Rabbi’s Reflections – Sunday, October 31, 2021
Gift Shopping for God by Dr. Raymond Finney
INTRODUCTION: While watching television recently, I saw a commercial designed to arouse interest in a product to be purchased as a Christmas gift. The manufacturer must have faith that container ships anchored off the California coast can download “Made in China” products onto Santa’s sleigh in time for us to pretend the products read, “Made at the North Pole.”
Many merchants experience profit or loss for the entire year based on sales made during the few weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. This year may be grim for merchants– recession, COVID restrictions, supply chain disruptions, and so forth.
Christians give gifts on or around Christmas (celebrated on December 25). Jews give gifts on Hanukkah (celebrated this year from November 28 to December 6).
IS GOD ON YOUR HOLIDAY GIFT LIST? Seeing this commercial, I wondered: Should I give God a gift this holiday season? If my doddering memory serves me correctly, I believe it was the Bulova Watch Company which, many years ago, had an advertising campaign slogan, “What do you give the man who has everything?”
Paraphrasing this old advertising slogan, we might ask, “What do you give God who truly has everything?”
God created the Universe (Genesis 1:1): In the beginning God [Elohim] created the heavens and the earth. He owns the Universe and everything in it (among other Scriptures, Psalm 50:10-12): [Adonai spoke] “For every beast of the forest is Mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains. Everything moving in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you– for the world is Mine and all it contains!”
What can a lowly creation (me) give Creator God in appreciation for all He has given me? God has given me life, salvation (hope and promise of eternal life), family, love, freedom, and so many other things I cannot possibly list them all.
He has also given me things of which I am not even aware. Was my life spared ten years ago, when a drunk driver was on the road the same time I was? A person my age has probably developed cancerous cells a half dozen times or so, but these dangerous cells die off (apoptosis) unknown to the host. Did God spare me from cancer, without my knowing it? What else has God done for me?
But, I think, should I not give Him something in return? He probably has no use for a Bulova wrist watch, so I will continue thinking. However, I want to go “shopping” for His gift. You may also wish to give God a gift. Will you, please, go shopping with me?
WHAT DO WE GIVE GOD? I have it! There is only one gift He wants from me. Although He wants this gift, He will not take it from me unless I give it to Him personally and without reservation.
This gift is perfect. It will cost me no money. I do not even need to gift wrap it.
Are you ready to go “shopping” with me today for God’s gift? I believe He would like the same gift from you and from all of His children.
HINT: “Shopping” for God, who owns everything, presents a dilemma. What to give God is suggested by a popular proverb: “Your life is God’s gift to you. What you do with your life is your gift to Him.” That’s it! My life (your life) is the perfect gift for God.
God will not take your love for Himself, but He would love it if you would give it. He has given humans the gifts of love and free will.
● Love: Humans need love. Yeshua emphasized three commandments, all based on love– love God, love neighbors, and love brothers and sisters in the faith.
SIDELIGHT: Not only does a human need to love others, he/ she needs to feel others’ love. In 1990, the Iron Curtain began lifting. Western reporters could see long-concealed conditions in the U.S.S.R. Visiting Romania, reporters were horrified at the state-run orphanages they found. These orphanages had been mandated by Communist dictator Nicolae Ceaușescu.
Children, from newborns through teenagers and estimated to number 500,000, were warehoused in crowded, filthy orphanages. Because of the overwhelming number of these children and the extremely poor Romanian economy, the children were completely neglected. These orphanages were called “slaughterhouses of the soul,” because the government cared nothing about the mental, emotional, and spiritual development of the children.
The children had uncommonly deep emotional scars and under-developed minds, all because they were shown no love and lacked nurturing contact with others. Remember your children and grandchildren. Hours were spent each day holding, kissing, and goo-goo talking to the little babies and young children. The Romanian children had none of this human contact. Read a report on these children at: https://www.mamamia.com.au/romanian-orphans/ .
Love and physical, mental, and spiritual interaction are as important as vitamins and other nutrients in the development of a child and adult. Simply put, humans cannot live without love. END sidelight.
● Free will: Free will is a person’s ability to decide his or her own words and actions, without God’s interference. You may praise God, or curse Him. You may enter into the depravity of sin, or live a saintly life. You may spend eternity in Heaven, or in Hell. The decision is yours and yours alone.
In the following paragraphs, I discuss three steps to follow to give God the only gift He wants but will not take for Himself– your life’s service and love. Stay out of the malls this season. Leave your credit card in your pocket. Do not depend on Amazon to deliver your order. The perfect gift for God is a private matter between you and Him (Matthew 6:6): [Yeshua said] “But you, when you pray, go into your inner room; and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, shall reward you.”
In summary, true faith is often a private matter of a Believer– a matter that is accepted and cherished by God. Ostentatious displays of “religion” are often matters only for consumption by the public, but are rejected and disliked by God. An example is given in Mark 12:42-44 and Luke 21:1-4. Yeshua watched as gifts were made in the Temple. The rich gave their impressive gifts with great fanfare to the acclaim of their rich friends. A poor widow quietly dropped her two small copper coins in the treasury box. Yeshua said (Luke 21:3-4): … “Truly I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all the rest. For all these put in their gifts from their surplus. But she, out of her poverty, put in all she had to live on.” Take a clue from Yeshua: God will not be impressed by how much our gift does or does not cost. He is impressed only by the attitude and love of the giver.
Consider these three steps, when you “shop” for God’s gift:
FIRST STEP– ACCEPT GOD’S GIFT OF SALVATION. Because of God’s matchless love for you (His grace and mercy), He established the New Covenant whereby the sins you have committed in the past and will commit in the future (because you are human and will be tempted by Satan) can be forgiven. Your sins should cause your death (read Romans 6:23a), but God came to Earth in the form of a Man, Yeshua, to die for you (continue reading this verse, Romans 6:23b, and other Scriptures).
You must come to your Heavenly Father in the same way a child comes to his or her earthly father through love and simple faith (read Mark 10:14-15). If you make your faith complicated, you have missed the simplicity and beauty of salvation. A child can receive salvation, not just a theologian with a doctorate degree. Salvation was created for every person (the “common person”), not just the elite.
To have God receive your gifts of love, you must first receive His gift of love (salvation). If you reject God’s gift of love to you, why should He receive your gifts of love? And, why does it matter if you give Him gifts, if your soul is eternally lost and destined for Hell? Be assured of this: Rabbi Weiner or someone else in this synagogue is willing to discuss your salvation with you at any time.
SECOND STEP– FOLLOW GOD’S COMMANDMENTS. The Jewish religious elite, conspiring to find a cause to kill Yeshua, sent a lawyer to ask Him a trick question (read Matthew 22:34-40). The Jews observed 613 commandments and teachings. They asked Yeshua: which of these is the most important. This question could not be answered directly, without creating problems for Yeshua. Such a question is similar to the modern question, to be answered yes or no: Have you stopped beating your wife, yet?
Yeshua answered that God’s Word has two commandments for every person:
● Love God with all of your heart, soul, and mind; and
● Love your neighbor as yourself.
These two commandments should be at the top of your “shopping list” for your perfect gift for God. My children give me birthday presents every year. If they come to the Sunday dinner my wife will prepare in my honor next March and grudgingly hand presents to me, muttering: “I can’t stand you… I don’t love you… I don’t really believe you’re my father… Okay, this unpleasant task is over for another year…,” and so forth, I would not feel good about accepting their gifts and would probably refuse to accept any sentiment of their “love.” How much more is God attuned to His children than I am to mine. Give gifts to God with the proper attitude (2 Corinthians 9:7): Let each one give as he has decided in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion– for God loves a cheerful giver.
THIRD STEP– MAKE YOUR LIFE AN EXAMPLE OF LOVE FOR HIM AND FOR YOUR NEIGHBORS: There is a way to give God part of your life, showing your love for Him; showing love for your neighbors; and laying up eternal rewards (crowns) in Heaven for yourself. This way is preparing for your Bema Judgment (also called “The Judgment Seat of Mashiach”).
Paul, a sports fan, wrote in sporting terms in several instances. He wrote of a judgment (Judgment Seat of HaMashiach) in Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. A bema (pronounced BEE-mah in English, or BAY-mah in the original Greek) was a raised platform upon which a judge sat at the finish line of a race. As racers crossed the finish line, the judge watched to see which runners finished first, second, third, and so forth in order that prizes could be awarded to the fastest athletes or not awarded to the slowest.
This judgment is described in two Scriptures:
● (Romans 14:10c): … For we all will stand before the judgment seat of God.
● (2 Corinthians 5:10): For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Messiah, so that each one may receive what is due for the things he did while in the body– whether good or bad.
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The Tree of Life Version of Romans 14:10c is quoted here, but this is not a precise translation. The verse does not read, “judgment seat of God.” The Greek phrase is βήμα τι τοῦ Χριστοῦ = bema ti tou Christou = “bema (judgment seat) of the Christ (the Messiah).” “Judgment seat” translates the Greek βήμα (English, bema).
A Believer is known by his/ her works, whether good or bad (read Matthew 7:16-17, 20). It is life works, whether good or bad, that will be judged. You may receive several rewards at your Bema Judgment, including:
JUDGMENT REWARD 1– CROWNS: Paul taught about bearing fruit, built upon the foundation laid by Yeshua (1 Corinthians 3:11-15): For no one can lay any other foundation than what is already laid– which is Yeshua the Messiah. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear. For the Day will show it, because it is to be revealed by fire; and the fire itself will test each one’s work– what sort it is. If anyone’s work built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss– he himself will be saved, but as through fire.
Yeshua also commanded us to lay up treasures in Heaven (Matthew 6:19-21): [Yeshua said] “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in or steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
Consider the following:
● Your good works must start with Yeshua’s atoning sacrifice for your sins. You must build on Yeshua’s foundation– not a foundation laid by you or any man or woman. You must seek no personal acclaim or draw attention to yourself. Your service should glorify the Godhead, not you! When building a house, carpenters build the structure from the foundation up, not from the roof down.
● A Believer’s work may introduce different “building materials” (different types of work)– gold, silver, and precious stones for GOOD works; or, wood, hay, and straw for BAD works. “Good” and “bad” do not refer to sin, but to faithful and effective work for the Lord.
● “The Day” in which these works become manifest is the day a Believer stands for his or her Bema Judgment. Yeshua promised that on His return, a Believer’s reward will accompany Him and no further work can be done (Revelation 22:12): [Yeshua said] “Behold, I am coming soon [suddenly], and My reward is with Me, to pay back each one according to his deeds.”
● What is the fire by which these works are judged? John recorded a strange description of Yeshua’s appearance at the end of the age, which hints an answer (Revelation 19:12a): [Yeshua’s] eyes are like a flame of fire,…. Could Yeshua’s “eyes of fire” melt– and purify– GOOD works at this judgment? Even good works may be contaminated with impurities (pride, desire for man’s acclaim, and so forth). A goldsmith melts precious metal and skims off the impurities (the dross), leaving behind pure metal. On the other hand, could BAD works be consumed by the fire of judgment, leaving behind only a pitiful pile of ashes?
● A crown can be made of precious metals and stones (good works), but not ashes (bad works, no works). The Bible names at least nine crowns (rewards). Lack of rewards at this judgment does not disqualify a Believer from entering Heaven, as Paul emphasized (1 Corinthians 3:15): If anyone’s work is burned up [at the Bema Judgment], he will suffer loss– he himself will be saved, but as through fire. Paul’s idea, here, is illustrated in local television news reports. A family has lost a home and possessions to a house fire. The unfortunate family is shown, shivering, wet, and cold, huddled under a blanket. A parent typically says, “We lost everything in the fire, but, thank God, we are all alive. We can replace possessions, but not family members.”
JUDGMENT REWARD 2– PREPARATION OF A BELIEVER’S BRIDAL GOWN: Shortly after the Bema Judgment, Believers, called in Scriptures “the bride,” will be eternally wed to the Bridegroom Yeshua. At the Marriage Supper, each Believer will drink the fourth cup of wine that Yeshua deferred to drink at His last Passover Seder until He could drink (and seal the marriage) with His bride (resurrected and raptured saints) in His Father’s Kingdom (Matthew 26:29; also, Luke 22:18). [Yeshua said, after drinking from the third cup in teaching Communion but declining to drink from the fourth cup] “But I say to you, I will never drink of this fruit of the vine from now on, until that day when I drink it anew with you in My Father’s kingdom.”
On Earth, a bride typically seeks a special gown for her wedding. In your marriage to the Lamb (the Bridegroom Yeshua), you will also want a special gown. John told us that we weave our gown by our works and the linen is made spotless by Yeshua’s blood sacrifice (Revelation 19:8): [A great multitude in the Father’s Kingdom said] “She [the bride = Believers] was given fine linen to wear, bright and clean! For the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the kedoshim.” [Kedoshim = “holy ones” or “saints.”] The more a Believer works for the Godhead on Earth, the more beautiful his/her gown will appear in the Father’s Kingdom. The beauty of a saint’s bridal gown apparently will seem important.
JUDGMENT REWARD 3– OPPORTUNITIES FOR SERVICE IN MILLENNIAL KINGDOM: After Yeshua’s return to Earth (the Second Coming), He will establish His thousand-year reign (see Revelation, chapter 20). Raptured or resurrected Believers will assist King Yeshua. We will help mentor (teach, guide) the saved humans who survive the Tribulation (the “sheep” on Yeshua’s right hand in His teaching of the parable of the sheep and the goats– see Matthew 25:31-46). Saints who are good stewards and faithful, diligent servants in earthly life will have greater opportunities in the Millennial Kingdom, as Yeshua taught in the Parable of the Talents (see Matthew 25:14-30).
Yeshua summarized this parable in Matthew 25:29: [Yeshua said] “For to the one who has, more shall be given, and he shall have an abundance. But from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away.” Moral of parable: The harder you work for the Kingdom of God on Earth, the more you will have in Heaven.
Yeshua’s teaching in the Parable of the Ten Minas (Luke 19:11-27) was even clearer. Before the nobleman went away to receive a kingdom, to return at a later date, he gave minas to each of his servants (a mina equals 1.5 pounds of gold or silver). Some servants invested their minas, while others hid (safeguarded) their minas without investing. The master required an accounting upon his return. To the servants who multiplied their minas, the master said (Luke 19:17): “… ‘Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over… cities.'” But to the lazy, fearful servant who did nothing with his mina and earned nothing for the master, his mina was taken away, leaving him with nothing. Yeshua concluded this teaching (Luke 19:26a): [Yeshua said] “‘I tell you, to everyone who has, more shall be given….’” Moral of parable: similar to preceding parable– No one can amass too much treasure in Heaven.
JUDGMENT REWARD 4– PRAISE FROM YESHUA: In the Parable of the Minas (Luke 19:11-27), the master of the parable (representing our Master, Yeshua) praised the profitable servants (Luke 19:17): “The master said to him, ‘Well done, good slave! Because you were faithful with so little, take charge over ten cities.’”
The most appreciated, most precious, most desired words you can ever hear could be at your Bema Judgment, if Yeshua looks at you, smiles, and says, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” Your life will be affirmed at that time as having had meaning. You cannot now know how much you will appreciate Yeshua’s praise at your judgment.
JUDGMENT REWARD 5– BETTER APPRECIATION OF HEAVEN: Heaven is going to exceed anything we can imagine. A few people have been granted glimpses of Heaven. John was commanded to write a brief summary of his impressions (Revelation, chapters 21 and 22). Paul, who wrote the major portion of the B’rit Chadashah, was virtually speechless and merely quoted Isaiah 64:3-4, when he summarized his vision (1 Corinthians 2:9): But as it is written, “Things no eye has seen and no ear has heard, that have not entered the heart of mankind– these things God has prepared for those who love Him.”
Although not mentioned in the Bible, it MAY BE that a saint who works hardest to enter Heaven will appreciate eternity more than the saint who barely sneaks in.
You will not find this teaching in your Bible, but I believe it may be true. All of us appreciate things the harder we work to achieve them. Suppose a world-renowned pianist is coming to Knoxville to play Mozart piano concertos with the Knoxville Symphony Orchestra. I have three tickets. I give a ticket to a teenager who loves rock and roll “music;” I give a ticket to a homemaker who plays NPR classical music while working in the home or running errands; and I give a ticket to a Juilliard School graduate who plays and studies classical music for hours each day.
After the concert, I call the people to whom I have given tickets. The teenager says, “Dude, the concert was pretty good– not nearly as bad as I feared.” The homemaker says, “What a wonderful evening. I thoroughly enjoyed every moment.” The Juilliard School classically trained pianist is almost speechless, gushing endlessly about the masterful way the guest pianist moved his fingers in difficult passages, the rendition of certain chords, the beautiful presentation of Mozart’s passages, and so forth.
All three of my guests heard the same concert, but their reactions varied from good to superlative, description-defying characterizations. The only differences were the degree of preparation my guests had before the guest pianist even played the first note. The more each guest knew about and actually practiced Mozart, the better that guest appreciated the Mozart concert. Preparation affected enjoyment of this hypothetical Mozart concert. Will earthly preparation affect enjoyment of New Jerusalem? I do not know, but I think some of Yeshua’s parables may suggest this possibility, and certainly the Bema Judgment points to different rewards based on service to God’s Kingdom.
WAIT… BEFORE YOU GO “SHOPPING” WITH ME: I began this RR by planning to “purchase” a gift for God. This premise is silly, of course, because God already owns everything. I planned to invite you to go “shopping” with me. But, the RR changed my attitude, as I wrote it. These things became evident:
● Every time I thought about giving God something, the topic returned to me. Is this narcissism? I don’t think so. Is it a hint about what God’s gift should be? Yes, that’s it. I am the best gift I can give God. You are the best gift you can give God.
● I cannot purchase a gift for God, because He already owns everything in the Universe.
● I now realize: I already own the gift He wants. My life is that gift.
● I cannot take you “shopping” for a gift for God, as I had hoped. You already own the gift God wants. Your life is that gift.
Since giving our lives to God is a private, personal matter, I withdraw my invitation for you to go “shopping” with me for God’s gift. You and I have had God’s gifts all along. May we give our gifts to God willingly and joyfully, and may He be pleased with our gifts. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Blessed Thank-You-God Day, or whatever. Shalom and Maranatha.
Daily Bread, reading plan by Lars Enarson (https://www.thewatchman.org/)
Sun 31-Oct-2021 25th of Cheshvan, 5782
Ge 25:19-26:5 Jdg 6 Ps 29 Mt 23 (Ro 7)