GIVING: Christmas And Beyond
By the time you read this Christmas will be over. Hopefully most would have spent time giving and receiving not only presents, but also love. It is to be hoped also that we would have spent time reflecting on the reason for the season.
As I write this I have put in my order for Christmas. I would like a “pool lounge,” that is an inflatable devise for floating around on my pool. Also I would like what we call in Australia a “banana lounge” which is a seat used for relaxing by the pool often with a good book in hand. I have also dropped hints about the video “Shrek” and a stepladder (if saying “I would like a step ladder for Christmas” can be called “dropping hints!”)
While the meaning of Christmas is acknowledged in our culture it has come to have more to do with getting together with family and giving and getting presents. This giving of gifts led me to thinking about giving. Namely what God has given us.
Lets imagine for a moment it is Christmas again. Underneath our Christmas tree is a single present. The time comes for us to open it. Eagerly we read the label telling us whom the present is from. To our amazement the present is from God. Intrigued we unwrap the gift from God. What are some of the things the Word tells us that He has given us?
Well one thing we know for sure is that God is a good God who does not give His children anything that would harm them.
“Which of you, if his 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! In fact “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.” James 1:17
The fact is God loves us and wants to give us only what is good for us. Sometimes what is good for us though may come in disguise, but we must never doubt that God is on our side.
So we have opened our present and here it is:
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God”
The most exciting gift God has given us is our salvation. Salvation cannot be earned. It is a gift of God. Not only could we never earn His favor but while we remained in our sins we were appointed for wrath. Fortunately God in His mercy provided a lamb to take our place and to pay the price for our sins for which we rightly deserved to die. In fact this is in part, why we are celebrating the manger scene at this time.
“The Son of man came to give his life a ransom for many.”
Jesus in the manger is wonderful. Jesus dieing for our sins and rising victorious over the grave now interceding on our behalf and preparing a place for us is cause for serious celebration.
God’s gift of salvation is available to all humanity.
2 Peter 3:9 “The Lord is… patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Have you received His gift of salvation? This gift cost a man his life. That is how much he loves each of us. God wants you to accept the gift of his Son. Invite him into your life today. It is only through accepting the gift of God’s Son as your Lord and Savior that you can become who you were born to be. John 1:12 “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name.”
Let us return to our Christmas tree. Having opened our gift of salvation we are surprised to now see a number of other gifts. Although surprising the truth of the matter is that as great as God’s gift to us of salvation is, it is merely the doorway into the other gifts that God has for us.
The secret to receiving all the gifts God has for us is to remain “in Christ.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.”
Luke 10:19 “Behold, I give unto you power to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you.”
God has given his people dominion. How is this outworked?
Ephesians 2:4 “…And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Friends we are now seated with Christ in heavenly places. We share his reign and the power that is at work in us and available to us is the same that raised Christ from the dead!
I must admit, I love studying the meanings of words. There are so many shades to words. Looking at the original often gives us a perspective we might not have seen in the English.
The word power is mentioned here twice. The power that is the enemies means strength or force and includes miraculous power. There is no doubt that the enemy is powerful. We should never kid ourselves otherwise. But it is the meaning of the word power in “behold I give you power” that excites me.
q POWER: “ability, privilege, capacity, or freedom.
It reminds me of the way the centurion saw the authority of Jesus as related in Matt 8:8 “Lord” he said, “I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one ‘come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”
The power that is available to us is derived from the highest authority. He has delegated his authority to us. While under his authority we have the ability, privilege, capacity and freedom to claim what is ours and take from the enemy what is his. Praise God!
Hosea 4:6 tells us that “My people are destroyed through lack of knowledge.” Friends never forget - we reign with Him. No wonder He tells us in John 15:7 “If ye abide in me, and my words abide in you, ye shall ask what ye will, and it shall be done unto you.”
Ok but what does that mean for us in our day-to-day living. Everything! I’ve forgotten who it was that said “most folks when they wake up of a morning think “oh no the devils after me,” but when I get up of a morning I want the devil saying “oh no! He is awake!!”
We need to rise up and claim our inheritance. We have been given the keys of the kingdom. Lets use those keys and the authority we have in Christ. I John 4:17 “…as he is so are we in this world.” So the words Jesus quoted about Himself from Isaiah the prophet are just as true for us as they were for Him. “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon me; because the LORD has anointed me to preach good tidings to the meek; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”
Luke 12:32 “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.”
Ok, back to the Christmas tree. It is time to open another of our gifts from God.
Acts 20:32 “And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them which are sanctified”.
Have you ever had to put something together without access to the instructions? It can be very frustrating. It is possible to get so far and then discover there is a piece that should have been put in at the beginning.
Thankfully God has not left us without instructions as to his ways, our inheritance and our responsibilities. He has given us all things that pertain to life and Godliness. (2 Pe 1:3) This includes the gift of His word.
The Bible tells us that His word “is a lamp to our feet and a light to our path.” (Ps 119:105)
I remember one time I was walking along a road at night with a friend. It was a semi rural area. We had a torch with us and we shared holding the torch. When it was my turn I was inclined to shine the torch into the trees and generally look at other places besides the road. My friend insisted that I shine the torch where we were walking in case of snakes. I thought this was a little over the top but obeyed orders (my friend was a girl). Besides, Australia contains 15 of the top 18 most poisonous snakes in the world. Sure enough as if attracted like a magnet a snake crossed our path. We would have stood on it for sure had we not had the light of the torch to warn us of its approach.
In the same way Gods word lights our path and helps us to not only know where we are going but to avoid dangers on the road of life.
I am fond of saying that sometimes reading the word of God has more to do with what it keeps us from as much as what it does for us. There have been times in my life when I was tempted and I believe it was only that I was faithfully reading God’s word that kept me from falling. I was not necessarily receiving lots of revelation but I believe that behind the scenes God was strengthening me.
Do we take God’s word for granted? The western world is saturated with Bibles. The computer program I have on my computer contains 9 translations plus numerous aids including books, devotionals, dictionaries, and concordances. Yet in many countries pages of the word are shared around and memorized. God’s word is a precious gift to us. The Psalmist says in Ps 119:162 “I rejoice at your word as one who finds great spoil.” Spoil is booty.
Have you ever found something of value? I remember when I was even younger then I am now (:o)) my brother and I were at the beach with a friend. They both saw a long way off a model boat that had obviously been lost by someone. The beach was all but deserted. I’ll never forget how they both ran to be the one to claim it.
Matt 13:44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Some one once said “God is not to be had by the casual observer.” God’s word is a treasure chest that contains life both for now and eternity.
One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Matt 13:52 “…every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.”
However knowing God’s word is only half the story. We need to act on it. “ If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” (John 8:31 & 32) Therefore we should do as Paul instructed in 1 Timothy 4:15 “Meditate upon these things; give ourselves wholly to them; that our profiting may appear to all.”
Matthew 11:28 – 30 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
Friends we live in troubled times. Just last night on the news terrorists stormed India’s parliament and ten more Israeli’s died in an ambush in the cauldron that is Palestine. You know I thought this morning, that could happen here. Not that Australia is an unstable country, it is just that in these days we can take nothing for granted.
Yet God knows the end from the beginning. He does not mean for us to worry. In fact He has another gift for us in these troubled times. He has promised us rest. What a wonderful Savior He is.
God has not promised us that we would not know trouble. As Job 5:7 says “man is born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upwards.” No one would suggest that King David had an easy life, particularly when Saul was pursuing him. Yet David knew that his security was not found in the absence of conflict but in the midst of it. That is why in the Psalms he so often refers to God as his hiding place, his strong tower and his refuge. Ps 46:1 “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble”. Therefore will not we fear…” No matter what is happening around us our security is not in money, power, friends or earthly things but in God Himself. Again think of “in Christ.”
q REST: “repose; stillness; calm.”
The most vivid example of this can be seen in Jesus sleeping soundly in the boat while the storm raged around him and the disciples feared for their lives. (Mark 4:35 – 41). Or again when Peter was walking on the water. While his eyes remained on Jesus he was secure but the second he “looked at the wind and the waves” he began to sink.
If our lives are built upon the rock and we remain “in Christ” then rest or calmness in the midst of strife is our inheritance and ours to claim.
2 Timothy 4:8 “Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.
Brothers and sisters a crown awaits us! Let us not lose heart or faint in the day of adversity. Paul says in Rom 8:18 “For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.” He sounds like a typical Australian doesn’t he when he says “I reckon..” and you know, I reckon he is right.
A crown is given either as a badge of royalty, a prize in public games or a symbol of honor generally. Praise God we will receive it on the basis of all three.
We are royalty. 1 Peter 2:9 “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.”
We are runners in a race. Heb 12:1 “Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us” The preceding verse to 2 Tim 4:8 says “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” Our crown will be given to us for finishing our course.
I work at a university. When students finish a year they are happy. When they finish their course they are overjoyed. The bible says “better is the end of a matter then the beginning thereof” (Ecc 7:8). When we see Him we will know that all we have been through will be worthwhile.
Finally Jesus tells us that “if any man serve me, him will my Father honor.” (John 12:26) God is watching us. He knows our going out and coming in. He knows when we lay down to sleep and when we awake. He knows when we are happy and he knows when we are sad. He also knows the position He holds in our lives. He knows if He is Lord in word only or in truth. If He is Lord and is first in our lives then on that great day God will honor us. – Although I am inclined to believe that upon receiving the crown He gives us we will immediately place it at His feet.
I have only highlighted five of the gifts God has given us. There are many others. The Holy Spirit wants you to know what other gifts God is waiting for you to claim. 1 Cor 2:12 “…we have received the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”
We have seen that God has given us gifts of far greater value then any material gift we will receive this Christmas. I trust that upon receiving these gifts we will not put them in the closet of our heart but will be like Peter who in Acts 3:6 said “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee.” God does not ask of us more then what He has given us. The Lord asked Moses “what is that in your hand?” (Ex 4:2) God expects us to use what He has given us not for ourselves alone but also to fulfill His purposes in the lives of those around us.
“So let us purpose in our heart to give out what God has given us; not grudgingly, or of necessity: for God loves a cheerful giver.” 2 Cor 9:7
Then we will be like the people in Luke 8:40 who when Jesus was returned, received him gladly: for they were all waiting for him.
I would like to finish by praying an adaptation of the prayer of the apostle Paul. It is my prayer for all of us in the New Year.
Eph 1: 18 – 23 Heavenly Father I pray now that the eyes of our heart may be enlightened in order that we may know the hope to which You have called us, the riches of Your glorious inheritance in the saints, and Your incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is like the working of Your mighty strength, which You exerted in Christ when You raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. And You placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. For this we give You all the praise and glory in the wonderful Name of Jesus, amen & amen.
2 Corinthians 9:15 Thanks be unto God for his indescribable gift.