn’t cheap! In fact, it cost Him everything and by His own choice, He paid it all. The cross, was His “Self-imposed” terms for our forgiveness. He, being perfectly Holy, needed a perfect sacrifice to impart to the imperfect. One that the world had no ability to produce. So, out of an immeasurable love for us, that rightfully transcends our imaginations to comprehend, He made Himself the needed offering so that we, could place our eternal trust in Him, “whole heartedly”! He made His way down to us when we couldn’t make our way up to Him. That’s the plain and simple gospel folks!

GRACE is not a spiritual bully on steroids. It offers itself with a gentle loving touch but doesn’t force its embracing on anyone. Our choice of response will always be its determining factor. I guess you could say GRACE is a gentleman. GRACE is far less about “not going to hell” and far more about “going to heaven” and when arriving, knowing it was GRACE that got us there!

GRACE is neither a theory nor a teaching. GRACE is a Person. Thus, GRACE has a FACE. It is my hope we will all one day, see that face, face to face! To segue into the final chapter: That face belonging to Jesus was introduced to this world that “He so loved”, on the first Christmas day!

The Folly Of Our Terms

The shepherds were first to hear the amazing news. But, we know three kings weren’t very far behind although their geographical positioning would have them arriving second to the stable. They followed the same star as did the shepherds in their quest to find this One who was to be born in Bethlehem as prophesied hundreds of years prior and announced in the immediate by an angel.

These kings we know as Magi, “would have been” of immense wealth, intellect, reputation, and influence. These men “would not have been” accustomed to spending time around stables nor all that stables would include. Servants would have done that lowly work in their world. Suffice to say: Their possible pre-conceptions of the birth and introduction of a "Heavenly King" would not have included "dung". That thought could have been seen as preposterous based on "their" earthly impressions of how and where a King should be born.  

"Forget the star, we're looking for a grand majestic palace with all the trappings of pageantry”, could have been their formulated companion of directed thought as they searched. Therefore, they could have been searching on their own terms. How “they” perceived the scenario should unfold could have been their pre-conceived focus. If that had been the case, these “searchers” would have tragically missed "Little Bethlehem" in favour of the more glamorously appropriate and attractive in their minds, Jerusalem! That would have made so much more sense to them!

Interestingly the lowly, distained by society shepherds, had no such issues to navigate around. You can read into that what you wish! I’ve often thought: The drunk in the gutter can be closer to God than the thousand dollar suit. The drunk knows he needs God, while the expensive suit may think otherwise based on his suit. We can choke to death on status folks. The Pharisees in the bible taught us that! Back to the Magi:

The Magi had traveled "a far", so having their trajectory mis-directed by self-assumption would have been a terrible mis-step! You see, Jerusalem used as a metaphor, can be a cold and lonely place when the One you're looking for isn't there as you assumed!

But thankfully, for their sake and ours, that wouldn’t be the case. They followed God's terms with "all their hearts", beginning with a God provided “one of a kind” star that led them to a “one of a kind birth”, in a little, no-account town called Bethlehem. The size of Bethlehem nor the stench of the stable, could distract them through pride, from bowing their collective knees in worship. Mary and Joseph, un-aware of the Magi's pending visit, wouldn't have had the time to do a quick clean-up for their "prestigious" company. I think it's safe to conclude that those "prestigious knees" would have landed in some rather un-prestigious substances. Perhaps a vivid visual for appropriate humility in the presence of Emmanuelle, meaning “God with us”.

They brought their lavish gifts into a very un-lavish setting and placed them at the Christ Child's feet. To them, it was all about experiencing the Child. The setting was irrelevant. The “glory” of this little promised One, made the atmosphere of that stable more than sufficiently fragrant to those in attendance! Their eyes were on the Prize not the packaging. They were looking for a "Person" not a palace, and based on that, they found Him! 

To be noted: Their first step that accommodated every ensuing step of directional correctness was "them getting over themselves". Their well-entrenched natural concepts of how "it should be", once exchanged for God's plan of how "it would be", became their never failing compass. These three men who traveled on God’s terms and conditions which faithfully led them to their desired destination leave us with this subsidiary insight . In the process, God didn’t cramp their style, He gave them style! Eternal style.

I’m reminded of the scripture that teaches: If we don’t exalt “ourselves-our terms”, in due time God promises, based on our adherence to His terms, to exalt us. Well folks, it’s been over two thousand years after the fact and we’re still talking about these three guys in glowing “terms”! Now that’s style! Once a year every year we brush off the story one more time to reflect on the value of God’s terms and conditions. You see there’s an underlying secret that very few know. My observations tell me it’s been well hidden. But as your Christmas gift this year I will divulge it to you. God’s terms and conditions are for our benefit not His! When we adhere to them we do ourselves a favor not Him! You can thank me later.

Last night while at the drug store, I got into a discussion with a young man I befriended a year or so ago. All visits to the store seem to involve chats when he's working. I mentioned to him that "getting over yourself" isn't the end of life but rather the beginning of real life. My friend repeated what I had said back to me as if confirming its felt truth and my sincerity in sharing it. I left with these words of hopeful encouragement to his youthful status: “I’m seventy, I wish I would have known “that” when I was your age”. Don’t hesitate to apply it now that you know it! It will most certainly serve you well going forward!”

The Magi's understood that truth early on in their journey and it led them to discover "Who" they had been searching for. Notice, that once finding, they stopped searching. They did not pursue another for comparison sake, just to be sure. No, they were sure, as is always the case when one has encountered the reality of Jesus!

As promised by God in our opening scripture reference: These three kings found "The King Of Kings" because they searched for Him with "all their hearts", void of their terms. These three embraced the qualifier and received the promise.

When we run the risk of including our terms into God’s story, we also run the risk of missing  Bethlehem, thus finding ourselves in an empty palace of cold religious pretending.

Isn’t it so very typical of our amazing God to provide us with His superior terms and conditions so that we can with confidence abandon ours, recognizing them as seriously inferior through the process of comparison. He never leaves us frantically empty handed in our desires to walk with him.

The Shepherds and Magi alike, followed a star. By extension, we follow “THE STAR” Who their star led to! How blessed we are to have been futuristically written into the wonderful story of Christmas authored under the gracious and sovereign penmanship of God! Kind of takes your breath away doesn’t it!

My Ministry - Our Ministry

Mark 6 - 38 & 41: “How many loaves do you have He asked?” “Go and see”. When they found out they said, “Five and two fish”. Taking the five loaves and two fish and looking up to heaven He gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to His disciples to DISTRIBUTE to the people. He also divided the two fish among them all”. ( Five thousand plus, were fed that day! )

In the biblical story of the “fishes and loaves”, I so clearly see three dynamics in play to achieve the desired completion of the heavenly orchestrated equation. The young boy GAVE what little he had, our Lord then MULTIPLIED it, and the disciples then DISTRIBUTED it.

It’s interesting to note that Jesus, after the multiplying didn’t say, “Come and get it”. What He did say was, “Everyone find a place to sit on the grass and I’ll bring it to you, through my own”. Folks, He loves to involve us. He loves to make us matter! We are blessed beyond measure to be written into, His stories! Just imagine: Invited by Him to participate in His plans for others!

From the inception of the idea of writing books to be made available to “all freely”, there has never been a moment when I haven’t been aware of its ministry context. I could easily be seen as the “young boy” in the story. Jesus has most certainly multiplied my meager offering to Him.

So may I invite and encourage you to be a distributor of that which He has multiplied, thereby elevating “My Ministry” into “Our Ministry”, thus completing “His Ministry”. There’s something about that idea that sounds “perfect” to my heart!

We all have friends, family, work mates, school mates, etc. I’ve included a simple directional on “how to find” the “fishes and loaves”. Please feel free to share “what you eat” with others. You have no idea where it could lead to! That young boy’s mother could never have dreamed, what that little lunch she had prepared for her son on that fateful morning, would produce!

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