Friday, December 6, 2013

Extra Gifts

    “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.
    “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!
-Matthew 7:7-11 (NIV)

My grandfather remarried after my grandmother died, so I had the rather unusual experience of having a step-grandmother. (How many people can actually say they were a groomsman at their grandfather’s wedding?) Though it took some adjustment, we were happy that he remarried; he would have been lonely had he not. And had he not, I wouldn’t have one of my favorite memories of my him.
    On birthdays and at Christmas, my grandfather and his wife, Mary, usually gave my sister and me money. Not knowing what to get two hard-to-please teenagers, they would write out checks and tuck them into cards so we could buy what we really wanted. Mom coached us, of course; we were to read the cards and comment on them before going right to the checks, and most of the time I think we managed to do that. But, sooner or later, we’d put the checks in a pocket or whatever and go on to the next gift. Then we’d wait for the rest of the gift.
    I don’t know about my sister, but I really did come to expect it. It usually happened in the garage. Granddaddy would motion for me to walk him out through the garage. (Come to think of it, it seems like it was usually just me. I imagine he handled the rest of my sister’s gift some other way.) Anyway, de’d hang back a little, on some pretense, and let Mary get a little farther ahead. As soon as she’d get out the door, while my grandfather and I were still in the garage, he’d stop and put a hand on my shoulder. The other hand would go to his pocket.
    “Here,” he’d say as he handed me the folded cash. “You don’t have to say anything to Mary about this.”
    I always liked that line, “You don’t have to say anything to Mary about this.” Made it seem more conspiratorial, more cloak-and-dagger. But, see, Mary had grandchildren of her own. To her, they were dividing their gift-giving between four kids. I appreciate the fact that she considered us her grandchildren, too, in some way, though I imagine she did a little extra for her biological grandkids, too. Certainly, to Granddaddy Hoyt, there weren’t four grandchildren. There were only two. Hence the extra cash when Mary wasn’t looking. (I wonder if she ever found out.)
    Granddaddy’s been gone for sixteen years now. It’s been twenty-five years, I guess, since we played a scene like that. Yet the memory’s still vivid, almost like it happened yesterday. It’s one of my favorite memories, because it tells me how much he loved me. It wasn’t the money; the original checks were always generous. It’s the fact that one gift couldn’t express how he felt about my sister and me.
    There no doubt have been times in your life when God seemed silent and the doors to Heaven barred. You’ve probably had the experience of praying and hearing only your own voice. You will probably have the same experience again. If you’ve lived this life for any length of time at all, you have likely felt that God was very far away. Maybe you’ve even doubted that he’s there at all.
    If so, then Jesus has a word or two for you. “Keep asking,” he says. “Keep looking. If you ask, you’ll receive, and if you look, you’ll find. If you pound on the gates of Heaven, soon enough someone will hear and come to see what all the commotion’s about.”
    And that can be encouraging in itself. But what about the times when you can’t ask, seek, and knock indefinitely? What about the times when you only have enough strength for one hoarse plea, or one feeble tap? What about the times when your faith won’t survive a prolonged search?
    For those times, Jesus turns to his favorite image for God - Father. Fathers (and grandfathers) know how to give to their children. A father doesn’t hand his daughter a live rattlesnake when what she wants is a frozen fish stick. He doesn’t give his son a lump of limestone when he needs a couple of slices of Wonder bread and some peanut butter. Even human parents know how to give to their children.
    “How much more will your heavenly Father give good gifts to those who ask him.”
    The God we call Father through Jesus is a God who loves to bless his children. You don’t have to convince him. You don’t have to prove anything to him. If you ask for something that’s good for you, your Father in heaven will happily give it. If you ask for something that’s bad for you, he will give you what’s better. I know, it doesn’t always seem that way, but what parent gives a child everything they want, right when they want it? Look back over your life when you get to the end. You won’t find a time when God wasn’t aching to be generous to you.
    He’s given us all so many blessings. And just when it seems that he’s finished giving, he reaches into a pocket and pulls out something more. He could have stopped with life, but he’s given you family and friends. He could have stopped with a meal for today, but he’s given you choices and quantities most of the world never sees. He could have stopped with shelter, but he’s given you luxury. He could have stopped with a job, but he’s given you a career.
    He could have stopped with his word, but he sent the Word made flesh.
    He could have stopped with a law, but he gave you a cross. He could have stopped with a cross, but he gave you an empty tomb. He could have stopped with salvation, but he gave you the church. He could have left you with his promise, but he sealed it with his Spirit.
    That is the God you serve. That is how much he loves you. Will you remember that? Will you be reassured today of his love for you and of his desire to bless you, in spite of what life’s random ugliness might tell you? And will you live your life in gratitude, always looking for the gift he’s holding out to you and always thankful for the ones you’ve already stashed away?
    The gifts tell you he loves you. His generosity reminds you how much.

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